Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pointing Us In The Right Direction

Bill Maher was on to something.

Following the President's State of the Union address on Tuesday, Bill Maher was interviewed by Wolf Blitzer. His nuggets of wisdom, included in the following portions of the discussion (video and text from Crooks and Liars):

BLITZER: I'm told, Bill, that the president of the United States has decided, despite what happened in Tucson, he will not specifically talk about guns in his speech tonight. He's going to do that down the road in a future speech in a few weeks. But, tonight, the word gun is not going to be there. You think that's a mistake, don't you?

MAHER: Oh, I do. That's a real shame.

And it's always down the road. And it's always finding common ground with this president. And that common ground always seems to be the ground where the Republicans are already standing on. So, no, that's a real shame, because this was again an opportunity, similar to the opportunity Ronald Reagan had in 1981, when he was shot.

At a moment like that, maybe people would be willing to go along with a -- sort of a different point of view. Even Dick Cheney said that. Dick Cheney seems to be to the left of Barack Obama on the gun issue. So, I guess it's true. He has moved to the center.


BLITZER: Well, and it's helping him in the polls. There's no doubt about that. You can see, in our most recent job approval number, 55 percent. It was in the 40s, low 40s, not that long ago. So this move to the center, it certainly seems to be helping him with the American public.

MAHER: Well, we don't know what's helping him. Maybe it's the fact that there was a tragedy. People tend to rally around the president when there's any sort of a tragedy.

Remember, after 9/11, Bush's approval rating was 90 percent or something. I don't think that was because he got a lot smarter after we were attacked.

Maybe it's because -- Obama's popularity hiked because people have now seen the opposition. They got a good look at Boehner. Maybe they don't like that. Maybe people don't like someone who cries at the drop of a hat. People don't like a crier, Wolf.


BLITZER: He's an emotional guy, John Boehner. You know, he's got -- he's got an incredible story. When you think about it, he was one of, what, ten kids growing up. His father had a little bar. They had a small House, one bathroom. And look, he's now the speaker of the House, second in line after the vice president to the presidency. So it's -- he's got an amazing story. And I can understand why he gets emotional.

MAHER: Wolf, first of all, get over it. That was a long time ago. It's America. Yes, we understand. People can rise up from places of humble beginnings and make something great of themselves. Most of that is anecdotal. Statistically, people don't do that any more.

America is not, I don't think, even in the top ten or maybe we're tenth in social mobility. Social mobility means the ability of one generation to do a little better than the generation that proceeded them, that spawned them. That used to be known as the American dream. That is the American dream. But we're like tenth in the American dream.


BLITZER: The fact that they got -- they're going to be sitting Democrat and Republican together tonight, date night on Capitol Hill. Is that good or bad?

MAHER: Oh, I think it's going to solve all our problems, Wolf. Yes. When a madman kills people at the Safeway, the problem isn't guns or nuts. It's that we haven't been polite enough to each other.

Yes, if Barney Frank and Rand Paul are sharing an armrest, I expect all our problems to go away.

You know, of course, as always -- as always, Wolf, it's symbolism. That's all we know how to do. We don't know how to actually solve problems anymore. We just know how to attack it symbolically.

And also, I don't even think it's helpful on that level, because it's actually good to see the parties sitting apart from each other. Because then you see which one cheers or which one sits on their hands according to what the president says, and you get a real feeling for how they feel about him.

The irony- or disgrace- of Barack Obama publicly less sympathetic than Dick Cheney to gun control; people liking a President at the time of tragedy, and this President because of the abysmal quality of the opposition; Boehner's story increasingly atypical in an America with declining social mobility; "date night" as mere symbolism, and counter-productive at that. That's four-for-four, a good night even for Bill Maher.

Maher was wrong- briefly- when asked about the response to Obama Tuesday night by Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN.), Maher responded "I don't understand the decision by CNN to air it."

Pretty gutsy of Maher, criticizing CNN on CNN. But it was news, even if its sponsor, the Tea Party Express, is an astroturf operation. Better to have aired Bachmann's statement and explained that the Tea Party Express is headed by a GOP consulting firm of questionable ethics. But then, of course, CNN would have had to explain why it has agreed to co-sponsor with this Republican front group a GOP presidential primary debate.

And if the network had done so, the audience would have recognized that Maher was merely stating the obvious when he added

I mean, the Tea Party is the Republican Party. It's just a rebranding.

The Republican Party realized a couple of years ago they were very unpopular with the American public, possibly because all of their ideas had been miserable failures over the last 10, 20, 30 years. So they rebranded as the Tea Party.

Why don't you give equal time to the Democratic response, and then have Representative Anthony Weiner, who's from the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party, why doesn't he get some -- some air time?

As far as is known, CNN did not give air time to someone "from the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party" because no one from the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party stepped out and requested the opportunity. And a great opportunity that would have been, presumably to suggest to the American people that there is an alternative to the corporate world view embraced by the Repub Party and encouraged by President Obama.

That response might question the impact of trade deals on employment of Americans during an economic downturn, lowering of the corporate tax rate, or the President's boast that he has "ordered a review of government regulations. When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them." It might include the ideas of longtime consumer advocate Joan Claybrook, who on Tuesday on "Democracy Now!" explained that President Obama

has issued an edict that says that every government agency ought cut some regulations. Now, we’re not talking about some obscure thing. We’re talking about the environment, global warming, health, safety, pharmaceutical issues, auto safety, truck safety—all these issues that matter every day to Americans. And what that sends is a message. It sends a message to the civil servants who sweat to try and get these issues dealt with and to protect the American public that their president isn’t going to support them if they get into a controversial issue. And every regulation, almost, is controversial, because somebody doesn’t want it, particularly Big Business. And it sends a message to the business interests that they can go with impunity and oppose these regulatory programs, and they know that the President is probably going to clamp down on the people who are issuing the rules.

It need not have been a Democratic officeholder, who might fear retribution from the Obamites. Perhaps a widely-read and extraordinary blogger, David Sirota or one of many others, could have given a response to the neo-liberal vision of the President and the more gruesome one set out by Ryan/Bachmann. It would have been especially valuable, given that challenging Obama for the nomination in 2012 will not happen and could not succeed. Ours is, though, a President who responds happily to pressure and notifying the nation's voters that there is a Democratic opinion which contrasts with the center-right and far right viewpoints would have had a salutary effect on their outlook.

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