It is all just Dijon Mustard…
Harris and Smith of Politico reported a curious accusation against President Obama, that of “triangulation”, but what does triangulation mean? Essentially, Obama and Biden went behind closed doors to give Republicans the one thing that they wanted, tax-cuts to reward their wealthy donors, in exchange for stimulus measures that are a mile shy of impotence. Pelosi and Reid were very nearly the heroes of progressives by standing against the bill, that is, until Obama told them to be quiet. What is the product of this spectacle? Obama is the champion of the middle, the great leader and compromiser which, contrary to the opinions of some, has been the image he has built since the campaign.
But why is this the road to take? Is it the voters? Very likely. But what do the voters really want?
The voters will judge Obama on the economy; he activated that meme during the campaign. Obama told us, accurately, that the previous administration did near irrefutable damage to the economy. It of course wasn’t just that, but it is the most recent example of failing economic ideologies. Now Obama needs to make good on his promises to repair the economy by implementing smart policies that quit giving handouts to the rich and powerful. However, by any measure we have seen, the new tax bill will only attenuate economic decline and give the richest 1% of this country another two years of handouts. I do not know if it will be enough, and I’m not sure it matters, because popular opinion is behind it. The spectacle achieved exactly what it was meant to. Obama is now the “centrist” President.
By what is so appealing about being a centrist?
Americans expressed frustration over the recent congressional races. They were tired of hearing Republicans say this and Democrats say that. The headlines read of “battles”, “a showdown”, “the Alamo”, “the next target”, “the fight”, and there is one really big problem with this, Americans are sick of battles within and between the three branches of government along only two party lines. Americans are not hearing of a productive dialogue about what is best for our country, they are hearing of political lines that reflect a binary system of political identity. They are hearing assertions of two, only two, political opinions—with emphasis on the word “opinion”, which is only a small component of someone’s existential understanding of the world. John Stewart and Stephen Colbert were able to tap this frustration, though they used false equivalencies to do it.
It is the binary identity that is most problematic. It activates memes of confrontation. It establishes that if one must win, then the other must loose, and there is no escaping it so long as the argument is framed this way. But even worse, it fosters an environment that allows the use of “othering” language, language that divides and works against us. And to be honest, most of it comes from the right. We only have to look at the last two years of Republican rhetoric to know this is true.
Does anyone remember the Dijon Mustard? When Obama and Biden went to have a burger and Obama asked for what Hannity and others have called an “elitist condiment”. To most of us, this criticism was comical, but look at how it has continued to evolve.
Right-wing media was all over Shirley Sherrod, touting false accusations that she is as an angry black woman who irrationally persecuted a white farmer. They did this because she is black and our President is black. They wanted to activate schemas of mistrust and the validity of the story had little to do with it. She was intended by the conservative media to be a metaphor of the inherent nature of black people, angry at their disposition in this country, and out to take the white man down. No one, not even the Obama administration, engaged the circumstances surrounding the story, they just called her “racist” (of the fabled reverse kind). And we see this over and over. It is the same as when we see signs for Barack Hussein Obama, or magazine covers where he gives Michelle a “terrorist” fist bump (ironic indeed). We see it when Newt Gingrich calls Obama a “Kenyan anti-colonial”, and when Palin calls him a “Socialist.” This is to say nothing of the right’s perception of his “questionable birth certificate”, or the pejorative use of the name “Lib” or “Dem”.
This is deliberate. The evidence of this is in Fox New’s leaked memos, or in Republicans actions with the Finaicial Crisis Inquiry Commission, or any time the likes of Beck, Limbaugh, or Hannity open their mouth. Republicans are the controlling the language for a reason, to divide and conquer. There message is clear, shut our borders to any outsiders, act as an aggressive homogeneous population so that any variation or race (think Sherrod and Obama), creed (think Muslims and the New York community center) and sexual orientation (Jesus, where do I start?), and look at how Republicans consistently and unabashedly invoke different identities to establish opposition.
This rhetoric positions Democrats to respond in a similar fashion. We do not talk about how Mitch McConnell would rather we fail to ratify START, putting the entire world at risk, instead the media reports of Republican opposition. Never mind the actual implications of failing to ratify nuclear proliferation, it is the right’s opinion and Obama must “fight back” as the champion of both the left and the middle. But Mitch McConnell is not just a Republican, he is also an older white male who remembers full well the “Red Scare” and “McCarthyism”, is he really representative of Republicans? Isn’t he the product of converging identities and experiences that have been shaped and changed throughout his life?
Here is a thought, quit calling them just Republicans—that is just playing there game. That language divides us and discourages a productive dialectic. These labels have consistently proven themselves to be too narrow on their own. The identity politic in this county is dangerous in this regard. We do not recognize the convergence of a multitude of fluid and ever changing identifies. No, instead we call it the Republican plan or the Democratic plan. By putting issues in this overly simplistic binary, we have ignored the many complications, the convergence of millions of people in this country, the values they hold, and the geography in which they reside (and shape through their action), into model that does not reflect the complexity of the world.
This is why the bias of the center exists.
Most people do not want to ascribe to this thinking. Most people want their leaders to exercise sound judgment to address the problems of our day. The point being, quit calling it the Republican plan, or the Democratic plan, otherwise you cannot challenge these ideas without challenging these identities. No, talk about social science, economic science, and talk about what it means to the lived experiences of individuals.
Take a hint from Obama who is very aware of how his identities converge. To know this we only have to listen to his speech in Philadelphia. He is a black man and he is a white man, and not shy about either. His family has roots in Kenya. His family has roots in Oklahoma. He was born on the island state of Hawaii to a mother who sacrificed everything for her son. He is a scholar of constitutional law, a Christian, a community organizer, a father of two daughters and a husband to an accomplished Michelle. And yes, he is a Democrat. I have no doubt that all of these identities influence his policy decisions. But who is John Boehner? Polls show that most Americans do not even know whom he is, an ignorance that is more prevalent amongst self-identified Republicans. Oh wait, he is a man that is not too proud to cry, thanks Ann.
Perhaps more importantly, talk about with whom are leaders are involved with and whose interests they represent. If we keep calling them Republican ideas, then we are both challenging the identity of every Republican and inculcating the feeling of obligation to party lines. After all, they are Republican, are they not all united? The language positions us to think that if they are Republican, then they must believe this and that. And it positions Democrats to do the same.
It is all just Dijon Mustard…
Reader beware. Be cognizant of the issues and the interest that are represented. Be cautious about the language that is used and whether it truly represents the multitude of interests involved (it rarely does). And more importantly, care. Care that you struggle everyday to make ends meet. Care that instead of working to make your lives better, your leaders are involved in ideological battles that you could care less about. Care. Care. Care. And show Obama you care. If Obama has demonstrated anything consistent in his presidency, it is that he is listening to the American people. Currently the loudest ones are heard best. How loud are you?
I am sure that there will be criticism that I am marginalizing Republican concerns. This is likely so, because I am trying to address the broad body politic in a short prose work. This is purposeful on my part. I want to hear opposition. I want questions. I want to productive dialogue on these matters. And I want it without hearing identity invoked as dogma, so that we can discuss this issue without diametrically opposing each other. My caveat is to be anti-reductionist on what are extremely complex world issues. Your identity is part of your ethos, use it to express your experience.