Vindicated by new polls, progressive bloggers and activists will determine President Obama’s political fate
The defining conflict of the Obama presidency is not between the White House and Republicans. It’s not between the White House and the Tea Party. It’s between President Obama and the left, specifically between Obama and progressive opinion-makers and online activists.
It’s no coincidence that the angriest barbs from this White House have been directed at the netroots. And it’s no surprise that the media and political establishment – along with a vitriolic cadre of Obama supporters – are mortified by the principled left, simultaneously dismissing them as bit players and accusing them of being ingrates who are damaging Obama’s reelection prospects (hint: you can’t be both).
I’ve repeated a version of this thesis for years: a handful of influential progressive opinion-makers are canaries in the coal mine, propounding and presaging views and arguments later adopted by rank and file Democrats.
It’s been that way since the dawn of the blogosphere and has only been magnified with Twitter and other online platforms. Just as the netroots laid the groundwork for the eventual downfall of the Bush presidency, the sharp, insistent, principled critiques of President Obama emanating from the left on civil liberties, women’s reproductive rights, gay rights, the environment, secrecy, executive power, the economy, war, among other issues, have had a profoundly outsized effect on perceptions of this president.
Recent polls (including Gallup, which shows a double-digit decline among liberals) indicate significant erosion of support for Obama among groups who propelled him to victory in 2008, reinforcing the idea that reality is catching up with netroots criticism. This crumbling of support is typically attributed by pundits to the poor economy, but the problem is more complicated: it’s the poor economy coupled with the sense (fair or unfair) that Barack Obama has no convictions, no moral center, nothing for which he will take an unwavering stand.
That perception of a lack of convictions can’t be attributed solely to attacks from the right, since they can be discounted as partisan. It’s when the left makes that argument that conventional wisdom congeals.
Last November, Karen Tumulty wrote an interesting article titled American exceptionalism: an old idea and a new political battle:
[T]he idea that the United States is inherently superior to the world’s other nations has become the battle cry from a new front in the ongoing culture wars. Lately, it seems to be on the lips of just about every Republican who is giving any thought to running for president in 2012.
The proposition of American exceptionalism, which goes at least as far back as the writing of French aristocrat and historian Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1830s, asserts that this country has a unique character. It is also rooted in religious belief. A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution found that 58 percent of Americans agreed with the statement: “God has granted America a special role in human history.“
Scan the headlines on any given day and you’re sure to find dozens of stories about girls and women being abused, abducted, raped, beaten and killed. The pervasive oppression of women and girls is humanity’s greatest travesty.
Here are just a few links to illustrate my point…
An Iranian woman who’d already been condemned to death faces another sentence of 99 lashes because of a case of mistaken identity in a photograph, according to foes of the execution. Iranian authorities imposed the sentence after they saw the photo of a woman without a head scarf in a newspaper, the International Committee Against Stoning, a human rights group, said Friday.
Russian women are habitually beaten with legal impunity—in a country with no support system for victims of domestic violence. So it was horrible but hardly surprising when my friend’s husband got drunk and killed her.
The children most at risk of attempted abduction by strangers are girls ages 10 to 14, many on their way to or from school.
Shocking, but true: Women work 67% of the world’s working hours, yet they earn only 10% of the world’s income.
Only about one third of countries around the world have laws in place to combat violence against women, and in most of these countries those laws are not enforced, well resourced or taken seriously. Violence against women and girls, in the form of human trafficking, harmful cultural practices, rape as a tactic of war and domestic violence, is one of the single greatest barriers holding women back. A staggering statistic: one out of every three women will be a victim of violence in her lifetime. And the problem is getting worse every year.
Majorities in nearly all 18 sub-Saharan African countries surveyed in 2009 say rape is a major problem in their countries. A median of 77% of sub-Saharan Africans see rape as this much of a problem, but in six countries, the percentage saying this reaches 90% or higher. Gallup’s survey results reaffirm the extent to which the issue of rape plagues countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including South Africa, where nearly all (97%) call it a major problem. According to Interpol, South Africa has the highest number of declared rapes in the world, with nearly half of the victims younger than 18.
And lest anyone pretend this isn’t a domestic problem:
According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey — the country’s largest and most reliable crime study — there were 248,300 sexual assaults in 2007 (the most recent data available).
Across the globe, women’s rights, their basic dignity, is under assault. It can manifest with physical violence, but it can also be part of a pervasive pattern of sexism and misogyny. Whatever form it takes, one thing is clear: there can be no justice on earth until there is justice for women.
This New York Times editorial (When States Punish Women) gets it right:
Just since April, six states — Indiana, Virginia, Nebraska, Idaho, Oklahoma and Kansas — have enacted laws banning insurance coverage of abortion in the health insurance exchanges created as part of federal health care reform, bringing the total to 14 states. Two states — Arizona and Texas — joined three others in making ultrasounds mandatory for women seeking to terminate pregnancies. Bills expected to be signed soon by Florida’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, contain both types of provisions.
Many of these fresh attacks on reproductive rights, not surprisingly, have come in states where the midterm elections left Republicans in charge of both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s mansion.
The shameless attack on women’s rights is an inevitable consequence of the GOP’s electoral victories:
Using small-government, libertarian rhetoric, the Tea Party ushered in a new crop of Republican leaders under the banner of fiscal responsibility. But the aggressive antichoice legislation coming from the new GOP majority in the House makes perfectly clear that belt-tightening deficit reduction is entirely compatible with an older social agenda committed to pushing American women out of the public sphere.
These initiatives are well coordinated and poised to make an enormous impact on women’s lives. House Republicans, joined by ten Democrats, passed Mike Pence’s bill to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which in addition to pregnancy termination provides basic reproductive healthcare, STD testing, birth control and cancer screenings to millions of American women. The Republican Party has also proposed eliminating more than $1 billion from Head Start’s budget. As a result, 157,000 children may go without preschool care.
Meanwhile, the South Dakota legislature has considered a bill justifying homicide in the case of imminent harm to a fetus, a law that critics believe may in effect legalize the murder of abortion providers. Republicans in Arizona have proposed different birth certificates for children born to women who are not US citizens in order to nullify the birthright citizenship established by the Fourteenth Amendment. And Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is poised to eliminate most of the collective bargaining rights of public employees, including nurses, teachers and other pink-collar workers who are disproportionately women.
These numbers tell the story:
It’s almost an unbelievable figure — 916. That’s the amount of legislation that has been introduced so far this year, in an attempt to regulate a woman’s reproductive system, and we’re only in April.
This information comes from a report by The Guttmacher Institute, and it finds that 49 states have contributed to this number with various bills geared towards regulating Abortions and a woman’s right to choose. The report states that in 15 states, the following measures became law:
- expand the pre-abortion waiting period requirement in South Dakota to make it more onerous than that in any other state, by extending the time from 24 hours to 72 hours and requiring women to obtain counseling from a crisis pregnancy center in the interim;
- expand the abortion counseling requirement in South Dakota to mandate that counseling be provided in-person by the physician who will perform the abortion and that counseling include information published after 1972 on all the risk factors related to abortion complications, even if the data are scientifically flawed;
- require the health departments in Utah and Virginia to develop new regulations governing abortion clinics;
- revise the Utah abortion refusal clause to allow any hospital employee to refuse to “participate in any way” in an abortion;
- limit abortion coverage in all private health plans in Utah, including plans that will be offered in the state’s health exchange; and
- revise the Mississippi sex education law to require all school districts to provide abstinence-only sex education while permitting discussion of contraception only with prior approval from the state.
The contrast between events in the Middle East and the political reality here in America is striking: as the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere rise by the millions to protest injustice, and as governments from Jordan to Syria see the writing on the wall, the United States gives power to a political movement bent on reversing generations of progress.
The GOP and Tea Party, drifting ever rightward, want to strip away health coverage, undermine faith in science, deny the overwhelming consensus on the mortal threat of climate change, give tax breaks to the rich, increase record wealth disparities, abolish women’s reproductive rights, defund public radio, gut gun laws, curtail gay rights, inject religion into government, and much more.
Targeting scientists, academics, public broadcasters, unions, health care providers and women, among others, they willfully misinterpret the Constitution to make specious arguments in favor of reactionary policies and are whipped into a frenzy by millionaire radio and TV blatherers, whose sole mission is to demonize liberals and liberalism — to the point of inciting violence against them.
Democratic leaders, obsessed with wooing “independent” voters, and captives of a toxic Beltway mindset, barely make a stand in the face of this all-out assault.
If we fail to see the irony of a Mideast marching into the future while America races into the past, we will pay the price.
UPDATE: The GOP’s mission to deny women’s reproductive rights/freedom is exemplified by this:
One hundred members of Congress (so far) have cosponsored a bill introduced by far right Congressman Joe Pitts (R-PA) called the “Protect Life Act.” They want to “protect life” so much that they have written into the bill a new amendment that would override the requirement that emergency room doctors save every patient, regardless of status or ability to pay. The law would carve out an exception for pregnant women; doctors and hospitals will be allowed to let pregnant women die if interventions to save them will kill the fetus.
Heinous beyond words.
UPDATE II: More disturbing examples of America’s reverse trajectory…
Georgia State Rep. Bobby Franklin has introduced a 10-page bill that would criminalize some miscarriages, and make abortion in Georgia completely illegal and punishable by death. Basically, it’s everything an “pro-life” activist could want aside from making all women who’ve had abortions wear big red “A”s on their chests.
For nearly a year, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, Virginia’s crusading Republican attorney general, has waged a one-man war on the theory of man-made global warming. Invoking his subpoena powers, he has sought to force the University of Virginia to turn over the files of a prominent climatology professor, asserting that his research may be marred by fraud. The university is battling the move in the courts. Now his allegations of manipulated data and scientific fraud are resonating in Congress, where Republican leaders face an influx of new members, many of them Tea Party stalwarts like Mr. Cuccinelli, eager to inveigh against the body of research linking man-made emissions to warming.
In 2010, for the first time in 15 years, more bank branches closed than opened across the United States. An analysis of government data shows, however, that even as banks shut branches in poorer areas, they continued to expand in wealthier ones, despite decades of government regulations requiring financial institutions to meet the credit needs of poor and middle-class neighborhoods.
In a post titled The most important person in the world, I argued that we are only as strong, powerful and important as the weakest link in the human chain. When a little girl is gang-raped, when a child wastes away from preventable hunger, when a woman dies needlessly in childbirth, when a little boy suffers from a preventable disease, we are all weakened, our worth diminished. The highest moral calling is to give to others, to extend a hand to those who need one. The most important person in the world is the one who most needs our compassion, care and generosity, the person who enables us to improve ourselves by helping them, who gives us value because we value them.
Which brings me to the soul-shattering story of Zahra Baker, whose time on earth is unlike anything most humans will ever encounter or endure:
A prosthetic leg thought to be that of missing 10-year-old Zahra Baker has been found in a brushy area off a North Carolina road, Chief Tom Adkins of the Hickory, North Carolina, police said Wednesday. Adkins said that the prosthetic leg is “consistent with” that of Zahra, a freckle-faced youngster who lost her leg to bone cancer at age 5 and developed lung cancer a few years later. The disappearance of Zahra, who had persevered through numerous health battles and wore hearing aids, has made international news. … Family members and neighbors have told reporters that Zahra’s stepmother abused her.
The depth of suffering contained in that paragraph defies comprehension. How can such a beautiful soul be put through so much pain? How can we go about our ordinary lives while such mortal agony takes place around us?
I know there’s no answer.
And I know we’re not worthy of you, Zahra Baker.
UPDATE: From CNN-
Elisa Baker, the stepmother of 10-year-old Zahra Baker, was indicted Monday on second-degree murder charges in the girl’s death, a Catawba County, North Carolina, court clerk told CNN.
“The defendant had a history and pattern of physical, verbal and psychological abuse of the victim,” the indictment said. The indictment described Zahra as “very young, physically infirm, or handicapped.” The girl lost part of her left leg at age 5 and lost hearing in both ears while being treated for cancer.
“The defendant took advantage of a position of trust or confidence, including a domestic relationship, to commit the offense,” the indictment said.
Read this story and imagine you’re reading about your sister – because you are:
A 14-year-old Bangladeshi girl allegedly raped by a much older cousin has died after being publicly flogged for adultery, media reports said. Hena Begum was sentenced to receive 100 lashes by a village council made up of elders and Muslim clerics in the district of Shariatpur, about 35 miles from the capital, Dhaka, the BBC said today. She endured about 80 lashes before collapsing Monday, according to The Daily Star, a Bangladeshi newspaper. Her family took her to a hospital, where she died.
Family members said Hena was raped by a 40-year-old married cousin, The Daily Star said. The man’s family beat up the teen, then accused of her adultery, the newspaper said. The very next day, she was sentenced to the flogging in a fatwa, or religious ruling, issued by the village council under Islamic Shariah law, the BBC said.
Lest anyone think that this is isolated to one religion, one culture or one region, read this.
I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it: the wholesale oppression of women is the single greatest travesty of our time. Each of the victims is your sister and my sister, not a statistic, not a stranger, but a fellow human with hopes, dreams and feelings. It shatters me that anyone has to experience what Hena went through. We MUST find a way to stop it.
The Obama administration is in a tough spot – navigating the treacherous diplomatic and political waters of Egypt’s uprising is no easy task. Supporting the Egyptian people without doing or saying something that could destabilize the region is a careful balancing act.
Still, many Americans and Egyptians yearn for a more forceful stance from the U.S. president.
In June of 2009, I wrote a post about President Obama’s Cairo speech and I’m posting it below to offer some context on how the administration is handling today’s events:
Let Women Wear the Hijab: The Emptiness of Obama’s Cairo Speech
June 4, 2009
I know many will gush over President Obama’s Cairo speech and I’m likely swimming against the tide of the media and my fellow Democrats and progressives. But reading the transcript, I was struck by two things:
1. Aside from a few platitudes, it is disappointingly weak on human rights and specifically women’s rights.
2. It betrays a naiveté, perhaps feigned, about how the Arab world works.
I sometimes preface my posts by explaining that my Mideast perspective is that of an American-Lebanese-Christian-Jew who grew up in Muslim West Beirut at the height (or should I say depth) of the Lebanese civil war. The tumultuous and bloody intersection of religions and geopolitical interests is painfully real to me.
Yes, Obama is targeting the Arab ‘street’ and global public opinion – but to the corrupt regimes that dominate that region of the world, his oration means virtually nothing. Repression and suppression will go on uninterrupted. And to those whose abiding hatred of Israel (and thus America) is absolute, Obama’s words will be seen as empty and hypocritical.
Egyptian blogger Hossam el-Hamalawy explains:
Right before he took off from DC, on what the media has been depicting as some “odyssey,” to address the Muslim World from Cairo, President Obama had described the 81-year-old Egyptian President Mubarak as a “force for stability.” This week Cairo and its twin city Giza have been a showcase of what this “stability” cost.The capital is under occupation. Security troops are deployed in the main public squares and metro stations. Citizens were detained en masse and shops were told to close down in Bein el-Sarayat area, neighboring Cairo University, where Obama will be speaking. In Al-Azhar University, the co-host of the “historical speech,” State Security police raided and detained at least 200 foreign students, held them without charges in unknown locations.
Is there an overarching purpose to Obama’s speech? Is it to repair our image after eight years of a radical rightwing administration? Of course. But if the goal is to repair our image, then how about shunning the barbaric concept of indefinite detention? How about heeding the increasingly distressed calls of those who view the new administration’s actions in the realm of civil liberties as a dangerous, disturbing, and precedent-setting affirmation of Bush’s worst excesses?
Glenn Greenwald writes:
The White House is actively supporting a new bill jointly sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman — called The Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009 — that literally has no purpose other than to allow the government to suppress any “photograph taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009 relating to the treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States in operations outside of the United States.”What kind of a country passes a law that has no purpose other than to empower its leader to suppress evidence of the torture it inflicted on people? Read the language of the bill; it doesn’t even hide the fact that its only objective is to empower the President to conceal evidence of war crimes.
That this exact scenario is now happening in the U.S. is all the more remarkable given that the President who is demanding these new suppression powers is the same one who repeatedly vowed “to make his administration the most open and transparent in history.” After noting the tentative steps Obama has taken to increase transparency, the generally pro-Obama Washington Post Editorial Page today observed: “what makes the administration’s support for the photographic records act so regrettable” is that “Mr. Obama runs the risk of taking two steps back in his quest for more open government.”
What makes all of this even worse is that it is part of a broader trend whereby the Government simply retroactively changes the law whenever it decides it does not want to abide by it.
Glenn has been documenting – and railing against – dozens of similar instances. I echoed his concerns in a recent post:
Setting aside all the campaign slogans about hope and change, what Obama really signifies is a razor sharp break from Bush, Cheney, Yoo, Rice, Rumsfeld, Addington, Libby, Bybee et al. After eight years of damage to the fabric of our Constitution and our nation, the entire point of a new face, a smart, youthful, inspiring Democratic president is to completely and totally reject the Bush years, to reject the lawless behavior, the Orwellian rationales, the blatant disregard of the Constitution. Neglecting to do so, and leaving any doubt about where Democrats stand on these issues, is profoundly detrimental to the country.
Take the issue of women’s rights, addressed in Obama’s Cairo speech with the most tepid language:
“The U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it.”"I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.”
“Now let me be clear: issues of women’s equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we have seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women’s equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.”
“Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity – men and women – to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. That is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.”
Is that a joke?
With women being stoned, raped, abused, battered, mutilated, and slaughtered on a daily basis across the globe, violence that is so often perpetrated in the name of religion, the most our president can speak about is protecting their right to wear the hijab? I would have been much more heartened if the preponderance of the speech had been about how in the 21st century, we CANNOT tolerate the pervasive abuse of our mothers and sisters and daughters.
I return to the example of Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow:
13-year old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was stoned to death in Somalia by insurgents because she was raped. Reports indicate that was raped by three men while traveling by foot to visit her grandmother in conflict capital, Mogadishu. When she went to the authorities to report the crime, they accused her of adultery and sentenced her to death. Aisha was forced into a hole in a stadium of 1,000 onlookers as 50 men buried her up to the neck and cast stones at her until she died. When some of the people at the stadium tried to save her, militia opened fire on the crowd, killing a boy who was a bystander.A witness who spoke to the BBC’s Today programme said she had been crying and had to be forced into a hole before the stoning, reported to have taken place in a football stadium. … She said: ‘I’m not going, I’m not going. Don’t kill me, don’t kill me.’ “A few minutes later more than 50 men tried to stone her.” The witness said people crowding round to see the execution said it was “awful”.
Enough with the perpetual campaign. True justice, true peace, these are earned through courageous decisions and bold actions. Real truth to power.
If we are to fix America’s image in the world and if we are to heal the planet’s myriad ills, it will not be done through contrite kumbaya speeches about how we are all one world and how we should all coexist peacefully, no matter whether the remarks are delivered in Cleveland or Cairo. It will be done by leading through example, by righting the many wrongs here at home, by seeking justice and fairness for all, by doing what is right, not saying what sounds pleasing to the media elite and the pliable punditocracy.