August 9, 2011
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You wonder if President Obama sometimes finds himself singing a variant on Kermit the Frog’s anthem about the burdens of being green: It’s not easy being Barack Obama.
While listening to an NPR report out of Moore, Okla., this week, I was genuinely shocked. Not by the scale of the devastation or the tenacity of people who have grown stoically accustomed to the damage tornados can do, but by a political sentiment that, in almost any other era, would not have been surprising at all.
We know American politics are dysfunctional. But after a week of scandal obsession during which the nation’s capital and the media virtually ignored the problems most voters care about — jobs, incomes, growth, opportunity, education — it’s worth asking if there is something especially flawed about our democracy.
Does our presidential campaign lack a moral core?
Still, what’s most astounding is that a Republican contest characterized all year by melodrama and comedy now seems headed toward the most conventional and predictable conclusion possible. It’s hard to believe things will really end this way. The biggest upset would be no upset at all.
At a moment when the nation wonders whether politicians can agree on anything, here is something that unites the Republican presidential candidates — and all of them with President Obama: Everyone agrees that the 2012 election will be a turning point involving one of the most momentous choices in American history.
Two politicians from different countries and with very different political pedigrees made news this week. Both spoke difficult truths and reminded us that we shouldn’t use the word “politician” with routine contempt.
If the administration is pressured into refusing any accommodation on the contraception rules, the people who will be undercut most are progressive Catholics who went out on a limb to support the health care law and those bishops holding the line against the Catholic right by standing up for the church’s commitment to social justice. This will only strengthen the most conservative forces inside the Catholic Church. That can’t be what advocates of reproductive rights really want.
Everyone on the left side of American politics, from the near end to the far end, has advice for Occupy Wall Street.
That useful warning aside, Tuesday’s results underscored the power of unions and populist politics, the danger to conservatives of social-issue extremism and the fact that 2010 was no mandate for right-wing policies. They also mean that if Republicans don’t back away from an agenda that makes middle-class, middle-of-the-road Americans deeply uncomfortable — and in some cases angry — they will lose the rather more important fight of 2012.
Will we soon see a distinguished-looking older man in long white robes walking among the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators in New York’s Zuccotti Park? Is Pope Benedict XVI joining the protest movement?
In their time, the abolitionists were radicals, too. Lincoln, a shrewd politician, understood that public opinion in the North did not fully embrace their cause but was moving in their direction. Lincoln remained at heart a moderate, but he abandoned moderation on slavery when this proved to be morally and politically unsuited to the imperatives of his moment. By following Lincoln’s example and acting against the injustices of our time, Obama could also come to occupy the high ground.
So let’s see: The solution to large-scale abuses of the financial system, a breakdown of the private sector, extreme economic inequality and the failure of companies and individuals to invest and create jobs is — well, to give even more money and power to very wealthy people, to disable government and to trust those who got us into the mess to get us out of it.
American politics reached a pivot point this week. A new story line will now define how voters and the media see what’s going on.
Yet if conservatives see New York 9 as further evidence that Obama is a pushover, Rick Perry — if he doesn’t self-destruct — will be able to tell them he is the guy who can destroy the Great Society, the New Deal and the Progressive Era with one decisive blow. And no establishment will be there to stop him.
Call it the Party-of-Government Paradox: If the nation's capital looks dysfunctional, it will come back to hurt President Obama and the Democrats, even if the Republicans are primarily responsible for the dysfunction.
The question comes to mind in the wake of the Libyan rebels' successes against Moammar Gaddafi. It's remarkable how reluctant Obama's opponents are to acknowledge that despite all the predictions that his policy of limited engagement could never work, it actually did.
The first week of August 2011 will be remembered as a singularly irrational, wasteful and shameful moment in the political and economic history of the United States. It reflected much of what is wrong with the priorities of our political elites and the obsessions of those who now hold effective veto power over our government.- E.J. Dionne, syndicated columnist
The unseemly love affair of some American politicians with the death penalty is bad for justice and bad for our country's standing in the world. It inflicts a wholly unnecessary moral stain on a nation that rightly preaches the rule of law to everyone else.- E.J. Dionne, syndicated columnist