In mid-February 2008, Michelle Obama made a statement that, according to Republicans at the time, revealed her as a hater of America. Reflecting on her husband’s popularity as a candidate for President, Michelle said that “For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback.”
Her statement was mocked far and wide over talk radio. No matter what time of the day, you could listen to nationally syndicated voices blasting her as an ungrateful, militant feminist – and on those shows, there is no insult worse than “feminist.” Rush Limbaugh, one of the pre-eminent voices of talk radio regularly uses the term “feminazi” instead of feminist to further illustrate the point that feminists are nothing short of a cancer on the nation. I suspect he would use this term for any of the top women leaders of the Democratic Party – Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand. Whichever of these women are actually seeking power at a given time are dehumanized on a regular basis throughout the day on stations all over America. These are the programs through which Red America gets its talking points. It has been this way for nearly three decades. By contrast, Blue America tried to create its own network, Air America, but it failed in less than six years.
Ten years have passed since Michelle Obama uttered those famous words about pride in her country. She is pretty much out of the news now; since she is not threatening Rush, Mark, Laura, Sean and the other right-wing talking heads, nobody’s bothering to lash out at her. Lucky woman. The last time she was really at the center of the nation’s attention was when she delivered her speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2016. Michelle was reflecting on the people – like our current President – who have questioned her husband’s citizenship or faith, using hateful language and acting like a bully (for what else do you call getting on the radio or television in front of an amen chorus and dehumanizing the leaders of the opposing party constantly for nearly 30 years). And she was very clear about the proper way to react to such bigmouths:
“When someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.”
There you have it – the motto of the Democratic Party. So please allow me to translate – the Republicans can engage in mixed martial arts, throwing elbows, fists, knees, feet, you name it. And we’ll respond with dressage – calm, composed, graceful, artistic. Somehow, the good Lord has thrown us both into the same ring. Naturally, the Republicans keep on winning battles (i.e., elections). But we, the Democrats, feel like we’re winning the war. Because in our minds, we’re the ones who can look ourselves in the mirror the next morning, proud of our performance, whereas they – those cruel bullies – they should be ashamed of themselves.
I assure you that they’re not. In fact, right now, as we speak, all over the country, Republicans are laughing at their opponents, the way the Harlem Globetrotters must have laughed at the hapless Washington Generals. They keep winning. They have the Presidency, the Senate, the House, the State Houses, more and more courts, and now they are about to have the Supreme Court for a long, long time. So much for the value of dressage.
The two sports were fully on display during the Kavanaugh hearings. The Democrats brought calm, respectful Senators who asked questions and, indeed, elicited a number of “little lies” about the Senator’s high school yearbook and teenage alcohol habits. “Well played,” as they probably say in dressage (you’ll forgive me but I’ve never learned dressage jargon, so I’ll have to speculate about it). None of the Democrats lost his or her cool, or even broke a sweat. Democrats rarely break a sweat – they’re surely fearful that if they did, it would look bad. And the one thing you can’t do in dressage is look bad – not you, not your horse. Meanwhile, Kavanaugh came out like Ronda Rousey in her prime. He was ready to throw punches, show off his judo flips, and kick ass. And when he was finished, Lindsay Graham was just warming up. “This is the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics,” he hollered, “And if you really wanted to know the truth, you sure as hell wouldn’t have done what you’ve done to this guy.”
Graham was yelling. It’s the political equivalent of the knee to the face, which badly gashes the opponent and turns a white or brown face a red one. Republicans don’t mind yelling. Our President does it on a daily basis. Bernie Sanders tried to do it on the Democratic side as well as Elizabeth Warren. But they don’t get very far. Bernie wasn’t even given a fair shake to win his Party’s nomination. And Warren? She’s viewed as unelectable – too “shrill,” too “negative.” That’s another way of saying that there is no crying in baseball and no yelling in dressage.
As for mixed martial arts, there are comparatively few constraints. It’s kind of no holds barred – you basically do whatever you have to do to win. Principles are for pussies. Uppercuts, armbars, and guillotines are for champions. But there is one rule that applies AFTER you’ve won. When you choke someone unconscious, for example, you’re supposed to let go. You’re supposed to let the medics attend to the loser right away. In Republican politics, the analogue is that you’re supposed to behave in a bi-partisan, statesmanlike way – after the choke hold has been successfully applied. So, for example, when it became clear that Kavanaugh had the votes, he could go to the Wall Street Journal and write his op-ed about how maybe, just maybe, his performance in the ring last Thursday was a bit much. Of course, there is no such thing as a bit much when you’re in the UFC and you’re fighting for the Title (in this case, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court). You can make nice when the fight’s over, but only when the fight’s over. Because if you let your guard down earlier, you might just get kicked in the face. Even a Republican could have trouble rebounding from that.
It’s kind of funny, I guess, that the Republicans figured out a way to turn the would-be perpetrator into the victim. Their passion has galvanized their base. And the Democrats? They have their base wondering about how things could have been different. How Mitch McConnell could have said “Of course, sir,” when President Obama asked if his own nominee, Merrick Garland, would get a fair hearing. Garland was a political moderate and AARP-eligible for 13 years, but still McConnell didn’t feel like giving him a fair hearing. Again, no rules. Elbows, knees, feet, fists – all good. And how did Obama and the Democrats respond? Rage? Are you kidding. There is no rage in dressage. Seriously, if you want to win gold at that sport, you must exude class at all time. You and your horse.
So President Obama took McConnell’s news like the class act we knew him to be when we elected him. “No drama Obama,” we called him. Cool as the other side of the pillow. No problem. We don’t need our Supreme Court Justice this year. We’ll wait until after we win the election in 2016. In fact, we won’t even bother to campaign in the states where the polls are close, because our candidate is classy and your candidate is a lout, and Americans would never elect a lout. What do you think this is, mixed martial arts?
Ah, yeah. That’s exactly what it is. You see, MMA is a battle between people with different specialties. You have boxers, wrestlers, judoka, and Muay Thai specialists, and they somehow get together in the same ring and fight it out – sometimes standing up, and sometimes on the mat, depending on whose skills are most dominant. Similarly, the Republicans are using the full panoply of MMA skills to ignore the environment, cut taxes for the rich, and roll back reproductive rights and the Democrats are using the full panoply of dressage skills to ... well, let’s just say to look classy and feel good about themselves when they see themselves in the mirror after their inevitable defeats.
It’s not a fair fight. Then again, nobody thinks about politics as being fundamentally fair. Even the Democrats know that much. Still, for reasons known only to the people at the last Democratic Convention, they cheered when Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.”
That’s insane. Because in MMA, when a wrestler goes low, and the opponent goes high, he’ll swing and miss, get taken down, and then either get pummeled via the ground-and-pound or get arm-barred and need to tap out. And then his opponent can hug him and behave in what we call in Washington a “bi-partisan” manner, until the next fight. It’s a losing proposition. But apparently the Democrats would rather stay classy than be effective. You would forgive me for wondering if their heart was really in the competition.