Obama: Post-Racial, Post-Partisan, or Post-Sanity?
Confession time: Back in April of 2008, during the presidential primary campaign, I wrote that the racial healing which Senator Obama seemed to promise and might portend would be good. At about the same time, I suggested that Senator Obama was saying some things other politicians weren't saying but should. Some of the things he said seemed problematical, but like many others I thought I understood what he meant; I wanted to understand him and hoped that he might be a better president than Senator Clinton. It seemed as though his election might stunt the weeds of racism and partisan governance. However, soon those weeds were in full bloom. They are now producing their own fruit; the flavors have merely become more pungent.
There is no less racism now than pre-Obama, and there is no less partisanship; there may well be more of both.
I was wrong in thinking that these things might diminish, and while having voted against him provides a bit of comfort, it provides very little. That there is now even less sanity provides no solace whatever.
When it appeared very likely that Senator Obama would get the Democratic Party presidential nomination, Daniel Schorr said on NPR:
The nation may have a way to go yet to reach colorblindness. Exit poll data in South Carolina indicates that Senator Obama won 78 percent of the black vote, but only 24 percent of the white vote. But perhaps equally significant, Obama won 67 percent of voters in the 18-29 age group. The post-Selma generation, you might say.
On November 5, 2008, Shelby Steele wrote in the Los Angeles Times:
Obama's special charisma -- since his famous 2004 convention speech -- always came much more from the racial idealism he embodied than from his political ideas. In fact, this was his only true political originality. ...
Obama is what I have called a "bargainer" -- a black who says to whites, "I will never presume that you are racist if you will not hold my race against me." Whites become enthralled with bargainers out of gratitude for the presumption of innocence they offer. Bargainers relieve their anxiety about being white and, for this gift of trust, bargainers are often rewarded with a kind of halo.
Very soon, however, we saw a president who presumed racism on the part of whites and jumped to race-based conclusions without first getting the facts -- remember his beer diplomacy? We now have an administration which views injustices against blacks as quite different from comparable injustices against whites and intends to file no future actions for voting rights violations against blacks. It attempts to cultivate actual and potential Hispanic voters by minimizing enforcement of federal immigration laws, while suing Arizona for trying to fill the void. It is presumed that enforcement (which has not yet begun) will be racially motivated and that it is proper to attack as racists those who view the situation differently. These claims began before President Obama or his attorney general had bothered to read the new Arizona immigration statutes. There has been a backlash, and there's probably more to come.
Now, even the Taliban is racist. According to President Obama:
What you've seen in some of the statements that have been made by these terrorist organizations is that they do not regard African life as valuable in and of itself. ... They see it as a potential place where you can carry out ideological battles that kill innocents without regard to long-term consequences for their short-term tactical gains.
An administration official explained that these terror groups have shown their racism through different actions, including the 1998 embassy bombings in which hundreds of Africans were killed and thousands more were wounded in an effort to attack American embassies, and the attack that came on the same day Africa was celebrating its achievement of hosting a successful World Cup. So much for a post-racial presidency.
There may even be a tenuous relationship between terrorism and the religion of peace, an outreach to which may now have become a basic NASA mission. There hasn't been much media coverage of NASA's General Bolden lately. Perhaps the mission will include enlightening the Taliban and their friends on the beneficence of racial slaughter quotas or something.
What about bipartisanship? It soon became clear that the good ship Bipartisan was no more seaworthy than a bathtub adrift mid-ocean during a storm. William McGurn wrote in the Wall Street Journal almost a year ago that:
Only last summer we were told that Barack Obama’s political appeal rested on his vision for a "post-partisan future." The post-partisan future was one of the press corps' favorite phrases. It served as shorthand for the candidate’s repeated references to "unity of purpose," looking beyond a red or blue America, and so on.
Six months into the president’s term, you don't read much about this post-partisan future anymore. It may be because on almost every big-ticket legislative item (the stimulus, climate change, and now health care), Mr. Obama has been pushing a highly ideological agenda with little (and in some cases zero) support from across the aisle. Yet far from stating the obvious -- that sitting in the Oval Office is a very partisan president -- the press corps is allowing Mr. Obama to evade the issue by coming up with novel redefinitions.
Partisan politics have not improved things since then for President Obama or his party. Are Americans just spoiled rotten and don't know what's best for them? For the current congressional campaign season, President Obama has had to secure the aid of his old nemesis, former President Clinton -- who once blustered to friends that Senator Obama could "kiss my ass" in return for his support following the primary defeat of now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As a substitute for President Obama, seen by many members of his own party as a kiss of death on the campaign trail:
[Mr. Clinton] will shortly visit Arkansas, his native state, plus Kentucky and Florida in an effort to woo voters -- particularly white Southerners, with whom Mr. Obama has never gelled. He will also be deployed in swing states such as New Hampshire that he won during his own presidential campaigns.
Despite trying to "kiss and make up" in order to grab a life jacket as the good ship Bipartisan flounders, President Obama's chances of retaining a compliant majority in the House and a compliant filibuster proof super-majority in the Senate don't seem great. If he does, the atmosphere will likely become even more partisan. However, should there be a lame duck Congress between the November congressional elections and the seating of a new Congress, things are likely to be even worse:
There have been signs in recent weeks that party leaders are planning an ambitious lame-duck session to muscle through bills in December they don't want to defend before November. Retiring or defeated members of Congress would then be able to vote for sweeping legislation without any fear of voter retaliation.
The goodies probably on the lame duck agenda include card-check legislation, cap-and-tax legislation, and more:
Other lame-duck possibilities? Senate ratification of the New START nuclear treaty, a federally mandated universal voter registration system to override state laws, and a budget resolution to lock in increased agency spending.
Then there is pork. A Senate aide told me: "Some of the biggest porkers on both sides of the aisle are leaving office this year, and a lame-duck session would be their last hurrah for spending." Likely suspects include key members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Congress' "favor factory," such as Pennsylvania Democrat Arlen Specter and Utah Republican Bob Bennett.
Voters don't want it now? Tough! President Obama is "The Won"; lots of voters told him so in November of 2008 and it must be true! What they in their ignorance think they want won't matter until 2012. An active lame duck Congress would be an orgiastic experience for President Obama and a nightmare for the rest of us. The orgiastic experience would be transitory, but the impact on the rest of us would be far more enduring.
So how about a post-sanity presidency? Albert Einstein is claimed to have said that insanity is "doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." That's pretty much what we got with the various stimulus packages, health control legislation, and further attempts to tax us, control what we use as fuel, and even to tell us what and how much to eat. Creation and maintenance of personalized federal records of our obesity is coming, and the White House cook is now "senior policy adviser for health food initiatives."
Caligula, a Roman emperor, was clearly nuts; he probably suffered from schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses. However:
[Those] who believe that Caligula was never mentally ill attribute his erratic behavior to being suddenly presented with immense responsibility, having had no previous experience with holding public office. They suggest that actions such as insisting on his deification and making his horse a senator stem from a wish to test the extent of his power and a petty vendetta against the Senate. But popular opinion still holds that no sane person could have done what Caligula did, and that it was by all accounts a relief when Claudius took over.
President Obama is almost certainly not insane as the term is used medically, rather than as a slang or colloquial expression. However, if snake oil czars are actually appointed, and if first Dog Bo is named White House congressional relations czar, we may have additional concerns. That sort of thing didn't work out too well for Caligula and his horse.
Still, there is always hubris hope for President Obama. Lots of unemployment? Fix it by making it even more difficult and less rewarding for business to create jobs. Not enough money? No problem. Additional taxes can always provide more; the government creates prints all of the money so all of it obviously belongs to the government. Last year, President Obama argued:
For us to say that you’ve got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase.
Now, the government's taxing powers are claimed to justify mandatory health insurance and to be "even more sweeping than the federal power to regulate interstate commerce." That's a pretty "sweeping" statement.
The beatings must continue until morale improves; besides, the beatings mean more government employees to administer and regulate the beatings which the "little people" of the country will feel but can't comprehend. This stimulates employment and that must in and of itself be a good thing.
Three months is an infinity in news cycles, and Vice President Biden may be correct (isn't he always?) in claiming that the losses are not "going to be bad at all." Things may indeed get smoothed over temporarily between now and November, and former President Clinton -- perhaps on his own behalf rather than President Obama's -- may possibly work the magic which President Obama himself has misplaced. A compliant congressional majority may yet endure.
Here are some things to do now. In November, vote. Please!