Marco and Barack and the State of the Union

The President did not awkwardly reach for a bottle of water during his speech.  In fact, I don’t remember him drinking at all.  John Boehner, however, seemed to be sipping from his glass often.  When he wasn’t looking dour, that is.  I’ll write more about substance later, but this post is about impressions.

The best description of the Speaker is from Joan Walsh in Salon

But Boehner’s disdain was unrivaled. He also managed not to rise even for a shout-out to “wounded warriors,” or 102-year-old Deseline Victor, who waited seven hours to vote in Miami on Election Day. It was sometimes hilarious to watch him next to Vice President Joe Biden, who looked like a happy Easter Bunny with his white hair, lavender tie, pink-tinted glasses and green Newtown ribbon. Biden seemed to occasionally enjoy standing up, clapping while looking down at Boehner sulking in his chair.

This is what she means.

When John Boehner just sat there

And then we can move on to Maureen Dowd on Marco Rubio.

The ubiquitous 41-year-old — who’s on the cover of Time as “The Republican Savior” — looked as if he needed some saving himself Tuesday night as he delivered the party’s response to the State of the Union address in English (and Spanish). He seemed parched, shaky and sweaty, rubbing his face and at one point lunging off-camera to grab a bottle of water.

Oh, that water lunge.  How it will haunt poor Marco!

John Cassidy writing for the New Yorker, calls him “Water Boy”.

To be fair to Rubio, with a combination of eye contact and vigorous hand  gestures, he was doing a decent job with the tough task of delivering a lengthy  speech to a camera in an empty room. But then, for some reason—and it must have  seemed like an urgent one to him—he decided to reach for a small plastic bottle  on a nearby table and take a swig, thereby almost ducking out of the camera shot  and sending the Twitterverse into hysterics. “Uh-oh. Water gulp—really bad TV  optics,” Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of  Virginia, tweeted. “SNL, Colbert, Stewart…here they come.” After that  diversion, Rubio appeared to realize his error, and he looked a bit shaken. For  some reason, the camera closed in on his face, which didn’t improve things. As  the Democratic pundit Paul Begala cruelly noted on Twitter, the Senator was sporting a sheen  of sweat that inspired memories of Richard Nixon.

Meanwhile, the President looked confident and sometimes very passionate as when he mentioned the need for Congress to vote on gun safety legislation.

The Republicans looked more like their leader.

That is Paul Ryan in the center.

For right now, the President has the upper hand.  Neither Marco Rubio nor Rand Paul advanced any ideas beyond those from the last election – which they lost.  Plus they presented a bad image all around.  Maybe the Republicans are right in saying the President offered nothing new, nothing really that he didn’t talk about during the campaign, but there is a big difference:  Barack Obama won based in large measure on those ideas.  No wonder they look like four year olds being told they can’t have desert.  And poor Marco.  Only time will tell if he can overcome his reach for water.

Photographs AP/Charles Dharapak, Bill O’Leary/Post, Melina Mara/Post

The death of the Republican party? Part 2

Maureen Dowd calls them  “A Lost civilization”. likening them to the lost tribes of civilization.

The Mayans were right, as it turns out, when they predicted the world would end in 2012. It was just a select world: the G.O.P. universe of arrogant, uptight, entitled, bossy, retrogressive white guys.

Just another vanishing tribe that fought the cultural and demographic tides of history.

Someday, it will be the subject of a National Geographic special, or a Mel Gibson movie, where archaeologists piece together who the lost tribe was, where it came from, and what happened to it. The experts will sift through the ruins of the Reagan Presidential Library, Dick Cheney’s shotgun casings, Orca poll monitoring hieroglyphics, remnants of triumphal rants by Dick Morris on Fox News, faded photos of Clint Eastwood and an empty chair, and scraps of ancient tape in which a tall, stiff man, his name long forgotten, gnashes his teeth about the 47 percent of moochers and the “gifts” they got.

Instead of smallpox, plagues, drought and Conquistadors, the Republican decline will be traced to a stubborn refusal to adapt to a world where poor people and sick people and black people and brown people and female people and gay people count.

As the historian Will Durant observed, “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.”

Who would ever have thought blacks would get out and support the first black president? Who would ever have thought women would shy away from the party of transvaginal probes? Who would ever have thought gays would work against a party that treated them as immoral and subhuman? Who would have ever thought young people would desert a party that ignored science and hectored on social issues? Who would ever have thought Latinos would scorn a party that expected them to finish up their chores and self-deport?

Calvin Trillin puts it this way

Mitt Romney Explains Why He Lost

Obama was clever as clever could be;
To targeted groups he gave gifts that were free:
Say, healthcare for free until age 26,
And free contraceptives (for sex just for kicks).
Debates in the primaries left our team bruised
From harsh accusations the White House then used.
Whatever the reason for losing might be,
Of one thing I’m sure: it could not have been me.
I’m perfect.

But those of us on the other side should remember that the Democrats have also had some near-death experiences – like after the 1972 election – and we have spent our time in the wilderness, too.  The party has had internal struggles and differences, but, correct me if I’m wrong, there has never been a point where the Democratic party was this close to making itself irrelevant.

Trillin again.

Republican Soul Searching   

We’re searching our souls and we’re wondering why
We got beat so badly our rivals are gloating.
It’s obvious now where our campaign went wrong:
We should have prevented more people from voting.

Freedom of Religion and Freedom from Religion

The first Amendment to the Constitution reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion….”  I don’t think that Rick Santorum has read the Constitution recently if ever.  Last night on Hardball  Chris Matthews tried to  referee a shouting match between Michael Steele, the former chair of the Republican Party who tried to defend Santorum’s introduction of his religious beliefs into governing policy and David Corn who tried without success to explain why the introduction of religion was wrong.  All three of them missed the point.  The point is that we can have no established religion in this country and while those who govern as President can have personal religious beliefs, they cannot impose them on the country.

Karen Santorum says husband’s presidential run is ‘God’s will’

Kathleen Parker ended her recent column titled “The Trials of Saint Santorum” this way

Everything stems from his allegiance to the Catholic Church’s teachings that every human life has equal value and dignity. The church’s objection to birth control is based on concerns that sex without consequences would lead to men reducing women “to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of (their) own desires,” as well as abuse of power by public authorities and a false sense of autonomy.

Within that framework, everything Santorum says and does makes sense, even if one doesn’t agree. When he says that he doesn’t think the government should fund prenatal testing because it leads to abortion, this is emotional Santorum, father of a disabled child and another who died hours after a premature birth. In both instances, many doctors would have recommended abortion, but Santorum believes that those lives, no matter how challenging, have intrinsic value.

Though Santorum’s views are certainly controversial, his biggest problem isn’t that he is out of step with mainstream America. His biggest problem is that he lacks prudence in picking his battles and his words. The American people are loath to elect a preacher or a prophet to lead them out of the desert of unemployment. And they are justified in worrying how such imprudence might translate in areas of far graver concern than whether Santorum doesn’t personally practice birth control.

Parker’s statement that “the American people are loath to elect a preacher of a prophet” is exactly right.  And he is definitely out of step with mainstream America.  Maureen Dowd was even blunter opening her column with

Rick Santorum has been called a latter-day Savonarola.

That’s far too grand. He’s more like a small-town mullah.

Santorum is not merely engaged in a culture war, but “a spiritual war,” as he called it four years ago. “The Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country — the United States of America,” he told students at Ave Maria University in Florida. He added that mainline Protestantism in this country “is in shambles. It is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it.”

Satan strikes, a Catholic exorcist told me, when there are “soul wounds.” Santorum, who is considered “too Catholic” even by my über-Catholic brothers, clearly believes that America’s soul wounds include men and women having sex for reasons other than procreation, people involved in same-sex relationships, women using contraception or having prenatal testing, environmentalists who elevate “the Earth above man,” women working outside the home, “anachronistic” public schools, Mormonism (which he said is considered “a dangerous cult” by some Christians), and President Obama (whom he obliquely and oddly compared to Hitler and accused of having “some phony theology”).

Rick Santorum wants us to be a Christian country and beyond that a fundamentalist Catholic one.  How different this is from President John F. Kennedy declaring that the Pope would not run the government.  Mullah Rick needs to read the Constitution. 

Rick Santorum talks to the media after Wednesday's debate. | AP Photo

It is too easy to make fun of him.  This is a dangerous man.  We need to take him seriously.

Religious Freedom in America

George W. Bush was right.  [Never thought I would ever write that sentence.] The war on terror is not a war on Islam.  So why are our political leaders like President Obama and the Anti-Defamation League so skittish about saying that it is perfectly OK for a religious institution to build whatever they want on private property?  Would there be this kind of fuss if the Methodist Church decided to build a community center two blocks from Ground Zero?  I think not.

I’ve been searching through a number of websites to see if there were an accurate number for the Muslims who were killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center on 9/11 without success.  The numbers I’ve found range from 40 to as many as 200.  It really doesn’t matter except that the survivors who think building an Islamic Community Center near Ground Zero seem to have forgotten the diversity of people who died.

According to Maureen Dowd in her  column in today’s New York Times, there   “…already are two mosques in the same neighborhood — one four blocks away and one 12 blocks away.”

[A worshiper enters Masjid Manhattan, which is sandwiched between two bars on Warren Street, about four blocks from the World Trade Center site. It was founded in 1970]

So what exactly is up with the President who made a strong, clear statement and then took at least a step back?  Is it the political staff who worried that because of his name and the fact that some people still insist that he is Muslim it is bad for him to say there is a fundamental right to build an Islamic Community Center even if it is 2 blocks from Ground Zero?

Dowd points out

Let me be perfectly clear, Mr. Perfectly Unclear President: You cannot take such a stand on a matter of first principle and then take it back the next morning when, lo and behold, Harry Reid goes craven and the Republicans attack. What is so frightening about Fox News?

Some critics have said the ultimate victory for Osama and the 9/11 hijackers would be to allow a mosque to be built near ground zero.

Actually, the ultimate victory for Osama and the 9/11 hijackers is the moral timidity that would ban a mosque from that neighborhood.

A bit of advice from one of your supporters Mr. President:  Do and say what you think is the right thing.  Then don’t try to take it back.  I believe that one of the reasons your popularity is falling is because you are seen as too calculating. 

One bit of refreshing news is the open letter from six Muslim/Arab Republicans.

While some in our party have recently conceded the constitutional argument, they are now arguing that it is insensitive, intolerant and unacceptable to locate the center at the present location: “Just because they have the right to do so – does not make it the right thing to do” they say. Many of these individuals are objecting to the location as being too close to the Ground Zero site and voicing the understandable pain and anguish of the 9-11 families who lost loved ones in this horrible tragedy. In expressing compassion and understanding for these families, we are asking ourselves the following: if two blocks is too close, is four blocks acceptable? or six blocks? or eight blocks? Does our party believe that one can only practice his/her religion in certain places within defined boundaries and away from the disapproving glances of some citizens? Should our party not be standing up and taking a leadership role– just like President Bush did after 9-11 – by making a clear distinction between Islam, one of the great three monotheistic faiths along with Judaism and Christianity, versus the terrorists who committed the atrocities on 9-11 and who are not only the true enemies of America but of Islam as well? President Bush struck the right balance in expressing sympathy for the families of the 9-11 victims while making it absolutely clear that the acts committed on 9-11 were not in the name of Islam. We are hoping that our party leaders can do the same now – especially at a time when it is greatly needed.

Dowd cites two other Republicans

So look where we are. The progressive Democrat in the White House, the first president of the United States with Muslim roots, has been morally trumped by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, two moderate Republicans who have spoken bravely and lucidly about not demonizing and defaming an entire religion in the name of fighting its radicals.

I have just heard that New York Governor David Patterson, a Democrat, was trying to set up some negotiations which would result in the Community Center being built on an alternative site.  The President can start to redeem himself by calling Patterson and urging him to stop any such effort.

I say boo to the cowardly Democrats and good for the reasonable Republicans striking a blow for religious freedom.  Let’s not let our fear of terrorist attacks let the extremists win.

The President as Nobel Laureate

I’ve been following all the stories about President Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize.  From imagining what he said when told ( bad word is likely) to Maureen Dowd’s conversation between Bill Clinton and George W. to the calls to give it back to the hysteria on the right to the disbelief on the left and a lot in between.

President Obama reacted to receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in the White House Rose Garden on Friday morning.

This picture from the New York Times shows the President making his statement about winning:  He will go to Norway to accept and he will give the money to charity.  And, yes, he was just like the rest of us, surprised.

While conservatives rather predictably expressed disbelief and disparaged the prize and the president, there also are many Democrats and those on the left who were scratching their heads early this morning. Nearly all agree it’s a rather stunning award for someone who hasn’t been in the presidency even a year, coupled with two wars, an economic downside, the Iranian threat as well as the intractable Mideast problems.

Two of the most interesting comments the collected on the Caucus blog are from Robert Krebs and John McCain.

Several people pointed to an article by Robert Krebs in Foreign Policy magazine last July, in which he argued that the Nobel peace committee’s intentions are always partisan:

And for good reason: The Nobel Peace Prize’s aims are expressly political. The Nobel committee seeks to change the world through the prize’s very conferral, and, unlike its fellow prizes, the peace prize goes well beyond recognizing past accomplishments. As Francis Sejersted, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee in the 1990s, once proudly admitted, “The prize … is not only for past achievement. … The committee also takes the possible positive effects of its choices into account [because] … Nobel wanted the prize to have political effects. Awarding a peace prize is, to put it bluntly, a political act.”

“Oh, I’m sure that the president is very honored to receive this award,” Mr. McCain said. “And Nobel Committee, I can’t divine all their intentions, but I think part of their decision-making was expectations. And I’m sure the president understands that he now has even more to live up to. But as Americans, we’re proud when our president receives an award of that prestigious category.

 ”But the best comment is from Calvin Trillin in his “Three Possible Explanations from the Nobel Committee”

Don’t be surprised. Don’t gasp. Don’t faint.
We’ve simply said, “George Bush he ain’t.”

The prize diplomacy can reap’ll
Prevent this guy from bombing people.

Since Henry Kissinger has won,
You know that this is all in fun.

Thank you, Calvin.

Hypocracy about marriage

It is 40 years now since the Stonewall Riots first brought gay and lesbian civil rights into the public spotlight.  People who are gay or lesbian still can marry only in New England (except for Rhode Island) and Iowa.  They can’t serve in the miliary if they are openly expressing their sexuality.  The issue of ordination of homosexuals is spliting the Methodist and Episcopal churches.  And it appears that those leaders who are most vocal about the scanctity of marriage being only between a man and a woman are the most likely to divorce and the most likely to be as Jon Stewart put it “…just another politician with a conservative mind and a liberal penis.”

This is the graphic from Charles M. Blow’s op ed in the New York Times on Mark Sanford.

Blow writes

Sanford voted to impeach Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky saga. According to The Post and Courier of Charleston, Sanford called Clinton’s behavior “reprehensible” and said, “I think it would be much better for the country and for him personally” to resign. “I come from the business side. … If you had a chairman or president in the business world facing these allegations, he’d be gone.” Remember that Mr. Sanford?

And this kind of hypocrisy isn’t confined to the politicians. It permeates the electorate. While conservatives fight to “defend” marriage from gays, they can’t keep theirs together. According to the Census Bureau’s Statistical Abstract, states that went Republican in November accounted for eight of the 10 states with the highest divorce rates in 2006.

Conservatives touted abstinence-only education, which was a flop, when real sex education was needed, most desperately in red states. According to 2006 data from the Guttmacher Institute, those red states accounted for eight of the 10 states with the highest teenage birthrates.

A little bragging here:  Massachusetts was the first to legalize gay marriage and we are at the bottom of the list in divorce and teen pregancy. 

So we need less hypocacry from the conservative camp and a lot more reality.  I really don’t think anyone, except the politician’s family, cares about them having an affair as long as other laws (Spitzer and Vitter engaging prostitutes which is still illegal or Ensign and potential conflict of interest) are not also broken.  But please, practice what you preach or shut-up and don’t interfere with legal abortions or birth control or with the right of homosexuals to get married. 

As Maureen Dowd put it

Sanford can be truly humble only if he stops dictating to others, who also have desires and weaknesses, how to behave in their private lives.

The Republican Party will never revive itself until its sanctimonious pantheon — Sanford, Gingrich, Limbaugh, Palin, Ensign, Vitter and hypocrites yet to be exposed — stop being two-faced.

The Obama Date Nights

So what is the big flap about Michelle and Barack going out on dates?  My husband and I do it.  Maybe not flying to New York or to Paris but we try to go to concerts or for a walk at one of the local parks at least once a week.  It is fun and we try to make it stress free.  It gives one a new perspective on the relationship and on everything else going on in our lives and in the world.

The best take on the Obamas I’ve seen so far is Maureen Dowd’s Column today in the New York Times, “Can the One Have Fun?”

The fun police are patrolling Pennsylvania Avenue.

Given the serious times, the chatter goes, should Barack Obama be allowed to enjoy date night with Michelle in New York, sightseeing in Paris, golf outings in D.C., not to mention doing a promotion for Conan O’Brien and a video cameo for Stephen Colbert’s first comedy show from Iraq?

With two wars and G.M. in bankruptcy proceedings, shouldn’t the president be glued to the grindstone, emulating W.’s gravity when he sacrificed golf in 2003 as the Iraq insurgency spread?

So begins Dowd.

As a taxpayer, I am most happy to contribute to domestic and international date nights. As Arthur Schlesinger noted in his diaries, the White House tends to drive its occupants nuts. So some respite from the pressure is clearly a healthy thing. Not as much respite as W. took, bicycling and vacationing through all the disasters that President Obama is now stuck fixing — spending a total of 490 days in the tumbleweed isolation of Crawford and rarely deigning to sightsee as he traveled the world.

I agree.  Too much work is bad – and too much mindless brush cutting signaled inattention to the mess that was being created.  The Obamas are curious people and like to meet all kinds of people.  This can only be a good thing.

Interestingly, Dr. No, Dick Cheney, declined to tut-tut with other Republicans, saying “I don’t know why not,” when he was asked about the propriety of the president’s getaway to Broadway. A far more mature response than Senator Chuck Grassley’s nit-twit tweets grumbling about the president urging progress on health care “while u sightseeing in Paris.”

I loved the “Pretty Woman” romance of the New York tableau, the president, who had not lived an entitled life where he could afford such lavish gestures, throwing off his tie and whisking his wife, in a flirty black cocktail dress, to sip martinis in Manhattan, as Sasha hung over a White House balcony and called out goodbye.

When the president and first lady walked to their seats in the Belasco for “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” the theater-goers went nuts. And why not?

What a relief to have an urbane, cultivated, curious president who’s out and about, engaged in the world. Not dangerously detached, as W. was, or darkly stewing like Cheney. Not hanging with the Rat Pack like J.F.K. or getting bored and up to mischief like Bill Clinton.

What a relief change is.

Michelle and Barack Obama

The Obamas leaving for their date in New York.