Posts Tagged ‘obama’

In this week’s New Yorker

October 26, 2012

 

The Politics issue of the New Yorker this week has some very strong good stuff: the long thoughtful endorsement of Obama for re-election; Jane Mayer’s fantastic story about Hans von Spakovsky, the reprehensible villain who is single-handedly responsible for the Republican push for voter-ID laws to disenfranchise populations who don’t favor Republican candidates; and the mesmerizing saga written by George Packer of Jeff Connaughton, someone who has toiled behind the scenes in politics as a speechwriter, lobbyist, and assistant for decades. But the single best story is Dexter Filkins’ “Atonement,” in which the New York Times reporter (pictured below) witnesses the highly emotional meeting in California between severely traumatized Iraq veteran Lu Lobello and the surviving family of three civilians Lobello killed on April 8, 2003, when U.S. forces moved into Baghdad. I wept nonstop reading the story.

Good stuff online

August 7, 2011


The lead piece in the Sunday Review section of today’s New York Times is a superb essay by Drew Westen called “What Happened to Obama’s Passion?” From beginning to end, it’s a thoughtful, reasoned, mournful yet open-eyed reflection of what most of us who voted for Obama think about our president these days. It’s long, worth reading, and gets better as it goes along, ending with these powerhouse paragraphs:

“THE real conundrum is why the president seems so compelled to take both sides of every issue, encouraging voters to project whatever they want on him, and hoping they won’t realize which hand is holding the rabbit. That a large section of the country views him as a socialist while many in his own party are concluding that he does not share their values speaks volumes — but not the volumes his advisers are selling: that if you make both the right and left mad, you must be doing something right.

As a practicing psychologist with more than 25 years of experience, I will resist the temptation to diagnose at a distance, but as a scientist and strategic consultant I will venture some hypotheses.

The most charitable explanation is that he and his advisers have succumbed to a view of electoral success to which many Democrats succumb — that “centrist” voters like “centrist” politicians. Unfortunately, reality is more complicated. Centrist voters prefer honest politicians who help them solve their problems. A second possibility is that he is simply not up to the task by virtue of his lack of experience and a character defect that might not have been so debilitating at some other time in history. Those of us who were bewitched by his eloquence on the campaign trail chose to ignore some disquieting aspects of his biography: that he had accomplished very little before he ran for president, having never run a business or a state; that he had a singularly unremarkable career as a law professor, publishing nothing in 12 years at the University of Chicago other than an autobiography; and that, before joining the United States Senate, he had voted “present” (instead of “yea” or “nay”) 130 times, sometimes dodging difficult issues.

A somewhat less charitable explanation is that we are a nation that is being held hostage not just by an extremist Republican Party but also by a president who either does not know what he believes or is willing to take whatever position he thinks will lead to his re-election. Perhaps those of us who were so enthralled with the magnificent story he told in “Dreams From My Father” appended a chapter at the end that wasn’t there — the chapter in which he resolves his identity and comes to know who he is and what he believes in.

Or perhaps, like so many politicians who come to Washington, he has already been consciously or unconsciously corrupted by a system that tests the souls even of people of tremendous integrity, by forcing them to dial for dollars — in the case of the modern presidency, for hundreds of millions of dollars. When he wants to be, the president is a brilliant and moving speaker, but his stories virtually always lack one element: the villain who caused the problem, who is always left out, described in impersonal terms, or described in passive voice, as if the cause of others’ misery has no agency and hence no culpability. Whether that reflects his aversion to conflict, an aversion to conflict with potential campaign donors that today cripples both parties’ ability to govern and threatens our democracy, or both, is unclear.

A final explanation is that he ran for president on two contradictory platforms: as a reformer who would clean up the system, and as a unity candidate who would transcend the lines of red and blue. He has pursued the one with which he is most comfortable given the constraints of his character, consistently choosing the message of bipartisanship over the message of confrontation.

But the arc of history does not bend toward justice through capitulation cast as compromise. It does not bend when 400 people control more of the wealth than 150 million of their fellow Americans. It does not bend when the average middle-class family has seen its income stagnate over the last 30 years while the richest 1 percent has seen its income rise astronomically. It does not bend when we cut the fixed incomes of our parents and grandparents so hedge fund managers can keep their 15 percent tax rates. It does not bend when only one side in negotiations between workers and their bosses is allowed representation. And it does not bend when, as political scientists have shown, it is not public opinion but the opinions of the wealthy that predict the votes of the Senate. The arc of history can bend only so far before it breaks.”

If you need even more disheartening reading to brighten your day, go on to the next article, Ezekiel J. Emanuel’s “Shortchanging Cancer Patients,” about how the pharmaceutical industry has purposely stopped manufacturing low-cost effective cancer drugs because they’re not as profitable as the gigantically expensive newer drugs whose effectiveness has not even been established.

By then you’ll be ready to run out to see Planet of the Apes or something…..

In this week’s New Yorker (and other publications)

October 24, 2010

Here’s what is foremost on my mind politically these days: yes, I am disappointed with President Obama on any number of fronts,  but I’m not willing to let that disappointment turn the 2010 midterm election into a referendum on his presidency by thumbing my nose at him. To do so would be to allow the newly energized far-right to gain more power than would be good for anybody.

I suppose I’m one of those who would like to think that Tea Party candidates like Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell and Linda McMahon are wingnuts whom the populace can’t possibly consider worthy of office. I am persuaded by David Barsamian’s interview with Chip
Berlet,
a journalist who has taken as his subject the rise of right-wing populism, that this would be stupid and naive. The Tea Party, Berlet says, “started out as a fake grass-roots movement funded by political elites. We call them ‘Astro-Turf’ movements. Republican and conveservative poltiical operatives were trying to create the impression that there was a groundswell of antagonism toward the Obama agenda. Some of the early activities were very thinly disguised Astro-Turf, but as the media began to pick up on it — especially Fox News — the Tea Party turned into an actual social movement. It escaped the specific economic-libertarian agenda set for it by Dick Armey, the former Republican House leader from Texas whose organization funds a lot of Tea Party events. Other agendas were brought in: anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-abortion, even conspiracy theories about the ‘new world order’ and the UN coming in black helicopters…”

Berlet goes on to say, “Sociologist Rory McVeigh did a great study showing how right-wing movements arise in defense of power and privilege. People on the right are fighting to keep something they don’t want to lose. That’s a strong motivator…You don’t build a campaign of prejudice out of thin air. It has to be rooted in the culture. So you start out with a rhetoric of us versus them: We’re good; they’re bad. We’re going to save America; they’re going to destroy it…It’s portraying the political opposition not as people with whom you disagree but as a force of evil with whom there can be no compromise. How can you compromise with Satan? How can you compromise with the people who want to destroy America? What happens in this situation is that people started getting killed.”

The interview ends with Berlet saying, “When you build a major social movement around scapegoating and resentment, things can move quickly in a bad direction…We’re not going to have a Hitler; we’re not going to have storm troopers marching in the streets. What we’re going to have is a Republican Party that moves to the Right and openly embraces racist, xenophobic ideologies, following the anger of the predominantly white Republic middle class. And the Democrats will follow them, or at least not mount a real opposition. There will be more anti-Muslim and antifeminist and antigay rhetoric. There will be more support for foreign intervention. And that’s our future, unless the progressive movement stands up and starts raising hell.”

Meanwhile, in the New Yorker this week there’s a long insightful profile by Nicholas Lehmann of Nevada Senator Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader who is one of the main targets that the Tea Party movement (i.e., all the money the Republican party and the oligarchy can come up with) is trying to take down. Reid is anything but a hell-raiser, quite uncharismatic and therefore quite susceptible to media-enflamed attacks by his opponent Sharron Angle. As the New Yorker so often does, Lehmann’s reporting takes us behind the scenes to see exactly how Reid has succeeded as majority leader in helping Obama make any number of legislative gains on the kind of unsexy but overwhelmingly important issues that government is supposed to address but that get undervalued in our crazy media world.

“Obama, with his big congressional majority and keen sense of the fleeting nature of political momentum, decided to be bold in his first two years in office. Although liberal voters are disappointed, the plain truth is that Obama, aided by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, passed much more liberal legislation at the outset of his term than his immediate Democratic predecessors, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter…In the partnership between the Obama White House and the Reid Senate, Obama supplied the eloquence and grace and originated the policy ideas. Reid’s role was to get it done. Between Obama’s Inauguration, in January, 2009, and the congressional recess early last month, more consequential liberal legislation passed than at any time since the Great Society: health-care reform, the economic-stimulus package, financial regulation, a big education bill, the rescue of the auto industry, and the second phase of the rescue of the big banks. Others (a large expansion of protected public lands, funding for universal broadband access) didn’t get the attention they normally would have.”

And I was very impressed and grateful to read the story in New York magazine by Jesse Green on Tony Kushner, whose analysis of this political moment I share:

“And the LGBT community, what are they, we, looking for? Yes, we’ve been asked to wait a very long time, asked to eat oceans of shit by the Democratic Party; we’ve been 75 percent loyal for decades without a wobble and without a whole lot of help from these people. And it’s important that somebody keeps screaming; the trick is how do you scream, and who do you scream to? If we’re dissatisfied with these Democrats, let’s get better ones instead of fantasies about mass uprisings that are going to resemble the October Revolution. Yes, it might sometimes feel good to throw the newspaper across the room. There’s much criticism of Obama that’s legitimate. He backs down on things, he waffles, like on the mosque, and you wince. And I consider his decision to appeal the Federal court ruling abolishing DADT to be unethical, tremendously destructive, and potentially politically catastrophic. But is Obama really supposed to say, as the first African-American president, that same-sex marriage is his first priority? Clearly he believes in it; he’s a constitutional scholar. It’s not conceivable to me that he believes that state-sponsored marriage should be unavailable to same-sex couples, even if he has religious scruples. But do I think he should have lost the election for the chance to say he supported same-sex marriage? No. Given that we would have had John McCain and Sarah Palin, I would have said, ‘Say anything you need to.’ So if he’s moving very cautiously, with two wars he’s inherited and a collapsing global economy and the planet coming unglued—Okay!

I continue, in my obsessive way, to appreciate and digest the Broadway show Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson for the way it cannily captures the proud, delusional self-righteousness of under-informed ideologues — Jon Meacham, whose biography of Jackson won the Pulitzer Prize last year, writes a detailed (and approving) response to the play in today’s New York Times, “Rocking the Vote, in the 1820s and Now.”

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