In the USA...
The Benghazi Controversy, Explained
—By Kevin Drum
Mother Jones Magazine
| Sat Oct. 20, 2012 9:48 AM PDT
The caskets of US ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens, foreign service officer Sean Smith, and security officers Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty are escorted through an honor cordon during a transfer ceremony at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, on Sept. 14, 2012. Secretary of Defense/Flickr
The reporting on what we know about the Benghazi attacks on September 11 just gets more and more interesting. Let's do a quick Q&A:
Why was President Obama initially unwilling to call it an act of terror?
He wasn't. The day after the attack, on September 12, he gave a Rose Garden speech in which he said, in reference to the assault, "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation." At campaign stops that day and the next, he again referred to the Benghazi assault as "an act of terror." A McClatchy report sums up the evidence: "In the first 48 hours after the deadly Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. diplomatic outposts in Libya, senior Obama administration officials strongly alluded to a terrorist assault and repeatedly declined to link it to an anti-Muslim video that drew protests elsewhere in the region, transcripts of briefings show."
A day after the attacks, the CIA station chief in Libya reported to Washington that there were eyewitness reports that the attack was carried out by militants. Why didn't Obama administration officials say so?
They did. Hillary Clinton, for one, referred to it as an attack "by a small and savage group."
OK, but that McClatchy report quoted above also says that a few days after the attacks administration officials started putting more emphasis on the "Innocence of Muslims" video. Why? It had nothing to do with the Benghazi attacks.
That's not what locals said. As David Kirkpatrick reports: "To Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers, there is little doubt what occurred: a well-known group of local Islamist militants struck the United States Mission without any warning or protest, and they did it in retaliation for the video....The fighters said at the time that they were moved to act because of the video, which had first gained attention across the region after a protest in Egypt that day."
So the video might have played a role. But why did UN ambassador Susan Rice put the video front and center in her Sunday morning appearances a week after the attacks?
She didn't, really. On Face the Nation, she said the "best information" at that moment suggested that Benghazi began "as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where [...] there was a violent protest outside of our embassy sparked by this hateful video." She then immediately added: "But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent."
Still, why even mention the video? By that point, wasn't it clear that the real cause of the attacks lay elsewhere?
Because, we now know, that's what the CIA was telling her. David Ignatius reports that a set of "talking points" prepared by the CIA on September 15, the day Rice taped her TV appearances, "support her description of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate as a reaction to Arab anger about an anti-Muslim video prepared in the United States. According to the CIA account, 'The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. Consulate and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.'"
Fine. But why did Rice suggest that the attacks came after a "spontaneous" protest at the Benghazi consulate? There was no protest.
True, but Rice didn't know that at the time because the CIA talking points still referred to "demonstrations" that had been inspired by the protests in Cairo. As David Martin reports: "Over that same weekend, U.S. intelligence began to uncover evidence that there had not been a protest outside the consulate. That new intelligence did not get to Rice before she appeared on the Sunday talk shows, making her the target of Republican accusations the administration was trying to cover up the terrorist attack."
But why did anyone think there was anything "spontaneous" about this in the first place? In fact, the assault on the consulate was preplanned by "al-Qaeda elements," as Libyan President Mohammed Magarief said, wasn't it?
No. The LA Times reports that Magarief was mistaken: "The assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi last month appears to have been an opportunistic attack rather than a long-planned operation, and intelligence agencies have found no evidence that it was ordered by Al Qaeda, according to U.S. officials and witnesses interviewed in Libya....The attack was 'carried out following a minimum amount of planning,' said a U.S. intelligence official....A second U.S. official added, 'There isn't any intelligence that the attackers pre-planned their assault days or weeks in advance.' Most of the evidence so far suggests that 'the attackers launched their assault opportunistically after they learned about the violence at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo' earlier that day, the official said."
Still, the Obama administration was negligent in refusing a stream of requests from American diplomats in Libya to provide more security, wasn't it?
That's possible. However, increased security probably wouldn't have changed anything. As the New York Times reported a couple of weeks ago, "The requests were denied, but they were largely focused on extending the tours of security guards at the American Embassy in Tripoli — not at the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, 400 miles away."
Bottom line: There were conflicting reports on the ground, and that was reflected in conflicting and sometimes confused reports from the White House. I don't think anyone would pretend that the Obama's administration's response to Benghazi was anywhere near ideal. Nevertheless, the fact is that their statements were usually properly cautious; the YouTube video really did play a role; the attack was opportunistic, not preplanned; and it doesn't appear to have had any serious connection with al-Qaeda. It's true that it took about ten days for all this to really shake out, but let's be honest: ten days isn't all that long to figure out what really happened during a violent and chaotic attack halfway around the world. I get that it's a nice opportunity for Republicans to score some political points in the runup to an election, but really, there's not much there there.
While Investigating Obama Over Libya, Darrell Issa Puts Libyans’ Lives at Risk
By: Sarah JonesOctober 19th, 2012
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) has placed several Libyans lives at risk in the course of investigating the alleged security issues regarding the deaths of four Americans in Libya on September 11, 2012.
Issa uploaded scores of sensitive material and didn’t redact names of Libyan civilians or local leaders, exposing them to physical danger from the very people the Obama administration is investigating regarding the September 11, 2012 attacks.
Speaking to The Cable, an administration official said, “Much like WikiLeaks, when you dump a bunch of documents into the ether, there are a lot of unintended consequences. This does damage to the individuals because they are named, danger to security cooperation because these are militias and groups that we work with and that is now well known, and danger to the investigation, because these people could help us down the road.”
This comes after Issa already outed a CIA base in Libya during the course of this (one of many) partisan witch hunt, allegedly based on concerns over security. As Richard Clarke explained, however, anyone who thinks that initial information is correct knows nothing about terrorism or combat.
Issa is doing the exact same thing his party did when we first discussed going into Libya and they were warned by their own party policy makers to stop giving aid to our enemies just because they wanted to cause problems for President Obama.
So, Darrell Issa has leaked important information while investigating alleged leaks of security — again. He is doing more damage in this investigation than our enemies could have hoped for. This is hardly Issa’s first go at hacking up a partisan witch hunt of this administration.
This isn’t just your typical Republican incompetence. The Republicans don’t care that they’ve endangered our work and civilians in Libya over their alleged concern over Americans killed in Libya.
They’re politicizing Libya and hoping that by leaking info that even Wikileaks wouldn’t have leaked (Wikileaks offered the State Department the chance to redact sensitive material unlike the Republican Party), they can stir up more chaos and violence in order to blame it on Obama before the election.
Let’s see. Wikileaks has been named an enemy of the state for their document dumping, and yet Republicans are still running wild after dumping unredacted documents that Wikileaks would not have without first running it past the State Department.
This is a sad example of the propaganda that the corporate media in America creates and 'sells' to it's citizens ....
October 20, 2012 02:00 PM
Big Fail: CBS Pushes Scare Story About Social Security
By Susie Madrak
Remember when CBS used to be a trusted name in news? Now, not so much. Trudy Lieberman has been doing truly excellent work at the Columbia Journalism Review, monitoring how the media is spreading the idea that Social Security and Medicare are in crisis, softening up the public for the need for so-called entitlement reform. See if you can catch the many errors/lies in this CBS report!
The other night CBS Evening News brought forth another gloom and doom story about Social Security. Like others from the network that havecome to CJR’s attention, this one sent a similar message: Social Security is in big trouble, a debatable point. And like those other stories, this one mis-characterizes the system and omits important context that leaves viewers at the mercy of political elites who are shaping the acceptable fixes for the program.
After introducing the attention-grabbing anecdote—around one John Altobello, a kitchen remodeler in New Orleans, who believes the system is deeply troubled—the report dives right in to the oft-repeated canard about the declining ratio of workers to retirees as the culprit-in-chief for Social Security’s impending shortfall. CBS reported that in 1945, 42 workers paid into the system for every retiree. By 2033, there will be fewer than two. “Social Security could fall 25 cents short for every dollar it owes in benefits,” viewers learned. Scary stuff indeed!
If there's one thing I know from my years in the newspaper business, it's that most reporters are very, very bad at math. But don't worry, lobbyists and politicians are always waiting with selective information to fill in the gap!
CBS apparently missed the warning that Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue gave the press last spring, cautioning them on how to describe Social Security’s financial condition, and noting that though the system will eventually need a fiscal re-adjustment, the system is OK for the next 21 years.
“After 2033—even if Congress does nothing—there will still be sufficient assets to pay about 75 percent of the current level of benefits. That’s not acceptable, but it’s still a fact that there will still be sufficient assets there,” Astrue told reporters.
CBS also missed the chance to offer viewers a clear—and accurate—picture of what the declining worker ratio actually means. For the last 40 years or so the ratio of workers to retirees has been about three to one, explained Nancy Altman, co-director of the advocacy group Social Security Works. “Actuaries and all experts understood that, with the aging of the baby boom and increases in longevity, the ratio would start to decline, and that was taken into account.”
No less a figure in Social Security’s history Robert Ball, who served as commissioner for 11 years, wrote a few years before his death in 2008:
Social Security faces an eminently avoidable long-range funding shortfall, not an inevitable collapse brought about by unmanageable changes in the historic ratio of workers to beneficiaries. Those who advance that argument are using an accurate statistic to make a highly inaccurate charge.
Instead of discussing all this, CBS relied on the kitchen remodeler from New Orleans to advance its narrative about the program’s money troubles. Altobello, we learned, has so much money saved for retirement he doesn’t have to count on Social Security. “All indications are it’s going to run out of money,” he said. “Maybe not in the near future but it’s coming up fairly close. In my retirement, in my lifetime, it’ll end.” Really? Maybe CBS thinks Altobello knows something the Social Security commissioner doesn’t.
Altobello also told us that he worries that his sons and younger workers will never see a nickel, a popular view among the public—partly due to poor journalism on the topic. CBS correspondent Mark Strassman had the last word: “The federal retirement program must change,” he opined. “Though no one can be sure exactly how to make it rock solid.”
Nope, nobody. Nobody except the people like Sen. Bernie Sanders, Nancy Altman, Eric Kingson, Dean Baker and Paul Krugman, just to mention a few.
October 19, 2012
The Opiate of Exceptionalism
By SCOTT SHANE
IMAGINE a presidential candidate who spoke with blunt honesty about American problems, dwelling on measures by which the United States lags its economic peers.
What might this mythical candidate talk about on the stump? He might vow to turn around the dismal statistics on child poverty, declaring it an outrage that of the 35 most economically advanced countries, the United States ranks 34th, edging out only Romania. He might take on educational achievement, noting that this country comes in only 28th in the percentage of 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool, and at the other end of the scale, 14th in the percentage of 25-to-34-year-olds with a higher education. He might hammer on infant mortality, where the United States ranks worse than 48 other countries and territories, or point out that, contrary to fervent popular belief, the United States trails most of Europe, Australia and Canada in social mobility.
The candidate might try to stir up his audience by flipping a familiar campaign trope: America is indeed No. 1, he might declare — in locking its citizens up, with an incarceration rate far higher than that of the likes of Russia, Cuba, Iran or China; in obesity, easily outweighing second-place Mexico and with nearly 10 times the rate of Japan; in energy use per person, with double the consumption of prosperous Germany.
How far would this truth-telling candidate get? Nowhere fast. Such a candidate is, in fact, all but unimaginable in our political culture. Of their serious presidential candidates, and even of their presidents, Americans demand constant reassurance that their country, their achievements and their values are extraordinary.
Candidates and presidents generally oblige them, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney included. It is permissible, in the political major leagues, for candidates to talk about big national problems — but only if they promise solutions in the next sentence: Unemployment is too high, so I will create millions of jobs. It is impermissible to dwell on chronic, painful problems, or on statistics that challenge the notion that the United States leads the world — a point made memorably in a tirade by the dyspeptic anchorman played by Jeff Daniels in the HBO drama “The Newsroom.”
“People in this country want the president to be a cheerleader, an optimist, the herald of better times ahead,” says Robert Dallek, the presidential historian. “It’s almost built into our DNA.”
This national characteristic, often labeled American exceptionalism, may inspire some people and politicians to perform heroically, rising to the level of our self-image. But during a presidential campaign, it can be deeply dysfunctional, ensuring that many major issues are barely discussed. Problems that cannot be candidly described and vigorously debated are unlikely to be addressed seriously. In a country where citizens think of themselves as practical problem-solvers and realists, this aversion to bad news is a surprising feature of the democratic process.
“I think there’s more of a tendency now than in the past to avoid discussion of serious problems,” says Allan J. Lichtman, a political historian at American University. “It has a pernicious effect on our politics and on governing, because to govern, you need a mandate. And you don’t get a mandate if you don’t say what you’re going to do.”
American exceptionalism has recently been championed by conservatives, who accuse President Obama of paying the notion insufficient respect. But the self-censorship it produces in politicians is bipartisan, even if it is more pronounced on the left for some issues and the right for others.
FOR instance, Democrats are more loath than Republicans to look squarely at the government debt crisis indisputably looming with the aging of baby boomers and the ballooning cost of Medicare. Republicans are more reluctant than Democrats to acknowledge the rise of global temperatures and its causes and consequences. But both parties, it is fair to say, prefer not to consider either trend too deeply.
Both parties would rather avert their eyes from such difficult challenges — because we, the people, would rather avert our eyes. Talk to any political pro about this phenomenon and one name inevitably comes up: Jimmy Carter, who has become a sort of memento mori for American politicians, like the skulls in Renaissance paintings that reminded viewers of their mortality.
Mr. Carter, they will say, disastrously spoke of a national “crisis of confidence” and failed to project the optimism that Americans demand of their presidents. He lost his re-election bid to sunny Ronald Reagan, who promised “morning in America” and left an indelible lesson for candidates of both parties: that voters can be vindictive toward anyone who dares criticize the country and, implicitly, the people.
This is a peculiarly American brand of nationalism. “European politicians exercise much greater freedom to address bluntly the uglier social problems,” says Deborah Lea Madsen, professor of American studies at the University of Geneva. An American politician who speaks too candidly about the country’s faults, she went on to say, risks being labeled with that most devastating of epithets: un-American.
The roots of this American trait are often traced to the famous shipboard sermon the Puritan lawyer John Winthrop preached on his way to help found the Massachusetts Bay Colony nearly five centuries ago.
“We must consider,” he said, “that we shall be as a city upon a hill — the eyes of all people are upon us.” Winthrop’s metaphor has had a long life in American speechifying, prominently quoted by both President John F. Kennedy and Reagan. But if, for Winthrop, the image was something the colony should aspire to, for modern politicians it is often a boast of supposed accomplishment, a way of combating pessimists and asserting American greatness, whatever the facts.
Could a presidential candidate today survive if he promised to wage a war on poverty, as President Lyndon B. Johnson did in 1964? It seems unlikely, and one reason may be that Johnson’s effort fell short, revealing the agonizing difficulty and huge cost of trying to change the lives of the poor.
Indeed, in the current fiscal environment, promising an ambitious effort to reduce poverty or counter global warming might imply big new spending, which is practically and politically anathema. And given the increasing professionalization of politics, any candidate troubled by how the United States lags its peers in health or education has plenty of advisers and consultants to warn him never to mention it on the stump.
“Nobody wants to be the one who proposed taking the position that got the candidate in trouble,” says Martha Joynt Kumar, a political scientist at Towson University who studies presidential communications.
Of course, the reason talking directly about serious American problems is risky is that most voters don’t like it. Mark Rice, who teaches American studies at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y., said students often arrived at his classes steeped in the notion that the United States excelled at everything. He started a blog, Ranking America, to challenge their assumptions with a wild assortment of country comparisons, some sober (the United States is No. 1 in small arms ownership) and others less so (the United States is tied for 24th with Nigeria in frequency of sex).
“Sure, we’re No. 1 in gross domestic product and military expenditures,” Mr. Rice says. “But on a lot of measures of quality of life, the U.S. ranking is far lower. I try to be as accurate as I can and I avoid editorializing. I try to complicate their thinking.”
A reporter in the Washington bureau of The New York Times.
October 20, 2012
For President, a Complex Calculus of Race and Politics
By JODI KANTOR
When President Obama greets African-Americans who broke barriers, he almost invariably uses the same line.
“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you,” he said to Ruby Bridges Hall, who was the first black child to integrate an elementary school in the South. The president repeated the message to a group of Tuskegee airmen, the first black aviators in the United States military; the Memphis sanitation workers the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed in his final speech; and others who came to pay tribute to Mr. Obama and found him saluting them instead.
The line is gracious, but brief and guarded. Mr. Obama rarely dwells on race with his visitors or nearly anyone else. In interviews with dozens of black advisers, friends, donors and allies, few said they had ever heard Mr. Obama muse on the experience of being the first black president of the United States, a role in which every day he renders what was once extraordinary almost ordinary.
But his seeming ease belies the anxiety and emotion that advisers say he brings to his historic position: pride in what he has accomplished, determination to acquit himself well and intense frustration. Mr. Obama is balancing two deeply held impulses: a belief in universal politics not based on race and an embrace of black life and its challenges.
Vigilant about not creating racial flash points, the president is private and wary on the subject, and his aides carefully orchestrate White House appearances by black luminaries and displays of black culture. Those close to Mr. Obama say he grows irritated at being misunderstood — not just by opponents who insinuate that he caters to African-Americans, but also by black lawmakers and intellectuals who fault him for not making his presidency an all-out assault on racial disparity.
“Tragically, it seems the president feels boxed in by his blackness,” the radio and television host Tavis Smiley wrote in an e-mail. “It has, at times, been painful to watch this particular president’s calibrated, cautious and sometimes callous treatment of his most loyal constituency,” he continued, adding that “African-Americans will have lost ground in the Obama era.”
Such criticism leaves the president feeling resentful and betrayed, aides said, by those he believes should be his allies. The accusations are “an assault on his being,” said David Axelrod, his chief strategist — not to mention a discomfiting twist in a re-election fight in which the turnout of black voters, who express overwhelming loyalty to the president but also some disappointment, could sway the result.
But like an actor originating a role on Broadway, Mr. Obama has been performing a part that no one else has ever played, and close observers say they can see him becoming as assured on race in public as he is in private conversation. In 2009, the new president’s statement on the arrest of a black Harvard professor by a white police officer set off days of negative headlines; in 2012, he gave a commanding but tender lament over the killing of a black teenager, Trayvon Martin, by a white man.
“As he’s gotten more comfortable being president, he’s gotten more comfortable being him,” said Brian Mathis, an Obama fund-raiser.
Asked when they could sense that shift, several advisers and friends mentioned the waning hours of Mr. Obama’s birthday party in the summer of 2011. As the hour grew late, many of the white guests left, and the music grew “blacker and blacker,” as the comedian Chris Rock later told an audience. Watching African-American entertainers and sports stars do the Dougie to celebrate a black president in a house built by slaves, Mr. Rock said, “I felt like I died and went to black heaven.”
The president, guests recalled, seemed free of calibration or inhibition. He danced with relative abandon, other guests ribbing him about his moves, everyone swaying to Stevie Wonder under a portrait of George Washington.
Trying to Avoid a Wedge
In the White House, Mr. Obama has relied on a long-term strategy on race and politics that he has been refining throughout his career.
As far back as 1995, former colleagues at the University of Chicago remember him talking about moving away from the old politics of grievance and using common economic interests to bind diverse coalitions. “He argued that if political action and political speeches are tailored solely to white audiences, minorities will withdraw, just as whites often recoil when political action and speeches are targeted to racial minority audiences,” recalled William Julius Wilson, now a sociologist at Harvard.
Mr. Wilson had turned the world of social policy on its head by arguing that class was becoming more determinative than race in America and pointing out that race-specific remedies were less politically feasible than economic policies that benefited a broad range of people. The young politician absorbed Mr. Wilson’s ideas, which matched his own experience as a community organizer and a person whose own life did not fit neat racial categories.
Mr. Obama now presides over a White House that constantly projects cross-racial unity. When discussing in interviews what image the Obamas want to project, aides use one word more than any other: “inclusive.” Concerts of Motown and civil-rights-era songs have been stocked with musicians of many races, and in introducing them, the president emphasizes how the melodies brought disparate Americans together. Though the Memphis sanitation workers were involved in a shattering moment of the civil rights struggle — Dr. King was assassinated after going to support their strike — they were invited to the White House for a labor event, not a race-oriented one.
Many of the president’s most critical domestic policy decisions have disproportionately benefited African-Americans: stimulus money that kept public sector workers employed, education grants to help underperforming schools and a health care overhaul that will cover tens of millions of uninsured Americans. But he invariably frames those as policies intended to help Americans of all backgrounds.
“If you really want to get something done, you can’t put it in a way that will kill it before it gets going,” Mr. Obama said in one meeting, according to the Rev. Al Sharpton. “We have to deal with the specific problems of different groups — blacks, women, gays and lesbians, immigrants — in a way that doesn’t allow people to put these wedges in,” Mr. Sharpton recalled the president saying in another.
That approach, along with the memories of the toxic campaign battles over Mr. Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., has resulted in a White House that often appears to tiptoe around race.
Debra Lee, the chairman and chief executive of Black Entertainment Television, requested interviews with the Obamas in 2009, but press aides told her that they did not want the first couple on BET in the first six months of the administration, she said in an interview. (They appeared later.)
“There was all this caution and concern because we were in the midst of a great American experiment,” one former aide said. Another aide remembered palpable nervousness about the artwork the Obamas chose for their private quarters in the White House, including some with race-specific messages.
In private, White House aides frequently dissect the racial dynamics of the presidency, asking whether Representative Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, would have yelled “You lie!” at a white president during an address to Congress or what Tea Party posters saying “Take Back Our Country” really mean. Michelle Obama, often called the glue in her husband’s relationship with black voters, sometimes remarks publicly or privately about the pressures of being the first black first lady.
Her husband is more circumspect, particularly on the question of whether some of his opposition is fueled by race. Aides say the president is well aware that some voters say they will never be comfortable with him, as well as the occasional flashes of racism on the campaign trail, such as the “Put the White Back in the White House” T-shirt spotted at a recent Mitt Romney rally. But they also say he is disciplined about not reacting because doing so could easily backfire.
“The president knows that some people may choose to be divided by differences — race, gender, religion — but his focus is on bringing people together,” Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser, wrote in an e-mail.
Even when Newt Gingrich called him a “food stamp president” during the Republican primaries, the most the president did was shoot confidants a meaningful look — “the way he will cock his head, an exaggerated smile, like ‘I’m not saying but I’m saying,’ ” one campaign adviser said.
To blacks who accuse him of not being aggressive on race, Mr. Obama has a reply: “I’m not the president of black America,” he has said. “I’m the president of the United States of America.”
That statement “makes me want to vomit,” Cornel West, an activist and Union Theological Seminary professor, said in an interview. “Did you say that to the business round table?” he asked rhetorically. “Do you say that to Aipac?” he said, referring to a pro-Israel lobbying group.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, with whom the president has a contentious relationship, have echoed the charges that Mr. Obama is insufficiently attentive to African-Americans, even threatening at times to sandbag his agenda.
Even some of Mr. Obama’s black supporters privately express the same anxiety, in more muted form. At the first meeting of his top campaign donors last year, some black donors were dismayed when officials handed out cards with talking points on the administration’s achievements for various groups — women, Jews, gays and lesbians — and there was no card for African-Americans.
The accusation that Mr. Obama does not care about black suffering appears to carry little weight with the African-American public, and yet it tears at the president, say aides, friends and supporters.
After a 2010 speech at the National Urban League, he approached Mr. West. “He just came at me tooth and nail,” Mr. West said. “Are you saying I’m not a progressive?” Mr. West recalled the president asking.
Mellody Hobson, an Obama fund-raiser, explained why the accusation was painful.
“You expect your family to give you the benefit of the doubt,” she said.
Out to Change Stereotypes
Shortly before his 2009 inauguration, Barack Obama took his family to see the Lincoln Memorial. “First African-American president, better be good,” a 10-year-old Malia Obama told her father, who repeated the story later, a rare acknowledgment of the symbolic shadow he casts.
For all of Mr. Obama’s caution, he is on a mission: to change stereotypes of African-Americans, aides and friends say. Six years ago, he told his wife and a roomful of aides that he wanted to run for the White House to change children’s perceptions of what was possible. He had other ambitions for the presidency, of course, but he was also embarking on an experiment in which the Obamas would put themselves and their children on the line to help erase centuries of negative views.
While Mr. Obama resists being the president of black America, he does want to change black America, aides say — to break apart long-held beliefs about what African-Americans can and cannot do. The president, who appointed Lisa P. Jackson and Charles F. Bolden Jr. as the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA, wants to encourage black achievement in science and engineering, even urging black ministers to preach about the need to study those subjects.
Mr. Obama knows that the next presidential candidate of color may be judged by his own performance, added Charles J. Ogletree, a Harvard law professor. And Mr. Obama’s desire to win re-election in part because he is the first black president is “so implicit it’s just like breathing,” one White House adviser said.
On rare occasions, Mr. Obama allows others a glimpse of the history, expectations and hope he carries with him. At the funeral of the civil rights leader Dorothy Height in 2010, he wept openly. Again and again, those close to him say, Mr. Obama is moved by the grace with which other blacks who broke the color barrier behaved under pressure.
When Ruby Bridges Hall went to see the famous Norman Rockwell portrait of her marching into school, which Mr. Obama had hung just outside the Oval Office, the president opened up a bit. The painting shows a 6-year-old Ms. Hall in an immaculate white dress walking calmly into school, a hurled tomato and a racial slur on the wall behind her.
The president asked Ms. Hall, now 58, how she summoned up such courage at that age and said he sometimes found his daughters staring at the portrait. “I really think they see themselves in this little girl,” he said, according to an interview with Ms. Hall.
“Doing the work we do, it gets really lonely,” Ms. Hall said. “I felt like we understood each other because we belong to the same club.”
October 20, 2012
In South, Republicans Find That Dominance Does Not Ensure Solidarity
By CAMPBELL ROBERTSON
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The featured speaker before the Kiwanis Club of Birmingham was Judge Roy S. Moore, well known for having lost his job as the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court after setting up a two-and-a-half-ton granite monument of the Ten Commandments in the courthouse rotunda.
Calling the United States Constitution a “restriction on the fallen nature of man” and quoting Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Gen. Douglas MacArthur, among others, Judge Moore was making his case as the Republican nominee, once again, for the state’s highest judicial office.
It was not exactly a plea for harmony and unity. There is a great moral divide in the country, he said, a division “not just between Democrats and Republicans, but between Republicans and Republicans.”
There are plenty of Republicans in the state who may take issue with the particulars of Judge Moore’s overall message, but on that last part they would agree.
Many in the Alabama business and legal establishment, a community that is overwhelmingly and faithfully Republican, are privately despondent over the prospect of a Moore victory and its effect on the state’s image. Some are the same people who spent the last year quietly lobbying the governor and state lawmakers to tone down Alabama’s strict immigration enforcement law, with limited success.
Like many other urban and suburban Republicans across the Deep South, they consider economic growth, not social issues, the priority. That motivated their longtime efforts to help create a Republican-controlled South.
“You’ve got to be careful what you wish for,” said Tom Ingram, a Republican political consultant in Tennessee.
As the South is settling in once again to an era of one-party dominance, many Republicans are learning that governing is not quite the same as campaigning, and that total control does not always equal total agreement.
“I’ve been in politics for 30 years, and I saw firsthand after I was elected the split within the Democratic Party,” said Eric Johnson, who was in the Georgia legislature for 15 years. “Now you’ve got the rural conservative Republicans and the suburban moderates and libertarians. I don’t think you have as broad an ideological split as the former Democratic majority had, but you certainly have a broader one than the Republicans are used to.”
It is hard to find anyone who believes that the different currents within the Republican Party will lead to anything like the battling factions that characterized the old one-party Democratic rule. Even before the civil rights era irreparably fractured Southern Democrats, the party was a collection of divergent and sometimes contradictory agendas, often pitting populists against conservatives.
But students of politics in the South have long predicted that similar, though less pronounced, fissures would develop when the Republicans gained dominance, said Glen Browder, a former Democratic congressman from Alabama and an emeritus professor of political science at Jacksonville State University.
Since the rise of the evangelical right, there has been a divide in the party between “the chamber and the church,” he said, or between the Chamber of Commerce interests that were once the heartbeat of Southern Republicans and the more populist, socially conservative electorate that fueled the party’s rise to power. With a one-party South, the chamber element has learned that while they may have the money and the history, the social conservatives have the votes.
“It was easy for the business community to be a leading voice when they were a minority voice and trying to establish themselves,” Professor Browder said, adding that the business community would learn to use its leverage with more savvy in future campaigns, when candidates come looking for money.
In Tennessee, where Gov. Bill Haslam’s Republican agenda of economic development and education reform has been overshadowed by lawmaker crusades against Shariah law and the teaching of evolution and climate change, fund-raisers are learning this lesson, Mr. Ingram said. Long accustomed to giving money in statewide and federal races, some donors have begun to realize the need to put up money for state legislative races as well.
“Here you’ve got one party, one set of donors looking at their standard-bearers’ agenda and saying: ‘The fact that he’s got a Republican majority may not be enough. It’s got to be the right majority,’ ” he said.
The race for Alabama chief justice is a rather extreme version of this dynamic. Among the lawyers and reliably Democratic groups in the campaign finance records of Mr. Moore’s opponent, Judge Robert S. Vance Jr. of State Circuit Court, are a number of surprising names.
There is, for example, the Alabama chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, with a $5,000 donation. Since 2004, over 90 percent of its donations in state races have gone to Republicans.
“While ABC of AL traditionally supports Republican pro-business candidates, we feel Judge Vance is the most qualified candidate for the chief justice of the Supreme Court,” Tim Hightower, a member of the group’s executive committee, wrote in an e-mail. “Is this a trend we are seeing among other associations in the state? Most certainly.”
Judge Moore’s victory in the primary was a shock to many, because his opponents were well-regarded by both Republicans and Democrats and because he was badly beaten in his two runs for governor.
Judge Moore’s initial Democratic opponent was a lawyer named Harry Lyon, who has run for offices on both party lines and was the only Democrat to qualify. Mr. Lyon proceeded to insult gay people as “freaks,” jokingly suggest the execution of illegal immigrants and call Judge Moore a demented devil worshiper.
This ultimately became too much for the state Democratic Party, which in August revoked Mr. Lyon’s nomination. The party then backed Judge Vance, who entered the race late but whose name is prominent in state legal circles: his father, a federal judge and an early advocate of the civil rights movement, was assassinated in 1989 when a vengeful ex-convict sent a mail bomb to his home.
After entering the race, Judge Vance quickly raised nearly a half-million dollars, much of it from donors within his hometown, Birmingham.
Judge Moore has kept pace, and while he can count on some big-money benefactors (including the wife of the actor Chuck Norris, who gave $5,000), many of his donations are coming in small amounts from all over the country, $100 or $200 contributions from California, Maine, New York, Wyoming, even Hawaii.
In conversation, supporters tend to agree with his description of a basic divide in the country’s moral life and say he is on the correct side of that divide, even if they do not always like his methods.
“I don’t think the judicial system is really the place to promote any sort of religion,” said Calvin Poole, a lawyer in Greenville. But he said he still considered Judge Moore better than the alternative — that is, the Democrat.
“If we’ve got to pick between Image A and Image B, I would rather for our image to be that we’re going to be outspoken and unapologetic on our view on the sovereignty of God,” Mr. Poole said. “I’d rather be wacky on that side than wacky on the other side.”