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August 31, 2009


Obama NASCAR.jpg

This WH photo-op snuck right past me the week-before-last while I was away. It features Obama honoring NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson, the 2008 Sprint Cup Champion, at the White House.

Given how NASCAR was a Bush/Rove favorite and how much the organization is synonymous with the Southern white conservative male, I can’t see how an image like this — highlighting Obama’s pervasive tendency to curry favor with his philosophical and ideological antagonists — could serve as anything else right now but a red flag waved in the face of good liberals.

What specifically reminded me of the image was this comment at which drew a lot of attention from others in the discussion thread of Life After the Death of the Public Option. A guy named Peter wrote…

This is what happens when you start out with a posture of bipartisanship and compromise. The public option WAS a compromise. Now the compromise has been compromised.

Obama should have started out demanding a single-payer system. He would have gotten the exact same hysterical reaction from the same foaming-at-the-mouth elements of our beloved democracy, but then he could have retreated to a public option, and that would have been considered a compromise.

This should be an object lesson for liberals. Don’t start your negotiations with an apparent willingness to compromise, because your opponents will not respect it, and you will only end up retreating that much farther from your original vision.
I’ve been nothing but tolerant of the outreach agenda since Obama came into office. With the right wing having dedicated August to
demonizing reform and sabotaging public health care meetings with members of Congress, however, I can’t help looking at a picture like this without feeling I’ve been run over.

(image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images. August 19, 2009)

  • DennisQ

    You might say that honoring the NASCAR champion is pandering to the right, but it’s really only a gesture. NASCAR is very big in places where they don’t have a whole lot else going on except Friday night football. Obama might see a larger return from being folksy than the support he might lose from the left.
    Did the town hall disruptions build momentum against health care reform? I don’t think they did. For all their efforts, the right didn’t land any solid punches. The underlying issues didn’t go away when Sarah Palin talked about death panels.
    It would be a stretch to see Obama wearing a cowboy hat to a rodeo, but presenting a trophy to a race car driver? No big deal. It took five minutes out of his schedule, and it made him some friends in unlikely places. Obama is making an effort to be the president of all the people, and I think NASCAR fans appreciate it.

  • Martin

    Give me a break. It’s a harmless photo-op in which Obama gets to expand his bipartisan cred without giving up anything. Not only are you complaining about something with no real cost — could you explain what the cost is? — you’re also complaining about the failure and/or hobbling of a health care bill that hasn’t actually happened yet. It’s been a rough August, sure, but the GOP has probably overplayed its (weak) hand, and Congress will probably pass something fairly good in the autumn. Obama takes the long view, and the long view benefits Democrats in this case.

  • bernini

    My sense is the right doesn’t care much for the subtlety of how far left the President begins a legislative journey. They do like stroking the fear stick and the MSM is loving it because all that under the surface racial hostility on the part of these ginned up Beck fans makes damn good TeeVee. Thanks for posting the photo, as I had not seen it before. Wonder where the photo did show up, if anywhere….?

  • bystander

    I’ve been nothing but tolerant of the outreach agenda since Obama came into office. [...] …however, I can’t help looking at a picture like this without feeling I’ve been run over.

    I had to go back and look at the date on Nate’s column and Peter’s comment to put my head in the right time frame. What Peter was arguing was a sentiment that was as least as old as the first economic stimulus bill. In my estimation Liberals on the web have moved beyond wondering why Obama “attempts to compromise in the name of bipartisanship“, to wondering how they might make it more costly for him to do so.
    It has been observed by a number of writers that the ostensible purpose of Obama’s efforts at “compromise” might be to keep the contribution dollars of the financial-industrial-complex and the medical-industrial-complex in the coffers of the Democratic Party and out of the hands of the Republicans. It ain’t got nothin’ to do with cooperatin’ with teh “loyal opposition.” All credit Rahm Emanuel.
    It’s been clear for some time that the GOP has absolutely no intention of participating in this bipartisanship game. They are now The Party of No! So, any apparent efforts in that direction are merely a thin, imo, cover for appeasing those with the big campaign contribution bucks.
    I would humbly suggest to whoever might continue to think that Obama’s choices reflect his desire to curry favor with his philosophical and ideological antagonists, that they need to get out a bit more. While it remains reassuring to imagine Obama plodding along, trying to bring his antagonists into the fold, there exists an alternative explanation. And, given that his efforts have failed, repeatedly failed, and given what has been at stake for real people in this jobless recovery with 47 (and growing) million people without health insurance (leaving the under-insured and quasi-insured aside), he’s bargaining with some pretty big chips and getting very little in return. If a health insurance reform bill that includes a mandate but lacks a robust public option passes, the enormous gift to the medical-industrial-complex cannot be ignored. At that point, hopefully, we can all stop wondering why Obama continues to curry favor with his philosophical and ideological antagonists, because, imo, he isn’t.

  • emptywheel

    I think you’re missing something very, very important: note the manufacturer of the car. Chevy.
    This may be about pandering to red states. But I see it, instead, as portraying the federally owned GM as a winner in terms that the masses who actually still buy GMs understand.

  • akaMcK

    Is your love affair with Obama over? Of late, there’s a thread of disappointment in your comments,ie.,
    “I’ve been nothing but tolerant of the outreach agenda since Obama came into office. . . I can’t help looking at a picture like this without feeling I’ve been run over.
    Kennedy Funeral
    “I might not be completely crazy about Obama”
    Tee and Links
    “. . it’s incredibly disheartening to see Obama palling around with people a major political cash machine. . .”
    What’s going on? Unfulfilled Expectations? I believe you are in upset.

  • mcmama

    It doesn’t bother me. Not even a little bit.

  • Julia Grey

    It doesn’t bother me. Not even a little bit.
    Ditto. The golf with the UBS dude gave me a TEENYTINY bit of shiver, but this? Nah.

  • jean

    The guy (!) is pushing Chevy’s! And he’s one heck of a salesman. After all, he’s the CEO (sort of). Heh.
    I’m sure Clinton did the same sort of thing. It’s what Presidents do. In a way, they are supersalesmen (women) for the country.
    Now, when we are talking about ONLY looking forward, when we are talking about extraordinary rendition as a policy of the US, when we are talking about bipartisanship for the health care bill and support of blue dogs over progressives…..not so much (BIG shivers about those items). Those are the things to worry about.

  • Esoth

    I am a longtime fan and sometime financial supporter of the Bag, but that is not to say that I don’t recognize liberal self-indulgence and lazy-mindedness when I see it. A few weeks back, you had a similar negative reaction to a photo of Obama with a group of white firemen (or it may have been police officers). How beaten a wreck of a man are you, that you continue to cede huge chunks of America to the ghost of Karl Rove, accepting the Conservative definitions and framing of everything? I like Nascar. I generally like firemen and police officers, even when they happen to be white. I had not realized I was thus consorting with the enemy.
    And I don’t know how to break it to you, and to other like you, who declare themselves the guardians of liberal ideals — no one cares about how hurt and hissy-fitted you all are when your pet projects aren’t summarily enacted in tact into law by Obama decree. Have you heard that politics is the art of the possible? I really love the BAG and think your deconstruction of political imagery is insightful and valid, but don’t confuse the pretty pictures with governing.

  • Norbert

    Yeah, I’m with Esoth. The analysis of the imagery is interesting, but in this case the tail is wagging the dog.

  • OldMayfly

    Obama isn’t waving a red flag at the liberals–he is waving a red flag at the wacko-righters who think they own NASCAR.

  • Thirdeye Pushpin

    What I find fascinating about the photo is that you do not see the hands, it looks like Obama and the driver simply have armsuit tubes between them. It makes me wonder if they are morhping…
    It is also interesting that Obama is on the far left of the frame, to make room for the car.
    We still have to give space to the white male petroleum speed culture.
    What is the concealed handshake behind the victory trophy?
    I think that the use of images raises questions and questions organize the framing of perception.
    I think we can overanaylyze the intent of any party with images, but that it is useful to understand the consequence of the unconsious framing.
    As a liberal I am wary of Obama’s concilatory stances and fear that the right wing will not allow a progressive agenda to take hold(for sure they will fight like hell against it) but I underestimated Obama in the campaign and began to appreciate his ability to work long term. I hope this is at play and he will not sell us short on health care. I await his september response. Perhaps he took not of the Bush administrations strategy to wait to sell a new product in September.

  • Michael Shaw (The BAG)

    I appreciate all your comments. What I take away from this — and its been noted before — is that The BAG is award winning for the semiotics and the media criticism but not so winning when a picture ends up driving political analysis (as opposed to serving as a point of reference in/to the larger political narrative).

  • jacksmith

    NO CO-OP’S! A Little History Lesson
    Young People. America needs your help.
    More than two thirds of the American people want a single payer health care system. And if they cant have a single payer system 77% of all Americans want a strong government-run public option on day one (86% of democrats, 75% of independents, and 72% of republicans). Basically everyone.
    According to a new AARP POLL: 86 percent of seniors want universal healthcare security for All, including 93% of Democrats, 87% of Independents, and 78% of Republicans. And 79% of seniors support creating a new strong Government-run public option plan, available immediately. Including 89% of Democrats, 80% of Independents, and 61% of Republicans, STUNNING!! Senator Max Baucus, You better come out of committee with a strong government-run public option available on day one.
    The History:
    Our last great economic catastrophe was called the Great Depression. Then as now it was caused by a reckless, and corrupt Republican administration and republican congress. FDR a Democrat, was then elected to save the nation and the American people from the unbridled GREED and profiteering, of the unregulated predatory self-interest of the banking industry and Wallstreet. Just like now.
    FDR proposed a Government-run health insurance plan to go with Social Security. To assure all Americans high quality, easily accessible, affordable, National Healthcare security. Regardless of where you lived, worked, or your ability to pay. But the AMA riled against it. Using all manor of scare tactics, like Calling it SOCIALIZED MEDICINE!! :-0
    So FDR established thousands of co-op’s around the country in rural America. And all of them failed. The biggest of these co-op organizations would become the grandfather of the predatory monster that all of you know today as the DISGRACEFUL GREED DRIVEN PRIVATE FOR PROFIT health insurance industry. And the DISGRACEFUL GREED DRIVEN PRIVATE FOR PROFIT healthcare industry.
    This former co-op would grow so powerful that it would corrupt every aspect of healthcare delivery in America. Even corrupting the Government of the United States.
    This former co-op’s name is BLUE CROSS/BLUE SHIELD.
    Do you see now why even the suggestion of co-op’s is ridiculous. It makes me so ANGRY! Co-op’s are not a substitute for a government-run public option.
    They are trying to pull the wool over our eye’s again. Senators, if you don’t have the votes now, GET THEM! Or turn them over to us. WE WILL! DEAL WITH THEM. Why do you think we gave your party Control of the House, Control of the Senate, Control of the Whitehouse. The only option on the table that has any chance of fixing our healthcare crisis is a STRONG GOVERNMENT-RUN PUBLIC OPTION.
    An insurance mandate and subsidies without a strong government-run public option choice available on day one, would be worse than the healthcare catastrophe we have now. The insurance, and healthcare industry have been very successful at exploiting the good hearts of the American people. But Congress and the president must not let that happen this time. House Progressives and members of the Tri-caucus must continue to hold firm on their demand for a strong Government-run public option.
    A healthcare reform bill with mandates and subsidies but without a STRONG government-run public option choice on day one, would be much worse than NO healthcare reform at all. So you must be strong and KILL IT! if you have too. And let the chips fall where they may. You can do insurance reform without mandates, subsidies, or taxpayer expense.
    Actually, no tax payer funds should be use to subsidize any private for profit insurance plans. So, NO TAX PAYER SUBSIDIES TO PRIVATE FOR PROFIT PLANS. Tax payer funds should only be used to subsidize the public plans. Healthcare reform should be 100% for the American people. Not another taxpayer bailout of the private for profit insurance industry, disguised as healthcare reform for the people.
    God Bless You
    Jacksmith — Working Class
    Twitter search #welovetheNHS #NHS Check it out
    Senator Bernie Sanders on healthcare (
    American HEROES!! :-) Click replay to play

  • yg

    i find these early predictions announcing “the death of public option” premature & melodramatic. to quote someone else: the game is still in the first quarter. there is still time to fight for our demands.
    did peter not see the howard dean video when he appeared on a morning show? it was popularly hosted on various blogs. dean apparently spilled the beans on strategy: house sends up the bill with a public option, senate strips out the public option, bill returns to house where public option gets reinserted, then sent off to obama to sign.
    other hints of strategy that peter failed to consider : pelosi stated weeks ago, even before the house left town, that she would bring up single payer for debate & vote after congress returned from recess. predictably, single payer will get so demonized, that it will reframe public option in a new light, making it look once again like the centrist compromise it actually is and make it look “acceptable” by comparison, contrary to rightwing slandering that has painted public option as something radical. i.e. you want to see radical, well, let me show you something radical. or at least that’s what i’m guessing. why else would pelosi bring up single payer knowing it didn’t have a chance in hell?
    how did this nascar appearance go? you mean he wasn’t heckled, booed & drowned out by a sea of teabaggers? do i dislike pandering to nascar? yes. but i also recognize that reciprocity is a powerful thing. how many extra votes did obama win from moderates or independents because he didn’t demonize them and made them feel like their concerns were considered? obama is extending his hand in a gesture of good will. whether that gesture is returned in kind is up to the other party. but even critics will recognize an effort has been made (though they’ll be loathe to admit it.) there is also political benefit to be gained to look like you’re the one that has bent over backwards to actively seek solutions to the country’s problems while the opposition has obstructed, dug in their heels and refused to be moved. when the opposing party are acting like spoiled children, somebody has to be the adult. somebody has to be the bigger man. somebody has to be a fence mender. otherwise this country will disintegrate into civil war. it would look strange for obama to be open to discussions with iran and north korea but be unwilling to reach out to republicans. i rather see more of token gestures like this rather than caving on policy.
    i’m sure nascar appreciated the publicity. i heard attendance was down.

  • Blue_Shark

    O talks to everybody!
    …which is good (remember the last guy?)
    …get over it.

  • Wayne Dickson

    I admit that the Chevy thing caught my eye immediately. And the suggested reading is clever. Still, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
    While Emptywheel’s reading is more provocative and engaging, it’s not mutually exclusive to the “catering” option. Re the latter, Obama is a Democrat with progressive dreams. But he’s no Ted Kennedy.
    It’s looking as if he would rather be president for 8 years than progressive champion for 4. Stuck here in the back row of the peanut gallery, his is not a choice I’ll ever have to make. Second-guessing is easy.
    But I sure don’t like seeing a Democratic president kow-towing to lying liars, bullies, “Astroturfers,” etc.

  • QrazyQat

    I’m old so I remember when Jimmy Carter invited NASCAR drivers to the WH which elicted a chorus of “Cracker!” from the GOP and their media syncophants.

  • nordmend

    i’ve been a loyal bag looker/reader since near the beginning. i love the site and have learned much from it. but, much like the agonist, another favorite political site, the bag generally requires the filter of “they are good smart folks, but are still chugging-a-lugging the democratic cool aid”. it’s nice to see michael start to barf some of it back up, and judging by the aggressiveness of these comments, folks don’t want to get any on them.
    for example, esoth included both a not-very-veiled threat, and a personal attack on the site host:
    I am a longtime fan and sometime financial supporter of the Bag, …
    How beaten a wreck of a man are you, that you continue to cede huge chunks of America to the ghost of Karl Rove, accepting the Conservative definitions…
    sorry to break it to you, esoth, but much of america has already been ceded to the roveian class, the destruction rolls on unabated, and the obama magic continues to cut the legs out from anyone who would ask for anything more tangible than “hope”. as someone said in some blog somewhere , “obama could declare martial law, and liberals would say he’s just trying to win over the generals”.
    ok, on to the photo analysis: like thirdeye pushpin, i found the photo technically odd – the busy background, the armsuit tubes, the odd framing (although it looks like this photo was taken from way off the main intended photo-sightline).
    i also wonder how much money lowes gave to the obama campaign, or however they work those things.
    visually, the obama zone, ie himself and his white backdrop, could be seen as just barely foraying into another world – that of nascar and all it implies.
    and, most importantly, this photo has to be looked at within the context of a man who is in charge of the biggest killing machine in the history of the planet; who is presiding over several active wars, active torture, wiretapping, government secrecy, a health care plan with no single payer option, and a huge transfer of public wealth to big banks. go ahead. look at that smile again.
    thanks bag! be true to yer gut!

  • yg

    so, if we do end up passing a bill with a public option, are you going to come back to eat crow? or are you going to change your nick?

  • nordmend

    depends what kind of “public option”, i suppose, but sure, i’d be happy to eat crow, if that’s what it takes to get health care for americans.
    it’s hard to describe how weird it is to watch america trash the world, openly torture people without trial, send people to the moon, all the while having a raging debate about whether it’s own citizens should be taken care of if they get sick.
    best of luck, tho.

  • Molly

    You would be surprised how big NASCAR is in blue Northern Virginia…. among the well-heeled, too!

  • yg

    i shop at lowe’s too, as opposed to the GOP supporting home depot.

  • quixote

    Like the others here commenting on the politics rather than the imagery, I’d like to remind everyone of this:
    Reported at, Sept. 23, 2007, a quote from Obama when he was an Illinois State Senator, working to, um, reshape Illinois’ attempt at State-assisted health care.

    “We radically changed [the health care bill] in response to concerns that were raised by the insurance industry.” (Obama, 2004/05/19)

    As bystander said earlier, the facts indicate that he doesn’t see the people he’s eager to work with as antagonists. That was just us hopeful progressives.

  • yg

    article also stated:
    By the time the legislation passed the Senate, in May 2004, Obama had written three successful amendments, at least one of which made key changes favorable to insurers.
    if one was favorable to insurers, what or who did the other 2 amendments favor?
    at the end of the day, obama passed something that provided more coverage than existed before. what did hillary pass?

  • Quiet Jim

    My first thought too, Old. Second thought was old JJ just put a finger in the eye of the nut job base. I remember pro golf players blowing of Clinton and MJ blowing off Bush. That JJ got some stones.

  • yg

    And, given that his efforts have failed, repeatedly failed, and given what has been at stake for real people in this jobless recovery
    i’m assuming you’re talking about the stim package. obama got what he could. if he hadn’t won over collin’s support, the bill might not have gotten the votes needed to pass the senate. there is still a portion of the stimulus remaining to be processed and it’s full impact yet to be yielded. if it weren’t for the stim package, economic conditions now would be even worse.
    if you mean why didn’t obama hit wall street with regulations right off the bat, at the time of the bank bailout took place, we were on the precipice of sliding into another great depression. that isn’t the time to unload a bunch of new regulations, adding new burdens a weak economy is unable to handle. you wait till the economy stops tanking, finds the bottom and regains some stability, then introduce new regulations. tougher regs for wall street is what obama is doing now, in addition to cracking down on offshore tax havens.
    if the bank bailout hadn’t taken place and we did slide into a depression, critics now taking him to task for having made them in the first place would now be blaming him and asking why he stupidly failed to rescue the banks and allowed the economy to fall into ruin.
    some critics can never be made happy. their positioning is such that obama is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

  • yg

    at the time the stim package was being debated, legislation hadn’t yet been passed to enable the reconciliation process. conditions didn’t allow for the bill to have gotten passed with only 50 votes. hence, collins’ voted was needed.

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