Utne Reader Editor in Chief Christian Williams on finding common ground politically, spiritually and culturally.
Thursday, August 23, 2012 11:08 AM
Most everyone agrees that this upcoming presidential
election will be one of the closest in history. But where’s all the enthusiasm
we saw in 2008? Who popped the balloon? The answer is sitting in the White
House and asking you for a second term.
In 2008, then-U.S. Senator Barack Obama rode a wave of
unbridled enthusiasm and optimism into the Oval Office. His lofty rhetoric
inspired hundreds of thousands of people who had previously felt alienated by
the political process to knock on doors, work in phone banks, and, most
importantly, show up to vote.
But ask many of those once enthusiastic Obama supporters
what they think of the President four years later, and you’ll likely get a
lukewarm opinion. The liberal base has a laundry list of complaints that range
from his lackadaisical record on the environment to health care reform that
doesn’t get close enough to the single-payer plan they really want. Many think
that he’s spent the last three years falling short on a lot of things they were
excited about electing him to accomplish.
Paul Glastris wrote about this phenomenon in the March/April
2012 issue of Washington Monthly, arguing that when you look at Obama’s
stat sheet, he’s actually accomplished quite a bit in a short period of time.
Glastris breaks down 50 of Obama’s top achievements, pointing out that many of
them were accomplished despite contentious battles with a remarkably hostile
and uncooperative GOP. In summing up
Obama’s first three years, Glastris writes, “Obama has gotten more done than
any president since LBJ.”
So where’s the love?
It appears that Obama has an image problem on his hands—one
that he helped create back in 2008. Simply put, when you posture yourself as a savior, people
expect you to save them in dramatic fashion. Many liberals believed in 2008
that Obama was the second coming of FDR, and that his presidency would be the
dawn of a great liberal age in American politics. The enthusiasm that image
generated was exactly what Obama needed to energize a previously stagnant
electorate and overcome the more experienced John McCain. You can’t blame Obama
for taking advantage of that, even if he knew it was an image he had no
intention of living up to. You win presidential elections by defining yourself
as larger-than-life and capable of great things, not as a calculating
pragmatist (which is what Obama really is). The risk, though, is that you paint
yourself into a corner and potentially compromise your chances for a second
term once the jig is up.
A perfect example of Obama’s pragmatic nature in practice is his
predilection for using unmanned military drones against terrorists. He appeased
antiwar activists by following through on his campaign promise to effectively
end America’s full-time
commitment in Iraq, and he
continues to work toward a similar end in Afghanistan. But when it comes to
the ubiquitous “War on Terror,” among other things, Obama has perpetuated that
conflict by expanding the use of secret ops and tactics that arguably make him
equally as hawkish as George W. Bush. He’s a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a
warrior-president all rolled into one. How’s that for a Contradiction in Chief?
As far as it relates to the election, Obama’s defense-minded
pragmatism is a twin-edged sword. While it’s likely that many of his supporters
from 2008 won’t be motivated to actively support someone they see as two-faced,
or worse—a liar, Obama has insulated himself from the classic
Republican-on-Democrat attack of being weak on defense. For once, it’s the
Democrat who can claim a defensive resume stronger than that of his Republican
opponent. That, along with Mitt Romney’s selection of ultraconservative Paul
Ryan as his running mate, might just pull independent voters into Obama’s
column, but it remains to be seen if they will be enough to make up for the enthusiastic liberal support he’s stymied by showing his true pragmatic colors.
Follow Utne Reader Editor in Chief Christian Williams on Twitter: @cwwilliams
Image by jamesomalley, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, May 08, 2012 1:16 PM
Just over half of Americans
say they wouldn’t buy a food they knew was genetically modified. Another 87 percent
say they want to see GM labels at the grocery store. That’s one reason why Connecticut’s
recent failure to require labeling is so surprising, says Treehugger. Now, genetically-modified
food is controversial among consumers, farmers, and scientists, and it’s difficult
to find a consensus on GM benefits and risks. The World Health Organization,
for instance, while noting some potential human health hazards like gene
transfer, maintains GM
safety is a case-by-case issue.
But the biggest opposition
didn’t come from scientists. The reason the bill failed appears to be pressure
from Monsanto, which reportedly threatened state legislators with legal action.
This was the
same tactic that got a GM labeling provision thrown out in Vermont last
month, as the one thing cash-strapped states don’t need is a big lawsuit.
Back in 2007,
then-candidate Obama said he supported labeling requirements for GM foods. But
after years of silence and a high-profile
national campaign last fall to get action from Washington (and another
one earlier this year), many states have taken matters into their own
hands. Mostly, it’s been slow going. In Minnesota,
a bill requiring labels failed in
March. Legislators voted
down a similar bill in Washington
state recently, reportedly after facing pressure from, you guessed it, Monsanto
and other biotech firms.
But in California, voters have the ability to
bypass their legislature in statewide ballot initiatives. Last week, they filed
almost a million signatures to do just that, and this November, a GM labeling
requirement will be on the ballot. The campaign took a
swift ten weeks, says MarketWatch,
and culminated in rallies across the state. Given that a clear majority of
Californians support the initiative, it seems likely to pass.
What happens in the rest
of the country is less certain. Even as state activists and legislators debate
GM safety and labeling, the Department of Agriculture is set to approve a new
GM corn crop which poses potential health hazards to farmers and consumers. The
crop is resistant
to a herbicide called 2,4-D, a chemical now used on golf courses to kill
large weeds, reports Huffington. 2,4-D,
an active ingredient in Agent Orange, has been linked to health problems like
cancer and birth defects, but now may coat millions of acres of modified corn. GM
safety may be a case-by-case question, but many
scientists are concerned about this one.
And for the USDA, and Obama,
all this is nothing new. According to the San
Francisco Chronicle, the department hasn’t
denied approval for a GM crop since they began appearing in the mid-1990s. Last
year, after Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack got cold feet about a White House plan to
allow unrestricted GM alfalfa, he fell
back in line almost immediately. The reason, says Tom Philpott in Grist, was almost certainly political
pressure from an administration with strong ties to agribusiness and biotech.
Even if states like California can enforce
labeling requirements, changing how we grow food to reflect people’s
concerns about GM is much more difficult. What all this means is that GM
skeptics have an uphill battle, not just from big chemical companies or
inactive state legislatures, but also from the federal government.
Image by Darwin Bell,
licensed under Creative
Thursday, April 05, 2012 3:45 PM
This post originally appeared on Tom Dispatch.
“fivedollaragallongas,” the energy watchword for the next few months is:
“subsidies.” Last week, for instance, New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez proposed ending some of the billions of dollars in handouts
enjoyed by the fossil-fuel industry with a “Repeal Big Oil Tax Subsidies Act.”
It was, in truth, nothing to write home about -- a curiously skimpy bill that
only targeted oil companies, and just the five richest of them at that. Left
out were coal and natural gas, and you won’t be surprised to learn that even
then it didn’t pass.
President Obama is now calling for an end to oil subsidies at every stop on his
early presidential-campaign-plus-fundraising blitz -- even at those stops where
he’s also promising to “drill everywhere.” And later this month Vermont Senator
Bernie Sanders will introduce a much more comprehensive bill that tackles
all fossil fuels and their purveyors (and has no chance whatsoever of passing this
Whether or not
the bill passes, those subsidies are worth focusing on. After all, we’re talking
at least $10 billion in freebies and, depending on what you count, possibly as
much as $40 billion annually in freebie cash for an energy industry already
making historic profits. If attacking them is a convenient way for the White
House to deflect public anger over rising gas prices, it is also a perfect fit
for the new worldview the Occupy movement has been teaching Americans. (Not to
mention, if you think about it, the Tea Party focus on deficits.) So count on
one thing: we’ll be hearing a lot more about them this year.
But there’s a problem: the very word “subsidies” makes American eyes glaze
over. It sounds so boring, like something that has everything to do with
finance and taxes and accounting, and nothing to do with you. Which is just the
reaction that the energy giants are relying on: that it’s a subject profitable
enough for them and dull enough for us that no one will really bother to
challenge their perks, many of which date back decades.
By some estimates, getting rid of all the planet’s fossil-fuel
subsidies could get us halfway to ending the threat of climate change. Many of
those subsidies, however, take the form of cheap, subsidized gas in
petro-states, often with impoverished populations -- as in Nigeria, where popular protests forced the government to back down on a
decision to cut such subsidies earlier this year. In the U.S., though,
they’re simply straightforward presents to rich companies, gifts from the 99%
to the 1%.
attention is to be paid, we have to figure out a language in which to talk
about them that will make it clear just how loony our policy is.
Start this way: you subsidize something you want to encourage, something
that might not happen if you didn’t support it financially. Think of something
we heavily subsidize -- education. We build schools, and give government loans
and grants to college kids; for those of us who are parents, tuition will often
be the last big subsidy we give the children we’ve raised. The theory is: young
people don’t know enough yet. We need to give them a hand when it comes to
further learning, so they’ll be a help to society in the future. From that
analogy, here are five rules of the road that should be applied to the
subsidize those who already have plenty of cash on hand. No one would propose a
government program of low-interest loans to send the richest kids in the
country to college. (It’s true that schools may let them in more easily on the
theory that their dads will build gymnasiums, but that’s a different story.) We
assume that the wealthy will pay full freight. Similarly, we should assume that
the fossil-fuel business, the most profitable industry on Earth, should pay its
way, too. What possible reason is there for giving Exxon the odd billion in
extra breaks? Year after year the company sets record for money-making -- last
year it managed to rake in a mere $41 billion in profit, just
failing to break its own 2008 all-time mark of $45 billion.
subsidize people forever. If students need government loans to help them get
bachelor’s degrees, that’s sound policy. But if they want loans to get their
11th BA, they should pay themselves. We learned how to burn coal 300 years ago.
A subsidized fossil-fuel industry is the equivalent of a 19-year-old repeating
third grade yet again.
you’ll subsidize something for a sensible reason and it won’t work out. The
government gave some of our money to a solar power company called Solyndra. Though
it was small potatoes compared to what we hand over to the fossil-fuel
industry, it still stung when they lost it. But since we’re in the process of
figuring out how to perfect solar power and drive down its cost, it makes sense
to subsidize it. Think of it as the equivalent of giving a high-school senior a
scholarship to go to college. Most of the time that works out. But since I live
in a college town, I can tell you that 20% of kids spend four years drinking:
they’re human Solyndras. It’s not exactly a satisfying thing to see happen, but
we don’t shut down the college as a result.
subsidize something you want less of. At this point, the greatest human
challenge is to get off of fossil fuels. If we don’t do it soon, the
climatologists tell us, our prospects as a civilization are grim indeed. So
lending a significant helping hand to companies intent on driving us towards
disaster is perverse. It’s like giving a fellowship to a graduate student who
wants to pursue a thesis on “Strategies for Stimulating Donut Consumption Among
5. Don’t give
subsidies to people who have given you cash. Most of the men and women who vote
in Congress each year to continue subsidies have taken
campaign donations from big energy companies. In essence, they’ve been
given small gifts by outfits to whom they then return large presents, using our money, not theirs. It’s a
good strategy, if you’re an energy company -- or maybe even a congressional
representative eager to fund a reelection campaign. Oil Change International estimates that fossil-fuel companies get $59 back for every
dollar they spend on donations and lobbying, a return on investment that makes
Bernie Madoff look shabby. It’s no different from sending a college financial
aid officer a hundred-dollar bill in the expectation that he’ll give your
daughter a scholarship worth tens of thousands of dollars. Bribery is what it
is. And there’s no chance it will yield the best energy policy or the best
These five rules
seem simple and straightforward to me, even if they don’t get at the biggest
subsidy we give the fossil-fuel business: the right -- alone among industries
-- to pour their waste into the atmosphere for free. And then there’s the small
matter of the money we sink into the military might we must employ to guard the various places
they suck oil from.
rid of these direct payoffs would, however, be a start, a blow struck for, if
nothing else, the idea that we’re not just being played for suckers and saps.
This is the richest industry on Earth, a planet they’re helping wreck, and
we’re paying them a bonus to do it.
In most schools
outside of K Street,
that’s an answer that would get a failing grade and we’d start calling
subsidies by another name. Handouts, maybe. Freebies. Baksheesh. Payola. Or to
use the president's formulation, "all of the above."
McKibben is Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, founder of
the global climate campaign
, and the author, most
Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.
Image by Ben Lunsford, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, November 04, 2011 4:38 PM
With US troops marching out of Iraq and Osama bin Laden’s head on a pike, it will be difficult for Barack Obama’s political enemies to characterize the president’s first-term performance on the international stage as indecisive, inexperienced, or weak-kneed—a strategy that helped unseat Carter and left Gore desperate for Florida’s electoral votes. Barring a domestic terror attack, in fact, hawkish Republicans will likely avoid serious foreign policy discussions and quietly cheer for the economy to continue its slumber.
The electoral ramifications notwithstanding, what worries Mark Lagon, International Relations and Security Chair at Georgetown University’s Master of Science in Foreign Service Program, is that Obama’s seeming strength (and good fortune, I might add) betrays a lack of inventiveness and depth—especially when it comes to projecting soft power, that combination of diplomacy and nonmilitary coercion essential to enduring influence and stability.
Writing in the October issue of World Affairs, Logan notes that when Obama initially took office he “made fresh start statements, such as his June 2009 remarks in Cairo, and embraced political means like dialogue, respectful multilateralism, and the use of new media, suggesting that he felt the soft power to change minds, build legitimacy, and advance interests was the key element missing from the recent US approach to the world—and that he would quickly remedy that defect.”
Since then, Obama has embraced unilateral military actions, accelerated the use of unmanned drones—despite the risk of untold civilian casualties—and has continued a number of the Bush administration most unpopular policies, including rendition and the suspension of habeas corpus domestic and foreign. Consequently, the administration lacks credibility on those occasions it does choose to engage in statecraft.
To prove the point, Logan looks in detail at events in Iran, Russia, and Egypt during Obama’s first term; countries where a “meaningful” expression of soft power could “have made a difference not only for those countries but for American interests as well.”
“[Obama’s] reaction to the challenges these countries have posed to the US suggest that it is not soft power itself that Obama doubts,” Logan concludes, “but America’s moral standing to project it.”
Source: World Affairs
Image byThe U.S. Army, licensed under Creative Commons
Friday, October 29, 2010 4:58 PM
Everett Dirksen is one of my heroes. The Senate Republican leader from 1959 to 1969, he pushed strongly for Vietnam escalation and took conservative stands that I’d have strongly disagreed with on economic issues. But he joined Lyndon Johnson in going to the mat to pass the Civil Rights and Voting Rights bills, and for that I admire him immensely.
Today’s Republicans are far from Everett Dirksen, and that’s a shame. Beyond political differences with Obama and the Democrats, they’ve been making war on reality itself, which should be a major issue of the campaign’s final days. Consider these examples:
The myth of Obama as a secret foreign-born Muslim: If 45 percent of Republicans think Obama wasn’t born in this country and 57 percent think he’s a secret Muslim, there’s a reason. It’s not just that Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have been spouting crazy lies, but that the overwhelming majority of Republican leaders have been silent, so as not to damp the fervor those outraged at Obama’s mere presence in the White House. Yes, a few have bluntly said it’s nonsense, like Hawaii’s Republican governor Linda Lingle, South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham, and Colorado Senate candidate Ken Buck. But most have responded with a wink and nod, saying Obama’s the legitimate president or that he’s a Christian "as far as I know," or in Senator James Imhof’s words that the birthers “have a point.” They’ve refused to publically challenge a belief that fuels so much grassroots Republican energy.
Denial of global climate change: Dino Rossi, Washington State Senator Patty Murray’s Republican challenger, recently told the Seattle Times that he couldn’t take a stand on climate change because it’s still being debated between “scientists and pseudo scientists.” Agreed. On the one side you have the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the British, German, and Norwegian academies of science, the Japanese, French, Indian, Brazilian, Australian equivalents, and the major scientific organizations of every nation in the world, not to mention such dangerously radical groups as the American Chemical Society, American Meteorological Society, and the American Statistical Association, all of whom say that human-caused climate change is a real and unprecedented danger that’s rapidly getting worse. On the side of the skeptics you have a handful of scientists funded by Exxon, the coal companies, the Koch Brothers and other corporate sponsors who want to maintain business as usual. They claim the jury’s still out, and do this in a year when a fifth of Pakistan was flooded, when Russians fled Moscow because runaway forest fires made the air impossible to breathe, and when much of the US suffered both record temperature levels and extreme weather events like massive floods, tornadoes and ice storms. But Rossi sided with the pseudo-scientists, as has practically every other Republican Senate candidate on an issue that should cross political lines. Sharron Angle, Ken Buck, Roy Blunt, Marco Rubio, Linda McMahon, Pat Toomey, Rand Paul, Ron Johnson, Carly Fiorina, Christine O’Donnell, Joe Miller and Rossi—every one of them has questioned the reality of the crisis and therefore the need to act. Even some who once took strong stands, like John McCain, have muted their voices to appease their hard right base. While European conservative parties lambast their more left opponents for not doing enough, the Republicans remain in denial on the ultimate issue of our lifetime.
Denial of our economic crisis and of its roots: The Republicans are certainly talking about the crisis. It benefits them politically. But they’re also denying the urgency of doing anything to assist those who cannot find jobs no matter how hard they try, or to acknowledge the roots of the crash in policies spearheaded by Bush and the Republicans. They focus particularly on the bank bailouts while refusing to acknowledge that they were voted in on Bush’s watch with major Republican support. They also near universally parroted the talking points of the banks in trying their best to stop or gut the Financial Reform Bill that makes such bailouts less likely in the future I’d call a refusal to rein in tax breaks for corporations shipping jobs overseas a similar fundamental denial of the relationship between actions and consequences. Granted, Clinton era deregulation and treaties like NAFTA have helped erode America’s industrial base. But it’s still a major denial of reality to pretend to support Main Street while doing the direct bidding of those whose sole interest is protecting their right to make as much as they can off predatory speculation.
Denial of the threats to our democracy by the power of unlimited wealth: You could say Republican stands on this are just a question of opposing government regulation. But it takes some massive level of denial to claim that it does no harm to the public good to allow corporations to buy and sell politicians of either party like baseball trading cards. In an even greater affront to reality, Republicans who’ve long claimed that transparency solves the problems of opening up the floodgates to unlimited cash have fought unanimously against the barest attempts to impose this accountability through the DISCLOSE Act, a bill that would have at least required ads to list the names of their prime corporate backers. As a result, groups like the US Chamber of Commerce, Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, and new front groups that spring up daily have been flooding the airwaves with commercials paid for by corporate donors whose identity is masked. These ads will elect Republican candidates, or so their backers hope. They will also provide a subtle or not so subtle incentive for Democrats to avoid challenging corporate interests. Yet not a single Republican was willing to vote for the DISCLOSE Act, which remains one vote short of passage.
If there’s an antidote to this denial and to the paid lies that fuel it, it’s citizen participation. If enough of us knock on doors, make phone calls, talk to coworkers and neighbors, and otherwise reach out beyond the core converted (or at least get sympathetic voters to the polls), there’s a chance that this denial of reality will backfire, and that the Everett Dirksens of the Republican Party will regain the upper hand. If we’re silent, we allow reality itself to become hostage to delusion, and our country and planet to pay the price.
Paul Loeb is the author of the wholly updated new edition of
Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in Challenging Times
(St Martin’s Press, April 2010), and
The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen’s Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear
, which the History Channel and the American Book Association named the #3 political book of 2004. See
Paul Loeb is a guest blogger at utne.com. The views expressed by this guest blogger belong to him and do not necessarily reflect the mission or editorial voice of utne.com or the Utne Reader.
Image courtesy of Paul Loeb.
Friday, June 18, 2010 10:08 AM
Yesterday, some of us got a little persnickety about the notion that Obama’s speech on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill/precursor to apocalypse was too linguistically complicated. We should have known, but the blog We Are Respectable Negroes has done a great public service and re-written the speech to be more “grade level appropriate.” Enjoy:
The U.S. is in big trouble right now. People need jobs and more money. We are fighting bad guys who hate us in other countries. Our soldiers are doing a good job killing the bad people.
Now, I want to talk to you about the oil in the ocean down South. On April 20th an oil rig blew up. Too many people were killed. There was a big hole dug deep in the ground by the oil rig people. It started to leak oil out into the water. The water is really deep.
…The oil is like a big monster. It is evil. It is hard to cleanup. The oil is killing fish and birds. People who work on boats in the water can't make money. To fight the monster I told the navy to help. The smart people are going to dig another hole in the ground. With the BP folks they are going to soak up the mess like a big paper towel. I hope that the hole in the ocean will stop leaking in a few weeks.
…The BP people killed the nice people that worked for them. We need to make sure we know why the oil rig blew up. They dug a deep hole in the ground. They didn't even think about plugging it up. Now, we need to make a rule so that does not happen again. No more messes!
…Remember, we are a great country. We have lots of bad things going on now. But, the U.S. always wins. We will soak up the oil. We will kill the bad guys in those other places where they pray to the wrong God and want to blow us up. The economy will get fixed. God bless America.
Source: We Are Respectable Negroes
Image by Tim Morgan, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, June 17, 2010 10:52 AM
So, some people are concerned that Obama’s oil spill speech was too linguistically ambitious. CNN reports that
Tuesday night's speech from the Oval Office of the White House was written to a 9.8 grade level, said Paul J.J. Payack, president of Global Language Monitor. The Austin, Texas-based company analyzes and catalogues trends in word usage and word choice and their impact on culture.
Though the president used slightly less than four sentences per paragraph, his 19.8 words per sentence "added some difficulty for his target audience," Payack said.
What is this, SATVerbalSection-gate? No, it isn’t, because that's not a thing. For my money, The Awl has the only comment that matters. Check the title on their quicklink: “Why Won’t Barack Obama Talk To Us Like The Morons We Are?”
Source: CNN, The Awl
Image by jurvetson, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010 3:37 PM
Barack Obama’s administration has not yet passed a health care bill. Nor has it passed a climate change bill. Nor has it closed Guantanamo Bay. There is, however, one progressive issue where the Obama administration has been extremely productive: regulation.
Under previous Republican administrations, John B. Judis reports for the New Republic that the alphabet soup of federal regulation agencies—the EPA, OSHA, SEC, FCC, and others—were systematically dismantled. Industry representatives were chosen to regulate the industries they represented, and budgets were strategically cut. Obama is turning the tide, appointing actual regulators and increasing funding, even in the midst of the recession. “In doing so,” Judis writes, “he isn’t simply improving the effectiveness of various government offices or making scattered progress on a few issues; he is resuscitating an entire philosophy of government with roots in the Progressive era of the early twentieth century.”
Source: The New Republic
Wednesday, February 10, 2010 3:40 PM
Conservatism may be fueled in part by fear and uncertainty, according to a psychological study covered in Miller-McCune. Three researchers “have found evidence that both general feelings of threat and specific anxiety about other ethnic groups sometimes do lead individuals to embrace two tenets of political conservativism—support for the status quo and a belief that there is a natural hierarchy to society.”
Which is to say that a common liberal perception might be rooted in reality. Before your conservative brother-in-law can dismiss the research as the sketchy work of lefty social scientists, he should consider that the study was carefully constructed to track shifting attitudes over time, surveying almost 1,000 undergraduates as they went through four years of college. It went further toward establishing a causal connection than previous studies, which had found that people who were more uncomfortable with complexity and ambiguity tended to lean to the right.
The results surprised even the researchers. As one tells Miller-McCune:
“What makes it really interesting is that using very conservative methods, and looking at processes over time, we still found that there was a conservative shift in response to threat perceptions. A lot of people just treat conservatism as a personality variable that doesn’t change, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. It seems to be influenced by the situation, and it can be affected by threat perceptions.”
The magazine notes that this might be part of the psychology at work behind the recent anti-government, anti-Obama right-wing movement: “With unemployment now topping 10 percent, economic uncertainty is probably weighing more heavily.” Also, “America now has its first African American president. And as the research described here suggests, there seems to be a direct link from ‘intergroup anxiety’ [about people of different ethnicities] to political conservatism.”
Image by MeetTheCrazies, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009 1:06 PM
Barack Obama’s “hope” and “change” campaign slogans meant many things to many people. For some UFO fanatics, Obama’s election represents the hope that the government will finally come clean about its “truth embargo” on the existence of extraterrestrials on Earth. The latest issue of The Washington Monthly profiles Stephen Bassett, Washington’s only registered UFO lobbyist. Basset and other UFO enthusiasts believe that Obama’s commitment to transparency and disclosure will lead to a formal admission that aliens have been on Earth for some time. Then the government can finally release all that alien technology—including the cures for cancer, global warming, and the engergy crisis—that it’s been sitting on for so long. Summing up the change that UFO enthusiasts have been waiting for, the Washington Monthly reports, “If Obama doesn’t announce the existence of aliens in early 2010, they say, he certainly will in the next few years.”
Source: The Washington Monthly (Article not yet available online)
Thursday, September 10, 2009 4:29 PM
Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) issued his now infamous outburst—“You lie!”—during a very specific part of President Obama’s health care speech: the dismissal of claims that a new health care plan would cover “illegal” immigrants.
“In an instant, Wilson was willing to breach protocol, embarrass himself, and undermine his party—because he was so infuriated by the idea that Obama’s plan might provide care to a certain group of people,” Channing Kennedy writes on ColorLines’ blog RaceWire.
To illuminate why “our conversation around immigration [is] so often driven to extremes, both of language and of policy,” Kennedy points to a fantastic short video about the loaded term illegal featuring ColorLines publisher (and 2008 Utne visionary) Rinku Sen.
Source: RaceWire, ColorLines
Thursday, July 30, 2009 6:19 PM
Barack Obama has engaged in a delicate balancing act since he took office, continually placating the myriad special interest groups that take partial credit for getting him elected. The American Prospect reports “the ability to coerce, engage and, yes, distract his own progressive coalition has become one of Obama’s signature achievements.” The Obama administration places a priority on making groups feel included, inviting them into the White House, and, according to the article, blurring the line “between tourism and negotiation.”
The near-constant “babysitting” doesn’t always translate into concrete action, as many organizations have discovered. LGTB groups, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Human Rights Watch have all received personal attention, only to see their concerns go unaddressed by the administration. The question, according to the American Prospect, is “whether progressive groups know the difference between managing expectations and producing results.”
Source: The American Prospect
Tuesday, July 21, 2009 10:05 AM
David French, a Captain in the army and a lawyer, shares some insightful thoughts about the Obama administration and war rhetoric over at Town Hall:
As long as Obama continues to draw the sword, I don’t care much what he says with his pen. It should humble our political classes to know that the important decisions— the actions that truly decide the fate of nations — are made by Americans who care more about the NBA playoffs than a speech on the floor of the Senate, who rarely watch a cable news broadcast, and for whom Facebook is the lifeline for all the news that truly matters . . . of first steps, birthday parties, and little league baseball games far, far away.
Read the whole article here.
(Thanks, Newmark’s Door.)
Monday, July 20, 2009 1:45 PM
The National Weather Service predicts between four and seven hurricanes will hit the Atlantic basin this year. Just one of those storms could end the Cuban embargo, Patrick Doherty writes for the Washington Monthly. Cuba is currently in a precarious position: both cash strapped and perennially vulnerable to hurricanes. Last year, the island was directly hit by four hurricane-force storms that devastated the country’s economy and its people.
If a natural disaster were to strike Cuba this year, President Obama could use an obscure U.S. law to end the embargo. The 1961 Foreign Assistance Act gives the president the authority to “furnish assistance to any foreign country” in times of humanitarian disaster “notwithstanding… any other act.” That means President Obama could unilaterally lift the embargo for a specified term to assist the country. Once the American people see that lifting the embargo won’t restart the Cold War, Congress could move more easily to end the embargo permanently. “One hopes that it would not take a significant uptick in human suffering to force a change in an antiquated piece of U.S. policy,” Doherty writes. On the other hand, it could work.
Source: Washington Monthly
, licensed under
Tuesday, July 14, 2009 3:24 PM
American audiences were shocked last week to see a photo of their commander-in-chief with French President Nicolas Sarkozy giving what looked like lecherous glances toward a young woman. French audiences, on the other hand, likely knew what they were getting into when they elected their president. Sarkozy’s electoral victory displays “the collective desire of the French people to be represented by a dominant libidinous male,” Lucy Wadham writes for Prospect Magazine. The French people elected Sarkozy because he is a “libidinous sex dwarf.”
The lascivious French attraction to Sarkozy goes back to Napolian Bonaparte, according to Wadham. She writes, “Sarkozy, like Bonaparte, has all the characteristics of a sex dwarf: he is short, shamelessly flirtatious and tireless in his pursuit of women.”
Newsweek leapt to Barack Obama’s defense, saying that he was “in the midst of an entirely gentlemanly maneuver,” while “proving again that chivalry is not dead.” Sarkozy’s leering appears less defensible. The video below allows people to draw their own conclusions.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009 12:32 PM
This blog was originally posted on ProPublica, an independent, non-profit newsroom, and licensed under Creative Commons.
One of our goals for tracking the $787 billion stimulus package is figuring out how much each federal agency is actually spending — something that’s trickier than it sounds: The numbers on each agency’s Web site are far from clear, and they don’t always add up with other publicly available figures.
Consider the U.S. Agriculture Department. The department’s Web site dedicated to the stimulus says, “USDA was appropriated $28 billion (3.5 percent) of the package.”
So Congress authorized USDA to spend a total of $28 billion in stimulus funds at some point in the future. But how much of that is actually in the process of getting spent right now? There’s no one clear answer to that.
A stimulus dollar’s journey starts with appropriation in Congress and ends when it’s paid out to a contractor. But the middle part of that equation involves a trek into the murky world of spending terminology.
Different bureaucratic terms are used for different stages in the process, and different federal agencies seem to use these terms interchangeably. That, coupled with the fact that some federal Web sites are more up to date than others, makes tracking spending — the key to public transparency — equal parts accounting and detective work.
We tried making sense of the USDA’s numbers.
On the USDA Web site, there’s an interactive map that shows a state-by-state breakdown of USDA projects funded by the stimulus. We added up the total amount spent in each state and got $5.4 billion. The figures on the map are not dated, so there’s no way of knowing how current they are.
Meanwhile, under a table titled “Funding Notifications by State” on Recovery.gov, the federal government’s hub for stimulus information, it says the USDA has allocated just over $610 million nationwide. Elsewhere on the site, it says that $1.68 billion has been “paid out.”
But if the USDA has allocated just $610 million, how can it have already paid out nearly three times that much?
To try to clear things up, we took a look at Recovery.gov’s interactive map that breaks down “funding notification” by both agency and state. We added up USDA spending for each state. The total? A mere $362 million, or about one-fifth of what Recovery.gov lists as paid out. Like the data on USDA.gov, no date is given for the figures on the Recovery.gov map, so it’s hard to know how recent they are.
Ed Pound, director of communications for the Recovery Transparency and Accountability Board, which manages Recovery.gov, said the site is still a work in progress and that he couldn’t explain the different figures. “We’re not in the business of verifying the data,” he said. “Our job is to put this stuff up that we receive from federal agencies.”
A spokeswoman for the USDA, asked about the discrepancies between figures on USDA.gov and Recovery.gov, refused to comment for the record.
So to sum up, we have one federal department, with four different numbers for stimulus spending, some of which are perfectly clear — and some not so much. “Available” versus “allocated,” “obligated” versus “committed,” “invested” versus “notified,” “funded” versus “paid out” — your typical taxpayer would need an advanced degree in accounting to figure out just how much of his money is being spent.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009 11:55 AM
With President Obama in office, some of the Bush era’s most vociferous antiwar organizations have become peculiarly complacent, Justin Raimondo observes in the American Conservative. Raimondo singles out MoveOn.org, Americans United for Change, and VoteVets, among others for not calling the planned escalation of U.S. presence in Afghanistan what it is: no different than the war policy of the Bush era.
“Like the neoconized Republican cadre that hooted down Ron Paul as he rose to challenge the Bush foreign policy during the GOP presidential primary debates, a similarly brainwashed Democratic base is now cheerleading their leader and shouting down dissenters even as this White House repeats—and enlarges—the mistakes of the previous occupant,” Raimondo writes.
Source: American Conservative
Tuesday, May 19, 2009 11:47 AM
Since the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama has been hailed as a pragmatist. As a candidate, he embraced off-shore oil drilling and clean coal and he spoke out in favor of gun rights. As President, his economic policies and his decision to block the release of prisoner abuse photos have similarly been touted as “pragmatic.”
“Being a pragmatist is a statement about means, not ends,” Robert Reich writes for Talking Points Memo. Pragmatism is not a virtue, in and of itself; virtue lies in the goals achieved through pragmatism. According to Reich, “to call his stance ‘pragmatic’ is to rob it of its moral authority.”
In comparison to the last eight years, Obama’s lack of ideology feels to many like a breath of air for a nation under water. The Bush administration convinced many Americans, and especially Democrats, “that there is a correlation between idealism and incompetence. I have no quarrel with efficacy, but it is a contentless ideal,” The United States needs to be represented in the world by more than best practices.”
A solution to President Obama’s search for a non-dogmatic philosophy may lie in the actions of candidate Obama. As a candidate, Obama was able to explain controversies to the public in measured and intelligent terms. In his speech on race, Reich writes, “He took America to a higher place by explaining what we all knew and felt but giving it a larger and nobler frame. He educated us in the best sense of the word.”
President Obama has the chance to embrace the educational possibilities of the current crisis. He needs to “find a way to bring the public in, to let it feel a sense of participation and ownership,” Mark Schmitt writes for the American Prospect. Rather than evoking the state secrets privilege, or divorcing economic policies from the public at large, Obama should embrace the transparency he campaigned on. He can educate the American people on widening inequality at home and the dangers of foreign threats abroad. According to Schmitt, “Ideology, in a measured dosage, can help people understand where we're headed and why.”
To do so would both make good on his promises of transparency and strengthen his policies. Call it pragmatic ideology.
Talking Points Memo
the American Prospect
Friday, January 23, 2009 10:45 AM
After eight years of oppressive government secrecy, the new Obama administration wasted no time making strides toward what the President called “a new era of openness.” In his first full day in office, Obama signed an executive order and two presidential memoranda aimed at releasing government information from the vice grip of the previous administration.
The steps are a “spectacular start” toward greater government transparency and accountability, according to Stephen Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists and writer of the Secrecy News blog, but they are just the start. As President Obama readily acknowledged, many more transparency issues within the federal government need to be addressed.
One of Obama’s early actions was to release a memorandum on the Freedom of Information Act (pdf), making it harder for the government to “withhold” information. Though laudable, the memorandum doesn’t address the persistent over-classification that’s hampered a free flow of information. The National Security Agency can still classify a host of documents that should be available to the public.
“People from throughout the intelligence, military, and law enforcement communities would acknowledge that the excessive overclassification is a problem,” according to Meredith Fuchs of the George Washington University’s National Security Archive, “and it actually puts us at risk, so it has to be fixed.”
There are a number of high-profile Freedom of Information Act requests still outstanding—including the documents surrounding warrantless wiretapping, detainee treatment, and the millions of missing Bush Administration White House emails—that aren’t addressed in Obama’s preliminary actions either. Fuchs believes these cases present opportunities for the new administration to prove themselves as the advocates to open government with real actions.
So far, according to Fuchs, Obama’s actions have been more of a statement of principals, albeit an important one, rather than a panacea for government accountability. The actions signal a drastic change in the way the government interacts with the American people, but more details are needed, including how the transparency principals are going to be carried out.
“There’s fierce bureaucratic culture of protectiveness” that has taken hold inside the federal government, according to Aftergood. Without definitive rules, the support of congress, and pressure from the public, the cloud of government secrecy won’t go away. What Obama did achieve, Aftergood said, is that “he made it clear that openness is not a slogan, and it is not even an end of itself, rather it is a means to an end, and that ultimate end is a vital and vigorous democracy.”
Image of the National Archives building in Washington D.C.
UPDATE: Talking Points Memo has a video on another angle to Obama’s transparency efforts:
Wednesday, January 21, 2009 10:27 AM
Barack Obama’s announcement that he would take the oath of office on Abraham Lincoln’s bible set off a flurry of historical analogies between the two presidents. According to historian Eric Foner, interviewed on Fresh Air, “this whole Lincoln analogy has gone a little too far.”
Any religious analogy would be particularly historically problematic, Foner told Terry Gross, since Lincoln never belonged to a church throughout his life. And, unlike Obama, Lincoln didn’t have a preacher involved in either of his inaugurations. In the 19th century, according to Foner, “it was quite uncommon to have ministers there. You know, they believed in the separation between church and state back then.” In fact, John Quincy Adams didn’t take his oath of office on a bible at all, opting instead for a more secular book of laws.
It should be acknowledged, however, that Obama made strides, at least rhetorically, in the secular realm when he acknowledged “non-believers” in his inaugural address.
Image of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008 10:52 AM
There has been a lot to repent for throughout this election. Both Republicans and Democrats have viciously attacked each other over the past few months (or years) in pursuit of a single goal: electoral victory. Now that Barack Obama’s victory has been decided, it’s time for a little forgiveness.
It wasn’t always this nasty. Gil Troy writes for the Wilson Quarterly that “our political ancestors often approached the political game in better humor and with a closer attachment to political life.” Today’s “media politics,” by contrast, engender partisan bickering and division for the sake of a compelling storyline. In their attempts to motivate the electorate, politicians end up distancing themselves from voters. The effect is that political parties today are approached with the same zeal as a pro-sports team, according to Troy, with all the intensity and vitriol, but little participation from the fans.
Evidence of this nastiness was on full display throughout campaign 2008. Many on the left focused on the hate-filled videos from outside of McCain-Palin rallies, but the Democrats released their share of attack advertisements, too. Watching television in battle-ground states over the past few weeks has been an exercise in muck-wallowing, with a constant stream of attack ads and over-the-top accusations coming from both sides.
The reality is that revenge serves an evolutionary purpose, psychologist Michael McCullough told In Character. When an animal feels wronged, revenge protects that animal’s interest and deters “harm-doers from harming us a second time.” The inclination for some may be to redress the harms of the past few months and lick the wounds inflicted throughout the campaign.
For many, however, Obama’s victory can send that same message of deterrence for the wrongs of the past eight years. On an evolutionary level, for a species to survive, animals must move beyond revenge to forgiveness.
“When people forgive,” according to McCullough, “they switch from ill will for someone who has harmed them to good will for that person.” That simple act has evolutionary and health benefits: Conflicts create anxiety and stress that forgiveness helps alleviate. Beyond the benefits to the individual, forgiveness fosters cooperation in a species, according to McCullough, and “helps us restore and maintain relationships that are valuable to us.”
In their final speeches of last night, both Obama and McCain seemed to acknowledge the importance of relationships with other Americans. Obama quoted Abraham Lincoln saying “We are not enemies, but friends. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.” The way to ensure that is for both sides to forgive.
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Monday, October 27, 2008 12:02 PM
So many websites have run posts on Obama-inspired artwork (Utne.com included, twice) that one blog has taken on the task of reporting daily on new Obama-themed creations. The Obama Art Report gathers images and information on all the candidate’s representations, everything from posters and action figures to sculptures and paintings. The website even has its own eBay store, where the starting bid for all items is 99 cents and all proceeds go to the Obama campaign.
You can also find roundups of Palin art. Fun, although not as organized as the Obama site.
(Thanks, Visual Culture)
Image courtesy of
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Wednesday, October 08, 2008 12:55 PM
There’s a whole lot of Obama-wear out there, from the streets of New Jersey to the runways of Paris, but the printed Ts and onesies made by Piggyback-Kittycat are especially fetching designs that ought to do well with the baby-mama set. With messages like “Baby Needs a Change” and “My Mama’s for Obama” for the kids and “Go Bama” and “Obama’08” for mothers, they take equal inspiration from children’s wooden blocks and contemporary design. Babies can’t vote, but the persuasive power of cuteness plus progressive advocacy shouldn’t be discounted when undecided grandparents (pdf) come for a visit. Piggyback-Kittycat “head hog” Ruth Weleczki says she custom-designed a shirt for one customer that targets an older demographic: It reads “Audiologists for Obama.”
Image courtesy of Piggyback-Kittycat.
Thursday, August 21, 2008 11:01 AM
Google just released a new application called Power Readers in Politics, where both major presidential candidates and a number of journalists show off what they’re reading on Google Reader. Obama and McCain have reading lists that look like two sides of the same coin. Here’s a breakdown of what the candidates (or at least their campaign staff) say they're reading.
Non-Girly Man Credentials:
Obama: ESPN, NBA, Chicago White Sox
McCain: Arizona Cardinals, Diamondbacks, ESPN
Advantage: Obama. The White Sox won the World Series in 2005. The Arizona Cardinals haven’t won anything since the 1940s.
Trying to be funny:
McCain: BBQ Bible, JibJab
Obama: Daily Show
Advantage: Obama. Although the short, bespectacled Steve Raichlen of the BBQ Bible might play well in some parts of the country, the Daily Show is definitely funnier than Jib Jab.
Obama: Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times
McCain: Arizona Republic
Advantage: Obama. The Chicago Tribune won a Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for investigative reporting. The Arizona Republic hasn’t won one since 1993.
Obama: Time, Newsweek, Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, LA Times, the Economist
McCain: Forbes, Fox News, Wall Street Journal
Advantage: Obama. He’s got the numbers.
Online Media and Blogs:
Obama: Daily Kos, Think Progress, Talking Points Memo, the Huffington Post
McCain: National Review (2x), Wired Danger Room, Drudge Report, Jeffery Goldberg at the Atlantic, Politico (2x), Mark Halperin at Time, Powerline, RealClearPolitics, the Weekly Standard Blog
Advantage: McCain. Talking Points Memo may be the strongest single link, but McCain’s got the bigger lineup. Also, McCain focuses more on individual reporters, which is sure to gain him points.
McCain: ONE Campaign, Navy.mil, Yahoo! News
Advantage: McCain. Even though Yahoo! is a slightly mystifying choice on a Google application, McCain still wins this one.
Obama: Barack Obama’s Blog, Democratic Party Blog
McCain: GOP, Meghan McCain’s Blog
Advantage: Even. I was going to give this to McCain, but Meghan’s Blog makes her dad’s campaign look like a brainwashed summer camp.
Analysis: In spite of Obama’s famed advantage in Web 2.0, the McCain campaign put up a surprisingly strong fight. One factor was that McCain’s reader included more news sources than Obama’s. By my count, though, the Obama campaign was able to barely edge out the competition and win the Google Power Reader challenge.
Friday, June 20, 2008 12:06 PM
Cosmic forces are combining in strange and astrologically stressful ways leading up to the 2008 election, Barry Orr writes for Reality Sandwich. On election day, November 4, 2008, Saturn and Uranus will be in direct opposition with each other. Saturn is a force for conservatism, according to Orr, while Uranus is a force for reform. Having these two planets 180 degrees apart from the earth, as they will be on election day, could be cataclysmic. Orr suggests a number of astrologically possible situations:
1. “The election will be postponed or canceled due to some ‘national emergency.’”
2. “One or more candidates will leave the race.”
3. “There will be rampant fraud or data foul-ups on Election Day, and yet another election will be stolen.”
The fates laid out by Orr and other astrologers aren’t deterministic. There were, however, a number of prescient political readings made by astrologers before. Orr gives the example of astrologer Jim Shawvan, who predicted before the 2000 election:
The election may be so close in some states that it may be several days before the actual electoral college votes can be tallied with accuracy. This could involve the counting of absentee ballots, and possible charges of fraud or irregularities in some places. As of election night, it may look very much like a Bush victory, but uncertainty may develop as the count goes on.
Friday, May 02, 2008 10:00 AM
At this point, it’s not even worth taking shots at the media over the Rev. Wright affair. It’s too easy. Too obvious. And, most disappointingly, too ineffectual. Put the country’s most uncomfortable topic on the agenda, mix in election season psychosis, and add a controversial black pastor who scorns the press, and reporters’ heads apparently explode. They end up asking questions like: “How do you feel about America and about being an American?” (National Press Club moderator Donna Leinwand to Wright) or “Do you think Reverend Wright loves America as much as you do?” (George Stephanopoulos to Senator Barack Obama).
There’s intelligent reportage to be done on Wright (brilliant megalomaniacs make for rich profile subjects). But that’s not going to happen any time soon; the press—and the public, too—seem to require a certain amount of distance from racially charged moments in order to make any sense of them. That’s what was truly novel about Obama’s Philadelphia speech: He was able to articulate the present moment, not just rehash the past or rhapsodize about the future.
So, given the current media blackout on reason, I’d recommend checking out a pair of recent pieces that give me hope that once the dust settles, we might learn something from this ruckus.
The first is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s profile of Bill Cosby in the May issue of the Atlantic. The controversy surrounding Cosby’s campaign for black responsibility is well-known but not necessarily well-understood. Coates sifts through the fallout to trace the divergent liberal and conservative intellectual traditions of black America, from their origins to their manifestations today. Along the way, he offers one of the more nuanced and original pieces of analysis on race in America that I’ve seen in print of late.
Part of what drives Cosby’s activism, and reinforces his message, is the rage that lives in all African Americans, a collective feeling of disgrace that borders on self-hatred. As the comedian Chris Rock put it in one of his infamous routines, “Everything white people don’t like about black people, black people really don’t like about black people … It’s like a civil war going on with black people, and it’s two sides—there’s black people and there’s niggas, and niggas have got to go … Boy, I wish they’d let me join the Ku Klux Klan. Shit, I’d do a drive-by from here to Brooklyn.” (Rock stopped performing the routine when he noticed that his white fans were laughing a little too hard.) Liberalism, with its pat logic and focus on structural inequities, offers no balm for this sort of raw pain. Like the people he preaches to, Cosby has grown tired of hanging his head.
Cosby is fond of saying that sacrifices of the ’60s weren’t made so that rappers and young people could repeatedly use the word nigger. But that’s exactly why they were made. After all, chief among all individual rights awarded Americans is the right to be mediocre, crass, and juvenile—in other words, the right to be human. But Cosby is aiming for something superhuman—twice as good, as the elders used to say—and his homily to a hazy black past seems like an effort to redeem something more than the present.
The other article comes from the Chronicle Review and looks back at a controversy more distant: the 1968 Ocean Hill–Brownsville teacher strikes unleashed after white New York City school teachers were delivered pink slips by a newly empowered black school board. What’s interesting here is writer Richard D. Kahlenberg’s diagnosis of the embattled alliances involved and how those fault lines still pervade liberalism today. The Black Power activists on the school board, who were determined to have black teachers teaching black children in a school system dominated by whites, were bolstered by support from the city’s Anglo-Saxon patricians. Meanwhile, unionized teachers (many of them Jewish) drew support from pro-labor whites and a few of Martin Luther King’s black allies. The strikes eventually ended and the union prevailed, but the rift between working class blacks and whites—between civil rights and labor advocates—that was blasted open by the politics of racial preference continues to plague Democrats today, preventing what Dr. King and others saw as a natural and immensely powerful alliance.
Thursday, April 17, 2008 11:44 AM
Everyone's piling on ABC News in the wake of last night’s debate. The Washington Post’s Tom Shales spoke for many when he skewered anchors Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos for their “shoddy, despicable performances.” More stinging (and amusing) assessments came from those live-blogging the debates.
Here’s Andrew Sullivan at 8:40 p.m. Eastern:
Now, it’s flag-pins! I'm just pointing out that we are now almost halfway through this debate and ABC News has not asked a single policy question. It's pure Rove, sustained and hyped and sustained by Stephanopoulos and Gibson. It's what they know; it's easy; and it will generate ratings. It is not journalism.
And Josh Marshall over at Talking Points Memo observes matters as they further degrade:
9:16 PM ... Did someone tell Charlie Gibson that he knows something about economics? There are a heck of a lot of people who make over $97,000 a year? Really? I think like 12% of the population makes more than $100,000 a year. And his capital gains point is a canard.
9:24 PM ... I was disappointed that Charlie Gibson seems to spout off right-wing bromides as established facts. I was even more disappointed that Obama didn’t seem able to knock them down.
9:29 PM ... I don't watch a lot of nightly news. Is Charlie Gibson usually this bad?
9:31 PM ... This is awful.
Then, at 9:50: What happened to the League of Women Voters? Can we give the debates back to them?
Most telling were the comments from viewers on ABCNews.com. Here’s one:
How utterly embarrassing for ABC, Gibson, and Stephanopoulos. No matter which candidate viewers support, the real focus was the inane questions and poor behavior of two veteran “journalists”... watch out Fox News, ABC is reaching for your star.
The flogging is certainly deserved. When George Stephanopoulos asked Barack Obama, “Do you think Reverend Wright loves America as much as you do?” bile crept up my throat. And when the debate finally turned from what Shales called “specious and gossipy trivia” to actual policy matters—51 minutes in—the person responsible for guiding the discourse to reason wasn’t even on the moderators’ panel. Thank you, Mandy Garber, resident of Pittsburg, who asked via video an astute question regarding the candidates’ Iraq policy proposals:
The real question is, I mean, do the candidates have a real plan to get us out of Iraq, or is it just real campaign propaganda? And it's really unclear. They keep saying we want to bring the troops back. But considering what's happening on the ground, how is that going to happen?
The inanity from Wednesday’s debate could fill a week’s worth of episodes of the Daily Show. But let’s not kid ourselves. ABC News is not an anomaly. Their display of journalism-gone-mad is just the latest egregious example of the media’s failure this election. And if it keeps up, we could be looking at a repeat of 2000.
Remember 2000, when the liberal media harangued Al Gore for his silly lock-box and ran cheerful profiles of George W. Bush’s cheerleading days at Andover? The American public may be at fault for buying Karl Rove’s carefully constructed good ol’ boy candidate, but the folks who spoon-fed them the message were journalists.
And that gets to the fundamental misunderstanding of the liberal media slant. Reporters might skew liberal in their views, but their liberal mindset ends up serving conservatives come election season. Reporters know Democrats better; they understand their dirt and games and get wrapped up in them. They don’t understand Republicans as well. That’s why the evangelical machine’s turn out in 2000 caught reporters off guard: They weren’t running in the circles of the right’s foot soldiers. It’s an old but true cliché that the left eats itself, and part of the left doing the chomping is the media.
Here’s the other symptom plaguing liberal-minded reporters: They’re delicate and grievously susceptible to finger-wagging about fairness. Hillary Clinton knows this: When she played the skewed-coverage card reporters didn’t just bite, they wagged their tongues in obedience and upended the gains Obama was making in Ohio.
The final problem stalking reporters this year: They’ve gone lazy. I’m not talking about hours worked; those guys are running themselves ragged filing stories. I’m talking about intellectual laziness. They’ve bought into their own caricatures of the candidates. Case in point: Obama’s boneheaded remarks in San Francisco. They were immediately dubbed a “rookie” mistake revelatory of his Achilles heel in November. Meanwhile, John McCain cavorts about the Middle East calling al-Qaida a proxy of Iran. Does it count as a rookie mistake if you’ve been in the Senate more than 20 years?
That is, of course, a perennial plea to the press: Stop covering the horse-race and cover the issues. Reporters have weaseled out of that lately by noting that the two Democrats’ policy platforms are similar. In other words: There’s nothing to cover but the horse race. It’s a convenient excuse, and it’s also incredibly wrong-headed. Their job is not only to find the candidates’ differences—which do in fact exist—but to root out the issues not being discussed. In our July-August issue we highlight one such rare effort from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which urgently reminded candidates and voters that national security goes beyond the Middle East. But delving into such matters is tough. It takes time, research, and imagination. And that’s a lot harder than putting on repeat those videos of Clinton on a Bosnian tarmac.
I’m becoming genuinely fearful that what began as a slam-dunk election year for Democrats will lumber, knee-capped, into another Republican edged-out victory. On the Democratic side, fault will most likely be hurled upon the two candidates for battling so long and so hard. The true responsibility will lie with “liberal” journalists. Not because they didn’t take one for the team and buoy the Democrats, but because they didn’t do their jobs.
How do you think media coverage has impacted the election? Let us know in the Politics Salon.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008 5:23 PM
Watching the Democratic debate last night, the separation between church and state was not brought up once. Church and State magazine recently published 10 questions people should be asking the presidential candidates.
“Do you think houses of worship should be allowed to endorse political candidates and retain their tax-exempt status?”
“Do you think my pharmacist should be allowed to deny me doctor-prescribed medications based on his or her religious beliefs?”
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