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Bernie’s Speech and the Bully Pulpit

Bernie Sanders gave a speech yesterday and called on the president to be a leader and stand firm against the Republican push to dismantle programs that serve the middle class and the poor:

Oddly enough, about 3 hours later, I was chosen to participate in an Eagleton Institute survey.  You never quite know what they’re trying to get at with these polls but the pattern I detected was what the public thinks of the power of the presidency.  It looks like Obama and his minions have done a number on public opinion and have convinced many of us that he’s powerless to do much of anything except negotiate the farm away to the Republicans.

This is BS.

When Obama campaigned for president, he specifically said he was going to negotiate with everything on the table.  If you go to the negotiations willing to give everything away without a backstop, you should not be surprised when you end up losing everything.  The Republicans will never be satisfied with your first offer and will keep moving right until you give them everything they want except for some symbolic and worthless concession that everyone will see through.  That’s because they’re REPUBLICANS.  You know, those snakes you pick up on the side of the road who complain about the cold so that you hold them close to your bosom?  They end up biting and killing you and you should not be surprised because you knew their nature when you picked them up.

Abraham Lincoln gave a speech at the Cooper Union where he denounced his opponents and said you can’t compromise with people who are determined to do what they want no matter how much you compromise.  Nothing you do is going to satisfy them.  The secessionists complained bitterly that the government would not let them alone but every attempt to appease them failed.  That’s because they were determined to secede.  Secession was a foregone conclusion.  They were simply going to play the part of the aggrieved party until they got what they wanted.  Lincoln said:

The question recurs, what will satisfy them? Simply this: We must not only let them alone, but we must somehow, convince them that we do let them alone. This, we know by experience, is no easy task. We have been so trying to convince them from the very beginning of our organization, but with no success. In all our platforms and speeches we have constantly protested our purpose to let them alone; but this has had no tendency to convince them. Alike unavailing to convince them, is the fact that they have never detected a man of us in any attempt to disturb them.

These natural, and apparently adequate means all failing, what will convince them? This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly – done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated – we must place ourselves avowedly with them. Senator Douglas’ new sedition law must be enacted and enforced, suppressing all declarations that slavery is wrong, whether made in politics, in presses, in pulpits, or in private. We must arrest and return their fugitive slaves with greedy pleasure. We must pull down our Free State constitutions. The whole atmosphere must be disinfected from all taint of opposition to slavery, before they will cease to believe that all their troubles proceed from us.

I am quite aware they do not state their case precisely in this way. Most of them would probably say to us, “Let us alone, do nothing to us, and say what you please about slavery.” But we do let them alone – have never disturbed them – so that, after all, it is what we say, which dissatisfies them. They will continue to accuse us of doing, until we cease saying.

I am also aware they have not, as yet, in terms, demanded the overthrow of our Free-State Constitutions. Yet those Constitutions declare the wrong of slavery, with more solemn emphasis, than do all other sayings against it; and when all these other sayings shall have been silenced, the overthrow of these Constitutions will be demanded, and nothing be left to resist the demand. It is nothing to the contrary, that they do not demand the whole of this just now. Demanding what they do, and for the reason they do, they can voluntarily stop nowhere short of this consummation. Holding, as they do, that slavery is morally right, and socially elevating, they cannot cease to demand a full national recognition of it, as a legal right, and a social blessing.

Nor can we justifiably withhold this, on any ground save our conviction that slavery is wrong. If slavery is right, all words, acts, laws, and constitutions against it, are themselves wrong, and should be silenced, and swept away. If it is right, we cannot justly object to its nationality – its universality; if it is wrong, they cannot justly insist upon its extension – its enlargement. All they ask, we could readily grant, if we thought slavery right; all we ask, they could as readily grant, if they thought it wrong. Their thinking it right, and our thinking it wrong, is the precise fact upon which depends the whole controversy. Thinking it right, as they do, they are not to blame for desiring its full recognition, as being right; but, thinking it wrong, as we do, can we yield to them? Can we cast our votes with their view, and against our own? In view of our moral, social, and political responsibilities, can we do this?

Wrong as we think slavery is, we can yet afford to let it alone where it is, because that much is due to the necessity arising from its actual presence in the nation; but can we, while our votes will prevent it, allow it to spread into the National Territories, and to overrun us here in these Free States? If our sense of duty forbids this, then let us stand by our duty, fearlessly and effectively. Let us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored – contrivances such as groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong, vain as the search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a dead man – such as a policy of “don’t care” on a question about which all true men do care – such as Union appeals beseeching true Union men to yield to Disunionists, reversing the divine rule, and calling, not the sinners, but the righteous to repentance – such as invocations to Washington, imploring men to unsay what Washington said, and undo what Washington did.

Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, AND IN THAT FAITH, LET US, TO THE END, DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT.

In other words, you can’t blame the secessionists for being what they were.  That was their right to believe that slavery was acceptable.  But if you believe that slavery is immoral, unjust and not representative of the principles upon which your nation was founded or wanted to go, it was your duty to tell the secessionists that you would not yield to their desires for free, exploitable labor that left generations of men, women and children chained.  It is your duty to draw the line and not yield.

President Obama has to reckon with this.  Is it OK for Republicans to continually erode the social safety net, the insurance programs and taxpayer sponsored programs that voters want with the assistance of the Democrats because he feels that he must negotiate with his opponents?  Or should he go over the heads of the Republicans and use his bully pulpit effectively to appeal directly to the American people and persuade them to put pressure on their lawmakers to protect what is important to them?

This is a no-brainer.

Which means that the people who brought us Obama in 2008 have no brains.  He’s terrible at persuading and he spent so much of the first year in office squandering his TV time with stupid, trivial appearances every day at lunch that many of us have tuned him out.  If I were him and were really serious about this whole presidency gig, I’d have fired his PR team a long time ago.  That first year extension of this campaign has had a disastrous effect on his ability to use his bully pulpit.

But more than that, they have saddled us with a president who signalled before he was even elected that he was going to yield everything in an attempt to discover what would make Republicans happy in a totally bipartisan, post partisan era of love and understanding.  What this has turned into is a lot of foursomes on the golf course and deal making behind closed doors.

Normally, you get the president you deserve.  But most voters did not want Obama in 2008.  They voted for him because he was the Democrat and because Democrats held a gun to their heads and told them they couldn’t have who they really wanted.  That’s not very democratic, which is why I left the party.  But he’s there now.  It’s his duty to protect and defend all of the people, including the ones who pay and pay and pay and whose taxes never seem to be enough to appease the Republicans.  Our contributions never seem to decrease, our out of pocket expenses to pay for privatization continually go up and we don’t get what we pay for.  Meanwhile, the people at the top continually get the red carpet treatment.  When will it end?  It will never end so long as the poor and the middle class have pennies left that the wealthy and well connected have not claimed as their own.  What’s theirs is theirs and what’s yours is theirs.  At this point, I don’t think they even know why they have to be so greedy nor do they consider the consequences of their actions.  Their power is like an all-consuming fire that even deprives itself of the oxygen to keep it going.  It is self-destructive.  But that won’t matter to the 99% percent of us who will have to live with the burned out embers of our nation and national economy.

They will eventually get what they want so long as Obama and the Democrats continue to yield.  And Obama and the Democrats will continue to yield so long as they do not value  or see the moral imperative of protecting those programs in government that have made our economy strong and our genius the envy of the world.  They would sacrifice the rest of us to satisfy the greed of the few and they do not see this as morally wrong?

They have the power to say no to the Republicans and to rally the nation to their side.  We should accept no less.