Though I live a few thousand miles away now, I still browse the Chicago Tribune. On occasion I read one of their columnists, John Kass, and when I do I generally enjoy him. He writes mostly about local topics, and handles that pretty well. On Sunday, though, he ventured into national politics, and he showed another side of himself – it was nasty, petty, foolish, small-minded and far-right. Mind you, I don’t know if his politics are far-right, but it’s hard to imagine that anyone who isn’t would write that same column here. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with a columnist being far-right, it’s just that I prefer any columnist to not be nasty, petty, foolish and small-minded.
I suspect that there are a great many such columnists across the country – I’ve come across a few. So, I think it’s worth taking a look at John Kass in depth as a stand-in. Yet all the more so because the Chicago Tribune is not only one of the major metropolitan newspapers in the country, but it’s the hometown paper for President Barack Obama. Such things are important, and worth the time not just to look at them, but do so seriously. As such, this will be long. Very long. Because after all the criticism from the far right supposedly about one thing, when it’s really disingenuously about something else entirely and trying to flim-flam the public, at a certain point you just say enough is enough, and it’s time to take people at their word. And show those words for what they are.
This column was not remotely the worst of its kind. But it's endemic of a larger disease. And so, when there is an important article at hand this this, you take the time let it speak for itself – but not by itself.
Alas, in stepping into national politics, John Kass showed himself out of his comfort zone. More importantly, he showed himself as an angry man willing to simply let his personal hatred get in the way of his otherwise usual fair journalism.
I was drawn to the column by a link at the bottom of another Tribune article I was reading. The link had a really ugly picture of President Obama, face screwed-up, angry, jaw jutting, and it was titled, “Hubris has a way of ruining grand designs.” All of this seemed so over-the-top clichéd I had to check it out. Certainly this couldn’t be about wanting to bring affordable healthcare to Americans. One might be against the specifics of the program, but we’re all for getting good healthcare, right?, and so that’s as far from hubris as it gets. No, it must be something local, from his years writing about Chicago. I know the Trib has a history of being radically far-right, but that was half a century ago under Colonel McCormick. They’re still conservative, but reasonable and rational. But this…? No, it must be something else.
I clicked through, and the description under a video at the top of the article was even worse. It said, “Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass explains why President Barack Obama is now a lame duck president.”
I scratched my head because I knew that didn’t need a whole column, since anyone could explain that in one sentence (“After being re-elected, no U.S. president is eligible to run again and therefore becomes a lame duck”). So, it was clear by now the column the column was going to be a doozy.
To be fair, John Kass did not write that description, didn’t choose the photo, and didn’t write that headline. But whoever did choose them was certainly trying to match them to what was no doubt dripping in the column.
And dripping it was. This was about healthcare, but it was more about the overall hatred Mr. Kass had for the president, which he let be known pretty early on. Like in the second sentence. There, he explained how he’s sure the president is dreaming of a happier past:
“Days when he could easily wield magical powers like the political messiah he once was, feeding the multitudes with his rhetoric, bringing Hopium-smoking journalists to tingles and tears.”
Okay, so just two sentences in John Kass made clear his opinion that the president is and has always been nothing but smoke-and-mirrors, the political equivalent of Harry Potter or Gandalf the Grey, and then driving this home with the quipping allusion that any journalist who wrote glowingly of Barack Obama could only have done so if they had been high. High on hope no doubt (or shame), though perhaps something stronger.
Hey, at least we now know the road map we’re using for the column ahead. Helpful, because it was at that point, that John Kass began figuring out what sort over-the-top, angry generalities he could mash-up together.
“All the man had to do was hold out his hands to stop the oceans. He said so.”
(Wait, he did?? The president actually said he could just hold out his hands and stop the ocean?? Seriously?! Well, no, it turns out, he didn’t. More on that in a moment. But first, to continue, the president it turns out is a man who could – )
“[I]mpose Obamacare on us whether we wanted it or not.”
(Okay, I got the point of the article now. It’s not about hubris. John Kass hates the Affordable Care Act. Really hates it. He does not want it. As becomes even more clear, he also viscerally hates the president, but this is his jumping off point. Got it.)
“Hubris has a way of ruining grand designs.”
(Apparently, Mr. Kass is a small-plans person, since grand designs do tend to require big leaps. He must have hated the “hubris” of a line like, “I have a dream.” And “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” He’s a more Nancy Reagan “Just Say No” kind of guy. Anything above that is “hubris.”)
“So last week the Obama presidency began crumbling. Some may be disappointed, and may see him in heroic terms, withering like a character in an ancient tragedy.”
(Imagine, just imagine. A mere six weeks after the Affordable Care Act began, the entire Obama presidency has apparently started to fail. Not because of a bad law, mind you, we’re never told a word about that, but all thanks solely to website glitches. That’s some powerful juju. And because of insurance companies canceling worthless, junk policies that should never have been written in the first place. It’s all downright Shakespearean, indeed. “In want of a hard disk, the kingdom was lost.” Hey, it took 10 years of ignoring PDB warnings, 9/11, the Iraq War, not finding any WMDs, financial collapse and Hurricane Katrina before the previous president crumbled. And some on the extreme-right still aren’t convinced that he was all that bad. Never mind that the website issues are already being addressed, as are the cancelled junk policies. But hey, why let reality get in the way of a good rant?)
And what were the words that Mr. Kass points to show Barack Obama’s supposed “hubris”? Are you ready? It was his acceptance speech at the 2008 Democratic convention. Because, of course, no presidential nominee should ever speak big and hopeful at such a time.
“I am absolutely certain that generations from now," the article quotes the president, “we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal."
O horrors! Such galling hubris! To accept the nomination as President of the United States, the most powerful person in the world, and actually state your goals and hopes and dreams for the future. How dare the man?! Or as his opponent John McCain later called him, “That one.”
By the way, just to be clear, you’ll note in the speech above that not once did Mr. Obama say that all he had to do was “hold out his hands to stop the oceans.” He said that starting at that moment we “began” the process to solve our problems. Began. It was a start. Not the conclusion. Began. He said it three times. “Began.” You can’t miss it. Unless you’re trying to get others to.
Some hubris. Saying that as president he thought America was on the path to begin solving health care and climate change and cleaning the environment. Isn’t that what you want a presidential nominee to say at his acceptance??!! Some hubris. Oh, dear. The shame.
Especially given that he did pass comprehensive health care legislation, something no other president in U.S. history has done. And gotten climate change and environmental regulations in place.
Side note: I certainly hope that John Kass and other columnists thinks these are proper goals. Though from what he continued to write in the rest of this column, I can’t be sure of that.
Because the column only gets worse. And it was only starting.
“A few of us saw a backbencher from the Illinois state legislature, a guy who took orders,” he writes dismissively, trying to undercut the present by demeaning the past, “then rode to the White House on a personality cult, finally exposed.”
The problem is, as I wrote six years ago here that when Barack Obama was in the Illinois legislature, he sponsored 820 laws. And once he was in the U.S. Senate, he authored or co-sponsored 579 more laws. That’s 1,399 bills in all. Not bad for a backbencher, a little man not smart enough to do anything but take orders. Quite a joy ride to the White House. Because, as we well-know, all a black man needs in America to succeed, let alone get elected U.S. Senator, or simply become president is to have a cult of personality.
Well, that or get cast in the role on a TV show.
Mr. Kass continues to slam without offering any evidence, just personal vitriol. “Obamacare, his health care plan rammed down America's throat without a bipartisan consensus, not only became a political embarrassment, it became a political disaster.”
To be fair, there is one true thing here: the Affordable Care Act was passed without GOP support. That’s part of the reason why the Republican Party has a 28-percent approval. That’s political embarrassment and disaster.
But now we come to the crux. What the whole article has been leading up to. Because it’s when we gets to the subject of lying that the columnist’s personal anger towards the president goes off the edge and implodes, writing of the policies cancelled by insurance companies.
“The word ‘liar’ was suddenly attached to his name, because of the cynical, untruthful promise he repeatedly made...”
For the past five years, Barack Obama has been called by the far-right a Nazi, socialist, terrorist, racist, Kenyan traitor. Being called a “liar” is probably the nicest thing that the far-right has called him. And contrary to it “suddenly” and oh-so-dramatically being attached to his name –that isn’t even close to true. Just two years into his presidency, when giving his 2010 State of the Union Address, Republican Congressman Joe Wilson interrupted and shouted out, “You lie!!” (John Kass can’t have missed that, it was in all the papers.) In fact, at that very same State of the Union Address, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts infamously was caught mouthing, “Not true,” to the president mid-speech. So, for John Kass to think all this charging by Republicans of “liar” towards the president is something “sudden” and shocking is deeply short-sighted at best and disingenuous at worst.
And then, are you ready?, he goes on to spend the last 24 paragraphs talking about Barack Obama and lying!
Giving how clearly concerned John Kass and far-right analysts are about the president “lying,” I wonder if they spent a combined 24 words about George Bush’s famous “14 words” actually lying about supposed-evidence that Iraq had yellow cake, which pushed the U.S. into a 10-year war. And for which 4,486 Americans officially and actually died, and hundreds of thousands died in all, including 126,511 civilians. Not to mention the war-based-on-a-lie costing the U.S. up to $6 trillion.
And for 24 final paragraphs John Kass goes on and on and on about a president not keeping a promise. I mean, c’mon, honestly now. Yes, Barack Obama promised that people could keep their insurance policies. And then insurance companies started cancelling junk policies that covered next to nothing. And what happened next? Next, the president offered a presidential fix proposal to correct this problem that would allow people to keep those worthless policies if they wanted.
And for this, Mr. Kass melts down over “lying.” Okay, at this point, how many people think this has all been about “lying.” The problem for the Republican far right isn’t the issue of lying. It’s that they hate Barack Obama and hate the Affordable Care Act. Fine – but at least have the decency to say so, and discuss that openly and fairly. For John Kass to whine about all those dear Americans losing their worthless policies as if that’s what he cared about is the height of hypocrisy. If the website worked perfect, if the insurance companies didn’t cancel one junk policy, I am sure that John Kass and every single far-right critic would still be on a screed about having healthcare “rammed” down our throats, and it being “imposed” on us, and magical powers, and the cult of personality, and hubris.
This isn’t about lies. This isn’t about hubris.
Mr. Kass would like us to believe that lies are a big deal to him. However, the closest he comes to blaming George Bush for his lies is saying that Mr. Bush promised he wouldn’t be a nation builder and then invaded Iraq. This, of course, ignores that overwhelmingly bigger lie of actual facts about having evidence of WMDs. And Mr. Kass devotes one sentence on the “cost of precious American blood.” What he artfully leaves out is how massive on every level that cost was.
When it comes to the previous Democratic president, though, Mr. Kass happily ratchets up his lie-o-meter again and refers to Bill Clinton as a “profound liar.” And spends a full paragraph on lying about…sex, compared to having left out the 4,486 official American deaths and hundreds of thousands others (including 126,511 civilians) and a cost of $6 trillion caused by George W. Bush lies. Something I rarely hear any conservative critic ever reference in their outrage.
But of course he saves his most concern about lying for Barack Obama. Because that’s who he hates the most.
“Watching him blame others for the failure of his signature policy — saying, ‘I was not informed directly; — was depressing.”
No, what is depressing is that John Kass leaves out that Barack Obama actually did responsibility for the problems.
Like when the president said, “I think it’s legitimate for them to expect me to have to win back some credibility on this health care law in particular and on a whole range of these issues in general. And, you know, that’s on me.”
Or when he said, “I take full responsibility for making sure it gets fixed ASAP.”
In the end, John Kass tries his best to explain why all this is far, far, far worse than all other political lies in the history of the nation. Far worse than the lies that got us into an actual war. Far worse than most anything you can imagine. It’s the same problem all critics on the extreme right face in trying to make a bad website launch and insurance companies cancelling junk polices seem worse than all other real problems. It requires convoluted, twisting, near-incomprehensible faux-logic. And how is the worst ever? That’s because –
“This one is close to home. If all politics is local, there's nothing more local than your own body.
“What could be more personal than our own bodies, or those of our spouses and our children? And that makes it all the worse for the president.”
Oh, puh-lease. The crocodile tears are pouring down. Even George Bush wasn’t likely thinking this touchy-feeling when he tried to con the public about compassionate conservatism. Here, let me give you a hug.
Such aching concern over Your Own Body. So, what about those bodies of the 32,021 to many hundreds of thousands of human begins who actually died. If what John Kass says here is true and he really believes it, I look forward to his many columns slamming Republican laws across the country on trans-vaginal probes, and supporting women’s personal choices about their bodies and abortion. Because what could be more personal?
Indeed, I always look forward to all the conservative supporters of personal freedoms and our own bodies and keeping government out of our lives writing such articles about things that are clearly so meaningful to them, allowing women their own personal freedom without government involvement.
Here’s the other reality, the one worth grasping. The Affordable Care Act is about allowing all those “bodies” to finally have healthcare, to finally be able to afford healthcare, to finally know that you can’t be refused for a pre-existing condition and that there will no longer be a lifetime limit on coverage.
If critics on the far-right trying to cry fake tears about “lies” and “our own bodies,” they would be cheering for such protections in healthcare at long last.
Instead, we get the John Kasses of the world wringing their hands, asking, as he does, “But what about the father who's just had his family's health insurance canceled?” as they all collapse seemingly prostrate on the ground in angst-ridden remorse over The Worst Lie in American Political history. What, oh what, they ask, do we say to that dear, distraught father??!
We say to that distraught father that you wasted your money buying junk health insurance that didn’t remotely cover you if you ever actually needed it. You have being throwing your money away for many years on a scam that would have left you bankrupt and without protection if you found yourself ill. But by having your insurance company cancel your worthless policy by their choice – something they could do at any time, and likely would have if you ever put in a claim – the Affordable Care Act offers you a great many options to have real, meaningful, affordable health insurance for the first time in your life, that will finally and deeply protect you, your spouses, your children and all their bodies.
And to the other 95% of Americans who didn’t waste their money buying junk health insurance, but are now benefitting profoundly by the Affordable Care Act and all its preventative coverage that now by law must be built into all policies, we don’t have to say anything, other than quit watching Fox News, quit browsing surreptitious websites deceptively funded by the Koch brothers, be honest and upfront when you have something to criticize, and read John Kass when he writes about local issues, because he does a pretty good job with that.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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