What does Barak Obama’s desire to change Washington’s political culture have to do with “Homey” the clown from “In Living Colors”?
Stating the obvious, Barak Obama is the United States of America’s first black President. More precisely, he is bi-racial. His 2014 State of the Union speech detailed a policy agenda that arguably infuriated many Republicans. Perhaps the President’s most taunting and resonating words in the speech were: “I have a pen and a phone. America can’t wait, I won’t wait.” To Republicans the President’s speech signaled intent to go it alone, with or without Congress. And, to Republicans those Presidential utterances provide clear and convincing proof that Barak Obama is a rogue, intent on usurping power, contrary to proper constitutional limits, and separation of powers. For Republicans the President has now openly started to use the bully pulpit to become a political bully who now dares to lead from upfront, as opposed to from behind.
As is tradition, the opposing side, the Republicans in this case, responded within minutes of the conclusion of the President’s speech. Though filled with rhetoric, the Republican response lacked luster, substance or any clear policy alternatives to those the President proposed. Indeed, from outside looking in, the Republican response to the 2014 State of the Union address was based largely on the rhetoric of supply-side economics. It seemed disconnected from the everyday social and economic realities of America’s poor, struggling families, and middle class socio-political agenda.
Over the past three years the Republicans appear to have been stuck in political lynching frenzy. Despite their failure to advance clear policy alternatives to meet America’s growing domestic and foreign policy challenges Republicans continue to be obsessed with Obama, and “Obamacare”. To a keen observer, it appears that Republicans have a problem not only with Mr. Obama’s policy choices, but with Mr. Obama himself. What, if any, is the relationship between the problem that Republicans have with President Obama and Homey the Clown, from In Living Colours?
In this paper, the thesis is that for many Republicans Mr. Obama remains a mis-fit who political playbook remains so different from the status quo so as to leave them completely confused and ineffective.
Barak Obama has steadily rewritten the playbook from which US Presidential politics is played. In the process, in very subtle and in some instances not so subtle ways he has succeeded in changing some aspects of the political culture in Washington.
Mr. Obama’s re-write of the playbook is filled with intra-cultural signals and the use of optical cues that are largely misunderstood and mis-defined in mainstream media, let alone the largely culturally homogeneous Republican leadership. A sad commentary is not so much that Mr. Obama is engaged in re-writing the playbook from which Presidential politics in the United States is umpired, but that so many people remain oblivious to this fact.
Stay for a while and be indulgent with this paper’s position, even if you are inclined vehemently to disagree with its central tenet. and read through this article to get a fuller understanding of how Mr. Obama amendments to the political playbook has the attendant effect of transforming mainstream Washington politics. Just how has Mr. Obama re-written the playbook?
Take your minds back to the year 1990. In what today may seem an unlikely marriage, Fox Network teamed up with Brothers Keenen and Damon Wayans and aired a sketch comedy titled In Living Colors from April 15, 1990, to May 19, 1994. For much of the shows currency a Republican George Herbert Walker Bush was the President of the United States.
In Living Colour, as a title, was unmistakably a political comment. Arguably, the show itself was designed to be a counterweight to Saturday Night Live (SNL) which lacked not only colour in its cast at the time, but culturally diverse humour. By contrast, In Living Colour deliberately had a multi-racial cast probably to prove that good comedy can emerge from all cultural and racial groupings.
While white America consumers of humour remained glued to SNL In Living Colour was must see television for many black folks. As an aside, several of today’s entertainment giants such as Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Lopez, John Carey, and others had their careers catapulted through In Living Colors.
Who can forget In Living Colour’s “Homey” the clown? Homey was not a cry baby. He was neither overpowering nor overbearing. Homey was not overbearing. After all, Homey the Clown loved playing with children. To be sure, Homey was a defiant, choosing always to play by his own rules, and march to his own beat. When it came to crossing value boundaries Homey was always very clear. Homey, in his abruptness, was somewhat intoxicating; charming even. One could not help be adore Homey for setting his boundaries and becoming completely disengaged when it redlined. Homey was a clown whose behaviour was value driven. Homey, above all things remained true to his values.
Homey’s infamous line was” “Homey Don’t Play That”. Those words, when uttered were final. There was no negotiation. Discussion and conversation was over. And it was time to move on and that he did. “Homey Don’t Play That” was drenched in finality.
For many years after the invention of the character “Homey” the words “Homey Don’t Play That”, and its close relative “Homey Don’t Play That Game” were words that African Americans used to signal value, political and other boundaries beyond which they would not go. The words “Homey Don’t Play That” when uttered by African American professional really did signal the end of whatever discussion going on at the time.
Though unclear, it may well be that a substantial amount of White Americans remain oblivious to the existence of “Homey” let alone how “Homey” and his language shaped African American life, culture, politics, imagery, and behavior. Perhaps most importantly most White folks remained oblivious to the fact that when African American folks uttered the words “Homey Don’t Play That” either to themselves or out loud, an alternate playbook was instantly engaged. And the rules of that alternate playbook remained unknown to those outside the cultural “in-group”.
No doubt, Barak Obama, given his background was fascinated by “Homey”. It is likely that Barak Obama as a consumer of In Living Color’s many episodes. In all likelihood Barak Obama is intimately familiar with “Homey’s” character. And to many, Barak Obama is a “Homey”.
Fast forward from In Living Colour to contemporary US Presidential Politics. A former community organizer, Harvard Law graduate named Barak Obama became the 44th President of the United States of America. He hailed into White House built, in part, by slaves, with the message of Hope. “Yes We Can!”. “ We Can Do This!”. These were Mr. Obama’s mantra throughout the campaign. “There is no Black America, or white America. There is the United States of America”, he bellowed as he campaigned hard during his 2008 campaign. In some ways, Candidate Obama’s Yes We Can mantra is a restatement of the content of Martin Luther King’s I have a Dream Speech. And Candidate Obama’s Yes We Can mantra wraps and engulfs aspects of his own bi-racial identity, neither dimension of which he can ignore.
Republicans, from the get go, understood Candidate Obama largely as a Washington, outsider. In the Presidential campaigns of both the 2008 and 2012 several Republicans painted Barak Obama as incompetent. Dirty Harry’s Clint Eastwood, riding his cowboy stallion, was summoned to the campaign trail to highlight Mr. Obama’s incompetence. Though not shared by all Republicans, Ted Nugent later described Obama as “subhuman mongrel”, a historically genocidal reference. Political junkies and observers of US presidential politics all remember John McCain rolling his eyes during his debate with Barak Obama. To John McCain, Candidate Obama was a lowly “community organizer”, lacking presidential qualities. McCain was explicit—Candidate Obama, as a “community organizer”, was not qualified to be President of the United States. At the time of the 2008 elections Candidate Obama was a mere junior senator who had barely made a name on US national political stage. Wanting to become to become the President of the United States was simply audacious. As an aside, Candidate Obama’s win now gives hope to Junior Republican Senators such as Rand Paul and Ted Cruze, both of whom are being touted as Presidential hopefuls in 2016. .
To McCain’s and perhaps a substantial proportion of Republican brand, Candidate Obama’s background, as a community organizer, ill-equipped him with Presidential acumen, let alone “Washington contacts” to become President of the United States, the world’s most powerful country. How audacious?
Stop for a minute and decode what Mr. McCain and other Republicans were actually saying about Candidate Obama readiness to be the President of the United States. Perhaps the worst kept secret in politics in that family ties are important. Expressed in a very raw way here, in part, is McCain decoded sentiment: Candidate Obama is not one of “us”. Candidate Obama is born well outside one of America’s super “privileged” families. Candidate Obama did not have the political and economic family connections that seemingly turn America’s political woes and dilemma into compromised policy solutions.” Decoded, here is one interpretation of what McCain meant—Candidate Obama was not the son of some well known military general whose connections to the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the White House are well known and respected by those in society who matter. Candidate Obama was not a man who had fought for the United States or put his own life in harm’s way defending democracies around the world. Oh No. Mr. Obama was an outsider. Mr. Obama did not have the familial and other contacts to get things done in Washington politics. Stated differently, Candidate Obama lacked familial leverage to translate political disputes into workable policy outcomes.
In one sense, then, John McCain’s words when deconstructed simply stated the obvious—Mr. Obama was not part of America’s aristocracy with deep and long standing family connections among the rich, the famous, the wheelers, the dealers-those for whom America works and who work America. Candidate Obama was as stranger to that world. Candidate Obama was not a Rockefeller, a Kennedy, a Bush, or any of the other big names who could negotiate a deal and get things done in the White House. In McCain’s mind this Junior Senator from Chicago who admitted smoking pot had the audacity to declare and even thought that he could have a chance to become President of the United State, a position to that point seemed to be reserved largely for members of America’s aristocracy., inclusive of present and former governors John McCain’s reference to Barak Obama as a “community organizer” devalued the importance of community organizing as a vehicle through which political interests are mobilized, brokered and placed on the policy agenda. McCain’s characterization of Candidate Obama messaged the masses that the stated American dream that anyone can occupy the White House was a long shot a big lie; an utter impossibility. Prior to the election of Barak Obama the prevailing sentiment that anyone can become the President of the United States was believed neither by the privileged nor the poor. Chris Rock made this point brilliantly in one of his several television interviews.
McCain’s view, in part was that Candidate Obama does not know how to play the game. Not being one of “us” he does not have the operating playbook. To Mr. McCain and others Candidate Obama could barely find his way around Washington, let alone having the connections necessary to be effective in the role as President of the United States of America.
Meanwhile, a different discourse was happening in the living rooms of Black America. To many African Americans, the fact that Barak Obama was a community organizer was not the important point. For many of them the focus was he was a Harvard Law Graduate. Hell yes. He is qualified. He went to the same law school as some of those “big shots”. And to get into Harvard he must be “darn bright, if not brighter than all dem White folks put together”.
A kind of political schizophrenia hung over the living rooms of African American homes when Barak Obama declared his candidacy for President of the United States of America. Some gazed in the direction of the Oprah’s “magic”. Could Oprah help to elect the first black president of the United States? We now know now that she did.
Barak Obama’s declaration of his candidacy created well more than political and intellectual ambivalence for many African Americans. “Please God let him win! No. No. No. No. “They are gonna kill him if he wins”. “My god. I want him to win because he is Black. But I am afraid they are “gonna” kill him if he does win”, weeps one elderly Black woman in her Florida home, as she tries desperately to ward off cancer-induced pains. “America! Elect a Black President? In my life time? Hell no! “That will never happen”. One African American man put it this way “If Homey wins its because they want to blame him for the mess those White men made to the country” . That is the only reason they would elect a Black man.” “Dem rich white men done wreck America and want a Black savior. Now is that a twist in America’s history?” “He is a lame duck from the get go cuz no ordinary human can possibly live up to the unrealistic expectations that they will have of him if he wins, and that’s if he survives the assignation attempts”. These are just some of the comments and opinions expressed in the bedrooms, living rooms of Black people across the nation prior to Barak Obama’s Presidency.
Barak Obama campaigned hard. He beat Hilary Clinton. He crushed John McCain’s hope to occupy the White House. Barak Obama emerged triumphant and vowed to change Washington’s political culture once he took the oath office.
With respect to the change agenda perhaps President Obama’s most important strategic and tactical decision was this: “from which “playbook” will I govern and extract concessions? Being from Chicago, Obama already knew the details of the playbook that America’s aristocracy used. He understood their game, even if they falter in their understanding of “Homey’s”. To be successful in Chicago politics, Obama had to play their game. Obviously, relying on rules taken from a playbook unfamiliar to and disarming of Republicans is perhaps a tactical premium.
What remains true is that President Obama does not instantaneously become one of “them” simply because he was elected to the Oval Office. President Obama’s familial standing does not improve simply because he is now the President of the United States. Like it or not, believe it or not, President Obama while in the Oval Office has not stripped himself of his “Homey” identity. John McCain was right, even if he was completely clueless about the extent of his correctness.
As a Black community organizer, Obama came to the White House with a different “playbook” than that of America’s aristocracy. He came to office with “Homey’s” playbook. Homey Don’t Play That, as a political defiant construct arrived in the White House, ready to set limits, boundaries and rewrite how American political trade-offs are leveraged. The trouble is that many Republicans and some Democrats do not know the contents of Homey’s playbook.
Newt Ginrich boasts that he and Bill Clinton worked together to get things done, even in the midst of disagreement. Newt and Bill worked out deals in backrooms. One ongoing criticism about Obama is that he does not call up Republicans or fellow Democrats in backroom discussions. He fails to use the bully pulpit to extract concessions in back-room deals, so the argument goes, is a failure of leadership. This is a kind of double speak because these very same Republicans demands transparency in government. In other words, the criticism is that Obama fails to use the bully pulpit to be a policy bully is a failure of leadership. Republicans, behaving like spoilt little children, attempted to force the President to negotiate in the backrooms over raising the debt ceiling. President Obama refused to engage. Obama did not negotiate. Republicans’ mantra throughout this shut down debacle? The President “won’t talk to us”. He won’t negotiate with us. Every other President has negotiated substantial policy changes in exchange for an increase in the debt ceiling screamed the Republicans. Perhaps Ted Cruze’s words best describes the Republicans’ objection to the President’s refusal to negotiate. Said Ted Cruz to my dismay, the President “invited Congressional Republicans to a meeting at the White House and the first words to come out of the President’s mouth were: “I will not negotiate.”
Why did the President not play Ted Cruz’s expected game? The short answer is “Homey Don’t Play That”. Calling Congressional Republicans to the White House for a Presidential chat was a very public and strategic step. Obama was ushered into to the White House under a promise to be transparent. How can one remain faithful to the principle of transparency and engage in back-door negotiations over constitutionally settled principles-America’s Full Faith and Credit? “Homey Don’t Play That”.
Separation of powers is a central feature of the US Constitution and constitutional politics. According to the Constitution Congress’ job, among other things, is to pass laws to pay the country’s bills. In the 2013 debt ceiling debacle Obama said words to the effect I will not negotiate around the debt ceiling. Congress should do its job and pass the bills necessary for America to pay its bills. President Obama said “I will not negotiate about America’s Full Faith and Credit”. “Homey Don’t Play That”. In some quarters Obama was heavily criticized for demanding that Congress to do its job. How interesting. So, the President of the United States now becomes the scapegoat for the failure of Congress to follow the Constitution and do its job. Is this hypocrisy coming from fiscal conservatives who want to be able to pass laws and simultaneously circumscribe the Executive Branch’s ability to administer the laws that Congress itself passed.
President Obama’s flat refusal to negotiate over raising the debt ceiling, and worse yet to do it in private is riddled with the “Homey Don’t Play That” theme. That is not an Obama principle. Rather, it is a constitutional principle. In this sense, President Obama has returned to the strict constitutional principle of respecting the constitutional separation of powers. Departure from constitutional principles brought the country down a very unprincipled road. Why? How constitutional is it for the President to negotiate policy concessions in order for Congress to do the job assigned to it in the Constitution? What principles should a President use to guide the policy trade-offs in debt-ceiling negotiations? For President Obama, abiding by the constitutional principle of separation of power is not poor leadership. Rather, it is leadership rooted in the constitution. Whether future presidents will follow his lead is a difficult question to answer. What is much clearer is that, at least for now, constitutional principles reign supreme. And at least for now gone are the days that back room dealings become the basis of negotiating the debt ceiling, at least under President Obama. Fiscal conservatives must now think very clearly now about the financial implications of passing laws. For the remainder of Obama’s presidency fiscal conservatives cannot pass laws they believe are “right” but expect to tie the administrations hands by refusing to pay for them. Fiscal conservative can no longer attack through the backdoor what they did not do through the front door. In effect the President’s refusal to negotiate over raising the debt ceiling now forces fiscal conservatives to lay all their cards out on the table before voting on a piece of legislation. In sort of a Johnny Cochrane style the overarching principle now is: If you pass legislation, you must pay for it.
In the Playbook of America’s aristocracy there is an arsenal of telephone numbers, meeting places, coded language, structured wining and dining endeavors, golf games, late night phone calls, political loaded messaging delivered by people “who count”, and political dance routines that have seemingly withstood the test of time. Amongst America’s traditional aristocracy that system is not called corruption. Rather, it is euphemistically called networking, leadership, and other such slogans. In the Playbook of the aristocrats political threats are rarely made explicitly, but are understood through a code. Social relations, even when sinister, follow proper etiquette, and anger and other potentially explosive emotions reserved for one-one interaction, behind closed doors contacts. In the playbook understood by the aristocrats social relations are cultivated often with a targeted political end in sight. And altruism is inextricably tied to well-disguised self interest. In this world, the phrase special interest is frequently used to mean those not aligned to their own.
On the contrary, Barak Obama’s Playbook does not rely upon honed aristocratic social relationships. Rather, it is riddled with the mantra “Homey Don’t Play That”. “Homey Don’t Play That”. Heck no! “Homey Don’t Play That”.
While Republicans continue to criticize President Obama’s leadership efficacy, “Homey” crafts tactical engagement strategies to achieve a change agenda that too many Republicans is disquieting, to say the least. It agonize Republicans that they cannot read President Obama’s psyche.
It is true that sphere in which Obama may be able to effect change in Washington is a narrow one. To understand President Obama’s Playbook one must remember that he is a community organizer. Obama’s Playbook contains rules unfamiliar to the Republicans and its Tea Party faction, a name that by itself wreaks aristocracy.
Thanks to tactics from Homey’s Playbook Obama can now boast winning a two-year budget, two clean bills to raise the debt ceiling, progress on the Farm Bill, likely movement on immigration. Obamacare, a net zero job loss, a growing economy, and other legislative initiatives. Of course the return on investment for publicly using “Homey’s” Playbook has been impressive, at least in some quarters.
President Obama was ushered to the White House with a desire to change Washington’s political culture. Change is difficult. We all know that change is often met with resistance. And Institutional change is riddled with institutional subversive attempts
In the 2014 State of the Union address, Mr. Obama demonstrated some political savvy when he chose selectively to release a few more pages from Homey’s Playbook
Fact. Congress’ dysfunction is a topic that has attracted significant media attention, and scholarship. Poll after poll pegs Congress’ approval rating in the low teens. Congress’ dysfunction has provided ample opportunity for Obama to position his change agenda in neutral terms, and less populous rhetoric. Obama understands that his best opportunity to expand his change agenda is predicated on Congress’ continued dysfunction that he can meet with reasoned language and imagery. Any change agent knows that navigating through optical messaging is important. For example, Obama controlled the optical messages necessary to change the White House’s image in national race relations politics. Similarly, Michelle’s fashion sense has been a lightening rod in bringing American entrepreneurial competitiveness to the White House.
Pictures showing President Obama watching a basketball game, eating dinner with his family, having a dance for his circle of friends, all operate to signal an irreparable change in the White House. Obama controlled race relations imagery when he mediated a race-related dispute between a while police officer and a well known African American, high-profile academic on the grounds of the White House over a beer. “If I had a son he would look like Trayvon Martin”, are words the President uttered during the very controversial race-related trial of George Zimmerman. Talking freely and passionately about the state of race relations and the socio-political plight of African American youth and men as he spoke announced My Brother’s Keeper initiative, without Congress’ involvement elevate race relations discussions in the United States to the Presidential pulpit. Yes, the ice has been broken for subsequent Presidents to continue to speak candidly about racism in America and organize a community of philanthropist to do the right thing.
Publicly holding and hugging his children imparts powerful images of a family man, contrary to the prevailing stereotypes of African American fathers as “hoodlums”, or “dead beat dads”. His daughters walking their two dogs leave the image of the White House as domain for the average family and family life. Bringing loads of African Americans to “jam” for Michelle’s birthday party reclaims the White House as a place at which African American can feel comfortable being themselves as they attend functions. After all, African American ancestors help build the White House and therefore have every bit of a right to feel comfortable in it. When he told African American celebrities to eat before coming to Michelle’s fiftieth birthday party, he broadcasted cultural cues completely missed by mainstream media. What President Obama did was to send a message that he won’t be spending a cent from the public purse to finance the party, not even by using the White House butler. The message was simply this: My friends, Black people bring your dancing shoes. Let throw down a party. I will provide the venue and let dance. Leave your bellies at home. Any lurking threat of impeachment instantly evaporated with this signal. I think it conclusive that the White House will never be the same after President Obama. Why? Obama has changed the language and discourse pertaining to race relations in America and he did so in strategic ways.
It is not at all clear whether John McCain, or power-house Republicans were on the list of invited guests. You see, Michelle Obama’s birthday party may be unlike any other American Aristocrats have attended at the White House. Rather, it is a party that Homey and those who relate culturally to Homey understood and likely enjoyed. Michelle’s party was a throw down, parrrrrrrrrrty with some old school, and “funkadelic” jams. “Nutten but the dog in me kinda party”. It likely was a jam filled with slow grooves and music from dem days.”
Back on the national political stage, Obama is achieving other measures of change. All of this converges on the substance and tactics Mr. Obama employed during the 2014 State of the Union address and beyond. Here are some of the words Obama used in the 2014 State of the Union address:
“I have a phone and a pen”
“America won’t wait. I wont wait”
Those words incensed Republicans. For Republicans, hearing these words likely resulted in a good dose of political schizophrenia. Let’s not kid ourselves. Everyone knows that Congress has been largely dysfunctional for much of the Obama administration. Republican opposition has been misplaced in the sense that they oppose President Obama as much as, if not more than any of his policy prescriptions. Obama, in his final two years of rein, still has much of his change agenda to accomplish. And it is predicted that he will use his community organizing skill to achieve many his social agenda, and other change initiatives and concurrently render Congress largely irrelevant.
A Republican dominated Congress and the threat of Republicans retaking the Senate bolster Republican defiance and settle an intention to work counter to the well known and accepted maxim that elections have consequences, regardless of what the opinions and views of “reasonable” Republicans such as John McCain. Indeed, Congressional dysfunction is so widely despised that a movement has now emerged to force Congressional law makers to forfeit their salaries. Ironically, the party with a mantra of “putting country first” has degenerated to the point that “country”, appears not to matter. Now we hear phrases like, all politics is local.
While Republicans continue to focus their efforts on “local” politics, Obama has moved to ensure that national political initiatives are implemented in a decentralized way, and in so doing co-opted Republican governors who are despise the centrist approach often inherent in Washington’s policy initiatives. In his bid to become the President of the United States told the entire electorate that there was only a “United” States. By this he meant that regardless of political factionalism, the word united in the United States is the object of the country’s democracy. Obama has held steadfast to that principle of “unity”, which Republicans have mis-read, and mischaracterized using harsh labels, including calling the President a communist. It is one of uniting the country, not by using the bully pulpit, to become a bully, but rather to use the currency of his position to organize segments of the community that need organizing and a voice. Six years later, Congressional dysfunctional to bar his change agenda has crystallized.
In trying to repudiate President Obama’s change agenda what Congressional Republicans completed underrated was the power of the mind of a community organizer hell bent of achieving change, and uniting many of the disenfranchised in the process. Though Republicans appear resolved in wanting to subvert the engines of change and champion partisan political spin, they forgot that Homey operates from the “Homey Don’t Play That” Playbook. Barak Obama is intent of moving his change agenda forward “with or without Congressional approval because execution of his strategy relegates Congress to a largely irrelevant status. Moreover, Congressional dysfunction is a gift to Obama in the sense that his political achievements will be without Congressional. In other words, Congressional Republicans are enabling the President to be able to say his accomplishments were largely without Congress’ involvement.
Obama has a tactical community organizer understand the gift on a platter that Republicans have given him. It is no mistake that Republicans were politically shut out when Obama answered affirmatively that he is his brother’s keeper. Here is another example of political shut out. Congress is empowered to pass laws when, among other things, political movements trigger its legislation function. American democracy precludes Congress from passing laws that quash legitimate political activity. Congressional hearings cannot stop the will of free-enterprise. What is the point? Congress, as a democratic institutional counterweight to the White House, can be rendered completely irrelevant in the creation and proliferation of legitimate, orderly and focused political exchanges and movements. So while, Republicans believe that they can use the power of Congressional approval to impede and block President Obama’s legislative agenda, Homey Don’t Play That.”
In response to President Obama’s 2014 State of the Union address Republicans descended into vile and instant political convulsions-a kind of hissy fit that ejected ideological venom of the worse kind. Why? It is simple. President Obama dared to threaten to go it alone. Yet, Republicans missed the mark. Republicans completely misread the nature, scope and intent of President Obama 2014 State of the Union address. The President’s desire further to marginalize an already marginalized, Republican-controlled Congress is clear and Republicans got that right. But, Mr. Obama has little interest in governing by way of Executive Order, unless it meets a two-part test: the Executive Order must be constitutional; and, 2. The Executive Order must cause national achievement of the policy initiative through either a consultative strategy, or tying the hands of Republican governors across red states.
Let’s examine how this two-part test applies to the minimum-wage stalemate. Republicans hold steadfast that increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 is a job killer that does not promote new private sector investment, a position that is hard to reconcile with May 2014 Jobs Report. Obama fully expects the Republican-controlled Congress to block any legislative effort introduced in the House to increase the minimum wage to $10.10. Homey Don’t Play That. An alternate strategy that does not engage Congress’ law-making function is necessary. What does the President do?
In reference to the proposed minimum wage increase President Obama said: “It is easy to remember-10/10.” By Executive Order President Obama raised the minimum wage for employees working for federal contractors executing new agreements. Clearly, it is constitutional for the administration to raise the minimum wage in the limited way that it did. What is the practical policy effect of the President making this move?
Federal contractors are located in every state in the United States. Regardless of political stripe, Defence and other contractors are not going to stop doing business with the federal government simply because they will have to pay a portion of their workforce the marginally higher rate of $10.10 per hour. By raising the minimum wage in the federal sphere President Obama has now orchestrated political pressure for Republican and other governors in each individual state. They will need to respond. The political fallout has now ripened. Intra-state wage inequality among the working poor employed by federal contractors as compared to those employed contractors working for the state creates a kind of economic pressure that will cause worker migration in a federation in which free-movement of people is a central unifying principle. In states where the minimum wage is less than that imposed by the federal government the machinery of capitalism is expected to run its course and create “structural pay inequality” between state-regulated versus federally-regulated enterprises. President Obama in making this calculated move has converted national issues to local ones.
He went a step further. When President Obama decided to write to, and/or meet with Mayors, Governors, and private-sector leaders to engage and enlist them in raising the minimum wage in their own establishment he invoked community organizing skills to help advance the change agenda without Congress’ involvement or approval.
It is now for Republicans governors and Presidential candidates to deal with. In effect, President Obama has crafted part of the economic-policy agenda for the next presidential election. Why? Because he can; and, because “Homey Plays That”. Homey wants to reduce structural pay inequality. He has already done that for women and he won’t stop until he achieves national change, without Congressional legislative approval. He has essentially challenged Congress to rise above its dysfunction, do its job and deal with inequality in America. He has set the example. The path has been cleared because he has already completed the consultative process with Mayors across the country. Obama’s words “send me a bill raising the minimum wage and I will sign it” signals a challenge to Congress. Either way Obama’s strategy is a win-win one. Herein lies a conundrum for Republicans. Congressional Republicans cannot stop the political momentum that the President created by appealing to corporate America’s patriotic nature. No back room legislative deals. No reason to confront John Boehner’s expressed distrust for the President. Political suicide lurks around the corner for Republicans who risk being on the wrong side of the debate given that some 56% of Americans believe the minimum wage should be increased to 10/10. Republicans are backed into a corner in which their economic message conflicts with the social realities of the country’s 99%.
So, has Obama changed Washington’s political culture? Yes he has. Why? Because he can, as Spike Lee once said in one of his films that explored the relationship between American wealth and anti Semitism.
Obama is a trail blazer. Now junior senators like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul can dare to believe they have a fighting chance of occupying the White House even though they are rookie senators. A segment of the electorate, Ted Nugent included, are bold enough now to openly demonstrate their genocidal attitudes, even against the President of the United States of America, described as a subhuman mongrel. Now that is a change. Conversations about the relationship between social inequality and race can now be openly talked about in the White House and beyond. The Bully Pulpit, is no longer for bullying, but to engage the machinery of consultative democracy, one in which the resource of the White House engages the electorate in shaping policy initiatives.
Congress now knows that savvy political maneuvers can marginalize its legislative utility. By now Congress should realize that policy initiatives can be achieved without its approval. Engaging ordinary and extra-ordinary American citizens who mean it when they say that they put country first can produce social agenda policy preferences. Republicans have now learnt that even partisan political unity against Obama care cannot defeat a defiant “Homey”, the community organizer skilled enough to mobilize ordinary Americans to achieve desired political and policy outcomes..
This President changed the political Playbook from which political tactics are imparted. In so doing the President restored separation of powers, and consultative democracy. That is a Change. Gone are the days when the white House brokers policy concessions through backroom dealings. Policy compromises must be worked out between the two primary legislative branches of government within the context of broad policy principles set by the White House.
While it is difficult to tell the contents of the Playbook from which Mr. Obama is playing, it is very easy to determine the contents of the playbook from which he is not. For Obama, traditions that conflict with the written words of US Constitution have no place in American politics. The written words in the Constitution of the United States of America, as the supreme legal document, are not and never will be in competition with tradition. Nowhere in the US Constitution does it oblige any President to negotiate around the nation’s Full Faith and Credit. So, Obama’s future response will not wane. Imagine the enormity of the change when the President firstly has to tell Congress to do its job, and secondly when that directive becomes controversial. President Obama will likely not negotiate when the Constitution of America is on his side. The lesson for law makers in general is that each branch of government should follow the Constitution and do its job. Obama does not seek to usurp the job of Congress. Rather, he is intent of forcing Congressional law makers to do their job while at the same time ensure that Congress and American family traditions do not dictate how Presidential politics are played. So frequently one hears President Obama says let “Congress send me a Bill that expresses the administration’s policy principles and I will sign it”. In other words, “Homey” is playing a principled game. Homey does not play unprincipled games one driven by the depth of family contacts, inter-breeding and inter-relationships.
Here is another change. Journalist must now work hard to get breaking stories. Why? This President shut out the old incestuous ties between White House staff and journalists. The result, mainstream media now complain that they do not have the same kind of access to the White House as they once did. The effect of the shut out is to level the playing field. Now, all journalists have to work hard to get the breaking news from the White House as the shut off valves to the White House pipeline have been close shut. In a round-about way, even Jay Carney, Obama’s Press Secretary, a practitioner of controlled messaging, acknowledges this very point in his recent resignation remarks.
Obama, though not a Washington insider, has managed to implement a plan to appeal to some of America’s elite to help achieve change. With his pen, celebrity connections and the power of the bully pulpit the President has now shown the American people that it is possible to achieve policy prescriptions through mass consultation. What has been the result? Now, ordinary Americans have mobilized themselves to demand Congressional salary forfeiture until they resume performance of the mandate for which they were elected.
Has Obama changed Washington’s political culture? The answer is that there are aspects of Washington’s political culture that have been changed. The White House has been converted to a venue for policy initiatives in which corporate CEOs have direct input. Race-relations discourse is no longer empty rhetoric. Race relations initiatives are backed by emotional intelligence, lived experiences, and optics that matter. The President has ensured that open communication occurs. So, open are the communication channels that former senior administration operatives are sufficiently comfortable to write and publish books during the currency of his Presidency. The influence of America’s aristocracy over policy outcomes has been somewhat tempered, as the 99% versus 1% conversation wages on unabated. Capitalism has been brought to the White House in highly symbolic ways. Ordinary American people have greater access to help influence policy, even if Congress refuses to act. A different Playbook has been rolled out-one in which the cutting of backroom deals is evaporating. Loads of ordinary people now feel that they have as much right to be in and enjoy the awesome mystery and history of the White House. Obama’s Presidency has ignited inspiration in junior Republicans who now dare aspire to become the President of the United States without regard to seniority, national political trade-offs, or being a Washington insider. Even as the Republican Party, as a whole, tanks in the polls junior Republican senators cruise in their announced quest to occupy the Oval Office. Republican law makers have been lectured, and rendered hopelessly irrelevant as the President skillfully charts his social agenda. And in doing so, President Obama has virtually ensured that the “reasonable” Republican brand as evidence by folks like John McCain is quickly becoming a thing of the past. As Republicans move more to the right of centre, with no populous social agenda, and as powerful right-of-centre Congressional Republicans such as Eric Cantor suffer defeat in the Primaries for not being “conservative enough”, President Obama’s Playbook tactics seem all but certain to reduce the Republican conservative brand to a long-term opposition party with little chance of forming the government in the country for at least the next two Presidential cycles. President Obama has improved Washington intelligence—he is still alive. And he had paved the way for the first female president of the United States of America. So, while Republicans, the party that abolished slavery, get side tracked on suing President Obama (the country’s first African-American President) for delaying implementation of portions of the Affordable Care Act, a move that is totally inconsistent with the Party’s steadfast opposition, Democrats are preparing for a female to occupy the Oval Office. Shrewd Republicans would move swiftly, get from under the “Palin” wings and prepare a credible female candidate for 2016. Connie Rice is a good start..