“The more things change, the more they remain the same.”[i] This certainly is the case with politics. That our political system needs reforming almost goes without saying – and it wouldn’t hurt to find an efficient way to identify and get rid of corrupt, lying politicians. That being said, let’s get down to business. First, I need to say that I have wasted more effort trying to defend President Obama’s policies than I care to think about. If left to my own devices, I’d spend my time pointing out that he is far too accommodating, but he’s so regularly and ridiculously vilified by the extreme right—millions of whom have even denied he’s a citizen – that I am forced to say something in his favor. One cannot help but wonder how someone so wimpy can inspire such virulent hatred!
In looking at the anti-Obama propaganda sweeping the country, one first must separate the well-funded propaganda machine financed by the likes of Richard Mellon Scaife (publisher of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review) from those inspired by a distinctly virulent generalized hatred of the man. When you listen to the Obama haters on talk radio or TV, or when you read the delightful articles written by right-wing journalists, you cannot help but notice their not-very-subliminal resentment against someone – a black man no less—who was swept into office against their will. Obama is an educated man. He went to Ivy League schools. He clearly seems to be in touch with his feminine side; not only is he black (actually, half black) but he’s married to a black, well-educated, and proud woman. I am no expert on race relations, and I am not trying to play the race card here; honesty compels me to state the obvious. Also, of course, Obama is not a Washington insider; he spent more years as a community activist in the Midwest than he did as a senator. That none of this has anything to do with his performance in office is part of the problem with our political system.
However, we have learned a few things about Obama over the last 4 years: He believes in compromise, he is invariably polite, and he works hard. He has been gracious and forgiving about any number of people who have said distinctly unpleasant things about him—House speaker John Boehner and, of course, presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. The Republicans and the special interest groups ate him alive on health reform, even when he was supported by a majority of Democrats in the House. And whenever Congress does something particularly stupid – like almost putting the country into default (and causing downgrading of the U.S. bond rating, which makes all that money we borrow even more expensive) or refusing to send aid to the flood-devastated Northeast—its response is to solemnly proclaim Obama is bankrupting the country.
Actually, he’s not. Obama’s spending record is remarkably restrained compared to Bush’s (George W, that is). The President would look a lot worse if his adversaries weren’t so colossally inept. He even let Boehner tell him he had to wait on the convenience of Republican House members to talk to Congress. Excuse me! Who is the President? If you don’t respect the man, you must respect the office!
Obama doesn’t have a clue how to play hardball. He still gives nine-tenths of the loaf just to get a slice. And he hasn’t figured out that he doesn’t have to do it. So here’s the big question for the electorate: Would he play hardball even if he knew how? Does he hold a belief for which he’s willing to do battle? He didn’t do it for healthcare reform. He didn’t do it to avoid a U.S. government default. He didn’t do it for immigration or to end the war. He certainly is not a “tax-and-spend” Democrat; he talks a lot about what he’s willing to cut (like Social Security and Medicare). No one but a Republican could take him for a liberal.
By way of a less-than-refreshing alternative, we have been “enjoying” the first Republican-only primary season in many years. And what a treat it is to see the religious right take up the cry for Gingrich, who has redeemed himself to become the “righteous” candidate. Aside from the nastiness of his rhetoric, the former (ousted) Speaker is a profoundly self-important man who has compared himself to no less than five presidents—Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, FDR, and Reagan—as well as Margaret Thatcher and Henry Clay.[ii] Now for the rhetoric: A reader commenting online on an article in the Economist magazine suggested Gingrich
suffers from a form of Tourette syndrome[iii]; he can’t keep himself from lashing out with astounding meanness of spirit despite his repeated insistence that he “won’t be negative” like his opponents. Although he’s a lot less entertaining when he’s restrained, he can’t stop himself, even though it incites the Republican establishment (the part of the GOP that prefers defeating Obama to electing true believers) to want to dump him. Mitt Romney seems a bit of a milquetoast as an alternative, but undoubtedly he is more moderate and makes fewer enemies.
Worse, our political process has been corrupted by– what else–money. It was bad enough before, but since the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize wholesale corporate buyouts of candidates, it’s downright scary. The corruption is open, obscene, and unmistakable.
If all the money spent on political campaigns were applied to our national debt, perhaps we might be able to pay it off. Certainly it would be put to better use! I’ll vote for the candidate who makes that his slogan – and I don’t care which party nominates him!
[i] The proverb is of French origin and was used by the French novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr (1808-1890). It also appears in George Bernard Shaw’s Revolutionist’s Handbook and Pocket Companion (1903). Listed in the MacMillan Book of Proverbs, Maxims, and Famous Phrases (1946) by Burton Stevenson and A Dictionary of American Proverbs (1992) by Wolfgang Mieder et al. From Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings (1996) by Gregory Y. Titelman.
[ii] Jena McGregor. A debate between self-confidence and self-glorification. Washington Post. December 16, 2011. www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-leadership/post/newt-gingrich-a-debate-between-self-confidence-and-self-glorification/2011/04/01/gIQALjNhyO_blog.html