Saturday, September 19, 2009

What's Up with the Czar Wars?

Republicans are at it again, bashing Obama for something that they let slide under George W. Bush. This time it’s about Obama’s appointment of so-called czars to advise him on various policy issues.

The word czar originally meant an emperor, like Caesar, which is the term’s root. Russia was ruled by czars for centuries. But it is not at all affiliated with communism or socialism, which is what some Republicans want us to believe. Czarist Russia ended with the revolution of 1917 when socialism took over.

Regardless of its history, today’s use of czar in America was coined by the news media as a lazy way of saying policy advisor. In this day of fast a furious sound bites, it’s much easier to say “drug czar” than to say “the policy advisor on drugs.”

Every president has had czars, some more than the current president. George W. Bush had so many czars that he even had to appoint a czar to oversee his other czars. He had a czar czar.

Even Franklin D. Roosevelt had a czar, a rubber czar. No he didn’t have a crisis of condoms; it was about how to get enough rubber to make tires.

So why is there so much backlash over Obama’s use of policy czars? The short answer is that Republicans have no fresh ideas of their own on any matter of policy, so their strategy is to attack Obama on every single detail of his presidency, no matter how picayune.

If he did not appoint any policy advisors, they would condemn him for that. They would say he is an inexperienced leader who should be appointing as many advisors as he can.

In reality, Obama is doing as president as he did when he was running for office. He is surrounding himself with experts on specific aspects of his job so that they can advise him from a position of knowledge and intellect rather than from cronyism, which our former president was guilty of.

It has been more than 10 months since the election and eight months since Obama took office. But from all the Obama bashing that is going on these days, you would think the campaign was still going on. Former president Jimmy Carter got it right when he said that much of the brouhaha stems from racial prejudice. Nobody will admit it, of course. But it does play a role. Just look at the signs being held up at the so-called Tea Party events. They are blatantly racist.

Maybe the mainstream Republicans simply disagree on policy, but the fact that so few of them have publicly scorned the ultra-right-wing segment of their party simply gives the racist rhetoric tacit approval and provides its purveyors with legitimacy.

Everyone has a right to speak his mind in America, even if it is spoken in an inappropriate manner. But having that right doesn’t mean that those who are more moderate in their viewpoints shouldn’t take steps to rein in the more extreme elements in their party. Not doing so makes the right-wing extremists the party’s official voice. But if that’s the voice they want, then they may have to live with even more disappointment next November.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Obama to Indoctrinate Schoolkids into Communism?

Ever since Barack Obama was elected president, conservatives have been crying and bellyaching over one thing or another. I guess that’s normal in a two-party system. Democrats complained a lot when George W. Bush was president. But then so did many Republicans. After all, Bush was a blithering idiot.

Obama is an intellectual and is very charismatic. Outwardly, he is a lot more like Ronald Reagan, although with much different policies. But regardless of his charisma, or maybe partly because of it, reactionaries are faulting him for everything from the economy to the swine flu.

But over the past week, a new controversy has arisen. As off the wall and silly as some of his detractors have been up until now, this latest controversy has to be one of the most outlandish non-issues ever brought up in the name of partisan politics.

The president wants to speak to schoolchildren at a time when they have started classes again following their summer break. He wants to tell them that education is important to their future and to tell them it would be best for them to stay in school and try hard. He wants to tell them that it is possible to rise above hardship as he did to become whatever they want to be.

It is not the first time a president has addressed an audience of schoolchildren. Ronald Reagan did it. He talked about taxes for whatever reason. George H.W. Bush did it, too. And as we all know, George W. Bush was reading to kindergarteners at the moment of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. After being told of the attack, he just continued to read.

But now, Obama’s plan to speak to the kiddies has drawn fire from the conservatives who claim he only wants to indoctrinate them into some socialist agenda. Normally, such far-right propaganda would be ignored by all except their own kind. But for a reason that is beyond my comprehension, the extreme right seems to have the ear of the moderate audience these days.

The moderates have started to believe the wing nuts on the right when they make far-fetched claims about Obama’s health care plan or his economic recovery plan. And now, the claim that Obama is trying to brainwash the nation’s children and turn them into socialists or communists has gone viral.

Parents are threatening to keep their kids home on Tuesday after Labor Day instead of sending them to school to listen to their president tell them to get a good education. Even some school administrators have said they would screen, delay, or even edit the broadcast.

This is craziness gone amok. Who would have believed that a simple address by the president directed at school kids and on the topic of getting a better education would be the target of so much controversy? Some have said the speech comes with lesson plans. Well, so what? It’s a speech about education. Lesson plans seems like a logical inclusion. Teachers are not under any obligation to actually use them. But providing supplemental materials is a good idea.

Whether you agree with the president’s policies or not, whether you like Obama as a person or not, doesn’t change the fact that he is the elected president of this country, and as such, he has every right to address whatever audience he chooses. He did not obtain his position as leader of the free world through a coup. He was duly elected to the office by a popular majority and a sizeable electoral majority, larger than either of George W. Bush’s margins. In fact, Bush lost the popular vote in 2000.

It is a fact, not an opinion, that conservatives tend to have less formal education than those on the progressive end of the political spectrum. And it is these same conservatives who want to keep their kids out of school so they won’t be exposed to a speech by their duly-elected leader. Could it be that conservatives are afraid that if their kids listen to Obama, stay in school, and become more educated than their parents, that they will jump ship and become Democrats?

It sounds logical, which is probably why it isn’t true. After all, a logical conservative is an oxymoron. Most of the far-right nut jobs wouldn’t know logic if it crawled up their pant legs and bit them in the ass.