Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pushing the Envelope Too Far

There’s sort of this unwritten rule in politics.  On the campaign trail anything goes.  You can throw the kitchen sink at your opponent.  If you want you can call him a Russian spy if you think that might get you some votes.  In one of the nastiest campaigns ever between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the Jefferson campaign accused Adams of “being a hermaphrodite” while the Adams campaign accused Jefferson of “being the son of a half-breed Indian squaw and a mulatto father.”

The campaigns of 1828 and 1876 were filled with accusations of murder, prostitution, and stealing.  Perhaps the most contentious and bitterly fought campaign was the one that pitted Howard Taft against his old friend Teddy Roosevelt.  Roosevelt was so incensed at what he perceived as Taft’s betrayal of his principles that he ran as an independent, thereby resulting in the election of Democrat Woodrow Wilson to the presidency.

But while campaigns can be extremely nasty, conventions are supposed to be altogether different.  It’s not that they’re squeaky clean, mind you; it’s just that the attendees who speak at these events tend to opt for a more general, higher road tone.  And while you are allowed to say your opponent is wrong, maybe even articulate somewhat on how and why, you’re not supposed to deliberately make false accusations that can be easily fact-checked by anyone with an iPad in attendance. 

Apparently Paul Ryan was absent when they went over that rule because in his vice-presidential acceptance speech he committed no fewer than five flagrant lies that were so obvious that even Fox News called him out on it.

The second worst of these involved the $716 billion that President Obama supposedly “stole” from Medicare to pay for his healthcare law.  This is blatantly false.  The $716 billion represents savings in reimbursement rates that will add almost ten years to the solvency of the entitlement program.  In fact, Ryan’s own budget proposes to save the same exact amount.  The only difference is where the savings goes: to healthcare for millions who can’t afford it or to the richest income earners in the form of tax cuts.

But the sleaziest, most disgusting lie was when Ryan made it sound – without actually saying it outright – as if Obama was responsible for a GM plant that shutdown in December of 2008, a full month before he was even sworn in as president.  It was sleazy because Ryan knew that Obama had nothing to do with the closing; yet he floated it out there to provoke a reaction among the crowd and to drum up animosity among frustrated workers who are still unemployed, especially in Wisconsin which is now considered a toss-up state.  Sleazy and cheap.

Well it appears, at least for now, as though Ryan’s stunt has backfired.  The press has turned his speech inside out and thoroughly trashed it as misleading and filled with falsehoods.  My favorite critique came from the supposedly fair and balanced quarter.  Sally Kohn, a Fox News’ contributor, summed up Ryan’s speech in three words: dazzling, deceiving and distracting.  The deceiving part was what caught my eye.

On the other hand, to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to facts, Ryan’s speech was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech. On this measure, while it was Romney who ran the Olympics, Ryan earned the gold.

The good news is that the Romney-Ryan campaign has likely created dozens of new jobs among the legions of additional fact checkers that media outlets are rushing to hire to sift through the mountain of cow dung that flowed from Ryan’s mouth.


Now to be fair (pun intended) Kohn is hardly a conservative.  She’s actually one of those “balanced” talking heads that Fox trots out now and then to support the line they’ve been peddling for years: that they’re fair and balanced.  So Fox News itself wasn’t actually ripping the Ryan speech; merely one of its liberal elitist employees.

Still, even if you discount Kohn, which I certainly don’t, there were plenty of other journalists who took their turn blasting the speech.

Dan Amira from New York magazine called it “appallingly disingenuous and shamelessly hypocritical.”

Ryan Lizza from The New Yorker said, “Ryan started this race with a reputation for honesty. He’s on his way to losing it.”

But the best came from blog favorite Paul Krugman, who wrote “If you’re going to be deceptive, you should at least put in the effort to avoid offering targets that even the most diffident, balance-loving reporters will have a hard time hittingmissing.”

And that’s the real crux of the matter here.  The idea that politicians should use the platforms accorded them at conventions to become statesmen is certainly a novel, if somewhat naïve, concept.  If there was such a thing as an objective truth it died a slow and painful death sometime around the last ice age.  Everyone knows political conventions are little more than infomercials.

But Ryan, in appropriating so many obvious lies in a speech that could’ve been the catalyst for his Party to build some badly needed momentum over the last two months of the campaign, didn’t just cross a line; he leapfrogged it.

He didn’t need to lie to make his point.  Whether you agree with Paul Ryan’s vision for America or not, it is worth having a discussion over.  By engaging in such reprehensible behavior, Ryan undercut his whole argument, not to mention his own credibility, and came across as someone with something to hide.  What does it say about your platform when you have to lie about your opponent to sell it?  It’s one thing to throw mud at the opposition; it’s quite another to fire a pistol.

And now, thanks to Ryan’s poor judgment, the Obama Administration will have plenty of ammo with which to return fire.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Mighty Wind

The irony was almost too good to be true.  Virtually seven years to the day after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf coast, another gust of wind unleashed its venomous fury upon its intended victims.  Only this time there was nowhere to run.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gave his keynote address Tuesday night before the Party faithful.  Let’s just say for the sake of argument that about the only thing bigger than the Governor’s waste size was his ego, which if unleashed would’ve easily filled every square inch of the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

What struck me as interesting was that some of the biggest critics of the speech were from the Right. David Frum called it a “poorly planned mess.”

An opposition party in hard times needs to offer hope. Such hope was notably absent from a speech that talked more about hard truths and unpleasant realities. Nor was it wise to talk so much about shared sacrifices when the centerpiece of the Romney campaign is a big tax cut for upper-income earners. Argue the case for the tax cut on growth grounds, but don't generate a clip that can appear in an Obama attack ad alongside a debunking quote from the Tax Foundation.

Chris Wallace of Fox News, who every once in a while allows his inner journalist to come out, called it “off-key” and noted that Christie used the word “I” 37 times, “Romney” seven times and “jobs” once.

“It seemed sometimes as if he was promoting his own candidacy more than he was Mitt Romney's. People liked the speech, but not nearly the kind of intense reaction to it and intense listening to it that there was for Ann Romney.”

Of course for those of us living in the New York metro area, who’ve had the “privilege” of listening to this gasbag, this was hardly newsworthy.  Since his election as governor three years ago, Christie has had one thing – and one thing only – on his mind: himself.  Everything about the man reeks of self-importance.  He dominates every conversation, bullies everyone who dares disagree with him and, above all else, must be the center of the universe everywhere he goes. 

You want to know the real reason that Chris Christie removed himself from VP consideration?  You saw it on that stage.  If he couldn’t even lower himself to share the spotlight with his Party’s presumptive nominee, how in the world could he ever be expected to play second fiddle to him?  Why should it be a surprise to anyone that he would use a platform like the Republican National Convention to further his agenda?

In case you weren’t paying attention, what you heard Tuesday night wasn’t the keynote address for Mitt Romney; it was Chris Christie’s 2016 acceptance speech.  I’m sure he’ll dust it off and freshen it up some.  By then, hopefully, his state’s unemployment rate will be lower than what it is now, which is about one and a half points above the national average.  I guess he forgot to mention that little tidbit of information while he was bragging about all those hard choices he had to make.  Oops.

Way to go, Gov!


Monday, August 27, 2012

They Just Can't Help Themselves

In another blog that I used to write, I had a piece called You Can't Make This Stuff Up.  As the title would suggest, it was devoted entirely to things that were so outrageous and stupid, they had to be real.  Who would make up something so idiotic?  Glenn Beck and Michele Bachmann were my two favorite honorees, so you can imagine how much fun it was to both write and read. That piece would eventually evolve into the current Idiots' Delight feature on this blog.

Why the bio?  Because it's become painfully obvious to me that some people, regardless of how much rope you give them, just can't help but hang themselves.  And while some of the targets of my ire have been Democrats, the overwhelming majority have been Republicans.

What's the reason for this?  Simple.  They just can't help themselves.  They seem to have a predisposition towards embarrassing themselves.  Like some recessive gene that causes severe cases of stupidity at inopportune moments.

Case in point Tom Smith, the GOP Pennsylvania Senate candidate running against incumbent Democrat Bob Casey.  You know the old saying, when it rains it pours?  Obviously, Smith doesn't,  because, during an interview, he compared pregnancy caused by rape to "having a baby out of wedlock."

Yes, folks, not two weeks after Todd Akin's famous "legitimate rape" debacle, another of the GOP's visionaries has stepped in it.  Fortunately for the Republican Party this brain fart won't be all that costly.  For one, the Pennsylvania seat was never in any jeopardy of turning red.  Virtually all the polls show Casey with a comfortable lead.  Secondly, and more importantly, it's getting redundant pointing out how completely out to lunch this Party has become over the last few years. If they're not embarrassed by now, they never will be.

In fact, just yesterday, Michele Bachmann said, "We are looking at a spiritual hurricane in our land," regarding the actual hurricane taking aim at the Gulf coast.  Last year Bachmann suggested that Hurricane Irene and the earthquake that shook the east coast were warnings from God.  The Republican Party today is like Whac-A-Mole.  You smack one down, two more pop up.

You really can't make this stuff up.  Maybe, instead of having a feature devoted to idiocy, I should write one about sane Republicans who don't embarrass themselves.  My only concern is that I might go a whole year before I write anything.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Plan B, My Foot

I guess that old "it's the economy stupid" message wasn't quite doing it for Mittens.  With the news that Ohio, the state Republicans will tell you they cannot win the White House without, is trending blue, the Romney campaign has apparently decided to forgo their "positive" messaging and go for the throat.  Plan B will be unveiled after the convention and we can expect to see a far more combative Republican nominee.  In other words, Batman and Robin will be doing double time on the double down.

Forgive me, but I'm somewhat confused.  Exactly what positive message was it that Romney will drop post convention?  Except for a couple of sound bites here and there about his 59 point plan to "save" America, the former governor of Massachusetts has gone out of his way to both misquote the President on the "you didn't build that" speech and then deliberately lie about the welfare reform issue.  If that was Plan A, then what will Plan B look like?  Perhaps Thurston Howell III will claim Obama is an alien from another world.  He's already cracked a joke about him being an alien from another country.

The truth is that for years there has only been one plan for the Republican Party: throw as much mud as possible at their opponents and hope enough of it sticks so they can win another election.  With all the money coming in from the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson, the voter suppression laws in key swing states, not to mention a sagging economy, if the best Mitt Romney can do is stay within striking distance of Obama, what does that say about him?

What it says to me is that next time the GOP should try nominating someone who isn't a fraud and can lay out a vision for the country that doesn't pander to nutjobs and alienate more than half the electorate.

They can call that Plan C.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

When Todd Akin shot himself in the foot the other day he didn’t just put a Senate seat in play that was clearly trending red, he inadvertently opened up a Pandora’s box that his Party was hoping they could keep closed, at least until after the November elections.  Inside that box lies the true Republican Party, not the one Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and the rest of the GOP want you to see.  Like the Wizard from that fabled story of Oz, the GOP doesn’t want you to pay any attention to what’s lurking behind the curtain.  Because if you did, if you ever really took a close look at just what was behind that curtain, you’d shit your pants.  

You see Todd Akin isn’t just some rogue warrior within the Republican Party; he personifies everything the Party stands for.  He’s not the exception to the rule, he is the rule.  He just doesn’t drink the Kool-Aid, he bathes in it.  And now, thanks to his big fat mouth, the former Party of Lincoln will have to spend the next few weeks denying that it has been taken over by a bunch of religious fanatics, science deniers and birthers, while at the same time desperately trying to convince a majority of the electorate they all don’t march to the same beat.

Don’t believe it for a minute.  The dust hasn’t even settled on the Akin mess and already the GOP is preparing to unveil a tough, no exceptions anti-abortion platform at its convention next week.  Want to lay odds on how many “brave” souls dare refute that platform?  I’ll give you a hint: it won’t equal the numbers of fingers on one of your hands.

Pick a policy, any policy, and the answers will be both predictable and virtually identical throughout the rank and file.  This is now a party that to a man and woman believe that climate change and evolution are nothing more than hoaxes; birth control promotes promiscuity; there is such a thing as “forcible” rape; homosexuality is an abomination; the cause of the Great Recession was Fannie and Freddie; the stimulus and auto bailout were a waste of taxpayer money; the banks should've been allowed to fail; environmental and financial regulations are costly and unnecessary; the Civil Rights Act went too far; tax cuts pay for themselves; and, last but hardly least, birtherism is a legitimate issue.

Any one of these archaic ideas could easily be debunked by a simple examination of the facts.  But then facts have been a problem for the GOP for quite some time now.  Challenging the Republican orthodoxy these days is akin to playing Russian roulette with a loaded gun.

In fact, one of the few Republicans who had the courage to challenge at least some of the above maxims of the Party was Jon Huntsman.  You might remember him as the presidential hopeful whose candidacy lasted about as long as a coherent thought in Sarah Palin’s head.  Unlike Mitt Romney, Huntsman at least went down in flames with his dignity intact.

This isn’t an À la carte menu, where you get to pick choose which entrées you like and don’t like; it’s more like a price fix package.  Everything’s included. You just have to pay the tab.  And make no mistake about it; this is one hell of a tab.  From the trillions they want to hand over to the top one percent, to the roll backs of both financial and environmental regulations, to the “revisiting” of virtually every civil rights decision going back to Brown v. Board of Education, to the social agenda they have in store for millions of women, 2013 may be the beginning of the longest nightmare in American history. 

If you thought this election was just about the economy, you have been duped.  If you were expecting some serious debate between the followers of Milton Friedman and John Maynard Keynes, good luck.  May I suggest PBS?  Not that the economy isn’t worth having a serious debate over, mind you; it’s just that the Republican Party had other ideas. 

Publicly they decry the President’s handling of the economy, while privately rooting for it to crash so they can reclaim the country they feel was stolen from them. They are beholden to a fantasy that insists supply-side economics is a sound economic principle and that the only way of growing the economy is by slashing spending. They see the disaster of austerity in Europe and have collectively decided to steam full speed ahead towards it.    

And now, with his campaign being bombarded by “distractions,” Mitt Romney, the presumptive nominee of his Party, has decided enough is enough.  He is refusing to grant interviews to anyone unless they agree to refrain from asking questions about Todd Akin and abortion.  How soon before Bain Capital and his tax returns also land on that list of unacceptable questions? 

The main-stream media cannot go along with this ultimatum.  They cannot allow the Republican Party to put this genie back in the bottle.  These issues aren’t distractions; they go to the core of who and what the GOP is.  They can no more be ignored or swept under the rug than pigs can fly.  Todd Akins screwed the pooch, and now his party must deal with the fallout.  That’s politics.  You don’t like crazy?  Stay out of the nuthouse.

The pundits are right.  This is no longer a referendum; it’s now a choice.  But a choice requires an informed opinion.  Each and every voter, when they step into that booth, has a right to full disclosure of ALL the facts before they pull that lever. 

The Party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Eisenhower has now become the Party of Palin, Limbaugh and Trump.

Be afraid; be very afraid.