Monday, December 6, 2010

My Manifesto


I am admittedly NOT a presidential scholar. Aside from not being alive longer than the last six presidents’ terms, I have only become a serious observer of politics in the last five years. In that time I have become a mom, volunteered for a number of organizations reaching across issues I knew little about prior to my assistance, and tried to just keep up with the topics of the day. In NO WAY could I add to my list of priorities the self-education of every presidency prior to my birth, nor the presidencies of my infancy, adolescence and teenage years at times in my life when that type of subject was nowhere near important. So, with that said, I am not able to go toe to toe with anyone on what FDR, Truman, Carter or Reagan did on any given maneuver or policy fight.

But what I can say is this: I would bet that most people who make comparisons to Obama and any other President aren’t as knowledgeable on the analytics as they may like to sound. It is easy to say, “Obama needs to go all FDR on the Republicans” because it sounds good and you could probably find hundreds of blog posts, articles and Daily Kos diaries stating the same idea. But how many of the people who wrote those actually studied FDR and truly understand the nuances of his deal-making, his compromises, his obstacles and his political ammunition? How many people who make such easy statements actually have the capacity to compare with such certainty as to summarize the current President as a failure based on the FDR metrics? How many of those people are able to take scenario A of FDR and properly compare it to scenario A of Obama and not only zero in on the exact similarities but also be able to make enough matches with such similarities as to be able to make a complete judgment that the scenarios are so exact that the only outcome must be that Obama should take every identical step FDR took?

Even people who have been alive and aware during previous administrations don’t know any more of the inner-workings and logistical maneuverings that actually took place. Americans seem to think we know everything when actually, we don’t know shit. Because we read it somewhere does not make the information complete. We also tend to think that if we know A through G, then obviously the next letter is H. Well, that’s true of the alphabet but not politics.

I will concede that some of the authors of the “Obama should be FDR” pieces do know a lot about FDR. I am sure there are many who have read enough biographies and histories to have a fair handle on the situation. However, any one of them who then tries to convince me that the scenarios of each president are equal may have read history but are most definitely avoiding the reality that there is no possible way that any two scenarios faced by any two presidents can be exactly the same. You CAN NOT take a policy discussion or decision without seeing a million details that do not match history. Just as I could not figure out your ATM pin number without a multitude of potential combinations, far more possible mixtures of personalities, opposition, coordination, dollar amounts, concessions, conflicts, time-lines, external impacts, internal consequences, etc, etc, etc, mean that NO COMPARISON can be made that should or could form any judgment on the current president.

(By the way, you can substitute FDR for Truman or Carter or Reagan or Lincoln.)

Now, I am called naïve, a bot, a whatever Paul Krugman or Glenn Greenwald want to call me, but frankly, I find the naiveté in any person who thinks you can narrow an opinion of the current president down to a overwhelming simplistic and far-reaching avoidance of reality that the past is not the present. We can LOOK to the past for guidance but we can’t pretend that the past can be duplicated. In comparing Obama to any previous president is beyond simplistic and far-reaching, it is a stubborn avoidance of the frustration that HE isn’t the problem. Rather than deal with the reality of the actual problems we face, it’s far easier to say he isn’t being FDR enough. We may as well say he isn’t Atticus Finch enough. Because, although Atticus is a fictional character, the demand that Obama act exactly like another person in another time with different problems, different players, different options, is as fictionally-based as wishing he were someone who never existed. Although, technically, there was a real person Harper Lee based Atticus on, but you get my point.

SO, I do not accept any comparisons or evaluations of Obama based on prior presidents. If that’s all you’ve got, and if I were a professor, I’d send you back to rewrite your entire thesis and tell you to avoid the “Handmaid’s Tale”/”1983”/”Animal Farm” aspect of your analysis and give me your actual understanding of the options he actually faces, with the tools he actually possesses, against the challenges he actually has to overcome TODAY. THEN tell me, step-by-step and in non-black and white ways what he could have done and what he can do that would have made any other choices valid and more successful than he has been.

Let’s take the public option. Tell me how Barack Obama (and NOT FDR) could have succeeded with that. Base it on what he said and not what anonymous reports stated. Before making assumptions of what was said in back room meetings, before assuming reports are based in pure fact and no spin, look at the situation he was presented with. Consider the possibility he was on the phone every hour, talking with members of Congress (because according to the PBS documentary on the official White House photographer, Pete Souza, Obama was, in fact, on the phone more times than the media reported).

Next, consider the possibility that the media killed the public option. The American public was supportive early on. What happened? Things like “death panels” and “kill the bill” became the media focus. The media called the public option DOA long before Obama conceded, publicly at least, that it wasn’t going to survive. The very organizations who determine whether Obama’s message gets out to the American people pre-wrote history. They called it dead before anyone could actually make a dent in negotiations. In my honest opinion, that empowered the right by suggesting the possibility and by distracting the left from the discussion. The right pounced on the left’s key issue and the left freaked out over Obama. No one was left to fight the right and the lies were able to take hold in the American public.

Obama stayed on message but a certain faction of the left was so damn frazzled that we started running after our own quarterback and caused a fumble that was scooped up by the opposition who then ran to within field goal range. We won the game but barely. We would have creamed them had we protected the quarterback. But we lost focus of our priorities. Today, the law we have is helping me personally.

If everyone can pretend that they know what FDR would have done, then I suggest that people stop and consider that we would have had a public option today if the media had reported facts as opposed to speculation. We would have had a public option had Democrats held strong together and played the plays as planned rather than forgetting how to play altogether.

But would’ve, could’ve, should’ve aren’t relevant. I am saving money. My son is covered despite a pre-existing condition. My life is better because of what DID take place.

Now, without going issue by issue or point by point through the last two years, let me say this and ask that you apply it to all you have assumed, decided, declared:

What do you KNOW? Do you easily accept every report you read? Does any part ever sound just not right? Do you have questions that the report didn’t raise? And when you have that feeling, when you still have questions, what do you do with it? When you read another source that says the same thing, so you then say, “Aha, it must be true”? If you’ll recall, I have said that Republicans tend to think that if 100 websites say “bibbity bobbity boo in Kalamazoo” then it must be as written. It never occurs to them that all 100 sites using the phrase word-for-word means someone copied and pasted. 99 people copied the words of 1 person but the idea is still that first person’s. The other 99 stopped short of analysis and just repeated. THAT is not confirmation. It’s repetition. The Democrats don’t do that specifically. We don’t really copy and paste entire articles and try to pass that off as Woodward-style fact-checking. We’re too proud of our own writing abilities that we at least re-write what we read.

Democrats take an idea and revise, add their own flourishes, put their own voice to it and state it is absolute fact whether or not they ever put a second of their articulate genius toward actually finding out if that initial idea were true, unbiased or simply relevant. No, if an idea sounds kick-ass, Democrats rush out to tell the same idea in their own way without bothering to come up with an idea on their own. Inevitably, the writers who love to share other people’s ideas in their own words, accidentally slip up and start using the same words or phrases created by the first writer to summarize the situation. Presently the words are “cave” and “fight” although no one can truly articulate what either means to them. It’s really just a feeling. I remember the first time I saw “cave” used in regards to Obama and the Bush tax cuts. Now it is THE word used by all Democrats who don’t want him to but a cent or a day – even though they may not even know why a certain dollar amount is so sacred.

No one wants him to “cave” yet I’ve seen countless times where people have said they would be OK if the amount were raised to another number. How can we demand he not cave and then be willing to compromise on the number? It’s because the idea of him not caving sounds good but no one has really defined that meaning for themselves, let alone the masses of people who read that and revise that. The word has become overused by people who imprinted on it without analyzing the meaning. The same people want Obama to “draw a line in the sand” yet they really have no clue what or where the line should be, they are just certain that a line MUST be drawn. They are certain that they know a line is needed. To me, the demand is hollow without any true understanding of what the magic line should be.

Democrats don’t think beyond black and white any more than the Republicans do. For example, the federal pay freeze. The accepted assumption is that Obama froze federal employee pay to give, without a “fight”, some phantom concession to the Republicans. I have not seen, perhaps it is out there but I’ve missed it, the mention that over the last several months as the private sector has created jobs, the government has laid people off. Yes, we have had consistent job LOSSES in the government sector. To me, a pay freeze is the alternative to further layoffs of federal employees. And to me, it is a legitimate alternative. But the quick assumption was that Obama “caved”. Now, Obama did not give the reason I see in his speech. He didn’t say it’s to save federal employees from loosing their jobs. But right now we need him emphasizing job creation and not massive losses. He had to put a stop to the bleeding but Democrats won’t see that because that isn’t the message being fed. And in this case, although I wish he’d put that message out there, I can see why he won’t. But few Democrats will search beyond the blogs and articles and cable tv to find the meaning that makes sense.

In summary, I COULD go further point by point through the last two years and “prove” why Obama has stayed as true to his promises as the best presidents of our history. I could remind everyone that he has always said he is here to work with all, for all. I could point out the challenges he faces of Fox News and right-wing blogs and racism and corporate money and the Supreme Court, and on and on. But none of that is relevant to my overall point.

The overall point is that Americans stopped thinking for themselves. Today Obama was giving a speech on the economy. MSNBC cut away. CNN either cut away or never aired it. CSPAN wasn’t airing it. But was live-streaming it. And yet people say Obama doesn’t talk about the economy. This is one of a hundred speeches I have watched or listened to him give. He talks about the economy every day. Someone from his administration is talking about the economy every day. So why do people think he isn’t? It’s because the media controls the message and because Americans are too lazy to seek out the information. Americans assume that if the media isn’t bringing the information to them, it just must not exist. And when the media speaks, we parrot.

And then we blame the president for what we don’t hear or what we do hear.

So, perhaps I should have been clearer in earlier posts. Perhaps I haven’t put the correct message out there. Perhaps I am still failing. But I refuse to consider worthy a conversation with people who either live in a constant state of comparing two centuries, two presidents and two extremely complex realities who also rely on the very media we have all watched disintegrate over the last decade. Any Democrat who will pick and choose which articles must be true based on some in-grained cynicism or some need to justify their own desires to pretend as if they are all-knowing, are frankly, in my opinion, not a part of any solution. They may have access to, and more frequently use, real data and facts, but the spin they choose to place on the reality of today suggests to me they are as unproductive and obstructionist as Republicans.

What I look for in a true discussion is the lack of catch-phrases. If you use the buzzwords of the day, I can only assume you have either accepted others’ ideas without even applying your own verbiage. Or you have subconsciously adopted others’ thinking and therefore are going to be zombie-like in your debate. There is no getting through to the latter. So, I only want to discuss with people who have asked themselves how they formed their ideas, which sources they used, why those sources, and have they really sat and thought something through before taking a stand one way or another. If you are an expert on FDR and can tell me that 4 out of 5 scenarios of each debate Obama faces are 90% similar, then have at it. But if you’ve never actually studied the papers, letters, speeches, reports, etc. of FDR and can’t tell me with any certainty that 4 out of 5 scenarios of each debate are the same as what Obama faces now, then I don’t want to read the letters “F D R” in your response to me. (Again, you can substitute any previous president). Oh, and I should add, that when I hear journalists I actually respect say things like “Truman never polled the military” and then a month later say “when Truman polled the military” I call bullshit. And when I see other people parrot one or both of those talking points, even talking points from journalists I respect, I also call bullshit. When it comes to the DADT survey, it was NEVER about whether to repeal or not; the survey was to help the military effectively plan the repeal through effective policies and education. That is something we should honor – a prepared military. Instead, the media pre-misconstrued the report until they saw the results and have since done a 180 on the way they report on it. Thus, I see average Democrats doing the same. And that is one example where I say, unequivocally, that I have watched the media messaging seep into the subconscious of Democrats.

So, if you use any word of the day, convince me, in your own words, that you have thought through the situation on all levels. Show me devil’s advocate thinking and maybe then we can get somewhere. But if you tell me you think black simply because the media says so or because Republicans say white, and you can’t even comprehend gray in your logic, then I don’t have time for you.

I have spent HOURS developing my opinions, my perspective, my understanding. In all of this I have concluded that the media is mostly a rapid-fire, beat the next guy, soap opera. And sadly, many Democrats, who I expect to be smarter, fall for the agenda, messaging, tone and mood set by those we shouldn’t be accepting with such enthusiasm. Yet, Democrats pick up their language, mood, tenor and assumptions for no reason I can comprehend.

Anyone who parrots the media is not worthy of another moment of my time. I have serious thinking to do and only want to participate with serious thinkers. I have a lot to learn and expect only those with integrity to teach me. If you aren’t that person, I implore you to try to be that person. Change how you get your information. Change how you process it. Change why you believe what you do. And finally, find your own damn voice in it all. You don’t have to write or speak eloquently, but know that what you think and say is your own and not some media-tainted creation.

Wake up and rub the newspaper ink off your face. We all know what the media has come to. So why do you let it be your guide?


vic said...

(Passionate) points to ponder!

{nothing to add - just to let you know that you are read}

jhw22 said...

Thanks, I think. ;)

After reading crap all over the internet this afternoon, I was pretty fired up. Now, after reading post-compromise-speech crap, I am frickin' sick. The anti-Obama rhetoric is worse than it was post health-care fight and I think I am about done.

I tried to take a day or so off and try again, but after what I've read today, I think I'd like to find a hole to crawl into and only take people with me who don't freak out over progress -- no matter how we get the progress. The hate from my own party toward our president makes me feel physically ill.

I want my mommy. :)


veralynn said...

wow. we have apparently been of the same mind today :)

here are a few things I have had to say today that apply.
most excellent jhw :)

I said this to a friend when we were commiserating over this subject today:
we actually listened to what he said for 2 years. It appears everyone else heard him but didn't listen to him. And then everyone on the right finally took their damn sheets out in public and here we are. it isn't a good place. it will get worse and I tell you what....sometimes I think we're headed for a full on last act of the civil war. it's been coming for 145 years. we have taken that time to not reflect and deal with it and here we are. and now when we need to be united like we haven't in a generation, we are allowing politainment for our government. having TMZ tell me what I need to know about the world? or fox? propaganda. and we live in the 21st century instead of the 17th and 18th centuries and are addicted to instant gratification. I had to call tech support the other night and talked with Fabian. He said we are the microwave generation. And he's right in more ways than just the one he meant. I think there are people who are out there right now doing what that lady in Florida said (she was going to be West's COS), go to the mountains and arm up. I have to tell you that I never in my lifetime thought it would be a possibility that I would ever feel the need to promise myself I would live, kill and die to protect this country from those treasonous bastards. That is a hard thing to realize as a hippie wanna be. I learned when I was a page and in the years since, the sacrifices, saw the places where the fundamental building blocks that are our foundation to the constitution and justice and liberty for all....and every bit of us is represented by The Capitol. I swear to everything holy, pink floyd and jimmy page that I will fight to protect the ideals that building stands for. I also confirmed this at the rally. It is pretty scary thinking in these terms and I hope I am wrong. I hope there isn't another OKC or Dr. Tiller....but there will be. It's the only game they know. They are the bullies with the guns and they think they have god on their side and that scares me more than dying for my country.

and this one on a Facebook page:
I am tired of hearing everybody bitch about the president. for heaven's sake...he does NOT run Congress. Jeepers people. Yell at your Congressperson and Senators....they are the ones that won't stand up for us. The president runs the Execut...ive Branch, not the Legislature. Remember his acceptance speech? WE were going to have to do things to make change happen. What have WE done? All I see are liberals and dems bitching that the president didn't do enough. He didn't do this and made firebaggers happy. News Flash...nothing will make them happy. They are firebaggers because they are just like teabaggers. No amount of anything will make them happy. They enjoy floating around the muck bitching at each other while the rest of us get on with our lives with no help from our media.

jhw22 said...

THANK YOU, VERALYNN. I love what you shared.

I'd like to expand what you said on Obama's role in all of this.

For a party that has been calling him spine and ball-less, why hasn't it occurred to us that our Congress SHOULD have called for a middle class tax cut BEFORE the midterms? They waited, for whatever reason. I don't know why. I wasn't there. But we can't lay all of the decisions at Obama's feet without challenging why those decisions had to be made.

I am not disappointed in him for making the decisions. I am disappointed that he has been given shitty choices to choose from. We can't expect him to make perfect diamonds out of shit piles. He has what he has. Our party is also responsible for the delivery of shit.