Obama’s cruel summer ends on (slightly) upbeat note

Barack Obama shakes hands with Iraq war veterans on August 31, 2010 at Fort Bliss, Texas (AFP Photo / Tim Sloan)
President Barack Obama is hoping that his decision to end military operations in Iraq will silence his many critics, but with midterm elections fast approaching, this is mission impossible.

It has not been the best summer for US President Barack Obama, whose once red-hot political star is now clouded over by an economy that is struggling to get out of the basement, and unemployment rates that are stuck in the dangerous double-digit neighborhood.

But it is not just depressing economic news that has weighted on Obama’s shallow standing in the public polls; the Republicans, salivating like rabid pit bulls at the juicy prospect of gaining a congressional majority in the upcoming midterm elections, have been waging nothing less than a sleaze campaign to seize the meaty end of the political drumstick.

Sarah Palin, for example, who remains a perennial media wallflower despite fading away last year as Alaska’s governor, shifted into fear-mongering mode last week when she scolded Obama for being “the most pro-abortion president ever.”

Then Palin proceeded to paint the Commander-in-Chief’s recently passed national healthcare plan as “Obamacare,” while spewing yet more nonsense that the medical program – the first of its kind in American history – is more about “ending lives” than saving them.

“The biggest advance of the abortion industry in America is the passage of Obamacare,” Palin shrieked to uproarious applause. “Elective abortions have nothing to do with health care. It's about ending lives, not saving lives.”

It is ironic that the suddenly compassionate Republicans, who habitually frighten the American people about the prospect of becoming a mortality statistic if they accept “Obamacare,” will not flinch a single moral muscle when it comes to sending these same people overseas to fight unwinnable battles for irrational reasons.

Palin’s ridiculous comment brings back memories of those original scare tactics against the healthcare plan, which warned senior citizens that if they agreed to the Democrats’ medical program they would be snuffed out in the middle of the night by goon squads (roughly speaking) to free up the limited slush funds.

All this makes me wonder: if the US Commander-in-Chief can casually remove a four-star general for uttering inanities to a rock magazine, why can’t he do the same with a has-been Alaskan governor who has no business hogging television time in the first place?

Meanwhile, the contentious debate over Obama’s origins, which proved volatile enough to bring the so-called “birther” movement to life, has now taken a backseat to rumors that Barack Hussein Obama is really a dyed-in-the-wool Muslim.

Yes, all those Sunday mornings spent sitting on hard church pews, listening to warmed-over sermons about brotherly love was just a clever front, it appears. Charges of a Muslim connection arose after Obama announced his support for a controversial plan to build an Islamic community center down the street from the World Trade Center bombing in New York.

“We dealt with this when I was first running for the US Senate. There were those who said I couldn't win as US senator because I had a funny name,” he told NBC in a recent interview. “Yet, we ended up winning that Senate seat in Illinois because I trusted in the American people's capacity to get beyond all this nonsense.”

Obviously, many of them lack exactly such a capacity.

But perhaps the ultimate slap to Barack Obama, not to mention the Democratic Party, came when Fox News commentator Glenn Beck rallied a crowd of supporters to The Mall in Washington on, yes, the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. The surreal atmosphere was described by one observer as “the equivalent of a college fraternity hosting an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting during Spring Break.”

The Republicans, after all, were the ones most staunchly opposed to promoting civil rights in the first place.

And it cannot be forgotten that Beck, in one of his more reckless outbursts, and there have been many, described President Obama as a man “who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.” Now this same man stands in the center of Washington, hand on heart, beseeching Americans to stand united.

“Beck has been advertising his rally as nonpolitical,” wrote Bob Herbert, political columnist for The New York Times, “but its main speaker is Sarah Palin.”

Herbert went on to describe Palin’s own low moment as a “racial provocateur” when she voiced her support for radio personality Laura Schlessinger, aka “Dr. Laura,” who humiliated a black caller by continuously uttering the n-word to drive home her point, even after the caller said that she was offended.

Sarah Palin’s incredible advice to Laura Schlessinger: “Don’t retreat – reload.”

Many American commentators have lost their jobs for uttering far less denigrating remarks, but for Tea Party sweetheart Sarah Palin, her inexplicable free media ride only continues to strengthen.

Obama gets a victory

Needless to say, in the midst of this political theater, where merely being seen seems to count more than for what is actually said, Barack Obama sorely needed a victory, and he bagged a big one on Tuesday by announcing the end of military operations in Iraq.

Now the politically cynical out there are probably yelling, ‘But Iraq is still a basket case!’ While that is certainly true, it is no longer America’s basket case. And never mind that it was Uncle Sam who turned Iraq into a basket case to begin with, or that there are still 50,000 US troops inside of that embattled basket case. In American politics, you take your victories where you can find them.

If US politics were a baseball game, Obama’s 18-minute piece on live television on Iraq would be a hard double up the middle, with one out in the bottom of the ninth, no men on base and the score tied. We may also give Obama the benefit of the doubt and say the Democrats are playing before a home crowd. In other words, Obama’s speech was just what the Democrats needed to silence the Republicans, whose momentum – more a tornado than train – never rests.

“I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended,” Obama announced confidently into the camera. “Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country.”

The War in Iraq began on March 20, 2003 and resulted in the death of 4,417 American soldiers. Another 31,000 suffered casualties.

Obama reminded the American people of the “huge price” – in human life and economic expenditures – that was paid to fight the war, especially in times of recession, while casting the men and women who served in Iraq as heroes.

The speech was not intended to cast blame on the Republicans. Indeed, Obama tossed his political opponents a bridge, not a brick. Yet the speech had a powerful way of reminding the American people that the war was a mistake.

“The United States has paid a huge price to put the future of Iraq in the hands of its people,” the US president said. “We have sent our young men and women to make enormous sacrifices in Iraq, and spent vast resources abroad at a time of tight budgets at home.”

Obama then expertly – and rather dramatically given his well-honed articulation and timing – described the American sacrifice and the Iraqi sacrifice as a joint venture.

“We persevered because of a belief we share with the Iraqi people. A belief that, out of the ashes of war, a new beginning could be born in this cradle of civilization. Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq we have met our responsibilities.”

Following a dramatic pause, he finished the statement by saying: “Now… it’s time to turn the page.”

Obama’s speech, following as it did on weeks of bipartisan political bickering, came across as refreshing and collected. It lacked any of the childish finger-pointing that has plagued the lower depths of the political waters for too long.

If anything, the success of the speech, which should come as a surprise considering Obama’s silver tongue, should convince the US president to address the American people much more often than he now does through the medium of television. Indeed, it could have the same effect that FDR’s famed radio “fireside chats” had on his presidency, not to mention the American people, who were suffering through their own economic fallout known as the Great Depression.

The US president should not have to wait to announce the end of a war to publicly address the people. It is an advantage that he can not afford to waste, especially at this crucial juncture in his presidency, which is passing through one of the most challenging periods in America’s short history.

Robert Bridge, RT