I spent the past several months away from politics. It was an involuntary hiatus made necessary by personal and professional commitments that demanded my utmost attention. When I left, we had a stimulus bill in place, a president with high approval ratings and some remaining afterglow from election night and inauguration day.
When I returned in mid August, it was to a country that had clearly lost its damn mind. I turned on one cable station to hear people demanding President Obama prove he’s an American citizen, an insane movement led by an Israeli citizen. I switched channels to see another group screeching in fear that Obama’s health care proposal would institute death panels to kill grandma. On yet another station, Glenn Beck accuses this president of having a deep-seated hatred for half of himself. Flip again to find parents removing their children from school because they don’t want their kids exposed to Obama’s socialist indoctrination. And yesterday, Green Jobs Czar Van Jones resigned after extreme pressure from right wing groups and extreme tepidness from the White House that hired him to do his very important work.
Great. After a brief respite, the most accessible American political discourse has returned to fearful, hate-filled, ignorant rants of a high-volume, low-intellect minority.
In such an environment, how does one govern? Does one try to “balance” such concepts as contradictory as a “public option” on one hand and “fear of death panels” on the other? Or does one realize that this is a false spectrum and to try to find a center in such a sea is a worthless and foolhardy expedition?
Too often, this White House has sent the signal that it seeks common ground and conciliation with parties interested in its total destruction. From my point of view, negotiating with ignorance, fear, hate and irrationality is insane. For example, when a major Republican figure in the health care negotiations spreads the death panel lie (Grassley), you see him for what he is, realize you’re dealing with a group of psychopaths, and reset the objectives. “Oh, so that’s how it’s gonna be? Cool. Good to know what we’re dealing with. Thanks for your time. We won’t be needing your services anymore. We’re taking our ball and playing somewhere else.” Negotiations require trust and trust assumes that all parties are not completely batshit crazy.
I realize I’m lumping a variety of “opposition” camps together: birthers, deathers, those who accuse the president of racism and those who accuse him of socialism. I’m grouping them because to me they all come from the same place. They’re engaging in a form of terrorism. They are using psychological violence (and occasionally the threat of real violence) to pursue a political objective, and in so doing, inflicting harm upon non-combatants.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the movies, it’s that “The United States of America does not negotiate with terrorists.” Yet this White House is willing to let these psychological terrorists set the terms of the debate and negotiate from their insane positions. One group of people is trying to talk about co-pays. The other thinks the president is a secret Kenyan. One group of people sees the creation of domestic, sustainable jobs as a cornerstone of the 21st century economy. The other thinks the president is going to murder your grandmother. This is not legitimate political discourse and to make decisions acknowledging terms so far apart in their reality is just plain stupid.
Van Jones was one of the good guys. A really, really good guy. He used his education and his passion to combat police brutality and the massive, wasteful incarceration of so many of this nation’s young, brown people. Having fought in the trenches for so long, he saw an opportunity to build hope and jobs and tangible communities as the world responds to the climate crisis. He connected the dots and inspired action and had a vision. He was the rare outsider who got a chance to move inside, and move he did.
Van was the kind of guy that gave me real confidence in this administration’s seriousness. President Obama meets with generals every day and sees scary reports and wants to get re-elected. I can always make some politics-based allowances for his underwhelming actions. Van, however, was truly one of us. He got it. And to give someone like him power gave me more faith in the president. So when the lynch mob came after Van, it was a test. The same test so many Democratic administrations have failed time and time again. When the going gets tough, do you back your people, or do you fall back on excuses.
This White House, this administration and this president failed Van, failed its supporters and failed to honor the efforts of millions that got them into office in the first place. What’s the point of having power if you don’t use it? When will this White House realize that nothing it does will ever be acceptable to the loud-mouthed, ignorant minority? When will it learn that you cannot negotiate with terrorists??
I’m heartbroken over Van’s departure because it’s these little meaningless concessions that undermine people’s faith in the system. You get folks all riled up about change. You empower a man who embodies that change. And they you let him be run out of office by fucking Glenn Beck? So Glenn Beck is running the White House now? Is that how it’s gonna be? Just tell me that I knocked on all those doors for nothing, and I can start the grieving process, but don’t pretend this will solve anything.
I can’t help but look at this spineless response and see it in contrast to the previous administration. You know how gangsta they are? DICK CHENEY IS STILL TALKING SMACK! You don’t see anyone of prominence telling him to shut up. The man who has been wrong about everything gets the full support of his party, yet President Obama can’t find enough audacity to stick up for a true change agent?
How do you expect folks to continue to go to the mat for your agenda, when you so easily sacrifice our best and brightest at the whim of an illegitimate lynch mob? How do you expect the next generation to invest themselves in the political process when they see that despite their good works, they can be taken out over nonsense, especially when the double standard is so abundantly clear? How can you ask from us what you won’t do for us? And when will you realize that you cannot negotiate with terrorists?
• Slideshow – Van Jones, Czar of Hotness
Baratunde Thurston is a comedian and vigilante pundit. He was nominated for the Bill Hicks Award for Thought Provoking Comedy, declared a Champion of the First Amendment by Iowa State, and called “someone I need to know” by Barack Obama. He has appeared on ABC, NPR, the BBC, CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times and ComedyCentral.com. Baratunde is the co-founder of Jack & Jill Politics and performs regularly in New York City, where he works by day as Web Editor and politics czar for The Onion. He hosts Popular Science’s Future Of on the Science Channel, and he lives in Twitter.
This post originally appeared at Jack & Jill Politics.
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