By Trying To Destroy President Obama, The GOP Ended-Up Destroying Itself

By Richard Wolffe, THE INTELLECTUALIST, The Guardian, August 10, 2016

Excerpt

…[President Barack Obama] can thank the freak show that is Donald Trump’s Republican party for restoring his stature as a unifying, national leader with a moderated and mature approach to a complex and unstable world.

Eight years ago, Obama represented an existential threat to the Republican party, and not just because he was going to lead the Democratic party to win the White House and Congress by large margins. No, Obama’s biggest threat was that he could realign American politics, shifting it fundamentally towards progressives for a generation…With his appeal to independents and moderate Republicans, Obama could break the Republican party as a national force. With his appeal to minority voters – a rapidly emerging majority across the country – he could lock in the fastest growing demographics that could turn red states blue.

So the GOP leadership chose to make Obama unacceptable, unpalatable and un-American. On the night of his first inauguration, House Republican leaders met at a Washington steakhouse to plot their path back to power. They would not reform their policies or consider the root cause of their defeat. Instead, they would oppose Obama on everything, well before he tried to pass a giant stimulus bill or healthcare reform.

They needed to deny him a reputation for bipartisanship and mainstream politics, and they succeeded…The party of Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and Roger Ailes had turned him into their own kind of freak. Before he finished his second year in office, Obama was such an object of Republican loathing that the Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell could say – with impunity – that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” If your political priorities are the total defeat of a single politician – not the advancement of your own policies through debate or legislation – then you are already in pretty desperate shape. You render it impossible to compromise with your opponents, and you fan the flames of extremism that will burn anyone in the center.

You also look weak and foolish when you lose, surrendering the stage to someone who can vilify his opponents better than you. So don’t look dazed and confused at Donald Trump when he runs your playbook more convincingly than your own team. It’s too late to fret about endorsing his kooky positions … when they are only logical extensions of your own..

 

 

Full text

It may seem too early to call, but we already have a winner in the 2016 election.

He’s someone the pundits wrote off long ago. An improbable outsider who rode an insurgent wave to snatch the nomination from the establishment. An unconventional politician whose raucous rallies underscored his appeal to voters far outside his party base.

His name is Barack Obama. And he can thank the freak show that is Donald Trump’s Republican party for restoring his [Barack Obama] stature as a unifying, national leader with a moderated and mature approach to a complex and unstable world.

Eight years ago, Obama represented an existential threat to the Republican party, and not just because he was going to lead the Democratic party to win the White House and Congress by large margins.

No, Obama’s biggest threat was that he could realign American politics, shifting it fundamentally towards progressives for a generation. He and his campaign aides talked privately of being the Reagan of the left: a transformative figure who would leave an indelible legislative mark at home and restore America’s position on the world stage.

With his appeal to independents and moderate Republicans, Obama could break the Republican party as a national force. With his appeal to minority voters – a rapidly emerging majority across the country – he could lock in the fastest growing demographics that could turn red states blue.

So the GOP leadership chose to make Obama unacceptable, unpalatable and un-American. On the night of his first inauguration, House Republican leaders met at a Washington steakhouse to plot their path back to power. They would not reform their policies or consider the root cause of their defeat. Instead, they would oppose Obama on everything, well before he tried to pass a giant stimulus bill or healthcare reform.

They needed to deny him a reputation for bipartisanship and mainstream politics, and they succeeded. He wasn’t reasonable; he was an ideologue. His vision of healthcare reform wasn’t a free-market system based on Republican plans; it was a socialist takeover that would destroy the American way of life. He was inviting terrorist attacks on the homeland, not hunting down Osama bin Laden. He was acting in unconstitutional ways because he wasn’t really American at all.

The party of Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and Roger Ailes had turned him into their own kind of freak.

Before he finished his second year in office, Obama was such an object of Republican loathing that the Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell could say – with impunity – that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

If your political priorities are the total defeat of a single politician – not the advancement of your own policies through debate or legislation – then you are already in pretty desperate shape. You render it impossible to compromise with your opponents, and you fan the flames of extremism that will burn anyone in the center.

 

 

 

 

 

President Obama’s speech in Selma 3-8-15

Read the full transcript of Obama’s rousing, emotional speech in Selma  – youtube of 3 most important parts – http://www.vox.com/2015/3/7/8168347/obama-s-speech-in-selma-was-an-answer-to-those-who-question-his-love  -

full transcript

It is a rare honor in this life to follow one of your heroes. And John Lewis is one of my heroes.

Now, I have to imagine that when a younger John Lewis woke up that morning fifty years ago and made his way to Brown Chapel, heroics were not on his mind. A day like this was not on his mind. Young folks with bedrolls and backpacks were milling about. Veterans of the movement trained newcomers in the tactics of non-violence; the right way to protect yourself when attacked. A doctor described what tear gas does to the body, while marchers scribbled down instructions for contacting their loved ones. The air was thick with doubt, anticipation, and fear. They comforted themselves with the final verse of the final hymn they sung:

No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you;
Lean, weary one, upon His breast, God will take care of you.

Then, his knapsack stocked with an apple, a toothbrush, a book on government — all you need for a night behind bars — John Lewis led them out of the church on a mission to change America.

President Bush and Mrs. Bush, Governor Bentley, Members of Congress, Mayor Evans, Reverend Strong, friends and fellow Americans:

There are places, and moments in America where this nation’s destiny has been decided. Many are sites of war — Concord and Lexington, Appomattox and Gettysburg. Others are sites that symbolize the daring of America’s character — Independence Hall and Seneca Falls, Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral.

Selma is such a place.

In one afternoon fifty years ago, so much of our turbulent history — the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war; the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow; the death of four little girls in Birmingham, and the dream of a Baptist preacher — met on this bridge.

It was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills; a contest to determine the meaning of America.

And because of men and women like John Lewis, Joseph Lowery, Hosea Williams, Amelia Boynton, Diane Nash, Ralph Abernathy, C.T. Vivian, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. King, and so many more, the idea of a just America, a fair America, an inclusive America, a generous America — that idea ultimately triumphed.

As is true across the landscape of American history, we cannot examine this moment in isolation. The march on Selma was part of a broader campaign that spanned generations; the leaders that day part of a long line of heroes.

We gather here to celebrate them. We gather here to honor the courage of ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod; tear gas and the trampling hoof; men and women who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone would stay true to their North Star and keep marching toward justice.

They did as Scripture instructed: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” And in the days to come, they went back again and again. When the trumpet call sounded for more to join, the people came — black and white, young and old, Christian and Jew, waving the American flag and singing the same anthems full of faith and hope. A white newsman, Bill Plante, who covered the marches then and who is with us here today, quipped that the growing number of white people lowered the quality of the singing. To those who marched, though, those old gospel songs must have never sounded so sweet.

In time, their chorus would reach President Johnson. And he would send them protection, echoing their call for the nation and the world to hear:

“We shall overcome.”

What enormous faith these men and women had. Faith in God — but also faith in America.

The Americans who crossed this bridge were not physically imposing. But they gave courage to millions. They held no elected office. But they led a nation. They marched as Americans who had endured hundreds of years of brutal violence, and countless daily indignities — but they didn’t seek special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them almost a century before.

What they did here will reverberate through the ages. Not because the change they won was preordained; not because their victory was complete; but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible; that love and hope can conquer hate.

As we commemorate their achievement, we are well-served to remember that at the time of the marches, many in power condemned rather than praised them. Back then, they were called Communists, half-breeds, outside agitators, sexual and moral degenerates, and worse — everything but the name their parents gave them. Their faith was questioned. Their lives were threatened. Their patriotism was challenged.

And yet, what could be more American than what happened in this place?

What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people — the unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many — coming together to shape their country’s course?

What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this; what greater form of patriotism is there; than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?

That’s why Selma is not some outlier in the American experience. That’s why it’s not a museum or static monument to behold from a distance. It is instead the manifestation of a creed written into our founding documents:

“We the People…in order to form a more perfect union.”

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

These are not just words. They are a living thing, a call to action, a roadmap for citizenship and an insistence in the capacity of free men and women to shape our own destiny. For founders like Franklin and Jefferson, for leaders like Lincoln and FDR, the success of our experiment in self-government rested on engaging all our citizens in this work. That’s what we celebrate here in Selma. That’s what this movement was all about, one leg in our long journey toward freedom.

The American instinct that led these young men and women to pick up the torch and cross this bridge is the same instinct that moved patriots to choose revolution over tyranny. It’s the same instinct that drew immigrants from across oceans and the Rio Grande; the same instinct that led women to reach for the ballot and workers to organize against an unjust status quo; the same instinct that led us to plant a flag at Iwo Jima and on the surface of the Moon.

It’s the idea held by generations of citizens who believed that America is a constant work in progress; who believed that loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths. It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what’s right and shake up the status quo.

That’s what makes us unique, and cements our reputation as a beacon of opportunity. Young people behind the Iron Curtain would see Selma and eventually tear down a wall. Young people in Soweto would hear Bobby Kennedy talk about ripples of hope and eventually banish the scourge of apartheid. Young people in Burma went to prison rather than submit to military rule. From the streets of Tunis to the Maidan in Ukraine, this generation of young people can draw strength from this place, where the powerless could change the world’s greatest superpower, and push their leaders to expand the boundaries of freedom.

They saw that idea made real in Selma, Alabama. They saw it made real in America.

Because of campaigns like this, a Voting Rights Act was passed. Political, economic, and social barriers came down, and the change these men and women wrought is visible here today in the presence of African-Americans who run boardrooms, who sit on the bench, who serve in elected office from small towns to big cities; from the Congressional Black Caucus to the Oval Office.

Because of what they did, the doors of opportunity swung open not just for African-Americans, but for every American. Women marched through those doors. Latinos marched through those doors. Asian-Americans, gay Americans, and Americans with disabilities came through those doors. Their endeavors gave the entire South the chance to rise again, not by reasserting the past, but by transcending the past.

What a glorious thing, Dr. King might say.

What a solemn debt we owe.

Which leads us to ask, just how might we repay that debt?

First and foremost, we have to recognize that one day’s commemoration, no matter how special, is not enough. If Selma taught us anything, it’s that our work is never done — the American experiment in self-government gives work and purpose to each generation.

Selma teaches us, too, that action requires that we shed our cynicism. For when it comes to the pursuit of justice, we can afford neither complacency nor despair.

Just this week, I was asked whether I thought the Department of Justice’s Ferguson report shows that, with respect to race, little has changed in this country. I understand the question, for the report’s narrative was woefully familiar. It evoked the kind of abuse and disregard for citizens that spawned the Civil Rights Movement. But I rejected the notion that nothing’s changed. What happened in Ferguson may not be unique, but it’s no longer endemic, or sanctioned by law and custom; and before the Civil Rights Movement, it most surely was.

We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, or that racial division is inherent to America. If you think nothing’s changed in the past fifty years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or L.A. of the Fifties. Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed. Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago. To deny this progress — our progress — would be to rob us of our own agency; our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.

Of course, a more common mistake is to suggest that racism is banished, that the work that drew men and women to Selma is complete, and that whatever racial tensions remain are a consequence of those seeking to play the “race card” for their own purposes. We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true. We just need to open our eyes, and ears, and hearts, to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us. We know the march is not yet over, the race is not yet won, and that reaching that blessed destination where we are judged by the content of our character — requires admitting as much.

“We are capable of bearing a great burden,” James Baldwin wrote, “once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is.”

This is work for all Americans, and not just some. Not just whites. Not just blacks. If we want to honor the courage of those who marched that day, then all of us are called to possess their moral imagination. All of us will need to feel, as they did, the fierce urgency of now. All of us need to recognize, as they did, that change depends on our actions, our attitudes, the things we teach our children. And if we make such effort, no matter how hard it may seem, laws can be passed, and consciences can be stirred, and consensus can be built.

With such effort, we can make sure our criminal justice system serves all and not just some. Together, we can raise the level of mutual trust that policing is built on — the idea that police officers are members of the communities they risk their lives to protect, and citizens in Ferguson and New York and Cleveland just want the same thing young people here marched for — the protection of the law. Together, we can address unfair sentencing, and overcrowded prisons, and the stunted circumstances that rob too many boys of the chance to become men, and rob the nation of too many men who could be good dads, and workers, and neighbors.

With effort, we can roll back poverty and the roadblocks to opportunity. Americans don’t accept a free ride for anyone, nor do we believe in equality of outcomes. But we do expect equal opportunity, and if we really mean it, if we’re willing to sacrifice for it, then we can make sure every child gets an education suitable to this new century, one that expands imaginations and lifts their sights and gives them skills. We can make sure every person willing to work has the dignity of a job, and a fair wage, and a real voice, and sturdier rungs on that ladder into the middle class.

And with effort, we can protect the foundation stone of our democracy for which so many marched across this bridge — and that is the right to vote. Right now, in 2015, fifty years after Selma, there are laws across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote. As we speak, more of such laws are being proposed. Meanwhile, the Voting Rights Act, the culmination of so much blood and sweat and tears, the product of so much sacrifice in the face of wanton violence, stands weakened, its future subject to partisan rancor.

How can that be? The Voting Rights Act was one of the crowning achievements of our democracy, the result of Republican and Democratic effort. President Reagan signed its renewal when he was in office. President Bush signed its renewal when he was in office. One hundred Members of Congress have come here today to honor people who were willing to die for the right it protects. If we want to honor this day, let these hundred go back to Washington, and gather four hundred more, and together, pledge to make it their mission to restore the law this year.

Of course, our democracy is not the task of Congress alone, or the courts alone, or the President alone. If every new voter suppression law was struck down today, we’d still have one of the lowest voting rates among free peoples. Fifty years ago, registering to vote here in Selma and much of the South meant guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar or bubbles on a bar of soap. It meant risking your dignity, and sometimes, your life. What is our excuse today for not voting? How do we so casually discard the right for which so many fought? How do we so fully give away our power, our voice, in shaping America’s future?

Fellow marchers, so much has changed in fifty years. We’ve endured war, and fashioned peace. We’ve seen technological wonders that touch every aspect of our lives, and take for granted convenience our parents might scarcely imagine. But what has not changed is the imperative of citizenship, that willingness of a 26 year-old deacon, or a Unitarian minister, or a young mother of five, to decide they loved this country so much that they’d risk everything to realize its promise.

That’s what it means to love America. That’s what it means to believe in America. That’s what it means when we say America is exceptional.

For we were born of change. We broke the old aristocracies, declaring ourselves entitled not by bloodline, but endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. We secure our rights and responsibilities through a system of self-government, of and by and for the people. That’s why we argue and fight with so much passion and conviction, because we know our efforts matter. We know America is what we make of it.

We are Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea — pioneers who braved the unfamiliar, followed by a stampede of farmers and miners, entrepreneurs and hucksters. That’s our spirit.

We are Sojourner Truth and Fannie Lou Hamer, women who could do as much as any man and then some; and we’re Susan B. Anthony, who shook the system until the law reflected that truth. That’s our character.

We’re the immigrants who stowed away on ships to reach these shores, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free — Holocaust survivors, Soviet defectors, the Lost Boys of Sudan. We are the hopeful strivers who cross the Rio Grande because they want their kids to know a better life. That’s how we came to be.

We’re the slaves who built the White House and the economy of the South. We’re the ranch hands and cowboys who opened the West, and countless laborers who laid rail, and raised skyscrapers, and organized for workers’ rights.

We’re the fresh-faced GIs who fought to liberate a continent, and we’re the Tuskeegee Airmen, Navajo code-talkers, and Japanese-Americans who fought for this country even as their own liberty had been denied. We’re the firefighters who rushed into those buildings on 9/11, and the volunteers who signed up to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We are the gay Americans whose blood ran on the streets of San Francisco and New York, just as blood ran down this bridge.

We are storytellers, writers, poets, and artists who abhor unfairness, and despise hypocrisy, and give voice to the voiceless, and tell truths that need to be told.

We are the inventors of gospel and jazz and the blues, bluegrass and country, hip-hop and rock and roll, our very own sounds with all the sweet sorrow and reckless joy of freedom.

We are Jackie Robinson, enduring scorn and spiked cleats and pitches coming straight to his head, and stealing home in the World Series anyway.

We are the people Langston Hughes wrote of, who “build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how.”

We are the people Emerson wrote of, “who for truth and honor’s sake stand fast and suffer long;” who are “never tired, so long as we can see far enough.”

That’s what America is. Not stock photos or airbrushed history or feeble attempts to define some of us as more American as others. We respect the past, but we don’t pine for it. We don’t fear the future; we grab for it. America is not some fragile thing; we are large, in the words of Whitman, containing multitudes. We are boisterous and diverse and full of energy, perpetually young in spirit. That’s why someone like John Lewis at the ripe age of 25 could lead a mighty march.

And that’s what the young people here today and listening all across the country must take away from this day. You are America. Unconstrained by habits and convention. Unencumbered by what is, and ready to seize what ought to be. For everywhere in this country, there are first steps to be taken, and new ground to cover, and bridges to be crossed. And it is you, the young and fearless at heart, the most diverse and educated generation in our history, who the nation is waiting to follow.

Because Selma shows us that America is not the project of any one person.

Because the single most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.” We The People. We Shall Overcome. Yes We Can. It is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone. Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.

Fifty years from Bloody Sunday, our march is not yet finished. But we are getting closer. Two hundred and thirty-nine years after this nation’s founding, our union is not yet perfect. But we are getting closer. Our job’s easier because somebody already got us through that first mile. Somebody already got us over that bridge. When it feels the road’s too hard, when the torch we’ve been passed feels too heavy, we will remember these early travelers, and draw strength from their example, and hold firmly the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not be faint.”

We honor those who walked so we could run. We must run so our children soar. And we will not grow weary. For we believe in the power of an awesome God, and we believe in this country’s sacred promise.

May He bless those warriors of justice no longer with us, and bless the United States of America.

Related: Obama’s speech in Selma was an answer to those who question his love for America.

Organizer in Chief?

by Peter Dreier, first posted on The Huffington Post, posted on BillMoyers.com, 12/13/14

Occasionally, President Barack Obama reminds us that he was once a community organizer.

In his interview Monday night with BET News, Obama said that he had invited some people who have been organizing protests against police misconduct to meet with him at the White House last week.

“Because the old adage, power concedes nothing without a fight — I think that’s true,” Obama said.

Obama was closely paraphrasing a statement by the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass that is well-known among community organizers and activists: “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”

This is not a phrase that most politicians would be familiar with. Obama probably first heard Douglass’ words during his three years as a community organizer in Chicago during the 1980s. Douglass’ famous one-liner was actually part of a speech he gave on August 3, 1857 in Canandaigua, New York. Civil rights and community organizers rediscovered Douglass’ words in the 1960s and they’ve become a key part of the ideas that young activists imbibe, especially these two paragraphs:

Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

Obama echoed Douglass’ sentiments in several parts of his BET interview. He said that he supported the protests over police killings of unarmed black males so long as they are peaceful.

A country’s conscience sometimes has to be triggered by some inconvenience, because I think a lot of people who saw the Eric Garner video are troubled, even if they haven’t had that same experience themselves. Even if they’re not African-American or Latino,” said Obama.

He noted that the news media and the public, sometimes lose interest in an issue as new topics grab their attention, “so the value of peaceful protests — activism, organizing — is it reminds the society this is not yet done.”

In 1985, at age 23, Obama was hired by the Developing Communities Project, a coalition of churches on Chicago’s South Side, to help empower residents to win improved playgrounds, after-school programs, job training, housing and other concerns affecting a neighborhood hurt by large-scale layoffs from the nearby steel mills and neglect by banks, retail stores and the local government. He knocked on doors and talked to people in their kitchens, living rooms and churches about the problems they faced and why they needed to get involved to change things.

As an organizer, Obama learned the skills of motivating and mobilizing people who had little faith in their ability to make politicians, corporations and other powerful institutions accountable. Obama taught low-income people how to analyze power relations, gain confidence in their own leadership abilities and work together.

For example, he organized tenants in the troubled Altgelt Gardens public housing project to push the city to remove dangerous asbestos in their apartments, a campaign that he acknowledged resulted in only a partial victory. After Obama helped organize a large mass meeting of angry tenants, the city government started to test and seal asbestos in some apartments, but ran out of money to complete the task.

Although he didn’t make community organizing a lifetime career — he left Chicago to attend Harvard Law School — Obama said that his organizing experience had shaped his approach to politics. After law school, Obama returned to Chicago to practice and teach law. But in the mid-1990s, he also began contemplating running for office. In 1995, he told a Chicago newspaper, “What if a politician were to see his job as that of an organizer — as part teacher and part advocate, one who does not sell voters short but who educates them about the real choices before them?”

During his 2008 campaign for president, Obama frequently referred to the three years he spent as a community organizer as “the best education I ever had.” He often referred to the valuable lessons he learned working “in the streets” of Chicago.

“I’ve won some good fights and I’ve also lost some fights, because good intentions are not enough, when not fortified with political will and political power,” echoing Frederick Douglass’ sentiments.

In 2008, Obama enlisted Marshall Ganz, a Harvard professor who is one of the country’s leading organizing theorists and practitioners, to help train organizers and volunteers as a key component of his presidential campaign. Ganz was instrumental in shaping the volunteer training experience.

Many Obama campaign volunteers went through several days of intense training sessions called “Camp Obama.” The sessions were led by Ganz and other experienced organizers, including Mike Kruglik, one of Obama’s organizing mentors in Chicago. Potential field organizers were given an overview of the history of grassroots organizing techniques and the key lessons of campaigns that have succeeded and failed.

During that contest, the Obama campaign drew on community organizing techniques to build an effective grassroots organization that increased registration and turnout among voters, particularly African-Americans and 18 to 29 year olds. Both groups not only voted overwhelmingly for Obama but also came to the polls in relatively high numbers.

Throughout that 2008 campaign, Obama consistently praised the young organizers working on his staff and the role of organizers in American history.

“Nothing in this country worthwhile has ever happened except when somebody somewhere was willing to hope,” Obama said during that first campaign for the White House. “That is how workers won the right to organize against violence and intimidation. That’s how women won the right to vote. That’s how young people traveled south to march and to sit in and to be beaten, and some went to jail and some died for freedom’s cause.” Change comes about, Obama said, by “imagining, and then fighting for, and then working for, what did not seem possible before.”

In town forums and living-room meetings, Obama told audiences that “real change” only comes about from the “bottom up,” but that as president, he can give voice to those organizing in their workplaces, communities and congregations around a positive vision for change. “That’s leadership,” he says.

Many of the organizers who worked on Obama’s first campaign wound up working for Organizing for America (now called Organizing for Action), a White House-led organization that was intended to keep the campaign volunteers involved in issue battles in-between election cycles. OFA has not lived up to its early promise, but many people trained in organizing skills in the first and second Obama campaigns went on to play key roles in other Democratic Party contests for Congress, governor races and various issue campaign.

As soon as Obama won the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, and even more since entering the White House, he has been subjected to constant attacks by right-wing talk show hosts and bloggers for his background as a community organizer. They’ve sought to demonize Obama as a “radical” and a “socialist” by linking him to Saul Alinsky, one of the founders of modern community organizing who died at 63 in 1972. Obama never met Alinsky but he was no doubt familiar with his ideas, summarized in two books – Reveille for Radicals (1946) and Rules for Radicals (1971).

Tens of thousands of organizers and activists have been directly or indirectly influenced by Alinsky’s ideas about organizing. Most of them — like the young Barack Obama — have been liberals and progressives, following Alinsky’s instincts to challenge the rich and powerful. The left, however, has no monopoly on using Alinsky’s techniques. After Obama took office in 2009, even as the tea party and conservatives like Glenn Beck attacked Obama for being a radical, they began recommending Alinsky’s books as training tools for building a right-wing movement. Freedom Works, a corporate-funded conservative group started by former Republican congressman Dick Armey, used Rules for Radicals as a primer for its training of tea party activists. One tea party leader explained, “Alinsky’s book is important because there really is no equivalent book for conservatives. There’s no ‘Rules for Counter-Radicals.’”

There are tens of thousands of Americans today who earn a living as organizers for unions, environmental groups, LGBT and women’s rights groups, community organizations, school reform groups and others causes, and millions of people who participate in the meetings, lobbying campaigns, get-out-the-vote efforts and occasional protests that these groups sponsor.

The mainstream media routinely ignores community organizing except when groups engage in dramatic protest, such as the current turmoil in Ferguson and elsewhere. Not a single daily newspaper has a reporter assigned full-time to cover community organizing. Environmental reporters mainly focus on scientific debates or politicians’ maneuverings over legislation, not the grassroots activism that helps turn pollution problems into public issues. Every newspaper has a business section that typically regurgitates the activities of corporate America, but the New York Times is the only major daily newspaper with a full-time reporter covering the labor movement, but last week that reporter, Steve Greenhouse, announced he would soon leave the paper and it isn’t clear whether the Times will replace him on the labor beat.

The editors of most major newspapers and TV networks can probably tell you the name of the CEO of at least one major Wall Street bank or the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, but few likely could identify the leaders of the AFL-CIO, SEIU, the Center for Community Change, National Peoples Action, PICO, U.S. Action, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club, or the NAACP and few reporters for local papers cover the day-to-day activities of the thousands of groups that mobilize people at work, in their neighborhoods and through their faith-based congregations. Occasionally, a mainstream media outlet will highlight the impressive work of a local grassroots organizing group — such as Greenhouse’s recent profile of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy and stories by the Washington Post’s Dina ElBoghdady and the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Light about the growing success of a network of local community groups to pressure banks and Fannie Mae to halt foreclosures and instead renegotiate loans with “underwater” homeowners. But organizers know that if they want to get their campaigns and issues in the news, they usually have disrupt business-as-usual, because otherwise they are invisible to the vast majority of reporters and columnists.

Activists in the environmental, immigrant rights, community organizer and labor movements had hoped that Obama would use the growing network of grassroots organizers to his advantage. They figured that he would understand that protest in the streets, workplaces and neighborhoods would make it easier for the president to achieve his liberal policy agenda. They wanted Obama to follow the example of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who recognized that his ability to push New Deal legislation through Congress depended on the pressure generated by protesters — workers, World War I veterans, the jobless, the homeless and farmers — even though he didn’t always welcome it. They thought that Obama would learn the lessons that Lyndon Johnson learned in the 1960s, when the willingness of civil rights activists to put their bodies on the line against fists and fire hoses shifted public opinion and transformed LBJ from a reluctant advocate to a powerful ally, joining forces with Rev. Martin Luther King and others to get Congress to pass his Great Society plans, such as the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

But Obama seemed to abandon his affinity for organizing soon after he entered the White House. He tried to be a consensus-builder, eschewing conflict, even with those in Congress and in corporate boardrooms who pledged not only to defeat his policy agenda but also to undermine his legitimacy as president.

The battle over health care reform in 2009 and 2010 reflected Obama’s ambivalence toward disruptive activism. At first, White House staffers discouraged Health Care for America Now (HCAN), a coalition of labor, consumer and community groups, from mobilizing protests, worried that it would alienate moderate Democrats who had close ties to the drug and insurance industries. But when it appeared that Obama’s signature legislative initiative was going down to embarrassing defeat — due to the rise of the tea party movement and the insurance industry’s unwillingness to broker a deal — Obama undertook a cross-country speaking tour to energize voters to pressure Congress members to vote for reform.

“Let’s seize reform. It’s within our grasp,” Obama implored his audience at Arcadia University outside Philadelphia. He denounced the insurance companies, which “continue to ration care on the basis of who’s sick and who’s healthy.” Forgoing the bipartisan rhetoric that for months had frustrated activists, Obama taunted Republican critics who have stymied reform: “You had 10 years. What happened? What were you doing?”

“I’m kind of fired up,” Obama continued, repeating a phrase he used in his campaign. Then he again appealed for help. “So I need you to knock on doors. Talk to your neighbors. Pick up the phone,” he said.

While Obama was firing up audiences, HCAN — with the White House’s quiet support — organized protests at the offices of leading insurance companies, and even at the homes of top industry executives. The group mounted more than 200 increasingly feisty protest events in 46 states.

It represented an escalation in HCAN’s efforts to spotlight the industry’s outrageous profits, abuse of consumers and outsized political influence. HCAN publicly warned Democrats not to get duped by the industry’s pledges of cooperation, echoing the old union song, “which side are you on? The industry or consumers?” The protests and media attention emboldened the Obama House to treat the industry as a target rather than an ally, reflected in his increasingly aggressive speeches critical of the insurance giants. Obama signed the Affordable Care Act in March 2010, although he failed to give HCAN the credit it deserved for salvaging health care reform.

Today’s organizers have mostly been disappointed that Obama has been reluctant to play this “inside/outside” game. Instead, he has often been the target of protests by progressive movements, such as the crusade to stop the Keystone Pipeline and the battle to pass immigrant reform. On both issues, however, these movements have influenced and shifted Obama’s stance. He has indicated his willingness to stop the oil pipeline and he recently issues an executive order protecting at least 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. Although he’s been unable to push Congress to increase the federal minimum wage, he recently took the labor movement’s advice to use his executive authority to increase wages for employees of private companies that have federal government contracts.

Every so often, however, Obama seems to remember his activist background and uses it to encourage a new generation to organize for change.

“I’m here to enlist your generation’s help in keeping the United States of America a global leader in the fight against climate change,” Obama told students at Georgetown University in June of last year, during a speech announcing his proposal to cut pollution from power plants, expand renewable energy development on public lands and support climate-resilient investments. Noting that big corporations will resist calls to reduce their unhealthy practices, Obama urged the students to “Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest. Remind folks there’s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth.”

The word “divest” was like a dog whistle to campus activists who’ve been pushing their colleges and universities to rid their endowments of stock in companies that are part of the fossil fuel industry. It looked like the former community organizer was embracing the movement to dump stock holdings in order to compel corporations to be more socially responsible?

“‘Invest, divest’ is the most crypto-radical line the president has ever uttered,” tweeted Chris Hayes, host of a news show on MSNBC.

“President Obama’s shout-out to the fossil fuel divestment movement is a huge endorsement for the students on over 300 campuses across the country who are running this campaign,” said Jamie Henn, communications director for 350.org, a key advocacy group for campus divestment. “If the US president supports divestment, surely university presidents should do the same. My Twitter feed absolutely lit up with students tweeting the news, people are pumped.”

Two days later, while visiting Senegal, Obama recalled his first foray into activism.

“My first act of political activism was when I was at Occidental College. As a 19-year-old, I got involved in the anti-apartheid movement back in 1979, 1980, because I was inspired by what was taking place in South Africa.”

Now, another protest movement against racist injustice — triggered by the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and the failure of the criminal justice to indict their killers — has propelled Obama to recall his community organizing roots.

The views expressed in this post are the author’s alone, and presented here to offer a variety of perspectives to our readers.

 

Peter Dreier teaches politics and chairs the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His latest book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books, 2012).

How Obama Prevailed in 2012

By MICHIKO KAKUTANI, New York Times, June 2, 2013

THE CENTER HOLDs, Obama and His Enemies By Jonathan Alter, Illustrated. 428 pages. Simon & Schuster. $30.

Excerpt

“The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies,” is … a chronicle of the president’s fight to win re-election and his continuing battles with an obstructionist Republican party.

…What this book does do is provide context for the Obama White House’s current woes. Mr. Alter gives us a lucid picture of the toxic, highly partisan political environment in which today’s controversies are occurring. It is an environment in which anti-government conservatives have faced off against the administration over health care reform, taxes and a host of other issues, and in which Mr. Obama’s adversaries (ranging from the Republican leadership opposed to his legislative agenda to right-wing groups like the birthers, who suffer from what Mr. Alter calls “Obama Derangement Syndrome”) have demonstrated an eagerness to block the president any way they can.

…Obama White House has been too insular, that it has often done a poor job of selling its agenda

Mr. Alter’s thesis is that the 2012 election was possibly “the most consequential” in recent times and “a hinge of history” — “a titanic ideological struggle” that put the “social contract established during the New Deal era” on the line. He readily acknowledges that he thinks the United States “dodged a bullet in 2012,” and that in re-electing Barack Obama and rejecting the Republicans’ “extremist” views, America reaffirmed its identity as an essentially “centrist nation.”

exception, Mr. Alter adds… line in reacting to criticism, he would hand his enemies a weapon: “ ‘See, he’s like all the rest of them.’ It was better for him to be perceived as ‘different,’ with all the challenges that brought.” This “stifling of himself,” this “inability to swing at certain pitches,” made him, according to one aide, about “5 percent more aloof than he had been before coming to the presidency.” … The only sections that substantially add to our understanding of the campaign are those chronicling, in minute detail, the Obama team’s creation of a sophisticated operation for reaching out to potential supporters and getting out the vote — an operation that combined impressive ground troops with the digital analysis of huge amounts of data… After the election, Mr. Alter says, the Obama for America campaign was reincarnated as a group called Organizing for Action. With more than 20 million e-mail addresses in its database, Organizing for Action “would try to make the 2012 Chicago machine a permanent force in American politics, applying money, analytics, door-knocking, and the rest of the magic formula to advancing the president’s agenda.”

Full text

Jonathan Alter’s revealing 2010 book, “The Promise,” provided a detailed look at President Obama’s first year in office, tracing his decision-making process on issues like health care reform and the Afghanistan war. Mr. Alter’s highly informed, energetically reported but often tiresomely familiar new book, “The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies,” is less a sequel than a chronicle of the president’s fight to win re-election and his continuing battles with an obstructionist Republican party.

Mr. Alter does not offer a real assessment of Mr. Obama’s handling of important second-term issues like immigration reform and gun control. And while the book mentions in passing the debate surrounding the attacks on the United States Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, it went to press too early to grapple with the two other controversies swirling around the White House: that is, revelations that the Internal Revenue Service singled out conservative groups for special scrutiny and that the Justice Department had seized the phone records of journalists at The Associated Press.

Indeed, the problems with “The Center Holds” — which draws upon interviews with more than 200 people — underscore the difficulties faced by even the most astute reporters writing what the author calls “contemporary history.” Especially at a time when there is wall-to-wall, 24/7 news coverage online and on TV, and when one narrative — concerning, say, Mr. Obama’s resounding victory in last fall’s election — can so quickly give way to another one of gridlock and dysfunction.

Read today, much of the material here feels like reheated news. Once again, we hear about the “clown car” antics that dominated the Republican primary process as candidates like Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry vied to become their party’s front-runner. Once again, we hear about disarray within the Mitt Romney campaign and its failure to blunt his image as a wealthy businessman out of touch with everyday middle-class concerns. And once again, we hear about the rise of the Tea Party and the president’s clashes with Republicans in Congress over the budget, the debt ceiling and sequestration.

What this book does do is provide context for the Obama White House’s current woes. Mr. Alter gives us a lucid picture of the toxic, highly partisan political environment in which today’s controversies are occurring. It is an environment in which anti-government conservatives have faced off against the administration over health care reform, taxes and a host of other issues, and in which Mr. Obama’s adversaries (ranging from the Republican leadership opposed to his legislative agenda to right-wing groups like the birthers, who suffer from what Mr. Alter calls “Obama Derangement Syndrome”) have demonstrated an eagerness to block the president any way they can.

This book also provides a close analysis of what Mr. Alter sees as the administration’s missteps, focused around the author’s conviction that the president’s “detached and self-contained nature had hampered his presidency.” Mr. Alter contends that what he calls Mr. Obama’s lack of “the schmooze gene” (“standard equipment for people in politics”) and his reticence in cultivating relationships with members of Congress and other politicians left him with “one less way to leverage his authority.”

Many of Mr. Alter’s observations echo complaints frequently heard within the Beltway. He argues that the Obama White House has been too insular, that it has often done a poor job of selling its agenda (say, on health care) and that the president has frequently been slow to go on offense: he “developed a habit of letting the dialogue deteriorate until he rode to the rescue like a one-man cavalry, solving all the problems with a big speech, large chunks of which he wrote himself at the last minute.”

One of Mr. Obama’s first big financial supporters said he thought the president, in Mr. Alter’s words, “had been humbled by the opposition’s intransigence”: “he had never failed to bring anyone around before, and it changed him.”

In Mr. Alter’s view, the president’s lack of experience in negotiations hobbled his efforts to cut deals with Republicans, much the way his paucity of earlier political experience “hampered him on management questions.” “Relations with Cabinet-level departments were so tangled that it was often hard to get decisions made,” Mr. Alter writes. “While centralizing the national security apparatus at the White House worked well enough (unless you happened to work at the State Department), domestic agencies had to deal with several competing power sources inside the White House that each got to say, ‘It’s the White House calling.’ ”

Mr. Alter’s thesis is that the 2012 election was possibly “the most consequential” in recent times and “a hinge of history” — “a titanic ideological struggle” that put the “social contract established during the New Deal era” on the line. He readily acknowledges that he thinks the United States “dodged a bullet in 2012,” and that in re-electing Barack Obama and rejecting the Republicans’ “extremist” views, America reaffirmed its identity as an essentially “centrist nation.”

Toward the end of this volume, Mr. Alter quotes Mr. Obama telling an aide that if he lost, his presidency would be “a footnote” and that “all of the progress we made in the first four years would be reversed”; if he won, his first-term achievements would be cemented for a generation and he could move ahead on promises sidetracked by the recession.

Whereas there had “famously been ‘two Clintons,’ the brilliant policy analyst” and “the volcanic and self-pitying victim of his own appetites,” Mr. Alter says, President Obama was “pretty much the same calm and self-contained guy inside the bubble as he was in public.” With one exception, Mr. Alter adds: “the intense racial consciousness that he had nurtured in his own mind since childhood was more apparent in private. He knew that if he crossed a certain line in reacting to criticism, he would hand his enemies a weapon: “ ‘See, he’s like all the rest of them.’ It was better for him to be perceived as ‘different,’ with all the challenges that brought.” This “stifling of himself,” this “inability to swing at certain pitches,” made him, according to one aide, about “5 percent more aloof than he had been before coming to the presidency.”

A similar sort of dynamic, in Mr. Alter’s opinion, helps explain the president’s dismal first debate, which jeopardized his re-election: “Obama didn’t trust himself to tangle with Romney. He thought Romney was a liar and an empty suit and would reverse everything worthy he had done as president,” and he had “long worried that his attitude would spill out. Suppressing that was part of what threw him off his game” in that Denver debate.

Such observations help propel the well-worn narrative of the presidential campaign forward, and Mr. Alter scatters some worthwhile nuggets of information along the way.

He reports that Bill Clinton had for many months thought Mr. Romney would win (“the Obama-Christie moment during Hurricane Sandy,” Mr. Alter says, changed the former president’s mind). And he provides some interesting observations on Republican-backed efforts to implement election “reform” around the country (like requiring state-issued photo ID’s and cutting back on early in-person voting) that would hold down “turnout among young people and minorities, who tended to vote Democratic.” Those efforts failed, says Mr. Alter, instead creating a backlash against Republicans as a wave of black voters headed to the polls in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Florida, angry at attempts to suppress their votes.

Over all, however, the long passages in this book recounting the 2012 presidential campaign feel like tired television reruns of a not-too-popular show. The only sections that substantially add to our understanding of the campaign are those chronicling, in minute detail, the Obama team’s creation of a sophisticated operation for reaching out to potential supporters and getting out the vote — an operation that combined impressive ground troops with the digital analysis of huge amounts of data.

This big data helped the campaign figure out what worked and what didn’t (for a while, e-mails with yellow backgrounds “generated 10 to 20 percent” more responses than those with white backgrounds) and assess the ever-shifting metrics of the contest. Some 4,000 to 9,000 phone calls a night were placed to voters in battleground states, Mr. Alter says, providing “the campaign high command” with “a 360-degree view of the state of the race.” Facebook was used for “supporter mobilization” and cable television data was employed to help micro-target ad buys. A mobile app, “Quick Donate,” Mr. Alter reports, “raised an extra $75 million by letting supporters give money with one click instead of filling out a form.”

This state-of-the-art campaign machine would help insure that Mr. Obama won a second term. After the election, Mr. Alter says, the Obama for America campaign was reincarnated as a group called Organizing for Action. With more than 20 million e-mail addresses in its database, Organizing for Action “would try to make the 2012 Chicago machine a permanent force in American politics, applying money, analytics, door-knocking, and the rest of the magic formula to advancing the president’s agenda.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/03/books/the-center-holds-by-jonathan-alter.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130603&_r=0

Speaking Out Is at the Heart of Being a Citizen

By George Lakoff, Reader Supported News, February 16, 2013

Political journalists have a job to do – to examine the SOTU’s long list of proposals. They are doing that job, many are doing it well, and I’ll leave it to them. Instead, I want to discuss what in the long run is a deeper question: How did the SOTU help to change public discourse? What is the change? And technically, how did it work?

The address was coherent. There was a single frame that fit together all the different ideas, from economics to the environment to education to gun safety to voting rights. The big change in public discourse was the establishment of that underlying frame, a frame that will, over the long haul, accommodate many more specific proposals.

Briefly, the speech worked via frame evocation. Not statement, evocation – the unconscious and automatic activation in the brains of listeners of a morally-based progressive frame that made sense of what the president said.

When a frame is repeatedly activated, it is strengthened. Obama’s progressive frame was strengthened not only in die-hard progressives, but also in partial progressives, those who are progressive on some issues and conservative on others – the so-called moderates, swing voters, independents, and centrists. As a result, 77 percent of listeners approved of the speech, 53 percent strongly positive and 24 percent somewhat positive, with only 22 percent negative. When that deep progressive frame is understood and accepted by a 77 percent margin, the president has begun to move America toward a progressive moral vision.

If progressives are going to maintain and build on the president’s change in public discourse so far, we need to understand just what that change has been and how he accomplished it.

It hasn’t happened all at once.

In 2008, candidate Obama made overt statements. He spoke overtly about empathy and the responsibility to act on it as the basis of democracy. He spoke about the need for an “ethic of excellence.” He spoke about the role of government to protect and empower everyone equally.

After using the word “empathy” in the Sotomayor nomination, he dropped it when conservatives confused it with sympathy and unfairness. But the idea didn’t disappear.

By the 2013 Inaugural Address, he directly quoted the Declaration and Lincoln, overtly linking patriotism and the essence of democracy to empathy, to Americans caring for one another and taking responsibility for one another as well as themselves. He spoke overtly about how private success depends on public provisions. He carried out these themes with examples. And he had pretty much stopped making the mistake of using conservative language, even to negate it. The change in public discourse became palpable.

The 2013 SOTU followed this evolution a crucial step further. Instead of stating the frames overly, he took them for granted and the nation understood. Public discourse had shifted; brains had changed. So much so that John Boehner looked shamed as he slumped, sulking in his chair, as if trying to disappear. Changed so much that Marco Rubio’s response was stale and defensive: the old language wasn’t working and Rubio kept talking in rising tones indicating uncertainty.

Here is how Obama got to 77 percent approval as an unapologetic progressive.

The president set his theme powerfully in the first few sentences – in about 30 seconds.

Fifty-one years ago, John F. Kennedy declared to this Chamber that ‘the Constitution makes us not rivals for power but partners for progress … It is my task,’ he said, ‘to report the State of the Union – to improve it is the task of us all.’ Tonight, thanks to the grit and determination of the American people, there is much progress to report. …

First, Obama recalled Kennedy – a strong, unapologetic liberal. “Partners” evokes working together, an implicit attack on conservative stonewalling, while “for progress” makes clear his progressive direction. “To improve it is the task of us all” evokes the progressive theme that we’re all in this together with the goal of improving the common good. “The grit and determination of the American people” again says we work together, while incorporating the “grit and determination” stereotype of Americans pulling themselves up by their bootstraps – overcoming a “grinding war” and “grueling recession.” He specifically and wisely did not pin the war and recession on the Bush era Republicans, as he reasonably could have. That would have divided Democrats from Republicans. Instead, he treated war and recession as if they were forces of nature that all Americans joined together to overcome. Then he moved on seamlessly to the “millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not yet been rewarded,” which makes rewarding that work and determination “the task of us all.”

This turn in discourse started working last year. Empathy and social responsibility as central American values reappeared in spades in the 2012 campaign right after Mitt Romney made his 47 percent gaff, that 47 percent of Americans were not succeeding because they were not talking personal responsibility for their lives. This allowed Obama to reframe people out of work, sick, injured, or retired as hard working and responsible and very much part of the American ideal, evoking empathy for them from most other Americans. It allowed him to meld the hard working and struggling Americans with the hard working and just getting by Americans into a progressive stereotype of hard working Americans in general who need help to overcome external forces holding them back. It is a patriotic stereotype that joins economic opportunity with equality, freedom and civil rights: “if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love.”

It is an all-American vision:

It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation.

“Our unfinished task” refers to citizens – us – as ruling the government, not the reverse. “We” are making the government do what is right. To work “on behalf of the many, and not just the few.” And he takes from the progressive vision the heart of the conservative message. “We” require the government to encourage free enterprise, reward individual initiative, and provide opportunity for all. It is the reverse of the conservative view of the government ruling us. In a progressive democracy, the government is the instrument of the people, not the reverse.

In barely a minute, he provided a patriotic American progressive vision that seamlessly adapts the heart of the conservative message. Within this framework comes the list of policies, each presented with empathy for ideal Americans. In each case, we, the citizens who care about our fellow citizens, must make our imperfect government do the best it can for fellow Americans who do meet, or can with help meet, the American ideal.

With this setting of the frame, each item on the list of policies fits right in. We, the citizens, use the government to protect us and maximally enable us all to make use of individual initiative and free enterprise.

The fact that the policy list was both understood and approved of by 77 percent of those watching means that one-third of those who did not vote for the president have assimilated his American progressive moral vision.

The president’s list of economic policies was criticized by some as a lull – a dull, low energy section of the speech. But the list had a vital communicative function beyond the policies themselves. Each item on the list evoked, and thereby strengthened in the brains of most listeners, the all-American progressive vision of the first section of the speech. Besides, if you’re going to build to a smash finish, you have to build from a lull.

And it was a smash finish! Highlighting his gun safety legislation by introducing one after another of the people whose lives were shattered by well-reported gun violence. With each introduction came the reframe “They deserve a vote” over and over and over. He was chiding the Republicans not just for being against the gun safety legislation, but for being unwilling to even state their opposition in public, which a vote would require. The president is all too aware that, even in Republican districts, there is great support for gun safety reform, support that threatens conservative representatives. “They deserve a vote” is a call for moral accounting from conservative legislators. It is a call for empathy for the victims in a political form, a form that would reveal the heartlessness, the lack of Republican empathy for the victims. “They deserve a vote” shamed the Republicans in the House. As victim after victim stood up while the Republicans sat slumped and close-mouthed in their seats, shame fell on the Republicans.

And then it got worse for Republicans. Saving the most important for last – voting reform – President Obama introduced Desiline Victor, a 102-year spunky African American Florida woman who was told she would have to wait six hours to vote. She hung in there, exhausted but not defeated, for many hours and eventually voted. The room burst into raucous applause, putting to shame the Republicans who are adopting practices and passing laws to discourage voting by minority groups.

And with the applause still ringing, he introduced police officer Brian Murphy who held off armed attackers at the Sikh Temple in Minneapolis, taking twelve bullets and lying in a puddle of his blood while still protecting the Sikhs. When asked how he did it, he replied, “That’s just how we’re made.”

That gave the president a finale to end where he began.

We may do different jobs, and wear different uniforms, and hold different views than the person beside us. But as Americans, we all share the same proud title: We are citizens. It’s a word that doesn’t just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we’re made. It describes what we believe. It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations; that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others; and that well into our third century as a nation, it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story.

It was a finale that gave the lie to the conservative story of America, that democracy is an individual matter, that it gives each of us the liberty to seek his own interests and well-being without being responsible for anyone else or anyone else being responsible for him, from which it follows that the government should not be in the job of helping its citizens. Marco Rubio came right after and tried out this conservative anthem that has been so dominant since the Reagan years. It fell flat.

President Obama, in this speech, created what cognitive scientists call a “prototype” – an ideal American defined by a contemporary progressive vision that incorporates a progressive market with individual opportunity and initiative. It envisions an ideal citizenry that is in charge of the government, forcing the president and the Congress to do the right thing.

That is how the president has changed public discourse. He has changed it at the level that counts, the deepest level, the moral level. What can make that change persist? What will allow such an ideal citizenry to come into existence?

The president can’t do it. Congress can’t do it. Only we can as citizens, by adopting the president’s vision, thinking in his moral frames, and speaking out from that vision whenever possible. Speaking out is at the heart of being a citizen, speaking out is political action, and only if an overwhelming number of us speak out, and live out, this American vision, will the president and the Congress be forced to do what is best for all.

By all means, discuss the policies. Praise them when you like them, criticize them when they fall short. Don’t hold back. Talk in public. Write to others. But be sure to make clear the basic principles behind the policies.

And don’t use the language of the other side, even to negate it. Remember that if you say “Don’t Think of an Elephant,” people will think of an elephant.

Structure is important. Start with the general principles, move to policy details, finish with the general principles.

http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/16058-speaking-out-is-at-the-heart-of-being-a-citizen-

In Obama’s inauguration speech, a new American religion

By Diana Butler Bass, Washington Post, 1/25/2013

Excerpt

In the days following President Obama’s inauguration address, commentators across the political spectrum have made much about how it overtly expressed a progressive agenda. It was not only a politically progressive speech, however, it was a masterwork of progressive theology: a public sermon on the meaning of America, a creedal statement and a call to practice that faith in the world. It was an expression of a genuinely pluralistic America, the first inaugural address of a new sort of American civil spirituality… In 2011…the United States became an officially pluralistic religious country for the first time in its history, with no single faith tradition claiming the allegiance of 50 percent of the population. Overtly Judeo-Christian understandings of God are no longer adequate to address and include all of America’s people. President Obama is the first president who, as a Christian person, has to speak to and for the new communities of American faiths.

What can a president do? Leave faith out of the equation? Or find new ways of expressing the transcendent meanings of community? Abandoning the language of faith would, of course, be the easier path (and the favored choice for the atheists in our midst). In his inaugural speech, President Obama did not choose the easy road. Instead, he linked his progressive political agenda with transcendent values, with a spiritual appeal to the new American pluralism.

What binds together the variety of American faiths? President Obama insisted that our unity is found in a powerful theme, borrowed from the twin theological sources of his own African-American Christianity and Protestant liberalism: Life is a journey. In both of these theological traditions, one is never fully satisfied with the way things are. We are on perpetual pilgrimage, never arriving to a settled place. We seek deeper justice, greater knowledge of ourselves in and through God, elusive wisdom, and wise action as we sojourn in and through the world. At the outset of the speech, President Obama stated, “Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words [of our founding texts] with the realities of our time.” We are political sojourners.

Not only is this idea at the core of President Obama’s liberal Christianity, it is also central to contemporary spiritualities, Judaism, Buddhism, forms of native religion, Islamic traditions and agnosticism. To call the American people into a journey is both a spiritual and political invitation toward new understanding of who we are and who we might be…President Obama articulated six beliefs of a spiritual and political, as well as inclusive and pluralistic, creed: 1) We believe in community; 2) We believe in shared prosperity; 3) We believe in mutual care of one another; 4) We believe in stewardship of the Earth; 5) We believe in peacemaking; and 6) We believe in equality and human rights…creedal statements…

President Obama ended the speech with a call to action…Answer the call of history by renewing our ancient covenant of justice and equality in this new and uncertain world. We must make a new American future…his was the first spiritual-but-not-religious inaugural sermon, a twenty-first century expression of American civil spirituality, embedded in but not dependent upon the ancient vision of American Protestant theology of and for God’s almost-chosen, always striving nation.

Full text

In the days following President Obama’s inauguration address, commentators across the political spectrum have made much about how it overtly expressed a progressive agenda.

It was not only a politically progressive speech, however, it was a masterwork of progressive theology: a public sermon on the meaning of America, a creedal statement and a call to practice that faith in the world. It was an expression of a genuinely pluralistic America, the first inaugural address of a new sort of American civil spirituality.

President Obama is a Christian but made few, if any, direct appeals to religion during his recent campaign. As president, he has a new historical problem when it comes to speaking of faith. Through the twentieth century, presidents were able to craft a generally religious language that addressed America’s three most influential groups-Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. When President Kennedy delivered his inaugural address, it was considered the best public sermon in this tradition of American civil religion.

But the old civil religion is no longer enough. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, the percentage of the Christian population has declined as the number of nones, atheists, agnostics, and those adhering to non-Christian religions increased exponentially. In 2011, according to the Pew Forum, the United States became an officially pluralistic religious country for the first time in its history, with no single faith tradition claiming the allegiance of 50 percent of the population. Overtly Judeo-Christian understandings of God are no longer adequate to address and include all of America’s people. President Obama is the first president who, as a Christian person, has to speak to and for the new communities of American faiths.

What can a president do? Leave faith out of the equation? Or find new ways of expressing the transcendent meanings of community? Abandoning the language of faith would, of course, be the easier path (and the favored choice for the atheists in our midst). In his inaugural speech, President Obama did not choose the easy road. Instead, he linked his progressive political agenda with transcendent values, with a spiritual appeal to the new American pluralism.

What binds together the variety of American faiths? President Obama insisted that our unity is found in a powerful theme, borrowed from the twin theological sources of his own African-American Christianity and Protestant liberalism: Life is a journey. In both of these theological traditions, one is never fully satisfied with the way things are. We are on perpetual pilgrimage, never arriving to a settled place. We seek deeper justice, greater knowledge of ourselves in and through God, elusive wisdom, and wise action as we sojourn in and through the world. At the outset of the speech, President Obama stated, “Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words [of our founding texts] with the realities of our time.” We are political sojourners.

Not only is this idea at the core of President Obama’s liberal Christianity, it is also central to contemporary spiritualities, Judaism, Buddhism, forms of native religion, Islamic traditions and agnosticism. To call the American people into a journey is both a spiritual and political invitation toward new understanding of who we are and who we might be. To President Obama, the appeal is a Christian one, but also one shared and understood by others. It is both specific and open at the same time.

In the second section of the speech, President Obama articulated six beliefs of a spiritual and political, as well as inclusive and pluralistic, creed: 1) We believe in community; 2) We believe in shared prosperity; 3) We believe in mutual care of one another; 4) We believe in stewardship of the Earth; 5) We believe in peacemaking; and 6) We believe in equality and human rights. Each one of these creedal statements was backed by subtle references to Hebrew or Christian scriptures, an occasional historical reference to a noted sermon or hymn, as well as more general appeals to God or divine favor.

Finally, President Obama ended the speech with a call to action. Almost all good sermons end with the preacher telling his or her congregation to do something. Serve the poor, proclaim the faith, have hope in the future, renew your hearts. Indeed, the inauguration address did just that: Answer the call of history by renewing our ancient covenant of justice and equality in this new and uncertain world. We must make a new American future.

The inaugural address was assertively progressive. It was also a powerful and deeply nuanced piece of public theology in the liberal Protestant tradition. As such, it embraced the new American pluralism as a welcome expansion of our national journey. In the process, President Obama gave us an innovative new form of public address-his was the first spiritual-but-not-religious inaugural sermon, a twenty-first century expression of American civil spirituality, embedded in but not dependent upon the ancient vision of American Protestant theology of and for God’s almost-chosen, always striving nation.

Diana Butler Bass is the author of eight books, including “Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening” (HarperOne, 2012). She is a fellow of the SeaburyNEXT project of Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, an independent scholar, educator, and blogger.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/in-obamas-inauguration-speech-a-new-american-religion/2013/01/25/7cb93216-6740-11e2-85f5-a8a9228e55e7_blog.html

The GOP Crackup: How Obama is Unraveling Reagan Republicanism

by Robert Reich, robertreich.org, January 25, 2013

Excerpt

…the GOP is doing a pretty good job annihilating itself….

The GOP crackup was probably inevitable.  Inconsistencies and tensions within the GOP have been growing for years – ever since Ronald Reagan put together the coalition that became the modern Republican Party….All President Obama has done is finally found ways to exploit these inconsistencies. Republican libertarians have never got along with social conservatives, who want to impose their own morality on everyone else. Shrink-the-government fanatics in the GOP have never seen eye-to-eye with deficit hawks, who don’t mind raising taxes as long as the extra revenues help reduce the size of the deficit. The GOP’s big business and Wall Street wing has never been comfortable with the nativists and racists in the Party who want to exclude immigrants and prevent minorities from getting ahead. And right-wing populists have never got along with big business and Wall Street, which love government as long as it gives them subsidies, tax benefits, and bailouts. Ronald Reagan papered over these differences with a happy anti-big-government nationalism….But Reagan’s coalition remained fragile. It depended fundamentally on creating a common enemy: communists and terrorists abroad, liberals and people of color at home…The 2012 Republican primaries exposed all the cracks and fissures in the GOP coalition…The 2012 election exposed something else about the GOP: it’s utter lack of touch with reality, its bizarre incapacity to see and understand what was happening in the country.  Think of Karl Rove’s delirium on Fox election night…Obama’s focus in his second inaugural — and, by inference, in his second term — on equal opportunity is hardly a radical agenda. But it aggravates all the tensions inside the GOP. And it leaves the GOP without an overriding target to maintain its fragile coalition…

Full text

Soon after President Obama’s second inaugural address, John Boehner said the White House would try “to annihilate the Republican Party” and “shove us into the dustbin of history.”

Actually, the GOP is doing a pretty good job annihilating itself.  As Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal put it, Republicans need to “stop being the stupid party.”

The GOP crackup was probably inevitable.  Inconsistencies and tensions within the GOP have been growing for years – ever since Ronald Reagan put together the coalition that became the modern Republican Party.

All President Obama has done is finally found ways to exploit these inconsistencies.

Republican libertarians have never got along with social conservatives, who want to impose their own morality on everyone else.

Shrink-the-government fanatics in the GOP have never seen eye-to-eye with deficit hawks, who don’t mind raising taxes as long as the extra revenues help reduce the size of the deficit.

The GOP’s big business and Wall Street wing has never been comfortable with the nativists and racists in the Party who want to exclude immigrants and prevent minorities from getting ahead.

And right-wing populists have never got along with big business and Wall Street, which love government as long as it gives them subsidies, tax benefits, and bailouts.

Ronald Reagan papered over these differences with a happy anti-big-government nationalism.  His patriotic imagery inspired the nativists and social conservatives. He gave big business and Wall Street massive military spending. And his anti-government rhetoric delighted the Party’s libertarians and right-wing populists.

But Reagan’s coalition remained fragile. It depended fundamentally on creating a common enemy: communists and terrorists abroad, liberals and people of color at home.

On the surface Reagan’s GOP celebrated Norman Rockwell’s traditional, white middle-class, small-town America. Below the surface it stoked fires of fear and hate of “others” who threatened this idealized portrait.

In his first term Barack Obama seemed the perfect foil: A black man, a big- spending liberal, perhaps (they hissed) not even an American.

Republicans accused him of being insufficiently patriotic. Right-wing TV and radio snarled he secretly wanted to take over America, suspend our rights. Mitch McConnell declared that unseating him was his party’s first priority.

But it didn’t work. The 2012 Republican primaries exposed all the cracks and fissures in the GOP coalition.

The Party offered up a Star Wars barroom of oddball characters, each representing a different faction — Bachmann, Perry, Gingrich, Cain, Santorum. Each rose on the strength of supporters and then promptly fell when the rest of the Party got a good look.

Finally, desperately, the GOP turned to a chameleon — Mitt Romney — who appeared acceptable to every faction because he had no convictions of his own. But Romney couldn’t survive the general election because the public saw him for what he was: synthetic and inauthentic.

The 2012 election exposed something else about the GOP: it’s utter lack of touch with reality, its bizarre incapacity to see and understand what was happening in the country.  Think of Karl Rove’s delirium on Fox election night.

All of which has given Obama the perfect opening — perhaps the opening he’d been waiting for all along.

Obama’s focus in his second inaugural — and, by inference, in his second term — on equal opportunity is hardly a radical agenda. But it aggravates all the tensions inside the GOP. And it leaves the GOP without an overriding target to maintain its fragile coalition.

In hammering home the need for the rich to contribute a fair share in order to ensure equal opportunity, and for anyone in America — be they poor, black, gay, immigrant, women, or average working person — to be able to make the most of themselves, Obama advances the founding ideals of America in such way that the Republican Party is incapable of opposing yet also incapable of uniting behind.

History and demographics are on the side of the Democrats, but history and demography have been on the Democrats’ side for decades. What’s new is the Republican crackup — opening the way for a new Democratic coalition of socially-liberal young people, women, minorities, middle-class professionals, and what’s left of the anti-corporate working class.

If Obama remains as clear and combative as he has been since Election Day, his second term may be noted not only for its accomplishment but also for finally unraveling what Reagan put together. In other words, John Boehner’s fear may be well-founded.

http://robertreich.org/post/41456134467

Obama Inaugural’s Liberal Definition of Rights

By Michael Kinsley, Washington Monthly, January 22, 2013

Excerpt

President Barack Obama’s on Monday made — or tried to make — two different points, both concerning the definition of “rights.”…both are parts of a solidly liberal vision of society and government…First, Obama added a chapter on gay rights to the official story of America as a continuing experiment in expanding freedom..This almost offhand reference by the president to a 1969 gay-rights riot as part of the grand procession of American equality and civil rights is itself a milestone…

The president’s second fascinating gloss on the concept of rights has to do with negative and positive rights. In the U.S., when we think of rights, we think mainly of negative rights: rights against the government. The Bill of Rights is largely a list of things the government may not do to you…There is another view of “rights” that sees them in positive terms, as obligations of society to all its citizens. The right to education, to food, to a job, to health care, and so on. These are the kind of rights that engage Obama.

“We the people,” he said today, “still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.”…So Obama does have a vision — articulated pretty clearly if not explicitly in his speech today. Society, through its proxy, the government, should provide the individual with a higher level of protection from hardship and catastrophe than it does now…

Full text

President Barack Obama’s on Monday made — or tried to make — two different points, both concerning the definition of “rights.” Although couched in the kind of president-ese appropriate to such an occasion, both goals were easy to spot, and both are parts of a solidly liberal vision of society and government.

People have been looking for the real Barack Obama — principled (maybe dangerously principled) progressive or deeply (maybe disappointingly) moderate compromiser? This speech makes the answer clear.

First, Obama added a chapter on gay rights to the official story of America as a continuing experiment in expanding freedom: “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.” Women’s rights, blacks’ rights, gays’ rights. From now on that’s our story, and we’re sticking with it.

This almost offhand reference by the president to a 1969 gay-rights riot as part of the grand procession of American equality and civil rights is itself a milestone. From now on, the boilerplate Fourth of July rhetoric of all politicians, or at least all Democratic politicians, will cite “black or white, men or women, Christian or Jewish or Muslim, gay or straight,” and they will leave out the last pairing at their peril. (A genuine contribution of George W. Bush’s presidency was adding Muslims to the roll-call of American pluralism. One now says, “our churches, synagogues, and mosques.” Following Obama, one will refer to “our gay brothers and sisters” who deserve to be “treated like anyone else under the law.”)

Positive Rights

The president’s second fascinating gloss on the concept of rights has to do with negative and positive rights. In the U.S., when we think of rights, we think mainly of negative rights: rights against the government. The Bill of Rights is largely a list of things the government may not do to you. It may not prevent you from having your say, or praying to your own God, or living unbothered in your own house. It may not discriminate against you on account of race, religion, and so on. But it has no positive duty to feed or house you.

There is another view of “rights” that sees them in positive terms, as obligations of society to all its citizens. The right to education, to food, to a job, to health care, and so on. These are the kind of rights that engage Obama.

“We the people,” he said today, “still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.” Like the other kind of rights, these rights can exist in theory for years or centuries without being realized in practice. That’s one reason that the struggle is never-ending.

Of course, being a politician, Obama claims that his vision of society is uniquely American. His critics, by contrast, have tried to nail him as a European intellectual (two fighting words). In truth, his vision of a properly run society is closer to the European model than, say, Representative Paul Ryan’s. But voters seem to prefer Obama’s. Or at least the voters were given the opportunity for the Ryan model and turned it down.

Obama said: “A modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.” And, “A great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.”

Who disagrees with that? Yet our particular great nation is letting its railroads and highways rot and does only a mediocre job of protecting people from life’s worst hazards.

Central Philosophy

Perhaps we now know why Obama took up health-care reform at the beginning of his first term, even though there was other stuff (i.e. the financial crisis) going on, and his advisers (the ones on his payroll and those in the news media) were saying, put it off. Decent health care for everybody isn’t just a nice thing to have. It’s central to Obama’s philosophy of government.

So Obama does have a vision — articulated pretty clearly if not explicitly in his speech today. Society, through its proxy, the government, should provide the individual with a higher level of protection from hardship and catastrophe than it does now. Government should also invest in public goods such as highways and education, which will also grease the wheels of commerce. Even global warming and the deficit get shoehorned into the framework of problems the government must deal with so individuals can be free to live their lives as they choose.

The president said, “This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience.” It has? If so, it sure caught me napping. I think we are fairly untested, and it’s hard to share the president’s optimism. But he gets paid to be optimistic.

Full text

President Barack Obama’s on Monday made — or tried to make — two different points, both concerning the definition of “rights.” Although couched in the kind of president-ese appropriate to such an occasion, both goals were easy to spot, and both are parts of a solidly liberal vision of society and government.

People have been looking for the real Barack Obama — principled (maybe dangerously principled) progressive or deeply (maybe disappointingly) moderate compromiser? This speech makes the answer clear.

First, Obama added a chapter on gay rights to the official story of America as a continuing experiment in expanding freedom: “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.” Women’s rights, blacks’ rights, gays’ rights. From now on that’s our story, and we’re sticking with it.

This almost offhand reference by the president to a 1969 gay-rights riot as part of the grand procession of American equality and civil rights is itself a milestone. From now on, the boilerplate Fourth of July rhetoric of all politicians, or at least all Democratic politicians, will cite “black or white, men or women, Christian or Jewish or Muslim, gay or straight,” and they will leave out the last pairing at their peril. (A genuine contribution of George W. Bush’s presidency was adding Muslims to the roll-call of American pluralism. One now says, “our churches, synagogues, and mosques.” Following Obama, one will refer to “our gay brothers and sisters” who deserve to be “treated like anyone else under the law.”)

Positive Rights

The president’s second fascinating gloss on the concept of rights has to do with negative and positive rights. In the U.S., when we think of rights, we think mainly of negative rights: rights against the government. The Bill of Rights is largely a list of things the government may not do to you. It may not prevent you from having your say, or praying to your own God, or living unbothered in your own house. It may not discriminate against you on account of race, religion, and so on. But it has no positive duty to feed or house you.

There is another view of “rights” that sees them in positive terms, as obligations of society to all its citizens. The right to education, to food, to a job, to health care, and so on. These are the kind of rights that engage Obama.

“We the people,” he said today, “still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.” Like the other kind of rights, these rights can exist in theory for years or centuries without being realized in practice. That’s one reason that the struggle is never-ending.

Of course, being a politician, Obama claims that his vision of society is uniquely American. His critics, by contrast, have tried to nail him as a European intellectual (two fighting words). In truth, his vision of a properly run society is closer to the European model than, say, Representative Paul Ryan’s. But voters seem to prefer Obama’s. Or at least the voters were given the opportunity for the Ryan model and turned it down.

Obama said: “A modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.” And, “A great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.”

Who disagrees with that? Yet our particular great nation is letting its railroads and highways rot and does only a mediocre job of protecting people from life’s worst hazards.

Central Philosophy

Perhaps we now know why Obama took up health-care reform at the beginning of his first term, even though there was other stuff (i.e. the financial crisis) going on, and his advisers (the ones on his payroll and those in the news media) were saying, put it off. Decent health care for everybody isn’t just a nice thing to have. It’s central to Obama’s philosophy of government.

So Obama does have a vision — articulated pretty clearly if not explicitly in his speech today. Society, through its proxy, the government, should provide the individual with a higher level of protection from hardship and catastrophe than it does now. Government should also invest in public goods such as highways and education, which will also grease the wheels of commerce. Even global warming and the deficit get shoehorned into the framework of problems the government must deal with so individuals can be free to live their lives as they choose.

The president said, “This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience.” It has? If so, it sure caught me napping. I think we are fairly untested, and it’s hard to share the president’s optimism. But he gets paid to be optimistic.

President Barack Obama’s on Monday made — or tried to make — two different points, both concerning the definition of “rights.” Although couched in the kind of president-ese appropriate to such an occasion, both goals were easy to spot, and both are parts of a solidly liberal vision of society and government.

People have been looking for the real Barack Obama — principled (maybe dangerously principled) progressive or deeply (maybe disappointingly) moderate compromiser? This speech makes the answer clear.

First, Obama added a chapter on gay rights to the official story of America as a continuing experiment in expanding freedom: “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.” Women’s rights, blacks’ rights, gays’ rights. From now on that’s our story, and we’re sticking with it.

This almost offhand reference by the president to a 1969 gay-rights riot as part of the grand procession of American equality and civil rights is itself a milestone. From now on, the boilerplate Fourth of July rhetoric of all politicians, or at least all Democratic politicians, will cite “black or white, men or women, Christian or Jewish or Muslim, gay or straight,” and they will leave out the last pairing at their peril. (A genuine contribution of George W. Bush’s presidency was adding Muslims to the roll-call of American pluralism. One now says, “our churches, synagogues, and mosques.” Following Obama, one will refer to “our gay brothers and sisters” who deserve to be “treated like anyone else under the law.”)

Positive Rights

The president’s second fascinating gloss on the concept of rights has to do with negative and positive rights. In the U.S., when we think of rights, we think mainly of negative rights: rights against the government. The Bill of Rights is largely a list of things the government may not do to you. It may not prevent you from having your say, or praying to your own God, or living unbothered in your own house. It may not discriminate against you on account of race, religion, and so on. But it has no positive duty to feed or house you.

There is another view of “rights” that sees them in positive terms, as obligations of society to all its citizens. The right to education, to food, to a job, to health care, and so on. These are the kind of rights that engage Obama.

“We the people,” he said today, “still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.” Like the other kind of rights, these rights can exist in theory for years or centuries without being realized in practice. That’s one reason that the struggle is never-ending.

Of course, being a politician, Obama claims that his vision of society is uniquely American. His critics, by contrast, have tried to nail him as a European intellectual (two fighting words). In truth, his vision of a properly run society is closer to the European model than, say, Representative Paul Ryan’s. But voters seem to prefer Obama’s. Or at least the voters were given the opportunity for the Ryan model and turned it down.

Obama said: “A modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.” And, “A great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.”

Who disagrees with that? Yet our particular great nation is letting its railroads and highways rot and does only a mediocre job of protecting people from life’s worst hazards.

Central Philosophy

Perhaps we now know why Obama took up health-care reform at the beginning of his first term, even though there was other stuff (i.e. the financial crisis) going on, and his advisers (the ones on his payroll and those in the news media) were saying, put it off. Decent health care for everybody isn’t just a nice thing to have. It’s central to Obama’s philosophy of government.

So Obama does have a vision — articulated pretty clearly if not explicitly in his speech today. Society, through its proxy, the government, should provide the individual with a higher level of protection from hardship and catastrophe than it does now. Government should also invest in public goods such as highways and education, which will also grease the wheels of commerce. Even global warming and the deficit get shoehorned into the framework of problems the government must deal with so individuals can be free to live their lives as they choose.

The president said, “This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience.” It has? If so, it sure caught me napping. I think we are fairly untested, and it’s hard to share the president’s optimism. But he gets paid to be optimistic.

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/ten-miles-square/2013/01/obama_inaugurals_liberal_defin_1042537.php

Obama’s mainstream pitch

By Kenneth S. Baer, Washington Post, January 23, 2010

Kenneth S. Baer is a managing director of the Harbour Group and the author of “Reinventing Democrats: The Politics of Liberalism from Reagan to Clinton.” He is a former associate director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Obama administration.

If you missed Barack Obama’s inaugural address on Monday, you might have thought that it was George McGovern who took the oath of office.

“Unabashedly progressive,” said ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl; “President Obama goes on the offense for liberalism,” Politico proclaimed. A day later, Republicans jumped on board. “His unabashedly far-left-of-center inaugural speech certainly brings back memories of the Democratic Party in ages past,” thundered Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum said the speech “rejected and repudiated the ideas that have dominated American political discourse since the Carter presidency. It rejected not only Reagan, but Clinton.” Former Nixon and Reagan aide David Gergen concluded: “Gone were the third way of Bill Clinton and the centrism of Jimmy Carter. He emerged as an unapologetic, unabashed liberal — just what the left has long wanted him to be and exactly what the right has feared.”

Yet Obama’s address was firmly in the mainstream — of both the country and the Democratic Party, which has absorbed the lessons of its post-1968 defeats and synthesized into its core the New Democratic values of the Clinton era. The speech sounded so robustly liberal not because the president or his party has changed but because the Republican Party has, moving far outside the norms of American political thought.

Defending the idea of a social safety net to guard against the vagaries of life is hardly radical. President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law extensions of Social Security; President Ronald Reagan worked with House Speaker Tip O’Neill to save Social Security in 1983; President George W. Bush created the Medicare prescription drug benefit.

But in a world in which Republicans have endorsed a budget that would eviscerate Medicaid and turn it into a block grant and that would change Medicare into a voucher program whose value would quickly be overtaken by inflation, protecting the integrity of these programs suddenly sounds bold. Note that Obama did not say these programs were immune from reform. And while an inaugural address is hardly the place to rattle off numbers, Obama could have added that last year he put forward $350 billion in health entitlement savings on top of the $716 billion in Medicare savings he signed into law in his first term, cuts that Republicans tried to use as a cudgel against Democrats last year.

Did Obama call for a new entitlement to deal with our economic woes? No.

In fact, keeping with the New Democratic approach, Obama rejected the old-time religion of equality of outcome and framed his vision as one of equality of opportunity: “We must . . . empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, and reach higher. But while the means will change, our purpose endures: a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American.” Obama put forward neither a new government agency nor a guarantee of success. “Hard work and personal responsibility,” Obama reminded us, “are constants in our character.” Rather than relaunch the War on Poverty, Obama’s economic focus was the middle class and those striving to get there.

These differences may sound subtle, but they were an important shift in the Democratic Party’s public philosophy. In the 1990s, this change was controversial (recall the fight over welfare reform), but now it is easy to miss because opportunity and responsibility are so deeply embedded in the party’s DNA.

Defending a safety net and calling for opportunity for all is nothing new, though Obama’s call for full equality for gay and lesbian Americans is. Yet this, along with the calls for equal pay for women, welcoming immigrants and action on climate change, is radical only if viewed through the oversize tortoise-shell glasses of the 1980s.

The country has changed. In a turnabout from the past, these social issues cut against the GOP — not the Democratic Party. In the 1980s, a New Democrat would counsel against even mentioning these issues. Today, one of the most effective advocates for gay marriage is the preeminent New Democratic institution Third Way.

Perspective is everything in assessing Obama’s second inaugural address. One cannot ignore how the Republican Party’s move to the right has shifted the parameters of political debate. On economic policy, the president is in line with the bipartisan, postwar consensus on the safety net and with the New Democratic view on government’s role in the economy. On social issues, he is firmly in the mainstream and hardly a McGovernik.

But don’t believe me. Listen to Newt Gingrich: “I didn’t think it was very liberal,” he told Politico. “There were one or two sentences obviously conservatives would object to, but 95 percent of the speech I thought was classically American, emphasizing hard work, emphasizing self-reliance, emphasizing doing things together. I thought it was a good speech.”

So did I.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/obamas-mainsteam-pitch/2013/01/23/0bcce614-657a-11e2-9e1b-07db1d2ccd5b_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines&wp_login_redirect=0

A Call for Progressive Values: Evolved, Unapologetic and Urgent

By RICHARD W. STEVENSON, New York Times, January 21, 2013

WASHINGTON — He did not utter the words, but President Obama suffused his second Inaugural Address with the spirit of a favorite phrase: the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s call to heed “the fierce urgency of now.”

This was a president unbound from much of what defined him upon taking office four years ago, a man clearly cognizant of time already running down on his opportunity to make his imprint on the country and on history.

Gone were the vision of a new kind of high-minded politics, the constraint of a future re-election campaign and the weight of unrealistic expectations. In their place was an unapologetic argument that modern liberalism was perfectly consistent with the spirit of the founders and a notice that, with no immediate crisis facing the nation, Mr. Obama intended to use the full powers of his office for progressive values.

“We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect,” he said.

After spending much of his first term “evolving” on the question of same-sex marriage and doing too little in the eyes of many African-Americans to address poverty and civil rights, he invoked “Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall” and cited responsibility for the poor, sick and displaced.

He acknowledged the budget deficit but emphasized protecting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. He mentioned jobs but highlighted global warming. He lauded the bravery and strength of the United States armed forces, but started his foreign policy remarks by asserting that “enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.”

Mr. Obama came to office four years ago all but consumed by what he inherited: two wars and an economy in free fall. He then confronted an exhausting series of crises and political problems at home and abroad: budget showdowns, a huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Middle East turmoil, the rise of the Tea Party movement.

Through it all, he chose to wage additional battles of choice, most notably his successful push to overhaul the health insurance system. But not until this point, with the economy gradually mending, one war over and another winding down, with Osama bin Laden dead and the Democratic Party drawing strength from the nation’s changing demographics, has he had the opportunity to master his own presidency.

The policy details of what that effort entails will emerge over the next month through his State of the Union address and his budget, and many or most of them will encounter strong opposition from Republicans on Capitol Hill. Monday’s address to the nation and its political class was intended to set out the value system that informs the policy.

Mr. Obama has always had a dialectical quality: pragmatism versus ideology, bold versus cautious, hawk versus dove, post-racial versus man of color. Those tensions no doubt remain.

But since Election Day, he has seemed to be choosing between them more than in the past. His decision after the Newtown massacre to embark on a full-scale effort to crack down on gun violence showed him to be less shackled to political wisdom about what is possible or electorally wise. His willingness to stare down Republicans over raising the debt limit — and winning — showed that he is less likely nowadays to start a negotiation by moving to the center and trying to find common ground.

To some Republicans, it is what they warned of all along: a president who ran as a centrist proving to be an unreconstructed liberal. It was no doubt hard for some of them to accept a scolding for treating “name calling as reasoned debate” — a phrase in his Monday address — from a man who won re-election by excoriating Mitt Romney as a job-killing plutocrat.

“I think all Americans would hope that President Obama, now that he’s not facing re-election, would actually sit down and honestly work with Republicans who are very sincere in our desire to fix these problems,” said Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin.

But, Mr. Johnson added, that was not the sentiment he detected from Mr. Obama on Monday. “You’ve got to sit down in good faith,” he said. “But I just don’t see that with this president.”

Representative Pete Sessions, Republican of Texas, said, “I’m surprised we’ve so abruptly noticed after this election we’re now managing America’s demise, not America’s great future.”

Mr. Obama’s address nodded to ideological inclusiveness but did not repeat his view from four years ago that it was time to end the “recriminations and worn-out dogmas” that characterized Washington battles. It recognized the power of individual liberty but argued that only through collective action could the nation remain prosperous and secure.

But most of all, it sought to elevate to a more prominent place in the political debate the question of how best the nation should address the “little girl born into the bleakest poverty,” the parents of a child with a disability, the gay men and women seeking to marry, voters facing hurdles because of their race and immigrants seeking a toehold in a land of opportunity.

“We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few,” Mr. Obama said.

In many ways it was an address, given on a day that commemorates King, that reflected not just the civil rights leader’s “fierce urgency of now” but the lines that immediately followed it in his “I Have a Dream” speech on the National Mall 50 years ago.

“This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism,” King said. “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/22/us/politics/obamas-speech-is-urgent-call-for-progressive-values.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130122