Thursday, September 15, 2011
Vying for the "Cojones Vote"
"Let them eat cake," Marie Antoinette once famously said of the unwashed masses whose lives were less fortunate than hers. Today we have the latest incarnation of that philosophy (minus the white wig), in the persona of presidential candidate Rick Perry--said to be capturing the "cojones vote" with his more candid approach to the disempowered underclass: "Let them Die." Cake, after all, is for sissies.
Applause audibly ramps up at Republican rallies and debates when Perry boasts about his record while governor of Texas for having had 235 criminals executed, and vetoing a bill that would have exempted the mentally ill from Death Row. His audiences love it when Perry says things like "Anyone convicted of murder in the Lone Star State faces 'the ultimate justice.' " So does this guy have balls made of human molars, or what? When bulbous fingers rise up in a victory "V" around Perry, the question rolling around on other people's lips is, "What about he of the watery spine? Is Obama ballsy enough to be president?"
Last week, the consensus seemed to be, "Yes, finally!" as pundits from David Brooks to Paul Krugman to Thomas Friedman all breathed a big sigh of relief and rallied round the President. On Thursday, Obama had actually shown some fire in the belly when addressing Congress on television and presenting his new American Jobs bill. The President seemed angry enough to launch an attack on the Republican solution to the economic crisis: "The only thing we can do to restore prosperity [according to them] is just dismantle the government, refund everybody's money, and let everyone write their own rules and tell everyone they're on their own." But, Obama added, "That's not who we are. That's not the story of America."
It may not be who we have been in the past, but it is definitely who we are becoming. Obama may have shown more toughness this past week, but he still seems unwilling to acknowledge the depth of the forces aligned against him--not just an intransigeant G.O.P. (who in Maureen Dowd's words, "wants to eat him alive"), but also the relentless damage to the economy being done by a constant stream of natural disasters. Disaster relief funds will run out in two weeks, and while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is trying to pass a $6 billion emergency disaster relief bill in the Senate, his counterpart Mitch McConnell has already announced his unwillingness to "pass this bill now," as the president exhorted Congress to do, declaring the Republicans' lack of interest in any short-term relief. "No one believes," he said, "that this package will do any kind of long-term, have any kind of long-term stimulative effect on our country."
Meanwhile many states are broke, and new statistics just released show that an additional 2.6 million people landed in poverty last year, bringing the total to 46.2 million--the highest number since the government started tracking poverty in the 1950s. FEMA estimates that states have been hit with over $36 billion in disaster damages. The Census Bureau credits Social Security with keeping nearly 14 million seniors out of poverty in 2010--which must be the reason Rick Perry describes it as a monstrous lie, a Ponzi scheme, and a failure.
I had to take a little media fast this past weekend, because I couldn't front up to reliving the 9/11 attacks all over again, but Obama, unfazed, attended all the ceremonies--hailing American resilience, claiming the ensuing decade has proven that America does not give in to fear and has emerged stronger after the attacks. Stronger? Really? Personally, I was more in agreement with Kathleen Parker, who took a different tack in her column, claiming that the real legacy of 9/11 was a sort of emotional breakdown in the sense of who we are.
"Simply put," she wrote, "[9/11] damaged our collective soul and seems to have released a free-ranging hysteria that has contaminated our interactions ever since...[and has] caused us to go temporarily insane." The moral panic she describes rings more true to me than anything the president said. However, as she also rightly points out, no president can afford publicly to speak of such things--so maybe she'll be right that journalists could actually acquire a new sense of purpose by ponying up to the job instead. But I'm not holding my breath.
It is, of course, possible to argue that there was a kind of bittersweet unity in the aftermath of the attacks, but that singular joining of hearts and minds soon dissolved over the decade into what Nancy Gibbs refers to in Time magazine as "pitiless cage fights." Yow! In his essay on 9/11 in The New Yorker, George Packer also takes a dim view of the decade that followed the attacks. For all the talk about unity and a new sense of purpose, he argues, the attacks did nothing to unify the country--which was already entrenched in two politically opposed camps with the moderates in the Republican party barely surviving. Today that division is so extremely hardened that the very possibility of a common national narrative has been destroyed. Today. we live in mutually hostile and unintelligible, red and blue, partisan universes.
With what has to be a Pulitzer prize-winning comment, I will let Thomas Friedman have the last word on this, our sorry plight: "Our cupboard is bare, and the only thing we have in surplus is political venom. Indeed, if political venom could be turned into a transportation fuel, we'd be energy independent today! Alas, it's just venom, and it's weakening us--along with everything else we've done to sap our national vitality."