Morning Report, September 10th: Obama’s Middle Finger, Jon and Kate Plus Hate, Pining for Autocracy, Bedding Lobbyists, Obamadoration, Abortion in America, Evangelical Ivy, and Butterflies in the Heavens

1.  IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED…Count me profoundly disappointed in last night’s speech.  All along I have believed in the ability of the President and his coterie to learn from their mistakes and course-correct.  But this was not a course-correction.  It was a retrenchment.  It was–and I don’t think I’m exaggerating–a slender and elegant middle finger to everyone who has had concerns about Obama’s proposed health care reform.

The most disappointing moment was not Joe Wilson’s outburst, “You lie!”  While that was inappropriate (I can’t decide whether it was a boon to Obama, as Michael Scherer writes, or if it could have served to ‘break the spell,’ so to speak, to plant a seed of doubt in the minds of listeners–but it undoubtedly helped his opponent in the upcoming election raise money), I don’t regard it as any worse than Democratic heckling of President Bush–whether during Bush’s SOTU addresses, or when Reid called Bush a “liar” and a “phony,” or when Ted Kennedy said that the case for Iraqi WMD was cooked up at a Texas barbecue.  Neither side can claim to principles here; Republicans booed Bill Clinton during his SOTU speeches as well, and the Democrats who are feigning outrage right now are interested only in using this as leverage for their own purposes.  Wilson, for what it’s worth, issued an apology that was notable for not attempting to justify his behavior.

No, the most disappointing moment happened before the speech took place, when Obama and his circle decided to give the same speech, make the same tired claims, and–yes–lie once again.  The lies are these: (1) you will be able to keep your plan if you like it, (2) this will not increase the deficit, (3) there will be no taxpayer funding of abortion, (4) illegal immigrants will not receive coverage.  Given the bill as it currently stands, none of these points is true.  Now, it’s true that the bill does not explicitly state that it covers illegal immigrants.  But absent enforcement mechanisms, and given a mandate that all people be covered, yes, illegal immigrants will be covered.  Don’t misunderstand me–I don’t mind illegal immigrants receiving coverage.  I mind the dishonesty coming from a President.  Cynic though I am, I had allowed myself to be convinced that Obama actually believed some of what he said about creating a more honest, charitable and non-partisan form of political discourse.  I knew that Obama was blowing smoke in many of his speeches; but I thought he genuinely believed in this, and would truly seek a higher plane of political discourse.

The tone last night was not conciliatory.  There were no compromises or concessions.  Obama never once acknowledged that there was any truth or any legitimacy to the concerns so many have raised.  Instead he chose to paint all dissent, once again, as “bickering” and “games” and lies and distortions.  In other words, Obama decided that the problem was not with the legislation itself; the problem was that there was so much misinformation.  He had to cut through the clamor, set the American people straight.  The problem was not that we were paying attention and had justified concerns; the problem was that we were not paying attention, and so we had been swayed by demagogues like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck.  In other words, this was a monumental insult to our intelligence.  It shows in what regard Obama actually holds the American people–at least, those Americans who disagree with him.  Does he really think we’re just going to accept, because he tells us so, that we can add millions upon millions to the rolls, expanding coverage and mandating all sorts of new coverage, improving coverage and making it impossible to turn down bad cases–while remaining deficit neutral?  This is not serious statesmanship; it’s car-salesmanship.

The tone was angry, defensive, vain, condescending, arrogant.  This was Obama at his worst.  Perhaps he needs to go to the end of this road (“No, really, the problem is that we have not lectured the American people enough!”) before he realizes that it’s a dead end.  Obama likes bipartisanship and compromise in theory but not in practice; put differently, his idea of compromise is that everyone else give up their objections and join him in what he wants to do.

The bigger problem: Obama’s sense of himself has reached herculean proportions.  He has come to understand himself as a figure of destiny–not merely in being the first African-American President, but in becoming one of the greatest Presidents ever, with legislative achievements that will be celebrated for generations (like FDR on the Left, Reagan on the Right).  The people who oppose him cannot do so out of principle, he thinks, because he clearly has the right and the principle on his side; thus they oppose him to bring him down, to slay the behemoth with a thousand cuts.  He must simply march on, flicking all the gnats from his shoulders.  “I am not the first President” to address this problem, he says, “but I am determined to be the last.”  Does he care about the people he mentions who lack coverage or lost it?  Perhaps.  But as characters in the Obama saga, the little people who were helped by the giant.

Whether or not we accept the prescription doctor Obama has given us, he tells us, is “a test of our national character.”  Get that?  It’s not that his plan deserves scrutiny and reconsideration.  It’s that we are tested and shown to be intelligent and good, or irrational and devious, on the basis of whether we are for or against his proposed reforms.

What Obama is lacking is humility.  And that is a devastating lack.  Sad.

2.  SPEECH/ACT THEORY.  What was Obama seeking to accomplish?  E. J. Dionne can always be counted on to offer the preferred liberal spin:

After a listless summer during which his opponents dominated the health-care debate, President Obama used a dramatic appearance before Congress on Wednesday to seize control of the autumn, the season of decision for the initiative he has turned into the central test of his presidency.

The New York Times leads with an above-the-fold picture of Obama in the midst of jubilant Congressional supporters, a picture that practically screams “triumph!”  So liberals will say that Obama sought to regain control of the debate.  It “reframed” the debate.  But there was nothing new here.  There were the same old slogans.  The same kind of sob stories.  And these have not been working.

If the intention was to persuade those who have been paying attention and have not agreed, then it was a spectacular misfire–as Ed Morrisey has it, “completely counter-productive” and likely to cultivate further disenchantment with the administration.  If the intention was to persuade those who have not been paying attention throughout the summer, that’s more reasonable.  But I highly doubt that it’s going to move the needle amongst independents and undecideds.  If it was intended to rally the Left, then everything Obama did and said makes perfect sense.

Think of it this way.  Max Baucus developed his alternative proposal, which drops the public option but is otherwise a big-government statist’s dream.  He wanted to know whether any Republicans would support it before 10am yesterday morning — the morning of the speech.  The Baucus bill reflects Obama’s bottom line; let there be no mistake.  This was the least Obama was willing to offer.  Judging by the speech last night, no Republicans bit on the offer.  Obama has decided to go it alone.  Last night was an elaborate exercise in justifying going-it-alone, even if it requires a jiggering of the reconciliation process.  And in pushing and providing cover for Blue Dogs.

That is why Obama could not allow that the opponents of reform had any good points.  As long as they have good points, and as long as they have alternatives, then the search for a bipartisan compromise should continue.  But if they’re only engaged in bickering and partisan games, only out to defeat him and not to help the American people, then Obama is justified (it would seem) in leaving all of those folks behind and pressing forward with his own bill, bipartisanship be damned.

In other words: get ready for a Democratic attempt to bull-rush this through both chambers as soon as possible.  If you are a centrist in Congress, I’d limber up your arms right now, because they’re going to be twisted beyond anything you’ve experienced so far.

3.  HAS PUBLIC DISCOURSE DISINTEGRATED?  Some amongst the intelligentsia are wondering what will be the consequence of the breakdown of political discourse that we have seen here.  Joe Klein speaks of a “public malignancy” that festered throughout the health care debate and “threatens the democratic fabric of our nation.”

Yet, first of all, perhaps political discourse has not broken down.  Perhaps this is exactly what political discourse looks like.  Ugly, sometimes impolite, sometimes brutal.  But the people are making their will known, and are halting a political class that had been dead-set on moving forward with a radical expansion of government.

Second, this only represents the breakdown of political discourse if one assumes that a vocal minority has hijacked the process.  Then there are needs that reasonable people recognize must be met, but a small contingent of “right wing nutjobs” are gumming up the works.  This seems to be the liberal presupposition right now.  It has people like Thomas Friedman openly pining for the ability, enjoyed by the Chinese communist party, to silence dissent and simply do what is necessary.  This is liberal condescension at its worst.  We know what’s best for you.  So just “get out of the way,” as our President so eloquently suggested, while we do what’s in your best interest.  It’s stridently anti-democratic.

Third, even if it is not true that political discourse has broken down, the fact that the liberals believe it has–since the liberals operate the levers of power right now–matters.  I would not at all be surprised to see measures put forth that seek to stifle dissent, under the theory that this dissent does not truly represent the American people and is preventing our democracy from doing what it must do to meet our economic and environmental challenges.  But this is precisely the kind of arrogance that is angering ordinary Americans, who feel that the political class is heading in its own direction with little concern for representation.

4.  JON HATES KATE.  Jon Gosselin told an ABC interviewer that he loves his current girlfriend more than his former wife Kate.  Kate mistreated Jon on a regular basis, often humiliating him on camera; whether he was “verbally abused,” as he claims, may be something we can never know for sure.  The fact that she refused to see a true therapist, and was willing only to go on Dr. Phil, speaks volumes of her character.  Nonetheless, Jon is doing himself no favors here.  Watching the interview felt like watching the moments before the train crashes.  A man should never speak that way of the mother of his children.  What will they think when they grow older and see what he said?  Will they be proud of him?

5.  PALIN BACK AND FORTH.  Yesterday I noted Sarah Palin’s article in the Wall Street Journal on health care reform.  The White House actually saw fit to respond to it, but Palin’s counter-response gets the higher grade.

6.  SEX, LIES AND AUDIOTAPE.  A Republican California Assemblyman reminds us why we all think so little of politicians.  He bragged about his sexual conquests with female lobbyists whose firms had business before his committee, and failed to note that the microphone in front of him was live.  I’m glad he’s resigned, but he and the fellow to whom he spoke should be investigated for ethics failures.  One wonders how often this sort of thing goes on.

7.  “OBAMA IS KIND OF GOD.”  The famed words of Evan Thomas.  Perhaps you think I’m talking too much politics today, and not enough religion?  Well, is Obama not a religion, at least to some?  Consider this commenter:

President Obama, please know that the world is sending your family LOVE tonight, and always.

What you accomplished tonight was to really tell the TRUTH. Thank you for showing up and being determined to create a better nation for all our children simply through your example.

With so much PRE-STAGED hatred and conflict going on across this nation, please know that the dark will more-than-likely get darker only because that is what is knows best, but the light, yes Obama’s essence will prevail through our love and his truth.

For you see citizens, President Obama is probably the most emotionally balanced President ever to preside over our nation. (Thank goodness he is our President.) Therefore his power, his presence inspires us all to be better human beings, including our children. Many thanks.

Reminds me of this piece written in the pre-election hysteria:

Here’s where it gets gooey. Many spiritually advanced people I know (not coweringly religious, mind you, but deeply spiritual) identify Obama as a Lightworker, that rare kind of attuned being who has the ability to lead us not merely to new foreign policies or health care plans or whatnot, but who can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet, of relating and connecting and engaging with this bizarre earthly experiment. These kinds of people actually help us evolve. They are philosophers and peacemakers of a very high order, and they speak not just to reason or emotion, but to the soul.

I will give the vast majority of Obama supporters the benefit of the doubt, and accept that they do not worship Obama in such a messianic tone.  But some do.  How many?  I’d like to know.

Jesse Jackson, Jr., had this to say of Obama’s victory in the Democratic primary:

“What Barack Obama has accomplished is the single most extraordinary event that has occurred in the 232 years of the nation’s political history. … The event itself is so extraordinary that another chapter could be added to the Bible to chronicle its significance.”

Or consider this hymn from ManifestObama:

Between now and November 4…
Let’s spend one minute a day…
Envisioning Barack Obama…
As our President…
Prepare your heart to fill with hope…
Prepare your mind to embrace the change…
Envision Barack victorious on election night…

…Taking the oath of office…
On Inauguration Day…
Believe that this great moment in American history is already a reality…
Say the words to yourself…
To your family…
To your friends and neighbors…
Say it to the world…
Your vision is a sacred trust…
You are a sanctuary of a sacred vision for a renewed America…

Envision it…
Say it…
Feel it…
Believe it…
Make it our reality…
Manifest Obama, America!

And this is not merely a recent phenomenon.  Obama has lived his life surrounded by songs of Obama-worship.  From David Mendell’s biography:

“While Obama’s campaign operation was stagnating under a lame-duck campaign manager, Bettylu Stalzman was working hard. She was pulling together fund-raisers and lobbying [eventual campaign manager David] Axelrod hard on her belief that he indeed had a budding star on his hands in Obama. “I’m sure she used the word magical,” Axelrod said with a smile. [Emphasis in original, page 183.]

In Chicago, Obama was listed among the dozen or so politicos who had “IT.” Beneath a flattering photo of a smiling, confident-looking Obama, the [Chicago] Sun-Times breathed heavily: “The first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review has a movie-star smile and more than a little mystique. Also, we just like to say his name. We are considering taking it as a mantra.” [page 218]

They serenaded the Hyde Park Democrat with chants of “O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!” Obama drew such a passionate outpouring from the crowd that even he and his aides were overwhelmed. “At one point, I thought Barack was going to rise up over the people and start saying, ‘My children, my children, I have come to free you,’ joked his driver and bodyguard, Mike Signator. “It was just incredible.” [p. 297]

This kind of language is exactly what Obama does not need.  The fervent, frankly religious adoration he received from so many is a large part of why he is over-reaching so severely now.

Obama can be a great President.  But he needs to stop thinking of himself as a great President already.  He is not.  Like everyone else, he has to learn on the job.  Listen.  Get better.  Don’t assume you already have the answers.  Don’t assume that the trite ideas that got you elected will actually work, once you get in office and see the complexities involved.  To run on “Hope” and “Change” is not to earn a mandate for specific proposals so much as a mandate to do politics and governance differently.  Unfortunately he has done politics and governance in the same old way, and he’s pushed more liberal policies than half of his supporters wanted, and that’s why he’s losing so much support.

8.  ABORTION AND EXEGESIS.  Dinesh D’Souza is always worth reading, and here he talks about why America has some of the most permissive abortion laws in the world.  Read the whole thing.  Also worth reading: Ben Witherington on Calvin as an exegete.  Both are from Christianity Today.

9.  Portraits of the Evangelical Ivy League.

10.  TODAY’S TWO-SIDES.  Karl Rove writing on how Obama is asking moderate Democrats to walk the plank with him, vs Tom Daschle saying an uphill fight is worth the struggle.

11.  BUTTERFLY IN THE HEAVENS.  Finally, I leave you with this recent picture from the Hubble telescope:

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~ by tddalrymple on September 10, 2009.

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