Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Midterm Madness: Pragmatic Progress versus Regressive Racket

Yet another blog post from me. Either I'm on fire or there's been a lot worth actually blogging about - even with shorter posts - within a limited time frame as of late. At any rate, it's Election Day today! Always a worthwhile subject, especially in light of the tense, polarized state of political discourse in this nation pretty much ever since Barack Obama was elected president. After being rejected by the voters for two major elections, the lesson the GOP took from it was not that they were too extreme in their politics - after they'd wreaked havoc on the nation for six years with the Bush administration, and the Democratic Congress for Bush's final two years still didn't check his administration's power and abuses nearly enough - but that they weren't extreme enough.

We made history by electing our first black president back in 2008 - his technically being racially mixed doesn't diminish the momentousness of this achievement, considering the incredible barrier broken: our first president who isn't just another white man. And of course, race has been the big topic ever since his election - not so much the achievement itself as the explosion to new levels of Republicans insisting that American white people are somehow being victimized. Ever since his rise as a presidential candidate in 2008, the discourse has flooded with all kinds of popular fiction about who he is and what he stands for - myths about his ethnic background, religion, and politics like no president has seen before. It's not all racism, but it's not just racism either - ignorance, xenophobia, and the usual overzealousness seen from those living in an alternate reality of their own construction whenever the Republicans aren't completely dominating every branch of government have pervaded and twisted the narrative at every turn for years now.

(Post continued when you hit the title to jump in)

What has all this gotten us? A media as slanted to the right as ever in fear of being accused of "liberalism," all sorts of irrational campaigning based on political issues with no real roots in the current state of things, and a crop of some of the worst and most unqualified candidates ever to grace a ballot here, thanks to the "Tea Party," full of confused and angry old white people being successfully manipulated by the interests of plutocrats. There's quite a few differences between an authentic grassroots movement and a corporate bankrolled one - the far right supports one and opposes the other (Hey there, "Free Speech Zones!"); the media will report on one and ignore the other (What's going on, heavy coverage for even small Tea Party gatherings while ignoring massive progressive rallies and protests?); one is typically in the best interests of the people as a whole while the other's much to the contrary.

Divided as ever at this vital midterm election, the state  of our political discourse is weak. The Republicans have spent the past year and nine and a half months sitting in Congress getting paid to obstruct instead of actually legislating or attempting to lead the country in a positive direction. We voted them out of power due to the incredibly poor way they handled the nation, and their response has been to cross their arms and sneer (See: Every Republican reaction shots in every televised presidential address before Congress.), announce that they wanted Obama to fail (As we heard plenty after he took office.), and ultimately played every role they could in furthering that interest. Their concerns have openly not been with serving the American people, but standing in Obama and the Democrats' way in their efforts to govern and begin the daunting cleanup process following the long trainwreck that was the George W. Bush presidency, during which the Republicans essentially ran this country into the ground. (Like most things Bush touched in his life, interestingly.) Even now, they've made talking points of saying that they wouldn't change a thing from what they'd done before - they want to get back into power on a return to the very policies that made a mess of everything in the first place. The fear-mongering has been turned up to 11, but rationally speaking, the biggest threat this country faces right now is a Republican return to power. It'll be a long time before we can handle weathering another Republican regime, considering our current national instability.

But, as Jon Stewart rightly pointed out at Saturday's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, despite what some of the more religiously off-the-rails on the far right seem to hope at times, "these are hard times - not end times." Constantly fighting each other and fighting against our own best interests does none of us anything more than disservice. I'm as guilty as many on the legitimate left (Not the center-right frequently demonized as though they were radical Socialists or Communists calling for a complete restructuring of American society - today's Democratic party.) of moments of vitriolic hyperbole toward the far right that spent eight years asphyxiating this nation and has had more success in continuing to do so than they should have under current leadership so far. I'm writing this post from as rational an angle as I can in the spirit of Stewart and Colbert's rally - to do you, the readers, a service - but being on the left also doesn't mean being spineless and refusing to call out the far right for what they've done to this country; for what they've continued to do to it and propose to do if allowed back in power. Nor am I an advocate for cooperating with those seeking to overturn women's rights, oppress minorities, deny long-fought-for rights to the GBLT community, dismantle government programs that elevate the people's standard of living and improve civil society, and increasingly funnel the American people's tax dollars into the pockets of an extreme wealthy few as we continue to become more destitute as a nation.

In the past not-quite-two-years, we've only just begun to take a few paces forward from where we were before. The change Obama campaigned on was not something he'd ever claimed would - or even could - happen all at once. He even stated that we'd have to make him make the changes we want - that we need to stay politically involved. Many have tried to do so and succeeded, but even more have ultimately failed, simply because they're too busy living their lives to dedicate all their time to activism. And it helps us make no progress when our newsmedia is nearly entirely corporate-owned and slanted sharply to the right as a result. All the while, we see constant calls for the defunding of any government programs accused of a "left-wing bias." (See: Any and all reporting or action outside of the Republicans' far-right echo chamber.) A recent story, of course, being immediate calls for the defunding of NPR after conservative contributor Juan Williams was fired after he made comments on Bill O'Reilly's terrible Fox News show about how he got nervous around Muslims - particularly singling them out as those dressed in traditional Muslim garb and identifying themselves primarily as Muslim. (Naturally prefaced by the usual "Now I'm not a racist..." statement of sorts that people always make before they say something they know is bigoted.) Basically, Williams casually pandered to Fox News' audience - on the network where there's something wrong with you if you don't hate Muslims and equate them all to terrorists, apparently - and made a casually racist statement. (Also naturally ignoring the fact that none of the terrorists we've seen dressed in traditional garb or in any way went out of their way to draw attention to their religion - they made an effort to completely assimilate and come across as inconspicuous, as you'd expect given their intents.) Firing him was the right thing to do, just as it was right for CNN to fire Rick Sanchez after his radio outburst against the Jewish people and the media - but where Juan Williams was just appealing to an audience already full of people comfortable with casual bigotry toward Muslims (The kind of bigotry that isn't healthy and shouldn't be normative in any country), even Sanchez actually had a legitimate point to make in his breakdown, in noting the severe lack of representation of minorities in our newsmedia. Both CNN and NPR made the right choices in firing Williams and Sanchez, there shouldn't be an issue with what happened to either - considering how little integrity we see left in today's journalistic outlets, it's actually kind of impressive that NPR had it in them to drop Williams after that. But of course, as soon as he was fired, Williams signed a lucrative new contract to join the dishonest echo chamber on Fox News, where Rick Sanchez had it in him to acknowledge his error and apologize, as well as to immediately dismiss Fox. Between the two, one came out looking better, and the grandstanding we see on Fox News against one of our only media institutions with any integrity left to speak of over this kind of indefensible casual bigotry speaks volumes.

Obama's been hammering a bit of a clumsy, but nevertheless apt metaphor for months now about this election. That when the Republicans had the keys to the car, they drove it into the ditch. Voters spent the past two major elections returning the Democrats to power - though we've seen no lack of abuse of Congressional rules by the Republicans to wield far more power than they frankly should have at this point - and since we've only just begun to get out of that ditch again, returning the metaphorical keys to the Republicans would be a grave error for the people to make. Especially in a fit of short-sighted, right-wing-manipulated rage that things didn't get better overnight. When Obama said that the Republicans have to "ride in the back" just days ago, Fox News seized on the opportunity to insist Obama was making a racist remark, connecting it back to the Jim Crow Laws, ignoring that it was all a car metaphor that had nothing to do with buses and obviously all about a clear metaphor. Also ignoring the fact that their own RNC chair Michael Steele had enthusiastically announced back at the beginning of August that the Democrats were going "to the back of the bus!" They were perfectly fine with that. The cognitive dissonance and hypocrisy are, frankly, depressingly expected.

The same echo chamber media has spent these past near-two-years parading pundits in front of the camera one after the next who insist that the Obama administration has accomplished "nothing." In reality, the Obama administration has had the most productive first couple of years of any presidential administration since Lyndon B. Johnson, as author Jonathan Alter pointed out on the Daily Show just the other night. They reformed healthcare - not in the most ideal way possible, but close, giving us some absolutely vital improvements. Any attempts to fight that reform or still drop people by the insurance industry only further fuels political efforts and arguments to take those last steps to finally get a nationalized healthcare system going in eventually fully acknowledging that a for-profit healthcare system just doesn't serve the people's best interests. Likewise, we've seen valuable financial sector reform passed, we've been paid back for many - if not nearly all - of the bailouts by now with interest, open progress toward repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, two good choices for new Supreme Court justices (If only we could rid ourselves of the Supreme Court breaking bunch - Roberts, Alito, Scalia, and Thomas - who've turned the court dangerously conservative overall.), the founding of a new consumer advocacy agency, and the aversion of a second Great Depression! Economic stimulus has also worked, the economy has begun to grow, and the higher end of things has effectively recovered - the real challenge we face now is job creation, and that's going to only be a major ongoing priority. Not an easy thing to accomplish when so much of corporate America is slated against that these days. Nor has it helped that many of the administration's efforts to get the word out on how much they really have accomplished - even many of the things they've done having been previously proposed by Republicans who now opposed these measures out of pure obstructionist principle and nothing more as that party continues to slide dangerously ever further into the extreme (Anybody who suggests there's "second amendment solutions" to their failure to regain power should not be politically viable. And Nevada's Sharron Angle is only one of those who've hinted at a violent uprising being an acceptable outcome - I can understand not liking Harry Reid, there's a lot about him that disappoints, but Angle makes him look amazing.) - have been muffled by our corporate echo chamber media. It's downright pathetic when we have Democrats openly running on having opposed real progress in this country. And it's no less pathetic that so many have reduced Obama, Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Nancy Pelosi to boogeymen in their minds. These are not indications of a healthy democracy or an honest, rational discourse - they're symptoms of a much bigger illness that far too many Americans have been infected with.

I could bring in some more examples, but by now, I've made my point.

All of you reading this, get out and vote. Don't allow those co-opted by the increasingly cartoon villainlike Republicans incensed with rage against the "liberals" (Who're the last people responsible for the current messes we face as a nation) hijack the election and turn the clock back even further. Many of the problems we face right now in this nation do not stem from the political left, but from a complete lack of its representation - the current administration is staunchly center-right with a very pragmatic approach to everything. By no means "Socialists," but a good representation of what a more respectable Republican party would look like. The political center these days is well to the left of the Democrats and extremely far to the left of the Republicans - an ideal two-party system would have forward-thinkers and pragmatists from the center left and center right working together and making compromises when necessary to lead the nation as a whole toward a better tomorrow. We have nothing resembling that today, and our deceitful media does everything it can to suppress meaningful, honest debate. Get out and vote for sanity and progress, not a return to the politics that dragged us all down over most of the past decade! Despite the media and Republicans constantly harping on landline phone polls predicting a Tea Party-led GOP landslide, their research methodology is flawed and there's no lack of signs of America's more sane population - the majority, despite the picture painted by most of our media - is going to step up today and do their part to counter fear, anger, and insanity (Which motivates the opposition to get out and vote, just in showing us the unqualified and dangerous individuals the irrational have made politically viable) with a calmer tone.

It may be a long time yet before we can drag the nation back from the edge of the abyss far to the right, but again, as Jon Stewart said, these are, in fact, not "end times." Rather than fighting against one another and voting for those backed by corporations and the interests of America's most wealthy, we should be channeling our dissatisfaction together into something more constructive - into our own best interests, through a rational dialogue. Sooner than we know it, it is possible to get America back to a time when "tea" doesn't mean gatherings of middle aged white people stomping their feet about the black president actually working for them, and on once more to a time when tea is simply nothing more than a relaxing beverage of all varieties for people to sit down together and enjoy. Considering the anger and tension we see from the Tea Party crowd - by no means a new movement in US history, and by no means a positive one - you'd think they could really stand to sit down and actually drink some of that tea instead of just tossing bags into a pot, as many apparently do. You can't have a real discussion when you're angry, and now more than ever, America is sorely due an honest, rational political discourse. Mexicans aren't stealing our jobs, Muslims aren't terrorists, and nobody is living the high life as a "welfare queen." If you want to be angry about government spending, the first places you should direct your dissatisfaction and anger are the Department of Defense and Military-Industrial Complex. Most of what's going on there isn't making us any safer - let alone the troops we so often make a point of showboating about valuing.

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