People always think that a good illustration of the American Dream is that in this fairyland of opportunity, "anybody can grow up to be President". This is technically true, given the very limited Constitutional requirements (natural born citizen, age 35). Of course the notion is a double edged sword. You can get a Fillmore or you can get a Roosevelt. You can get a Harding, or you can get a Kennedy.
You can get a Bush, or you can get an Obama.
There is often little rationale governing who is elected at a particular time except dumb luck. But dumb luck can also go both ways, and has kept the republic in good stead as very often we have elected men who match the moment.
Thankfully, we have that man now. He would appear on paper to have realized the American dream in full, from a volatile childhood to a Harvard education to the U.S. Senate to the Presidency, complete with a wife and kids from central casting. He is witty, well spoken and conciliatory to a fault, a Christian, and internationally admired. And, he is a half African - for all intents in our culture a black man, born less than 100 years after the end of the Civil War.
Exemplary - yes, perhaps in Denmark, or Canada, or of course among the 50 million who voted for him in 2008. But while things may or may not be rotten in Denmark, they certainly are here.
After eight years of war, torture, and economic meltdown, Obama - with the middle name "Hussein" no less - was elected to set things right. He inherited no less than the worst American economy since the Great Depression of 1929-41. In 1933, Franklin Roosevelt was elected and provided just the right tone of salvation. This was the very type of leader required in 2009, who knew that another New Deal would have to be implemented.
This being 2011 and not 1933, a few additional stumbling blocks have been put in the President’s way. He has a minority in the Senate whose main raison d’être is not to legislate but to filibuster, block or otherwise prevent his proposals or even his appointees for no other reason than they are his proposals and his appointees. In 2011 he became saddled with a House of Representatives overwhelmingly ruled by the Republican Party, with a subset of “Tea Party” members with agenda uncertain. Presumably they were elected to “create jobs” and lower the deficit. So far they are figuring out more ways to outlaw abortions, diminish “entitlements”, protect oil company subsidies, and prevent any form of taxation.
But these are the merely the elected opponents, who American people actually sent to congress to represent them. But their power pales in comparison to others about whom the public has zero say so, or recourse.
FDR railed about the reactionary Supreme Court, indeed rejecting his New Deal proposals. But Obama has a Supreme Court on reactionary steroids. The current court has proactively advanced a right wing agenda that has at times been breathtaking, none more than the Citizens United case, in short deeming corporations “persons” who therefore have first amendment rights and who therefore can state those rights by giving boatloads of money, anonymously, to political campaigns. And as if to gild the lily, more than one of the conservative members has attended right wing events, and one’s wife is a publicly active “Tea Partyer”, stridently opposing the Obama “affordable health care act”. The Supreme Court is not elected, and their terms are limited only by death.
Obama also must contend with a weak-willed, journalism challenged “media”, essential to get out the information and the message. But drowning out them all is Fox “News”, an enormous megaphone strictly to advance the Republican agenda. It is run by Rupert Murdoch, an Australian, whose birth certificate has never been in question. Its motto is “fair and balanced. We report, you decide”.
Which brings to mind George Orwell's “1984” as well as Frank Luntz, the Republican propagandist whose job is to spin the spin. There would be no surprise if he was behind the campaign to prove that George Bush, in fact, was instrumental in catching bin Laden because of his much maligned, and illegal, water boarding (and other “enhanced interrogation”) techniques. Luntz, elected to nothing, is the genius of the “talking points” advanced by Republican pundits and elected officials (increasingly hard to tell the difference).
Paul Ryan was elected only to represent his district in Wisconsin, of perhaps 500,000 individuals, but has emerged as “the nation’s accountant” with his very own “Ryan’s budget plan” which the Republican congress has embraced. He is eager to close the deficit gap, but only through cutting entitlement programs, environmental agencies, and the like, but not one penny from the bloated Defense Budget. He is not only suggested not raising taxes on millionaires and corporations, but rather, lowering the tax rates they pay now.
The mysterious Koch Brothers and the not so mysterious Karl Rove are exploiting the benefits of the Citizens United decision to raise millions of dollars in campaign contributions, purchasing congressmen, governors and legislators with grim results, thus wielding enormous power… without the necessity of themselves being elected to anything.
And there is Grover Norquist, toady of America’s wealthy business class who few but political wonks have heard of, is head of the so called “Club for Growth” which requires every Republican who wants to keep his or her government job to promise not to raise taxes. Ever, on anything. Even closing a tax loophole is considered raising taxes. Allowing the Bush tax cuts of 2001 to sunset is considered raising taxes. A fee that must be paid by companies is a tax. Norquist was elected to nothing, but insofar as he has the entire Republican caucus of the house and Senate in thrall is arguably more powerful than the President of the United States. No congressional “negotiations” in regard to fixing the deficit can have a “revenue enhancement” aspect; it can only be achieved through slashing government programs or there will be Norquist hell to pay.
Even when hundreds of people, were killed, and thousands more are suffering and desperate due to the devastation of tornadoes in Missouri, Virginia congressman and Republican majority leader Eric Cantor held up sending government emergency relief funds unless there was an equal amount of cutting to other programs. Seem cruel and bizarre? Not anymore. That mindset, in part fueled by Norquist’s desire to reduce government so it is small enough that he can “drown it in the bathtub” is what Obama, and the nation, face.
Obama had the audacity to not only dream, but live the American Dream. He did grow up to be President, with the passion and the notion to do good things. “Hope and change”.
But he might’ve accomplished more if he grew up to be Rupert Murdoch or Grover Norquist.
Robert Illes is an Emmy winning television writer and producer, currently developing series for Nickelodeon and TV Land. He is an LA native, and a graduate of USC, who lived in Sherman Oaks for 23 years before escaping to Santa Monica (but visits a lot). A member of Valley Democrats United, Bob is also an AirAmericaRadio freak, active in the Writers Guild mentor program, as well as the Democratic party, and is constantly Bush bashing, fighting for verifiable voting procedures, and fighting against Jerry's Deli showing Fox News on their overhead TVs. What's the matter with those people!?
Valley Dems United, Margie Murray, Editor