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This Week In Politics

August 2nd, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

It’s been as slow of a news week as it has a slow week in my personal life. But I feel obliged to write something, so I’ll briefly comment on the three big issues of the week: the Gates/Crowley controversy, the “birther” movement, and the latest in the fight for healthcare reform.

So much has been said about the controversy surrounding the incident in which Cambridge police officer James Crowley arrested Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates that I hardly have anything to add. I think the president got it right when he said the police acted stupidly in arresting the man once there was already proof he was in his own home, and while I was a bit disappointed to see him walk back those comments somewhat I think it was a genuinely good idea for him to invite both parties to the White House to talk about it over a cold beer. Rather than going on the defensive against all the partisan media backlash, or remaining on the offensive by doubling down on his words, Obama proved once again that he’s just about the polar opposite of his predecessor in terms of his demeanor and how he approaches controversy.

Of course, the whole “beer summit” ended up looking like a cheap photo opportunity in which nothing at all was accomplished, but I still think it was a good idea in principle. It prevented the mainstream media from continuing to talk about this according to the same old black-and-white, cops-versus-minorities framework that they’d immediately pounced upon after the incident. Obama forced them to recognize that these were individuals rather than caricatures and that contrary to what one might think if his or her entire worldview was shaped by the media, sometimes people can behave like grownups and sit down together to discuss their disagreements, rather than launch of a full-blown war against one another, which is clearly what the media had been hoping for.

That said, I think officer Crowley is a pig-headed moron who grossly abused his power in arresting Gates. He may be a perfectly pleasant guy in real life—I don’t know him—but the impression I get from his public persona is that he is that caricature of the asshole cop who’ll impose his authority on you just because you refuse to kiss his ass. Sure, maybe Professor Gates didn’t have to be disrespectful, but he had every right to be. There was a cop in his own house threatening to arrest him, and whether or not you want to label the officer a “racist” there’s almost no doubt in my mind that had it been a white professor no arrest would have been made. There were no legal grounds for the arrest in the first place—it’s not a crime to break into one’s own home, and it’s not a crime to shout at a police officer. Crowley ought to have left as soon as he discovered Gates was in his own home, but he insists he did everything by the book. Well, that’s a load of horseshit. And the fact that Crowley still won’t apologize tells me that he isn’t as reasonable a guy as the media is giving him credit for, and that he is in fact one of the tens of thousands of cops who give cops a bad name. He probably is a racist—and in spite of what anyone says this whole controversy is essentially about race.

Another controversy that is basically about race is the whole “birther” phenomenon, these right-wing lunatics who believe that Barack Obama was actually born outside the U.S. and therefore ineligible to be president. It’s obviously a load of bullshit, and these people keep demanding the release of documents that have already been released and publicly available for over a year. Of course, you can’t convince a conspiracy theorist of anything, as no evidence or proof to the contrary of what they believe will ever be accepted. They’re latching on to this issue because A) it’s simple enough for their pea-sized brains to understand, and B) they hate the idea of a black president so much that they’ll believe anything they have to if it means we don’t really have a black president.

These wingnuts, in and of themselves, would be pretty harmless, but they’re being enabled and encouraged by elected republicans who either refuse to admit that Obama was born in the U.S. or even go so far as to introduce legislation mandating all future presidential candidates require a birth certificate, which is an obvious wink and a nod to the birthers. Obviously they feel they need the support of these lunatics to win their backwater redneck hick districts when they go up for reelection, so rather than calmly explain to the voters that this is not an issue they should be concerned about, they stoke the fires. All of it contributes to a feeling among many right-wingers that their country is under assault and that perhaps the only way to fight back would be to kill the president. As time goes on and these people continue to be fed more and more lies about Obama by their media cheerleaders (Limbaugh, Beck, etc.) and these lies go without correction from elected leaders, the risk of an Obama assassination rises exponentially. And I am cynical enough to believe that this is exactly what republicans want. Potential damage to the country aside, how else could they have a chance of winning in 2012?

Putting the party’s interest ahead of the country’s seems to be a theme for republicans, and it’s most obvious in the debate surrounding healthcare. Republicans and their allies in the Blue Dog democratic caucus (i.e. republicans who call themselves “democrats” to make it easier to win primaries in their conservative districts) have scored a major victory in pushing back the process until after the August recess, as now the insurance companies have an entire extra month to campaign against reform, which they’ve chosen to do by simply lying about what’s in the bill.

Apparently what healthcare reform really amounts to, according to the health industry’s latest campaign, is to promote more abortions and kill old people. Yes, there’s federal funding for abortions included in the public healthcare option—as there should be because abortion is a healthcare expense. As for killing old people, it’s patently false. Senior citizens have an option (as in, they don’t have to) of getting counseling about forming a living will. This is a really fucking good idea, because having a living will is quite important when you’re approaching the end of your life and you don’t want your family fighting over when is the right time to pull the plug. Talking to seniors about these issues will not only help them out personally, but if enough of them do fill out living wills and have their “plugs pulled” (for lack of a more sensitive term) before they otherwise would have, that’s also a lot of money saved on healthcare for the rest of us.

But plenty of people—probably the same people who are demanding to see the birth certificate—are going to believe that old people will be visited by government agents encouraging them to commit suicide. And this is just the beginning—who knows what hilariously outlandish lies the insurance industry’s advertisers will come up with throughout August. By the time September rolls around at least one third of the country will be against the healthcare plan for whatever bullshit reasons were able to convince them, and it will be much harder if not impossible to get a bill with a strong public option passed. We’ll probably get a really weak bill passed that doesn’t actually accomplish anything, which would of course be in keeping with Obama’s “change we can believe in” style of watered-down legislative band-aids that sounds like accomplishments but really do nothing, like the way he’s handled the banks or the energy crisis.

If, on the other hand, Obama does pass a good healthcare reform bill with a strong public option, I’ll throw my support behind him once again. The country has been trying to get a public healthcare option since 1912, but the insurance giants and their friends in congress have always defeated it. If this president can get it passed, he will deserve some serious credit—it will be the first real victory of his presidency. And honestly, if any president in the last hundred years has shown the potential to really change things, it’s this one.

And that’s why this issue is so much bigger than healthcare. If the public option passes, it means real change can come from within the system, and that the will of the people can triumph over the financial giants when they’ve got the right leader in the White House. But if even Barack Obama, the “renegade” outsider who ran on a campaign of change and opposition to special interests, can’t get it done, then we might as well slap a “lame duck” sticker on his forehead right now and get back to planning the revolution, because that will mean real change can only happen from outside the system.

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