Thursday, August 18, 2011

"When are you going to unleash us..."

In case you missed it this week, my favorite California Congresswoman, Maxine Waters, was in the news this week after pleading with the black community to allow the Congressional Black Caucus to challenge the policies of the president and rejoin the political fighting in Washington.
“When you tell us it’s alright and you unleash us and you tell us you’re ready for us to have this conversation, we’re ready to have the conversation." She went on to say, “We’re elected officials. We are trying to do the right thing and the best thing. When you let us know it is time to let go, we’ll let go.” Maxine Waters was finally uttering a feeling that I think a lot of Democrats have been having about President Obama, but have as yet felt unable to speak about. I personally don't think the Obama presidency has been a failure of leadership, but as a liberal, I would say that I am frustrated with the policies that have come out Washington during his tenure.
Maxine Waters, as one of the leading voices of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives, should be able to press the president day after day on every policy to try and push the legislation - and the country - in a more progressive direction. But what congressional members are seeing, and especially Democratic - and especially especially very liberal Democratic - members are seeing, is the president continually extending the olive branch to Republicans, watching them spit in his face, and then watching him wipe the spit off and extend the olive branch again. They're feeling as though he's continually trying to work across the aisle, but by doing so has forgotten about the people who supported him and elected him in the first place.
I think this is especially true of the Congressional Black Caucus, who as Mrs. Waters so vociferously pointed out, has felt "leashed" and unable to confront the president, because they worried about a backlash from the black community. While obviously the black community, and no other group as well, vote as a bloc, I think congressional Democrats - and especially the Congressional Black Caucus - have been walking on egg shells with regard to criticizing the president, because they don't want to scare people away from voting in 2012, and they don't want to anger a constituency that will get them personally re-elected. Waters stated this point in her meeting in Detroit, “We don’t put pressure on the president. Let me tell you why. We don’t put pressure on the president because ya’ll love the president. You love the president. You’re very proud to have a black man — first time in the history of the United States of America. If we go after the president too hard, you’re going after us.”
So why is it that people are so protective of the president? Why do Democratic members of congress, and especially members of the Congressional Black Caucus, feel unable to speak freely about the president and his policies? I think that part of it might have to do with the fact that president Obama, both as a great orator, as well as the first black presidential nominee from a major party, excited a group of voters that has up til now [then, 2008] felt left out of the political process and felt like they had no one that cared about them or was representing them. And while President Obama may have seemed to be this shining knight, for congressional members he's proven to be just a politician, and not a voice for the voiceless. So what congressional Democrats - and again, especially the Congressional Black Caucus - want to do is to give voice to dissent against the president in an effort to create better policy, and stop letting Republicans be the only alternative voice to the president's, without upsetting this very group of people whose political involvement is tenuous, and who because they are either blinded by his professorial manner and oratory skill, or because they don't necessarily follow politics, still see the president as the knight that is going to be the champion of the downtrodden.

Important Note: I think I've stated this before, and I think it's worth noting again; I support the president, and I think that he's accomplished quite a lot in such a rough political climate. Has he fully represented the liberal perspective like I would like to see - not at all. But then again, he ran on a platform of change, and his idea of change was post-partisanship, not necessarily progression and reform. But look for the president to change after November 2012. I think that during the president's second term, he will be the leader that we've been waiting for, and the champion of the downtrodden that we hoped he would be. With no political ramifications to hold him back, the president will be able to push ahead with his progressive agenda unfettered. He will become what we've always wanted him to be; or maybe I'm just blinded by his professorial manner and oratory skill.

Where did it go...

I've been uber-focused on politics as of late, so I'm going to take a break for a second, and tell you what's going on in my life.
A couple of weeks ago, I drove to a party at a friends house, partied through the night, and got a ride home when the party was over; leaving my car at my friends house overnight. I got up the next day, and remembered that my car was not outside, and decided to ride my bike over to my friends house to pick up my bike. I get to my friends house, hang out for a while, and then leave my bike behind and drove the car home.
Now let me give you a little background on my friends house. This is a house in which four girls live; they never lock their garage, they never lock their back door, and they have a lot of lawn furniture and two bicycles that sit unlocked in their unfenced back yard. Not to jink them, but these girls have never had their house broken into, and have never had anything stolen from their back yard or garage. So, I'm figuring it's a safe bet to leave my bike in their backyard, so much so that I don't even lock up my bike (my fault) for a night.
Well, I get a call from my friend the next day, and she asks me if I had come that morning to get my bike. I tell her that I had not, but why was she asking. She said that the bike was no longer there. I really didn't think much of the comment, and figured she just wasn't paying attention, or that one of the other ladies in the house had moved it.
I went for a run later and ran over to the ladies' house. I arrived, not really thinking about my bicycle, but more just hanging out. I hung out for a couple of hours, and then when I was ready to head home, I went to the back yard to search for my bike. Well, lo and behold, it was gone. I searched the garage, searched every corner of the yard, looked in the basement, and checked in with all of the housemates; no dice. I was baffled. No fence, garage unlocked, lawn furniture, other unlocked bikes, and none of them were touched; my bike was the only thing stolen.
I'm not hugely upset about the actual bike, it wasn't terribly expensive or nice, but what frustrates me is that a) a free, energy-efficient, exercise-inducing, (almost) carbon footprint-free mode of transportation was taken from me, and b) the fact nothing else was taken (I'm glad nobody else lost anything, but I don't understand it), so it felt like a conspiracy.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Did he just say that...?

After having missed the August 11 Republican debate, I finally had the opportunity to check it out in full yesterday. As a liberal, watching these debates are always rather frustrating and scary, but I feel that as somewhat of a political wonk, it's important to hear and understand (if possible) the perspectives of those on the other side.
While most of the questions thrown to the candidates are the standard softballs, occasionally they get hit with a tough policy question that the serious politicians and politicos like Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Mitt Romney have no trouble with, but the less astute candidates such as Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain find to be a little more difficult to answer.
What I think is interesting is how these candidates are trying so hard to pander to the right (most of them, anyway), that they'll probably going to end up crippling themselves in the general election. I was reading an article yesterday about how this primary is much different from that between Obama and Hillary, because in that fight they were attacking each other, but fighting for political moderacy, while in this Republican primary fight they're aiming all of their arrows at the president, but fighting for the fringe. I've got news for these candidates, the Tea Party, while it may be a vocal and vociferous movement, simply does not have the votes to give you the primary victory, or especially a victory in the general election. Winning the presidency in this country has to do with a) getting the majority of registered members of your party to actually show up to the polls, and b) getting a lot of independent voters (by registration - no voter is truly independent on the issues) to vote for you. It's that simple.
What the republicans are banking on is that they can excite their base enough so that ALL of them show up, and then the Republican establishment-types will vote Republican no matter what, because that's what they do. Then, they're hoping that Independents will be disenchanted enough with the economy (remember, stupid...) that they're turn their back on the President and his efforts to revive it. The problem with this philosophy is that it only works if Republicans sent one of their warriors to the general, and not one of their establishment candidates. Michele Bachmann will excite the base, but she has literally no chance of winning the general. Same goes for Herman Cain and Ron Paul. Mitt Romney and John Huntsman are on the opposite end of the spectrum; they can make a lot of money by appealing to the party elites, and could both possibly win a general election, but would most likely not do so because the party base would stay at home, and opt to mourn the state of the country, instead of handing the presidency over to a more mainstream, establishment Republican (to be fair, I give them credit for being principled, even if they are misguided).
Basically, I think the point I'm making is that Republicans are in a catch-22, and are probably going to lose the election. I don't know much about Rick Perry, but I find it hard to imagine that even if the guy is a great campaigner, and can play moderate for the Independent's sake, that the country would be willing to throw out the current intelligent, moderate, professorial president we now have for another governor from Texas.

Two asides--
First, I find Herman Cain's obsession with Islam and making sure that Shari'ah law is not practiced within United States courts very odd. The guy has tried to clarify his statements over and over again, but he continues to make his hole deeper. Cain has basically said that Christian values must be respected, because those are protected by the Constitution, but that Islamic values are essentially an infringement upon Christian values, and are therefore not protected by the same Constitution. When will Republicans give up their jingoist, pro-Christian agenda, and just respectfully let everyone believe what they want to believe (including Christians). Despite popular Republican opinion, respect for other religions does not infringe upon your rights.
Second, I think Sarah Palin's trailing of the Republican primary campaign trail to be kind of creepy. It seems obvious that all she wants is attention, which is probably why she will end up joining the Republican primary fight. However, with her credentials known (or lack thereof) and her name recognition already greater, than any of the other Republican primary candidates; to involve herself in the debates would probably do more harm than good. With almost 7 months before the Republican primaries are set to begin, Sarah Palin has no real incentive to join the fray, when she'll only be running as a celebrity candidate anyway, and everyone just expects her do so. She'll try and keep herself in the news, while desperately trying to bulk up her foreign and domestic policy knowledge. Look for Palin's primary campaign to be short-lived. She'll be in and out.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Bad Rap

There is a fairly common narrative going around the country today within Democratic and liberal political circles, that President Obama’s first term has been a failure. Not in terms of getting things done, per se, but in terms of living up to the hype of hope and end of partisanship that he so eloquently stated he would bring to Washington, DC and the country at large. I disagree.
I don’t disagree that there was a tremendous amount of hype surrounding the then first-term Senator, or that the Obama campaign took advantage of that hype to propel Mr. Obama into the White House. However, my disagreement stems from the idea that President Obama has failed to live up to this hype, or that he has failed to move beyond partisanship. You blanch?
The hope surrounding candidate Obama was that he was going to “change Washington”. While the specific understanding of this concept is rather muddled and ambiguous, and understood differently by almost every person in the country, the general idea was that the cronyism, corruption and extreme partisanship needed to end. So Mr. Obama swoops into Washington with a Democratically-controlled Congress, both House and Senate, and people start saying that what they always say when either chamber of Congress changes from one party to the other, that the President has a mandate. Just as a small digression, I will say that I hate this term mandate, as it undeservedly gives whoever is using an almost carte blanche authority to do whatever they want in the name of it. Tangent aside, Democrats eagerly got busy on their plan for overturning many of the more unpopular and unproductive policies of the Bush administration. President Obama welcomed Republicans, even though a large minority, to bring ideas to the table for shaping policy moving forward. The president tried to create transparency in government, and figure out what were some major policy matters that both sides wanted to deal with.
It was just about this time that the idea of reforming the healthcare system came to the forefront. For the next several months congress fought this issue back and forth, with the Republicans adding little to no actual policy suggestions, but instead repeating the message that the whole bill should be scrapped and the process started anew (euphemism for “kill the bill”). Republicans did not want healthcare reform; both because they thought jobs and the economy should be the number one focus of congress, and also because they – like Democrats in congress – had insurance and prescription drug lobbyists breathing down their necks, and stuffing money in their drawers. So the president did what he could to remain above the fray, while reasserting to both Democrats and Republicans alike, that this was going to be the most comprehensive healthcare reform in the last 50 years, and that they needed to figure out how to bolster care, provide options, and reduce costs. Republicans wanted nothing to do with this, so Democrats were left to fight this battle out themselves and suffered devastating scars from the battle.
Democrats not only got a bad healthcare reform bill, but suffered devastating losses in the 2010 midterm elections. The Republicans gained a few seats in the Senate, and won a huge number of seats in the House, thereby taking back one of the chambers. The president, though crestfallen over the demoralizing losses Democrats suffered in the elections, was nonetheless prepared to remain above the fray and work with Republicans on creating sound policy. What the president didn’t see coming was the influx of hard-lined tea party freshman that were not willing to work with moderate Republicans, Democrats, or especially the president on anything. Their view of government was that it was too big, and they saw their wins a sort of directive to begin the long, slow process of killing it from the inside.
Republicans, in typical “do anything to win” fashion, decided that they had to pander to the extreme tea party wing of their party, and as a result, the whole party shifted further to the right – both with regard to fiscal and social policy.
President Obama responded in his typical conciliatory fashion, welcoming the new members to congress and telling them that he was excited to work together. The new members were less than excited, however, to work with the president, or anyone else for that matter, and were hell bent on cutting government spending, taxes and any form of social “welfare” (i.e. any and all government programs) that they could. Their goal had nothing to do with creating jobs, but instead was simply pandering to their dogmatic ideology and the loud extremists that supported it.
Obama has since spent from then until now grinding out weak legislation after weak legislation, all in an effort to get something – anything – done, but continuously getting a stick in the eye from Republicans; both on the weak legislation itself, but also on his failure to lead. It’s a bizarre world. The president has made an effort to not only include Republicans in the discussion, but have given them more than ample representation in the bills he’s helped produce, even to the detriment of his own ideological principles. While some may see that as weakness, it’s actually showing a lot of strength and leadership, and the president is now taking flak from all sides for his neutrality.
I think the bottom line is that the fact that both Democrats and Republicans are unhappy with the president is a testament to what a good job he’s doing. Neither party really cares what party the president is a part of, as long as he’s willing to do whatever they want him to do. This president isn’t doing anything ideological for either party, and therefore neither of them can stand him for it. Although the American people might be frustrated by how ineffective government seems to be these days, it’s not the president that should take the blame, because he actually is doing what he said he was going to do, and he has brought change to Washington, it’s just that congress hasn’t yet received the memo.
To quote the Alfred from The Dark Knight, speaking of how Batman must be the bad guy for a while to do the right thing, “Endure, Master Wayne. Take it. They'll hate you for it, but that's the point of Batman, he can be the outcast. He can make the choice that no one else can make, the right choice.” This is what Obama is doing, and this is what he will continue to do. It might cost him the 2012 election (although I’m not really sure who to, as the Republicans have a very weak field), but he will continue to do what he has to do, and sign weak legislation, because that’s what he knows he has to do to get Republicans and Democrats to work together.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The long, slow decline

So Congress finally passed a bill, and the president signed it into law (at the very last moment - our heroes), raising the debt ceiling and taking aim at deficit reduction. The only problem with this bill is that it's completely absurd and useless. Okay, fine, if Congress and the president want to give themselves slaps on the back for averting a downgrading of the nation's credit rating, setting a pretty low bar, then I guess they did succeed (or at least they tell us they succeeded) in doing so.
However, the fact that it seems like every single important bill that gets passed a) at the last minute, and b) after contentious partisan debate that essentially guts the bill of anything substantial, tells me a couple of things. The first is that the Republican party has made a huge mistake caving into their far-right tea party element, and due to the fact that they're scared about losing elections, they're allowing a small, vocal minority run their show. The second is that our government, and I used government mostly as a euphemism for Congress and the president, are incredibly myopic in their legislation, and are pushing the United States further and further over the brink toward become another former empire.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the United States is going to disappear, or become a third world country; I'm simply saying that the days of the United States as the sole global economic, social and military superpower are waning. Not only are there other countries that are on the fast-track to superpower status (e.g. China), but our legislators are passing laws (or not passing laws) that are not only not taking care of the problems that they are intended to take care of, but in many - and probably most circumstances - are actually making them worse.
Okay, so where does that put us. Well, we could sit around and lament the slow decline of our once great (or at least said to be once great) empire, or we could embrace the fact that our government is the reason for the decline, and use that as an impetus for changing not only the people in government, but the actual structure itself - I'd say it's aptly proven to be a failure. This could have two different effects; the first potential effect is that this could turn around our decline, and we could actual recover, and remain one among many superpowers, and have respect for the rest of the world, and not always be throwing our weight around.
Or, we could continue on the downward trajectory toward the middle, but end up being much happier for it. I was having a discussion the other day about the decline of the United States, and a friend of mine brought up a great point - countries that were former empires are actually happier in the middle of the global power structure rather than at the top. At the top you have to think about how to stay on top; you have to constantly worry about how your economy is going to effect the rest of the world, you have to get involved in skirmishes throughout the world so that you can "spread democracy" and "freedom", you have to make sure to continue to put out great music, movies, television and other media (like Jersey Shore, Dancing with the Stars, Lady Gaga, Transformers 3 and the New York Post). It's all such a big chore. I think that with a country like ours, which according to Sarah Palin is represented best by those in the middle of the country (although they only account for less than 30 percent of the total population), we would be happy to settle into the middle of the global hierarchy. Let's ease the pressure that has been building in this country, and not only face our fate, but embrace it. Let's continue to pass senseless laws that have no chance of success, and blame one another for all of the ails of society. It's worked up to this point in bringing us down, and I think that if we continue with the same veracity, or even ramp it up a bit, we could fall dramatically in the next couple of decades.

To quote one of my favorite movies (although not on my favorite movie list), Almost Famous.
Lester Bangs: What, are you like the star of your school?
William Miller: They hate me.
Lester Bangs: You'll meet them all again on their long journey to the middle.

We're 'them', and the rest of the world is William.