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Posts Tagged ‘Democrats’

I can’t help but wonder if  America has become the nation of “no.” We certainly see it in Congress, where Democrats call Republicans “the party of no.” Truly, many members of the GOP appear to have decided to veto anything the Dems or the White House proposes just because they can.  While guest speaker Newt Gingrich urged a “yes” approach at the recent Southern Republican Leadership Conference, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin dismissed those concerns, suggesting “there is no shame in being the party of no,” a comment that won her the first of many standing ovations. From the insistence on scrapping the entire healthcare plan to current plans to nay-say both Wall Street reform to the nomination process for a Supreme Court justice to replace John Stephens on the Supreme Court, “just say no” seems to be the GOP’s current default position.

The culture of “no” extends well beyond Washington politics into society as a whole. Some of it―scratch that―most of it is based on fear. The list of things we don’t want in our backyards or at our front doors grows daily, from same-sex marriages to incineration plants that convert trash into energy. In New Jersey, the budgeting antidote to years of irresponsible fiscal spending (most of it under Democrats) is for the Governor’s office to say hell, no to teachers and schools and hospitals and municipalities, most of which have responded to calls for cuts and consolidation with a big uh-uh and the possibility of a property tax hike (which, in New Jersey, is kind of redundant).

“No” has its uses, particularly when it comes to overindulgence, whether our vice is food, shopping, or real estate flipping. It also works for a fair amount of parenting. Teenagers may insist they are just like adults but they continue to exhibit either unintentional or willful naivety when it comes to the power of the Internet communiques to maim or destroy the lives of their peers. No, everybody on the Internet is not fair game; no, bullying is not “okay” as long as there’s no pushing and shoving; no, you’re not safe just because you can’t see who you’re chatting with; no, you may not go out after prom, get plastered and drive with five other equally plastered seventeen-year-olds. When it comes to the kids, “no” should always remain in play.

But as adults in a country that’s supposed to embody the can-do spirit, we’re moved not one year but light years away from “yes we can.” Whether it’s cutting down on fossil fuel  or spending or calories, sharing the pain of American troops abroad, providing for them when they return, or finding a way to support the infrastructure, research, or educational improvements that might make us a global force, we just can’t muster up enough spirit to say, “go for it.” Instead, we reach for no and its variants: not likely, too hard, I doubt it, let’s not, can’t risk it, we mustn’t, you can’t, I won’t,  they shouldn’t.

While “yes” may at times be impulsive, even reckless, “no” carries with it an air of finality, like someone who picks up his marbles and goes home. Coupled with the nostalgia expressed by some Americans for the good old days that weren’t all that good, no has become more about staying-in-place and making no changes than about common sense or even caution. For that we have “slow” or even “whoa” which at least suggest that a discussion or a debate is in order. “No” is an ultimatum, the end of the line, the referee’s final whistle. It’s also beginning to feel like a big stumbling block on the road to progress and prosperity– and that’s no good.

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In a perfect world, our president would be  judged on incremental achievements as well as on bold visions. We the people would understand and accept that the president must be schooled in both the art of compromise and the messiness of politics. Of course, Washington would be more about pride of accomplishment and less about the turgid pace of the legislative politics; more about responsibility and less about power.

We don’t live in a perfect world, but rather one in which our perceptions are managed, massaged, and manipulated to a large degree by a diffuse but ever-present media. We know what we’re told and we know what we feel. We are, of necessity, forming opinions out of impressions. And our impressions, whether loyal supporter or rabid foe, are likely to be that this young presidency has some serious problems.

The White House seems to have lost control of its message, as Ken Auletta so aptly pointed out in a recent New Yorker article. Much of the problem is with present-day news delivery; the professionaObama3ls are overwhelmed, the serious would-be professionals are fighting for space and the amateurs/inmates sometimes seem to have overtaken the blogosphere. In a medium that favors speed over accuracy and hyperbole over reflection, it’s harder than ever to use the media in making a point, let alone press an agenda. 

And Obama’s crew has been overwhelmed with a host of issues, from security to the war to the economy to the dangerously overwrought plans for health care reform. Some of these issues have been managed relatively successfully, although you might not know it from the attention paid to the missteps. This Administration has to deal withits own party which, as usual, seems incapable of holding fast to its own ideals, let alone its message. Or maybe the party really is a lily-livered, wimpy, 90-pound weakling when it comes to the nasty sport of politics (bring back James Carville!) The Republicans have managed to pass legislation with a majority. The Democrats begin to tremble at the thought of a filibuster. One wonders if they could manage to stick to an agenda with 100 seats in the Senate.

Back to the message, or rather, the impression we’re left with as to what the message should be, because that’s apparently what elects Republicans in Massachusetts. Indiana Democrat Senator Evan Bayh noted about disillusionment with the Democratic Party: “I don’t think the American people last year voted for higher taxes, higher deficits and a more intrusive government. But there’s a perception that that is what they are getting.”

Actually American people voted for change and, if they’d been paying attention, for change that involved an activist government acting responsibly and stepping in (in some cases, temporarily) to right wrongs, manage programs, and oversee private sector industries that were floundering or otherwise out of control. To do this, they – we – elected a cool, erudite Harvard graduate with a background in community organizing and pragmatic politics, Chicago-style, someone who was never likely to say “I feel your pain.”

Damn, if that isn’t what we want, and that’s also part of the problem. We want change, although not too much change. But what we want even more is someone to visibly and vocally feel our outrage, our anger, our hysteria and then reassure us in the most personal manner possible that everything will be okay.

I still think the cerebral guy from Harvard could make the changes he holds dear to his heart, even without a filibuster-prObama5oof Senate. But he’s going to have to put more heart into it. He’s going to have to get tough (or appear to get tough); and he’s going to  have to develop a much more personal and persuasive message, one that can change the impression too many Americans have that he’s not paying attention to how much they’re hurting.

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I’ve been sick with a head cold which a massive dose of “Emergen-C” has probably prevented from turning worse. To tell the truth, I’m still tired, stressed, and more than a little cranky. I’m also behind the curve in terms of current events commentary, so I’d thought I’d play catch-up by offering my unsolicited opinion on a range of news topics, albeit at a deeply discounted price, given the economy, my general mood, and the fact that the stuff is unsolicited (which makes me just like the other 80 million bloggers across the globe). Anyway:

imagesArmy doctor at Fort Hood kills twelve:  The shooter was commissioned, a loner, a psychiatrist (!) and a Muslim, in no particular order — or maybe the order matters. The location was a military base in Texas. The hero  was a local policewoman. So many stories, so much analysis, so few new angles. Once again, mainstream media is obsessing.

Health care legislation may not solve problem of rising costs: I admit that while championing a solution that would provide health care for the uninsured, I foolishly believed Congress and the White House might also be able to craft legislation that addressed the runaway cost of health care. Was I wrong? Tell me I was wrong. Otherwise, what the hell are we doing? Obama_health-care_Congress_Sept102009

Republican candidates win gubernatorial races in Virginia, New Jersey: First governorsof all, these victories do not represent an indictment of Obama; rather, the Democratic candidates represented an indictment of incompetancy. Second, New Jersey is exceptional; that is, exceptionally corrupt. If the virus is spreading, however, I have to rethink this whole third party thing.

Joe Jackson petitions son Michael’s estate for an allowance:  I have no idea what kind of a fatherJacksonJackson was, except probably a typically show-biz type — all swagger and gaga over the cash cow he produced. Still, he’s now eighty and he’s asking for approximately $180,000 a year, which is probably less than some of the Goldman-Sachs bonuses this year. Give it to him.

Andrea Agassi has “written” a book:  This autobiography apparently contains  shocking revelations about drug use (gasp), fake hairpieces (no) his antipathy for his first wife, AgassiBrookes Shields (oh dear) and his apparent dislike of tennis (oh please). Mostly, it’s noticeable for pull quotes, serialization potential, and the overtly earthly presence of its “ghost” writer. It’s sure to be a best-seller.

Now hand me the Kleenex and turn off the light on your way out.

sick

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I am sick to death about the health care arguments. I know you are too. In fact, that’s something about which we can all agree, I hope, as it appears not much else is.  Well, wait, there’s something else: we all feel the health care system needs reforming.

The devil is in the details, as always, and there are far too many details for most of us to process. So we argue about generalities or about specifics that are either irrelevant, less relevant or completely  misunderstood by most of us. Now I read that as Congress recesses, partisans are planning attacks on each other and on selective specifics, such as targeting Congressmen who oppose a public health plan option as being in the pocket of the insurance industry (MoveOn) or preventing a public insurance option because it might cover abortion (private conservative group). The DNC will accuse Republicans of trying to kill health care  reform and the RNC will accuse Democrats of trying to foist a risky experiment on the American people. Doctors will show up at Republican rallies to rail against medical malpractice costs and lawyers will show up at Democratic rallies to rail against inadequate protection for consumers. At this rate, Congress will reconvene in September and do nothing because they can’t agree on what they’ll claim are key pieces of the legislation. leonardo_da_vinci_man_in_circle

Where does that leave us? Bluntly, it leaves me with more than adequate health insurance that, at the present time, I can afford, notwithstanding health-related expenses are becoming one of the single highest yearly expenses I have. But it leaves my single mother friend, my 58-year-old consultant friend, and my married friend with two children and self-employed, disabled husband with a lot less.

The insurance companies are promising to reform themselves, which I’d like to believe but unfortunately, I have only to think of the financial industry – well, you get the point. I detest the idea of more regulation but wouldn’t mind a conditional attempt at requiring the private sector to cover preventive health care and alternative approaches, not to mention pre-existing conditions. I don’t like the idea of more taxes but I don’t like the idea that small businesses can’t afford to insure their employees. I know the between forty to fifty million people are estimated to be without health care but I imagine many more are under-insured, and so the idea of a publicly financed option looks good. I think that trying to track down positive or negative examples of how health care works in Great Britain or Canada is asinine because first of all, the systems don’t resemble each other and second of all, neither will resemble whatever the Senate brings out of committee.

The real question all of us have to ask ourselves is whether we believe health care for all our citizens is a right or a privilege, an obligation or a blessing, a guarantee we must make or one we can’t make.  We should have asked and answered it long ago, but we sure as hell better know when we run into our representatives in August.

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Okay, I’ve had a rotten couple of weeks; who hasn’t? Yes, I’ve been tempted to access my inner Lewis Black. But except for some venti-sized venting to trusted family and friends (you know who you are and I’m really sorry), I’ve tried to keep my crabbiness to myself or at least not extend it outward towards others. Sure I’m ticked off about the state of affairs, but unlike apparently many, many others, I’m trying to avoid trash talking.

There’s a whole lot of anger streaming through my inbox, passed along from friends to the left and right of me. Some of it is amusing; lots of it is just rank. Unless my friends have been injected with a mean virus, they’re probably expressing their mass anxiety by spewing venom in the form of very personalized jokes about people in the news. Okay, kids: stop it. It may feel good but it solves nothing.

I’ve obviously joined the ranks of the insane when I expect or at least hope my Representatives will stop pontificating and “serious” journalists will stick to serious reporting and analyzing instead of high drama and not-so-subtle low blows. I grant you a little snarkiness can be fun, especially when it rises to the level of clever satire (which, as we all know, it rarely does). But doomsday business reporting laced with panic or political grandstanding masquerading as faux populism by our Congresspeople is poisoning our collective spirit, especially in concert with the ever-present talk radio bloviators, whose sole mission in life seems to be to get everyone worked up. Finger-pointing is not a form of exercise, except as an exercise in futility.

In the manner of another favorite humorist of mine, John Cleese, I am going to issue a proclamation. I expect you few loyal minions who visit my blog regularly to pass the word throughout the land: a moratorium on trash talk for a period of one week on the following subjects:  Bank of America, Citibank, any bank, GM, GE, Wall Street, Wall Street-types, anyone who works in finance, people who give out mortgages, people who can’t pay their mortgages, socialists, economists, Democrats, Republicans, including but not limited to: Barak Obama, Michell Obama, Michelle Obama’s arms, George Bush (either one), Rush Limbaugh, Michael Steele, Karl Rove, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Bobby Jindal, Alan Keyes (I know – who?), Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives, evangelicals, Jim Cramer or any other business news anchor (it’s jsut for a week), members of old media, new media or amateur media, global warming, Octo-mom, Chris Brown, Rhianna, Oprah, Britney, Siegfried and Roy, gay people, anti-gay people, A-Rod, Jews, Christians, Muslims, spiritual not religious, atheists, secularists, and anyone living in California, as if they don’t have enough trouble already. I realize I’ve left out a few topics and I welcome your input, dear readers. Please note I’m giving a pass to reality TV-bashing because I’ve had it up to here with reality TV but no trash talking about individual contestants or judges. I’m exempting all comedians – they’re paid to trash talk. Finally, I didn’t include Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, or Madonna because, unfairly or not, these people are going to have to put up with trash talk for the rest of their lives, through good economies and bad and even if we suddenly become more civilized, an unlikely occurrence.

For further enlightenment on the subject of incivility, please read: “Uncivil Society”  and don’t forget: add your verboten subjects in the comments section. Sky’s the limit; we can dream, can’t we?

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I can’t believe it came as much of a surprise that we’ve been in a recession since last December. Of course, we all probably hoped the recession wouldn’t prove to be as long or as deep as some projected. Well, now that we know we’re a year in, we can hope that the end is in sight.

What’s not to like about hope, right? Face it, our capacity to hope, even when faced with external forces beyond our control or internal demons that pull us towards the abyss, is truly astounding. Though we currently have reason to despair – over the economy, over the constant threat of terrorism (and now piracy!), or over the fact that home ownership, health care coverage and now higher education seem to be out of reach for many Americans – we can rejoice, my friends, because hope floats above the gray skies of our nation’s capitol. Probably not precisely the hope our newly-elected President was thinking about when he wrote his best-seller but we’ll take what we can, er, hope for.

Democrats may have to give up their hopes for a filibuster-proof Senate but they still hope for enough muscle to engage in payback. Republicans hope to escape severe reprisals and experience the kind of bipartisan cooperation they never considered back in the days of their ascendancy. Liberal elements of the Democratic Party hope Obama’s choice of so many Clinton advisers doesn’t signal a move to the center-right; moderates and even conservatives feel they have reason to hope it signals an non-partisan pragmatism. State Department types hope Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton will rely on their hard-earned expertise. Fans of Governor Bill Richardson hope he’s not too upset about being bypassed for Secretary of State.  Fans of Governor Janet Napolitano hope she’ll get Homeland Security organized. Although former Senator Tom Daschle may have hoped to be Chief of Staff, health care advocates feel hopeful he’ll jump-start reform.

Of course, the current Treasury Secretary Paulson hopes his ever-changing game plan works for the economy and the Big Three auto makers hope for a windfall. That’s where hope gets audacious but then again, if you’re going to hope, why not hope big?

Comics hope they’ll be able to find something funny about the new administration (hint: look at the Cabinet). Dog lovers hope the Obamas discover hypo-allergenic mixed breeds besides the Peruvian hairless dog. Classmates at Sidwell Friends, where the Obama girls will attend school, hope they’ll get invited to a party at the White House. Actually, DC hostesses and club owners alike are hoping members of the new administration will want to party. Almost anyone who did anything in any field office during the Obama campaign now hopes to work in the Obama administration. Millions of people hope to get Inaugural tickets or attend even if they don’t. DC-area residents hope to get obscene amounts of money for their humble abodes as hotels fill to over-capacity. District police, not to mention Federal security agencies, hope they can handle the record number of visitors expected for the events. NBC hopes David Gregory will be happy hosting “Meet the Press” until Matt Lauer retires from the “Today” show to do something else – like, say evening anchor at CBS.

It’s good to have hope.

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Readers, I’m sorry. I heard from several of you, letting me know you were looking forward to my comments about the VP debates last night.  I settled in with my popcorn, watched a new episode of “Ugly Betty” and geared up. Suddenly, I realized I was still watching ABC and hadn’t forgiven Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos for their abysmal performance during the April primary debate, so I switched to NBC to catch Tom Brokow, who will be moderating the next presidential debate. Brokow, who’s taken over many duties formerly belonging to the late Tim Russert, looks a little tired these days. I hope he can soon return to his Montana ranch and get back to trout fishing.

As the two VP candidates strode out on stage, I admired Palin’s smart-looking suit although maybe not the ruby red slippers. Biden’s tie was appropriate; I was wondering how he gets his teeth so white. Then Gwen Ifill, the moderator who’s been getting slammed all week for her presumed pro-Obama bias, began her introductions. She seemed subdued and low-key and I began to fidget.

As soon as Palin starting winkin’ and droppin’ her “g’s” and Biden stiffened and sighed, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stay the course. My head began to throb from the statistics the candidates were lobbing across their podiums; how many times this one voted that way or that one voted this way. I can’t lie to you; at the first “you betcha!” I reached for the remote and switched over to HBO to watch Chris Rock.

Once you get used to the nearly exclusive use of the word “f*ck” as an adjective, Rock is hysterically funny. The special was brilliantly edited, with three different performances combined, sometimes in mid-joke. Interestingly enough, Rock was dealing with the same issues as the debate participants (I was flipping back and forth), i.e. Iraq, the economy, abortion, and the Bush policies in general.  At one point, he was even talking about same-sex marriage at the same time Palin addressed the issue. It was uncanny.

I went back to the Palin/Biden matchup for ten minutes during the foreign policy portion – no suprises there. Whenever I began to feel as if I were watching a performance rather than a debate (it happened frequently), I’d go back to Rock. Frankly, he’s better at entertainin’.

At one point, as Rock considered whether America was ready for a black president, he noted that any black aspiring to anything out of the ordinary had better be exceptional. He noted that in his wealthy neighborhood in Alpine, New Jersey, the four black residents were all at the top of their professions (as entertainers) but the white dentist living next door was only an average dentist. A black dentist in his neighborhood, he insisted,  would probably have had to invent teeth!

In other words, the bar is high for some people but not for others. But, as Rock said, don’t blame the player, blame the game. Indeed.

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