Back In The Game — Charles P. Pierce on Barack Obama’s return to the arena.
“But over the past few decades, the politics of division and resentment and paranoia has unfortunately found a home in the Republican party.”
That, right there. That is, I believe, the most purely partisan thing Barack Obama ever has said. It’s damned sure one of the harshest, and it’s plainly one of the most accurate. On Friday, Obama was at the University of Illinois to receive an ethics award named for Paul H. Douglas, a remarkable man who was once the senator from Illinois and whom Dr. King once called “the greatest of all senators” because of his unflinching support of civil rights.
How remarkable was Douglas? He went through Parris Island at the age of 50 and fought as a private soldier on Peleliu and on Okinawa, winning a Bronze Star along the way.
How unflinching was his support for the civil rights movement? In 1957, Douglas voted against his own party by voting against making racist Mississippi Democrat James O. Eastland the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, breaking all Senate customs and confounding (briefly) Lyndon Johnson.
Those were the footsteps in which Barack Obama walked on Friday, and he did not disappoint. He reckoned with the Democratic Party’s misbegotten racist past, even giving ol’ Everett Dirksen of Illinois a shout-out as a Republican who was down with civil rights. But then, he came to the heart of what he’d come to say.
But when there’s a vacuum in our democracy, when we don’t vote, when we take our basic rights and freedoms for granted, when we turn away and stop paying attention and stop engaging and stop believing and look for the newest diversion, the electronic versions of bread and circuses, then other voices fill the void. A politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment takes hold and demagogues promise simple fixes to complex problems. No, promise to fight for the little guy, even as they cater to the wealthiest and most powerful. No, promise to clean up corruption and then plunder away. They start undermining norms that ensure accountability and try to change the rules to entrench their power further. They appeal to racial nationalism that’s barely veiled, if veiled at all. Sound familiar?
Why, yes. Please continue, govern…er…Mr. President.
But over the past few decades, the politics of division and resentment and paranoia has unfortunately found a home in the Republican party. This Congress has championed the unwinding of campaign finance laws to give billionaires outside influence over our politics. Systematically attacked voting rights to make it harder for young people and minorities and the poor to vote. Handed out tax cuts without regard to deficits. Slashed the safety net wherever it could, cast dozens of votes to take away health insurance from ordinary Americans, embraced wild conspiracy theories like those surrounding Benghazi or my birth certificate, rejected science, rejected facts on things like climate change, embraced a rising absolutism from a willingness to default on America’s debt by not paying our bills to a refusal to even meet much less consider a qualified nominee for the Supreme Court because he happened to be nominated by a Democratic president.
None of this is conservative. I don’t mean to pretend I’m channelling Abraham Lincoln now, but that’s not what he had in mind, I think, when he helped form the Republican Party. It’s not conservative. It sure isn’t normal. It’s radical. It’s a vision that says the protection of our power and those who back us is all that matters, even when it hurts the country. It’s a vision that says the few who can afford high-price lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions set the agenda, and over the past two years, this vision is now nearing its logical conclusion.
He has gone out of his way to diagnose the prion disease—when it started, its various manifestations, and how it now rages out of control, devouring the higher functions of the collective Republican conservative brain. He took hard, clean shots at alleged Never Trumpers both in and out of office, both well-known and anominush. (Hi, Ben Sasse!) He ridiculed the notion that unelected staffers are somehow saving the Republic by disobeying the orders of a crazy man.
We are Americans. We’re supposed to stand up to bullies. Not follow them. We’re supposed to stand up to discrimination, and we’re sure as heck supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers. How hard can that be? Saying that Nazis are bad?
Frankly, I never thought I’d see him address this as directly as he did on Friday. Yes, toward the end he got back into how there are people of good will on both sides who are drowned out by the noise of our politics. Low, high, you know the spiel.
I know there are conservatives who think there’s nothing compassionate about separating immigrant children from their mothers. I know there are Republicans who believe government should only perform a few minimal functions but that one of those functions should be making sure nearly 3,000 Americans don’t die in a hurricane and its aftermath. Common ground is out there. I see it every day. It’s just how people interact, how people treat each other. You see it on the ball field. You see it at work. You see it in places of worship.
He could say nothing else because that hope is his entire political raison d’être. This is the way it is with Barack Obama. He will throw red meat, but it will be good lean red meat that’s more healthy for you. It beats all hell out of waffles.
Doonesbury — Planning ahead.