Eugene Robinson, op-ed columnist at The Washington Post spoke at the February breakfast meeting of the Northern Virginia Democratic Business Council at the Fairview Marriott on 4 February. He was preceded by Congressman Jim Moran (D,VA-8) who gave the attentive group an impassioned short talk about the Egyptian Revolution. Both he and Mr. Robinson were in basic agreement on what should be America’s stance on the ongoing events in that Revolution: “Be on the side of history.” It is important that America “stop being associated with sclerotic authoritarian” regimes, especially in the Middle East, said Mr. Robinson. In his opinion President Barak Obama has handled the situation well, because he is taking the “long view,” which means that the risk involved in encouraging a transition from Mubarak to a democratic system—- and there is risk, since we cannot control the final result—- is more than offset long-term by standing for what we say we honor: the right of every people to live free
The Democrats may have fallen into “utter despair,” after the November mid-term elections, but, according to Mr. Robinson, there has been an amazing about-face in the short time since, and things are now looking up. The President’s approval ratings have risen dramatically, and he is in a much stronger position than just a few weeks ago. The turning point was when Obama reached a deal on tax cuts in December with the lame duck Congress, followed immediately by the ending of DADT (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell), approval of the START Treaty with Russia, and then the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabby Gifford in Tucson. The speech he made after that horrifying tragedy showed the reflective, compassionate Obama of the caucus days in Iowa, when he reached inside people and touched them; it was exactly what the country needed. The State of the Union speech was pretty good for a SOTU, continuing the momentum, with Obama standing up to the Republicans and offering a positive vision for America.
Those two speeches (Tucson and SOTU) showed Obama returning to his campaign themes, which led Mr. Robinson to point out that Obama is not mired in the political trenches dug in the 1960’s on social issues. Obviously, the President believes that national policies are “greater than any Left-Right polarization,” and this is Barak Obama as he’s always been—- not a leftie but a centrist or pragmatic progressive in his views. What we need is a new way, neither liberal nor conservative, but a new template to “Win the Future.” Unfortunately, we will get little done over the next two years, thanks to a divided Congress. Everything will be dealt with in preparation for the next presidential election. We have new political “fault lines,” running through our body politic, especially when it comes to spending on defense. Follow the money to see what our posture really is; when we add in the cost of our wars, we put $800 Billion into “defense.”
When asked about former Governor Palin during the give-and-take of the question period, Mr. Robinson’s opinion was that: Palin represents the “dynamic part” of the Republican Party, the establishment of the GOP is “deathly afraid,” and she will continue to be a major factor in deciding where that party goes over the next two years or so. The tax cut deal, he promised, will come up during the presidential campaign, and it will cut both ways, working for or against each party. In his opinion, social factors will again be on the agenda in that campaign, as will the “structural deficit.” In fact, the structural deficit problem was not given much attention in the SOTU, since it did not fit into Obama’s positive sketch of America’s future. Robinson’s wry comment was that the President will no doubt make a separate, tough talk on that intractable topic in an “eat your spinach” speech.
After the usual lament about Democratic failures in getting their narrative across to the American public, I asked if perhaps a progressive non-profit could be organized to buy and operate National Public Radio and television, since the Republicans intended to cut federal funding for NPR. Doing this would offset to some degree the huge Republican megaphone that Republicans have in Fox News, and also perhaps give Keith Olbermann a new venue. Robinson shook his head in sorrow, acknowledging he did not understand quite why Democrats had so much trouble presenting their message, pointing out that Air America had failed twice, so we’d already tried a counter-weight to Fox, and failed.
I did not pursue the matter, but I have to add that NPR already has the band width and stations, a good format and programs, and it would be a whole different ball game than fielding Air America. We might even be able to bring in not only Olbermann but The Real News Network and link with some foreign news outlets, not to mention minority and Hispanic programs. My fear is that, when NPR gets the ax, some one like Rupert Murdoch will snatch it up, resulting in a surfeit of raw conservative agitprop smothering the country—- and we will have missed a perfect opportunity. I have so lost faith in the pap presented by American mass media that I myself watch Al Jazeera in English online to get decent coverage of Egypt and, indeed, much foreign news, and do not even own a television set