Thursday, February 11, 2010

Obama Worship---And the Flesh Was Made of Words


Obama, The Fallen Messiah and The Problem With Secular Salvation Narratives
Max Blumenthal, December 16, 2009,

In responding to my initial post, Sarah Posner, Todd Gitlin, and Fred Clarkson make some very important points about the appeal of the Christian right to ordinary Americans. I think their points dovetail with one another. Posner argues quite correctly that those who I described as giving up their individual freedom for the authoritarian structure of the right believe they are gaining new life in the Kingdom of God, along with a sense of community and belonging. She illustrates this trend in her excellent book on the rising trend of prosperity gospel theology in evangelical churches, God's Profits.

Clarkson adds that the salvation narrative the movement offers to trauma-wracked individuals is one of its key draws. This narrative often takes an explicitly political form, promising the replacement of a culturally decadent secular government with a theocratically-inspired authoritarian system (see Newt Gingrich's remarks at David Horowitz's Renaissance Weekend for a recent example of this appeal). Or, as Gitlin said, the salvation narrative may promise eternal life in Heaven -- after the enemies of God are slaughtered en masse in a display of pornographic violence, as portrayed in Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins' bestselling Left Behind Series.
During a time of economic decline, persistent cultural strife, deepening American involvement in far-off military conflicts, and rapid environmental deterioration, is there any wonder that some have turned to apocalyptic salvation narratives promising both a transcendent, everlasting future and violent retribution against perceived evildoers? A 2002 CNN poll found that 59% of Americans believe that the prophecies in the Book of Revelations will come true. The startling number reflected the still-fresh trauma of the 9/11 attacks, but I suspect that it has held steady, if not risen. Indeed, mainstream American culture is permeated by apocalypticism; the blockbuster movie hit 2012 is but one recent example.

I spend several chapters in my book following the Christian right's ascent to the mountain top with George W. Bush's re-election, detailing how the movement shrouded science and reason in the shadow of the cross, then observing as it swiftly imploded during the Terri Schiavo charade. Because I completed my book days after Barack Obama's inauguration, I was only able to foreshadow the right's plan to undermine the new president. Having watched the right attempt to delegitimize and literally overthrow Bill Clinton for eight years, I did not harbor any illusions about Obama transcending partisan division by becoming the "liberal Reagan who can reunite America," as many argued.

What I did not include in my book was any sense of where the Democratic left was going, or how this movement had developed its own salvation narrative during the Bush era. Only a presidency as destructive and radical as Bush's could have produced such deep levels of anxiety and desperation among progressives. When the Democratic primary began, some progressives seemed to ache for a secular messiah to descend from the political heavens, reverse Bush's disastrous legacy and save the country from itself.

In their quest for a savior, progressives discovered Barack Obama. "I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views," Obama proclaimed in his book, The Audacity of Hope. As Obama's primary battle against Hillary Clinton intensified, his rhetoric and the language of his supporters grew increasingly messianic. At a rally in South Carolina, Oprah Winfrey referred to Obama as "The One," a fusion of Jesus and Neo from The Matrix. When Obama defeated Clinton in Iowa, he quoted from a Hopi Indian End Times prophecy that had become popular among New Agers: "We are the ones we've been waiting for." Moved to the point of ecstasy by Obama's victory speech, Ezra Klein declared the candidate, "not the Word made flesh, but the triumph of the word over flesh... Obama is, at his best, able to call us back to our higher selves."

(Though he is not a progressive by even the wildest stretch of the imagination, it is worth noting that Louis Farrakhan, who had consistently ordered his followers to boycott elections and who attacked black politicians from Harold Washington to Jesse Jackson as tools of the white power structure, declared in no uncertain terms that Obama was the Messiah.)

Now that some of Obama's most zealous supporters are beginning to express grave doubts about his ability to deliver the transcendent change he promised, I think it is time for them to consider their role in contributing to the problems Obama faces with both his Democratic base and his opponents on the right. They embraced a secular salvation narrative that Obama cleverly channeled to excite them and distract from his lack of progressive accomplishments. In the end, Obama's messianization created false expectations while establishing political space for the right to undermine and delegitimize him.

To be sure, Obama's salvation narrative was dramatically different than the dualistic, malignant version that prevails on the Christian right. Obama never, to my knowledge, played to his supporters' dark sides by promising them holy retribution against their perceived enemies. In fact, part of his appeal stemmed from his repudiation of partisan rancor -- there were no red states where people reject science, demonize gays and attack minority rights. Until he was inaugurated, Obama behaved like a secular Messiah in a world without a Devil.

In my book, I detail a series of experiments by a group of political psychologists seeking to provide evidence that the fear of death inspires extreme conservative beliefs -- including apocalypticism. Their study was inspired by a theory of cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker: "The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is a mainspring of human activity - designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny of man." The professors discovered that time and again, their study subjects would register more conservative responses to questions if they were first reminded of their own deaths. (See John Judis' excellent article on the studies for more).

The use of mortality reminders came in to play as soon as Obama was inaugurated. Almost immediately, the right attempted to delegitimize him by reversing the phenomenon he relied on to win: While he attempted to serve as a blank screen for Americans to project their aspirations upon, they projected their most fearsome inner demons onto him. During the October McCain-Palin rallies, Sarah Palin and far-right surrogates like Joe the Plumber attacked Obama as an Other, a strange outsider who did not share mainstream American values. Their intention was to make him as unfamiliar and frightening as possible, and in doing so, to scare off wavering independent voters. By this time, it was too late in the campaign for the tactic to take effect, so it extended into this year and peaked during the Fall Teabagger rallies and town hall disruptions.

Teabagger activists transposed images of Stalin and Hitler onto Obama's face. (Their propaganda bore a disturbing resemblance to the signs waved by right-wing Jewish settlers during rallies against Yitzhak Rabin that depicted the soon to be assassinated Israeli PM in Nazi SS garb and as the collaborator Marshall Petain, two seemingly incongruous images). Obama was a Muslim; Obama was a commie; Obama was a cosmopolitan globalist; Obama was a black nationalist. It did not matter who Obama really was. The right simply wanted to convince America he was The Other. As cynical as their tactic is, it has damaged Obama in large part because he offered himself up as "a blank screen," defining himself as he thought different audiences wished to see him, and ultimately not establishing a very clear identity at all.

The right has complemented its anti-Obama propaganda with false rumors designed to inject the language of death into the healthcare debate. The single most damaging rumor, adopted from the cult of Lyndon LaRouche, refined by healthcare industry lobbyist Betsy McCaughey, and popularized by Sarah Palin, was that Obama's healthcare reform proposal included a plan to implement "death panels." While the president pleaded for compromise and reason, the right repeated the baseless charge over and over that he planned to pull the plug on grandma, euthanize the severely handicapped, and kill the sick. Obama has not yet recovered from the damage the right's mortality reminders did to his political standing.

Since Obama announced his plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan, and with the White House apparently poised to scrap the public option and Medicare buy-in proposals to mollify Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the progressive left is going into contortions. Turn on MSNBC or read any major progressive blog and you will see former Obama zealots proclaim, "Kill the bill!" while assailing the president as an empty suit.

The liberal left has become so disgruntled that a leading conservative talk radio host asked me recently if progressives were considering a primary challenge to Obama. I laughed and stated my belief that despite his troubles, Obama would win a second term. Whether or not that happens, those former Obama fanatics experiencing a crisis in faith should look in the mirror. They demanded a secular salvation narrative and participated in the near-deification of the politician who so eloquently delivered it to them. They now know that Obama is just a politician. What they have refused to acknowledge is that he would not have fallen so hard had they not lifted him so high.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Obama Era At Six Months: Will He Get Beyond Campaign Rhetoric?


Obama Beware: Presidential Magic Can Prove Tragic,Gil Troy, History News Service, July 27, 2009.

Barack Hussein Obama has now been President for six months – when campaigning he avoided using his full name, now he embraces it. As President Obama passes this half-year milestone, his honeymoon with the public may be ending – although America’s media remains gaga about him. Obama is readying for a major fight over health care. His popularity is starting to sag. As he enters what was a difficult phase for new presidents, Obama should learn from history not to bank only on his charisma. Other presidents have learned the hard way that depending too much on personal magic can prove tragic for the country.

Thus far, simply getting elected has been Obama’s greatest achievement. On Election Day, and with his inauguration, Barack Obama brought hope to a depressed country. Counterfactuals are impossible to prove, but it is hard to believe that electing John McCain or Hillary Rodham Clinton would have generated the excitement of Obama’s victory. A McCain win in particular, probably would have triggered rounds of recriminations and accusations of racism, especially considering most reporters’ pro-Obama bias during the campaign – and since.

Obama played his part magnificently. “Yes We Can” inspired a country demoralized by George W. Bush’s lethargy, Iraq’s complexity, New Orleans’ devastation and the financial collapse. As both candidate and rookie president, Obama demonstrated perfect political pitch on the racial issue, never indulging in racial demagoguery or anger, refusing to run as the black candidate, but embracing his historic role as an agent of healing and change when he won.

Governing, of course, requires more than winning election by spinning an uplifting personal narrative. In fairness to Obama, when he started running he – and most everyone else – believed these years would be times of continued prosperity. Few anticipated the financial crash, although that secured Obama’s victory, given that the debacle occurred on the Republicans’ watch. Obama has also been blessed by his predecessor George W. Bush’s unpopularity and the Republican opposition’s stunning impotence.

But Obama has been cursed by this financial crisis’s depth and complexity. So far, he has blamed Bush. But, as Ronald Reagan learned, presidential success early on – and pie-in-the-sky promises about saving the economy – quickly make the incumbent responsible. In 1981, Reagan blamed Jimmy Carter and the Democrats for the great inflation, high interest rates and crushing budget deficits he inherited. After many legislative successes and hope-laden speeches that culminated in August 1981, seven months into his presidency, the economy nosedived. When Congress returned from its summer recess, Democrats blamed their constituents’ suffering on “The Reagan Recession.”

The $787 billion stimulus plan could end up being Obama’s albatross. He erred by allowing the Congressional pork-kings to dictate the legislation, burdening it with pet projects rather than smart stimuli. He further erred by forgetting his vows of bipartisanship and post-partisanship, thus failing to share responsibility with the Republicans. Ultimately, like Reagan, Obama has time on his side. All he needs is a recovery by spring 2012 and he can still claim a new, Reaganesque, “morning in America,” with his own liberal twist. But by veering as left as he has domestically, by playing the hard partisan game he has, he risks following in the footsteps of Jimmy Carter – who six months into his presidency scored about ten percentage points higher than Obama has in public approval surveys. And Obama is now entering a particularly difficult passage in his presidency as he tries to overcome the health care reform curse that stymied Bill Clinton, another young charismatic Democrat with great potential.

In foreign affairs, Obama’s addiction to his own rhetoric and charisma is more apparent, and more dangerous. Foreign policy has often been a refuge for modern presidents, an arena for bold actions, stirring speeches, and fawning headlines with less Congressional or press interference. But many major presidential disasters of the last half-century were rooted in foreign troubles. Most people forget that the phrase “the best and the brightest” – which has been used repeatedly to boost Obama and his Ivy League advisers – was more epitaph than tribute in David Halberstam’s classic work on Vietnam. John Kennedy’s people, despite his charisma and eloquence, despite their smarts and pedigrees, steered America into the bogs of Indochina.

So far, while his actions in boosting troops in Afghanistan and keeping troops in Iraq have been measured, Obama’s instincts abroad have proved troubling. Reacting feebly to in-your-face North Korean missile tests and initially dismissing heroic Iranian protests while belligerently targeting Israeli settlements further evokes unhappy memories of Jimmy Carter, who incompetently alienated friends and appeased enemies.

Obama’s Cairo speech revealed his characteristic tendency to hover above the fray, create moral equivalences between opponents, and promise to reconcile the unreasonable combatants. World affairs are rarely that simple. Naivete and moral obtuseness usually fail, even if George W. Bush proved too heavy-handed, simplistic, and incompetent.

Still, the presidential learning curve, especially in foreign affairs, can be steep. The presidency, despite being the world’s most scrutinized job, is also ever-changing, providing more plot twists than an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Nikita Khruschev bullied John Kennedy when they first met in Vienna, in 1961, only to be outmaneuvered by a more experienced JFK during the October 1962 Cuban missile crisis. And Israelis forget that George W. Bush, whose warm friendship for Israel seems to have put off Obama, did not enter the White House as an obvious friend. Well into Bush’s first year in office, Bush – or his Secretary of State Colin Powell – criticized nearly every Israeli action against Palestinian terrorism, which mounted with increasing intensity that awful year. Only the horrors of September 11, 2001 – followed in January 2002 by Yasir Arafat’s direct lie to President Bush claiming not to know anything about the Karine-A illegal arms shipment from Iran – changed Bush’s approach.

A now-famous you-tube video shows Obama killing a fly easily during a television interview. Obama gloats at his success, which was cool and impressive. As he governs, Obama has demonstrated great potential but even greater confidence. Whether his cool personality roots him, or his arrogance defeats him, remains to be seen. Ultimately, results not charisma will count.

Text Source: History News Service
Imgage Source: Never Melted

Friday, June 19, 2009

Does Obama Need a Fact Checker?

Just Make Stuff Up: President Obama’s war on the truth.

By Victor Davis Hanson


In the first six months of the Obama administration, we have witnessed an assault on the truth of a magnitude not seen since the Nixon Watergate years. The prevarication is ironic given the Obama campaign’s accusations that the Bush years were not transparent and that Hillary Clinton, like her husband, was a chronic fabricator. Remember Obama’s own assertions that he was a “student of history” and that “words mean something. You can’t just make stuff up.”

Yet Obama’s war against veracity is multifaceted.

Trotskyization. Sometimes the past is simply airbrushed away. Barack Obama has a disturbing habit of contradicting his past declarations as if spoken words did not mean much at all. The problem is not just that once-memorable statements about everything from NAFTA to public campaign financing were contradicted by his subsequent actions. Rather, these pronouncements simply were ignored to the point of making it seem they were never really uttered at all.



What is stunning about Obama’s hostile demagoguery about Bush’s War on Terror is not that he has now contradicted himself on one or two particulars. Instead, he has reversed himself on every major issue — renditions, military tribunals, intercepts, wiretaps, Predator drone attacks, the release of interrogation photos, Iraq (and, I think, soon Guantanamo Bay) — and yet never acknowledged these reversals.

Are we supposed to think that Obama was never against these protocols at all? Or that he still remains opposed to them even as he keeps them in place? Meanwhile, his attorney general, Eric Holder, is as voluble on the excesses of the Bush War on Terror as he is silent about his own earlier declarations that detainees in this war were not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Convention.

Politicians often go back on earlier promises, and they often exaggerate (remember Obama’s “10,000” who died in a Kansas tornado [12 perished], or his belief that properly inflating tires saves as much energy as offshore drilling can produce?). But the extent of Obama’s distortions suggests that he has complete confidence that observers in the media do not care — or at least do not care enough to inform the public.

The “Big Lie.” Team Obama says that Judge Sotomayor misspoke when she asserted that Latinas were inherently better judges than white males. Yet the people around Obama knew before Sotomayor was nominated that she has reiterated such racialist sentiments repeatedly over many years.

Obama complained that his deficits were largely inherited — even though his newly projected annual deficit and aggregate increase in the national debt may well, if they are not circumvented, equal all the deficit spending compiled by all previous administrations combined.

The president lectures Congress on its financial excesses. He advocates “pay as you go” budgeting. But he remains silent about the unfunded liabilities involved in his own proposals for cap-and-trade, universal health care, and education reform, which will in aggregate require well over a trillion dollars in new spending on top of existing deficits — but without any “pay as you go” proposals to fund them.

By the same token, his promise that 95 percent of Americans will receive an Obama “tax cut” is impossible. Remember, almost 40 percent of households currently pay no income taxes at all — and the $1.7-trillion annual deficit will necessitate a broad array of taxes well beyond those assessed on incomes above $250,000.

Obama talks about cutting federal outlays by eliminating $17 billion in expenditures — one-half of one percent of a $3.4-trillion budget. Here the gap between rhetoric and reality is already so wide that it simply makes no difference whether one goes completely beyond the limits of belief. Why would a liberal “budget hawk” go through the trouble of trying to cut 10 or 20 percent of the budget when he might as well celebrate a 0.5 percent cut and receive the same amount of credit or disdain? If one is going to distort, one might as well distort whole-hog.

Outright historical dissimulation. On matters of history, we now know that much of what President Obama says is either not factual or at least misleading. He predictably errs on the side of political correctness. During the campaign, there was his inaccurate account of his great-uncle’s role in liberating Auschwitz. In Berlin, he asserted that the world — rather than the American and British air forces — came together to pull off the Berlin Airlift.

In the Cairo speech, nearly every historical allusion was nonfactual or inexact: the fraudulent claims that Muslims were responsible for European, Chinese, and Hindu discoveries; the notion that a Christian C√≥rdoba was an example of Islamic tolerance during the Inquisition; the politically correct canard that the Renaissance and Enlightenment were fueled by Arab learning; the idea that abolition and civil rights in the United States were accomplished without violence — as if 600,000 did not die in the Civil War, or entire swaths of Detroit, Gary, Newark, and Los Angeles did not go up in flames in the 1960s.

Here we see the omnipotent influence of Obama’s multicultural creed: Western civilization is unexceptional in comparison with other cultures, and history must be the story of an ecumenical, global shared brotherhood.

The half-, and less-than-half, truth. At other times, Obama throws out historical references that are deliberately incomplete. To placate critical hosts, he evokes the American dropping of the bomb. But he is silent about the impossible choices for the Allies — after Japanese atrocities in Manchuria, Korea, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa — facing the necessity of stopping a Japanese imperial killing machine, determined to fight to the death.

He lectures about equivalent culpability between Muslims and Americans without mentioning American largess to Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinians. He mostly ignores American military efforts to save Muslims in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Kuwait, and Somalia — and American criticism of Russia’s and China’s treatment of their own persecuted Muslim minorities.

When Obama contextualizes the United States’ treatment of Muslims, does he do so in comparison to the Chinese treatment of the Uighurs, the Russians in Chechnya and Afghanistan, or the European colonial experience in North Africa?

When he cites European colonialism’s pernicious role in the Middle East, does he mention nearly 400 years of Ottoman Muslim colonial rule in the Arab-speaking world? Or the Muslim world’s own role in sending several million sub-Saharan Africans to the Middle East as slaves? By no stretch of the imagination is purported Western bias against Islam commensurate with the Islamic threats that have been issued to Danish cartoonists, British novelists, the pope, or German opera producers.

Obama surely knows that a mosque is acceptable in America and Europe in a way that a church is not in most of the Gulf States, or that Muslims freely voice their beliefs in Rotterdam and Dearborn in a way Westerners dare not in Tehran, Damascus, or Riyadh.

Here we see the classic notion of the “noble lie,” or the assumption that facts are to be cited or ignored in accordance with the intended aim: Interfaith reconciliation means downplaying Muslim excesses, or treating Islamic felonies as equivalent with Western misdemeanors.

Why has President Obama developed a general disregard for the truth, in a manner far beyond typical politicians who run one way and govern another, or hide failures and broadcast successes?

First, he has confidence that the media will not be censorious and will simply accept his fiction as fact. A satirist, after all, could not make up anything to match the obsequious journalists who bow to their president, proclaim him a god, and receive sexual-like tingles up their appendages.

Second, Obama is a postmodernist. He believes that all truth is relative, and that assertions gain or lose credibility depending on the race, class, and gender of the speaker. In Obama’s case, his misleading narrative is intended for higher purposes. Thus it is truthful in a way that accurate facts offered by someone of a different, more privileged class and race might not be.

Third, Obama talks more than almost any prior president, weighing in on issues from Stephen Colbert’s haircut, to Sean Hannity’s hostility, to the need to wash our hands. In Obama’s way of thinking, his receptive youthful audiences are proof of his righteousness and wisdom — and empower him to pontificate on matters he knows nothing about.

Finally, our president is a product of a multicultural education: Facts either cannot be ascertained or do not matter, given that the overriding concern is to promote an equality of result among various contending groups. That is best done by inflating the aspirations of those without power, and deflating the “dominant narratives” of those with it.

The problem in the next four years will be not just that the president of the United States serially does not tell the truth. Instead, the real crisis in our brave new relativist world will be that those who demonstrate that he is untruthful will themselves be accused of lying.


Text Source: National Review Online

— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.


— Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal. © 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
Our Historically Challenged President, A list of distortions, Victor Davis Hanson, National Review, June 11, 2009.

In his speech last week in Cairo, President Obama proclaimed he was a “student of history.” But despite Barack Obama’s image as an Ivy League-educated intellectual, he lacks historical competency, in areas of both facts and interpretation.

This first became apparent during the presidential campaign. Candidate Obama proclaimed then that during World War II his great-uncle had helped liberate Auschwitz, and that his grandfather knew fellow American troops that had entered Auschwitz and Treblinka.

Both are impossible. The Americans didn’t free either Nazi death camp. (Regarding Obama’s great uncle’s war experience, the Obama team later said he’d meant the camp at Buchenwald.)

Much of what Obama said to thousands of Germans during his Victory Column speech in Berlin last summer was also ahistorical. He began, “I know that I don’t look like the Americans who’ve previously spoken in this great city.” He apparently forgot that for the prior eight years, the official faces of American foreign policy in Germany were Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice — both African-Americans.

In the same speech, Obama seemed to suggest that the world had come to together to save Berlin during the Airlift. In fact, it was almost an entirely American and British effort — written off by most observers as hopeless and joined by a handful of Western allies only when the lift looked like it might succeed.

In the recent Cairo speech, Obama’s historical allusions were even more suspect. Almost every one of his references was either misleading or incomplete. He suggested that today’s Middle East tension was fed by the legacy of European colonialism and the Cold War that had reduced nations to proxies.

But the great colonizers of the Middle East were the Ottoman Muslims, who for centuries ruled with an iron fist. The 20th-century movements of Baathism, Pan-Arabism, and Nasserism — largely homegrown totalitarian ideologies — did far more damage over the last half-century to the Middle East than did the legacy of European colonialism.

Obama also claimed that “Islam . . . carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.” While medieval Islamic culture was impressive and ensured the survival of a few classical texts — often through the agency of Arabic-speaking Christians — it had little to do with the European rediscovery of classical Greek and Latin values. Europeans, Chinese, and Hindus, not Muslims, invented most of the breakthroughs Obama credited to Islamic innovation.

Much of the Renaissance, in fact, was more predicated on the centuries-long flight of Greek-speaking Byzantine scholars from Constantinople to Western Europe to escape the aggression of Islamic Turks. Many romantic thinkers of the Enlightenment sought to extend freedom to oppressed subjects of Muslim fundamentalist rule in eastern and southern Europe.

Obama also insisted that “Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition.” Yet the Spanish Inquisition began in 1478; by then Cordoba had long been re-conquered by Spanish Christians, and was governed as a staunchly Christian city.

In reference to Iraq, President Obama promised that “no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.” Is he unaware that the United States imposed democracies after World War II?

After the defeat of German Nazism, Italian fascism, and Japanese militarism, Americans — by force — insisted that these nations adopt democratic governments, for both their own sakes and the world’s. Indeed, it is hard to think of too many democratic governments that did not emerge from violence — including our own.

Obama also stated: “For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights.”

With all due respect to our president, this assertion is again not fully accurate. The only thing that ended slavery in the United States was the Civil War, which saw some 600,000 Americans — the vast majority of them white — lost in a violent struggle to ensure that nearly half the country would not remain a slave-owning society. Also, the massive urban riots of the 1960s and 1970s were certainly violent.

This list of distortions could be easily expanded. President Obama, in elegant fashion, may casually invoke the means of politically correct history for the higher ends of contemporary reconciliation. But it is a bad habit. Eloquence and good intentions exempt no one from the truth of the past — President Obama included.

Text Source: National Review

Monday, June 15, 2009

Has Anyone Seen Obama's Original Birth Certificate?

However, you cannot dismiss concerns about Mr. Obama's origins and birth as rubbish. He could end the matter instantly by providing his original birth certificate (not a post 9-11 laserprinted copy, please.) I had to do so when I applied for a passport, and I was born 5 years before Mr. Obama. Being willing and able to provide proof of citizenship is requisite for many activities, from voting to getting married. Even Joe Biden joked about Obama's lack of paperwork, for gosh sakes. When it reaches the point where Biden can get a laugh from the Washington press corps over Dick Cheney leaving him a copy of Obama's birth certificate as a transition present and guaranty of safety, I'd say you have an issue a-brewing.

Text Source: John Andrew Prime, History News Network

Checking the one on the Obama wwwsite, I don't see a notary or a seal. Also, the number of the birth certificate is blocked out. I doubt that Obama's mom delivered him in Kenyan hospital when an American one would have been the prefered choice.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

What If Three of Four Chrysler Dealerships Were Owned by Democrats?

Furor Grows Over Partisan Car Dealer Closings, Mark Tapscott, Editorial Page Editor, Washington Examiner,05/27/09.

Evidence appears to be mounting that the Obama administration has systematically targeted for closing Chrysler dealers who contributed to Repubicans. What started earlier this week as mainly a rumbling on the Right side of the Blogosphere has gathered some steam today with revelations that among the dealers being shut down are a GOP congressman and closing of competitors to a dealership chain partly owned by former Clinton White House chief of staff Mack McLarty.
The basic issue raised here is this: How do we account for the fact millions of dollars were contributed to GOP candidates by Chrysler who are being closed by the government, but only one has been found so far that is being closed that contributed to the Obama campaign in 2008?

Florida Rep. Vern Buchanan learned from a House colleague that his Venice, Florida, dealership is on the hit list. Buchanan also has a Nissan franchise paired with the Chrysler facility in Venice.

"It's an outrage. It's not about me. I'm going to be fine," said Buchanan, the dealership's majority owner. "You're talking over 100,000 jobs. We're supposed to be in the business of creating jobs, not killing jobs," Buchanan told News 10, a local Florida television station.

Buchanan, who succeeded former Rep. Katharine Harris in 2006, reportedly learned of his dealership's termination from Rep.Candace Miller, R-MI. Buchanan owns a total of 23 dealerships in Florida and North Carolina.

Also fueling the controversy is the fact the RLJ-McCarty-Landers chain of Arkansas and Missouri dealerships aren't being closed, but many of their local competitors are being eliminated. Go here for a detailed look at this situation. McClarty is the former Clinton senior aide. The "J" is Robert Johnson, founder of the Black Entertainment Television, a heavy Democratic contributor.

A lawyer representing a group of Chrysler dealers who are on the hit list deposed senior Chrysler executives and later told Reuters that he believes the closings have been forced on the company by the White House.

"It became clear to us that Chrysler does not see the wisdom of terminating 25 percent of its dealers. It really wasn't Chrysler's decision. They are under enormous pressure from the President's automotive task force," said attorney Leonard Bellavia.

RedState.com's Josh Painter has a useful roundup of what has been found so far by a growing number of bloggers digging into what could be a very big story indeed. Also, see my column on this issue and how it fits into the larger context dubbed by the Examiner's Michael Barone as "gangster government."

As part of Chrysler's bankruptcy agreement with the White House, the company plans to close roughly a quarter of its 3,200 dealerships. Lists of the dealerships being cut and those retaining their Chrysler franchises can be found here in pdf format. Many dealers contend the criteria being used to determine which dealerships survive is not clear and that many of those that are being closed in fact are profitable businesses, despite the current recession.

UPDATE: Auto Prophet says wait just a minute

The Auto Prophet - an anonymous engineer working for one of the Detroit automakers - is skeptical of the suggestion that political considerations are playing a role in White House car czar decisions on which Chrysler dealers are to be shuttered.

A more likely explanation is simply the fact that more Chrysler dealers in general are likely to be Republican contributors, which would mean more of the closed dealers would be seen to be GOP supporters than Democrat supporters: "My hypothesis is that Chrysler dealers, being small businessmen, are more likely to donate to Republicans than Democrats, for predictable reasons. Like any small businessmen, car dealers want lower taxes, a lower minimum wage, fewer regulations, etc."

I have been reading The Auto Prophet for years and consider him to be among the most credible of bloggers on automotive issues. On this issue, I agree with him to the extent that a definitive, statistical analysis-driven conclusion is not possible until all contributions by all Chrysler dealers is completed.

But two points should be noted here. First, even if we accept the proposition that most car dealers are more likely to be Republican than Democratic donors, there would still be a "disparate impact" from closings on one class of dealers, compared to the other. When the federal courts see a disparate impact on racial groups, the policy or action in question is typically held to be inappropriate.

Race and car dealer closings, of course, aren't analogous. But the lesson remains that when government makes economic decisions that ought to be left to the private market, it is impossible to avoid disparate impacts. And there is always the question of would the Obama White House be so quick to close hundreds of dealerships if the owners of those dealerships were predominantly Democratic donors?

Second, since neither Chrysler, nor the White House have made public the criteria used to select dealers for elimination - and because a significant number of those being closed were profitable - the only way to resolve the inevitable controversy about political considerations in political decisions is to make the criteria public and allow independent outside observers to assess how those criteria were applied.

I'm not holding my breath on the likelihood of that happening any time soon.

UPDATE II: White House car czar married to Democratic fund raiser

Maybe it's significant, maybe not, but a colleague here in the Examiner newsroom just reminded me that White House car czar Steven Rattner is married to Maureen White, the former national finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee. And let's not forget that before Rattner became a Wall Street mover and shaker, he was a New York Times reporter. Check out the Wiki bio here.

Text Source: Washington Examiner

Image Source: ChryslerGMBlog. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Steven “Steve” Rattner of Quadrangle Group will join the Presidential Task Force on Autos as an advisor to National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers. Rattner has no publicly-known experience in the automotive industry, although as a former newspaper man and print media investor, he surely knows a thing or two about dying industries. Anyway, as we reported earlier, Rattner’s major qualification for the position (he was previously being considered for “car czar” before that position was merged into the PTFA) appears to be that he’s a major Obama fundraiser, and is married to the finance chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Is Obama Making The Numbers Up?

The Media Fall for Phony 'Jobs' Claims The Obama Numbers Are Pure Fiction, Willima McGurn, Wall Street Journal, June 9, 2009.

Mr. Fratto was a colleague of mine in the Bush administration, and as a senior member of the White House communications shop, he knows just how difficult it can be to deal with a press corps skeptical about presidential economic claims. It now appears, however, that Mr. Fratto's problem was that he simply lacked the magic words -- jobs "saved or created."

"Saved or created" has become the signature phrase for Barack Obama as he describes what his stimulus is doing for American jobs. His latest invocation came yesterday, when the president declared that the stimulus had already saved or created at least 150,000 American jobs -- and announced he was ramping up some of the stimulus spending so he could "save or create" an additional 600,000 jobs this summer. These numbers come in the context of an earlier Obama promise that his recovery plan will "save or create three to four million jobs over the next two years."



Associated Press

The president should 'save or create' more jobs in Cleveland.
.Mr. Fratto sees a double standard at play. "We would never have used a formula like 'save or create,'" he tells me. "To begin with, the number is pure fiction -- the administration has no way to measure how many jobs are actually being 'saved.' And if we had tried to use something this flimsy, the press would never have let us get away with it."

Of course, the inability to measure Mr. Obama's jobs formula is part of its attraction. Never mind that no one -- not the Labor Department, not the Treasury, not the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- actually measures "jobs saved." As the New York Times delicately reports, Mr. Obama's jobs claims are "based on macroeconomic estimates, not an actual counting of jobs." Nice work if you can get away with it.

And get away with it he has. However dubious it may be as an economic measure, as a political formula "save or create" allows the president to invoke numbers that convey an illusion of precision. Harvard economist and former Bush economic adviser Greg Mankiw calls it a "non-measurable metric." And on his blog, he acknowledges the political attraction.

"The expression 'create or save,' which has been used regularly by the President and his economic team, is an act of political genius," writes Mr. Mankiw. "You can measure how many jobs are created between two points in time. But there is no way to measure how many jobs are saved. Even if things get much, much worse, the President can say that there would have been 4 million fewer jobs without the stimulus."

Mr. Obama's comments yesterday are a perfect illustration of just such a claim. In the months since Congress approved the stimulus, our economy has lost nearly 1.6 million jobs and unemployment has hit 9.4%. Invoke the magic words, however, and -- presto! -- you have the president claiming he has "saved or created" 150,000 jobs. It all makes for a much nicer spin, and helps you forget this is the same team that only a few months ago promised us that passing the stimulus would prevent unemployment from rising over 8%.

It's not only former Bush staffers such as Messrs. Fratto and Mankiw who have noted the political convenience here. During a March hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, Chairman Max Baucus challenged Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on the formula.

"You created a situation where you cannot be wrong," said the Montana Democrat. "If the economy loses two million jobs over the next few years, you can say yes, but it would've lost 5.5 million jobs. If we create a million jobs, you can say, well, it would have lost 2.5 million jobs. You've given yourself complete leverage where you cannot be wrong, because you can take any scenario and make yourself look correct."

Now, something's wrong when the president invokes a formula that makes it impossible for him to be wrong and it goes largely unchallenged. It's true that almost any government spending will create some jobs and save others. But as Milton Friedman once pointed out, that doesn't tell you much: The government, after all, can create jobs by hiring people to dig holes and fill them in.

If the "saved or created" formula looks brilliant, it's only because Mr. Obama and his team are not being called on their claims. And don't expect much to change. So long as the news continues to repeat the administration's line that the stimulus has already "saved or created" 150,000 jobs over a time period when the U.S. economy suffered an overall job loss 10 times that number, the White House would be insane to give up a formula that allows them to spin job losses into jobs saved.

"You would think that any self-respecting White House press corps would show some of the same skepticism toward President Obama's jobs claims that they did toward President Bush's tax cuts," says Mr. Fratto. "But I'm still waiting."