Posts Tagged ‘President Obama’

Political Cartoon of the Week, April 4-10

April 10, 2010

This week’s best political cartoon comes from Chan Lowe (South Florida Sun-Sentinel).

After a week of buzz and chatter about the prospect of the 89-year-old Liberal Justice John Paul Stevens retiring from the U.S. Supreme Court, Stevens finally made it official on Friday:

My dear Mr. President:

Having concluded that it would be in the best interests of the Court to have my successor appointed and confirmed well in advance of the commencement of the Court’s next term, I shall retire from regular active service as an Associate Justice, under the provisions of 28 U.S.C. 371 (b), effective the next day after the Court rises for the summer recess this year.

Most respectfully yours,

John Paul Stevens

President Obama thus has to appoint his replacement, and regardless of whom he ends up with, conservative (and liberal?) opponents are bound to dig up (or make up) something to spur a media controversy. A reverse racist? An Anti-American? Who knows, but what we do know is that Senate Republicans have already voiced their willingness to filibuster Obama’s choice. Stay tuned!

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Sunday talk show highlights, April 4, 2010

April 5, 2010

This Monday, Meet the Press, This Week, and Face the Nation. In short: Easter break, cherry blossoms, and yellow ties. What else?

On Meet the Press, host David Gregory talked about the growing anger aimed at Washington, and posed the following question to Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT):

In this highly charged political atmosphere, where you’ve got so much passion, so much disagreement, this takes it, of course, to a different level. But we’re also operating in a recession and at a time where there’s a lot of anger at Washington. How has the nature of that threat escalated, in your view?

Lieberman answered:

Well, the threat has definitely escalated. And all the conditions that you mentioned, David, are there to encourage people. Look, I would say a word of caution to my colleagues in both political parties and, frankly, in the media. The level of discourse about our politics and about our country are so extreme and so incendiary that if you’re dealing with people who may, may not be clicking on all cylinders and, and may have vulnerabilities personally, there’s a danger that they’re going to do what this group of militia planned to do this week. I would not overstate this threat. It is not as significant as the global threat of Islamist extremism, but it is real.

Discussing the same topic, Gregory brought Tim McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombings into the debate in a question to Michael Chertoff, the former Secretary of Homeland Security:

You know, people may forget, if you go back to the Oklahoma City bombings, Tim McVeigh first went to Waco not to protest the government’s role there, but to protest the Brady gun law. So this notion of the government doing things to you is a very powerful motivator to some.

Chertoff answered:

Well, you know, you always get fringe groups on both sides of the spectrum, going back, as you say, to Waco and Ruby Ridge in the early ’90s, and that culminated, of course, in the Oklahoma City bombing. And then that depressed this a little bit. But it always lurks in the background. And we see it also with some of the extreme anti-globalization and animal rights people on the left. So I think we’ve learned how to manage this. I agree with Senator Lieberman, this is not of the order of magnitude of what we see with global terrorism. But, look, the fact that people can get on the Internet, and they can see the tactics that are being used in Iraq and Afghanistan creates a risk that those will be copycatted here. And, frankly, we’ve seen that in Mexico. In northern Mexico, the criminal groups, which are not politically motivated, actually have adopted beheadings and other tactics of terrorism as part of pushing their agenda against President Calderon.

On a similar note, Gregory asked Time Magazine editor Richard Stengel about how President Obama is trying to make sense of the Tea Party Movement, and Stengel answered:

I think it’s hard. You know, there’s that great famous American bumper sticker, “I love my country, but I fear my government.” That’s what tea partiers are about. They’re mainly Republicans, but there’s this disenchantment in the land with government as a whole. The USA Today/Gallup poll the other day showed three-quarters of Americans are basically disenchanted with governmental institutions. They are plucking people from that. But the issue for Republicans and for Democrats, and for, and for Barack Obama in particular, is how do you lure back those independents? More and more people are identifying themselves as independents, and how do I, how do I bring them back in? And, and even to go back to your previous question, I mean, remember, you know, Mario Cuomo famously said, you know, “We campaign in poetry and we govern in prose.” He’s got to govern with a little bit more poetry, I think, to get some of those folks, too.

As I see it, Obama needs to show the American people that his number one priority is getting people back to work, and I think this should be done in prose, so to speak, but it wouldn’t hurt to sweeten the packaging with a little poetry.

Addressing the editor of The New Yorker, David Remnick, Gregory wanted to know where President Obama is politically after the passage of health care reform, and Remnick answered:

Well, anytime you have 10 percent unemployment, you’re not going to have soaring approval. Anytime the, the economy is troubled in many areas, you’re not going to have soaring approval ratings, despite the personal popularity of Barack Obama. I think, you know, he’s not in trouble, but he’s not going to be able to lift all Democratic votes in November. It’s going to be a tough road in November.

Remnick should’ve added: Although Obama isn’t in trouble at the movement, incumbent Democrats seeking re-election certainly are.

Having just released a book entitled ”The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama”, David Remnick had the following to say about Barack Obama’s performance as president:

He’s a man of the center left, but a deep pragmatist, and his, his style is conciliation, his style is to put his arms around as many people as possible and try to bring them into a compromise. We saw that at its apogee in the healthcare situation. But the question is, will it apply in some of these other big questions that you raise, like, like nuclear Iran? I don’t think putting your arms around Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is going to work, and he’s got to get the U.N. on board.

On This Week, host Jake Tapper conducted two dull interviews with Larry Summers and Alan Greenspan. During the Roundtable discussion, Tapper posed the following question to George Will:

George, the president says he’s encouraged by the job numbers. Are you?

Will’s answer:

He’s easily encouraged.

Will obviously went on to describe why the positive March job numbers aren’t really that good after all.

On the topic of the Republican National Committee (RNC) and bondage themed strip clubs (!), Matthew Dowd’s comments stood out:

You know, obviously, I’m not a rocket scientist, but when you have lesbian bondage strip club associated with your name, it’s never a good thing for anybody (Tapper added: In politics), unless you’re employed at the strip club. You know, the only difference between Democratic officials at a strip club and Republican officials at a strip club is Democratic officials say hi to each other.

Haha. OK, continue Mr. Dowd:

I think the problem is hypocrisy, is purely hypocrisy. It’s not the strip club and all that. It’s Republicans go out there and talk about fiscal responsibility and they talk about family values, and they have a party leader and party officials who go to a strip club, who are involved in this process, that say that their private actions or their actions of donors’ money does not match what their message is, and that’s the problem.

Robert Reich added:

Well, you know, there’s obviously a kind of an off- message problem here for the Republicans. And, Matt, when you talk about hypocrisy, yes, but hypocrisy is not exactly something new in this town.

On Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer abandoned his usual format and started off with a roundtable discussion. During that discussion, Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dryson talked about President Obama’s positioning on the right-left continuum:

On the one hand, he’s got to recognize that he’s governing all of America. And as a result of that he has to, you know, give in to, so to speak, and make concessions to conservative basis, not right wing, but conservative basis. And at the same time tact toward the middle as he’s done after winning a perceived left victory, although the left is laughing and guffawing, saying it’s not a left victory. But in realistic terms and realpolitik, the fact is that he got the health care through. Now he’s got to go back and let’s talk about, you know drilling on shores from the tip of Delaware down, you know, past a hundred and sixty-seven miles. So the reality is he’s trying to balance it out. He doesn’t want to give to the tea parties on the one hand, although, he can see some legitimate points and anger. At the same time he has to govern according to a vision for which he was called in to office.

That is to say reform health care, deal with the student loan, to deal with nonproliferation [with] Russia. I mean he had a heck of a week when you look at it in real terms. The guy had a great week and now he’s suffering polls that are declining. I think what it suggests is that is that it’s an up and down, it’s give and take. And I think Obama understands that. Though some of us who are progressives, some of us who are leaning toward the left wish that he might make more grand overtures in that fashion. The reality is he’s trying to govern through the middle. He’s taking a page out of the Clinton playbooks, so to speak.

In the end, who had the most memorable phrase this Sunday? Sadly, no one, but at least the following quote from Matthew Dowd made me laugh:

You know, the only difference between Democratic officials at a strip club and Republican officials at a strip club is Democratic officials say hi to each other.

If it’s Monday, it’s Sunday talk show highlight time.

President Obama signs the Health Care and Student Loan Reconciliation Bill

March 30, 2010

President Obama put the final signatures on the health care legislation today, and it’s now finally signed, sealed and delivered. After more than a year with heated debate, Democrats are badly bruised, and the Obama Administration is still waiting for a lasting bump in the tracking polls. What are your thoughts on the final legislation?

President Obama Signs the Health Care Bill

March 23, 2010

Today, in the Blue Room of the White House, President Obama signed the Senate bill passed by the House 219-212 on Sunday. The bill contains the so-called Cornhusker Kickback, Gator Aid, and the Louisiana Purchase (which will remain after the Senate’s reconciliation). In other words, the job isn’t finished yet, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has signed a letter stating he’ll finish the job in the Senate with a simple majority (i.e. reconciliation). Signed, sealed, but not yet quite delivered.

(Official White House photos by Pete Souza)

The Paranoid Style in American Politics

March 3, 2010

During the January 31 edition of ABC’s This Week, a heated exchange took place between Fox News top dog Roger Ailes and Arianna Huffington, the editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post. On the subject of Fox News’ talk show host Glenn Beck, Huffington invoked the historian Richard Hofstadter’s notion of the “paranoid style in American politics” to describe Beck’s demeanor on TV (and on the radio). According to Huffington, “the paranoid style is dangerous when there is real pain out there.”

Coincidentally, I had gotten Hofstadter’s book The Paranoid Style in American Politics: And other essays as a birthday present a couple of days earlier. After reading the book – first released in 1965 – it dawned on me: Huffington’s observation was spot on, and Hofstadter’s essay is just as relevant today as it was back when it was first released. His analysis of the paranoid style is enlightening, and his analytical framework seems ideally equipped to describe the actions of certain actors within contemporary American politics.

Richard Hofstadter ([1965] 2008: 3) chose the word paranoid, “simply because no other word adequately” evoked “the qualities of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy” that he had in mind. Hofstadter was aware of the fact that “the idea of the paranoid style would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to people with profoundly disturbed minds.” In other words, whether or not various talk show hosts are truly crazy is beside the point. What’s interesting is the way they frame their thoughts (no matter how crazy they might be). As Hofstadter saw it, it was “the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people” that made the phenomenon significant (Ibid: 4). The paranoid style is interesting when average Americans embrace it.

Elaborating on the difference between the paranoid spokesman in politics and the clinical paranoiac, Hofstadter wrote that

although they both tend to be overheated, oversuspicious, overaggressive, grandiose, and apocalyptic in expression, the clinical paranoid sees the hostile and conspiratorial world in which he feels himself to be living as directed specifically against him.

The spokesman of the paranoid style, on the other hand,

finds it directed against a nation, a culture, a way of life whose fate affects not himself alone but millions of others. … His sense that his political passions are unselfish and patriotic, in fact, goes far behind.

A key part of the paranoid style, then, is the tendency to see alignments and patterns of behavior where there are none. The paranoid style, by and large, is occupied with the rhetorical unraveling of plots. Plots to change the system. Plots to change the constitution. Plots to change the American way of life.

As Hofstadter (2008: 25-26) saw it, the right-wing of the 1960s could be “reduced to three”:

First:

[A] sustained conspiracy, running over more than a generation, and reaching its climax in Roosevelt’s New Deal, to undermine free capitalism, to bring the economy under the direction of the federal government, and to pave the way for socialism or communism.

Second:

[The contention] that top government officialdom has been so infiltrated by Communists that American policy, at least since the days leading up to Pearl Harbor, has been dominated by sinister men who were shrewdly and consistently selling out American national interests.

Third:

[The contention] that the country is infused with a network of Communist agents, just as in the old days it was infiltrated by Jesuit agents, so that the whole apparatus of education, religion, the press, and the mass media are engaged in a common effort to paralyze the resistance of loyal Americans.

While the third group is outdated, remnants of the first group in particular, but also of the second group (as far as the selling out of American interests goes), are still relevant.

As an example of the first group, take a look at this clip of Glenn Beck (at your own discretion), introducing a new segment shortly after the election of Barack Obama. To Beck, Obama’s policies were threatening the American way of life – so much so that he at several occasions took to tears while describing how much he loved his country (and yes, Hillary Clinton did choke up on the campaign trail in New Hampshire describing how she had gotten “so many opportunities from this country” – but that wasn’t the paranoia talking, whatever that was). As Beck saw it, America stood on the top of a slippery slope: capitalism – socialism – communism. Grandiose and apocalyptic? Kind of.

Of course, it’s easy to dismiss this as entertainment, or even comedy. But Beck’s show has gained traction. Like Limbaugh, he’s been on the cover of TIME, and as a sign of his standing among conservatives – he held this year’s keynote address at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Limbaugh held last year’s keynote address.

The usage of the paranoid style evolves with the political climate. Back in the 1960s, communism was the greatest purveyor of evil. It still looms large, but other issues have surpassed it in importance. Needless to say, then, the paranoid style can be applied to more than just the threat of communism. Every conspiracy draws on the paranoid style. The so-called “birthers” and “truthers” are no exception. While the “birthers” – convinced that Obama wasn’t born in the United States – is a phenomenon of the right, the “truthers” – believing the U.S. government played a role in 9/11 – are spread across the political spectrum. Their common denominator is the belief in a conspiracy of huge dimensions. One stretching back to Hawaii in the early 1960s, and the other planned and carried out by the former president and his confidants.

I could list more contemporary examples of the usage of the paranoid style, but I won’t. Media Matters does that every day (though they tend to ignore its usage on the left side of the political spectrum). However, if you’re interested in a thorough analysis from one of the best journalistic minds out there, check out this excellent episode of Bill Moyers Journal; “Rage on the Radio.”


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