It is perhaps time to ask what, exactly, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, et. al. are really hoping for when they advocate the failure of Barack Obama's presidency--particularly when their anti-advocacy has managed to gin up the most virulent right-wing paranoia and hysteria this country has seen since The Sixties. In less than six months, this country has gone from the transformative uplift of seeing our first African-American President take the oath of office to seeing that president virtually stalked by gun-toting vigilantes--and seeing the reform agenda that swept him into office stalled out and seemingly failed already.
Certainly, some measure of blame rests with the President and his advisers. Whatever platform they run on, all presidents hew to what they perceive as the county's political center once elected. In ordinary times, that's probably a good strategy for re-election (if not for governance). In Barack Obama's case the move was swift and--to many of his supporters-- disturbingly thorough. Many on the left had projected onto Obama their own political desires and felt a sense of betrayal when Obama turned out to be exactly what anyone who had looked past the speeches into his thin resume as a public servant would have seen: a slightly left of center pragmatist whose ideology has been every bit as fluid as his racial identity.
When Obama stocked his cabinet and staff with Clinton-era retreads and retained a small but significant number of Bush's economic and military advisers, it only surprised those who had not been paying attention--but given that the vast majority of U.S. voters do not "pay attention" to anything beyond the two or three issues they actually care about, the Obama team certainly should've foreseen that The President would lose support from his core electoral constituency. They probably did foresee it, and assumed they would make up for it with support from those who had not supported Obama in the election--the people to whom Obama promised in his inaugural address that he would "be your President as well." In other words, they expected to pick up support from the country's political center... just like every other newly-elected president. In that, they miscalculated--badly.
These are not ordinary times and Obama is not an ordinary president. The coalition that elected a relatively inexperienced man with a complicated racial heritage--in this perpetually race-complicated country-- could only have existed in the aftermath of the utter debacle that was the Bush Era. Obama's election did not so much represent a turning point in America's political maturity as it did the absolute moral and policy bankruptcy of every other leadership option being offered to the electorate. Being the least of all possible evils in the worst of times does not constitute a mandate, regardless the electoral map. Further setting these times apart from the past is that the political center that Team Obama hoped to turn to really no longer exists. It has been eroded away, just like the American middle-class has been eroded away by GOP economic policies, by a generation of Republican political operatives willing to exploit social and cultural differences for short-term gain. The only support Barack Obama can hope for are those worked to elect him. Virtually everyone else is in the camp of his implacable enemies.
Therein-- that camp of implacable enemies-- lies the other complication that makes the current era different and frightening. The speed with which the minority party has been able to build up opposition to what is, really, an extremely moderate agenda (Richard Nixon proposed more progressive Healthcare reforms than has Obama) is impressive. It's also scary. It's also irresponsible. The time-honor litmus test for the limits of protected speech has always been the common good. You don't have the right to yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater. I think that it's about time to apply that principle to the Becks, Limbaughs, Palins and other latter-day Father Coughlins--hopefully before someone (most likely The President) gets hurt. I think it's also way past time to ask these people what they really want--and if they've given any thought to the consequences of really getting it.
Let's take them at their words and at their deeds. Let's just suppose, for a moment, that what they really want is for Barack Obama to 'fail'--to be a one-term president who falls short of carrying out his agenda, possibly losing his life in the process to what will be described after the fact as a "lone gunman". OK, great. Obama 'fails'. What then?
Well, if one of these nutcases really does managed to shoot Obama, they either destroy their movement or save his presidency, depending on whether or not they manage to kill him. If the would-be assassin's aim is no better than John Hinckley's, Barack Obama's standing as the Democratic equivalent to Ronald Reagan would pretty well be cemented. It is safe to say that the country would come to it's senses, and the ensuing backlash might even put Fox News out of business. But as wonderful as that might be, I'm not about to ask Obama to take one for the team. Even though the people who show up at 'Tea Parties' don't seem to be any more firmly rooted in reality than the guy who wanted to date a barely-legal Jodie Foster, guns are what these nutcases obsess over. More likely than not, anyone who gets that far is probably going to succeed. If that happens, Barack Obama becomes the biggest political martyr in history and the Republican Party--thanks to their failure to distance themselves from gun-toting loonies--becomes permanently associated with crazy white people who solve problems with violence (OK, they already are that...). Fox News goes out of business, takes the GOP with them, and gives every argument against any progressive agenda for the rest of the century an irrefutable counter-argument... is that really what you want, Mr. Limbaugh?
Having gotten that out of my system, I'm going to take a deep breath and assume that the Secret Service operatives that have been protecting Obama since he declared his candidacy are actually good at their job --and that any would-be assassin is more likely to achieve martyrdom than The President. Let's just say that Barack Obama winds up being a replay of Jimmy Carter--a nice, well-meaning guy who's really too smart and decent to run a foul business like the U.S. Government. What happens then?
Well, for starters, all those first-time and returning voters who were energized by Obama's candidacy probably drop back out of politics and stay out, coming to the conclusion that it's a rigged game and they'd rather stay home with the x-box or PlayStation, where they at least get to win some of the time. This means that the Republican base, still energized by the desire to turn back the clock to either 1950 or 1850 (or maybe 1350...some of these people are pretty conservative), remains a dominant force in politics, which continues to be played by the Karl Rove playbook of scorched-earth tactics and razor-thin margins. In that scenario, the possibility of someone like Mike Huckabee or Sarah Palin becoming President gets a lot more credible, and Mitt Romney's stock goes way the hell up.
At that point Obama's election becomes a fluke, and the country goes back to the status quo ante of corporatist elites bamboozling an increasingly uneducated permanent underclass into perpetually voting against their own interests and perpetually fighting and dying in wars that benefit no one without a portfolio of oil company stocks. None of the real concerns that Obama was elected to address are dealt with. An unregulated stock market manages to create yet another cataclysmic failure. Global climate change continues to ravage the planet and the country. People continue to be bankrupted and exploited for having the nerve to get sick and expect better treatment than a used-up plow horse. More and more people have less and less future... and they know it. What happens then?
I think that, at some point, it becomes obvious to anyone with even the cursory education most Republicans find adequate that this country no longer works... and no longer deserves their allegiance. I do not know if we will ever see the formal breakup of the United States envisioned by the various Separatist Movements in places like Texas and Alaska, but I think it highly possible that there will come a day when no one looks to the Federal Government of The United States for anything that is likely to improve upon or enrich their lives. When that day comes, it will not merely be right-wing nutjobs that refuse to pay their taxes. It will be a lot of people. It wasn't lead plumbing or barbarian hordes that really brought down The Roman Empire--it was the fact that it had gotten too big, unwieldy, and inefficient to either enforce obedience or earn loyalty. Anyone who thinks that lesson fails to apply to The United States is mistaken-- self-serving notions of American Exceptionalism notwithstanding.
For all his faults, Barack Obama was the best choice this country had in the last election and remains the best hope we have for anything approaching progressive reform. That statement comes with a lot of caveats, not least of which is that it's a pretty flawed political system that leaves us with such few and poor choices. But that fact does not exculpate Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Michelle Bachmann and all the other loudly self-professed 'patriots' from the fundamentally treasonous and hypocritical act of conspiring against a newly-elected president, fomenting what could yet evolve into armed insurrection, defending calls for the dismantlement of the Federal Union, and-- worse--serving as pitchmen for a corporatist feudal oligarchy that is already corroding the country from the inside out.
I don't know if the theater's really on fire, but that really is smoke I'm smelling...and it really is time for these clowns to shut the hell up.
Ringside at the Apocalypse
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