Snub of historic proportions to elected leader of free world


AMERICA:IT WAS a profound show of disrespect for the office of president, a crime of lèse-majesté.

I could find no record of congressional leaders ever refusing an invitation to the White House before. That is what John Boehner, who will become Republican speaker of the House in January, and Mitch McConnell, the leading Republican senator, did on Wednesday.

On one day's notice, they postponed their scheduled meeting with the president - which was to have sought a way out of partisan gridlock - from November 18th until November 30th, after Congress returns from Thanksgiving recess.

The Republicans were just too busy to talk to the president. They vaguely cited the need to greet the 61 newly elected Republican representatives, who were in town for "freshman orientation". Obama had spoken hopefully of detaining Boehner and McConnell for dinner. The snub was total.

This shabby treatment of the democratically elected leader of the free world took place against a continuing barrage of ugly right-wing propaganda on Fox News.

In a children's book published this week on behalf of the children of wounded and dead US soldiers, Obama praised the Indian chief Sitting Bull as a "Sioux medicine man who healed broken hearts and broken promises".

"Obama Praises Indian Chief Who Killed US General," screamed the Fox headline. When it was pointed out that there was no evidence to support this, Fox changed the headline to: "Obama Praises Indian Chief Who Defeated US General".

On his website, the talk show host Rush Limbaugh posted Shepard Fairey's iconic image of Obama, superimposed on the giant sculptures of America's great presidents at Mount Rushmore, with the name "Obama" in subway-style graffiti. "Barack Obama's presidency is graffiti on the walls of American history," Limbaugh wrote.

In a more overtly racist comment, Limbaugh earlier suggested that the paucity of leadership positions for the defeated Democrats could be solved by making Representative Jim Clyburn, the highest-ranking African American in Congress, the chauffeur to outgoing speaker Nancy Pelosi. "Clyburn's worried about not having the perk of a big office, driver and so forth," Limbaugh said. "The way this can all be worked out, Clyburn's new position: Driving Miss Nancy."

Right-wing rants have an effect on US politics. On Wednesday, the Daily Beast published an interview with Roger Ailes, president of Fox News, in which he called National Public Radio "Nazis". NPR, which is probably the most serious and scrupulous radio station in the US, had fired commentator Juan Williams, who said he was afraid when he saw passengers in Muslim garb on aircraft. Fox promptly hired Williams.

Ailes called NPR "the left wing of Nazism" and said: "These guys don't want any other point of view. They don't even feel guilty using tax dollars to spout their propaganda. They are basically Air America with government funding to keep them alive."

The next day, Republicans in the House attempted to cut government funding for NPR. Democrats, who still have a majority in the lame duck session, shot it down. From January, they won't have that power.

Last February, Obama pointed out that Republicans were fighting provisions in his healthcare Bill which had originally been proposed by Republicans during the Clinton administration.

Now Republicans are again rejecting one of their own ideas - an arms control treaty with Russia - for the sole reason that it is Obama who is attempting to implement it.

Ronald Reagan coined the slogan "Trust but verify" to describe arms control negotiations with the then Soviet Union. MSNBC television broadcast a montage of numerous Republican senators mouthing those words.

But when Obama signed the new Start treaty with President Dmitri Medvedev last April, Republicans said they couldn't possibly ratify it before the August recess. After the summer, they said they couldn't do it before the midterms. This week, Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona said there wasn't time to address the treaty in the lame duck session.

So President Obama has limped off to Lisbon for the Nato summit with his international credibility at low tide.

Republican obstructionism is preventing him from delivering a treaty that is supported by the entire defence establishment and 11 former secretaries of state and defence from both parties.

The "lame duck" is proving to be truly lame. On Thursday, Republicans blocked a proposal to extend emergency unemploy- ment benefits. Obama's own party was unable to reach a unified position on the "Bush tax cuts", the main focus of the session. And Democrats presented the pathetic spectacle of their gerontocratic leadership (average age 70) hanging on to their positions in the wake of the midterm massacre.

Meanwhile, Sarah Palin is feeling her oats, giving interviews to what she calls "the lamestream media" and publishing another book next Tuesday. In an interview to be broadcast on December 9th, Palin when asked could she defeat Obama in the 2012 presidential race replied "I believe so."