Barack Obama's 1st State of the Union speech is scheduled for tonight. How long will it go on? How angry will Obama be? Who will he blame and vilify this go round? Will he acknowledge Scott Brown? Will he, as he did in the past, threaten to "call out" anyone who disagrees with him? And will anyone yell out "Liar!" this time around?
A lot of people are offering Obama advice. Most of the advice seems to be that Obama should try to be like Bill Clinton. He should move to the right. He should speak of compromise. It could happen, I guess. Still, if it does, I'll be surprised. Obama's politics have always been the politics of confrontation. He was elected by vilifying his opponents. At times, it seems to be the only thing he really knows how to do.
My main advice to Barack Obama would be to ask Nancy Pelosi to call in sick tonight. Indeed, the image of Pelosi sitting behind him, that frozen smile on her face as he speaks, will probably do more harm to the Democrats in November than any response that the Republcan Party could possibly give to his speech.
The feeling seems to be that this speech is Obama's last chance to save his presidency.
Quite frankly, there's more to being president than giving speeches.
That is something that Obama has never seemed to grasp.
That is why, regardless of his tone tonight, the great "promise" that so many once saw in Barack Obama appears to be lost forever.
I spent most of 2009 refusing to read (or even acknowledge) any of the various biographies of Barack Obama or accounts of the 2008 election. It was, quite frankly, just "too soon" for me to relive all of the drama and frustration that went along with rooting against Obama in 2008.
Indeed, for most of 2009, it was hard not to feel as if I was trapped in some sort of Orwellian satire. It all left me feeling as if I was being brainwashed: the constant fawning news reports (remember that night that Katie Couric devoted all 30 minutes of her newscast to one story entitled "The stimulus at work?"), the nonstop live coverage of Obama giving speech after speech, and the apparent inability of anyone to apply common sense to any of Obama's claims or policies. For much of 2009, it seemed like the only way to remain neither paranoid nor brainwashed was to simply pretend as if the 2008 election has never happened and as if Barack Obama was just some idealized character from a lost Upton Sinclair novel.
However, I am happy to say that enough time has finally passed and the passions surrounding Obama have cooled to the extent that I feel it is safe now to look back on 2008. Regardless of the results, it was a fun election to observe and, at the very least, one can hope that it will remind us why, in the past, it was preferable to elect even men such as Richard Nixon over ideologues like George McGovern (or Barack Obama, for that matter).
For that reason, I have started reading Game Changeby John Heileman and Mark Halperin. Game Changeis an account of the 2008 election and it's received a bit of attention for revealing that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid once said that Obama was electable because he was "light-skinned" and didn't have a "Negro accent." When the book was published, Reid apologized to Barack Obama for his comments. Obama, of course, accepted the apology and why shouldn't he? From Reid's point of view, he was praising Obama. If anything, Reid should have apologized to every dark-skinned African-American who does have a "negro" accent.
But that said, the whole controversy over Reid's comments have overshadowed the fact that the book's portraits of the three Democratic front runners are far more devastating than the unsurprising revelation that the 70 year-old Reid still uses the word "negro" in casual conversation. While it's not surprising to see Obama described as being arrogant or Hillary Clinton as shrill, the picture given of John and Elizabeth Edwards is a real eye-opener.
Of course, it was already obvious (even before the Reille Hunter affair came to light) that John Edwards was an empty suit and most already suspected that Elizabeth Edwards, illness aside, was hardly the saint she was frequently portrayed to be.
However, when reading Game Change, it's hard to avoid suspecting that, along with being shallow and rather vain, John Edwards was, in fact, delusional to the point of being mentally unstable.
For instance, consider the scene in which Edwards and a close campaign aide argue about the constant presence of Reille Hunter in John's entourage. Remember, this is before the Democratic primaries, before the rise of Obama, before the National Enquirer first reported that Edwards had a mistress, and before Hunter ended up pregnant with John's child. Edwards, according to Game Change, attacked the campaign aide for not confronting him directly with the rumors about Hunter. John Edwards then added, "Why didn't you come to me like a fucking man and tell me to stop fucking her!?"
(Remember, Edwards said this even though, at the time, he was still insisting to everyone in his campaign that he wasn't having an affair to Hunter.)
To call that line a Freudian slip is to a disservice to Freudian slips. Taking everything we know to be true into account, that line (if the book is to be believed and Edwards actually said it) would seem to indicate a man who could not control his self-destructive impulses and who was dependent on others to tell him to take the most common sense of actions.
As for Elizabeth -- well, where to begin? Whether threatening to cancel the health insurance of campaign workers or (again, according to Game Change) ripping open her blouse and screaming, "Look at me!" while arguing with her husband, Elizabeth Edwards comes across as perhaps even more unstable as her husband. Perhaps Elizabeth's defining moment comes in the aftermath of the first, little-noted Enquirer story in which she calls a staffer she blamed for allowing the story to leak to the public and is quoted as saying, "...You are poison! You're dead to us!"
If nothing else, Game Change offers us some hope as we prepare for, at the very least, three more years of Barack Obama.
Mathias is one of those figures who achieved a certain prominence in public affairs for a few brief years before being quickly forgotten. He was, to date, the last Republican to represent the state of Maryland in the U.S. Senate, serving from 1969 until his retirement in 1987.
Mathias was, in many ways, the epitome of the type of liberal Republican who dominated the party from the Goldwater debacle of 1964 until the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. As such, Mathias represented the wing of the party that, in the end, accomplished little beyond giving us Watergate.
Which is not to say that Mathias was not deserving of praise. Most notably, Mathias was an outspoken supporter of civil rights, openly championing proposals that, at the time, put his political career in very serious jeopardy. Representing a Southern, heavily Democratic state in the Senate, it took a certain amount of courage for Mathias to support even the mildest of civil rights measures. That alone makes Mathias worthy of some amount of praise.
Much like Daniel Brewster (the youthful incumbent that Mathias defeated in 1968), Charles Mathias flirted occasionally with running for President. (Brewster served as Lyndon Johnson's stand-in during the 1964 Democratic Primary in Maryland.) In 1976, Mathias openly contemplated either entering the Republican primaries or running as an independent in the general election. At the time, Mathias said that he felt that Ronald Reagan was forcing Gerald Ford too far to the right. Though Mathias never actually officially entered the contest, contemporary reports would seem to indicate that he spent a lot of time openly thinking about it. If nothing else, this would indicate that Charles Mathias was the Chuck Hagel of his time.
After 1976, Mathias appeared to spend the majority of his time not only worrying about the conservative direction of the Republican Party but also talking about it as well. One should perhaps not be surprised to discover that Mathias was not extremely popular with many Republicans and even after the Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate in 1981, Mathias was something of an odd man out.
Mathias emerged from obscurity in 2008 and endorsed Barack Obama for the presidency. This would be surprising if not for the fact that almost every out-of-office liberal Republican in the nation ended up endorsing Obama in 2008. Mathias was unique in that, unlike such men as former U.S. Rep. Pete McCloskey, he did not officially switch his party affiliation at the same time.
President Barack Obama will be giving his first State of the Union speech this Wednesday. Reports from the White House seem to indicate that Obama is planning on saving his imperiled presidency with one well-delivered speech.
No word yet on how many times Obama's planning on referring to "a cross of gold."
For those of us who have always wondered what would have happened if William Jennings Bryan had actually won one of the three presidential elections he contested, we now have our answer.
Much as Nero played his fiddle, Obama will continue to give speeches.
Retired televangelist Oral Roberts died on December 15th. He was 91 years old.
When I was a child, I knew Oral Roberts as simply the old guy who came on after the cartoons. Later, in 1987, Roberts contributed to one of the defining moments of my cynical adolescence when he announced that if he didn't raise 8 million dollars by a set date, God would kill him (or "call him home.")
Roberts ended up raising 9.1 million dollars but, in the end, his statement did far more harm than good to the American evangelical community. His claim that God was blackmailing him managed to discredit every other televangelist in the country, regardless of whether they practiced Roberts' style of ministry or not. Certainly, it added fuel to a fire that would, later that year, turn into an inferno as both Jimmy Swaggert and Jim Bakker saw their ministries collapse.
It's not for me to say whether or not Roberts sincerely believed he would be killed for failing to raise enough money to please God. All I can say for sure is that the death threat doesn't sound like something that the God I was raised to worship would have anything to do with.
Roberts was semi-retired when he died. To be honest, I was initially surprised to discover that he hadn't died years earlier. Oddly enough, his death was not greeted with any jokes about being called home. Then again, Americans always have been a forgetful group of people.
Perhaps the only thing positive thing that Bernacke has brought to this year is evidence that occasionally, Republican senators can find common ground with Bernie Sanders. Sen. Sanders, the only self-acknowledged socialist in the U.S. Senate, has recently joined with conservative Republicans Jim Bunning and Jim DeMint in opposing Bernacke's nomination to another four years in charge of the Fed.
Honestly, the person of the year was Michael Jackson. His death and the subsequent circus that has surrounded it has come to represent the current state of the world. If 2009 played like a heavy-handed satire, nothing was more heavy-handed than the death of Michael Jackson.