Tag Archives: presidency

The Power of Dissent – Linking Colbert and al-Zaidi

I think the story of Mr. al-Zaidi – the journalist who threw his shoe(s) at President Bush during and Iraqi press conference – is fascinating. It reminds of just how infrequently a president – and in particular this president – has actually had to confront dissenting opinions. And how dangerous this is, both for the country and for the office holder. How can one govern if you are not receiving a diversity of opinions, and are not, from time to time, forced to confront those who disagree with you, or whom your decisions have negatively impacted?

The challenge of permitting dissent is inherent to the office itself. Power is itself a deterrent – do people really want to anger the most powerful person in the world? What if they need a favour later? Then, there is always the temptation to soften one’s message in the hopes of influencing, rather than arguing, with its holder. Traditionally protests were one way those on the outside could try to be heard. But today the dubiously legal special “protest zones” that are often set up are rarely in view of the president. Here we aren’t even talking of engaging dissent – just acknowledging it! All of these challenges, either active or passive – protect and insulate the president, ultimately to their detriment.

In the case of al-Zaidi, I’m uncertain of whether his protest is one that should be supported – anything that threatens the independence and freedom of the press corps needs to be considered carefully. But then, given the limitations this president has placed on people, their have been few other outlets and few people willing to stand up.

This is why I Stephen Colbert is so important . His speech at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner will be remembered as one of the bravest, most important acts of the Bush era. I re-watched the first 20 minutes the other night with a friend who’d never seen it and was reminded by how painful, awkward, brutal and deserving it was. Indeed, it is so awkward I often have to stop watching it (I HATE social awkwardness – I literally want to jump into the TV and mediate it. Maybe it is the curse of my consulting, or maybe it is the curse of being a middle child). It is remarkable how the man just keeps going. But thank god he does. It may be one of the few moments when the president truly had to confront a vicious critique of his administration.

Can anyone think of other moments when the president has had his cocoon penetrated? Would love to hear them.

Of course, in the end, a balance is usually struck. The tighter the lid one puts on dissenting opinions, the more pressure builds for them to eventually erupt out. Colbert and al-Zaidi pail in comparison to what is perhaps the best example of this pressure cooker expoding – the 2008 election.

Today, the slow moving train wreck ends

Today, Obama wins. The question isn’t if, it is by how much. It’s how dramatic will the victory be.

To be honest. I’m a little overcome with emotion about it. I don’t think Obama is the saviour some hope he will be, but he will be bring some good, honest change – something we’ve all be hoping and waiting for. Today, the world gets to finally begin the purge of Bush. It will take time, it will be tough, but the process begins.

I can’t wait.

So here is a list of random stuff – some to hopefully look forward to, some to reflect on for laughing or crying:

  1. 2001: Bush: ‘Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over.’ How sadly prophetic this piece in the Onion was (these guys are so often on). (H/T Chris Blizzard)
  2. 1933: Roosevelt’s First 100 Days. This is the model. Ignore Bush. Get planning. Unleash in the first 100 days. The rest of the presidency will be dedicated to one or two major projects and dealing with the unforeseen. The window of opportunity for real action is small – and it needs to happen quickly so that the impact can be felt before his 4 years are up.
  3. Close Gitmo. (see, first 100 days). A more powerful message could not be sent.
  4. Create national standards for voting and support the voting infrastructure. The structural/financial barriers that lead democratic voters under represented should be torn down. This is our opportunity. Seize it. It will have a lasting impact.
  5. The power of rhetoric (tomorrow). The power of the president often flows directly from his/her popularity figures. In this regard, the ability to mobilize the public, to win them over, is a skill that is essential. It will see if and how Obama is able to deploy is considerable abilities.
  6. The power of rhetoric (yesterday): I remember the moment I was completely sold on Obama. I had just watched a youtube video of Obama’s Martin Luther King day speech where he walked into MLK’s church on MLK day and demanded the black church strive still harder to live up to its ideals – mainly by embracing the struggle against the discrimination and marginalization of homosexuals. To see someone not pander, but challenge their base. Remarkable. But then so was his New Hampshire speech, his speech on race in America and numerous others.
  7. Jon Stuart is now the only thing on television that seeks media & political accountability: I hope, in 4 years, he’s still around to remind everyone of all the crazy claims the republicans made about Obama – he hates white poeple, he hates america, he’s sympathetic to domestic terrorists, etc… Oh, I also hope that he reminds us of all the things republicans claimed made Obama crazy, but that have panned out – engaging with those we disagree with, beginning a draw down in Iraq & confronting Pakistan.
  8. And now, a final goodnight

Goodnight WMDs
And goodnight FoxTV
Goodnight Cheney, goodnight neo-con men
Goodnight homeland security advisory system
Goodnight lies and goodnight fluff
Goodnight Rove, goodnight Bush
And goodnight American public screaming “enough”

Goonight McCain
Goodnight Ayers
Goodnight insanity everywhere…..

Sleep tight everyone. Tomorrow is a brand new day.