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Thursday, November 12th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]

Obama’s speech at Fort Hood on Tuesday didn’t get much coverage. It was lost amidst the constant churning of the news. In it, he said nothing “newsworthy.” But while it was not newsworthy, it was important. Obama focused on those who died that day, rather than the gunman. By his very approach, he made manifest the words of his erstwhile opponent, who in considering what America’s reaction to such threats should be said, “It is not about them; it is about us.” Marc Ambinder called the speech “The Best Speech Obama’s Given Since…Maybe Ever.” John Dickerson called it a “small masterpiece.”

While critics such as Charles Krauthammer may claim that Obama believes America should decline in power and Rush Limbaugh believes that Obama hates America so, Obama himself tells a different story of America:

[A]s we honor the many generations who have served, I think all of us – every single American – must acknowledge that this generation has more than proved itself the equal of those who have come before.

We need not look to the past for greatness, because it is before our very eyes.

This generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen have volunteered in a time of certain danger. They are part of the finest fighting force that the world has ever known. They have served tour after tour of duty in distant, different and difficult places. They have stood watch in blinding deserts and on snowy mountains. They have extended the opportunity of self-government to peoples that have suffered tyranny and war. They are man and woman; white, black, and brown; of all faiths and stations – all Americans, serving together to protect our people, while giving others half a world away the chance to lead a better life…

[W]hen today’s servicemen and women are veterans, and their children have grown – it will be said of this generation that they believed under the most trying of tests; that they persevered not just when it was easy, but when it was hard; and that they paid the price and bore the burden to secure this nation, and stood up for the values that live in the hearts of all free peoples.

Do yourself a favor – and as an antidote to the constant media circus of pundits bloviating and focusing their attention on the gunman and the other force that “killed those patriotic Americans at Ft. Hood as surely as the Islamist gunman did” (political correctness) – take a few minutes and pay attention to the story of us, and specifically to remember those who were killed on that day. It is, quite simply, the least we can do – to take a moment to pay attention to their lives instead of to glorify their killer and use their deaths as a cudgel against our domestic opponents.

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Our Unhinged Debate on Health Care Reform

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Or, Large Majorities of Americans Support the Specific Reforms Obama Is Proposing, But the Debate Going On Now Has Confused Them Into Opposing It

[digg-reddit-me]Andrew Sullivan provides a pretty good summary of the policy questions at stake in the health care debate – slightly modified by me to make it a list:

  1. Should we demand that insurance companies provide policies to anyone regardless of pre-existing conditions?
  2. Should we help the working poor buy that insurance with subsidies?
  3. Are competitive exchanges for health insurance a good or bad thing?
  4. Would a public option or a co-op help bring down healthcare costs?
  5. Does it make sense for the government to study the effectiveness of various treatments as a guide for doctors?

These are the basic questions Democrats are trying to answer. The only real presumption Democrats made in creating these policies is that the government can be effective. The proposals on the table now are modest – tinkering even – in which market mechanisms, government regulation, and a government plan together are designed with three goals:

The various bills under consideration are so long and complicated because they attempt to make slight adjustments to the system we have – and to remain true to Obama’s promise that if you like your health insurance you can keep it.  They prohibit certain practices by insurance companies, they set up a Health Insurance Exchange, they may or may not allow citizens to choose a publicly run health care plan, they subsidize individuals who currently cannot afford insurance, they set up committees to study best practices. What they certainly do not do is attempt radical change.

This isn’t about the free market versus communism, or radicalism versus moderation. The anger at Obama’s health care reforms has little to do with what he or other Democrats are proposing. There are those with reasoned objections. But the Republican Party has instead embraced and encouraged the inchoate rage of people frustrated with the direction our country is headed, with the various moral dilemmas George W. Bush left for his successors, with the massive failure of the markets that caused our current recession, with the failures of the visceral politics and policies of George W. Bush. On Slate’s Political Gabfest today, this exchange captured pretty well the essense of the hyperbolic debate going on now:

DAN GROSS: In college, we had the primal scream where at a point in time people would open their windows and just yell randomly. It was done to relieve stress but you weren’t yelling a set of statements about how your workload was too high. You were simply yelling. And it strikes me…that the things they are yelling are not the reasoned case for doing health care reform in a different way. They’re saying things like, “Let’s take our country back!” or “Lies, lies, and socialism, communism, fascism.”

JOHN DICKERSON: Yea – it is a sort of Tourette’s of the political…

I want to repeat that there are reasoned cases to make against the various policies Obama is proposing – but aside from an odd blog post by a libertarian economist every now and then, I don’t see them made. Instead, we get the approach Jon Stewart described: “You know, the individual mandate is going to hurt small businesses by…aw, fuck it: YOU’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!”

That’s what we’re dealing with: cynical manipulation of an inchoate public anger by entrenched interests and the primal screams of a minority of people frustrated with the direction of the country – both of whom are trying to scare the majority into indecision and intimidate the Democrats into submission. Then there are the many – some of whom are wary of action on health care right now; some of whom are concerned about government spending;  some of whom support reform, but aren’t clear on the issues; some of whom are frustrated with Obama’s moderation. Very little of the public debate has to do with the issues addressed above. Instead, we have anonymous lies spread by email, we have right-wing organizations claiming that “Obamacare=Gov’t Funded Abortion and Euthanasia,” we have Sarah Palin claiming Obama would make her son go before an evil “death panel,” we have Senator Jim DeMinto comparing America under Obama to Germany under Hitler, we have people on the streets and in town halls  and on the radio claiming that Obama is instituting Nazi policies, we have protestors deliberately trying to shut down debate (pdf) and silence those in favor of reform. And I’m not cherry-picking the most egregious examples here – these are the tactics used by mainstream opponents of health care reform.

The response and the debate going on now is unfortunately unhinged from reality and has very little to do with any bill being considered. Americans started out in favor of Obama’s health care proposals – expressing support for both him and the policies he had campaigned on. Polling shows they still support the policies: 72% of Americans are in favor of the public option; 74% of Americans believe that health insurance companies should not be allowed to exclude those with pre-existing conditions; 71% of Americans believe that the fact that 47 million Americans are uninsured is a “very serious” problem, with 49% willing to accept higher taxes to cover these individuals. When Obama’s plan was described in neutral terms, 56% of Americans still supported it today (with 38% opposed). But as Obama and Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats all raised concerns about deficit spending and soaring health care costs, many in the public became wary of increased spending. And as Republicans and entrenched interests began to spread rumors of the health care reforms being proposed, Obama’s support dropped.

But now this debate has broken out into the open – and amid  all the accusations of Nazi policies and “death panels” and rationing and socialism! and “killing Granny” the American public can see what is really going on. Republicans will soon learn the truth of Abraham Lincoln’s aphorism:

You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

[Image not subject to copyright.]

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Obama’s Long Game

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

Peter Baker quotes Robert Gibbs, Obama’s press secretary, in his description of Obama’s take on the state of politics and the stimulus bill:

Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, decried what he called a “myopic viewpoint in Washington,” disconnected from the troubles of the country.

“It’s illuminating because it may not necessarily be where cable television is on all of this,” Mr. Gibbs said. “But you know, we’re sort of used to that. We lost on cable television virtually every day last year. So you know, there’s a conventional wisdom to what’s going on in America via Washington and there’s the reality of what’s happening in America.” [my emphasis]

John Dickerson of Slate makes a similar case:

Remember back in the Democratic primary, when the consensus was that Obama was too soft, too deliberative, and too nice to win the election? These current gripes remind me of those days. It takes time to govern.

Overall, this reinforces my post of last week about why I am (still) confident about Obama in which I wrote that:

This seems to have been Obama’s strategy – to allow his campaign to take hits and play defense, sticking to an overall strategy that would gain him a final decisive victory rather than exhausting his staff fighting every daily flair-up.

Obama is once again playing the “long game” on this stimulus fight. I wonder how many times Obama will be able to do this – lose the daily fight while winning the broader point – before the media figures out his game. Clearly some of the more astute observers have.

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Only we can throw shoes at our president

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

John Dickerson seems about a day too late in offering the conventional wisdom about the American reaction to the show-throwing incident:

At the very least, I suspect a spark of patriotism will kick in when some Americans watch the tape or see al-Zaidi heralded in the streets as a hero. Hey, you can’t throw shoes at our president, they might say. Only we can throw shoes at our president.

That was my first reaction certainly – but most other people seem to have either looked on the Iraqi journalist with sympathy or merely commenting on Bush’s dodging ability as was evident the day after the show-throw. And in the case of Iraq – and Bush’s insouciant, “So, what?” in response to Iraq’s lack of weapons of mass destruction – it’s hard to blame one an Iraqi for wanting to grievously insult our president.

Can we really be outraged that the man threw a shoe in anger when Bush invaded his country under untrue pretenses and so botched the aftermath of the war? I can’t.

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The Blagojevich Scandal

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

I like how Governor Blagojevich didn’t see the second and fourth items on his agenda as precluding the third:

Throughout the intercepted conversations, Blagojevich also allegedly spent significant time weighing the option of appointing himself to the open Senate seat and expressed a variety of reasons for doing so, according to the affidavit, including:

  • Frustration at being “stuck” as governor;
  • A belief that he will be able to obtain greater resources if he is indicted as a sitting Senator as opposed to a sitting governor;
  • A desire to remake his image in consideration of a possible run for President in 2016;
  • Avoiding impeachment by the Illinois legislature…

John Dickerson observes that Obama comes off looking great in the indictment, quoting the charges themselves:

ROD BLAGOJEVICH said that the consultants … are telling him that he has to “suck it up” for two years and do nothing and give this “motherfucker [the President-elect] his senator. Fuck him. For nothing? Fuck him…”

Blagojevich said he knew that the President-elect wanted Senate Candidate 1 for the open seat but ‘they’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation. Fuck them.’

Dickerson’s conclusion:

It’s a little incredible that prostitutes weren’t involved (or aren’t yet, at least). Perhaps even more staggering is that the man at the center was so reckless while simultaneously aware of the advances in modern surveillance. As Blagojevich says at one point: “You gotta be careful how you express that and assume everybody’s listening, the whole world is listening. You hear me?”

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The Magic of Dish-Washing

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

John Dickerson of Slate magazine wrote a moving piece yesterday exploring Barack Obama’s brief return to normalcy before he enters the White House. He takes a number of Obama’s comments from his 60 Minutes interview with Michelle – comments that struck me at the time – and develops this sense of melancholy they conveyed.

What made the piece moving was how Dickerson was able to relate his constantly hectic life as a political reporter covering the campaigns for the past two years with Obama’s life making the news – and how both are now suddenly returned to their everyday lives – their families who they neglected and sorely missed, their homes, their mundane routines that now seem to wonderful – washing dishes!

A symptom of the campaign bends is the temporary view that even the life’s most mundane tasks are magical. Why? Because they are discrete, yield results, and require manual labor: characteristics not associated with most campaign duties…

Any professional who has been on the road for a long period of time can identify with the drift away from a normal life. Your cooking skills are replaced by room-service-ordering skills. Gradually, you forget which floor your office is on or whether you take a left or a right turn from home to get to church. A presidential candidate experiences this bubble-wrapped life completely. He lives in a world where his meals, movements, and laundry are all taken care of for him. This is necessary so that he can focus on NAFTA and Afghanistan. If he makes a wrong turn, there is a hand to direct him gently down the correct hallway.

This highly artificial life makes a body starve for the reality it used to know. It was clear that Obama was sensitive to the simple pleasures of returning to his home environment when he described hearing his wife move around the house when she wakes up before him. He’d been away from it so long, it probably rang like thunder.

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Posted in Barack Obama, Reflections, The Opinionsphere | No Comments »

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