America loves a bully. Despite the word’s definition: A person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker. We, as Americans, celebrate the bully at every turn, while accusing those who use brains over brawn as being weak. Take our current president, for example. Here is a man who is consistently painted as being weak by his critics, both Republicans and Democrats alike. America’s love of the bully is what, for so long, made Russia such a formidable opponent. They were bullies and they were threatening our global bully position. Yes, we often claim to be the saviors of other “weaker” nations, but when given an opportunity to move a couple of notches up the evolutionary ladder, we almost always resort to our most basic, animalistic tendencies. That being said, we often do manage to grow eventually, but not before enacting irreversible brutality on both ourselves and those around us.
Barack Obama is fully capable of devouring his enemies and critics. But he does so with a knife and fork and a bib tucked neatly into his shirt. His recent live Q&A at a House Republican retreat in Baltimore proved that to be the case. Despite the ongoing insistence by the radical right that Obama is nothing without his teleprompter (that he’s all smoke and mirrors and his “illusion” of intelligence and knowledge has more to do with his well-rehearsed oratory skills), Obama cleaned the floor with these fools on live national television while suggesting “a tone of civility instead of slash and burn will be helpful.” And no teleprompter! His victory here was so complete that, according to MSNBC’s Luke Russert, one Republican official and other GOP aides confided that allowing the “cameras to roll like that” was a “mistake.” Even Fox News cut away from the live proceeding 20 minutes before it ended! And Ezra Klein of the Washington Post called it “the most compelling political television I’ve seen…maybe ever.” But in perfect pathological fashion, folks like Florida Republican Marco Rubio continue to insist that Obama is helpless without his teleprompter. It should be noted that Rubio made that claim again the other day while standing before a set of teleprompters and flipping through pages of notes on the podium before him.
So what exactly is this pathological rewriting of reality? I had a handful of very disturbing interactions with a Libertarian acquaintance of mine recently and felt I got a series of first-hand examples of this kind of mindset. The same mindset that allowed Fox News to cut away from Obama in Baltimore and replace him with talking heads who immediately started rewriting history even as it was happening! And what was most terrifying about my exchange with this Libertarian fellow who sees himself as “an extremely socially, ultra-liberal independent voter” was the complete and utter lack of self-awareness that accompanied it. This fellow would make accusations against Obama and other politicians, basically regurgitating “facts” which he’d heard or read elsewhere and, when confronted with proof to the contrary, would either A) delete his previous comments (when interacting online) or claim never to have said any such thing; or B) refuse to respond to any rebuttal by changing the subject entirely or simply calling his debate opponent crazy. All the while NEVER backing up any of his statements or admitting when he’d been proven wrong. Even when confronted with deleted comments he claimed never to have made (they were, unbeknownst to him, saved on our email accounts), he would then backpedal by saying “Well, that’s not what I meant to say.” But when asked what it was he had meant to say, he would again resort to name-calling, but never actually answer the question at hand. It seemed, time and again, truth and reality were of no interest to him. There was a complete and total pathology at work that would allow him to create new realities in any given moment to suit his desires. With this tact, logic and reason had no effect and were therefore of no importance. And while, in certain situations, an interaction like this might serve as a source of mild amusement or come across as innocently baffling, here, in the political arena, it was downright terrifying. And I took it to be a signifier of a mindset all too common by some of today’s most vocal political protesters.
Meanwhile, political henchmen and possible presidential candidates like Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin stir the pot by publicly proclaiming Obama weak for apologizing internationally for America’s past transgressions (mostly committed while Cheney was Vice President). As if admitting you were wrong or apologizing for mistakes was ineffectual and spineless as opposed to honorable, ethical and, that dirtiest of all words, conscientious. They also condemned the president for politely bowing before asian world-leaders (despite it being tradition and a sign of respect–much like a handshake). But to the bully, showing respect or admitting that there may be common ground is tantamount to surrendering. So while Obama continues to act like an intelligent, thoughtful, educated and civil world leader, many Americans simply can’t stomach the fact that he’s not more outwardly aggressive.
Recently, the National Review’s Daniel Pipes outlined his thoughts on how Obama (“a president whose election I opposed, whose goals I fear, and whose policies I work against”) can regain the respect of the nation and lift his sagging poll numbers in an article he called “How to Save the Obama Presidency: Bomb Iran,”:
“[Obama] needs a dramatic gesture to change the public perception of him as a light-weight, bumbling ideologue, preferably in an arena where the stakes are high, where he can take charge, and where he can trump expectations… Such an opportunity does exist: Obama can give orders for the U.S. military to destroy Iran’s nuclear-weapon capacity.”
Because, let’s face it, two wars is not enough. And they weren’t Obama’s. Obama needs his own trophy war if he wants to gain the respect of all those Americans who believe him to be a socialist wimp. And of course the simple-solutions everywoman, Sarah Palin, agreed wholeheartedly with Pipes:
“If [Obama] decided to toughen up and do all that he can to secure our nation and our allies, I think people would, perhaps, shift their thinking a little bit and decide, ‘Well, maybe he’s tougher than we think he’s—than he is today,’ and there wouldn’t be as much passion to make sure that he doesn’t serve another four years.”
And what’s saddest about all of this is that they may be correct. This would, quite likely, make a significant percentage of Americans more comfortable with Obama. Sure, it would plunge our already disastrous economy deeper into the toilet and hundreds of thousands of lives would most likely be lost in a war that would extend far beyond any comprehensible expectations (not to mention result in the further alienation of our Nato partners and other countries and citizens around the globe), but at least Obama would take his rightful place as another American bully and save face among his fellow citizens who think him a sissy boy. Or would it? We already know that, despite appalled denial, many Americans still struggle with racism and are not comfortable with a black (or even half-black) president. So what would happen if this president suddenly got tough, angry even, and became the bully we’re all so used to seeing in that highest of political offices? Well, he’d have a whole new set of problems to face that, well, a white guy might not, as Eric Deggans of the St. Petersburg Times discussed back in April of 2008:
“For new school black politicians, it is an essential question: How do you recognize the righteous anger of those frustrated by racial inequality without looking like just another Angry Black Man?
Those of us who write often about black folks and politics knew there would come a moment when the first black man with a realistic shot at becoming president would have to face this challenge — reconciling black anger and frustration with white fear and resentment.”
Would Obama go from intellectually-threatening wuss to scary, angry black guy in the eyes of the fearful? I mean, in this country, as sad a commentary as it is, a white president and a black president are still not treated equally in the eyes of some of our citizens. Take that Wingnut email being forwarded that takes outrage at Obama putting his feet up on the desk in the Oval Office:
Does this photo of President Obama in the Oval Office convey anything to you about his attitude?
Would you speak with the Chief of Staff, your Chief Economics Adviser, and your Senior Adviser with your feet up on the Resolute Desk – a gift from Queen Victoria to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880?
We should inundate the White House with emails demanding he keep his feet off of our furniture.
This arrogant, immature & self-centered man has no sense of honor, or of simple decency.
While this posture is disrespectful in any culture, it is absolutely never done in any executive setting.
Further, in over half of the cultures of the world, it is recognized not only as disrespectful, but as an extreme insult.
He thinks of himself as a king — and not as a servant of the people, humbly occupying our White House for his term in office.
Electing him was an enormous mistake — and will cost us in many ways, for generations.
Where were all the letters of appall and outrage when our last (white) president did the very same thing?
So one wonders if it is possible for a man like Barack Obama to be the bully America loves without being stamped “another Angry Black Man.” Would he gain some level of twisted respect from the very men and women who fear him (after all, in America, fear equals power and strength, right?), or do we only like our bullies to be white?
Personally, I’m thrilled not to have another bully president even though I find myself at times wanting Obama to be a little more forceful in his political dealings. While I admire and celebrate what I hope will turn out to be a more evolved approach to politics (it’s one of the reasons I voted for him), I believe he would actually be more effective if he were a bit more ruthless. Sadly, the current climate in Washington is set up to keep Obama from achieving any successes, regardless of whether or not they are in the best interest of most Americans. So he is essentially bullied by a divided House and Senate who will try and keep his hands tied for as long as he’s willing to allow them. At the same time, I believe Obama has a bigger picture in mind and is actually putting his money (and career) where his mouth is:
“I’d rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president… There’s a tendency in Washington to think that our job description of elected officials is to get re-elected. That’s not our job description. Our job description is to solve problems and to help people. And, you know, that’s not just the view of elected officials themselves. That’s also the filter through which the media reads things.”
So while I am frustrated and angered by the eternal roadblocks put in place by lesser men and women, I am also thrilled to see America with an intelligent, self-aware leader who recognizes the changes that need to be made if we are to grow out of our infancy. Sadly, our love affair with violence (both verbal and physical) and our passion for vengeance and our need to be “stronger” than any potential opponent regardless of ideology or purpose, gets in the way of our actually making strides in the betterment of our people, our nation, or our world. And perhaps the above-mentioned live Q&A in Baltimore is a significant step in Obama bridging the gap between substance and politics. NBC’s Chuck Todd commented on the live event:
“The president should hold Congressional ‘town halls’ more often. Public needs to see this if they’ll ever trust Washington again.”
The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein added:
“Obama assumed the role of responsible adult to the GOP children, or, at the very least, of a college professor teaching and lecturing a room full of students.”
Dee Dee Myers, Clinton’s former press secretary, backed up that statement with:
“On one level it looked brave but on another he was the substitute teacher there, lecturing the audience. A lot of us have been waiting for that moment, a little more fight, a little more politics.”
And then there’s that poor fella so outraged by the IRS he decided that violence was the only answer to his problems and so he created his own 9/11 by crashing a plane into an Austin IRS complex. It seems in our celebration of bullies, we simultaneously send out a non-stop message that violence is a justifiable means to an end. I tried to address this concept metaphorically in my film THE PLAGUE, but the studio behind it decided that the film should actually be the polar opposite of its intent and set about systematically removing the film’s message and attempt at cultural self-reflection. Instead, they tried to turn it into a film about killer-kids; essentially, they were far more attracted to the notion of a film that celebrated its violence rather than one that made an informed commentary on it. And this is, as many of us already know, not a new development in the industry. God-forbid anything should illicit individual thought or stir conversation or promote questions. The studios would rather keep people right where they are (our base impulses sell more tickets than our intellect or common sense). Like Sarah Palin, who actually sells herself as a presidential candidate by publicizing the fact that she’s not qualified to run this country:
“I’m never going to pretend like I know more than the next person. I’m not going to pretend to be an elitist. In fact, I’m going to fight the elitist, because for too often and for too long now, I think the elitists have tried to make people like me and people in the heartland of America feel like we just don’t get it, and big government’s just going to have to take care of us… I want to speak up for the American people and say: No, we really do have some good common-sense solutions. I can be a messenger for that.”
Good common-sense solutions. Like bombing Iran. And I don’t know about anyone else, but the thought of a president who doesn’t know more than I do about running this country scares the shit out of me. But somehow this comforts many. They can relate to Palin. And she can be a bully. Unreasonable, unrealistic, ignorant, under-educated and completely incapable of admitting –or even understanding– when she’s wrong… Sounds like someone else I know. Or a vocal group of people I read about daily.
Here’s a quote I thought hit the nail on the head:
“If you were to imagine a bunch of middle-class white people who conceive of themselves as the oppressed productive backbone of the country, and who embody a strange collection of unbridled ignorance and bizarre ahistorical conspiracy theory, you’d have a pretty good handle on the teabaggers.”
Yep. That pretty much sums up Palin and her many followers and fans. That gun-toting, angry mob you see on the news pretty much every day. And like so many people in this group, they struggle, fight and vote against their own best interests. Blogger Ben Grossblatt put it quite eloquently, I thought:
“The Tea Party is a quasi-Libertarian collection of people who think Obama is a socialist, and who delude themselves into believing they’re more than just ventriloquist dummies for the Republicans. They fancy themselves populists, but they support the same economic and legislative policies that have put regular people under the heel of big business.”
Big business, in the form of corporate entities, is the friend to the “tea-bagger”, despite any claims they may make to the contrary. And why is that? Because big business are bullies. And, no matter how much we may fear them, they give us some measure of comfort in the fear they illicit. We have a certain twisted “respect” for their power over us. And to make matters worse, we secretly hope to one day become a member of those wealthier-than-god, untouchable bullies. I think Reagan’s trickle-down economics proved that to be true. A failed economic plan that put the biggest tax breaks in the hands of the wealthiest Americans and opened the door for what turned out to be the complete corporate takeover of our nation (the world?) and still has the support of some of America’s least-wealthy and most-hard-hit-by-the-recession individuals. And despite the gross reality of this backward economic plan, there’s always a chance that one of us may find ourselves a member of that elite group (you sure you don’t like elitists, Ms. Palin?) and then we can finally reap the benefits of a misguided nation which fights to eliminate its middle-class (despite true Capitalism’s dependency on it) and broaden the division between rich and poor. Because the rich have historically always bullied the poor. And, as I said before, America loves and respects a bully. Even when we’re under their heel.