Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fairy tales and mischief.

Apparently Republicans were totally blind sighted by their Election Day defeat — Mitt Romney is said to have written only a victory speech.  Given the consistent polls forecasting an Obama victory that, to say the least, seems mystifying.  Well, speaking on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, former Minnesota Congressman and Romney advisor Vin Weber clears it all up. Apparently Karl Rove and others had convinced the campaign that all the polls predicting an Obama win were based on erroneous modeling.  Speak of wishful thinking or selectively reading into the numbers.  But the story was so convincing that everyone, Weber included, gladly drank what he described as "the Kool-Aid".  That may also explain Rove’s own meltdown on Fox election night.

Romney conceding defeat
Well, following his embarrassment in delivering a totally unexpected concession, Mr. Romney has apparently moved into the next phase of grief.  He is explaining away what happened.  As reported by Ashley Parker in the Times, the vanquished candidate shared his analysis with members of his finance committee.  Why did he lose?  Well as Parker reports, it was because “the president had followed the ‘old playbook’ of wooing specific interest groups — ‘especially the African-American community, the Hispanic community and young people,’ Mr. Romney explained — with targeted gifts and initiatives.” 

And what were these gifts with which Obama bought the election?  For “young people…a forgiveness of college loan interest”.  For college age women, “free contraceptives” and “…Obamacare also made a difference for them, because…26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan”.  That’s why “young people…turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008.”  Wow.

But Professor Romney wasn’t finished.  According to Parker he went on, “…imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free health care, particularly if you don’t have it, getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity,  I mean, this is huge.  Likewise with Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus.  But in addition with regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for children of illegals, the so-called Dream Act kids, was a huge plus for that voting group.” 

One can read these remarks as a fanciful explaining away, but to me are nothing less than a déjà vu experience.  It was also before a group of donors that Romney let forth with his 47% tirade, again targeting moochers.  At least this time the man is consistent (including continuing to lie, $10,000 in perpetuity).  It isn’t only that he is totally out of touch with the real America, but also that he clearly disdains those who aren’t part of his “class”.  In Romney’s view, it would seem that all these people should be left to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps like, for example he or his sons did or his grandchildren will do.  Right.  We should also feel incredibly relieved that Romney never got to give that victory speech.

Perhaps the Romney campaign drank Rove’s Kool-Aid, but one would hope they are not buying their standard-bearer’s spin.  Yes young voters (who did turn out in large numbers), African Americans, Hispanics and Women — the people Weber cautions his fellow Republicans are really today’s voters responded to Obama’s message.  But they didn’t see it as dispensing gifts or bribes.  They just thought this is the way America should be headed in the years ahead.  Part of that of course is leveling the currently very uneven playing field.  They want to have the same opportunities as the Romney clan.   Any one who doesn’t understand that is likely to be yesterday’s news not tomorrow's.

Obama in his press conference laid out an olive branch to Romney, looking forward to hearing his ideas when they meet at some undetermined time in the future.  Not so with another the man he vanquished, John McCain, and his sidekick, Lindsey Graham.  The duo served notice that they will do all in their power to thwart the President’s second term, much as Republicans were intent on paralyzing and then destroying Bill Clinton.

Invoking the four fallen “great Americans” at Benghazi, the Senators laid out a two-fold strategy of obstruction.  First, they both vowed to block the possible appointment of Susan Rice as State Secretary.  In his press conference, a clearly angry President called their characterization of Ambassador Rice, “outrageous”, so we’ll see where that goes.  Second, they are proposing a select committee to investigate the Benghazi deaths.  Let’s remember that it was the then Congressman Graham who led the charge in impeaching Bill Clinton. 

Romney seems unable to accept that his defeat was legitimate — it all can be attributed to bribes.  McCain, four years later, is still flailing like a wounded dog.  Both gave graceful concession speeches on their respective election nights, but one wonders how sincere they really were.  In the same way, Lindsay Graham still can’t get over being bested by Bill Clinton.  His assertions during the Sotomayor hearings that “elections count”, seems now to be forgotten. Didn't get Bill, doesn't mean I can't get Barack.  Pathetic.

If the American public was hoping for some spirit of cooperation in the aftermath of the vote, they may be disappointed.  These three Republican “leaders” have gotten us off to a bad start.  One of them, destined for the dustbin of history, is mired in a fairy tale.  The other two, hopelessly mired in the past, are full of destructive mischief. 

I call them Transcenders.  To brand them nonbelievers is to assume religion and its particular belief system the human default.  Worse it suggests that those who have left religion behind lack beliefs.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  For more read my book.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Times really are a'changin.

The election is over.  President Obama's margin of victory was accurately predicted by the polls, especially as aggregated by Nate Silver of the Times and other colleagues who do similar work.  So in some respects, the election was not good news for the press and for the pundits.  Given the consistency of the numbers --  they looked the same in September as they ended out in November -- it seems quite clear that the media manufactured much of the "horse race".  Much has been said about the obscene amount of money spent by both sides, but little attention has been accorded to the obvious of putting of ratings above facts.  Nor, aside from the video clips of Karl Rove's meltdown, has there been any serious discussion about the obvious conflict-of-interest in having a major partisan player act as an "independent" commentator.  And "act" is the operative word -- "I'm not really a newsman, but I play one on TV".  Perhaps that's a little harsher and broad brush than it should be, but I think you get my point.

If the pundits lost last Tuesday, so did the religious right who have held this country hostage since the Reagan years.  The hard core of the Republican Party, those people who come out for primaries and have caused so much trouble over the years, no longer represnt an American majority.  For the first time, a combination of women and minorities will outnumber white men in the Democratic House caucus.  That's not a problem for them but a real plus since it both reflects that party's base and where the country is headed, demographically and ideologically.  In contrast, Romney's voter profile this year is of yesterday, where America was, not of today or tomorrow, where it is headed.  The popular vote may have been tighter than the Electoral College, but that too is likely to change especially as  working Americans begin to fully grasp what's in their true self interest.

The lessening influence of the religious right, and I'd suggest of the religious in general, can be seen in how very few victories they had this time around.  As an article in the New York Times reported it wasn't for lack of trying.  A resurrected, but still pathetic, Ralph Reid did his best to sing from the old hymnal, joined by Billy Graham and the Roman Catholic bishops.  Their, especially the church leaders, more open partisanship evidenced a kind of hail Mary desperation.  Those leaving religion behind, as pointed out often in these posts, are on the rise, especially among Millennials.  But perhaps more important, the affiliated just aren't looking to their pastors, priests or rabbis to tell them how to conduct their personal lives, certainly when it comes to who they love and what they do in the privacy of their bedrooms or how they plan their family.

So talk of restricting abortion doesn't play any more the way it used to.  It's not at all clear if the Supreme Court, especially its most conservative members, have gotten that message, but my guess is that they don't really want to be far out of step with the citizenry.  We may have a chance to test that assertion in the months ahead.  

Politicians are still reluctant to use the "s" word on the campaign trail, but 2012 was more of a victory for secularism than we've seen in some time.  Lowering religion's voice probably can be partially attributed to Romney's fear of having his Mormonism being put under the glass.  But in truth most of us are pretty tired of having our political leaders acting like pastor-in-chiefs.  Whether we will soon elect an atheist (or even an admitted agnostic) to high office is hard to say.  But remembering all the fuss made when Barney Frank came out, its interesting and heartening to see how relatively little there is over Tammy Baldwin.  Not only did she win in Wisconsin, she routed one of the most respected Republicans in the state.  A gay senator -- young people don't care about sexual orientation, nor should we.

The 2012 election was historic.  Not  because we elected an African American to the presidency.   Been there, done that.  No it was historic because in providing the first concrete evidence that times have changed and that our politics have taken note.  Will there be more battles ahead, more ugliness?  You can count on it, but all the sound an fury can't hold back the floodwaters.  It's not only citizens of the Big Easy or the Big Apple who should keep that in mind.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Barack Obama prevailed over an unworthy opponent.  If you’ve followed these posts, you know I never had any doubt about the outcome this time or, for that matter, four years ago.  Still it was a great relief to see the Electoral College tally cross the 270 threshold and to know we dodged a potentially lethal bullet.  Yes, I called Mr. Romney unworthy but, hey, that’s an indulgence afforded a blogger.  You aren’t running for anything and consequently don’t have to be disingenuously magnanimous.  Mitt Romney assuredly has some deep felt personal values, or one would hope that to be the case, but his campaigns — primary and general election — bespoke nothing more than opportunism.  From his all-to-easily changed and contradicting positions on issues to the astounding and mystifying late day lie about outsourcing Jeep manufacture to China, he showed himself to be less than honorable.  It’s revealing that the only two moments that rang absolutely true were Eric Fehrnstrom’s etch a sketch comment and Romney’s own 47% tirade.  The first confirmed who he has shown himself to be and the second how he feels about the rest of us. 

Obama was subjected to ugly (excuse the pun) Trumped-up Birther talk along with a succession of not so subtle innuendos, all aimed at painting him as “the other”.  Ironically, that description actually fits Romney much more and may have cost him race more than anything else.  Romney and people like him live in a different universe than the average American.  Few of us, even the well off, have as many houses, much less garages to lift our cars to higher ground.  Almost none of us have offshore bank accounts.  When the candidate looked straight into the camera during the second debate and told the middle class that they would benefit from the elimination of capital gains taxes and interest income, or told young people to look toward their parents to borrow tuition money, he reminded us how clueless he really is about how ordinary people, even those with reasonably good incomes, live.  For sure, the former governor got a huge number of votes, but one can’t help but wonder how many of them were cast against Obama rather than for him.   He will now go into the sunset.  Not to worry, Mitt will continue to be and do very well.

The President won decisively in the Electoral College, but the much closer popular vote reminds us that this still a nation deeply divided.  That’s been the story in most of our recent presidential votes.  Obama can boast many legislative and other accomplishments, but uniting the country is not one of them.  Perhaps that was asking too much, but it certainly is part of why some of both his supporters and adversaries felt disappointed.  Of course, those who read too much into that disappointment among Democrats relative to his reelection prospects were wrong.  That said, we dare not sugarcoat the division or his inability to bridge it.

In the final days of the campaign, the President incorporated a new phrase into his stump speech:  you know me”.  He was contrasting himself from Mr. Romney of course, but I think there was a more momentous message here, one we should keep in mind as he moves into a second term.  That we know him gives Obama an advantage he lacked in January of 2009.  When he took his oath then the new president was burdened by a euphoric myth, one that gave us outsized expectations.  To be sure he helped construct thate myth though he did caution us about a tough road ahead repeatedly saying change “won’t be easy”.  It was the Obama that we conjured up in our own needy minds, not the flesh and blood man he was, that resulted in those great expectations.   Again, as suggested in others posts, I don’t think he ever hid his intentions.  We just failed to listen.  After eight dreary and frustrating years of Bush, we wanted a kind of magic that in reality is far beyond the reach of any mortal president, past, present or future.  When the President raises his hand this coming January there will undoubtedly be smaller crowds on the mall, but he will be a man we know and expectations will definitely be more realistic.  That should be both to his and to our advantage.

The Democrats have retained control of the Senate.  Don’t underestimate the importance of that victory.  It is the Senate that confirms presidential appointments, most importantly members of the Supreme Court.  So, taking the long view, retaining the White House and Senate is probably of more consequential than anything else that happened yesterday.  George Bush was a non-person in this campaign season, much as he has been for the last four years.  Nonetheless, we will be feeling his Court legacy for decades to come.  Indeed, the obscene amount of money poured into yesterday’s vote and the fact that Roe is even remotely under threat can be attributed to his appointments. Obama may have the opportunity to shape the Court for the future and, in doing so, our future as well.   At the very least, he will be able to stem the conservative tide.

If Barack Obama was dealt an almost impossible hand four years ago, the challenges that lie ahead are no less daunting.  The systemic problems that make it so difficult to put any meaningful dent in unemployment still stand and with them the chances for a robust recovery any time soon.  The deficit looms large, even if portrayed as a larger near term problem than it is.  Some austerity is inevitable and may drive us back into recession.  Those dedicated to seeing the President fail are still very much in place and it’s hard to see an easy path toward even a modest bargain, much less the grand one that’s needed.  So last night was a time to celebrate, but the Champaign glasses may not see much use in the immediate days to come.

I call them Transcenders.  To brand them nonbelievers is to assume religion and its particular belief system the human default.  Worse it suggests that those who have left religion behind lack beliefs.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  For more read my book.

Monday, November 5, 2012


Tomorrow it will be all over and, regardless of where we stand, most of us will breathe a big and audible sigh of relief.  Yes!  No more emails straining the capacity of our inboxes, phone solicitations and robocalls demanding our attention or all those mostly vapid or nasty commercials.  We are suffering collective election fatigue.  No other democracy has this kind of endless quadrennial campaign season.  Quite the contrary, in many places campaigns are restricted to just weeks.  And if what happens when we elect a president were not enough, there are those midterms which put legislators in permanent campaign mode.  It’s hard to believe that’s what the Founders had in mind — responsive to the voters is one thing, programmed paralysis is quite another.

I cast my ballot early here in North Carolina along with perhaps 2.7 million other citizens.  Only California and Texas, among the 32 states (plus the District of Columbia) that now have early voting, can boast larger numbers.  It is expected that 35% of us will already have voted on election day, up from 30% four years ago.  That percentage is likely to be higher in the years ahead.  Much of early voting can be attributed to the growing number of states that have adopted it and to the increasingly well-organized groundwork done by the campaigns.  But it seems to me that many citizens simply wanted to put the election behind them.  Let’s remember the vast majority of us had made our choice even before August conventions. 

The stakes in this election are high and, as many have pointed out, the philosophical divide in sharper relief than has been the case in years past.  Interestingly the core issue — the size and role of the federal government — has been with us since the earliest days of the Republic.  It was litigated by Jefferson and Hamilton just as hotly as it is today by Obama and Romney.  It is unlikely to be resolved on November 6th and why that is the case is something we should all be contemplating in the days and months ahead.

Our elections are long and arduous, but they are largely devoid of seriousness or substance.  To be sure, we have a good generalized sense of where the two parties stand on the size and scope issue, but we have been exposed to nothing close to an adult conversation on that or, for that matter, any other subject.  Campaigns are mired in hyperbolic grandstanding and sloganeering, driven by well-tested words, phrases and manufactured sound bytes.  Candidates don’t hope that we will understand the issues but that we will latch on to a purposefully slanted, and often misleading, catch phrase or loaded words.  In today’s world, we don’t define candidates by the content of what they say but by the characterization by which they have been defined by others. 

The press and especially the pundits, though it is often impossible to distinguish the two, complain loudly about a lack of specificity and substance in these campaigns.  They should feel ashamed in doing so.  In large measure the tone and substance (or more accurately lack of it) is driven by the media’s often self-serving coverage.  Their job, it would seem is not to inform, but to build ratings and sell their wares, whatever that may be.  We have a 24/7 news cycle, but all that time is taken up with shockingly little content.  A story of note, or often of attention getting potential, presents itself and then is repeated ad nauseam.  What’s remarkable is not how much content, how many stories, can be covered in this extended programing time but how few really are.  It sometime seems that only a single thing in a single place is happening at any given time.  It’s the story of the day or the week, covered by all the lemmings wall to wall.  The singular storyline, once established, is hammered home.  Accorded the gravitas of that must-know piece of news, it is packaged in usually single-dimensional form and then relentlessly repeated and milked for all its worth.  That a handful of giant and powerful companies control our media contributes heavily to the problem, but that is a discussion for another day.  The point here is; how can we expect a serious conversation in this highly manufactured environment?  Of course, it’s impossible.

Again, the core issue we face revolves around the size and role of the federal government.  That alone tells us a lot about what kind of conversation is required if we are ever to approach some resolution.  “Size” and “role” are short four-letter words, but in this context words of immense possibilities and complexities.  Seriously addressing them doesn’t involve deciding between black and white but, to borrow from this year’s book rage, at least fifty shades of grey.  You and I feel strongly about where we stand or delude ourselves into thinking that the specifics involved are easily defined.  If we’re really honest about it, each piece of the puzzle requires some degree of nuance.  Nuance is just the kind of thing we, and of course politicians and news people, like to avoid.   Nonetheless, first admitting to the nuance and then incorporating it into the discussion is precisely what we require if our fundamental problems are to be addressed.

The presidential candidates didn’t have a substantive conversation about the issues because you and I are not really discussing them either.  More troubling is that both they and we are so dug into our positions, so immobilized by them, that it’s hard to look at any of the issues with even the smallest degree of objectivity.  Those of us who believe in a fairly robust role for the federal government haven’t successfully articulated the limits — are unwilling to do so.  We are equally loath to admit where government performs poorly or inappropriately certainly not to consider specifically what we can and cannot afford.  Conversely those who want less government are equally fixed on a simplistic position.   They think states and private enterprise separately or in combination can do it all.  Just as we haven’t articulated what government shouldn’t do, they fail to spell out what it should.  They are against federal government involvement except of course on the day their house is overwhelmed by a Sandy.  Likewise, we advocate for a substantial activist government but not in our bedroom or monitoring our phones. 

I believe Barack Obama will prevail on Election Day.  Less certain is the composition of the House and Senate but neither body is likely to be given a clear direction or mandate.  As important as this election may be, it won’t be decisive in resolving our fundamental issues.  It’s unlikely to move people to the table for a real discussion of the challenges that lie ahead or to come anywhere close to resolving the size and role issue.  We still haven’t recovered from the disasters, economic and natural, and won’t for some time to come.  So it’s hard to be very optimistic about the day after regardless of who wins the presidency.  I do think most Americans are tired of stalemate and the bickering that is both its cause and byproduct.  Perhaps that does suggest some light at the end of the tunnel, but first we have to pump out the floodwaters.

I call them Transcenders.  To brand them nonbelievers is to assume religion and its particular belief system the human default.  Worse it suggests that those who have left religion behind lack beliefs.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  For more read my book.