LOUD NOISES

Posted in Rants on December 29th, 2010 by Ed

Tuesday was a special kind of hectic. A small kitchen fire that happened while I was in the shower caused a little bit of damage and a whole lot of headaches. After an initial scare with the girls, all four of the rats turned out OK. That fireman who gave your first grade class the talk about what to do in case of fire was not kidding; even though only a relatively small amount of fabric burned, the (equally small) house filled with heavy, acrid, "someone is burning synthetic materials" smoke in a hurry. Twelve hours later, my eyes are still burning and everything smells like a bonfire of wet leaves. Other than the odor, which I expect to linger for a short while, no mammals were injured and no real damage occurred. I have to admit, though, that it was pretty scary for a few minutes until I figured out what was going on, evacuated the rats, and put out the fire.

I don't want to name names or point the finger of responsibility, but let's just say that a valuable lesson about storing one's rayon shawl and pile of acrylic yarn handiwork on a lit stovetop burner was learned by all.

That is a long way of saying, "Pardon me, for this may be of poorer quality than I originally intended."

I am on all kinds of political email lists, none more consistently irritating than the official Obama list. Many of you are familiar with the faux-inspirational messages that pop up in your inbox every few days, purportedly authored by Michelle, Joe Biden, or even The Man himself. It is interesting to me from an academic perspective to see a communications strategy unfold, and for the last several months the Obama people have been hitting the "Emphasize how much we have accomplished, not what we failed to accomplish" talking point with the discipline of a Buckingham Palace guard. It hasn't really worked, but it isn't for a lack of effort. You may even remember the charming What the Fuck Has Obama Done So Far? website which garnered some attention right before the election. More recently the emails have been trumpeting, quite predictably, the DADT repeal.

The repeal is indeed an important victory for anyone to the left of Dog the Bounty Hunter on social issues, but it's also a great example of why people who supported Obama in 2008 are so disappointed with the first two years. A sampling of the accomplishments touted by the aforementioned website: expanding funding for private spaceflight programs, expanding the eligibility for Pell Grants, increasing funding for National Parks & Forests by 10%, appointed the nation's first Chief Technology Officer, extended Federal benefits to same-sex partners, etc. and so on. Those are all really nice things. But it's all low hanging fruit. What of that is particularly controversial aside from the inevitable (and ultimately meaningless) hysteria of the hardcore right-wing base? Which of these involved a real a legislative battle? Which of these things was in any way, you know, difficult for him to accomplish with large majorities in both chambers?

Disillusionment arises from the fact that these "victories" aren't the kind of thing one celebrates. In American football, no one congratulates the kicker for making an extra point. The kicker doesn't run around celebrating wildly either. It's just expected. Failure to make the kick would be a sign of staggering incompetence, but making the kick isn't a sign of much at all. It just means you have enough talent to accomplish the bare minimum expected of your job. The kicker really gets a pat on the back and an enthusiastic group hug from his teammates when he makes the 50 yard kick through wind and snow. That's impressive. That's an accomplishment. That's something to celebrate. Take a lap around the field, kid. You did good.

Obama is not getting credit for his "victories" so far because they are not victories in the fights he was elected to fight. None of this represents "change", if I may revert to the campaign's slogan for a moment. Obama, like all modern presidents, has meekly backed down from even a token challenge to the political power structure in this country. For all the talk of health care reform and financial reform, the end result has been exactly the same: the people with all the money get exactly what they want. Every time.

We win issues like DADT, for example, because our corporate masters do not care about it. If they did, their lobbying would certainly dictate the outcome. But they don't. It matters not one bit to Wall Street if DADT is enacted, repealed, or covered in rich, creamy frosting. Obama can win these fights all day. However, the second something that has the potential to affect profit margins is on the table the lobbyists and CEOs make it clear to the President that such issues are off limits and such behavior will not be tolerated from him.

In essence the Obama presidency thus far has proven that We can win if and only if big business has no dog in the fight. When it does, all bets are off. The President can continue trying to convince people to celebrate the fact that he can sink six-inch putts and kick extra points as though doing so is a great accomplishment. Alternatively, he could find enough of his balls to actually fight and perhaps even win a battle against meaningful opposition. Standing up to Maggie Gallagher, Fox News, and the other neanderthals who fly into a rage over gays in the military is one thing. Standing up to the elites who run this country is quite another.