First As Farce

President Obama published a children’s book today, called Of Thee I Sing. In the book, which takes the form of a “tender, beautiful letter to his daughters”, he praises various figures from American history.

We note in passing that among the “great Americans” profiled is Sitting Bull, who is best known for having led a massacre of U.S. servicemen; that’s rather an odd choice for the sitting Commander-In-Chief of the United States Army to make. But various others have already taken up this angle with some emotion, and I’ll pass over it here without further comment.

I do think, however, that had Mr. Obama had a slightly more mainstream American upbringing, he might have chosen a different title for his book. On hearing it, I recalled that the title Of Thee I Sing had already been taken, some years ago, by a popular theatrical production — one that makes his choice of it, under the current political circumstances, seem unfortunately apt.

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35 Comments

  1. the one eyed man says

    Considering that the servicemen were involved in the state-sponsored genocide of its indigenous population, I see nothing odd about including Sitting Bull.

    Your suggestion is that the native population didn’t have the right to defend themselves?

    Posted November 16, 2010 at 9:32 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    No, of course I have suggested no such thing, and even to frame your question in terms of “rights” is silly, I think: obviously any healthy society threatened with conquest will defend itself, whether it has the “right” to or not.

    Posted November 16, 2010 at 11:58 pm | Permalink
  3. the one eyed man says

    Then why would it be an odd choice?

    Posted November 17, 2010 at 1:18 am | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    Pete, I’ll just quote Satchmo here:

    “If you got to ask, you ain’t never going to know.”

    Posted November 17, 2010 at 10:06 am | Permalink
  5. bob koepp says

    Sitting Bull might be an odd choice if the prez was acting here primarily in his role as Commander-in-Chief, but there’s a bit more to being prez than that. Step outside the “us and them” of a long ago military campaign, and Sitting Bull surely qualifies as a great American. Hell, even those who fought him knew that he was a great leader.

    Posted November 17, 2010 at 11:06 am | Permalink
  6. Malcolm says

    Gentlemen:

    You misread me. Sitting Bull was undoubtedly an inspiring leader, who fought stubbornly when his people were facing subjugation and extermination, and George Custer was a megalomaniac, and a fool.

    All I meant was that, in purely practical, political terms, Sitting Bull seems an odd, polarizing, Howard-Zinn-like choice for Mr. Obama to make, given the vast richness of American historical biography, and his current political circumstances. It’s just more fodder for those who see him as something of an outsider, with thinly veiled disdain for American tradition, and it reinforces the impression many have of his cultural tone-deafness. It has already sparked more controversy, which is the last thing he needs, and it has surely earned him no goodwill in the military he commands.

    My point was nothing more than that.

    Posted November 17, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Permalink
  7. JK says

    Not having read the book I cannot but say if the Prez had to’ve used Sitting Bull, the least he might’ve done was paired the fellow’s story with Buffalo Bill.

    Posted November 17, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Permalink
  8. the one eyed man says

    This “otherness” business is nonsense. Barack Obama is as American as you or me. Maybe even more so: his is a true Horatio Alger story. Through dint of brains and hard work, he rose from growing up on food stamps to be President of the United States. You can’t get much more American than that. Those who think he is “other” labor under the misconception that the Cleaver family is the true embodiment of being American, and those who grew up under vastly different circumstances are somehow less than full Americans.

    As for controversy: we know by now that anything and everything he does will be fiercely attacked by the opposition, regardless of what it is. He is doing the right thing by ignoring manufactured controversies. When the Right has nothing of substance to say, they will simply make stuff up, whether it is his birth certificate, spending $200 million a day on the India trip, or whatever. This Sitting Bull thing is a perfect example. It’s a lot of hot air about nothing.

    I think that Obama is much less concerned with his political future than any other recent President (except possibly Jimmy Carter), and much more concerned with doing what he thinks is the right thing. A perfect example is the auto business: he was roundly castigated by the Right for helping GM and Chrysler survive, which labeled him a Socialist and fulminated against the putative “government takeover of business.” GM was left for dead last year, and today went public with a $50 billion market cap. They are making money, hiring workers, and helping reduce the trade imbalance by generating substantial sales in Europe and Asia. Like TARP or the stimulus plan, the Auto Task Force was a resounding success, but was fiercely attacked and opposed by the Right at the time when decisions had to be made. Would the Right admit they were completely wrong? Of course not. They focus on trivia like Sitting Bull instead.

    Posted November 18, 2010 at 11:03 am | Permalink
  9. Malcolm says

    Peter, I don’t know why I exhaust myself in these conversations with you. If you can’t see why it was an odd choice for a sitting president and Commander-In-Chief to deliberately exacerbate political controversy, and further alienate various members of his increasingly disillusioned constituency, over something as unnecessary as which of thousands of notable Americans he could have chosen to lionize in a children’s book, then there’s really not much more to talk about here.

    Satchmo was right.

    Posted November 18, 2010 at 11:30 am | Permalink
  10. the one eyed man says

    He didn’t exacerbate controversy. It’s a manufactured “controversy.” There’s nothing there. Nada.

    His constituency isn’t “increasingly disillusioned.” His approval ratings are pretty constant in the 40’s.

    I’m sure there are plenty of other notable Americans in the book. Needless to say, the Right cherry picks one of them and creates a controversy to distract attention from real issues, like the START treaty. You have one side acting as adults and the other side acting like third graders.

    Posted November 18, 2010 at 11:34 am | Permalink
  11. Malcolm says

    Peter, if there is already a hornet’s nest buzzing, why poke a stick in it? What part of this don’t you understand? Why alienate Americans even further, for no good reason at all, by exalting someone who slaughtered a U.S. regiment, when there were so many other admirable people to choose from?

    Last word to you on this if you want it; I have nothing more to say (other than to mention, in passing, that even the New York Times agrees that it isn’t exactly cork-popping time on the bailout plan).

    Posted November 18, 2010 at 11:50 am | Permalink
  12. the one eyed man says

    If there is a hornet’s nest, it is not of Obama’s doing. The recent manufactured controversy about the state trip to India is a perfect example. Michelle Bachmann announces that the cost is $200 million a day and uses a seventh of the US Navy fleet. Needless to say, this is a complete fabrication. However, it gets picked up on Drudge, and then Limbaugh, and then Glenn Beck, then Fox News, each of whom breathlessly feigns shock at this exorbitant cost. Their gullible audiences lap it up. Hence it becomes a controversy, dominates the news cycle for the day, and the White House has to deny it. One more day when real issues are a can kicked down the road.

    The variant is there is an item with a grain of truth, which gets twisted and amplified so it also dominates the news cycle. The template here is Van Jones, who was nominated for an obscure and low-ranking position in the Obama administration. He said some intemperate things, which were taken out of context to make him look like a latter day Eldridge Cleaver. There was an incessant drumbeat, day after day, as this non-story dominated the news. You would have thought that the administration decided to let Bernie Goetz run the Justice Department, or let Bernie Madoff run Treasury. Not to pick on Bernies.

    The problem here is not so much the Swift Boating as the fact that all of these manufactured controversies suck the oxygen out of the room and obfuscate the fact that the opposition has nothing to say. What is the Republican plan for cutting the deficit? We don’t know. What about economic competitiveness with China, global warming, Islamic fundamentalism, or the demographic time bomb which will hit entitlement programs? Not a clue. We face serious problems, but only one side is proposing serious answers.

    By focusing on trivia, the right wing fog machine does the country a huge disservice. There is no real dialogue any more: those in power who actually have to make decisions and govern are left by themselves to deal with serious problems, while those out of power distract and distort. Now that the House is in Republican hands, it will be interesting to see what they do. They will have to come up with a budget. They are between a rock and a hard place: they can either kowtow to the know-nothings of the Tea Party and massively slash the military and entitlements – alienating the other 80% of the country – or they can continue more or less along the status quo and face a revolt in 2012. Good luck with that.

    I have no idea how many Americans are profiled in Obama’s book. Let’s say there are twenty. Presumably the others are people like Thomas Jefferson or Charles Lindbergh. One of them is Sitting Bull. This is of such infinitesimal importance that a rational person would simply ignore it, especially considering all of the issues of real importance which are ignored. But nobody would accuse the Right – or at least the Fox News/Rush Limbaugh/Republican Party axis – of ratiocination.

    Posted November 18, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Permalink
  13. Malcolm says

    Peter, I hope you won’t consider it a violation of my last-word policy if I just say this:

    While I disagree with pretty much everything you typically say in these political arguments (and could have spent a relaxing & pleasant half-hour dissecting what you wrote just above), and think views like yours are leading the nation into faction, decline and eventual collapse, nevertheless you always say it very well — and generally within, or at least somewhere within mailing distance of, the bounds of civility (the latter being itself impressive and unusual for a liberal responding to a conservative).

    Have you ever thought of starting a blog of your own? I’d even set it up for you.

    Posted November 18, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Permalink
  14. the one eyed man says

    Thanks, Mac. I appreciate the kind words. I’d also like to thank Mrs. Vardon and Gary Sykes, my 11th and 12th grade English teachers, for making this all possible.

    Regrettably, I don’t have the time or bandwidth to start a blog. The problem is that you have to feed the beast every day, and I’m disinclined to get into a commitment like that. However, I appreciate the offer, and some day may take you up on it.

    Posted November 18, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Permalink
  15. the one eyed man says

    And let’s not forget my high school History teacher, B. Wear (Avoid single causation!).

    Or my typing teacher, Miss Lebbing, who not only taught the course which I use more than all others, but was every adolescent boy’s fantasy of a hot divorcee.

    Posted November 18, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Permalink
  16. Well spotted, Malcolm, I was fascinated by the story of that old musical. I wonder if any Broadway types would dare put it on today, or better still, in 2012.

    As for your ‘one-eyed’ friend, you should assure him that one post every six months on his own blog would be more than enough for an eager readership!

    Posted November 19, 2010 at 3:36 pm | Permalink
  17. the one eyed man says

    Thank you David!

    If I ever do it, you will be the second person to know.

    Posted November 19, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Permalink
  18. the one eyed man says

    Regarding civility: because of my unshakable faith in the wisdom and rectitude of my opinions, there is no need to be uncivil. It is only those who have to comb over the bald spots in their argument with bluster who need to make ad hominem or insulting remarks, as their logic doesn’t stand on its own.

    However, the suggestion that somehow liberals are less civil to conservatives than the other way around is completely incorrect. Not only are the airwaves and blogosphere filled with nastiness – and worse! – from the Right (ever watch Sean Hannity? Bill O’Reilly? Rush Limbaugh? Sarah Palin?), but there are plenty of prominent people on the Left who treat the other side with respect. One such example is Rachel Maddow, who gets prominent conservatives on her show and treats them with dignity. She has a first rate mind and uses it effectively and in a thought provoking way.

    Posted November 20, 2010 at 12:08 pm | Permalink
  19. Malcolm says

    Ah yes, you have in mind the Rachel Maddow who affectionately refers to conservative activists as “teabaggers”. She’s the colleague of that always-charming Keith Olbermann, who bends over backward to discuss conservative ideas (just ideas, of course; he would never stoop to personal attacks) with courtesy and respect.

    Posted November 20, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Permalink
  20. the one eyed man says

    No doubt Olbermann sometimes goes over the top, but it’s refreshing to have a left wing cable television personality who isn’t a pantywaist like Allen Colmes or Juan Williams. I think the substance of what he says is unassailable, but he is full throated.

    However, he plays Bann Frei (the theme song from the Jean Shepherd radio show) every night, so he can’t be all bad.

    Posted November 20, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Permalink
  21. the one eyed man says

    Also: though I’ve never seen Rachel Maddow call the Tea Party tea-baggers, any political movement that wraps itself up in the Founding Fathers, wears tri-cornered hats, and flouts their love of country – as though they have an exclusive lock on patriotism, or somehow their ideas are more “American” than those who disagree, simply because they say so – deserves to be ridiculed. They made the wet spot by picking that name, they can sleep in it.

    Tea parties are for little girls with imaginary friends.

    Posted November 20, 2010 at 1:10 pm | Permalink
  22. Malcolm says

    Yes, yes, of course.

    Perhaps you are thinking of the senator from Minnesota, the title of whose book referred to a man whose ideas he disagreed with as a “Big Fat Idiot”.

    I’ve particularly enjoyed the relentless characterization of critics of the Left’s political initiatives as racists, hate-mongers, xenophobes, Islamophobes, sexists, and, let me see, “know-nothings”, incapable of ratiocination. And that “Chimpy McHitler” sobriquet that was so popular on the Left a couple of years back was nothing if not civil.

    Then, of course, there’s that splendid bit of bipartisan outreach that Mr. Tim Wise posted at the highly influential liberal blog Daily Kos in the wake of the election; I mentioned it here.

    Yes, the Left certainly holds the high ground, civility-wise.

    Posted November 20, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Permalink
  23. the one eyed man says

    I don’t claim that there are no loudmouths on the Left, merely that the number of loudmouths on the Right is equal to or greater than that of the Left.

    As for Al Franken: Rush Limbaugh is, in fact, a big fat idiot. As for the Tea Party: they are, in many ways, the modern-day reincarnation of the Know-Nothing party.

    Truth is an absolute defense against libel.

    Posted November 20, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Permalink
  24. Malcolm says

    Don’t be ridiculous. You may disagree with Rush Limbaugh — and as an entertainer he often trades in hyperbole — but he is hardly an idiot.

    Regardless of any similarities between some of the old Know-Nothing party’s principles (which varied widely by region) and those of the Tea Party, the term “know-nothing” now serves the Left as a smug and convenient slur, with its implication that supporters of conservative principles are simply ignorant. Its acceptance trades, itself, on ignorance: the slogan came about because members of the nascent party said “I know nothing” when asked about its plans.

    Posted November 20, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Permalink
  25. the one eyed man says

    If you look at the Tea Party leaders — who were astonished to learn that the First Amendment bans the state establishment of religion, or who think that Dearborn is ruled by Sharia law, or a state visit to India requires one seventh of the US Navy, or who think that Russia is visible from Wasilla — I think that ignorance is a perfect apt description.

    Posted November 20, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Permalink
  26. Malcolm says

    As you say, one doesn’t have to look far to find bone-headed remarks on either side. I make no brief for Sarah Palin here (her presence on McCain’s ticket cost him my vote), and that the rumors about the cost of President Obama’s trip gained the traction they did was an embarrassment.

    But the unwarranted daily slurs from the Left against a movement that is little more than a call for fundamental conservative principles of smaller government, lower taxes, less regulation,and less spending — principles that are at least as intellectually defensible as the progressive agenda of the Left, and in terms of American political and economic culture and tradition, far more so — go much farther than that.

    Posted November 20, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Permalink
  27. Please excuse this “cowerin’, tim’rous beastie” interrupting your high-powered debate but I am struck by the epithet “know-nothings” used in judging anyone’s suitability for political office. Today you are ‘enjoying’ (sorry, I can never pass by an irony without using it) a presidency by a man who has been university educated and yet who gives every appearance of knowing very little. In fact, so little does he know that he appears unable even to tell friends from enemies.

    In 2012 you *may* have to chose between him and a lady who knows how to skin a grizzly but is almost certainly free from any confusions over, say, the finer points of Hayekian versus Keynesian economics. However, I would wager that she can spot a friend from an enemy at a hundred paces! I can’t help thinking that were it my choice, which thank the Lord it ain’t, sir, I know which characteristic I would prefer as a commander in chief.

    But then again, I never wasted my time spent time in a university – so what do I know?

    Posted November 20, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Permalink
  28. the one eyed man says

    While you can certainly find exceptions, in general I don’t think that the conservative principles you mention are the object of derision. Small government etc. is a legitimate and defensible position.

    The Tea Party rose to prominence by shouting down Congressmen in public events. They threatened violence or were violent (e.g., Sharron Angle’s “Second Amendment solution” to Harry Reid, the Rand Paul supporter who stepped on a left wing activist and got a “boys will be boys” response from the Paul campaign, etc.). They nominated candidates who were manifestly unqualified (Palin), hypocritical (Miller), just plain wacko (O’Donnell, Angel), or a combination of the above. Their spokesmen in the media – typified by Glenn Beck – just make stuff up. They are backed by a well funded and very sophisticated political machine yet pretend to be grassroots and politically naïve.

    No responsible person objects to conservative principles being presented or debated. However, the agenda of the Tea Party are inchoate and confused. For example, I’ve yet to see a Tea Party plan for exactly how they plan to reduce the size of government or what they plan to cut. When pressed, you get non-answers like “we have to take a hard look at that” or “everything is on the table.” An actual budget? Forget about it. Doubtless there are people who have thought these issues through, but their thinking has yet to percolate up the hierarchy and be embraced and presented.

    I think a lot of it comes from the Left being constantly vilified by the Bush administration and its acolytes. Those who opposed the Iraqi invasion at the outset were ridiculed and branded traitors, yet they happened to be right. Those who supported Constitutional principles of habeas corpus and the Fourteenth Amendment were labeled terrorist sympathizers by Karl Rove. Read virtually any Wall Street Journal editorial, and they drip with sarcasm and condescension. When the other side brawls like it’s a WWF Smackdown (and let’s not even discuss Linda McMahon), you can’t play by Marquess of Queensbury rules.

    Posted November 20, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Permalink
  29. Malcolm says

    The Tea Party rose to prominence by shouting down Congressmen in public events.

    Please. Tea Party events have been models of civility. These people even pick up after themselves. This notion that the Tea Party are a bunch of ill-mannered hooligans is utter nonsense; generally they are polite, older, well-behaved, middle-of-the road Americans.

    I think a lot of it comes from the Left being constantly vilified by the Bush administration and its acolytes.

    You are living in a parallel universe, Peter. The Left was relentless in its ridicule and vilification of George Bush.

    As for conservative principles, I’m glad to see them represented by whoever wants to do so, whether it’s a grass-roots movement like the Tea Party, or responsible Republicans like Chris Christie. And you want to talk about unqualified candidates? I offer you Alvin Greene, the barely sapient automaton who got 80% of the black vote in South Carolina.

    The bipartisan Bowles-Simpson deficit-reduction panel recently came out with a list of recommendations that were a sensible, middle-of-the-road starting point for further discussion by any legislators who would actually be willing to act like grownups. It was immediately sneered at, ridiculed, and rejected by the Democratic House leadership.

    Read virtually any Wall Street Journal editorial, and they drip with sarcasm and condescension.

    Oh, you poor widdle thing.

    This is the way politics is, Peter. Read virtually any Paul Krugman or Tom Friedman or Maureen Dowd or Gail Collins or E.J. Dionne column, and they drip with sarcasm and condescension too. Stop trying to claim the high ground here: it’s unbecoming, it’s delusional, and nobody’s buying it. Politics ain’t beanbag.

    This thread has clearly gone beyond the point of productive conversation.

    Posted November 21, 2010 at 9:50 pm | Permalink
  30. the one eyed man says

    I intended to respond by posting links of news reports of the numerous occasions this year when Tea Party (or other conservative) activists who shouted down Congressmen because they were upset about health care reforms, financial reforms, or whatever. This is a busy day for me, so I don’t have time to do this, but you can easily do the homework yourself.

    However, I can’t let the Bush/Obama comparison stand by itself. George Bush invaded a country on false pretenses which led to the deaths of 3500 Americans, over 100,000 Iraqis, and the displacement of about two million Iraqis. He allowed torture to be the official policy of the US government. He ignored existing statute and shredded the Constitution in doing so. His adminstration’s willful lack of regulation led to the worst financial crisis in eighty years.

    These are all inexcusable, shameful, and impeachable offenses. Say what you will about Barack Obama — reasonable people can disagree with his policies or his agenda — but there simply is no equivalence between the two. George Bush deserved all of the derision heaped upon him, if not more so. People may disagree with Obama’s policies, but there is no argument to be made that he committed any of the egregious disasters whcih the former adminstration eagerly took part in. The Left – and everyone else – should have been involved in incessant vilification. It was well deserved.

    Posted November 22, 2010 at 4:20 pm | Permalink
  31. Malcolm says

    So, let me get this straight: all that vicious, relentless, personal vilification of the Bush administration was OK, because, you know, they really deserved it! (Gee, I’m stunned to hear you say that.)

    Apparently, in your opinion, whether vilification of the Bush administration for invading Iraq, etc. (in contrast to the derision the current administration receives from the Right) was deserved is not something about which “reasonable people can disagree”.

    I think, however, that whether that is in fact something about which reasonable people can disagree is, itself, something about which reasonable people can disagree. (I will charitably suggest that this is exactly what you and I are doing here.)

    In other words, then, you are saying that vilification is objectively justified if and only if it is justified in your opinion.

    Here’s a suggestion: why not just get on with the vilifying, and stop trying to convince your political adversaries, who view the toppling of Saddam Hussein (and just about everything else) very differently than you do, that the only justifiable vilification is that which is based on the political and moral assumptions of the Left? It’s all so tiresome.

    The fact is that every administration has something or other about it that is, by the opposition’s lights, worthy of derision. The Left, who viscerally despised George Bush, had their list (and can’t seem to shut up about it, even two years later), and conservative Americans now have their own, regarding the present arrangement (as for me, I can certainly find plenty to deride the Bush administration for, and with this one it’s like shooting fish in a barrel).

    Who’s “right”? Gosh, I guess it depends on what your political views are!

    In my last comment I suggested that we had gone beyond productive discussion here, and boy, have we ever. Let’s just move on.

    Posted November 22, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Permalink
  32. the one eyed man says

    Not at all. Some things are simply beyond the pale. Being responsible for over 100,000 deaths is one of them.

    Posted November 22, 2010 at 7:07 pm | Permalink
  33. Malcolm says

    I’m not about to rehash this here. You think the invasion of Iraq was neither morally nor strategically justified; a great many others, including me, disagree. History will judge. Leave it there.

    As I said above:

    In my last comment I suggested that we had gone beyond productive discussion here, and boy, have we ever. Let’s just move on.

    Posted November 22, 2010 at 7:10 pm | Permalink
  34. I am struck by the *regal* pretentions, or at least, implications, contained in the ‘one-eyed man’s’ chosen ‘nom de keyboard’. Is that sort of kingly ambition allowed in the Great Republic these days? Country’s obviously goin’ to the dogs!

    Posted November 23, 2010 at 10:40 am | Permalink
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