What a Week It Has Been

Most of the time changes happens slowly. It’s only by looking back at a long stretch of time and reflecting that we recognize substantial differences in our reality. However, there are some weeks, like these past two, when so much seems to happen all at once.

After an outrageous and distinctly American act of terrorism, huge momentum has emerged to remove symbols of treachery and hatred from prominent places in the South. The highest court in the land affirmed President Obama’s signature legislative achievement, ensuring millions continued access to affordable healthcare. And, as the best sequel since Godfather Part II, the same court legalized gay marriage nationwide.

Much of what this means for our country and the legacy of President Obama remains to be understood. But, if anything, it should put to rest forever any ideas that his presidency has been a minor one. Quite the opposite is the case. For too long, too many have been quick to think that the president has failed to deliver. He promised change they say, but too much remains the same. This, quite simply, ignores objective reality. It’s one thing to disagree with what he’s done; it’s lunacy to suggest that he hasn’t done much. That has never been more obvious in any week during his presidency as this one.

Yet for all his tangible actions while in office, his greatest achievement is and always will be the fact of his election. He is, and always will be, the first black president this nation has ever known. That fact is inescapable and never more apparent than it was on Friday when he delivered the eulogy for the slain Reverend Clementa Pinckney. He spoke as only he could. In his oration, he articulated the astonishing and gut-wrenching flaws of our country, baked into it from the founding. But his words did far more than that. They went above and beyond the filler text politicians and leaders too often mumble to pay lip-service to the “conversation about race.” They were real. They were personal. They spoke to his own experience, to the experience of his audience. They lamented the dead. He made us remember what we too often forget and ignore or never even learned. He helped us decipher a small section of the American story, with tales of the past and present. As one of our greatest once wrote, “For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.”

Our president has failed in countless ways, but Friday he was there for all of us, carrying the light onward. Leading us with grace and song.

More reactions from James FallowsDavid Remnick, and Greg Howard.

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From the Archive

I stumbled upon this 2004 Ryan Lizza profile of Senate candidate Barack Obama done for the Atlantic. It followed his famous convention speech in support of John Kerry and it’s pretty weird after ten years. There’s even a quote from then-Congressman and now Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emmanuel, (he was President Obama’s first White House Chief of Staff). It’s easy to read too much into it with that 20/20 hindsight, but Lizza does a great job here. Somehow it makes us remember the genuine appeal that was there while hinting at some of the future pitfalls. It’s not too long and worth a read.

Just Don’t Look

It can be tough to condemn things nowadays. While it’s important to criticize when called for, sometimes the attention that follows is greater than it would have been otherwise. People may think something is bad because of criticism, but it was because of the criticism that they took note of it in the first place. Calling something out gives it a certain status, when otherwise it may have disappeared or been far less impactful. It’s like playing a game where the object is to not think about an elephant. Without the framing you win, but as soon as you tell someone not to think about an elephant they’re thinking about it. It seems Republicans campaigning against Obamacare have found this out the hard way. A Brookings Institution researcher gives us some data:

His analysis, which he detailed in a blog post, compared states’ per-capita ad spending with their enrollment rates, and found that it was often the case that the more money spent on anti-ACA ads, the more Americans signed up for coverage—a trend made more impressive by the fact that, in the run-up to this fall’s midterm elections, the advertising budget of the ACA’s opponents was about 15 times the size of that of the law’s supporters.

Why?

“The first one is that with the negative ads, citizens’ awareness about this subsidized service increases, and the more ads they see, the more they know that such a service exists. … The other theory is that citizens who were exposed to an overwhelming number of ads about Obamacare are more likely to believe that this service is going to be repealed by the Congress in the near future … [so] he or she will have a higher willingness to go and take advantage of this one-time opportunity before it goes away.”

This connects with some of the problems I was discussing yesterday with new media models. Most sites sell ads based on visitors, so merely by looking at the site you’re contributing, even if you’re looking at to write about how it’s problematic. Publishing a post critical of those sites also gives them more attention. It’s a catch-22 that’s tough to resolve.

RIP Charlie Haden

Last Friday a great jazz bassists died in Los Angeles. Charlie Haden was born in Shenandoah, Iowa, a humble beginning for a man who played with a lot of edge. In the 1950s and 60s he was a member of Ornette Coleman’s group, touring the country playing a new avant-garde style known as free jazz. This great description of his own style comes from David A. Graham at the Atlantic.

His playing isn’t elaborately virtuosic, in the style of a Paul Chambers; and it isn’t irresistibly swinging, like Ray Brown. Like a country or blues bassist, Haden often stayed close to the root note of each chord.

And:

Haden is able to fill a huge musical space without using a huge number of notes, [sic] his bass maintains harmony and rhythm in the absence of a full band, and [sic] he brings out the best in his partners.

That link also includes plenty of Haden’s tracks. Enjoy!