On Jimmy Carter and other sundry topics
Dick Polman, Inquirer National Political Columnist
I bet that President Obama and his people would dearly prefer that Jimmy Carter and Nancy Pelosi simply shut...the...fug...up. The president is trying to focus people's attention on health care reform (ideally, the substantive pros and cons of reform), and the last thing he needs right now is for people to be distracted by a ratcheted-up, cable TV-driven debate about whether "the overwhelming portion" of his critics are racist (Carter's twice-enunciated view), or whether the prevailing vibes today are as darkly portentous as they were in San Francisco 31 years ago, shortly before Mayor George Moscone and gay leader Harvey Milk were assassinated by an aggrieved white guy (tearful Pelosi's view). Not helpful. Obama is set to run the media pentathlon on Sunday morning (five TV interviews), but thanks to Carter and Pelosi, he won't be able to control the message. He'll want it to be about health care, but he'll undoubtedly be compelled to answer questions about whether he agrees with what Carter and Pelosi said. This must be frustrating for the White House. Pelosi is not very deft at the outside game (communications), and as for Carter...well, there were many reasons why he was the sole Democratic presidential incumbent in the entire 20th century to be tossed out of the office. His uncanny instinct for bad timing was one of them.
Judging by yesterday's predictable Republican hysteria, one would think that Obama's decision to scrap Ronald Reagan's outmoded, unbuilt Star Wars fantasy (a Cold War antiballistic missile shield for Eastern Europe) was tantamount to a white-flag surrender. What Obama actually intends, of course, is to rejigger America's defenses so that we can actually use existing, proven, and cost-effective technology to address what the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff calls "the realities of life" - to wit, the potential threat to Israel and Europe posed by Iran's short and medium-range missiles. The most noteworthy aspect of the GOP's hysteria is that it no longer seems to matter that Obama's security decisions are vetted and supported every step of the way by a prominent Bush appointee, Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Gates used to provide Obama with political cover, but apparently no longer. Yesterday's classic attack line was uttered by House GOP leader John Boehner, who declared that Obama is showing "a willful determination to continue ignoring the threat posed by some of the most dangerous regimes in the world." Willful determination? Under the quaint rules of civility, a president's critics would at least acknowledge that the man in charge sincerely cared about his country's safety, however wrong-headed his decision might be. But Obama doesn't even get that level of respect; rather, Boehner says that Obama is willfully determined to weaken his country. But that's actually no surprise, since many Republicans don't believe that America is Obama's country anyway.
Following up on the overblown ACORN story: Capitol Hill Republicans, apparently rediscovering the importance of congressional oversight (after being so conveniently lax in that department during the ruinous Bush era), are now demanding that hearings be conducted about the community group's far-flung activities. I actually think that would be a fine idea, because, in addition to shedding light on ACORN's obvious flaws, such hearings would enlighten more Americans on some of the crucial tasks that ACORN workers perform in 80 cities - such as helping impoverished families fill out tax returns, so that these income-challenged folks can collect certain benefits that they might not otherwise know about. ACORN workers have reportedly counseled 42,000 families on how to fill out those returns, in order to take advantage of various education and child credits, as well as the earned-income tax credit. If ACORN is forced to go away, I am so really, really confident that the Republicans will work extra hard to ensure that these impoverished families can still get the same kind of tax return assistance that is readily available to...oh, you know...the high-income Americans whose trusted accountants work the system for every last dime. Yeah, right. Don't hold your breath that the Republicans will ever utter a word about the ACORN clients who would be left in the lurch.
And speaking of civility: Notwithstanding all the bad behavior of recent weeks, I truly realized last night, while watching baseball, that the impermissible line had finally been breached. It was the top of the ninth inning at Fenway Park, with the Angels and Red Sox tied at three runs apiece. Again, this is Fenway Park, with its baseball-wise fans and venerable traditions. This is Angels versus Red Sox, two teams destined to meet in the playoffs. This is high-stakes September baseball. This is a 3-3 game in the ninth, with all the tense anticipations that weigh on such moments...and yet, take a guess what the fans were doing, with boisterous gusto, from one end of the ballyard to the other: The wave. The cry of "You Lie!" on the House floor was bad enough, but this Fenway wave was truly the death of civility. Call me a traditionalist conservative if you wish, but thou shalt not blaspheme the church of baseball.