Welcome to this, the 12th Issue of the Weekly Tendown, my look back at the very best cultural happenings of the past 7 days; Last Week, in BizarroDown, we discussed Citizens United, Velveeta Fudge, "Pants on the Ground", and the thrilling conclusion to my days as a member of the ownership society. But this week we return to our flurry of unfettered optimism as we smackdown some Tendown!
First: One vs. 140
There's no way anyone on the Left can honestly support Obama with anything more than wishful ambivalence; today, Greenwald writes about how Obama's civil liberties record is to the right of Reagan's; in fact, the country whose policies toward "non military combatants" most resembles ours is Libya. Further, Howard Zinn died this week; I wrote about it here; if there's one theme throughout Zinn's scholarship its that top-down leadership is the most overblown of all historical perspectives; if you want to look at the history of progressive movement in the United States - you don't look at Lincoln or FDR or LBJ - who you look at are popular movements agitating for change. Power is not predisposed to relinquish itself; you don't get worker's rights legislation without radical unions; you don't get civil rights legislation without a civil rights movement; when people say "Why hasn't Obama done anything" - be it get troops out of Afghanistan or fight against the drug companies, or close Guantanamo - the response should be - who is making him? The popular movement of 2009 which had social impact was the Teabag movement; and saying that it was backed by corporate money doesn't defeat the impact - the impact was it provided the narrative that still holds with huge numbers of the American people - that health care reform is somehow a scam, or unneeded, or too complicated, or unfair to those who already have insurance. Had proponents of health care reform stormed town halls with equal numbers and force and volume as opponents - with stories of tragedy that result from our commodification of health care, that's what would have forced the issue into a different frame and given the Democrats predisposed to moving with the current a reason to push the legislation through. An unfortunate element of American political debate is we take as a strength our departure from the policies of the rest of the advanced world. When Europe tries terrorist defendants in civilian criminal courts (the way we always have) it's viewed as demonstrating systemic strength; when Europe (and everyone else) treats health care as a public good, its viewed as analogous to police or fire protection or education - and instead of recognizing that the citizens in those nations aren't rallying en masse to make their countries' policies more like ours - we view our being out of step with the rest of the advanced world as a sign of their not measuring up to American standards. We don't look at the vast disparity in scientific understanding, in understanding about our own history, in refusal to accept basic truths like evolution - between us and the rest of the advanced world as red flags signifying American decline - instead we look at even asking those questions, even suggesting that there might be ways that the United States can learn from the rest of the world as unpatriotic.
So, I'm pessimistic is the point.
But on Friday, something pretty wonderful happened. Obama met with the Republican caucus and stood (without a teleprompter, incidentally) and took live bullets from 140 Republicans ripping off the full run of right wing talking points; and he whipped their ass. How do you know? Because with 20 minutes left, Fox News cut away from the broadcast.
140 Republicans firing live bullets at Obama - and with 20 minutes left Fox News cuts the feed.
How do you think it was going?
On the record, Republican Congressman Tom Cole said "he (Obama) did really well," off the record, a source told Luke Russert, "it was a mistake that we allowed the cameras to roll like that." Here's the reaction from The Atlantic:
He displayed a familiarity with Republican proposals that seemed to astonish those who asked questions of him. And at the end, Republicans rushed up to him, pens and photo cameras in hands, wanting autographs and pictures.
And from The Nation:
The President put on a clinic in public discourse, political argument, intellectual dexterity and moral courage. It was a reminder of what democracy could be if we engaged our opponents with substance, patience and civility rather than invectives, gamesmanship and boorishness.
For me, it was the most I've liked Obama - found myself "rooting" for him, ever. It is his best possible light, and the Democrats should look to put him in that position more often. Words are just words, particularly when they come from those in power, but Friday was a ray of light in a dark, frustrating stretch to be on the left. Here's the Salon take.
That's the best thing that happened this week - after the jump - the rest of the Tendown!