Sunday, August 30, 2009
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
In August 2007 Senator Barack Obama fresh on the presidential campaign trail made an impassioned promise at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars to wage what he dubbed the war that has to be won. The war is the war in Afghanistan. He promised to quickly get out of Iraq, corral America’s allies in a partnership to wipe out the terrorists and their mass destructive weapons, end corruption, hold free elections, and insure a stable government in Afghanistan.
Two years later and a shell out of $230 billion dollars, and more than 700 US dead, not one of these goals have been met. There’s absolutely no guarantee that the request of $65 billion more which is an amount bigger than the amount budgeted for Iraq; and the 17,000 more troops which will bring troop deployment in Afghanistan close to the number in Iraq that Obama will be any closer to attaining the goal of zapping Al Qaeda and installing a corruption free, democratic government there. Military analysts, Pentagon insiders, and the Joints Chiefs, agree that to attain anything faintly close to Obama’s goals in Afghanistan will take a long hard slog that will cost billions more and take thousands more American troops (with increased casualties).
From his early speeches and now administration war policy set in stone Obama is doggedly convinced that the Afghan war can be won, no matter the cost. And he’s willing to stake the credibility of his administration on that, no matter the price. The price is high. A mid-August Washington Post-ABC News poll found that more Americans than ever say the war is pure folly. A majority of Obama’s most fervent backers say the same. These are the supporters who Obama will need to beat back the mounting GOP counterinsurgency against him, make gains or at least cut potential Democratic losses in the mid-term elections in 2010, and to vigorously pump his shaky health care reform package. With the grumbles from liberal Democrats and progressives getting louder about Obama’s betrayal and backsliding on his campaign promises, Afghanistan looms even larger as Obama and the Democratic Party’s Vietnam.
Vietnam is the dreaded word that presidents Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Bush heard about Vietnam, Somalia, and Iraq. It’s still the poster war for a failed, flawed, and hopelessly unwinnable war. The word has been a political tipping point for presidents. It soured public opinion, drained the economy, fueled public dismay and anger, hampered passage of their domestic programs, fractured their party, and stirred big losses in Congress.
Public shell shock over unpopular wars always redounds to the advantage of an incumbent challenging a president whose name is linked to the war. In 1952, Eisenhower ran on the pledge to visit Korea if elected. Though Ike never directly promised to bring the troops home if elected, the implicit commitment was that if elected he’d do that. He really didn’t have to make that promise; public weariness over the war was so great that Ike’s generic oath to visit the troops was enough to help sink Truman. In the public’s mind the Korean War had become Truman’s war, or more accurately Truman’s failure to win the war.
Similarly, Nixon learned from Ike. During the presidential campaign against Democratic Vice-President Hubert Humphrey in 1968, Nixon dropped careful politically calculated hints of a “secret plan” to end the Vietnam War if elected. Like Ike, he didn’t spell out in any real detail just what his secret plan was. And like Ike, he didn’t really have to. Public revulsion over Vietnam, as in Korea, was so great that even the scintilla of a suggestion that Nixon could end the war aroused voter optimism for him and even greater fury against Humphrey who was widely seen as the caretaker of Johnson’s war (Johnson saw the handwriting on the wall and declined to run).
These two unpopular wars did in Truman and the Democrats in 1952, and President Johnson and the Democrats in 1968. They also had a tsunami effect on Democratic elected officials. In both election years, the Democrats had a decisive edge over the Republicans in Congress, a wide body of public support, and political prestige. Eisenhower, and later Nixon, painted Korea and Vietnam as a hopeless muddle that Truman and Humphrey (in tandem with Johnson) made a mess of. The two Democratic presidents paid dearly for it, and Bush and the Republicans paid just as dearly for the Iraq quagmire.
Obama knows this history well. He embedded that history into his presidential campaign and continually reminded voters of the history of the Iraq war failure. Financially draining wars take a huge toll on the economy, drag down public morale, and cause a steep plunge in American prestige internationally. It also whips up greater anti-American sentiment.
Three failed and flawed wars and the public’s distaste for those wars helped topple two sitting Democratic presidents, and hopelessly discredited a Republican president. The same public distaste for the Afghanistan war can easily make it Obama’s Vietnam. History has served notice on Obama of this peril.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, “The Hutchinson Report” can be heard on weekly in Los Angeles at 9:30 AM Fridays on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and live streamed nationally on ktym.com
Friday, August 21, 2009
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
In an interview on NBC's Today Show two weeks after he was sworn in President Obama was blunt. He said that if he didn't deliver he'd be "a one term proposition." Put this in the category of what did he know and when did he know it. The it is that he was under the white hot glare of the public to deliver the goods, or be quickly dumped in the presidential has been bin. Polls back up this hard political reality about Obama. A mid August Washington Post-ABC News survey found that his approval ratings continue to plunge. Part of that can be chalked up to inevitability.
New presidents always ride into office on the crest of both voter hopes and euphoria about the prospect of change and disgust at and voter fatigue with the former seat warmer in the White House. And new presidents just as quickly see their approval ratings dip or freefall. It’s easy to see why. They try to do too much to soon, promise not to do political business in the old ways, try to make too drastic legislative changes, or quickly reverse the bad old policies of their predecessor. It’s the fabled man on the white horse coming to the rescue. This is, of course, just that fable. Real politics and an impatient public knock that storybook notion for a loop.
In Obama’s case, he gambled that his presidency would be a crowning success if he could beat back the fine tuned, well-oiled, and well-endowed health care industry juggernaut and get health care reform, that’s real health care reform, through Congress and into law. Only one president has been able to do and that was Lyndon Johnson. He arm twisted, browbeat, and out smarted Congress and the health care industry to get Medicare. Johnson had won a landslide election victory in 1964, had fine tuned, hard nosed political skills, had the reform spirit of the civil rights movement and a solid Democratic party behind him. And he had the well spring of public sympathy after JFK’s murder. Obama is not LBJ, politically. And he has neither the times or Johnson’s massive mandate for change going for him.
Above everything else, the voters put Obama in the White House to make the economy right, reign in the Wall Street greed merchants, save jobs and homes, and get the credit pipeline to businesses open. That hasn’t happened. Instead they’ve gotten a raucous, and contentious health care reform fight that’s given a badly fractured and reeling, GOP, the butt of scorn and jokes, something that it never dreamed in its wildest dreams in mid November could happen. That’s the weapon to get back in the political hunt. If anyone had dared say a month ago that the percent of voters who blame Obama for making a mess of health care reform was in striking distance of the number of voters who blame the GOP for the mess, they’d have been measured for a straightjacket. A mid-August Pew Research survey found just that.
Obama eventually will get a health care bill to sign. But it will be a bill that will satisfy few. Progressives will scream even louder that the bill sans a public option, and deal laden with big Pharma giveaways, is smoke and mirrors, a sham reform, and another infuriating betrayal of his campaign pledge of hope and change. The Fox Network, Limbaugh, and the GOP attack hounds will scream even louder that the bill and Obama are taking the country down a sink hole. The bill will leave the majority of voters confused, perplexed, and even more uneasy about what Obama is really up to, and his seeming inability to be the tough, decisive leader that millions took a chance on and backed.
The conventional wisdom is that Obama has plenty of time to get things right. Here’s the problem. Health care and the economy are signature markers for a successful Obama first term, and the justification for a second one. Doubts, unease, or his real or perceived failure will be hard to unhinge from voter thinking. Blacks, Hispanics, young and progressive voters will still back him. But will they crusade for him as they did in 2008? That means again turning out in big and impassioned numbers. This won’t happen if they feel Obama waffled or reneged on his key promises. Meanwhile, the GOP will sow more fear, pound away on the doubts, unease and perceived failures of Obama. It will dump its bizarre Palin fascinaton, will have a fat campaign chest, and will groom a fresh new GOP face, (just like the Dems did with Obama).
Worse, Obama won’t have the gargantuan trump card he had in 2012. That was the Bush bogeyman to scare, shock, and rev up voters. This doesn’t spell defeat in 2012. It does spell an Obama nightmare about a one term presidency.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, “The Hutchinson Report” can be heard weekly in Los Angeles at 9:30 AM Fridays on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and live streamed nationally on ktym.com
Saturday, August 08, 2009
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
President Obama has gotten more death threats in a shorter period of time than any other president in US history. The legion of right side talk radio gabbers, the GOP induced professional mobsters who commit orchestrated mayhem at health care townhalls, the birthers, the countless websites and chatrooms that c
rackle with anti Obama venom, and the endless montage of race baiting cartoons, characterizations and depictions of Obama and First Lady Michelle have created a viperous climate of hate and that knows no bounds.
The stock assumption is that race is the reason that Obama is a bigger target than any other president. That’s a huge factor. The mere sight of a black man at the helm is more than enough to drive countless loose screw unreconstructed KKK, Aryan Nation, Skinhead, and the just plain wacky fringe into a froth. But anti-black hate is only one reason for the record number of death threats against him. Threats against Presidents often come fast and furious immediately after their election. The reasons are varied; many are the chronic cranks and nut cases, others hate the views of the president, fear change, or just get a titilation from making the threat.
But the GOP strategists and their stealth talk radio and blog allies are playing for much bigger stakes than just bashing a black president. The stakes are a rework of the GOP to take back power. A full throttle destabilization of the Obama administration on everything from the economy to health care is the obvious attack point. The GOP and their surrogates have snatched a page from the playbook used against every Democratic presidential candidate and president by the GOP since Nixon. That’s create havoc through charater assassination, rumor mongering, fear, intimidation, and emotionally charged code words. The operative tag they’ve slapped on Obama is socialist. That sets off a Pavlovian drool; reason quickly goes out the window and the red flags run up the mental flagpoles of countless Americans.
Obama’s message of hope and change feeds into rightist paranoia. He has drawn an instant global throng of admirers who see in him the embodiment of change and a fresh direction for US policy on the war and the easing of global tensions. He's also seen as a potential president who can put a diverse, humane face on American foreign policy.
These are the exact qualities that stir the deep fury, hatred and resentment among a steadily growing frenetic number of malcontents and hate mongers. The thick list of fringe and hate groups as well as the hordes of unbalanced violence prone individuals running free in America can fill a telephone book. The long history of hate violence in America is more than enough to raise the antenna on the danger of violence against prominent political figures.
The gun culture of the nation, adds even more fuel and danger to the mix. Gun and ammo sales have gun through the roof since Obama’s election, with many openly bragging that they are ready for a war to win back the country. Whether it’s the wholesale wipeout of families, gunning down police officers, or the shoot up of a women’s fitness center, the police invariably find that the cracked shooter has made some rant about guns and spouted wacky extremist views.
Obama, of course, has been the target of unbounded hate from the moment that he announced that he was a presidential candidate in February 2007. The personal death threats began flooding in to his campaign. Obama had the dubious distinction of being the earliest presidential contender to be assigned Secret Service protection on the campaign trail. As the crowds grew bigger at Obama rallies and his public visibility grew even greater, the Secret Service increased the number of agents assigned to guard him.
Obama campaign aides and volunteers continued to report occasional racial taunts and jibes when they passed out literature and pitched Obama in some areas. This further increased the jitters that Obama was at risk. As the showdown with John McCain heated up in the general election, the flood of crank, crackpot, and screwball threats that promise murder and mayhem toward Obama continued to pour in. This prompted the Secret Service to tighten security and take even more elaborate measures to insure his safety.
The troubling question though is how tight can the Secret Service clamp the security shield around Obama as president. The same report that there’s been a four hundred percent leap in death threats against Obama also noted that the Secret Service in underagented and under resourced. That’s not very comforting. But threats come with the presidential turf, a turf that Obama stands firmly on, and for some that’s just to much to stomach.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, “The Hutchinson Report” can be heard weekly in Los Angeles Fridays on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and live streamed nationally on ktym.com