Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Why Obama needs a big play as reality takes over.

I've always liked Michael Tomasky and found his insight useful. Today he is talking about Obama and the way that reality has removed the optimistic sheen which previously clung to his presidency.

He reminds us that should Obama succeed in passing meaningful healthcare reform, that he will have achieved something "which eluded titans named Roosevelt and Truman", and that this, "would automatically make this presidency a historic one."

But what has caused the faltering of confidence in the public perception of Obama? How can a man elected to bring about change by such large numbers now find himself with his back to the wall?

Tomasky has a very simple answer:

First and foremost, the ferocity and mendacity of conservative opposition to Obama simply weren't foreseen by most people. What we have witnessed has been borderline certifiable. One poll in late July found that only a minority of Republicans (42%) even believes that Obama is a rightful US citizen. For some he's a socialist, others a communist, still others a fascist. He wants to use a government programme of youthful volunteers called Americorps as his shock troops, his Obama Youth if you will, to round up dissidents (this programme does exist but here on planet Earth is benign and in fact admirable). And of course there are those evil "death panels" - that toxic and utterly false allegation about healthcare reform has been refuted now, but long after the damage was done.

But it did seem, for a while, that the brand of attack politics that conservatives honed during the Clinton years might not take hold this time. That their blind hatred of Clinton was uniquely about Clinton. Well, it turns out it's not.

I don't know why, after the insane way these people behaved when Clinton was in power, that I am remotely surprised that they reacted the way they did to the election of Obama. They are simply shameless. They play to the ignorance of their audience, which means that they can literally do and say anything without fear of being called out on it.

When one sees people holding up signs demanding that the government keeps their hands off Medicare then one realises that one is not dealing with the brightest sections of the population.

And the Republicans, if they can do nothing else, have always been brilliant at manipulating people's fears; and playing to the very worst of their conspiracy theories:
Others, like the 11 Republican sponsors of a bill to ensure that future presidential candidates (starting in 2012 - in other words, starting with Obama himself) provide a copy of their birth certificate when they file their candidacies, are egging the lunacy on.
And Tomasky finds fault with progressives in general for the fact that we appear to want unrealistic miracles from Obama:

Even George Bush, with a GOP congressional majority for whom the word "submissive" is an understatement, got about $300bn less in tax cuts than he wanted in 2001.

And this brings us to a psychological difference between the partisans of the two sides. When the Bush tax cuts passed, conservatives generally hailed them as a great victory and, to the extent that they felt the cuts didn't go far enough, blamed the evil Democrats. Whereas when and if Obama gets, say, two-thirds of a loaf on healthcare, these liberals will call it defeat and label Obama a weakling and a sellout.

So that's where we are.

I see what Tomasky is saying, and recognise some truth to the charge. I suppose I, like many others on the left, find it hard to understand why the Republicans under Bush got so much of what they wanted even when their majorities were nowhere near the majorities which the Democrats currently enjoy.

Perhaps the answer to that is best articulated by Van Jones: "Republicans are Assholes."

They care little for the truth and will literally do or say anything in order to win.
The summer has been a bummer for American liberals. But we've learned lessons. Chiefly, that American conservatism is as Leninist as ever in its tactics. Do anything, say anything, allege anything; crush the opponent at all costs, even when it means more Americans will die because of inadequate healthcare. In fact, if anything it's gotten more extreme. Fine. So now we know.
We have been caught unprepared for the mendacity and the lying of the right. After eight years, we simply forgot that our opponents could have so little respect for the truth, that their supporters could be so mind-numbingly dumb that they would believe literally anything.

But, we are still in the very early stages of the Obama presidency. All is still doable. Nothing is lost.

We have, over this summer, allowed the loudest voices heard to be the one's belonging to the dumbest motherfuckers in the universe.

And Obama, by standing back and allowing this nonsense to play itself out, has been as guilty as anyone else.

But he has the loudest megaphone of anyone. It is time for him to use that megaphone to drown out the cacophony of hatred which is the American right. We have tried to reason with them, and have found that it is impossible to reason with the unreasonable.

There was no shame in trying. We simply, momentarily, forgot that we are dealing with madmen. Tomasky has a proposal:
Obama and his team have seen what they're up against. The tone of tomorrow's speech needs to reflect this post-summer reality. "Yes we can" needs to become "yes we are".
Buried beneath the claims that Obama is not really an American is an unwillingness from certain people to accept the legitimacy of Obama's presidency. Obama needs to show them that he is the president, whether they like it or not.

They are going to hate him no matter what he does, so he should simply push ahead and do what he was elected to do.


E J Dionne does a very good job of taking apart a common Republican talking point on this issue:

One other point: Defenders of the right-wing argue that the left said terrible things about George W. Bush. That’s true. What the apologists miss is that the deep anger at Bush did not set in until he had been president for several years. Despite the rage over Florida and the Supreme Court’s Bush v. Gore decision, Bush did not face until much later in his administration anything like the hostility that Obama already confronts. Liberals, staunch liberals, were even willing to work with Bush on some issues -- remember, for example, Ted Kennedy’s work on the “No Child Left Behind” Act.

And the entire country, including almost all of the left, united behind Bush after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. (Here, to provide a personal example, is my own column of Oct. 12, 2001. Yes, what I wrote looks naive now, but I’m still glad I gave Bush the benefit of the doubt at that moment.)
Click title for full article.


daveawayfromhome said...

Liberals didnt/dont have the overt support of an entire network to back them up, as well as the less committed enabling of pretty much all the rest of the various media.

Kel said...

You have a point, Dave. The cards are very much stacked against them.