Browsing the archives for the obama tag.

Washington DC, the inaugural address – ninetynine years ago

Culture, History, Politics, US culture, US Politics

The inauguration speech, to the year one century ago:

Hence it is clear to all that the domination of an ignorant, irresponsible element can be prevented by constitutional laws which shall exclude from voting both negroes and whites not having education or other qualifications thought to be necessary for a proper electorate. The danger of the control of an ignorant electorate has therefore passed. With this change, the interest which many of the Southern white citizens take in the welfare of the negroes has increased. The colored men must base their hope on the results of their own industry, self-restraint, thrift, and business success, as well as upon the aid and comfort and sympathy which they may receive from their white neighbors of the South. [..]

There is in the South a stronger feeling than ever among the intelligent well-to-do, and influential element in favor of the industrial education of the negro and the encouragement of the race to make themselves useful members of the community. The progress which the negro has made in the last fifty years, from slavery [..], is marvelous, and it furnishes every reason to hope that in the next twenty-five years a still greater improvement in his condition as a productive member of society, on the farm, and in the shop, and in other occupations may come.

This, it should be noted on behalf of William Taft, from a speech that spoke both of and for America’s blacks as no inaugural address before had done, and must to contemporary standards have pressed hard for their case.

America – as they say … you’ve come a long way, baby.

P.S. Explore past inaugural addresses with this nifty word analysis tool. “Locusts,” alas, appears only once, as in “We are stricken by no plague of locusts”.

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Inauguration cuteness

Politics, US Politics

Litbrit at Cogitamus:

I was touched and amused by the innocent excitement of Malia Obama, who repeatedly pulled out her little digital camera and snapped photos of all those famous people singing and dancing–and remembering history–just a few feet away. Um, Malia, you’re the First Firstborn, darling; those celebrities are all going to want photos of you.

President elect Obama and Malia (Image used under CC license from Dianne Collins)

President elect Obama and Malia (Image used under CC license from Dianne Collins)

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David Palmer, Barack Obama

Culture, History, Media / journalism, Presidential Elections, US culture, US Politics
Dennis Haysbert as David Palmer, President

Dennis Haysbert as David Palmer, President

The New York Times has an article today called, “How The Movies Made a President,” (which includes a cool slide show). It examines various black archetypes in movies and TV and how they may have helped to prepare the ground for the ascendancy of Barack Obama. I had similar thoughts a few months ago but never got around to making a blog post out of ’em (I know, all the bloggers say that, right?). The article mentions Dennis Haysbert and the show “24” in passing — that was the starting point of my train of thought earlier.

I think the significance of that show is not only that it was popular and that the black President Palmer was a good guy, someone the audience is rooting for, but that Keifer Sutherland’s character Jack Bauer is a pretty Republican character, at core. He’s all about stoppin’ those damn terrorists by any means necessary. This wasn’t some lefty liberal show, at all.

I started thinking about this after seeing a Dennis Haysbert commercial for State Farm. He’s all calm, reassuring authority. I saw the commercial soon after some sort of political television — a debate, perhaps — and I thought at the time that it had to help Obama. There are just all sorts of resonances there. The phrases I transcribed from the commercial at the time were, “If this isn’t a recession, it sure feels like one,” (spoken wryly but seriously by Haysbert, standing in a grocery store) and then the standard State Farm tagline; “Are you in good hands?” Haysbert’s hands, the commercial clearly implies, are very good ones.

As of a year ago, Dennis Haysbert was willing to take some of the credit, too:

“As far as the public is concerned, it did open up their minds and their hearts a little bit to the notion that if the right man came along… that a black man could be president of the United States,” Haysbert, who believes that Obama is the “right man,” said in the January 21 [2008] issue of TV Guide. “People on the street would ask me to run for office… when I went to promote [24].”

[…]

“I think we both have a similar approach to who and what we believe the president is,” Haysbert said in another interview with the Los Angeles Times. “Barack doesn’t get angry. He’s pretty level. That’s how I portrayed President Palmer: as a man with control over his emotions and great intelligence.”

I don’t think anyone’s claiming that there is a direct line from one to the other; that if these black fictional representations hadn’t existed, Barack Obama wouldn’t have won, or that the fictional representations meant that any black politician could make it that far. Obama’s achievement is significant and singular. I do agree with Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott, though, authors of the NYT article, that

The presidencies of James Earl Jones in “The Man,” Morgan Freeman in “Deep Impact,” Chris Rock in “Head of State” and Dennis Haysbert in “24” helped us imagine Mr. Obama’s transformative breakthrough before it occurred. In a modest way, they also hastened its arrival.

(Another thought I had while reading the NYT article — Michelle Obama is SO Clair Huxtable, isn’t she? Smart, polished, down-to-earth, nurturing, funny…. Is this not a total Clair Huxtable moment?)

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Of donuts and wingnuts

Culture, Funny, Politics, US culture, US Politics

This story, surely, could. Not. Possibly. Be. True.

Krispy Kreme decided, just for Inauguration Day, to “honor [..] American’s [sic] sense of pride and freedom of choice [..], by offering a free doughnut of choice to every customer on this historic day”. Check.

Bigwig wingnut is wingnutty and takes offence. Okay … I suppose. In the nature of things.

Bigwig wingnut in question is Judie Brown, President of the American Life League, who sent out a news release headlined KRISPY KREME CELEBRATES OBAMA WITH PRO-ABORTION DOUGHNUTS.

What?

It’s for real, alas. The news release is on the ALL website, in all its incredible, batshit insane glory. Choice snippets:

The next time you stare down a conveyor belt of slow-moving, hot, sugary glazed donuts at your local Krispy Kreme you just might be supporting President-elect Barack Obama’s radical support for abortion on demand [..]

The unfortunate reality of a post Roe v. Wade America is that “choice” is synonymous with abortion access and celebration of ‘freedom of choice’ is a tacit endorsement of abortion rights on demand. [..]

A misconstrued concept of “choice” has killed over 50 million preborn children since Jan. 22, 1973. Does Krispy Kreme really want their free doughnuts to celebrate this “freedom.”” [..]

We challenge Krispy Kreme doughnuts to [..] separate themselves and their doughnuts from our great American shame.”

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Is it that the media pundits are simply too rich to understand?

Media / journalism, Politics, US Politics

Ken Grant slammed NBC News’ Mark Whitaker the other day for displaying particularly pronounced vacuity after Obama’s speech on the economy and his stimulus package.* Apparently, the new Senior Vice President and Washington Bureau Chief for NBC News took to the screen to evaluate Obama’s speech. What did he say “in response to this serious and important speech on the direction that [Obama] plans to take regarding said economic turmoil”?

Did he comment on the substance? Perhaps quibble with the details?  Offer a trenchant critique on the merits of the plan?

Please.  [..] No, Mr. Whitaker decided to flog Obama for his speaking style.

He blathered on for a bit on how he was surprised that Mr. Obama’s speech pattern did not sound like the soaring uplift as heard on the campaign trail.  He wondered why Mr. Obama sounded more like a con-law professor.

Grant’s pissed and goes on the same rant all of us have indulged in at some point in the election season: “This is the problem with our news today, as they are far more concerned with the ‘optics’ or the ‘tone’ or any number of other completely superfluous bits of fluff and ephemera.” Right. As for why though, he offers one straightforward explanation to go in the mix:

You see, he has a job that pays him an extraordinary amount of money, and thus he really doesn’t seem to see that there is a problem.  “Yes, yes, the ‘help’ is feeling a bit pinched, these days [..] Ah, well, hopefully that nice Mr. Obama can do something, if only he would do exactly what we want him to do, and in the manner in which we have become accustomed.”

I think people like Whitaker are more concerned with the manner in which things are done being what they are accustomed to than Obama doing what they want him to do – I don’t think they necessarily have much in the way of specifics on that anyway, other than that he shouldn’t rock the boat too much. But regarding the money thing, is at least part of it really that simple?

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Yeah, But We Have a Black President So Nanny Nanny Boo Boo

Culture, International Politics, Politics, Presidential Elections, Uncategorized, US culture, US Politics

T-shirt made by a bar in Georgia

I’m starting to see Obama being held up as an indication of how advanced America is compared to other countries when it comes to race relations. On the one hand that’s so awesome! Yay us! I do still get this little shock every time I realize that it’s actually true, and what it means.

On the other hand, it’s a bit too easy and pat. The fact that Obama was elected doesn’t mean that America no longer has any problems with race.

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Politics Detox

Presidential Elections, US culture, US Elections, US Politics
I took this photo of an voting information flier on the ground on election day.

I took this photo of a voting information flier on the ground on election day.

I’ve been interested in politics forever but this election year was one for the ages. And all of that excitement wasn’t even crammed into a single election year — candidates announced that they were running for president about two years before election day (of the major candidates, John Edwards was first in December of 2006, and Barack Obama was last in February of 2007), and there was speculation and buzz well before anyone announced anything.

All told, this election cycle took up about three years of my life, with the intensity ratcheting up and up and staying at fever pitch from about the Iowa primaries (January 2008) through election day.

So perhaps it’s unsurprising that after the initial euphoria of election night, I’ve settled into a period of politics detox. I no longer obsessively click on the acronymed sites crowding my bookmarks toolbar (TPM, FR, DD, WM, 538) — several of them haven’t been touched since November 4th. I still read my daily New York Times but I glide over the politics and intrigue and pay more attention to the arts section and special sections like Science Times. The TV stays away from CNN and MSNBC and C-Span.

I believe this has been better for my mental health — but man, that was sure a fascinating election cycle.

I can sense that things are starting to change already. For one thing, I am so watching the inauguration. My daughter has the day off of school (hooray!) and we’re gonna make a day of it. That’ll invite CNN back into my living room, and I’ll want to see what Kevin Drum and Andrew Sullivan and Matt Yglesias and Hilzoy and everyone are saying about it. And I’ll disagree with some of it, probably, and write them emails and write stuff here and then see the counterarguments and that’ll probably be that. Detox completed, politics part of my brain re-engaged.

But for now, I’m still really enjoying ignoring politics in favor of things like the Science Times. Did you know that it’s been proven that lack of sleep is closely related to catching a cold? I thought so…

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Recognizing When You’re Wrong

Economy, Politics, US Economy, US Politics

Yesterday, President Elect Obama pulled off what I think is one of the hardest political acts to perform; he admitted he was wrong.  From back in the campaign, Obama suggested that part of his stimulus package would be a tax credit to businesses who create jobs.  In 2007, Obama was one of the senators pushing the “Patriot Employer Act”.  That bill would try to designate businesses who hire more US workers and reward them with tax credits.  Last week, that policy started to take the form of a $3,000 tax credit for each job in Obama’s stimulus package.  But the cry against this came from all quarters.  Republicans, economists, business writers and members of his own party brought up their concerns that this plan won’t work.  It’s like eliminating the tax on gasoline when prices are high: lots of politics, no benefit. 

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Taking a moment to realise how different it could have been

Economy, European Politics, Politics, US Economy, US Politics, World Economy

This is Josh Moulitsas-Soros, acting CEO of Observationalism.com.

Most readers know that the views expressed on this blog are…

OK, just joking.

Ezra Klein uses the progressive blogosphere’s shitstorm in a teacup of the day to reflect on the agenda of the Third Way think tank, and how events since 2004 have overtaken it and made it irrelevant. It’s a good way to consider just how different things could have gone – and while we’re at it, to consider the looming reversal of roles between US liberals and European lefties.

It’s just four years ago, when Third Way was announced on November 11th, 2004, that this seemed like a good idea:

This was a week after John Kerry lost the presidential election, and the young organization was sold as a DLC for the next-generation. “As Democrats continue to stagger from last week’s election losses, a group of veteran political and policy operatives has started an advocacy group aimed at using moderate Senate Democrats as the front line in a campaign to give the party a more centrist profile,” wrote The Washington Post.

In other words, Third Way was formed under the theory that the Democrats’ problem in 2004 was that they were too far to the left, and as such, had lost middle class voters. The organization focused on upper middle class voters and followed the Mark Penn strategy of machine gun bursts of small, bite-sized policies meant to attract professional whites and rural voters.

Ezra does a good job in briefly sketching how quickly the Third Way’s strategy became an anachronism:

This year, Barack Obama was, on domestic policy, the most moderate of the major Democrats, which put him substantially to the left of every major Democrat running for president in 2004. His health care plan was more universal than Gephardt’s, his Iraq plan was more aggressively focused on withdrawal than Dean’s, and he was a black liberal from an urban center. Clinton and Edwards ran on similar platforms. None of them bore any obvious resemblance to the office park bait Third Way advocated. [..]

Third Way [..] were built as the vessel for a particular argument about the path to a Democratic resurgence, and their side of that debate lost. [..] Democrats have won atop something like the opposite of their advice and very different from their predicted majority coalition, which may explain why they’re acting so defensive.

All of which provides a good Zen moment to consider, even amidst my kind of bellyaching about Obama’s appointees, the blessings there are to count. You could have ended up with the Third Way recipe. Instead, the Democratic Party’s has moved left even as it gained political dominance.

This doesn’t just hold up in comparison with what the future looked like in 2004, either. Take the 850 billion euro economic stimulus plan the Democrats are preparing. That’s 6% of America’s GDP, more or less. Now compare the €200-billion stimulus plan that EU leaders eventually agreed on last week that involves the member states pumping the equivalent of 1.5% of GDP into their economies.

Alternatively, consider the £20-billion British stimulus package that Gordon Brown is proposing. On the eve of the EU summit, it stirred the German finance minister into a frenzied tizzy in Newsweek about “tossing around billions,” a deplorable “breathtaking switch” to “crass Keynesianism,” and the “breathtaking and depressing … speed at which proposals are put together .. that don’t even pass an economic test” – and that’s a plan that involves, if I’m getting the numbers right, all of 1.6% of British GDP.

Basically, after years in which European lefties like me groaned about a Democratic Party so milquetoast it would be a right-wing party in our countries, we’re suddenly faced with American peers who are moving more boldly to tackle the economic crisis than any EU government seems able or willing to do. While Obama’s party appears to be prepping a rapid shift of perspective to rediscover the wisdom of Keynesianism, the European governments are shackled by the EU’s deficit rules. It might not be long before we actually cast a jealous eye on those American peers we disdained just a few years ago.

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Of two minds about the South

Politics, Presidential Elections, US Elections, US Politics

In TNR, Clay Risen revisited the question of voting patterns in the South in this year’s presidential elections, and responded to a point of criticism I raised here on his previous take. Being an incurable nitpicker, I’m still not altogether convinced.

In his previous take, Risen justifiably sounded critical notes about how the South was presented in some of the electoral analysis, which was all about how its “backward ways are increasingly irrelevant to the American scene”. He pointed out that hey, in much of the South Obama actually did better than Kerry had done, thank you very much. The “red splotches” on the electoral map that showed a shift to McCain only covered a specific band of counties stretching from Kentucky to Oklahoma, while “across the “Deep South” [..] the map is almost entirely blue.” Ergo, what the map showed was “not a waning South, but a fissured and rapidly changing one”, and “what is really surprising is not how stalwart the South is in its ways” but “that broad swaths of the region look just like the rest of the country.”

The former is certainly a good point. My own stab at electoral analysis here highlighted how the Gulf states and Atlantic states seem to be heading down different paths altogether. But the latter point has a problem or two.

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Obama’s victory confronts France with its own troubled status quo

Culture, European culture(s), European Politics, Politics

During the US presidential election campaign, Doug Saunders noted in the Canadian Globe & Mail last month, “the big question in Europe had been whether Mr. Obama’s liberalism connected to the values of the social democrats and socially moderate conservatives who tend to govern Europe. Was he good enough to be a European?” It was, in at least one major aspect, the wrong question. When it comes to race, Saunders pointed out, the question is rather the other way around. Would European voters have been able to do what American voters did? Would they measure up to the way Americans overcame racial prejudice in electing Obama?

There are some 5 million blacks in France and the UK alone; some 12 million across Europe. Arguably more marginalised still are the Muslims of Western Europe; the immigrants and children and grandchildren of immigrants from Northern Africa, Turkey and Pakistan. There are 7-10 million of those in France, Germany and the UK alone, with another 5 million spread elsewhere through Western Europe. So how about it? Could there be a European Obama?

Rama Yade (Image used under CC license from Flickr user philippe leroyer)

Rama Yade (Image used under CC license from Flickr user philippe leroyer)

No way, said France’s only black minister, Rama Yade in an interview with the Telegraph, at least not in France. Her country “will never elect its own Barack Obama under the current ageing, white political elite,” she said, calling the prospect a “pipe dream”. And this is not some cynical lefty talking; Yade is the secretary of state for human rights and foreign affairs in a conservative government, which she joined as something of a protege of President Sarkozy.

“I’m 51 and I’m sure I won’t see any Barack Obama in France in the next generation,” Saunders was told by Azouz Begag, who  served as Minister for Equal Opportunities under Jacques Chirac.

“Obama puts the political system in France on the hot seat,” Pap Ndiaye of the School for the Advanced Study of the Social Sciences in Paris told the Christian Science Monitor. His election “has a direct social effect in France, because the black youth think it is possible there but not here.”

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The Shinseki myth and the Obama administration

Politics, US Politics

When news broke, a few days ago, that Barack Obama would appoint retired army general Eric Shinseki as head of the Department of Veteran Affairs, the choice was widely praised. “General Shinseki is widely-respected, honest and experienced,” the group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said, for example. “He is a man that has always put patriotism ahead of politics, and is held in high regard by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Shinseki is a nonpartisan man, and his choice means that Democrats whose names had also circulated as possible nominees, like former Sen. Max Cleland and Tammy Duckworth, were passed over. That’s a disappointment; who wouldn’t wish Cleland, a liberal favourite, a return to national politics after the way he was smeared in his re-election campaign? But reading the accounts reminding us how Shinseki “warned Donald Rumsfeld that a large force was needed to invade Iraq,” and was dissed by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz for it, it was easy to feel reassured. Here was a brave man who had spoken up for what was right.

Or was he? On the CNN site, Jamie McIntyre takes on what he calls “one of those Washington myths that are almost impossible to dispel”. Critics of the war, he writes, “have lauded Shinseki’s prescience and his willingness to speak truth to power,” but “the facts as we know them are not nearly so complimentary to the retired Army chief”.

You see, Shinseki never made any recommendation for more troops for Iraq. [..] According to senior military officers who were in the pre-war meetings, Shinseki never objected to the war plans, and he didn’t press for any changes.

When the joint chiefs were asked point-blank by then-Chairman Gen. Richard Meyers if they had any concerns about the plans before they went to the president, Shinseki kept silent.

[He] was a very private leader who did media briefings only when ordered to and rarely gave interviews. If he had concerns about the Iraq war plans, he kept them to himself. [..]

Knowing his opinions were not particularly welcome, Shinseki kept his mouth shut.

None of this, of course, means he will not be a good V.A. Secretary. It is not disputed that he is a very intelligent and experienced man, with a heart for the military. It also doesn’t mean that Shinseki didn’t, in fact, disagree strongly with Rumsfeld; he probably did. But a man who spoke truth to power, maybe not so much.

Which makes his appointment seem in line, in some ways, with those of people like Tim Geithner, Jim Jones and Robert Gates. Exceedingly smart inside players, who seem to have had a keen sense of what was going wrong even as they were themselves to some degree part of it; but who were indeed part of those ventures that went so wrong, whether it was financial deregulation or the Iraq war, and who were cautious, maybe overcautious, in approaching the matter.

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