Friday, 19 August 2011

Hoisted By His Own Petard


My two previous posts about Obama have generated some discussion, for which I am grateful.  It took a while, but OpEdNews published "What Might Martin Luther King Say Now?" on Thursday, and it generated a few interesting comments from OEN readers.  On that same day the editor of the site posted a survey asking if Obama should "pull an LBJ" and step aside from the 2012 race.  Well, of course he won't, but the poll attracted a lot of response and commentary, some of it actually bordering on the rational and intelligent (go to the link to read them).

So, yes, despite my kvechting (look it up) Obama will certainly run again.  But, as I suggested in my posts at this site, and in my numerous comments at OEN, he cannot possibly return to the soaring rhetoric that has crashed to earth so miserably in his first two and a half years of office.  And he cannot trot out the ghost of Martin Luther King as a backdrop.  He has to run on his record (problematic, I fear), or he can bash everyone else for his failure to lead -- bet the ranch on option two.

And then I read Michael Gerson's opinion piece in the Washington Post today.  He suggests, in a piece titled "Why Obama faces an uphill run for reelection", that Obama's team is building a three part strategy for reelection based on (1) a job creation programme (2) creating a separation between Obama and a dysfunctional Congress and (3) a campaign of personal attacks against the Republican candidate, whoever that might be.

Gerson says that, on the jobs issue, the Obama camp has begun floating trial balloons for this announcement -- planned for unveiling in September (!) -- and he characterizes them as "late and weak".  On the dysfunction of Congress, Gerson says "A president cannot distance himself form a process he is supposed to lead and failed to lead effectively."  And finally, with regard to the personal attacks, Gerson says "As president, Obama has been comfortable practicing the Chicago way of politics."  Readers will recall my view from previous posts that all Obama's rhetoric leading to the 2008 election is now engulfing him -- that he has undone himself (hoisted by his own petard, to put it plainly).  He has little room to maneuver heading into 2012, his best hope for reelection being the wingnuts that the Republicans have put forward (more on that later).

Gerson closes his piece with a paragraph that mirrors the tone of my last two posts,
"And this strategy must be a comedown for at least some of the idealists who elected Obama in the first place. Following expectations few presidents have raised as high, Obama has transformed into the most typical of politicians. There is little distinctive, elevated or inspirational about his message or his tactics.  And this adds an unwanted accomplishment: the further political disillusionment of a nation."
In his private moments, Obama must realize that borrowed rhetoric now defines his failure.  

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In doing some follow-up to my commentary at OEN for my post there, I came across an article written by Joshua Holland of AlterNet.  This piece offers another view of the Obama "controversy".  Its not one I share, but it is well written and well argued, so I reference it in the hope you'll give it a tumble.  In it, the role of Obama's rhetoric is minimized as a cause of the current mess, which for me is a major point of disagreement. 

Mr. Holland takes a more practical position, advancing the view that liberals and progressives must focus less on what Obama has not accomplished and more on what he has.  Holland's piece is called "The Obama Wars" and in its sub-heading he advises "the debate over Obama's role in the mess we're in is distracting progressives from the real fight."  According to the author, its the Obamabots pitted against the professional left, one side blindly incapable of any criticism of "Our Dear Leader" and the other refusing to give the president any props for his accomplishments.

Mr. Holland is not an Obamabot, and decidedly takes up solid opposition to the second view; he suggests that history will render a judgement that "Obama, faced with a devastated economy and an obstinate opposition, has arguably achieved more than one could reasonably expect given the political context".  He does allow that the public's discontent may be linked in some small way to Obama's campaign rhetoric, but then dismisses this view by saying that the public should have have known better -- it should have realized that reality always trumps rhetoric.  In this, Mr. Holland may be factually correct, but I return to the rhetoric of the campaign and Obama's own definitive statement,
"I know that in every campaign, politicians make promises about cleaning up Washington. So  its easy to become cynical. I know that for me, reform isn't just the rhetoric of a campaign; it been a cause of my career."
Based on this and virtually every other statement he made (including his books, senate and campaign speeches, and addresses), it is fitting that the public ask, WTF?  If all campaign rhetoric is functionally and factually useless -- if it is acknowledged from the outset that every utterance is a lie (I know, big surprise) -- by what means do voters measure the candidates?  And this brings me back to Obama's intent -- at what point did he know in his own mind that everything he said was bullshit?

In closing his article Mr. Holland provides evidence that Obama's numbers remain high with the base, and suggests this is as good a starting point as any.  The Gallup numbers for the broader public offer less encouragement, showing his approval now in the low 40's.  What no one seems to have adequately measured is the degree of disaffection with Obama, and this brings us round to the feeling of betrayal that has been building -- it is a credibility gap that Obama has created.  I likened it to the disconnect between President Obama and Martin Luther King Jr. which is is almost as great as the disconnect between President Obama and Candidate Obama.

A broader piece on campaign rhetoric may be in order, but that's much too deep for a Friday afternoon. 

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So, to keep it light (more like black humor), let's have some fun with the wingnuts the Republicans are putting forward to challenge Obama.  There are many pieces on both the leading and the marginal candidates, and I'll highlight just a couple for your weekend pleasure.

The first comes from William Rivers Pitt at Truthout.  Here's some of what he has to say about the top tier contenders -- Romney, Perry and Bachmann:
"Not one of these individuals should ever be allowed anywhere near the kind of power one is given upon assuming the office of President of the United States...and yet the "mainstream" news media has been propping these three up as legitimate, thoroughly normal candidates for the highest office in the land. It is a testament to how utterly deranged our political culture has become that any of these people would even be considered an appropriate candidate for dog-catcher, and yet we will spend the next fifteen months being spoon-fed the idea that these three are perfectly appropriate potential nominees, and not a pack of deranged fanatics who couldn't govern their way out of a wet paper sack."
And then from Stanley Kutler at Truthdig; he is equally disgusted by the top tier, and by the political/media complex that spawns them:
"Something is drastically wrong with our presidential nominating system when a handful of religious zealots in Iowa and the home of Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrat/Republican Party are to have such a decisive role. The underlying truth here is that the media, with their great editor in the sky, dictates the low of events."
The positions and statements of Perry and Bachmann are beyond comprehension by the rational mind, but have a look at ProPublica's guide to Perry.  As for Mitt Romney, he's not gettin much luv inside the Republican Party.  Go here for a recent article on his plight.

Wishing you an excellent weekend -- Party on Garth, Party on Wayne.

End.

Update: A lazy, almost disinterested, viewing of the major news outlets on this warm Saturday afternoon revealed more on the trio of wingnuts that Republicans have anointed as their best.  From the Washington Post a front-page article on Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas who claims credit for job creation that doesn't belong to him. According to the Post,
"Perry says the Texas miracle rests on conservative pillars that he would bring to the White House: minimal regulation and government, low taxes and a determination to limit the reach of Uncle Sam.  What he does not say is that much of that job growth has come because of government, not in spite of it."
And then there is a real fan-favorite of mine, Paul Krugman, who never shrinks from calling "bullshit" when its warranted.  He recently commented on Perry's proclaimed ability to create jobs,
"So when Mr. Perry presents himself as the candidate who know how to create jobs, don't believe him.  His prescriptions for job creation would work about as well in practice as his prayer-based attempt to end Texas's crippling drought."
The last article, for now, on wanna-be president Perry comes from Bill Boyarsky at Truthdig,
"Gov. Rick Perry is a happy executioner, having presided over 230 executions in Texas.  That's more, reported The Texas Tribune, 'than any other modern governor of any state.'  Perry's energetic support of capital punishment and his blind refusal to consider any mitigating evidence in the cases of death row inmates, not matter how scientific, show what a danger he would be if placed in charge of the federal government's huge law enforcement system." 
And then there's the lovely Michelle Bachmann, who is truly batshit crazy.  She should scare the bejeezus out of everyone in the mainstream but, given recent events in American politics, that polity seems to have vanished.  Here's some of what Matt Taibbi said recently, but I would strongly urge you read the entire article from Rolling Stone,
"Bachmann is a religious zealot whose brain is a raging electrical storm of divine visions and paranoid delusions. She believes that the Chinese are plotting to replace the dollar bill, that light bulbs are killing our dogs and cats, and that God personally chose here to become both an IRS attorney would spend years hounding taxpayers and a raging anti-tax Tea Party crusader against big government. She kicked off her unofficial presidential campaign in New Hampshire, by mistakenly declaring it the birthplace of the American Revolution."
And another beauty passage from the Taibbi article,
"Bachmann's entire political career has followed [a] pattern of God-speaks-directly-to-me fundamentalism mixed with pathological, relentless, conscienceless lying. She's not a liar in the traditional way of politicians, who tend to lie dully, usefully and (they hope) believably, often with the aim of courting competing demographics at the same time. That's not what Bachmann's thing is. Bachmann lies because she can't help it, because it's a built-in component of both her genetics and her ideology. She is at once the most entertaining and the most dangerous kind of liar, a turbocharged cross between a born bullshit artist and a religious fanatic, for whom lying to the infidel is a kind of holy duty."
Joshua Holland at AlterNet posted a recent article that demonstrates the disdain so-called "constitutional conservatives" have for the founding document they claim so fervently to uphold.  His piece is aimed squarely at Perry and Bachmann, and it begins with this commentary,
"A great irony of our political discourse is that those who describe themselves as 'constitutional conservatives' display not only habitual ignorance of what our founding documents proscribe, but also show blatant scorn for the most important principle they enshrine: the separation of powers." 
Another post from AlterNet rates Bachmann and Perry to determine which is the bigger wingnut, and is an eye-opening read.  All this material is readily available elsewhere, but this post nicely captures the comparison.

And last, but certainly not least, is former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.  Mitt is hanging around the top tier of the Republican candidate group even though no one seems to want him.  He's the guy who said recently "Corporations are people, my friend."  As you might expect, dear reader, at Corporate Constraint, a site dedicated to the premise that corporations are decidedly not people, Mitt's steadfast support for CEOs earns for him exalted wingnut status.

And here's a few final words on Mr. Romney from a blog entry at The Nation site,
"Most politicians adhere to a broad political orientation, such as liberal democrat or conservative Republican, and shift positions over time as the nature of what is means to hold that place on the spectrum changes...Romney, on the other hand, has no such identity.  In Massachusetts he ran to the left; now he runs far to the right.  There is no overarching purpose -- whether is be fighting for social justice or defending traditional family values -- to his political career."
How is it that American politics continues to serve up such vile candidates for high elected office?  And remember, these wingnuts have already been elected to Governorships and Congress.  It fairly boggles the mind.

Second Update:  Madness in American politics has reached epidemic proportions!  Think the new movie Contagion.  The wingnuts in the Republican camp will no doubt point to the source as proof for their counter-argument, but true is true -- in Tuesday's (23rd) Washington Post I read two commentaries on the Governor "Haircut" Rick Perry. It seems his every utterance cries out for an NFL-style "C'mon Man!".

The first, from Richard Cohen, is titled "Rick Perry should stop and think".  Cohen began his piece by saying:
"Whatever global warming might or might not have done to polar bears, it has put Rick Perry's presidential candidacy at risk.  The Republican Texas governor clings to an ice floe of diminishing credibility, emerging in just about a week's time as intellectually unqualified to be president.  He engaged in a brief dialogue with a child about evolution and came out the loser.  Perry said there are some gaps in the theory.  If so, he is one." 
Cohen's commentary states that when Perry's ideology collides with reality, ideology wins, as it does in his rejection of climate change. Cohen ends his piece with this:
"I take Perry seriously.  He is no Michele Bachmann, unaccountably elected from a single congressional district, but a three-term leader of the vast nation of Texas.  The achievement warrants deep respect and, after last week, considerable worry.  It's not his thinking I fear.  It's the lack of any at all."
In another, this time by Eugene Robinson, it seems that the GOP is increasingly anxious about Perry's candidacy.
"In theory, Democrats should be nervous about Texas Gov. Rick Perry's decision to enter the presidential race.  In practice, though, it's Republicans who have zoomed up the anxiety ladder into freak-out mode.  To clarify, not all Republicans are reaching for the Xanax, just those who believe the party has to appeal to centrist independents if it hopes to defeat President Obama next year.  Also, those who believe calling Social Security "an illegal Ponzi scheme" and suggesting that Medicare is unconstitutional might not be the best way to win the votes of senior citizens." 
And then Robinson points out that these and other loonie Perry views are catalogued in his 2010 book "Fed Up!".  Even as his campaign people are trying to distance the candidate from his own words published less than a year ago, the candidate himself is pointing voters to it in his personal appearances.  Robinson writes,
"But Perry doesn't give us time to plow through his tome, what with his frequent newsmaking forays into the rhetorical fringe.  He had barely been in the race for 48 hours when he announced it would be 'treasonous' for Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to increase the money supply before the 2012 election."
And so, dear readers, I'm wondering just what is it about politicians (and this includes Obama) who write books and make speeches, but somehow believe that they'll be allowed to skate on their past utterances.  It comes down to a blind and unwavering belief that they are destined for power, and that their lies are justified in service of the greater good.

Or, maybe I'm misapplying the concept of greater good.  Perhaps these people, and the thousands more inside government, and the many millions more in the general public, are driven by their (to my mind) fanatical religious views that government should serve the will of god.  These people -- Bachmann and Perry in particular -- are applying to their political campaigns the teachings and concepts generally known as Dominionism.

And, finally, for the broader damage that the loonie, wingnut conservative right is doing to America, go here.

By David.

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Your musical accompaniment for the day: Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen.  Enjoy.

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