07/31/08 10:10 AM
I guess the Uppity One on a World Tour was just too much for their lily-white hearts. There are, after all, rules. In the Willa Cather world the Washington press corps inhabit, decorum is life. Birth and breeding will out. George Bush has the sense and sensibility of a trailer park whore, but he's got Barbara's genes and a political pedigree -- like an expensive dog. John McCain makes George Bush look like the cover boy for the Journal of the Mind, but he was a Soldier who shows the press proper deference and never suggests that he's brighter than they are. They love him in return.
The Los Angeles Times highlighted a study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University showing that "ABC, NBC and CBS were tougher on Obama than on Republican John McCain during the first six weeks of the general-election campaign."
It's not just the networks. The press pack has turned. The unfortunate Maureen Dowd provides a rambling column of nitpicking negatives that ends by repeating the narrative that Obama should be winning by a landslide, and since he is not, needs all the help he can get.
She points a finger because he does not personally pick out the trinkets he brings to his daughters from the road. Hearing that he saw his daughter perform in a play of The Odyssey, she writes: "I wonder if that rang any bells on this trip." Get it? Heroes? Thank God he didn't see her in a kiddie Mamma Mia. Dowd would have spouted Abba lyrics at him, pregnant with significance.
His greatest sin per Dowd? Reckless displays of intellect unbecoming a black man.
She writes: " The senator left his briefing books behind for a rare instance of mingling with his journalism posse at a Berlin restaurant as he sipped a rare "very dry" martini with olives."
"Briefing books," she sniffs, as if to suggest 'only the little people need to know what they're talking about. The Elect just say it (whatever it may be) with natural authority and that's enough.' And then of course, the dig about not sufficiently kissing her ass, the "rare instance of mingling with his journalism posse..."
She goes on: "The Obamanauts were so elated [with the overseas trip] that they didn't even seem to mind the caricature of Obama, ears sticking out, that had been drawn on the round We-Are-The-World Obama logo in the press section. The cartoon candidate demanded: 'Worship me.'"
The press is now drawing horns and a mustache on his image. Then one of them is stupid enough to admit it in print. And they wonder why we think they're adolescent, self-righteous fools.
Dana Milbank goes Dowd one better. He takes the word "Presumptuous," -- today's euphemism for "Uppity Nigger" and slings it with a malicious abandon you'd expect from a bunker-based, confederate-flag draped Red State commenter.
"Barack Obama has long been his party's presumptive nominee. Now he's becoming its presumptuous nominee," he writes.
"He ordered up a teleconference with the (current president's) Treasury secretary, granted an audience to the Pakistani prime minister and had his staff arrange for the chairman of the Federal Reserve to give him a briefing."
Note the construction: Obama "granted an audience"... as opposed to the Pakistani prime minister agreeing to meet with him. "Had his staff arrange" for a briefing. In other words, he had "the help" do it when we all know that he should be "the help."
Milbank continues, "Then, he went up to Capitol Hill to be adored by House Democrats in a presidential-style pep rally."
Of the same House Democratic "pep rally," Maureen Dowd wrote:
"Some said his reception was not as enthusiastic as the one Hillary got when she returned from her odyssey. The room warmed to him, mainly because he told the lawmakers how much he'd need them to get policies passed if he gets elected."
Same event, opposite takes. Both equally devoid of verifiable fact. Both equally negative.
Milbank then blames Obama for his travel style:
"Along the way, he traveled in a bubble more insulating than the actual president's. Traffic was shut down for him as he zoomed about town in a long, presidential-style motorcade, while the public and most of the press were kept in the dark about his activities."
Obama should obviously ignore the security precautions of the Secret Service and hop a bus.
In both Milbank and Dowd, there is the hint of the personal affront. Both their tones suggest that the American political Marquis of Queensbury rules are being broken and both appoint themselves the Keepers of Sacred Tradition. It was the same with the Clintons. They just weren't "one of us." Might there be another Barbarian at the gate? Or, to paraphrase a character from the 1972 film, "The Man," Rod Serling's take on the first black president: 'There may be a jigaboo in the White House.'
Obama is behaving the way any other over-achieving black man behaves (who has not risen due to the condescension of white benefactors). He is preparing ad nauseum for any event, and out-doing his competition at every turn. He is the smartest guy in the room. He displays the results of his brains and preparation.
Attack him for any direct quote or action that suggests he buys his own hype. That's only fair. However, he's now being attacked for doing a better, and more thorough job of running for president than anyone in recent political memory. He's being attacked for being good at his given task.
I once had a white boss in an all-white workplace literally sit me down in his office and say. "You're a very bright guy."
"Thank you," I said.
He paused for too long. Then he said. "You should try to be..." he paused again, obviously uncomfortable, "... a little less. You know what I mean?"
Yes. I knew what he meant.
07/24/08 03:32 PM
Ramesh Ponnuru, author of the hilariously titled The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts and the Disregard for Human Life, has purged once more on the pages of the Washington Post. His target: Michelle Obama. In justifying the right wing attacks on her, he writes, "Her combination of bitterness, ingratitude, anti-Americanism, leftism, and, yes, elitism rubs a lot of people the wrong way."
"Ingratitude?" Hmmm. Never heard this one used against a white person in the political spotlight. For what is she supposed to be grateful? What favors have been bestowed upon her, and to whom should she bow in appreciation for them? Should she be grateful for being allowed to exercise her birthrights as an American citizen? Obviously, to Mr. Ponnuru, a black woman like her like should express her appreciation for being allowed to do so.
Being Indian-American and dark himself, his roots lie in a place where the term "nigger" was applied as freely to his forebears as it has been to black Americans here at home. The British used the term just as derisively. In America, however, despite dark skin, Indian Americans have never been "niggers." Perhaps this is something for which to be grateful. Perhaps he believes such gratitude should be universal among dark American peoples no longer prevented from exercising their (what I'm sure he would call) "God-given" rights--and no longer swatting at the term "nigger" buzzing around them like flies.
Yes, I know; it's impossible to glean the workings of so clouded a mind as Ponnuru's, but his choice of words is telling in the extreme. Blacks should be grateful--more so than whites. This is not just the quiet gratitude for having been born in a wealthy country with democratic principles. Ours should be the loud, showy kind of appreciation. Obviously, per Ponnuru, we ought to be kissing someone's ass. He simply fails to specify whose.
Care to take a guess?
The other sins of which Ponnuru accuses Michelle Obama bear the same cast (no pun intended). A black person cannot criticize any aspect of American society without being called "anti-American," but right-wingers can express outright contempt for vast swaths of the American populace (those who favor abortion rights, equal rights for gays, withdrawal from Iraq, universal health care) without facing a similar accusation. Ah, but the wingers aren't criticizing any aspect of the era of undisputed white, male privilege. That's the "real America," and that's what one dare not attack.
He attacks her "Elitism." In other words, she's "uppity." This is an outgrowth of her other sins. By not bowing before whomever it is Ponnuru believes she should bow (while making clear she should be bowing to someone) she is marked as thinking too much of herself, of flying too high--she, a black, working mother born of a water plant employee and a secretary.
Sometimes it seems that many Americans fear a black First Lady more than a merely half-white President. But for me, and I suspect a lot of other black Americans, Michelle Obama is Barack Obama's better half. For us, she helps answer some of the questions that still swirl around him--and she answers them just right.
07/20/08 07:58 AM
The personable, shirt-sleeved, loose-limbed fellow has morphed into the dark-suited, flag-lapel pinned polibot. In style and emphasis, Barack Obama has shifted to a less colorful (no pun intended) version of the woman he defeated for the Democratic nomination. Politically, it’s probably necessary. To reassure Americans that he is neither Muslim terrorist, nor Black Panther nationalist, Obama has had to erase himself—or at least the self he presented to primary voters.
In a country still plagued by racist, sexist attitudes, it’s tricky for blacks and women to achieve high, national political office. In Hillary Clinton’s case, male-centric societal norms and her adherence to, or distance from them color her every move. She is reviled for both showing emotion (too girly) and for unladylike strength (ball buster). Openly sexist commentary surrounds her.
Barack Obama’s every move is scrutinized for unpatriotic undertones. His lapel jewelry becomes front-page news. Conservatives pervert his wife’s acknowledgment that she bears the cultural scars of her forebears as America-hatred. Racially tinged commentary surrounds him. On national television, Michelle Malkin casually, cattily referred to his wife as his “baby Mama.” The attacks on his patriotism are veiled references to a mindset in which blacks are not “real Americans.”
Neither Clinton nor Obama follow mainstream Washington’s model of black and female political success. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice exemplify those models. Unlike Clinton and Obama, neither Powell nor Rice endure open media snark and not-so-slightly veiled sexist/racist asides. Within the Washington press and political mainstream, both enjoy deference and respect that their performances do not merit.
Colin Powell is held in high esteem, yet he delivered the lies that led this nation to war. He did so with the knowledge that some of the information he had been fed was false—and unless he is a fool, he had suspicions about the rest of it. He delivered it anyway, and hundreds of thousands died bloody deaths.
Condoleezza Rice leaves a trail of wreckage behind her worthy of Heath Ledger’s Joker.
As Secretary of State, she was at the very least the spokesperson for the policy that caused Israel to lose a war to Hezbollah and shifted perceptions of power in the Middle East to the detriment of our ally.
As Secretary of State, she advocated free elections in the Palestinian Territories, and then, when the Bush administration didn’t like the results, punished the Palestinians for exercising those voting rights.
She was a central enabler of one of the worst foreign policy blunders of the 20th century—the Iraq war.
But neither Rice nor Powell raises the fears that Obama and Clinton do. That is because they take their orders from white men. They do not make their own decisions. They are servants—good soldiers—nothing more. They serve(d) white, conservative masters dedicated to the extension of economic and political status quo in which power remains and grows exactly where it is. That is their proper place.
Conversely, both Clinton and Obama want to wield the power themselves, and they make no bones about it. This is a radical shift in establishment Washington’s racial/sexual dynamic. Hell, it’s a radical shift in America’s. It’s why right wing hysteric Charles Krauthammer wrote a Washington Post column essentially sputtering, “How dare he!?” Note how Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both face the “It’s all about them” attack. As female and black respectively, they are not supposed to seek power. It is not their place.
Obama’s transformation is designed to convince the Washington elites and the American public that he, too, understands the status quo, and even appreciates the benefits it has brought to certain segments of the population. His very skin is a challenge to it, so he must work all the harder to acknowledge its value. Meanwhile, Republicans are doing all they can to convince Americans that he will undermine it—that, as “unpatriotic,” electing him will somehow undo America itself.
That’s why I still wish Obama would choose Clinton as his running mate. Both have proven themselves adept at maneuvering America’s racial and sexual landscape. With Obama’s newly minted establishment persona hopefully doing its job to blunt attacks on his patriotism and politics, picking Clinton would—even as he pays deference to the status quo—stick a small shiv in its belly.
With the economy on a bubble/bust cycle, wages stagnating or falling, unemployment increasing, deregulation imploding, oil expensive, the planet warming, US stature waning… the status quo isn’t working any more. An Obama/Clinton ticket would help signal to his base that, despite his nods in its direction, his Presidency would be steady, deliberative process of rewriting it.
07/12/08 08:14 AM
During the Southern California wildfires in 2007, Dr. Joseph Romm, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and author of the blog Climate Progress, wrote for Huffpo:
"Global warming makes wildfires more likely and more destructive -- as many scientific studies have concluded. Why? Global warming leads to more intense droughts, hotter weather, earlier snowmelt (hence less humid late summers and early autumns), and more tree infestations (like the pine beetle). That means wildfires are a dangerous amplifying feedback, whereby global warming causes more wildfires, which release carbon dioxide, thereby accelerating global warming."
Today, California’s burning. Low rainfall, a heat wave, and early snowmelt are all contributing factors. Here in Northern California, a huge fire literally dances on the very edge of my town. Only a canyon keeps it at bay. Despite heroic efforts from firefighters, only luck keeps the wind from blowing it in our direction. Almost half the town has been declared either a mandatory or precautionary evacuation area.
Less than one month ago fire threatened the town from the opposite direction. With little warning we were told to leave immediately. Looking down the street, you saw the billows of orange smoke from the flames. We grabbed the animals, their food and threw few clothes into the car. Neighbors struggled to trailer panicked horses. Streets clogged with cars. All but one road out of town was closed due to fire. That road soon came to a complete standstill.
Again, quoting Joseph Romm’s Huffpo piece on last year’s San Diego fires:
"Can we say that the brutal San Diego wildfires were directly caused by global warming? Princeton's Michael Oppenheimer put it this way on NBC Nightly News Tuesday:
"'The weather we've seen this fall may or may not be due to the global warming trend, but it's certainly a clear picture of what the future is going to look like if we don't act quickly to cut emissions of the greenhouse gases.'"
"Thomas Swetnam, University of Arizona climate scientist, who coauthored a major study on the subject…said in 2006:
“We're showing warming and earlier springs tying in with large forest fire frequencies. Lots of people think climate change and the ecological responses are 50 to 100 years away. But it's not 50 to 100 years away--it's happening now in forest ecosystems through fire.”
It is happening now. When I wake, it’s not a fog outside; it’s smoke. For the past couple of days, ash drizzled down like light gray snow. On the air quality scale, 300 is considered “hazardous” to all persons. The air quality in my area is projected to hit 400 today. We wear filtration masks if we have to spend considerable time outdoors.
California’s firefighting apparatus is taxed beyond its limit; firefighters from all over the country are battling these blazes. Statewide, over 750,000 acres have burned, and the firefighting costs in Butte County alone have reached almost $40 million.
In 2007, devastating wildfires hit the San Diego area. Last month, Midwest floods cost unquantifiable human misery and billions of dollars. This month, wildfires ravage parts of the West—costs still mounting.
Discussing the Midwest floods as an example of extreme weather events, National Wildlife Federation climate scientist Dr. Amanda Staudt stated:
“The big picture is that global warming is making tragedies like these more frequent and more intense. Global warming is happening now. Our dependency on fossil fuels like oil and coal is causing the problem, and people and wildlife are witnessing the effects.”
And according to the July 11, 2008 Washington Post:
"The Bush administration has decided not to take any new steps to regulate greenhouse gas emissions before the president leaves office, despite pressure from the Supreme Court and broad accord among senior federal officials that new regulation is appropriate now.
"The Environmental Protection Agency plans to announce today that it will seek months of further public comment on the threat posed by global warming to human health and welfare -- a matter that federal climate experts and international scientists have repeatedly said should be urgently addressed."
Again demonstrating his utter contempt for this nation and its people, George Bush will do nothing. McCain makes prettier noises on global warming, but follows the conservative status quo of ‘drill more and deal with the consequences later.’ Democrats need to make more of the looming effects of global warming because right now, the costs of more of the same... they're all over the TV-- flooded fields, drowned hopes, fire-ravaged communities, and lives turned upside down.
07/07/08 07:04 PM
The following also appears at Huffington Post
A CNN piece called “Obama says he’s been ‘very consistent’ on Iraq,” proves a classic of the “he said/she said” journalism of marketing and perception. It also—again—proves that Democrats don't know how to play.
The CNN story largely deals with Obama’s stance on Iraq. It seems that on his campaign plane, Obama addressed the press accusatorily.
"I am surprised at how ... the press ... I'm not trying to dump on you guys, but I'm surprised at how finely calibrated every single word was measured," Obama said.
That was the first mistake. When marketing, you do not attack the people you’re trying to sell—and the press is part of the audience here. You can shame them. You can use fear, uncertainty and doubt to shake their pedestal of status quo thinking, but you do not accuse. Mac ads to not attack PC users. They attack PC fallibilities and insist that PC users deserve better.
You also do not adopt a defensive posture. When was the last time you saw an automobile ad that said, “Honest. We really haven’t ignored all warnings on gas prices and served you up a menu of gargantuan SUVs to the detriment of our economy, our security, and our planet. Really, we haven’t.” Instead, you see ads touting their environmental initiatives to the cloying accompaniment of Enya.
Defensive postures only serve to reinforce the narrative you’re trying to deflate. The article states, “Obama denied that he’s shying away from his proposed 16-month phased withdrawal.” It did not state that he “reiterated his goal” or “his commitment.” It said “he denied.” In other words, “when did you stop beating your wife?”
To prove that Obama’s position has been consistent, his operatives should have provided the press with a crib sheet of written, dated quotes, and then used the press briefing to state the positives of Obama’s plan and attack McCain’s.
Of course, this being “he said/she said” journalism, CNN did no research of it’s own. Instead, they asked McCain’s mouthpiece to respond to Obama’s denial, and all he did was misrepresent Obama’s position yet again to reinforce what Obama’s own defensive posture had already tacitly acknowledged.
“Barack Obama’s words,” the spokesperson said, “indicated that he also shared John McCain’s commitment to securing the peace beforehand.”
You come away from this piece with the incorrect impression that Obama has shifted his position on Iraq, and that he is trying to weasel out of having done so.
Democratic candidates have got to learn that they cannot rely on the press to do what they did 30 years ago. High-minded Edward R. Murrow-esque journalism is largely dead, and the he said/she said era is here. Nuance does not play. There are no facts. There is spin and there is perception. Obama allowed progressive “Change” to be perceived as his brand. That branding won him the nomination. With his recent campaign of “re-emphasis” he has undercut it. Everything he does and says will now be measured against that branding sin—by both the McCain camp and the press.
No, this is not journalism. It is marketing. And Democratic candidates have got to learn how to use its tools and strategies manipulate the press and sell themselves. Score one for McCain here. The Obama camp just got schooled.
07/04/08 08:59 AM
The following also appears at Huffington Post.
David Broder donned his rubber gloves and plucked from his inbox a report on from the right wing Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. The organization fears that “America’s national identity is eroding under the pressure of population diversity and educational slackness.” Broder, on the other hand, sees no cause for alarm.
The report points out that American identity rests, “not on a common ethnicity, but on a set of ideas,” and bemoans the fact that those ideas are no longer central to the American mindset. Per the report, “84% of Americans believe that we ‘share a unique national identity based on a shared set of beliefs, values, and culture.’” However, younger citizens are less likely to believe in a binding national identify. Meanwhile 63% of Americans believe that our national identity is growing weaker.
As remedy, the report prescribes more education in American history that promotes “informed patriotism:”
There are dangers to certain kinds of patriotism, but there are equal dangers to no patriotism at all. There is a middle ground, a “patriotism of principles,” to use the language of the American Federation of Teachers, based on a “common core of history [that] binds us together.” Americans should embrace an informed patriotism that expresses our devotion to our country and our bond with our fellow citizens.”
A couple of fallacies popped to mind—fallacies that might account for the lack of education in American identity and ideals. First, for most of this nation’s history, full American identity was, in fact, based on “a common ethnicity.” It was based on being “white.” If you were not, you were not a full citizen with a full citizen’s rights, despite all the high ideals ingeniously put forth on those yellowing sheets of paper.
Prior to those horrible 60s (you know, when all good things like the unquestionability of white male privilege came to an end), this omission did not matter. This disconnect was insignificant because its victims were invisible.
Once America was forced to confront the stark division between its actions and its ideals, a splintering began. Suddenly visible, minorities demanded to be seen. In reaction, the majority recoiled. The Nixonian politics of division took root and it has been with us ever since. “The silent majority,” and “law and order” became codes for us vs. them.
Ever since being forced to acknowledge that we had betrayed our ideals, we’ve been sulking. For decades, America has been trapped in this protracted adolescent posture that makes it impossible for us to agree on what America is, much less effectively teach it.
We have not progressed to the point where we can teach our history in full—warts and all. To study “the bond with our fellow citizens,” demands that we also study where and how those bonds have broken down throughout our history. Organizations like the Bradley foundation make it impossible to do that. They blame “a neglect of America’s heroes and dramatic achievements” for a lack of interest in America’s history.
“Too often,” they write, “students are taught more about America’s failings than its successes. Absent are those ‘mystic chords of memory’ that Abraham Lincoln believed held our country together.”
Both Lincoln and the report’s authors fail to acknowledge that those memories can strike dissonant chords—both “mystic” and “cryptic.”
The report’s authors still insist that America be taught to the rousing accompaniment of fife and drum. They don’t realize that that version is boring; it’s unidimensional and obviously false (Yo! Over here! Black guy. See?). They insist that American identity is dependent on the lie of an enlightened exceptionalism as opposed to the truth of a flawed, continual tug-of-war between transcendent ideals and their spotty implementation.
Broder illustrates the point with the only genius he knows—inadvertent:
I have not worried about the fundamental commitment of the American people since 1974. In that year, they were confronted with the stunning evidence that their president had conducted a criminal conspiracy out of the Oval Office. In response, the American people reminded Richard Nixon, the man they had just recently reelected overwhelmingly, that in this country, no one, not even the president, is above the law. They required him to yield his office.
That is not the sign of a nation that has lost its sense of values or forgotten the principles on which this system rests. And that is something worth celebrating on more than the Fourth of July.
Since 2003, it has become increasingly apparent that an American president lied to the American people in order to justify an unprovoked, unilateral attack against a sovereign government that posed no threat to the United States. Hundreds of thousands of people have died in the resulting conflict. Over 4000 American soldiers have died in the resulting conflict. Tens of thousands of American soldiers have been wounded in the resulting conflict. That same American president has honored himself with the Stalinesque right to spy on American citizens without warrant, to arrest and indefinitely detain American citizens without trial, and to authorize the torture of suspects.
American tsked and yawned.
“That is not a sign of a nation that has lots its sense of values or forgotten the principles of which this system rests.”
David Broder speaks.