American history teaches that we are on a dangerous path. And history has a way of repeating itself. A little more than 150 years ago, this country experienced another bombastic phase. Hatred of a president and his government’s policies produced a bloody schism that eventually led to an accord grounded in hope but which papered over a disharmony still lingering today.
Then, as now, there was a president, Abraham Lincoln, accused by those who detested him of misusing presidential power, subverting the Constitution and trampling over states’ rights. Then, as now, that president was characterized as a ruthless tyrant bent upon destroying a superior civilization.
Then, as now, that president was portrayed as a simpleton, a buffoon and a coward.
Here’s the passage:
When you hear the inevitable critics of the deal sound off, ask them a simple question: do you really think that this verifiable deal, if fully implemented backed by the world’s powers, is a worse option than the risk of another war in the Middle East?
The question, for Obama, isn’t whether this deal is perfect (though he clearly thinks it’s pretty good). It’s whether there are any alternatives that might be better. And the president, quite fundamentally, believes there aren’t.
The administration has now decided that in many cases, even adversarial bargaining fails because the Republican leadership is not capable of planning tactically. “You have to be careful not to presume a lot of strategy for this group,” Pfeiffer said. “I’ve always believed that the fundamental, driving strategic ethos of the Republican House leadership has been, What do we do to get through the next caucus or conference without getting yelled at? We should never assume they have a long game. We used to spend a lot of time thinking that maybe Boehner is saying this to get himself some more room. And it’s like, no, that’s not actually the case. Usually he’s just saying it because he just said it or it’s the easiest thing to solve his immediate problem.”
This analysis puts the administration at odds with the reading of American politics that still dominates much of Washington reporting. Many political journalists imagine that the basic tension for the White House lies between Obama’s liberal base and appealing to Americans at the center, who will be crucial for tipping elections.
Pfeiffer believes the dynamic is, in fact, the opposite: “The incentive structure moves from going after the diminishing middle to motivating the base.” Ever since Republicans took control of the House four years ago, attempts to court Republicans have mostly failed while simultaneously dividing Democratic voters. Obama’s most politically successful maneuvers, by contrast, have all been unilateral and liberal. “Whenever we contemplate bold progressive action,” Pfeiffer said, “whether that’s the president’s endorsement of marriage equality, or coming out strong on power-plant rules to reduce current pollution, on immigration, on net neutrality, you get a lot of hemming and hawing in advance about what this is going to mean: Is this going to alienate people? Is this going to hurt the president’s approval ratings? What will this mean in red states?” And yet this hesitation has always proved overblown: “There’s never been a time when we’ve taken progressive action and regretted it.”
My emphasis added.
As a liberal, I sure wish they had come to this realization much sooner.
Historians who want to understand Obama will find few better summations than the two paragraphs at the core of this speech:
We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, or that racial division is inherent to America. If you think nothing’s changed in the past fifty years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or L.A. of the Fifties. Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed. Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago. To deny this progress — our progress — would be to rob us of our own agency; our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.
Of course, a more common mistake is to suggest that racism is banished, that the work that drew men and women to Selma is complete, and that whatever racial tensions remain are a consequence of those seeking to play the “race card” for their own purposes. We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true. We just need to open our eyes, and ears, and hearts, to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us. We know the march is not yet over, the race is not yet won, and that reaching that blessed destination where we are judged by the content of our character requires admitting as much.
Those 230 words are a precise distillation of Obama’s view of America, and the role politics must play in it.
The first paragraph is Obama’s case for hope: America is improving; it has always been improving, and to deny that improvement is to steal from Americans a belief in their country that they have more than earned. “To deny this progress — our progress — would be to rob us of our own agency,” he said.
The second paragraph is Obama’s case for change: America’s sins are not vanquished; its hatreds remain real; its racism still breathes. “We know the march is not yet over,” Obama said, “the race is not yet won, and that reaching that blessed destination where we are judged by the content of our character requires admitting as much.”
While the U.S.-led coalition to defeat the so-called Islamic State has launched around 5,000 airstrikes against the extremist group, with Central Command posting daily updates on new airstrikes targeting the organization also known as ISIS or ISIL, several Republican politicians appear to believe that the U.S. is not at all engaging in a fight against group.
The same politicians will readily praise the leaders of Egypt and Jordan for launching airstrikes against the terrorist group, while then criticizing President Obama for not following in their footsteps, even though the U.S. is responsible for the vast majority of the airstrikes carried out by the anti-ISIS coalition. Of course, many Republicans and Democrats have expressed legitimate criticisms of the administration’s strategy to defeat ISIS, but some Republicans are acting as if the administration is not at all engaged in fighting the group, whose momentum has been blunted since the airstrikes began.
Obama Derangement Syndrome is different. It isn’t so much paranoia about President Obama’s policies as it is paranoia about the man himself — that he is, in some fundamental way, different, foreign, untrustworthy, even traitorous. What’s odd is that it is attached to a president whose presidency has been, in almost every respect, conventionally liberal. Bush Derangement Syndrome sought extraordinary explanations for extraordinary events; Obama Derangement Syndrome seeks extraordinary explanations for an ordinary presidency.
What is so odd about Obama Derangement Syndrome is how thoroughly within our comprehension Obama’s presidency actually is. His path to power — Harvard Law School, Illinois legislature, U.S. Senate — is unremarkable. His White House is stocked with veterans of the Clinton White House and the Democratic congressional leadership. His policies are conventionally center-left. His vice president is literally Joe Biden. No one loves America more than Joe Biden.
If it’s really true that Obama doesn’t love this country, if it’s really true that his birth was a conspiracy and his ideology is baroque, foreign, and hateful, then the discomfort some Americans feel when they look at Obama is justified — it’s a kind of patriotic spidey-sense. The alternative explanation — the one that looks at why Obama makes some Americans so much more uncomfortable than, say, Joe Biden — requires a much harder conversation.
My emphasis added.
For Obama’s critics, and even some of his defenders, this is the president being “politically correct,” straining to prove that terrorists, and their victims, hail from every group and creed in order to avoid stigmatizing Muslims. But the president’s survey is fairly representative. Peruse the FBI’s database of terrorist attacks in the United States between 1980 and 2005 and you’ll see that radical Muslims account for a small percentage of them. Many more were committed by radical environmentalists, right-wing extremists, and Puerto Rican nationalists. To be sure, Muslims account for some of the most deadly incidents: the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, Egyptian immigrant Hesham Mohamed Ali Hedayat’s shooting spree at the El Al counter at LAX in 2002, and of course 9/11. But non-Muslims account (or at least appear to account) for some biggies too: the Unabomber, the Oklahoma City bombing, the explosions at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and the 2001 anthrax attacks).
If you look more recently, the story is much the same. Between 2006 and 2013, the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database (GTD) logged 14 terrorist incidents in the United States in which at least one person died. Of these, Muslims committed four: a 2006 attack on the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, a 2009 assault on a Little Rock recruiting station, the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, and the 2013 Boston Marathon attack (which the GTD counts as four separate incidents but I count as only one). Non-Muslims committed 10, including an attack on a Unitarian church in Knoxville in 2008, the murder of abortion doctor George Tiller in Wichita in 2009, the flying of a private plane into an IRS building in Austin in 2010, and the attack on the Sikh temple that same year.
Why does this matter? Because the U.S. government has finite resources. If you assume, as conservatives tend to, that the only significant terrorist threat America faces comes from people with names like Mohammed and Ibrahim, then that’s where you’ll devote your time and money. If, on the other hand, you recognize that environmental lunatics and right-wing militia types kill Americans for political reasons too, you’ll spread the money around.
Instead of assuming that these threats are the same, we should be debating the relative danger of each. By using “violent extremism” rather than “radical Islam,” Obama is staking out a position in that argument. It’s a position with which reasonable people can disagree. But cowardice has nothing to do with it.
Among the many reasons I will not attend are the following:
We know what he is going to say. Netanyahu’s position on the ongoing negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program is not a secret. Like many other members, I have been visited by the Israeli ambassador and understand what they want and how that differs from what U.S. negotiators are attempting to accomplish.
The Prime Minister has plenty of other places to express his opinions. In fact he has done so many times.
Netanyahu will specifically be arguing against the foreign policy of the administration. Speaker Boehner invited the Prime Minister to address Congress specifically to refute President Obama’s position. I will not contribute to the impression that this body does not support the President of the United States in foreign affairs.
It will become a matter of score-keeping as to who stands up and applauds and who doesn’t. Having visited Israel only months after Netanyahu addressed Congress in 2011, I know how much political impact these scenes have in that country. There is pressure to join the applause even if a member does not agree with statements made.
Congress has a broader responsibility than the security interests of Israel. While it certainly is important that we understand the Israeli perspective, the American people will hear only Netanyahu’s perspective, creating a public perception that could undermine a broadly supported resolution to the Iranian nuclear situation.
The Prime Minister’s appearance will be construed by many to infer congressional support for his position as opposed to US policy.
I do not want my respectful attendance to in any way imply support for his position.
Until they are told that they are Obama’s policies.
It is truly remarkable that an issue like immigration reform, which enjoys such broad support among the public, has become so mired in politics. PRRI’s most recent survey—released this week—finds that roughly three-quarters (76 percent) of Americans support the specifics of Obama’s executive action allowing the parents of children with legal status to stay in the country for up to three years if they meet certain requirements. Just one in five Americans (19 percent) is opposed to this policy. Moreover, this policy enjoys strong majority support across partisan and religious lines. 87 percent of Democrats, 77 percent of independents, and 67 percent of Republicans support this policy, as do majorities of Catholics (76 percent) and white evangelical Protestants (68 percent).
When there is no mention of Obama, two-thirds (67 percent) of Republicans favor allowing illegal immigrants who are parents of those with legal status to avoid deportation if they meet certain requirements. But when Obama is linked to the policy, support among Republicans drops 16 points to 51 percent. Support among independents also falls 13 points when Obama is linked to the policy, from 77 percent to 64 percent. Among Democrats, there is no statistically significant effect in support.
The “Obama Effect” is even more pronounced in attitudes about the DREAM Act. When Obama is not identified with the policy, six in ten (60 percent) Republicans favor allowing illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to gain legal resident status if they attend college or join the military. Once Obama is identified with the policy, Republican attitudes invert: Support plummets 23 points to only 37 percent, while opposition rises to nearly 6-in-10 (58 percent).
It has been enlightening to watch this entire spectacle play out over the past week.
It has indeed. Remarkably, comments that acknowledge verifiable history are treated as controversial. Meanwhile the complete denial of this history, both recent and long past, has been accepted as reasonable instead of being greeted with the universal derision and laughter it deserves. Other than David Brooks, has anyone on the right simply acknowledged the accuracy of President Obama’s remarks.
From earlier in the piece:
Ross [Douthat] is disturbed to see the president drawing an “implied equivalence” between the barbarism of ISIS and the “the incredibly complicated multi-century story of medieval Christendom’s conflict with Islam.” This will not do. The present conflict in the Middle East is also an “incredibly complicated multi-century story.” And yet that fact does not (and should not) prevent Ross from drawing conclusions about the morality of burning a man to death in the name of God. The president’s comments are no different: “During the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.” This is a manifestly true statement—just as true as: “During the Middle East conflict, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Allah.”
Beneath Ross’s claim of “incredible” complication is a plea for context and nuance on behalf of the murderers of Jews—one he does not make on behalf of ISIS.
The expectation always seems to be that Christianity (or America, the country supposedly founded on it) should never be judged by the standards to which other religions, countries, or cultures are held. Or more simply, Christianity and America should never be judged.