AlterPolitics New Post

The President’s Eloquent Words Are Beginning to Ring Hollow

by on Monday, October 5, 2009 at 1:08 pm EDT in Healthcare, Politics

After eight tumultuous years of deceit, incompetence, and ideological extremism emanating from the White House the entire world eagerly embraced the ushering in of the new American President and all the hope that his victory embodied.  I vividly recall the night Obama won: watching him give another spectacular speech on television, the tears of happiness filling the eyes of tens of thousands who ventured out into the cold Chicago evening to celebrate the country’s new beginning.  I remember seeing the faces of people all over the world – rejoicing, misty eyed at the historic significance of this momentous occasion.

President Obama represented several things to a lot of people.  He was an agent for change; an embodiment of ‘hope’ for so many who had lost it; one who answered to the people, and not the powerful interests (his campaign, after all, was largely funded by small $20-$50 internet donations).  He was masterful in articulating his policy positions, and after eight years of watching an incurious half-wit demonstrate again and again that he was unqualified for the highest office in the land, we believed Obama’s competency and honesty would right all that was wrong.  He would effectively clean up Bush’s mess.  Optimism ran amok.

And suddenly we’re in October 2009 – nine months after his inauguration – and all that hope and promise feels as far away as Martin Luther King’s final speech in Memphis, TN.  It has become crystal clear that the ‘change’ policies he outlined over and over again on the campaign trail have taken a back seat to his desire for bipartisan harmony.   It’s becoming obvious to all that this current approach will achieve neither.

The tens of millions who brought Obama to power were never about bringing some kind of reconciliation to the political establishment.  On the contrary, they were waiving ‘change’ posters in the streets, and yelling his ‘yes we can(s)!’  This grass routes movement was about the people – their lives.  Obama supporters couldn’t give a rats ass whether the Republicans and Democrats sang ‘Kumbaya’ together.  In electing Obama, the people rejected the status quo, and awarded Obama an overwhelming mandate to implement the change he promised.

And yet somehow Obama and his supporters’ messages must have got crossed, for he has tunneled all his energies into achieving Beltway bipartisanship, at whatever price.  Why?  Why is bipartisanship so prominent in his agenda?  Politicial disharmony in the federal government actually serves a vital role: it creates an environment of political checks and balances which otherwise would not exist in such a corruptive institution.  The last time there was harmony in Washington was immediately following the 9-11 attacks, and look where that got us: into the bipartisan authorization of the Iraq quagmire.

Each time Obama gives a new speech, I’m reminded why I voted for him, and then he and his staff proceed to undercut his very words.  He is unwilling to mark a line in the sand and mean it; unwilling to shake up the establishment; unwilling to make a few enemies in the pursuit of implementing the change he espouses.

The monumental concessions he’s willing to make on health care alone — his willingness to toss the public option, as well as to prohibit the government from negotiating with pharmaceuticals —  all in the name of bipartisanship, is nothing more than an insult to our sensibilities.  From health care reform, to forcing Netanyahu to end the ethnic cleansing (settlement expansion) in Israel, to pursuing torture investigations, to implementing meaningful wall street and TARP oversight, to climate change, to bringing our troops home, … the list goes on and on.  Either he’s just being consistently ineffective as a President, or perhaps we’ve all been duped.

This weekend, Saturday Night Live brilliantly flouted Obama’s inability to deliver the change he had once so eloquently promised us.  Let us hope Obama receives this comedy skit as a wake up call.  Because unfortunately, this caricature is beginning to stick, and before long it will define him.

The Truth About Democracy: It’s Only as Reliable as Our News Programming

by on Sunday, October 4, 2009 at 11:54 am EDT in Iraq, Politics, World

Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.
–Thomas Jefferson

The first decade of this new century will be remembered by many as a time when a significant segment of our society became incapable of differentiating news from propaganda. This phenomenon has endangered the very fabric of our democracy. The founding fathers of our country worried incessantly about a misinformed electorate, which led many—most notably, Thomas Jefferson—to advocate for a public education system. He hoped this would serve as a form of insurance policy for our fledgling democracy, whereby the masses could be counted on to formulate rational, well-informed opinions, which would propagate into the public square, and ultimately shape our national legislative agenda.

If only they could see us now—here, in the 21st Century—where a significant percentage of citizens rely on the likes of the Fox News Channel for their news information. I suspect Jefferson would like a chance to revisit and remedy the incongruencies which exist between unrestrained freedom of speech and a viable, sustainable Democracy.

It’s perfectly acceptable for news commentators to lean right or left, and to even articulate and promote their own personal opinions to the masses. Spirited political discourse is essential to the democratic process, because it fosters competition between opposing ideologies in our so-called ‘marketplace of ideas’. When this competition is waged in an honest manner—meaning their opinions are supported by facts—then the different ideologies can be fairly contrasted, and a majority of the public will likely draw rational conclusions.

But what happens when a self-proclaimed ‘news network’ consistently lies to its viewers as a means of promoting its own rigid political ideology? These viewers—whose numbers have proven decisive in elections past—are not exposed to a marketplace of ideas, but propaganda. Lies—being reported as facts—are indeed perilous to our democracy, because they often prohibit the best ideas from becoming policy. A mislead citizen cannot be counted on to participate rationally in the democratic process. Over the last decade, this phenomenon has jeopardized both the national security and the fiscal health of the United States.

University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy (PIPA) conducted a study on public misperceptions, from January 2003 through September of 2003, leading up to and beyond the invasion of Iraq. The study revealed that those who identified Fox News as their primary news source were significantly more likely to have misperceptions (80%), while those who signified NPR or PBS were least likely (23%). 55% of both CNN and NBC viewers held misperceptions, as did 47% of those who relied primarily on print sources.

Shockingly, nearly half of all Fox News viewers incorrectly believed that evidence existed which linked Iraq to Al Qaeda. This helps to explain the grand illusion held by many at the time that Iraq was complicit in the 9-11 attacks. And as one might predict, the study showed a direct correlation between misperceptions and support for the Iraq war. Only 23% of those who held no misperceptions supported the invasion of Iraq, whereas 53% of those who held one misperception supported it, 78% of those with two misperceptions supported it, and 86% of those with three misperceptions supported it. Thus, the most misinformed citizens largely supported the invasion of Iraq, while the best informed citizens opposed it. This misinformation campaign used to sell the war has cost us dearly: thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, nearly a trillion dollars in U.S. national debt, thereby surpassing the entire expense of Vietnam.

We now find our nation engaged in another major policy debate: how to reform our broken health care system. Fox News commentators have, for months now, been fueling some of the most outlandish lies in an effort to sabotage the President’s plan. The most egregious one being the allegation that the President was proposing ‘death panels’ to kill off our elderly in an effort to reduce health care costs. And, once again, their viewers appeared to swallow these new lies—hook, line, and sinker. The question we must all confront is this: How can our democracy work in an environment where lies—espoused by those entrusted to report news—continue to sway our nation’s course of action on issues as important as these?

I propose we grant the Federal Communications Commission new oversight responsibilities—ones which empower it to investigate the validity of ‘facts’ being reported by news broadcasters. They already police broadcasters for programming obscenities. Give them the authority to review dubious statements made by news personalities—as flagged by viewers and listeners—to render judgment about the truthfulness of these statements, and to force the offending news broadcasters to correct their misinformation during their next broadcast. Could there be a better deterrent against propaganda masquerading as journalism?

Commentators’ opinions—no matter how extreme—should remain immune from oversight.  This isn’t about silencing dissenting opinions.  But news information being reported as ‘facts’, should in fact be, … well, facts!  Our country needs a public, non-partisan news fact-checker more than ever.

Our goal, as a nation, should be to create a healthier and more sustainable democracy. Only when presented with truthful information, can the U.S. electorate be relied upon to make rational choices which serve our nation’s best interests. Considering the dishonest discourse which now dominates our airwaves, is it any wonder our country has lost its way?