Monday, December 13, 2010
The Stag Nation
American politics seems to have mutated into a game of playing shit-ball, with our unfortunate President as the ball. It doesn't really matter which team you are on, both sides are going for the jugular.
I was absolutely horrified last Sunday (Dec. 4th) when Frank Rich, arguably the New York Times' best liberal commentator, wrote a column implying that Obama was now a victim of Stockholm Syndrome. WTF? I thought. Republicans were threatening to boycott not just the President's entire legislative agenda, but to hold the whole government hostage, unless the Bush-era tax cuts were extended for the top 2 percent of richest Americans--something which Obama explicitly opposes. Despite this outrageous threat, Obama seemed all too willing to negotiate a deal. Stockholm Syndrome (as defined by the FBI) is when a hostage concentrates on his captors' "good side" and tries to please them. It's a term which describes capitulation to the enemy as a form of mental illness. Obama had not yet cut any deal with Republicans at that point, but Rich was already seeing the handwriting on the wall: the President was going to surrender "his once considerable abilities to act, decide, or think" and cave in to Republican blackmail.
So distraught was I at this below-the-belt ad hominem attack on the President by a writer I mostly admire, that I immediately copied out the piece and emailed it to a few friends, asking for their response. One wrote back, "OK, so Obama is Patty Hearst and the GOP is the Symbionese Liberation Army? Hell, I don't know what to think anymore." Soon afterwards came these reassuring insights from my friend Jane Vance. They made me want to bring out the champagne.
Jane stated unequivocally that for Rich to describe Obama's diplomatic demeanor and willingness to compromise as evidence of Stockholm Syndrome was just plain weird, and stupid. "Obama doesn't act like a hostage," she said. "His policies may be hostage, but his psychology isn't. He doesn't try to collaborate because he is fearful and submissive. That's not why healthy people cooperate and compromise. Since when did the wish or the ability to harmonize become so suspect as to be associated with trauma and disease?"
The minute I read this I thought: OK girlfriend, you just hit the ball right out of the park.
"Stockholm Syndrome," Jane went on, "means that a person is so degraded that he has to invent a perverse hope. Obama isn't degraded...[he] is still a kite, and with enough give he would fly. There is no flattening him...If he has any syndrome, it is optimism, which works better than stagnation. We are that beast now, the masculine complement to the Mama Grizzlies: the Stag Nation."
More like the stagnating nation, I thought, acutely concerned about how any president could possibly bust this particular roadblock: Republicans had clearly drawn their line in the sand, stating that nothing happens unless the rich get their tax cut.
Obama, being Obama, had drawn no such line and remained coolly open to negotiation, opening himself up thereby to yet more hateful rants from the Left on the Huffington Post and elsewhere. "Obama's style," Robert Kuttner wrote on HP, "is not to draw bright lines, but to blur them. He will never beat the stuffings out of the Republicans...[so] let's stop pretending. Barack Obama is a disaster as a crisis president...the more that he is pummeled, the more he bends over."
So much for playing shit-ball with the President, Mr. Kuttner. Can I just say, right here and now, how truly repugnant I find your comments? You claim the problem is Obama's ineffectuality--a "failure to know how to fight and lead as a progressive." But did Obama ever once, in two long years of campaigning, bill himself as "a leader of progressives?" On the contrary, he has ALWAYS calibrated himself as a "postpartisan leader," representative not just of one party (or one party's agenda), but of "all of the American people." That definitely includes you, Mr. Kuttner, but it also includes people who are not you.
When Republicans obstruct Obama implacably, when Democrats such as Kuttner villify him for "caving" to Republicans, condescendingly demanding that he "grow a spine," Obama continues to do what he always said he would do: govern the country as a whole, not just represent a single component of it. Indeed, the most stalwart and admirable thing about this president is how much he remains true to his original commitment to govern in a bipartisan manner, no matter how much he is beset about this on all sides. "It’s hard to escape the impression that Republicans have taken Mr. Obama’s measure — that they’re calling his bluff in the belief that he can be counted on to fold. And it’s also hard to escape the impression that they’re right," Paul Krugman wrote recently in the New York Times.
"I have not been able to budge them," Obama explained, after he had accomplished the impossible task of managing to cut a deal with the Republicans anyway.
"I realize It's tempting," he told everyone afterwards, in a not-so-veiled reference to Rich, "not to negotiate with hostage-takers," but then he flipped the whole argument around, redefining exactly who the hostages were: not him but the American people. "I could have picked a big fight," he said. But instead he chose to compromise, because the deal he got was the best one for the American people. "This country was founded on compromise," he somewhat caustically reminded everyone.
Democrats immediately reacted like hot-dogs sizzling and popping in the microwave. As expected and feared, their leader had predictably "caved." However, at least one Republican pundit (Charles Krauthammer) described Obama's deal as the "swindle of the year" for Republicans, because Obama had gotten so much of what he wanted--and managed to boost his re-election chances in 2012 to boot. Yesterday, on Meet the Press, Mayor Bloomberg sang Obama's praises and heartily approved his deal. "The country," he said, "needs this president to succeed. If he goes down, we all go down, so we need to pull together and get behind him." A voice of sanity in the wilderness. Someone who gets it, Mr. Kuttner. Maybe try listening to him?
"Look," says Virgil, who has suddenly loomed into view and is pointing in the direction of the White House. My alligator assistant is shirtless, his belly soft and pink, still wearing his old Dodger cap. He flips the cap around so I can better see what he's saying. "Nix on all the worry about Obama," he counsels. "The man is a blue aquarium light in the dark corridor where everyone else is stomping. He doesn't have Stockholm Syndrome. Not only is his spine more than ample, he's got a very fancy pair of antlers as well."