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Tilting at Windmills

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August 22, 2009

APPEALING TO PEOPLE'S PATRIOTISM?.... President Obama's weekly address was, not surprisingly, devoted to health care reform. And as we've come to expect, he spent a lot of time on defense.

The bulk of the address dealt with "debunking some of the more outrageous myths circulating on the internet, on cable TV, and repeated at some town halls." The president called for "an honest debate, not one dominated by willful misrepresentations and outright distortions, spread by the very folks who would benefit the most by keeping things exactly as they are."

While the public option was left out of last week's address, Obama defended it today, though he stopped well short of saying it has to be a feature of the final bill.

But I also noticed that the president seemed to appeal to his audience's sense of patriotism. "It has never been easy, moving this nation forward," Obama said. "There are always those who oppose it, and those who use fear to block change. But what has always distinguished America is that when all the arguments have been heard, and all the concerns have been voiced, and the time comes to do what must be done, we rise above our differences, grasp each others' hands, and march forward as one nation and one people, some of us Democrats, some of us Republicans, all of us Americans.

"This is our chance to march forward. I cannot promise you that the reforms we seek will be perfect or make a difference overnight. But I can promise you this: if we pass health insurance reform, we will look back many years from now and say, this was the moment we summoned what's best in each of us to make life better for all of us. This was the moment when we built a health care system worthy of the nation and the people we love. This was the moment we earned our place alongside the greatest generations. And that is what our generation of Americans is called to do right now."

That's some nice rhetoric. In fact, I think it's probably true. But I also think summoning "what's best in each of us" is a lot more difficult than the White House anticipated. Playing on people's fears and appealing to their worst instincts is awfully easy, and as it turns out, effective.

Steve Benen 1:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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For too long, the Democrats have let the dark side define the terms of debate. Patriotism, faith based activities, human rights, foundation principles of our country, the Constitution have all been defined the way the radical right would have them. Then they simplify the message and pound it into the public discourse, propagandizing each issue to suit their ends.

Progressives need to rally around these terms of debate, these rights and freedoms, and these true American ideals, and clarify the public debate to support the causes they would advance. President Obaba has finally started to do this. Health care is a basic human right. Forming a worker's union is a basic human right. Control of our bodies, minds, and privacy is a basic right and ennumerated as such in our Constitution.

We need to appeal to a higher calling than fear-based big government (Homeland Security Agency) and unfettered Capitalism. We need to stop treating the almightly corporation as a god, with capitalistic theory as the bible.

Posted by: Donion Foops on August 22, 2009 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

People don't want to do good, they want to get stuff for themselves, and more stuff than other people have.

Americans are pure and simple greedy. "Greed is good" may have started with "Wall Street" but it has stayed in the lexicon because it hit a deep bone of truth.

America is not a democracy, it's a "capitalocracy." Our system of rule is "Money talks. Everything else walks." We SNEER at the idea that there is such a thing as the "common good."

Posted by: Disgruntled on August 22, 2009 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

This country is well beyond appeals to its better nature. We have been fatally corrupted by empire and, as the poster above noted, greed.
Obama does not see the world in terms of enemies. Almost all Americans do.

Posted by: JMG on August 22, 2009 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

Anyone here watch Bill Moyers last night? He showed a film called "Critical Condition" by Roger Weisberg that featured three people with severe health problems but no insurance (due to high cost, job loss). Please watch this and send to others. It makes the case for health care for all.

Posted by: Hannah on August 22, 2009 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

How amusing. Liberals who won't tolerate the mention of God in our schools or public places are now appealing to me to be my brothers keeper. Hilarious.

Posted by: Lynne on August 22, 2009 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

Donion Foops -- very well said!

And you are right. It is time that liberals began demanding as loudly as conservatives are today: "I want my country back!"

For far too long we have allowed the right wing to define patriotism as allegiance to party, ideology, faith or tribe instead of appreciating that patriotism is fidelity to those core and universal values at the heart of our Republic: liberty, equality, fraternity, and the indiviudal dignity of each citizen -- and that even open dissent against a government can be an act of loyalty if citizens in good faith believe that government has departed from those founding ideals.

There can be no higher treason in a democratic republic than blind patriotism, and it is time that liberals reminded our conformist and authoritarian fellow citizens on the Right of that fact.

It is these liberal values that constitute what Walter Lippmann once called "the traditions of civility" at the very heart of the public philosophy that defines the Western liberal democracies, and without which democracy itself is incoherent and without meaning. President Obama, in his address today, is so obviously inviting Americans to reflect upon its roots in these same "traditions of civility." He is appealing to Americans, whatever their particular politics, to commit themselves to reasoned and respectful debate instead of the bullying distortions of his gun-totting opposition -- opponents who mean to win this contest whatever the cost, even if that cost is the substitution of brute force -- both physical and rhetorical -- for reasoned good faith persuasion.

"Only within a comunity which adheres to the public philosophy is there sure and sufficient ground for the freedom to think and to ask questions and to publish," said Lippmann. Freedom of speech is a central concern of Western society, he said, because confronting ideas with opposing ideas is the surest way to find truth.

"But the dispute must not be treated as a trial of strength," Lippmann quickly warns. "When the chaff of silliness, baseness and deception is so voluminous that it submerges the kernals of truth, then freedom of speech may produce such frivolity or such mischief that it cannot be preserved against the demand for the restoration of order and of decency. If there is a dividing line between liberty and license, it is where freedom of speech is no longer respected as a procedure of the truth and becomes the unrestricted right to exploit the ignorance, and to incite the passions, of the people. Then freedom is such a hullabalo of sophistry, propaganda, special pleading, lobbying and salesmanship that it is difficult ro remember why freedom of speech is worth the pain and trouble of defending it."

The President today was trying to remind us why democracy is worth the effort.

Posted by: Ted Frier on August 22, 2009 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

Exploiting the ignorant. Can you say Barack Obama.

Posted by: Lynne on August 22, 2009 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

In your list of core values, liberty equality,fraternity, and dignity, you forgot the most important value. Nobody gets cut from the little league team. As long as your rewriting the constitution maybe you can throw that in.

Posted by: Lynne on August 22, 2009 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

Sophistry, your name is Barak Obama.

(definition of sophistry: subtly deceptive reasoning or argumentation

Posted by: truthbetold on August 22, 2009 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Lynne --

The other day my brother sent me a video of a fundamentalist preacher who was trying to convince me that America is a Christian Nation. I wanted to ask my brother if he meant this video to be one of description or prescription. Certainly, as a matter of historic fact America was settled by Western Europeans, who were almost entirely Christian. And there is no doubt that Christianity, both Protestant, Catholic, liberal, conservative and fundamentalist, has had a profound and powerful influence on the character of our culture and democracy.

American values reflect Christian values, both consciously and unconsciously, there is no doubt about it. And that is a good thing. But the moment you try to make that influence explicit by identifying it with a particular religion -- the moment you start calling America a Christian Nation -- you immediately introduce the destructive element of sectarianism, a contest of my tribe against your tribe, of a modern pluralist democracy representing everyone into one that gives a privileged place to one group over others.

And that is why we are asking you to be your brother's keeper by supporting policies like health care for all -- just as Christ did. But it is also why we ask that you not insist on having our children in the public schools join you in your prayer.

Posted by: Ted Frier on August 22, 2009 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

"...be your brother's keeper by supporting policies like health care for all - just like Christ did."
Really? Did Christ collect taxes, organize Acorn,etc. Hmm, let me see.....NO, he did not.
You cannot be a Christian by taking other peoples' money and giving it to your friends. You have to use your own resources. So, if somebody's brother or aunt need help, that somebody should help them with his own money.

Posted by: truthbetold on August 22, 2009 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple. It's time we did the same with the corporatists and capitalists. Our individual right of free speech does not extend to corporations where such speech interferes with the political process. We should immediately throw the corporations and their lobbyists out of our government. We should ban corporate donations to political parties and politicians. We must return the government to the people.

Posted by: Donion Foops on August 22, 2009 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

It's interesting how he returned to his 'Now is the time' rhetoric.

It's good to see the heat being turned up finally.

Increasingly I'm coming to see one of the chief benefits (beyond the obvious ones) is that we're going to shove this down the throats of the Republicans -- and they won't be able to do a thing.

It's going to be like Social Security all over again. Praise the Lord!

Posted by: leo on August 22, 2009 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

Most of the ignorant citizens listen to, and believe, the rant wing of the corporatist Republican party, and their propagandists on the public airwaves.

I listen to them, and find them mostly amusing, although somewhat frightening. After inciting the killing of doctors who provide legal abortions services, I envision them inciting the angry, gun toting mob to more acts of violence and terror. Their motto seems to be "if you can't convince them, kill them".

Posted by: Donion Foops on August 22, 2009 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

I recall the scriptures portraying Jesus as a pretty good socialist.

When He returns, I can't see Him buddying up to the greedy, the hateful, the bearers of false witness, those who pile up treasures on earth while refusing to help their neighbors in need.

Posted by: Donion Foops on August 22, 2009 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

It's funny how liberals love Christianity when they can spin it as supportive of their favorite policies. In any other context it's a dangerous threat to the foundations of democracy.

Posted by: Brad on August 22, 2009 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

Also, it's funny to see liberals cloaking themselves in the flag. I thought they were against that.

Posted by: Brad on August 22, 2009 at 4:19 PM | PERMALINK

It's funny how the rant wingnuts used to say "America, love it or leave it".

And it's funny how the "right to life" ends at birth. When you start talking about health issues, the right to life only applies to those who can afford it. Poor? Too bad. No room at the inn. No room inside the big tent. Please go away and die where we can't see you suffer.

Posted by: Donion Foops on August 22, 2009 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

Christ was not a "pretty good socialist". He preached a gospel of personal salvation. That means that he called individuals to stop being greedy, hateful, bearers of false witness etc. etc.
He was crucified because he was NOT a socialist organizer. And guess who crucified him: the Pharissees. The Pharissees were religious leaders interested in temporal power and glory. They distorted the law to fit their purposes. Do you really think that when He returns He will buddy up to those who distort and make a mockery of his message so that they can gain power over their fellow citizens?
However, I do strongly agree with you in regards to the donations to both parties and our Pharisees ...er I mean representatives and senators. I mean ALL elected officials and ALL special interests.

Posted by: truthbetold on August 22, 2009 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

Christ was not a "pretty good socialist".

The earliest Christians, however, the ones who knew Christ, were Communists. They were required to sell their goods and give the money to the community where it was kept in common and disbursed to each according to his need.

This is usually conveniently overlooked by fundamentalist and evangelical Christians when discussing economic theory. When you bring it up they usually wave it away with any number of excuses. It's pretty clear that in their world it's capitalism first, Bible second. Funny.

Posted by: trex on August 22, 2009 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

Mr. Obama was too kind when he used the word 'myths' for the what is propagated by the extreme right about health care reform. 'Lies' would have been a better choice of words. Liars should be called liars. Early and often.

Posted by: anonymous on August 22, 2009 at 5:13 PM | PERMALINK

FDR made eloquent speeches too.

Private ins. profiteers have taken over our health care and only we the people who make up the gov collectively can take it back from them.

I don't want the corporate take over of our health care to continue or to have some corporate profiteer standing between me and my Doctor or to refuse to pay for counseling on decisions I may want to take at the end of my life or if I become incapable of making decisions at that time.

I don't want some corporate ins. profiteer forcing me to pull the plug on Grandma because they refuse to cover her anymore or making me go bankrupt paying for my child's chemo because of a pre-existing condition after I've been paying my premiums for 13yrs.

I want my gov to stand up and protect me from these billionaires who think they can do what ever they want to increase profits even at the expense of me and my family's health. Only my government, with representatives I've voted into office, is big enough to deal with these massive profiteering corporate HC ins. giants.

Just like the president I voted for is going to stand up and tell Baucus "You and your committee have wasted enough time on this important issue and the nation cannot afford to tolerate your willful delaying any longer. We are going ahead with the bills already presented without your committees input. You're fired!" We've got your back Mr. President (but don't ever let Rham Emmanuel get behind it. He only cares about party and power and not about policy or the people. He would just as soon turn a dem into a repub. and still call it a dem, if it meant winning an election).

Posted by: bjobotts on August 22, 2009 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

God the trolls are out and ignorance dominates stupid.
Moral values are in 'every' religion. Calling them Christian is just isolation. Your "God" only has another name than his "God" and I certainly don't believe one needs to be pushed over another. Morality is of the people and which we've come to accept in order to be a democracy.

Notice the ones who attempt to demonize Obama.

And this is not a religious site where quoting a book edited more times than the Sears catalog is on topic but what ever happened to w"whatever ye have done to the least of my bretherens you have done to me"....or spreading food and fishes and getting people to treat each others as they would like to be treated...sounds like the foundations for socialism to me. Next we'll hear people denying that Jesus was a liberal as the cherry picking rambles on. Love talks and just like truth one can get a sense of it and intuitively notices when it's lacking. And then there are those who are just batshit crazy, selfish, cynical and willfully ignorant.

Brad "forcing" Christianity and not Christianity is what is intolerable, demonizing liberals as unpatriotic when they disagree with "policy" that is destructive to America is the same old divisive technique righties have used for decades giving rise to the saying that "when fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross".

And Lynne...you're following the Rove playbook accusing others of what you are. Exploiting the ignorant like "death panels, gov take over of HC, get your gov hands off my Medicare, tea baggers who say nothing of trillions in wasted tax dollars for Iraq but turn blue at the idea of spending a tenth of that on HC" That kind of exploiting the ignorant. Weekends bring the trolls out...must be because they aren't allowed to touch the computers during the week when the grown ups are around.

Posted by: udont either on August 22, 2009 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

Early Christians shared and modern day Christians share. Have you heard of tithing?
Have you heard of separation of Church and State?

the president can fire an elected representative? Well, I guess the hell with the Constitution of the USA. It is going to be Obama's way or ...else. It used to be when liberals loved freedom....

I am done this blog.

Posted by: truthbetold on August 22, 2009 at 6:33 PM | PERMALINK

Early Christians shared and modern day Christians share.

No, you're glossing over the issue as typically happens: early Christians lived communally and owned all property in common. That is very different from "sharing," where I own something personally but allow someone else to use it.

Clearly the earliest followers of Christ believed that communism was the best way to live and follow the teachings of Christ. Don't blame me, take it up with them.

Have you heard of separation of Church and State?

Well, I've heard of separation of Church and State but ironically the Christian community didn't after the reign of Constantine, when they came to believe that the Church should BE and RUN the state.

Thank, er...the gods that the Western world experienced first a splintering of Christians in the Reformation and then a secular Enlightenment that paved the way for the creation of states not ruled by churches or churchmen. We all owe our very right to post our opinions on this blog to that latter "ungodly" development.

Posted by: trex on August 22, 2009 at 6:58 PM | PERMALINK

"...And guess who crucified him? The Pharissees...They distorted the law to fit their purposes."
truthbetold @ 4:48 PM.
The Romans crucified Jesus, the Pharisees (or even the Sadducees) would have stoned him to death, but he hadn't committed any crimes under Jewish law, so he was turned over to the Romans, who condemned him as a rebel against Rome; hence crucifixion as the method of execution.
The charge against the Pharisees was that they observed only the outward forms of Judaism and didn't act upon the core beliefs of the religion they professed.
Not unlike today's GOP.
"I am done this blog (sic)" truthbetold @ 6:33 PM.
Promises, always promises. Oh, and have you actually ever READ any Bunyan? Or did you just think the name amusing?

Posted by: Doug on August 22, 2009 at 7:05 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I've heard of separation of Church and State but ironically the Christian community didn't after the reign of Constantine, when they came to believe that the Church should BE and RUN the state.

Maybe so, but our founding fathers thought otherwise...

BTW, I know a good Christian United Methodist preacher who says, "Jesus IS a liberal!"

Posted by: pol on August 22, 2009 at 7:12 PM | PERMALINK

Another crap lecture of convenience from Obama. He says "this is our chance to be as good as 'the greatest generations'" by passing health care reform. I'm a son of that generation, and they weren't so great, but forgive them that, if they were still alive they'd be calling me to tell me that Obama is the biggest fraud since Hoover.

Posted by: NealB on August 23, 2009 at 3:36 AM | PERMALINK

Besides, who is he calling an American? Most sentient people see themselves first as potential victims of an out-of-control kleptocracy that's seized the country where they happened to grow up. We've never had this combination of paralysis and authoritarian oppression. Anyone still clinging to nationalistic loyalties is going to get screwed but good.

Posted by: cosmo on August 23, 2009 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

All you rollers waving your sock-puppet christ, shouldn't you be at wurship feigning fits or speaking in tongues or something? The grownups want to talk now.

Posted by: reason on August 23, 2009 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK
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