- While I don't have strong feelings about President Obama's failed plea to get the 2016 Olympics held in Chicago, I do perceive the sequence of events, unfortunately, as a metaphor for some of Obama's struggles lately. Why? As I wrote in my last blog, there is an appearance - whether accurate or not - that the Obama team has an enlarged view of the President's personal powers and charisma. The President is always out making speeches, for example, because, it seems, the White House thinks his performances make SUCH a difference that they have to keep him on that schedule. Well, when Obama's efforts to persuade the International Olympic Committee didn't lead to the desired result, to me, it's a message the White House ought to reflect on for a day - or, a week, or two. It's time for the President and his advisors to come down to Earth. It's time to get more realistic, to re-connect with real people and to look in the mirror more often. The Obama White House has seemed a bit out of touch the past few months. Maybe this Olympics episode will help in the long run.
- Talk about bad timing. Obama returns to the White House from the bad Olympics news on the same day that unemployment figures actually got worse. That's bad luck.
- I happened to watch David Letterman's weird, confessional "story" he told on his show last night about being the victim of an extortion plot relating to his affairs with women on the "Late Show" staff. He began by trying to mix humor in with the story-telling, but, I wondered immediately: "Why is he trying to be funny at all about something so serious?" When the audience kept laughing, and, clearly didn't understand that Letterman was relating the truth about an awful personal episode, Letterman didn't stop to clarify things. Rather, he kept going, taking turns between disclosing serious facts and jokes. In my view, it was fairly typical for Letterman. For a long time, I've had mixed feelings about Letterman. Sometimes, I just think he's not that funny. (His "Top Ten" list can seem over-rated, to me). Other times, he can be very funny, especially when he's relaxed and joking around with his celebrity guests, who he's refreshingly unfazed by. Still, other times, I find Letterman seems to have sort of a mean streak. He sometimes picks on people. For example, and some will disagree, I'm sure, but, when Joaquin Phoenix was a guest on his show earlier this year and behaved very strangely, acting completely unresponsive to Dave, Letterman turned on Phoenix -- big-time and took some shots at him, and, did nothing to stop the avalanche of criticism leveled at Phoenix in the days afterward. Now, I admit Phoenix wasn't a cooperative guest, but, we never found out why he acted as he did. (Was it part of a practical joke? Was he in an altered state for some reason?) Whatever it was, I didn't like the way Letterman treated Phoenix -- and I don't like it when he picks on people when they're down. He's got a glib, negative aura sometimes -- and acts like he's a bit "above" others. Well, maybe this recent personal difficulty will humble him a bit - in a good way.
- I am not a resident of Boston, but, I find it amazing that incumbent Mayor Tom Menino is even allowed to run for a fifth term. I think it's wrong. I think there should be a term limit for the mayor - at perhaps three. While I respect a few things about Menino, (like his resilience) he is not the least bit inspirational and displays no imagination in his vision or leadership for Boston. I'd like to see a mayor more like Kevin White - the EARLY Kevin White, that is, before his ethics spiraled downward as he continued in office for a third and fourth term. You see? (White should've been limited in terms too). Menino is a tremendous favorite to win re-election in Nov.
- Speaking of elections in Massachusetts, I am trying to gather information on candidates to replace the late US Sen Edward Kennedy. I'm considering Martha Coakley and Michael Capuano right now. I badly want a woman to become a US senator from this state and I like Coakley, but, she seems a bit centrist and cautious to me. Capuano, who has always seemed a bit rough on the edges; nevertheless, seems to have retained a scrappiness that I admire during his time in Congress. I was struck by Barney Frank's early endorsement of Capuano. I've always liked Frank and if he's endorsing Capuano, that tells me that Barney appreciates Capuano fighting for progressive positions in Congress, and, I must say, Capuano strikes me as being unafraid to take on tough adversaries. We'll see.
- I remain bothered that President Obama does not appear to have a better relationship with members of the US Congress - the House and the Senate. I think Speaker Nancy Pelosi has done him few favors. Harry Reid offers little. So, who is Obama's staff person who acts as his main liaison to Congress? I don't know the name or names. I do know that I've read repeatedly about his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, having many "important" meetings with members of Congress - and, that worries me. I know Emanuel, a former Congressman, has many contacts and institutional knowledge, but, I've also read that Emanuel is disliked by many House members, and, that he's an arrogant guy with a style that rubs many the wrong way. So, wouldn't it make sense for Obama to tell Emanuel to spend less time worrying about Congress (He does have a lot to do already) and find some, excellent, high-profile, respected, tough, experienced person to serve as his new liaison to Congress?" I'd say so -- He should do something to build new bridges there.
I post opinions at least once a week here. Often I write about politics or media coverage of politics -- two subjects I have followed closely for more than 30 years.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Sunday, September 27, 2009
It's just not natural to see and hear a President as often as we've seen this guy! He's held press "availabilities" with dizzying frequency. Many of his speeches or "town hall forums" have been aired live or highlighted on television. Obama has hosted more press conferences than his predecessors after nine months. And, he's appeared on "60 Minutes" twice, along with Letterman and Leno.
What makes this more striking is the extent to which Obama has been seen in "campaign-mode" - as he does all this speechifying. Why is he still acting like he's in a campaign on so many occasions during his first year as President? I'm tired of seeing Obama making "pitches" - whether for the stimulus package or health care reform . We saw him in that role for his long presidential campaign; now, we need to see Obama take action and make decisions more than make "pleas" for support.
It's time for Obama to take breaks from talking publicly. The constant public "performing" has been hurting him more than helping, I think. Mr. President: How about just working in the White House a bit more often? Maybe lingering in the Oval Office would help in more ways than one. Perhaps you and your staff can show more faith that things will be OK - even if you're not out trying to "sell" your policies.
For quite a while, I thought Obama's "high-visibility" approach made some sense. Obama had walked into an incredible economic crisis. He was new, young - and the nation's first black President. It seemed a good idea to be visible, open and attempting to become more familiar to the American people. I also bought the argument that it was important to keep Obama's "favorability" high during the first months of his first year, when, clearly, his Administration is trying to get so much accomplished when their chances for legislation are highest. I wrote about this in a June 2nd blog, in which I noted that this approach had worked "so far," but I worried then that, in the long term, it could have a down side.
Well, during the summer - which was a poor one for Obama - I began to feel the negatives of the high-visibility approach were outweighing the positives.
Now, I'm afraid this White House may be disturbingly out of touch about the impact and role of the President's appearances. It's as if Obama's advisors view Obama as a "rock star" with a golden touch -- and the only one who can represent the Administration.
Howard Fineman, in his Sept. 26th column in Newsweek, argued that the Obama team should consider the limited value of visibility (alone) for the President. Fineman wrote:
"The president's problem isn't that he's too visible; it's the lack of content in what he says when he keeps showing up on the tube. Obama can seem a mite too impressed with his own aura, as if his presence on the stage is the Answer...."
In addition, some related trends have emerged as problems for the President:
First, on a number of occasions, Obama has attracted considerable criticism - sometimes from Republicans or policy critics - and been far too slow to respond to it. I felt this happened most glaringly during the summer of constant attacks on the Obama health care reform efforts. One reason: Obama has lacked allies and surrogates - inside and outside of Congress - who have his back and will passionately support him whenever asked, on short notice.
Second, it seems Obama has not shown - enough - that he has a backbone. That he has deep conviction about certain priorities. That he can and will say "No" more to groups, individuals and other leaders. If he's showing this tendency exclusively in private, then his staff should leak anecdotes that give us a glimpse of it.
Third, Obama talks so much to us that when he doesn't follow through on something, it raises questions about how seriously he takes his own words and the extent to which he thinks we take his words seriously. (He's characterized his support for the "public option" in a variety of ways on different occasions and appeared weaker than necessary). Sometimes, I wonder if he thinks it matters, or, if he can say anything and still talk his way out of it - and, this raises questions about the strength of his own beliefs).
Fourth, Obama, simply, needs to show he's in charge more. Too often, he's been explaining topics to us instead of telling us about tough decisions he's made and what plans he's implementing, going forward - regardless of the opposition. To me, a rare example when President Obama did just that was his decision to not install an anti-missile system in eastern Europe. Obama had said he'd conduct a review of this matter, and his announcement pleased the Russians and prompted criticism from Republicans, but, he appeared to have resolve about it, sure and steady.
While, obviously, none of us know what goes on behind closed doors in the White House, after nine months, you can get a sense of certain dynamics and speculate based on limited observations. Somehow, Obama and his people began placing too much emphasis on using Obama's outstanding talents, speaking, explaining and inspiring and seemed to place too little on his need to lead in other ways daily - to display leadership to House and Senate members, other constituencies, to tap the right talent in his closest staff and oversee and make demands on his Cabinet secretaries.
Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, in a Sept. 29th piece, spoke to this from another perspective. Cohen's introduction said:
"Sooner or later it is going to occur to Barack Obama that he is the president of the United States. As of yet, though, he does not act that way, appearing promiscuously on television and granting interviews like the presidential candidate he no longer is. The election has been held, but the campaign goes on. The candidate has yet to become commander-in-chief...."
Cohen's line prompted me to reexamine all of Obama's "campaigning" for health care reform.
One can question the value of the events because they clearly have not swayed many people toward supporting Obama's proposed reforms, but perhaps another lesson for the White House is that they should have invested more time back in the White House developing the content, strategy and arguments they planned to use in presenting their reform proposals AND the steps they'd follow to keep Congress operating under a tighter framework.
If, in fact, the Obama team were to fail in its quest to win approval for a significant health care reform package, it'd probably mean there were flaws in the legislation and the early assessments of what could be won, or not with Congress -- but, surely, the frequency or drama surrounding Obama's performances on center stage will not be viewed as pivotal, I don't think.
I agree with Cohen. It's time for Obama and his advisors to focus more on how the President his leading, or, not leading - - and try to shore up existing weaknesses.
The irony is that if Obama stayed in the White House more and reduced his appearances, the focus of news coverage might shift more to content and his execution of difficult actions, tough policy choices and Obama's leading other important people and groups.
The Obama White House needs to cultivate media attention to these other aspects of Obama's leadership. He should not have to "campaign" so much now. He's the President, and, if he acts more like he's in control and comfortable using his power, the media, and then the public, will notice the difference.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
"I think it's based on racism," Carter said, in reply to a question during an event at his Carter Center in Atlanta. "There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president."
Carter also said that Wilson's outburst was part of a troubling trend of harsh criticisms directed at Obama by demonstrators - including individuals who have compared Obama to Nazi leaders.
"Those kind of things are not just casual outcomes of a sincere debate on whether we should have a national program on health care," Carter said. "It's deeper than that."
Carter said what many US senators and Representatives are afraid to say. In fact, afterward, a few Democrats went out of their way to distance themselves immediately from the former president's comments. Those Democratic politicians quoted were totally unconvincing in trying to claim anti-Obama reactions were innocent and issue-driven.
It seems fairly obvious there is "an element" of Obama critics who are motivated by race. I wish more of our elected leaders - Republicans and Democrats - were willing to identify these individuals for who they are. It'd be nice if they had the courage and principle to complain about racist comments or behavior. Instead, most politicians these days avoid any sensitive issues -- so, I guess it's unsurprising they're silent about racism.
Well, I'm tired of it. I wish more people would follow Jimmy Carter's lead. Why the hell were some white individuals showing up with deplorable, hateful messages on posters at some Obama events on health care this summer? Why are right-wing, reckless, obnoxious radio and
television talk show hosts so harshly and crudely ripping President Obama non-stop -- no matter what he's actually doing in office?
We are living in a strange time when it comes to what's tolerated or not. (I wrote about this last week). I criticized TV reactionary Glenn Beck, who had called President Obama " a racist" on a television talk show. Well, this week, Time Magazine decided to put Glenn Beck on its cover. Typical. Today's media organizations - like Time - make their decisions on the entertainment level or ratings potential of a topic rather than whether it's newsworthy, in context or deserves attention at all. Beck does NOT deserve any attention - or, a talk show.
My reaction, when I heard of former President Carter's quote was: "It's about time someone of stature spoke up about this."
I understand that Obama and his advisors do not want to raise the issue of race. Imagine if Obama, himself, argued that racism was a factor in his struggle to increase support for one of his positions or actions. He'd receive overwhelming criticism. HOWEVER, I do not accept the silence of everyone else, particularly elected officials and those with influence and power in all sectors of society who could impact the dialogue on race relations.
I was glad to read a terrific Sept. 13th piece by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who ripped into US Rep. Joe Wilson for his outburst during Obama's speech. Dowd, like Jimmy Carter, waded right into the topic of race, and, took it further by raising questions about Wilson's possible motivations and his record on race-related matters.
Consider this excerpt from Dowd's column:
"...The congressman, we learned, belonged to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, led a 2000 campaign to keep the Confederate flag waving above South Carolina's state Capitol and denounced as a "smear" the true claim of a black woman that she was the daughter of Strom Thurmond, the '48 segregationist candidate for president. Wilson clearly did not like being lectured and even rebuked by the brainy black president presiding over the majestic chamber."
Then, Dowd commented further:
"I've been loath to admit that the shrieking lunacy of the summer -- the frantic efforts to paint our first black president as the Other, a foreigner, socialist, fascist, Marxist, racist, Commie, Nazi; a cad who would snuff old people; a snake who would indoctrinate kids -- had much to do with race........But Wilson's shocking disrespect for the office of the president -- no Democrat ever shouted "liar" at W. when he was hawking a false case for war in Iraq -- convinced me: Some people just can't believe a black man is president and will never accept it....."
Dowd is right on the money. I wish it weren't so, but, I feel that in the past couple of months, we're seeing some more blatant signs of racism against Obama. You can see it in the surprising disgust or venom that shows up in negative comments of Obama critics.
The recent racial dynamics confronting Obama remind me of the obstacles he overcame during the 2008 presidential campaign. I still believe people have overlooked the extent to which Obama had to rise above the constant presence of racism in both the primary and general election campaign. I recall - during Obama's battle vs. Hillary Clinton - how Bill Clinton was often assigned to campaign aggressively for white votes in little rural towns of certain states where racism remained a large factor. I recall how, in my home state of Massachusetts, Hillary won overwhelming margins of victory against Obama in many medium-sized, blue-collar cities where one would have expected Obama to do much better. Race was an important factor, in my view. Then, of course, there were Democratic primaries in states like Kentucky and West Virgina - where Hillary was ahead by 30 points weeks before the event, remained ahead by that margin, and, then, won by the same whopping margin. Many voters there, clearly, had made up their minds about Obama and were not predisposed to change. I wonder why.
And, who can forget some of the despicable tactics used by John McCain and Sarah Palin in the general election campaign against Obama. I can recall Palin, a hopeless candidate who deserved far tougher scrutiny of her own record, trying in repeated appearances, to portray Obama as "an outsider" who couldn't be trusted. Indeed, though I expected even worse, McCain and Palin did little to avoid rhetoric that stirred anxieties about race.
As I observe Obama's presidency, I will never forget the obstacles he overcame to win the election. I still believe that many Americans give him a smaller margin for error as President because he is black. Obama faces more challenges and constraints all the time due to his race. Let's hope that when a minority of his critics display racial prejudice, that others will speak up - like Jimmy Carter did - and help discourage others from doing the same thing.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
What does it take for someone to stand up and say "Hey, that guy just said something unacceptable to me. I object to it and I want to help stop that person from repeating that crap" ?
I ask this in response to some of the extreme, repulsive remarks or actions by right-wing individuals aimed at President Obama during the past month or two. The ratings-driven television news media has chosen to cover these rants as "news" and failed to present them as the irresponsible acts they are. (The Right, historically, takes advantage of the superficial, entertainment-dominated news the most often).
There are too many examples to cover, but, here are a few that drew my attention:
1) First, the continuing efforts of a tiny, tiny minority of people to raise questions about whether President Obama was born in the United States -- the so-called "birthers" - who, for some puzzling reason, have continued to get covered by the national media. There's NOTHING to the questions - so, there should be NO more stories. Period.
2) The people who inexcusably carried guns outside town hall forum events where Obama spoke on a few occasions this summer. This, apparently, was some sort of sick way of drawing attention and making a point, I guess. I just know I heard too small an outcry of protest about this display of guns. It was a low moment that should've been rejected and criticized more harshly.
3) The ugly, unacceptable comments made by right-wing TV talk show host, Glenn Beck.
4) The ludicrous, incredibly disturbing attention paid to an initially very tiny protest of concern about President Obama's remarks made to the nations' schoolchildren on Sept. 8th. This mushroomed into a large story, thanks to the media coverage. (More on this in a second).
Right-wing radio and TV talk show hosts know, all too well, what drives the nation's news media in 2009: It's ENTERTAINMENT and that means whatever constitutes entertainment - even it the content is false, misleading, distorted or reckless. These entertainers who pretend to be "journalists" know that in this Internet-dominated news arena, the consumers of information have a VERY short attention span. So, if one of them makes an off-the-cuff remark that's inaccurate or offends some group, that's OK, he rationalizes. The specifics will be "forgotten" or will fade a few hours later -- and the initial impact is what counts, anyway.
Well, when I was growing up, it was NOT enough to simply be "entertaining." A news organization felt obligated to have at least some credibility and responsibility. It attempted to show respect and decency for other people in its coverage. These standards don't apply in 2009.So, I guess this helps explain how an idiot like Glenn Beck can somehow use a fraudulent "shock-jock" formula to attract attention, get a show, and attract ratings. However, when Beck back in late July, called President Obama "a racist" without providing any substantiation, I didn't accept that - and I don't accept that he should even have a show now. Do you recall what he said?
Beck, in a July 28th appearance on Fox and Friends, said that Obama "had a deep-seated hatred of white people or the white culture." He added: "I'm not saying that he doesn't like white people. I'm saying that he has a problem. This guy, is, I believe, a racist.."
Then, Beck's comment was circulated and discussed, when it should have been condemned and dismissed instantaneously. I think he should've been fired for such an off-base, ugly, unacceptable remark ---particularly when he made it so deliberately - with his eyes wide open.
While that Beck comment was "off-the-charts BAD," some of his right-wing peers - Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Laura Ingraham and Bill O'Reilly, to name only a few examples - tend to routinely attack Obama in excessive, hysterical fashion. Often, these or other right-wing hosts describe "liberals" as if they're dangerous inhabitants of another planet. A number have continued calling Obama or his policies "socialist" even though it's an embarrassingly FALSE label. Is anyone intelligent listening out there? Do members of the audience know or care if this crap is spouted all day long?
These and other right-wing hosts use the most juvenile, stupid approaches to draw attention: Name-calling, exaggerating, lying, distorting, sensationalizing. They cleverly attach their extreme language to real-life news and strands of truth or reality in order to create an appearance of relevance when, in fact, much of their content is so false or out of context that it's serves no good purpose.
Consider the fuss that was made over Obama's remarks to school children on Sept. 8th.
First, some conservative got all up tight about a draft of the plans for Obama's remarks included a proposed "lesson plan" that made a reference to giving students a chance to volunteer ideas or ways to "help the President." It was clear to most that there was no bad intent here -- no effort to score political points; but, soon, right-wingers were spreading claims that Obama was trying to "indoctrinate" children and "promote his agenda" in an inappropriate way. Soon, news stories covering these unsubstantiated claims, fears and speculation began multiplying and a controversy was created out of nothing.
A few public officials actually stirred the pot, including Jim Greer, the Republican Party chairman in Florida, who was said he "was appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread Presiden Obama's socialist ideology." Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who reportedly has presidential aspirations, said the thought Obama's planned remarks were "disruptive."
The White House tried to reassure people the President's remarks were aimed at inspiring kids to be responsible, but, the story was off to the races. I think it was largely a "media-created" episode. I find it hard to believe there were thousands of "concerned parents" out there -- or, at least as many "concerned parents" as suggested by news accounts. For instance, the New York Times ran a Page One story on Sept. 4th headlined: "Obama's Plan for School Talk Ignites a Revolt," but, while the article reported anecdotal responses of concern or protest from citizens, it cited no evidence that large numbers of Americans had been impacted at all by this matter.
More importantly, when Obama actually spoke on Sept. 8th, his remarks were without controversy or politics; rather, his statement was what his advisors had promised -- a pitch to students about the importance of taking responsibility. Obama did a great job, by the way.
After I watched Obama on the 8th, my wish was that all the right-wing talk shows be held accountable for their false, irresponsible claims about Obama's speech. The entire episode illustrated how ridiculous the world of talk shows and media have become. Of course, we've seen evidence of this during public debate over health care reform too.
Right-wingers have leveled many wild, inaccurate charges and criticisms at President Obama as a way to hurt his chances to win a victory over health care. Perhaps the worst claim - taken up by former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin - that, under Obama's plan, there would be "death panels" that would decide the fate of senior citizens at the end of their lives.
President Obama, in his Sept. 9th speech to a joint session of Congress, finally confronted this bluntly by saying the following.
"Some of people's concerns have grown out of bogus claims spread by those whose only agenda is to kill reform at any cost. The best example is the claims, made not just by radio and cable talk show hosts, but prominent politicians, that we plan to set up panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens. Such a charge would be laughable if it weren't so cynical and irresponsible. It's a lie, plain and simple."
Perhaps Obama learned a lesson about the need to respond far more directly and immediately in simple language that ensure everyone will at least hear the truth. (I think one unfortunate reality is that a segment of the right-wing "attacks" on Obama is due to an undercurrent of racism. The prejudice is manifested in negative or hateful rhetoric that, on the surface, targets other Obama-related topics).
In today's world covered by entertainment-driven media, leaders - including President Obama - must be swift and clear about clarifying misunderstandings and lies.
It's time the rest of us did our part to help label and reject irresponsible comments from the Right. Speak up and put an end to irresponsible, right-wing extremism !!