Tuesday, June 29, 2010

After the Gold Rush

If the nation has learned anything over the last three years it is that buying high is not a good recipe for success. Millions of mortgagors who purchased their homes in 2007 and early 2008 now own property that in all likelihood is worth less now than what they paid for it. And since market corrections occur in the housing industry every fifteen years or so, it will be quite some time before many of these owners will be in the black.

Well apparently lessons like the above are learned the hard way over on the Right where gold has now become the new investment fad. Well not quite a fad. Seems that gold has held a special place in the hearts of conservatives for years. To quote Stephanie Mencimer in a Mother Jones article titled, Glenn Beck’s Golden Fleece, “Amid economic downswings and social upheaval, the precious metal has come to be seen as a moral and political statement as much as an investment…And now, with the economy limping along and a black Democrat in the White House, gold mania has gone mainstream.”

At the head of all this hysteria about the precarious condition of the dollar and the apparent demise of the United States sit the henchmen of the Right (Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Michael Savage, and of course the CEO, Glenn Beck). This mob has shamelessly cashed in on the fears and insecurities of average, ordinary people and basically helped companies like Goldline rake them over the coals.

Forget for a moment that most of Goldline’s “investors” are overpaying for their gold, which in and of itself has prompted New York Congressman Anthony Weiner to ask the Federal Trade Commission and Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate the company’s “predatory policies,” the very simple fact is that once more the Right is using fear and ignorance to advance its agenda.

The incessant berating of this president and this congress by these “pundits” has not only subjected their minions to poor financial decisions, they have been responsible for an environment of contempt and hatred that has never seen its equal in the country’s history. It is deliberate and malicious. Worse, it has prevented serious dialogue and debate on actual policy. Moderate conservatives, such as David Brooks, are dismissed by this mob as being either lukewarm or a CINO (conservative in name only). When you are so far over to the right that you can’t see any daylight to your right, you’re no longer a conservative, you’re pathological.

And that’s what we are witnessing in America these days. Be it the Arizona immigration law, the pushback against any criticism of BP, the charges of death panels during the healthcare “debate,” shouts of socialism all throughout the last eighteen months, and now this latest gold rush to ward off the obvious pending demise of the country’s currency, all of this fits the paradigm of a deplorably bankrupt and incorrigibly malevolent movement that has as its goal the vanquishing of all who oppose it, and the domination of all political discourse within the nation. They exploit the very worst in people for political and monetary gain, with no conscience or accountability.

They are beneath contempt, and because the Left has abdicated its responsibilities and not seen fit to fight back against the lies, this cancer sadly now controls much of the debate in this country and is crafting a narrative that, no matter how ridiculous its premise might be, is actually gaining traction with many in the electorate. Fear and insecurity will make a person do almost anything, even abandon reason and logic.

The truth is that this is more than just about unscrupulous companies hosing their investors; it’s about manipulation on a massive scale. There will always be a ponzi scheme somewhere that dupes the gullible into giving up their hard-earned money. But the heated rhetoric that has become the far Right has gone above and beyond mere fraud. It has now taken center stage in this national tragedy; a tragedy that will consume everyone if it isn’t checked.

So get out your Krugerrands and get ready to hunker down in your bunkers. It’s going to be a long, hot summer and, I fear, a bittersweet fall. As R.E.M. used to sing, “It’s the end of the world as we know it.” In the ‘50s they built fallout shelters and waited for the mushroom cloud; now they just buy gold and wait for the apocalypse. It’s as though we have become the title of that famous comedy movie, “It’s a mad, mad, mad world!”

Thursday, June 24, 2010

WTF?

Different blog, new title, but the same mission. To expose flagrant examples of inexplicable and bizarre behavior that defy all logic. So many block heads to choose from and so little space with which to accord the honors. How do I find the time?

This month’s winners have earned their distinction by engaging in dimwitted, detestable conduct that would make a reasonable person blush.

So without further adieu, the envelope please…

First place goes to Nevada Republican senate candidate Sharron Angle. It’s hard to imagine anyone being more out there than the chicken lady – well unless you count Michele Bachmann who is so far gone even I’ve stopped listening to her – but Mrs. Angle is one strange woman. Strange and dangerous. In an interview she did this past January, she is quoted as saying,

“You know, our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. And in fact Thomas Jefferson said it's good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years.

“I hope that's not where we're going, but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around? I'll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.”

The interviewer was Lars Larson, himself a conservative, who shares many of Angle’s views, and could hardly be described as a “gotcha” reporter. Translation: Angle meant every word she uttered and was not misquoted or taken out of context.

It’s bad enough that active members of Congress engage in rhetoric that often borders on the asinine, but when candidates actually suggest that armed insurrection is a viable option then it’s time to start running for the hills. If Harry Reid loses to this whack job, he should be ashamed of himself.

Second place goes to news professional wannabe, Fox’s own Gretchen Carlson. You know how there are certain moments in one’s life that defy all reason and rational explanation, when you realize you should’ve stopped while you were ahead. Well this was one of them. On Wednesday morning’s edition of “Fox and Friends” Carlson and her cohorts were “discussing” President Obama’s decision to fire General Stanley McChrystal. Carlson began by saying, “This is what being president of the United States is all about. It's these tough, huge, monumental decisions.” OK, so far so good. A cogent observation and on point. Nicely done. However, wonder woman just couldn’t resist continuing,

“It's just like our job...what's the role of an anchor during huge breaking news? You remember growing up? You'd tune to the television, and that one moment during the year, they would have to carry a story all along. It's the same thing as being the President of the United States.”

Now before you go any further, consider this: Carlson is actually the “brains” of the show. Scary, isn’t it. Yes, on a show that includes the likes of Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade, the former Miss USA pageant winner is the “smart” one. So the nest time someone – anyone – tells you about the left-wing bias in the mainstream media you can ask them this question: Do they know anyone at CNN, CBS, NBC or ABC that is as dumb as this dimwit? No bother waiting for an answer; it was a rhetorical question.

Bringing up the rear, quite literally, is Texas Representative Joe Barton. Mr. Shakedown, not content with having the distinction of wiping the egg off his face over the apology for the apology BP mess, has now issued an apology for apologizing for the apology on his Twitter page. If you’re head is spinning trying to keep up with all these apologies, don’t worry. There’s nothing wrong with you.

The real issue isn’t the musical chair dance that Barton is engaging in. No, what is at heart here is a theme among many, if not all, Republicans and all the far Right, that is decidedly and shamelessly pro-oil, despite the calamity unfolding in the Gulf. All Barton did was make the mistake of letting his true intentions, and those of the GOP, known. The damage control that John Boehner and company have been busy spinning isn’t about setting the record straight; it’s about putting their nasty little secret back in the Genie bottle.

Sorry guys, no dice. Barton slipped and now your secret is out. You’ve made your bed, go lie in it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

OK GOP, You’re On, Now Go and Fix the Mess

Every poker player knows the rules of the game. Your hand gets called you either raise or fold. If you raise you’re either a very good bluffer or you’ve got one helluva hand. There’s no in between.

So far over the last fifteen months, Republicans – and more importantly the far Right – have been playing their usual game of revisionist history when it comes to the deficit and the poor economy. They have had a field day ripping this president and this Democratic majority congress by saying that if they had been in control none of this would’ve happened. Yes they would’ve lowered taxes (again), reduced the deficit, grown the economy and reduced the size of government intrusion into our daily lives.

To paraphrase Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life, “OK, you got your wish. You’re in charge. Obama didn’t win a landslide victory. McCain is the President and the GOP holds a majority in both houses of Congress. Now go on and fix the mess.”

Hear that Republicans? Your hand just got called. What’ll ya do? Raise or fold? It’s your call. Raise? You must be bluffin’. What’s that I see? A smile? Must be holding a straight or a flush or perhaps a full house. And here all I got is a pair of deuces, or so it seems. Maybe I got a four of a kind; maybe he’s got nothin’. But you know what, I’m going to fold anyhow. Take it, take the damn pot. It’s yours. If it doesn’t work out, I can always blame Clarence.

Now let’s see, let’s start with those pesky taxes. What’s that you say? Lower them even further than they were under Bush? But how are we going to pay for it? What’s that? Something about a Laffer curve? The more you reduce taxes on the wealthy the more they invest and the more revenue the government takes in. I don’t know, that sounds risky, but after all you’re in charge so we’ll go with your plan.

OK now, on to reducing the deficit. Now things can get a little dicey here so if you don’t mind a little advice… Well there’s no need to yell! Yes, I know what Clarence said so I’ll just shut the **** up and let you have at it. What’s that I see coming out of your ears? Smoke? You seem to be grumbling under your breath. Can you speak up a bit? Now there’s no need to get surly. I was only trying to help. Yes I am aware that almost 80% of the federal budget consists of non-discretionary and military spending. Yes, I’m aware that even if you cut all discretionary spending you still have a deficit. Perhaps you can trim the Defense budget a bit? Now sir, violence is not an option! All I suggested was…yes I’ll shut the **** up. Pardon me for thinking you could be reasonable. OK, you’ll table this for later and get back to it. Fair enough. After all, it isn’t going anywhere is it?

Next up growing the economy. Titillate me with how you are going to grow the economy and produce jobs. Step one: no bank bailouts or stimulus at all. Let the bad banks fail and let the market adjust and rebound just like it has always done. Step two: create the proper environment in which business small, medium and large can grow and hire the workers necessary to get the economy moving. Step three: remove all those annoying regulations so that businesses won’t be hampered by government agencies and bureaucracy; hence they become more profitable, hence they hire more workers, hence prices are lowered, hence everybody wins. It all makes perfect sense and Clarence likes it so here goes. OK, it’s done. No TARP, no stimulus, all regulations removed. Now before we complete our journey, sure you don’t want one more stab at that deficit thing? OK, I see, if we do the other things the deficit will take care of itself because revenues will naturally increase. Silly me, I’m sorry I doubted you.

OK, here goes. Ready Clarence? Now, let’s see what happened.


Uh-oh. Something’s wrong with this picture.


Unemployment is over twenty-five percent; half the banks in the country folded, the world is in a deep depression and the deficit is over two trillion and climbing. On the bright side the wealthy DO have more money in their pockets, and consumer prices are cheaper, so I guess it wasn’t a complete loss.

So what happened Einstein? Well for one thing, that TARP bailout, as controversial as it was, helped stabilize a precarious industry that was on the verge of a total collapse that would’ve devastated the world. Without it, like dominos, one after another, each of the huge banks began to fail. AIG, JP Morgan, Citigroup. They all fell and there wasn’t enough money in the treasury to stop the hemorrhaging once the collapse started. The Euro followed shortly and, after that, China, then everyone else.

With no stimulus in place, all that money that helped states that were in dire straits was not available. Hence those states were forced to layoff millions of workers who were now no longer able to pay their taxes. But it wouldn’t have made much difference. With the banks failing there was no one to loan them or their businesses money to keep them employed anyhow. That’s what I call a two-fer. Well done!

And now for that most detestable of words: regulations. Thanks to your persistence, all of them have been removed. Yes, no more senseless regulation of industries that operate airlines, or poison our food, or pollute our drinking water, or drill in our oceans for oil. They’re all gone. And a good thing too. Now they are better able to grow their companies free from the burden of government interventionism. The by-product? Airplanes are crashing more often, food poisoning is up tenfold, our drinking water is hopelessly contaminated, and, well, you know what happened in the Gulf of Mexico? Well now it happens on a fairly regular basis in the Atlantic and Pacific. But what’s a few hundred thousand square miles of beaches anyway? They can always go hiking in the woods. What’s that? Deforestation has pretty much done away with that? Oh, well.

As for that deficit bugaboo, guess all that money in the hands of the wealthy didn’t do much to increase revenues. Well after all, with all those banks failing and the states laying off all those workers you could hardly expect the deficit to be reduced now could you.

You see what happens when you meddle in things that you don’t know much about and play Monday-morning quarterback?  Each thing that happens has a profound impact on other things. They’re all interrelated somehow and changing one or two things around is akin to pulling out one card in a house of cards and hoping the whole house doesn’t cave in on itself.

The bailout mitigated the banking crisis, the stimulus helped reduce the burden on the states, regulations help keep us safe, and raising taxes on the wealthy actually means that overall revenues increase, laffer curve notwithstanding. As for reducing the deficit, your unwillingness to at least consider cutting military spending meant you were left with little else left to cut, which meant you cut nothing.

Guess you didn’t have a full house after all. Not even a pair of deuces. You see, it’s a lot easier to pick at a scab than to try and heal a wound. Everyone’s an expert so long as they don’t have to do anything. It’s easy to say let the banks fail, so long as you don’t actually have to let that happen on your watch; it’s easy to say tough shit to the states when the other party is the one holding the gavel; it’s easy to cut spending so long as it doesn’t affect any of your pet projects or your constituents wallets; and it’s always easy to say you’re going to lower taxes, especially when you don’t have to say where you’re going to get the money from.

Face it, this was going to be a cluster**** no matter who was in charge and you know it. There was never going to be any easy, quick fix that was going to magically transport us out of this mess. It took a long time to dig the hole we’re in. Republicans own as much of this mess as they say Democrats own. The Bush Administration set the stage for the meltdown, but Clinton helped start it by repealing Glass-Steagall. At heart what we are faced with is a classic case of falling for the ultimate fairytale: that all markets are rational and that if the government just leaves well enough alone and stays out of the way, all will be well. It didn’t work in1932 and it wouldn’t have worked any better had Republicans gotten their way in 2009.

Like it or not, it is going to take a while before a full recovery is possible. While government cannot provide all the answers, it is foolhardy to believe it has no role to play in providing some of them. There will be a time for fiscal prudence and austerity. Just not now. Clinton got that much and in his second term he used that recipe to balance the budget.

So, for now, let’s leave the cards right where they are on the table. No body raises or folds. Let’s go out and grab a bite and chew the fat a bit. As the song goes, “There will be time enough for countin’ when the dealing’s done.”

Don’t worry about the tab; Clarence will pick it up.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen, Meet the GOBP

Before BP CEO Tony Hayward heads back to England to “get back his life” he ought to send Texas Representative Joe Barton a huge thank you card and a dozen long-stemmed roses. How bad to do have to be to actually make the head of BP look even remotely human? We’ll let the Texas Congressman’s words speak for themselves.

“I'm ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday. I think it is it a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown.

“In this case, a $20 billion shakedown, with the attorney general of the United States, who is legitimately conducting a criminal investigation, and has every right to do so to protect the interests of the American people.

“Participating in what amounts to a $20 billion slush fund that is unprecedented in our nation's history, that has no legal standing, and which sets, I think, a terrible precedent for the future.

“I’m only speaking for myself; I do not speak for anybody else. But I apologize. I do not want to live in a country where anytime a citizen or corporation does something that is legitimately wrong it’s subject to some sort of political pressure that amounts to a shakedown. So I apologize.”

Yep, that bad. Are you listening Democrats? Texas Representative Joe Barton just handed you, on a sliver platter, your slogan for this fall’s mid-term campaign: The GOP and BP: Perfect Together!

So stupid was Barton’s brain fart that House Minority Leader John Boehner called Barton into his office for a little chat. I would’ve loved to have been a fly on the wall in that room. Suffice to say Barton wasted no time in issuing an apology for his apology.  Boehner isn't exactly immune to his own missteps. Last week he suggested that the government should help pitch in for the cleanup of the spill. Oops. Guess how long it took Boehner to issue his apology?

Yes, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico could end up being the worst environmental disaster in the nation’s history, but thanks to the Republicans’ inability to keep their mouths shut and hence reveal their true colors, it could end up being the silver lining in the storm cloud currently hanging over the Democrats’ heads.

“Drill Baby Drill?” “I Apologize?” Each day that goes by the GOBP can’t resist its primal urges to bend over backwards to defend an industry that has raked in hundreds of billions in revenue and subjected this nation to a dependence that would make a heroine addict blush. The worst of these corporations stands accused of negligence that goes above and beyond anything in history. Not even the Titanic disaster approaches their malfeasance. And yet the Right has gone to the mat not only in defense of it, but has accused anyone who is intent on holding it accountable guilty of a shakedown or an enemy of private industry.

In their obvious contempt for this president the Republicans have blinded themselves to reason and in the process missed a golden opportunity to grab hold of a populist issue that is resonating with the electorate. Outrage at the conduct of BP is so intense that the public is waiting for someone – anyone – to show some spunk and stand up to the transgressors.

President Obama’s performance the other night left many wondering whether Democrats could step in and answer the call. After Joe Barton’s latest faux pas, the ball, once more, has been fumbled back to them. What they do with it is completely up to them.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mission Unaccomplished!

Tonight’s Presidential address from Barack Obama was the first time this President has formally addressed the nation on the Gulf Oil disaster. It was a chance for him to finally grab the bull by the horn and let the country know how terrible he felt for the pain and suffering the people of the Gulf coast have had to endure and to chart a clear course ahead to ensure that a disaster of this magnitude will never happen again. It was a chance for him to finally be the commander in chief that the nation so desperately needs and, as Thomas Friedman pointed out two weeks ago, galvanize the country, like Kennedy did in 1961 when he pledged to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade, to end our dependence on fossil fuels. It was also a chance for him to assume the responsibility, not for causing the disaster in the first place, but for the poor response of the government agencies tasked with the job of coordinating the cleanup.

On all counts this was a dreadful night for this president. Yes, he did mention the Cap in Trade legislation that the House passed, but he missed a golden opportunity to connect the dots by not only failing to mention that the legislation has stalled in the Senate but also stopping short of talking specifically about the climate change component in his speech.  He again lacked any sense of empathy for the people who have been ravaged by this tragedy, coming across more like a news correspondent reporting on a disaster than a caring and supportive leader. And where is the anger the nation is feeling towards the actions of British Petroleum?

It is laudable that the President has called for BP to put aside a trust fund to pay not only for the cleanup but for subsequent damages sustained by those affected, but how about demanding that BP pay for it. This president looked more like the reluctant visitor at a funeral parlor paying his respects to his best friend’s mother and searching for the right words to say.

And what is this "we" stuff?  "We will fight this spill with everything we've got for as long as it takes. We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused."  Have you ever heard of the word "I" Mr. President?  "Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash American innovation and seize control of our own destiny," you said.  Tonight would've been a good opportunity for you to seize control of this tragedy.  You could've said the following: "I've made some mistakes and I deeply regret them.  I assure you that I will see to it that your coast line will be fully restored.  And when I meet with the head of BP tomorrow I am going to demand that they pay not only the cleanup costs but every single claim against them for damages.  So help me God.  It may have been their rig and it may be their oil, but I'm your president and I have your back America!"

Of course when he did manage to connect some of the dots he got his signals crossed. There is an old saying: The devil is in the details. When he needed to get specific he was too general and detached; when he needed to express remorse or anger, he opted for analytical explanations that did little to ameliorate the pain. In short he was bass ackwards. For a man who did such a wonderful job communicating a vision for America during his campaign, Obama couldn’t punch his way out of a paper bag tonight.

Stunning!

No anger, no empathy, no vision. In essence we watched the leader of the free world speak for seventeen minutes and say little if anything that could offer even a sliver of hope for those affected by this tragedy and a plan of attack for a nation caught in the grip of the worst addiction any people have ever been afflicted with.

Mission Unaccomplished, Mr. President!

The Difference Between a Bias and a Slant.

One of the repeated justifications of networks like Fox and most of the A.M. talk show circuit for their continued lean towards the Right is that the rest of the media in the country is tilted towards the Left, and all they’re doing is bringing balance to the political landscape. It’s a convenient argument, but it’s also hogwash.

For one thing, even if you grant the ridiculous assertion that all of the mainstream media has a liberal bias, which I don’t – if anything I feel the mainstream media has been lame at best and derelict at worst – the bias if it exists at all is small in comparison to what occurs on a daily basis on Fox and on conservative radio talk-shows. Sorry, you don’t get to lean all the way to four o’clock on your dial, while the rest of the media is holding at 11:30, and call that fair and balanced.

Secondly, and here is where it gets interesting, there is a stark difference between a bias and an outright slant. If we start with the premise that the objective truth as we know it does not exist, then we are left with the inescapable conclusion that the subjective truth is all that remains. Put succinctly, all of us are the benefactors of our upbringing and personal experiences. Collectively they form the basis for our beliefs and biases, be they liberal or conservative. It would be impossible not to take those beliefs and biases with us to our workplace, even if that workplace happens to be a news room.

But, regardless of personal biases, a professional reporter or news anchor is supposed to rise above whatever baggage he or she has and leave it outside the newsroom where it has no place. And that is where the line between Fox and the rest of the media gets blurred. For even if one agrees that a liberal bias exists within the mainstream media, the simple truth is that most of the “reporting” that goes on at Fox, et al, is not only bias towards the Right, it borders on outright fraud. It is one thing to be sympathetic to conservative views, it is quite another to manufacture news that exactly mirrors conservative talking points. And that is the difference between a bias and a slant.

Witness last year’s Tea Party rallies. Every major network within the mainstream media from CNN to NBC to ABC to CBS reported on the phenomenon. All did a pretty credible job attempting to ascertain the political impact this movement was having within the country. If anything, the major networks spent a little too much time reporting on them, perhaps not wanting to be seen as dismissive. Over at Fox, however, they were practically giddy with glee over the Tea Party movement. In fact it became their number one story for the entire summer. At one rally, a Fox correspondent was seen actively cheering on the crowd.

Interviews, like the one on Fox and Friends where Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle was thrown a series of softball questions – some so grossly flagrant Angle herself had to correct them – underscore the problem here. Even when it attempts to act like a news organization, Fox can’t resist the urge to bend over backwards to show its true colors.

If Fox was in deed a legitimate news organization, if it in deed was interested in a fair and balanced approach to reporting the news – as it advertises itself as being – then it would dispense with its clear and deliberate assaults on journalistic integrity, fire its phony “news” anchors and correspondents and replace them with professionals whose sole responsibility would be to be as honest and transparent with the day’s events as possible, and to ask probative questions of all the guests who appear on their network, regardless of political affiliation.

Such a network would be a role model for the rest of the media; a network worthy of copying. Such a network would truly be fair and balanced.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Jackie Robinson Syndrome

The more I see and hear President Obama, the more I’m reminded of Jackie Robinson. Like Obama, Robinson was the first of his kind and like him he had to walk a narrow line always conscious of his race, but ever careful not to draw too much attention to it. And then there’s the temperament thing. No matter how many times Robinson was called racial slurs – I won’t bother stating them here for obvious reasons – he never took the bait. He was cool, collected and a perfect gentleman. He had no choice; he was the only black man in a white man’s sport. If he screwed up, the future for black athletes looking to break into baseball would be set back years.

Obama on the Richter scale of emotions is one cool customer. In the midst of what can only be described as the worst economy in seventy years and now facing a disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that potentially threatens that body of water’s very existence, he has remained unflappable. Even during the contentious healthcare debate last year and early this year, Obama resisted the urge to go tit for tat with his political rivals and remained, for many, one of the more mature and level-headed players in the debate. Like Robinson he refuses to take the bait that his rivals throw at him. He is the first of his kind: a black man in the Oval Office.

Last year I wrote that I thought the great test for America was whether it could bring itself to elect a black man to the office of president. I now realize that was the easy part. Like Robinson, getting there proved to be a fairly non starter. We all wondered what took so long and we eagerly anticipated the road ahead. Looking back however the real test was to come after the inauguration. It was at that exact moment that Obama became more than just the black man who got elected; he became the black man who was now boss.

The moment Jackie Robinson stepped onto the field he had already taken a white man’s job away. He dared to swing a bat at a white man’s delivery, and when he beat out a single, or stole a base, or scored a run, or, God forbid, hit a homerun, he was doing so against white men. How dare he? Doesn’t he know his place? And Robinson had to do all this while being shouted at, threatened, and denied the basic rights his white teammates took for granted.

From day one Obama has had to endure much if not all the slurs and attacks that Robinson endured in 1947. True, he could not be denied entrance into a facility like so many other black men and women had been years ago – he is the president after all – but in every other sense he has been treated as though he were the help that overstayed his welcome.

Witness the fallout from just one picture of Obama with his feet up on the Oval Office desk. Despite the fact that every president going back to Kennedy has had photos taken of them with their feet up on that same desk, the fact that Obama had done it was newsworthy. Why doesn’t he show some respect for the decorum of the office? Translation: Get your damn black feet off our furniture!

The pictures at last summer’s Tea Party rallies were not your typical political caricatures. They were overtly racist and indicative of a mood in the country that was not at all happy with the fact that a black man was running the show. Jimmy Carter, in an interview with Brian Williams last year, said that much of the animosity directed at Obama was based on his race. "I live in the South, and I've seen the South come a long way, and I've seen the rest of the country that shares the South's attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African-Americans."

The vitriolic frenzy that these mobs get whipped up into is no mere ideological mood swing; it is demonstrably violent in its tone and portends a deep resentment over the fact that big brother seems to have a deep tan. It has nothing to do with a perceived encroachment of government regulations over civil liberties, as has been suggested by the far Right – as though this is the first time in history that the government has had to step in and exert its authority to prevent chaos – it is about racism, pure and simple. Nothing else explains it.

Look at the facts. Obama ran as a progressive; he has governed as a centrist. He ran on a single payer healthcare system; the current healthcare bill, now signed into law, lacks even a public option. He promised he would close Guantánamo and end Bush policies toward illegal detentions, torture and domestic wiretapping; with the exception of torture, Guantánamo remains open, illegal detentions continue and the domestic surveillance program has been beefed up. He promised he would end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; only now is he finally getting around to it. He was urged by financial experts from the Left to think big when it came to the stimulus bill. Paul Krugman pleaded with him to ask for $1.5 trillion. Conservatives wanted targeted tax cuts. Obama opted for something in the middle, eventually settling on just over $700 billion. Given the economic circumstances the nation was in, hardly a paltry amount, but equally insufficient to adequately jumpstart the economy. And now we are faced with the prospect of a repeat of the Japanese lost decade of the ‘90s.

If this is Karl Marx personified than I’m Satan. But then it was never about economics or even gutter politics. This was always about the black man with the big stick swinging at the white man on the mound. “Give us back our country!” My ass. It was never their country in the first place, but Barack Obama has the distinction of being its chief executive officer and in the lowest depths of our collective conscience, where only the most extreme depraved still live, that is about as repulsive a concept as any yet conceived.

As chief executives go, Obama, like his predecessor, has handled the job with uncommon poise and integrity. He has managed to stay above the fray his opponents have been dying to ensnare him in. If anything he has been too cool, too collected. He knows full well he is the prototype, the first of his kind. How well he pulls this off will go a long way towards determining whether the nation will ever again risk electing a minority or female to the Office.

But in his zeal to not come off like some gansta rapper or be perceived as an angry black man with a chip on his shoulder – as though African Americans had no right to be bitter – he has, in the eyes of many of his admirers, been way too accommodating in his demeanor. Bereft of any seeming empathy toward those who have been devastated by both the economy and the Gulf oil disaster, he has compounded that deficit by overcompensating with a curious sense of detachment at a time when a hands on approach is demanded. When the nation needed a counselor, he opted to stay in the board room like a good CEO. Yes, we voted for Cool-hand Luke, but we didn’t know we were getting Mr. Freeze.

Just once Obama has to break out of that mold he has constructed for himself; the one that keeps telling him to keep his composure regardless of the circumstances. He doesn’t have to come apart at the seams like John McCain did in the ’08 Presidential race when he wanted to suspend the campaign because of a crisis. Real leaders don’t cut and run just because the heat gets turned up. But real leaders also govern from their guts as well as their heads. The last president didn’t know what the latter was; Obama seems determined to ignore the former.

Obama must find a middle ground. So far he has acquiesced to the first rule of successful politics: when in doubt seek consensus and get it done. Even if it isn’t the perfect solution, something is better than nothing. That approach worked for him with healthcare. Perhaps he knew that politically the nation would never accept a single-payer system, so he got the best deal he could find. It has many flaws, but the bill is still a considerable accomplishment given how many presidents have tried and failed at getting one signed into law. Pragmatism can achieve results, even if tainted and less than ideal.

But pragmatism has its limits. Sooner or later ideals must come to the surface. We are what we believe in and while it is laudable that President Obama is mindful of his origins and what those origins can elicit in others, that cannot be used as an excuse for a failure to show up and speak out and, when the mood moves him, show the proper anger for the proper occasion.

Obama’s biggest sin during these last six weeks was not that he didn’t act swiftly enough to prevent the carnage that is currently befalling the Gulf coast. What was he supposed to do? Don a wet suit? No, his biggest faux paux was his failure to give voice to the multitudes who are in distress and who at the very least want someone in authority to show they care and can offer, if not relief, than at least an empathetic embrace. And they also want someone who can articulate their rage at those responsible for their sufferings. It isn’t enough for Obama to say he is going to hold BP accountable for what they’ve done. Politicians have made pledges about accountability since the days of Jefferson and Adams. Most have gone unanswered. A raised voice and a slamming of a fist can go a long way towards making an emotional connection to people who are hurting and desperate. FDR knew that all too well. He faced many of the same demons Obama is currently facing, with the obvious exception of his race, and defeated them all.

Lately Obama has talked about himself as though he was going to be a one-term president, trying to achieve as much as possible legislatively while he still has the capital with which to do it. That may make for smart politics, but it makes for lousy leadership. And in the end America remembers its leaders, those who showed their spunk as well as their wit. It would be a crying shame if at the end of his term all he had to look back on was a bunch a signatures on a host of bills. Success is more than how many victories you rack up; it has to do with how well you carry yourself. A successful man is neither boastful nor shy. When called upon he seizes the moment and makes it his own.

There is a line from The Wizard of Oz that goes like this, “A heart is not measured by how much you love, but by how you are loved by others.” President Barack Obama must define his presidency before history defines it for him. He must connect with the electorate at some visceral level that transcends the enormous intellect which has been both his best friend and his worst enemy, and he must do so with the baggage of four hundred years of racial hatred that is currently strapped to his back like an anchor weighing down a ship. This is what he signed up for when he ran for president two years ago. He has no excuse now that he has the job.

He is the Jackie Robison of our generation, but with one exception. Robinson may have been the perfect gentleman off the field, but he knew like hell how to win on it. He never would’ve settled for one year in a Dodger uniform. He had worked his whole life to reach the pinnacle of the big leagues. He wasn’t about to let that opportunity go to waste. He left nothing in the dugout and gave everything he had to help his team win. And in the end the fans came to love him.  Today he is revered as one of the great ballplayers of his era.  Obama must somehow discover those qualities if he is to earn the right to truly walk in his predecessor’s shoes.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

BLOWBACK

Don’t you just love conservatives? Well I do. Just when I’m down and out and in need of inspiration they come along and provide me with yet more fodder to build up my spirits. The way they spin their yarns about the good old days gives me goose bumps all over. It takes real talent to pile on that much manure without managing to sink knee deep in it. Apparently they are also quite adept at humor, though in their case it appears to be unintentional. Late night comedians from Letterman to Leno and Stewart to Colbert have been positively beside themselves with the plethora of material at their disposal.

Witness the latest example of the GOP’s understated talent that comes courtesy of Jon Stewart from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. “No matter what happens during the Obama Administration there’s the perfect Bush fuck up for the occasion.” Stewart of course was referring to the growing trend among conservative pundits of calling Obama’s missteps by their corresponding Bush namesakes, e.g. Obama’s Katrina, Obama’s Harriet Miers, Obama’s Iraq, Obama’s 9/11, Obama’s mission accomplished and so on. And then almost in the same sentence those very same pundits express a longing for a return of the master of disaster in the guise of “Miss me yets.” It’s sort of like the captain of the Titanic berating the captain of the Lusitania for being irresponsible and then having the gall to invite all the passengers of the Lusitania on board the Titanic for a late night cruise. Stewart continued,

“Remember that terrible thing that Bush did that we fought for eight years to convince you wasn’t bad but actually good? Well now we use those very same incidents as the low water mark for your guy…It’s like these guys treat the country like a sleazy used car salesman. Hey, I gotta tell ya this is a beautiful country. It runs like a dream; we’ve kept it totally tuned for eight years. It’s cherry. You’re not goin’ have a problem with it at all. Oh, you’ll take it? It’s your piece a shit now!”

My personal favorite is listening to conservatives describe their descent from power in ’06 and ’08. Apparently the conventional “wisdom” is they weren’t conservative enough. I’ll wait a minute for the majority of you to stop laughing or choking on your phlegm before proceeding.


Ok, now? Good.


Yes, as strange as it seems conservatives have convinced themselves and their minions that the reason for their demise in ’06 and ’08 was not because they were too staunch in their stances, but because they abandoned their principles and were reluctant to stick with the tried and true methods that had been so successful in the past. Yes, they didn’t give enough tax breaks to the wealthy, or start enough wars, or undermine enough government regulations, or sufficiently blur the line between church and state, or detain enough enemy combatants, or tap enough phone lines, or inflate the deficit enough to satisfy their principles. Hence the public abandoned them and turned to the Communist hordes for salvation. If only they’d been more resolute, more disciplined, more on message then none of this would’ve happened. It’s not the people’s unwillingness to be lead off the cliff that’s to blame; it’s the Republicans’ weak constitution and decaying morals. Yes, that’s it!

You see, I told you they had talent. Say what you want about them, conservatives can define a narrative better than anybody alive.

Now before we congratulate ourselves too much for arriving at the only sane and logical conclusion possible - namely that the far Right suffers from a form of self delusion or psychosis – I should tell you that historically, as hard as it is to imagine, this tact (that of skewing history and ignoring facts) has proven successful in the past. It’s one of the two reasons George Bush got elected in the first place. The other was a Supreme Court that abdicated its responsibility and ignored its supposed “Strict Constructionist” bent. Truth telling you see isn’t very high on the food chain in politics. Just try and be virtuous while running for an elected office and let me know what happens.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, perception is far often greater than reality. And that is why the Left should not make the mistake of assuming, as it has done so often in the past, that the facts will speak for themselves. Unrest within the electorate, due principally to an unsettled economy, has many independent voters agitated and that spells trouble for incumbents in the mid-terms. And since there are more incumbents with a D in front of their name than an R, this could be a damaging year not only for Congressional Democrats but progressives as well. How damaging will depend on two things: how fast the economy recovers and how skillful Democrats are at pushing back against the Republican spin machine.

Since even the most optimistic of economists believes we are still more than a year away from a noticeable improvement in the economy, the only option available to Democrats this year is to go before the American people and make the case for why a change in course would be unwise at this stage. It will be a difficult sell for two reasons. The first can be boiled down to four words: It’s The Economy Stupid. No matter who’s in charge or what else maybe going on, poll after poll consistently shows that, with the exception of the months after 9/11 when the nation was still in mourning and the latter half of 2006 through the first half of 2008 when the opposition to the Iraq War was at its peak, the economy has ranked number one among registered voters. Hit a man in his wallet and he will hit back, no matter how cogent your argument is. Yes the economy will be uppermost on the minds of the voters this November. Secondly, Democrats almost always do a lousy job at making their case, not because they’re perceptions and theories are wrong but because they lack the ability to galvanize the public in the same manner their adversaries seem to possess in abundance. In others words, they’re BORING! Like watching paint dry, as I remember mentioning once before. They also make the fatal error of believing that the nation is mature enough to handle reality. In short they are their own worst enemies.

There is no better example of this than Jimmy Carter. Carter had the audacity to suggest that America needed to change its habits regarding how it lived and how it consumed its resources, particularly fossil fuels. Of course he was right, but the public rejected it. The truth was too much to bear for a nation still reeling from the sting of Watergate, the aftermath of Vietnam, the Iran/hostage crisis, and a loss of its prestige. Carter sounded like a lecturer reading out his class after a bad exam, and the class didn’t take kindly to it at all. By comparison Ronald Reagan spun a fairy tale that America’s best days were ahead of it, and that we didn’t have to change a damn thing, except of course our leaders. He was the perfect anecdote for a country hurting and in denial. While Carter told them what they needed to hear, Reagan told them what they wanted to hear. Guess who prevailed? The electorate bought the illusion hook, line and sinker and Carter was defeated in the general election.

The truth may set you free but it can also kick your butt at the voting booth. Thirty years later America once again stands at a crossroads. Corporate greed has once more brought the nation to its knees and the Democrats, mindful of history, seem on the verge of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Despite the oil disaster that is slowly destroying the Gulf of Mexico, the Republican spin machine is in rare form, and the Democrats, afraid of alienating voters in the mid-terms, seem unwilling to take a stand. Instead of capitalizing on the GOP’s incessant use of the term “Drill Baby Drill” all throughout the ’08 election and branding Republicans as being in bed with the oil industry, Democrats are once more cowering and looking for cover. Obama seems hopelessly lost as he grapples with what course of action to take next. Paralysis by analysis seems to be name of the game at the White House these days, causing many to question who is running the show.

And it isn’t just this disaster that should act as a barometer for the Dems. Healthcare will undoubtedly be on the minds of voters this fall. Republicans will surely run on a platform of Repeal and Replace, despite the fact that even if they win back both Houses of Congress they will still lack the numbers needed to override what will certainly be a veto from the President. So why aren’t the Democrats calling them out on this? Why are so many Democrats cutting and running when it comes to their records, not to mention failing to draw attention to Republican records? And why are so many seeking to soften their stances – as if to say “Look we’re really not Democrats; we’re really moderate Republicans with a D next to our names” – thus playing right into the hands of their opponents? For one thing Democrats should know by now that there are no more moderate Republicans left; for another, voters, if given a choice between the real McCoy and a facsimile, usually picked the former.  There's nothing like the genuine article, even if it isn't good for you.

When is this Party going to get it that the only way it can win is not by running away from its values but by standing by them and defending them? Carter’s mistake wasn’t that he spoke the truth; it was that he did so in such a manner that he was perceived as being preachy and un-American. There’s that perception thing again. What if, instead of simply being the bearer of bad news, Carter had made it all about being a patriot? “It’s our patriotic duty to wean ourselves off imported oil and stop helping our enemies. So my fellow Americans let’s get behind this and show the world what we’re made of.” He could’ve out Reagan’d Reagan at his own game and galvanized the nation. Instead he played Tonto to the Gipper’s Lone Ranger. The Lone Ranger took him to school.

Where is the indignation from the Left over the dearth of ideas from the Right? The Party of No has yet to come up with any tangible solutions of its own on how to run the country other than to return to the same nightmarish schemes that lead to its near ruination in the first place. It says it will balance the budget and bring back accountability to Washington. How? Not to mention why didn’t they do that when they had the Congress and White House in the past? These are the questions Democrats should be asking in droves. The silence, however, is deafening.

When the GOP defends the oil industry or blocks meaningful financial reform of the banking industry, why hasn’t their bluff been called? Where are the FDRs and Kennedys of this group? How in the world can the likes of a Mitch McConnell and a John Boehner be setting the ground rules in any political arena, much less as Minority leaders? How are they even allowed to get up from the mat? This should be the political wet dream of wet dreams for the Democrats. Instead it has become the nightmare of nightmares.

Back in January I wrote a piece titled “Obama: One Year Later.” In it I likened the President and Congressional Democrats to “a football team entering the third quarter with a three touchdown lead playing prevent defense. Anyone who has ever seen a football game knows full well that teams that employ such a defense usually prevent themselves from winning.” I now realize I was way too kind. The Democratic Party more closely resembles a baseball team whose pitchers can’t seem to get the ball over the plate, hence they walk the bases loaded. So intimidated are they at the thought of giving up a homerun that the winning run ends up crossing home plate all without the opposing team ever having to take the bat off its shoulders.

Smell it? That’s the smell of fear in the air, and the Democrats stink the high heavens with it. It permeates every pore of their skin. And the Republicans? Like sharks at a swim meet, they are out for the kill. Know this about conservatives: they aren’t gun-shy. They may be devoid of the facts and completely incompetent when it comes to running a country, but timid they are not. If anything they are brazenly optimistic about their chances not only this fall but in 2012.

And who can blame them? All you have to do is look at history. Over the last four decades you will note an undeniable trend: Republican losses followed by Democratic givebacks. Carter capitalized on the Nixon/Ford scandal, only to fall on his sword and be outdone by Reagan. And when Reaganomics finally bottomed out, Clinton beat Bush. Only Clinton’s badly tarnished image undermined Gore, who proceeded to lose to Bush II. But Bush’s ineptitude and a complicit Republican Congress eventually lead to the ascendancy of Obama and the return of the Dems once again. It does seem like a rather sad and morbid soap opera, doesn’t it? How many times does providence have to hand you a nation before you finally develop the will to hold onto it?

At the rate things have been going we may have to wait a bit longer to find the answer to that question, and that may be the scariest scenario yet. The prospect of a landslide win for the GOP this fall is a ghastly thought, more so than at any other time in American politics. These aren’t the good old days when the donkey and the elephant went toe to toe. As I mentioned in an earlier piece, “the classic conservative vs. liberal debate has now deteriorated into vitriolic insanity vs. reason.”

The stakes are higher now than they have ever been. The GOP has been hijacked by the crazies. People who are ill equipped intellectually and yes morally to lead this nation, stand on the precipice of becoming once more its dominant voice. If you think it has been interminable listening to them shouting out “We want our country back,” imagine how much more difficult it will be if they finally succeed at getting it back? Not to mention how much more damage they can inflict on its already narrow shoulders? This cannot be allowed to happen. Ronald Reagan and George Bush were one thing, but the likes of what constitutes a Republican these days should send shivers down the back of any rational human being.

The Democrats must wake up from their apathy. They must take a stand and call out the hypocrisies from the Right. In baseball terms they have to throw the damn ball over the plate and challenge the hitters. Too many walks have been issued to less than stalwart batters. The ammunition is there for them. All they have to do, as Sarah Palin keeps on saying, is “lock and load.” And of course fire. No sense loading your gun if you’re not going to use it.

It’s not too late. If the late night comedy hosts haven’t relented, then why should the Dems? The next time a Republican accuses either the President or the Democrats of ruining our nation and calls for a return to good old fashioned values all the Democrats have to do is remember the wise words of Sir Jon Stewart: “I really miss the days when America was being let down and failed by a patriot.”