I want to spend my last post of this week focusing once again on GOP extremism here in Oklahoma and how it continues to prevent rational discussion of issues important to both Republicans and Democrats.
I know it’s the third post in a row on this topic, and it might be a stale issue for some progressives here, but I can’t stress enough how discouraged I’ve become with the current political Oklahoma scene. It’s telling that even The Oklahoman editorial board, the ultra-conservative machine that keeps going and going, has come out against state GOP overreach here and here.
I fear that conservatives here will do much damage to the state before there’s a power shift, and, yes, eventually there will be a power shift, but those of us living here during this era will suffer a price, whether through lack of educational opportunities, shoddy infrastructure, poor medical access or neglect of many other practical, quality-of-life issues.
At the root of the conservative rage in Oklahoma seems to be the fictional, hate-filled mythology of President Barack Obama, the nation’s first African American president. It’s generated constantly by the right-wing media, which includes Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and even The Oklahoman to some extent.
Obama does represent a changing country, one that’s slowly—far too slowly for me—becoming more diverse and open-minded. I recognize how change can be difficult. I get it. On the other hand, Obama has reached out to conservatives over and over again, and he has frustrated liberals and his party over and over again for his tendency to compromise. I’m in this group of liberals so Republican extremism here, such as the Obamacare nullification effort or the gun-obsession paranoia or the Agenda 21 nonsense, seems completely divorced from reality to me.
I wrote about the ”Obama effect” on Oklahoma back in October, 2009 in which I outlined how extreme conservative personal animosity against the president would dictate the state’s future political development, making it even more conservative and extreme. I was exactly right, which is not such a great achievement because it was so utterly predictable. The obsessed fixation on one person, elected by clear majorities for two terms, has distorted the political debate here and isolated the state from national trends as Republicans have grown their local legislative and executive power.
Is it racist? I’ve always contended that racism has played a part in the Obama hysteria here and elsewhere, but I’ve always conceded that many Republicans are genuinely fighting for a certain “vision” or, really, a primordial political urge to take the country back to a romanticized past that, in reality, I think they probably wouldn’t much like if it could even happen. I’ve also conceded many state Republicans, who are otherwise lifestyle liberal, simply like the winner-takes-all mentality of the market or, in broader terms, capitalism. They don’t spend too much time on the broader, global ramifications. What I can’t accept, however, is the proselytizing of right-wing religious folks in the legislature, who are dishonest about their intentions and hide behind disingenuous bills, such as the Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimation Act or the anti-evolution bills proposed year after year.
But let’s return to Obama. It would be difficult to find a leading Republican politician more representative of misplaced Obama anger than Oklahoma’s U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who is 78 and plans to run for reelection in 2014. Inhofe relentlessly criticizes the president with sweeping generalizations. According to The Hill, Inhofe told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham what he thought about Obama’s recent outreach to Republicans for compromise:
This is the same guy [Obama] that is ... over-regulating all of our businesses, he has a war on fossil fuels, he is keeping us from being energy independent, he is defunding the military.”
So he's destroying this country, but yes he's charming.
Destroying the country? From one of our state’s United States Senators to the Oklahoma Legislature, it’s Obama-hate all the time, and it’s going to cost us. After all, Obama is only in the first year of his second term. Where does all this anger lead? How will it affect our quality of life as Oklahoma GOP legislators use the hate to easily pass legislation that ignores cultural reality and the state’s future?
Some national Republicans, as I’ve noted, want to rebrand and become more culturally progressive, but the Oklahoma GOP has doubled down on its Obama hate binge.
I urge leading state conservatives, including Gov. Mary Fallin, to separate their voter mandate, which I accept, from the craziness. Repair the state Capitol building, fund education, fix the roads, try to deal with the state’s mediocre medical outcomes, among just a few of many practical issues. By all means, push income tax reduction and worker’s compensation agendas, which I will no doubt oppose, but, please, think about what Oklahoma will be like in five, 10 or even 20 years when all this extremism will be but a blip in time.
Obama won’t be president then, and the hangover of hate could be brutal for us all, Republicans and Democrats alike.
An unsigned Oklahoman editorial recently published on NewsOK.com calling President Barack Obama “The Great Divider” is a reductionist, evidence-lacking piece of silly drivel, sophomoric in its approach and basically untruthful in its meager content.
No, it’s The Oklahoman that is The Great Divider, a newspaper that for decades hasn’t allowed consistent dissenting views on its ultra-conservative editorial page and a newspaper that only reports the news with objectivity when it doesn’t concern its conservative ownership, whether it’s the current owner, Colorado billionaire Philip Anschutz, or, in the past, the Gaylord family.
The idea that an editorial in The Oklahoman could have anything more to say about the country’s first African American president than a few, reused conservative clichés should make anyone, even Republicans here, knowingly chuckle and roll their eyes. But the faux dramatic voice of The Great Divider piece deserves some extra heckles from the reality-based community here. Shall we?
So there it was, folks, published on Feb. 10, two days before Obama’s state of the union address, titled “President Barack Obama Has Earned Great Divider Label,” complete with a goofy piece of artwork that depicted the president above a broken-in-two United States. Get it? He’s the awful “divider.” Isn’t it so sad? Boo hoo. You can’t make this stuff up.
The editorial was a pathetic, provincial attempt at preemption before Obama’s speech, and, really, who would take it seriously anyway, but the absurdity of its main thesis deserves our attention.
Here’s the gut of the argument:
The Great Divider is an apt choice for Obama. He has earned it. The sobriquet isn't overtly partisan: Much of the man's political success owes to his penchant for dividing people into camps and appealing to one group by diminishing the other. This has been good for his career. But it has not been good for the United States of America.
Note the clever use of italics by this clever writer in this clever newspaper. Note “diminishing the other,” which in the twisted logic of The Oklahoman means diminishing the powerful reach of billionaires and millionaires who run his country. “The Other” has been used as an intellectual construct to describe marginalized people; the editorial uses it in just the opposite way.
The Oklahoman sobriquet, then, is a complete reversal of the truth. It’s the right-wing noise machine and recalcitrant, ultra-conservative Republicans who have divided this country, not Obama. It’s Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck who have divided this country, not Obama. It’s U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan and Sarah Palin who have divided this country, not Obama. It’s the greed of corporate America that has divided the country, not Obama. It’s the Koch brothers and Karl Rove. It’s Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham. It’s The Oklahoman. The list goes on.
Perhaps, more than anyone else, it was former President George W. Bush who divided this country with his two long-term military occupations and his lack of financial stewardship that caused the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
The editorial’s only attempt of providing any real evidence beyond rhetorical comparisons to former Presidents Ronald Reagan and Franklin D. Roosevelt for its name calling is this:
Obama solicited ideas from diverse coalitions — on health care, deficit reduction, business growth — but refused to listen. He pushed through a health care package with zero Republican support. He ignored his own deficit commission. He formed and then ignored and then disbanded a council of advisers drawn from the business sector.
As any rational person will recall, it has been Republican stubbornness and political maneuvering that has held up compromise, not Obama’s refusal to listen to anyone.
The health care reform was demonized by Republicans at its inception despite the fact Obama displeased many progressives, myself included, for not pushing for a single payer system. Giving up on a single payer health care system, at least for now, was a huge, historic compromise.
When it comes to deficit reduction, Obama has even offered cuts in future Social Security payments, which goes against the majority of his party. Obama has also consistently stressed business growth in his tenure, even coming to Oklahoma to give his support to the southern part of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
The idea that Obama has ignored commissions and councils is ridiculous. Any bipartisan group will mirror the political reality of its time. We know what the issues are, and we know the disagreements. No one group of pontificating egotists is going to change that. The Oklahoman just recently published another editorial criticizing the whole idea of commissioning studies instead of taking action.
The editorial ends with an empty and goofy rhetorical flourish. Read these sentences in your best pseudo-I’m-giving-an-important-speech voice, and be sure to stress “unrelenting”:
We need reasoned debate. We need a reasonable president. We need a uniter.
What we have instead is unearned, unwarranted, unrelenting scorn from The Great Divider.
Powerful stuff, right? There’s that clever use of italics again with the word “unrelenting.” Note all the series of “uns.” Takes a brilliant mind to come up with that, right? What does “unrelenting scorn” mean, anyway? What are we supposed to think? Obama: “I feel only scorn for you people and it’s unrelenting.” It’s just nonsense.
Here’s the scornful “Great Divider” in his state of the union address:
I realize that tax reform and entitlement reform won’t be easy. The politics will be hard for both sides. None of us will get 100 percent of what we want. But the alternative will cost us jobs, hurt our economy, and visit hardship on millions of hardworking Americans. So let’s set party interests aside, and work to pass a budget that replaces reckless cuts with smart savings and wise investments in our future. And let’s do it without the brinksmanship that stresses consumers and scares off investors. The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next. Let’s agree, right here, right now, to keep the people’s government open, pay our bills on time, and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America. The American people have worked too hard, for too long, rebuilding from one crisis to see their elected officials cause another.
Note the sentence, “None of us will get 100 percent of what we want.” In the world of The Oklahoman editorial page, the only fair compromise is one in which ultra-conservative Republicans get 100 percent of what they want even though the presidency and the U.S. Senate are controlled by Democrats. Anything less, people, is unrelenting scorn and division.
I will say it again and again: Oklahoma City and state residents deserve a reasoned, balanced editorial page from its largest newspaper.
Do elections really matter? There are millions of people in this country who would say no, and President Barack Obama might be proving them right with his milquetoast “fiscal cliff” negotiations.
Are the same liberals who fought so hard to reelect Obama in November now getting left behind by a president apparently too afraid to stand up to right-wing extremists on tax policy and too willing to cut the basic living sustenance of millions of the country’s elderly? It looks like it right now.
For anyone living under a rock, the so-called fiscal cliff is a series of drastic cuts in federal spending that are scheduled to go into effect at the first of the year. The Bush-era tax cuts are also scheduled to expire. Congress has to do something about it or middle-class Americans will be paying more in taxes, and states will lose much-needed federal money. Defense cuts will also go into effect.
Obama says he wants the tax cuts to only expire for people with higher incomes, but his definition of higher incomes keeps inching upwards. It used to be for people who have incomes of $250,000 a year. The president, for the sake of compromise, changed that to $400,000 in negotiations. House Speaker Boehner has now countered with $1 million annually under his so-called Plan B, and he wants to bring it to a vote in the Republican-dominated House. Boehner’s plan also will cut some taxes for the rich so, in essence, it really doesn’t amount to a substantial increase in revenues. It also raises taxes for certain low-income and middle-class taxpayers with children.
Meanwhile, the president has apparently agreed to a plan that would change the formula in how future Social Security benefit increases would be calculated. That would lead to cuts in benefits, and, worse, set a precedent for future income cuts for the nation’s most vulnerable citizens.
I’ve always considered Obama a centrist, not a liberal, so I’m not too surprised he’s ready to give his stamp of approval to the neoliberal status quo. I did, however, believe he would put up a stronger fight against what the Republicans call “entitlement reform,” which is really just a shift of income from the middle class to the wealthy.
I also believed he had learned the lesson that the present-day Republican Party on the national level doesn’t negotiate, doesn’t compromise, and has perfected the arts of political backstabbing and rhetorical subterfuge.
This is what must happen now, and liberals should push for it: The president needs to go to the American people, explain the latest Republican treachery in the simplest terms possible and then let the country go over the metaphorical fiscal cliff. It’s time for this constant charade of negotiations to end.
Let’s see who the country blames for increased taxes and drastic cuts in government spending. Call the bluff, Mr. President.