Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
December 22, 2009
As H. L. Mencken famously said, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”
To put it more simply (which, when you think about it, would seem appropriate), when you’re aiming for America, you can’t aim too low. Cheap? Shoddy? Sleazy? Dishonest? We love it! More please … and Super-Size it!
Case in point (as if proof is really needed): reality TV.
“We’ll make people eat bugs to win cash! Better yet, we’ll have washed-up politicians do the cha-cha!” Who would have thought that’d be a big hit? Anyone who studied Mencken – or, again more simply, anyone who paid attention.
You just can’t aim too low.
And now we may be seeing a kind of corollary. Barack Obama may be going politically broke by overestimating the intelligence of the American people. He might be missing by aiming too high.
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Obama is trying the radical and risky political experiment of acting like an adult. He pays close attention, thinks long and hard, tries to filter out the noise and find either the best solution (as in Afghanistan) or the best attainable solution (as with health care).
Needless to say, this approach is not going over all that well.
On the right, of course, there was never any real hope that Obama’s approach would win any minds and hearts.
Those who fervently believe he’s a Kenyan-born Communist Nazi terrorist aren’t really paying any attention to reality.
They are, in fact, living proof of Mencken’s statement – and the Republican Party has bet its political future on that proposition. They are gambling that they can make up “facts,” make up numbers, make up history and get away with it. And who can blame them?
The Republicans have had a good long run of success with those tactics – from “Tea Partiers” and “Birthers” in 2008, to Swift Boaters in 2004, to “Gore ‘invented’ the Internet” in 2000, to Reagan’s “No arms for hostages,” to Nixon’s “I am not a crook.” (Well, I guess that last one didn’t work out too well.)
So no one should be surprised that they don’t support Obama’s efforts to act responsibly.
Even when he pretty much agreed with them by sending additional troops to Afghanistan, they attacked him for taking time to think it through and for setting a “timetable” … like the one George Bush agreed to for Iraq in 2008.
As I said, no real surprise there.
But where Obama seems to be running into what might have been unexpected trouble is with his supporters – or, rather, those who once were and really still should be his supporters.
I’m talking about the people like me who are disappointed that he hasn’t been able to stride into the middle of every festering mess, swinging the flaming sword of justice, and, damn it, clean things up!
I repeat: “people like me.”
In case you’re new to this column or have been reading my opinions for a while, but have some severe comprehension difficulties, let me make it clear: I am a liberal. And I deeply wish Obama had closed Guantanamo, pulled out of Iraq, ended “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” instituted single-payer health care, put some strong regulations into effect in financial markets, launched a serious investigation of Bush/Cheney war crimes … and a whole lot more.
But I am also not (quite) delusional.
May I point out (for those who haven’t re-read the U.S. Constitution lately) that this is a federal republic, not a dictatorship (benevolent or otherwise). There isn’t a whole lot the president can do without the support of Congress. And, given the united, adamant “la-la-la-la-la” fingers-in-their-ears Republican opposition, that means 60 Democratic votes on every important (or even trivial) bill.
That’s why they call politics “the art of the possible.” Sure, I’m all in favor of achieving the impossible, except that it’s, you know, impossible.
And, sure, I think Obama probably wasted too much time trying to get Republicans to really join the debate on health care reform. But, gee whiz, isn’t that what an “adult” is supposed to do: try to talk to the opposition and find a reasonable compromise?
And bear in mind, after the Republicans did everything they could to destroy health care reform, and nothing to help it, Obama still had to deal with the far-flung wackos in his own party.
And, for those disappointed Obama supporters who were outraged by that decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, may I please point out that he said he would do that way back during his campaign for the presidency. He is keeping a campaign promise.
And that is also exactly what he is doing with health care reform.
He campaigned on a promise to find a way to provide health insurance for all Americans and that is exactly what he’s doing.
When Republicans say “Americans don’t want this bill,” what they actually mean is that Americans don’t want the bill that Republicans have described. But that bill doesn’t exist. It’s a figment of the Republicans’ lies.
The truth is that Americans do want health care reform. They know they need health care reform. They voted for health care reform when they voted for Barack Obama.
I believe Americans are going to get health care reform as a Christmas present this year. Like most Christmas presents, it won’t be quite what anyone wanted. Not quite the right size. Not quite as cool as what you imagined. More like a gift of nice warm socks than that rocket ship you asked for.
But that’s the kind of gift an adult gives, isn’t it?
It’s a gift we need.
Let’s hope we’re smart enough to appreciate it.
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