I always heard the phrase the Bully Pulpit without hearing the word "bully" in it.
The phrase, of course, simply means that the president has easy and frequent access to the American people to make his case. It seemed a logical and useful thing for the country's leader to do, to use the Bully Pulpit.
But during these incredibly horrible years under George W. Bush, it became clear the American people were being spoken to in a very different manner than previous presidents. For the first time in my lifetime, we had an actual bully in the Bully Pulpit; and this tool of the president started to mean something else entirely.
Bush has had no interest in explaining himself to the country, and certainly not to people who didn't already agree with him. He doesn't persuade, he merely declares and decrees, usually with that annoyed tone in his voice I recognize from his father as well.
Bush's communications have almost never been straight-forward, reasoned or truthful. He has offered talking-to-idiot-children remarks like "They hate our freedom" to stand in for a discussion of the real problems we face from Islamic fundamentalism, and how some of it has to do with our policies. (And has to do with our history; we gave Saddam weapons to use against Iran, for instance, which wouldn't endear us to that country, would it?)
He lied and manipulated us into war with Iraq. When discussing things like his breaking the FISA law by NOT getting warrants before wiretapping American citizens, he never actually discusses the real topic -- he says instead (repeatedly) "when someone is talking to Al Qaeda, I want to know what they're saying."
Fine, so do the rest of us. But explain, please, why the FISA law stops you doing that. That was never addressed, and that was the actual question.
(As most Huffington Post readers know, the FISA law even allows the government to begin wiretaps IMMEDIATELY if they want, and to get the actual warrant days later. So it's not putting anybody in danger. And if there are variations that need to be addressed -- such as you find a computer of a suspected terrorist, and you want to wiretap every person on his computer -- well, Congress would certainly amend the law to take that into account, especially if it had been asked close to 9/11 when he first began breaking the law. But he clearly believes he's above the law.)
Etc., etc. I have felt fury and despair being bullied by President Beelzebub over the last 8 years. And I have distressed my dog several times by shouting at the television. In the second half of Beelzebub's reign, I couldn't listen to him talk live, I had to listen to the excerpts on the news; or maybe read his manipulations as text.
And even since the 2006 elections, when his approval ratings fell so very low, he nonetheless STILL gets his way on most everything.
And he continues with his habitual misleading and distorted descriptions of problems facing all of us -- it's a Rovian-taught trait: redefine the problem as something else, and then explain why the Democrats are wrong or stupid to want to address this inaccurately described problem.
And for those Americans who only watch the main networks briefly for their news, they hear these little sound bytes from the president's Bully Pulpit proclamations, and they never hear the rebuttal, and so they live with incorrect assumptions. That Bully Pulpit lets him say his carefully chosen and slanted sentences on the news whenever he wants.
The only two issues he's ever lost on are Social Security -- where most Americans realized that the stock market remains volatile, and not where to put your "security" money; and on selling our ports to Dubai, which felt so, so nutty. Bush spent so much of his presidency terrorizing us about the Muslim world, and then he wanted to actually sell our ports to a Muslim country.
Hmmmm... why not let China run our ports? Or Martians? Needless to say, we wouldn't want Americans to do it. We only consume. And we don't make anything anymore. We just wait to see when our children are poisoned by the next Chinese toy with lead paint in it, or our dogs are killed by poison dog food, or our relatives die from faulty ingredients made in China put into blood-thinning medicines. But God forbid Americans actually MAKE anything anymore. (That's a little free associative rant, but it's one of the reasons so many Americans polled think the country is on the wrong path, right?)
So for eight years, the Bully Pulpit has been used for propagating lies and distortions.
Barack Obama could change that. (Hillary Clinton could not, especially listening to her manipulative jabber the last several weeks.)
Thomas Friedman wrote on this topic -- of talking straight to the American public -- in a New York Times op-ed called " Who Will Tell the People?" the other day. Here were his main points:
[note: I have put the major points that I think are truly important in bold]
Much nonsense has been written about how Hillary Clinton is "toughening up" Barack Obama so he'll be tough enough to withstand Republican attacks. Sorry, we don't need a president who is tough enough to withstand the lies of his opponents. We need a president who is tough enough to tell the truth to the American people. Any one of the candidates can answer the Red Phone at 3 a.m. in the White House bedroom. I'm voting for the one who can talk straight to the American people on national TV -- at 8 p.m. -- from the White House East Room.
Who will tell the people? We are not who we think we are. We are living on borrowed time and borrowed dimes. We still have all the potential for greatness, but only if we get back to work on our country.
I don't know if Barack Obama can lead that, but the notion that the idealism he has inspired in so many young people doesn't matter is dead wrong. "Of course, hope alone is not enough," says Tim Shriver, chairman of Special Olympics, "but it's not trivial. It's not trivial to inspire people to want to get up and do something with someone else."
It is especially not trivial now, because millions of Americans are dying to be enlisted -- enlisted to fix education, enlisted to research renewable energy, enlisted to repair our infrastructure, enlisted to help others. Look at the kids lining up to join Teach for America. They want our country to matter again. They want it to be about building wealth and dignity -- big profits and big purposes. When we just do one, we are less than the sum of our parts. When we do both, said Shriver, "no one can touch us."
I agree passionately with what Friedman said above, and it relates to my belief that Obama can use his gift for reason and inspiration to TALK TRUTH to the American people, to change the Bully Pulpit to a.... Persuasion Pulpit, an Inspiration Pulpit.
Almost all of us in the country feel we have been moving in the wrong direction. It is tricky and hard to change direction, and we can't do it alone. We need a leader. We also need a leader who can tell us the truth about the dangers and problems we face. Who can be truthful about the sacrifices we must make. And who can be creative and canny about how to deal with Islamic fundamentalism, not just go down that same Bush bellicose path (such as saying "we'll obliterate Iran.")
I admit it, Obama isn't perfect. But Lord, the other two -- McCain and Hillary -- frighten me. The whole thing about the suspending the gas tax is shocking pandering, and destructive. Hillary so proudly says she will get the oil companies to pay for it -- really? Now, with the Bush veto still keeping anything from passing that he doesn't agree with? She knows that perfectly well, but she's just pandering for votes. She's not telling the truth, she's manipulating the public.
(If you have need of hearing why the gas tax summer suspension is a bad idea, here's a good posting fromRobert Creamer. And here's his quote on the issue:
Obama said this about the gas tax in this news article:
Whether or not it's entirely justified, most Americans believe that the Clintons will themselves say pretty much anything to win. Remember that many thought of Bill as "Slick Willie." The Clinton-McCain "gas tax holiday" is a good example. Economists say that most of this "tax break" would actually go to the oil companies who would have no incentive to lower gas prices and pass it along to consumers in the tight summer driving season. At the same time it would cost the Highway Trust Fund $9 billion -- which translates to about 300,000 lost construction jobs. No matter, it sounds good on the stump and at first blush it polls well.
Whatever else you think about Obama, he believes that if you tell the voters the truth, they have the intelligence to make the right decisions. )
I don't even drive a big car, but $28 would only fill my tank three-quarters. So that is the relief Hillary and McCain-but-not-Able are so excited about? And which won't pass President Bush's veto anyway? Obama has been battered. And I hope I never hear from Reverend Wright ever again (though I'm sure he'll have his own sitcom by September, funded by the Republicans). But battered though Obama may be, he is still standing; and he's standing taller than the other two.
"Listen, these gas prices are brutal on people," Mr. Obama told voters Thursday in Columbia City, Ind. "Now, John McCain decided that he would solve this problem after being in Congress for 25 years by suspending the gas tax for three months. What that would do is save the average driver 30 cents a day -- a nickel and a quarter, 30 cents a day. It would save you a total of about $28 for the entire year -- $28."