Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Shame on the America

Hopefully, today’s release of Obama’s long-form birth certificate, will finally quiet the Birther movement. The Birthers – a rabble that questions Obama’s eligibility to serve as president, due to doubts about his birthplace – have been a political nightmare for Republicans and ultimately America for the past two years.

The truth is that the release of the long-form certificate was not necessary. It has been abundantly clear, for some time now, that the Birther claims were unfounded. As Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-OH) said in response to today’s release, “This has long been a settled issue.”  What is most upsetting, however, is that this matter has reached such a crescendo that it has distracted the nation from a host of very serious problems.

Politically, the Birther movement has, at best, gotten Obama’s opponents nowhere. However in all likelihood, it has actually caused damage to the Republican Party and the anti-Obama agenda. For many Republicans, centrists, and others, the movement only serves as a marker of the eccentricity, anger, and irresponsibility of the Right. It thus drives people away from the Republican brand, making the election of Republicans more difficult, and hence injuring the ability of the Right to enact responsible policies. Furthermore, in a guilt-by-association manner, it can tarnish the very sensible ideas that are rooted in conservative ideology.

If one takes a moment to think of the politics of the issue, it becomes abundantly clear how politically unwinnable the argument was (or is for those who inevitably will find cause to dismiss this latest proof of Obama’s citizenship). First of all, there has been no credible evidence to suggest that Obama was not born in the United States. As is now hopefully even clearer, there has, in fact, been much evidence indicating the contrary. Obama previously released a short-form birth certificate and numerous officials have affirmed the veracity of his Hawaiian birth. The Birther argument had nowhere to go. Impeachment was an illogical and a politically-impossible outcome, one that would clearly have torn the country apart.

Second, even if one assumes that the Birthers were correct and an impeachment trial not only occurred, but was successful in removing the president, where would America be left? With Joe Biden as president (not to mention with even deeper polarization of the political landscape). None of the underlying problems that the right has with Obama would be miraculously cured. While Biden would undoubtedly have some different policies than Obama, the fundamentals would remain. Those who wish to see America’s problems solved and who believe that the Democrats’ agenda cannot achieve this, would be no closer to their real goal.

The point is that the entire argument fails to solve, or even address, the actual issues that are facing this country. This is not meant to imply that the narrow constitutional issue of Obama’s eligibility is not important – it is. However, with the evidence that existed prior to today wholly pointing in one direction (now with hopefully the final nail in the coffin), the Birthers only served as a distraction from pressing issues like the economy and as a great prop for the Democrats to marginalize the Republicans with.

Ad hominem attacks like this should have no place in American politics (of course they are only ad hominem when, as in this instance, there was clearly no substance to the argument). Instead, arguments need to be made to refute the foolish policies of the administration and offer meaningful alternatives. Vitriol and fight need to be turned into discourse and debate.

If Republicans and conservatives want to be viewed with any seriousness and hope to be elected into the positions to right the course of this country, they must focus on solutions to the real problems we face. Fortunately, most mainstream Republican leaders have long-ago distanced themselves from the rhetoric of the Birthers. Nevertheless, the vocalized minority has all but drowned out rational discussion.  As Obama said in a statement after the release,
We’ve got some enormous challenges out there…. We’re going to have to make a series of very difficult decisions…. And this is going to generate huge and serious debates, important debates… but we’re not going to be able to do it if we are distracted. We’re not going be able to do it if we spend time vilifying each other…. We’re not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers.
America – both left and right – has a duty to move past these petty squabbles, take some personal responsibility, and fix our broken system, before it is too late.

[Note:  To be fair, the Birthers are by far not the only group that has served to cause distraction from the real issues.  All across America, different groups and individuals are failing to focus on the problems the country faces.]

The Psychology of Obama

Dana Milbank writes in today's Washington Post on the ramifications of Obama's cerebral nature.  Without taking a stance on whether this is good or bad, he explores, through consultation with academics, how Obama's seemingly inconsistent policies are the result of a high level of analysis and thought.  Milbank credits this with being the root of many of the criticisms and frustrations people experience with Obama.  Milbank argues that unlike Bush, Obama's psychology makes him difficult to read and thus immensely frustrating to the average voter.

While Milbank dances around the obvious conclusion, it seems clear that if his characterization is correct - and it is quite convincing - Obama possesses a set of detrimental characteristics that, while possibly making him a great policy adviser, make him a poor president.  Milbank writes, "In an ideal world, complex and rational thought would be virtues. But in politics, these attributes can make Obama seem ambiguous, without toughness or principles."  The unfortunate conclusion seems to be that the high level of emotion and rhetoric needed in today's politics makes a thoughtful academic a poor politician.  Accordingly, Obama's intellectualism has failed to rally his own base, while angering both the opposing side and his own supporters with unpopular polices.