Monday, November 15, 2010

"What the fuck has Obama done so far?"

City SurpriseIf the title of this piece seems a bit out of character for me, well, you'd be right: it is. It's the reason why I put it in quotations. I'll come back to the title in a bit, but first I have a few observations I'd like to share:

Was it only me? It appears that President Obama and the Democrats were shocked that they didn't do better in the mid-term elections. We all know by now that the House lost so many seats to Republican and Tea Party candidates that the news media had to go back several decades to recall a similar drubbing delivered to a political party. And it didn't stop there: Democrats lost several seats in the Senate.

By all estimates, here was a political party and a president who had accomplished much--an extension of unemployment insurance for millions, a successful cash for clunkers program to keep our automobile industry from going under, "tax cuts for up to 3.5 million small businesses to help pay for employee health care coverage." But Democrats still lost heavily at the polls.

And what did they do in response?

Democrats did what the Republicans did when they lost miserably a few years back, right? Moved more in the direction of their ideological center, which for the Right is right, and the Left, left. I hate to break it to you: Democrats are doing no such thing--they're doubling down on their decision to hold fast to their failed tactic of appeasement, and compromise, with them as the only ones appeasing and compromising, as members of their base continue to flake away like so much old paint.

I won't belabor the point, and make you nauseous, by taking you back through the Left's misery brought on by watching Democrats cave again and again to Republicans to make their legislation as palatable to the Right's political taste buds as is humanly possible, hoping that Republicans will like the results enough to cast much-needed votes for passage, only to watch the Right spit out the mess they helped cook up, calling such legislation like health-care, and wall street reforms "vile," and "evil," promising to repeal the legislation, and replace it with their own confection, if anything at all.

Obama stated in essence that he and members of his party were so busy getting things done, that he and they didn't take time to properly inform the public of what it was that they had accomplished during the first two years of his administration.

Now, here is where the title of this blog entry comes in. That title is the name of an actual site. It's the site's URL. If you haven't seen it, here's a brief description: The site hopes to do what the president and the Democrat congress failed to do--beat the drum for the Democrats by enumerating their many accomplishments over the past two years.

On the site, I like the way the information is packaged. It's like being a visitor, a tourist, in a strange city out for a walk around town, not sure what you'll find, but excited about the possibility that just around a corner something interesting, something surprising, something unexpected, may leap out of the ordinary and the mundane, to give you something to remember and to talk about once you're back home, engaging the family, or a neighbor across a common fence or wall.

Here, take a walk through the town with the funny name, "What the fuck has Obama done so far?"

Sunday, November 7, 2010

What's White About It?

The polarization of this country along racial lines, or how it's usually stated--along the color-line--not only points our the insanity of racism, but how this nation over its long history chose to compete with the rest of the world by virtue of tying one hand behind its back, the result of not fully utilizing the black talent within its midst.

Blacks and whites alike decry the supposed lack of black youth involvement in this society. Is what we're seeing a rebelling against a social norm--a norm that has a white vs. black element to it?

A recent study supports that conclusion. It states that violence among young people, blacks in particular, is a direct result of their feeling alienated from the larger society--seen as outcasts.

In our past, blacks have had to resort to extreme measures to become contributing members of this society, and to maximize their potential (some passing as white, if they could). Black Voices featured one such black, and detailed his travails. In fact, he was this nation's first black doctor.

His story is interesting on several levels: One, it points to the necessity of recording family history (Granny's passion), and not allowing family members to fall out of the family tree (regardless of color) lest they remain lost; and, two, it points to the need for any country to appreciate its talent (regardless of race or ethnicity), if it wishes to remain a strong, vibrant, and competitive force among the world communities.

Recently, the country's first black doctor was properly memorialized.

Relatives of the doctor were unaware that they were related to a man who had been the subjects of several books. Consequently, the doctor lay in an unmarked Brooklyn grave for 145 years.

White descendants of James McCune Smith gathered Sunday to unveil the new tombstone on his grave site. The scourge of racism is largely responsible for Smith going unnoticed for so long.

If you're white, and you find out that you're related to someone black, it's a damn sight better to discover that he's a doctor than a horse thief. But the story doesn't end there.

The AP writes:

The story of why Smith was nearly overlooked by history and buried in an unmarked grave is in part due to the centuries-old practice of light-skinned blacks passing as white to escape racial prejudice. Smith's mother had been a slave; his father was white. Three of his children lived to adulthood, and they all apparently passed as white, scholars say.

Greta Blau, Smith's great-great-great-granddaughter, made the connection after she took a course at Hunter College on the history of blacks in New York. She did some research and realized that James McCune Smith, the trailblazing black doctor, was the same James McCune Smith whose name was inscribed in a family Bible belonging to ... her grandmother.

Her first response was, "But he was black. I'm white."

This story can probably be retold thousands of times in this country. How many white families have a member of the black race somewhere among the branches in their family tree, either long forgotten, or long ignored?

Smith was denied entry to medical schools in the United States and earned his medical degree in Glasgow, Scotland.

He returned to New York to practice and also became an anti-slavery advocate through his writings:

"As early as 1859, Dr. McCune Smith said that race was not biological but was a social category," Dr. Vanessa Northington Gamble, a medical doctor and historian at George Washington University told the AP. "I feel that I am standing on the shoulders of Dr. James McCune Smith."

Blau theorizes that all of Smith's descendants began passing for white after his death -- and for good reason.
More here.

My mother resides in an unmarked grave. It's on private property, but the marker, if there ever was one, has long disappeared, covered over by the ravages of time, and neglect. She was buried in a place--on a few acres of land--that whites owned and set aside for slaves. She wasn't a slave, herself, but this place was, during her time, the only place where blacks were allowed to bury their own. It wasn't a cemetery, as we often think of the word, but more of a final resting place, because blacks didn't have their own cemeteries at the time of her death in the place where she died.

At least Dr. James McCune Smith is, at long last, recognized, claimed, and properly honored by his long-lost family members. There are other blacks waiting, too, who haven't been lost all these many long years, to be welcomed into the family of this nation, and to be recognized, claimed, and properly honored.

Actually, the time is long overdue.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Who Has The Mandate?

Who Has The Mandate?Most of the Republicans who spoke on Wednesday about their recent victories in the House and the Senate, all insisted: The American people gave them a mandate. John Boehner was so moved by it, that he cried.

Pollsters, those who ask the questions and crunch the numbers, believed that the "whipping" would be greater. There's no denying the beating that Democrats took in the House--but, in the Senate, they survived. They weaker now, but they survived. There was a 10% likelihood that they wouldn't. Many pundits felt that the Senate, as well as the House, would fall to the Republicans. They were wrong. To be sure, Democrats received a spanking in the Senate but clearly not a whipping.

Their defeat is easily explained: Many Democrats who voted in the 2008 election sat out this time. This clearly made the difference. They were young, and they were mostly minority. You might reason then: It wasn't the Republicans or the Tea Party who defeated Obama and the Democrats, it was their base. It's hard to say that the low turn out for this group was all about the economy, and not about the inability of Democrats to pursue a progressive agenda, or change how the system works. In the days ahead, Republicans will characterize their victory as a referendum on Obama, on his agenda, and on Democrats generally.

Once again, I think pundits are misreading the tea leaves: They're insisting that Republicans will have to abandon their obstructionist tactics and actually do something. "Surely the Republicans will cooperate now. Surely they want a record on which to run in 2012." I admit: I didn't anticipate the American people falling for this tactic. But now, I'm beginning to take Republicans at their word, whether they're Tea Party Republicans are old-brand Republicans. Early on, these old-brands made clear their position: They said, unequivocally, that they wanted Obama to fail, and, to date, they're making good on their words. With their new congress, Republicans are now threatening the unthinkable, not to compromise, and to make Obama a one-term president.

If I wasn't a believer before, I am now. A true believer. Why should Republicans abandon what has been working for them? Rand Paul, Tea Party candidate, and now Senator-elect, has put Republicans on notice. In his victory speech, he said, essentially, the Tea Party will take no prisoners, and they won't surrender. One thing is clear: It's the Tea Party that feels it has a mandate from the people, and not the whole of the Republican Party. Rand Paul has thrown down the gauntlet. For the Republican establishment the message is unambiguous: The Tea Party is now in charge. It's Tea Time. You'll either do it our way, or we'll show you the highway.

What we have, then, is a prescription for gridlock. The Tea Party, to keep its promises, will have to do something to give the appearance of reducing the size of government. For one, they will attempt to repeal health-care reform, which will, of course, fail. For two, they will attempt to whittle away at the size of the Federal government. Some Tea Party folk have actually gone so far as to call for the abolishing of the Education Department and the EPA. Were this to pass, it would make the Koch brothers happy, as well as some other wanna-be polluters. Republicans may want this, too, but they're not under any pressure to deliver. Expect some infighting on these issues.

Here's my prediction: The Republican Party will soon be obsolete. It will be replaced by the Tea Party. The Tea Party will be the Republican Party on steroids--more intransigent, more conservative, more aggressive, and less likely to reach across the aisle, if at all. Already the Tea Party has made significant inroads--to be followed by one incursion after the other, until they've replaced the Republican establishment.

Before the curtains were drawn on the Democrats, Obama managed to pass two key pieces of legislation (health-care reform, and wall street reform). Mid-term elections, traditionally, present incumbent parties a real challenge to hold seats in either house, regardless of party. It explains one of the reasons for the much-criticized haste to pass legislation before the mid-term, and the reason Obama and the Democrats didn't tackle other major legislation, such as immigration reform (which wasn't popular anyway with the electorate), and is now, after the recent Republican victories, on indefinite hold.

I firmly believe that the reason that jobs weren't pursued with all the vigor that the president and the congress could muster was the perception that the financial sector needed rescuing first to avoid a depression. They may have believed, too, that the much-lauded stimulus bill (which economist agreed was too small) would accomplish that task--but job losses came faster than anticipated, and the stimulus managed only to keep the losses from becoming a tsunami, merely replacing jobs that were being lost, rather than creating new ones.

To make matters worse: Votes passed in the Democrat-majority House were in-boxed in the Senate--because, it was explained, the votes necessary for passage didn't exist. The Democrat caucus gave Democrats 60 votes to defeat filibusterers in the Senate, but "blue-dog democrats (Republicans in my book)," and moderates, may have kept many of these bills from going forward, especially with that nasty mid-term election on the horizon. As an aside: Blue Dogs were unseated in the recent race with a vengeance, twenty-four in all.

Here's a thought: Should progressives start their own movement within the Democrat Party to move it more to the Left? I say: Why not? The country can't be more polarized than it is now. This would be one way to exact change (to assure accountability, maintain transparency, and take the money out of politics) without armed conflict, that second-amendment remedy, once suggested by Tea Party candidate, now defeated, Sharron Angle.

Undeservedly, Obama and the Democrats were stand-ins on Tuesday for Bush and the Republicans. Democrats took the beating that should have gone to Republicans. You can say that the previous mid-term elections and Obama's rise to the presidency was payback for what the Republicans did during their tenure, but, in my view, it wasn't enough. I can recount several things, from the two wars in which we're stilled mired--not so much in Iraq as in Afghanistan--to the economic woes this country still faces, all having their genesis under Bush. So to see Republicans rewarded for their failings is the ultimate slap in the face to Democrats. It further crystallizes my belief that the electorate still doesn't get it.

Will Obama abandon his liberal agenda, move closer to the center, and lean Right? It's no secret that the country is more conservative than liberal, but this hasn't always translated into political capital for Republicans, who, this time around, garnered more of the independent votes than did Democrats.

Rush Limbaugh, the oracle of the Right, states it something like this: "Where is there room for any compromise with Marxism, or socialism, or liberalism? Where is there compromise with evil."

Bullying is in. Issuing threats is in. Hard-line resistance is in. Statesmanship is out. Compromise is out. Working together is out. The Democrats are in a brawl, a bar fight, and they still want to characterize it as a misunderstanding. They say: The Republicans down deep want to work with us. They just don't know it yet.

Unless Republicans are in power, they will hold this nation and its economy hostage. It's clear, at least to me, that what they're after is a one-party nation, where they control both houses of congress and the presidency in perpetuity. We have moved into an era of one-party politics, where the Republican opposition party is just that--in complete opposition to any efforts to reach across the aisle to advance legislation, unless it initiates the legislation, unless it shapes the legislation without interference or input from the opposing party.

If you doubt me, listen to their rhetoric: It's defiant, definite, and deliberate, the four "D's" of a destructive policy.