Obama’s Health Care Decline

February 26, 2010

There were several points in yesterday’s health care photo op summit where the Republicans, particularly Rep. Paul Ryan, were challenging the President with facts and figures. Obama responded by scolding Ryan and saying that he didn’t want “to get bogged down in numbers.”

You know, because facts only get in the way.

I immediately thought of this, which I feel could be genuine secret footage of Barack Obama preparing for the summit:

Aside from the fact that the summit yesterday was among the most excruciatingly boring seven and a half hours since the three Star Wars prequels, I thought that the President did not come off well. He was even more insufferably arrogant than usual, scolding the Republicans for “talking points” because the Republicans stuck with facts while the Democrats recited teary anecdotes about people with ill-fitting dentures and kidney stones. He doubled the amount of air time for the Democrats and claimed that it didn’t count because “I’m the President.” He not-so-gently reminded John McCain that the election was over and McCain had lost when McCain pointed out the difference between Obama the Campaigner’s promises and Obama the Campaigner-In-Chief’s actions. He accused Rep. Eric Cantor of bringing the Senate bill and using it as “a prop.” (Memo to Cantor: next time look him straight in the eye and say, “Mr. President, this is not a prop. This is what we are here to discuss.”)

The summit may have helped the President appear more bipartisan, at least to those people who didn’t actually watch it (and God help me, but I did). But to those who did watch it, I doubt very much whether it changed any minds. The Democrats stuck to their guns, and so did the Republicans. Despite the constant assurances of the Democrats, there was no real common ground reached. There is a massive philosophical divide between the two parties on this issue. Where you stand depends on how you answer this question: Do you believe the Federal Government should control and regulate your health care and make decisions about the type of coverage you have and the type of treatment you receive, or do you believe that health care reform should be based on the free market, allowing you to decide the type of coverage (if any) that you have, and allowing you and your doctor to decide on the type of treatment you receive? For me, that’s the easiest question I’ve ever heard.

Michelle Malkin has a great syndicated column up about this sham of a mockery of a travesty.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President (Part Two)

February 22, 2010

It’s really not all that difficult to come up with the answer to the question “Who was the greatest American?” In this rare case, the man is even more impressive than the myth (cherry trees aside).

On March 15th, 1783 the officers who had served Washington during the Revolution held a meeting where they were planning to discuss an open rebellion. The officers were furious with Congress, which had not yet paid them what they were owed for their service. The country was broke, and what Washington’s officers were contemplating was nothing short of either a complete abdication of their military responsibilities or an outright military coup, either of which would have changed the entire future of the young nation, perhaps killing it before it had drawn its first breath of free air.

To their surprise, Washington himself showed up at the meeting and asked to address the officers. Since the General was held in such high regard, he was permitted to do so. Washington spoke, reminding the assembled officers of his own service and reminding them of their duty and all that was at stake, but the speech fell on deaf ears.

When his speech was over, Washington pulled out a letter from Congress explaining the financial difficulties they faced. At that point Washington reached into his pocket and withdrew a pair of reading glasses, shocking the crowd of officers who had never seen the General wear glasses.

“Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.”

This single moment of the great General displaying his humanity, his vulnerability, and the level of his own sacrifice caused some of the assembled officers to weep, and others to retreat into shame. When he finished reading the letter from Congress, Washington left without saying another word.

The assembled officers voted unanimously to abide by the will of Congress, and the young nation was saved.

Jim Crow Lives In Black History Month

February 18, 2010

I don’t know how long this has been going on. It goes back a lot of years, but I don’t ever recall hearing that “February is Black History Month” during my childhood, so it has to be something that’s come along in the past twenty years or so. Maybe I’m wrong. Who cares?

Personally, I don’t celebrate Black History Month. Nor do I celebrate Women’s History Month, GLBT History Month, Hispanic History Month, or any other politically correct concoction that highlights the things that separate us. I don’t celebrate Black History Month because I think that it is an essentially racist proposition.

American history is a fascinating tale, and it encompasses a wide spectrum of stories. From Christopher Columbus to Neil Armstrong, it is a story of discovery. From George Washington to Barack Obama, it is a story of politics. From the Seven Years War to Afghanistan, it is a story of warfare and heroism. From Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates, it is a story of entrepreneurial spirits and restless invention and innovation. It is a history that should be studied by students and history buffs all across the nation.

Black people are part of this history. A crucial part. Consider these:

  • Crispus Attucks, a runaway slave living as a free man in Massachusetts who was among the first to die in the Boston Massacre of 1770
  • Sojourner Truth, a fierce and tireless anti-slavery voice
  • Harriet Tubman, a leader in the Underground Railroad that so many slaves used to get to freedom
  • Frederick Douglass, who brought the fight against slavery to the upper echelons of government
  • Booker T. Washington, who promoted economic freedom for blacks
  • George Washington Carver, one of America’s greatest inventors
  • W.E.B. DuBois, who fought for equal rights and founded the NAACP
  • Charles Drew, who discovered the process for separating blood from plasma, a discovery that saved untold numbers of lives
  • Thurgood Marshall, the first black appointed to the United States Supreme Court
  • Martin Luther King, who needs no introduction here
  • Colin Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the first black Secretary of State, and still one of the most admired Americans
  • Oprah Winfrey, a poor black girl who turned herself into a one-woman media machine
  • Barack Obama, the first black President

Clearly, as anyone who has read my writings knows, I don’t have much in common with some of the names on this list. But ideological differences are irrelevant here. These people are all valid historical figures for one reason or another. And there are many more I’m not thinking of, I’m sure. Add in some of our greatest athletes and entertainers, economists, sociologists, explorers…well, you get the picture.

The history of blacks in this country, from the days of slavery to the Age of Obama, is completely connected to the larger history of the nation. Setting aside a block of time and saying, “This is the month we dedicate to black history” only serves to break black history apart from American history. It increases the separation between blacks and other groups by turning “black history” into something this is considered “different.” If American history is a richly detailed quilt of stories and possibilities, “Black History Month” is a sock that was sewn from leftover yarn.

The history of blacks in America is part of the American story, sometimes tragic, sometimes uplifting, always compelling. It is not more worthy of study, which seems to be the intention behind Black History Month. Nor is it less worthy of study, which is the result of separating it from the larger canvas of history. Black History month is affirmative action for history; the original intentions behind it may have been well-meaning, but the end result is to validate the impression that many blacks have that they are somehow separate from the rest of the country, and disconnected from the American story.

Let us do away with Black History Month and incorporate those important lessons into the rest of the year as well. Let everyone know that black or white, we are all Americans and our history is shared.

Under The Dome: Stephen King’s Ham-Fisted Politics

February 15, 2010

Reading Stephen King’s latest novel, Under The Dome, is a lot like running a marathon. The experience is enjoyable, you’re glad you finished it, and it’s exhausting. Just holding this 1,072 page doorstop of a book is enough to get your arm muscles nicely toned.

As usual, the setting is small town Maine. His old standbys of Castle Rock and Derry have been replaced with Chester’s Mill, but it’s indistinguishable from any other small town in Stephen King’s Maine. What separates Chester’s Mill from all the other towns is an invisible dome that conforms perfectly to the surveyed margins of the town. This dome descends so suddenly that a small plane is suddenly sliced in two, creating the first casualties. Trucks and cars on the road out of and into town slam into the invisible barrier, people walking suddenly end up with broken noses. Worse, there seems to be some sort of energy field near the barrier that causes electronic devices with batteries to explode if they get too close, as the town’s chief law enforcement officer discovers when the pacemaker in his heart explodes out of his chest, killing him instantly. It is this death that allows much of what happens afterwards to proceed, as there is now a vacuum of leadership at the law enforcement level, a vacuum that is immediately filled by the town’s Second Selectman, the corrupt and murderous Big Jim Rennie.

Stephen King novels succeed or fail largely based on the caliber of the villain. The malevolent spirits in The Shining, the vampires in ‘Salem’s Lot, the shape-shifting demon Randall Flagg who pops up in several books but most famously in The Stand, Pennywise the Clown in It, and even the rabid St. Barnard in Cujo all made excellent villains and excellent novels. Conversely, the already dead aliens in The Tommyknockers, the pawn shop evil guy in Needful Things, the abusive husband in Dolores Claiborne, and the evil government agents of Firestarter were pretty lame, and the novels were equally bad. Add Big Jim Rennie to the latter category, but make him the exception that proves the rule.

Stephen King has always been a liberal or left-of-center guy, but he was always more interested in scaring you or giving you a good story than he was in beating you over the head with a political message. His one previous overtly political book, the anti-nuclear power novel The Tommyknockers is possibly the worst novel of his career, a novel so spectacularly uninteresting that it was barely readable. True, almost all of his novels have had a few political asides thrown in, and there was little doubt about which side of the political spectrum his heroes inhabited, but the sort of political hectoring that is found in Under The Dome is rare in King’s canon.

Maybe the eight years of the Bush presidency were simply too much for King, because Under The Dome‘s villains are devoutly Republican evangelical Christians who murder, rape, and operate the nation’s largest methamphetamine lab while quoting the Bible and racistly raging against the black man with the terrorist middle name who sits in the Oval Office. In case you don’t get the point, Big Jim Rennie even has a picture of himself with Sarah Palin prominently displayed on his desk. I have almost no doubt that King’s model for Rennie was some leftist cartoon version of Dick Cheney, right down to the heart condition.

For the hero of the novel, King writes the tale of Dale Barbara, a serviceman who is making his way through the world trying to rid himself of the terrible memories of torture and murder he witnessed American servicemen performing on innocent Iraqis in Fallujah. Iraqis who carried pictures of themselves with their wives and children, just to underscore that they were decent family men and not IED-planting bombers…not that it made any difference to those cruel American soliders who wantonly tortured and murdered them. Oh, buh-rother…can I get some cheese to go with that ham?

The other heroes include a minister who no longer believes in God, an older professor whose gray ponytail lets you know that he’s a Sixties type of guy, and the Republican editor of the local newspaper (helpfully called the Democrat). Fear not, though…whenever the editor speaks out for doing the right thing, or speaks against the corruption of Jim Rennie, or disapproves of the brown-shirt tactics of the newly recruited police force Dale tells her that she “doesn’t sound like a Republican.” Because, you know, Republicans are all in favor of murder, staged riots, brown shirt police force tactics, and corrupt politicians. Well, at least in Stephen King’s world.

The problem with Big Jim Rennie is not that he is insufficiently evil. He’s incredibly evil. The problem is that he’s a Left-wing cartoon of a Christian conservative, and he’s about as believable as Roger Rabbit. In fact, the small town of Chester’s Mill is actually a hotbed of sociopathic miscreants. Who could know that in a town of about 2000 people in Maine you would find so many people willing to murder, rape, and commit arson on the command of an overweight selectman with a bad ticker? And not only is Rennie the power behind the local government, he’s also the main operator of one of the largest meth labs in the entire nation, presided over by a strung out tweaker who…wait for it…runs the Christian music radio station where the meth lab is hidden and who also quotes the Bible in between pipe hits.

The Dome itself is almost secondary in the novel. It’s really just a device that allows this parable of how fascism can be generated by a crisis (if you’re thinking about Bush and 9/11 right now, you must have read the book). The resolution of The Dome is oddly perfunctory. The ending seems almost as if King was running out of typing paper and needed to wrap it up quickly. SPOILER: The Dome is generated by a device implanted by alien children who seem to be playing a game with the inhabitants of the town, similar to how young children will turn the sun’s rays against an ant hill with a magnifying glass. After attempting to breach the Dome from outside with bullets, acid, and even a Cruise missile, the editor of the newspaper comes up with a brilliant idea. She simply begs the alien children to stop, and they say okay. The end.

Unfortunately, almost everyone in the town is dead by this point, courtesy of a massive fireball that was set off when the huge propane tanks fueling the meth lab were blown up. The fireball scorches everything in its way and leaves the air under the dome largely unbreathable. Of course, Jim Rennie escapes the fireball but dies choking on bad air and clutching his heart after being visited by the spirits of those people he killed. You can almost see King sitting at his computer, fingers flying over the keyboard, saying, “Yeah! Take that, Cheney!”

King fundamentally misunderstands the nature of fascism on a conscious level, ascribing it to those right-wing types when it is really a philosophy born on the Left, largely indistinguishable from socialism and Progressivism. But on an unconscious level, perhaps even King gets it. Jim Rennie seeks power with an undying thirst, but he explains to one of his henchmen that he seeks power in order to help the people. “Our job, Carter, is to take care of them. We may not like it, we may not always think they’re worth it, but it’s the job God gave us.” Frankly, this is closer to the motivation behind every liberal who feels that he or she knows better how to spend our money and legislate our lives than it does the conservatives who want lower taxes and less government. Rennie is not speaking of the downtrodden or disenfranchised, he’s speaking of the entire town population. Indeed, his entire mission throughout the book is to immanentize the eschaton, and just like every other totalitarian in history, he seeks his own unique brand of perfection. In this one line, Rennie sounds much more like Barack Obama or George W. Bush in the worst of his “compassionate conservative” moments than he does a hard-line conservative like Dick Cheney.

Further undermining the novel is the speed with which events take place. Chester’s Mill is a quiet suburban town where the people live their normal lives. Then the Dome comes down and the town devolves into a fascist dictatorship within the span of one week. Rennie’s actions to assume total control begin within hours of the Dome’s arrival, as if he never even considered that the Dome might disappear and he would be held to account for what he does. The townspeople, flush with plenty of food in the store, cell phone service, internet service and even electrical power in homes that have generators (not uncommon in the brutal winters of Maine), become a rioting mob within days. Apparently King’s lack of faith in human nature isn’t limited to Republicans. Far from calamity bringing people together, as 9/11 showed, King seems to believe that we’re one invisible wall and a few hours away from tossing aside hundreds of years of the Rule of Law.

Despite all of these criticisms, Under The Dome is actually a very enjoyable novel. It moves briskly, the plot is interesting, the protagonists are likable, and the villains, while not believable, are at least sufficiently rotten. The politics of the book are ham-fisted and clunky, and the resolution of the plot is lame…over a thousand pages into this thing and they simply ask the aliens to stop? And they do? But it’s a diverting page-turner, and King is a much better writer than most of the people out there plowing the same field.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

February 12, 2010

I dread thinking that a whole generation of Americans now think we have a holiday every February that somehow honors all past Presidents. It is time to restore Lincoln’s Birthday and Washington’s Birthday to their proper status and forever be rid of “Presidents’ Day.”

One can only imagine the fury and outcry that would result if we changed Martin Luther King’s Birthday to “Civil Rights Leaders’ Day.”

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