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 and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Ryan’

NFL replacement refs: A matter of life and death?

Posted by James McPherson on September 25, 2012

I’m a Seattle Seahawks fan, but I don’t feel good about the results of last night’s “win” against the Green Bay Packers. Even if you’re not a football fan, you’ve no doubt heard that that officials blew the call–actually a couple of calls–on the final play of the game. Talking heads are going nuts about it, and not just on the sports channels. Even Paul Ryan used it to take a shot at Barack Obama today, while anti-union Gov. Scott Walker urged National Football League owners to give the regular union refs what they want.

On the other hand, the game had been officiated poorly throughout–had the officials not prolonged a Packer drive with two questionable calls, the Seahawks might have been ahead, anyway. Green Bay offensive guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sutton took to Twitter to blame the loss on the officials, but those two guys and their cohorts on the offensive line had managed to give up a near-record eight sacks in the first half. The replacement refs weren’t any more pitiful than the Packers’ pass blocking.

Still, fans and commentators are calling the officiating of NFL replacement refs (which goes beyond Monday night’s game) and the outcome of the game a tragedy. Abhorant. Appalling. Atrocious. Awful. Deplorable. Devastating. A disasterDisgusting. Dreadful. Hideous. Horrendous. HorrifyingInsane. MoronicPitiful. Stupid. Terrible. Unbelievable. Unfair.

Those people are understandably upset, but they’re also wrong. For better definitions of the words listed above, click on the links embedded in them. Then take a breath and count your blessings, if your life is secure enough that you can invest more emotion in a football game than in any of those issues (or many others that might have been included). Better yet, write a letter or a check that might help real victims–none of which played on Monday Night Football.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 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 »

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 »