REDISCOVERING HIS SWAG: President Barack Obama presents his jobs speech before a Joint Session of Congress on Sept. 8, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
As one of my Facebook friends posted last night, “President Obama has got his swag back.” And right on time, too. Although President Obama has been criticized in recent months for being long on compromise and short on muscle, he combined both in his jobs speech to Congress last night. Like the refrain in a treasured hymn, Obama repeatedly charged Congress to “pass this jobs plan right away” as he laid out the “American Jobs Act.”
In his characteristic commonsensical approach, Obama also told Congress and the country that nothing in his bill was controversial or had not been passed by some of these very Democrats and Republicans in the past. Some of the perks in the bill include: payroll taxes cut in half next year for small business owners, the repair and modernization of at least 35,000 schools, rehiring of laid off teachers, tax credits for companies that hire veterans and people who have been looking for a job for more than six months and a $1,500 tax cut for a typical working family. So what’s not to love in this bill?
After touting some of the benefits that everyone could agree on, Obama got into the nitty-gritty, attacking the sacred cows of the opposing sides. To the Dems, he said that Medicare needed to be reformed point blank and that “we are spending too fast to sustain the program.” And to the Repubs, he said “a few of the most affluent citizens and corporations enjoy tax breaks and loopholes that nobody else gets.” To drive home his point of irony, he mentioned that Warren Buffet has a lower tax rate than his secretary. Can we say a collective and prolonged, “Ouch?!” I’ll wait …
And Obama had a word for the rabble-rousing Tea Partiers too: government, in and of itself, is not evil. He reminded us how government built the transcontinental railroad, launched the National Academy of Sciences, set up the first land grant colleges, passed the GI Bill, and funded research leading to the creation of our beloved Internet.
And all of this hope and change comes with a price tag of reportedly $447 billion in tax cuts and government spending.
Although Obama attempted to steer the conversation away from an election still over a year away, I can’t help but wonder if his “Clint Eastwood-esque” speech, a speech reminiscent of his best election speeches, is just the bullet he needed to have a fighting chance in the 2012 election. After the debt ceiling fiasco, I’m thinking Congress better act in a balanced way toward this bill (i.e., putting the welfare of Americans first and their political careers last). If not, they will face the biblical principle of what is first being made last. For the GOP presidential candidates, their refrain is the same: spending bad, Obama bad. No surprise there.
The president’s speech may be a good start, but you know what they say about action versus words. In other words, faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26). If a person needs a job, and we shout, “This person needs a job,” but then no job is offered, what good is shouting? Good deeds must follow faith. Abraham followed up his faith by his willingness to sacrifice his son. Rahab the prostitute followed up her faith by hiding the Hebrew spies and leading them to a safe path.
What got Obama elected in the first place was not just his impassioned speeches but the fact that he was not a member of the commanding party that failed to act for the people (instead the corporate elite) as the economy tanked. While Obama will always be remembered as a great orator and even the president that passed health-care reform and took down bin Laden, if he does not inspire Congress to act in a way that produces tangible economic results — i.e., jobs — that can be listed 14 months from now, Obama’s reelection campaign might be dead on arrival.
Of course, the reality is that neither Congress nor the president really controls jobs or the economy. But as Obama’s renewed urgency suggests, that fact doesn’t mean anything to the American voters come Election Day. Likely, the only thing that will matter then is whether they — and their laid-off neighbors and their kids who just graduated from college and their friends from church whose companies went out of business — are working.
QUIET STRENGTH: President Barack Obama, Ruby Bridges, and representatives of the Norman Rockwell Museum view Rockwell’s "The Problem We All Live With,” hanging in a West Wing hallway near the Oval Office. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
With President Barack Obama’s approval rating sinking to new lows, it appears that many of his supporters may soon go from singing “The Thrill is Gone” to “Hey, hey, hey goodbye” in 2012 given, among other woes, general dissatisfaction with economic recovery efforts.
Calls exist from all sides for the president to do something — something that will finally lead to more jobs at the very least and anything at all to put Republicans, Tea Partiers, and other vocal critics in their places.
He’s obviously working, but what he’s done hasn’t been enough to quell criticisms even from his supporters. And I get it. It’s not that I want to take away my own approval rating points from the president. As much as I can identify the reasons behind why progress in some areas is slow, I just wish he’d take on his loudest detractors toe to toe.
People, figuratively out for blood, want to see muscle, the presidential version of WWE-style flexing. They want to scream “Yeah!” behind their guy as he threatens his rivals. Because there’s one president against many entities of everybody else, it seems like it would be easy beef to toss around. After all, Obama is the president, the big cheese, the one with the power to say a few words to shut everyone up.
Alas, that is not Obama’s approach.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, though, considering that in his inaugural address, he reminded us then that “power grows through its prudent use,” and he has continued to demonstrate such usage every step of the way.
He could’ve taken the path of “shock and awe” to go after Osama bin Laden. A massive airstrike, for example, would’ve made an impressive statement, though others could’ve died as a result. Instead, the president sanctioned a more restrained Navy SEAL mission that happened to be successful.
In response to more recent grievances about the economy, the president launched a bus tour in which he listened — not exactly a nuclear-war move. And amid talk of creating new jobs to no evidence of such, Obama plans to address a joint session of Congress Thursday. It would’ve been Wednesday but plans changed presumably to avoid a conflict with a previously scheduled Republican presidential debate. This occurred as yet another example of Obama accommodating the very people leading the charge against him.
Seriously? With all due respect, Mr. President, what’s really going on?
More than trying to accomplish a country with a growing economy offering jobs to everyone who wants to work, Obama seems to be grasping at something even greater — a more perfect union between Democrats and Republicans. Yeah, I’m rolling my eyes too. But that’s why we elected him: That approach is one of those changes we yearned to believe in.
It’s less noisy, less flashy, and a lot more frustrating to watch. But, if a comparison had to be made, well, it’s probably pretty close to what Jesus would do. That’s not to elevate Obama to deity status; it’s just acknowledging how a follower of Christ would act in trying to be like Him.
Perhaps it’s appropriate, then, that Norman Rockwell’s classic painting “The Problem We All Live With” now hangs outside the Oval Office. The painting — which shows U.S. marshals escorting a 6-year-old black girl named Ruby Bridges into a New Orleans elementary school in 1960 as an angry white crowd registers its protest — represents one of our nation’s most powerful moments of racial desegregation. In little Ruby’s simple act of going to school, we see a striking example of quiet strength.
Can we also learn something from President Obama’s repeated gestures of civility and restraint in the face of nasty opposition?
Credit must be given to the president for maintaining a commitment to peace and reconciliation while dodging mud that if one decided to “raise up” would go away so easily. How often have we heard among casual conversations that all Obama needs to do is curse out the GOP one good time to get things done? Not that that would be the holiest approach. We’re called to live holy because Christ is holy. We’re also challenged to hold one another accountable for actions; that’s one of our responsibilities to one another.
Another, as laid out by the prophet Jeremiah, is to avoid boasting in whatever power we have. As president, Obama is a card-carrying member of the bully pulpit, and membership has its privileges. Only, with it comes a certain level of responsibility particularly with the practices of being a Christian.
Nothing represents a firm execution of Christian values more than not exercising the extreme power you might have in a situation in an effort to maintain civility. If it’s a preference on the table, do we want a Christian president who just talks the talk or one who inconveniently walks the walk through hell and high water?
Not only is that change we can believe in; it’s change we already trust as we follow Christ’s example and as we hope our leaders do the same.
So many headlines and news stories are focused on whether or not it is Rep. Weiner in the tweeted picture, the odds that Palin’s bus tour could “accidentally” end up in New Hampshire on the same day as Romney’s big announcement (the odds are 1,700 to 1 by the way) and former Sen. John Edward’s indictment, that our debt ceiling issue is being overlooked! The Treasury Department is saying the U.S. may begin defaulting as early as August 2. And while many people are confident that the U.S. will not miss payments, this fiasco certainly doesn’t reassure creditors of our financial stability. In fact, a lack of faith in the U.S. economy can result in another financial crisis. Even more concerning is why the limit hasn’t been raised yet: Republicans want the legislation to include measures to reduce spending (i.e. cut Medicare). On Friday, June 3, 2011, House Speaker John Boehner stated, “House Republicans met with the president, urged him to change course,and to work with us on our plan for new jobs and economic growth in our country.We hope he’ll take us up on our invitation.” If their “invitation” isn’t accepted, the Republican Party might just resort to putting a horse’s head in President Obama’s bed.
Last week, the Egyptian prosecutor’s office announces that former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will go to trial in criminal court for injustices against the Egyptian people and deaths of protesters. On January 25, he allegedly orderd police to fire at protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Mubarak could be executed if found guilty.
Tim Burton, the eccentric filmmaker behind Alice and Wonderland, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Edward Scissor Hands, opened his exhibit last week at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The exhibit takes a tour through Burton’s career comprised of 700 hundred mobiles, drawings, figurines and other pieces of art. The exhibit even includes sketches from his days as an artist at Disney. For Burton fans (like myself), visiting this exhibit is a must! It will be at the LACMA through October 31.
Rihanna’s new video may cause controversy due to her very public history of domestic violence, but perhaps for her, it’s just therapy. In the video, Rihanna seems like an innocent girl going through her island neighborhood, talking with locals, and drinking coconut milk. But things go awry when she visits a steamy nightclub and the man that she dances with all night follows her into a dark alley and forces himself on her. Though the video has stirred plenty of controversy, thanks primarily to Rihanna’s sad history with men, it offers a valuable lesson. When we play with fire, our innocence can be quickly robbed.
Last week a federal judged that a high school graduation at edina Valley High School, in San Antonio, Texas, could not pray during the ceremony and could not use the words “invocation” or “benediction.” Americans United for Church and State, represented by Ayesha Kahn, counted this as a victory and Kahn stated that, “the district (had) been flouting the law for decades.” Students were allowed talk about their faith in a speech but not allowed to say “amen,” God bless you,” or have the audience bow their heads. I don’t know where the Christians were in this debate, but one hopes they will step up and express their concern and take a stand for the religious freedom of future matriculants.
States across the country have unexpected surpluses from increased tax revenue, but still cannot settle on budgets. Pennsylvania alone expects to close the year with $500 million in surplus, while California received an unexpected $2.5 billion in tax revenue. States that have this additional revenue have found a new problem when settling the budget. Some have proposed that they should use the money toward areas that have been neglected due to budget cuts like education and social services. Others propose that states should save the revenue as cushion for an unpredictable economy. What do you think?
GETAROUND may help you get some of your gas money back in this harsh economy. It’s a social car sharing service where you use the iPhone app to rent out your car to others in your neighborhood for a fee. The service provides hourly and daily rentals that a renter can search by car type. Depending on the condition and make of your car, you’ll be able to rent out your car for a more pricey fee. Expect to rent at anywhere from $5/hour for a ’98 Honda Civic to $50/hour for a Tesla Roadster. It’s a brilliant concept, so long as some heavy legal work is done to protect the renter. As a city dweller, I’d definitely give it a try.
On Tuesday, June 28 at 8p(ET/PT), BURN:The Evolution of an American City will premiere on the Documentary Channel. The award-winning film is directed by Harold Jackson III and tells the story of the worst recorded race riot in American History: The Tulsa, Oklahoma, Race Riot of 1921. The conflict lasted for 16 hours with aerial attacks, mobs, and martial law. It left 10,000 residents homeless, 35 city blocks destroyed, and many dead. The Documentary Channel will feature the film as a part of its Black Documentary Cinema, which spotlights Black filmmakers the last Tuesday of each month.
From the looks of this preview, it will provide much of what you’d expect from the headline. A mixed group of boys from different backgrounds come together to find purpose in their lives through an unlikely golf coach. I doubt there will be any surprises from the story line, however, the film may capture a few surprising performances. I’d still give this film a view due to its potential to inspire and perhaps even steal our hearts like The Great Debaters.
I’m not quite sure what image 15-year-old Dionne Bromfield is going for just yet, but with a voice like Billie Holliday and Amy Winehouse (the sober version), this girl is about to be a game-changer. Step back blue-eyed soul, here comes a sista from the UK that has a long career ahead of her. She released her debut album, Introducing Dionne Bromfield, in 2009 through Amy Winehouse’s record label. That album featured all cover songs. This year, Dionne is making her debut with original material. Her single, “Yeah Right,” released in January and was a hit in the UK. It’s only a matter of time before she spreads like wildfire in the US. Check out her new web series, “Down with Dionne,” and her video for “Yeah Right” below!
Our culture’s current brand of political strife is nothing compared to the division and hostility that prevailed in the first century. Yet, despite opposition, the Great Physician boldly demonstrated what it means to welcome and care for “the least of these.”
Last month the United State House of Representatives voted to pass health-care reform, thus affording millions of medically uninsured Americans the opportunity to secure basic health-care as a civil right. This historic legislative act is an attempt for America to become a more civil society (with regard to “the sick and poor among us”) — similar to most other first world (and some third world nations) like Canada and parts of Western Europe. During my four-year stint in England to work on my doctorate at the University of Manchester, my family and I were under the National Health Care system (NHS) whereby every citizen and resident was assigned a general practitioner in the area. Quite a paradigm shift from what we’d known in the United States.
Despite the significance of such a major legislative passage in our nation, a partisan dispute continues. The reform measures were largely supported by Democrats, the uninsured, and sympathetic others. But Republicans and some among the privileged class argue that the legislation will bankrupt America in various ways. They also resent the fact that their tax dollars will be used to help pay for the coverage of less-privileged individuals in our society.
Contention over this legislative act has sparked volatile tension and a curious rash of narcissism: seemingly ordinary citizens (protesters) have reacted with a sense of barbarism, hurling racial slurs and other derogatory epithets at members of Congress. Reports of Congressman Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri being spat upon by angry protesters are now well known. Likewise, Congressmen John Lewis of Georgia and James Clyburn of South Carolina were heckled and called “nigger” as they passed protesters outside the House chambers.
It’s enough to make one recall the violent emotion and political chaos that set the scene for Jesus’ arrest and subsequent trial before Pilate:
Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. (Matthew 27:20-30, NRSV)
Similar to modern America, the late Second Temple Judaic period (the period in which Jesus lived and ministered) was as diverse, volatile, and politically charged as our world today. Under Roman rule, heterogeneity with regard to philosophical thought and religious sentiments set the backdrop of first century Palestine. In Palestine, the Israelites maintained a sense of religious Judaic tradition. As an imperial province, new ideas were viewed with suspicion, especially if they challenged traditional thought and the status quo.
Although Judaism by no means was a unified monolith, certain fundamentals were foundational (the function of the Temple, observance of the Mosaic Law or Torah, embracing monotheism, and the expectation of a prophesied Messiah). As a result of tradition and the law, many in the society, especially the sick, were prohibited full inclusion in social-civil-religious life; this led to legal disenfranchisement and marginalization.
As recorded in the New Testament Gospels, Jesus both lived and functioned in this type society. Throughout the Gospels, he went about engaging and healing many who were sick. Jewish purification laws first outlined in the Pentateuch set social-civil-religious policy against persons considered impure: the leper, those with bodily discharge, the lame, and even the Gentiles. The acts of Jesus were contrary to the current policy. In Mark 5, Jesus interacted with a demon possessed man (who dwelled among corpses), was touched by a woman considered impure with bodily discharge, and touched the corpse of a young boy. In all three cases, Jesus enacted legislative health care (healing that went contrary to current policy), thus restoring these individuals back to full participation in the society.
As a result of his universal health-care plan, as well as his controversial declaration that he was the incarnate Son of God, Jesus was persecuted, spat upon, and mocked. James 5:14-16 sums up the kind of health-care plan that Jesus enacted:
Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective (NRSV).
Our newly passed health-care legislation is a good start and will likely help many who are in need. Nevertheless, it’s still an imperfect plan, the patchwork result of much political squabbling and strife. But the health-care plan of Jesus is something altogether different. It is comprehensive, unfailing, and truly universal.