Thursday, November 08, 2012

An Even More Historic Victory

Barack Obama's election in 2008 was an obviously enormous event -- the first election of a person of color as president in the nation's history.  His message of Hope and Change after the 8-year nightmare of the worst president in U.S. history, Junior Bush -- whose damage to the country was starkly but only partly evident at the very end in the near-collapse of the financial system -- resonated with an exhausted public.  With an over-the-hill and over-his-head opponent in John McCain -- shown to be even worse by his irresponsible selection of the ridiculous Sarah Palin as his VP and his knee-jerk reaction to the financial crisis -- the stars aligned, destiny called and Obama answered.

But, as historic as 2008 was, Obama's stunning landslide reelection on Tuesday was even more so.  Never before has a sitting president -- or any candidate -- been subject to the kind of personal and political abuse channeled through more radical-right media outlets for four whole years.  No candidate has been bombarded with literally unlimited spending by selfish billionaires and dirty industries, all intended to fool people into voting against their interests.  Never has the mainstream media been more complicit in validating, excusing and distributing Republican lies. Not since Jim Crow laws in the South has there been such a systematic attack on the voting rights of American citizens by highly-organized Republican legislatures, designed only to suppress the votes of traditionally Democratic constituencies.

Bill Clinton managed to survive the first draft of the new-age Politics of Personal Destruction, supported every hour of every day by right-wing talk radio, then in its relative infancy.  The journalistic fraud known as Fox News did not exist until after Clinton's reelection in 1996, just in time for Newt Gingrich's House to make a historical fool of themselves with the partisan impeachment fiasco.  The new right-wing media found its footing playing defense during the dark Junior Bush years, with the added dynamic of pretend "independent" expenditures rearing their ugly heads, with phony front "groups" like the Swiftboaters carrying the Bush campaign's dirty water to save his ass from losing to American hero John Kerry in 2004.

But the radical right wing really had it all together and smooth, setting themselves up to (they thought) trounce Obama out on his offensively-drawn (by racist nut-right cartoonist Michael Ramirez -- a regular in the post-Doonesbury Journal Sentinel -- and others) big ears in 2012.  There was no doubt about this one.  Obama's supposed European socialist "regime" would be rejected in a landslide, and the entire structure of Fox News and talk radio was designed to affect just that result, with a script drafted by Karl Rove and the Republican National Committee.  Especially after the Fox-hyped FreedomWorks-funded astroturf tea party took credit for swinging the House Republican in 2010, the biggest anti-Democrat machine in history was ready to roll right over Barack Obama.

Consider the elements of the unprecedented Republican advantage:

Fox News: Never before has an entire television network -- laughingly declaring itself a "news" network in the first place, and "fair and balanced" to boot -- been committed to the defeat of one man and the promotion of one political party. For five years (the smearing of Obama began the day he announced his candidacy in 2007), the president was mocked, dehumanized, marginalized and criticized -- on both opinion and "news" programs (believe it or not, Fox insists there's a difference).  The pro-GOP/anti-Obama campaign really picked up steam after the hapless Mitt Romney made it through the hilarious Republican primary process. Fox propped up Romney and nitpicked Obama every day in every way.  For all the rich pigs who tried to buy this election through supposedly "independent" SuperPACs, the swinish billionaire who had the biggest role trying to destroy Barack Obama was a foreigner: Australian Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News.

Talk Radio: The nation's free airwaves were filled for five years with all sorts of lies and smears of Obama, from the loudest national voices to the tinniest local pipsqueaks.  In Milwaukee, former respectable corporate citizen Journal Communications Inc. turned over most of its non-sports daytime programming on WTMJ to heavily subsidized Republican mouthpieces like Charlie Sykes and Jeff Wagner, who gladly read GOP talking-points day after day after day.  (The company also runs nut-right local radio talkers in at least seven other "markets" across the country). Across town, mega-station behemoth Clear Channel runs out no less than three local right-wing talkers everyday on WISN, including veteran sexist and racist Mark Belling, to promote anti-Obama GOP tripe.  The balance of their day is devoted to three national Republican spokesmen, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levine.  There has never been anything like the kind of poison spewed into the political environment by the 24/7 talk radio industry.

SuperPACs: Fox News and talk radio are essentially free messaging for the GOP.  But, after the Citizens United decision by the right-wing of the US Supreme Court, the rich and their polluting corporations were also free to buy the commercials between the free programming.  Over the past four years, the anonymous rich spent billions trying to defeat the president through all sorts of ads lying about the president's record and intentions. Again, no presidential candidate has ever had to endure this kind of onslaught, even if the Dems were able to at least get close to parity on the airwaves in the weeks leading up to the election.

Voter Suppression: Republican legislatures and governors in various states have been on a tear the last two years, enacting Photo ID and other voter suppression laws that have been designed only to prevent vast  numbers of poor and minority voters from being able to cast a ballot.  Some of the laws, such as in Wisconsin, are held up for now by courts that have bravely upheld the Constitution's right to vote, unencumbered by unnecessary red tape.  But others are in place and are having just the effect for which they were intended -- although brave souls stood in long early-voting lines and went to court in Florida to stand up for their rights over the brutally anti-democratic machinations of Gov. Rick Scott.

Local Newspapers: The creeping demise of the local newspaper industry continues to facilitate the deterioration of the national discourse.  Some papers have ceased physical publication altogether, while most that continue to publish dead-tree editions are shadows of their former selves.  Locally, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel brags about Pulitzers won on mostly irrelevant topics while having its news, editorial board and opinion pages hijacked by a right-wing Republican think tank (The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute).  The paper played Romney's selection of radical right-wing congressman Paul Ryan as some kind of home-boy-does-good story, ignoring the damage his ascension would cause to the country.  In the last week of the campaign, the paper that endorsed the radical Scott Walker for governor -- twice -- announced that they would not make an endorsement in the presidential race.  They most likely did so because, in a series of candidates-and-the-issues columns, they mostly favored Obama's policies; but, being the right-wing shills they now are, would have surely endorsed Romney; and they could not stomach even their own hypocrisy if that happened.

And so the fates and stars aligned against Barack Obama like no other presidential candidate before.  Nobody had ever faced that kind of fierce, committed, coordinated, supposedly overwhelming opposition.  His victory this week is all the more incredible for that -- a truly historic event.

But, although he ran a great, well-funded campaign, the credit does not all go to Obama and his excellent team.  The credit really goes to the American people, who somehow saw through all the bullshit and did the right thing.  As a liberal and a progressive, it was easy for me.  But for many, it wasn't.  And they made the difference.  President Obama made history by winning reelection against unprecedented opposition. But it is those of us who voted for him who really made history, rejecting the campaign of Fear and Division, and voting again for Real Hope and Real Change.  Again.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Fox "News" and The Big Lie of Benghazi

Ever since the day he was elected in 2008, the Republicans and their various pliant, script-reading sycophants in the right-wing media have promoted an unprecedented stream of falsehoods and phony premises to try to prevent the reelection Barack Obama that, it appears, might occur on Tuesday.

For four years, they have set up straw men, lied, smeared, belittled, dehumanized and delegitimized the president -- or at least tried to. Although they managed to chip away slightly at Obama's well-earned stature and accomplishments in the face of the Historic Mess Junior Bush irresponsibly left for him to clean up, the frustrated Grand Boobahs of the Right will find themselves in the same place they did in 1996 after trying to pull the same shit on Bill Clinton -- on the outside, looking in to a White House controlled by Democrats for another four years, who will protect the country from their Evil Designs by fighting against their agenda and for their own every step of the way.

The Republicans have an increasingly sophisticated method to get even their most putrid, offensive anti-Obama messages into the mainstream of political discourse while maintaining what they think is a plausible deniability.  For instance, no self-respecting member of the GOP establishment would get within 100 yards of a drooling birther ranting in the public square or Fox News about Obama's birth certificate. And yet, you can bet the Dark Hand of Karl Rove or some other oily operative could be found, if only someone would look, slipping 10s and 20s into the dirty mitts of Orly Taitz to fund her demonstrably frivolous lawsuits.  Mitt Romney doesn't have to skip around the country calling President Obama a European socialist -- he's got hoards of talk radio stooges who do it for him every day.

And Mitt Romney doesn't have to spend any time trying to make the tragedy in Benghazi on 9/11/12 into some kind of political liability for the president.  He's got a fake news network that is more than willing to do it for him, 24 hours a day, for two months.

In the third debate, Romeny took the advice of his advisers to, well, not debate.  He rolled over and agreed with the president on numerous foreign policy issues, from Iraq to Afghanistan. Moderator Bob Schieffer set it up the Benghazi "issue" on a tee for him the first question of the debate -- and Romney passed, ignoring the question and rambling about "rejecting this kind of extremism" and other such blather.  Jaws dropped across the country as the astro-turfers in the tea party did spit takes in disgust because the guy they reluctantly hired to finish off Obama refused to take the bait.

But Romney knew what he was doing.  He didn't "go after" the president on Benghazi not for the right reason -- because there was nothing to "go after" him about -- but for the wrong reason: because he knew his surrogates on Fox News, talk radio and the other well-paid right-wing mouthpieces were going to do his dirty work for him.  He didn't say anything because he didn't have to.

And Fox News did not disappoint.  It's one thing for the Fox "opinion" show hosts like Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity to dutifully read their Rovian talking points like the obedient servants they are.  But, last I heard Fox was insistent that its "news" shows -- hosted by fake "journalists" like Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and the like -- are to be taken seriously as "fair and balanced" news.  Serious viewers laughed that one off years ago (Kelly, who I watch at noon almost every day, leads every show with "new questions" that have arisen about some Obama action or other, real and imagined).  "Fox" is to "News" as "military" is to "music". One has nothing to do with the other.

But the entire network -- especially the fake news shows -- have gone way beyond what they have done in the past to support the Republican cause.  Literally every show on the network has led with some kind of feigned "outrage" about the Benghazi tragedy every day for the past two months, throwing out code words like "cover-up" and "Watergate" like they were candy from a Mardi Gras float.  It has not been a running news story; it has been a campaign, uninterrupted  even for Hurricane Sandy. When Fox talking heads were not breathlessly bleating Benghazi hysteria, they were bloviating about how the mainstream media was not following their lead, thereby engaging in an enormous pro-Obama cover-up of their own.  The network's fake news programs have promoted phony memes in the past, but, in terms of feigned passion and commitment to the "story" over all platforms, this is a new level of alternate-fact-universe creation, even for Fox.

This is especially the case since there is no there there. In recent days, real news reports have emerged, describing in detail the events of the Benghazi tragedy, including timelines provided by the military, the CIA and the White House.   None of it leads any credence and in fact puts the lie to the various fictitious versions of the events developed by Fox and its always-undisclosed "sources".  Saddest of all was the exploitation of (and by) the father of one of the murdered CIA agents, Tyrone Woods, who pitifully did the talk-radio/Fox News circuit in the past weeks, complaining about insincere and limp-handshake condolences offered by Obama and Secretary of State Clinton at a private meeting (nobody who knows Obama or Clinton would believe such a farcical version of their ability to express sympathy) and asking for "answers" about what happened to his son.  When the Fox host would helpfully offer him a chance to take a direct hit at the president, Charlie Woods said, oh no no no, he didn't want to politicize his grief.  Yet, that was just what he was doing.

And Fox News hasn't stopped. Yesterday on his Sunday show, Chris Wallace -- about as close as Fox News gets to a real journalist, which means "not close" -- started with interview with Obama campaign chief David Axelrod by grilling him on Benghazi for five minutes.  It continues today -- whenever the idiots on Fox and Friends took a break from their phony Romney optimism, they would lurch into some kind of Benghazi rant or other.

The naked politicization of national tragedy has been the GOP's stock-in-trade since before 9/11/01, which Junior Bush and Cheney used to drive the Stupid War in Iraq, the Patriot Act, and all manner of insane power-grabbing by that despicable regime. The same people are driving this last desperate attempt by the Romney campaign to turn around their doomed prospects.  It's way past time to resign these bastards to the dustbin of history where they belong.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Biden Rocks; America Wins

You know, it's not like I haven't tried to get this thing going again.  For instance, here is a piece of an abandoned post back in September:

"You say I got no feelings
This is a good way to deal with it."
                            -- "Lipstick Vogue", Elvis Costello 
I had this big plan to get back in the saddle and ride this thing [the blog, that is] in the run-up to the November elections.  I was going to the Elvis Costello show at the lakefront last Saturday [Sept 15th] anyway and thought I would work out some of the writing kinks from this blog's summer-long dormancy (but what a summer it was...) by doing a review of one of my all-time favorite artists in Milwaukee in a brand-new venue on a spectacular late-summer night.
But then, the unexpected happened. Elvis Costello and the Imposters came out and laid an egg.  He mailed it in.  Rushed and indifferent, it was as if he couldn't get off the stage and out of town fast enough.  Indeed, an off night with Costello -- like Springsteen, with his non-E Street Band on Election Night 1992, but not as bad -- is better than anyone else at their best, but, still. This is the guy, after all, who played Milwaukee with only keyboardist extraordinaire Steve Nieve 10 or so years ago and came out for four encores, including a brilliant acepella off-the-mic version of "Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4" that is still reverberating off the walls of the Riverside. That was an engaged, dynamic evening of some of the best songs ever written.  
This one had some of the same songs, but none of the magic. It's as if he looked out at the half-empty seats of the instant white-elephant BMO Harris Pavilion (hard to tell what non-Summerfest acts they thought they could fill that with on a regular basis) and decided to, I don't know, do those things that rock stars do when they've landed in the wrong place at the wrong time.  It seemed like the bus was already warmed up and ready to go as the show started, running through 4 of his best known songs in the first 10 minutes...
By the time I wrote this, I was leading up to the fact that President Obama filled the venue exactly one week later. So I guess there might be some use for that place after all...

See? Aren't you sorry you missed all this great writing?

I do somewhat regret not putting my (literally) two cents in this year on important post-recall issues like, for instance, the Republican presidential primaries.   Sometimes I think that particular conglomeration of losers existed only for my personal entertainment; whether it was Michelle Bachmann peculiar form of alien channeling, Rick Santorum's whiny hysterics, Newt Gingrich's snootily, elitist, why-are-you-so-stupid assuredness, etc.  It was an occasionally amusing clown show, unless you considered how close one of them was to being the nominee of a major party.

Alas, we are not there, but here: 3 days before Election Day, with a rich, pampered elitist in magic underpants, Mitt Romney, trying to fool the American people into electing him.  And, just yesterday, I found myself in Beloit, helping the Obama campaign manage the press section gathered to hear Vice President Joe Biden at a middle school there.  An overflow crowd was treated to a great speech by Biden, who is one of the president's best assets.

Obama is blessed (if there is such a thing) with the valuable support of at least three extraordinarily talented veterans of a political generation almost -- but not quite -- past.  Each finding their niche, all have provided invaluable support for his steady governance, and, yes, his campaign.  His biggest star and the best hire by far is Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State.  She has expertly helped him transition our nation away from the belligerence of the internationally-destructive Junior Bush era towards a more positive, productive foreign policy.  She has dealt with crisis with a steady hand, kicked ass where she had to, and put us on an even keel with a forgiving world.

Another veteran of the same kind of slash-and-burn politics that have been used against him every day of his presidency is, of course, Bill Clinton. The former president, already settling into his role as the best ex-president ever (his humanitarian efforts in Haiti and the Clinton Global Initiative, to name just a couple, while the still-embarrassing Junior Bush gives closed seminars to the rich about how to send their money offshore to the Cayman Islands), has become Obama's best campaign surrogate. His incredibly effective Democratic convention speech wasn't a surprise to anyone who saw him here in Milwaukee in the closing days of the ill-fated Walker recall election (see that picture over there).  Speaking without notes that day, Clinton did an incredible riff on the need for politicians to work together to solve problems, rather than the kind of drop-the-bomb strong-arm tactics of the Walker Republicans.  At the convention and since, Clinton has been the most effective spokesperson for the saner political world that will never occur with the current GOP.  But, if they ever come to their senses, we'll be there.

But Joe Biden may, in the long run, be more integral to the success of the Obama presidency than anyone else. He has been in the room during every significant decision, from health care to Osama, adding heft and a wealth of Washington experience to the mix.  In his debate with Wisconsin's favorite twerp Paul Ryan, he proved himself to be a strong and no-bullshit advocate for America in general and the Obama administration in particular. Unsafe, out of the talk-radio/Fox News cocoon, the clueless Ryan looked like he wanted to crawl back into the dark hole from whence he came.  And Biden put him there.

In Beloit, Biden gave the best political speech I've ever seen in person -- as effective as Clinton, but not as subtle.  Focusing on Milwaukee Mayor and recall hero Tom Barrett standing in the front row (who yelled at me for letting the blog go dormant; ergo, my fairly urgent effort to get something out today), Biden frequently started his points with "Tom, you know when governments work together..." and the like.  There were lots of jokes and anecdotes about his mother saying "Joey" this and "Joey" that (OK, maybe that was a bit much).  At his best, he took apart the Romney/Ryan lies about Jeeps in China and other ridiculous fantasies of the Far Right with humor, effectiveness and truth.

Dare I say -- it looks good as I hit the "publish" button on Saturday night. States like Ohio and Wisconsin are going to come through and send Romney back to his career, making millions raping and pillaging the vulnerable businesses he pretends to care about.  Hopefully, Obama and Biden will bring along a continued Democratic Senate and, if we are very lucky and if lightening strikes and we win the lottery, throw the House Republicans out on their sorry ears.  As Bill Maher said on his show last night, "If it's Obama, America wins. If it's Romney, comedy wins."  As much as I like to laugh, I'll take a victory for America any time.