Tag Archives: Politics

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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Filed under International, Middle East, National Politics

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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Filed under National Politics, Public Relations, Tea Party

So Obviously I Never Wrote a Post-Election Blog…

Or, for that matter, anything since October (well, if we’re being honest, September).  My bad.  We’ve all had moments where our already chaotic pace of life hits the afterburners and kicks into the realm of unmanageable.  In those moments, something has to give. For me, it was this blog.

Please forgive me.

C'mon, you can't stay mad at me for long. I even whipped out the puppy dog eyes to get you to forgive me.

I always feel guilty when I neglect The Beltway Perspective, but I’ve never felt worse than now.  Prior to this latest lapse, I had never let a month go by without posting something.  Often, even that schedule proved too infrequent for my liking, but failing to publish anything for the better part of five months is inexcusable.

I neglected a loyal contingent of fans and friends who enjoyed The Beltway Perspective for its value as a forum that allowed people across the entire political spectrum to have civil, intellectual debates about our country’s most pressing issues.

My Shitzu

If my puppy dog eyes weren't good enough... I'd like to say that this is a picture of my dog bored because The Beltway Perspective was on hiatus, but in reality, he was just tired.

Mea culpa.  Lets move past this bump in the road in our shared history together.  It’s time to rekindle those old feelings that brought us together in the first place.

 

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Holding Glenn Beck Accountable Week

Cass Sustein

Courtesy of therightperspective.org

Beck Calls Cass Sustein the Most Dangerous Man in America

Here’s the second part of yesterday’s post covering Monday’s episode.  I’ve decided to go a bit unconventional today, so I’ve posted a video blog in place of my normal written post.  Let me know if you like this format and whether or not you’d like me to publish more vlogs in the future.

Please don’t forget to comment below, and use the has tag #WOB (Week of Beck) to discuss Holding Glenn Beck Accountable Week on Twitter.

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Bread Bowls, Suspenders and Sarah Palin

How an Elderly Man in 50s Garb Taught me a Valuable Lesson

I had a deeply profound, introspective moment last week, and it occurred in the most unlikely place: Panera Bread.  There I was, picking apart the last little bit of my sourdough bread

Suspenders

Courtesy of Stephen Trendy's Fashion Diary

bowl, when an elderly man wearing suspenders asked me a single, simple question that sparked a torrent of thoughts that tortured my psyche for the better part of a week.

“Are you going to see Sarah Palin speak tomorrow?”

Anticlimactic, right? Well, not really.  Immediately, I became enraged that this man could confuse me with someone who’d actually join the droves of people flooding D.C. for Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally.  Though fuming on the inside, I remained calm and unfettered on the surface as I responded “no, not this time.”

The man seemed disappointed, likely realizing that my family had no intention of joining him at his table to discuss the moral decay of America.

Sarah Palin Speaking at Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" Rally

Courtesy of CBS News

“Oh, I saw her Alaska shirt (the man said, referring to a shirt that my mother bought while on a cruise to Alaska), and thought you folks might have come down to see her speak.”

Unbelievable! This man actually thinks we’d travel more than 4000 miles to see that imbecile complain about more things that she has no idea how to fix?

“No, no, we’re from around here,” my mom said, in a cordial, albeit awkward tone.

As we left the restaurant, my mind was still racing.  “Who does that?” I thought to myself, still unable to get a handle of my emotions.  Then it hit me.  I embodied the quality that I hate most about Tea Partiers.

It was one of those self-realization, venture down the rabbit hole moments that was probably a long time coming.  I have grown to so stigmatize the extreme right, that the mere suggestion that I might be associated with them enraged me.  To be honest, I’m embarrassed and ashamed.

How can I sit here, advocating that our country strive for better cohesion and temperament in our national dialogue, when I can’t even embrace that notion over a cup of soup with an old man?  I had become just as polarized as the extremists I denounce.

Elephant vs. Donkey

Courtesy of Ten Minutes a Week

When was humanity lost in political discourse?  For too long, we’ve forgotten that our political enemies are still people.  They have families.  They own dogs.  I’ll even go out on a limb and suggest that they root for the same sports teams we do.  But the second that someone brings up the national debt or the immigration issue, we forget that we’re dealing with people.  People who deserve the right to have an opinion.

Please know that this does not mean that I will not comment critically on extremism in the conservative movement in future posts.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love a fervent, heated debate, but only as long as it ends with the victor buying the less-apt debater a beer after all is said and done.

**Note to my readers:  I know that the blog has been on a bit of a hiatus for about three months now, but I intend to start writing weekly from this point on.  I appreciate the patience you’ve exhibited, and look forward to restarting our dialogue.

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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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Facebook Friend the GOP (Expect Request Confirmation in 6-8 Weeks)

Republicans dip their toes into social media, and still manage to drown

I’ve learned my first lesson as a blogger: a two-week hiatus is too long.  I’ve finally surfaced, having been bogged down by projects, PR campaigns and committee work.  Now, I’m playing catch up, reviewing the stories and controversies that came and went without my commentary.  I’ll have to let most of them slide, but there is one story that surfaced about two weeks ago that I’ve been chomping at the bit to tackle.

GOP 2.0 (still loading…)

Earlier this month, the GOP launched its redesigned Web site.  After seeing the role social media played in the Democrats success this past election, Republicans realized their campaign/communication strategies weren’t only outdated…they were artifacts.  With a focus on incorporating social media into their design, the Republicans took to the drawing board.

The GOP's redesigned Web page

So how did the launch go?  Just ask the Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor and the Washington Post.  To use a term popularized by my social media brethren, the Web site was an “epic fail.”  Below is a list of the more egregious slip-ups:

  • The “Future Leaders” page was initially left blank.  In an effort to remedy the error, the site designers replaced the void with the word “You.”
  • Jackie Robinson is listed as a prominent Republican.  Too bad Robinson described himself as an Independent in his autobiography after he left the Republican Party when it failed to incorporate civil rights issues in its social agenda.

    Jackie Robinson

  • Chairman Michael Steele’s Gmail account login and password were accidentally posted on the New York State section of the site.  Administrative passwords and instructions for GOP.com were also posted on the page.
  • An achievement from 2004 is the most recent triumph the GOP lists on its achievements page (Bush was reelected in 2004 – this might have been intentional).
  • A Hispanic woman asked why the GOP did not offer a Spanish-translated page in the conference call section.  The respondent suggested she visit the White House Web site, informing her that they have translations there.
  • Michael Steele’s personal blog was initially called “What Up?”  Steele’s first post started with “The internet has been around for a while, now.”  Way to arrive late to the gravy train.  The blog has since been renamed to “Change the Game.”

 

Michael Steele on Meet the Press

Just how deep is that hole, Michael?

Excusing Steele’s apparent racial identity issues, the Web site’s problems transcend technical glitches.  The GOP has been two steps behind for a while now, and trying to catch up isn’t easy. The page actually crashed the day of its launch because of the influx of traffic from people visiting to make fun of the site.

I applaud the GOP for making the effort to become web-savvy, but find myself troubled that they were ever so far out of touch.  Steele’s acknowledgment that “the internet has been around for a while now” speaks volumes.  The party has been beleaguered by criticisms of being too set in its ways.  It has been accused of being the party of old white men.  While these claims are unfair, and for the most part untrue, more has to be done to break the stereotypes than giving us a malfunctioning Web site.  Championing Michael Steele, Bobby Jindal and Sarah Palin in an effort to diversify doesn’t help much either.

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Filed under National Politics