Sometimes Liberals Overreact Too, And Miss The Real Problem

So, I tune in to HuffPo today and on its famously sensationalistic front page I find this:

richard cohen headerWow! I thought. Who the heck did that at The Washington Post? So, I clicked on the link and found this headline:

Richard Cohen Writes Yet Another Racist Column

Dammit, Richard! Can’t you behave? Didn’t you learn anything the last time, and the time before that? Liberals are very sensitive about such things and you should know better.

Because I don’t often read Cohen’s columns, I thought I would at least pay him the courtesy of reading his “racist column,” before I pronounced him a racist. That’s fair, isn’t it? I mean, even though the mothership of left-leaning news and opinion aggregators has pronounced him a bad guy, I want to be fair and see why that is. I’m funny that way.

It took me only one sentence to find out how HuffPo missed the boat on Cohen’s column. The most offensive thing in the piece had to be the parenthetical in the opening sentence:

The day after Chris Christie, the cuddly moderate conservative, won a landslide reelection as the Republican governor of Democratic New Jersey, I took the Internet Express out to Iowa, surveying its various newspapers, blogs and such to see how he might do in the GOP caucuses, won last time by Rick Santorum, neither cuddly nor moderate.

Chris Christie is a “cuddly moderate conservative”? Are you kidding me? Can you see how awesomely awful that description is? There’s not really much of anything cuddly or moderate about Christie’s ideology, as we have previously discussed on this blog, but compared to a non-cuddly and non-moderate nut like Rick Santorum, he looks that way to some observers. I sort of understand the reason for that spasm of false relativity among straight news reporters—they like the guy a lot—but for left-leaning columnists, calling Christie a moderate conservative represents an unacceptably distorted view of the landscape.

Just because the right-wing of the Republican Party is moving further and further into both absurdity and obscurity, doesn’t mean that rigid conservatives like Chris Christie get to be called “moderate.” I’ve also recently heard people refer to Ronald Reagan as a moderate conservative, a description that is also false. Trust The Erstwhile Conservative on this one, richard cohenbut as one of the Gipper’s biggest fans in the old days, I didn’t cheer him on because he was a moderate. Just the opposite. Even though he had to, of necessity, make deals with Democrats, he remained a die-hard conservative at heart. So, it’s just plain wrong to put the word moderate in the same sentence as either Reagan or Christie. And the editors of HuffPo, if they wanted to go after Cohen, should have criticized that gaffe.

But nope, the focus of the sensational headlines was Cohen’s alleged racism. Well, let’s take a look at the offending passage, cited in the HuffPo story (and, by now, widely excerpted and criticized all over the leftish sites):

Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.

These comments were labeled “incendiary” by HuffPo. Huh? Incendiary? Hardly. The worst thing about this paragraph, when it is read in the context of the entire column, is that he definitively, without any qualification, says, “Today’s GOP is not racist.” We know for a fact that some fraction of the GOP is racist, although no one thinks the entire party is. But that’s not the point. Some liberals, as far as I can tell, are calling Cohen a racist mostly because of his use of the phrase, “People with conventional views,” which, they say, is wrong because conventional views on interracial marriage have changed. The HuffPo piece cites a Gallup poll showing 87 percent approval for such marriages (30 years ago it was at 43 percent; 50 years ago it was less than 10 percent).

Now, I don’t see how misusing the term “conventional” makes one a racist, and even a cursory reading of the column should have made it clear to anyone that Cohen is attacking the Tea Party and its anachronistic views: “If this is the future of the GOP, then it’s in the past.” And Cohen ends his piece with some advice to Chris Christie about not becoming a Tea Party guy who could win the rabidly conservative Iowa caucuses because then the “Joisey” governor would become “anathema to the rest of us.”

There wasn’t a damn thing racist about Cohen’s column. Essentially he is discussing what I have often labeled “white cultural angst,” the feeling among conservative Christian palefaces that they are losing their traditional stranglehold on the country. When Cohen says these folks don’t much recognize the country these days, he’s right about that and he’s not a racist for saying so.

But even though there was no racism in the column, there was something very offensive about it, at least for anyone who has looked at Christie’s conservatism objectively, without comparing it to the worst elements of his party. The offense is in assuming that a President Christie would hold policy positions that would be all that different from your average teapartier. Besides Christie’s record, as evidence for my claim I submit to you the following famous quote uttered in 2011 at that annual gathering of wingnuts known as the Conservative Political Action Conference:

If we don’t run Chris Christie, Romney will be the nominee and we’ll lose.

That wasn’t some milquetoast moderate who said that. It was the female version of Rush Limbaugh, the mean-spirited, liberal-hating Ann Coulter. She later told Fox, her home away from home, “I don’t care if [Chris Christie] wants to run, his country needs him, it appears.”

That was in 2011. Now, I admit that it is hard to take Ann Coulter seriously as a pundit, but many right-wingers love her, which is why they have made her wealthy by buying her books, and why Fox frequently books her as a guest on TV and radio. Thus, she makes noise in the right’s echo chamber that some hear as music, even if it’s mostly chin music. In any case, Coulter’s love for Christie wasn’t just a whim in 2011. In May of this year—this year, after the 2012 Christie-Obama love fest that pissed off nearly every teapartier in the country—she had this exchange with Sean Hannity on the radio:

COULTER: I’ve told you before: I have eyes only for Chris Christie.

HANNITY: Your buddy Chris Christie is out there sucking up to Obama this week. Don’t defend him.

COULTER: There seems to be a concerted movement by both liberals and conservatives to lie about Christie and make him seem more liberal than he really is.

Ann Coulter may be a lot of things, a lot of unseemly things, but she knows that Chris Christie, should he get elected president, would favor the kind of conservatism that Ted Cruz would love, especially if Christie governed with a Republican House and Senate. Oh, I know that lately she has fallen out of love with the New Jersey governor (she tweeted in June, “@GovChristie’s dead to me”) and withdrawn her support, but to further prove my point, look who she supports now:

coulter on cruz

Case closed. If Ted Cruz and Chris Christie are both suitable candidates for a liberal-hater like Ann Coulter, then obviously there are no significant ideological differences between them. And if Richard Cohen deserves any criticism from the left for his recent column, it is for assuming Chris Christie is some kind of moderate conservative we can all live with.

Because a lot of folks would find it very hard to live under President Christie and a Tea Party-dominated House and Senate.

Don’t Bomb The Hospital

As I have been watching the embarrassing and dangerous spectacle going on in Washington, several things have come to mind.

First, it has taken since 2009 to get our economy out of a very deep ditch into which ideological zealots—believers in supply-side economics and anti-regulatory policies—helped drive it. And the economy got out of the ditch without much help from conservative Republicans, who instead have done a lot to get in the way of those who, like President Obama and congressional Democrats, have been trying to fix what the zealots helped break.

Second, as everyone knows it was the unfortunate election year of 2010 that allowed Tea Party types to take over the House of Representatives—and cause much mischief in the Senate—and make a mockery out of governance. What isn’t well known, though, is the significant damage the hostage-taking strategy employed by teapartiers has done to the economy. Look at this graphic I saw on MSNBC this morning:

900 000 jobs lost

That’s nearly a million Americans who could be working but aren’t because of the fiscal madness that right-wingers have engineered since the Tea Party came to power. The source of that statistic is from an independent forecasting firm called Macroeconomic Advisers that did a study for the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which is, as HuffPo described it, “one of the tireless deficit scolds encouraging Republican behavior.” 

In other words, a group of folks who have aided and abetted the scare-the-bejesus-out-of-the-public tactics of deficit-obsessed right-wingers have now figured out that the zealots really do mean to take down the economy, if Democrats don’t meet their demands. That says something important about what is going on.

Joel Prakken, who prepared the report for the Peterson Foundation, wrote:

Partisan divided government has failed to address our long-term fiscal challenges sensibly, instead encouraging policy that is short-sighted, arbitrary, and driven by calendar-based crises. Based on this report’s findings, we can assert confidently that the crisis-driven fiscal policies of the last several years have damaged our still-struggling economy. One can only hope that our policymakers will implement more sensible policy in the future.

Hope? Is that all we’re left with? We hope the zealots won’t blow up the place? Think about that for a minute. Isn’t it enough that their obsession with our long-term debt—not to mention ObamaCare—has ignored the short-term problems we face and made things worse than they should be?

As HuffPo notes:

Macro Advisers estimates that the austerity of recent years has cut GDP growth by 0.7 percent and cost 1.2 million jobs already.

Isn’t that enough? On top of that misery and on top of the previous job-killing manufactured crises, do they now have to bomb the economy with a default on our obligations and cause even more, and more profound, pain?

Thus it is that we have austerity instead of stimulus and we have dysfunction instead of cooperation. All of which leads me to something simple I have observed that is related to what is going on in our nation’s capital.

For more than a year now, a very large hospital has been under construction near my house. This hospital—825,000 square feet and costing $335 million—is a replacement for St. John’s Regional Medical Center, which was destroyed in the 2011 tornado here in Joplin.

I have driven by the construction site countless times and I am always amazed at the complexity of such an undertaking. From the complicated funding of the project to the meticulous design to the massive excavation to the magic-like construction going on right now, all are products of the human mind and will.

Someday, all that painstaking planning, all that astonishing ingenuity and craftsmanship on display, will result in a state-of-the-art facility that will, in most cases, help sick people get well. And in doing so it will provide many jobs for doctors and nurses and accountants and janitors and other support staff. An awesome thing, when you think about it.

But it occurred to me that years from now, when the hospital is operating and its employees are doing their best to help the sick, some zealot with a bomb and a grievance can destroy in seconds what took years to build.

And that leads me back to what is going on in Washington, where, I suppose, we all must continue to hope that the zealots will put away their bombs and settle their grievances with government—an institution designed to “promote the general welfare”—another way.

[hospital photo: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette]

Pundits, Pesticide, And The President

This morning, after the President’s press conference in Russia, I watched a few liberal pundits on MSNBC criticize Obama’s demeanor during his exchange with reporters, including his lack of enthusiasm, and so on. The idea was that the President doesn’t seem all that convinced about his own decision to attack Syria. Presumably for these folks, the President’s leadership style is much too thoughtful and not forceful or decisive enough for their tastes. He’s too professorial, don’t you know. He should be the cheerleader-in-chief.

Now, I’m used to hearing those criticisms from right-wingers, who seem to value more “manly” decision-making, which to them requires less thought and more knee-jerking. But I never thought I would live long enough to hear liberals implicitly long for Bush-like decisiveness, which decisiveness was pregnant with a false but, apparently for some, comforting certainty.

Such decisiveness and certainty resulted in things like, say, the attacking, defeating, and occupying of Iraq, which we were told with utter certainty was not only necessary (turns out it wasn’t), but would bring us much good will in the Middle East (turns out it didn’t). Even though the Iraq war, from its pretenses to its promises, was a colossal mistake, at least, dammit, Bush was certain and decisive and forceful!

When it comes to making decisions on the use of force, I’ll take the thoughtful, get-it-right-the-first-time style of Barack Obama, no matter how much it irritates people on the right—or left. Thus, fed up with listening to liberals whine about the President’s leadership style, I thought I would at least get a taste of the big league whiners. So, while on my way to Fox, I stopped by CNN and found a Tea Party town hall being conducted by the one and only Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, who represents Old South Alabama in the U.S. Senate. He was trying to explain, to hard-headed teapartiers like himself, the dynamics of what is going on in Syria and Congress. And, of course, it is all President Obama’s fault because he is a weak leader:

If President Bush had told Bashir Assad, “You don’t use those chemical weapons or you gonna be sorry, we’re coming after you, this will be a consequence you will not want to bear,” I don’t believe he would have used them (raucous applause)…People didn’t see strength in the President’s red line…

Sessions, echoing what I heard liberals on MSNBC say minutes before, called Obama an “uncertain trumpet.” Well, if it is certainty that people want, they should go to a once-saved-always-saved, Bible-believing Baptist church and confess their faith in Jesus and live happily ever after, however long the after is. Then they can say things like the following, which was said by a town hall teapartier immediately following Jeff Sessions’ put down of Obama and his praise for the leadership qualities of George W. Bush:

I stand here and I listen to you and, uh, and I sure hope that in those secret meetings that you have good intelligence…but…I’m not sure it was a chemical weapons attack. I think it was a pesticide attack. I think that the al Qaeda could get a hold of pesticides. It was not consistent with a chemical weapons attack. The emergency people came in there too quickly. They would not come into an area with poison gas residue all over the place. I read a very interesting analysis of this, and I think it was setup to get the United States to come in there and do al Qaeda ‘s dirty work.

But here’s my question: You have something that none of us here have. You have a megaphone. You have a platform. You have a microphone. But my question to you is I’ve seen this president…crossing one red line after another, you know, fraudulent birth certificate—everybody knows that his documents are a fraud, everything about this man is secret, nobody knows anything about Obama, nothing! Gays in the military, gun-smuggling to the Mexicans, getting Mexicans killed, getting Americans killed…He violates the Constitution in that he has a duty as the President of the United States to enforce the laws of the United States. He’s refused to enforce the immigration laws. He’s refused to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act, which was signed by Bill Clinton for heaven sake’s [sic]. This man has violated so many, he’s crossed so many red lines, and now Syria.

And my question [sic] is, What do you think is the red line for Barack Obama? When is the United States Senate, when are our representatives going to say that he’s gone too far and stop this man? As a U.S. Senator, do you feel like you personally are incapable of doing anything to stop him? Or do you feel like you’re capable of doing something to stop him, and if so what is that? Thank you very much (loud applause).

To which Jeff Sessions replied:

It is sad that…such a large number of people have lost confidence in the President, his integrity or his willingness to lead…

Yes, it is sad. And what is sadder is that a United States Senator is part of the problem, part of the reason that ignorant and ill-informed and conspiracy-crazed Americans, like that poor Tea Party fool in Alabama, can feel comfortable in standing up and saying such stupid things and expect only the mildest of rebukes from a Senator who has so much to say about leadership:

But you know I can’t agree with all of those things. I don’t think they’re probably factually correct, all of them. I just don’t think that’s true, some of them. I do believe that from the day we saw his Supreme Court nominations, his own statement that, uh, he wanted judges to do “empathy,” and basically that’s saying you want judges not to follow the law but to do whatever feels good at the time…They do not respect the rule of law as the President of the United States should…[blah, blah, blah]

Jeff Sessions had been criticizing President Obama’s leadership style, he had been talking about how weak Obama is, how that leadership weakness allows bad things to happen. Yet the Senator couldn’t stand up to a freak at his town hall freak show and say to him, “Look, pal, what you said was crazy. It was nuts. You’re an embarrassment to the Republican Party. Stop reading those wacky right-wing conspiracy websites and stop spreading this crap at my town halls.” Now that would have been real leadership.

The “pesticide” conspiracy theory espoused by that Tea Party nut was undoubtedly related to the larger conspiracy going around—promoted by Rush Limbaugh and others using the writings of an Israeli-American political scientist named Yossef Bodansky—that President Obama may have helped plan the chemical attack on civilians in Syria on behalf of al-Qaeda rebels. Here is a typical headline from a true-believing, Christian website called Sword At-The-Ready:

Obama Regime Armed Al Qaeda-Rebels To Use Chemical Weapons In Syria

Now, it appears to me that the pathetic, brainsick individual at Sessions’ town hall was trying to imply what that headline states outright and what the accompanying article articulates:

Obama has been and is engaged in arming Jihadists in the Middle East, our avowed enemies. Evidence is mounting that not only did Obama arm the Jihadists in Syria with heavy weapons from Benghazi, the Obama regime helped plan the chemical weapons attack near Damascus.  A tactic the Bosnian Muslims utilized in their civil war to get the UN to bomb the Serbs.

In the process of helping radical Islam in raising up the black flag over secular dictatorships, Obama emasculates the United States and destroys it’s reputation among the world’s nations.

If you consider Obama’s agenda is to destroy the country and raise up his utopia over our ashes – much of what Obama has been doing and demands to do – makes sense.

It’s not incompetence, this is all deliberate.

Sword At-The-Ready says it is,

dedicated to the presentation and discussion of Conservative American Principles in light of the Scriptures, Our True History, Culture and Politics.

You get it: there is a culture war/civil war going on between people of fundamentalist-quality faith and everyone else, especially our diabolical leader, Barack Hussein Obama.

It’s too bad that among the nuts, even though he isn’t quite as nutty as the nutty people attracted to one of his town halls in Wetumpka, Alabama, is Jeff Sessions. This man sits in, uh, the world’s greatest deliberative body but he couldn’t bother to—or worse, didn’t want to—call out someone who doesn’t believe the President is a citizen and who suggested that he is involved in a pro-al Qaeda plot in Syria.

So much for leadership.

For the record, CNN cut away from the town hall shortly after Sessions began his reply to the gullible Tea Party conspiracist guy. And later in a story reporting on what happened at the Sessions town hall, the gullible Tea Party conspiracist guy wasn’t mentioned, nor was Jeff Sessions’ inadequate, leadership-less response. Thanks, CNN.

jeff sessions townhall

It’s As Obvious As A Hitler Mustache At A Tea Bagger’s Placard Painting Party

Naturally, some folks don’t want to hear that much of the Tea Party “movement” is not what it purports to be.  I understand that. Committed to the issues that allegedly animate the organizers, they don’t want to believe that the core of the movement is really about fear, fear of a strange black man from Kenya Hawaii, who now leads our country.  

Someone by the name of Captain Obvious, whom I have now officially busted to Lieutenant Oblivious, complained about my analysis of the Winston Group findings on the composition and motivation of the Teapartiers. He wrote,

I have never seen such a worthless string of simplistic speculation and voluminous bloviation based upon nothing more than a personal assumption of mala-fides.

At first I thought he was commenting on the Rush Limbaugh Show, but then he clarified:

Even if in bizarro world Democrats were noble saviours out to repel the Republican scourge, it isn’t sufficient for you that tea partiers could just be “wrong.” No, using your psychic “intention detector” you KNOW it’s all racism.

No, Lieutenant, it’s not all racism.  And, of course, no one has said such a thing.  We all understand that many people, in both parties, are concerned about the deficit and the national debt.  It’s just that most people don’t dust off their 18th-century Sunday best and hustle down to the town square and make fools of themselves degrading our democratically-elected leader, calling him silly names while holding grammatically-challenged signs.

So,while acknowledging that there is much public angst about our long-term fiscal health, some of us wonder just what the Tea Party movement is really about, since most of the worried public does not identify itself with it.  The reason we wonder is because of the dissonance between the alleged concerns of the movement and its rather selective timing of the expression, as well as the target,  of those concerns.

As fellow blogger Juan Don pointed out in a comment:

Squawking about President Obama’s reckless spending is much more fun when you’re not attached to the previous administration’s strange homage to “fiscal conservatism”. Of course, it’s purely coincidental that deficit hawks flex their feathery outrage only after their party is out of power.

And as Jim Stone, another blogger pointed out in his comment:

Leading up to the present, Democrats (every President) have IMPROVED our situation regarding this issue. Eisenhower’s administration is the ONLY Republican administration which reduced the debt.

Here are a couple of simple charts to illustrate Juan’s and Jim’s point (click on for a better view):

 

So, given the fact there is objective, historical evidence that under Republican governance the things that allegedly bother Teapartiers so much—worries about the size of government, deficit spending, mounting debt—have grown much worse under Republican control, we have a right to ask about the Teapartiers, Why? Why now? and, Why are they so angry at President Obama?

Why, beginning shortly after Obama was inaugurated (but with roots going back to before the election), did a group of almost exclusively white folks decide to get together with misspelled placards, misplaced rhetoric, disingenuous and anachronistic use of the Founder’s words—not to mention the caricatures of Obama that had racist overtones—and decide to start a “movement” whose alleged concerns were the size of government, its spending increases, and its debt, when Republicans have been the demonstrable cause of those concerns for years?

The truth is that at the core of the Tea Party movement is a group of disgruntled and fearful white conservatives and Republican sympathizers, whose fears are not as much about the deficit, debt, or the size of government as much as they are about Barack Hussein Obama, the “exotic” black man, who some on the right think is the anti-Christ, who many on the right think is a Muslim, and who most on the right think is a socialist—if not a Communist bent on destroying America.

That fact is as obvious as a Hitler mustache at a teabagger’s placard painting party.

Tea Party Movement Is Largely People Who Feel Threatened By Our Pigmented President

The Winston Group, whose founder, David Winston, is a former fellow of the Heritage Foundation and who also worked for Newt Gingrich, has released a new report” that purports to examine the composition and motivation of the Tea Party movement. 

Using three national surveys of 1000 registered voters (over three months), the Winston Group “captured a subgroup of respondents identifying themselves as part of the ‘Tea Party’ movement.”

It turns out that the “subgroup” of people who self-identified as Teapartiers amounted to 511 folks, a mere 17% of the total.  

As for the findings: Surprise! Teapartiers tend to be older, conservative, and Republican.  Wow!  I couldn’t have guessed that.

Oh, by the way, the study also found, 

…almost three out of four Tea Party members anticipate that they will vote for a Republican candidate for Congress.

I’m shocked!  75% will vote for a Republican? What a stunning finding!  Next we will find out that Teapartiers are mostly white!

The most telling question asked in the survey was what Teapartiers think of Barack Obama. The results will probably shock you, but, guess what? Teabaggers don’t like him

Obama Job Approval      Tea Party (Feb 2010)   Overall (Feb 2010)Approve                                             17                                   49

Disapprove                                       81                                   44

So, what we have in the Tea Party movement, to no one’s real surprise, is essentially a “We Hate Obama” movement. 

Sure, the study makes a valiant effort to demonstrate that the movement is all about the “economy and jobs” and the “national deficit and spending,” and, no doubt, there are honest Teapartiers who have a genuine concern over our economic future.

But the truth is that at the core of the Tea Party movement is a group of older, white, conservative Republicans who feel culturally threatened by our pigmented president.

How else do you explain the public displays of handwringing and fretting over fiscal issues and the simultaneous admission that in the upcoming election Teapartiers are going to vote for Republicans? 

Republicans!—the same party that has brought us to our fiscal knees in terms of the national debt and nearly wrecked the entire economy when they were last in power.

Look. Suppose you asked me what my biggest fear was, and I answered: “I am afraid my son will get involved in drugs.”  Fine, you say. That is a legitimate concern these days. 

But then you ask me what I’m going to do to help ensure he won’t get involved in drugs in the future, and I say: “I’m going to encourage him to befriend the neighborhood drug dealer.”  You then have a legitimate right to question whether my concerns about his involvement in drugs is legitimate.

Such is the state of the Tea Party movement in these challenging times. The nasty placards, the spitting, the hurling of epithets—regular components of Tea Party gatherings—may actually say more about the movement than the Winston Group’s survey could ever say.

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