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Live Chat: Robert Scheer on Obama’s State of the Union Address

Posted on Jan 28, 2011

(Page 3)

Anderson: OK. Here’s a question from Persistence, who asks: “What role do you think the Business Roundtable plays in steering the President’s economic policy and overall agenda?”

Scheer: Well, I think they’re calling the shots—the Chamber of Commerce, increasingly; the Business Roundtable; the top Wall Street people. And I think this is what Obama got out of his Harvard education, frankly. I think he’s just too enamored with these people. You know, one of the contradictions I pointed out in my column was, here’s Obama saying, “We have to have a better-educated population. We have to have better test scores. We have to. …” You know—who are the people who got us in trouble? They’re the people with the great test scores. They’re the people who went to the most difficult colleges to get into. They’re the people who graduated with those MBAs from Harvard and Yale, and those law degrees from Harvard and Yale. They’re the ones who concocted these financial packages. They’re the ones who told us we had to have these over-the-counter derivatives and credit-default swaps, unregulated, the thing that Clinton signed off on. They’re the ones who for decades told us we should trust the markets and trust their mathematical formulas, and trust the new gimmicks they were designing. So it wasn’t the people in the community colleges who were struggling to master math, or in high schools who were struggling to master math, who got us into this mess. We got into this mess because of the best and the brightest, just like we’ve gotten into the worst wars we’ve experienced. You know, David Halberstam’s whole book on Vietnam, “The Best and the Brightest.”

And so the real problem here is not that we have a poorly educated population. The real problem is that people who are educated seem to be educated to be greedy. To be concerned about themselves, to be concerned about their careers above the interests of the ordinary Americans. Where do we teach ethics? Where is morality? Where is there concern for the ordinary person? Do they teach that at these elite schools? Do they care about that? Is that part of our education? And so I was astounded … you know, here’s Obama giving a speech at a time when so many Americans are suffering because of what the best and the brightest did to us, and their financial packages and their distortions and so forth, and yet, what, the problem is we don’t have high enough test scores?

Maybe the problem is that we’re testing for the wrong things, and we’re not asking questions about ethics and values, and we’re not teaching about values. I mean, I’d put back to some conservatives the question that used to be asked, “What would Jesus do?” Has anybody read Luke? Has anybody read the fable of the good Samaritan? Has anybody really thought about what our Christian, Hebraic, Muslim background is supposed to teach in terms of values and concern for the vulnerable? Has anybody read what’s said about usury and taking advantage of people, particularly impoverished people? So maybe the problem is in the schools we’ve lost touch with our basic values. Whether there were secular values that we used to have, going back to the deons, or religious values, there doesn’t seem to be any concern. And so here you can appoint the head of GE, who paid himself during the worst year of the economic downturn—when his company was going to go belly-up if the taxpayers didn’t save them—and he paid himself $14 million, and we turn to him to help us out now? He’s an admirable person and the president appoints him to this key position? I don’t get it. I mean, certainly these people can test well, and they go to the best schools, but where are their values?


Square, Site wide

Anderson: I bet a lot of your longtime readers are a bit startled to hear you reference the Book of Luke, Bob. Is this a new phase in your…?

Scheer: No, I have always felt that … first of all, I teach a class in ethics. But, you know, I’ve always felt that important discussions have taken place within the framework of religion. There’s no question, in every society. And whatever your view of revealed truth, or a deity, or so forth, it’d be silly to ignore not only religious traditions but philosophical ones. I mean, go back to Confucius, you know. Confucius says a doctor … it’s not enough that a doctor be a good doctor, but if the doctor is greedy and only interested in making money, then that’s not admirable. That’s not ethical. The doctor has to be concerned about the society, about the patients and so forth. That’s Confucius, what, 400 … four centuries before Aristotle. Aristotle makes the same point about concern for the larger interests of the city-state and the well-being. Then you get, if you look at Hebraic tradition, concern for your community, you don’t charge people, certainly in your own tribe, but even … your neighbor. And the reason the good Samaritan parable is so important is the definition of the neighbor has extended. It’s somebody you might have hated, but you see at the side of the road, and they’ve been beaten, robbed, naked, and no—you put them on the donkey and you take them to the inn, and you pay for their well-being.

So concern for the others is supposed to be built into all of our major philosophical and religious traditions, including Luke. Whether you think it’s revealed truth or not, the fact is it’s an important reference to consider ethical questions. And I just wonder whether any of that goes on in our law schools and our business schools, because these people act in the most self-centered, unprincipled, immoral way. And that’s really the story of this meltdown. And there’s a report issued today, Thursday, which people should read which says no, this was not, as Obama tried to suggest in his speech, the normal problems we’re having in a competitive world of training people so we’re … no! This was a scam. This was a rip-off of the American people that didn’t happen because these Wall Street interests controlled the government process, they controlled the regulatory agencies, and they were able to make what should have been illegal, legal. And we’re still paying the price.

Anderson: OK, I think we have time for maybe one more question. And this comes from Chris Rushlau, who asks: “So politically speaking, what is holding this presidency up? What is its base?”

Scheer: Well, what’s holding this presidency up is opportunism. Obama is a great salesman. And so was Bill Clinton, for that matter. The problem with George W. Bush, you know, he wasn’t very good at selling himself. He had the war, though; without the war and the appeal to a pseudo-patriotism, George W. Bush would have been a one-term president. The first president Bush, and Jimmy Carter, were not as good at selling themselves, and that’s why they were one-term presidents. Ronald Reagan, obviously, was a very good salesman. Obama may be the best salesman we’ve ever had. I mean, how a guy with a funny-sounding name, and our first, you know, non-white-male president is so effective … you have to say in part, yes, he’s obviously brilliant. He’s obviously very sharp. And he’s very … he’s charming. And what he’s doing now, though, is the mainstay of opportunism. He’s … if you look at the speech, I forget the phrase I used, I called it … you probably remember, Kasia, because you edited it. …

Anderson: I remember everything that you write.

Scheer: Platitudinous…

Anderson: Platitudinous hogwash!

Scheer: Platitudinous hogwash. It was a collection of platitudes. It was like, “Hey, give me everybody’s Christmas wish list.” You know? “Let’s have a faster Internet. Let’s have cleaner air. Let’s have more solar. Let’s have more jobs, let’s have more competitiveness, let’s have more investment. …OK, let’s have a sentence here about better-educated students listening to their parents.” I almost thought we were going to have an appeal to eat spinach. You know, balance your food, go get your eyes checked frequently. I mean, I don’t know what. You know, it was like a list of all obviously good things to do. Yes, we should all work harder, we should all study harder, we should all learn more, we should all have a good attitude, we should all reach out to our neighbors, and so forth and so on. But those are platitudes.

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By Tyler, January 31, 2011 at 9:19 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thanks to the previous commenter who acknowledged by question was NOT at all answered - although I enjoy all of what Mr. Scheer normally says. We do not live in a democracy but an inverted totalitarian state. If elections are what the power elites hold up to claim we have choice, what is the choice? In 2012, what happens? Do we slowly slip into a fascist feudal post-oil state? No one can of course accurately predict the possibility of the US in regard to geo-political interest. But within, we must have a progressive option for the people ASAP

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By Rodney, January 29, 2011 at 1:47 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mr. Scheer, thank you for being so truthful, honest, and compassionate about the issues that affect all the world. especially the poor.  I appreciate your profound analysis of the President’s speech that helps us to see beyond the feel good phrases.  PLease continued to give us the real deal behind all political manuevering.  Thus far, you seem to be the only voice that speaks with objectivity. Keep up this needful community service.

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By Rodney, January 29, 2011 at 1:47 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mr. Scheer, thank you for being so truthful, honest, and compassionate about the issues that affect all the world. especially the poor.  I appreciate your profound analysis of the President’s speech that helps us to see beyond the feel good phrases.  PLease continued to give us the real deal behind all political manuevering.  Thus far, you seem to be the only voice that speaks with objectivity. Keep up this needful community service.

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By FiftyGigs, January 29, 2011 at 12:29 pm Link to this comment

T Groan? “...I really don’t see much difference between obama and the republicans…”

With respect, your comment is the epitome of stale argument. It is demonstrably wrong to begin with. It’s also extremely shallow.

Stop obsessing over parties. This is about political power. The most powerful force in this country is a neo-fascist conservatism, embraced by the Republican Party, and buttressed by religious institutions, the most influential media organization in the country, and many of the richest individuals on the planet.

That’s who you’re fighting. Whether it’s a Democratic Party, a Green Party, or the New Party of Egypt, it makes no difference. You face the exact same problem: how are you going to amass more power than Republican conservatives?

Your friends—people like me who wish for many of the same things you do—are struggling to build a counter-force to that power, using the organizational structure of the Democratic Party, which happens to contain today a substantial number of progressives, people you’d admire. It embraces a strong labor movement, people of religious conviction who are horrified by the hijacking of God’s Word by godless politicians, a nascent environmental movement, a feminist movement, a gay rights movement, a consumer rights movement, blacks, Hispanics.

Not to mention liberal youth.

The progressives within the Democratic Party would love to rule the party. I’d love to help them. How about you?

Read Shannon’s comment. That’s one person who has voiced the truth for untold others who don’t want to bother to do even speak up anymore. That’s where your political power stands. That’s how far out of the game you are. That’s the reality as you diss Obama.

What’s happening isn’t that dolts like me are being snookered by Slick Willy 2—think about that. The problem is that the progressive movement is stuck in some kind of fixation with self-immolation.

It castigates Obama endlessly, yet offers nary a peep against the Republicans who impose on them the things they say they despise. People raise hell about Obama because they think they CAN affect him, because they know they could NEVER have affected Bush in a million years, but they’re too proud to admit it.

In your effort to “keep Obama honest”, you must not loose sight of the fact that your efforts are wasted if you don’t also expend effort to keep him in power too. I realize such conundrums are difficult for liberals to handle, but we really need to smarten up.

Because President Gingrich won’t give a rat’s ass about what you think. That’s the truth, the difference. And you know it.

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By david reese, January 29, 2011 at 10:05 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Great, great interview!  Why don’t we have more of these?

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By chip, January 29, 2011 at 1:36 am Link to this comment

Thank You Mr. Sheer
  I guess you won’t get rich speaking the truth
all I can give is my respect.

I wonder what the DNC pays these shills who get on here and attempt to defend this wall street puppet we elected?
They need to quit wasting their money though because your readers are well informed and quite sick of doughnut holes and pre-exsisting conditions and getting to stay on their parents insurance crap.

I notice when the “news” reports that auto deaths are down they never mention the fact that cars have airbags now, that could lead into a unspeakable word. Ralph Nader.
If squeaky clean, incorruptible Ralph can’t save us, maybe it’s Tunisia time.

See> Chris Hedges

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By VoteGreen, January 28, 2011 at 6:47 pm Link to this comment

It appears that the first caller’s question was not answered.  Robert’s reply was informative and insightful(as usual) but I think what the caller wanted was either:a possible Democratic primary candidate to run against Obama; or an alternative to the Democrats altogether. That someone as progressive as Robert didn’t think to even mention the Green Party is disturbing.  How many progressives have even gone to their website to find out the Green platform? It is 100% progressive. Yes,the Green Party is still small and disorganized, and won’t win the next election. But we have to start somewhere.  The comment sections of progressive sites are full of disillusioned progressives vowing to not support the Democrats anymore, so Democrats can’t win anyway(unless they run Bernie Sanders). Thanks to Obomber, I almost gag on the word “hope” now, but we need to vote for our hopes instead of our fears.

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By FRTothus, January 28, 2011 at 5:52 pm Link to this comment

19 hijackers with box-cutters?  Tell me another fairy-tale, Uncle Bob.  What will it take for you to do your own investigation instead of taking official pronouncements as fact?

What credibility does one give to the willfully ignorant, the intellectually lazy?  None, in my book.  None at all.

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By AT, January 28, 2011 at 5:51 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

while tLKING bout the fAWS,LET’S TALK about the lack of
imagination we encountered.doingup Against private
citizen is just that, how ARE YOU FARING Vs SEASONED

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By Shannon, January 28, 2011 at 5:03 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I see nothing but a dodge in Robert Scheer’s response to credible alternatives for progressives in 2012.  How can organization of progressives be possible if those bashing the status quo won’t commit to a reasonable answer?

I have volunteered on several occasions to assist the local groups in campaigning only to arrive and be sent home because the ‘schedule changed.’

Obviously, progressives lack centered leadership and are losing me quickly as a viable option.

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By T Groan, January 28, 2011 at 12:07 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Fifty Gig, are you offering the stale argument that obama is the only choice because the republicans are worse than him?

If that’s the case sorry I really don’t see much difference between obama and the republicans.  Both are owned by the same people and guess what, they don’t have mine or the majoritys interests at heart.

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By SoTexGuy, January 28, 2011 at 10:25 am Link to this comment

Scheer speaks well on important, the most important issues. His calls for accountability from the Obama administration and an end to coddling of the president by the left are especially refreshing.

I was also thrilled to view his fundamental opposition to institutional usury! I’m wondering, however if that extends to individual usury.. in other words, if I acquire something like a piece of residential real estate with the intent and purpose of selling it to someone else in a year or two for 20-30% more.. am I a savvy investor? a slick salesman?

And if this doesn’t work out for me whose fault is it? Should everybody else step in and rescue me?

Just thoughts..

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By FiftyGigs, January 28, 2011 at 8:52 am Link to this comment

I wish this website would get in the game.

Egypt is in turmoil. WikiLeaks is issuing destructive information about Egyptian “police brutality” and none about civilian brutality. (You don’t think the latter exists?) The Republican Party has amassed power from border to border, deciding when life begins, deciding what constitutes science that must be taught to children, deciding if climate change is worthy of attention, deciding what rights we have. The Supreme Court has become demonstrably corrupt.

And this site is headlining a discussion about the State of the Union speech???

My gosh, how could we have been so blind all these years about a matter so terrifically important. The TWO Republican responses we’ll let slide. Let’s be sure and not critique the speeches of the party running Congress. You know, the budgeting bunch?

But, I suppose, everybody needs a website, including those people who simply want to bash Obama. Lord knows there aren’t enough of those.


So, it’s a fact that President Obama isn’t “focused” on unemployment, huh? Please cite the source of that information, because I don’t believe you. In fact, I’ll wager that Obama is more focused on American unemployment than any single individual on the face of the earth. Certainly more than any pundit.

May I recommend the URL “ConjectureDig”. You ARE concerned about honesty, aren’t you?

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