It's been an interesting week in politics. First off, President Obama was awarded the Nobel Prize For Peace. While it's fair to say that the award came as a surprise to pretty much everyone except possibly Bo Obama, the right's attack on, well, everyone, went totally beyond the pale. One suggested renaming it the "Yasir Arafat Prize", many suggested Obama should turn it down (it's unclear if that was even possible); a great many made the claim that since the Nobel Committee had awarded the prize to Jimmy Carter and Al Gore, that the prize was now meaningless. The presumptions here need to be dealt with in order.
Firstly, let's deal with the "questionable" awards of the past. Yasir Arafat won the award in conjunction with Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres for their attempts to find a solution to the Israel-Palestine mess. So if one is going to decry Arafat's award, one also has to decry the award going to Rabin and Peres. I could at least respect such a "pox on both their houses" approach as intellectually consistent. Jimmy Carter won the award for decades spent promoting peace and alleviating poverty. Both these concepts seem to be anathema to the right these days but those of us in the sane world tend to think they're good things. Many of the right-wing attacks on Carter pointed out that he was an ineffectual one-term president. To which, the only reasonable response is"So what?". It's an example of the kind of blinkered US-centrism that has made the American right so despised in the rest of the world, that we should be expected to disregard Carter's other achievments because he failed in the presidency. Outside the United States, Jimmy Carter enjoys near-global love and respect and has for years. The Nobel Prize, while much deserved, was only the icing on the cake. So Carter eminently deserved the award. And yet, it was interpreted as an award for being Not Bush. Then came the slams at Al Gore. Now, again, I'm aware that the US right prefers to deny the fact of global warming but in the sane world, we accept that it is happening, that humans are largely to blame and that we desperately need to do something about it. Al Gore has spent decades trying to get the world to wake the fuck up about global warming. While he never claimed to invent the internet, he did champion the legislative tools which expanded DARPAnet into the modern internet (along with the technical achievments of Tim Berners-Lee and the guys at MIT), something which has transformed life more than anything since the invention of the automobile. So again, we have someone who throughly deserved the award and again, we have someone whose award was interpreted as being Not Bush. Then there was the argument that the Nobel Committee are biased because they've awarded the prize to more liberals than conservatives. Really, this says far more about the mindset of conservatives: That they deserve equal prizes just for showing up.
Was the Peace Prize ironic, given two ongoing wars? Absolutely and that irony was lost on no-one. Was the Nobel Prize premature? Certainly. However, the intention seems to be that, by giving Obama the award at this point, he will be forced to act in a way which makes him worthy of it. Also, the hypocracy of Republicans who cheered when the US lost it's opportunity to host the Olympics and booed when the president of the USA won the Nobel Prize has been lost on no-one except them.
Then we had the ongoing healthcare clusterfuck. There is a scene in the film adaption of "Interview With The Vampire" where a helpless and naked victim is surrounded on a Paris stage by a dozen or more hungry vampires. They pause for a moment, letting us register her terror and vulnerability. Then they fall on her, a dozen vampiric rats strugging for a spare inch of flesh. That's the image that comes to mind when I think of healthcare in the USA. The free market only works when you're free to walk away from it. When walking away from the market means great risk to your life and/or health, the market isn't free. That's basic Keynesian economics. And so, when it came to reforming healthcare, we got... what? I'm still not entirely sure wher this disgusting process of sausage-making is going. For reasons best known to Obama, the single-payer option (true universal coverage, which works pretty well here in the UK) which was the genuinely left-wing option was taken off the table before negotiation even started which has allowed the right (and their Big Insurance paymasters) to paint the limited incremental Public Options as something to the left of Stalin. And I'm not just talking about the Teabag crown here (the latest is that Glenn Beck claims the Million Moron March totalled 8.2 million people and was led by Moses. Then he cried). Mainstream Conressional Republicans are arguing that a Public Option would amont to government takeover of healthcare. Oh, and Big Insurance has already effectively promised that rates will continue to skyrocket regardless. Only in the USA are the people so terrified of their government that they won't let it do anything.
Then there was Orly Taitz. The US's most high-profile racist and queen of the (racist) Birther Movement was fined twenty grand, essentially for contempt of court and wildly unethical practice in violation of all legal standards. Orly effectively told the judge to shove it and accused him of being part of a conspiracy to surpress her. I'm starting to think this woman is clinically ill, the accusation that any detractor is part of a conspiracy against them. Orly actually presents a problem to us. The problem is that, the more we point out that the Birther Movement is entirely founded on the racist assumption that a black man can't possibly be a "natural-born citizen", the more it allows the right, always eager to nail itself to the cross, to claim that we are painting any criticism as racist. It's absurd, naturally. We know that not all criticism is race-based and most of us are getting pretty adept at spotting the code words these days ("welfare", "community" and these days "ACORN").
Then there was Obama's pondering whether to put more troops into Afghanistan. Um, why are we fighting the war in Afghanistan again? Yes, I know it was a response to teh horror of 9/11, I'm actually not going to criticise Bush for that as I think any nation capable of responding militarily would have done so but what is the objective supposed to be here? Are we trying to get Al Queda or the Taliban or both? Are we going to try turning Afghanistan into a western-style democracy? Since we are fighting a war in a country which has ever been the graveyard of empires, what is the final END > IF here?
Finally, there was President Obama's address to his gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans supporters. I'm not sure what to say about this one. It was a largely form speech, the kind where you only have to change a few particulars to fit the occasion. Given the cavalcade of catastrophes dumped on Obama's lap by the previous administration, I suspect most are willing to give him a little time to get to gay issues (specifically, rather than genpop issues which also affect gay people, such as healthcare) but, at the same time, they would also like to see some movement on those issues, no matter how slow it has to be to accomodate the president's busy schedule. Personally, I want the asinine Don't-Ask, Don't-Tell policy repealed or nearly so by the New Year. That's my personal benchmark. While I know Obama is not a supporter of equal marriage rights and so a push for those rights shouldn't be expected from him, I also want DOMA repealed or overturned by the end of his first term. I suspect Obama would like to leave the choice of whether to push for DOMA's overturn until after the midterms but DC's move to legalise same-sex marriage may force his hand. The problem Obama has here is that there really is no upside for him. I can sit here and say that I believe legalising same-sex marriage to be a legal and moral imperative (yes, I think it is immoral to deny same-sex couples the rights of marriage, conservatives don't have an exclusive claim on morality) but I'm not trying to be re-elected and wouldn't stand a chance if I ever stood. For Obama, if he comes out strongly against overturning DOMA, he pisses off the LGBT activists and allies who worked so tirelessly to help elect him. They won't jump to the Republicans but they might well stay home in 2012. On the other hand, if he comes out too strongly in favour of repealing DOMA, he alienates the moderates (forget the Religious Reich, they already want him dead). In addition to that, Obama's DOJ has argued in favour of DOMA (their obligation, as I understand it) and done so in the most reprehensible terms (certainly not their obligation). How Obama intends to square this circle is anyone's guess.
And we haven't even had time to get to Oklahoma attempting to brand a scarlet A on the foreheads of those seeking abortions; the increasingly chance of war with Iran; Mike Moore's latest film; Alan Grayson's gobsmacking counter-attack on right-wing smears or Tom Delay leaving Dancing With The Stars. What a wild week!