Saturday, May 25, 2013

On The Substance, Though

President Obama delivered at the National Defense University on Thursday one of his heavily nuanced, on-the-one-hand and on-the-other speeches (transcript here). Perhaps it should not be surprising then, that two pundits- one a liberal/progressive blogger, the other a right-wing, deftly partisan, highly manipulative bigot representing the class interests of the 1%- would  come away with a similar suspicion about the evening's co-star, Medea Benjamin.

Characteristically bereft of facts, Rush Limbaugh contended

The president agrees with pretty much everything she was saying. This is the first time that Code Pink has not been thrown out of whatever they were protesting.That woman went on and on and on and on and on. So the whole thing was staged.

Appearing later in the day on Democracy Now, Benjamin was asked by host Amy Goodman "first of all, how did you get into the National Defense University for this address? I would assume your face isone of the most famous on Capitol Hill."  Benjamin replied "There are some secrets, Amy, that could be disclosed. But it was great to get in there."

Benjamin frequently interrupted the President, who consistently responded with crowd-pleasing restraint and reason, choosing not to ridicule or turn on the activist, even at one point gracefully stating (to applause), "Now, ma'am let me finish. Let me finish, Ma'am. Part of free speech is you being able to speak, but also, you listening and me being able to speak."

Far be it for Limbaugh to argue that it was the President's calm, deliberative response that indicates may have been aware of what was coming.      More cogently and plausibly, Steve M maintains

I think he wanted her there. I think he wanted her to stay there. It would not surprise me to learn that he knew she was there and asked the security detail to let her stay awhile. (She was eventually removed.) I think he wanted her kept there long enough to heckle him a few times. I think he wanted her there so he could triangulate.

After all, in this speech he rejected the term "global war on terror." He announced that he's putting some curbs on drone attacks and making moves toward greater transparency. he's also looking to Congress to stop blocking the closure of the Guantanamo prison, and he'd like to overturn the Authorization to Use Military Force that was passed a few days after 9/11.

So, even though he defended the drone program in general, and the notion of a continuing militarized response to Islamist violence, he is, naturally, making himself vulnerable to attacks from crazy, war-loving right-wingers -- or, as they're more commonly known, "the entire Republican Party apart from Ron Paul." (Paul is, needless to say, crazy on pretty much every other issue.)

The Daily Beast's Caroline Linton writes that Benjamin

... also was a scourge of the Bush administration as well. In 2002, she protested as then–secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld testified on Capitol Hill about Iraq, and she was removed from the House gallery in 2006 when she interrupted a speech by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. At the Republican National Convention in Tampa in 2012, she held up signs calling former secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a “war criminal.”

In 2007, she was part of a delegation that marched to the gate at the Cuban site of Guantánamo prison...

Linton's account of the whereabouts of Benjamin and the latter's caution about "secrets" which must not be outed, suggest a Forrest Gump quality about the activist.  Still, Benjamin was well ahead of the curve in targeting Rumsfeld, who was so inept even President Bush had to force him out the door in 2006, and her bold criticism of Mushroom Cloud Rice, who to this day largely escapes the condemnation she is due, should be widely acclaimed.

But the last word belongs to Will Bunch, who recognized that Obama's long-term objectives are worthy while the short-term actions still are falling short.  "Watch what he does, not what he says," cautions Bunch, who concludes "the journey of 1,000 miles starts with the very first step. So... 999.99 miles to go!"

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