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Ms. Wright Goes to Washington

By Sheryl Wright

Despite their pledge during the 2010 mid-term election campaign to focus on jobs,Republicans have used their majority in the House to push abortion to the front of the Congressional agenda. On January 7, 2011, Congressman Mike Pence introduced H.R. 217(the Pence Amendment).

 

Bachmann Spiking the Tea

By Karima E. Rustin

One of the many things I look forward to on a Saturday morning  is reading The New York Times. And who do I see prominently figuring at the beginning of the column but Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-MN)...damn, not Bachmann again!

 

The Politics of Union Envy 

By Sheryl Wright

Neither of my parents went to college, but both were union members—my father in the private sector and my mother in the public. In addition to their salaries, which allowed them to provide a comfortable life for our family, the benefits won by their respective unions

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Roundtable: Delegitimizing Obama–The Intersection of Gender, Power & Politics  

Sheryl: Almost 800 days in office and it seems every day is seen as an opportunity for renewed criticism of the President. The latest kerfuffle is around the claim that President Obama’s decision to involve the U.S. in the action in Libya

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Entries in President Obama (3)

Sunday
Aug212011

Hypocrisy, Disparities and Double Standards

By Karima E. Rustin

Living in a 24-hour media news cycle, I feel constantly bombarded by sound bites, commentaries, breaking news updates, and updates on the last updates about what is happening in our country. All the dizzying coverage on the weak economy, the stock market taking a nosedive, and the divisive rhetoric being hawked by all the current contenders for the Republican primary can be quite maddening. During the past couple of weeks, however, there were a few news items warranting my commentary.

Rep. Allen West (R-FL) appeared on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor”discussing the high unemployment  rate for black people, which is holding steady at 15.9 percent. He decided to play the blame game by criticizing black Democrats for not coming up with any concrete solutions to this unemployment dilemma. Mr. West then claimed, provocatively, that black people are still on a “plantation,” black Democrats are now the “new overseers” on that plantation, and he is the 21st century version of Harriet Tubman who wants to lead black people off the plantation to “a sense of sensibility.” Interesting, I wondered what that “sense of sensibility” would look like and what solutions he, “the 21st century Harriet Tubman” might have for getting black people back to work.

So, not only did Mr. West criticize black Congressional Democrats, he also insulted all black Democratic voters in the same breathe. Lucky for us, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) responded to Mr. West’s comments on MSNBC’s "Hardball with Chris Matthews;" she found his criticism of black Democrats odd considering he urged his unemployed brother to attend a job fair held in Atlanta, sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus, and to seek out Ms. Waters!

A recent New York Times/CBS New Poll showed that 63% of Americans support raising taxes on individuals earning $250,000 a year to help deal with our overwhelming deficit. Republicans want no part of that; during the debt ceiling talks, they fought, kicked, and held their collective breath against ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, wrote an op-ed article in The New York Times, stating enough already with the coddling of wealthy people who can pay more taxes. Mr. Buffett points to the various tax breaks the super rich enjoy while the  people who work for him pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than he does. He suggests raising taxes on incomes exceeding $1 million and $10 million, and increasing the tax rate on dividends and capital gains. Mr. Buffet is willing to pay more in taxes and states there are other investors just like him who want to contribute more to the country they love. Thank you Mr. Buffett, you are the best!

There also seems to be some outrage over President Obama's decision to take a ten day vacation with his family to Martha’s Vineyard, MA. How could he? Doesn’t he understand the economy is in the toilet and unemployment is over 9%? He needs to stay home at the White House and work on his jobs plan and suffer like everyone else who can’t afford to take ten day excursions. The nerve of him! Wait…didn’t former President George W. Bush take vacations during his presidency? Rachel Maddow compared the number of vacation days taken by the last four presidents at this same point in their presidency. George W. Bush entered into the first of two wars by this time in his presidency; that decision was so exhausting he needed a whopping 180 vacation days to recover. I don’t think there is anything wrong with our president wanting to spend quality time with his wife and daughters. He didn’t rent out a villa in Lake Como, he picked a low-key, popular vacation spot in the United States

I am interested in hearing real solutions from our elected officials, not criticism of other colleagues using baseless and demeaning speech. If the majority of Americans want to see a fairer appropriation of tax rates among the middle-class and wealthier people, the Republican Party needs to stop fighting with the Democrats, and pull up a chair to listen to some new ideas. Finally, this high level of criticism over the Obama trip needs to be dialed down—President Barack Obama doesn’t need to justify spending time with his family.

Friday
May202011

Pushing for Progressivism in the Age of Obama  

By Sheryl Wright

November 4, 2008 was a memorable day; I, like many others, never imagined the day would come when I would see a black person elected president of the United States. For the first time in my adult political life, I believed there would be a perceptible shift in the politics of the country. For the first time in a very long time, I was excited about our country’s future. I remember having a similar feeling that better days were ahead when Jimmy Carter was elected president—granted I was only eight years old and Carter, of course, was not the first black president.

Even though I enthusiastically voted for Barack Obama, he was not my vision of the ideal progressive. With Wall Street’s recklessness and continuing excesses, growing health and income disparity, and  rising unemployment, I longed for a nominee who would speak out as forcefully as Franklin D. Roosevelt did when he said of the wealthy elites and corporate titans of his day, “They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.” After almost eight years of Republican attempts to undo the New Deal, I wanted a Democratic nominee who was willing to boldly declare the belief and understanding that maintaining a safety net for the American people has legal, economic and moral justifications. That is why I was hugely supportive of Obama's proposal to repeal the Bush-era tax cuts to pay for health care reform, including an affordable public health care option and his declaration that health care should be a right.

Since taking office in 2009, the Obama administration has had many accomplishments, nevertheless the president and his team have failed to craft a message that speaks to the government’s ability to transform our nation in meaningful ways and make a positive difference in the everyday lives of the people. In the summer of 2009, with the Tea Party aligned in opposition to health care reform, Republicans seized the opportunity to paint the proposed legislation as a government takeover of health care. The narrative of government as an intrusive and incompetent force in our lives won the day. In the process, the administration ceded important ground to the Republicans on a number of the issues championed by Obama on the campaign trail; congressional Democrats share in the blame, especially as it relates to passage of the president’s middle-class tax cut proposal.

While Republicans, with some assistance from the media, cast Barack Obama as the most liberal Democratic presidential candidate ever nominated, Obama described himself as a “pragmatic progressive; painting Democratic candidates as the most liberal nominee ever is a standard GOP attack line. Ezra Klein’s Washington Post article details similarities between President Obama’s policy initiatives and those supported by congressional Republicans and recent Republican presidents—suggesting that Obama’s description of himself is more accurate than the Republicans. Under Obama, tax cuts for the wealthy have been extended for two more years. Health care reform minus a public option was signed into law; despite its historical significance and expansion of coverage to millions of Americans, the legislation may or may not move us closer to the progressive notion of health care as a right. Time will tell. For many of us, the policy changes actually brought about by the Obama administration have not always looked like the policies proposed during the Obama campaign.  

Whatever disappointments we may have with the administration, progressive changes in policy have occurred that probably would not have occurred in a McCain administration. I am convinced that claims in 2000 that a vote for the Democrat was no different than a vote for the Republican helped to bring us the disastrous eight-year presidency of George W. Bush. In the effort to push for stronger progressive policies, liberals and progressives who use of over-the-top language to critique the president and his policies—accusing him of being a liar and his administration of being an extension of the Bush presidency—are being short-sighted and irresponsible. Words do matter. It is important to keep in mind the impact of our words, especially when nutty right-wing attempts to delegitimize President Obama have been given so much attention in the media.  

I can remember the excitement I felt in the final days of the campaign each time Obama asked us to believe not just in his ability to bring about change, but also in our own. Perhaps he meant it as more of a warning than a remark intended to inspire, when he reminded us that we were responsible for powering any change that would occur. I’m afraid we did not grasp the magnitude of what he was telling us. Instead of viewing the election win as the initial battle in the fight, too many of us believed the war was won—allowing the Tea Party to step in and seize the mantle of change.

Although I continue to believe his administration has moved too far in their compromises on a number of important issues, I am extremely grateful that Barack Obama is our president. As The Nation’s John Nichols points out, we elected a president who knows what it means to be a progressive; two years, six months, and 14 days after that momentous election day, our job is to make him do what he promised. I have attended rallies, signed petitions, sent e-mails, made telephone calls, and written letters to effect change, but I look to the persistence demonstrated by the men and women of the Civil Rights Movement to know there is more that needs to be done and more that I can do.  

In his article on Obama’s April 11th deficit speech, George Lakoff advises Democrats to pay close attention to the president’s vision of progressive government. In the speech, Obama tells us, “...through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves.” What will you do to see the progressive change you want?

Tuesday
Mar292011

Roundtable: Delegitimizing Obama–The Intersection of Gender, Power & Politics  

Sheryl: Almost 800 days in office and it seems every day is seen as an opportunity for renewed criticism of the President. The latest kerfuffle is around the claim that President Obama’s decision to involve the U.S. in the action in Libya was at the behest of three female members of his staff. Two somewhat divergent strands of thought have emerged from the noise: Obama is not man enough to make the tough decisions without a push from women on his staff, and three wild-eyed war-mongering women are riding roughshod within the administration. Either way you slice it, the result is a picture of Obama as a weak and incompetent president.

Lydia: I'm dumbfounded by the whole discussion. It turns me into a stuffy old man, actually. I keep thinking, this is total poppycock! Codswollop! I guess my inner old man is British today. This is so out of the blue but not unexpected, I suppose. We're closing in on 2012 so it's all hands on deck to make President Obama as unappealing as possible.

Nichole: I take your point Lydia that the focus is developing critiques of Obama in preparation for the 2012 presidential field--note Newt Gingrich's own flip-flop on Libya--now we have former Green Party Presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney arguing that Obama is, as she characterizes it, attacking an exemplar of direct democracy and government responsibility. At what point do we get politics out of politics?  At what point do we break ranks with people who are obviously being disingenuous in their critiques of those who are situated differently in their politics?  I may not be clear on what the issue is, but it seems that if a country's leader is using the full force of the military to bomb and shoot citizens who are peacefully protesting, then something needs to be done.  Some collective action to protect unarmed citizens needs to be taken.  I mean, seriously--children were being killed trying to escape Gadhafi's forces.

Lydia: I think a more appropriate question pundits and critics should have been asking, which Ted Koppel has, is why Libya and not Sudan, Congo or Ivory Coast where millions of innocents have been killed? What determines where we put in our armed two-cents, as it were? Is our involvement in other countries' civil wars ultimately proven to be aid or a detriment to the very people we were seeking to help? I don't know that there is a right answer to any of these questions. It seems to prove, more than anything, the truism, you're damned if you do, you're damned if you don't.  

Nichole: Lydia, I agree with you; McKinney raised that argument in her polemic as did Louis Farakhan over the weekend at a conference on Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement. Although both McKinney and Farakahn seem completely out of it in terms of what Gadhafi represents at this moment in time.  Wack-a-doodle is very appropriate in their context.  One of the other points that caught our attention though regarding this construction of Obama as hounded by the harpies, is the very troubling gender dynamics at play.  How do we talk seriously about human rights and political engagement without creating these misogynist and sexist straw men?

Lydia: I fear that as long as women are under-represented in politics and positions of power, it will continue, unabashedly.

Sheryl: I am behind in the discussion and I have quite a bit to say. Please bear with me…

Both of you are right to say that this is in preparation for 2012. I would add the thing about this instance is that the right-wing is now choosing to come at Obama using misogynistic stereotypes as their weapon. “Obama as more woman than females on his staff” is a new tack in their never-ending attempt to delegitimize him. During the campaign and to this day, right-wingers have used “Obama as the undercover scary Muslim” to question his legitimacy. They really have been up to this since before Obama was even elected. Now that he is president and they want to prevent him from being re-elected, it has been an almost nonstop endeavor. They really can’t help themselves. They know that turning him into the other has some potential political benefit.

Aside from the clearly misogynistic and sexist nature of the meme that is being presented, one of the other  absurdities is that this question is being debated in the national media. Jeanne Cummings’ analysis of the media coverage hits the nail on the head:

“…What bothers me about the reporting on this particular story is that, really, what you had was the secretary of state going up against the secretary of defense, and the U.N ambassador going up against Homeland Security. Basically, these are women, yes, but these are women with titles that matter…And it‘s in that capacity that they were making their cases.”

On to why Libya and not Sudan, Congo or Ivory Coast: I heard someone asking the same question on the radio today. I think to try to answer that question highlights the conflict between our security interests (oil, Al Qaeda, stability in the Middle East, etc.) and the importance of respect for the human rights of all people. As has been the case with a number of other Obama administration actions, I am ambivalent about the decision to involve the U.S. in establishing a no-fly zone over Libya; however, I agree that Obama would have been criticized no matter what he decided to do.

As for the comments from Cynthia McKinney and Louis Farrakhan, I have heard others make similar comments. When does it become absurd for someone to make such statements in support of Gadhafi? Some really, really awful things have been done all over the world in the name of the American people, but does that justify the actions of a Gadhafi? I think McKinney and Farrakhan greatly diminish any credibility they may have on any other issue when they continue to try to prop up someone who is clearly doing wrong. 

Now the politics of it all: it is interesting that Republican opponents of President Obama and his administration find it necessary to attack not only his policy decisions but also to attack him personally; I wonder if they realize the negative political implications for the large number of voters who do not identify with or as a wealthy, white, Christian male.