I am one of the few who has made the argument that the President’s style is a classic example of the practice of the high art of Zen, one prescribed by its greatest masters and rooted in the classic book of wisdom, the I Ching.
It’s an easy case to make! Zen focuses on inner strength, not outer conflict. It is a quiet and presence of mind that sees both the short and long term by a presence of heart that is calm and reserved; it values wisdom above force.
The comparisons and the parallels with Zen never come up in the media. After hundreds of microphone sound checks by top analysts and thinkers, the Zen meme, in plain sight, is without a peep. It reveals how terribly and narrowly one-sided American thought presented by media has become: they claim insights on world traditions, but they established a multi-channeled agenda to build an intellectual frame, with Obama’s image as the poster of misgovernance.
Zen, by definition, is smart action, wisdom deftly applied. For deep, contextual reasons of power and privilege, Obama was a threat to all a circle of special interests cherished, and they needed desperately to portray him to their followers and to America as dumb.
The I Ching finds its roots in China as a work whose system of insights and actions explains the social and spiritual conditions that at times appear chaotic and bewildering, while at other times appearing calm and clear. Each set of conditions has hidden meanings and passages. If respected and tempered, through actions and virtues, these insights and steps bring forth inner truth, guide choices, and direct the path to change.
Simply, the I Ching defines relations between men, women and the world, and the forces beyond, the unseen conditions once known as the zeitgeist and weltanschauung and the things of heaven. The I Ching defines both the inner and outer nature of conditions and change in society and in the hearts of men and women. It is a manual that tells how to progress and benefit while being morally responsible; it addresses prosperity and security and the attitudes of good and evil; it maps out when to be patient and when to advance and warns of the dangers, both visible and hidden, from people and conditions.
Barack Obama has faced both during his two terms as our elected President; he has faced dangers—from people and conditions. When he stepped into office in 2009, some of the country’s most powerful institutions and people immediately formed organized resistance, and global conditions were at their global worst.
But his refusal to fight was classic Zen: engagement would have only stirred and strengthened evil and confusion. A fight would have only served his enemies. Despite his victory, he and the country were too weak to win and fight when others defined the terms and were willing to weaken the country even further.
His patience served America, and patience is an inner virtue, but in the President, many—both enemies and supporters—called it weakness, indecision. Many were drawn in by the anger his opponents displayed, by the force of their hatred and their demands for absolute power over his office as they blamed him for disturbing the status quo and not submitting to their “compromise.” They shut down the government and said he wouldn’t meet them halfway—to give them all of what they wanted to end their threat. They skipped 200 years of time to draw on a model of government that has no models of success.
The President did not respond until conditions were right. Zen teaches the right conditions are when your opponents think they are at their strongest, but have in their zeal for power left many things neglected, failing to attend to social needs. So after the midterm elections that put Republicans in charge of both the House and Senate, the President has made his opponents look incompetent and revealed them as servants of special interests whose tools are anger and bluster and money and whose goals are power and disrespect.
Like now, when the President without fanfare issued the third veto of his five years in office, striking down a bill in which Congress voted to approve the building of a Canadian pipeline across America’s plains, over America’s vital Midwestern aquifers, across sacred Native American sites, to bring the dangerous Canadian tar sands oil to Texas refineries. His opponents called his veto an “embarrassment.”
So America’s energy policy is a principal concern about not being “embarrassed?” What about merits? Were there none to criticize the President on? Was an embarrassment the worst result of his veto? The criticism hides a deeper failure by his opponents to pass a bill with substance they could defend.
Barack Obama has seen the institutions of power align to belittle and willfully oppose his every act, politically and personally. His legislative initiatives were wrong, his vacations too expensive, his head nods were considered bows that displayed gross violations of unwritten protocol and submission to foreign heads of state—even as his opponents were unrepentant about their violations, one yelling out during the State of the Union speech to say to the President, “You lie!” Continue reading Barack Obama: The Man of Zen
Is it that time already? Sadly, yes. CPAC’s 2015 edition gets underway Wednesday at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center just outside DC. This year’s roster of speakers looks remarkably similar to that of previous years, a cavalcade of crabbed conservative know-nothings preaching ignorance to the ignorant and hate to the hateful. Among them will be Rand Paul, John Ellis “Jeb” Bush, Sarah Palin, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Sean Hannity, Bobby Jindal, and of course the Rick twins, Perry and Santorum.
In a clear sign that the world has slipped its moorings, debate continues to heat up over Bill O’Reilly’s credibility, which implies, fallaciously, that he ever had any to begin with. If nothing else, this all might provide a nice diversion for fellow liar Brian Williams as his suspension continues. In O’Reilly’s case, the issue is apparently him claiming to have single-handedly won the Falklands War with a falafel. Or something; I really can’t bring myself to care.
Speaking of liars, Chris Christie presents his sixth budget address to the New Jersey Legislature on Tuesday, with a court decision still pending as to whether he violated a 2011 deal on the public pensions he’ll apparently spend a lot of his address bleating about. Christie is still considering, apparently, whether he wants to try moving up to lying to people in all 50 states or whether he’ll content himself with just lying to New Jerseyans.
Chicago voters go to the polls Tuesday, with incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel campaigning hard to avoid a possible April 7 runoff. The strongest of Emanuel’s four challengers, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, said over the weekend that he expects “a major upset.” If Emanuel does end up with a runoff on his hands, or loses outright, “major upset” won’t even begin to describe the tantrum he’ll throw.
The Department of Homeland Security faces having to furlough 30,000 employees and shut down many of its operations on Friday, because House Republicans – well, “because House Republicans” pretty much sums it up. Despite their own questionable maturity, efforts continue by some Republican Senators to mollify their crybaby colleagues in the lower house but avoid a shutdown. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 2/23/15
Grumpy: Well Mouse, like it or not, here we are only days into 2015 and the 2016 presidential election is already underway with Teapublican wannabes already busily making fools of themselves. Iowa has seen the clown car come and go already and the Koch network of secret donors has already been busy auditioning and grooming their favorites in Palm Springs, California. Palm Springs? Nothing says outreach to the unwashed masses like confabs in Palm Springs, I guess. But I digress.
Ordinarily these early (dare I say infantile) days of the four-year election cycle leave me absolutely grumpy, but this year I am actually giddy. I feel like a kid watching in awe as the circus parades into town. Of course no circus parade would be complete without a packed-to-the-roof clown car, and this year’s clown car is absolutely overstuffed. Some of the names are familiar, even infamous, while others send one running to the Google machine.
Comedians must be absolutely over the moon at the prospects ahead. The list of wannabes and potential wannabes is staggeringly large. Just look at the list of current and former governors who are currently thought to be lusting for top job in the US of A: Bush, Walker, Christie, Ehrlich, Gilmore, Palin, Kasich, Jindal, Huckabee, Pataki, Pence, Romney, Perry, Daniels, Scott, Snyder and Martinez. That’s 17 already packing the clown car even before we get to the likes of Herman (Pizza Godfather) Cain or John (The Stache) Bolton and Carly Fiorina, who have never been elected to any public office.
That brings us to a nice round number of 20 stuffed into that car. Surely that is enough, right? Wrong! The list goes on with the likes of Carson, Graham, Bachmann, Corker, Cruz, King, Paul, Trump, Rubio and Santorum.
Phew, I literally ran out of fingers and toes to count on, but I think that comes to 30 Teapublican wannabes. For the likes of former RNC head Michael Steele that adds up to an incredibly deep bench, but for comedians like Jon Stewart and Bill Maher it adds up to comedy gold.
Mouse: What can I say but “President Hillary, here she comes!” Never thought I’d see a woman as President in my lifetime.
Grumpy: It certainly may happen that Hillary is elected in 2016. In fact I would venture to say that if she runs she will win. But what if she doesn’t run or circumstances beyond anyone’s control intervene? Is Steele right? Is the Democratic bench really shallow?
Rachel Maddow seems to think Senator McCaskill would make an appealing general election candidate. Whether she could survive a primary campaign with her less than stellar liberal voting record remains in doubt. Even as she endorsed the idea Maddow injected a note of skepticism, given the Senator’s unfavorable reputation among more liberal Democrats.
Then there is Elizabeth Warren, she who refuses to run. Could she be persuaded if Hillary is out of the picture and could she appeal in the general election?
Another name that has been bandied about is Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Mostly he is thought of as a possible VP pick but his star certainly shines brightly in liberal circles. Being from the all-important Buckeye State certainly adds to his appeal for a ticket mate or even to head up a Democratic ticket.
Others that could be in the mix include Gavin Newsome, Joaquín Castro (or his twin brother Julián), Kirsten Gillibrand, or even (and I am going out a limb here) Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. I make no claim that this list is exhaustive and there are many others that could easily make it into the White House. Continue reading They’ll Need a Bigger Clown Car
Mouse: What is that all about? How is simply asking the extremely wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes soaking them? How is asking those who have benefited the most from the past 30 years of economic policy to pay up soaking them?
Doesn’t the middle class deserve a break? A chance to share in the wealth of the country they help make great? And what about the poor? Don’t they deserve a break and a chance too?
How ridiculous did the Republicans look sitting there like statues during President Obama’s SOTU speech? They refused to applaud anything that would help the average American. I’m sure that was on orders from the Koch brothers.
Grumpy: Oh, don’t get me started on the Koch brothers. We’ll be here for a month before I finish my rant.
You are absolutely right about tax fairness. The conservative side likes to point out that the wealthy pay the majority of the taxes, but they never talk about whether those at the top are paying proportionally the same as the average middle-income workers pay. In some cases under today’s tax system, many of the wealthiest (I’m looking at you, Mitt) pay less than the doorman at their fancy Park Avenue digs or the mechanics that install their car elevators.
Mouse: I could speak for a month on Willard and his never-seen tax statements. I wonder what he’s hiding? Too many offshore bank accounts?
Grumpy: The Teapublicans didn’t always sit on their hands, though. Remember that moment when President Obama said he didn’t have to campaign for office anymore. Why, I think that brought a standing ovation.
Mouse: That was my favorite part of the SOTU. President Obama could beat the Republicans a third time. What a shame he doesn’t get to try. I bet Republican heads popped with a dry, dusty sound when they once again attempted to disrespect the President and didn’t succeed.
So, Grumpy, what do you think about two years of community college being paid for by the government? How many people currently stuck in low-wage jobs might have a glimmer of hope of improving their lives with a bit of education?
Grumpy:I have a couple of grandchildren who will soon be ready to take advantage of such a program. It will certainly give them a leg up whether they go on to a four-year college or not.
Of course the Teapublicans never saw an Obama idea that they like and they have been grumbling about this one since he first mentioned it before the SOTU. Grumbling is what they seem to do best. And they call me Grumpy! Meh!
Mouse: Teapublicans hate education. They hate to think anyone might be smarter than them. After all, it’s elitist to be educated, don’tcha know? And then of course someone who is educated is less likely to vote Republican. They know the only way they can stay in power is to keep people ignorant of what is happening in the world. Continue reading Soak the Rich?
A typical State of the Union Address tells us less about a presidency than the other party’s official response to it does. This has been especially true during the Obama years. More crucially, though, it’s an opportunity for the opposition party to try to tell viewers about itself, to trot out one of its best and brightest young up-and-comers to dazzle the camera with a mouthful of startlingly white teeth, to pluck the heartstrings of Ma and Pa Viewer, and to remind us all of that mythical time when the backbone of the economy was 5-cent lemonade stands and the nation’s greatness was embodied by Juicy Fruit and the Marshall Plan. And to try and make the case, with occasional faint praise, that the President is an America-hating disaster.
Bobby Jindal was the first such nine-day wonder thrown into the breach, although he was actually responding to a non-SOTU address before a joint session of Congress, delivered barely a month into Barack Obama’s first term. In and of itself, the choice of Jindal to deliver the response seemed to reflect the flimsy state of GOP political strategizing at the time: Youthful mixed-race President? No problem! We got a young Indian feller right here, and – bonus! – he talks like Forrest Gump. Multi-cultural or what?
Jindal’s uncannily awful performance was so widely panned even by Republicans that, six years on, he has yet to regain “rising star” status in a party still desperately searching for one. Which goes some way toward explaining the GOP’s choice to respond to the first official Obama SOTU the following year, Smilin’ Bob McDonnell. Governor McDonnell was just 11 days into his term and was a Republican matinee idol, reassuringly white, Southern but not too Southern, telegenic in a megachurch preacher kind of way, and articulate without being wonkish. Back in 2010, some in his party envisioned the Oval Office in his future; he was most recently in the headlines a couple of weeks ago after receiving an outrageously lenient prison sentence on 11 counts of corruption.
Things got a little more interesting in 2011, when not one but three Republicans were tapped to try and rebut the SOTU. There was Paul Ryan, an intellectual bantamweight with a fondness for moth-eaten Randian ideas (in other words, the sort of Republican other Republicans actually consider a serious policy guy). There was Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, an archconservative Florida Congresswoman and cable news darling, summoned to speak to Hispanics after it finally occurred to the RNC that Hispanics don’t much care for Republicans. And then there was Michele Bachmann. Her “official” response on behalf of the Tea Party Express is the only one anybody remembers, less for its predictable teabagger platitudes than for the fact that she appeared to spend six minutes and 36 seconds speaking to someone standing unseen a couple of feet to the left of the camera.
Republicans got back to basics the following year, sending out Mitch Daniels to deliver an aggressively contrary response that took the President to task for high unemployment and “an unprecedented explosion of spending,” Daniels apparently having missed the invasion and occupation of Iraq, not to mention Medicare Part D. Straight-faced, Daniels assailed the President’s “grand experiment in trickle-down government” and “constant efforts to divide [Americans].” Daniels was soon on the short list for Mitt Romney’s running mate, but – perhaps sensing the coming electoral debacle – he publicly made clear that he had no interest in the position. He left politics the following year to serve as president of Purdue University, and good riddance to him.
2013’s SOTU response, by contrast, was insanely entertaining. As in 2009, Republicans trotted out a highly touted, non-WASP go-getter, Marco Rubio, who obligingly made a bigger fool of himself than Bobby Jindal had. Rubio prated on about the sanctity of life, about immigrants like his parents pursuing the American dream, about “tax-and-spend” Democrats, about the evils of big government, regulation, taxes and debt, about Obamacare, about the President’s supposedly divisive rhetoric, about securing the borders, about the “moral breakdown of our society.” And nobody cared; his misadventures with a water bottle were all anyone talked about the moment Rubio wrapped up his 14-minute-plus English speech and an even longer Spanish one. Actually, his willingness to laugh at himself over the whole thing would be admirable, if he weren’t still milking it for applause two years later. Continue reading Prate of the Union
I personally enjoy observing social behavior, looking for patterns, finding tendencies and connections at hidden levels that make things work they way they do. I have a fondness for truth and putting ideas to the test.
Which one of the two traits above make me unlikely to be a Republican?
Actually, both traits are at the heart of the Republican paradox—the idea that you can lie and win elections, that truth doesn’t matter, but correctly analyzing social behavior contributes to victory. Like the double helix of DNA, Republicans take these twin strands which seem to be at odds, and from their different functions create the twisting rungs of a winning strategy.
Democrats take heed.
For Republicans, lying is big business, especially for elected officials and media personnel. But the new lie is not the old lie.
The new lie incorporates new, multiple functions and has improved deniability and staying power. Among the most important of its new functions is that the new lie sanitizes itself. Newly sworn House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana is a practitioner and high expert of the new lie. He denied knowing he had once spoken to a white supremacist group organized under the patronage of Louisiana’s most famous white supremacist and former state senator, David Duke. The Scalise new lie: “I didn’t know who the group were or what the group stood for.” Could I have spoken to a group of Black Panthers in South Carolina and not known who they were? Continue reading Prepare for the New Lie
New Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – man, it makes me queasy to type that – will try to move authorization of the Keystone XL pipeline forward today after last week’s House vote to approve it.
Tuesday, Chris Christie takes a time-out from mourning his beloved Dallas Cowboys to deliver his State of the State address. Spoiler alert: the state of the state is rife with corruption, with the worst of it centered around 354 Stockton Street in Princeton. Governor Christie will likely avoid that topic, though, to concentrate on lying and blustering, the two things he does best.
Senate Democrats will be in Baltimore Wednesday and Thursday for their annual policy retreat (and no, I will not go for a cheap laugh here). They’ll be doing so without Minority Leader Harry Reid, who’s still recovering from his recent injuries and remains in Washington on doctors’ orders. House and Senate Republicans, meanwhile, will gather in Hershey, Pennsylvania for a joint two-day retreat, presumably to synch up their respective ideas for destroying the country as efficiently as possible.
Wednesday at noon, the Londonderry Fish and Game Club in Litchfield, New Hampshire hosts a one-hour “conversation” on the Second Amendment with crackpot Senator Rand Paul, followed by a Q&A session where it’s pretty much guaranteed Senator Paul will not be asked pertinent questions like “Why the hell do you think you’re qualified to be President?” and “Where’d you get that hair?”
The President kicks off his week with a visit to the Federal Trade Commission on Monday, followed by a Tuesday bipartisan confab with Congressional leaders to discuss what Reuters laughably describes as “common goals,” and a visit to the DHS National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center. Wednesday he heads to Iowa for a speech about expanding broadband access for more Americans. He’s also expected to drop by the Democrats’ Baltimore get-together on Thursday. Thursday evening, he dines with British PM David Cameron; the two will confer at the White House on Friday. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 1/12/15
Republicans, unconcerned with progress or sensible public policy, have plenty of free time to devote to other pursuits. Like feigning outrage. For that, and only for that, Barack Obama has been their ideal President. The apparent unflappability, exotic background, swift rise from obscurity, technocratic approach to governance and pigmentary uniqueness among Chief Executives are all ideally pitched to prompt sputtering Republican ire. It doesn’t even matter that it’s mostly as forced and insincere as a junior high production of a fifth-rate operetta; the GOP’s stenographic corps in the mainstream media reliably take it at face value.
Autobiographical revelations of madrassa attendance and youthful drug use, cherry-picked Jeremiah Wright sermons, the mythical “Whitey” tape, the remarks about “clinging to guns and religion,” the “57 states” gaffe, the “terrorist fist jab” with wife Michelle, the Middle Eastern and European “Apology Tour” and those faux-classical columns at the convention provided all the warm-up necessary.
Once the President took office, Republicans went on to being incensed by the Beer Summit (racism!), the auto bailout (socialism!), the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (big socialism!), Cash for Clunkers (socialism, sorta!), Obamacare and its attendant “death panels” (huge socialism!), vacations in Hawaii and Martha’s Vineyard (elitism!), withdrawal from Iraq (cowardice!), new CAFE standards (tyranny, tree-hugging!), IRS-gate (abuse of power!), Benghazi (treason, cowardice and abuse of power!), golfing (shiftlessness!), tan suits (um… gauche!) coffee cup salutes (arrogance, shiftlessness, with a soupçon of elitism!), and a host of other non-scandals so contrived and picayune most Republicans don’t even remember them.
Each of these tantrum-ticklers, it turns out, was mere prelude to Republican reaction to the President’s recent executive actions on immigration. Note to aspiring conservative naysayers out there: churlish and peevish are passé; this season, nothing but full-on hysteria will do.
Felon-in-waiting Michele Bachmann believes the immigration measures are a ploy to produce an army of illegal but dependable Democratic voters:
“The social cost will be profound on the U.S. taxpayer — millions of unskilled, illiterate, foreign nationals coming into the United States who can’t speak the English language… Even though the president says they won’t be able to vote, we all know that many, in all likelihood, will vote.”
Rabies-afflicted Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who also discussed with a caller to his radio show the idea that Hispanics could undertake “ethnic cleansing” in America, had his own variation on this theme, with bonus points for working in the S-word:
“There is still a decided bias in favor of bigger government not smaller government. So maybe this strategy of replacing American voters with newly legalized aliens, if you look at it through an ethnic lens… you’ve got a locked in vote for socialism.”
Tom Coburn, that poster child for gravitas, warned of civil unrest:
“The country’s going to go nuts, because they’re going to see it as a move outside the authority of the president, and it’s going to be a very serious situation… You’re going to see — hopefully not — but you could see instances of anarchy… You could see violence.”
Rick Santorum’s evident distress stemmed from his deep concern for minorities and the working poor. Or so he wants everyone, including himself, to believe:
“You know who gets hurt the most by this? Hispanics in America. Lower-income workers in America. You’re adding 5 million mostly unskilled workers into a labor pool where wages are declining, when median income in America is declining… We’re going to flood the labor market and we’re going to hurt Hispanics, we’re going to blacks and lower-income whites, and he does this out of compassion? He’s doing this as a slap-in-the-face to every working American.”
Hugh Hewitt’s plaint was similar:
“The people in the country illegally will know shortly that this stunt… does not help them and may in fact hurt them – badly… The president’s lawless act will have the apparently contradictory impact of both making life harder for ‘those in the shadows’ by increasing the reluctance of employers to hire the obviously illegal, while at the same time attracting millions more north across the fenceless border.”
Though Hewitt too rushed to the defense of the document his beloved GW Bush once described as “a goddamn piece of paper”:
“… a disfigurement of the Constitution which will lead to future disfigurements. Wait until the environmentalists learn that a GOP president can suspend enforcement of their beloved if crazy Endangered Species Act. Wait until all sorts of special interests realize that their special interest legislation can be suspended at a stroke of a pen.”
Mike Kelly, an obscure Republican Congressman from Pennsylvania, believes the President’s actions are unprecedented:
“The country is witnessing something right now that I don’t think in our entire history we’ve ever looked at, a constitutional crisis…”
Or perhaps precedented. It’s a little hard to tell:
“Right now in the history of our country we have never had such an internal crisis as we’ve had, not since the mid-1800s, of what we’re going through right now. Why would this president choose this issue and cause a constitutional crisis?”
Peter Wehner, who worked in the White House under Reagan, Bush and Bush the Lesser and has thus seen, up close, more constitutional violations than almost anyone alive, took a similar tack: Continue reading Time Mismanagement
Well. With last week’s little unpleasantness out of the way, it’s at least a small relief that the cable news networks have mothballed their portentous horn-laden stings and seizure-inducing election-themed graphics. Until shortly before the first ’16 primary, anyway.
It’s less comforting that their energies now shift to helping Republicans craft their Grand Obstructionist Lame Duck narrative for the last half of the last term of Barack Obama, one where the “deeply unpopular” President, still diligently portrayed as a disengaged and feckless weakling, will nonetheless also be vilified as a stubborn, unreasoning bulwark against the bold (though coincidentally asinine) policy ideas of Republicans, through his preternatural command of a microphone and a veto pen.
Unless Republicans impeach him, of course, in which case… well, who the hell knows? Personally, I’d be delighted if the President were to veto everything the new Republican majorities stink up the inbox of the Resolute Desk with, and publicly call them all out as mendacious shitweasels in his next SOTU before daring them to start impeachment proceedings. Alas, that’s not going to happen.
As is his wont, the President will pick his battles with a seeming overabundance of caution, especially early on as the parties begin to square off in Congress. And that very well might entail his signature on some misshapen, though – one hopes – not monstrous legislation. In a landscape this ugly, there’s no reason to believe this is going to be anyone’s finest hour, and whatever compromising there is, I’m sadly sure most of it will be done by Democrats.
Magnitudes worse, though, is the effect of more Republicans in state legislatures and governors’ mansions. The appalling consequences of this sort of thing were vivid in the wake of Republican state-level gains in 2010, and they’re going to get a whole lot worse come January. Progressive or even moderate victories in the Obama Era have been muted, blunted or outright denied to citizens of red states via Republicans in charge there, with the ready assistance of ALEC, Koch money, and a “free press” soundly asleep at its post. Continue reading Consequences