Monday, July 30, 2012

Idiots' Delight

Every so often idiocy joins forces with intolerance and phony patriotism to form a particularly ugly and toxic trifecta.  Whenever that happens, such incidences deserve nothing less than a complete exposure to the light of day.

Last month, Michele Bachmann, along with a few other Republicans and virtually all of the far Right, went after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin for having ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.  According to Bachmann, the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the U.S. government and is “destroying the Western civilization from within” by imposing Sharia law through a jihad.

Religious intolerance is nothing new in America.  Anti-Semitism has had a long and rather ugly past in this country going all the way back to the turn of the last century.  But, while prejudice against Jews is certainly detestable, the Islamophobia that has sprung up over the last decade in the post 9/11 era is particularly disconcerting, because its proponents aim not just to discriminate against Muslims, but to outlaw the practice of their religion altogether under some ridiculous notion that it poses a threat to the very existence of the United States.

Thankfully, Bachmann’s stunt has backfired on her.  Some of her colleagues had some rather choice words for her.  Senator John McCain read her out on the floor of the Senate, calling her charges “sinister.”      

“These allegations about Huma and the report from which they are drawn are nothing less than an unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honorable woman, a dedicated American and a loyal public servant.”

Ed Rollins, Bachmann’s former campaign director, went a bit further in his rebuke:

“I have been a practitioner of tough politics for many decades. There is little that amazes me and even less that shocks me. I have to say that Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s outrageous and false charges against a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin reaches that threshold.

“The Republican Party, which John McCain led as our nominee in 2008, is going to become irrelevant if we become the party of intolerance and hate.  As a member of Congress, with a seat on the House Intelligence Committee, Mrs. Bachmann you know better. Shame on you, Michele! You should stand on the floor of the House and apologize to Huma Abedin and to Secretary Clinton and to the millions of hard working, loyal, Muslim Americans for your wild and unsubstantiated charges.”


It’s one thing when the opposition party calls you out; it’s quite another when members of your own party do it.  Bachmann didn’t just cross a line, she leap-frogged over it.  Good for McCain and Rollins for speaking out against her bigotry.

This is not the first time that Bachmann has invoked the ghost of McCarthyism.  In 2008, on Chris Matthews’ Hardball, she referred to certain liberals as being unpatriotic and called for an “expose” from the media to determine who was pro or anti-American.

Calling Michele Bachmann an idiot is like calling the Atlantic ocean wet; it goes without saying.  But Bachmann’s actions and stances portend something far more ominous than mere stupidity.  They reveal the real threat to America, and it is not from without; it’s from within.  What makes Bachmann and her ilk so reprehensible and dangerous is that they hide their bigotry behind a supposed love of country that is as phony as a $2 bill to make it seem as though they are more patriotic than those they attack.

But, rather than strengthen the country they so earnestly purport to love, they unwittingly undermine it.  The words of Edward R. Murrow are worth repeating here.  Where appropriate, I have changed certain words to bring it up to date; e.g. Bachmann for McCarthy, Islam for Communism, etc…

No one familiar with the history of this country can deny that congressional committees are useful. It is necessary to investigate before legislating, but the line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one and the Congresswoman from Minnesota has stepped over it repeatedly. Her primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind, as between the internal and the external threats of Islam. We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men -- not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.

This is no time for men who oppose Congresswoman Bachmann’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.

The actions of the Congresswoman from Minnesota have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really hers.  She didn't create this situation of fear; she merely exploited it -- and rather successfully. Cassius was right. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

Good night, and good luck.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Message To My Fellow White People

Every once in a while I come across a piece so brilliant and on point, I can't let it pass.  Last year it was Harry Shearer's piece called, Two Things Obama Got Wrong.  Well this year, I'm giving it up for fellow blogger Tom Degan, who has stolen my thunder so to speak.  Swallow hard, my fellow Caucasians.  This one could hurt.


This posting is FOR WHITES ONLY. Nothing personal but there's a conversation to be had here and it doesn't concern you. If you're African American or Hispanic or Asian or Arab - SCRAM! Gail Collins wrote a particularly witty piece in today's New York Times about a town in North Dakota where the unemployment rate is at one percent. Go read that. You'll all be welcome back with open arms when I write my next piece. Now SCAT, ya hear?


Okay, fellow Caucasians, now that we're alone, we need to have a good old fashioned heart-to-heart. Four years ago America elected its first non-white president and - to be perfectly blunt with you - a lot of you folks have reacted to this new American reality a bit....Oh, how can I put this as delicately as possible....Well, let me put it to you this way: you're not taking it well, that's for damned sure! In fact since Inauguration day 2009, you've been in full-tilt, FREAK OUT mode. I mean, hell, judging by the overreaction of some people, you would think that the president and first lady were Charles Manson and Squeaky Fromme! A lot of white people are acting like this is the end of the world - and they're absolutely correct. We're coming to the end of the old world. Like it or not (and I kinda like it) we're about to enter a new world. Be brave. Grow up.

Now, let's all just take a deep b

My fellow crackers, someday in the not-too-distant future, we won't be in the majority anymore. In fact that day will come within the lifespan of most of you who are now readin
g this. I know this must be a bitter pill for some of you to swallow - but that's the way it is and there's nothing we can do to alter the unalterable . There has been such an insane, mass hissy-fit over the fact that, for the first time in history, a black family is living in the family quarters (as opposed to the servants quarters) of the White House. Honestly, we really need to get a grip here, folks.


Within a couple of
months of President Obama's moving into the Executive Mansion, a movement was formed by some of you knuckleheads for no other reason than to counter this major, sociological shift in the American political landscape. I'm referring to the so called "Tea Party" mob. You know who you are! Your reaction to this moderate administration (referring to it as "socialist" for instance) has teetered between the absurd and the comical. Well, I've got good news and bad news for you....

THE GOOD NEWS: Your reaction to this administration's very existence has been so insanely stupid, I fear it will be another generation or so before reasonable people dare to elect another person of color to the presidency.

THE BAD NEWS: By the end of this century - maybe even half-way into this century - a lily-white chief executiv
e will be as rare as an 8-Track tape player in a Chevy Volt.

White Americans, we need to come to terms with the future. We've got to stop living in this silly state of denial. What are we so afraid of? Why are we so paranoid? We have nothing to fear. Absolutely nothing! It's not like we spent the last four-hundred years being anything but benevolent and humanitarian keepers to our black brothers and sisters....

Let me rephrase that....

We should not expect them to be as cruel and as stupid as most of us were for all of the centuries we ran things. And besides, at least we never tried to deny them full participation in our democracy! And it's not as if we refused them the opportunity for a good and decent education....oh dear....
"Someday there will be an all-black judge and an all-black jury and then....'Shit! There all black! HOW THE HELL AM I GONNA GET A FAIR SHAKE WITH AN ALL-BLACK JURY???' You're not. Ha! Ha! There's gonna be alotta dues, Jim!"-Lenny Bruce

Oh, the sun shines bright on mah ol' Kentucky home
'Tis summer and the honkies are gay....

I was just kidding. Lenny was just kidding, too. The thing is, some of us have a little more
faith in the essential humanity of our darker skinned siblings than some of you do. Not to worry; you'll find out what I'm talking about soon enough. In a couple of decades the Great White Father of old will be showing us the menu and busing our tables. That indeed is something to look forward to. Mah! Mah! The ol' plantation sho' has changed!

God gave Noah the rainbow sign
No more water
The fire next time

-James Baldwin

It's sad
that people who are not white need to wait until they are no longer "minorities" in order to receive equal protection under the law (At present they don't have that protection - and you're kidding yourselves if you think that they do. Just look at the prison population). But as long as they have waited, I don't think they'll have to wait much longer. As uncle Bobby said, "The old world is rapidly fading. Please get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand". Or as Sam Cooke sang nearly fifty years ago, "a change is gonna come". Sam didn't live to see that change. Bob Dylan probably will live to see it. In fact, we're damned-near there. We have no other choice but to accept it. The history of the next century will primarily be the story of how well (or badly) white America dealt with that inevitable change. Deal with it well, my friends. History will smile upon you.

Aw, cheer up! It won't be so bad. I promise!

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY



July can’t end fast enough for Mitt Romney.  Between the Obama campaign’s relentless barrage of negative ads about his mysterious involvement at Bain Capital and his refusal to release more of his tax returns, to the comments he made in London concerning England’s preparedness for the Olympics, if ever there was a guy who needed a reset button more it’s dear old Mittens.

And now, to make matters worse, the former governor of Massachusetts has stuck his foot so far down his throat with his latest gaffe, it will take an ear, nose and throat specialist days to extricate it. 

According to a piece in The Huffington Post, Romney did an interview with Israel Hayom (a conservative Israeli newspaper), in which he is quoted as saying that the Arab Spring, now going on throughout the Middle East, could’ve been prevented if Barack Obama had just followed George Bush’s lead in the region.

“President Bush urged Hosni Mubarak to move toward a more democratic posture, but President Obama abandoned the freedom agenda and we are seeing today a whirlwind of tumult in the Middle East in part because these nations did not embrace the reforms that could have changed the course of their history, in a more peaceful manner.”
Let me see if I get this straight.  Everything in the Middle East would be just dandy today if only President Obama had followed George Bush’s game plan.  The president who waged two of the costliest wars in our nation’s history – one badly mismanaged, the other illegal – is now the standard by which Mitt Romney wishes Obama would aspire to.

I just wanted to make sure I got Romney right.  After all I wouldn’t want to take his words out of context, like his campaign did with a recent speech by Obama.  Those were the exact words of the presumptive Republican nominee.


You know it’s one thing to continue to believe in a failed religion like supply-side economics; it’s quite another to consciously come out in support of a foreign policy initiative by a president who will go down as one of the worst commander in chiefs of all time.  The Bush agenda, which is what it really should be called, is mainly to blame for the Arab Spring in the first place.  The unauthorized invasion of a sovereign Arab nation inflamed millions of Arabs and Muslims throughout the Middle East and when the repressive regimes throughout the region tightened their grip even more to squash the unrest, it backfired on them.  Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and now Syria are all part of a domino effect that George Bush unwittingly started the day he invaded Iraq.  And, if I’m not mistaken, Barack Obama wasn’t even a senator on that fateful day.

If Mitt Romney truly wants to debate Barack Obama on foreign policy, the Obama campaign should respond with three simple words: “Bring it on.”  The truth is that Obama, far from being a “weak” president, has stepped up drone attacks, beefed up troop support in Afghanistan and killed Osama bin Laden.  He finally brought to a close, Bush’s illegal war in Iraq, and his wisdom regarding Libya helped lead to the ouster of a brutal despot, without a costly, decade-long entanglement.  Put that in your pipe, Mitt, and smoke it.

Yes, July can’t end fast enough for Mitt Romney.  The only question is, will August be any better?


Thursday, July 26, 2012

The 269 Quagmire for Obama

It’s the ultimate nightmare scenario that nobody wants to talk about.  What if on election night both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney end up tied with 269 electoral votes.  Who gets to decide the winner?

According to the 12th amendment, the House of Representatives gets to decide.  Each state will cast one vote.  Whoever gets 26 votes wins the election.  Just in case you haven’t looked at a current map of the House of Representatives lately, let me break it down for you.  There are a few patches of blue, primarily in the northeast and west coast, along with some sprinkles in south Texas, southern Florida, northern New Mexico and a couple of Midwest states, but mostly a shit-load of red just about everywhere else.  I’ll spare you the suspense.  If the election ends in a tie, Barack Obama is toast.

But isn’t a 269 tie improbable?  Well, that depends.  Is it likely to happen?  Probably not, but, the more I look at the battleground states, the more concerned I get that it might just happen.

The states that concern me most are Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin.  I believe that Obama will get a split in the mid-Atlantic states, winning Virginia, but losing North Carolina.  I am less than enthusiastic about the Russ-belt states.  Ohio is within the margin of error and I don’t trust what I’m seeing in Wisconsin.  Obama could lose both states.  And then there’s Florida, Democrats’ favorite state.  The race is a dead heat there.  Expect Rick Scott to pull out all the stops to secure the state for Romney.  Obama should easily win New Mexico and Nevada, with a close pickup in Colorado.  Assuming Pennsylvania’s voter ID law doesn’t tip it into the red column, and all the other states go the way they’re expected to, that’s 269 Obama, 269 Romney.  Game, set, match.

Any which way you look at it, Obama has to take two out of three in the Midwest.  Either Michigan and Wisconsin or Michigan and Ohio or Ohio and Wisconsin.  I deliberately omit Iowa mainly because I don't think Obama will carry it, despite holding a 3-point lead.  As for Indiana, let's just agree that if Obama needs Indiana, he's in deep trouble.  Of course he could also lose both Virginia and North Carolina.  In that event he would have to sweep all three of the aforementioned Midwest battleground states, a tall order. 

That’s why I’m a little confused and somewhat concerned that Obama is spending considerable sums of money running ads in Florida.  While he won the state in ’08, it will more than likely flip this year.  Everything north of the I-4 corridor is a sea of red and his support among seniors has eroded some.  He would need huge turnouts in the Miami / Broward areas to have any chance.  That’s asking a lot. 

If I were running his campaign, I would concede the state and divert the resources to Wisconsin and Michigan to shore up support there.  Leave the advertising in Ohio and Virginia alone and run some additional ads in Colorado.  If he takes those states, Obama wins reelection.  Period.

Of course there’s just a little over three months to go and no one knows for certain how all this will play out.  But the cynic in me just can’t shake this nagging feeling that we could be headed for a scenario that would make Bush v. Gore look like a couple kids fighting over crayons.

Oh, shit!   

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Winning Matters

From time to time I have a chance to engage in passionate debate with a few of my progressive friends and, as is usually the case, I tend to be the odd man out in the discussion.  It’s not that I’m any less a progressive than they are; it’s just that I tend to see things a bit differently.

For instance, I am not an idealist.  I wish the world were a better place to live in; I wish that negative attack ads could be eliminated from politics and that we could have an intelligent debate on the issues.  Of course I’m also a Mets’ fan, so I’ve learned a thing or two about unfulfilled wishes.  My motto has always been, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”  It isn’t very lofty, but it’s imminently practical.

One of the things that irks me to no end is how most progressives tend to view the electorate.  They see voters as intelligent enough to parse through complicated issues and arrive at the only rational conclusion possible.  That very notion is arrogant and foolhardy, not to mention self-defeating.  The simple truth is that there has never been any evidence that the majority of the population is capable of even a rudimentary understanding of the issues.  If there were, The News Hour on PBS would be the most watched news program on television.  The fact is that more people watch Celebrity Apprentice than MSNBC, CNN and Fox News combined.  Even allowing for the bias of Fox, that revelation alone should scare the pants off you.

Want proof of the country’s growing intellectual atrophy?  Just mention Glass-Steagall or Citizens United to the average person out in the street and then watch the deer-in-a-headlight look you get.  The two most important issues of our time, which are almost single-handedly responsible for shaping the country we now live in, are virtually unknown to the overwhelming majority of the population.  Frightening!

The reality is that most people, sadly, could care less about the day-to-day issues, much less wrap their heads around them.  Which isn’t to say they don’t have an opinion on them.  Ask anybody you meet what he or she thinks about taxes and government spending and the likely response will be that both should be significantly lower.  But ask that same person how you cut both and balance the budget and the response will be eerily similar to Ralph Kramden apologizing to Alice.  Having an opinion is one thing, having an informed opinion is quite another.

Of course the Left, for the most part, rejects this notion.  To them it’s about educating voters on the issues.  Like leading a horse to water.  Only problem is that they never let the horse drink; they insist on explaining the value of the water until the horse loses interest in it altogether. By contrast, the Right practically pours the water down the horse’s throat before he can decide if he’s even thirsty.  The moral of the story is never leave anything to chance.

I have watched in amazement how the Right and Left frame issues and the staggering reality is that when it comes to painting a narrative, the Right is like Picasso; the Left looks like that guy who used to have his own show where he taught people how to paint.  He knew his stuff but about ten minutes in you wanted to throw something at the TV.

Casey Stengel once asked of the 1962 Mets, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”  Judging by their record that year (40 – 120) the answer was an obvious “no.”  Well, to paraphrase that lovable but beleaguered manager, “Can’t anybody on the Left successfully market a succinct and easily discernible message to voters?”

Because whether or not they want to hear it, marketing in politics, like sales, is what counts.  The truth is you have to break everything down into the simplest terms and lead your target audience where you want them to go.  To quote an old colleague of mine in sales, “People don’t buy features, they buy benefits.”

The Left, rather than look at how horrible its messaging has been over the years, has chosen to focus on things that are beyond its immediate control.  Citizens United has tilted the playing field significantly over to the Right; the main-stream media has not done a good enough job asking probative questions and unmasking the falsehoods of the Right.  Granted, both realities are deeply disturbing and portend a dire long-term fate if not corrected.

But, as they say in Manhattan, that and a subway token will get you a ride on the 7th Avenue Express.  Expecting justice from a Supreme Court that long ago stopped caring about or dispensing it or waiting for the return of Edward R. Murrow from the grave isn’t going to save the day.  The simple truth is that every single major issue is winnable for the Left, even under the current conditions it now faces. 

Think about it.  The economy, the environment, taxes, equal rights, healthcare, energy, education, it all comes down to framing the argument.  The reason that the Right has been so successful over the last few years isn’t that their positions are better, it’s because they have done a much better job at marketing their vision and reinforcing it.

Why is this so?  Because the Right employs a very simple technique, commonly referred to as KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid.  Catch phrases and one line – sometimes one word – statements are the rule of the day.  The words are carefully chosen so as to maximize their provocativeness (see, death panels, socialist takeover, Obamacare, death tax, un-American, terrorist sympathizer, liberty, freedom, class warfare, etc…).  People like Frank Luntz have revolutionized how American politics is played out.  Whether you approve of his methods or not, he has been incredibly successful.

By comparison, the Left often turns a sentence into a novel.  It has all the pizazz of watching ice melt.  And even when it has the chance to nail an issue, it ends up fumbling the ball at the goal line.  The healthcare debate fiasco is a case study in how not to fight a political battle.  While the Right managed to demonize a plan that was once championed by the Heritage Foundation, the Left and the overwhelming majority of Democrats – including the President – ostensibly ignored the warning signs until it was too late.  The arrogance of presuming that voters would be able to figure out the truth was the real culprit here.

The sad truth is that all too often the Left is too high-minded to roll around in the same mud as its opponents.  Its reluctance to engage in “gutter” politics and its preference for “the high road” has been met with staggering defeats, both electorally and culturally.

The 2010 midterms did not have to be the blood bath that they were.  While the economy was bad and losses in the House and Senate were inevitable, the Left could’ve mitigated the damage had it understood the scope and breadth of what it was they were up against it.

Even now, in spite of all the evidence, some on the Left still don’t want to wake up and smell the caffeine.  They insist the key to victory lies in thoughtful, deliberate persuasion rather than employing a more direct and succinct closing technique, and hold firm in their belief in the inestimable ability of the electorate to piece everything together, like that has ever happened before.

Some have gone in the other direction and adopted the thinking that maybe the best thing for the country would be to let the Republicans take the Senate and White House and thoroughly destroy the economy, like they damn-near did the last time they ran the show.  Maybe then America would come to its senses, figure out just how misguided it was and elect responsible officials to run the country.   Again the presumption here is astounding given the current climate and what’s at stake.  That any supposed sane person would wish it is beyond belief.

Fortunately, President Obama has departed the good ship highbrow and decided to borrow a page or two out of his opponent’s playbook.  In a bold strategy that would make Karl Rove proud, Obama is hitting Mitt Romney with everything including the kitchen sink.  The formula is quite simple.  First attack his strength, define him before he can define himself, and then hit him where he's vulnerable.  This was the same strategy George Bush used against John Kerry and it proved rather effective.

Apparently, after futzing around for nearly three years trying to appeal to the lesser angels of the political landscape, Obama has figured out that if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.  And, like Harry Truman discovered, better late than never.  It’s been quite amusing to see a Republican have his clocked cleaned by a Democrat employing a Republican tact.  And while it’s still too early to predict success, the role reversal has been quite refreshing.

Vince Lombardi was once quoted as saying “winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”  Al Davis would implore his players to “just win baby.”  Winning matters; it always has.  Those who survive are the only ones worth surviving.  Okay so I ripped off that last sentence from the movie Fail Safe. Sue me.  The point is that history remembers the winners.  How many Super Bowl losers can you name?

There aren’t going to be any silver bullets or gifts of manna from heaven.  It is up to the Left and the Democratic Party to do the best with what they’ve been given.  To lose just because of some high-minded, holier-than-thou attitude or, worse, some misbegotten attempt to teach a country a lesson would be catastrophic and reprehensible, especially given that things might well be worse by 2016.

As they say in professional sports, the future is now.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Dark Night

The death toll stands at twelve, with dozens more seriously injured.  The tragic shootings in Aurora, Colorado by a crazed gunman have rocked not only a tiny community but an entire nation.  And while we don’t yet know what motivated James Holmes to go on a violent rampage during the showing of a movie, we do know the method by which his madness lead to the taking of so many innocent lives.

We’ve seen this before all too often.  Last year it was Tucson, Arizona; in ’07 it was Virginia Tech; and of course who could forget the Columbine massacre of ’99?  The common denominator in all these shooting sprees has been the ease with which the perpetrators were able to obtain the firearms they used to murder their victims.

Sick people commit atrocious and heinous crimes all the time, we are told by proponents of the Second Amendment.  They could just as easily use a knife or run over someone with a car.  It is not the gun which kills, but the one wielding it.

We have heard this nonsense way too much and allowed it to obscure our better judgments.  Yes, it is true that a psychopath bent on murder can choose any means at his disposal to carry out his deed, but show me the cases where a crazed knifeman killed twelve people or, as was the case at Virginia Tech, thirty-two.  Please show me the instances – any at all – where a driver ran over and killed scores of people on a rampage.

I am quite certain that the Founding Fathers did not intend for the Second Amendment to be so broadly interpreted.  It is one thing for Andy Taylor to take Opie out hunting; it is quite another for assault rifles to wind up on the streets where they can be used indiscriminately by unstable individuals.  That these killing machines have not been outlawed is an affront to common sense and decency.

We require people to take a road test before issuing them a driver’s license.  Is it really asking too much for the state to conduct a background check before allowing someone to purchase a gun?  Does it really infringe on a person’s rights to make them wait a few days before they can walk out of a store with a deadly weapon?

There comes a time when reasonable people must come together and say, “Enough is enough!”  The United States leads the industrialized world in violent gun deaths.  The correlation between the number of those deaths and the number of guns on the streets is unmistakable, as is the lack of a comprehensive gun-control policy.  Canada and Europe have strict gun laws in place; only America seems defiant, even in the face of overwhelming evidence.

Over the next few days, perhaps weeks, we will see the NRA and their allies close ranks and vehemently deny that guns are to blame for what happened in Aurora.  It was the medical profession that failed to recognize the illness which plagued the assailant.

Hogwash!  We heard the same rubbish after the Tucson shooting.  It is no less ridiculous now then it was then.  So far as anyone knew, James Holmes seemed like a perfectly normal man until he snapped and went berserk.  Doctors are trained to spot tendencies in behaviors; they are not mind-readers or soothsayers.

While it is true that a federal gun-control law would not end all gun violence, it would make it far more difficult to perpetrate.  And isn’t that the point of all laws to begin with?  To make it more difficult for offenders to violate the rights of others.  We have speed limits on our roads, not to take away the enjoyment of driving, but to make them safer for everyone.  Is it really asking too much to put some kind of reasonable limit on gun ownership so that responsible people can still enjoy them while, at the same time, deterring other would-be assassins from once more inflicting their brand of terror on the population at large?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tip of the Hat

So long as everyone's piling on Mitt Romney, I'd thought it would be sweeter to let a conservative have at him.  And, for the third month in a row, David Frum gets the nod as the featured writer of this piece. Not that I'm looking for residuals, mind you, but, suffice to say, I've been doing an awful lot of plugging for the guy who used to be W's speechwriter.

When I make it to the top, I hope he repays the compliment.

Romney: Too Weak?

This is powerfully said by Josh Marshall on Friday the 13th, a bad day for Mitt Romney:

I’m not sure how many people watching this spectacle even remember that it’s nominally about whether Romney is responsible for outsourcing Bain did post-February 1999 or its investment in a company that serviced abortion clinics. I barely remember it myself. What’s driving this now is that the Obama camp has backed Romney into a position in which he looks ridiculous — something much more lethal for presidential candidates than most people appreciate.

Romney had absolutely nothing to do with Bain after 1999, no responsibility for anything it did, barely even knew what it did. Only he was the owner, the Chairman of the Board and the CEO. At least according to all the official documents, many of which he signed. Only he wasn’t any of those things, says Romney.

Marshall's column is titled "Weak, weak, weak," and it puts its finger on a core weakness of Romney as a candidate. It's not just his arguments that are weak. For the past year, we have watched him be pushed around by the radical GOP fringe. He's been forced to abjure his most important achievement as governor, his healthcare plan. In December, he was compelled to sign onto the Ryan budget plan after months of squirming to avoid it.

Last fall he released an elaborate economic plan. On the eve of the Michigan primary, he ripped it up and instead accepted a huge new tax cut - to a top rate of 28% - that has never been costed (and that he now tries to avoid mentioning whenever he can). Romney has acknowledged in interviews that he understands that big rapid cuts in government spending could push the US economy back into recession. Yet he campaigns anyway on the Tea Party's false promise that it's the deficit that causes the depression, rather than (as he well knows) the other way around.

A big majority of this country is rightly frightened and appalled by what the congressional Republican party has become over the past four years: a radical cadre willing to push the nation over the cliff into utterly unnecessary national default in order to score a political point.

The hope for many of us was that a Republican president could do a better job constraining them than Barack Obama has been able to do - especially if (as I personally also hoped) the very act of electing such a president would deflate the radicalism of the congressional GOP and revive a more constructive spirit.

But at every point, Romney has surrendered to the fringe of his party. Weak. And now in his first tough encounter with Barack Obama, Romney is being shoved around again. This is not what a president looks like - anyway, not a successful president.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Maybe It WON'T Be About the Economy Stupid

Ronald Reagan ran on it; Bill Clinton drove it home like no one before him.  Indeed every pollster agrees – both Democrat and Republican – the top three issues voters will be focused on this fall are jobs, jobs and (what was that third one?) jobs. 

So, as a famous comic villain might say, riddle me this.  If the economy is the dominant issue driving the electorate, why is Barack Obama tied or slightly ahead of Mitt Romney in virtually every poll with four months to go before the general election?   If history is to be believed, then, by all rights, the President should be trailing badly in those same polls.  Certainly other first-term presidents felt the sting of sluggish economies that ultimately led to their defeat.

But, unlike Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, this president has proven far more resilient than even his harshest detractors could have predicted. Like the fabled story of the Three Little Pigs, no matter how hard they huff and puff, they can’t blow his house down.  This has thoroughly frustrated Republicans who were hoping to capitalize on a weak recovery that has seen unemployment remain above eight percent for most of the last four years.  And yet, even with the economy in such dire straits, if the election were held today, Barack Obama would prevail, albeit by the narrowest of margins.  No president since FDR has pulled off such a feat. 

How can this be?  In my opinion it comes down to three factors: personal likability, gross incompetence and resignation.

Let’s start with the first.  With the obvious exception of the wingnuts on the Right, who have made their feelings towards this president all too plain, his personal likability remains remarkably high.  Even those likely voters who feel the country is on the wrong track like the guy.  Indeed, the more personal the attacks from the Right become, the more sympathy Obama seems to garner from the general public.  He has become, for all intents and purposes, the Teflon president.

While likability doesn’t always save a vulnerable president, it certainly doesn’t hurt.  Indeed in a tightly-contested race it can often prove to be the deciding factor.  The 1960 election bore this out.  Despite having the superior resume, Richard Nixon was not well liked by the electorate and a young and charismatic John F. Kennedy beat him in one of the closest elections in American history. Kennedy edged out Nixon in the popular vote by a mere .2%.

Then there’s the issue of gross competence.  There’s no getting around it.  The Republican Party of today bears little resemblance to the Republican Party of even a generation ago.  Who would’ve thought that Ronald Reagan – the president who gave us supply-side economics – would be viewed as a moderate in today’s GOP?  That’s how far to the right the party has drifted and, while the base has certainly become re-energized this election cycle, independent voters remain skeptical about the motives of the Tea Party.  Even those who self-identify as conservative have expressed reservations about whether the Republicans are up to the challenge of leading the country forward.  Last year’s debt-ceiling fiasco left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths.

The simple truth is that ideology, while good theater for both ends of the political spectrum, isn’t the motivating force behind most moderate and independent voters.  More often than not it comes down to who looks more presidential.  Ironically, the more ginned up the Right gets, the less attractive they look to the electorate.  Obama has capitalized on this point by behaving like the adult in a classroom full of juvenile delinquents.  The more they act up, the better he comes across.

Of course the fact that Mitt Romney is the presumptive Republican nominee hasn’t exactly been the boost the GOP was looking for.  So far, the Party’s most “electable” candidate has been a dud.  He hasn’t connected with voters the way he needs to and even his most ardent supporters have been highly critical of what they view as a sloppy and highly undisciplined campaign.  A recent op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal all but threw him under the bus.  No matter how hard he tries to sound genuine, he comes across as someone who would say or do anything to get elected and that hardly ever plays well with the electorate.

But now we come to the strangest factor of all: resignation.  The simple truth is that many voters are starting to come to grips with a staggering reality.  No matter who wins in November, the likelihood is that unemployment will remain high for quite some time.  Systemic issues within the American and global economies do not bode well for the prospects of a dramatic turnaround anytime soon.  Like it or not, it could take years before we see unemployment dip below six percent, let alone five.

And while you may think that spells trouble for the incumbent, the truth is that in such political climates voters sometimes opt to stay the course.  It’s the old “the devil you know” syndrome and, while that may not sound like a ringing endorsement of the President, it just might end up being his best friend.  The painful truth for Republicans is that most voters know the recession started before Obama took office.  Attempts to frame this as Obama’s recession haven’t paid the dividends they’d hoped for. 

Then there’s the fact that Romney still hasn’t made the case for how and why he would be better, which has had the unintended consequence of helping, not hurting the President.  If you can’t lay out a clear vision for why you should get the job, it’s pretty hard to convince voters you deserve the job.  Indeed, Romney appears to be borrowing a page from the John Kerry playbook by playing it safe and banking on voter dissatisfaction with Obama as his ticket to victory.  

There’s just one tiny flaw in Romney’s logic.  Obama isn’t George Bush.  By 2004, voters were starting to become wary of both the Iraq War and of Bush’s leadership ability.  Pundits were predicting his defeat.  Yet, even with the political tides starting to turn against him, Bush still beat Kerry.  The “vote for me, I’m not him” strategy failed miserably.  Why on earth Romney would choose that same strategy against a president who is considerably more popular is beyond belief, but that appears to be the case.

Of course all this is pure speculation.  In the end it may well come down to the economy after all, and whether it’s fair or not, the fact remains that President Obama is presiding over the worst economy since FDR.  True, his policies may have mitigated what could’ve been another Great Depression, but that may not be enough to save him.  And while it’s also true he didn’t create the mess, the fact remains that it’s his mess now.

Being popular and likable is certainly desirable.  But let’s not forget that George Bush got reelected in ’04 and he was hardly Mr. Congeniality.  The bottom line, more often than not, ends up being the determinant factor in most elections.  If enough voters feel that Obama is worthy of a second term, they will give him one; if not, they will give Mitt Romney a crack at running the show. 

Like it or not, it is that simple.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Mitt Happens

Poor Mitt Romney.  He just can’t help himself.  First he’s pro-choice, then he’s pro-life.  Next he bashes Ronald Reagan, only to turn around and praises him later.  He passes a mandated healthcare law as governor of Massachusetts which has a penalty that acts very much like a tax and recommends it as a model for a national healthcare policy, then, when it becomes the blueprint for President Obama’s healthcare law, he reverses himself and promises to repeal it if elected president.  Pick an issue and, more than likely, Romney has had at least two opinions about it.  The only consistency about Mitt Romney has been his inconsistency.  Next to his stances, the weather in Florida seems virtually static.

Well it now appears as though the former governor of the Bay State may have stepped in something a little too deep even for him to get out of.  And wouldn’t you know it has absolutely nothing to do with healthcare.  Seems as though there’s a little discrepancy about exactly when Mittens resigned from Bain Capital.  He has steadfastly said he left the company in February 1999 to concentrate on the 2002 Winter Olympics; however, SEC filings have revealed he had some sort of role with the company up to and including 2002.

According to a story in The Huffington Post, “SEC files include at least six instances of Romney signing documents after February 1999, proving -- unless the signatures were forged -- that his claim to not have ‘been involved in the operations of any Bain Capital entity in any way’ is wrong.”

This is no mere “you say tomato, I say tomahto, you say tax, I say penalty” semantics lesson.  The Romney campaign has been both precise and oddly consistent with its message regarding the timeline of his Bain Capital days.

“Mr. Romney retired from Bain Capital on February 11, 1999 to head the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. Since February 11, 1999, Mr. Romney has not had any active role with any Bain Capital entity and has not been involved in the operations of any Bain Capital entity in any way.”

Note, the Romney campaign could’ve chosen to say, “While Mr. Romney decided to step down from his day to day activities at Bain Capital to concentrate on the 2002 Winter Olympics, he did stay on with the firm in an advisory role; hence his signature might appear on certain SEC filings.  However, Mr. Romney was not running Bain Capital or any of its subsidiaries during this time.”  

But that’s not what they said.  Let’s be clear here; the term active role is not open for interpretation.  However much the Romney camp wishes to spin this, the idea that someone could “retire” from a company, have no “active role” with said company, yet have his signatures show up in SEC filings after the date he was supposed to have retired isn’t a simple case of making an honest mistake or failing to understand the context of a prepared statement.  It is a flat out lie.  Period.

The response from the Romney campaign to the SEC filings has been lame to say the least.  “He [Romney] did not participate in the investment or management decisions on any of these or any other investments during this period, as has been said repeatedly by Bain Capital and as was unanimously determined by the bipartisan Massachusetts ballot commission in 2002.”

Unfortunately for Romney that isn’t the case.  Stories in both The Boston Globe and The Boston Herald contradict the above statement and Romney’s own 2002 disclosure statement which listed him as “Executive” of Bain Capital contradicts his 2001 disclosure statement in which he listed himself as the former executive of the company.  Normally the term former executive would follow the term executive.  Not so in Romney land, where up is down and a penalty is a tax, unless you’re in Massachusetts, where it’s only a penalty.

Why the insistence that Romney quit Bain in 1999?  Simple.  Because most of the outsourcing that occurred at the company happened after 1999, that's why.  If Romney had no involvement with Bain Capital during the years in question, then he can't be accused of being an outsourcer, which takes away a huge part of the Obama attack plan against him. 

While perjury charges are out of the question – the statute of limitations has run out – it’s clear that this latest fiasco will garner considerable attention from the voters, and deservedly so.  You don’t get to change your position on matters of legality and then have the audacity to accuse your opponent of “lying” about you.

The real villain here isn’t the Obama Administration.  If Mitt Romney wants to point the finger at someone, he can start by looking in the mirror; next he can look at his campaign staff who, thus far, have proven about as competent at running a campaign as the Three Stooges fixing the plumbing in your house.  Thanks to them, instead of talking about the economy for the last two and a half weeks, the used-car salesman from hell has been busy explaining the difference between a tax and a penalty and, now, apparently the difference between running a company and being an advisor. 

The latter explanation may well end up proving to be his Waterloo.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Mitt Romney’s “Taxing” Dilemma

Talk about damned if you do, damned if you don’t.  When it comes to the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act, Mitt Romney is in about as much of a pickle, politically speaking, as any presidential candidate can be.  Don’t look now, but I’m pretty certain John Roberts is off of Mittens’ Christmas card list.

Loath though I am to agree with Rick Santorum on anything, there was one prediction he made which has proven, at least for now, to be quite prophetic.  Back in March he said of his then challenger, Mitt Romney, that he was “the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama” when it came to the mandate issue and that a Romney nomination would be a “liability” for the GOP because it would deprive it of one of the core arguments against the President: namely his healthcare law.  Right about now I’m guessing somebody in the Santorum household is saying, “I told you so.”   

Whether you call it a tax or a penalty, the simple truth is that once the Supreme Court ruled it constitutional, Mitt Romney was as good as screwed.  There’s no getting around it, Obamacare is Romneycare.  Period.  You can talk about the states vs. the federal government all you want.  It’s about as meaningful as saying tomato, tomahto.  Most voters could care less.

Had the Court struck down the mandate and the law, Romney would’ve been off the hook.  He could’ve spent the next four months talking about the economy and jobs; now he has to devote precious resources catering to a base that’s about as ginned up as a drunk at a wet T-shirt contest, while at the same time trying to appeal to moderates and independents who, while not all that crazy about the mandate, want to move on to other, better things.  They want to hear how a Romney administration would get the country back to work, not rehash old news.

Eric Fehrnstrom knows as much.  That’s why he said that the former governor thought the mandate was a penalty and not a tax, because, if you look at it rationally, it is.  Unfortunately, the inmates at the Not O.K. Corral started shouting from their cells and before you could say “unconstitutional” Romney had a massive headache to contend with.  His non-answer answer, though, appears to have done more harm than good.

The majority of the Court said it's a tax and therefore it is a tax. They have spoken. There's no way around that.  You can try and say you wish they had decided a different way but they didn't. They concluded it was a tax.

States have the power to put in place mandates.  They don’t need to require them to be called taxes in order for them to be constitutional.  As a result, Massachusetts’ mandate was a mandate, was a penalty, was described that way by the legislature and by me.

Remember when you were a kid and your mother would tell you not to do something and you’d say, “But mom, you do the same thing,” and then your mother would reply, “Do as I say, not as I do.”  Well, guess what?  You and Mitt Romney must have the same mother, because that’s the same convoluted logic the presumptive Republican nominee just used on an entire nation.  Yes, my healthcare law is constitutional.  Why?  Because I say it is; that’s why.  And my mandate is a penalty and not a tax.  Why?  Because I say so, also.  And not only that, the Supreme Court said it, too.  So there.

Well, that’s not exactly what the Supreme Court said.  The only justice who referred to the mandate as a tax was Roberts; the four liberal justices went along for the ride so that the law would survive.  Their “opinion” was that it was constitutional under the commerce clause.  Anyone who read the majority opinion would clearly see that.  As for the dissenters on the Court, they thought the whole thing was unconstitutional, not just the mandate.

But let’s for a minute grant Richie Rich the benefit of the doubt and go along with his fantasy.  The simple truth is that the Supreme Court was asked to render a decision on the federal healthcare law, not the Massachusetts one.  Of course Romney can still refer to his mandate as a penalty, because the Massachusetts law was never challenged in court.  But when you break down both laws, the manner in which the respective governments impose their penalty is identical.  The offending party is assessed a tax which, in the case of the federal law, is collected by the I.R.S.  Romney knows this; he admitted as much during his CNN interview back in ’09.

The real reason Mitt Romney finds himself in this box is not because of an unfavorable ruling by the Supreme Court, or even the unusually candid comments of a senior advisor, whom I’m guessing will be reduced in rank about two notches before the week is up; no the culprit in this scenario is Romney himself.  He knew this day was coming for over a year; depending on the judicial branch to do his work for him was na├»ve in the extreme.

There was one of two paths Romney could’ve chosen regarding his healthcare plan.  He could’ve called it the worst mistake he ever made as governor and divorced himself from it completely; or he could’ve taken the unusual stance of saying he was proud of it and wants to improve upon the President’s plan to make it even better.  The former would’ve allowed him to mollify the base of the Party and wrapped up his nomination weeks earlier than he did; the latter, though courageous and daring, would’ve killed his chances right out of the gate and allowed a Santorum, or worse, to get the nomination.

So, instead, he chose the “none of the above” option and decided to dance around the issue, hoping the Court would render it moot.  Well, not only isn’t the issue moot, it’s alive and well, and it just might end up costing Romney and the Republicans the White House this November.  His inability to deal with this particular skeleton in his closet has rubbed more than a few conservatives the wrong way.  The Wall Street Journal decided to let him have it in a scathing op-ed piece titled, “Romney’s Tax Confusion.”

The Romney high command has muddied the tax issue in a way that will help Mr. Obama's claims that he is merely taxing rich folks like Mr. Romney. And it has made it that much harder for Republicans to again turn Obamacare into the winning issue it was in 2010.

Why make such an unforced error? Because it fits with Mr. Romney's fear of being labeled a flip-flopper, as if that is worse than confusing voters about the tax and health-care issues. Mr. Romney favored the individual mandate as part of his reform in Massachusetts, and as we've said from the beginning of his candidacy his failure to admit that mistake makes him less able to carry the anti-Obamacare case to voters.

Even if you allow for the obvious errors in the piece – Obamacare was NOT the winning issue for Republicans in 2010; the economy was – the Journal does accurately nail the crux of the matter quite well.  Mitt Romney has been running for the presidency for five years.  He is shrewd, capable (even if you don’t agree with him) and, as we saw in Massachusetts, willing to compromise to get the job done.  By all accounts he was the best qualified among what was undoubtedly the most unhinged group of miscreants to ever decorate a national platform.  How someone with such credentials could be this inept is mind-numbing.  Romneycare has been Mitt Romney’s main Achilles’ heel from day one; his inability to effectively grapple with it is the primary reason why Democrats are feeling a bit better about their chances this fall.