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Like pre-tested, pre-packaged junk food, rightwing slogans ooze from 24/7 media, cable and wireless spigots. What salt, sugar, and fat do for snacks, the GOP smear machine does to the addicted body politic, driving the country rightward, reigning in legislation, blocking appointments, and framing what gets debated and how. Imagine if Republicans won. Oh, we did that.
Where are President Obama’s fetching slogans that grab media eyeballs? And, more importantly, where’s the winning Obama mission for his presidency and the country? The definition of a one-term president: no clear mission, no identifying slogans, and no collective enthusiasm to shake the status quo. Yes, we can — do what? Emphasis on the “do.”
What the Party of No uses for head-butting destruction, an effective party in power must use for construction. What stands out after 15 months aren’t only a void of new vision or catchphrases but unequivocal achievements that define Obama’s bottom line, the hills (if any) he’s willing to die on.
Where’s this presidency?
Right now, not even health care has Obama’s personal stamp, and no wonder consider what a wishy-washy, watered-down nothingburger it is. No wonder Democratic notions got picked off by GOP mendacity, like “death panels” or “government takeover,” for whatever the there there was soon abandoned. Republicans use slogans as mental gerrymandering, gestures to divide and conquer centrists just as electoral gerrymandering twists and perverts voting districts.
The only political solution, increasingly obvious to all but Democrats, is imitate successful leaders everywhere: create an inclusive, mission statement impregnable to cheap shots, then invent slogans that answer simple worries and communicate simple ideas. This exact model, however nefarious the result, effectively sold the invasion of Iraq – focusing on phantom terrorists, not oil reserves, culture, neo-con ideology, regional and global geo-politics.
Slogans work when they voice a mission. Remember “my country, right or wrong”? Today progressives rewrite “my country, far right, far wrong.” The original evoked Revolutionary times before re-emerging in the ‘60’s, unthinking jingoism for Vietnam bombing, parroted by “America: Love it or Leave it.” Slogans also wrap around contradictions, like why today’s “super-patriotic” Tea Party reactionaries protest like traitorous villains, defying majority rule, the legitimacy of elections, laws, courts, Congress, even federalism itself, with secessionist noise.
My Country, Not Yours
Only recall McCain-Palin’s campaign motto, “Country First,” to appreciate the crossover-reverse. Simply position an implied possessive “our” before “country” and voila! America is “first” only when right, white, rural, Protestants own and control “our” country. Along with the oligarchs. Palin’s “Real America” only belongs to one tribe, thus Tea Partyers whine about “taking our country back,” as if hijacked by alien misfits, like “socialist” Obama. Likewise, Birthers blather, “God gave prosperity to white settlers so any minority president is illegitimate, thus foreign, subversive, and socialist.” Even a threat to prosperity. See how idiot slogans work? Or wicked slogans work idiots?
In the ‘60’s, right-minded zealots dared tell newcomers “go back where you came,” but now it’s worse, “out of my way or we’re pulverize your ass.” A violent tonal shift. For me, this switch from defensive ‘60’s fortress mentality to a violent, insurrection mentality marks a watershed of national divisiveness, presaging serious discord. Consider stockpiles of private arms.
Our country is already pushing its psychic and operational limits, testing unexplored tipping points: are we too big to govern? Like bad banks, we are certainly not “too big to fail.” Perfect time for an enraged, well-funded, belligerent minority decrying majority rule. Can we sustain a workable majority without enough collective common ground, values, education and mindsets? Are 50% still rational enough to talk to each other, the critical mass when elections are fair to even confront worse problems than ever before? Ignorance is very costly, even suicidal.
Allergic to nuance
Massive defunding has dwarfed federal, state and county support for education and research, predictably reducing literacy, analytic and logical skills. If enough dimwits oppose book learning, expertise, and knowledge, brace for more illiteracy, just as the opposite happens: smart feeds smart. Think Asia and India markets. That means two, separate Americas, for many decades. If more universities are pounded on into faith-based anvils (whatever the faith), the greatest intellectual institution in world history – the American university system – faces a dark age.
We are not just growing allergies to thought and nuance, per John Sexton – but demoting reason as if it’s too much thinking leads to evolution, gay and equal rights, abortion and birth control, or global warming – all liberal elitist frauds. Thus spurring any Party of No is rage, violence and defiance about “learning,” for them mind control. But no one replaces something, even faith-based leaps into the void, with a secular nothing.
Missions to do – or die
For reasons beyond my ken, Obama Democrats lack the wit or courage to attempt, even fail, at fulfilling core pledges, execute principles, or articulate a national quest. What is this president about except small potatoes? When do we get past Bushism, even Clintonism – for no successful president makes a stand with an empty hand. Where’s the Obama mission?
The president’s cheerleaders can’t justify what he’s (not) done, only promise the best is yet to come. That’s religion, not politics. Botched health reform aside, what progressive expects rigorous regulatory financial reform, consumer protection, restoration of Constitutional guarantees after wholesale Bush violations, even a mediocre energy independence plan?
This country needs a unifying mission and a few great slogans grounded in human values. I don’t know why Obama Democrats didn’t just repeat: no citizen in the world’s richest country should die prematurely from medical neglect? We don’t need Reagan’s vacuous “shining city on a hill” but this country needs a mission, a collective quest that isn’t about stomping on another poor country worth a fraction of the trillion dollars we spend self-quagmiring.
In the ‘30’s, there was a compelling mission: redeem capitalism. In the ‘60’s the aim was “win the Cold War” and redeem the west. Clinton’s mission turned out: go global, then follow the rainbow to the surplus. Either President Obama starts defining the mission on his watch, or fails, drifting from crisis to crisis, with everyone (but the right) befuddled how we got here or where we’re going.
Talk about not being rocket science: a compelling mission defines a national goal, integrates natural and human resources into a focused plan of action and delivers something for everyone. Like energy conservation-independence? Or comprehensive Medicare buy-ins? Or saving the planet from over-achievers with tunnel-vision? Missions are out there, Mr. President, dying to be seized.