Saturday, July 5, 2014

Obama Derangement Syndrome

That the most recent trends in anti Obama criticism have become so increasingly unhinged in their desperation has provided an abundance of comic material to his supporters. (There’s no point in wondering what those in “the center” are thinking since I haven’t met anyone of them in years.) How is anyone supposed to listen to John Boehner talk about suing the President over his use of executive orders or Michelle Bachman and others describing his actions as “king-like” when the facts bluntly show that characterization to be a hypocritical lie?  Or how can anyone possibly listen to John McCain, Mitt Romney or Dick Cheney claiming to have presciently foretold the failure of the President’s policies in Iraq when back in 2002 then-Senator Obama predicted that the Bush administration’s adventure would result in just such unforeseeable chaos as is occurring now? And how can anyone entertain their charges of failure of leadership when, if you read that 2002 speech, you can hear a fledgling international statesman cautioning against a hasty leap into a centuries old quagmire while all three of them couldn’t put our children in harm’s way fast enough and couldn’t contain their excitement at the opportunity to do so? Viewing attempts to counter these criticisms is akin to watching Bill Nye arguing with climate change deniers and Creationists or any educated person arguing with a holocaust denier: in the end you just feel more frustrated while they gain something that passes for legitimacy among a populace growing ever more illiterate politically, historically and scientifically.

While a lot of those on the left are laughing, the fact that this kind of contemptuous carping has to be treated as serious debate should be alarming. The Republicans hold the House and will probably keep it in November while very possibly gaining control of the Senate. This means impeachment, pure and simple. Whatever the end result for the man and the legacy he deserves, the consequences for us are enormous. You can forget about legislation or governing. After four years of the most useless unproductive congress in history, the final two years of the Obama presidency will be consumed with exactly the kind of spectacle the Republicans have decided is the only role left to government: Bloodsport. The bestial cockfighting that Republican politics has degenerated to. (Anyone remember the President’s resistance to his more ardent left wing supporters back in 2009 to open hearings into Bush and Cheney’s handling of the war, their outing of active CIA agents and torture, because he wanted his administration to move forward and govern together with our friends across the aisle?)

Rather than laughing at these rants, though certainly imbecilic enough, maybe we’d be better served looking more closely at them for what they are, the most recent feverish symptoms of the underlying right wing illness: Obama Derangement Syndrome. And maybe we should look more closely at the disease itself because while it’s tempting to sit back and enjoy the misery of those friends across the aisle it might just be proving to be more life threatening than a simple case of the clap infecting those who deserve it.

There’ve been a lot of facile explanations for the Right’s irrationally rabid hatred of a man who has been, after all, elected President twice by large margins, certainly larger than George Bush ever enjoyed. What’s the deal? He’s everything Republicans lecture the rest of us about. Actually born into meager circumstances (unlike George Bush or Mitt Romney) he bettered himself through hard work, perseverance and intelligence without the benefit of inherited wealth and the entitlements of family connections. He’s a church-going family man, a faithful husband and a good father to two beautiful children. He exemplifies everything Republicans say they stand for. Yet they accuse him of being a Muslim (even though being one, by the way, is perfectly legitimate, legal and reasonable) and of being a radical who hates America because of the ravings of the Christian preacher whose church he attended for twenty years. (Which begs the question whether he was there to convert Reverend Wright to Islam or the other way around.) He’s been accused of being a terrorist because some other guy who used to be one forty years ago donated $200 to his Senate campaign. His birth certificate is not really his birth certificate because he was born in Hawaii, which is part of Kenya, which is a foreign country. And of course the big reason everybody hates the guy so much, the Left is fond of saying, is because he’s black. Or at least not white. Not all the way.

But maybe there’s something else that’s causing ODS. You could feel it beginning back in 2007 and ‘08 as time was dragging the decayed carcass of Bush’s presidency over the finish line. It started even before Obama won the nomination. At the heart of ODS is the inner realization by everybody on the right, at some conscious or unconscious level, that the Bush presidency was a catastrophic failure. And I can hear the whining, here we go blaming Bush again. It’s been six years already, enough. Nope. The mess that presidency left will be with us for at least a generation. (Iraq is only beginning whatever path he and Cheney set it on, a path which could actually lead to a solution first floated by Joe Biden, of all people. Think you’ll be hearing anybody use the word “prescient” to describe Joe Biden?) Bush inherited a booming economy and if not a peaceful climate, at least an absence of open warfare. We were still the world’s only superpower and the rest of the world looked to us for leadership. And he inherited a government surplus. He left behind a smoking crater. The worst economy in seventy years with mounting government debt. The lowest, most negative international standing since the world news was dominated by black and white flickering images of American planes napalming grass huts in Southeast Asian jungles in the 1960s. An overstretched, exhausted and unwelcome military bogged down in not one but two foreign entanglements. And a significant portion of a major American city reduced to a muddy debris field.

But this is actually bigger than just George Bush. The right instinctively understood that the cast of clowns parading through the farce his presidency turned into had laid bare the utter bankruptcy of Republican ideology. Relieving the wealthy of their responsibility to the American community did not result in any largesse trickling down to the rest of us. Whatever trickled, trickled up. The rising tide pretty much swamped all but the biggest boats. Government was not the enemy after all. Instead it turns out it had been what was holding us together. Until 1980 anyway.

And with this realization came the decision, conscious or instinctive, that no matter who followed George Bush to the presidency he (or she) would be transformed into the most reviled public figure in living memory by the sheer volume and viciousness of their criticism. No matter what his successor actually did or said the Right was determined to keep that individual an object of scorn and derision from the moment the votes were legitimately counted and the choice of the president was taken from Scalia, Thomas and Alito and given back to the electorate. Every circumstance of his life, including his very birth would be twisted into some indication of a flawed, even malicious character.  And here I agree with even his most ardently racist critics: That he was nonwhite was never really a factor, it just made it easier to enlist the bigots and Luddites who might have been dissuaded from the Right wing cause with a higher minimum wage and health care for their kids.      

The Obama presidency has been flawed, as has every other one. But there have been important accomplishments as well, chiefly the apparent turnaround, however tenuous, of the economy (if anyone really wants to call 52 consecutive months of private sector job growth -- the longest in history -- a tentative recovery I’ll concede the point just to save time) and the initiation of a health care reform process that will finally begin to stanch the thirty year long hemorrhaging of the middle class. Don’t forget, these were carried out against the stiffest, most venomous obstruction ever encountered by a sitting President. (While George Bush enjoyed six years of one-party rule from 2000 to 2006. You know the Republicans miss those heady days in 2004 when the only things left on the agenda were converting Social Security into a Wall Street slush fund and diverting the population by hunting down and purging the last few government Liberals left in the judicial branch in places like Oregon and Massachusetts.)

And for all of you in the “both sides do it” false equivalency club: Yes Bush encountered incredible opposition and derision from his political enemies on the Left. But name the elected Democratic senate leader who publicly announced that his party’s chief priority (before national security, job creation, health care, infrastructure, education and the environment) was to prevent George Bush from gaining a second term. Name the elected Democratic congressional leaders who met the night of Bush’s inauguration to plan to oppose and obstruct any initiative he chose to launch from the White House. How many times after taking the House in 2006 did Democrats vote to repeal Bush’s unpaid for Prescription Drug Program? Name the sitting Democratic Congressman who during a nationally televised State of the Union Address called George Bush a liar to his face. (When you come up with that one, I’ll reward you with your very own Joe Wilson “You Lie” memorial extended ammunition clip.) Name the Democratic party officials, candidates and elected legislators who called either for the violent overthrow of the federal government under Bush or participated in talk of his personal assassination. Send me a picture of people brandishing assault weapons and waving threatening signs at a Bush public appearance. Remember all those clever Pray for Bush bumper stickers so popular at the start of his tenure? And how many Democratically controlled states saw a rise in actual secessionist movements in response to the Supreme Court's appointment of George Bush to the presidency in 2000 or his 2004 win enabled by the manipulation of voting machines and practices in Ohio? No President in modern history has encountered the kind of mindlessly hateful opposition seen by this one.

Since thirty-four years of conservative Republican policies have decimated the middle class and started our republic down the road to decline President Obama, Democrats, Liberals and Progressives and all those who still believe in the power of Government to be a force for positive change have an increasingly legitimate and important role to play in governing the country. The Right wing onslaught of rabid attacks on our elected leader are calculated to lead to impeachment, which is calculated to keep government dysfunctional. And since Republicans can no longer run for anything, a dysfunctional government is all they have left to run against.

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