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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.

34 Responses

  1. I used to believe in the urban myth of the “weak Democrat.”

    In 2008 I realized they are doing exactly what they want to do.

    They aren’t weak, they’re corrupt.

    • As bad as Democrats are, the Republicans are the genuine bad guys here.
      At this point, I wouldn’t persuade anyone that voting for the Democrat is a good thing. But I definitely would say vote for the Republican and we’re finished as a nation worth emulating.
      If you’re poor or middle class and you’re voting for a Republican, you seriously need to have your head examined.

      Find a third party candidate and vote for that person. If enough of them win, they will pull Democrats back to the left. Short of recruiting Hillary or Bernie to run for president in 2012, that’s one of the only things that will get Democrats attention.

      • I wouldn’t say the Republicans are bad guys, they are just really good at brinkmanship and for whatever reason, Democrats act shocked by it every time.

        I agree that enough of the WA DC Democrats are corrupt to make the Republicans job easier. I think *maybe* the spineless thing is an act to make it *look* like they want something other than what they comprimise to. It’s like they toss out offers they know will fail so that they can compromise to the place the owners want them.

        • I would disagree. At some point, you have to say that the Republicans are acting in a way that continues to cause damage to the poor and middle class standard of living and enriches the standard of living for people who are already rich. It’s destructive. They are threatening to hold the country hostage, not pay our debts and shut down government in a time of deep recession if they don’t get what they want and this is not just unwise, it is immoral. It’s shameful.

          It’s not in a liberal’s nature to be judgmental but that is what Lincoln is saying *must* be done in order to turn things around.

          That’s not to say that there aren’t perfectly nice country club Republicans with Eisenhoweresque values. But they aren’t running the Republican party and even the nicest people can be made to feel more virtuous than they really are when they think they are prospering because of good living and not on what rung of the economic ladder they were born on.

          If you do not have the conviction that your cause is right and just and theirs is wrong and unjust, then you will not be motivated to oppose it with the vigor that it requires. So, think about making the government so small it can be drowned in the bathtub. Think about the “Starve the Beast” strategy that will deprive millions of hard working taxpayers out of Medicare and Social Security insurance at the level they expected to get for all of their years of work. Think about all of the unemployed people who see the economy tanking week after week while their savings dwindle and they lose their houses because Republicans obstructed a bigger stimulus package and a jobs program. Think of the kids on medicaid and the babies who won’t get WIC supplements and the college kids who are counting on Pell grants. Yes, the Democrats have been weak little quislings but the DRIVERS of this catastrophe are Republicans.

          You should not be timid about saying it. This has been their plan for 30 years and they are phenomenally successful. We need another 1964 election that reduces them to such a small minority that they can’t go to the Congressional bathroom without permission. And that doesn’t mean I favor a Democratic majority. I just want a majority that is not Republican.

          • Let’s form a PAC called the Task Force for a Republican Minority.

          • Maybe I should have said that differently. Republicans are standing for the very things they say they stand for. They don’t comprimise. They are doing HORRIBLE things to the country by robbing the poor to give to the rich. They are trying to take rights away from women when we don’t have enough rights to spare. They are trying to set up a situation where the youngest voters will actually take social security away from seniors. If I’m never going to see a dime, why would I continue to pay? But those are all things Republicans are clear about.

            They are, as you say, like snakes and you can’t blame a snake for being a snake. That is what they are. Evil? Maybe, but mostly the damn opposition (who still control 2/3 of the government) aren’t holding ground for the weakest and least represented populations – and they actually campaign on the idea that they will. Who is evil?

          • Yes, Republicans are being true to their nature but no, they are not clear about it to the people who vote for them. They use lies, deceit, misdirection and confusion. It’s called Fox News. And the Democrats have not taken advantage of the Bully Pulpit because they don’t feel strongly enough that the Republicans are wrong.

      • Oh, and I can’t figure out why middle class people or poor people would vote Republican either.

        I suspect they believe if the government gets out of their way and they get the bootstraps going, they will be rich too. It is like they vote in preparation of the day they are rich. And then add in the religious stuff and I don’t think the religious voters care what the Republicans do money-wise as long as they continue to take away women’s rights and pay them less to keep them in their proper place – or something.

        • It’s all about two words. From the time Republicans are just mini repub babies they are told these two words, personal responsibility. They are told from early on that the corporations, government, business, whatever, owe you nothing! It’s all about personal responsibility. So if you are out of work, no soup for you, you bum! If you didn’t reach that golden ring, you just didn’t work hard enough! Don’t worry. They can be out of work and still vote Republican because Republicans understand them better. It’s called brain washing folks and mark my words the next time you hear the words, personal responsibility. It will be coming from some crazy Republican juiced nutcase. You know like Michelle Bachmann!

      • Now it is useless for negative critical analysis for it is absorbed, giving energy to the system. This is what Vija Kinsky says in Cosmopolis to Eric Packer while they are watching the “rat” demonstration, which is brilliant by the way. Vija is the voice of Jean Baudrillard in the novel. This is his analysis of why the Twin Towers were two monoliths, facing each other with no facade. All skyscrapers in NYC paralleled the development of capital. And then the WTC appeared doubled. Why? Because there is only one power with two supposedly opposing POV when in reality this charade is required for the continuation of monolithic power. We no longer have two major empires opposing each other, as we did in the long cold war. and two are necessary to keep symmetry, to keep balance. The radical, the asymmetrical will bring about breakdown. The dems and rep are just the flip sides of the coin. Trying to make things better, to fix can no longer be done as we enter simulation. When simulation is total then we are in Virtual Reality. It is irreversible.

        I have been thinking of the long ago blog post here on that high school prom rape. I believe the reason so many of the teens watching said it was not like what the police said, that she participated in making it happen, has to do with the fact that these young teens are already in VR up to their waists. Once there you are in a game as in eXistenZ, Matrix, no right and wrong, no dialectic, no linear time, just events. And we who come from another world view it in moralistic terms. They do not. And I think Baudrillard would discuss it from a primal POV, a mythological one.

    • Indeed. That was also obvious in 2006….when impeachment was ” off the table, ” before the paint was dry in Nancy’s new office

  2. Hillary is our only hope 🙂

    • Well, I wouldn’t say she’s our *only* hope, but she is the most logical one to run next year as an alternative to Obama and any rapacious Republican disguised as a moderate Morman family man.

      Of course, I’ll keep an open mind and if she decides not to run, so be it. That won’t make me want to keep the current batch of Democrats and Republicans in office.

      Only a person who can persuasively rally the country and push back forcefully against the Republicans deserves the presidency next year. I think Hillary can do it but there may be others.

      We’ll see

      • Bernie make a nice speech…and ….? I guess he couldn’t let this all happen with out saying something . But it won’t change a damn thing and he knows it…

    • If she won’t run, maybe Bernie will!


      • If no one runs a primary to Obama, I will likely be writing Bernie in.

        I can’t see myself voting for anything the GOP has or Obama(who I believe will try to dismantle Social Security as soon as he no longer has to run for re election)

        • “…who I believe will try to dismantle Social Security as soon as he no longer has to run for re election”


  3. I haven’t read the Cooper Union speech in a long time. Thanks for including it here.

  4. I have fallen in love with Bernie Sanders. If this is what an Independent/Socialist sounds like, what he/she is willing to stand for then mark me down as the same.

    Sadly, what Sanders is saying is what Democrats used to stand for: an advocate for ordinary Americans, the working class, the disadvantaged against the all-consuming influence and power of big money by insisting on a Fair Deal, rather than the Raw Deal that too many Obamacrats are willing to settle for.

    I happened to catch Sanders on Booktv. The idea of shared sacrifice plays to the vast majority of Americans who have always believed in fairness. There’s nothing ‘fair’ about what’s going on in this country and this neo-liberal/libertarian doctrine is a wrecking ball for everyone. Except, of course, the top 1-2%. This is the same gang who would tell you that the Robber Barons never existed. A liberal myth, they insist. Or that the Gilded Age was nirvana if only those dirty progressives hadn’t spoiled the party. Or that the Bible is the only thing that can truly save us.

    The GOP has been masterful in framing the argument, twisting history and taking no prisoners. And the Dems? They’ve sat back and allowed it to happen or celebrated Obama’s grand scheme of bipartisonship, which has come to mean caving at first resistance.

    Sorry. Leadership is not backing down or giving up the ghost because the fight is too hard, too messy. Barack Obama has shown little courage or anything that looks like real leadership. I’m not expecting any huge shift over the budget. Just more sleight of hand and whatever is expedient for reelection purposes.

    if anything underscores the absurdity of comparing our current POTUS to Lincoln, the Cooper Union speech is evidence galore. Same goes for comparisons to FDR and JFK.

    We’re cooked, I’m afraid. Good essay, btw!

  5. Well, I couldn’t get the link to work, but y’all might want to give a listen to Al Wilson’s “The Snake.” It says it all.

  6. A progressive Democrat speaking out? How long till they find some bullshit ethics charge against him?

  7. In the face of Dred Scott, what do you suppose Lincoln actually intended to do to stop the spread of slavery throughout the territories and, just as he feared, its eventual spread throughout the nation, possibly facilitated by a new decision, based on Dred Scott, forcing the states to recognize slaves as legitimate property and thus killing their free state constitutions?

    He had to both prevent worse than Dred Scott and undo Dred Scott, the first to save the free state constitutions and the second to prevent the spread of slavery throughout the territories and, as he swore he would, put slavery back on the road to eventual extinction.

    How was he going to do it?



    So far as I know, no one knows whether he even had any definite plans.

    • The *first* thing Obama, er, Lincoln, had to do was examine his conscience and decide if he felt that ripping off the middle class to reward the wealthy, er, slavery, was morally wrong and destructive to the country.

      Decisions and actions get a whole lot easier once you decide what principles to defend.

      I wish I felt sorry for you Obama apologists buy I’m too pissed off, what with having no job in the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression. You’re right, it’s all about Me-Me-Me. I should be less selfish and consider Obama’s feelings. It’s not his fault that he decided to run for president after 8 disastrous years of George W. Bush. How could he have known how hard it would be to govern with two money sucking wars going on simultaneously and a financial catastrophe in the making since 2007. I mean, what was he supposed to be? Clairvoyant?

      If only we had had another primary candidate to vote for who would have had the maturity and insight of 8 years of working in the White House, who saw the catastrophe in advance, with a built in mentor at her elbow to get us through this difficult and turbulent time…

      You morons owe us an apology.

      • I share your attitude about Obama, but of course we did have “another primary candidate to vote for” but Hillary refused to apologize for voting “aye” for the initiation of a crime against humanity that was the assault on Iraq (it is likely that Obama would have also, but the majority of blacks lawmakers did vote against it so maybe not, we will never know). You complain that you don’t have a job (something I know is terrible), but at least 100,000 innocent Iraqis are dead, and millions more uprooted from their homes.

        The one person most responsible for the fact that Hillary is not the President is her. If she had voted “nay” and ran as the antiwar candidate, she would have neutralized Obama and won the primary in a landslide. The shenanigans of the Obama campaign, and the sexism of the Party and the Media notwithstanding.

        • Sorry, but I gotta call BS. Even if Hillary had been uber anti- Iraq war (which I personally would have been THRILLED about), the media/Obots would have just found another issue on which to perch “The One”. He was their pick, he had been annointed, and nothing was going to stand in their way. Nothing.

        • If she had voted “nay” and ran as the antiwar candidate, she would have neutralized Obama and won the primary in a landslide.

          A: Hillary did win the primary…it was taking from her by the party and given to Obama .

          B: There was no antiwar candidate in ’08 ( Obama lied to you , Hillary did not ) and there will not be one in ’12.

          C: I would like to see SOMETHING of an antiwar movement….you all waiting for some pol to do the work? But an antiwar movement seems to be in a glass case next to the dodo bird .

          • A large number of states just ignored Dred Scott as if it were invisible. LIke Bush Ii with his signings. We can ignore too. We can be even more indifferent than Obama.

        • Funny, we didn’t hear a lot of lefties twist themselves into pretzels over John Edwards voting to authorize war. And I think we can reasonably assume, after seeing him in action, that obama would have voted for it too had he been there.
          They voted to authorize, they didn’t tell Bush he had to do it and I believe it was Hillary who made it clear that she thought going to war should be a last possible option after all others haf failed
          But somehow, you are convinced that she bears more culpability got the war than any other senator. How did you talk yourself into that?
          And what does that have to do with the 18000000 primary voters from California, new Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, Florida
          Michigan, Massachusetts, Indiana, Nevada, rhode Island, west Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, etc, etc whose votes were given to Obama without asking them? How does your distorted perception over the authorization vote trump their concerns with economic issues? Who gave you the right to substitute your judgment for theirs? Who the fuck do you think you are?

        • Yep, imagine if she had voted against giving the president the right to start protective military actions if indeed the U.S. were threatened. She was Senator from the state which was the main target of the attack. The President of the U.S. at that time was the one who took preemptive action without justification. He should be charged with crimes against humanity. Pelosi should have gone after him. Didn’t Hillary say that she would not have voted for the act/bill or whatever if she had known it was a fraud?

          Did Obama run as an anti-war candidate? Didn’t he say he would have voted for the status quo? The fact that Jesse Jackson wasn’t available to give a speech at the U. of Chicago anti-war demo and Obama stood in for him was his big chance, esp. after the war turned sour and Axelrod could film Obama giving an anti-war speech inside with an audience. Who knows how much the original speech was altered? There was no record of it.

  8. Every liberal needs – needs – to read Diane Rubenstein’s This Is Not A President. Her Lacanian analysis of Bush I as a male hysteric is brilliant and wickedly funny. She thanks Lacan for getting her through those four years. The male hysteric gives up before the fight. Sound like anyone we know. So just substitute Obama for Bush I in her chapter and you too will be enlightened about the Great One. This is what male hysterics do. Embrace the enemy. DeLillo has all this nailed in Cosmopolis.

  9. I know this is racist but I don’t care. Obama is an Oreo Cookie. I have always said he is whiter than I am.

    Baudrillard predicts this with his comment whiter than white, in other words, hyperrerwhite.

    I’m ducking under the desk now.

  10. riverdaughter if you would put this blog on disqus then threads would be easy to follow. Any comment here would go on disqus and any reply made here or comment would appear on disqus. I follow people on disqus and people follow me. I only have to see the comments I want to see there. Also other blogs are on there as people comment in other places so people will see say my comment here and click on the blog I commented on, so then you get someone here that can be surprised by the wonderful comments here. Once on disqus the new person does not have to register separately as they are already registered on disqus so it auto follows here. It will streamline things and while it will attract new people, only a select few not a hoard.

  11. I think the explanation is simpler-Obama gives in to the GOP constantly because he basically is one. He ran as a Democrat because he knew the GOP wasn’t ready to nominate a black guy, not because he has any affinity for traditional Democratic ideals. If he was more competent, things would be even worse.

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