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Steve Likes to Curse
Writing, comics and random thoughts from really a rather vulgar man
The Secret to Republican Success: Straw Men Don’t Punch Back 
Monday, November 15th, 2010 | 06:56 pm [barack obama, politics]
Steve
This morning I heard someone on the radio speculating as to the priorities for the incoming Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Would they really try to repeal this year’s health care reforms? Push to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans? Dismantle the minimal but hard-won new regulations passed in the wake of the near-collapse of the country’s finance industry?
 
And it occurred to me what strange questions these were, being that Republican leaders have already made it clear what their one and only priority is between now and 2012. They’ve spoken of it publicly since just over two years ago, their candidates have campaigned on it, and it was
articulated most recently by Mitch McConnell, leader of the Senate’s Republican caucus: to ruin the presidency of Barack Obama and ensure it ends with a single term.
 
The GOP and the conservative pundits and personalities who promote (and, to an alarming extent, determine) its interests have likewise made no effort to hide what their strategy will be in pursuing this goal. They intend to wreck the Obama presidency through the tried-and-true method of making shit up. 
 
Andrew Sullivan on what he calls “The Big Lie”:
 

It seems to me that the last year or so in America’s political culture has represented the triumph of untruth. And the untruth was propagated by a deliberate, simple and systemic campaign to kill Obama’s presidency in its crib. Emergency measures in a near-unprecedented economic collapse - the bank bailout, the auto-bailout, the stimulus - were described by the right as ideological moves of choice, when they were, in fact, pragmatic moves of necessity. The increasingly effective isolation of Iran’s regime - and destruction of its legitimacy from within - was portrayed as a function of Obama’s weakness, rather than his strength. The health insurance reform - almost identical to Romney’s, to the right of the Clintons in 1993, costed to reduce the deficit, without a public option, and with millions more customers for the insurance and drug companies - was turned into a socialist government take-over.

 

Every one of these moves could be criticized in many ways. What cannot be done honestly, in my view, is to create a narrative from all of them to describe Obama as an anti-American hyper-leftist, spending the US into oblivion. But since this seems to be the only shred of thinking left on the right (exacerbated by the justified flight of the educated classes from a party that is now openly contemptuous of learning), it became a familiar refrain - pummeled into our heads day and night by talk radio and Fox. If you think I’m exaggerating, try the following thought experiment.

 

If a black Republican president had come in, helped turn around the banking and auto industries (at a small profit!), insured millions through the private sector while cutting Medicare, overseen a sharp decline in illegal immigration, ramped up the war in Afghanistan, reinstituted pay-as-you go in the Congress, set up a debt commission to offer hard choices for future debt reduction, and seen private sector job growth outstrip the public sector’s in a slow but dogged recovery, somehow I don’t think that Republican would be regarded as a socialist.

 
Sullivan also reminds us of the oft-parroted charge that Obama has rejected the notion of American exceptionalism. Since I see the United States as having rabid nationalism to spare, the charge doesn’t really upset me. The problem, of course, is that there isn’t a shred of truth to it. The line cited as evidence for Obama’s opinion that American is nothing special comes from a trip to Europe he took in April 2009, where he responded to a reporter’s question about American exceptionalism by saying the following:
 

I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.

 
I see nothing unreasonable about that statement, but to the Sean Hannitys and Glenn Becks of the world, it was tantamount to treason. But that single sentence was not the end of the president’s answer to the question. The
full quote gives quite a different impression:
 

I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I’m enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. If you think about the site of this summit and what it means, I don’t think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an Alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that.

 

And if you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.

 

Now, the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we’ve got a whole lot to offer the world does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries, or recognizing that we’re not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas, or that in order for us to work collectively, all parties have to compromise and that includes us.

 

And so I see no contradiction between believing that America has a continued extraordinary role in leading the world towards peace and prosperity and recognizing that that leadership is incumbent, depends on, our ability to create partnerships because we create partnerships because we can’t solve these problems alone.

 
Sullivan again:
 

In other words, Obama emphatically doesn’t reduce the idea of American exceptionalism to "benign provincialism." Quite the contrary: he explicitly asserts that the values enshrined in the Constitution are exceptional, and defends them and the US’s history in front of a foreign audience. It’s worth pointing out this factual error at such length because everyone in the conservative movement has already made it.

 

[. . .]

 

What’s especially remarkable about this hackery - and there are numerous other examples - is that these conservative authors don’t just egregiously misrepresent the president’s actual position. It’s that all of them actually cite, as evidence, an out of context line from the very speech that proves their analysis is wrong.

 
Yesterday I linked to Sullivan’s article on my Facebook profile, and a friend and regular commenter ‘round these parts said that even in context, the president seems “wishy-washy” about the greatness of the United States. This led me to wonder: what would be enough? What declaration would be sufficient to clear Barack Obama of the charge of being “wishy-washy” about the greatness of his country? Sean Hannity attacks the president for “never talking about the greatness of America” so often that he seems to expect him to talk about nothing else when he travels abroad.
 
Would that be good enough? Perhaps for his next European tour, Obama should make stops across Britain, France and Poland and spend his time boasting to the locals of the military and economic supremacy of the United States, always making sure to remind them that they’d all be speaking German if it wasn’t for us.
 
Even that wouldn’t make a difference. As Sullivan observes in his follow-up, “
The Big Lie II,” those who invented and proliferated the image of Obama as a radical socialist intent on spending the country into oblivion aren’t interested in the truth. Their quarrel isn’t with the actions and philosophy of an actual person. It’s with the leftist zealot they imagine him to be. The facts of the Obama presidency could not be more beside the point.
 
It’s not a new strategy, though I don’t recall it ever being embraced so fully by both the Republican party and the various media outlets that support it. Most depressing of all: it’s working.
 
Though I shouldn’t be surprised, I suppose. Straw men don’t punch back.
 
Read both excellent pieces by Andrew Sullivan at his blog on the website of the Atlantic:
 
The Big Lie
 
The Big Lie II
Comments 
Tuesday, November 16th, 2010 | 04:31 am (UTC)
Anonymous
Here's why I don't like Sullivan's article:

Its childish. What he's calling a Big Lie, a covert smear campaign, is nothing more than a difference of opinion.

Obviously, there are two camps when it comes to American Exceptionalism. One camp associates AE with its more dangerous cousin, Nationalism. This camp feels more comfortable when references to AE are carefully worded or quickly followed with humble sentiment. The other camp views AE as quite removed from Nationalism. This camp doesn't feel as much of a need to tone praise down or distill it with humility.

Personally, if asked point blank whether I believe in American Exeptionalism-

The answer is, "Yes." To add anything else to the answer might sully it. After all, it is only my opinion, I'm not being asked to *prove* American Exceptionalism, just whether I "believe" in it. To offer anything else makes me look as though I'm looking for a way out.

And I expect the same thing from my President. And I don't care in what corner of Europe he said it in. From my point of view he said too much. He lost me in the first sentence, right at, "just as..."

He did not need to explain himself. Its quite cut and dry for me (and I suspect for others.)

He wasn't asked to prove American Exceptionalism. It was an abstract question and his answer came from his head, not his heart.

Its like this...kind of...but not exactly...if someone asks me, "Do you think Steve is a good writer?" And lets say you're standing right there, I'm gonna say, "Yeah, I think so." And I would give a few reasons why I think so. I would save any criticism for a different forum. (See? that is not to say that I would not have a gripe or two, but that I would not want to negate deserving praise with needless criticism.)

Its almost like its a conflict of decorum or etiquette, more or less, clearly not a matter of falsehoods.

My point...there is no "big lie." You like what Obama said, I don't. Maybe your right, maybe I'm wrong...but my opinion doesn't make me a liar.

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010 | 12:53 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
"MoDoBro." Clever.
Tuesday, November 16th, 2010 | 12:59 pm (UTC)
I understand, but Obama didn't even criticize America. He stated that it was a part of a global community of nations, and that compromise was necessary to living in, and leading, that community. It wasn't a criticism.

The difference between you and those who Sullivan convicts in the big lie is this: You say you disagree with what the president said. You say his statement was insufficiently patriotic. That's fair. I don't get it. I wondered what he could possibly have said to satisfy you ("Yes" and only "Yes," apparently). But I think that's fair. You did not use the president's answer to this question to try and portray him as someone who is contemptuous of his own country, who travels abroad and denounces it to our allies and enemies alike. Yet those Sullivan mentions (Jonah Goldberg, Victor Davis Hanson, etc.), as well as those beneath his mention (Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh) have done that repeatedly. And that is a falsehood.

Also, I'm glad the answer came from his head and not his heart. That's what I like about him. He thinks.
Tuesday, November 16th, 2010 | 06:27 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
I like Victor Hanson Davis.

The only problem I see in VDH's quote is the words "explicit language," I agree with the premise that Obama's language rejects AE. Just maybe not "explicitly."

Obama chose his words too carefully to be explicit. The theme is subtle. It went (at least, to my ears) something like this,

"Every countrymen has reason to think his country is special. Here's a couple reasons why I think the US is special. But, don't get me wrong, just cause I think we've done some good things here and there, doesn't mean I think that we're uniquely qualified as leader of the free world."

***(And by leader, I mean "to guide" not to "dictate.")

Towards the end of his speech, Obama takes great pains to seem inclusive about leadership. His words can be interpreted in two ways: One, that he wishes to lift other countries up to our own high-standards, or Two, such a philosophy does nothing more than knock the US down to a common (and not exceptional) standard. It will do nothing more than level the playing field.

Either way you look at it though, it is quite the opposite of AE, is it not?

Although I don't care where the President was when he gave this speech, I will cut him a little slack since he was asked about AE outside the US audience. I'll acknowledge that it wasn't an easy question to answer on foreign soil, but that kind of goes back to - he should have just stopped at, "Yes, I believe in American Exceptionalism."

I just think he tried too hard to answer the question in a way that would please everybody. And, like they say, you can't please everybody all the time.

But, that doesn't mean that I don't also think his answer was very telling. Maybe not "explicit"...but telling. And I think that's the general meme coming from respectable conservative pundits. No big lie, just different ways of interpreting his response.

That you like that his response came from his head, not his heart, does not surprise me. I know a lot of liberal pundits also like that Obama is professorial, brainy. Conservatives, for the most part I think, would like him to show a bit more heart. It really is a matter of taste. I think its a good thing that the left and right disagree on things like this. We have a history of bouncing back and forth between "thinking" Presidents and "feeling" Presidents. We tire of one, then elect the other. In this way, over the long term, we benefit from having the best of both worlds.

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010 | 07:17 pm (UTC)
You attribute Obama's wording to a desire to please everyone with a carefully measured response, whereas I think it just shows the guy has thought about America's place in history and the world and understands it in terms more sophisticated than "U.S.A.! U.S.A.! Woooooooo!"

Since we're on the subject, and not that you asked, but I disagree with the president on this. He's right about pretty much everything he says in that quote, but I don't believe in American exceptionalism. I think this is a matter of fact, not a dogmatic assertion. In 1789 America was exceptional, no question about it. Constitutional, federalist government, popular democracy. Very exceptional. But in 2010? We have a lot less to be ashamed of than most other countries, that's true. We have a much better human rights record than most, though not as good as some. We are still an economic and military powerhouse. We are still hugely influential. We are, on balance, I honestly believe, a force for progress and for good in the world. And I love this place and feel proud and fortunate to have been born here. But I don't think America is exceptional. It's good. It's great in many ways. But it's not exceptional. At least not in most ways.

But that's not something to be ashamed of. That's something to be proud of. Due in large part to our influence (and in slightly lesser part to several military campaigns), the rest of the world looks a lot more like we do today than it did a hundred years ago. Democracy, human rights, and constitutional, even federalist forms of government have become prized throughout the world, and the U.S. deserves a lot of credit for that. We're no longer exceptional in those respects. And that's a good thing. I don't want us to be the only beacon of freedom in a world of absolutist dictatorships.
Wednesday, November 17th, 2010 | 05:40 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
I respectfully do not understand your stance, either.


Let me try to get this straight, you believe our concept and founding was, in fact, exceptional. Did we somehow lose this legacy along the way? It still belongs to us, doesn't it? And that we have resisted the urge to do evil throughout our history sufficiently enough to be able to say we have *a lot* less to be ashamed of than *most* countries *and* we respect human rights better than most countries (I could also add that we do more than most other countries to battle human rights atrocities all over the world, even if sometimes we booger up our own good intentions.)"WE ARE STILL HUGELY INFLUENTIAL." Economic and military powerhouse, etc.

One you missed is our charity. Americans are givers. Big givers. And though we may have let ourselves slide a bit when it comes to science and industry, they don't call it *American* ingenuity for nothing. Where would the world be without our advancements in medicine alone?

How are we all these rather grand things, but not exceptional? I don't get it? How can we be *hugely* influential, but not exceptional? In order to be influential, we must first and foremost stand out from the crowd, yes? And if we stand out from the crowd, aren't we no longer common?

And these military campaigns that you speak of, that have helped to make the world look a lot more like us (and by that, I assume you mean *free*) Are you saying this is all common place? Happens all the time? Constitutional forms of government are *prized* throughout the world (credit going to the US, again) but we're nothing special? This makes no sense to me. If we deserve most of the credit, then we must have done something very special, extraordinary to have almost single-handedly spread the prize of democracy across the globe. (In the year 2010, even.)

And what makes these democracies *prized*? Is it partially their fragility? The fact that they will always have to defend their freedom? And what about us? Isn't it at least something, that we've been able to hang on to our liberty despite threats inside and out? Even in 2010.

Are you saying that because some countries have been smart enough to use us as a role-model, or that because we have copy-cats, we are no longer exceptional? That really does go back to, "If everyone's special, then, no one really is."

Historically, is ancient Greece or Rome not special simply because we copied a few of their good ideas? Since our founding fathers borrowed heavily from the Greco-Roman ideal did they also rob it of its *exceptional* place in history?

Of course not.

The US has, all the way up to 2010, done its best to not be the *only* beacon of freedom in the world. And its done an *extraordinary* job spreading its ideas of freedom all over the world. While others may follow our lead, we are *still* the highest and brightest beacon of all.

American Exceptionalism (to me) doesn't mean perfection. We're not perfect. We're just most qualified to lead the world, to be a role-model of freedom.
Wednesday, November 17th, 2010 | 06:29 pm (UTC)
When the president's critics (not you, necessarily, but the guys on TV and the radio I'm always bitching about) attack him for supposedly rejecting American exceptionalism, what they're really attacking him for rejecting is American superiority. These people believe that their country is superior to every other country on the Earth — not because of any good works Americans have done, not because of any important role the United States has played in history through war or diplomacy or charity, not because of anything factual at all. They believe the United States is intrinsically superior to every other country. That's what they mean by American exceptionalism. And I reject that and find the very idea intellectually and morally offensive.

I agree with you that our country has done extraordinary things. Our history is full of things to be proud of. Our forebears fought for their independence and began a revolution that spanned continents and centuries and eventually replaced so many dictatorships with democracies that the former is now the exception and the latter the norm. That's a legacy we can be proud of.

But I'm not talking about our legacy. I'm talking about the present moment. And in the present moment, America is not exceptional. We're not the only democracy in the world. We're not even the only federally governed country. Not just democracy, but our specific form of democracy has been exported all over the globe. And our (relatively recent and hard-won) commitment to human rights has not only spread to other parts of the world — an ever-increasing number of nations now have even better human rights policies than we do. Those we have inspired have surpassed us.

To me this isn't a denigration of America. It's a statement of fact. In the early 20th century, the United States was rightly seen as a refuge for those fleeing the absolutism of Europe and Asia. Today there are fewer places than ever where people are subjected to that kind of tyranny, and more places for those who escape to go. And that's a good thing. As I said in my previous response, I think this is a better world because of the United States.

But I'm not a cheerleader. I'm a critic of my country. I don't admit that — it's nothing to be ashamed of — I declare it. I love my country, but I want my country to be better. I want to see every trace of bigotry scrubbed from our law. I want to see religion relegated to its proper place, in private life rather than public (public in the tax-payer-funded, governmental sense). I want to see reason and critical, independent thought take over from blind faith and lowest-common-denominator pandering to fear and ignorance. I want to erase the artificially created and sustained distinction between our government and ourselves as a people. I want to bring home every single member of the American military who does not need to be stationed overseas, and I want politicians and other government officials to start treating troops and veterans with the respect they deserve rather than exploiting them to score political points.

And I want people to stop bitching and complaining whenever someone wants to talk about the darker episodes of our history (the gentrification of American Indians, the enslavement and disenfranchisement of blacks, the deplorable way that certain immigrant groups, and gays, and women, and other out-groups have been treated through the years), because more than anything else I want to see that everything possible is done to make sure those mistakes are never repeated.

Boosterism and rah-rah patriotism serves absolutely no purpose. It does nothing to make this a better country. By serving to inflate our already ridiculously oversized national ego, I would argue that it actually makes it a worse country. I'm not going to participate in it, and I'm glad that the current president doesn't seem interested (for the most part), either.

When the subject at hand is something America deserves praise for, I'll not be shy with my praise. But it will be because of a praiseworthy action, not because I'm repeating the bullshit dogma of American superiority.
Saturday, November 27th, 2010 | 02:34 am (UTC)
Anonymous
found this today....

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nuv0K8H8ILM&feature=player_embedded

I like. What say u?
Saturday, November 27th, 2010 | 04:08 pm (UTC)
He tries, at least, to prove American exceptionalism factually instead of merely asserting it. But he ends up sounding like an apologist. He also claims that part of the definition of a conservative is someone who is "in love with America," and implies that liberals are "America haters."

And he brags about the number of advanced scientific and engineering degrees that are awarded by our university system, yet most conservatives openly advocate cutting or eliminating public funding of those universities.

And his cultural arguments are total horseshit. He's trying to prove his assertion that America is superior to everywhere else by pointing out that our movies make more money than everyone else's? Since when is box office clout a measure of a film's quality? And since when is a film's quality something other than a person's subjective opinion?

Oh, and he blames liberals for communism (making sure to call communism a leftist movement), but mentions World War II without straining to remind us that Nazism was a right-wing movement.

So, no. I don't like. Bill Whittle is either dishonest or deeply stupid. Or more likely a little bit of each.
Saturday, November 27th, 2010 | 06:05 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
He's sounds like an apologist? Care to elaborate?

I get that you don't care for the guy's conservative slant, but other than the movie-making point to which you do not agree, how is he wrong on AE? I think the point was not necessarily about how much money our movies gross, but that our cultural reflections (Hollywood, music, fashion, tv, creative arts, etc, have great appeal around the world in general.) More so than say, any other country. Maybe since Renaissance Italy, Baroque France? You're right that entertainment is in the eye of the beholder, but that's his point too, internationally, the products of our creativity, take our television shows for instance, many are popular around the globe. And that adds up to an unusually large amount of beholders who apparently have the same eye for the Simpsons, Baywatch, Dallas, and Dynasty. -Is there another country whose creative endeavors are as widely received *and liked*?

Do you see Whittle as more anti-left than Andrew Sullivan is anti-right?

And, so he left out the bit about Nazism...ok, fair enough. So, communism is crazy far left. Nazism is crazy far right. So, what? What does that have to do with AE? How does it make American Exceptionalism not real?

I think its interesting that I honed in on the "hater" in Sullivan and you did likewise with Whittle. I don't think either one of us are wrong, though. And I'll agree with you to the point that Whittle's argument would be even better without the snippy left-bashing. The anti-left and anti-right rhetoric is ridiculous (childish, which is what I originally said about Sullivan's rant.) and it ruins good political commentary far too often these days on both sides. At least it ruins it for me, anyway.


Tuesday, November 16th, 2010 | 08:56 pm (UTC) - Criticism is patriotic
I think the Beck/Hannity/O'Reilly version of AE does not allow for any improvement of America. They want to claim that we are the best ever, and nothing can be better, ever. That leaves no room for improvement at all, and even worse, it demonizes anyone who would DARE to criticize the USA!
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