Tag Archives: protests

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