Truth and Democracy

Inviting those who live in the right-wing alternate universe to join the rest of us out here in reality.

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Location: Hackensack, New Jersey, United States

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Ultimate Straw Man: Political Paranoia, 2010 Style

The picture at the upper left of this column is an image from my favorite T-shirt of the last year. There’s a new boogeyman in America and his name is Barack Obama. In some circles he represents all that is evil in modern day America. I can tell you that I briefly met, then Illinois Senator, Barack Obama in 2005. I didn’t come away from that meeting believing that he would be the long awaited savior America seemingly needed (nor do I believe this now) but I also saw no evidence that he might be the “Anti-Christ”, as fully one-third of rank and file Republicans believe he either is or may be, according to recent polls. He was simply a politician and a man; no more, no less. I found him to be less personally engaging than Bill Clinton (yes, I met him too, more than once) but more compelling than, say, former NJ Governor Jon Corzine (not a tough feat).

If you believed the right wing spin machine and its dedicated followers, though, you might be afraid to leave your house knowing that this guy is president. Since I fact check what I see reported in the news media, actually read legislation and have a pretty good working grasp of world and American political history (as well as human history, sociology, religion and pre-organized religion belief systems), I don’t suffer from the politically self-serving delusions of an increasingly psychotic American right wing. I and those like me (you can call us the “fact-based community”, as a Bush White House official once scornfully did) still cling to having a rational, well thought out response to the world around us. Watching televised news these days can make us feel like an endangered species. Perhaps we are one, at that.

I read a letter to the editor of The Record newspaper here in New Jersey recently in which a dedicated right wing activist justified all of the current Obama-hating by stating that he had promised himself he would give the new president all of the same respect which he felt that George W. Bush got from the left. He then launched into a litany of every disrespectful transgression which he felt liberals were guilty of during Bush’s tenure. His letter did give me a brief pause because there is no doubt that the left wing in this country had (and still has) very little regard for our previous president. I suggest, in response, that we investigate the grievances which the left had toward George W. Bush and determine how legitimate they were, or weren’t. Then we can examine the right wing image of and narrative about Barack Obama and how they portray his presidency thus far, as opposed to reality. This promises to be a very interesting experiment. Let’s get started.

Bush took the oath of office in January 2001 under a tremendous cloud of controversy. He had lost the popular vote by more than a half million votes, the first time the Electoral College system had contradicted the popular vote in the modern era. The circumstances under which Bush won the state of Florida, and thereby the presidency, were also bad enough without his own brother being Governor of the disputed state. Everyone remembers the alleged recount, the “hanging chads” and the US Supreme Court ruling in Bush v Gore. Fewer people know what the state of Florida did, long before Election Day 2000, which eliminated thousands of legitimate and likely Democratic, African-American voters or the lengths the Republican controlled Florida state legislature was prepared to go to if the Supreme Court had failed to rule on the case along partisan lines. And what ever happened to normal judicial standards which would have forced justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas to recuse themselves from the Bush v Gore case due to immediate family ties to the Bush campaign and transition team?

The bottom line was that the 2000 presidential election was stolen in Florida. I don’t care which suspicious aspect of that vote you choose to focus on, Jeb Bush’s administration in that state was simply not going to allow his brother to lose there. I, myself, felt my radar triggered that something was amiss very early on election night. When the networks declared Al Gore to be the winner of Florida, based on exit polls and early returns, a reporter reached Bush, who was sitting with his brother Jeb, for comment. Bush, never known for composure under fire, looked as cool as a cucumber while stating that he was absolutely convinced that he would ultimately win Florida. The expression on his face was that of the cat who just ate the canary. I called a close friend at that point, one I’ve mentioned in previous columns, and told him I suspected that something was amiss. The networks are historically very careful about their election night projections, exponentially more so since that night. They hadn’t called a state wrongly before in my lifetime.

Gore voters, being a slight majority throughout the country, and especially the more liberal among them, were stunned and furious that an election could be hijacked in such a way in modern times and in the world’s most respected democracy. This did not make for a cozy beginning with Bush. The new president then exacerbated the bad feelings by departing from his “uniter, not a divider” campaign theme and appointing right wing extremists and neoconservative foreign policy ideologues to his cabinet as well as hundreds of positions throughout the executive branch. It was crystal clear from the very start that the Bush administration would be a right wing activist one. I mean, John Ashcroft, Attorney General? I had no doubts after that appointment.

After an already shaky start, Bush’s approval rating languished somewhere around 40% by September 10, 2001. A few weeks later, as the nation rallied together in the face of shocking barbarism, his approval rating rose to somewhere between 80 and 90%, depending on which poll you looked at. Then Rush Limbaugh went on the air with a week long theme of how Bill Clinton and liberalism were really at fault for the terrible events of 9/11. No one on the right stepped up to chastise Limbaugh for tearing at the unprecedented national unity America was experiencing, not even its Commander in Chief, who could have benefited from a continued cooperative atmosphere. Instead, the right wing and Republican Party chose to run with Limbaugh’s false and partisan narrative and bashed Democrats over the head with it politically for years to come.

Throughout his two terms, Bush provoked anger among rank and file Democrats time and time again. Let’s list some examples of Bush’s partisan, non-“uniter”, initiatives:

• Choosing to “spend” budget surpluses on tax cuts aimed mainly at the wealthy rather than paying down national debt in 2001

• Using 9/11 to ram through the semi-constitutional USA Patriot Act and consolidate unprecedented power in the executive branch of the federal government.

• Diverting the “War on Terror” campaign into a wholly manufactured necessity for an invasion of Iraq, based on a “democratizing the middle east” theory born of the neoconservative think tank “Project for a New American Century”. (i.e., lying us into war)

• Then, during the Iraq War, extending more tax cuts, again aimed chiefly at the wealthy, while the sons and daughters of the working and middle class were fighting and dying “for our freedom”. (so much for shared sacrifice during a time of war)

• Standing by quietly while his supporters launched a vicious and fictitious campaign to denigrate the military service of his 2004 presidential opponent.

• Maintaining similar silence as protestors against him were routinely rounded up and moved as much as a half mile away from any appearance he made, into distinctly Orwellian sounding “Free Speech Zones”. (I wonder how the Tea Party folks would react if subjected to that kind of treatment by Obama?) “Last time I checked, America WAS a free speech zone”, I commented when I first heard about this.

• Leaving his Texas ranch in the middle of the night, when he never lost a minute’s sleep after a briefing entitled “Bin Ladin determined to attack the United States”, and flying Air Force One “red eye” in order to sign a bill passed by the Republican congress, along pure party lines, allowing the federal government to inject itself into the personal affairs of Michael and Terry Schiavo. Thereby appeasing the furthest of the Christian right wing fringe. (so much for limited government)

• Reacting with jaw-dropping slowness to a hurricane and flooding disaster in the largely minority, Democratic voter strongholds of New Orleans and the surrounding Gulf Coast, one year after an incredibly robust intervention when a similar disaster hit the key electoral state of Florida during an election year.

• Encouraging his cabinet level departments to use taxpayer money to produce fake “news” segments promoting his agenda and then peddling them for air time on local news outlets without warning viewers that they were nothing more than government propaganda.

• Pushing for Social Security privatization which would have resulted in a third of Americans’ SS money being invested in the stock market. (Did you see where the Dow got to last winter? Wasn’t that a brilliant idea?)

• Also pushing (and later signing) a Medicare Prescription Program (Medicare Part D) which amounted to a gigantic unfunded federal mandate and which most Democrats believe, with ample evidence, was conceived to sabotage the entire program and hasten its fiscal demise.

I could go on longer but suffice to say that this is a mere taste of Bush’s own lack of bipartisanship and his penchant for instigating those who saw things differently. More than everything he did while president, Bush suffered from a larger problem with the left which Obama is also afflicted with from the right. The broader problem was personal. The left never liked Bush’s persona or what he appeared to stand for, which was everything a liberal dislikes and distrusts. Bush wasn’t very bright and those on the left respect intelligence and thoughtfulness. He admitted to not reading much, not giving serious consideration to opposing viewpoints and was more interested in belief than fact. This kind of attitude infuriates liberals. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, never exhibited any sense of humility about that fact and failed in every business venture he tried, only to be bailed out by family and powerful friends.

He also allied himself politically with the kind of Christian fundamentalists who seek to undermine constitutional church/state separation and impose their narrow set of religious and sociological beliefs on the rest of America, through legislatures and the courts. Even the most adamant followers of Jesus on the political left tend to see the church/state boundary as an important protection of personal religious freedom. Perhaps this is because the left values respect for the beliefs of others, contrasted with the right wing’s derision of “multiculturalism”. Atheists, like me, are downright incensed (pardon the unintended pun) by the growing trend toward “dominionist” government being supported by the Christian right. The bottom line is that a country music listening, O’Douls drinking (due to alcoholism, *O’Douls has some alcohol in it, duh! Truly sober alcoholics tend to drink lots of coffee instead), brush clearing, pickup driving, false populist from one of the most powerful families in the world, was just not our kind of guy.

Now what about Obama? Just how partisan has he been? Well, he was elected by a majority of more than 8 million votes, 53% to 46% (and ACORN didn’t fix anything, that’s more right wing paranoia. They reported fraudulent applications supplied by some of their contracted workers which led to exactly ZERO ineligible votes) and a more than two to one margin in the Electoral College. This hardly equals the questionable circumstances which led to the Bush presidency. Upon his election, Obama appointed a cabinet in which he first held over Bush’s Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He then offered a cabinet position to conservative Republican Senator Judd Gregg, which Gregg later refused after the GOP leadership pressured him to decline. Despite these overtures, Republican Senators are still blocking scores of Obama’s nominees to various government positions. Who is not acting in good faith or a spirit of “bipartisanship”?

Obama has since pulled this nation back from the brink of a depression with a Stimulus Package and targeted industry bailouts which offered less government spending than economists from across the political spectrum had initially recommended. He did this on equally bipartisan advice that at the time and as deep as the crisis was, only the federal government was capable of injecting the kind of capital necessary to reignite economic growth (was I the only one listening when they said this?). By all unbiased accounts, it worked. An economy that was hemorrhaging hundreds of thousands of jobs per month last year is now creating them again. America’s economy has grown sharply for two quarters in a row and the Dow has nearly doubled since the day Obama took office.

What has been the Republican reaction to this? So far, Tea Party protests over “too much government spending”, which we are recently learning have largely been orchestrated by GOP lobbyists, and Republican lawmakers repeating the talking point that “not a single job has been created by the Stimulus Package”, though more than 70 of them have gone back to their states and districts and taken credit for jobs created by this measure. Is Obama the one being an extremist in this scenario? On which side is the bipartisanship and fairness lacking?

What about guns? Arms dealers couldn’t keep up with the demand for weapons immediately prior to Obama’s inauguration. Since then, the number of armed militia groups in the country has nearly quadrupled. Oklahoma legislators are even considering a bill which would form a state sanctioned armed militia to prevent enforcement of “unconstitutional federal mandates”. This is laughably ironic considering that the constitution’s provision for state militias puts those militias squarely under the authority of the Commander in Chief. (Yes that would currently be Obama) The fact is that forming an armed organization for the potential purposes of waging violence against the government is in itself a violation of federal law. Can anyone say “Constitutional Crisis”? I thought you could. Then there’s recent blogging to the effect that Obama not only wants your guns but also wants to prevent you from fishing. That sounds realistic, don’t you think?

Where’s the evidence to back up all of this feverish “constitution protecting”? Well, last year, when it was reported that right wing activists were openly carrying automatic weapons outside of presidential appearances, Obama was asked to comment. He replied that he “supported their right to do that”. How dare he? The totalitarian bastard! No wonder some right wingers fear that they’re going to be rounded up and put in detention camps (amazingly, they really do). Can you imagine George W. Bush’s response if some gun-toting lefties had been so much as trying to loiter outside his public appearances? I’m betting those “Free Speech Zones” would have been shifted an awful lot further away, like maybe another state! And hey, if Obama is such a freedom hating, anti-constitutional maniac, then what happened to those speech zones anyway? Wouldn’t he be using them much more actively than the Bush administration? It doesn’t make sense and it never will.

Then there’s healthcare reform. Boy oh boy, if Obama was ever guilty of shoving his radical agenda down Republican throats, this was the perfect example, right? Not so fast there, John Boehner, you bronzed God. Let’s look at some facts. The new health care reform law, passed last month, contained so many Republican proposals that it closely mirrored a 1993 GOP alternative to the Clinton healthcare initiative. It also strongly resembles a law signed by current 2012 Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, when he was Governor of Massachusetts. Even more telling is the rumor (I freely admit that its only a rumor as of right now) that staffers at the conservative Washington think tank the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) were secretly rooting for health reform’s passage because it contained so many of their original ideas. There was nothing but compromise involved along the healthcare reform road, especially in the Senate, where many argue that there was, in fact, too much compromise.

Despite their fervent complaints, the GOP just never made an honest approach to the table when it came to health care. From “death panels” to “covering illegal immigrants” to “federally funded abortions” to “killing grandma” to “government takeover of your healthcare” to “rationing” to (most ironically) “gutting Medicare”, the Republican contributions to the process were many but hardly constructive or bipartisan in nature. They’re aim throughout the process was as clear as a bell, kill health reform and undermine Obama. GOP Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina put it most succinctly when he told Republicans that they would make healthcare reform “Obama’s Waterloo”. When the Senate Finance Committee went to the unprecedented length of forming a bipartisan “sub” committee of three Democrats and three Republicans to hammer out a truly bipartisan health reform compromise last summer, it was the Republicans who walked away from the table, led by Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley as he began to echo the “death panels” falsehood.

Even now, in the wake of its passage, GOP Governors and State Attorneys General are pursuing legal actions against the new law. This is political pandering to their far right wing base, nothing more. Most legal and constitutional experts say they don’t have a chance in hell. This means that they are throwing away meager state taxpayer funds, as we climb out of a recession, in order to achieve nothing more than a partisan political victory this November. Once again, it is clearly Obama and the Democrats who lean totalitarian and refuse to foster good will and a bipartisan atmosphere, in an alternate reality at least.

What about foreign policy? Surely this is the place where Barack Hussein Obama’s extremist ideology is undeniable! After all, he’s patterning his nuclear policy after that pinko commie Ronald Wilson Reagan. And his supplicant use of international diplomatic strategies reminds us of one of history’s most internationally naive and foolish presidents, Richard M. Nixon. How will America ever survive while he literally hands us over to our enemies? I just don’t know, to be honest with you. When Sarah Palin invoked Reagan’s name while criticizing Obama’s nuclear policy last week, she once again proved herself to be so very clueless as to not even recognize her own irony. If she doesn’t know the difference between North and South Korea or the constitutional role which the Vice President plays in the US Senate (don’t apply for a job you don’t understand, good rule of thumb), how can we expect her to know that Ronald Reagan also signed a pact with the Russians to cut our respective nuclear arsenals by one third? Where would she have heard that Reagan often spoke of a world without nuclear weapons? Not in that crazy Pentecostal church in Wasilla that she’s so fond of, that’s for sure.

I don’t mean to suggest that there’s no room for reasonable criticism of Obama’s foreign policy thus far. Fair and fact based criticism, even of foreign policy, is a healthy necessity in a democracy, unlike what the GOP, FOX News and the rest of the right wing told us during Bush’s presidency. There’s room for rational critique of his domestic policies as well. But there is very little rationality happening on the right since Obama’s election. It’s as if the mere fact of Obama being president is slowly driving conservatives insane. And it’s not over by a long shot. As Wall Street reform looms, the Republicans have already unveiled their next line of shiny new outright fantasies. What “death panels” were to healthcare reform, “endless taxpayer bailouts” will be to financial reform.

That’s right, Senate Republicans are going to go to the mat to defend the “too big to fail” banks, finance companies and Wall Street dice rollers (the same ones who just took nearly a trillion dollars of our money and now want to keep things just as they were before the collapse they created) by claiming that a reform bill which forces those large institutions to create a fund specifically designed to prevent future taxpayer bailouts, is going to result in “endless taxpayer bailouts”. White is black, black is white, up is down and fiction is the new fact. Welcome to the right wing alternate universe. Don’t stay there too long, it could be hazardous to your mental health.

To be fair, I was not originally a supporter of Mr. Obama. In fact, I worked for Hillary Clinton in Bergen County, NJ during our January 2008 presidential primary race. We won here too, by more than 10%. I saw Obama at the time as an inexperienced political opportunist who hadn’t “paid the dues” necessary to deserve the presidency. This very attitude turned out to be the Hillary Clinton campaign’s undoing. A sense that she was entitled to the nomination, that it was “her time”. I also firmly believed that Obama would inevitably become the nation’s first African-American president, but not until it was “his time”. I supported him in the general election because I realized just how much I had underestimated him and because the Republican ticket was incredibly unacceptable. I don’t agree with him on every issue across the board and I recognize his mistakes when they happen but I believe he is moving America and the world in a vastly superior direction to his predecessor.

As I said earlier, Obama is a politician and a man, nothing more, nothing less. He isn’t perfect but he’s far from the fascist boogeyman his opponents portray him as. He’s already publicly admitted to making mistakes in his first year. Six years into his presidency, Bush was asked at a press conference if he could name a mistake he had made during his tenure, he was unable (or more likely unwilling) to name a single one. This was one of the most telling moments of the Bush presidency. Decisiveness is important but humility is a great virtue. President Obama offers both of these characteristics as well as willingness to learn and thoughtfulness. As I pointed out earlier, his intellectual nature, ethnicity, ancestry, his education, community activism and his overall confidence while happening to be black, make him everything which the right wing hates. His persona is detestable to them, even more than Bush’s was to the left.

I close by quoting my new favorite T-shirt, “Make up your mind, he can’t be all four”. A closeted Muslim, peacenik hippie, devoted communist or fascist Nazi he isn’t. And he can’t be whichever one of these things best fits your political whims, depending on which week it is. How dare you expect him or any of us in the “fact based community” to respect your ideas or offer an olive branch of bipartisanship, while you’re carrying around signs depicting him as Adolf Hitler or even worse, dressed up as a primitive African witch doctor! Give us a call when you’re ready for a return to reality. We’ll leave the light on for you.

Paul Roth, Jr.

### CBS News released an extensive poll of Tea Party supporters earlier today. It found that some 64% of them believe that President Obama has raised their taxes this year. Taxes were, in fact, cut for over 100 million Americans and average tax returns were higher than they have been in many years. A Happy Tax Day to all of you deluded pseudo-intellectual right wingers out there. You’re proving my point for me. Keep on watching FOX News and protecting yourselves from the truth. ###


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