James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

  • Archives

  • November 2014
    S M T W T F S
    « Sep    
     1
    2345678
    9101112131415
    16171819202122
    23242526272829
    30  
  • Categories

  • Subscribe

Posts Tagged ‘Mitt Romney’

Sandy, Bloomberg & Christie should help Obama win re-election

Posted by James McPherson on November 1, 2012

Barack Obama made this election a lot closer than it should have been by sleepwalking through his first debate with Mitt Romney and, in my view, by failing to run enough of an optimistic campaign that emphasized his many noteworthy accomplishments. Those include an improving economy, the expansion of gay rights, the auto bailout, increased access to medical care for young adults and people with pre-existing conditions, and improved student loan policies.

For many individuals, he has been a very good president, and who knows what might have been accomplished without the worst, craziest, and most obstructionist Congress in history, a Congress dedicated from the outset to try to make Obama fail even if it meant reversing their own positions?

Since most American voters seem to have the attention spans of gnats, flip-flopping on one’s supposed values too rarely hurts politicians–even in the case of pathological Etch a Sketch liar Mitt Romney, who has actually improved his standing with voters by avoiding answering any questions from the news (including even GOP house organ Fox News) for the past three weeks. His latest campaign strategy has included a phony “hurricane relief” rally and repeatedly lying about the auto industry–to the degree that even company executives declared that Romney (who once joked about his father closing American auto plants) is lying to scare voters. One can only wonder what highers-up in the Mormon church think about such dishonesty.

So now the election is relatively close, as predicted and desired by media folks and talking heads that I’ve previously ridiculed. Some polls have Romney leading, and some people (including Michael Graham of the Boston Herald and conservatives Michael Novak, Karl Rove, Frank Donatelli, Steven Hayward and Boris Epshteyn) predict a GOP win. Former Bill Clinton aide Dick Morris, who has managed the nearly impossible trick of looking even sleazier than Clinton and a few others (see here, here, here and here, ) have gone so far as to predict a Romney landslide.

I hate the reliance of the news media on polls over substance, so I actually appreciate the fact that this year’s polls seem to be contradictory and confusing. Still, barring some GOP to steal the election through rigged voting machines or even more voter suppression than expected, however, I have strong doubts about the chances of a Romney victory. In fact, as I’ve been doing consistently since last spring, I predict an Obama win with at least 290 electoral votes (270 are needed to win). I also expect Democrats to hold the Senate while Republicans maintain control of the House of Representatives.

The facts that Obama has been endorsed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, largely endorsed by GOP favorite Chris Christie, and that Hurricane Sandy has allowed Obama to look presidential while Romney avoided and then struggled with questions about whether he would fund FEMA, makes me more confident in my prediction. Based on information released today about a jump in consumer confidence and a jobs report by the ADP Research Institute, I suspect that tomorrow’s Labor Department jobs report will fail to give Romney a boost and may help the president.

Whether Obama deserves to win (or whether either either of these two guys should be elected) is another question, but most of the people who use a statistical approach expect the same electoral result. In that camp are Nate Silver (who has drawn considerable attention both positive and negative for his influence), Sam Wang’s Princeton Election Consortium, Drew Linzer’s Votomatic, polltrack.com, the New Republic‘s Nate Cohn, Andrew Tanenbaum’s electoral-vote.com, Josh Putnam’s Frontloading HQ, Thomas Holbrook’s Politics by the Numbers, Scott Elliott’s ElectionProjection.com, (Several of those I’ve mentioned previously, but some I learned about just today from Asawin Suebsaeng of Mother Jones.)

The conservative Rasmussen Reports, Real Clear Politics, the Washington Times, CNN, PBS, NPR, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Intrade, the Huffington Post, 270towin.com, all have Obama leading the electoral vote, though all their maps have “toss-ups” that include Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, North Carolina, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and/or Florida.

Right or wrong, obviously I have plenty of company. Either way, a lot of people who make considerable money off of their predictions (I make none from mine) are going to be wrong. And those folks probably all will be back, making equally bad predictions, four years from now.

So with that in mind, I’ll go ahead and offer my first prediction for 2016: Seeing how well bizarre flip-flops worked for Romney, and trying to up his credibility with both Hispanic voters and conservative Christians in a 2016 bid for the White House, Christie will legally change his first name to “Jesus” and drop the last two letters of his last name from campaign literature distributed in solidly conservative states. And at least 23 percent of voters in Texas will fall for it.

Posted in History, Journalism, Personal, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 55 Comments »

My breakfast with George Will, and correcting his errors

Posted by James McPherson on October 16, 2012

Today I had the opportunity to have breakfast with noted conservative political commentator and baseball fan George Will, someone I’ve both admired and criticized at times in the past. OK, saying I had breakfast with him is stretching things: In truth, it was me and several hundred other people eating breakfast, while Will addressed the crowd and then answered a few questions as part of an event hosted by my university.

I wore my best suit and sat at a table sponsored by my local newspaper, chatting before and after the speech with the publisher, the business manager, and and a few editors of the Spokesman-Review. I met Will during a reception after the event, and I’m sure he didn’t remember my name 15 seconds later. Nor should he have.

As would be expected from someone as intellectual, witty and well-paid (typically $40,000+ per speech) as Will, he gave an interesting speech about politics, well-illustrated by baseball anecdotes. Several of the lines I’d heard before, but they were well-delivered, often funny and greeted with appreciation. He didn’t come across as a big fan of Mitt Romney, which might not be surprising considering Romney’s inconsistencies and the fact that Will’s wife has worked for Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry during this campaign.

Still, Will got some things wrong in his speech. For one thing, Will offered the common conservative complaint about inheritance taxes. You can take all your money and blow it in Las Vegas, and that’s fine with government–but you can’t give it to your kids, he said. And of course that’s a blatant mischaracterization long promoted by “death tax” folks. In fact, if you choose to toss away all your money in a casino, the casino will pay taxes. Likewise, you can give away anything you want, to anyone–but the recipient should expect to pay taxes on the gift. Despite what Will and others would have you believe, it’s not the giver who is taxed; it’s the receiver.

And most of the time, if we’re talking about inheritance taxes, even the recipient isn’t significantly affected. Only the estates of millionaires like Will actually get taxed at all by the federal government–a fact that would Founding Father and “Common Sense” author Thomas Paine would find appalling. It is ironic that so many Will-style conservatives who promote “equality of opportunity” have no problem with the children of millionaires starting out with little chance of having personal stupidity bringing them down to the economic level of the smartest and hardest-working children born into poverty.

Will also criticized the format of the presidential debates, and I happen to agree with him in that regard. These tightly regulated political events are not “debates,” and (like me and many others) Will suggested he would like to see Lincoln-Douglas-style debates in which each candidate talks, uninterrupted, at length. But then Will added something like, “Can you imagine either of these guys being able to string together coherent paragraphs for an hour?” Many in the audience chuckled at the implication that neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney would be smart enough to keep up with someone like, say, George Will.

But in fact, I can imagine it. In fact, though it will never happen because of cowardly party handlers, I love to imagine such a scenario. Neither of the presidential candidates got where he is by being an idiot, and having the opportunity to speak for an hour or so at a time–which both men have undoubtedly done numerous times in their noteworthy pasts–and then to answer an opponent’s comments might actually force each to stray from pre-scripted jokes and talking points. Obama might even prepare (though after his first debate performance this year, I assume he’s done a bit more prep for tonight’s version).

Will’s mischaracterizations of inheritance taxes and of the intellects of Obama and Romney are common ones, of course, and today’s errors were pretty minor compared to some in his past. And to be fair, someone who spends as much time in the public eye as Will does is bound to be wrong or to speak too flippantly some of the time. I’ve criticized him in a book (something I didn’t bring up today) for a couple of things: helping Ronald Reagan practice for a debate with Jimmy Carter (using a stolen Carter briefing book) and then praising Reagan for his performance after the debate, and for repeating a myth that Al Gore (rather than a supporter of George H.W. Bush) was the first to “use Willie Horton against Michael Dukakis” in 1988.

I started reading Will’s column when I was a kid, and have always admired his intellect, his use of the language and his love and understanding of baseball–but frankly I thought he went a bit nuts during the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, letting his disgust over Clinton’s personal behavior color his perspective on more political issues. Since then he seems to have reverted to his more rational self, and I do enjoy reading his column and listening to him on Sunday mornings. But I never forget that he’s every bit as biased as I am, and therefore prone to errors that support his own side.

And even when we’re not factually wrong, sometimes we’ll just disagree. For example, Will criticized early voting, because he misses the civic exercise of going to a polling place on election day. I miss it, too–but I’d rather have more people voting while diminishing the prospect of having an “October surprise” swing an election. The old system favors financially secure conservatives, while early voting aids those who work long hours. I wish Will–a lifelong fan of perhaps the ultimate working-class team, the Chicago Cubs–had more empathy for their struggles.

Next day: After the breakfast Will went on to San Francisco to provide debate commentary for ABC. Afterward he declared Obama the winner and indicated that the debate was far, far better than what his words of that morning indicated he expected: “It was a very good fight. I have seen every presidential debate in American  history since the floor of Nixon and Kennedy in 1960. This was immeasurably the  best.”

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Personal, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Romney mountain-high in Colorado

Posted by James McPherson on October 4, 2012

Colorado may be a swing state, but Barack Obama may have developed a new dislike for the Centennial State this week. First came his dismal debate performance, in which Obama demonstrated that he didn’t learn from Clint Eastwood not to walk onto a stage unless you know what you want to say. Now two Colorado professors–using a model they say has correctly predicted the winner of the past eight presidential elections–say that Mitt Romney will win the presidential election.

Actually they originally said so back in August for a peer-reviewed study, and conservative blogs have been touting the study ever since. But since the researchers noted that their data was from data gathered in June and would later be updated, I essentially ignored it–other than to send political science professors Kenneth Bickers and Michael Berry an email requesting an update when they were ready to release it. Today, professor Berry kindly sent me a link to the press release announcing the new results.

As far as I know, only the Denver Post has beaten me to the announcement that, according to the new data, “President Barack Obama is expected to receive 208 votes — down five votes from their initial prediction — and short of the 270 needed to win.”

Perhaps Bickers and Berry are right. But the conservative professor that I had lunch with today and I think otherwise. Neither of us happens to be a political scientist, just political junkies, but a host of electoral maps from the likes of Real Clear Politics, CNN, polltrack.com, electoral-vote.com, Intrade, Nate Silver, the Washington Post, the Princeton Election Consortium, 270towin, and even the conservative Rasmussen Reports also show Romney to be in serious trouble.

One thing about it though: If Berry and Bickers are somehow proven right, they ought to auction off their services for 2016. And now conservatives will have one more reason to be enthused, while Romney has another reason to appreciate the Colorado state motto: Nil Sine Numine, or “Nothing without Providence” (sometimes translated as “Nothing without the Deity”).

P.S.: Reading the press release a bit more closely, we see, “The model foresees Romney carrying New Mexico, North Carolina, Virginia, Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida.” But even Rasmussen is calling Pennsylvania “safe (for) Obama,” and most maps have him leading in almost all of the swing states. Romney could win. But most of us who follow politics closely don’t find it likely.

Post-election update: Of the eleven states mentioned above, Romney actually carried ONE–North Carolina–demonstrating the difference between political science modeling and actual polling.

Posted in Education, History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 24 Comments »

Undebatable: Presidential race now more interesting

Posted by James McPherson on October 4, 2012

Mitt Romney won the first 2012 presidential debate handily, as everyone from Michael Moore to the foreign press could see. I’m surprised that President Obama failed bring up “the 47 percent,” women’s issues, the auto industry or immigration, or to counter Romney’s many misstatements and exaggerations.

Still, I can’t say I’m shocked at the outcome. I doubt that George W. Bush is, either, considering his first debate as an incumbent–or that he would be, anyway, if he weren’t getting ready to visit Romney’s bankers in the Cayman Islands. First debates are good for challengers.

Remember, Obama hasn’t debated for four years. He speaks better when he has a teleprompter, or when can interact with (and feed off of) an audience, and the debate crowd had been muzzled. Jim Lehrer did an abysmal job as moderator. And despite all the talk by pundits before the debate about how good a debater he supposedly is, I’ve never seen it. Hillary Clinton beat him in their debates, and John McCain did more to lose the 2008 presidential debates than Obama did to win them. Besides, McCain had to debate with Bush and Sarah Palin strapped to his back.

Debate moments may matter to the media and political junkies, but probably no presidential debate has ever made a difference in the outcome. To repeat: Not one presidential debate has changed the outcome of an election. Despite all the recent talk about Ronald Reagan’s supposed “comeback” against Jimmy Carter, as researchers have pointed out, “No candidate who was leading in the polls six weeks before the election has lost the popular vote since Thomas Dewey in 1948.” And stats guru Nate Silver gave Obama an 86 percent chance of winning just before the debate.

Obama still leads in the states he needs to win, has a better ground game than Romney, and is better on the stump. He still has the natural advantage of any sitting president, in that he will be seen on the news every night and has the opportunity to do things that only a president can do. He’ll probably throw out the first pitch at a Nationals playoff game–and maybe an Orioles game, too. Obviously he should do more “presidential” stuff–meeting with world leaders, for example, rather than hanging out with the ladies of “The View.”

It’s still the president’s contest to lose–but ask Bush’s former baseball team, the Texas Rangers, if it’s possible to blow a big lead. Obama may have to wake up and study up for the next two debates. He shouldn’t take for granted that Americans are too intelligent to elect a guy with no meaningful foreign policy experience or who makes vague domestic promises that he won’t be able to keep. After all, that’s exactly what voters did in 2008. Just ask our current Secretary of State.

Same-day follow-up: Rachel Maddow had a fascinating piece tonight, demonstrating that of the seven times a sitting president has debated a challenger, presidents now have a sparkling record of 1-6. Even Ronald Reagan won as the challenger and then lost as president. In addition, Nate Silver actually boosted his calculation of Obama’s chance of presidential victory to 87 percent. James Downie of the Washington Post is probably correct when he  writes, “Obama lost the first debate, but he will still win the election.” And Obama himself seemed cheerful and confident on the stump today.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 16 Comments »

Ten things we’re told could influence the presidential election–but won’t

Posted by James McPherson on September 13, 2012

While President Obama’s lead over Mitt Romney seems to be widening and Romney seems to be sinking stupidly into dishonest John McCain-style desperation, and despite the fact that I’ve been predicting an Obama victory for some time, I do recognize that there is time for the electoral picture to change. Perhaps the debates will swing things in Romney’s favor, if he doesn’t offer to bet Obama $10,000 or if he suddenly becomes the anti-war candidate that Obama once pretended to be.

Or if Obama suddenly starts referring to Romney as “John” because he forgets which tall, stiff, rich Massachusetts flip-flopper he is debating. (Romney’s practice opponent has done this gig before, pretending to be John Edwards, Al Gore and Obama).

With the possibility of an electoral shift in mind, I offer the following list of ten things that media folks and others (I’ve fallen into one or two of the traps myself) often suggest will make a difference in presidential elections–but which, in fact, almost certainly won’t matter  in this or any future presidential election:

1) Your vote. I’ve discussed this at length elsewhere, so won’t go into detail here. But your presidential ballot has virtually no chance of affecting who becomes president. Still, you should turn out to vote: Cast a protest vote for president, and recognize that your ballot might mean something in a local election where fewer people vote.

2) Public opinion polls. At least those measuring the popular vote, since it’s the electoral vote that matters (ask Al Gore). And if we look at the Rasmussen poll (which I chose because it is considered one of the most politically conservative), we see that Obama has a big lead in the electoral count. According to Rasmussen, only seven toss-up states remain–Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, Virginia, Missouri and Colorado–and if Obama claims ONLY Florida, or Ohio and ANY ONE of the other six, or ANY THREE of the seven, he wins the election. By contrast, Rasmussen’s daily tracking poll would give you the impression that the election is close. And that impression would be wrong.

3) Citizens United. Yes, this was a horrible Supreme Court decision that lets corporations and lobbying groups spend too much power to try to influence elections. But that’s not necessarily much of a change. And there’s so much money in presidential politics that neither major party will lack enough funds to compete in the states that matter. On the other hand, just as your vote means more in local and state elections, big money also has more influence in those elections.

4) The current economy. Yes, since even before Bill Clinton, we’ve been hearing, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Maybe that was true in 1932. In fact, the economy today may even help Obama. To repeat, economic models tend to favor Obama, not Romney, in part because voters care more about trends than about where the economy sits.

5) Evangelical Protestants. Ironically, if these folks get their way in November, for the first time ever we won’t have a Protestant president, vice president or Supreme Court justice. Conservative Christian influence has probably peaked.

6) Candidates’ verbal gaffes. All candidates tire and say dumb things. The media then overplay the gaffes, but I doubt that voters make decisions based on the verbal slips of a candidate. (Again, the state level may be different.) Sarah Palin’s gaffes have mattered more than most because we heard so little else from her.

7) Cable news networks. There’s some evidence that Fox News changed the 1980 election, but probably not any election since then. Now every voter knows that Fox News is a house organ for the GOP, just as MSNBC has become for the Democrats. Besides, more Americans watch mainstream network news and any number of reality shows than watch anything on Fox News, MSNBC or CNN.

8) Convention platforms. Yes, I previously suggested that these might matter, and both the GOP platform and its Democratic counterpart drew attention during the conventions. Now they’ll be largely forgotten, including by the candidates themselves, until 2016.

9) Vice presidential candidates. Here again, at times I’ve thought these people mattered, but they haven’t since at least 1960. People vote for presidents, not vice presidents. Palin may have hurt McCain a bit, but she helped him first. And after eight years of George W. Bush, even Jesus Christ would have had a tough time winning as a Republican in 2008.

10) Candidates’ wives. Some are more glamorous than others. Some are smarter. Some bake better cookies. And until they run for office themselves, as Elizabeth Dole and Hillary Clinton did, they’re entertaining diversions that don’t matter much in the big picture.

So take some time to study local issues and vote thoughtfully. If you’re in a swing state, worry about things such as voter suppression that actually might influence the election. But stop worrying about things that won’t matter, anyway.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , | 41 Comments »

Labor ‘wobbles’ or we all fall down: Belaboring a point about why unions matter

Posted by James McPherson on September 2, 2012

Labor Day is here, marking the unofficial end of summer–a time for every little rich kid to stop wearing white while poor kids risk getting maimed in factories. And if junior should happen to lose a limb or an eye while on the job, then mom and dad can spend some of their 60-hour work week trying to figure out how to pay the hospital bill, since their jobs provides no insurance.

What, that’s not how you think of Labor Day? You probably think I’m just exaggerating, perhaps to take another shot at the mean visions for America produced by folks lik Mitt RomneyPaul Ryan and Newt Gingrich. But no, I think that this weekend is the ideal time to remind us all of what we owe laborers in this country, particularly those laborers who fought to make things better for all workers–and therefore for all of us.

Remember when having a few Americans–say, more than 3,200 in a single year–die in mines was no big deal? Or when a person could be fired–or shot or lynched–for protesting dismal work conditions? You probably don’t remember it, but if some people (mostly Republicans) had their way we could go back there. There is no doubt that companies are doing better than their employees.

Admittedly, unions have been prone as other human endeavors to corruption, and some union members show a selfish, short-sighted streak when it comes to their neighbors–a regrettable attitude because it’s a view that (when held by others) weakens the influence of labor and the earning power of workers. The most notable example I’ve come across recently was a Wisconsin union worker (whom I won’t name) who offered a troubling combination of views within a space of moments.

“I can explain as best I can all of the horrible things that have happened to me in my work life, and everybody’s like, ‘Well, then find a new job,’ but it’s not that simple. And somebody still has to do the job one way or the other,” said the worker, who, according to the piece, “got really fired up in the fight to defend his union.”

“”I’ve never been involved in politics until what happened in 2011 was thrown in my lap, and I realized how much I’ve been affected by it,” he was quoted as saying–before then going on to complain about Obamacare:

“I don’t think that we should have a national health care plan [in which] everybody is put in the same category,” he says. “I feel like I joined the Department of Corrections, and I continue to work for the Department of Corrections because I have excellent health benefits. … So if health benefits are important to you, I feel like you should be able to go out and find a job where you can get excellent health benefits.”

Hmm. Really? When it comes to finding that a job with “excellent health benefits,” especially with ongoing Republican efforts to weaken unions, it seems as though someone might suggest “It’s not that simple.” And when it comes to those other less “excellent” jobs, it seems as though some wise person might point out, “Somebody still has to do the job one way or the other.” Right? Sigh.

By the way, if you’re too young to understand the pun in the headline above or don’t remember your labor history–or if you just want to see cool video of an old toy commercial–you can go here. And happy Labor Day, to all who work and all who wish they could in these difficult times. Below are a few of my favorite reminders of how far we have come, starting with the incomparable Paul Robeson singing the labor ballad “Joe Hill”–also sung by a trio in my church today (as my pastor, who preached about the value of work and workers, wore a long-sleeved T-shirt that had been given to her by the local sheet metal workers’ union), and which I’ve also heard performed in person by Utah Phillips.

P.S.: Here’s a quiz to test your knowledge of Labor Day.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 32 Comments »

Republican platform: gallows for GOP suicide?

Posted by James McPherson on August 25, 2012

It has seemed for some time as if the Republican Party is suicidal, and determined to make sure that Barack Obama wins re-election. Maybe Republicans just want to prove that a couple of professors who forecast a Mitt Romney win aren’t so smart. Because the schedule proposed platform for next week’s GOP national convention provide new evidence that Republicans either cluelessly think that they will win easily–perhaps by voter suppression in key states–or have simply decided that they can’t win and so might as well be entertaining as they go down in flames.

A positive sign for Romney is the fact that various media are now helping him do what he and his campaign have generally been unable to do–look more human. Though he was unfairly bashed for a ride on a personal watercraft, yesterday two major media sources–the New York Times and MSNBC–have produced largely flattering portrayals of the GOP nominee. OK, it may be stretching it to call MSNBC a major media source, but it is a generally liberal-leaning cable network that could help portray Romney as more moderate than his campaign has been. Both stories include what Times writer Sheryl Gay Stolberg calls a “crisis” narrative, details about Ann Romney’s multiple sclerosis and Mitt Romney’s auto accident in France (a head-on collision apparently caused by a priest who may have been drunk, killing a passenger in Romney’s car).

There also are signs that Romney is ready to reveal more about his faith (even if he won’t say the “M-word”), as demonstrated by a laudatory Bloomberg piece on Thursday, a Tuesday Seattle Times story picked up via the Associated Press by newspapers around the country, and the fact that the invocation for one night of the GOP convention will be given by a fellow Mormon. MSNBC has also taken advantage of Romney’s religion to do a “Rock Center” program about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on Thursday. Not that the religious aspects may matter much. As I’ve mentioned previously (demonstrating the decreasing influence of the Religious Right) it seems a bit ironic that if the Christian Right gets its way in November, for the first time ever there won’t be a single Protestant among the president, vice president and entire Supreme Court. But anyone on the far right will be voting against Obama, even if not for Romney–or, as some fruitcakes might phrase it, will favor the Mormon over the Muslim.

Bigger problems than religion come from the fact that Romney has run to the right to represent a party that is already “akin‘,” with controversies about”legitimate rape” (more evidence of the need for better science education) and a judge who suggests that Obama’s re-election could lead to “civil unrest, civil disobedience, civil war” (considering that he’s a Texan, though, his stupidity may not be particularly surprising). Still, it might be moderately surprising that Republicans will apparently repeat their Sharron Angle/Christine O’Donnell/Joe Miller/Ken Buck Tea Party debacle of two years ago with a new round of questionable candidates–Todd Akin, Ted Cruz, Richard Mourdock, Deb Fischer and  Josh Mandel–who (along with repeat loser Linda McMahon) will likely keep them from gaining control of the Senate.

Still, it would be nice if voters would cast ballots based on the actual positions of the candidates. So while party platforms rarely matter much, I would recommend that everyone check out this year’s GOP draft version (thanks Politico)–just to affirm how thoroughly the party has given up on attracting the number of women, gays and people of color that it needs to win the presidential election in November. Some of the key points of the platform would:

Admittedly, all we have so far is a draft document. But it is a draft that the New York Times accurately depicts as “more aggressive in its opposition to women’s reproductive rights and to gay rights than any in memory.” Not a good sign, for a party scrambling to come from behind. A blogger for the Guardian compares it to a useless body part: “Like party platforms, the appendix’s role is a mystery to most people: it may be a useful harbour for bacteria but can also rupture, causing pain and misery.”

Speaking of misery, in fact, Republicans may want to start praying that Hurricane Isaac will reduce Americans’ exposure to official GOP ideas, just as Hurricane Gustov disrupted the GOP convention four years ago. If that does happen, perhaps Pat Robertson and other loonies will point out that Republicans must have offended God in some way (maybe, considering the male names of the hurricanes, with the party’s official anti-gay stance). On the other hand, if this election does drive off enough Americans to lead to the death of the Republican Party–or at least to generate a future GOP “crisis narrative”–perhaps Romney can baptize it after its demise.

P.S.: Just after I posted this, the GOP announced that Isaac will indeed cancel the first day of the convention.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics, Religion, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 45 Comments »

Who is more evil–Obama or Romney?

Posted by James McPherson on August 17, 2012

It has long been a truism that people in presidential elections vote for “the lesser of two evils.” In fact, if you Google “2012 election ‘lesser of two evils'” you’ll get 384,000 hits, including a Rasmussen poll stating that’s how almost half of Americans will vote. Others using the term include writers for Time magazine, the Washington PostFox Business, NPR twice, Alternet, the Huffington PostRenew America, Politics365, the Arizona Republic, the Baltimore Sun and WorldNutsDaily. All that, despite the fact that folks such as union activist Shamus Cooke, magician Penn Jillette and late folk singer Utah Phillips have pointed out that the lesser of two evils is still evil.

Others from both the left and the right claim there is no meaningful difference between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. In fact, they are both neoconservative pro-business chickenhawks. Neither has been acting particularly presidential in this campaign, with both using record amounts of campaign money to sling mud and lie about their opponents. One important difference, though: Romney’s his Supreme Court choices would likely make the most conservative Supreme Court in history even worse.

The lack of a great choice is why I wouldn’t bother to vote for either the Democratic or the Republican ticket unless I lived in a swing state. Maybe I’ll vote for one of the candidates you’ve never heard of–though probably not birther radio host Laurie Roth, time traveler Warren Ashe, or repeat candidate Jack Fellure (against “the New World Order,” alcohol, homosexuality and gun control). Nor will I vote for anti-abortion loony Randall Terry or batcrap-crazy Terry Jones, though both are apparently running. Maybe Rosanne Barr, whose platform and vice presidential pick I like more than her singing (though the latter apparently has improved). After all, it’s not like my presidential vote will matter.

Still, most voters will cast ballots for Obama or Romney, and many will do so with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. So for those folks, the question becomes, which offers the “lesser evil”? Folks such as Michael Savage and nutty bloggers (also here) might argue that Obama is our “most evil president,” but I find that sort of hyperbole to be silly and simplistic. I’d rank Richard Nixon, Andrew Jackson, Harry Truman, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, among others, as much nastier, though I’m also willing to admit that most may have been acting with good intent–that their “evil” was more a factor of their being human than of any satanic infuence. After all, God was on their side (also see video above).

Regardless of your definitions of evil, there is much to dislike about both candidates in this race. Obama’s case may be the more complex simply because we know more about him (or at least we should, if we’ve been paying attention). It’s tougher to categorize Romney’s “accomplishments” because he is seemingly unwilling to claim credit for his success as a governor and doesn’t want to talk about his time as a businessman–though he will claim credit for something he didn’t do. In a probable act of desperation that doesn’t seem to be paying off, he has has now tied himself to Paul Ryan (making him at least the third consecutive GOP candidate whose VP pick was more interesting than the guy at the head of the ticket). For better or worse, other folks who come with Romney include John Bolton, Robert Bork and Sheldon Adelson.

Obama’s accomplishments are many and varied; the Washington Post came up with a top 50, and there are several other lists. PolitiFact keeps a running meter of Obama promises kept. But that’s where we get back to the idea of evil. As others have pointed out, half of a Democratic Hub list of the dishonest, super-secretive and vindictive Obama administration’s accomplishments is made up of people he has killed (though crazy Republicans who like killing people just as much now claim that Obama gets too much credit). Obama’s homicide-by-drone victims include American citizens and the 16-year-old son of one American.

So, to get back to the original question: Which is the greater evil? Should we re-elect a president who has decided he has the right to kill you now, or choose the one that will be happy to simply let you die while he pays less than 1 percent in income taxes and appoints Supreme Court justices that will guarantee corporate rule throughout your lifetime–which, especially with conservative views of climate change and the environment, may not be all that long, anyway? Swing-state voters, you get to decide. The rest of us just get to live (or not) with your decision.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 21 Comments »

Romney boards Con Ryan Express in desperate bid to get campaign back on track

Posted by James McPherson on August 11, 2012

So, it’s Con Ryan’s Express. For the second consecutive presidential election, Republicans will have a vice presidential candidate who is more dynamic and interesting than the guy at the head of their ticket. No wonder that in his introduction Romney called Paul Ryan “the next president of the United States.”

Unfortunately for Romney this Paul is no saint; the choice offers obvious strengths and weaknesses, along with the Palinesque risk that the presidential race will be more about the GOP’s vice presidential nominee than about anything else.

Like most people, I got it wrong, thinking Romney would likely go with Rob Portman or Tim Pawlenty. I did mention Ryan almost as an afterthought, saying “Maybe Paul Ryan if he still thinks he needs to go right.” Apparently Romney is still more concerned with being viewed as a Massachusetts liberal healthcare pimp than as someone who has spent the campaign trying to hack off his left arm with his right.

The New Republic offers a quick look a quick look at what the party now officially stands for–ending Medicare and Medicaid we know them, privatization of Social Security, killing any semblance of government that works, and the biggest transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to rich in U.S. history. With Ryan, you can add climate change denial and “personhood” legislation.

Faced with the likelihood of defeat, Romney’s choice–like McCain’s choice of Palin–smacks of desperation. Ryan obviously is a lot smarter than Palin (OK, so Romney’s dancing horse is smarter than Palin), but could turn out to be equally polarizing. After all, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, John McCain and probably the Koch brothers all like the choice. But so do Democrats. One of the most notable things about the selection is that for perhaps the first time Romney has managed to please both liberals and conservatives at the same time, rather than having to flip-flop to do so.

In fact, as many did with Palin, conservatives might rue the choice more than liberals do. Ryan wasn’t Grover Norquist’s pick, for example, so perhaps this is another example that Norquist is losing some of his influence with Republicans. And that might be the best thing to happen in this election season, and the most positive long-term development for the GOP.

One might wonder, if Romney is enthused about his choice, why he would make the announcement early (6 a.m. where I live) on a summer Saturday. That’s a time when politicians typically are more likely to roll out bad news than good; Friday afternoon has long been recognized as best for avoiding media attention, because most of the front-line news media won’t be back until Monday, by when news can be a bit stale. That’s why I wrote last month that Romney “should release a deluge of his tax returns on a summer Friday, perhaps during the Olympics, definitely no later than the Friday before Labor Day.”

I suspect that desperation to change the conversation from his own taxes, the fact that even sources such as Fox News and the conservative-leaning Rasmussen poll had Obama leading, and perhaps a desire to make the announcement as low-key as possible (which is Romney’s style, if not Ryan’s) all combined to lead to the decision to make the announcement when he did.

Yes, a 24-hour news cycle tempers the “dead zone” timing a bit, and yes, the selection will now be the focus of the Sunday morning news shows. But the fact is, almost no one except true political junkies–virtually all of whom probably already know whom they’ll vote for in November–watches those Sunday shows. And Romney, of all people, should know that if Americans are turning on their TVs on this summer weekend it will be to watch the Olympics. On Sunday night and Monday morning more people will be talking the closing ceremonies with Adele and the Spice Girls than about Romney and Ryan. In fact, the few Americans who know anything about Ryan may outnumber those who know he has been chosen by Romney at this point.

Like most Hail-Mary passes in football or last-second half-courts shots in basketball, the effort probably will fail to deliver a victory in November, but will give the media and serious viewers a reason to hold their breath for a bit, just in case. There’s no doubt that the race just became more interesting–within the GOP, as well as over all.

Perhaps we’ll even start having a serious media conversation about what policy might look like in a Ryan/Romney–oh, sorry, Romney/Ryan–administration, if only during the vice-presidential debate. Perhaps. But I doubt it. After all, Ryan has a pretty wife and cute kids. And he’s a Catholic engaged in a “smackdown” with nuns. And now “Saturday Night Live” will have to figure out who to portray Ryan pushing granny off a cliff. I’ll bet Tina Fey could pull if off, with the right haircut.

P.S.: If you’re too young to get the reference to “Von Ryan’s Express,” it’s a film from 1965, before Paul Ryan was born.

P.P.S: Ironically, if the Christian Right gets its way in November, for the first time ever there won’t be a Protestant president, vice president, or member of the Supreme Court.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Religion, Science, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

No horsing around: Obama kicking Romney’s rear, Chicago-style

Posted by James McPherson on August 1, 2012

  

Barack Obama is showing a nasty side in his campaign for re-election, in a way he never did four years ago (despite tough talk and a Chicago political background). And no, I don’t know the message of the bat in the photo at the far left.

The tough approach–from the candidate who came across as “nicer” than Hillary Clinton or John McCain four years earlier–seems to be working in the states that matter most. The Republicans’ response? Whining.

I don’t like the ubiquitous negative campaigning, and I especially dislike negative campaigns combined with lying (something being done by both Obama and Mitt Romney, with a little help from Fox News). Sometimes such campaigning reflects desperation, sometime perhaps a desire to depress electoral turnout. But it would seem to work against the candidate who has no coherent message–a candidate like John McCain in 2008, for example, or like Mitt Romney in 2012.

The Obama campaign is taking advantage of the void that is Mitt Romney. “Don’t want to run on your record at Bain Capital, Mitt? Here, let us define that for you.” “Want to avoid coming up with an economic plan, while proposed an indefensible tax plan? Well, let’s talk about your own taxes then–what exactly are you trying to hide?” “Don’t want to talk about your time as governor? Let’s remind folks often that as governor you provided the model for Obamacare.” CNN’s “Gut Check” defines the Obama strategy as “campaigning 101: Define your opponent before he defines himself.”

And Romney is apparently unable to define himself, though he is finally trying. It doesn’t help when the candidate cluelessly wanders abroad, insulting your hosts and others while commending another country’s version of Romney/Obamacare. Or when the GOP’s best attack on Obama in 2008 (and 2010) and on John Kerry four years earlier, that they were out-of-touch elitest snobs, works even better against Romney. OK, GOP, Dems will take your windsurfing (not really an elitest sport, anyway) and raise you dressage.” Americans may dig “Dancing with the Stars,” but they’re not really into dancing horses, at leastnot since Roy Rogers’ horse Trigger died.

Romney’s only defense, the old standby of blaming the media just doesn’t work as well as it once did. Newsweek went too far with its “Wimp” cover, shown above, but the floundering magazine is struggling for survival as much as the Republican candidate is. The fact is, we don’t know Romney well enough to know if he’s a wimp. But what we do know, we don’t much like.

All in all, Romney’s chances of winning the presidency still appear only slightly better than Rafalca’s chances of winning Olympic gold. In platform diving.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 76 other followers