Niall Ferguson has written a column in which he and his editors make fools of themselves for writing allowing him to write that Barack Obama is like Felix the Cat because they are both black, and they are both “very, very lucky.” But firstly because they are both black.
Actually, Ferguson’s point — such that it is — is that Obama is lucky (see Yglesias and Jason Zengerle on the stupidity of Ferguson’s lede and premise, respectively). Here are a couple of reasons why, according to Ferguson, Obama is lucky.
Felix the Prez is lucky in domestic politics, too. After months of wrangling, Al Franken was finally confirmed as senator for Minnesota, giving the Democrats a potentially crucial margin of advantage in the upper house of Congress. To prove the point, the Senate last week voted by 68 to 31 to confirm the president’s pick, Sonia Sotomayor, as the next associate justice of the Supreme Court.
Obama is lucky because an incoming Senator who won election eight months ago is now being seated, eight months later. He’s also lucky because he picked a highly qualified nominee for the Supreme Court, and that the Senate voted to confirm this highly qualified nominee.
New thesis for Ferguson’s latest book: we’re very lucky that a system of currency evolved, because otherwise we’d all just be sitting around juggling objects that we could be using as money.
(image from flickr user teadrinker, under a Creative Commons license)
Why is it that every blogger who writes a piece on Obama’s first 100 days feels it necessary to preface said piece on Obama’s first 100 days by explaining that since everyone else has already written a piece on Obama’s first 100 days that they’re not going to write another piece on Obama’s first 100 days? Then, of course, they write a piece on Obama’s first 100 days.
It’s really not all that hard not to do.
In an altogether execrable column in the LA Times, the New Republic‘s neocon front man, Jamie Kirchick, enlists God in the U.S.A. column:
At a stop on his grand global apology tour this spring, President Obama was asked by a reporter in France if he believed in “American exceptionalism.” This is the notion that our history as the world’s oldest democracy, our immigrant founding and our devotion to liberty endow the United States with a unique, providential role in world affairs. [emphasis mine]
The notion that the United States’ role is “providential” is not American exceptionalism, Jamie; it is called manifest destiny. And just as this worldview led the irredentists in 19th century American governments to stake their righteous claim on lands ever further west, the hubris espoused by Kirchick is simply self-serving justification to exert American muscle around the world without qualm. “American exceptionalism” is a theory of history, of American studies, the critique — and it is that, a critique — that scholars of Americana either do not consider or willfully ignore America’s place in the world and in world history.
The mythology that Kirchick relies upon — that something about America’s history, identity, and values “endow[s]” it with a God-given position of influence — is exactly what Obama had to affirm when he said that he believed in the concept just as “the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” It would be political folly to utter something that could be construed as suggesting that America is not exceptional; since this is not the point at all of American exceptionalism, Obama wisely played up the misconception, appeasing to the chorus of America-lovers while demonstrating that he knew that the question posed about “American exceptionalism” was a ruse. But even “exceptional” is not enough for Jamie Kirchick; only divine Providence will satisfy his patriotic lust.
(image from flickr user Ye Olde Wig Shoppe under a Creative Commons license)
Evidently, the plethora of United States flags surrounding United States President Barack Obama is not the only thing that proves how beholden to flag-waving unpatriotic he is. Blue Texan reports that wingnuts are claiming that because U.S. troops who were standing at attention and therefore not allowed to “whoop it up” for anyone did not “whoop it up” for President Obama — but merely “erupted in a cacophony” when he left the stage after his speech — is yet another sign that the military is incorrigibly conservative.
Eli Lake, reporter for the always reputable Washington Times and frequent contributor to Marty Peretz’s New Republic, has a baffling piece in the latest issue of the latter. Writing on the contrast between Bush’s and Obama’s detention policies, Lake seems to be trying to bend over backwards to show that liberal Obama supporters are disappointed with their man’s inability to utterly repudiate every single aspect of Bush policy. But conceding that he has renounced the minor policy of torture is a fairly weak way to make this case.
As for rendition, the controversial practice of kidnapping terrorist suspects on foreign soil and frequently sending them to other countries, Obama shut down permanent CIA secret prisons known as black sites, where Al Qaeda leaders were often held after being captured…[Incoming CIA director Leon] Panetta said that terrorist suspects would not be picked up off the streets at random and sent to foreign dungeons for the purpose of being tortured…
Indeed, a senior White House legal adviser tells me, “There have been no changes to rendition policy, except to the extent that renditions would render people to places where they would be treated humanely”…Of course, doing more to ensure that rendered suspects are not tortured in those countries would represent a small measure of progress as far as human rights advocates are concerned. But it’s hardly the sweeping change many were hoping for.
So Obama is not changing rendition policies except for shutting down CIA black sites, not picking suspects off the streets without due process, ensuring that they are treated humanely, and not freaking torturing them. If that is a “small measure of progress,” I don’t really know what Lake is expecting of the radical “human rights advocates” whose attitudes he claims to depict.
The problem, it seems to me, is that Lake — like many who so eagerly picked up on Obama’s “false  choice between our safety and our ideals” comment in his inauguration speech — is operating exactly according to the very false dichotomy between “safety” and “ideals” that Obama rejects. Human rights defenders are not simply blinkered partisans for “liberty,” mere weights on the “ideals” side of this phony scale. No serious human rights proponent does not also not only acknowledge the needs of national security and the existence of bad guy terrorists, but also strongly embrace the concept of justice that has been supplanted by the tough-guy, torture-the-terrorists mentality of the Bush years.
So just to clarify, yes, it is a big step that the Obama Administration is not going to engage in sending detainees off to rights abusing countries to be tortured. Will suspects be arrested? Yes. Will some of them still be sent to their home countries to be tried? Yes. That seems a long way from locking up liberty in a foreign dungeon, though.
(image from flickr user KCIvey under a Creative Commons license)
There is a long, digressive, and intellectually flimsy article in The Wall Street Journal called “The Roots of Liberal Condescension” (byline: “Snobbery is the last refuge of the liberal-arts major.”). Lest I suspect that the piece contain any more than tired Republican tropes railing against America-hating and effete elites, though, the author quickly disabuses me of this fanciful notion by beginning with a victimization of, who else?, Sarah Palin, that martyr of down-at-home populist conservatism (except for, um, Kathleen Parker, Peggy Noonan, David Brooks, George Will…). The piece ends with a mention, naturally, of Jeremiah Wright and…Sarah Palin, then reminds me why it was written in the first place: Barack Obama went to Columbia and Harvard!
And even when these elitist liberals try to appear patriotic, they can’t even wave the flag right.
Steve Benen and James Joyner both comment on this jaw-droppingly loony Washingon Times piece accusing President Obama of — get this — surrounding himself with too many American flags. This could mean only one thing, clearly: Obama is subverting the meaning of “Old Glory” in a godless socialist plot to debase America. Benen surmises:
Let’s pause to appreciate how truly ridiculous this is. A newspaper ran an article today about the President of the United States making public appearances with American flags. To bolster the “premise” that this development is newsworthy, the newspaper quotes a lunatic [Michael Savage] who suggested the president is a Communist.
Joyner compiles a nice collection of POTUSes and their flags, but while appropriately identifying the inanity and the pointlessness, respectively, of the article, both bloggers don’t accentuate its self-evident irony nearly enough. A conservative publication is chiding Obama for having too many flags. Perhaps he is not waving it patriotically enough?
(image from flickr user woodleywonderworks under a Creative Commons license)
I am annoyed that meeting with the families of 9/11 victims was probably a political necessity for Obama during his first few weeks in office. Among other reasons, the expectation that he do so renders the whole thing a cheap political stunt, almost akin to meeting with the winning Superbowl team.
I am even more annoyed, however, that Obama was evidently meeting with these families “about resolving the issues involved with closing Guantanamo Bay — while keeping the safety and security of the American people as his top priority.” By framing the meeting in this manner, Obama has essentially lowered himself to a level at which he feels he needs to justify the decision to close Guantanamo to those who suffered most directly from the actions of criminals who may or may not be held at the prison. This, in my eyes, almost seems like an apology to these folks, with a reassurance amounting to something like, “don’t worry, we’ll still get these terrorists.”
What this attitude misses, though, is that closing Guantanamo will be a more effective anti-terrorist strategy than allowing it to limp on as a damaging symbol to the rest of the world ever was. With no offense to those who bore the worst of the tragedy on September 11, they are not legal experts, they are not counter-terrorism experts, and they share with every other American the stigma that Guantanamo has become. They have greater personal stakes in the trials of those accused of helping to plot the attacks, of course, but the entire point of closing Guantanamo is so that those held there can actually be tried for the crimes they are accused of. By giving the impression that he is seeking moral approval for an astute policy decision he has already made, Obama is engaging in pure emotional pandering that, while it may be politically necessary, is unbecoming to the policy.
(image from flickr user Paul Keller under a Creative Commons license)
One side benefit of Obama addressing Islam and Muslims so directly in his first couple weeks in office is that now conservatives are also addressing Islam and Muslims directly. In addition to Charles Krauthammer’s latest shite, Frank Gaffney, of that paragon of journalistic scrupulousness, The Washington Times, bellows this unintentionally hilarious indictment.
How appropriate that Barack Obama featured Aretha Franklin in his Inaugural festivities since her signature song is “Respect.” Literally from the moment she finished belting out “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” on Jan. 20, the new president has been conveying his “respect” the Muslim world. Unfortunately, the way he practices it seems to be spelled S-U-B-M-I-S-S-I-O-N.
And the stars-and-stripes flying above looked suspiciously like, you guessed it, the white flag of surrender.
Obama’s other sign of capitulation? A radical re-“ranking” of the faiths of America.
For good measure, the new president described America as a country of “Muslims, Christians, Jews” and others – a presumably intentional upgrading of adherents to the faith of his father, Islam, from the second place position he accorded them in his State of the Union address several days before. (The rankings of both orderings obviously reflect something other than demographics; there are far fewer Muslims than Christians in the United States and, according to independent estimates, only half as many – or less – than Jews.)
Troublesome diminution of Jews aside, at least Obama stuck those heretical “others” in last place, where they belong.
To recap, it looks like President Obama is not only laying down in surrender to the militant masses of “Islam’s violent and hateful theo-political-legal program,” he is also encouraging a Muslim insurrection from within the homeland…by citing “Muslims” first in a list of religions in America. I like where this is going.
(image from flickr user fulmini & saette under a Creative Commons license)
I do not understand whether it is bitterness, or truly hurt feelings, or an attempt at well-intentioned analysis that is prompting conservatives to rail against the “divisiveness” of Obama’s inauguration speech, but either way, the criticisms seem warrantless. Here’s Christian Brose, of FP’s Shadow Government, quoting himself:
Other wording, however, struck me as almost divisive. By saying “there are some who question the scale of our ambitions” or “what the cynics fail to understand,” Obama drew lines –- those who get it and those who don’t –- when some minor editing could have bridged differences. He spoke of the economic crisis as “a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some” –- undoubtedly true, but also somewhat too accusatory for an Inaugural. So too with, “We will restore science to its rightful place.” Point taken. But why not “affirm” science or “promote” it, something positive; “restore” just has a chiding quality to it that seems out of place in a speech like this.
Why is Obama under any obligation not to be “accusatory” toward those whose “greed and irresponsibility” undeniably — by Brose as well — drove us into financial crisis in this particular speech more than any other? Is it because the Inauguration is supposed to be nothing more than a feel-good but let’s-forget-why-we’re happy break from reality, or that conservatives are simply taking great pleasure in hoisting Obama by his own campaign’s unity petard? The former seems an unnecessary fiction, while the latter ascribes to conservatives a much more earnest embrace — albeit with a dagger in hand — of the “post-partisan inclusiveness” that they have hitherto seemed keen mostly on exploiting and mocking.
But what most irks me about Brose’s complaint is his quibbling over the word choice over how the Obama Administration will restore affirm do something generically positive to science. To “affirm” or to “promote” science would be to sell it out for the cheap price of mere lip service. I am sure that even President Bush would be eager to “affirm” or “promote” science in the abstract — but science needs more than just affirmation or promotion these days. It needs active restoration — not only acknowledgment of its importance in general, but the importance of implementing it in U.S. policy. This is a relevant difference, and the entire point of Obama’s specific citation of science would be washed away if he had only expressed some generic positive feeling toward science.
What Brose seems to really want — and understandably so, given his experience as a speechwriter for Republicans — is to tone down all the elements of the speech that reflected negatively on Bush et al. But Obama does need to shy away from speaking truths simply because he is president (contrary to the contrary lesson that one might take from era of WMD-esque folly). If some of his words were “chiding,” it is because too much of the past eight years warrants chiding.
(image from flickr user Muhammad Adnan Asim ( linkadnan ) # 2 under a Creative Commons license)
Fiji is not the only place to face a state of emergency.
It’s true, President Bush sounded alarms about Barack Obama during the campaign season. On Tuesday, Mr. Bush went one step further: He declared Mr. Obama’s inauguration an actual emergency.
This is a bureaucratic move, evidently, designed to secure more funding than the paltry $15 million that DC has been afforded from the federal government. Odd as it sounds to say, declaring a state of emergency here is actually a fairly charitable gesture on Bush’s part — unlike his allegedly calling up former Australian Bush clone prime minister John Howard to stay in the Blair House so that the Obamas could not — to ease inauguration-related stress. But if I wasn’t worried about the crowds in DC this weekend before, calling a state of emergency over it doesn’t exactly make me feel better.
(image from flickr user andrew.deci under a Creative Commons license)
If Africa’s conflicts were mapped from outer space, those conflict zones would look like three holes into which entire regions are tumbling.
I think the State Deparment already has some pretty good maps identifying where Somalia, Darfur, and DR Congo are located (Africa!). Granted, they probably don’t have cool 3-d effects to depict these areas “tumbling” into holes, but I’m not sure how much that would help resolve the conflicts anyway.
Sending satellites to track pirates, on the other hand, seems like a great idea.
(image from flick user D’Amico Rodrigo under a Creative Commons license)
Courtesy of America’s favorite classically democratic 18th century institution, the Electoral College.
And in case you made the mistake of thinking that it was some little state like Florida or Ohio that pushed Obama over the edge, various states are clamoring over one another to claim the honor.
Hartford claims that “Conn. Democratic electors to formalize Obama vote.” Albany asserts that “NY electoral college meets to make Obama’s win official.” Lansing triumphantly announces, “We’re electing the president of the United States today.” And Maryland’s electors…may not be able to cast their crucial ballots because the State House is closed for repairs. Oops.
According to this neat map (from flickr user oceandesetoiles under a Creative Commons license), which re-sizes states based on the influence of individual voters, Obama really has D.C. and Vermont electors from the epic swing states of D.C. and Vermont to thank for his upcoming move to the White House.
Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has no truck for prank callers — even if they happen to be the U.S. President-elect and his Chief of Staff.
On Wednesday, the Republican congresswoman got a call from President-elect Barack Obama, didn’t believe it was him, and hung up on him. Twice.
According to Ros-Lehtinen’s flack Alex Cruz, the congresswoman received the call on her cell phone from a Chicago-based number and an aide informed her that Obama wanted to speak to her. When Obama introduced himself, Ros-Lehtinen cut him off and said, “I’m sorry but I think this is a joke from one of the South Florida radio stations known for these pranks.” Then she hung up.
Moments later, Obama tried again, this time through his soon-to-be chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.
“Ileana, I cannot believe you hung up on the President-Elect,” Emanuel said. And then–yes, you know what’s coming–she hung up on Emanuel saying she “didn’t believe the call was legitimate.”
Note to Rep. Ros-Lehtinen — next time, if the callers have an outrageously thick French accent and ask you to go hunting for baby seals from a helicopter with them, trust your skeptical instincts.