Monday, July 26, 2010

Might as well stick to your guns; you’ll lose by trying to compromise too much

If there is a lesson that President Barack Obama should have learned from the Shirley Sherrod fiasco, it is that he might as well stick to his ideological beliefs. Because any attempt to compromise them out of hopes of gaining a few brownie points from “the other side” is only going to tick off his so-called political allies.

The fact is that we have an ideologically split nation, with just as many people inclined to look down on Obama as are inclined to back him. (On Sunday, the Gallup Organization gave Obama a 44 percent approval rating, with 47 percent not approving of him).

SHERROD IS THE former Agriculture Department employee who got fired from her federal job because of comments she made on a 25-year-old videotape that are now on the Internet – comments that made her out to be some sort of black bigot who wants to single out white people for abuse.

Of course, that was before we got to see the whole thing – which is that Sherrod admitted the error of her decade-old ways and has gone out of her way to make amends.

The political observer take on the situation (at least those observers without blatant ideological hangups) is that Obama and his aides jumped the gun and fired Sherrod because they wanted to cut off conservative pundit attacks. Had he waited and found out the full story, he would never have been put in the position where he wound up having to make a personal telephone call to Sherrod to apologize for his presidential conduct.

Yet I couldn’t help but notice a pair of commentaries that appeared recently on this issue. The commentators are Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, and talk radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh.

THEY’RE BOTH TRASHING Obama for this situation. They’re both using it as a microcosm for what is wrong with this man. Yet it also is clear that their underlying logic is so different that there would have been no way Obama could have pleased both.

In fact, the only way he could unite them is by bungling the situation so badly.

In the case of Dowd, she is one of those pundits who says that Obama was too eager to appease the conservative pundits. It’s almost like the Latino situation, where many activists wonder about an Obama who says he supports immigration reform because he knows the system is flawed, yet seems eager to appease the conservatives by first bolstering the enforcement mechanisms of that same flawed system.

As far as Sherrod is concerned, Dowd offers up the idea that the president’s Harvard Law pedigree and Hawaii upbringing are so radically different from the African-American mainstream of this nation (remember the Campaign ’08 allegations that Obama wasn’t “black enough” to be the first African-American to become president?) that he didn’t realize upfront how ridiculous the allegations against Sherrod truly were.

SHE THINKS THAT if there were more black people on Obama’s White House staff, perhaps one of them would have flagged this for the president, and he could have averted a situation that wound up making him look foolish.

I can’t help but think, however, that if Obama had those extra black staffers with backgrounds more in touch with the Southern experience of old (the “slave thing,” as Dowd quotes one black Democratic advisor as saying), we’d have the pundits such as Limbaugh all worked up into a frenzy even more than they already are.

As it is, Limbaugh is upset by the situation because he thinks too many people caved in by accepting the idea that Sherrod’s comments initially were taken out of context. He wishes we were still trying to portray Sherrod as some sort of black bigot, with her very existence on the federal payroll then somehow blamed on Obama (even though back in the days when she made these comments about how race affected her judgment on the job, it was Ronald Reagan who was president – she’s NOT an Obama hire).

In short, Obama’s initial reaction to this situation was meant to cut off people like Limbaugh – who would have feasted on the story to engage in their usual ideologically conservative rhetoric. There is a sense that he was trying to appease them – perhaps justifying it in his own mind as a sense of bipartisanship that includes giving the other side something.

I WOULD HOPE that this experience would teach him that some of these people don’t want to be appeased. These are the ones who voted ABO back in 2008, and are determined to vote for anyone but Obama two years from now. There just isn’t any reaching out to them.

When you do, all you’re doing is setting yourself up for a symbolic smack upside the head (a literal one will get you tackled by the Secret Service, which will then cause the conservative pundits to complain about the high level of security being wasted on this man who they don’t consider worthy of the presidency) from the people who are supposed to be your political allies.

Bipartisanship is a nice concept. The fact that we don’t seem to be able to achieve it is something that is wrong with our society.

But the reality is we do have a dual political party system for picking our government officials. And there are times when one has to remember what “team” gave them a uniform so they could play the political game.


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