Togane, Japan
December 31
I'm teaching English in foreign countries as a way to see the world. I lived in Germany for three years and have been in Japan since August of 2011.


Kemstone's Links

AUGUST 28, 2010 9:00AM

What I Have in Common with Obama AND the Tea Party

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Have you ever criticized someone for being a certain way, only to reflect on it later and realize that you’re often guilty of the same thing?

I’ve recently engaged in some political introspection that I think might be worth sharing. I’ve found that what bothers me most about Barack Obama’s leadership style is something I do myself, and much of what frustrates me about the Tea Party is something I’m just as guilty of. I’ll explain what I have in common with these groups, but then defend myself by explaining how in my case, it’s different.

Is your hypocrisy-detector functioning? Then here we go…

Obama and Me

From the very beginning, Barack Obama presented himself as a unifying figure. In giving the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, he catapulted himself to national fame with these words:

Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.

The pundits, the pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an “awesome God” in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

His desire to rise above petty partisanship and bring the country together was one of the most admirable qualities he had as a presidential candidate, and it’s undoubtedly what drew a lot of right-leaning independents to vote for him in 2008.

The problem is that he actually tried to put this philosophy to practice when he became president, and not only has it failed miserably but it’s resulted in legislation being weakened to the point of impotence. In the name of “changing the tone in Washington”, Obama began his presidency by weakening the stimulus bill and loading it with tax-cuts in order to try and win a few republican votes that he didn’t get anyway. He tried to reach across the aisle on health care reform, and drove his presidency into a ditch by abandoning the public option. He managed to get Lieberman and a few other corporatist Democrats on board, but not a single republican, and average conservatives are still convinced that the bill is the End of America as we know it.

But as much as I want to scream, “No! Don’t compromise! Fight! Fight them with everything you’ve got!” I have to acknowledge that I too have a natural inclination to seek out the middle. When I debate someone, I’m not so much trying to win an argument as I’m trying to explain my position to the other side, to better understand theirs, and hopefully to find common ground. In fact I’ve taken some criticism from Team Left simply for suggesting that we try to reach out to conservatives and work together against the common enemy of corporate influence in government.

So how can I justifiably condemn Obama for a personality trait that I share with him?

The difference: I’m not the President of the United States. When I debate someone, there’s nothing at stake but our own points of view. The strength of the economy is not on the line. No lives depend on the outcome.

And more importantly, I’m usually not arguing with people whose primary goal is to destroy me. I’m all in favor of negotiation and compromise, but not if the other side isn’t acting in good faith. The republicans who signaled that that they might vote for a bill if Obama was willing to give up this or that were never interested in making the bill better—they only wanted to make it worse so that it would be easier to kill, and easier to campaign against if it passed. In some situations, compromise is the last thing you should do.

Which brings me to…

The Tea Party and Me

I am significantly to the left of the establishment Democratic Party, just as the Tea Party is significantly to the right of the establishment Republican Party. Just as I want democrats to be more liberal, the Tea Party wants republicans to be more conservative.

I hate this about the Tea Party. They are pushing the Republican Party so far to the lunatic fringe that even Ronald Reagan wouldn’t pass their ideological purity tests. Many say they’re hurting their own cause, as far-right candidates like Sharron Angle stand a much worse chance of winning a general election than more moderate, mainstream republicans. But they care more about their ideals than the success of a political party.

And this is a trait I share with them. If it were up to me, the progressive movement in this country would go after Blue Dog Democrats and corporate shills like Blanche Lincoln with just as much ferocity as we go after republicans. The Democratic Party, because it is so full of moderates and centrists, never draws a line in the sand and sticks to it. Even when the progressive caucus in the House of Representatives announced that it wouldn’t vote for a health care reform bill without a public option, they all eventually caved. Had they stood their ground, the bill might have died but at least everyone would understand that health care still needed to be addressed and that if any president wanted to accomplish anything in that area, they’d have no choice but to include some form of a public option.

To be clear, I’m perfectly willing to compromise and negotiate for the sake of the greater good. And when all was said and done I did think that passing the health care bill in its current form was better than nothing (lives did hang in the balance, after all). But I think that certain things should not be compromised—the things that are most essential. The public option was the most important part of the health care bill because it was the seed that could have grown to completely change the system, and I would have raised much more hell about it before considering voting for a bill without it.

So how can I justifiably condemn the Tea Party for demanding too much ideological purity when I often do the same?

The difference: My opinions are based on facts and logic. I don’t want to paint the entire Tea Party with too broad of a brush, but it seems to me that most of them get all of their information from conservatives propaganda outlets like Fox News. They are duped into believing that what they are hearing is actual news, “fair and balanced” and that the information they get on TV is all the information they need.

I get most of my news from liberal sites like the Huffington Post, but there’s a fundamental difference between getting your news online and getting it from TV. Watching TV is a passive exercise. You just sit there and let the talking heads tell you what’s going on and what you should believe about it.

Conversely, getting your news online is a very active process. Not only do you select what stories to read, but you can follow the links within those stories to do your own research and fact-checking when you’re so inclined. Furthermore, you can comment on the stories, thus inviting anyone who disagrees with you to challenge your opinion. Even on sites like the Huffington Post, there is a strong conservative presence in the comment threads and you often have to defend your opinion—which in turn motivates you even more to have your facts straight.


So…am I a hypocrite? How many contradictions did you spot? I said I’m a lot like Obama in that we’re both inclined to reach out to our ideological opponents, but I’m also a lot like the Tea Party in that we want leaders who will fight hard for our own ideological principles. I justified my criticism of Obama because when I reach out there’s never anything at stake and my ideological opponents don’t have any ulterior motives, and I justified my criticism of the Tea Party because my ideological principles are rooted in facts.

I’ll now open up the floor to anyone who wants to challenge me, though I warn you that I might try to reach out and find common ground.

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As I wrote in my last One-Sentence Sunday here, he needs to demonstrate forward-leaning leadership and not conciliation and he's not doing it. If the job comes open, want to run? :)
Excellent essay, as ususl, Kem. Rated.
(R)ated for being a worthwhile read
Kemstone, your writing here needs to be reaching a much wider audience. This is insightful and elegantly written, nicely balanced. It needs to be on a cover.
Well done. It's a challenge for the left to be fair-minded when the far right appears to have no such compunction. But in order to find any common ground and to allow "liberal" Republicans like David Brooks or "pragmatic" Democrats like Obama to survive (I've given up on "thrive"), we fact-checkers have to hammer home the idea that faulty "logic" passing as news will not be tolerated and at the same time, push people into accepting that their conclusions must never be set in stone.

PS - don't be fooled into thinking that many of the Fox viewers aren't also on the Internet soaking up innuendos, errors, omissions and the like, as long as it supports what they've already decided to believe. It's all out there.
What Kathy said. I just discovered you today, and what a gift. You've got me thinking.
I will argue with you, I will argue! Because I agree with you and think this is essay is just a gorgeous piece of observation. Best possible reason to argue ;) .

I don't think your "justification" is a rationalization. There is a viscerally, critically important distinction to be made between what people ARE and what people DO. Of course what we are informs what we do (and the converse as well, for good and ill), but it is not necessarily a blind or mechanistic process (while admittedly it can be).

In public policy, the key point is the RESULT. People who want to direct public policy are (okay, they're not, but they oughta be) responsible for the outcomes of their decisions. This supersedes any personality-preference concerns. "Because I don't feel like it, ew" or "Dang, that would be hard" are not valid arguments for failing to do so. They're UNDERSTANDABLE, sure, on a PERSONAL level -- all sympathy for THAT (as far as it goes). But they are failures.

It is ironic with Obama that he worked so very, very hard for power but can't seem to put his finger on what exactly it is that one is supposed to DO with power. (He *can* play dirty, by the way, and play hard -- I live in Chicago, and I know ;) -- he's still basically a decent guy, though, or at least he was and I have no reason to believe that's changed. I don't have any time for him any more, but that's not because he's a bad person in some existential sense. It's because he's a bloody failure and caved in the crunch. I'll be happy to change my mind if he grows a spine. The nice thing about character is that one can always develop it. Character is distinct from personality. Character is the factor X that we choose.)

I think it's a critical point that you made, that "Hey, these people with whom I disagree are, what are they like...oh yeah, ME!" We're all a range, both between different individuals and even inside our own skins. Sometimes, it's true, what people ARE is just such a nightmare that there's no dealing with it -- but on most issues, no, these are perfectly good and useful instincts and preferences. But our instincts and preferences are not the end in and of themselves; they are tools. We have to fit the tool to the task.
Find common ground with this, commie boy. We the Tea Party are far cooler than any of you radical leftist, statist thugs because, unlike you, we realize that socalisim is evil and tiger HUSSAIN obama is trying to kill our grandchildren.
I loved the ending, a WARNING that you might try and reach out and find common ground. very good piece. RRRRRR
Doug, I am confused. Does this mean that you want him to eat our grandchildren while they're still ALIVE???
I sort of blogged about this topic before I knew you (the title of the post had something to do with Hippiephobia). There's a point I have to make about common ground:

In many ways it's really about sales, particularly about avoiding the demonization of people who disagree with you (not including the Glen Becks and Rush Limbaughs of the world, people who are essentially in the Demonization business). It's about accepting that the Right has legitimate concerns, particularly a concern for Order. That being said, what we want to accomplish has to be framed in language geared as much to them as possible. I'll give you a quick example:

We can approach feminism in more than one way. If you're talking to someone on the right or even in the center and you use politically correct terminology, you're basically dead. If, however, you talk about the fairness of equal pay for equal work and about the fairness of equal access to employment and promotions, how much of an argument do you think you'll get? In an awful lot of cases, liberal (or, if you want to use the current term which I really dislike, progressive) solutions ultimately address conservative concerns better than conservative solutions do. However, this can only be pointed out successfully in centrist/rightist language. Can the demonization, keep an open mind, concede something if it makes sense to concede it, and avoid being demonized, at which point the opposition will find itself listening.

That's the lesson Obama needs. It isn't about changing policy, it's about presenting the logic of solutions. If the problem is that the right is either oversimplifying or lying outright, it's often easy enough to show that what they're saying isn't feasible. I KNOW it seems so painfully obvious that it damn near kills you to say that stuff but say it anyway - if it really was obvious to the Right, they wouldn't be talking like this, so you have to explain things step by step. ("If Muslim American soldiers are giving their lives for America, how exactly can we claim that Muslims can't be patriotic Americans? What more do they have to do?")

Don't think about this in terms of ideology per se. You don't want a more liberal or leftist solution because it's more liberal or leftist, you want it because it would be more effective and more just. You aren't thinking in knee-jerk terms, so why label your concerns in knee-jerk terms? THAT is precisely what leads to the Red State/Blue State thinking that Obama initially complained about. The real difference between you and the tea-partiers is that their logic is exactly knee-jerk. That's why it's in slogans.

It is, by the way, a really good post.
If there was an argument in your response to me, Kate, I must have missed it because I agree with everything you wrote. I especially liked this line:

"It is ironic with Obama that he worked so very, very hard for power but can't seem to put his finger on what exactly it is that one is supposed to DO with power."

I had to laugh out loud at that, because it hadn't really occurred to me before but it's so true. It seemed that he just wanted to be president without really caring what it was he would DO as president. Every calculation he now makes seems to be about how to KEEP power, not how to USE it.

It's like a mad scientist who builds a Doomsday Machine so he can threaten to blow up the planet, but he can't think of any demands!
Kosher, great points as usual. If we are trying to reach out to honest conservatives (not the Beck/Limbaugh kind) we have to be careful about the language we use. (I did read your Hippiephobia piece, btw, and I liked it)

Thanks for pointing out that I'm not so much concerned with "liberal ideology" as I am with practical solutions that will actually improve things for most people. It's just that these solutions have now been labelled "progressive". It's a sad that trying to bring about the greatest good for the greatest number is now considered "liberal ideology".

Finally, your point about making the case is something I keep saying over and over. The right wing is going to lie and oversimplify, but that doesn't mean you just have to throw up your hands and accept it. There are very simple, rational arguments you can make against these people but I almost never see Obama or the democrats making them.
I am always looking for common ground. Excellent piece.~r
Well written, Kemstone, as usual.
I've been willing to cut him a lot of slack as I believe he decided to invest a year or more in toning down the partisanship. That has failed and as you point out, has resulted in diminished legislation in consequence.

As far as pushing out the Blue Dogs, I'm in the politics as the art of the possible camp. In several states and districts, it's either a Blue Dog or Repub. At least the BDs vote with Obama some of the time.
I simply can't find a position on all of this and stay there. The right is psycho so trying to find common ground with them is like trying to trick a drunk into giving up his car keys. I was drawn and totally impressed by the 2004 speech. It got me involved in politics again. That one speech. Now I see that speech as the ultimate in being naive at how this present world works. Hillary's case was that Obama did not have the experience to deal with the rightwing. Sadly, she was right. The radical 20% of the left, the "principled losers" who never get anything done or changed and hangout at the Daily Kos spouting out lame bull without one clue at how the world operates. So, I am frustrated at nearly every side. And like you, I am also similar to each part.
I share the hate. I hate the Becks, Fox News and those who spout the rightwing crap. But two of my closest neighbors are that way and are my dear friends.
I fight the battle between the "principled losers" and more pragmatic types within myself when discussing Obama. He has gotten many things accomplished legislatively but I do wish he would throw some elbows once in awhile and get pissed and make more of a connection with common people. I blame much of that on his PR team who have been a collection of idiots. He has accomplished more than almost any president and gets very little credit. He and his team allow themselves to be steamrolled. They have allowed him to become the worst of all worlds. He is a timid socialist. What could be worse? Got off track....
Okay, here... let me help:

Reaching Across The Aisle: That's a good thing. You just need to slap the fascist bastards up along side the head when you "reach". This will be easy to do if you give them back one "compromise" for every one they give you.

Demanding Ideological Purity: Again easy to do, but this is a three step process =
Step 1.) Make the spell and give a correct definition of "Liberal". This will eliminate 90% of the Dixiecrats.
Step 2.) Make them swear, upon threat of neutering, that they will not accept any money from lobbyists (and enforce it - I'll help BTW). This will send the Blue Dogs scampering back to their conservative/corporate masters with their tails between their legs.
Step 3.) Elect people who actually give a damn about somebody other than themselves and who actually have the guts to stand up for what they believe!

(Damn that felt good! Thanks ;~) )
I love your solutions, though there are a few difficulties with implimenting them:
1. It is more efficient and less expensive to solicit a given amount of money from a few people than the same amount from a lot of people. This gives a fundraising advantage to whoever follows this strategem; unfortunately, it also concentrates influence after the election. It's led to our current problems.
2. Whoever raises the most money places the most ads. Given the ethics of whom we're talking about here, that means going against well-funded opponents who aren't above Swiftboating at all.
3. We have the further difficulty that the optimum skills for winning elections are not the optimum skills for governing; this is a huge problem. The best way to get elected is to be as noncommittal as possible because any given issue stand will get you more opposition than support. We won't vote for a candidate based on a single issue stand but we typically will vote against a candidate for one or, at the very least, will fail to support such a candidate actively. Think of it: What do you do if a candidate really wants campaign finance reform, wants to reduce our military presence overseas, is a serious environmentalist, but is anti-choice? Let's say a candidate is all of these things and pro-choice but anti-gay marriage. There may be five or six issues on the table but the one that pisses us off is the one that gets our attention. So, the way to run is to be noncommittal but the way to accomplish anything once you've gotten elected is the opposite - take the stands, explain yourself to death, and get stuff done.

The response that seems to be working the best now is the grass-roots organization response; in other words, guys like MoveOn. They're actually motivated by what's good for the country.

The only other thing that might work is something advocated by a few of us, Kemstone and myself emphatically included, and that is talking about the advantages of a liberal approach to the business community. The bizarre truth is that most companies would do better with a Democratic approach than a Republican approach; unfortunately, Democrats have never really looked at their (our) issues that way. I've blogged about this stuff a lot. Government regulation has actually helped business in this country enormously; in fact, a lot of business problems we've run into (like both the S&L crisis of the '80's and the banking issues of the late Bush administration) are a direct result of underregulation - regulation would have been way, way, way cheaper to all concerned. (This is a single example out of many.) And yet, if you listen to Republicans talk about regulation, you hear this myth repeated over and over that the reason business doesn't function optimally is that regulation gets in the way. This is actually complete BS. Another point to be made is that corporations are now competing with their customers for government money and regulatory preferences; what those corporations don't seem to get is that they're bankrupting their most critical asset. Profits and income don't come from tax policies. They also don't come from investment and capital because 100% of all capital is loans. Profits and income come from customers. The American customer base is the goose that lays the golden eggs; suggesting as a strategem that we should feed the goose less and stop paying its vet bills is not fiscal responsibility, it's fiscal suicide. That's too strong a case to be left out of the equation; quite simply, if the right major players understood this, their allegiance might switch, and we could use them.
@ koshersalaami: There are damn few people in this country that are more of a litmus test voter than I am, so I get what you're saying there.

I also dig the problems regarding campaign finance and campaign advertising reform (McCain–Feingold was a travesty = I'd have made any and all "Fast Boat" style advertising illegal and given set amounts to each candidate).

I do disagree with the concept of having big business involved though. That would just be changing the names, but not the duties, of their existing lobbyists.

Good points though, dude. Kudos.
Regarding big business: The question here is if we can get any of them involved for us rather than against us, solely out of self-interest. I wouldn't mind seeing the occasional corporate lobbyist backing a cause that's good for us on the grounds that it's good for business. Better that than the alternative, which is pretty much all we've got now.

To use an example: A couple of years ago (if that long), GM was in front of Congress saying that American corporations couldn't afford to continue paying for health care without federal help; the extra costs were making them uncompetitive with companies overseas. If such support were to lead to more comprehensive federal health care, great.
Sure, the "tea party" dipshits believe strongly in the bullshit that they believe, BUT WHAT THEY BELIEVE IS HARMFUL. Their denial of global warming is just one example of one of their many harmful beliefs.

So, while I admire the fascists on the rights for sticking to their guns (um, I guess they do that literally as well as figuratively...), their convictions are completely WRONG.

I see no partnership possible with the "Christo"fascist "tea party" dipshits. Bipartisanship? OH, HELL NO!

The wingnuts can KEEP their xenophobia, theofascism, homophobia, militarism, jingoism, nationalism, capitalism, racism, white supremacism, patriarchy, misogyny, etc., etc.
Oops. That should read, "fascists on the right," not "rights"...