I have watched in recent days as a parade of conservatives have used specific and real governmental missteps to justify their wide-ranging paranoia and irrational hostilities. “Aha!”
You have to take their glee in sorrow with a grain of salt. For them this is more about their scandal lust than what’s scandalous. These people have been searching for a scandal — Kenyan birth certificates and a Michelle Obama “whitey” tape — for years. The fact that they now have something solid and not made of sand is going to make sad souls happy. That’s to be expected.
What’s not to be expected — but has become depressingly predictable — is to watch liberals rending their garments and gnashing their teeth in woe-is-us doom chanting. The overreaction is exhausting and embarrassing.
Let’s say what this confluence of missteps is and what it is not — at least as the evidence now suggests.
First, the three issues — Benghazi, the targeting of conservative groups by the I.R.S. and the Department of Justice’s monitoring of Associated Press journalists — appear to be completely unrelated, try as politicians and pundits may to connect them. Second, the president does not appear to have had any direct involvement in any of the episodes. Third, their weight and resonances differ greatly, although all could be diminished by their emerging concurrently.
At this point, this is about flaws of procedures — some possibly illegal, all very disturbing — and problems of perception. But they are neither fatal nor unfixable.
Now, let’s separate the well-worn Benghazi witch hunt from the other two. From all appearances that is just a callous use of a tragic event to take a political slap at President Obama and a stab at the likely Democratic presidential heavyweight Hillary Clinton. It is being conducted by hyperpartisan politicians and aggravated by Fox News, both with a stake in justifying their unjustifiable contempt for this Democratic administration, and foiling the next one.
But Americans appear to be tiring of all that chasing of smoke and little finding of fire.
According to a Pew Research Center poll issued this week, the percentage of Americans closely following the Benghazi news has continued to fall. Less than half of the respondents believe that the Obama administration has been dishonest, while almost as many say that the Republicans have gone too far in the hearings. At least one in five don’t know either way.
According to the Pew Poll:
“About half (56 percent) of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say they regularly watch the Fox News channel, and this group is particularly frustrated over the Benghazi situation. Fully 79 percent of Republicans who regularly watch Fox News say the Obama administration has been dishonest, compared with 60 percent of Republicans who don’t watch Fox regularly. Nearly half (46 percent) of Republicans who regularly watch Fox News say they are following the story very closely — compared with 23 percent among other Republicans. Those who regularly watch Fox News are also far more critical of the news media: 59 percent say the hearings have not received sufficient coverage by the news media.”
On the I.R.S. scandal, however, it certainly appears that the agency behaved stupidly. Not because they sought to scrutinize the mockery that is these 501(c)4 “social welfare” groups, but because they did so unevenly. But what will be left after all the hue and cry? As the Notre Dame law professor Lloyd Mayer told the Christian Science Monitor this week:
“What has been missed in the outrage is the recognition that this problem arose from much deeper sources than the poor judgment or possible partisan bias of a handful of I.R.S. employees.”
“Congress has given the I.R.S. the difficult task of applying an incredibly vague definition of political activity and an uncertain standard for how much political activity tax-exempt social welfare organizations may engage in.”
That, in the end, is the real scandal.
And now to the Associated Press scandal. The Justice Department was just wrong in the employ of its dragnet, and the administration — as represented by a spokesman, Jay Carney — was disingenuous in its insistence that the administration supports “unfettered” journalism. It just doesn’t. But we’ve always known that, at least we in the media have. The scandal here is that an atmosphere of intolerance for leaks — which Republicans ironically accused the Obama administration of encouraging — seems to have overtaken the Justice Department.
On Wednesday the White House took steps to mitigate the damage, releasing more than 100 pages of Benghazi talking point e-mails, seeking to revive a shield law for reporters who refused to disclose confidential sources, and having the president himself deliver a statement on the I.R.S. In it he announced the resignation of the acting commissioner of the agency, the implementation of new safeguards and a pledge to work with Congress in investigating the matter. As the president said, “The good news is that it’s fixable.” And, it is.
That’s it — the gist of all three as far as we know at this point. These are not administration-enders. People can be punished, or fired or even jailed, if Speaker John Boehner has his way, but at this early stage signs are not pointing to any of those people being in the White House.
Even if I had hair, I wouldn’t be setting it on fire, not yet anyway.
By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 15, 2013
On Sunday, during an appearance on Meet The Press, Colin Powell condemned the GOP’s “dark vein of intolerance” and the party’s repeated use of racial code words to oppose President Obama and rally white conservative voters.
Without mentioning names, Powell singled out former Mitt Romney surrogate and New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu for calling Obama “lazy” and Sarah Palin, who, Powell charged, used slavery-era terms to describe Obama:
POWELL: There’s also a dark — a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party. What do I mean by that? I mean by that that they still sort of look down on minorities. How can I evidence that?
When I see a former governor say that the President is “shuckin’ and jivin’,” that’s racial era slave term. When I see another former governor after the president’s first debate where he didn’t do very well, says that the president was lazy. He didn’t say he was slow. He was tired. He didn’t do well. He said he was lazy. Now, it may not mean anything to most Americans, but to those of us who are African Americans, the second word is shiftless and then there’s a third word that goes along with that. The birther, the whole birther movement. Why do senior Republican leaders tolerate this kind of discussion within the party?
Powell added that the Republican Party is “having an identity problem,” noting that its significant shift to the right has produced “two losing presidential campaigns.” “I think what the Republican Party needs to do now is a very hard look at itself and understand that the country is changed,” he said. “If the Republican Party does not change along with that demographic, they a going to be in trouble.”
Powell also called on Republicans to focus on a more equitable and progressive economic policies that help middle and lower income Americans, as well as immigration reform. “Everybody wants to talk about who is going to be the candidate,” Powell said. “You better think first about what’s the party actually going to represent.”
By: Igor Volsky, Think Progress, January 13, 2013
Peggy Noonan is, without doubt, America’s most hilariously ridiculous opinion columnist, someone forever pleading that we ignore piffle like “facts” and focus instead on the collective emotions that are bubbling just out of our awareness until she identifies them. But in her column today, she does something that we ought to take note of, because I suspect it will become a common Republican talking point. Noonan asks why Obama is so darn mean to Republicans, and answers the question thusly:
Here’s my conjecture: In part it’s because he seems to like the tension. He likes cliffs, which is why it’s always a cliff with him and never a deal. He likes the high-stakes, tottering air of crisis. Maybe it makes him feel his mastery and reminds him how cool he is, unrattled while he rattles others. He can take it. Can they?
He is a uniquely polarizing figure. A moderate U.S. senator said the other day: “One thing not said enough is he is the most divisive president in modern history. He doesn’t just divide the Congress, he divides the country.” The senator thinks Mr. Obama has “two whisperers in his head.” “The political whisperer says ‘Don’t compromise a bit, make Republicans look weak and bad.’ Another whisperer is not political, it’s, ‘Let’s do the right thing, work together and begin to right the ship.’” The president doesn’t listen much to the second whisperer.
Ah yes, we keep having these fiscal crises because Obama “likes cliffs.” Don’t you remember when he convinced conservative Republicans to hold the national economy hostage over the debt ceiling in 2011? And you do know that he’s forcing them to do the same thing in a couple of months, right? They don’t want to, but he’s making them. Those congressional Republicans are desperate to compromise with him, but he just won’t accept all their generous offers! And he sure is “polarizing.” After all, if a majority of Republicans have consistently believed that Obama is lying about being born in Hawaii and is a foreigner, and if his opponents regularly charge that when he adopts Republican ideas on things like health care it’s because he is a socialist motivated by a hatred of America, then there’s really only one person to blame. And when a member of the Republican Senate leadership writes, “It may be necessary to partially shut down the government in order to secure the long-term fiscal well being of our country,” that just shows how much Obama loves creating these crises! And what do you know, in that op-ed, Senator John Cornyn makes the same argument, that in all of the crises of the last couple of years, “the White House has purposefully slow-walked the process in a shameless attempt to score cheap political points.”
Mark my words, over the next couple of months we’re going to be hearing this a lot: Republicans will argue that these crises are all Obama’s fault not so much because his ideas are substantively wrong (they’ll mention that too, of course), but because he just wants it that way. And because he’s so mean.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, January 4, 2013
Perhaps it was too optimistic to think that the election of Barack Obama in 2008 meant that we were in, or at least entering, a post-racial society. Whatever racial elements were at play in the last presidential election, the tension and even anger now seems even more pronounced.
An ABC/Washington Post poll shows greater racial polarization among the electorate this year than in 2008, the first year an African-American became a credible presidential candidate, let alone the president. The tracking poll shows the president lagging behind Republican Mitt Romney among white voters by 23 percentage points—far more dramatic than the seven percentage points by which Obama was behind in the white vote in 2008, and even the 12 points by which he eventually lost the white vote that year.
Meanwhile, former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, apparently piqued at former (Republican) Secretary of State Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama, suggested that the respected general was making a decision based on some sort of racial solidarity. Said Sununu on CNN:
When you take a look at Colin Powell, you have to look at whether that’s an endorsement based on issues or he’s got a slightly different reason for endorsing President Obama. I think when you have somebody of your own race that you’re proud of being president of the United States, I applaud Colin for standing with him.
Sununu walked back the statement later, but it’s still disturbing. This is not some random angry person making anonymous comments on the Internet. This is a former senior White House adviser and a former governor, someone who is now advising Romney’s campaign.
Whites aren’t required to back a black candidate to prove they are not racist, any more than Powell and other African-Americans have to vote for a nonblack candidate to prove they are taking into account issues other than race. There is an argument to be made that really hating Obama because you don’t like his healthcare or economic policy represents an advancement in race relations. But the numbers suggest something deeper is still at play. African-Americans, for example, have been even harder hit by unemployment than whites, and have similar American concerns about foreign policy and education. If race were truly not an issue, the numbers would be a little more closely aligned among racial and ethnic groups.
Nor has the attack on Obama as “other” dissipated in the slightest since his election. Sununu himself has commented that Obama needs to be more of “an American,” and absurd rumors persist about Obama’s place of birth or religion. The tragic irony is that Obama, aside from the sheer example of his status as president, is hamstrung when it comes to actually talking about race, since on a political level, it’s more threatening coming from an African-American than a white candidate or official. Bill Clinton could talk about race in a way that sounded more palatable to white America. And yet Obama, if he were to engage in a frank discussion of race, would surely be castigated as divisive.
It’s common, historically, for social advances to be met with an immediate pushback before things start to settle in for the better. The abolition of slavery was followed by Jim Crow laws. The civil rights movement of the ’60s also was met with a backlash, though the fundamentals endured. There’s been a lot of social and demographic change in this country over the last 50 years, even over the last 25 years, and it’s perhaps a lot for some people to absorb. When the Tea Party candidates proclaimed they wanted to “take our country back”—and carried signs featuring the female former House Speaker, the gay former committee chairman, and the mixed-race president, that was no accident.
It does appear that some of the pushback is generational, and not necessarily coming from a position of pure bigotry. If you’re much older, it may be difficult just to get your head around all the changes that have occurred in your lifetime. A white man who is now 70 grew up with a different example—guys like him ran the country, and his country pretty much ran the world. Neither of those things is true anymore, and neither is likely to change. And while it’s not a defense of racism or xenophobia or unilateralism, it is an explanation of why it might be hard for some older people to adjust.
I have two young brothers, both of whom are mixed-race. One of them plays soccer at his school, and our father recently told me of watching Matty join in a pre-game huddle with his teammates. There they were—black, white, mixed-race, Cambodian—and they were all yelling, “Uno! Dos! Tres! Quatro!” to psych themselves up for the contest ahead. It was a lovely hybrid of the metaphorical melting pot and what former New York City Mayor David Dinkins used to call the “gorgeous mosaic” that makes up our country. We may end up taking one step back on race relations for every two we take forward. And eventually, maybe we just grow out of it.
By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, October 26, 2012
Ridicule Donald Trump if you will. But he has, in his self-aggrandizing, delusional way, earned his own place in history.
It’s not in the way he would like. Trump appears to imagine that he is some financial and political genius, someone who alone knows how to run businesses and by extension, government. Not so much: It doesn’t take any special smarts to make a lot of cash during an historic real estate boom, and Trump in recent years has focused mainly on attaching his name to buildings and events—usually in gaudy letters. Nor has Trump displayed anything close to thoughtfulness or sophistication when it comes to politics or public policy.
Trump, whose primary goal is promoting his own name, is indeed achieving that goal. He is establishing himself as the poster adolescent for the segment of the American public that just can’t, or won’t, accept that the country is no longer run entirely by rich white men like him. In the hateful campaign to define President Barack Obama as “other” in some way—absurd insistences that he is Muslim, not American, or a socialist—Donald trumps the crowd.
Trump was clearly pleased at his pivotal role in forcing Obama to release his long-form birth certificate—an undignified and demeaning move that the president should never have had to make. But there were enough people in denial over the fact that we have a mixed-race president that Obama, unfortunately, was pushed to release the document. Trump was thrilled at his own power in the situation, but that was not enough.
In the most recent, and really, most pathetic display of Trump’s irritation with Obama’s existence as president was Trump’s ballyhooed “bombshell” announcement this week. Was it Obama divorce papers? Some other “evidence” that Obama is not really one of us? No—it was, laughably, a TV hucksterish pledge by Trump to donate $5 million to the charity of Obama’s choice if the president releases his university records, including his applications. Trumps wants the documents by 5 p.m. on October 31, suggesting this might have something to do with Trump’s Halloween costume.
It’s no surprise that Trump thinks everything and everyone can be purchased. It’s getting a little tiresome that he thinks he’s raising legitimate questions about Obama’s academic record. Obama went to Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he was president of the Harvard Law Review. Trump seems to think that Obama got where he was—Ivy League schools and perhaps even the presidency—through some elaborate web of lies and affirmative action. That’s not just insulting, it reveals the egomaniacal Trump’s true insecurities.
There have been a lot of misstatements and outright lies thrown around in this campaign, but Trump could set an example by revealing one truth. And that is that he just can’t stand the fact that an African-American man with an exotic name is smarter and more successful than he is. It’s part of what will hopefully be a last-gasp wave of racism and fear of “other” in American society. And in history books yet to be written, Trump will be included. And it won’t be flattering.
By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, October 25, 2012