Why Liberals Should Thank Bill O’Reilly

You gotta love it. First President Obama tells the truth about Fox “News” and then Hillary Clinton follows it up. Now, when CNN, NPR, The New York Times, The Washington Post, NBC News, ABC News, and CBS News start telling the truth about Fox, then we will be getting somewhere.

In any case, Bill O’Reilly’s interruption-plagued ObamaCare-Benghazi-IRS interview (come on, what did you expect? Billo has to eat, ya know) with Obama ended with this:

I think — I — you know, I know you think maybe we haven’t been fair, but I think your heart is in the right place.

That moment of lucidity, I knew at the time, would get Billo in trouble. One commenter on the Fox “News” site said what a lot of right-wingers were thinking:

oreilly interview

“I’m DONE with you Bill!” When they start shouting, look out!

What you should know is that, as incredible as it sounds to liberal ears, Fox “News” is now seen by many right-wingers as part of the problem. Yes, Fox isn’t conservative enough! Over at Glenn Beck’s “The Blaze,” we find this comment attached to an article on O’Reilly’s interview with President Obama:

oreilly interview

O’Reilly and Huckabee traitors? Yikes. But look at his one:

oreilly interview

Nice folks, no? But what I really want you to see is this comment:

oreilly interview

When Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Karl Rove aren’t conservative enough for you, then the political dementia on the far right is worse than we thought. And speaking of dementia, try this:


It seems that Glenn Beck, Mark Levin, and Sean Hannity, who apparently have been feuding (who knew?), are now teaming up for a kind of mischief they apparently can’t accomplish as free agents. The article reports:

Beck said he, Levin and Hannity all have a different skill set, all of which are important to bring the country together and focus on real solutions.

Yes. These guys think their brand of right-wingery will “bring the country together.”

Hey, don’t laugh. Beck is serious:

“Something big is happening. Something good is really happening,” Beck concluded. “Well, I mean, unless you’re a progressive then I don’t think you’re going to like this. It’s not good news for you.”

Oh, yes it is, Glenn! It is always good news for progressives when the reactionaries are fighting so fiercely among themselves, and if Beck and Levin and Hannity want to join forces to give their extremist followers more power to attack the Republican establishment, I say, bravo!

And they aren’t the only ones bashing the establishment. Just this afternoon, I received an email from a Tea Party group that was asking for dough. After bashing unions (“who are working diligently to pervert our system of government”), the appeal continued in bold letters:

For too long we have allowed the political establishment of both parties to drive our country into the ground. Today is the day that we stop the political elite and return America to greatness. 

Yes, Democrats and Republicans are just one big elite group working together to destroy the country! Of course!

Today on his show, Rush Limbaugh, the king of the talk radio dung heap, himself spent a lot of time attacking the Republican establishment. He has a theory about what they are up to, and it goes something like this:

By pushing immigration reform (“amnesty”), Republicans are blowing their chances of winning the upcoming election “in a landslide.” Oh, sure Republicans want to win in 2014, but they want to do it without the Tea Party. Why? Because if the Tea Party delivers another landslide election to the Republicans like it did in 2010, then the Republican establishment is in deeper trouble when it comes time to nominate their presidential candidate in 2016. Teapartiers would demand that the GOP candidate come from their ranks. That is why the establishment is trying to get rid of Tea Party influence in the House and get immigration reform passed, Limbaugh said. They want to marginalize teapartiers, eke out a victory this year, and then get their establishment guy ordained as the party’s front man against Hillary.

I know, I know. It’s nuts. But it helps our side when these folks get this way. And I personally want to think Bill O’Reilly and Fox “News” for playing their part in the chaos.


limbaugh and immigration

“Believe It”

Watching television this morning I found out that:

The New York Times pronounced last night’s speech a “Diminished State of the Union.”

The Washington Post called it “Obama’s Muted Call.”

Time magazine told us Obama was a “Man with a Modest Plan.”

MSNBC’s Chuck Todd thought the speech didn’t have a lot of “big ideas” in it.

And an ABC News blurb crawling across the screen this morning read:

President Obama offers modest agenda in state of the union address including raising the minimum wage, immigration reform and equal pay for women.

Hmm. “Modest agenda”? “Raising the minimum wage, immigration reform, and equal pay for women” is modest? I guess doing those things are modest if you are wealthy, white, and wiener-equipped. Otherwise, getting those things done this year would be anything but modest accomplishments.

The truth is that last night’s speech was pregnant with hope. And although most folks in the news business missed it, the heart and soul of the speech was a call to faith. No, not the kind of faith you rehearse on Sundays at church. Another kind of faith. The kind we should all rehearse as Americans. If you didn’t see the speech, you can read it for yourself and make up your own mind as to whether President Obama’s SOTU address was diminished, muted, or modest. But you really should watch the end for yourself and see that this speech was really about having faith in our experimental country’s ability to right itself, as we have done before.

Watch this short clip of what happened and then I’ll tell you more:

Now, I post below a complete transcript of the end of the speech. And if you read it you will notice that the clip above ended before the President made the connection between the struggles and tenacity of Cory Remsburg and the difficulties and possibilities of America. (I have highlighted the part not shown.) Every news outlet I could find that posted a clip of this particular part of Obama’s speech left out the end, left out the larger connection. Why is that? Because as hard as some journalists might try, sometimes they fail to see what is right before their eyes. And right before their eyes—our eyes, our American eyes—was a President calling us to a deeper faith in our collective selves:

Let me tell you about one of those families I’ve come to know.

I first met Cory Remsburg, a proud Army Ranger, at Omaha Beach on the 65th anniversary of D-Day. Along with some of his fellow Rangers, he walked me through the program, the ceremony. He was a strong, impressive young man, had an easy manner. He was sharp as a tack. And we joked around, and took pictures, and I told him to stay in touch.

A few months later, on his 10th deployment, Cory was nearly killed by a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan. His comrades found him in a canal, face down, underwater, shrapnel in his brain.

For months, he lay in a coma. And the next time I met him, in the hospital, he couldn’t speak; he could barely move. Over the years, he’s endured dozens of surgeries and procedures, hours of grueling rehab every day.

Even now, Cory is still blind in one eye. He still struggles on his left side. But slowly, steadily, with the support of caregivers like his dad Craig, and the community around him, Cory has grown stronger. Day by day, he’s learned to speak again and stand again and walk again, and he’s working toward the day when he can serve his country again.

“My recovery has not been easy,” he says. “Nothing in life that’s worth anything is easy.”

Cory is here tonight. And like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit.  

My fellow Americans — my fellow Americans, men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy. Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy. Sometimes we stumble; we make mistakes; we get frustrated or discouraged.

But for more than two hundred years, we have put those things aside and placed our collective shoulder to the wheel of progress: to create and build and expand the possibilities of individual achievement; to free other nations from tyranny and fear; to promote justice and fairness and equality under the law, so that the words set to paper by our founders are made real for every citizen.

The America we want for our kids — a rising America where honest work is plentiful and communities are strong; where prosperity is widely shared and opportunity for all lets us go as far as our dreams and toil will take us — none of it is easy. But if we work together; if we summon what is best in us, the way Cory summoned what is best in him, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow, I know it’s within our reach.

Believe it.

I believe.

The “History That Doesn’t Go Away”

It’s hard for me to tell you how remarkable it was to hear President Obama talk, extemporaneously and personally, about the events surrounding the shooting of Trayvon Martin. I found his words the most poignant of his presidency, as he attempted to put into context the African-American response to the killing of the sixteen-year-and-a-month-old kid in Florida.

But not everyone, of course, found his commentary pleasing or helpful. The reactionaries among us were quite upset and had a lot to say about it.

And I don’t just mean what outrageous and extremist conservatives like Sean Hannity and other IQ-sapping schmucks had to say about it (hint: Obama’s admission that Trayvon Martin could have been him 35 years ago was an admission that “he smoked pot and he did a little blow”).

And I don’t just mean the ridiculous commentary Mike Huckabee offered as he substituted for the racially-challenged Bill O’Reilly on Friday (hint: contrary to Obama, no race issue was involved, only pornography, graphic media violence, and abortion!).

And I don’t just mean the insane opinion of Huckabee’s guest, “Republican strategist” Brad Blakeman, who said that if protests this past weekend turned ugly, Obama “incited any violence that takes place.”

No, I’m not just talking about those conservatives, the usual suspects, whose reactionary responses are fire-retardant chemicals, putting out the firing synapses of anyone with a brain.

I’m talking about what Charles Krauthammer, who gets much credit for being an enlightened conservative commentator on Fox “News” Channel, had to say about Obama’s remarks:

…a political speech addressed to his constituency on the left, which I thought was unfortunate . . . Look, I gave him and Holder credit all week for trying to de-racialize the issue. And what Obama did, I think, unfortunately, today is to reracialize it.

That the very white Dr. Krauthammer would take from the President’s remarks not much more than that they constituted “a political speech” designed to appease folks who understand in their bones the racial context of the tragedy—which means, let’s not kid ourselves, that Krauthammer was talking about Obama appeasing blacks—is instructive as to the mental state of the Fox blabber.

But it is more instructive as to the philosophical corruption of much of contemporary conservatism, whose decadence extends beyond failed economic theories or the compulsion to get inside the heads and vaginas of American women in order to save zygotes.

This corruption is related to the corruption that has plagued this country from before its official founding, when black folks in chains were introduced to America as the property of white folks. But this modern corruption is not the kind one would find at, say, an old slave auction where the young black men were referred to as “bucks.” No, no, no. The modern conservative, like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, is much more subtle than that. He or she would never dehumanize Barack Obama in that way.

The more subtle form of denying the basic humanity of black men is reflected not only in Sean Hannity’s stupid remarks, but in the comments of the ostensibly more refined Charles Krauthammer: Obama, a black man who happens to be president, had no real business “racializing” the issue of a black teenager getting profiled and killed because the killer suspected he was up to no good and followed him. You see, President Obama, not for a moment, not for the tiniest increment of time, is suppose to act like a normal human being in front of all the white folks who don’t like him anyway, who have from the beginning profiled him as some kind of angry and Scary Negro, without the hoodie.

Because conservatives have long ago dismissed any claims that America still has significant problems left over from its racist past, they’d rather everyone just shut up about it. They don’t want to hear it. And they especially don’t want to hear it from an uppity black who, God only knows how and why, was reelected as president.

Among other things, President Obama offended many conservatives with this:

You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son.  Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.  And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.

Pain. “There’s a lot of pain around what happened here,” said the President. Speaking to that pain, speaking for the first time in his presidency as one who knows first-hand that pain, speaking for the first time out of the depth of his experiences as a black man in America, Mr. Obama has disturbed many extremists on the right—99.9% white—who don’t want to hear him speak about that “history that doesn’t go away” or the “pain” associated with it. These white conservatives want to hear only about their pain, the pain of watching their America turn brown before their very eyes.

What white conservatives also want to hear is a lot of talk about black criminality, as if black criminality is not, in any conceivable way, related to centuries of slavery followed by Jim Crow laws and other such instruments of oppression. All over Fox and the Internet you can find palefaced conservatives saying that the President ought to quit worrying about George Zimmerman killing Trayvon Martin and start worrying about all the “black on black” killings plaguing African-American communities.

Oh, yeah? What about all those “white on white” killings? Here’s a graph I found on MSNBC this weekend:

race statistics

As many have pointed out, people commit crimes where they live. Whites, like around here in Petticoat Joplin, tend to commit crimes against other whites. If I were to do a little criminal profiling in my neighborhood, the suspects would look a lot like Sean Hannity or Charles Krauthammer or Ann Coulter. So, conservatives chanting “black on black” crime, and pretending that they give a damn about it, is irrelevant to what happened to Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.

The President also talked about how the history that doesn’t go away is “unacknowledged” and how that “adds to the frustration.” He then said,

And the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African American boys are more violent — using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.

That’s the point in all this. Sure, as President Obama said, “African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system,” and “they’re disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence.” But it won’t do to treat all black “sons” as if they are criminals, or criminals in waiting. We can’t exist as a peaceful, prosperous society if we do so. We can’t label all black teenagers or young men as “suspects”—and that’s what profiling does—and then expect African-Americans to believe they are full citizens with all the opportunities this wealthy country affords. That won’t work. We can’t ignore, as the President said, “the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush.” 

I want to tell you a short story related to that broad brush.

I know a father whose son recently graduated from Joplin High School. A few years ago, this white boy had his iPod stolen at school, even though the father expressly told him not to bring it there. I won’t go into the details, but the boy knew with near-certainty that the thief was a fellow student, a black kid who had been in trouble many times at school.

Now, the iPod was worth only $300, but that was no small amount of money for this family. And the boy was very upset about losing such a valuable item and began wondering, out loud, why black kids were such thieves, why they went searching for other people’s stuff.

This is how black teenagers, those who would never think of stealing an iPod, start to get painted with that broad brush the President was describing. It may start with a white boy being victimized in some way by an African-American and ends with suspecting that every black kid he meets is about to do something bad to him or to others.

The white boy’s father had a long, long talk with his son. He talked about the likely difficulties that the black kid had at home, the differences in background compared to the mostly white kids he went to school with. His father told him that despite the pain he felt, despite the feeling of victimization, it simply wouldn’t do to think of black kids first as thieves, then as human beings. To that end, despite the fact that the boy was warned that he should not bring the iPod to school in the first place, the father bought his son a brand new one. He bought it, he said, to take the sting out of the loss, so as to help his son remember not to make suspects out of every black kid he meets, even though it might seem rational to do so.

Related to that, President Obama will have the last word:

And let me just leave you with a final thought that, as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better.  Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race.  It doesn’t mean we’re in a post-racial society.  It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated.  But when I talk to Malia and Sasha, and I listen to their friends and I seem them interact, they’re better than we are — they’re better than we were — on these issues.  And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country.

And so we have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues.  And those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature, as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions.  But we should also have confidence that kids these days, I think, have more sense than we did back then, and certainly more than our parents did or our grandparents did; and that along this long, difficult journey, we’re becoming a more perfect union — not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.

The Sin Of St. Rachel Maddow

Just before President Obama was set to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday (at a 200-acre resort in Palm Springs, to which neither you nor I will ever be able to resort), NBC news reported this:

The U.S. secretly traced a massive cyberespionage operation against the 2008 presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and John McCain to hacking  units backed by the People’s Republic of China, prompting  high level warnings to Chinese officials to stop such activities,  U.S. intelligence officials tell NBC News.

This leak, obviously, had a purpose, which was to publicly highlight the ongoing, but mostly secret, complaints from the U.S. about Chinese computer-hacking. We were essentially trying to embarrass the Chinese because behind-the-scenes efforts to get them to stop hacking our information systems and stealing our secrets wasn’t working. All well and good, as far as I’m concerned. We should be embarrassing authoritarians everywhere.

For their part, the Chinese, desirous of some American good will before Xi Jinping met with President Obama, granted passports to family members of the blind Chinese activist, Chen Guangcheng, who is here in the United States, far from the tyranny that still characterizes the Chinese government.

Now, keep that last line in mind: China, despite its incremental turn towards capitalism, is still, especially compared to the United States, a bastion of communist bullies who watch over the population truly like Big Brother. But given the news and the punditry of the last few days, you wouldn’t know that. You would think that President Obama is a despot ever bit as despotic as Xi Jinping or any other tyrant in the world wishing to “spy” on his people.

This rubbish, unfortunately, has infected the minds of a lot of people I respect, people on the left, people who I have sainted on this blog. In this case, I’m talking about St. Rachel Maddow, who ended her Friday broadcast with this commentary on the Obama-Xi meeting:

…the Chinese government on the occasion of [Xi Jinping’s] visit to the U.S., they decided to finally give passports to the family members of this Chinese dissident who took refuge in our country from Chinese persecutions. Now his mother and his brother can visit him here, all of a sudden because of this, because of this meeting.

[She shows a video clip of Obama meeting with Xi Jinping] This was the scene in Palm Springs about 90 minutes ago, President Obama greeting the Chinese president, and they sat down for the first of their big, important meetings.

And this is kind of how these things are supposed to go on the sidelines of these meetings, right?  On the occasion of a high profile meeting with the President of the United States, on that occasion, you know what? Kindnesses towards dissidents should suddenly become possible. Other countries should think we expect that. Contact with us, desire to have good relations with us, is supposed to drive other countries towards better human rights policies and better civil rights policies, because that’s what we are supposed to stand for.

So far, so good. St. Rachel is acting the saint, saying everything right, analyzing the situation perfectly. Then, as many on the left are wont to do, she gives in to temptation and commits the sin of Big Brother-is-watching-us hysteria:

So the timing is tough right now, right? We like to think of ourselves as the good guys, where the international cost of doing business with United States of America is that you have to be less evil. It would be a lot easier for the United States to pull off this attempted embarrassment of the Chinese government over them hacking our politicians, were it not for the coincident revelations floating out of our own media this week about our own government mercilessly hacking us.

There it was. In front of God and everyone. Rachel Maddow committing the sin of a ridiculous comparison between the United States government’s data aggregation policy—authorized by Congress and overseen by the judicial branch—and an authoritarian communist country actually spying on its people. There she was implicitly putting President Obama and Xi Jinping in the same “hacking” boat.

If it weren’t for St. Rachel’s many virtues, if it weren’t for her former wind-driven-snow pureness, I would have to take back the halo I have put over her noggin. For now, though, it is prayer she needs. Lots of it. Prayer that she, and other liberals and progressives, will come to their senses and realize that what has been revealed so far in what is now being called the “NSA scandal,” is not Big Brother watching over us in order to then force us to get our minds right. That is what Big Brother is doing in China, not the United States.

And until someone shows me how aggregating data, a policy designed to help the government uncover terrorist plots, is a massive violation of the civil rights of Americans, I will continue to reject the notion that President Obama, or President Bush before him, is using the National Security Agency as a spying apparatus designed to arrest Americans and put them in prison or under house arrest like the Chinese do.

Finally, for those of you out there who buy into the notion that your government is out to spy on you and catch you looking at porn, or secretly emailing your mistress, or worshiping a very strange god, or whatever it is you don’t want the government to catch you doing, consider this recent report from NBC News:

The National Security Agency has at times mistakenly intercepted the private email messages and phone calls of Americans who had no link to terrorism, requiring Justice Department officials to report the errors to a secret national security court and destroy the data, according to two former U.S. intelligence officials. 

First, imagine the Chinese government admitting such a thing and rectifying such a mistake. And then imagine the Chinese government allowing that story to be widely dispersed in China.

Then start praying for St. Rachel and other liberals who are embarrassing themselves by way of this—so far—phony NSA “scandal.”

Why There Is No “Liberal Movement”

Wanna know what’s wrong with the left in this country? This:

george w. obamaThat was from yesterday. Here’s today’s HuffPo header:

george w. obama

Some liberals and progressives, now joining libertarians in the wacky wing of the Republican Party, are aghast that the government—all three branches being involved—is snooping around the Internet looking for terrorists. What did people think was happening since the country—Democrats as well as Republicans, liberals as well as conservatives—demanded that 9/11 never happen again?

And the right wing crazies, those like Ann Coulter, have a slightly more nuanced take on all this:

Coulter Blasts Obama For NSA Snooping: Cares More About ‘Harassing Americans’ Than Fighting Terrorism

The un-delightful Ms. Coulter, as reported by Mediaite, sees things through a pair of Obama-hating glasses:

Ann Coulter did not object to the news about NSA phone snooping on principle, but does have a problem with it under this particular president. She told Sean Hannity tonight that under an “honorable administration,” the government should be able to collect phone records, but said that President Obama, with all the other scandals that have come out, has proven to be untrustworthy and he cares more about “harassing Americans” and his political opponents than actually fighting terrorism.

Those are the kinds of people that HuffPo and The Progressive Change Campaign Committee and The New York Times editorialists are getting in bed with, rolling under the covers with, and who knows doing what with.

Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who broke the story on the allegedly widespread NSA surveillance scheme by publishing leaks about it, has been an Obama critic almost from the beginning, often getting credit for criticizing the President “from the left.” Bullhockey. Greenwald could jump in the political sack with Rand or Ron Paul, or both, and enjoy every minute of it. As the Rooted Cosmopolitan put it, Greenwald,

is not a liberal or progressive with a broad sense of the common good.

No, he’s not. I have followed his Tweets for months and some of them have shocked me in terms of their breathtaking hysteria related to President Obama.  Not only that, Greenwald doesn’t respect those on the left who don’t spend all their time denigrating the President. He once tweeted in support of someone who said of Obama supporters, “Obama could rape a nun on NBC and you’d say we weren’t seeing what we were seeing.” Greenwald’s reply:

No – she’d say it was justified [and] noble – that he only did it to teach us about the evils of rape.

The guy who wrote that, who doubled-down on the rape “joke,” is the one who broke the story on the NSA surveillance. That’s why I will wait until more sober minds have examined this issue’before I trash the man in the White House who has actually offered to hand back significant executive power to Congress.

By the way, Greenwald told CNN:

There is a massive apparatus within the United States government that with complete secrecy has been building this enormous structure that has only one goal, and that is to destroy privacy and anonymity, not just in the United States but around the world. That is not hyperbole. That is their objective.

If that sounds like Glenn Beck instead of Glenn Greenwald then you don’t know Glenn Greenwald.

There are questions that need answered related to this NSA story, for sure. But people can’t have it both ways. They can’t demand that the government keep us safe from terrorists who want to kill us, while expecting government officials not to use technical means to do so.

And all of this stuff is especially ironic in an age in which people share all kinds of private information with strangers on the Internet or through emails.

In any case, the hysteria from the left—Obama is now George W. Bush—is why liberals cannot have a “movement” in the way conservatives can. They almost always let the perfect not only be an enemy of the good, but kill it in its tracks.

I Was Gonna Write About The Quasi-Scandals In Washington, Then Something More Important Came Up

Morehouse College in Atlanta is an all-male, historically black college that can trace its founding back to 1867, a time when America was trying to put itself back together after racists and racism had torn it apart.

You may have missed it, since most journalists these days are focused on other things, but President Obama actually gave an important, and highly personal, speech on Sunday, a speech addressed to the 500 or so black men who graduated from Morehouse this year, the same college that sent Martin Luther King, Jr., into the world as an educated man with a mission to improve that world.

About Dr. King, the President said,

his education at Morehouse helped to forge the intellect, the discipline, the compassion, the soul force that would transform America.  It was here that he was introduced to the writings of Gandhi and Thoreau, and the theory of civil disobedience.  It was here that professors encouraged him to look past the world as it was and fight for the world as it should be.  And it was here, at Morehouse, as Dr. King later wrote, where “I realized that nobody…was afraid.”

That special college, the President said, is where,

young Martin learned to be unafraid.  And he, in turn, taught others to be unafraid.  And over time, he taught a nation to be unafraid.  And over the last 50 years, thanks to the moral force of Dr. King and a Moses generation that overcame their fear and their cynicism and their despair, barriers have come tumbling down, and new doors of opportunity have swung open, and laws and hearts and minds have been changed to the point where someone who looks just like you can somehow come to serve as President of these United States of America.

While all that is true enough and powerful enough, it is the example of Dr. King’s willingness “to look past the world as it was and fight for the world as it should be” that has been the theme running through these types of speeches the President has given, when he is obviously speaking to black audiences. “There are some things, as black men, we can only do for ourselves,” Mr. Obama insisted.

Among those things are taking care of “those still left behind.” Quoting social activist and scholar and minister—and former president of Morehouse College—Dr. Benjamin Mays, President Obama said,

Live up to President Mays’s challenge.  Be “sensitive to the wrongs, the sufferings, and the injustices of society.”  And be “willing to accept responsibility for correcting [those] ills.”

The President told these graduates that planning a future that involves making money is okay, that “no one expects you to take a vow of poverty.” But, he added,

it betrays a poverty of ambition if all you think about is what goods you can buy instead of what good you can do.

That line, that sentiment, that call to contribute to the well-being of America, is, of course, not just something that only black men graduating from a prestigious liberal arts college in Atlanta need to hear. All of us need to hear it. However, we must not kid ourselves. These particular black men, hearing such a call from President Obama, hear something a little different from what the rest of us might hear.

These men know the poverty around them in black communities. They know the crime that infects places where young men, men not as fortunate as Morehouse graduates, actually live and die. And they have heard the criticism from white conservatives and the alibis from white liberals, the condemnations and the rationalizations from both sides, as they try to explain what is wrong with those communities and how to fix it.

Not often, though, have they heard words like the following, coming as they did from the most powerful man in the world, a man with the credentials, both genetic and experiential, that no other president has ever had:

We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices.  And I have to say, growing up, I made quite a few myself.  Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down.  I had a tendency sometimes to make excuses for me not doing the right thing.  But one of the things that all of you have learned over the last four years is there’s no longer any room for excuses.   

I understand there’s a common fraternity creed here at Morehouse: “Excuses are tools of the incompetent used to build bridges to nowhere and monuments of nothingness.”  Well, we’ve got no time for excuses.  Not because the bitter legacy of slavery and segregation have vanished entirely; they have not.  Not because racism and discrimination no longer exist; we know those are still out there.  It’s just that in today’s hyper-connected  hyper-competitive world, with millions of young people from China and India and Brazil — many of whom started with a whole lot less than all of you did — all of them entering the global workforce alongside you, nobody is going to give you anything that you have not earned. 

Nobody cares how tough your upbringing was.  Nobody cares if you suffered some discrimination.  And moreover, you have to remember that whatever you’ve gone through, it pales in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured — and they overcame them.  And if they overcame them, you can overcome them, too.

It just wouldn’t do, given our history, for a white man to lecture black men, black men who had just earned college degrees, in such a way. It wouldn’t do. Nor would it do for a white man, even the President of the United States, to related to black men in this way:

Every one of you have a grandma or an uncle or a parent who’s told you that at some point in life, as an African American, you have to work twice as hard as anyone else if you want to get by. 

And that’s the point here, isn’t it? Why should it be, here in 21st century America, that such a sentiment is still alive among black folks? Why should black men, or women, still be told to “work twice as hard as anyone else if you want to get by”? Because, as sad as it is to admit, it still rings true. And as sad as it is to say it, part of the reason is related to the the disorganization and dysfunction of black families in America:

I was raised by a heroic single mom, wonderful grandparents — made incredible sacrifices for me.  And I know there are moms and grandparents here today who did the same thing for all of you.  But I sure wish I had had a father who was not only present, but involved.  Didn’t know my dad.  And so my whole life, I’ve tried to be for Michelle and my girls what my father was not for my mother and me.  I want to break that cycle where a father is not at home — (applause) — where a father is not helping to raise that son or daughter.  I want to be a better father, a better husband, a better man.

It’s hard work that demands your constant attention and frequent sacrifice.  And I promise you, Michelle will tell you I’m not perfect.  She’s got a long list of my imperfections.  Even now, I’m still practicing, I’m still learning, still getting corrected in terms of how to be a fine husband and a good father.  But I will tell you this:  Everything else is unfulfilled if we fail at family, if we fail at that responsibility.  

I know that when I am on my deathbed someday, I will not be thinking about any particular legislation I passed; I will not be thinking about a policy I promoted; I will not be thinking about the speech I gave, I will not be thinking the Nobel Prize I received.  I will be thinking about that walk I took with my daughters.  I’ll be thinking about a lazy afternoon with my wife. I’ll be thinking about sitting around the dinner table and seeing them happy and healthy and knowing that they were loved.  And I’ll be thinking about whether I did right by all of them.

So be a good role model, set a good example for that young brother coming up.  If you know somebody who’s not on point, go back and bring that brother along — those who’ve been left behind, who haven’t had the same opportunities we have — they need to hear from you.  You’ve got to be engaged on the barbershops, on the basketball court, at church, spend time and energy and presence to give people opportunities and a chance.  Pull them up, expose them, support their dreams.  Don’t put them down. 

We’ve got to teach them just like what we have to learn, what it means to be a man…

He insisted that, “as you do these things, do them not just for yourself,” or for only “the African American community,” because,

I want you to set your sights higher.  At the turn of the last century, W.E.B. DuBois spoke about the “talented tenth” — a class of highly educated, socially conscious leaders in the black community.  But it’s not just the African American community that needs you.  The country needs you.  The world needs you. 

The world needs them, the President declared, because,

many of you know what it’s like to be an outsider; know what it’s like to be marginalized; know what it’s like to feel the sting of discrimination.  And that’s an experience that a lot of Americans share.  Hispanic Americans know that feeling when somebody asks them where they come from or tell them to go back.  Gay and lesbian Americans feel it when a stranger passes judgment on their parenting skills or the love that they share.  Muslim Americans feel it when they’re stared at with suspicion because of their faith.  Any woman who knows the injustice of earning less pay for doing the same work — she knows what it’s like to be on the outside looking in.

So your experiences give you special insight that today’s leaders need.  If you tap into that experience, it should endow you with empathy — the understanding of what it’s like to walk in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, to know what it’s like when you’re not born on 3rd base, thinking you hit a triple.  It should give you the ability to connect.  It should give you a sense of compassion and what it means to overcome barriers. 

And I will tell you, Class of 2013, whatever success I have achieved, whatever positions of leadership I have held have depended less on Ivy League degrees or SAT scores or GPAs, and have instead been due to that sense of connection and empathy — the special obligation I felt, as a black man like you, to help those who need it most, people who didn’t have the opportunities that I had — because there but for the grace of God, go I — I might have been in their shoes.  I might have been in prison.  I might have been unemployed.  I might not have been able to support a family.  And that motivates me.  

So it’s up to you to widen your circle of concern — to care about justice for everybody, white, black and brown. Everybody.  Not just in your own community, but also across this country and around the world.  To make sure everyone has a voice, and everybody gets a seat at the table; that everybody, no matter what you look like or where you come from, what your last name is — it doesn’t matter, everybody gets a chance to walk through those doors of opportunity if they are willing to work hard enough. 

Yes, I know there was criticism of President Obama’s remarks. And I’m sure there will be more. But if he can’t say these things to newly-educated black men, if he can’t challenge an elite group of black graduates to do more for their communities and country than just “get that fancy job and the nice house and the nice car — and never look back,” or if he can’t tell them to “be a good role model, set a good example for that young brother coming up,” then who can?

Some of McCain’s Heroes Today Were Bush’s Terrorists Yesterday

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who pulled his head out of John McCain’s rectum long enough to talk to CNN, said of the U.S. involvement in Libya:

I like coalitions: It’s good to have them, it’s good to have the U.N. involved.  But the goal is to get rid of Gaddafi…So, I would not let the U.N. mandate stop what is the right thing to do.

In other words, to hell with the rest of the world, we’ve got bombs to drop!

For his part, John McCain, who seemed to be enjoying his Graham-free rectum, said on Sunday that a stalemate in Libya “would open the door for Al Qaeda to come in.”

Whoops!  It may be too late.  McCain, who on Friday called the Libyan rebels the “legitimate voice of the Libyan people,” and his “heroes,” also said,

I have met these brave fighters and they are not al Qaeda,” he said. “To the contrary, they are Libyan patriots who want to liberate their nation.

Except that the New York Times reported this weekend that a former Guantanamo detainee—he was released by the Bushies in 2007—who was “judged ‘a probable member of Al Qaeda’ by analysts there,” and deemed a “medium to high risk” as a threat to the United States, is now leading a “ragtag band of fighters” in Libya.  And the paper reported that,

American officials have nervously noted the presence of at least a few former militants in the rebels’ ranks. 

None of this gives Lindsey Graham or John McCain (or Israeli representative, Sen. Joe Lieberman) pause, however.  They want the U.S. to engage more aggressively in Libya, with Graham urging Obama to bomb Libya’s capital. He told CNN’s Candy Crowley:

My recommendation to NATO and to the administration is to cut the head of the snake off, go to Tripoli, start bombing Gaddafi’s inner circle, their compounds their military headquarters in Tripoli. The way to get Gaddafi to leave is to have his inner circle break and turn on him, and that’s going to take a sustained effort through an air campaign.

Apparently NATO was listening.  This morning comes word that NATO aircraft bombed Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli, which renewed charges that the good guys are trying to assassinate Gaddafi. 

Whether we are, or whether we’re just trying to put the fear of Allah in him or his “inner circle,” as Graham suggested, it is clear that there will be no stalemate in Libya, even though a stalemate might be the best possible outcome, in terms of short-term regional stability.  Gaddafi’s days are numbered. 

What remains is the obvious question: What happens after Gaddafi is gone?  

Nobody, not Barack Obama or, Allah knows, not even John McCain, can give us a credible answer to that question.  Somehow, though, I suspect that whatever happens, President Obama—who is under pressure from the militaristic Right to step us his Libya game—will never get any credit for a good outcome, only blame for a bad one.

Why Afghanistan War Strategy Must Change

As day three of the killing frenzy over an American Christian zealot’s Quran-burning unfolded, it has become increasingly clear to me—after agonizing over it for several months—that those who argue for an expedited drawdown leading to a pullout of combat troops in Afghanistan are right. That seems to be the wisest course to take, despite the fact that there are good, but not sufficient, reasons to stay.

The latest deadly unrest highlights two arguments for a swifter withdrawal than President Obama has outlined:

1) Hamid Karzai will never be a reliable partner.

2) General David Petraeus’ “winning hearts and minds” strategy won’t work in Afghanistan.

In addition to the many problems we’ve had with him in the past, the latest outrage is partly Karzai’s responsibility. As has been reported, most Afghans did not even know about the burning of the Quran in Florida—which happened on March 20—until Karzai tried to politicize it. From the New York Times:

Both Afghan and international news media had initially played down or ignored the actions of Mr. Jones, the Florida pastor. On Thursday, however, President Karzai made a speech and issued statements condemning the Koran burning and calling for the arrest of Mr. Jones for his actions. On Friday, that theme was picked up in mosques throughout Afghanistan.

“Karzai brought this issue back to life, and he has to take some responsibility for starting this up,” said a prominent Afghan businessman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution if he was identified as a critic of the president.

“Karzai’s speech itself provoked people to take such actions,” said Qayum Baabak, a political analyst in Mazar-i-Sharif. “Karzai should have called on people to be patient rather than making people more angry.”

Karzai, through education and experience with American culture, knows perfectly well that Pastor Terry Jones cannot be arrested. Stupidity is legal in the United States, after all. But Karzai’s irresponsibility continued today, as Reuters reported:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai called on Sunday for the U.S. Congress to condemn the burning of a Koran by a radical fundamentalist U.S. pastor and prevent it from happening again, his office said in a statement.

Karzai made the request at a meeting with U.S. ambassador Karl Eikenberry and General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, the statement said.

Echoing this nonsense, the Taliban released a statement today:

The U.S. government should have punished the perpetrators, but the American authorities and those in other countries not only did not have a serious reaction, but defended (the burning) to some extent in the name of freedom of religion and speech.

One report included this paragraph:

The Taliban said in a statement emailed to media outlets that the U.S. and other Western countries have wrongly excused the burning a Quran by the pastor of a Florida church on March 20 as freedom of speech and that Afghans “cannot accept this un-Islamic act.”

That last phrase, Afghans “cannot accept this un-Islamic act,” leads to the other persuasive argument against our Afghanistan war policy: Petraeus’ strategy. There are just too many things in this war that the Taliban can exploit as “un-Islamic acts,” as the Washington Post suggests:

The protests, which began Friday, also appear to be fueled more broadly by the resentment that has been building for years in Afghanistan over the operations of Western military forces, blamed for killing and mistreating civilians, and international contractors, seen by many as enriching themselves and fueling corruption at the expense of ordinary Afghans.

General Petraeus is doing his best. Our troops are, of course, fighting admirably, despite the occasional horrific stories about “kill teams” and other atrocities.

The problem is that the strategy—winning the hearts and minds of the Afghans—is so tenuous that a combination of an idiotic American evangelical extremist pastor and a stupidly opportunistic Afghan president can, wittingly or unwittingly, conspire to cripple that delicate strategy in just a few days and undo much of the good our soldiers have done.

Another strategy, perhaps along the lines originally proposed by Vice President Joe Biden, is in order. From the New York Times in September of 2009:

…Mr. Biden proposed scaling back the overall American military presence. Rather than trying to protect the Afghan population from the Taliban, American forces would concentrate on strikes against Qaeda cells, primarily in Pakistan, using special forces, Predator missile attacks and other surgical tactics.

Oddly, whatever it was that Pastor Jones and President Karzai were trying to accomplish, news reports inform us of the results:                                             

“Death to America” and “Death to Karzai” chanted the demonstrators.


Is This Heaven? No, It’s Vermont.

On Thursday night’s show, Saint Rachel Maddow made the point that President Obama has offered to allow states to opt out of his health care law early, if they can come up with a plan that meets the standards set by that law.

So far, none, including all those noisy Republican governors, has taken him up on that offer.

But Vermont is trying.

From Vermont Public Radio yesterday:

After a full day and evening of debate, the Vermont House gave preliminary approval to health care reform legislation that’s designed to put the state on the path toward a single payer system.

The vote on the measure was 89 to 47.

According to the AP, the governor is leading the charge:

Gov. Peter Shumlin, who made single-payer health care a centerpiece of his gubernatorial campaign last year, also praised the legislation. He said it would make Vermont “the first state in the country to make the first substantive step to deliver a health care system where health care will be a right and not a privilege, where health care will follow the individual, not be a requirement of the employer, and where we’ll have an affordable system that contains costs.”

Chairman of the Vermont House Health Care Committee, Mark Larson, said this:

At this point we have nowhere to turn because we have a system that is too fragmented and too complex where there are many cooks but no one is really in charge of dinner.

The legislation is expected to pass the senate, possibly with some modifications, and liberals-progressives everywhere should celebrate this groundbreaking experiment.

Here is just one doctor’s view of the Vermont plan, but listen to her carefully and explain to me where she has it wrong, in terms of a civilized society:

Dr. Rachel Nardin, a neurologist at Cambridge Health Alliance, is one of them. She said the current health care system, even with the reforms in Massachusetts, is so demoralizing, she would strongly consider leaving Massachusetts for Vermont if that state had a single-payer system.

Practicing medicine in our current system is wretched,” Dr. Nardin said in an interview. “Instead of caring for people, we’re fighting with insurers to get what we need for our patients — it’s depressing. For the chance to just care for patients, and not have these fights, sure I’d move.”

Dr. Nardin, who is also co-chair of Massachusetts Physicians for a National Health Program, said she recently cared for an uninsured woman with Lou Gehrig’s disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder also known as ALS. “Because she had no insurance, I couldn’t get her a hospital bed, or a wheelchair, I couldn’t get her the most effective medication, I couldn’t get her anything that would maintain her dignity,” Dr. Nardin said. “It is so unnecessarily cruel.” (Ultimately, the patient received help from a private charity.)

The beauty of single payer,” Dr. Nardin said, “is that people have insurance from cradle to grave and when you get sick, you can worry about being sick and how to get better, you don’t have to worry about how you’re going to pay for care.”

Perhaps it is more important that private insurers make a profit than it is that people maintain their dignity and live free from anxiety about going broke if they get sick.

Or perhaps in the years to come, Vermonters will demonstrate to the rest of America that there is a better way.

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