Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Sad Confession

Please dear reader, whisper it quietly. I know it represents a total failure of integration with my new country, a reprehensible failure not only to embrace your culture but also a serious malfunction of my male heterosexual drives.. but .. and ashamed as I am to admit this.. by far the most interesting thing in this picture for me is Al Franken. Understand that he does not provoke any erotic desires in me. Actually I doubt he does that for most people.. other than Mrs Franken. However he stimulates intellectual curiosity, interest and respect. This is a man who was a comedian and is now a US Senator. The other two are people who wave pom poms. Now this isn't to demean their professionalism, hours of training and commitment, but I just don't understand the mystical hold cheerleaders have over the population of America.

Some of this is no doubt due to my inability to grasp or relate to the game of Football, which is already scheduled to be another blog post, however I don't think this is the whole of the problem. I don't respond well to being told what to think or do. I want to cheer because I want to, not because some a group of semi-clad females are bouncing up and down urging me to. I need my reaction to an event to be genuine and not engineered. Equally I don't like being told who to desire. I never really felt the nurse fixation but I could at least understand it. Nurses get to have a high level of fairly intimate access to one's body, along with traditionally displaying a level of concern for your health and welfare normally only manifested by by a partner or family member, plus of course they wear a uniform. Cheerleaders though are completely distant.. they come nowhere near touching you in the performance of their role. Indeed they are probably almost completely unaware of the audience as they go about their pre-planned routine. Perhaps that is the allure, the unobtainability - the mystique of the unknown.

Now I know that Americans regard them as an essential part of the sporting event and that's fine. Just to me they feel ... unnecessary. It seems they are a distraction from the real event. Just there to grab the attention and engineer reactions whilst the real action takes place elsewhere. In that regard they feel increasingly like the US President.

Whether one is pro or anti President Obama one fact is undeniable, he was elected by the American people with a clear mandate for change. I cannot help feeling that very little of that change has happened. Is that really the case though? I turned to the Pulitzer Prize winning website who keep a running total of promises made and policies implemented. According to them, at this point, very roughly about a third of the way into his Presidency he has kept 23% of his promises, is in the process of implementing 50% and has compromised on 7%. An additional 16% of promises started the process of implementation but have subsequently stalled. Only 4% of election promises have been actually broken which seems actually like a fairly respectable record.Why then does he feel so unsatisfactory?

His Presidency seemed to be derailed at a very early stage. Though Al Franken delivered to him the supposedly unassailable Supermajority figure, it never felt like he could simply impose his will on Congress. It started early, with a massive battle over the Economic Stimulus Package, ironically simply a continuation of the policy put in place by the previous Republican President. Yet at the time political pundits warned that he was drawing heavily on his political capital, a limited resource, to ensure its successful passage. Very shortly afterwards he began the even greater struggle to pass Health Care reform whilst being partially distracted by a banking crisis which he had inherited. Bailing out the banks and the car industry was not a popular choice but was one he probably had little option but to make. Even a Supreme Court nomination who on experience alone should have been a shoe-in proved highly contentious. Yet inspite of all these difficulties, Health Care reform legislation was finally passed, a feat which had defeated previous Presidents for more than 40 years.

Other than Senator Lindsey Graham, who during the Sotomayor confirmation hearings said that he believed that elections should have consequences, and consequently voted for her, the Republican party has shown little recognition of the fact that they lost the election and certainly no humility. A key Republican strategist warned early on that they stood more to gain from working against Obama rather than with him, especially with the state of the economy. This is the strategy which the party have adopted. Opposing at every single opportunity, whilst making outward overtures towards bi-partisanship, even to the point of actively voting against previous Republican policies. A previously long-established policy of always publicly supporting the President of the United States on matters of international policy was over-turned with widespread Republican criticism of his stance towards the protests in Iran. When the Vice-President claimed in January that now every single Senate vote was requiring the full 60 Senators to break filibusters, he was undoubtedly exaggerating but on key policy votes it has been required a significant number of times. In March Republican Senator Bunning held up the extension of unemployment benefits for a number of days in a protest over the deficit and a number of administration nominees have been repeatedly blocked in the Senate by provision which allows a single Senator to prevent approval, thus giving the administration difficulty in filling important government vacancies.

President Obama has been very careful to avoid labeling his opponents as racist. He is after all the 44th President of the United States rather than just the first black one. I certainly don't think everyone who opposes him is either racist or wrong. However I do think there are a minority who are fundamentally opposed to him solely because of his color.For these people, the oft repeated "I want my America back" is code for "Get that nigger out of here!". The clue is in the severity of the political rhetoric. With Obama it goes way beyond simple dislike of a political opponent. There is an absolute revulsion of him and a vilification which reaches far beyond the merely irrational. The statement "Obama believes we should rape and eat babies" would almost seem moderate and plausible when placed beside some of the claims being made against him. A common claim is that there is evidence which proves him to be the Anti-Christ. This is made on a variety of websites sites such as and examined in depth at He is accused frequently of hating the military, ordinary Americans and of being a communist/socialist sympathiser or a supporter of terrorism. He is depicted as being more than wrong politically, he is evil - demonic. Often mainstream Republicans have done little to quell the more extreme outpourings of their fringes and in some cases have helped feed it. The New York Post featured a cartoon implying that the stimulus bill had been written by a dead chimp, whilst hastily denying that the chimp was intended to represent the first black President or that the cartoon implied there should be violence against him in any way. A staffer of Senator Diane Black circulated a racist cartoon showing the portrait of the first 43 presidents with only a gap and a pair of eyes where Obama should be. Recently the Texas Education Board in the debate over their curriculum revisions changed their proposals to require him to be called "President Barack Hussein Obama", emphasizing his middle name, a common tactic amongst some of his more extreme critics who take this as proof he is a Muslim.

Ironically the racist cartoon of just eyes does have some small grounding in reality, Obama has been something of a low key President which may explain some of his lack of appeal to many Americans. The federal administration is a massive machine, it rolls on silently in the background. Whilst some of its output ends up on the desk of the President, by no means all does and much takes place without his direct input. Though the Health Care reform legislation is credited to him, he merely set out some general principles he wished to see it include, some of which were ignored. The actual text of the Act came wholly from Congress. Obama is in many ways the consummate bureaucrat, skills gained from his time as a lawyer, but this runs counter to the role of the President in American politics. It is not how a President performs but how he is seen to perform. When it came to deciding whether to increase troop numbers in Afghanistan Obama took a month to read reports from all the experts in the field so he could make a considered decision. He was widely painted as ineffectual and indecisive. In American politics it is better to make the wrong decision than to be slow making the right one.

He faces similar criticisms over his handling of the oil spill to those President George W Bush faced over Hurricane Katrina. Americans generally do not like the idea that the planet is not tamed and can react in ways that are neither predictable or easily controllable. There must always be a solution and it must be capable of instant application, anything else is a failure of leadership. In such situations a President must be guided by expert opinion and in this case many of the greatest experts in the field work for BP so he has little choice but to trust them and let them do their best to resolve the situation. This is however ideal for his opponents, not only do they have a weak President to berate but a foreign corporation behind it which to attack. There is nothing American politicians relish more than laying into a company from another country, depicting it as a threat to all that America holds dear and inferior in every way to American business. Coming so quickly on the heels of the Toyota debacle this is a godsend for them.

The role of an American President is to look good whereas that of the Vice President is to make the President look good. I half suspect there is an office within the White House responsible for scripting Vice-Presidential gaffes. "Be sure and spell tomato with an E today". The Vice-President is meant to make you glad that the current President and not he is in charge. The President is a leader but he is more crucially a cheerleader. No matter how bad things are you are meant to feel boosted. When Obama painted a dark picture of the economy in his inaugural address he should probably have jiggled his chest more. When it came to the oil spill he should have got in a wet suit and a boat and been photographed there on the coast. Nothing would have changed, but he would have probably been looked on more kindly. Here it is important to give the impression of action and being in control even when you are not. There is no situation so bad that pom poms cannot redeem it.

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