As we head into this July 4th weekend, I’m thinking about the fact that a lot of liberals struggle with the whole idea of patriotism. That’s because the word has often been associated with the air-brushed view of this country that omits the struggles and focuses mostly on symbolism. President Obama’s speech at the 50th anniversary of the Selma march gave us a more honest look at what patriotism really means.
And yet, what could be more American than what happened in this place? What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people –- unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many, coming together to shape their country’s course?
What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this, what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?
That’s why Selma is not some outlier in the American experience. That’s why it’s not a museum or a static monument to behold from a distance. It is instead the manifestation of a creed written into our founding documents: “We the People…in order to form a more perfect union.” “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
In honoring a true patriot, that is exactly how Bruce Springsteen described Pete Seeger at his 90th birthday celebration. Bruce used the occasion to recount the time he and Pete sang together at Obama’s first inauguration – when he took the opportunity to tell an overjoyed Seeger, “You outlasted the bastards, man.”
Bruce’s description of Pete tells us what a true patriotic hero looks like:
Despite Pete’s somewhat benign grandfatherly appearance, he’s a creature of stubborn, defiant and nasty optimism. Inside him he carries a steely toughness that belies that grandfatherly facade and it won’t let him take a step back from the things he believes in. At 90, he remains a stealth dagger to the heart of our country’s illusions about itself…He reminds us of our immense failures as well as shinning a light towards our better angels on the horizon where the country we’ve imagined and hold dear we hope awaits us.
So as you enjoy your holiday weekend, take a few minutes to enjoy this patriotic song (all 4 verses).
By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 1, 2016
Permit me to share with you my favorite set of headlines from Thursday.
USA Today: Official who OK’d Obama birth papers dies in crash.
NPR: Hawaiian Official Who Released Obama’s Birth Certificate Dies in Plane Crash.
NBC News: Health care director who approved Obama birth certificate dies in plane crash.
And finally, National Review, and note the difference, which rests in just one word, but what a word it is: Official Who Released Obama’s Birth Certificate Dies in Mysterious Plane Crash.
Ah, of course. “Mysterious.” Well, I mean, it had to be, didn’t it? Poor Loretta Fuddy, 65 and a longtime public servant, was evidently a beloved figure in Aloha State political circles, at least based on the tributes I’ve read over the last couple of days from Hawaii officials, who seem to be absolutely grief-stricken at her passing. But to certain of their fellow Americans, Fuddy’s tragic death provides the occasion for only one thing—sly suggestions that her death might not quite have been an accident. You see, she was the only person of nine on board the small Cessna who perished. Hence, “mysterious.”
In fairness, the National Review writer was having a bit of a laugh. But even so, that word did appear in the headline, and that headline happened to appear toward the end of the most flagrantly batshit-crazy week of Obama obsession we’ve seen in a long, long time. I needn’t rehearse all the ridiculous and false and not-a-little-racist things that have been said. But let’s look into this dementia a little more broadly.
Of course, some on the left said nutty things about Bush too, and for the arbiters of conventional wisdom, that mere fact makes for “equivalence.” Both sides do it. Well… OK. But that depends on how you define “it.”
In fact, both sides do different things. My assertion is this: Baseless left-wing attacks on Republicans differ in character from baseless right-wing attacks on Democrats in two ways. First, most liberal-left attacks on Republicans are more political than cultural, while virtually all right-wing attacks on Democrats are about culture. And second, those liberal-left attacks that are about culture tend to be mocking in tone, expressing derision, while the right’s attacks are fearful, expressing deep paranoia.
Let’s take them one by one. Bush and his top men were often called fascists on the left. That’s an attack that certainly has its cultural elements, but it is first and foremost political. The worst thing people on the left could think to do, in other words—call Bush a fascist—is a political smear, not a cultural one. This reflects the way most people on the left see the world—through a political lens primarily, and through a cultural one only secondarily. There are exceptions to this, but in the main, for the broad liberal-left, politics is primarily about politics, not culture.
On the right, politics is much more about culture, because the right feels itself to be an aggrieved minority whose culture (industriousness, self-reliance, Godliness, etc.) is under constant attack from the libertines and relativists, who of course far outnumber and surround the righteous few. Culture is where people on the right live, and so the worst thing they can think to do is to make attacks that are about culture, about the Democrats hating God, destroying America, and so on.
Sometimes, of course, the left goes cultural. Calling Bush a chimp and an idiot and a cowboy, say; those trafficked in liberals’ stereotypes about Texans, Southerners in general, back-slapping oil men, and so on (well, chimp just had to do with certain facial features). That wasn’t nice, I suppose, but here’s the thing. It was done to laugh at him.
By and large, the right doesn’t laugh at Obama. Oh, sometimes. There’s the absurd teleprompter meme from early on, which held that he couldn’t put two sentences together without huge transcripts placed in front of him. And there’s a strain of criticism that he’s in over his head. But those tropes are far outweighed by the ones that assign to Obama a world-historical level of devious intelligence—indeed, he’s so maliciously brilliant that he managed to fake a birth certificate decades ago, all as just the opening salvo of a grand scheme to bring America and/or the white race to ruin.
If that’s how they see him, and it is, it stands to reason that the most out-there attacks will be pegs that will fit nicely in that hole. And, always, race will be ladled on top, like, well, chocolate syrup. Both elements were at work in this ridiculous thing about the Danish prime minister, with whom Obama was allegedly bringing dishonor upon America and behaving the way black men behave in Concerned Citizens’ Council newsletters, unable to keep his libido on a leash and so forth.
To people on the left, Bush was embarrassing, ever a threat to behave boorishly or be asked to appraise a Kandinsky on a European visit and crack that it looked like yesterday’s breakfast leftovers. To people on the right, though, Obama is a menace. They are different—and yes, the latter is worse than the former, because it does breed a more intense hatred.
Did you know, for example, that Obama has “ordered” the deaths and executions of some 30 or more people? Here’s the list, have a look. One of them is particularly impressive—apparently, a 10-year-old Obama iced an Indonesian classmate, decapitating him as part of an initiation ritual, “since Islam demands that a boy spill another’s blood before the age of 10 to prove their loyalty to Allah.” The Clintons, of course, were accused of murder, too. Whereas no one had to make crazy murder accusations against Bush. He actually did kill people (not with his own hands, obviously, but by starting a war of choice whose death tally will never be fully known).
One can only roll one’s eyes, but in fact, all this is psychotic and sickening, and it has power in the media, which can’t resist talking at length about The Handshake or The Selfie, even if it’s to defend Obama, because the mere fact of talking about those things really only fuels the fire. Yes, Obama will be out of office one day—which only raises the question what they might say (that they haven’t already) about Hillary.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, December 14, 2013
“Patient Deliberation, Not Imperialism”: On Syria, President Obama Is More Like Woodrow Wilson Than George W. Bush
As President Obama moves toward launching military strikes against the Syrian regime, some have been quick to charge him with hypocritically following in the footsteps of the president he long sought to repudiate: George W. Bush.
Ron Paul kicked things off two months ago with a baseless charge of “fixing the intelligence and facts around the already determined policy.” More recently, a leading Russian legislator claimed Obama would be “Bush’s clone” because “just like in Iraq, this war won’t be legit.” Fox News columnist and strident U.N. critic Anne Bayefsky declared that Obama will be seen as a “hypocrite or a fraud” for not pursuing a U.N. Security Council resolution after “bashing” Bush on similar grounds.
The Bush swipe is a cheap shot. It also misses the far more relevant historical parallel. Obama is not walking in Bush’s footsteps, but Woodrow Wilson’s.
As World War I raged in Europe and civil war erupted in Mexico, Woodrow Wilson won re-election in 1916 on the slogan “He Kept Us Out Of War.” But Wilson’s slogan proved ephemeral, and his strategy of “armed neutrality” finally gave way in the face of German aggression.
Similarly, Obama won the presidency in no small part because of anti-Iraq War sentiment, and was re-elected at least in part for following through on withdrawal. Now Obama faces his own second-term Wilson moment, as Syria’s genocidal tactics severely test President Obama’s foreign policy goals of facilitating democracy, strengthening international institutions, and avoiding “dumb wars” that sap American lives, resources, and global influence.
The similarities do not end there. Both Wilson and Obama sought to turn away from the imperialism of their predecessors while embracing the use of American influence to spread the right of self-determination abroad. Both expressed restraint regarding the use of military force, yet both pushed back on pacifist constituencies in their political bases and kept their options open. Both were charged with vacillation, and both suffered the occasional rhetorical misstep, as they walked those fine lines in the run-up to military action.
Obama was knocked for drawing a “red line” against the use of chemical weapons without being prepared to follow through, arguably giving Syria license to go farther. Wilson quickly regretted saying America was “too proud to fight” in May 1915, three days after Germany sunk the Lusitania and killed 1,198 people, including 128 Americans. Seven months later, Wilson recalibrated. During a speaking tour promoting a new policy of military preparedness, Wilson made a clear break with his party’s pacifist wing: “There is a price which is too great to pay for peace, and that price can be put in one word. One cannot pay the price of self-respect.”
Still, Wilson’s restraint continued through the 1916 re-election campaign. Then less than three months after Election Day, Germany secretly cabled Mexico, proposing an alliance and offering three American states upon victory. Britain intercepted the code and fed it to Wilson, who publicized it and then took another two months before concluding it was time to enter the war.
Wilson risked being portrayed as a hypocrite, or even an outright liar, considering his campaign slogan. But as it turned out, his patient deliberation and clear reluctance for war buttressed his credibility when the moment for intervention came, helping to bring along a reluctant public.
Most importantly, Wilson did not betray his core principles. He did not flip from isolationism to imperialism. He had been seeking to play the role of peace broker, and end the war in a fashion that would move the world away from colonization and toward self-determination.
Shortly before he knew of Germany’s Mexican machinations, he laid out his vision in his “Peace Without Victory” address. Instead of a harsh peace in which the victor punishes the defeated, claims new territory, and sows the seeds of future conflict, Wilson saw a compromise settlement between belligerents, moving the world towards democratic governance and establishing a new “League of Nations” international body to prevent future world wars.
Wilson stuck by this vision even after he picked a side in the war, rejecting calls from both allies abroad and Republicans at home for an “unconditional surrender.”
Here too does Obama overlap with Wilson. Military action in Syria is not a betrayal of Obama’s foreign policy principles.
This is not a repeat of Bush-style neo-conservatism. There is nothing from the Obama White House that suggests a desire to handpick Syria’s leaders, establish permanent military bases, or claim natural resources. While Obama may not seek a U.N. Security Council resolution as he did to oust Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, he is also not suddenly snubbing international law, as he reportedly sees justification in existing treaties such as the Geneva Conventions and the Chemical Weapons Conventions.
The administration’s emphasis on limited strikes makes clear that President Obama still wants to do all he can to avoid ending his presidency with a “dumb war” that would mire the United States in a hopeless quagmire.
The White House has even stated that the military strikes will not be designed to spark “regime change,” instead stressing that “resolution of this conflict has to come through political negotiation and settlement.” In other words, it anticipates some sort of power-sharing agreement between Syrian factions, leading to a government that is fully representative of all Syrian people. This policy objective harkens back to Wilson’s “Peace Without Victory.”
Of course, none of the above guarantees that Obama’s vision will triumph. Wilson learned that the hard way.
Wilson did succeed in accelerating the end of the war and jump-starting a negotiated settlement. But after long multi-party negotiations that he personally undertook, Wilson reluctantly accepted harsher terms for Germany’s surrender than he deemed fair. And a debilitating stroke in 1919 muddled his thinking and warped his ability to compromise with the Republican-led Senate, dooming ratification of the treaty and America’s entry into the League of Nations.
But Wilson’s inability to close the deal doesn’t mean he was foolish to try. He came pretty close, and a healthier Wilson with a stronger foreign policy team could well have pulled it off. In fact, President Franklin Roosevelt’s team did just that, proving Wilson’s wisdom correct with the founding of the U.N. after World War II. We have not suffered world wars since.
Obama may be taking a mighty gamble, but it is in pursuit of self-determination and an international order intolerant of genocide, not an ignoble quest for empire.
By: Bill Scher, The Week, August 29, 2013
“Trayvon Martin Could’ve Been Me”: A Difficult Journey To Becoming A More Perfect Union, Not A Perfect Union, A More Perfect Union
Last weekend, not long after the jury delivered its verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, President Obama issued a written statement, urging all Americans to “respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son.” Today, however, the president made an unexpected appearance at the White House press briefing room to speak to the issue in more detail.
For those who can’t watch the video, this was a rather remarkable moment for the nation’s first African-American president, who reflected on the story and race in America with an eloquence that has sometimes been lacking of late.
President Barack Obama emerged Friday to give voice to African Americans’ reaction to last weekend’s verdict in the George Zimmerman case, saying that Trayvon Martin “could have been me 35 years ago.”
He also suggested that the outcome of the case could have been different if Martin were white. “If a white male teen would have been involved in this scenario,” he said, “both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.”
Obama went on to reflect on his own experiences as a black man, drawing scrutiny in department stores, hearing car-door clicks as he walked down sidewalks, and seeing women clutch their purses nervously with him in an elevator. “The African-American community is looking at this through a set of experiences and history that doesn’t go away,” he said.
Obama also broached the subject of “racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws” — including the death penalty and drug laws — which generally is left out of our public conversation.
But perhaps most provocatively, the president reflected on an imaginary scenario. “If Trayvon Martin was of age and was armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?” Obama asked. “If the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we should examine those laws.”
It was a rather remarkable display. A transcript of the remarks is below.
The president said the following:
I wanted to come out here, first of all, to tell you that Jay is prepared for all your questions and is very much looking forward to the session. The second thing is I want to let you know that over the next couple of weeks, there’s going to obviously be a whole range of issues — immigration, economics, et cetera — we’ll try to arrange a fuller press conference to address your questions.
The reason I actually wanted to come out today is not to take questions, but to speak to an issue that obviously has gotten a lot of attention over the course of the last week — the issue of the Trayvon Martin ruling. I gave a preliminary statement right after the ruling on Sunday. But watching the debate over the course of the last week, I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit.
First of all, I want to make sure that, once again, I send my thoughts and prayers, as well as Michelle’s, to the family of Trayvon Martin, and to remark on the incredible grace and dignity with which they’ve dealt with the entire situation. I can only imagine what they’re going through, and it’s remarkable how they’ve handled it.
The second thing I want to say is to reiterate what I said on Sunday, which is there’s going to be a lot of arguments about the legal issues in the case — I’ll let all the legal analysts and talking heads address those issues. The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner. The prosecution and the defense made their arguments. The juries were properly instructed that in a case such as this reasonable doubt was relevant, and they rendered a verdict. And once the jury has spoken, that’s how our system works. But I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling.
You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.
There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me — at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.
And I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear. The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws — everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.
Now, this isn’t to say that the African American community is naïve about the fact that African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system; that they’re disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It’s not to make excuses for that fact — although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context. They understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.
And so the fact that sometimes that’s unacknowledged adds to the frustration. And the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African American boys are more violent — using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.
I think the African American community is also not naïve in understanding that, statistically, somebody like Trayvon Martin was statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else. So folks understand the challenges that exist for African American boys. But they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there’s no context for it and that context is being denied. And that all contributes I think to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.
Now, the question for me at least, and I think for a lot of folks, is where do we take this? How do we learn some lessons from this and move in a positive direction? I think it’s understandable that there have been demonstrations and vigils and protests, and some of that stuff is just going to have to work its way through, as long as it remains nonviolent. If I see any violence, then I will remind folks that that dishonors what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family. But beyond protests or vigils, the question is, are there some concrete things that we might be able to do.
I know that Eric Holder is reviewing what happened down there, but I think it’s important for people to have some clear expectations here. Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government, the criminal code. And law enforcement is traditionally done at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels.
That doesn’t mean, though, that as a nation we can’t do some things that I think would be productive. So let me just give a couple of specifics that I’m still bouncing around with my staff, so we’re not rolling out some five-point plan, but some areas where I think all of us could potentially focus.
Number one, precisely because law enforcement is often determined at the state and local level, I think it would be productive for the Justice Department, governors, mayors to work with law enforcement about training at the state and local levels in order to reduce the kind of mistrust in the system that sometimes currently exists.
When I was in Illinois, I passed racial profiling legislation, and it actually did just two simple things. One, it collected data on traffic stops and the race of the person who was stopped. But the other thing was it resourced us training police departments across the state on how to think about potential racial bias and ways to further professionalize what they were doing.
And initially, the police departments across the state were resistant, but actually they came to recognize that if it was done in a fair, straightforward way that it would allow them to do their jobs better and communities would have more confidence in them and, in turn, be more helpful in applying the law. And obviously, law enforcement has got a very tough job.
So that’s one area where I think there are a lot of resources and best practices that could be brought to bear if state and local governments are receptive. And I think a lot of them would be. And let’s figure out are there ways for us to push out that kind of training.
Along the same lines, I think it would be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if it — if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case, rather than diffuse potential altercations.
I know that there’s been commentary about the fact that the “stand your ground” laws in Florida were not used as a defense in the case. On the other hand, if we’re sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there’s a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we’d like to see?
And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these “stand your ground” laws, I’d just ask people to consider, if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman who had followed him in a car because he felt threatened? And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.
Number three — and this is a long-term project — we need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African American boys. And this is something that Michelle and I talk a lot about. There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement. And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?
I’m not naïve about the prospects of some grand, new federal program. I’m not sure that that’s what we’re talking about here. But I do recognize that as President, I’ve got some convening power, and there are a lot of good programs that are being done across the country on this front. And for us to be able to gather together business leaders and local elected officials and clergy and celebrities and athletes, and figure out how are we doing a better job helping young African American men feel that they’re a full part of this society and that they’ve got pathways and avenues to succeed — I think that would be a pretty good outcome from what was obviously a tragic situation. And we’re going to spend some time working on that and thinking about that.
And then, finally, I think it’s going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching. There has been talk about should we convene a conversation on race. I haven’t seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations. They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have. On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there’s the possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can? Am I judging people as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin, but the content of their character? That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.
And let me just leave you with a final thought that, as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better. Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race. It doesn’t mean we’re in a post-racial society. It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated. But when I talk to Malia and Sasha, and I listen to their friends and I seem them interact, they’re better than we are — they’re better than we were — on these issues. And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country.
And so we have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues. And those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature, as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions. But we should also have confidence that kids these days, I think, have more sense than we did back then, and certainly more than our parents did or our grandparents did; and that along this long, difficult journey, we’re becoming a more perfect union — not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 19, 2013
“Reaching Out, Finding Nothing”: Remind Me Again Of How All The President Has To Do Is “Lead” & Offer Good-Faith Compromises
It’s hard to blame President Obama for at least making an effort. For four years, he took a variety of steps — some social, some formal, some professional — to establish relationships with congressional Republicans. The outreach didn’t amount to much.
But it appears the president, either out of necessity or stubbornness, will continue his newly revamped charm offensive, including a trip to Capitol Hill for another round of budget talks. It’s clearly intended as a major gesture on Obama’s part — presidents usually summon lawmakers to the White House, not head to Capitol Hill for meetings on lawmakers’ turf.
Time will tell, obviously, whether the efforts pay dividends, but the New York Times has an interesting report today on the ineffectiveness of recent outreach, including a great anecdote I hadn’t heard before.
For all the attention to President Obama’s new campaign of outreach to Republicans, it was four months ago — on the eve of bipartisan budget talks — that he secretly invited five of them to the White House for a movie screening with the stars of “Lincoln,” the film about that president’s courtship of Congress to pass a significant measure.
For all the pundits who complain bitterly that Obama hasn’t done enough to schmooze with lawmakers, doesn’t an anecdote like this suggest the problem is not entirely the president’s fault? Are we to believe that all five — invited in secret so they wouldn’t have to take heat from Fox or the GOP base — were all washing their hair that night?
On a more substantive note, the piece also included this key piece of information:
What spurred Mr. Obama to reach out to rank-and-file Republicans with a flurry of phone calls, meals and now Capitol visits were the recent announcements by their leaders — Speaker John A. Boehner and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — that they will no longer negotiate with Mr. Obama on budget policy as long as he keeps demanding more tax revenues as the condition for Democrats’ support of reduced spending on Medicare and other entitlement programs.
This is important. Congressional Republican leaders are now saying they won’t even talk to the president unless Obama agrees — before any meetings even take place — to give them what they want. In other words, when the White House announces that all efforts at deficit reduction in the coming years will include literally nothing but 100% spending cuts, then GOP leaders will be prepared to negotiate with the president.
Please, Beltway pundits, remind me again how all the president has to do to resolve political paralysis is “lead” and offer good-faith compromises.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 12, 2013