Tuesday, November 17, 2009

November 17, 2009--Bad Politics

Yesterday morning on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," the the often intemperate Joe Scarborough was engaged in a civil conversation with Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek who was there to hump this week's issue which features a picture of Sarah Palin on the cover in short-shorts.

To their credit, they held off discussing the author of Going Rogue until they had a rather good go-round about Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to try Kalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others accused of masterminding the 9/11 attacks in federal court as opposed to hauling them before a military tribunal.

Not much of a surprise, Scarborough made the case for using tribunals while Meacham, a Pulitzer Prize winning presidential historian in addition to his Newsweek day job, spoke with his usual eloquence about the importance of showing the world that America was still America, especially after four years of George Bush, and that to try them in open court with all their rights protected was both in our global interest as well as the constitutional thing to do.

But, Joe said, isn't it bad politics for the Obama administration, which is already suffering from the perception that they are dithering about what to do in Afghanistan while appearing to be weak by not exerting sufficient political muscle to get their agenda through the Democratic Congress?

Meacham shrugged his shoulders and said, "Duh," meaning of course the decision to try them that way is bad politics. Unspoken was his feeling that at such big moments it's more important to make tough if unpopular decisions than pander to the lowest public common denominator.

This reminded me that during the presidential campaign, while promising to bring about fundamental change, candidate Obama made the point that he would rather be a one-term president than compromise his principles.

It is my feeling and advice to him that he rack up the video tape of that speech and one of these nights replay it for himself. And soon.

Because many from his base (progressives such as I) as well as the independents who more than we elected him, are getting restive. We are not seeing him taking on the banks who are about to give themselves unheard-of end-of-year bonuses (funded with our money), fighting openly for whatever it is that he wants to see included in healthcare reform, insisting that states that got stimulus money actually get them out so that shovel-ready jobs can be created, and of course we are hearing that he is looking for a political compromise within his own administration for a new policy in Afghanistan--as if deciding how many young troops to send to the inferno called Afghanistan is equivalent to cutting a deal with Congress over a piece of legislation.

Ironically, the best way to assure that he will in fact turn out to be a one-term president is to continue down the road that every day appears to reveal him to be just like all the other politicians he criticized--pragmatic and political to the point of not standing for anything or willing to take any risks for fear of alienating members of his constituency. He appear to fail thus far to understand that we are living in a time of great frustration and much rage that sees all who are a part of any government to be equally guilty until proven innocent.

Obama would do well to heed this rising tide of alienation, including taking note of even Sarah Palin's popularity. The issue in this regard is not how viable she might be as a presidential candidate but what she represents--disaffiliation and anger born of despair.

Someone at one of the recent tea-bagger rallies howled, "I want my America back!" It wasn't articulate or pretty, but it did sum up much of the mood that has taken hold of an increasing number of us--right, left, center, affluent, poor, educated, illiterate, fundamentalist, atheist. It may be the one thing that unites us. This national sense that things are not right, that our best days are slipping away.

So, Mr. President, get ahead of this wave or you will be swept away by it. By Palin or whomever. In this context bad politics may just be good politics. And your bad politics is actually good for the country. Just what we need to begin to restore us.


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