Friday, November 16, 2012

John McCain, Susan Rice and Benghazi

What is happening to John McCain?  This is a man that many of us who are liberals and Democrats used to admire because of his willingness to be an independent thinker and to work across the aisle in the Senate to accomplish things for the American people.  The McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform law is just one example of that.

But recently, Senator McCain seems to have become unhinged.  His recent attacks on UN Ambassador Susan Rice for her remarks on the Benghazi incident seem so unreasonable and full of venom that it leaves many of us wondering what is happening to him.

This isn't totally new.  Ever since his campaign for the Presidency against Barack Obama in 2008, his shocking selection of Sarah Palin for his VP nominee, and his humbling defeat that November, he hasn't seem to be the same person.  All I can figure--and obviously it is just speculation on my part--is that he has become embittered by his defeat and can't get over it.  It must be difficult knowing that you came so close to being President and then let it slip through your hands.

But, just to give the Senator the benefit of the doubt with regard to this Susan Rice issue, I went back and viewed the interview that she gave to NBC's 'Meet The Press' five days after the Benghazi incident.  I had never actually seen it, and so I wanted to see for myself what she said.  You can view it below, and the specific section of the interview relating to the Benghazi tragedy runs from the 1:50 to about the 3:40 minute mark (although it's helpful to watch it from the beginning to get the full context).

My take on her interview is that she was giving an articulate and careful response based on the information she had from our intelligence agencies at the time.  There was (and is) uncertainty about what motivated the attacks on the Consulate and the CIA station nearby.  Clearly, it was an armed attack by "extremist elements", as she says here.  Why they did it was uncertain and may never be known for sure.  What role the infamous American video played in it is uncertain.  What we DO know is that the attack in Benghazi came in the context of simultaneous mob actions across the Middle East in reaction to that video.  Whether Benghazi was exactly the same or somewhat different is still an open question.

There was (and is) no cover-up here.  Susan Rice said nothing wrong or inaccurate here, based on the current information the administration had. 

In other words, the attacks on her from John McCain and the conservative news media are unwarrented and, in my opinion, politically motivated, in an attempt to damage President Obama.

That this is probably true is further evidenced by the fact that yesterday, while an official briefing of the Benghazi incident was being given to the Senate Homeland Security by several national security agencies, instead of attending the briefing to hear the evidence, John McCain decided to skip it so that he could give a news conference in which he continued to slam Susan Rice and President Obama. 


Saturday, November 10, 2012

How The Mighty Have Fallen: The Rise and Fall of David Petraeus

I first got a sense of David Petraeus several years ago when I was having dinner with a group of male friends in Winston-Salem.  I only knew one of them, who was a good pastor friend, and the others were his friends.  One of those guys was recently out of the army, where he had worked as a personal assistant for General Petraeus.  He talked with wonder in his voice about this General Petraeus.

Petraeus was a fitness fanatic, he said.  He was a workaholic, who pressed his staff to work just as hard.  He was an intellectual, with the smarts to go very far, very fast.  And he said other things that I can't remember now.  But I came away thinking to myself, this General Petraeus sounds like a General George Marshall or even a Dwight Eisenhower, someone who could be President.

Ever since that night, I've paid attention to the career of David Petraeus.  I watched him as he ran things in the later stages of the Iraq War, as he moved on up to Middle East Commander, then took finally the Afghanistan assignment under President Obama.

Frankly, I was surprised and somewhat worried when President Obama assigned him to the position of CIA Director.  I wrote back then in these pages:
And as for Petraeus at CIA...what the heck? Why place a fairly controversial Army general and Special Forces expert at the head of a civilian agency that is supposed to (primarily) collect intelligence? The trend toward the 'militarization' of the CIA is very bad. It will only increase the tendency to use the agency for covert operations overseas, rather than objective intelligence gathering. And frankly, you can't run a civilian bureaucracy like the CIA as you would run a military organization, without distorting and corrupting its original mission. Anyway, putting Petraeus at CIA kills two birds with one stone for Obama: he keeps a certified warrior/killer busy doing what he loves, and he also keeps Petraeus from running for President at least until Obama is done.
Washington Post foreign policy columnist David Ignatius writes about Petraeus this morning, and he says this about his time at CIA:
Petraeus’s 15-month tenure as CIA director was short and, compared to his rocket-like ascent to four-star rank in the Army, something of a bumpy ride. He was a man who was used to a large staff that executed his orders, and what he found at the CIA was something closer to a covert university campus, with experts who behaved as if they had tenure, and a culture that prided itself on being contrarian and difficult to manage.

It wasn’t an easy fit, and within weeks, you began to hear grumbling from the CIA’s ranks about how Petraeus was trying to put his personal mark on every tree and fire hydrant in sight, asking too many questions, and pushing in his annoyingly relentless way for results.

The smartest thing Petraeus did was to form a partnership early on with Michael Morell, who was acting director before his arrival and resumed that role Friday. Morell is a career analyst and veteran of the mill that produces the famous “PDB,” or president’s daily brief, and he knew the agency’s culture — or at least the analysts’ version of it. His task was to encourage Petraeus when his commander’s instincts made sense for the agency, and dissuade him when his ideas were counter-productive.

Petraeus’s critics within the agency think Morell was co-opted by Petraeus. But there’s considerable evidence that, when appropriate, the deputy director was prepared to tell the boss the unpleasant truth. In any event, Morell came away a fan—recognizing that although Petraeus had a rocky start, his ceaseless pressure had been good for the agency.

“Petraeus is one of the best managers I have seen,” Morell said through a spokesman Friday. “He figures out where he wants the organization to go, and he drives it in that direction. He does this through relentless focus. He remembers what he asked for. Three weeks later he’ll say at the morning meeting, ‘Whatever happened to that? Is that done yet?’ I’ve never seen anyone with his drive — ever.”

Not that it was easy. “This place does not like hierarchy. People respect you because you do a job well, not because you’re the director,” observed one senior agency official. Petraeus had gone from “an organization trained to salute to one that was like herding cats,” another official said Friday, and it was “a huge transition for both sides.”
I happen to know at least one CIA analyst, a young woman and personal friend who has worked for the agency on the Middle East desk for several years. And I can tell you that she fits well the description above as to the culture and staff of the CIA, of "being contrarian and difficult to manage".

And, now, apparently, David Petraeus has been brought down by an extramarital affair.  In a way, it's not that surprising, given how many prominent men of upstanding character have been laid low by that scourge.  Sad but true.

Some are speculating that this could have something to do with the Benghazi incident.  It's certainly not impossible, but it seems improbable to me.  But in this day and age, if it does have anything to do with this, we shall find out.  There are few secrets anymore.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Election Prediction 2012

Just for the record, I want to post here my prediction for the election that I put on my FB wall about 11 AM on Tuesday, election day:

"Prediction: 290+ electoral votes for Obama. But whoever wins, may it be a clear victory, so we can move on!   Peace...."

Turns out, I was too conservative.  Obama got 332 electoral votes.  It was "a clear victory"!!

Conservatism Is Dead....American Is Finished....All Is Lost

Wrong.  Conservatism is not dead...the Republican Party is not caput....and certainly America is not finished. 

I can understand the gloominess and existential despair on the part of you Republicans right now.  It was a devastating defeat on Tuesday, and we on the other side know about devastating defeats and despair (think 2000 and 2004).  So, you folks who lost Tuesday, you will feel better before too long.  Trust me, life goes on, and the political pendulum can swing VERY quickly.

What SHOULD be dead, of course, are the lies that you were fed by the Rightwing Fun House and that many of you got sucked into:  that Barack Obama isn't a real American, that he's not a Christian, that he is a Marxist, that he is an Appeaser of our enemies, and that he is lazy and stupid.  If those radical and crazy ideas are not lying mortally wounded in the midst of you, then heaven help us all, because you will never recover and make the changes that you need to make.  And America will pay a big price as well.

But I think you will recover.  The Republican Party is a great political party, the Party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon (whom I admire more than some of you do), Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush.  These were great politicians and great American leaders, all of who can provide you with inspiration as you bind your wounds and heal.  And there are new young leaders coming along who are potentially just as great.

Likewise the Conservative movement.  It has a long and glorious tradition in American and in the West in general, with important thinkers and activists to imitate and revere: Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, William F. Buckley, Irving Kristol, Friedrick von Hayek, Whittiker Chambers, Milton Freedman, George Will, and the list goes on.  We need a strong and vibrant conservative movement to bring balance and traditional wisdom to our national debate.

But the fact of the matter is that you all simply got too extreme in the last number of years (just like the Democratic Party did in the 70s and 80s).  And now that you have lost two big Presidential elections and also lost the Senate when it could easily have been yours, it is time for you to recalibrate, just like your GPS does when you've missed a turn in your car.

So, don't despair, just recalibrate.  You're going to be fine, because there's another turn just another block or two away, and you'll soon be back on the correct route.

If you recalibrate....

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Losers and Winners

American elections produce winners and losers.  That's what democracy is all about. 

For example, in 1860 with the election of Abraham Lincoln, the loser (ultimately) was slavery and the winner was the enslaved Afro-American community (again ultimately) and the American ideal of 'freedom and justice for all'.  In 1932, with the election of FDR, the loser was our plutocracy and the winner was the common man, who gained some protection from economic exploitation.

 So who are the losers and winners this year?  Here's my list:


MITT ROMNEY, who goes from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.

Mr. and Mrs. Sheldon Adelson, Losers
SHELDON ADELSON, THE KOCH BROTHERS, THOMAS PETERFFY and other superrich conservatives who just threw a ton of money down the drain.  They probably would have lost a lot less just going along with a slight raise in the marginal tax rate.  LOL.

KARL ROVE, DICK MORRIS, AND THE ENTIRE FOX NEWS TEAM, who came across on election night as what they are: morons in an ideological Fun House of their own making. 

MITCH MCCONNELL, Senate minority leader whose top political goal for the last four years was making Obama a one-term President.  Seeing you lose, Mitch, gives me GREAT satisfaction.

PAUL RYAN, who is politically tainted now, through no real fault of his own (except perhaps for his decision to accept Romney's offer and put a muzzle on himself and his brain). 

RUSH LIMBAUGH AND DONALD TRUMP, who just keep showing themselves to be obnoxious buffoons, unworthy of anyone's attention (except for a good laugh).

OLD WHITE MALES.  Grumpy old men who don't like change much.

THE REPUBLICAN PARTY, which is now lost in the wilderness.  Necessary time of purging.

WALL STREET, because it will now be forced to attend the financial equivalent of AA and go on the wagon.  Dodd-Frank as tough love.


CLIMATE-CHANGE DENIERS, not because of Barack Obama but because of Hurricane Sandy, Chris Christie, and NY Mayor Bloomberg.

THE TEA PARTY, which continues to suffer defeat after defeat, but seems clueless as to why.


BARACK OBAMA, whose place in history as a significant progressive--and first Afro-American--President, should now be assured.

OBAMA'S CAMPAIGN STAFF, especially David Plouffe, David Axelrod, and Jim Messina, whom experts are calling the best campaign team ever.

NATE SILVER, the NYT electoral prognosticator who accurately predicted EVERY state outcome.

THE MIDDLE CLASS, which has been really struggling for more than 30 years now. 

THE MORMON CHURCH, because one of its devout followers ran for President and it wasn't held against him by either the Fundamentalists or the Liberals.  Jon Huntsman, you're next!

THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY, which is a pathetic political party, except the others are all worse.  Lesser evil.

WOMEN, whose political, civil, and personal rights are protected for another political season.

AFRO-AMERICANS, whose champion was reelected President, against some mighty large odds.

LATINOS, since this election almost guarantees that there will be a grand bargain on immigration reform in the very near future.

ISRAEL, who will now be forced to be more reasonable in their demands and not take America for granted.  And who knows, miracle of miracles, perhaps a grand peace will somehow result as well, though I'm not holding my breath.

CHANCES FOR PEACE ACROSS THE MIDDLE EAST, since we now have an experienced and respected President in charge of our foreign policy and as commander-in-chief.  Chances are not high, but they are higher than they would have been otherwise.

THE EARTH, which at least has folks in charge who take modern science and the environment seriously.

MSNBC, whose liberals won big time this year.

MEGYN KELLY, of FOX News for standing up to Karl Rove on primetime....way to go, girl!

BILL O'REILLY, for being skeptical before the election of all the ideological rantings of so many FOX News commentators (Karl Rove, Dick Morris, etc.).  O'Reilly can still be an ass at times, but he's becoming an ass that even a liberal like myself can like!

CARL LINDQUIST, this grumpy old man who, with a few others, stood alone on Facebook defending Obama against a horde of foes!!  We kicked some serious butt (and had a good time doing it--except after that damnable first debate)!   LOL

And the biggest winner of all was the AMERICAN PEOPLE, who made it through another democratic election without civil war.  May God bless us, forgive us, humble us, enlighten us, and grant us peace.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Morning After

Yesterday, America reconfirmed what it had done four years ago in electing Barack Obama President.  And in doing so, it took another huge step in the reinventing of the United States of America.  It is a beautiful thing.

Yesterday, with his huge victory over the Republicans, President Obama entered the history books as the equal of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and Bill Clinton, all 20th Century Democratic presidents who accomplished significant achievements in advancing the progressive cause of an America of freedom and justice for all.

In defeating the Mitt Romney campaign--and all of the plutocratic and fundamentalist forces that were marching behind him--Obama again demonstrated his political genius.  He and his political lieutenants once again put together an electoral coalition that prevailed against a determined political foe.

The Republican Party and the conservative movement are in disarray on this day after.  They held onto the House of Representatives, but lost both the Presidency and their attempt to regain control of the Senate.  The Tea Party movement especially suffered some pretty big defeats. 

The FOX team of contributors in particular has a lot of egg on their face, after the sordid attempt by Karl Rove to overturn the decision of the FOX network (and their Decision Desk) to declare Ohio (and therefore the Presidency) for Obama.  It showed the split between, on the one hand, their more 'reality based' people and, on the other hand, their ideological spinmeisters.

Dick Morris, with his crazy talk about a Romney landslide, should be quietly but firmly led to the door.  Why does Fox put up with people like him, when he is so manifestly wrong?  It is laughable.  And Karl Rove should also retire to whatever estate he has in Texas, because he has had his day, but that day is over.

And what in the heck is with Donald Trump?  Revolution?

Unfortunately, the Rightwing Fun House, with its crazy mirrors ideology, will keep distorting reality and warping the minds of millions of Americans.  It's too much a part of our culture, present and past.  But fortunately, we have a majority of this country who haven't fallen for their 'psychotalk', as Ed Schultz would put it.  And that majority spoke loud and clear yesterday!

So now we get to move forward, with a President in the White House who runs a cautious (and now experienced) foreign policy, who continues to bring our economy back from the brink, and who is committed to trying to craft common sense, centrist solutions to our country's problems.

President Obama now has both a fresh mandate for his leadership, and the grounding of four years of experience and maturity in office, which should help him hit the ground running.  Amen to that.

Monday, November 5, 2012

What This Election Is Really About

This is a very close election, with the final national polls showing it basically tied while the swing state polls give a slight edge to President Obama. But, given all the uncertainties, this election could go either way.  I am resigned to that fact personally and while I'm expecting an Obama victory, I also wouldn't be surprised at all to see a President Romney on Wednesday. So I take nothing for granted here.

Charles and David Koch
For the last two year, the Republicans were not looking for someone they really liked, because that was not to be had.  (For some reason, the Republicans haven't really been happy with their nominees since the days of Ronald Reagan some three decades ago.  They think they would have been happy with Gov.Chris Christie, but I think that's wishful thinking.)  Rather they have been looking for someone--anyone--who could manage to drive Barack Obama from office after just one term.

They may or may not have found that person in Mitt Romney.  We'll know after tomorrow.

Romney has turned out to be the perfect stealth candidate.  He has flown under the political radar, his true ideology and political convictions undetected and unknown.  He has given very few interviews to the press. He has kept his personal finances hidden in an almost unprecedented way. He has switched positions numerous times, sometimes almost daily. And he has somehow gotten away with it.  We don't know what he believes about politics and policy.  Who knows, maybe he doesn't even know;  perhaps all he knows is that he desperately wants to be President!

Starting out as the moderate Republican governor of Massachusetts, where he put in place the first universal health care plan in the country, Romney morphed into the 'severely conservative' candidate who stood to the Right of such conservatives as Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, on issues such as immigration.  Romney has said whatever needed to said and gladly shook the hands that needed to be shook (Donald Trump, Liberty University, etc.) in order to win the nomination of the increasingly fundamentalist, laissez-faire (aka Randian) Republican Party. 

His final act in order to secure his conservative base was to select Paul Ryan as his VP choice, the young, wonkish but likeable paladin of Congressional conservatives.

Then, as predicted by his aides back in the summer, Romney made his 'etch-a-sketch' move, entered the political chrysalis  and emerged at the Republican convention as a beautiful, transformed 'moderate' Republican.  No more hard-core conservative ideology, now we saw the softer, warmer, compassionate Mitt--family man, devoted Mormon, competent businessman, philantropist extraordinare.  The Republicans on display were of the same stripe--Condoleeza Rice, Chris Christie, Ann Romney.  Absent in body, mind, and soul were the two most recent Republican Presidents:  George W. Bush and Dick Cheney!

This should have been enough to warn the Obama team that Romney was going to show his moderate face during the debates, but for some reason, the President was caught offguard, at least during the first debate, and was unable to counter the stream of middle-of-the-road rhetoric and argumentation coming from Romney's mouth.  Obama took his famous 'long nap' during the first debate, and consequently let Romney back into the race, and so we are where we are, with the race close to tied on the day before the election.

But this election has very little to do with Mitt Romney.  Really.  I know that must sound rather strange, but I think it can be shown to be true.  Romney (and in a way, Obama as well) represents an approach to governance and political control that has certain goals and purposes well in mind, that are broader and bigger than any individual person or President.  That is what I would like to sketch out below, as I see it, because it's important for us who are citizens--and actually determine who controls our political process--to know the lay of the land.

If the Right could have won with a cipher such as Herman Cain, they would gladly have taken him.  Indeed, it's a little known fact that Cain was the creature of the Koch Brothers, who had financed his rise to notoriety (which has now degenerated into guest appearances on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show, where he comes across as the buffoon that he always was).  Someone like Cain would have been the preferable and more malleable candidate for the Republican Powers That Be, but he had a few, ahem, 'skeletons' in his closet, so he faded fast in the end.  And Mitt Romney had the staying power to endure repeated electoral rejection and keep on getting back on his feet to fight again.  You sincerely have to admire this about the man.

But really, this election is not about Mitt Romney who for the longest time in the Republican primaries couldn't rise above 30% of even the Republican Party.  Rather this election has to do first of all with the Rightwing Noise Machine (RNM), which has been at work for the entirety of Obama's presidency (and for years before that, truth be told). 

FOX News, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Andrew Breitbart, Anne Coulter, Michele Bachmann, the Birthers, the Koch brothers, etc. have all been busy little bees for over four years now seeking to mold and shape the mindset of a certain subset of the American population--probably something like 20% (more if they could get it).  And to what end?  To believe that their new President was not only NOT a legally legitimate President, but that he was not even an American or a Christian.  Furthermore, as the Right's new documentary film maker Dinesh D'Souza tried to show in the last few months, their President was actually trying to 'destroy' turning it into a socialist paradise akin to the Soviet Union.

Over the last few years, I've seen intelligent friends of mine come to hate Barack Obama, not because of what he was actually doing, but because of the delusional rantings and ravings of the above-mentioned RNM.  It is this visceral, irrational revulsion which has formed the base of Mitt Romney's support.  They came around to supporting Mitt Romney, not because of who Romney is, but because they loathe, and have nothing but contempt for, Barack Obama.

Of course, not everyone in the Republican Party sees things this fact, I feel certain that the folks in influential positions--the Karl Roves, the Koch Brothers, Rupert Murdock/Roger Ailes, (dare I say Grover Norquist?)--see things quite differently, and know that Barack Obama is basically a pragmatic neo-liberal in the mold of Bill Clinton.  They know that he's not a radical at all, but rather a cautious, careful reformer of national affairs, who has done a fairly decent job of bringing the nation out of its economic crisis and back into moderate growth and recovery.  They know this because they are NOT delusional, paranoid with fear, or ignorant.  But they also know that Barack Obama stands in the way of what they want to accomplish.

So here is the historical point.  Conservatives have, for nearly a century now, had as their primary ideological goal one basic thing.  And it is this:  the rollback of the last century of American political and socioeconomic reform, embodied in the New Nationalism (Theodore Roosevelt), the New Freedom (Woodrow Wilson), the New Deal (Franklin Roosevelt), the Fair Deal (Harry Truman), the Great Society (JFK and LBJ), and oddly enough, even a few reforms instituted by the last great Republican moderate, Richard Nixon, especially a strong federal agency for environmental regulation, the EPA. 

Add to all of this, the progressive initiatives of Obamacare, the Clean Energy initiatives, and the Dodd Frank Banking regulations of the Obama administration, and you have a century of socioeconomic reform that the conservatives (who now completely control the Republican Party) want to destroy and replace.  When one speaks of American Liberalism, this is what it is in substance and structure.  And this is what Conservatism wants to abolish and eliminate, to the maximum extent possible.  This election is about two general political worldviews--Progressivism and Conservatism--locked in perpetual struggle for dominance.

So there you have it.  This is the agenda of the new conservative Republican Party (since the advent of the Reagan administration):  to control the levers of national political power so as to be able to uproot and eliminate the socio-political, liberal fruits of the 20th Century in America, as described in the previous paragraph.  To return if at all possible, as it were, to the glorious days of the late 19th century, when the titans of industry and finance ruled the roost, and when the little people (workers, farmers, women, blacks, Latinos, and other non-white minorities) were kept in their place.  When there was very few in the middle, between the mighty and little.  The perfect utopia of Ayn Rand, the most recent patron saint of this movement (and the preferred political philosopher of Paul Ryan).

Hard to believe, isn't it, but how else can you read their true agenda?  There is a truly reactionary vision here that is normally kept quite hidden by the Right, but that is occasionally glimpsed.  (They prefer to place their emphasis on demonizing the enemy, not revealing their own intentions.)  One place you could see it quite clearly, actually, was in the teaching of Glenn Beck, with his theories of the evils of early 20th Century Progressivism, à la Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson (and all that followed in the subsequent decades).  To Beck, this was America's Original Sin, which had to be rejected and replaced, if America was to be righteous again, as it was at its founding and for the first century of its existence.  Beck was becoming a primary evangelist of the conservative movement, because of his mesmerizing ability to preach the Truth.  (If I was watching him occasionally, just for the sheer fun of it, he must have had a huge audience on the Right, who believed his 'sermons'.)

But Glenn Beck must have gone too far, because he was uncermoniously taken off the air by Roger Ailes at FOX News.  You see, Ailes wants the true purposes of FOX kept sub rosa, please.  He will NOT pay you to divulge the conservative secrets.  It wasn't that Beck went looney-tunes on them, it's just that he became too EXPLICIT about it all, and that is forbidden.  What Beck was teaching is actually what the conservative movement believes in theory and about our American history.  All you had to do was know what Beck was saying and compare it what the candidates were saying in the Republican debates, and you basically had a MATCH!  Poor Glenn Beck....crucified for simply telling the truth.

This new Republican Party--controlled by the Rightwing Rich, traditional Big Business, the Christian fundamentalists and pro-life movement, the Fossil Fuel Industry,  the Military-Industrial Complex (so prophetically described by President Eisenhower in his Farewell Address), and Big Finance/Wall Street--is now gunning for Barack Obama, the leader of American Liberalism.  In their view, his election four years ago was a mistake, due to a chink in the conservative armor called the Great Recession, something they clearly didn't expect to happen.  And his election must be reversed, before too much damage is done.

The titular figurehead at the moment of this reactionary Conservatism is Mitt Romney, but he is more the appropriate pot, the useful vessal, than the potter.  Behind him stands all the people and forces he has so cravenly kowtowed to in order to fulfill his vast and longstanding ambition to be the US President.  And if he wins, they will have their say.  And if, for some reason, he doesn't do their will (perhaps because he is in his heart of hearts a real moderate), there will be hell to pay. 

But I think he will listen to his bosses, and then enjoy his success, his family, and his church.  He will have it made in the shade--until the next disaster hits (Iran?). 

Jobs?  Mitt Romney doesn't really care about jobs for you and me....never has and never will.  It's not in his DNA.  Profit--for him and his kind--is what has been his passion.

So our choice tomorrow seems to be: move ahead into the 21st Century with a cautiously progressive President, or continue our fall back--back, back, back--into a new Gilded Age under the increasingly reactionary Republicans.  Perhaps you think I exaggerate. Indeed, I am overly generalizing here, to be sure, but only because it's important to 'see the forest for the trees'. Otherwise we wander aimlessly about, knowing neither where to go or what to do.

One perhaps would like some other choice than this, but there really isn't.  People long to be 'independent', but no such place exists anymore.  You simply have to take sides in this political struggle.  Not to decide, out of fear or ignorance or indifference, is to decide.  So pick your party, your political worldview, and vote.

A lot more hinges on our decision tomorrow than the skin color--or retirement accounts--of two impressive Presidential candidates.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

When Disaster Strikes

How weird is this?  A major hurricane plows into New Jersey and New York a week before the election, bringing a halt to Presidential campaigning, at least for a couple of days.  Everyone's focus is turned to the drama of the unfolding disaster.  And President Obama has a major job to do, as the national disaster 'coordinator-in-chief', while Mitt Romney has almost nothing he can do, except speak at a relief fund raiser in Ohio.

Who knows what the political consequences of this will be?  It looks like it could possibly help the President, but it's impossible to know.

What IS clear, however, is that aside from the news anchors and the various storm reporters in their raingear standing beside the rising water, virtually everyone else in sight is a governmental leader or employee.  When disaster strikes, it's the government that takes over and handles things.

It's Gov. Christie of New Jersey, Mayor Bloomberg of NYC, Gov. Cuomo of New York, and President Obama of the Federal Government who are the key actors, the go-to folks.  It's the first responders, the firefighters, the police, the public shelter operators and workers, the transportation officials, the city engineers, etc., etc., etc.

Where are the CEOs of the corporations, the Hedge Fund billionaires, the Wall Street tycoons, the Donald Trumps of the world?  Who knows, and who really cares?  My guess is that a lot of them flew away in their private jets before the storm hit to some hideaway in the Caribbean, so as to leave any suffering that has to take place to the 99%. 

My point is not that the 'job creators' aren't important.  It's just that they're not important NOW.  Everything has a time and a place, including the government.  Which is why the extreme anti-government, anti-tax rhetoric of the Right--especially the libertarian Right--is so Wrong.

Why can't we get it through our heads?  Nobody likes to pay taxes.  I know I don't.  But as has been wisely said many times, taxes are simply the price we pay for civilization.  And civilization is exactly what we want, both in the good times and the bad times.  A modern 'civil society' requires efficient, knowledgeable, effective, competent, responsive government--and at every level: local, state, and national.

And you can't have it if you 'privatize' everything, which seems to be the libertarian, Rightwing utopian litany.  Ron Paul and Ayn Rand simply have nothing relevant to say to us today.

Government is public, non-profit, oriented to the 100%.  It responds not to 'customers' but to 'citizens'.  It looks out for the rich AND the poor, and everyone in between.  It is directly responsive to the public good, the ENTIRE public, EVERYONE.

During a CNN debate at the height of the GOP primary, Mitt Romney was asked, in the context of the FEMA's cash crunch, whether the agency should be shuttered so that states can individually take over responsibility for disaster response.

"Absolutely," he said. "Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that's the right direction. And if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that's even better. Instead of thinking, in the federal budget, what we should cut, we should ask the opposite question, what should we keep?"

"Including disaster relief, though?" debate moderator John King asked Romney.

"We cannot -- we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids," Romney replied.

Really, Gov.?  Just think what would be going on right now in the New Jersey/New York area if there weren't adequate governmental resources working 24 hours a day to get things repaired and going again.  Just think about those kids now, Gov. 

Sometimes I think the Right, in all its rhetorical glory and grand simplicity, is just smoking something....

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Primal Rant As We Approach the Election

This morning I just want to rant.  This election does not feel right to me at all.  It could be just a case of SAD on my part, but it could also be that I'm sensing this thing slipping away from Obama.  Nate Silver has him with odds of winning around 75%, but it sure doesn't seem that high to me in my gut.  It seems like it could go either way.

Mitt Romney's campaign message has basically degenerated into a series of false accusations and misleading statements about Obama's record.  The American economy seems to be turning around quite nicely (though a tad late here in this election season), in contrast to most of the rest of the world which is slipping into recession, but Romney continues to paint Obama's economic policies as complete failures.  He portrays the awful statistics of the economic crash that Obama inherited as if they were his fault, rather than the junk that he inherited from his predecessors and that he had to clean up before he could do anything else.  And he has come a long way in doing just that, but doesn't seem to be getting much credit for it at all.

In the area of foreign policy, Romney has for almost two years now accused Obama of being weak, vacillating, an appeaser and apologizer, all of which has no basis in fact.  Then, in the third debate, Romney essentially agreed with every Obama policy, almost without exception.  Huh?  What's that all about?  Romney was so much as admitting that everything he had said about Obama's conduct of foreign policy had been false.

Yet none of this duplicity seems to be registering with the Independents and Undecideds who are supposedly the ones who will decide this election.  They are breaking toward Romney, it seems, probably under the blizzard of pro-Romney ads blanketing the airways in the last couple of weeks.

I want to give Mitt Romney his due.  As a candidate, he comes across to me as tireless, unwavering, tenacious, relentless, and clever, all of which are normally good traits (and indeed are valuable in many endeavors). Except in this case, he also comes across as a snake-oil salesman, trying to sell a defective product that will either do no real good or may do real long-term harm to this country of ours.

Who knows what Mitt Romney really believes or what his true convictions are, other than his ambition to be President? Having once been a moderate (ie liberal) Republican from Massachusetts, he swung to the hard right for the primary season and some of the general campaign, but in just the last few weeks, has etch-a-sketched back to the middle, on foreign and domestic policy. He's been all over the map ideologically and has flipped and flopped without the slightest expression of shame or hesitation. His eye is on the prize, and he clearly will not let such minor considerations as principles and convictions--or even basic honesty--get in the way of winning that prize.

This is what I feel sure about with Mitt Romney. One, he desperately wants to be President of the United States. Two, he is a devout Mormon, with the values and worldview that Mormonism brings. And three, he has few core political convictions, except that he wants to protect his own wealth and that of his other rich friends, which means that he will espouse a fairly hardcore laissez-faire economic philosophy, with its assorted social and political consequences.

Other than these three core 'values', Romney will probably feel comfortable turning over the rest of the governing to the (mostly) men that he will appoint to the crucial positions around him in the White House. So a lot depends on who those people are, and if Romney is elected, we'll know a lot more about the future when we see who he puts forward to be his inner circle of advisors.

If Mitt Romney wins the Presidency, I really don't believe he will 'wear well' with the American people (how he has made himself 'likeable' in the last month of two is a big mystery to me). I think within a few months, some Americans at least will wake up and realize that they made a terrible mistake, electing as President a person with no experience or feel for conducting foreign or military policy, and whose primary objective will be to protect the wealthy elite from the grasping predation of the takers and moochers of society (just as he said in that secret '47%' tape, which I think expressed his true beliefs). The 1% (or even 10%) of this country with most of the wealth will of course be pleased, knowing that their financial patrimony is secure. As for the other 99%, well, not so happy....

Furthermore, they will find out that they rejected a very good man and President in Barack Obama, who had done a very credible job leading this country in a very difficult time in our history. Surprise, surprise, he really was not the radical, Kenyan, lazy and stupid socialist that the Right was painting him to be! But then it will be too late, because power will be back in the hands of the Right, and I don't think they will not give it up easily again.

On the other hand, if Obama wins the election and gets a second term, I frankly fear for his life. There are forces in this country who will not take no for an answer when it comes to ousting him and what he represents from office (including his race). Obama has always compared himself with Abraham Lincoln, and it could be that he is more like Lincoln than we would like to think. In my view, there are primal forces engaged in a titanic struggle (cold civil war?) here, which perhaps accounts for the Right's recent manichean outlook. And who knows, perhaps it also accounts for all the strange movies these days, about superhuman heroes and villains, vampires and zombies, and alien invaders from space.

So, in a way, it seems that I am somewhat pessimistic either way this election turns out. I don't like that, but that's the way it is.

Or maybe I just didn't sleep well last night, and I'm taking it out on you, dear reader!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Choice Before Us: Foreign Policy

Remember when George W. Bush said in his 2000 debate with Al Gore that he didn't think the United States should be about the business of 'nation building'? Three years later, we were invading Iraq, where we wasted something like 700 billion dollars and many thousands of American lives (not to speak of the countless Iraqi dead) doing exactly what Bush said he was against.

Watching the successful raid on Osama bin Laden
The point being that you can't always believe what a candidate says in a debate. It's better to look at their actions.

Mitt Romney has spent most of two years now slamming President Obama for being 'weak', 'an appeaser', 'naive', 'incapable', 'over his head', and 'unsuccessful' in his foreign policy. Yet in their third and final debate on foreign policy, Romney ended up agreeing with most everything that Obama has done when asked about the specifics. It was widely speculated that he wanted to sound like the 'peacemaker', in order to win over more of the women's vote in the next two weeks before the election.

What position hasn't Romney changed in the course of the last 10 years?  He becomes whatever he needs to in order to win an election.  Who knows what he will actually do in foreign policy when he gets to the Oval Office?  He has absolutely no experience in the field, so we have nothing by which to judge him.

This one is not even close.  President Obama has proven himself over his first term in office to be a cautious and pragmatic statesman and commander-in-chief.  He has pursued America's national interests all over the world in ways that have kept America safe.  He ended the Iraq War and will do the same in Afghanistan.  He is a centrist and sensible 'realist' in his foreign policy who has utilized the best talent he could find in either political party (Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense and Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State).  He seems to follow the judicious advice of Theodore Roosevelt, who recommended that the President "speak softly but carry a big stick."

We know what President Obama will do in foreign policy because we've had a chance to watch him in action for four years.  We have absolutely no idea what Mitt Romney will do.  (On the other hand, with foreign policy advisors like the fire-breathing John Bolton and other Bush people surrounding him, I have a sneaking suspicion about what he might do.)

The choice here is obvious: Barack Obama for Commander-in-Chief and America's Chief Diplomat.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Choice Before Us: Obama or Romney?

We need to begin summing up the arguments for and against the two Presidential candidates in this election of 2012, since early voting has already begun and the election is literally just around the corner.  And thank God for that, because this campaign has gone on far too long!

Make no mistake about it, I'm voting for Barack Obama, just as I did in 2008.  But I do this not because I agree with everything he has done, because in fact I don't.  And I do this not because he's been a perfect President, because in my opinion he hasn't been.  (No such thing exists actually.) 

I'm voting for Barack Obama because he is the best choice this year, just as he was the best choice four years ago.

Now, if you are one of those who have been convinced somehow that Barack Obama is an illegitimate President because he was actually born in Kenya, then you don't even need to read any further.  There isn't anything I'll be saying that will be able to convince you otherwise, and you'll have to vote for the (in the 'birther' universe) only legally eligible candidates in the race, Mitt Romney (Republican) or Gary Johnson (Libertarian).

Likewise, if the mind-warping propaganda from the paranoid Far Right has convinced you that President Obama is a radical socialist or a secret Muslim, who is just bidding his time to destroy this country, then you will be voting for someone other than the President (as the lesser evil if nothing else) and you really don't need to waste your time reading any of these more mundane considerations.

I'm talking here to those of you who live in the real world and who ponder real issues, like economic and domestic policy, social issues, and international affairs, and are honestly trying to decide which of the two candidates will best serve the interests and needs of the American people and nation.

If that is where you are, then let us proceed.

I begin by positing that both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have some real strengths and positive aspects as candidates for President.  Both have received some of the best education that America has to offer, as graduates of elite private academies, fine universities (Columbia and BYU) and law schools (Harvard).  Both men are very intelligent, although there have been troglodytes on the Republican side who have insinuated that Obama was somehow stupid (Gov. Sununu).  Both men are family men, who have beautiful wives and children, to whom they are clearly devoted and faithful.   And in this day and age, these character traits are not something we should necessarily take for granted (e.g. Sarah Palin).

Both Obama and Romney have, at some point in their lives, been seen as political moderates and centrists.  For Romney, this was particularly so in his four years as governor of Massachusetts, where he passed one of the first state universal health care plans in the country.  Since becoming a Presidential candidate, however, Romney has acquired the disease of 'Romnesia' (as diagnosed by President Obama recently!), and has forgotten all his moderate policy positions in favor of much more conservative ones.  How much of this change is real and how much is just for political purposes of getting elected, it's somewhat hard to say at this point.  If he is elected President, I guess we'll find out then.  Otherwise, it will be just a speculative matter for pundits and scholars to mull over for decades to come.

President Obama on the other hand came into office four years ago with a certain patina as the most liberal Presidential candidate in quite a while.  Some were calling him the new FDR and hoping that his administration would bring about a 'New New Deal'.  That didn't happen of course, and Obama turned out to be a moderate neo-liberal in the mold of Bill Clinton (without the folksy charm, of course!).  Now, for those of you who find this description as far fetched, then you clearly are hallucinating, having been bewitched by the Right who, in their efforts to defeat Obama and prevent him from serving a second term, have done everything they can to make him unacceptable to the average American.

So, the bottom line for me (as I wrote last June here) is that both Obama and Romney fall within the acceptable and normal limits of recent American party politics and neither represents an imminent danger to the Republic, in the way that a Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin would have (in my opinion).

So, having laid out what the candidates have in common, let me now turn to how they differ and why that matters, in my next post.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Game On

In the second Presidential debate at Hofstra University, Barack Obama came out of his corner ready to fight, and for the entire 90 minutes, he was on the offensive against an increasingly frustrated and rattled Mitt Romney.

The only way I can understand Obama's performance in these two debates is to think in terms of basketball (his favorite sport).  In the first debate, Obama came out like a national championship team that didn't respect its opponent and therefore was flat in its play and overall demeanor, and as a result unexpectedly lost the game.  In the second, he came out ready to play, and therefore won the game (though not necessarily the series).

Blogger Andrew Sullivan was very happy with the results:
To my mind, Obama dominated Romney tonight in every single way: in substance, manner, style, and personal appeal. He came back like a lethal, but restrained predator. He was able to defend his own record, think swiftly on his feet, and his Benghazi answer was superb. He behaved like a president. He owned the presidency. And Romney? Well, he has no answers on the math question and was exposed. He was vulnerable on every social issue, especially immigration. And he had no real answer to the question of how he'd be different than George W Bush. I'm excitable - but sometimes politics is about emotion as well as reason. And my view is that Obama halted Romney's momentum in its tracks
If Obama had not performed to this level, the election would have been effectively over.  Now, it's game on.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Our Peculiar President

I've been writing for years now about the reported tendency of Barack Obama to wall himself off from and refuse to reach out to people in Washington.  It hasn't been talked about alot, but I've seen it enough times and in enough places that it has concerned me.  How can a President be effective in his job if he acts this way?

Ordinary people like you and me couldn't have known before Obama's election in 2008 about this characteristic of his.  However there were clues hidden in his past.  For example, in the Washington Post piece linked above, there is this little tidbit:
On the first page of his autobiography, "Dreams From My Father," Obama describes himself as a 21-year-old loner who was "prone to see other people as unnecessary distractions" and to avoid excessive social contact in his New York neighborhood.

"If the talk began to wander, or cross the border into familiarity, I would soon find reason to excuse myself," Obama wrote in the 1995 memoir. I had grown too comfortable in my solitude, the safest place I knew."
It looks like that character trait carried over in a major way into his Presidency.  As Elizabeth Drew wrote back in 2010, after Obama's first two years:
Barack Obama’s personality has been much mulled over in the past two years, but it seems inescapable that his high self-esteem often slides over the thin line to arrogance, which trickles down (with some exceptions) to much of his staff, some of whom are downright rude to all but a chosen few. Obama has seemed uninterested in anyone but his immediate group, and three of the four members of his immediate circle—Jarrett, Robert Gibbs, David Axelrod—had had no experience in governing. The fourth, Rahm Emanuel, expressed himself with such flippancy, arrogance, and overuse of the F-word that he offended not just members of Congress but also would-be allies of the President.
And now, columnist Joe Klein, whose judgments are impeccably honest, writes in this week's Time:
When I asked several close Obama associates about the President's reluctance to sell his policies, they admitted their frustration. They said he hates doing things that he considers transparently political. He hates the idea of inviting a bunch of pols over to the White House for a drink or a movie, because they'd see it as an obvious bribe. He'd have to fake small talk; they'd try to Holbrooke him. He hates press conferences because the gotcha questions are calibrated to generate heat rather than light. He hates the notion of launching precooked zingers in debates. He hates debates, period, with their false air of portent and stage-managed aggression. These are inconvenient prejudices if you want to be re-elected. Such ceremonies are the price of admission if you want to be a politician.
You know, WTF!  Obama, if you want to be our President, for God's sake be the President!  It's the top political office in a democracy, not the King of England!  You're not the Pope, all alone in prayer in the Vatican, for crying out loud!  What are you doing?!

As Joe Klein ended his column, I'll end this one:  "Barack Obama is going to have to come clean, descend from the mountaintop and make his best case for keeping the job."  

If he doesn't, then it will go to someone who clearly WANTS to be President and is willing to do almost anything to get it.  And then there's going to be a LOT of people VERY upset with Barack Obama, for a very long time.

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Bit of the Blarney, You Say?

Vice President Joe Biden, barring some kind of catastrophe, will never be President. He is too rude, too crude, and has a little too much of the Irish blarney. But he did well enough in last night's debate to staunch the bleeding from the wound inflicted by President Obama on himself last week. He was strong, articulate at times, and took it to the Republicans.

Paul Ryan, on the other hand, was nearly the opposite of Joe Biden in nearly every way. He was smooth, polite, young, and nearly unflappable. And given his youth and relative inexperience, his was a good debate performance. Far from hurting his political career by blowing the debate, he definitely helped himself, win or lose this year.

What I think most Democrats wanted to see last night was a strong defense of the Obama administration and a strong offensive attack on the Republican ticket. And they got both of these things from Joe Biden. It wasn't perfect, it wasn't always pretty--it was in fact a bit boisterous--but we didn't care. It was America incarnate.

It's quite strange, really.  In these debates, the style of the debaters is counting for far more than the substance of what they say.  Obama was passive and detached, while Romney was assertive and confidant.  Biden was aggressive and argumentative (mostly in a good way), while Ryan was calm and almost wonky.  Who cares what they actually said on the issues, as long as it wasn't an 80 proof gaffe!

Style counts for more because those who actually care about issues have already long decided who they're voting for.  The 'undecideds', on the other hand, are people who don't really know squat about the issues but are far more affected by the atmospherics of the debate (at least that's my theory this morning!).  They are the ones that these debates are meant for (and again, avoiding outright gaffes and horrible mistatements).

So while this debate was a tie, it probably helped the Democrats more than the Republicans right now.  So I guess that actually means that it was a win for the Irishman.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


If Barack Obama is not going through a period of substantive self-assessment right now, then he's a fool.

The American people have delivered to him a big time slapdown in the form of an historic drop in his national polling, after his pathetic debate performance the other night. The message? "Don't take us for granted, Mr. President. You seem to have gotten a swollen head--which is a vocational hazard in the Oval Office--and we don't like it at all. If you think this reelection is a 'gimme'--then think again!!"

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney is like a long-distance runner: maintaining his pace, hydrating himself, keeping his mind right, ignoring those around him while looking at the finish line just over the horizen. Very impressive, this political runner, and now he's taken the lead, at least in terms of momentum, if not polls.

Of course, I also called Romney a con artist yesterday, and a frenetic debater, willing to say just about anything the day before that. BUT, to some extent, all politicians do that, adjust their message to the audience they're addressing and the circumstances. Perhaps he just does it a little more than normal, or perhaps it just seems that way to us Democrats right now. In any case, you've got to admire his chutzpah! He's smart, he's cunning, he's ambitious, he's energetic. And all those things are characteristics of winners, and Romney's been a winner in his personal life, his business life, his charitable work, and at least once, his political life.

So, President Obama has his work cut out for him, if he's going to win a second term.  This will be no cakewalk for him, despite the good polling he's gotten since the conventions.

In hindsight (in a month, or a year, or a decade), we'll know more about what was going on right now behind the scenes and behind the stoic faces of the contestants, but right now, we can only guess or speculate.  My guess is that Obama got himself into a state of mind that was not particularly healthy, where he developed this sense of inevitability, of an almost narcissistic sense of entitlement; this sense that he is the political master of his age, and that it is his destiny to be a transformational President. And that he could do it HIS way, which is to plan it all out in his head, give directions to a few key people, and then let the whole thing just work out without a lot of fuss, effort, or interpersonal interaction on his part. (He doesn't like that kind of thing, apparently.)

This has been Obama's abiding weakness, I think. It began to become clear to outsiders a few years ago, or at least, I began to see it more clearly then.  Take for example this article by the veteran liberal political observer Elizabeth Drew, back in December of 2010 after the political defeat in the midterm election:
Once they got to the White House, Obama and his campaign team (virtually all of his top assistants) seemed to live in a hermetically sealed box—cut off from and not interested in what was going on outside, or what experienced people who tried to help them had to say. No one could dispute the fact that Obama was a good family man who dined with his wife and children each night and then turned to his briefing papers. To the extent that the Obamas went out in Washington, it was on their “date night,” or, so far as is known, to the Georgetown apartment of their close friend Valerie Jarrett, who also works at the White House. True, the Beltway isn’t the country, but there are people here who could have helped the Obama team navigate its shark-filled waters.

Of course Obama should have gotten out of Washington more and listened to people, not just talked at them; and, as Walter Mondale said recently, he should have gotten rid of “those idiot boards”—the TelePrompters on which the great orator has been strangely dependent and which divide him from his audiences. Last year, a friend of mine was invited to a Hanukkah party that the Obamas gave for prominent Jews (a group with whom there had been tensions), and after the Obamas descended the grand stairway, they stood in the foyer briefly, the President made a few remarks and shook a few hands, and back up the stairs they went. No mingling.

In their first two years, the Obamas have seemed a bit tone-deaf: there were too many vacations while people were hurting, especially Michelle’s extravagant trip to Spain. (I’m as interested in Michelle’s clothes as the next woman but at the same time think she and her staff are too focused on her looking smashing, which she does. Her wardrobe seems quite extensive for these troubled times.)

Barack Obama’s personality has been much mulled over in the past two years, but it seems inescapable that his high self-esteem often slides over the thin line to arrogance, which trickles down (with some exceptions) to much of his staff, some of whom are downright rude to all but a chosen few. Obama has seemed uninterested in anyone but his immediate group, and three of the four members of his immediate circle—Jarrett, Robert Gibbs, David Axelrod—had had no experience in governing. The fourth, Rahm Emanuel, expressed himself with such flippancy, arrogance, and overuse of the F-word that he offended not just members of Congress but also would-be allies of the President.

Vice President Joe Biden, who is liked on Capitol Hill, was virtually shut out of the dealings with people in Congress in the first two years—”I can handle them,” Obama told Biden—but Biden is now expected to be given a larger role as part of the White House’s new determination to “reach out.” (A few months ago highly placed members of the staff also swore they would “reach out,” but that seemed to last for just a few days.) One of the oddest aspects of Obama’s persona is that someone who seems so confident has insisted thus far in having people around him with whom he is said to be “comfortable.”

For example, Tom Donilon, his recently appointed national security adviser (a promotion from his role as deputy), is by all accounts a capable man but is no one’s idea of a serious strategic thinker. The explanation I was given for Donilon’s being given his new position was that “the President is comfortable with him.” Just as Obama is described as pleased with himself, he has been treated with hero worship by much of his staff. After all, he had taken on the formidable Clintons, and, against the expectation of almost all the pundits and the experts, he had beaten them. Why should he listen to those who had doubted him? A common complaint about the Obama White House in the first two years has been that there were no “grown-ups” around, people who knew more about governing and who would tell Obama that he was wrong. When people tried to suggest someone who should be brought in, that person was rejected as “not one of ours.” Joe Biden is said to argue with Obama on issues, such as Afghanistan, but not to get into the management of the White House.
Frankly, this was very concerning to me when I first read it, and it remains so now. How can a President expect to be successful if he cuts himself off from people in this way?  It's very troubling.

I've been defending Obama against the rightwing attack machine, which likes to accuse him of being a Muslim, a radical socialist, and in general, an unAmerican Outsider.  All of this stuff is nonsense, it seems to me, the fruit of conspiratorial, paranoic minds.

But the extremely introverted, isolated, tone-deaf, not-listening Obama?  That really concerns me.

Andrew Sullivan, a long time Obama supporter and influential blogger, has been scathing toward him since the first debate, in what many Obama supporters think of as over-the-top and hysterical.  And perhaps some of it is.  Yet in my heart I find myself agreeing with Sullivan.  And there was one comment from a reader that came in and Sullivan published that really seemed on target to me (or, at least I fear it is):
What I failed to realize back then [early in Obama's presidency] was the fatal inwardness of the man. His self-obsession makes him a good memoirist but otherwise undoes him even as a writer, since his isn't a failure to "tell a story" but rather to connect. What we saw in Denver was the Obama that was there to be seen all along: disengaged, self-interested, lecturing, not all that likable and a poor communicator. Where he's failed as president, those qualities have all come into play. In the minds of swing voters, those connections can now be made, and there's no Etch-a-Sketching away that revelation.
"...disengaged, self-interested, lecturing, not all that likable and a poor communicator."

 My God, if this is true, then this election may well be Romney's to win now, and, worst of all for an Obama supporter and liberal Democrat like myself, we may have to admit that we may actually be better off that way, since this may well be a "fatal" flaw that the nation cannot tolerate too long.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Con Artist

Did you ever come across someone who will just say anything....even if it's not true....even if it directly contradicts what they've already said....just to make you like them or, worse, to make you buy something from them?  What do you call someone like that? 

A con artist, that's what.
Con artists make money through deception. They lie, cheat and fool people into thinking they've happened onto a great deal or some easy money, when ­they're the ones who'll be making money. If that doesn't work, they'll take advantage of our weaknesses -- loneliness, insecurity, poor health or simple ignorance. The only thing more important to a con artist than perfecting a con is perfecting a total lack of conscience.

What does the average con artist look like? Despite what you may think, he isn't always a shady-looking character. A con artist is an expert at looking however he needs to look. If the con involves banking or investments, the con artist will wear a snappy suit. If it involves home improvement scams, he'll show up wearing well-worn work clothes. Even the basic assumption that the con is a "he" is incorrect: there are plenty of con women too.

­You might think you can spot a con artist because he's someone you instinctively "don't trust." But the term con artist is short for confidence artist -- they gain your confidence just long enough to get their hands on your money. They can be very charming and persuasive. A good con artist can even make you believe he is really an old friend you haven't seen in years.

Con artists do share certain characteristics, however. Even the best con can only go on for so long before people start getting suspicious. For that reason, con artists tend to move frequently. They may have a job that allows this, or they might claim to have such a job. Railroad worker, carnival worker and traveling salesman are all parts con artists play to cover up their constant relocations.
Here are just a few of the 'cons' that candidate Romney has used so far: 20% tax cut, 47%/100%, gun control, abortion, Planned Parenthood, global warming, education, health care, "pre-existing conditions", Medicare, immigration, Iraq, Libya, a Palestinian state, and the list goes on. Positions that Romney has taken and then reversed himself over the last ten years or over the last six months or since yesterday. It's one of the reasons that Romney well liked by his Republicans peers....

Most right-wingers of course don't really seem to have a problem with this. Why? Because they have this irrational hatred and/or fear of Barack Obama to the point that anyone saying anything is preferable, as long as they can beat Obama. Because they're used to doing the ole' 'bait and switch' themselves whenever they have to run for office. Because when your moral code is 'whatever is good for me' (the new Randian code of ethics), it's easy to lie and steal and con in order to get the power and stuff you want.

Is it a surprise that such a political con artist can come on television--deliver his con with verve and a smile--and end up making the sale? In the good old U.S.A? Not at all. WE LOVE CON ARTISTS HERE!

Depressed and In Shock

I like political critics who just tell it like it is, who don't pull their punches even if it's their own candidates they're talking about.  Michael Tomasky and Andrew Sullivan, both Daily Beach columnists, are two of these. 

Speaking of Obama's pathetic debate performance,  Tomasky wrote this a couple of days ago:
It’s now been three nationally televised public performances in a row—the convention speech, the 60 Minutes interview, and the debate—where he was pretty terrible; withdrawn and distant and just not there. Someone needs to ask the cut-to-the-chase question: is he enthusiastic about keeping this job, or he is just maybe tired of being president?
Andrew Sullivan, one of the most vociferous Obama supporters since way back in 2007, wrote this yesterday on his blog:
That we are having this discussion at all reflects the enormity of Obama's implosion. This race is now Romney's to lose. Not just because Romney is shameless liar and opportunist. But because Obama just essentially forfeited the election. In the first match-up between the two candidates, one was a potential president; the other a dithering wonk. I'm still reeling. I'm sorry if these are not things an Obama supporter should say at this point. But the demoralization is profound.

The Pew poll is devastating, just devastating. Before the debate, Obama had a 51 - 43 lead; now, Romney has a 49 - 45 lead. That's a simply unprecedented reversal for a candidate in October. Before Obama had leads on every policy issue and personal characteristic; now Romney leads in almost all of them. Obama's performance gave Romney a 12 point swing! I repeat: a 12 point swing.

Seriously: has that kind of swing ever happened this late in a campaign? Has any candidate lost 18 points among women voters in one night ever? And we are told that when Obama left the stage that night, he was feeling good. That's terrifying. On every single issue, Obama has instantly plummeted into near-oblivion.

Look: I'm trying to rally some morale, but I've never seen a candidate this late in the game, so far ahead, just throw in the towel in the way Obama did last week - throw away almost every single advantage he had with voters and manage to enable his opponent to seem as if he cares about the middle class as much as Obama does. How do you erase that imprinted first image from public consciousness: a president incapable of making a single argument or even a halfway decent closing statement? And after Romney's convincing Etch-A-Sketch, convincing because Obama was incapable of exposing it, Romney is now the centrist candidate, even as he is running to head up the most radical party in the modern era.
Obama's supporters and admirers (include me in on that category), if they know what is happening, are simply in shock.  They can't believe what has happened, and they can't believe that Obama has done this to himself. Sullivan again:
A sitting president does not recover from being obliterated on substance, style and likability in the first debate and get much of a chance to come back. He has, at a critical moment, deeply depressed his base and his supporters and independents are flocking to Romney in droves.

I'm trying to see a silver lining. But when a president self-immolates on live TV, and his opponent shines with lies and smiles, and a record number of people watch, it's hard to see how a president and his party recover. I'm not giving up. If the lies and propaganda of the last four years work even after Obama had managed to fight back solidly against them to get a clear and solid lead in critical states, then reality-based government is over in this country again. We're back to Bush-Cheney, but more extreme.
Those of us who support President Obama, who have been making the case for him, are devastated by his incredibly shoddy and crummy debate performance. Perhaps we could excuse it in another setting, when there wasn't so much on the line. But as the polls are showing, this was simply the worst possible time to blow it. Perhaps he'll come back and pull it out in the next two debates. We shall see. But in the meantime, we are miserable and pissed.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A 20th Wedding Anniversary To Forget

Poor Barack Obama (and even more so, Michelle).  This is a 20th wedding anniversary celebration that they'll  most definitely want to forget.

His failure to 'show up' in Denver has devastated his followers and set back his campaign.  While some defenders have tried to make excuses for him, most of us have turned to either whimpering in our beer and/or beating up on the one who has done this to us.  We may criticize Romney's performance (objectively of course...LOL), but we are prone to absolutely RIDICULE Obama's failings, along the lines of Chris Matthews temper tantrum on MSNBC immediately following the debate.

That was about as bad a debate performance as one could imagine from this man.  How his campaign managers could have thought that their advice to him was wise--to play defense and play out the clock (assuming that was it)--beats me.  Of course that's assuming he followed their advice.  Knowing how strong-willed and self-assured he is, it's altogether possible that this was totally his decision.

So if he loses the election, it will be totally his fault. Not Dinesh D'Souza, not Sean Hannity, not even Mitt Romney.  No, Barack Obama will have lost it all by himself, with no one to blame BUT himself.  And that is probably a good thing, given what is at stake in this election. 

So now the election clock has been reset to zero, it seems.  Prior to this debate, Obama looked like he was developing an almost insurmountable lead.  Now, that is gone.  If he comes back and does well (or at least okay) in the next two, he could pull this election out.  If he does poorly, it goes down the tubes, and the Republicans take over.  It's amazing how the fate of the nation rests on the questionable debating abilities of one individual.  (As I think about that, that may say more about the nation than about this candidate, actually.)

Those of us who support Barack Obama do so because of what he stands for and what he's trying to accomplish.  Our support is not, in general, 'personal' to him, at least not anymore.  Whoever the nominee of the Democrat Party was, we would support (assuming that they embodied the general principles of the party).  So if he loses the election because of his exceeding poor performance, thereby forfeiting most, if not all, that he has tried to do over the past four years, most of us are not going to be very sympathetic.  At all.  He will, unfortunately, have joined the ranks of Jimmy Carter as one of the Presidential failures.  We'll not be very sympathetic, but we will be very sad.

And mad.

Ps.  It occurs to me after mulling this blog post over that, come the next Presidential debate, we're going to see one of two things.  Either we'll see a new Barack Obama, who has decided that he really does want to be President for a second term, or we'll see simply an extension of the Obama we saw in the first debate, at which point we'll know that he has decided that he would rather be a writer and professor (and sooner rather than later).

Saturday, October 6, 2012

How Rich Is Mitt Romney?

There are big questions about the wealth of Mitt Romney, since he won't release his tax returns.  But one reporter for Bloomberg does an analysis, and concludes that "the $250 million figure underestimates Romney’s true wealth."
But exactly how wealthy is Romney? The figure that gets tossed around is $250 million in net worth — meaning the total value of his assets, financial and others, minus any debts. .

It’s a big number, but frankly, it seems low. Given the industry in which he made his fortune (private equity), the era when he made it (the 1980s and 1990s) and the wealth of his peers in that business (mostly billionaires), Romney should be worth a good bit more than that.... .

Romney’s net worth of $250 million is an estimate provided to the media by his campaign, and it is in line with the $254 million maximum value of his financial assets found in his June 1 presidential-candidate disclosure form. Yet this form is a masterpiece of obfuscation, in large part because it allows for absurdly wide ranges of value, with little specificity. .

The form shows that Romney has about $31 million in cash and between $250,000 and $500,000 worth of gold, and that less than a quarter of his financial assets are related to Bain. The form excludes his homes in California, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. It also excludes the (perfectly legal) tax-avoiding trust he established in 1995 for his children and grandchildren that Bloomberg estimates contains $100 million. But it includes his 1996 charitable remainder trust (listed with a value of less than $50,000 in cash), four speaking fees totaling $190,000, and both his and his wife Ann’s blind trusts and individual retirement accounts. .

Romney’s IRA, valued between $21 million and $102 million, must contain a portion of his profits — or “carried interest,” in private-equity speak — from myriad Bain deals. He put the carried interest in his IRA when it was valued at a nominal amount and then, through the financial alchemy of leveraged buyouts, watched its value soar. .

It would be illuminating to know precisely how many millions Romney still has in Bain’s private-equity funds, in various Goldman Sachs hedge funds and in hedge funds managed by his son Tagg or his former partner David Dominik — rather than the amorphous “greater than $1 million” disclosure.
Can this guy even begin to relate to my economic situation, let alone those who are actually poor?  And isn't one of the big problems over the last 30 years that the wealthy have tilted the economic playing field in their direction, such that the median family income and the jobs available to them have declined, while the wealth and income of the rich have soared into the stratosphere?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Lazy and Stupid?

John Sununu, the obnoxious Republican bigot from New Hampshire, sums up the new right-wing talking point about Barack Obama.  He's lazy and stupid. 

Oh, really?  That's quite interesting. 

Here you have a talented young black man in America, whose father, a young black Kenyan, came to America on a scholarship and received a Masters degree in economics from Harvard University, and whose mother received a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Hawaii.  Barack himself attended Occidental College, Columbia University, and finally, Harvard Law School, where he was assistant to Law Professor Laurence Tribe and the first black editor of the Harvard Law Revew, the most prestigious position for a student in legal education.

Spurning the normal route to riches and fame after law school--Wall Street or one of the prestigious law firms--Obama goes to Chicago, helps the impoverished black neighbors through community organizing, and then pursues politics, being elected to the Illinois State Senate.  Then he crushes the hapless (but very intelligent) black conservative Alan Keyes in the U.S. Senate race from Illinois, and finally puts together a campaign that beats both his democratic challenger Hillary Clinton in the primaries, and then his Republican opponent, John McCain, winning over 52% of the popular vote and a huge majority of the electoral college, in the process becoming the first black President of the United States.

And so you're telling me, Gov. Sununu, that Barack Obama is lazy and stupid?  He's not lazy or stupid at all, just the opposite.  It's just that you've got your big, fat head, with its big, fat mouth, up your big, fat ass.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, you pathetic piece of white trash.

Mitt 4.0 (New and Improved!)

One thing about Mitt Romney:  if you don't like the Mitt you see today, just wait a couple of days and you'll see a new one that you might like better.

On the 47% thing, ah.....he didn't really mean that.  He actually cares about everybody.  (Pssst....just between you and me, he really did mean that, except perhaps for the poor Mormons in his congregation.  Or at least, the frugal, small-government part of Mitt means it.  Whatever.)

On the 20% tax cut he's been talking about for months....he didn't really mean that.  Now, it's just tax reform that eliminates tax deductions and crap like that.  You're not actually getting a tax cut at all.  In fact, who knows, he may raise taxes, depending on what the polls are showing....(he didn't actually say that).

As for cuts to education funding and throwing it all back to the local school districts....he didn't really mean that.  He totally loves education, and Massachusetts--where he was governor, did you know that?--has the best schools in the country, obviously all thanks to his governorship.

As for reversing 'Obamacare' on his first day in office.....he didn't really mean that.  Now, all the good things in Obamacare (like coverage for preexisting conditions)--which is just like his own universal health care plan in Massachusetts (did you know that?)--he's gonna keep, but all the bad things--like individual mandates, which he once was for, when he was governor of Massachusetts a few years ago--he's gonna dump into the Potomac River.  And that will be that.  Done.

As for opposing illegal immigration, well....he didn't really mean that.  He really loves 100% of the immigrants, especially the Hispanic ones, and especially the young ones covered by the Dream Act, which he is now for, even though he was against it.  Or rather, he was for it, before he was against it, and now he's for it again....(did I get that right?)

As for Big Bird....he didn't really mean that.  That was an unforgivable slip of the tongue, a BRAIN FART of major proportions, that he promises he won't repeat in polite company.  Mitt LOVES Big Bird (didn't you know that Big Bird converted to Mormonism recently?).

The Frenetic Mitt

As I was rewatching parts of the first Presidential debate yesterday as they were rebroadcast on various programs, a couple of things jumped out at me.

First of all, in retrospect Mitt Romney didn't seem so much eloquent or 'smart', rather he came across to me as glib and, well, almost manic.  He talked so fast, fitting so many 'talking points' and 'numbers' into as short a space as possible, that it seemed like he was on speed or something.

Second, as I mentioned in yesterday's blog post, much of what he was saying contradicted what he has been saying on the campaign trail for over the 18 months.  Suddenly, instead of the 'right-wing', please-the-base Mitt, you had the Massachusetts moderate, centrist Mitt.

And third, Romney was prepared for this debate.  Lord, was he prepared for this debate!  People had been wondering what he had been doing for weeks now, given that he was doing very little in the way of public events, perhaps one a day.  Well, now we know.  He had been holed up with Senator Rob Portman posing as Barack Obama, going over and over the lines, the 'facts', and the zingers that had been prepared for him to use in this debate.  And repeating and repeating and repeating them, until he could have done this in his sleep.....And frankly, it sounded that way to me.  A robotic presentation, delivered by a bionic man in overdrive.

So, compared to that, Obama sure sounded dull, slow, and ponderous!  But oddly enough, when I was watching earlier Presidential debates--between Ford and Carter, Carter and Reagan, or Reagan and Mondale, or even Bush, Clinton, and Perot--I didn't see anyone give a Romney-type, frenetic monologue.  Everyone spoke slowly, calmly, carefully, as if what they said mattered.  And though the challenger generally won the first debate against the incumbant (as Rachel Maddow pointed out--at great length--on her MSNBC show), commentators didn't accuse the incumbant President of being 'unPresidential' because he didn't talk like a freakin' machine gun.

If you mistake the kind of Romney ratta-tat-tat exhibited at the debate Wednesday night for actual Presidential leadership, I think you're making a big mistake.  Glibness and ability to rattle off more arguments and numbers and denials than anyone else does not equate to the wisdom, judgment, prudence, thoughtfulness, and perspective that a President actually needs to do the job.

Was Barack Obama off his game?  Yes he was, for sure!  But two primary explanations for this fact make sense.  First, he had not been subject to the debate environment in a long time.  In fact, as numerous commentators have pointed out, the Presidency subjects its occupants to a insulating bubble that keeps them from being challenged and confronted as you are in a debate setting.  So while Romney had been doing literally dozens of debates with numerous challengers for over nearly 18 months now, Obama had not done one in four years. 

That's like two runners preparing for a race, and one of them trains every day for 18 months, while the other has almost no chance to train at all, because, well, he's actually BEING President.  Who's going to do better, when they're both smart cookies?  Duh....

Second, Ron Allen of Politico confirmed this morning on Morning Joe that the Obama Team's strategy had been a defensive one, of not making any mistakes and so not forfeitting the lead.  Don't attack Romney, keep your 'likeability' percentages high by being nice, be agreeable, etc.  All of which was clearly a mistake, of course.  But as many people (including me) had said before this debate, the President had a tough row to hoe here.  And that's the way it turned out, not working.

This debate was infuriating for those of us who believe that Barack Obama has been a capable President for the past four years, in the face of many challenges and adversities.  And he has given Romney an opportunity to bounce back in his campaign, no doubt.  But he has a chance as well to recover from this debate.  So when the going gets tough.....