Weak Republicans = Weak Obama?

Kai Wright
ColorLines editor Kai Wright always provides incisive commentary. As the Republican candidates move from New Hampshire to South Carolina and on to Florida, I’m wondering how to push Obama to change abusive economic policies and practices that “crush my people, and grind the face of the poor into the dust” (Isaiah 3:15). Wright says that the collapse of the Republican party may allow Obama to maintain a politics of the mushy middle, rather than the progressive reforms he campaigned on. Here’s an excerpt from Wright’s recent column:

” … [O]nce we set the horse race of partisan politics aside, the Republican collapse begins to look less gratifying. Here’s the thing: Elections are for incumbents all about being held accountable for their choices. And what the Obama White House needs more than anything at this juncture is a jolt of accountability from the social justice reformers who believed in the change it sold four years ago.

Democratic Party leaders have for generations distracted their own base with the horrific threat of their Republican challengers. From LGBT people to unionized workers, the message is too often the same: Never mind our failings, look at the scary other guys. That’s long been a winning strategy for uniting the Democratic coalition. But the Obama team has wielded it against progressive critics with particular vengeance. Indeed, the tea party has in some ways been as helpful a distraction for the White House as it has been an obstructionist tool for the Republicans.

In this light, the Republican field that’s emerging from Iowa and New Hampshire is tailor made for the Obama administration to avoid a much needed reality check with its own reformists supporters. The president will be able to run simultaneously against the lunacy of a Rick Santorum—or, whoever wins the so-called “conservative primary”—and the weakness of Mitt Romney. The latter poses little threat with voters and the former keeps picky progressives off his tail. As long as he faces no meaningful challenge, the president has little reason to vow a course correction from the choices of his first term. …–Excerpt from Why The GOP’s Spectacular Collapse Isn’t Good For Social Justice by Kai Wright

Sheena Iyengar: Health-care Debate and ‘Different Views About Freedom’

artofchoosingI was listening this afternoon to social psychologist Sheena Iyengar interviewed on the Diane Rehm show. Iyengar, who has a new book out called The Art of Choosing, made a very insightful comment on President Obama’s role as mediator and consensus-builder between Republicans and Democrats in reforming the American health-care system. She said:

The job of the mediator or the leader becomes how do I make sure that I surface all these ideas and take them in a constructive direction and don’t allow this group to disintegrate into a dysfunctional conflict. …

“[The leader’s role is] is to create a truly phenomenal choice that will work. And that’s actually Barack Obama’s challenge right now. If you think about the Republicans and the Democrats in terms of the health care debate. What they are really arguing about at its essence is the different views they have about freedom.

On the one hand, the Democrats are saying the only freedom that’s fair, the only freedom that I value, is one that gives everybody the same outcomes, the same health care. The Republicans are saying the only freedom that’s fair, the only freedom I value, is one that ensures equal opportunity, not equal outcome. So that means that anybody who’s worthy or who has more money or who has better health, whatever the criteria is for greater merit, the people who are more meritorious should get better health care and the people who are less should get less.

Neither position is particularly right or wrong but they are so fundamental to the two parties different views that Barrack Obama has this major challenge on his hands as to how is he going to come up with a health care option that will speak to both models such that people believing in either one of those models will believe in the choice he’s providing.”–Sheena Iyengar

Sheena Iyengar, researcher and S.T. Lee Professor of Business at Columbia University, is the author of The Art of Choosing.

How Did We Lose the Language of “We”?

Sept. 12, 2009, D.C. Tea Baggers protest
Sept. 12, 2009, D.C. Tea Baggers protest

Henry Giroux, cultural critic, author, and professor of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Ontario, posted a fantastic article today titled The New Illiteracy in American Life: Democracy and Politics in the Age of the Spectacle.

After Joe Wilson’s outburst at President Obama last week and the Tea Baggers march on Washington on Saturday (see my photo above of a truck parked downtown during the march), civil discourse is all the rage. When did we lose the ability to speak to each other? everyone bemoans. How do we restore civic literacy?

Giroux lays out a cogent analysis of why and how we lost the language of “we.” And the role emotionalism now plays in legitimating a political perspective (as in “I feel this true, therefore it is.”). Here’s an excerpt from his article, but read the whole thing.

Authoritarianism is often abetted by an inability of the public to grasp how questions of power, politics and history and public consciousness are mediated at the interface of private issues and public concerns. The ability to translate private problems into social considerations is fundamental to what it means to reactivate political sensibilities and conceive of ourselves as critical citizens, engaged public intellectuals and social agents. Just as an obsession with the private is at odds with a politics informed by public consciousness, it also burdens politics by stripping it of the kind of political imagination and collective hope necessary for a viable notion of meaning, hope and political agency. Civic literacy is about more than enlarging the realm of critique and affirming the social; it is also about public responsibility, the struggle over democratic public life and the importance of critical education in a Democratic society.