Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Obama in Osawatomie

Obama gave a speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, yesterday, one of his performances in which he tries to sound like an actual Democrat. Although he picked the location because it has some historical association with Republican President Theodore Roosevelt. Another famous American historical figure is also associated with the place to the point of having been nicknamed Osawatomie: the anti-slavery guerrilla fighter John Brown, famous for his role in the mini civil war against slavery in "Bleeding Kansas".

So I even need to mention that the latter historical association makes no appearance in the President's speech?

Ken Thomas provides a news report in Barack Obama Addresses Payroll Tax Cuts, Economy In Kansas Speech Huffington Post 12/06/2011.

Ron Fournier does a report and analysis in No TR: The Limits of Obama's Bully Pulpit National Journal 11/06/2011.

And Charles Pierce applies his acid pen to the speech in Obama's Kansas Speech: The Good, the Bad, and the 99% Esquire Politics Blog 12/06/2011. Pierce reacts, uh, skeptically to Obama's equation of the Tea Party with the Occupy protests:

Can this meme please die a quick and bloody death? Back in 2009, the Tea Party demonstrations had fk-all to do with corporate greed. The whole thing started when Rick Santelli started raving about deadbeat mortgage holders and the hard-working stock traders in camera range behind him. The Tea Party demonstrations were manufactured events dedicated to the eternal proposition, "Me some, too, yes?" And even if you accept the fact that they were somehow spontaneous uprisings of people worried down to their orthotics about the goddamn deficit, which I don't, all of their energy was poured into opposing government spending — or, more specifically, government spending on those people, and not on us. If the corporate brains behind that "movement" ever thought it was seriously turning against the corporate piracy that caused the whole meltdown, they'd have pulled the plug, canceled all the buses, and a whole bunch of old white people would still be walking home from Washington. As I have said from the beginning about the Occupy movement, I will support it because, at the very least, those folks are yelling at the right buildings. [emphasis in original]
There's no doubt Obama can give a good speech when he focuses on doing so. Here he's in Big Picture mode. But even so, his politically pathological rhetorical centrism infects even a speech like this. At 7:00, he says:

This is the defining issue of our time. This is a make or break moment for the middle class, and for all those who are fighting to get into the middle class. Because what's at stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, secure their retirement.

Now in the midst of this debate, there are some who seem to be suffering from a kind of collective amnesia. After all that's happened, after the worst economic crisis, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, they want to return to the same practices that got us into this mess. In fact, they want to go back to the same policies that stacked the deck against middle class Americans for way too many years. And their philosophy is simple: we are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.

I am here to say they are wrong. I'm here in Kansas to reaffirm my deep conviction that we're greater together than we are on our own. I believe this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot. When everyone does their fair share. When everyone plays by the same rules.
Great! Obama doesn't have the booming cadence of FDR. But here he comes close to sounding like he shares FDR's passion for the working people and their interests.

Then he continues immediately with, "These are not Democratic values or Republican values. These aren't 1% values, or 99% values. These are They're American values. And we have to reclaim them." (my emphasis)

Did I mention that Obama's speech contained no historical references to John Brown or the fight against slavery? Some of those Abolitionists were just very uncivil, you know.

Why can't Obama straightforwardly state the obvious? That, no, these aren't Republican values, or 1% values. The Republicans and the wealthiest 1% whose interests they loyally serve reject those values and are determined to make sure that such values will not govern the United States.

Mammon forbid that the Democratic President even rhetorically claim to favor the interests of the 99% against the greed, recklessness and arrogance of the wealthiest 1%!

Speaking of heathen gods, Athena knows that Obama sounds more responsible and enlightened on the issue of regulating the banksters than any of the Republican candidates for President that have a remote chance of getting their authoritarian Party's nomination. But his own subservience to Wall Street during this depression makes him a deeply flawed messenger for defending those values he rhetorically endorses.

And for those who might be inclined to believe him, it really doesn't help for him to pepper-spray his own more confrontational rhetoric with "bipartisan" nonsense.

Obama and his Party have already offered up major cuts in Social Security and Medicare this year. On the supercommittee, the pitiful Democrats are begging, begging the Republicans to accept such cuts. Let's say that it seriously mitigates the credibility of the President's claim that he will defend the aspirations of working people to "secure their retirement".

Voters don't typically think in the policy-free terms of our Big Pundits, however much opportunity our media environment offers for mass manipulation by well-financed campaigns. Obama's very public insistence on drastic austerity economics in the middle of a depression in the wholly unnecessary debt-ceiling drama earlier this year showed clearly how unwilling Obama is to fight for those "American values" he enumerated at Osawatomie when it actually counts.

As long as Obama and the Democrats are willing to offer up cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits, those who support such programs or who want to see the Democrats fight for real on behalf of working people can't afford to take such claims seriously. However much worse the Republicans may be.

Ron Fournier, a lazy-minded Establishment pundit, digs up someone to present the excuse favored by the White House for their serial capitulations to Republicans and the 1%:

"There was a lot [Teddy] Roosevelt could do. America was expanding, not contracting," said Brian Carson, assistant professor of history and Misericordia University in Dallas, Pa. "Roosevelt was a symbolic figure as a man of action and I'm sure Barack Obama would like to be viewed that way. But, if anything, Obama seems to be a man of limits, personally and by the nature of the times."

He recalled that Roosevelt once gathered together the titans of industry to bully them about one of his initiatives. Imagine Obama doing that? His biggest contributors work on Wall Street, and he is temperamentally more likely to lead quietly behind the scenes, or delegate leadership to Congress, than seize the spotlight.

Obama gave a great speech. But the next TR? History doesn't repeat itself. In this case, it may not even rhyme.

"Think about it," Carson said, "What can a president do today?"
Our Pod Pundits may be impressed with the White House's excuse that they have no choice but to snivel before the demands of Wall Street and other business lobbies: shrugging their shoulders and saying, gee, what get a President do anyway?

I don't think voters outside the Beltway Village bubble are likely to be so easily impressed.

Charles Pierce in a follow-up post on the Osawatomie speech (The President Does Not Fully Understand the 99 Percent 12/07/2011) comments on the passage cited above, "I believe this country succeeds ... American values." (Editorial gripe: Pierce truncates the quote without an elipsis.) And his gives this Menckenesque commentary:

Is it necessary to count exactly how many ways the man is wrong here? Not in what he believes. Those indeed are the circumstances in which this country has succeeded. But the fact remains that, in the current political context, while the Democratic party may be timid in asserting them, those values still exist somewhere in the party. They simply do not exist in the Republican party. The Republican party does not believe in the truth of that first sentence, and it has no intention of pursuing policies that actually have a chance of giving "everyone a fair shot." The Republican party gave up on these "values" the first time they let [supply-side economics propagandist] Arthur Laffer into their corridors of power without handing him a mop and a bucket. And since the American people handed the House of Representatives over to these people — and since the American people have not yet laughed the entire GOP presidential field off the stage yet — it can be safely said that the president is going to have to work a lot harder to convince me that they are widely held "American values" any more.

More important, in our current political context, these are very much "99 percent values." They are not one percent values. The One Percent could care less if there ever is a thriving middle class in this country again. They'd sell the entire American middle class to the Somali pirates if there was a buck in it. There may be a political calculation at work here — Embrace the energy of the Occupy movement, Mr. President, but stay the hell out of the damn drum circle!but the fact remains that the effectiveness of the "We Are the 99 Percent" argument is completely dependent upon its independence from the anesthetic stupor brought on by ameliorative political rhetoric. [my emphasis in bold]
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