Sunday, May 06, 2007

WHY OBAMA ATTRACTS THE RIGHT

SAM SMITH - Harry Truman remarked that whenever anyone said they were bipartisan he knew they were going to vote against him. Barack Obama is the latest major politician to use this ploy, promising mushy abstractions instead of actual policies, making nice to everyone in the room while ducking the issues they raise and, in a time of historic confrontation over whether America can recover its constitutional democracy, pretending that the answer is somewhere in the middle.

But what is the middle ground between democracy and fascism? Between having a job or a house or being unemployed or homeless? Between having health care or dying?

As William Lloyd Garrison put it, "Tell a man whose house is on fire to give moderate alarm; tel1 him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen."

The myth of the happy center is a major illusion dominating public life in Washington. But the truth is that from that internecine struggle of two factions of the American middle known as the Civil War to FBI assaults on activist organizations in the 60s and 70s, from the Palmer raids to anti-terrorism legislation, Americans have traditionally had more to fear from people they have elected than from those on the fringes of politics. In fact, the latter have often served largely as an excuse for the American center to tighten its grip on the political and economic system. This is not to say that the left and the right would not enjoy being just as violent and repressive given the chance, but the American center has rarely allowed that.

Even the KKK, so often cited as an example of the sort of threat the non-center poses, was powerful primarily because it was at the center, holding political and judicial and law enforcement office as well as hiding beneath its robes. In some towns, lynching parties were even announced in the local paper. And in the 1920s, both the Colorado governor and mayor of Denver were members of the Klan, the latter well enough regarded to have had Stapleton airport named after him.

The centrist myth most dramatically fails when those acting upon it dramatically fail. What is the center on Iraq? On climate change? On the creeping coup taking over America? On the monopolization of the marketplace?

A 10,000 word piece in the New Yorker - purveyor of the appropriate to the liberal elite - features Obama as the "conciliator" with hardly a solid program or policy mentioned. The message of the article - like Obama's - is that we don't need a president, just a therapist.

Take healthcare for example:

"'We've got to put more money in prevention,' he said. "It makes no sense for children to be going to the emergency room for treatable ailments like asthma. Twenty per cent of our patients who have chronic illnesses account for eighty per cent of the costs, so it's absolutely critical that we invest in managing those with chronic illnesses like diabetes. If we hire a case manager to work with them to insure that they're taking the proper treatments, then potentially we're not going to have to spend thirty thousand dollars on a leg amputation.' A young man asked about health care for minorities. 'Obesity and diabetes in minority communities are more severe,' Obama said, "so I think we need targeted programs, particularly to children in those communities, to make sure that they've got sound nutrition, that they have access to fruits and vegetables and not just Popeyes, and that they have decent spaces to play in instead of being cooped up in the house all day.'"

So just eat your vegetables and stay away from Popeyes and all will be fine.

Pressed on the matter, Obama does go a little deeper:

"'If you're starting from scratch," he says, 'then a single-payer system' -a government-managed system like Canada's, which disconnects health insurance from employment- 'would probably make sense. But we've got all these legacy systems in place, and managing the transition, as well as adjusting the culture to a different system, would be difficult to pull off. So we may need a system that's not so disruptive that people feel like suddenly what they've known for most of their lives is thrown by the wayside.'"

Since ordinary people could adapt, say, to the expansion of the Medicare system in a matter of days, who are these people of whom Obama speaks who might "feel like suddenly what they've known for most of their lives is thrown by the wayside?" Well, the insurance companies would be the ones most affected, and Obama has just sent a clear if covert signal that he won't be messing with them.

The right understands the centrist myth far better than liberals. They know that the center is homeland security for inaction in public, lots of action behind the scenes, and power staying where it should: with the powerful. It's not surprising that some of them see Obama as their man, the "black Reagan" as he has been called.

Yet he is also the liberals' Pat Robertson, and while the right can see where they can cut deals with him, the liberal evangelicals are all misty eyed by his talk of hope and faith. But Harry Truman was right: that guy serving you the happy meals of centrism in the campaign is likely going to be on the other side after election day.

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Your editor has been a musician for many decades. He started the first band his Quaker school ever had and played drums with bands up until 1980 when he switched to stride piano. He had his own band until the mid-1990s and has played with the New Sunshine Jazz Band, Hill City Jazz Band, Not So Modern Jazz Band and the Phoenix Jazz Band.

NOTES ON THE MUSIC

Here are a few tracks:

SAM SMITH'S DECOLAND BAND

'SHINE' 

JELLY ROLL

PHOENIX JAZZ BAND

APEX BLUES   Sam playing with the Phoenix Jazz Band at the Central Ohio Jazz festival in 1990. Joining the band is George James on sax. James, then 84, had been a member of the Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller orchestras and hadappeared on some 60 records. More notes on James

WISER MAN  Sam piano & vocal

OH MAMA  Sam piano & vocal