Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Not Seeing the Forest for the Trees

To say I'm pretty angry at the moment would be an understatement, but then, having lived in the UK for almost 30 years, I suppose I've mastered that art. It certainly wouldn't go amiss in the US, and maybe that's what's pissing off so many people of either political stripe: the fact that they spend the majority of the working day shouting down the odds at one another whilst the President rises above all the clamour with a quiet demeanor.

The Right see this behaviour, shout that he "doesn't get it," and brand him an elitist. The Left see this behaviour, shout that he "doesn't get it," and say that he's weak and spineless. The Right march in the streets, carrying placards with the President dressed like a jungle tribesman or a monkey. The Left blog angrily about "the Affirmative Action President" or "the house nigger."

Each night, I watch the BBC News at Ten. The presenter reads the items, all actual news items about events which occurred during the day in Britain and even around the world, in measured tones, with no opinion about anything reported. If an in-depth analysis is sought, a journalist who specialises in the subject being explored is brought in for about five minutes. In Britain, the political media is populated by people who've actually followed political procedure and know how the process and the politicians operate. They report the why and wherefore of the facts and leave it to the viewers to form their own opinion. Amongst their commentators, you won't find any ex-sportscasters, film producers, comedians or socialite ex-wives of politicians. You won't find a single trust fund kid whose father bought her a newspaper. And although the questioning in the few opinion shows is undeniably tough, there's no shouting or name-calling.

Although I have lots of issues with the BBC, at this moment in time, I'm eternally grateful for its measure.

At the moment in the UK, the gap between the wealthy and the poor has never been greater. It's bound to get even bigger, considering that David Cameron's just cut all child benefits to families earning more than £40,000 ($55,000) and is substantially increasing university tuition fees. This gap didn't turn into a breach overnight once Cameron got the keys to Downing Street. Maggie Thatcher moved the goal posts, and Tony Blair stole them. So, that's been a continuously worsening situation for the past thirty years. Sound familiar?

There's always been rich people, ever since there's been some sort of civilisation. There's even a song which says that the rich get rich and the poor get poorer. In Britain, the working class envied the rich, whilst the middle class emulated them.

The America I left in 1981 hadn't yet succumbed to Reaganomics. Coming of age in the Seventies, I was taught that knowledge was power and that a college degree enabled social mobility; and there has always been an element of keeping up with the Joneses. I guess maybe, thanks to The Gipper, keeping up with the Joneses literally became a way of life. Instead of education empowering people, the sense of wealth provided by plastic money and a loan-friendly financial services system enabled most working class people to dub themselves middle class, fooled them into thinking that the latest electronic equipment in the home, the biggest SUV on the block or the timeshare in Redondo Beach, the annual Carribbean cruise, meant one had finally attained The American Dream. Whenever I would visit home in the 80s or 90s, I always remember marvelling at how well-off and how "rich" people were.

Now I know it was all an illusion, and I wonder if this anger directed at the wealthiest Americans these days, whilst simmering precitiously under cover before, is misdirected anger at the fact that, since 2007, people have realised that, for one reason or another, we won't get the same opportunity to "play rich" again.

Margaret Thatcher once made an odiously cruel statement, and one that will be synonymous with her tenure as Prime Minister for eternity. She said, "There is no such thing as 'society.' There's just people trying to get by."

After yesterday's shenanigans, I'm wondering if what she said isn't true in America.

Oh, I know it's always been true of the Republicans - at least the Republican Party as it existed from Reagan onwards - although I can remember the liberal Republicans who fought for social justice, like Nelson Rockefeller and, as unbelieveable as it might seem, George Romney. But now I'm absolutely certain that this anti-societal attitude has pervaded the Democrats as well, from the Blue Dogs to the Progressives.

From Mary Landrieu to Bernie Sanders (yes, pedants, I know he's not a Democrat) they were united in condemning the President's recent compromise with the Republicans on extending the tax cuts. You know, I've never in my life heard so much venom in the blogosphere against the extension of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. I guess anger comes easier now once people realise that the lifestyle they lived in approximation of the good life they wanted to attain was pretty facile and transient. They want the good times back, and they want it now. George Bush took it from them, and now Obama's keeping it, or so it seems.

Yesterday, Barack Obama showed me one thing - that, above all the hype, he's a man of immense compassion. He put his neck on the line and put his people, the people of America - white, black and brown and anything inbetween - first. I've no doubt he didn't try to get the Republicans to budge on ending the tax cuts for the wealthy; he's certainly talked about this consistently enough in the past, that I certainly didn't doubt his sincerity. But they wouldn't budge. Sometimes you can't budge a brick wall with your head.

He could easily have said, "Stuff you, we'll let the whole thing collapse," and be done with it. Come January 1, everybody's taxes go up. In a recession. Done and dusted.

In truth, the President tried to get Congress - a Democratic Congress, remember - to vote on this measure immediately before they recessed to campaign. He knew then, as he knew on Saturday, that, although there were votes enough to pass this measure in the House, the votes were lacking in the Senate. It would have failed, but that failure would have sent a strong message to voters about just whose side the Republicans favoured. But the Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill - that's Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid - balked and refused. And then, immediately before yet another week-long recess, a vote on the extension of UI benefits failed to pass.

Obama seized the moment. If the Republicans wanted to retain the tax cuts for the wealthy, he was willing to extend the cuts for 2 years, but only if they would allow an extension of UI for the next 13 months. Throw in a reduction of payroll tax for a year, and the Republicans get their inheritance tax wet dream.

All in all, this increases the deficit - which never has, in my memory, become a major worry for Americans until out irresponsible and whore-panicked media made it so; but it's also shown us that the only thing which worries the Republicans is serving their wealthy corporate masters, whilst the President went for helping the unemployed, keeping the tax burden down for the middle and working classes, and maybe, just maybe, stimulating the economy a bit more with this payroll tax reduction.

But this wasn't enough for the fools on the Hill. Talk of filibuster and voting the compromise down, coupled with vicious and snarling attacks from the hate-filled Progressive blogosphere and bully-boy rantings from Ed Schultz prompted the President to reach out and smack some ass on both sides of the aisle. I feel he was right. And I would say to the likes of Rachel Maddow, whom I usually admire, and Keith Olbermann, whose narcissism is so bad that he made his remembrance comment about Elizabeth Edwards all about himself, simply to STFU and take your medicine.

This isn't about denying Freedom of Speech, it's about acknowledging something: That Liberals or liberals or even Progressives or whatever you want to call yourselves, people who believe in social justice, think about putting the disadvantaged first, instead of trying to score political points, which end up leaving those same people in a worse condition than before.

I was taught that the Democratic party stood for tolerance and compassion, caring for the less fortunate and championing the rights of the oppressed. Today, one end of the Republican party answers to the corporations and the other end is a festering pool of intolerant, belligerant, mean-spirited purists. My bad for thinking that purism was the stuff of Sarah Palin and the Tea Partiers, something that smacked of Nazi Germany at its finest hour!

I used to know, via the Internet, a couple of those purists. One was a former local politician, who liked to crow that she was from the "Left Coast." The other is a writer, teaching in a small Florida university, unhappy for various reasons, with his lot in life and blaming that on America. They were fine and friendly as long as you agreed with their point of view, but they were unable to sustain any divergence of opinion. Discussions escalated into arguments and ended in ad hominem when one made a point to which they were unable to respond, when they listened at all. There's a special karma in the world for such people. The failed politician was forced, for economic reasons, to abandon her beloved Left Coast for the bowels of Alabama, and Mr Florida had a heart attack. Lucky for him, he was privately insured. The President for whom he's reserved a special and vitriolic hatred just provided a source of healthcare for the millions of people for whom Mr Florida expresses concern but for whom he actually does nothing.

For all those whining, including the talking heads on MSNBC, about Obama caving, maybe they should take a look at the Dark Side and see what they're saying. Fox and The Daily Caller were absolutely stymied yesterday. They were confused and confounded by what had happened, and didn't know how to spin the thing. People were equally confused and dismayed on Michele Bachmann's Facebook page. There was a sense that somehow they hadn't exactly got what they wanted, that they were pwned.

On the other hand, the Democrats would do well to think about this: If they filibuster this, or if they vote it down, the tax cuts will lapse and the UI extensions would have been non-existant, with millions of long-term unemployed kicked to the curb. In one fell swoop, the GOP could point the finger and accuse the Democrats, not only of being the party which hiked taxes during a recession, but also the same party who pulled the plug on UI extensions. That's as much of a surefire win for the GOP in 2012 as is primarying the President.

And the papers are replete with full-throated bayings for that as well; in fact, Michael Lerner, writing in the Washington Post, smugly asserts that, rather than offering a primary challenger, the Democratic party will eschew the primary system all together and force the President not to run for re-election in order to replace him with a big-name ueber liberal - in short, to effect what is tantamount to a de facto coup, by means of eliminating a primary process. This is rich, coming from the party who wholeheartedly embraced the lengthy electoral process as evidence of making the Democratic candidate the choice of the people. Even richer is the fact that the party who bullied through a much-needed and long-overdue Civil Rights' Act, now becomes the party to ditch the nation's first African American President.

Who's the racist now? Perception, after all, is reality.

The Democrats are angry because the President didn't score points with the Republicans, but many of them ran from his policies whilst on the campaign trail. The ultimate blame for this compromise situation, as a longtime friend pointed out to me yesterday, lies with the voters, themselves - or rather, the non-voters. If the Democrats had bothered to get over their almighty and childish sulk because the President couldn't undo in two years what it took thirty to achieve, or that he didn't wave a magic wand and eliminate DADT and end the wars, amongst other things, if they'd manage to "man up" and vote, or if the 30% of the LGBT community hadn't voted Republican in some sort of perverse protest, the President wouldn't have been forced to compromise.

As for the celebrity pundits, obviously, Rachel and Keith, ensconced in their million-dollar ivory towers, have never experienced long-term unemployment nor have they known anyone who has experienced this. They've never spent a week, a day or even an hour in the deprevation of an urban ghetto or amongst the poor working class in a Southern or Midwestern town, the latter being the demographic which always votes against its interest, the demographic which Keith's and Rachel's followers ignorantly refer to as "flyovers" or "unreconstructed Confederates", who would be better off actually seceding from the Union so the ueber-tolerant and all-inclusive Progressives wouldn't have to be bothered by their existance or even share a country with them.

Seems like the President cares about them, though, even though the people they elect, from either party, do. This lot care more about their posturing and their egos than the masses who populate the hoi polloi. They're only good for votes and only then when they vote the right way.

In all my life, and I remember Presidents from Kennedy to the present one, I've never seen a President so hated and reviled on both sides. A pundit/comedian, who likes to think of himself as well-informed, pondered after the elections, how the American people could hand the keys of government back to the clowns who derailed the process the first time. It seems to me that the hubristic Democats, clamouring to abandon the President for some as yet unnamed Great White Hope, are doing the same.


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