Saturday, January 28, 2012

Idiots’ Delight

Well it’s that time of month again.  Once more we dive into the pit of despair and pull out the best of the worst.  Only one month in and already 2012 is shaping up to be a real barn burner.  No need to mince words, all four of these dim bulbs earned their stripes.

Without further ado, the envelope please.

Rick Santorum: That he is vehemently anti-choice should come as no surprise to anyone, but even the staunchest “pro-lifers” wouldn’t be stupid enough to say something this insensitive:

“And so to embrace her and to love her and to support her and get her through this very difficult time, I've always, you know, I believe and I think the right approach is to accept this horribly created -- in the sense of rape -- but nevertheless a gift in a very broken way, the gift of human life, and accept what God has given to you. As you know, we have to, in lots of different aspects of our life we have horrible things happen. I can't think of anything more horrible, but nevertheless, we have to make the best out of a bad situation and I would make the argument that that is making the best.”

Just imagine what it must be like to be a rape victim and then to hear this twit wax philosophically out of his ass about the “gift” growing inside you.  Santorum has had a history of brain farts in his political life, but this one takes the cake.  To even suggest that the unwanted pregnancy of a rapist was given to you by a loving God is so egregious and reprehensible that I suspect even some conservative evangelicals would be uncomfortable with it.

Thankfully, this myopic, homophobic, tactless creep has about as much chance of getting elected president as a Rabbi rising to power in Iran.  When more people find Newt Gingrich acceptable, you know you’ve fallen off the deep end.

John King: The demise of broadcast journalism in this country over the last few decades has been well chronicled by various people, including yours truly.  From an industry that once boasted legends like Cronkite, Sevareid and Murrow, we now have “journalists” like John King. His performance in the South Carolina debate was nothing short of an embarrassment.  That CNN didn’t see fit to either fire or reassign him speaks volumes about its integrity.  Even if you grant the argument that King’s opening question to Newt Gingrich regarding his ex-wife’s interview on ABC was relevant, the way it was asked revealed a stunning and disturbing trend where true investigative journalism has taken second fiddle to ratings-driven tabloid journalism.  

The issue should not have been what his ex-wife said on some interview, but rather Gingrich’s hypocritical conduct while Speaker of the House in which he was having an affair while leading the charge against Bill Clinton for his infidelity.  That conduct has defined him throughout his political career and is very much a relevant issue to the voters, many of whom are women who do not care much for his flippant arrogance.  Not only was King lame during the debate, his inability to correctly frame a question appropriately not only tarnished his colleagues’ reputation, it inadvertently tilted the balance in a highly contested primary race.  Both are unforgivable.

Tim Thomas: We’ve certainly seen our fair share of entertainers pontificating at will their various political viewpoints – most of them decidedly anti Obama.  Last year’s Obama is Hitler comments by Hank Williams, Jr. only reaffirmed why I hate country music so much.  Refusing to go to the White House after your team has won the Stanley Cup is one thing, but goaltender Tim Thomas couldn’t leave well enough alone with a mere snub of the President.  He decided to release a statement on facebook explaining the reasons for his no-show:

“I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People.  This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.  Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.  This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic. TT”

Thankfully, not everyone bought Thomas’s “not about politics or party” crap.  Kevin Dupont of The Boston Globe wrote the following: “He could have talked to the president. Instead, he mailed one in from the pizza stand. I think he missed his chance. I think he missed the point of the day. I think he mistreated teammates.”

The Boston Bruins’ organization also wasn’t buying the song and dance act of their star netminder.  They released their own statement:

“As an organization we were honored by President Obama's invitation to the White House. It was a great day and a perfect way to cap our team's achievement from last season. It was a day that none of us will soon forget. We are disappointed that Tim chose not to join us, and his views certainly do not reflect those of the Jacobs family or the Bruins organization. This will be the last public comment from the Bruins organization on this subject.”

This was not Ali and the draft board in ’67, as Joe O’Connor in the National Post has suggested; nor was it John Carlos and Tommy Smith giving the black power salute at the ’68 Olympics; nor for that matter was it even Carlos Delgado refusing to stand for the singing of God Bless America during the seventh-inning stretch. Conscientious objectors have had a long and storied past, not only in sports, but in all walks of life.  Thomas was no conscientious objector here; he was a self-serving ideologue on a soap box, spewing the same nonsense that millions of ill-informed miscreants have been spewing for the last three years. Government bad, liberty good.  Throwing the Republicans under the same bus as the Democrats was nothing more than a smoke screen designed to mask the real objective, which is a pathological contempt for a president that for some as of yet unknown reason seems to drive these people up the proverbial wall.  It would be hysterical if it weren’t so sad.      

Adding insult to injury, Thomas is now blaming the media for creating an issue when none existed.  Predictable as dirt.  Borrowing a tactic from Newt Gingrich, Thomas has decided to go after a favorite sore spot: the press.  When in doubt, don’t look in the mirror; just point the finger at the one asking the questions.  And speaking of pointing fingers…

Jan Brewer: With all the bat-shit crazies currently vying for top honors within the Republican Party these days, it’s a little difficult to keep track of the pecking order.  Let’s just say that for the moment the governor of Arizona has pulled out ahead of the pack.  Her flagrant disrespect of the President on the tarmac in Phoenix the other day has become a familiar theme for her Party throughout Obama’s term.

From the “You lie” shout from Joe Wilson during a State of the Union address to the refusal to call out the overtly racist comments of the Tea Party to even the persistent doubts of his citizenship, no president in American history has had to endure such treatment at the hands of his opposition.  To believe for even a minute that race has nothing to do with this is ludicrous.

Back in September of ’09, I wrote a letter to President Obama addressing this very issue.  The following excerpt is worth noting here:

“Like most political pundits, we all figured that the true test of the nation was whether we were mature and advanced enough to elect an African American to the office of President. What we did not count on was that the real test would not come until you actually assumed the office. It was at that moment that we as a nation came face to face with an even uglier truth about ourselves: that there were certain elements in our society that simply could not accept being governed by a black man, especially a black man who is the chief executive of the country. They are mad as hell and they aren’t shy about strutting their racism.”

Jan Brewer pulled her little stunt out in public because she obviously felt she could get away with it, which sadly she seems to have done.  Now she is blaming Obama for being thin skinned and accusing him of intimidating her.  Can you imagine Brewer pulling that on a President Hillary Clinton?  Hillary would've ripped that finger off her hand and stuck it where the sun don't shine. Know this about the Clintons, you don't show them up in public.

Not even at the height of his unpopularity was George Bush disrespected this much.  Indeed the man had to go all the way to Iraq just to get a shoe thrown at him.  What Brewer and her ilk have revealed sadly is that when it comes to ignorance and racism in this country we still have a long way to go before we exorcise the demons of our past.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Letter to the Former Speaker of the House

Dear Newt Gingrich:

Congratulations on your hard-fought come-from-behind victory in the South Carolina primary.  Just a couple of weeks ago, you were left for dead and Mitt Romney was on the verge of wrapping up the GOP nomination for president.  But with Rick Santorum now the declared winner in Iowa and your huge win in the Palmetto state, this race is now a veritable free for all.

As you enjoy your moment of triumph and thank all your supporters, I thought you might want to send a shout out to a special contributor, without whom your victory might not have occurred.  That contributor is John King, the “moderator” of the debate that both sealed your win and might well have permanently derailed the candidacy of your chief rival, Mitt Romney.

Yes, John King of CNN – where journalism goes to die.  His first question to you really set the tone, didn’t it?  I mean, imagine your good fortune.  King could’ve begun the debate by exploring your claim that you worked with President Clinton to balance the budget.  “But Mr. Gingrich, wasn’t it true that the top marginal tax rate during the Clinton years was 39.6% and given that fact isn’t fair to assume that that might’ve had as much to do with balancing the budget as spending cuts?”

Yeah, that would’ve been a wonderful opening question wouldn’t it?  You could’ve used your superior, cat-like debate reflexes and dazzled the audience in yet another of your superlative defenses of supply-side economics, where two plus two always equals five.  But, alas, you were denied the opportunity to display your profound wit and intelligence.  That’s because Edward R. Murrow decided to open the evening with a question about your ex-wife’s interview on ABC in which she said you had wanted an open marriage.

Your response was sheer brilliance.  You pounced on the moderator and, in the words of Bill Maher, “stole his milk money and locked him in his own locker.”  This wasn’t the first time you went after the media – in fact it has become a familiar theme with your campaign – but this was special.  This time the question was so lame and the moment so ripe, it’s a wonder you were able to compose yourself.

I can only imagine how delighted you must’ve been minutes later when the same “moderator” asked your primary rival whether he would release his tax returns and the reply was, “maybe.”  How you didn’t burst out laughing when Thurston Howell III looked like a deer caught in a headlight was beyond me.  Personally, I would’ve been rolling on the floor.  But then I don’t have your discipline, your single-mindedness.  You, sir, are a paragon of statesmanship.

And now it’s on to Florida, as this race has now turned into a marathon.  Romney may have the cash to go long and deep, but that shouldn’t concern you that much.  As long as Mittens refuses to release his tax returns and the media continues to fixate on non-essential questions about your perverse and hypocritical personal life while ignoring the fact that in your one and only leadership position you comported yourself with all the grace of a drunken sailor on liberty, you should do just fine. 

The Tea Party adores you. And why shouldn’t they? You’re made for each other.  You’re myopic, insular, rude, obnoxious, a compulsive liar, and your ego could fill the Grand Canyon.  You weren’t kidding when you said you were the only Republican candidate who offered the voters a clear distinction with President Obama.

But really, getting back to John King.  You really should send the guy a thank you; perhaps a dozen roses; something for the effort.  How many political corpses get a chance to resurrect their campaigns in one night?  I know, I know, you probably don’t want to give him all the credit.  After all there were those negative ads that you swore you would never run, because, as you said on so many occasions, you wanted to run a positive campaign.  Yes, I realize those ads were run by your Super Pac and by law you can’t control what they say – gosh, it’s just like you to be so humble and defer to others – but trust me, this one was on the house.

And, like a buy back at a local tavern, you don’t refuse.  You just chug it down, burp and move on to the next round.  You’re good at doing that, or so your ex-wife says.

Sincerely yours,

Peter W. Fegan

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Great Divides

Let’s see, Peter King criticizes the Tea Party House Republicans over the payroll tax cut deal on the Imus in the Morning show last month and none other than Bill Clinton is quoted as saying that MSNBC “has become our version of Fox News.”

Don’t look now but me thinks there’s a storm brewing over the horizon.  After enduring almost three years of the most toxic partisanship yet to cripple Washington, some of the leaders of their respective parties are starting to “express” their concerns in not so subtle ways.

They don’t come much more conservative than Peter King, but even he can tell when the train has jumped off the tracks for his party.  Last December’s stunt in the House got under his skin but good.  Just listen to the Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee:

“This was initially a victory for the Republicans. President Obama gave in on the millionaire’s surtax. He gave in on the Keystone Pipeline. But we had people in our party who didn’t know when to accept victory and they really drove us to the edge. This was unnecessary wounds, self-inflicted wounds over the last four days.”

In case you missed it, that was code for, “You made your point now shut the f*ck up!”  King isn’t alone in his angst about the Tea Party faction that, as things stand now, is imperiling Republican prospects for 2012.  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made a calculated decision to let his counterpart John Boehner twist in the wind during the House meltdown while he remained above the fray.  Other more rational senators and representatives made their feelings all too clear on numerous occasions.  The split within the GOP is wide enough to sail a fleet of aircraft carriers through.    

And while the Right continues to act like the wayward fraternity on Animal House, the Left may have some “splainin’ to do” of its own.  In his entire political life, Bill Clinton never uttered a word that wasn’t carefully calculated nine ways to Sunday beforehand.  With the exception of Ronald Reagan and FDR, no other politician has mastered the English language so brilliantly and effectively.  So when the two-term president goes out of his way to compare MSNBC to Fox News it’s time to take note.  Either the old man has gone bonkers or he’s sounding a warning; a warning that Democrats would do well to heed.

Now, before you all hunt me down and hang me from the yardarms, let me just say I don’t for a moment think Clinton actually believes that MSNBC and Fox News are opposite sides of the same coin – for the record they’re not – anymore than I think Peter King really dislikes the Tea Party.  But both men are political warriors who have survived numerous battles and know a thing or two about their constituents.  Clinton, for his part, never met an issue or debate he couldn’t frame to his advantage.  Like E.F. Hutton, when he speaks, people listen.

What has become painfully obvious to all but the most imbedded ideologue is that this tit for tat war that both political extremes seem intent on waging is tearing apart what little remains of a functioning government and the party elders – at least some of them – are having none of it.

The irony here is that only a few months ago we were all speculating on whether the Left was going to form its own Tea Party of sorts and battle it out for the hearts and minds of the electorate in 2012, with the expectation that we were going to see an all-out food fight between both sides.  For a while we thought the Occupy Wall Street movement would provide the impetus behind the “revolution” to reclaim the nation.  Sadly, it has failed to galvanize much of anything.  Only an unusually warm winter has kept the movement from fading into oblivion altogether. 

Now, with the general election less than ten months away and the stakes as high as they could possibly be, the “establishment” is sitting up and taking the pulse of the country.  The mood out in independent land is growing downright ugly and both parties are understandably nervous.  Republicans see an opportunity to win both the Senate and White House, as well as add to their majority in the House; Democrats believe they can hold both the Senate and White House and pick up some seats in – perhaps even take control of – the House.  And neither side, it seems, is prepared to let any distractions get in its way. 

With that in mind, look for more and more Democrats to dial it down a notch and go middle of the road; conversely expect some Republicans to butt heads with their base as well.  Mitt Romney’s stance on the minimum wage is just the beginning.  Over the next few months the focus will be on winning that 30 to 40 percent of the country that watches neither Fox nor MSNBC, but prefers Dancing with the Stars and Two and a Half Men instead.  You can call them moderates, you can call them independents, but come this November you will call them the deciders.

Let the ass kissing begin.    

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Total Recall

Now that Democrats have secured more than enough signatures to trigger a recall election of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker – they needed a minimum of 540,208 signatures by the January 17th deadline – the real test is coming down the road.  Getting disgruntled voters to sign a petition is one thing; actually getting rid of a sitting governor with just over one year on the job is quite another.

For his part, Walker wasn’t even in the state as the petitions were being turned in.  Old blood and gutless was in New York attending what will undoubtedly be the first of many fundraisers over the next few months.  Walker may be many things, but stupid isn’t one of them.  He knows what he’s up against.  The question is do Democrats know what they’re up against?

The Republicans will throw in the proverbial kitchen sink – not to mention all that Koch Brothers money – to defend the beleaguered governor.  Walker will attempt to paint himself as the responsible steward trying to reign in the powerful big unions that were bankrupting the state, while at the same time portraying Democrats as pro union, pro big government and pro taxes.  Democrats will be tempted to make this about defending the rights of unions to collectively bargain, while charging that Walker is anti-union and anti-worker.

With all due respect to the Democrats, they should resist the urge to go pro union here.  And here’s why.  Walker and his supporters want them too.  They desperately want to frame this debate around “high-wage” union workers vs. non-union workers.  They are baiting the Democrats into defending the unions, knowing full well that there are quite a large number of non-union workers who have been laid off over the last couple of years and who are frustrated at the slow pace of the recovery.  They are banking on pitting the disgruntled unemployed against the “fat cat” taxpayer subsidized employed.

What Democrats need to understand here is that the hand they have is not what they think it is.  While the polls throughout the country have shown demonstrably how dissatisfied voters are with the freshmen Tea Party class of 2010, the reason for the dissatisfaction has little to do with policy, but rather about temperament.  In other words, voters like the message; they’re just not all that delighted with the messengers.  Stunts like the debt ceiling and payroll tax deals in Washington and what both Walker and Ohio Governor John Kasich are attempting to do with the unions in their respective states have revealed hidden agendas that have rubbed voters the wrong way.

In every instance, Republicans in 2010 ran on one over-riding issue: the economy.  Then once they got elected, they shifted gears and went on an ideological binge in an attempt to rewrite the Constitution and put their stamp on an unsuspecting electorate.  Fortunately, the electorate woke up in time.  As Lincoln once said, “You can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” 

But what Democrats need to realize is that the electorate did vote Republican in the last election, and, though frustrated, are still right of center on many issues.  They have not discovered their inner liberal, not by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, if push comes to shove, they might very well pull the lever for Republicans again this year.

And that’s why Democrats must resist, with every fiber of their being, the urge to sound the bugles for liberalism when they go after Walker in the recall election.  Their only play here is to isolate him as an extremist who is too far to the right, while simultaneously portraying themselves as being reasonable and willing to work together to solve the state’s problems.  If they stick to the facts and avoid the theatrics, they should be able to paint a very convincing portrait of a governor who got every concession he needed from the unions in order to achieve his financial goals, but opted instead to go after them to eliminate the opposition party’s ability to challenge him.  This wasn’t about being a good steward; this was about a power grab, pure and simple.

If the Democrats stick to this message, they stand a very good chance of “firing” Walker this year, but if they bite on the apple of defending the unions and allow Walker a chance to make his case on his turf, they could lose and lose big.  Up until now, the Republicans have been doing an excellent job of making the Democrats' case for change in 2012.  It would be criminal if, with the goal line in sight, Democrats fumbled the ball back to them.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Growing Bains

So Mitt Romney and his “defenders” are fighting back against the Bain attacks by Newt Gingrich and the Left by saying that Bain Capital was not only nothing like the reckless speculators who brought about the Great Recession of 2008, but in fact was responsible for the “creation” of thousands of jobs and the salvaging of dozens of companies from financial oblivion, and that any criticism of him and it amounts to an all-out assault on the very essence of capitalism.

To which I say, poo.

While it is certainly true that the dynamics behind the financial crisis and what Bain Capital did during the years Mitt Romney ran it are different, the essence of both are frighteningly similar.  To suggest otherwise is to ignore some rather painful realities of what capitalism has become in America over the last several decades.

For all the talk about entrepreneurial spirit, the sad truth is that the work ethic that made this country what it was – so espoused and beloved by the defenders of the faith – has gone the way of the dinosaur.  The driving engine behind the economic system of the U.S. is controlled not by the workers or even the small business owners, but by a precious few individuals who wield billions, if not trillions, of dollars like it was confetti during a celebration and in whose hands all of us nervously rest.

Speculation and venture capitalism now have more to say about how economies are run and, sadly, how they are sometimes wrecked.  The belief that you can invest $100 and turn it into $1,000 or even $10,000 is now at the heart of what is wrong with America.  Hedge-fund managers promise the world to unsuspecting investors, many of whom end up losing most of their investments while the investment firms rake in billions of dollars and the traders secure golden parachutes when the bubbles they helped inflate burst; corporate raiders “invest” in vulnerable companies, sell off most of the assets, fire most, if not all, of the employees and make a small fortune for their cronies in the process. 

If you’ve ever watched the movie Pretty Woman, you know exactly what a corporate raider is.  Take a closer look at Mitt Romney.  Isn’t he just an older, less charming version of Richard Gere?  Yes, Staples and Sports Authority are profit making enterprises and thanks to people like Romney, tens of thousands of people have the privilege of breaking their backs for $7.25 to $9 an hour working there.  If that’s what a successful business in America looks like today, I shudder to think what a failure would look like.

Middle class, meet your destiny. This is the vision of capitalism that Mitt Romney wants to bestow on you and your children.  A world where a few vultures enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of us, and then when we have the temerity to ask questions about our lot in “paradise” are made to feel ungrateful or accused of engaging in class warfare.  After all, only an ingrate would bite the hand that feeds it, right?

Over the last thirty years the gap between the ├╝ber-rich and the middle class has continued to grow.  Not since the early twentieth century have so few controlled so much.  The Great Recession of 2008 was brought about by unscrupulous traders and bankers who peddled garbage as value and destroyed the lives of millions of unsuspecting people in the process.  In the former Massachusetts governor they finally have the perfect ally: a man with no principles, who will say and do anything to get elected president.  The consummate businessman for today’s cannibalistic economy; a true champion of the 1%.  

I have often referred to Mitt Romney as the used-car salesman from hell.  I now realize that was being too kind.  The collateral damage caused by an unethical used-car salesman is limited to the customer who got duped.  The stakes are far greater and the potential damage far more exacting this time around.  Imagine a President Mitt Romney repealing Dodd/Frank and replacing it with nothing.  That would be like rebuilding the Titanic and letting it leave port with no lifeboats at all on board.

That’s one helluva lemon if you ask me.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Bain and Simple Truth

Now that Gordon Gekko, er, Mitt Romney has handily won the New Hampshire primary and is within striking distance of the finish line, what’s been interesting to watch hasn’t been the imaginary glass ceiling that the pundits have been predicting would be his undoing.  You know the supposed 24 to 25 percent ceiling he could never surpass in Iowa; a state by the way that only six weeks ago he was projected as finishing no better than third in. Well, so much for ceilings, imagined or otherwise.

No, the most fascinating (and oddly humorous) thing has been both the attacks on Romney’s campaign – mainly from Newt Gingrich – and the circling of the wagons around the former Massachusetts governor by the very people who weren’t all that crazy about him to begin with.

Yep, the man who burned more political bridges than any other public figure with the possible exception of maybe Benedict Arnold has been leading the assault against Romney’s past association with Bain Capital and none other than Rush Limbaugh has been his chief defender.

I’ll pause right here so that you can regain your composure…

Maybe the Mayans were right after all and 2012 is the year of the apocalypse.  I mean, when you hear a Republican – and not just any Republican, but the former Speaker of the House who went toe to toe with Bill Clinton and had his butt handed to him – start to question the ethics of the kind of speculation that Bain Capital engaged in – the kind that lead to the current mess we happen to be in by the way – and the principle protagonist of the current GOP frontrunner, the one who went out of his way to say he wasn’t even a conservative, ends up taking his side, I don’t know about you but I’m heading for higher ground this December.  A compassionate conservative and RINO apologist; it’s the end of the world as we know it and I’m feeling VERY confused.

Actually when you take a closer look, it’s a lot less sordid and confusing.  While Gingrich may look like he’s championing a higher moral ground, his motives are far more down to earth and predictable.  He’s not only 0 for 2 so far this primary season, but he’s finished out of the money in each contest.  How bad has Gingrich been?  In New Hampshire, Jon Huntsman, the invisible candidate, got more votes than him.  To say he is desperate would be an understatement.  His only hope is to so badly wound Romney that voters, who heretofore would never have voted for him, might take a second look and reconsider.  So far the only thing Gingrich has earned is the wrath of his own party, who see the writing on the wall and have apparently decided to protect “their man.”
Which brings us to the real story here.  Why, all of a sudden, are so many far-right conservatives going out of their way to defend the honor of someone who is a cross between Al Gore and Gerald Ford on the personality scale and is still seen by many as nothing more than a moderate in conservative camouflage?  The answer has nothing to do with Romney, who still has a considerable way to go to convince the restless hordes of his sincerity – good luck with that one!

The real reason is that, without quite realizing or intending it, Gingrich hit a raw nerve with his Bain attacks; a nerve that will only continue to throb as the year plows on and more and more voters take a closer look at the used car salesman from hell and the real reason for his “success.”  The truth is that the kind of capitalism Romney practiced so skillfully at Bain Capital is the sort that rubs most people the wrong way and the Right knows it full well.  While the populist big government narrative bore huge dividends for the GOP in the 2010 midterms, every poll taken shows a seething contempt for Wall Street and the banks that got huge bailouts and were never taken to task for their misdeeds.  No matter how you slice it, Romney is vulnerable here, and in a tight race between him and Obama, the President has the upper hand.

That’s the reason for the circling of the wagons around Romney, and that’s why Gingrich is now starting to backtrack on his attacks.  He knows full well that he just threw the Dems the motherload of all gifts for the fall campaign.  Romney will have a very difficult time explaining how he had to gut companies to “save” them.  What he did and why may play well to the thousands of hedge fund managers who still don’t understand the role they played in almost destroying the collective economies of the West, but on Main Street USA it’s a no-sell.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Tip of the Hat

The Huffington Post has reported that noted conservative columnist David Frum is joining The Daily Beast / Newsweek as a blog contributor.  The move, however, means that FrumForum will unfortunately have to be shut down, and that is a loss for everyone.  FrumForum, though conservative, made a significant contribution to sensible dialogue in an otherwise partisan and hyperbolic political atmosphere.  In an email he wrote this past Friday, Frum thanked the 70 regular contributors to the site:

“Together we have forcefully joined the debate over the future of the Republican Party -- and I think we together have shifted that debate. When we started, Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck were real forces in American politics. I don't think we can take all the credit for seeing them off, but we do deserve at least some of it!”

It's hardly a secret that Frum is no fan of certain elements within the conservative movement and has been an irritant of Rush Limbaugh and his ilk.  Therefore in honor of Frum and his forum, I have decided to make his last piece this month’s “Tip of the Hat” feature.  I look forward to reading his work at The Daily Beast and wish him the best of luck.

The Cordray Crisis

By David Frum

Constitutional abuse begets constitutional abuse.

President Obama has engaged in a dubious maneuver to force a recess appointment through a Senate that denies it has recessed.

(Brad Plumer has a good run-down of the legal issues, here.)

The president’s action has ignited a fireworks show of Republican outrage. And yes, Obama has here pushed presidential power beyond past limits.

But it’s not only presidents who can bend the rules. The Senate has also pushed its powers here beyond the usual limits. The Senate is pretending to be in session when it’s obviously not in session. It is engaging in this pretense in order to use its power over confirmations to negate an agency lawfully created by the prior Congress. Most fundamentally, the Senate here is further extending a weird quirk in its own rules–the quirk that allows individual senators to delay votes on appointments–in ways that allow the Senate minority to impose its will on the whole US government.

Over the past three decades, we have lived through a prolonged cycle of partisan revenge. Each party pushes the law to score partisan points in ways that would have been deemed unacceptable only just a little while ago. Then at the next turn of the cycle, the other party pushes the law further and wider and even more destructively. One by one, they sequentially smash the customs and traditions that enabled the US government to function. This latest episode over the Cordray appointment may be the most extreme example. But it’s surely not the final example.

It is instead an ominous milestone in the deterioration of the US political system into ever more intense acrimony and paralysis.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Splitting Hairs

Reading Jed Lewison’s take on Nick Kristof’s column on Mitt Romney, I am reminded of that age old song that goes, “You say potato, I’ll say po-tah-to.” Of course no matter how you say it, it’s still spelled the same.  Semantics, what a concept.

To sum up, Kristof’s column in The New York Times, titled “Waiting for Mitt the Moderate,” was hardly a ringing endorsement of the former governor of Massachusetts.

The reassuring thing about Mitt Romney is that for most of his life he probably wouldn’t have voted for today’s Mitt Romney.

This is a man who registered as a Republican only in preparation for his 1994 Senate campaign against Edward Kennedy; previously, Romney had registered as an independent. As recently as 2002, in his successful run for governor of Massachusetts, he described himself this way: “People recognize that I am not a partisan Republican, that I’m someone who is moderate, and that my views are progressive.”

That was accurate, and Romney became an excellent, moderate and pragmatic governor of Massachusetts. But then, in 2005, he apparently began to fancy himself as Republican presidential timber and started veering to the right in what we can all pray was a cynical, unprincipled pander.

If we do see, as I expect we will, a reversion in the direction of the Massachusetts Romney, that’s a flip we should celebrate. Until the Republican primaries sucked him into its vortex, he was a pragmatist and policy wonk rather similar to Bill Clinton and President Obama but more conservative. (Clinton described Romney to me as having done “a very good job” in Massachusetts.) Romney was much closer to George H.W. Bush than to George W. Bush.

So, in the coming months, the most interesting political battle may be between Romney and Romney. Now, do we really want a chameleon as a nominee for president? That’s a legitimate question. But I’d much rather have a cynical chameleon than a far-right ideologue who doesn’t require contortions to appeal to Republican primary voters, who says things that Republican candidates have all been saying and, God forbid, actually means it.

Now read Lewison’s rebuttal in Daily Kos, titled “Mitt Romney: Moderate, chameleon or right-winger.”

I understand the impulse behind Kristof's musings, but even if Mitt Romney is a chameleon, the fact remains that he is fueling and encouraging the political right by pandering to them. That alone speaks negatively about his character. Moreover, it is a perfect illustration of what Romney would likely be as president: an empty vessel who allowed Congress to drive his agenda.

Kristof speaks highly of Romney's tenure in Massachusetts, but don't forget, Democrats still controlled the legislature there. Imagine for a moment that Romney had been governor of a state with a conservative state legislature. Is there any doubt that he'd have been a very different governor?

Perhaps with a progressive majority in Congress, a President Romney wouldn't be a disaster. But with a Republican majority—even in just one chamber—Romney would be an absolute nightmare. Anyone who wants a sensible approach to governance needs to realize that there really is no acceptable Republican presidential candidate, chameleon or otherwise. And as important as it is to reelect President Obama, it's also critical that we return Congress to Democratic control.

Ok, see the problem?  It’s quite clear that neither man has much use for Romney and that neither would likely vote for him.  The difference – and this is where the potato / po-tah-to reference comes in – is that Kristof is simply suggesting that when it comes to losing the White House – still a distinct possibility even with an improving economy – if one had a choice between complete Armageddon and a few bombed out cities, the latter would be infinitely more desirable.  In the end, collateral damage, if you can contain it somewhat, is preferable to total annihilation.

No matter what your level of respect for the man – and I for one have him just north of an insurance salesman – it is quite clear to anyone with half a brain that Mitt Romney is no Michele Bachmann, or Rick Perry, or Rick Santorum, or Ron Paul, or Newt Gingrich.  In fact, the main reason why he is polling so well against Obama among independents is the same reason the Tea Party holds him with such contempt: no matter how much he huffs and he puffs like the other loons, he isn’t one of them.  The Tea Party knows it and independents know it.  The only ones who seem oblivious to this are progressives like Lewison.  The only acceptable scenario is an Obama reelection coupled with a return of Congress to “Democratic control.”

Granted that would be an ideal scenario, one worth fighting for and one, I’m sure, Kristof would also like to see unfold.  Of course the ideal, while desirable, doesn’t always happen, which is the point that Kristof is making.  Virtually every poll taken shows the presidential race a virtual dead heat; the Democratic majority in the Senate is very much in jeopardy; and even if Republicans lose some seats in the House, they will more than likely retain control.

Now anything could happen between now and November.  The Tea Party could throw a hissy fit over the payroll tax extension like they did in December, further eroding public confidence in them and giving the President a well-needed boost in the opinion polls.  Conversely, Europe could implode sending the markets spiraling downward along with a still fragile economy.  If unemployment were to start rising again, that would enhance the GOP’s position in the general election.

Kristof, like many pragmatic progressives, isn’t pulling for a Republican win; he’s merely hedging his bets against what will likely be a very close and bitterly fought contest.  The winner take all mindset that many progressives have isn’t all that different from that of many far-right conservatives.  And while it may pain some of my fellow comrades to admit this, neither side has the moral high ground when it comes to this sentiment.  Indeed, it’s at the heart of what has been driving the country into the ground for years and sooner or later it has to stop.

A President Mitt Romney may or may not be a “nightmare.” A President Rick Santorum or Ron Paul or Newt Gingrich would most assuredly be.  Anyone who doubts that has some serious problems of their own to contend with.     

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Slow Climb Back from the Abyss

The news that the economy added over 200,000 jobs last month and that the unemployment rate dropped to a three-year low of 8.5% was certainly music to the ears of an awful lot of people, especially the people who reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  Even more encouraging was that most of the jobs added were the non-seasonal / permanent kind, meaning they are not likely to go away after the holidays.  In fact all major industries posted significant gains with transportation and manufacturing leading the way with 50,000 and 23,000 jobs respectively.

All indications point to a recovery that is finally gaining some consistent momentum.  The economy added 1.6 million jobs in 2011, compared to 944,000 in 2010; the unemployment rate averaged 8.9% in 2011, down from an average of 9.6% the previous year.  While not all the news was rosy – housing continues to be a drag on the economy and will be a problem for the foreseeable future – the prognosis is considerably more optimistic than even a few months ago.  Those double-dip woes have all but vanished along with the doomsayers who kept predicting hyper-inflation and a stock market crash.  And while most economists don’t believe the unemployment rate will drop below that supposed Mason/Dixon line of 8%, all but the most conservative predict steady growth for 2012, with many forecasting a net gain of 2.1 million jobs.

While critics of the Obama Administration will point out that no president has ever been reelected with unemployment at or over 8%, the real determinant factor will more likely be the direction the economy is heading.  If things appear to be trending upwards then prospects for a second term improve.  Ronald Reagan was reelected in a landslide in 1984, even with unemployment at 7.2%, largely because the economy was perceived by voters as moving forward.  If Obama can make the case that even though unemployment is high, the nation is on the right track, he will defeat whomever the Republicans pick as their nominee.

And that is why the Right is starting to sweat.  Despite all the outward signs that the economy is improving, most conservatives and virtually all Republicans are doing their best to downplay the news.  Up until about September of last year they were succeeding in portraying Obama as the Grim Reaper.  But now there’s no denying it anymore. No matter how much they poo-poo the forecasts, the simple truth is that things are improving slowly but surely, with virtually no help from the GOP.

To make matters worse for them, the voters are slowly coming around and figuring out the charade.  Obama’s approval numbers, while still below 50%, are significantly better than congressional Republicans.  He is winning this war, battle by battle.  He appears to have the upper hand and he is playing it.  More and more the Republicans are being viewed as obstructionists among the electorate.  In a surprising twist of fate, most voters now say they trust the Administration on the economy over the GOP.  Talk about the tide turning.

While we’re still a long way off from November – the Dow Jones and the S&P 500 have basically been flat now for almost a year, and the Euro crisis is far from over – the nation can finally begin to see a light at the end of this long, dark tunnel; a light that hopefully doesn’t belong to a another train.  

Thursday, January 5, 2012

It’s Mitt By a Nose

One down, two to go.  So now that Iowa has spoken – or at least the 122,255 who bothered to give a damn and cast their votes (that’s about 5.4% of the state’s population) – the man the Tea Party can’t stand has eked out the smallest margin of victory in its “illustrious” history.  A whopping eight votes separated Mitt Romney from Rick Santorum, who basically lived in the state for the last six months and did everything except dry-hump the flag pole outside the Capital building.

So after all was said and done, what did the Hawkeye state reveal about who the likely Republican nominee will be?  In a word, nothing.  The fact is that going all the way back to 1976, only George W. Bush in 2000 went on to secure the nomination and the general election after winning in Iowa.  Among political pundits, the Caucus is considered to be the kiss of death for candidates.  It’s New Hampshire that, more often than not, has more to say about the eventual winner.

So why all the fuss?  Because this time, the circus was far more “interesting” and the stakes considerably higher.  The grand prize was a chance to oust the Dark Sith from the Death Star in Washington.  Iowa brought out the very worst character traits in what proved to be the least diverse mob of miscreants ever on display for public consumption.   I mean, imagine a choice between nuts and not quite so nuts; or a choice between homophobic and myopic or just a little bit out of touch; or perhaps a choice between being a full-fledged war monger or just suggesting an itsy bitsy bombing.  Was it really that surprising that the least crazy candidate – Jon Huntsman – got 0.6% of the vote?  That’ll teach him a thing or two about being sane!

The Party of Lincoln has so utterly and completely fallen into a shameless abyss that even the old Gipper himself, Ronald Reagan, would have a difficult if not impossible task of winning the nomination.   Sad isn’t it that a party that brought us the likes of Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower is now giving the country a choice between the likes of Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul.

And just in case you thought that Iowa would be the last stop on the gutter trail, I have some bad news for you.  From here on in things get worse.  New Hampshire promises to be a free for all as the remaining candidates gang up on the used-car salesman from hell in his own backyard.  After which we pack up the bus and head down the coast to South Carolina.  Then it’s on to Florida.  All within the next three and a half weeks.  Yummy!  By the time this freak show is over, a steal-cage wrestling match will look like a night at Lincoln Center by comparison.  

Over at the White House they are busy preparing for what will undoubtedly be their greatest threat.  Barring a complete collapse, Mitt Romney will handily win in New Hampshire, come in either first or second in South Carolina and more than likely take Florida.  Strange as it may seem, the longer this contest goes and the sicker it gets, the better the prospects of an Obama reelection look.

Whatever else you may think of the former governor of Massachusetts, there’s a reason the Tea Party doesn’t like or trust him.  Simply put, he’s not one of them.  He may talk the talk, but most doubt he can walk the walk.  What the White House is hoping and praying for is that Romney, in an effort to survive the food fight that is surely coming his way, will move so far to the right that he will be unable to move back towards the center once the primaries are over and the general election commences.

Moderates and independents typically eschew extreme ideological shifts and trends, particularly when they are viewed as either distractions to what the main objective ought to be or, as was the case in Wisconsin and Ohio, payback for past political losses.  Translation?  It’s the economy stupid!  Any Republican candidate who thinks he or she can win the presidency by talking about Big Bird or Planned Parenthood or alleged voter fraud better have an updated resume.

Social issues will not win the general election for the GOP this year; their only hope is to come to their senses and abandon the asinine strategy of appealing to a base that is so far to the right, Nixon would look like a Marxist.  Personally, I’m betting they can’t resist themselves.  It’s their nature; it’s written into their DNA.  They are so imbedded into this twisted narrative that they can’t extricate themselves from it, even at the risk of losing the whole ballgame.  If Iowa proved anything, it's that no matter how many times you rub a dog’s nose into his own business, he’ll inevitably disappoint you when you come home from work.