Tag Archives: Obama

Placating Extremists

When nations fail to denounce their radical extremists, they risk being defined by them.

In an instant, an already contentious and acerbic presidential campaign season, principally driven by economic issues, shifted focus to the mounting foreign policy crisis playing out across the Middle East and North Africa region, and descended into an even darker place.

A protester in Cairo throws a rock at police as demonstrations over a video insulting the Prophet Muhammad continued. Egypt's president criticized the use of violence in the protests.

A protester in Cairo throws a rock at police as demonstrations over a video insulting the Prophet Muhammad continued. Egypt’s president criticized the use of violence in the protests. (Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal)

“I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi,” said presidential candidate Mitt Romney late Tuesday evening, shortly after news broke that a diplomat in Libya lost his life during an attack on the Libyan consulate.

“It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks,” continued Romney. At the time of Romney’s statement, news of the assassination of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three others in the attacks on the Benghazi compound had not yet been reported.

The administration’s response that Romney was referring to was actually a statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo, which published the remarks prior to the demonstrations against a deplorable amateur film produced in the United States that ridiculed the Prophet Mohammed. Specifically, the part of the statement that aroused the ire of Romney was the embassy’s condemnation of “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.” According to Reuters, “the embassy’s statement was an apparent attempt to ease tensions in Cairo before protesters got out of hand.”

Shortly after Romney’s comments, we learned that the embassy’s statement had neither been approved by the administration nor the State Department, but was posted to the embassy’s website by an individual who had been explicitly instructed not to do so.   In fact, Obama issued a statement disavowing the embassy’s release at 10:10 p.m., fourteen minutes before Romney characterized it as the administration’s response.

Despite those orders, senior public affairs officer Larry Schwartz issued the release and repeatedly publicized and defended the statement via Twitter in an attempt to quell the  protests outside the embassy’s gates. While Schwartz’s actions were questionable, Romney’s were inexcusable.

In what President Obama aptly described as a “shoot first, aim later” response, Romney erroneously characterized the embassy’s release as the administration’s initial reaction to the attacks on our diplomatic missions in Egypt and Libya. Disturbingly, he doubled down on his statements even after reports had surfaced that administration had no knowledge of the release prior to its issuance, saying “I think it’s a terrible course for America to apologize for our values.”

This was conceivably the most disturbing aspect of Romney’s response to the crisis, and indicative of what has tarnished the United States’ reputation abroad. Assuming, as Romney had, that the statement was Obama’s decree, for what values, exactly, did the president apologize? Was it the condemnation of those who intentionally seek to offend others who hold certain religious beliefs? Of course we believe in every citizen’s right to freedom of speech, but does that prohibit us from the same right to deride those who exercise it in morally objectionable ways?

Or perhaps it was the defense of Muslims. Even as Romney was being lambasted by the media for his reactionary remarks, and as his GOP colleagues on the Hill seemingly left him hanging out to dry, Sarah Palin echoed Romney’s statements on Facebook, saying that the embassy “went so far as to chastise those who use free speech to ‘hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.’ Funny, the current administration has no problem hurting the ‘religious feelings’ of Catholics.”

She continued to say that “we already know that President Obama likes to ‘speak softly’ to our enemies. If he doesn’t have a ‘big stick’ to carry, maybe it’s time for him to grow one.” The post has been “liked” by nearly 3.5 million people.

A Libyan woman holds a sign that reads "Thugs and killers don't represent Benghazi nor Islam"

Courtesy of Global Voices

Both here in the United States and throughout the Middle East, we risk being defined by the most extreme contingents within our citizenry when we fail to denounce them with expedience and resoluteness. Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi fell into that trap when he immediately called on the U.S. to prosecute those responsible for the production of the offensive film that sparked the demonstrations, while taking days to condemn those who stormed the embassy. Romney made the same mistake when he failed to chastise the makers of the film, while attacking those who would demonstrate against it and the President for his supposed sympathy for the demonstrators.

The crux of the issue is not Romney’s gaffe, nor is it the spread of these mass protests to a dozen countries across the region. It’s a more insidious problem. The simple truth is that in America, there is a perception that the entirety of the Middle East is anti-America, while in the Middle East, there is a perception that America is anti-Islam. And we encourage this perception when we not only fail to denounce those who spew hateful rhetoric about Islam, but encourage their participation in our most mainstream political dialogues. When we do not repudiate those who denigrate our president by falsely claiming he is a Muslim as a means of attack, how are Muslims across the world supposed to perceive us?

This is not to argue that we should limit what anyone can say or how they should say it. Rather, we have a moral obligation to proclaim to all who are willing to listen that their hateful beliefs and ideals do not represent us as a whole. We should always defend the right to free speech, but we should also always counter hate speech with a full-throated rebuke. Until we demonstrate that we are capable of doing just that, the world will continue to view our self-proclaimed moral superiority with great skepticism, and we can anticipate more events like the ones we have witnessed this week to unfold.

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The Tea Party is Almost Dead

I urge members of the Tea Party to actually read this before posting angry responses

Is there anything quite as fickle as public opinion?  It’s an unwieldy monster that ebbs and flows with tenacity at the slightest provocation, dangerous not for its volatility, but rather for its ability to substantively change our national agenda. The founders knew this.  It’s why they purposefully designed our three branches of government to be almost intolerably deliberative, requiring that everything one branch produces be able to pass litmus tests conducted (very slowly) by the other two branches.

Tea Party Rally

Courtesy of Politico

This designed institutional inconvenience was one of the wiser concepts implemented by our Founding Fathers.  They knew the potential dangers in getting carried away by our collective emotions.  I’m in the business of public relations.  No one knows better than I how powerful a motivator public opinion can be.

You often hear people criticize President Obama for his mild manner.  Detractors either wish he’d be more assertive and confrontational or believe that his coolness is really just a manifestation of incompetence or indecisiveness.  I’m in neither of those camps.  On the contrary, I believe that Obama’s propensity to be contemplative and even keeled is actually a shrewd political tactic.  It’s a tactic designed to allow him to outlast a political movement that many predicted would see to his political demise.  Instead, it was the inability of this movement to remain composed and contemplative that will soon lead to its eventual death; the death of the Tea Party.

Tea was so last year. Time to start a coffee party

The TEA Party, which stands for the Taxed Enough Already Party, is the manifestation of people’s shared anger, confusion and the want for resolve.  It was a group founded in response to a single issue: The Great Recession.  It has since evolved into another entity entirely that no one can seem to define, including the group itself.  Quarrelsome factions exist within its upper ranks because the party was conceived in a rush to judgment, with all of its members wanting a solution to their shared problem,  but with nobody knowing exactly how to solve it.

Under the moniker of “Taxed Enough Already,” some within the group have attempted to incorporate divisive social agendas into the party’s platform.  This has alienated the previously Independent members by forcing them to align with issues that kept them out of the Republican Party in the first place.  There is still a strong contingent of people within the party who only care about reforming our national fiscal policies and balancing the budget.  The idea of championing sweeping social reforms that are premised on significant religious undertones does not resonate with these people.  As a result, this faction has gradually shied away from the Tea Party label, wishing they’d never renounced their independence from organized political parties.

We Are Tea'd

Courtesy of "Brian Dennert here"

Roughly one year ago, when things looked bleakest for the Democrats, I remember standing in the kitchen with my father discussing the impact this new Tea Party would have on our politics.  Its rise to prominence had turned our conventional understanding of the political spectrum completely on its axis, and no one knew what the end result would be.  One thing was for sure: Democrats were scared.

The times, they are a changin

Tea Partiers were calling for a political genocide, which admittedly, they accomplished by effectively voting out some of Washington’s most tenured congressmen.  They took the position that the institution of government had been perverted over time, leading a grassroots initiative that resolved to restore integrity to the system.

The differences in how we view the role of government aside, this was a noble, honest endeavor.  However, the Tea Party of a year ago is not the same Tea Party that we see today. It hit the same roadblock that every third party inevitably runs into in a system that can only support two legitimate parties, that roadblock being staying power.

The Tea Party gobbled up everyone who was willing to defect from their political loyalties early in its grass roots campaign.  The unfortunate thing about a grassroots movement is that it starts out as a movement, an interesting and exciting thing to join, but as time goes on, it becomes an institution.  Institutions are much less appealing.  So unappealing, in fact, that we’ve limited ourselves to only two of them: the Democratic institution and the Republican institution.

The Tea Party will soon realize that in order to have a lasting impact, it’s going to have to succumb to the same fate as every third party before it.  It will have to allow itself to be absorbed into the GOP, hoping that in the best of scenarios, it can move the needle that dictates the Republican Party’s agenda slightly towards the position it aligned itself with on the political spectrum.

Tea Party Protesters

Courtesy of The Washington Independent

Hint: The answer to the poll question is no

Third parties cannot succeed if they target our two biggest parties by contending that they should be considered of equal status. It’s like having a six year old who made his first bologna sandwich last week say to a world class chef  “your cooking ain’t so great. You could learn a thing or two from me.”

What role will the Tea Party play in our national history?  Honestly, not much of one.  It will move the GOP base further to the right once it’s been completely absorbed, the same way the Green Party moved the needle slightly left when it was consumed by the Democratic Party.  Sure, it’ll survive– in name, mostly.  But it will never again be a real player.  Three years from now, no one will be talking about the Tea Party.

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Beck Caught “Redistributing” Two Year Old Lie

Fox News was Heavily Criticized in 2008 for Misrepresenting Obama Quote.  Glenn Beck Does it Again Tuesday Night.

Glenn Beck

Courtesy of CBS News

One of my initial goals for “Holding Glenn Beck Accountable Week” was to take the first quote that Beck displayed at the beginning of one of his programs and determine whether or not it was presented in an honest context.  I had my suspicions that Beck distorts the context of most of the quotes that he throws up on his nifty video screen, but I wanted to test my theory.  I decided to use the first quote he displayed on his show Tuesday and report on it no matter the outcome.  Yes, that means that if it was an honest description of whatever the person being quoted had said, I would have been forced to acknowledge that Beck was right.  However, that scenario was not to unfold.

Beck started Tuesday’s show by proclaiming that he wanted to have “a reasoned conversation” with America about the 10.2.10 One Nation Working Together rally in D.C.  He concluded this “reasoned conversation” by exclaiming that Obama is in fact a Marxist communist dictator who plans to, someday soon, overthrow our Republic’s form of democracy and replace it with a tyrannical form of socialism.  I’d love to get into why that statement is ludicrous, but I need to stick with my stated agenda.

“Quite honestly, I feel stupid when I say communist.  Two years ago, I didn’t even think… I mean, I wouldn’t have believed half of this stuff.  I don’t want to believe it now,” Beck began.  He continued, “During the election, 2008, some people were questioning whether or not Barack Obama were a socialist.  There was some strong evidence.  His past associations and his own words.”

Beck then displayed the following quote from President Obama:

“I think there was a tendency to lose track of the political community organizing and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of powers through which you bring about redistributive change.”

Sounds pretty damning, right?  I’ll be completely honest with you – I was shocked when I saw that statement.  I thought to myself “maybe Beck is onto something here that I’m not seeing.”  Then I stopped drinking the Kool-Aid and started doing my homework, as Beck encourages his audience to do.

Perhaps we should give Obama’s statement a little bit of context.  The quote is taken from a comment that Obama made while on a Chicago Public Radio broadcast in 2001 during a discussion about the civil rights movement.  The first video contains Obama’s original, unedited quote.  The second video, which contains a statement from Obama that came less than three minutes after the first quote, shows that Obama does not believe the courts should be in the business of mandating redistributive change.  I’ve provided a link to the entire broadcast here (click on the audio link next to January 18, 2001), but the audio clips below occurred between minutes 42 and 47 of the broadcast.

After the Drudge Report, Fox News and magazine columnists misrepresented the quote back in 2008 (while Obama was running for president), Chicago Public Radio’s Ben Calhoun posted the audio along with a statement intended to set the record straight.

“The twist here is that, when heard in the context of the whole show, Obama’s position is distinctly misrepresented by the You Tube posting. Taken in context, Obama is evaluating the historical successes and failures of the Civil Rights movement—and, ironically, he says the Supreme Court was a failure in cases that it took on a role of redistributing resources.”

Here’s the YouTube video that sparked the controversy.

The corrective statement disseminated by Chicago Public Radio to set the record straight was targeted at Beck’s own news organization two years before Tuesday’s broadcast.  Do you mean to tell me that there wasn’t a single producer or research assistant that remembered Calhoun excoriating them the first time they got it wrong?

Beck concluded yesterday’s show by criticizing Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) for misrepresenting a statement Republican challenger Daniel Webster made in a campaign ad.  Those in glass houses…well, you know the rest.  That said, Grayson’s ad was despicable, misleading and slanderous.  Referring to your opponent as “Taliban Dan” is disgraceful.

Scroll to the end of the video for Beck’s statement regarding Grayson.

Beck’s audacity is shocking.  To criticize Grayson for slandering his opponent’s character in ads that ran in a district of 639,000 people when he did the same thing to Obama in front of his 1.7 million viewers is disgracefully hypocritical.  Sorry to micro-focus today, but this really needed to be reported.

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Holding Glenn Beck Accountable Week: Part One

Glenn Beck

Courtesy of earthfirst.com

If you read my blog post last Thursday, then you know that I’ve decided to dedicate an entire week to analyzing and fact-checking Glenn Beck as a way to celebrate the first anniversary of The Beltway Perspective.  Every day, I’ll be watching Glenn Beck’s program, summarizing what Beck discussed on the show, and offering my own analysis on whatever the predominant topic or theme was.  In addition, I’ll keep a tally of the number of times that Beck mentions progressivism, socialism, communism, Marxism and fascism, just for fun.

Because of the nature of my self-imposed assignment, I will not be able to go into as much depth in countering Beck’s arguments as I would like to.  I’ll bullet most of the topics that Beck discusses, but I’ll identify one subject per episode to cover more extensively.

Tonight’s episode was a bit tame by Beck’s standard.  He limited himself to only 13 mentions of progressives (in a derogatory context), three mentions of communism, one mention of socialism and one mention of Fascism. Below is a list of a few issues discussed on tonight’s show:

Show Recap: Monday

  • Beck started the evening by linking President Obama with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  He reports that Ahmadinejad met with Louis Farrakhan of the New Black Panthers, and then implies that Obama is Farrakhan’s ally. He suggests that Obama had the lawsuit addressing voter intimidation at the polls against Farrakhan’s Black Panthers dropped, and insinuates that because Obama is a “Farrakhan advocate,” he must also support Ahmadinejad’s tyrannical government.  Beck started down the schizophrenic rabbit hole right from the start with this little monologue.
  • In the vein of an Oprah style book club guide, Beck started rambling off a selection of books that every American should read.  Among them was Friedrich Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom,” which links the welfare state to totalitarian rule of government and “New Deal Raw Deal” by Burton Folsom Jr., which suggests that FDR’s economic legacy damaged America.  Biased, but I’ll give Beck some credit here.  At least he is encouraging people to read.
  • I believe the following will be the focal point of tomorrow’s show, so I will not cover it in-depth now, but Beck suggested that Obama is responsible for the Feds pushing for warrantless GPS tracking, cyber surveillance and x-ray vans that spy on you in your homes.  To quote Beck on the subject of the x-ray vans, “They’re using them now in your neighborhoods and the Obama administration won’t say exactly why we’re buying their vans and driving them down our streets.” I need to dig a bit on this one, but I have a feeling a Glenn’s leaving a few pieces of the story out of his report.
  • Apparently the Department of Education is indoctrinating our children with environmental policies that are meant to turn them against their parents and into zombies for the government.  This is part of the broader, in-depth story that I will publish tomorrow morning.

I wanted to provide you with a bit of content today, but because Beck does not air until 5:00 p.m., I need a bit more time to really break down the content of the show.  Please check back tomorrow afternoon for a deeper look into Beck’s allegations that Cass Sustein, Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, is the “most dangerous man in America” because he wants to “manipulate the American people,” whom he supposedly believes are too stupid to realize that they are being manipulated.

Please let me know if there is anything that you’d like me to add to the Beck reports, and if you have any specific concerns that you would like me to address.  If you want to watch with me and discuss the show on Twitter, use the hashtag #WOB (Week of Beck).  See you then.

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Oil Spill in the Gulf isn’t the only thing that Needs Cleaning

Another Katrina-Like Government Failure Signals Need for Reform

I am generally satisfied with my ability to comprehend and analyze complex issues, but there are certain subject matters that leave me baffled.  Generally, I won’t delve too deeply into concepts that leave me mentally incapacitated: theology, astrophysics… algebra.  But when it comes to political policy issues, I’m rarely dumbfounded.

Gushing Oil Well

courtesy of Guardian.co.uk

That is, I was rarely dumbfounded.  Then the BP oil spill happened, and friends began asking me what the government should do to fix the problem and save face.  I sounded like Porky Pig after he’d thrown back a few.  There was no way to answer the question without uncovering another dilemma.  There’s a myriad of complex subplots to this issue, all with far-reaching consequences.  Rather than try to tackle them all at once, I think it best to adopt the approach I’ve taken when contemplating astrophysics… let’s start with the big bang.

Disaster at Sea

Gulf Oil Spill from Space

courtesy of the Examiner

Late in the evening of April 20, a fire engulfed an offshore drilling unit 52 miles off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico.  The fire was the result of an explosion that killed eleven people and injured fifteen.  Preliminary reports suggest that a panoply of problems could be to blame, including malfunctioning shutoff switches, emergency disconnection systems, and pressure testing units, as well as broken safety valves.

Others have suggested that the cause of the explosion occurred long before the fire broke out on the BP rig.  The Minerals Management Service (MMS) has been accused of being a bit too smitten with the industry it is tasked with regulating.  According to a new report from Interior Department Inspector General Mary Kendall, her greatest concern was “the environment in which these inspectors operate — particularly the ease with which they move between industry and government.

Prior to the Deepwater Horizon incident, I’d probably have assumed that MMS was some neurological disease if it were ever brought up during a conversation.  That said, before Katrina, I’d have assumed that FEMA was just another leg bone.  In eerily similar circumstances, both agencies flew well under the radar in the public’s conscience until devastating incidents thrust them front and center.

Is it Groundhog Day?

Oil in the Marshes

coutesy of Radio Free Europe

In 2005, after having already been relieved of his job of overseeing the federal efforts in the gulf coast, Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Michael Brown forcibly resigned from his position.  This was largely attributable to his inexperience and ineptitude while holding the post.

Did Katrina send a message to smaller government agencies that competency is a mandate for all directors?  Apparently not.  A few days ago, MMS Director Elizabeth Birnbaum got the ax after reports came out that she had taken too low a profile during the oil spill crisis.

No Need for the Blame Game – We Have a Volunteer

So who is really at fault for this crisis?  Should BP have done more to safeguard the rig against an explosion?  Should the oil companies have been better suited to handle an oceanic oil leak before they began drilling?  Was the MMS responsible for failing to properly regulate the oil companies?

Apparently President Barrack Obama thinks that it’s his fault.  As Dana Milbank of the Washington Post put it, “he practiced every form of self-flagellation short of bringing out a cat-o’-nine-tails.”

“The culture had not fully changed in MMS and absolutely I take responsibility for that,” he said.  “There wasn’t sufficient urgency.”

He continued to say that “we should have busted through those constraints… pre-deploying boom would have been the right thing to do… I do think our efforts fell short.  They should have pushed them sooner… I think that it took too long… Where I was wrong was in my belief that the oil companies had their act together.”

Obama in Louisiana

courtesy of Reuters

Does the president deserve to take some heat for this?  Absolutely, but he is not as culpable as he thinks he is.  The reality is that presidential administrations have a long legacy of making ill-advised appointments.  Unfortunately, it takes a disaster of epic proportions for any of us to care enough about it to demand changes.

Guess who’s really at fault (hint: it rhymes with Yiddish linoleum)

Ultimately, the entity responsible for this disaster is BP.  It was their rig that blew up, and it was their responsibility to have a contingency plan in case a leak occurred.  The president was wrong to place so much faith in his “belief that the oil companies had their act together when it came to worst-case scenarios.”

As Bob Herbert of the New York Times put it, “with all due respect to the president, who is a very smart man, how is it possible for anyone with any reasonable awareness of the nonstop carnage that has accompanied the entire history of giant corporations to believe that the oil companies, which are among the most rapacious players on the planet, somehow ‘had their act together’ with regard to worst-case scenarios.”

courtesy of Reuters

Ed Rogers, former White House staffer and chairman of BGR Group said it best.  “So far there are no political winners from the gulf oil spill debacle.  And there probably won’t be any winners, just various degrees of losers.”  Obama cannot hope to score any political points during the disaster relief effort—at best, he can mitigate the damage it does to his administration’s reputation.  But simply saying “Hey, I screwed up,” doesn’t say much other than “hey, check out how incompetent I was.”

Obama needs to use this incident as a launching pad for administration reform.  Governmentally speaking, the biggest issue here is not that BP’s rig exploded, but that the government should have had proper checks in place to ensure that it didn’t.  He needs to spearhead the implementation of reforms from stem to stern while promising the American people that every government department is to be examined and every director’s qualifications and dedication to the public interest is ensured.

We don’t need a passive apologist right now.  I’m tired of hoping for change.  Right now, it’s desperately needed.

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The Word War

Why rhetoric almost drove me away from politics

Have you ever hit a wall doing something you love?  This phenomenon is often associated with runners who have to muster up every bit of strength and intensity they can to breach an invisible barrier that threatens to derail their run.

Health Care Protest

Courtesy of Syracuse.com

Well I hit a wall (metaphorically speaking) a few weeks ago when the health care debate reached a fever pitch.  I’m usually one who appreciates the idiosyncratic aspects of the political game.  I cognitively distance myself from the rhetoric and emotion, choosing instead to observe the often comedic routine that is political posturing.  But the health care fight took all the fun out of political debating – it became downright ugly.

I’m all for using language strategically and effectively; it’s one of the reasons that I’m in public relations.  However, I draw the line at language that drives the public to behave heinously.

I know that my more conservative readers will offer their “proof” as to why I’m wrong to identify the following talking points as inflammatory lies intending to incite nothing less than riots.  Let me offer a disclaimer.  This blog post is intended to be anecdotal.  It was drafted to retell the story of my mounting frustration, so regardless of whether you dispute the validity of my claims, their effects on my psyche were very real.  With that taken care of, lets discuss what had me so darn flustered.

Remember back to the Joe Wilson scandal?  When he screamed “you lie” during President Obama’s health care address to Congress? Everybody flipped.  The GOP demanded he apologize for his inappropriate outburst and the Dems were out for his head.  That anger was fueled by an understanding that political rhetoric is all well and good, but everyone has to play by a certain set of rules in order to maintain public order.

Woman Protests Health Care

Courstesy of BigGovernment.com

Fast-forward six months, and I’ll paint you a gloomier picture where the “disenfranchised” party has determined that it would rather write its own rulebook.  Rather than expound upon some of the more egregious incidents that arose from this new dynamic, I’ll leave the wording to New York Times columnist Frank Rich.

There’s nothing entertaining about watching goons hurl venomous slurs at congressmen like the civil rights hero John Lewis and the openly gay Barney Frank. And as the week dragged on, and reports of death threats and vandalism stretched from Arizona to Kansas to upstate New York, the F.B.I. and the local police had to get into the act to protect members of Congress and their families.

How curious that a mob fond of likening President Obama to Hitler knows so little about history that it doesn’t recognize its own small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht. The weapon of choice for vigilante violence at Congressional offices has been a brick hurled through a window. So far.

Yet it’s this bill that inspired G.O.P. congressmen on the House floor to egg on disruptive protesters even as they were being evicted from the gallery by the Capitol Police last Sunday. It’s this bill that prompted a congressman to shout “baby killer” at Bart Stupak, a staunch anti-abortion Democrat. It’s this bill that drove a demonstrator to spit on Emanuel Cleaver, a black representative from Missouri. And it’s this “middle-of-the-road” bill, as Obama accurately calls it, that has incited an unglued firestorm of homicidal rhetoric, from “Kill the bill!” to Sarah Palin’s cry for her followers to “reload.” At least four of the House members hit with death threats or vandalism are among the 20 political targets Palin marks with rifle crosshairs on a map on her Facebook page.

Click here for the full article

Rich goes on to explain the true source of the public’s discontent, drawing the same conclusion that I came to about a month ago – the conclusion that frustrated me to the point of getting out of politics altogether.  This health care debate has very little to do with health care reform.

President Obama in front of symbols of health care

Courtesy of Planetpov.com

Obama’s election unearthed some deep seeded unease felt by much of his opposition.  His election to the presidency radically changed our political social construct, whether we’d like to admit it or not.  It would be too easy to simplify the public’s unrest as being propagated by subliminal racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.  But the reality is that our social construct has undergone significant reforms, and not everyone adapts easily to change.  The Tea Party movement and the fervency seen in health care opposition is merely a backlash against the evolution of our society.

In identifying the source of this feud, I came to the unnerving realization that no matter what argument I brought to the table, my words would fall on deaf ears.  No one wants to debate health care.  They want to debate change.  They want to qualify every policy change as part of a grander socialist plot to destroy capitalism.  They want to polarize our nation as much as possible.  They want to feed this monster.

Health care Bill - Final Vote

Courtesy of NJ.com

But in viewing this from a historical perspective, I was reassured that the storm will subside.  We saw similar passions swell during the inception of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Medicare.  I once told a friend that this health care debate is simply a war of words that I’m losing.  Their party’s rhetoric is more effective than my own party’s, and until we figure out the right way tell the public that health care reform is really a good thing, we can never win this battle.

I was wrong.

The Democrats cannot win the fight for public support on the health care bill.  Rather, they need to win the campaign for change.  They need to construct a message that assures the American public that changes to our society can be scary, but are ultimately for the best.  There are still too many people disenfranchised in this nation.  There are still too many people discriminated against.  There are still too many people whose health care is inadequately covered.  There are still too many people worth helping for me to throw in the towel.

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Back to Basics

Politics and PR: There’s Still Room for Both

I feel like I’ve deviated from my original intentions for this blog.  The Beltway Perspective was created for the purpose of examining political issues in the context of public relations.  I sought to establish a forum where I could separate the message from the issues, explore the communication components involved in political debates and determine how those components impact the public discourse.  Recently, it’s been all politics and no public relations.

I found myself eager to reconnect this blog with its roots.  So I embarked on a quest to find a story that represented the perfect blend between politics and PR.  I defaulted to my trusted trio: The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN, delving into those Web sites in search of the perfect story.  After an hour or so, I came upon an interesting column with the headline “Obama Needs to Flex his Political Muscle,” written by Dana Milbank of The Washington Post.

Can anyone lend the President some tape to fix his glasses?

In his column, Milbank likens Obama to a “98-pound weakling [who] gets sand kicked in his face and responds with moot-court zingers.”  He says he is bullied relentlessly by both Democrats and Republicans, but does nothing to defend himself.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown

courtesy of The Guardian

He suggests that Obama take the Gordon Brown approach to politics – you know, Great Britain’s Prime Minister who is facing allegations of “shouting obscenities at his advisers, grabbing one by the collar, punching the seatback in his car, abusing switchboard operators and even forcing a secretary from her chair when she wasn’t typing fast enough.”

Barack Obama looking dejected

courtesy of Scrape TV

Milbank proposes that if Obama were to take the “it’s my way or the… I’m going to throw this hot coffee in your face way,” his political endeavors might find a happier resolution.  While Milbank admits that Obama would be better suited to adopt a watered-down version of the Brown approach, he contends that both sides will beat on Obama’s policies until he decides to stop being the victim and adopts the role of bully.

I’ll be sending Milbank a “thank you” for helping me refocus.  He might not realize it, but he touched on one of the most fundamental questions in public relations– when does perception become reality?

Polls: Exposing  American stupidity one question at a time

According to a poll described on politico.com, “63 percent of Republicans believe Obama is a socialist; 39 percent think Obama should be impeached; 24 percent said Obama wants ‘the terrorists to win’; and 31 percent agreed with the statement that Obama is ‘a racist who hates white people.’”

The logical, well-informed individual would immediately dismiss these claims as ridiculous and irrational.  But the “reality” is that nearly a quarter of Republicans believe that Obama actually wants the terrorists to win. These people did not come to this conclusion all by their lonesome.  These beliefs were disseminated by Republican opinion leaders.

Two-step flow communication model

courtesy of /visualjournal-mares.blogspot.com

There is a communication theory that could explain this process of indoctrination.  The two-step flow model suggests that opinion leaders listen to messages from the media, interpret those messages and redistribute them to the general public.  According to this theory, public opinion is not really the opinion of the public, but rather the opinion of a select few influential individuals who dictate opinion.

Perhaps this model could better explain the relationship between opinion leaders and the public if it accounts for the fact that opinion leaders have become an extension of the media.  Fox News attempts to distinguish between its pundits and news anchors, but the reality is that the lines are intentionally blurred.  The same can be said for MSNBC and every other news network.  Glenn Beck, Keith Olbermann, Bill O’Reilly and Rachel Maddow are all associated with the news, but all can be considered political opinion leaders.

When the textbooks don’t explain it, improvise

I think the two-step flow theory needs a face-lift.  Our news is interpreted by the media that increasingly purports to convey points of view as fact, meaning that at least part of the flow of information is eliminated.  Perhaps we should rename it the one-and-one-half flow model.

This new dynamic is dangerous.  Traditional journalistic standards set up a clear line of demarcation between the reporting of news in a straightforward manner and commentary. That line has been substantially obliterated in recent years and the reality is that the media can no longer claim to be “fair and balanced.” Yet most people still believe it is.

On the surface, it would seem the Republicans have mastered exploiting this new communication model.  They know that if it sounds newsy and controversial, it will get major face time in the world of news punditry.  Thus, Obama is likened to a “black Stalin.”

Sound ridiculous?  Of course it is, and it will be exposed as ridiculous once America realizes that this is what our political conversation has become.  This is why I chose to discuss Milbank’s column.  He argues that Obama needs to become the bully.  I agree that Obama needs to become a little less complacent in his role as victim, but don’t believe that he needs to assume the role of aggressor.

TSA pats down an old woman at an airport

courtesy of About.com

Obama is an incredibly cerebral individual, and that’s something to be admired in this nation replete with reactionaries.  I’ve argued before that we’re collectively too shortsighted; a trait that usually is to our detriment.  Bush learned the hard way that acting on emotion lands you in Iraq for the better part of a decade and results in grandma getting a cavity search every time she enters an airport.

Revenge of the nerds

Obama knows that the politicians calling for his “socialist” head will be backtracking with their tails between their legs in a few months time when the government is not handing everyone their own hammer and sickle.  Congressional representatives can survive to live another day after they’ve made fools of themselves – presidents can’t, and Obama knows that he cannot become enmeshed in this foolish game.

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