Archive for January, 2010
It’s hard to believe a full year has passed since I live-blogged Barack Obama’s first address to Congress. I will be doing it again this year with the help of my radio co-host Sandi Behrns. We hope you can join us live! If you miss the live event, you can read the transcript any time after the event.
UPDATE: I am no Presidential scholar but I do believe something unprecedented happened during tonight’s State of the Union. The Supreme Court usually gets a free ride at these events but not this year. Obama said:
Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/27/alito-not-true_n_439672.html
Virtually the entire chamber rose to its feet in support of Obama’s smackdown while the nine Justices sat silent, with only Alito mouthing “not true”. It was truly a sight to see.
The Supreme Court last week struck down some 70 years of legal precedent concerning the ability of corporations to spend their discretionary money in support of a political candidate within a certain time frame of an election. Many liberals are beside themselves with concern over this decision saying that, to paraphrase Senator Chuck Schumer, the winners of the upcoming election will not be Democrats and will not be Republicans but will be corporations.
I read enough of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion to believe that the opposition to this opinion is much ado about nothing and in fact represents an odd inconsistency with liberal belief. The opinion comes down on the side of freedom of speech (the First Amendment), which we liberals hold almost more dear than anything else in our platform.
But first, we need a reality check. Before this opinion was issued by the Court, Congress was already bought and sold by lobbyists and big business. Who are we fooling here? On one level the Court’s decision simply makes the law reflect reality.
Even if we get beyond the cold reality of how things really work, the opinion stands on its own logically. When a company contributes to a political campaign, there is an implicit quid-pro-quo relationship established. The candidate has solicited the donation and the company has made the donation. This establishes a potential obligation between one party and the other. That is why there are limits to campaign contributions. This was not changed by the Citizens United decision.
However when a company freely spends its money in support of a candidate via commercials, films, etc. when the candidate has not solicited such support, no quid-pro-quo relationship is established. In this case, the company (for profit or non-profit corporation) is freely exercising its Constitutionally guaranteed right to express its opinion. This is the very essence of freedom of speech. There are those who say that corporations are not “people” and should not enjoy first amendment protection. I argue that corporations represent the will of people, either their board of directors, their shareholders or their executive team. Corporations are not aliens. They are human inventions influenced by the humans who run them.
Again, we need to step back a moment to the reality prior to this ruling. It has been correctly noted by some commentators that General Electric owns MSNBC and therefore pays the salaries of Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, both of whom reserve the right to express their opinion about a candidate right up to the moment that he or she wins or loses the race. In fact, in the case of Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Keith Olbermann went right on expressing his opinion after Brown won the race. By the current liberal sky-is-falling reasoning, didn’t General Electric have unfair influence prior to this ruling?
While I understand the concerns about corporations gaining even more influence via this decision, I think that risk pales in comparison to the slippery slope that we find ourselves on when we restrict the speech of one entity whom we distrust. Who gets censored next? This was the inevitable conclusion that the Court had to make. When you restrict the speech of any of us, you risk restricting the speech of us all and you compromise the most fundamental principle upon which our country is built.
On the night following the election of Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown to the US Senate, Howard Dean, former chair of the DNC, made an argument about the election on MSNBC’s “Hardball” that boggled the mind. He said that folks who voted for Obama ended up voting for Brown because the current health care bill does not go far enough.
Excuuuuuuuse me? I had to “rewind” the Tivo at least three times to make sure I heard him correctly. Chris Matthews essentially told him he was crazy and I agreed. Then I actually looked at the poll numbers upon which Dean based his assertion. You’ve got to see this crap to believe it.
First MoveOn.org asked 1000 folks who voted for Obama in 2008 whether they favored the current health care reform effort.
OK, so now our conservative friends are licking their lips. You see!!! No one wants the government involved in health care. This Brown election is a message to Washington!
Sorry, my tea bag dunkers but the stats get really weird from here.
They then asked the folks who said they opposed the current health care reform whether they felt it went too far or not far enough. Behold:
Sorry to disappoint the folks who want their country back but if we don’t count the fence-sitters, most of the Obama voters who either voted for Brown or stayed home felt the current health care reform did not go far enough!
This brings me to my main point.
ARE LIBERALS REALLY THIS STUPID?
Granted the group polled were 2008 Obama voters, not necessarily liberal, but let’s face it, the great preponderance of them are liberal. These folks are such boneheads that they think the way to get good health care reform legislation is to either stay home or vote for a guy who explicitly said he would vote AGAINST health care reform. As crazy as Howard Dean sounded, the numbers backed up his statement.
But here’s the real rub. Dean didn’t seem the least bit angry at the Massachusetts voters. He seemed to almost have an “I told you so” attitude that this is the punishment we deserve for not taking reform far enough.
OK, let me give you liberals a clue for the next election. If you want something done, you vote for the person who ALSO wants that something done. You don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good (I know, over-used phrase but it works) and you don’t vote for the dude who will kill the very thing you want before it even has a chance.
I didn’t think I needed to spell that lesson out but apparently some liberals are just that stupid.
There is no doubt that it is a case of exaggerated expectation. Here we were on January 20, 2009 watching the first black man to be elected President take the oath of office. He was anointed by a Kennedy. He was for many, the new John Kennedy. Of course, even JFK wasn’t “JFK”. So right off the bat our measurement of Barack Obama had to be out-sized. Today marks the last full day of his first year in office and interestingly, it coincides with a potential repudiation of liberal politics in the state of Massachusetts as the state’s residents go to the polls to choose between Democrat, Martha Coakley and Republican, Scott Brown.
The terms of Obama’s campaign were lofty. Hope and change in a time of despair and politics as usual. Obama was virtually setting himself up to fall short. While I would not characterize his first year as a failure by any means, one cannot deny the let-down as we assess where we are a year later.
The PR Campaign on the Stimulus Package
The stimulus money has helped. There is no doubt about that. There are teachers, policemen and firemen who would be jobless today were it not for the stimulus package. Yet for some reason the brilliant public relations campaign that catapulted Obama to the White House completely disappeared post-inauguration. No one can blame the average American for wondering what good the stimulus package did because the results are never thrown in our face. Part of this may be due to that part of the main stream media which leans left, spending the entire year on the defensive. I can’t begin to count the nights of watching MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann calling out the GOP and its proxies as liars and worse. Seldom, however was the purely positive, uplifting victory lap. Obama is not blameless in this either. It could well be argued that time spent on the “Beer Summit” with a Harvard professor and the cop with whom he had a feud, could have been better spent flying out to a construction site, wearing a hard hat, and getting that great photo-op for a new highway project getting started. Of all the things we would never have expected the Obama team to fail at — optics — they failed at miserably.
The Restoration of the American Brand Around the World
We hear constantly that we now look better on the world stage since Obama was sworn in. I have no doubt that Obama’s rhetoric of international coöperation, our re-entry into the family of nations, has gone over very well. Obama is indeed a rock star throughout Europe. It would be quite hard not to improve on George W. Bush’s shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach to governing. But how much has really changed? The climate change summit resulted in non-binding agreements … otherwise known as sound and fury signifying nothing. Only recently does it look like China and Russia may help us get Iran to behave better. And speaking of Iran, there has been no discernable change in the attitudes of Muslim nations. We still have state-tolerated if not outright state-sponsored terrorism as the number one threat to our safety. The condemnation of Islamist radicalism from powerful Muslims has still not materialized.
Health Care Reform
Obama’s biggest mistake with health care reform was over-correcting Hillary Clinton’s mistake of 1994. Hillary micro-managed. Obama threw the effort at Congress and they pounced like an Alice Cooper audience tearing apart a chicken. With a super majority in the Senate, one would think this would go down nice and easy but instead it devolved into a fight between left Democrats and blue dogs. The bill currently being hashed out between the House and the Senate is a love letter to the insurance industry, a funnel of guaranteed customers. The most socially important part of the legislation is itself fatally flawed. Under the new law, insurance companies can no longer deny coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions. The catch, however, is that they can still charge sick people a much higher premium than healthy people, thereby still making the purchase of insurance for some, cost prohibitive. While I am fully in favor of not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, not nearly enough good will come out of this legislation. If it passes it will be more a symbolic victory than a substantial change in the American administration of health care.
Our Leftist President
While conservatives moan and groan about our Marxist president, the truth is that Obama is not nearly as left-leaning as hard-core leftists would have hoped. His record so far on GLBT issues is lackluster at best. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is still the military policy du jour. Obama has openly opposed gay marriage (favoring instead, civil unions). Getting back to health care reform, Obama immediately abandoned support of a single payer system, the only truly radical alternative to the status quo, and he has been reserved in his support of the public option. True lefties want us out of Iraq AND Afghanistan. Obama has upped the ante in Afghanistan.
Politics as Usual
Perhaps the biggest disappointment, but the one most based on unrealistic expectation, is that we would see a post-partisan government that got things done. Today’s election in Massachusetts bears witness to how little has changed in a year. Liberals like myself are concerned with Martha Coakley winning because we don’t want to give up our super majority in the Senate. Politics as usual dictates that without a super majority, gridlock ensues as recalcitrant Republicans block every Democratic measure. But the rub is that Martha Coakley has been one lousy candidate. Her win represents just a number we need. It does not represent anything close to the lion of the Senate, Ted Kennedy, whom she would be replacing. Under Obama the inter-party bickering has gotten ten times worse. His opponents question his citizenship and say he wants to destroy America. His proponents launch often equally vicious attacks on the GOP. (A perfect example is Keith Olbermann advancing the dubious notion that Scott Brown endorsed having a hot curling iron inserted in Martha Coakley’s rectum. The video upon which he bases his assertion is inconclusive at best.)
The Dispassionate Professor
America desperately wanted a change from the gut-feel approach of George W. Bush but I think in retrospect they wanted brains AND guts. Obama often looks like a professor addressing his class. He often takes the role of teacher-in-chief, the Ward Cleaver dad who gives you good advice and imparts important lessons. Even when he’s angry, he doesn’t seem that angry. This reminds me a bit of my transition from academia to corporate America some 27 years ago. When I left Harvard, I longed for an end to everything being intellectualized to death. I wanted to hear a mofo called a mofo. Corporate America gave me that respite. However after a few years, I longed to hear people THINK again. Meat and potatoes goes just so far. Obama is still the academic president and much of America will not warm up to this until he injects more passion into his approach.
I am sure conservatives would say I’ve left out a host of other failings. Quite frankly, I think Obama has done an admirable job in a difficult time. He was not as bold as many would have hoped but then didn’t we all project a bit of our own aspirations on him? Certainly on Afghanistan, his policy was always clear and none of us has a right to be upset about the upcoming deployment of more troops. He was never a peacenick and those who thought he was were engaged in projection, pure and simple.
Despite the common conception that if you want to get things done, you must do it in the first year, presidencies are not defined by the first year. Presidents popular in year one (e.g. George W. Bush) can end up with disastrous administrations and presidents with low first year opinion polls can go on to win second terms and be successful. I have not given up on our president. I will still root for him and defend him against unfair attacks. However, the statute of limitations on the Bush legacy excuse officially ends today. Beginning tomorrow, Obama must stop talking about what he inherited and start focusing on what country he will pass on to the next administration.
Yes my friends we have reached that bottom of the toilet moment when conservative’s favorite radio pundit makes Cuba look like the shining light on the hill.
The United States and Cuba have reached an agreement to allow planes to fly through Cuba’s airspace to speed relief to earthquake torn Haiti.
In the meantime, egged on by one of his paranoid pin-head listeners, Rush impedes help to Haiti by suggesting that if you use our government web site to make your relief contribution, the money will not get to Haiti but your name will get on a mailing list.
After Glenn Beck called Obama a racist, pressure was brought to bear on advertisers to bail. It worked. The time has come for this same pressure to come down on Limbaugh like the cement roofs that crushed thousands of Haitians three days ago.
Update: To petition Rush’s corporate sponsors to pull out, sign the petition found at change.org!
I probably should be ashamed of myself to give these three stooges more publicity but all three popped up on the Lawson radar today.
You would think that Rush’s recent brush with death would mellow him a bit. Fat chance. Snarky as ever, Rush says Obama will exploit the Haiti earthquake to kiss up to American blacks. Ehhh, newsflash Rushbo … blacks already like Obama. Dumbass!
Jerry Falwell is dead so someone has to carry on Jerry’s tradition of exploiting tragedy to proselytize. This time it’s Pat Robertson who thinks if the citizens of Haiti just turn to Christ everything will be ok in the future. You see, they made a pact with the devil and that’s why they suffered a devastating earthquake yesterday. If we were talking about some wackjob that nobody knows, it wouldn’t be worth writing about. But Pat Robertson is watched by millions of so-called Christians. This is Pat’s idea of what we should expect from a loving God.
Surprisingly, Fox News has one brave voice, that of Shepard Smith to condemn this nonsense.
If you want to help the Red Cross relief fund for Haiti, text the word “haiti” (without the quotes) to 90999 from your cell phone. You’ll be charged $10.00.
I have a new found respect of sorts for former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. If the new book “Game Change” can be believed:
- Sarah didn’t know why WWI or WWII got started
- Sarah didn’t know why there was a North Korea and a South Korea
- Sarah thought Saddam Hussein attacked us on 9/11
Now Sarah of course says this is all hooey, but for a moment, let’s take the findings at face value.
Imagine you are a person of average intelligence and you’ve forgotten 60% of what you learned in High School. Frankly, I’ve forgotten 60% of what I learned in High School. Imagine next that you’ve been elected to lead a state the population of Brooklyn, New York. I don’t think you have to be much above average to achieve this. Now imagine that for purely exploitative reasons, the Republican candidate for US President asks you to be his running mate and you say yes. Can you imagine the courage it takes to make that leap? If Sarah was as ordinary as “Game Change” makes her out to be, basically the typical person profiled on a Jay Leno segment of “Jaywalking”, she must have been absolutely terrified to step into the national spotlight and suddenly be expected to be smart.
I know my conservative readers will think I am just making another back handed slap at Sarah, but seriously, if you discount the fact that she is a bit crazy, it takes serious cojones to sit with news correspondents (e.g. Gibson and Couric) and be quizzed in front of millions of TV viewers when you know that you don’t know squat. If McCain had been elected and then died, Palin might not have been the best informed President we ever had, but I suspect she would have been the gutsiest.
The release of the book Game Change by Washington reporters John Heilemann and Mark Halperin has set tongues wagging on a number of topics but the topic that has captured much of today’s dialog is a quote attributed to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Apparently, in assessing then Senator Barack Obama’s chances at a successful presidential run, Reid said it was advantageous that Obama was “light-skinned” with “no Negro dialect unless he wanted to have one”. While a truck load of folks are unhappy with Reid’s choice of words, the overwhelming majority of Democrats have come to his defense and Barack Obama himself has given Harry a pass on this. This in turn, has conservatives fuming about a double standard saying that had a Republican uttered these phrases, he would have been forced to resign. Former Republican Senator Trent Lott is used as the example. My fellow blogger Blackiswhite, Imperial Consigliere argues this point much to my dismay. But he asks another question in his post that deserves further examination.
Let’s dispense first with the ridiculous Reid-Lott equivalency argument. I’ve gone back and read Lott’s explanation of the faux pas that got him in hot water back in 2002. In celebrating the 100 year birthday of then South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond, Lott delivered a toast in which he reminded the audience of Mississippi’s support of Thurmond’s presidential candidacy back in 1948. The cornerstone of Thurmond’s platform was segregation. Lott said, “We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years either.” Now it isn’t a stretch to surmise that Lott was endorsing Thurmond’s segregationist ways. The best spin we can give this (and Lott’s own spin for that matter) is that essentially Lott was patronizing the old man at his birthday celebration with a general slap on the back that was not meant to be analyzed as a serious political statement.
The reason the Lott-Reid equivalency is intellectually bankrupt has nothing to do with the intent of the individuals making their respective comments. Lott may indeed have not even considered that his statement could be interpreted as longing for the good old days of white and black water fountains. The issue is not about intent, it is about the reaction triggered by the statement. Regardless of what Lott meant to say, the interpretation was ugly. Interestingly, Reid apologized for his choice of words but has not apologized for the meaning of his words. And he need not apologize for the meaning of his words since there is no way that anyone speaking the English language can interpret Reid’s comment as a dislike for black people.
In fact, Harry Reid told the truth. We might not like it but he told the truth. Both within the “black community” and outside it, there is discrimination based on skin color. Yes, even some blacks are stupid enough to attach value to skin color. And when MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough asks with full outrage “what is a black dialect”, every honest person knows he is full of crap. A black dialect is like pornography. I cannot describe it to you but I know it when I hear it, and so does every other honest person. You want a good “test” of a black dialect? Listen to someone on the phone and try to guess if they are black or white. For some people (not all) the test is quite easy. Granted some of what we associate as black dialect is really southern. A large component of Jesse Jackson’s speech pattern is southern. But I’m sorry folks, when you hear Jesse on the radio you know with 95% certainty he is black. And again, some in our society (both white and black) associate ignorance (and at worst, menace) with a black dialect. The same goes for dark skin. Have we forgotten the brouhaha inspired by the Time Magazine cover of OJ Simpson that many said had been darkened to make him look more menacing?
Harry Reid spoke the truth that the best way to get a black man into the White House was to pick one who “sounded white” and who had some white background. These two traits could make Obama palatable to soft-core bigots. So on the face of it, Trent Lott spoke (possibly malicious) conjecture and Reid spoke truth with no malicious intent. End of story.
But with all that said, there is a bigger question to address that my friend Blackiswhite, Imperial Consigliere broaches in his article:
Who are these “black leaders” that people not of color keep having to make amends to when they have been declared of some sort of racial transgression? Who elected them? Do we all get to choose? And if not, how is that equality? How did Harry know who to call? Do they publish a directory? I realize that this may sound somewhat ridiculous, and I might be making too much light of what should be serious questions, but I think it is long past time to have an honest conversation about race on this particular subject. Who are these individuals to accept an apology for racist remarks about one person? And if it were about more than one person, the question remains the same. I don’t remember taking part in any decision to elect white leaders to accept apologies from members of other ethnic and racial groups who make racist remarks about white people.
To my Imperial friend, I say one thing: you are absolutely right.
On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Joe Scarborough asked black Washington Post writer Jonathan Capehart his opinion on the Reid fiasco. Capehart responded, and I paraphrase here, “Well, as the lone ambassador of the black race …” and he chuckled. You see, while Capehart didn’t want to really nail Joe, he was hinting that Joe’s directing the question at him was in itself racist. Why on Earth should Jonathan Capehart be expected to speak for black people? Why should I as a black man be expected to do the same? Why should anyone? And on the flip side, how arrogant it is of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson to think they speak for black people. While I agree with some of what each has had to say over the years, neither speaks for me. This leads me to the ultimate revelation of absurdity:
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS BLACK PEOPLE! Sorry all you proud sista’s and brotha’s but I’ve said it and I don’t take it back. The laptop I am typing on right now is black. I have never met anyone whose skin matches that color. I have met native Africans and no, even the darkest of them are lighter in tone than my laptop. Similarly, I have never met a man whose skin was white like a piece of paper or a cloud. Albinos come close perhaps. This distinction that 99% of our society buys into is totally absurd. Let’s look at some of the other phrases:
Negro — Spanish for black and coming from a latin root meaning black. Again, categorizing people by color, which is preposterous.
Colored — I’ve got news for you, we’re ALL colored.
African-American — This one at least shares the same preoccupation with regional origin that Italian-American or Polish-American does.
The bottom line is that our society has created a truly meaningless classification system that says nothing about its members. Heck, as Obama, Harold Ford Jr. and I prove, it doesn’t even say anything about the skin color of its members. The black/white distinction is totally preposterous yet it is embraced by both so-called blacks and so-called whites.
Harry Reid’s comments remind us that we have a society preoccupied with stupidity. Skin color is meaningless. We all know it yet we cling to it. So-called black speech rhythms which owe themselves more to southern heritage than anything else are equally meaningless. What is important is what is said, not the meter of speech. (By the way, this is not a defense of ebonics which I will leave for another article … ebonics is the most intellectually perverse degradation of the so-called black community to come down the pike.)
How do we talk about race? The more I think about it, the more I think the actor Morgan Freeman got it right in an interview with Mike Wallace on “60 Minutes” many years ago. He said the way to handle race is to STOP talking about it. It is sheer foolishness that says nothing about the individuals being labeled. I’ll leave you with that nugget of wisdom and prepare to take my shots in the comments section.