Protests against American embassies in the Middle East continue in apparent response to a “film” that espouses anti-Islamic views, and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has politicized the issue with distorted information.
Does Romney believe his election bid supersedes the safety of American diplomats? The protests in Libya, for example, led to the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Protests have occurred in Egypt and Yemen, and the situation in other Middle East countries is undoubtedly precarious.
Romney’s response to the deaths was to point out a tweet from the embassy in Cairo that essentially condemned the film and then tie that tweet to President Barack Obama. But the tweet wasn’t approved by the White House, and it hardly constitutes an example of an apology or a gesture of sympathy with the Libyan attackers as Romney and his camp seemingly argued. The tweet actually came before the Libyan attack.
As Andrew Sullivan, who outlines the tweet’s history and Romney’s response, argues:
These people [the Romney camp] are simply unfit for the responsibility of running the United States. The knee-jerk judgments, based on ideology not reality; the inability to back down when you have said something obviously wrong; and the attempt to argue that the president of the US actually sympathized with those who murdered his own ambassador in Benghazi: these are disqualifying instincts for someone hoping to be the president of the US. Disqualifying.
Oklahoma’s U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, another Republican, also used the deaths to try to score political points against President Barack Obama even as events unfolded and facts remained murky. His comments were irresponsible and knee jerk, too.
According to Inhofe, Obama is to blame for the attacks because of a “policy of appeasement”:
Sadly, America has suffered as a result of President Obama’s failure to lead and his failed foreign policy of appeasement and apology. The world must know beyond doubt that America will not allow these types of attacks on our people. Obama’s failed leadership is in direct contrast with Ambassador Stevens' brave leadership and effort to protect Americans at the consulate.
The appeasement trope is a standard and fictional GOP talking point this election year, which is bad enough, but trying to score political points as the safety of Americans abroad remained in immediate jeopardy—as in right this moment—is reprehensible. There will be time enough later for political hyperbole. Right now, the U.S. needs to secure its embassies and find out more about the so-called film titled Innocence of Muslims, an anti-Muslim screed that depicts the Prophet Muhammad in unflattering terms. U.S. officials have also said the attacks in Libya may have been planned well in advanced and may have nothing to do with the film.
As I write this, it’s still unknown exactly who made and financed the film in the U.S. or why it was made in the first place. Can it even be considered a film in the traditional sense? Was it made to incite protests? A trailer of the film, which is extremely amateurish and crude, has been circulating on the Internet in recent weeks.
Obviously, the national media is covering the film’s fallout, and the pundits are weighing it, but I have two points to make about Inhofe’s statement, which will probably go unnoticed in the national media.
Inhofe’s statement is obvious political hyperbole and exaggeration, and, of course, he has the right to make it. It also didn’t distort basic facts like Romney’s statement did. This is the difference between crass political rhetoric and actual documented lying. However, Inhofe’s reaction should be criticized for taking a hardline stance when American lives are in immediate jeopardy. Could the expression of such a stance add fuel to the protests? The U.S. should secure its embassies, remove personnel if it has to, and then Inhofe can play politics, though it’s pretty clear where former President George W. Bush’s aggressive war policies have led us. Inhofe could have easily waited a couple of days before turning tragedy into a political opportunity.
Inhofe is not known for holding moderate views. He has made the point that all terrorists are Muslims (see the above video) and he has claimed global warming is a hoax. Extremism begets extremism. It’s only the perspective that matters to the individual. Obviously, Inhofe has never stormed an embassy in a religious rage, but his divisive rhetoric creates intolerance and perpetuates indefinite conflict. Some Americans get a visceral kick out of this, but after years of two military occupations (or wars if you must) surely it’s time for a different approach. Does Inhofe want us to invade Libya, even though its government has harshly condemned the killings? Does he even have a real point beyond opposing Obama?
An Esquire blogger has also noted that Gov. Mary Fallin's anti-federal government tirade Tuesday at the Republican National Convention ignores the state’s historical reliance on the feds.
In a post titled “On RNC Opening Night, Republicans Dare To Build A Lie,” Charles P. Pierce quotes a portion of Fallin’s speech that celebrated the state’s first oil well and then put it as bluntly as it gets.
“. . . it was perhaps the most singularly dishonest speech I have ever seen a politician give . . .,” Pierce writes.
I had posted on the same issue before Fallin’s speech on Tuesday when it leaked out she was going to extol the virtues of local oilman Harold Hamm, the wealthy CEO of Continental Resources, an energy company here. Fallin argues that Hamm embodies the Oklahoma spirit, whatever that means. We should all know Hamm’s legacy could be fleeting because it’s quite probable the Oil Age will be a small blip in the history of mankind if carbon emissions from fossil fuels don’t destroy the planet first and there actually remains a history to consider.
Pierce takes issue with this portion of Fallin’s speech:
. . . And, in 1897, eight years after the land run, a handful of adventurous pioneers risked their own money — not the federal government's money — to drill Oklahoma's first oil well, the Nellie Johnstone. By doing so, these early-day pioneers changed the future and Oklahoma forever and today Oklahoma is one of the nation's key energy producers and job creators. President Obama wants us to believe that Oklahomans owe that success to the federal government — to the Department Of Energy, to the EPA, to the IRS, or maybe even to him. Mr. President, we know better. As we say in Oklahoma, that dog won't hunt.
Note the “not the federal government’s money” aside and all those scary, terrible government agencies she mentions. Pierce’s point, and it’s a point I’ve been arguing here for years, is that Oklahoma owes its very existence to the federal government.
My god, Oklahomans wouldn't even have Oklahoma without the federal government, without the Homestead Act of 1889 or the Railroad Act — both, by the way, achievements of a Republican presidents named Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Harrison.
And, of course, that doesn’t mention all the help the state has received through the years since statehood in 1907, including a long time period when the federal government built the state's major lakes. Recent U.S. Census and Internal Revenue figures show that the state receives $1.30 back from the federal government for every $1 it pays in taxes. Like many red states, Oklahoma is a “receiver” state, essentially taking money away from “donor” states, which are most often blue states.
All this gets omitted from Fallin’s extremely selected history of Oklahoma. As I’ve written before, Oklahoma is only sustained and viable because of the federal government, and its very creation was definitely a multi-layered and multi-year federal project. The history of Oklahoma as an ongoing federal project supported by people in the East doesn’t necessarily diminish the state, but obviously the truth doesn’t fit with Republican ideology.
This doesn’t mean that Fallin or other Oklahomans should never criticize the actions of the federal government, but to completely ignore the obvious reality of our state’s history and its current reliance on the federal government is a deliberate gross distortion.
But Fallin isn’t the only Republican with a “facts” problem at the convention. U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee, gave a speech Wednesday night that sent fact checkers into a frenzy. Joan Walsh, editor of Salon.com, published an insightful piece titled “Paul Ryan’s brazen lies” on the issue.
On Tuesday night at the Republican National Convention, Gov. Mary Fallin will speak about the “spirit of Oklahoma” and how it apparently manifests itself in energy executive Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources, according to a media report.
But defining the “spirit” of anything or anyone is always problematic, and Hamm is an obvious if not crass political choice since he serves as an energy advisor to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The Oklahoma spirit, if such a thing exists, is much deeper and varied than a wealthy oilman producing the fossil fuels that create the carbon emissions that are slowly but steadily destroying the planet through global warming.
Surely, Fallin will talk about other examples of the so-called Oklahoma spirit, including the state’s American Indian tribes and Will Rogers, but there’s one thing she’s not going to mention, and that’s the state’s long-term and current reliance on the federal government for its basic sustenance and viability. That would be considered blasphemy at the RNC, but then the truth is often perceived as blasphemy.
Let’s be clear: The federal government is not the problem for Oklahoma; it’s the reason for Oklahoma. That line won’t get any applause at a Republican gathering.
As I’ve outlined in some recent posts and as a recent Washington Post article clearly suggests, the state continues to feast at the federal trough even as it produces citizens expressing the Oklahoma spirit of biting the hand that feeds them or, in other words, posturing as terribly aggrieved small-government patriots.
It’s all the federal government’s fault when, in fact, the government supplies, according to the most recent figures, $1.30 for every dollar the state pays in federal taxes. This is the state’s old story of post-World War II ingratitude, as much part of the Oklahoma spirit as anything else.
But don’t worry. A recent editorial in The Oklahoman, the state’s largest newspaper, tells us that “Oklahomans aren’t any more or less ‘hypocritical’ than other folks.” That’s good to know, I guess, but where exactly in Oklahoma are those hypocritical limousine liberals to which the editorial refers. I don’t believe Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips rides around town in a limousine. Is it Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder? Is he even liberal?
Or is the editorial’s overall point that Oklahomans are just as hypocritical as folks in other red states such as Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, which also receive much more in federal dollars than they pay into the system? All those states will start to feel the brunt of Hurricane Isaac, fueled by the residual effect of global warming, right around the time Fallin extols the virtues of a wealthy oilman, and so we come full circle.
This is certain: Those states hit hardest by Isaac will not only expect but demand the federal government help them out after the storm hits, and, by logical extension, therefore demand Massachusetts and New York citizens pay for their obliviousness. So goes the spirit in red-state America these days. Rich oilmen become demigods as the federal government continues to coddle its petulant children.