Tuesday, February 10, 2015

All get along

If Obama came out in favor of oxygen,
Republicans would suffocate themselves.
I love this meme because it's funny because it's true. No matter what you think about President Obama, deep down you know this clever sentiment is absolutely correct.

This is what passes for our representational leadership. This is government of the people, by the people, for the people. Maybe not really of the people; and really not by any people I know, in whose circle I travel; it's a government for some people, primarily themselves.

It's their world. We just live in the margins, at their discretion.

In his State of the Union address last month, President Obama asked for better:
Imagine if we broke out of these tired old patterns (of partisan rancor and fear-mongering). Imagine if we did something different.
Understand – a better politics isn’t one where Democrats abandon their agenda or Republicans simply embrace mine.

A better politics is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears.

A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues, and values, and principles, and facts, rather than “gotcha” moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people’s daily lives.

A better politics is one where we spend less time drowning in dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter, and spend more time lifting young people up, with a sense of purpose and possibility, and asking them to join in the great mission of building America.

If we’re going to have arguments, let’s have arguments – but let’s make them debates worthy of this body and worthy of this country.
Of course, what else could the president say? His second term is running out, and he's running up against a Republican-controlled Congress. "Why can't we all get along?" is a given. But his plea was eloquent and hopeful and shaming and true.

And it died on arrival. Basest fears, for the win! Let's fake controversies, shall we? Fear and hate, it turns out, are easier and far more lucrative than solving problems, as we witnessed last week.

With lightning speed, Obama opponents pounced on one small part from lengthy remarks the president made at the annual prayer breakfast:
And lest we get on our high horse and think this (faith used as a weapon) is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.
Controversy, ladies and gentlemen! Let's make anything we want out of this, as long as it smears the president — or as his basest opponents like to call him, "this man."

By the way, his statement is absolutely, unequivocally true, immensely relevant, delivered as admonishment that we — Obama included himself — humble ourselves.

That doesn't matter. He offended Christians!

“The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime,” said former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore, a Republican, in a Time Magazine story. “He has offended every believing Christian in the United States. This goes further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share.”

I find it difficult to tell if the former Virginia governor is quoted because of his status as a former governor, or for what he said and plenty of podia from which to say it.

It doesn't matter. He offended all religions!

“Verbal rape is what it was. Because he pulled the air out of the room,” said Star Parker, described as a conservative pundit, quoted at Salon.com, based on that same snippet from President Obama's remarks. "There were 4,000 people there to unify. The question on the table was can these three major religions get along? Can the Jew? Can the Muslim? Can the Christian?”

Parker used almost the same phrases when speaking on a conservative radio show hosted by Mark Levin. "Verbal rape."

It doesn't matter. President Obama defended the brutal terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) (aka, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL)!

"Yeah, I mean he’s really creating a propaganda bonanza for terrorists, because what he’s really saying is ‘Well look, these are freedom fighters, just like the patriots of the Revolutionary War. And they’re no different, their service is just as honorable,’” said Louisiana Rep. John Fleming, a Republican, said on the Family Research Council's Washington Watch radio show.

Just before the oft-quoted line, President Obama said:
As we speak, around the world, we see faith inspiring people to lift up one another -- to feed the hungry and care for the poor, and comfort the afflicted and make peace where there is strife.  We heard the good work that Sister has done in Philadelphia, and the incredible work that Dr. (Kent) Brantly and his colleagues have done.  We see faith driving us to do right.
But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge — or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon.  From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it. 

We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism — terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.
But nevermind that. Fingers in ears, lalalalalalalaLALALALALALAH I can't hear you! We've got controversies to fake.

Dr. Ben Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon who appears frequently on conservative media shows — who especially likes to refer to Obama as "this man," told Fox News, “It makes me feel that perhaps we’re being betrayed. Perhaps we don’t have a leader who feels the same about things as most of us do.”

Did you get that impression, that President Obama verbally raped listeners, that he betrayed his country? Or do you think perhaps it wouldn't have made any difference what he said at the breakfast, that opponents were going to hold their breath while Obama served oxygen?
It cuts both ways. Liberal opponents go after conservatives too, and lie and smear with abandon. But nothing with the pace and scale of the relentless attacks against President Obama. It energizes the base and, with a little luck, spills over to poison other wells of reason and discourse.

I wonder why, and I wonder who. For both, like the Watergate coverup demonstrated, follow the money.

Who benefits from this constant campaign of made-up, salacious, ridiculous attacks? The media for one, running on the white heat of controversy. Fake or genuine, it doesn't matter.

As former journalists, Nancy and I used to get mad during Mass when the news media were frequently invoked during prayers of the faithful. No other profession or line of work seems to make the prayers quite so often as the news media, seeking fairness and justice tempered with compassion, as if the news media didn't demonstrate it.

Now I realize that the prayers were deserved and the news media does fall short, but not for the reasons the Church invoked journalism, which was to tread lightly over the Church's terrible failings.

The news media in general is failing because it doesn't do the job of informing us about the news that we citizens need to know. This nonsensical name-calling suffices for political reporting; throw in Taylor Swift and a high-speed car chase two states away, and there's your news.

It puzzles me how the personalities at Fox News, for example, can say the things they say, every day, and appear to mean it. Either they are paid handsomely, absolving all sins, or they think themselves satirists outdoing Jon Stewart, and this is all fun and games.

The worst part is that the general news media drown out the few who are still committing important acts of journalism, and washing away their message.

Politicians benefit too, fueled by our fears and fortified in their "service" by the source of money: the less than 1 percent that wants no government at all, but will settle for a government it can control. It's not conservatism, but the basest libertarianism to the point of being libertine; the downfall of all except for them that has, until it's too late to do anything about it.
Dr. Carson said we have solution, a weapon against this betrayal:
The good thing is, we have a system in place that has allowed us to take control. We need to observe carefully what our leaders do and what the people who support them do. We can’t forget who those people are, and we will have another opportunity, coming up in 2016, looking at all the senators and the congressman who rabidly support this man. Let’s make sure that they get the message.
He is absolutely right, though not in the way he meant. It cuts both ways.

Breathe deep.

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