Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Joan Walsh's Dysfunctional Understanding of History and Government

Last week, the President - you know, the black dude who sits behind the desk in the Oval Office - spoke to a coterie of politically-involved college students, Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike. It really was a masterclass in what politics in the real world was all about. He channelled Lincoln and spoke of compromise being the essence of governing in a democracy.

And it sent Joan Walsh into paroxysms.

I get it that Joan has a problem with a black man doing what her heroine Hillary was born to do. I get that she towed the line for the first part of the President's Administration and offered support for him (as opposed to others of her ilk in the overloaded punditsphere), but I also understand that such support was contingent on his bowing out gracefully after one term and allowing her gal, Hillary, to take up the reins. I get that once it became obvious that the President was going for a second term, Joannie let her true colours show, and that pun was richly intended.

The Lincoln reference seemed to strike a particularly sour note with Walsh. After all, in the wake of a recent contretemps with various African American voters on Twitter, she took the oppportunity of reviewing a recent history of the Civil War to equate her Irish heritage's suffering with that sustained by African Americans before, during and after the conflict. Now, after reading about the President's tutorial session with the college students, Joan reckons she's Frederick Douglass to the President's Lincoln.

Go figure that one.

During the masterclass, the President spoke about compromise in politics, explaining how it usually meant never getting 100% of what either side originally wanted, and he poiinted to Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation as evident of that. He pointed out that this original Executive Order, later strengthened and fully legalised by the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, effectively ended slavery in those areas of the country which were, at that time, in direct rebellion against the US Government. It retained the institution as it stood in those states which had not seceeded - places like Missouri, Kansas and Kentucky (where both Lincoln and his wife - who hailed from a family of slaveholders and whose brothers fought for the Confederacy - had been born). In fact, slaveholders sat in Lincoln's Cabinet - the Attorney General Edward Bates from Missouri and the Postmaster General Montgomery Blair from Maryland.

The point of the Emancipation Proclamation example wasn't just to reiterate that the order was, in and of itself, a compromise; the President also used it to emphasize the dangers of spin journalism, citing The Huffington Post as a prime example of how, were Lincoln existing in the 21st Century and issuing the Emancipation Proclamation in this context, HuffPo would have cherrypicked and spun the situation as Lincoln having sold the slave population the short end of the stick. As an example of compromise, the Emancipation Proclamation was a starting point: the President knew that the institution of slavery was "enshrined" in the Constitution. It would take a Constitutional Amendment to rid the nation of this blight. He did what he could within the context of his office, and in using this example, the current President not only illustrated the art of compromise and what it could achieve, he also showed Joan Walsh and others of her ilk inhabiting the Professional Left, that he had their measure and knew exactly what they were.

That's probably what irked Joan so much, because her pedantic response to that was to point out prissily that not everyone was happy with the limited strictures of the Emancipation Proclamation and cited, amongst others, Frederick Douglass and Horace Greeley as vociferous in their condemnation of its limitations. What Joan willfully failed to realise that, as important as men like Douglass and Greeley were to their time and age, they, by no means occupied the omnipotent 24/7 bully pulpit of today's cable news networks, combined with the power of the Professional Left on the Internet. Their voices, although nationally known, traveled slowly, in comparison to the speed with which today's information is dispersed; and their writings were read only by that portion of the population which was sufficiently literate to do so.

On the other hand, there was another faction of the population who felt they had a reason to be displeased with Lincoln's freeing of certain parts of the slave population, and Joan's forebears probably constituted a part of that demographic: the immigrant population.

Before his Presidency and throughout, leading up to the Emancipation, Lincoln was at pains to mollify the immigrant population, the newly-minted citizens of Irish and German descent who constituted the bulk of cheap industrial labour in the North and who provided much of the gruntwork of the Union Army, reassuring them that, contrary to some of the spin they were being fed, he actually didn't want to place the African American population on a level footing with the white ethnics. Newly emancipated slaves, travelling North for work, would constitute and even cheaper workforce against whom the ethnic whites would have to compete. And this prejudice didn't go away with the Emancipation; it still hasn't left entirely, and it reared its ugly head in the white backlash riots in the North and on the West Coast in the mid-1960s. I suppose that attitude, were the 24/7 news cycle and the internet available during Lincoln's time, would have ensured Lincoln was hung out to dry by the Professional Left of the day, also.

So it would appear as though Lincoln, much like our current President, was getting it in the neck, pretty much, from all sides: the South seceeding and fighting a war to retain their "property rights," the Abolitionists disgruntled because Lincoln wasn't doing enough to ensure total liberty for the slave population, and the white ethnic immigrants grousing because they felt he was doing too much. Sound familiar?

Similarities between Lincoln and our current Presidentn have been noted many times. Both were unlikely candidates, elected to the highest office in the land and at critical times in their respective centuries. Not only was Lincoln the compromise candidate of the new Republican Party, he presented himself as a centre-Left pragmatist, willing to compromise and institute incremental change in order, ultimately, to achieve his aims, knowing precisely that incremental change, almost imperceptible change, was change that lasted and developed positively.

But he was also a rank outsider in Washington terms. He'd only served 2 years as a Congressman, during which time he lived away from his family in a boarding house. He was a Westerner, self-educated, somewhat gauche in social graces. The more refined political elements of Washington, even those of his own party and including some members of his Cabinet, regularly encouraging cartoonists' depictions of him as a gangling ape.

Not only the Opposition, but even some members of the fledgling Republican party, including Cabinet members, felt Lincoln unqualified for the office of President of the United States and summarily treated him with scant respect. This eventually led to his Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P Chase, being removed from the Cabinet and given a sideways promotion to the Supreme Court.

The worst offender, however, was George McClellan.

At the beginning of the Civil War, Lincoln was pressured into appointing the mercurial McClellan to head the Army of the Potomac against the Confederacy. McClellan was a Democrat from an aristocratic Pennsylvania family and a supporter of slavery. To McClellan, Lincoln was a rube, an uncouth Westerner who demeaned the office he served and knew precious little about anything. He treated the Presidentn with open disdain. When Lincoln requested meetings at the White House, McClellan generally demurred attending, saying openly that he had other things to do.

Once, frustrated that his attempts to meet with the General had been met with repeated rebuffs, the President determined to visit McClellan at his Washington abode one evening, effectively, to force a meeting about the lack of progress in the Army of the Potomac's manoeuvres. When Lincoln arrived, McClellan's servant told him that the General and his wife were attending a party elsewhere in the city. That's fine, replied Lincoln, he'd await their return and was ushered into the McClellan's parlour.

After waiting several hours, Lincoln heard the McClellan carriage arrive. As the General entered the house, his servant told him that the President was awaiting him in the parlour. McClellan didn't miss a beat.

"Tell the President that I'm tired," McClellan told his servant, as he climbed the stairs, "and that I'm going to bed."

Needless to say, McClellan was subsequently relieved of his command and went home to cool his heels in Pennsylvania. When no further military orders were forthcoming, he challenged Lincoln for the White House in 1864, running as a Democrat and losing. History remembers McClellan's empty pomp, circumstance and arrogance. They remember the disrespect he meted his Commander-in-Chief.

Will Joan Walsh or any of the pundits from the Left who are addicted to constant criticism of this President, even acknowledge the wanton disrespect ofttimes openly shown the current President, even from their own quarters?

One night ago, when Joan was on a tweeting surge again, she pissingly remarked that she understood that compromise was an essential element of governing, she just didn't think compromise should be an excuse for governing.

Look, I know Joan wasn't young enough to vote or even understand the machinations of government when Richard Nixon was President, but history is there in black and white for all of us to see - and many times, it's in living colour. Nixon had a Democratic Congress, and I'm not giving him credit for all of the so-called liberal accomplishments he achieved. Read Rick Perlstein's "Nixonland." You'll see that Nixon's perpetuation and enhancement of LBJ's Great Society, as well as his creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, was done entirely for ulterior motives which were contrary to the ethos of the legacy of these entities. Nixon, after all, was all about Nixon; but he recognised that the only way to accomplish anything in governing under those circumstances, was to compromise.

Hell, Nixon compromised so damned well and so damned subtly, that he actually got the Democratic candidate that he wanted for the 1972 election and won a landslide, even though he was perilously close to a criminal investigation for his part in Watergate.

As much as it might pain purists and Joan to remember, FDR governed by compromise enormously, and within his own party. Reagan and Clinton had to do much the same, when they were presented with the fact that they were, effectively, minority Presidents.

We got into our present situation because people who should have, simply didn't vote in the 2010 Midterms. Now our government is being hijacked by a tranche of the Republican party whose members are, arguably, the most ignorant representatives ever chosen to national office. One of them, actually, should be in a military prison; instead he's on Capitol Hill. Figure that one out.

As the President remarked last night, the ubiquitous mass known collectively as the American people may have voted for divided government, but they sure as hell didn't vote for a dysfunctional government. Joan Walsh might be well advised to realise that the President isn't a king or a dictator, as much as she might sub-consciously wish he were. He's also not white, and that bothers her too. But in situations like this, the only way forward in anything, is compromise - otherwise, you get gridlock, and everyone suffers.

And I certainly don't remember Joan agonising and whingeing when her heroine Hillary's husband compromised his way through two terms, achieving the likes of DADT and DOMA, as well as contributing to our financial woes by repealing Glass Steagall, but then again, the Big Dog was that whiter shade of pale.

The sole and total object of this season's Republican Party is the downfall of Barack Obama. The thugs masquerading as legislators have been open in actually stating as such. They aren't interested in governing. Mitch McConnell says his major aim is to ensure that Barack Obama is a one-term President. John Boehner states that it's important to "stop" Obama. Tim Scott, a freshman Congressman, as well as the criminally-compromised Darrell Issa, wants to impeach him. So does Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat. And Joan isn't even touching on the fact that Eric Cantor, House Majority Leader, stands to earn a bitch load of money by betting against the survival of US government bonds in the event of a default situation. That puts a whole new meaning on the phrase "conflict of interest." In fact, it brings it firmly into the realm of treason, but no one on the Professional Left, Joan included, is mentioning that.

Joan would do well to remember a little bit of recent history, such as what occurred in 1980, the last time a Democratic Party turned on its President and he was primaried by a Senator in a misguided act of hubris. We got the start of the shitstorm in which we findn ourselves now - 12 years of it.

Joan Walsh needs to understand the blunt edge of the truth: If Obama fails, we all fail. That's the end of the Democratic party, the end of the unions, the end of everything which we've taken for granted - separation of church and state, public education, woman's right to choose, healthcare, human rights, the lot. It's the end of the Left and the rise of the Right so far to the Right, that Reagan would blanche in his grave.

Joan Walsh needs to put aside her prejudices and remember the fate of those who are ignorant of the past. This time, it's going to be worse. This is our Armageddon.

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