Politics And Press: The Presidential Sweepstakes

Posted October 18, 2012 on 12:02 am | In the category Election, Obama, Romney, Uncategorized | by Jeff
  • To vote for a Democrat means, now, to vote for the party’s influential members—for unions (including public unions of teachers, firemen, and policemen), for black and Latino minorities, for independent women….To vote for a Republican means, now, to vote for a plutocracy that depends for its support on anti-government forces like the tea party, Southern racists, religious fanatics, and war investors in the military-industrial complex. The independents, too ignorant or inexperienced …are the people most susceptible to lying flattery. They are called the good folk too inner-directed to follow a party line or run with the herd. They are like the idealistic imperialists “with clean hands” in Graham Greene’s The Quiet American—they should wear leper bells to warn people of their vicinity—Gary Wills, New York Review of Books

We have been subjected to a political campaign for the presidency that began nearly four years ago, moved into high gear over a year ago, presented a cast of shockingly bizarre Republican characters, and finally settled into a two man race that the American press has managed to define as a horse race to be covered as a sporting event of style over substance.

No day goes by without one or more new polls that tell us who is viewed most favorably among any number of subgroups: women voters, unmarried men, gays and lesbians, hispanics, white males, retirees, firemen, catholics, protestants, etc. etc. Candidates then try to tailor their heartfelt views to the identified interests of enough of the various subgroups to build a winning majority.. And by tailor, I mean, cut to size, redesign, change the entire look and feel – as various focus groups indicate. Mitt Romney’s constant and dramatic changes of expressed beliefs and values are an extreme example but Obama’s caution is also illustrative.

The press serves as the testing ground for policy changes by simply reporting them and then collecting data on whether the changes are liked or disliked by a largely unaware public. The press does this partially by collecting opinions from man-and/or-woman in the street interviews – a technique whose cost is only dwarfed by its innate absurdity. Of particular interest are those who after years of political jockeying have not quite been able to make up their mind. I mean, what does it take to get someone to decide? the world is not changing that fast, the candidates are only pretending to change, and yet these proud independents – unable to commit to any political belief or philosophy – wait for the magic moment – the epiphany – when they can decide between candidates representing radically different value systems and turn the election in whatever direction enters their sweet little heads.

Finally, to help them decide, the press provides analysts – almost always one from each side to discuss the issues in serious and quasi intellectual terms, but each reading from his or her internal Power Point presentation provided by their candidates. PBS’s Newshour has become especially proficient at this, cowering in its insecurities while it gives favor to each side hoping against hope that it will not be caught actually taking the side of rational thought, thereby perhaps risking its federal funding. The fact that they have become irrelevant, boring, tedious even – no longer matters. There is really no competition out there unless one turns to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who in their own wacky way, move toward the truth. Colbert would say to independents, “flip a damned coin and get over it.”

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Romney: Outsourcing American Foreign Affairs?

Posted September 13, 2012 on 9:09 pm | In the category Iran, Israel, Obama, Romney, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

Candidate Romney has not exactly distinguished himself in foreign affairs of late, the one area in which U.S. presidents actually exercise power. His foray into foreign travel as a candidate was a disaster with insults to Great Britain and Poland and audacious ass kissing in Israel. His latest bumbling attempt to abuse the truth regarding the American government role in the tragedy in Libya and the disturbances in Egypt have offended even most Republicans. But perhaps overriding all of this is his dicey relationship with Israel.

Romney’s trip to Israel was highlighted by a fund raiser with wealthy Jews organized by Casino owner and former Newt Gingrich supporter Sheldon Adelson, who brings the wisdom of the craps table to addressing the Iran nuclear issue. During the same trip much was made of the 35 year friendship of Romney and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu – a relationship that goes back to when they were both consultants for the Boston Group, but one that according to press reports is not as close as Romney likes to pretend. It was also during this trip that Romney managed to insult Palestinians while ginning up hints of military action against Iran.

So now this week we have Netanyahu making a public statement that not so obliquely attacks U. S. policy, and therefore President Obama.

” The world tells Israel: ‘Wait. There’s still time.’ And I say, ‘Wait for what? Wait until when?’ Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel,” Netanyahu told reporters in Jerusalem.”

Parsing this statement tells us that 1, Netanyahu apparently believes it is up to him to define American policy and 2, that while he meddles in our presidential campaign we are not to attempt to dissuade Israel from doing something likely to damage American AND Israeli interests. And since the U.S. does not have the power to put a red light before Israel if they want a war it is tempting to tell them to start it without us. But of course were they to do that we would inevitably be dragged into a war that even Israeli military leaders say makes no military or political sense.

David Frum, a former George Bush speechwriter and one-time (and sometimes still) neocon, writes that Netanyahu was really not aiming his comments at Obama but rather at Ehud Barak, his erstwhile Israeli political ally who has walked away from supporting the concept of an attack on Iran. But given Netanyahu’s sophistication it is hard to believe he did not know the potential impact on the American election and, in any case, Romney jumped to the bait, perhaps in desperation.

What we have now is a candidate for President of the United States ready – even eager – to turn over major parts of our foreign policy to a foreign Prime Minister, apparently including the decision to go to war. And for those who doubt the possibilities here, think about the last president who wanted to start a war of choice – and think about the costs and the results.

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Innocence Abroad: The Romney Road Trip

Posted July 29, 2012 on 5:20 pm | In the category Obama, Politics, Romney, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

Mitt Romney – with the unquestioning help of most of the American press – has made the presidential race almost entirely about the American economy.  Yet,  in reality the president’s power is limited in addressing domestic issues – especially when faced with a belligerent Congress unwilling to deal with any issue that might make the President look good. And for current Republican senators and representatives, that trumps national interest.

The President does, however, have considerable power in foreign affairs and traditionally has the support of the Congress on major elements of foreign policy, making a candidate’s stances on international issues more important than is generally recognized by the press and voters. Romney’s current trip abroad, which he is attempting to use to build his foreign policy credentials, takes on considerable importance in helping determine his ability to keep America’s best interests in mind.

His first stop in London was not reassuring. He insulted the Brits by questioning their ability to host the Olympics, did not appear to know the name of the leader of the Labor party, Ed  Miliband, when he met with him, broke an unwritten rule  by bragging to the world that he had met with the head of the secretive MI6, and spent a good part of his time there walking back his public remarks. The British press headlined him various ways, but “Mitt the Twit” was one not atypical reference.

He then headed for Israel where he will hold a major fund raiser with the help of Sheldon Adelson, famous for having donated tens of millions to the Gingrich campaign and now pouring similar millions into Romney’s campaign.  Adelson’s considerable wealth was gained mostly from gambling casinos and he has been accused of illegally influencing leading politicians in Macau to gain approval of a major gambling operation there. While Romney’s interest in Adelson is at least partly financial – Adelson provides access to large donors – it is also to find a wedge issue to attract American Jewish voters who have traditionally voted for Democrats.

The question for now is what Romney will promise Israel beyond what American presidents – including Obama – have always promised, which does not include unlimited support for an Israeli attack on Iran, a step seen by U.S. defense and foreign policy professionals as premature and, for many, counter productive.  American presidents have always supported  Israel’s right to defend itself and that has not changed under Obama. So it is hard to see what Romney can add to the debate, but given his history of unpredictable and irresponsible remarks, it is worrisome to consider the possibilities. American politicians are frequently tempted to define our national interest in terms of Israel’s national interest and they are simply not always the same. So, for instance, while it might be in Israel’s national interest for the U.S. to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities it is most certainly not in the national interest of the U.S. Let’s hope Romney remembers that crucial difference.

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All Politics Are Loco

Posted May 3, 2012 on 10:07 am | In the category Election, Politics, Press, Romney | by Jeff

The wasteland of the American political landscape is matched by the emptiness of what passes for political reporting and analysis. How’s this for a list of candidates for the presidency who have been treated seriously at one time or another by the national press – print and TV?:

  • Donald Trump who built a campaign on searching for Obama’s Kenyan birth certificate;
  • Herman Cain who babbled incessantly about “9-9-9” as the program to save the American economy;
  • Michelle Bachmann -the girl with the faraway eyes – who swept the Iowa caucuses only to sink beneath a sea of ridicule;
  • Rick Perry, he of the Texas swagger and the first grade syntax;
  • Newt Gingrich, who spent millions of others dollars, paid himself $500K, owes millions to suckers who extended credit and spent a good part of his campaign self-inflating in front of non existent crowds;
  • Ron Paul, the bizarre communicant of the Church of Ayn Rand, who would throw virtually everyone in the poverty grouping under the bus;
  • Rick Santorum who carried the Catholic Bishops’ water in their campaign to place American women in the Catholic brand of Sharia law; and, finally,
  • the putative winner of the Republican race, Willard Mitt Romney, a charmless, entitled man who regularly and frequently changes his views to gain delegate votes in Tampa.

The operating rules of the American press include following tips from political campaigns on the sins of their opponents and then usually – or sometimes – a feeble attempt to provide “balance” – guaranteed to lead to false equivalencies. For instance, time given to believers in intelligent design in response to time given to scientists discussing evolution; or bringing on someone like Senator Inhofe to ridicule climate change after scientists discuss the reality of climate change.

The banality of the press is currently on exhibit in Boston around the Scott Brown-Elizabeth Warren campaign for U.S.Senate. The Boston Herald, a low rent tabloid, has been beating the drum about Warren’s listing in a Law Directory that she has Native American blood. Obviously the tip on this earth shaking news came from the Brown campaign and the press has chosen to run with it without doing any reporting or – God help them – thinking about it – and consequently they have made it the “NEWS”. It has run wild with over a week of analyses and reports in the Boston Globe, the Herald and local TV.

The usually reasonable talk radio and TV guy Jim Braude has determined that this is an issue that deserves highlighting on his TV show for several nights. And what exactly is the issue? No one really knows- is it that she is part Native American? Maybe for some of Scott Brown’s folk that may be true, but certainly not for most  people. Or is it that she used her ethnicity to get her jobs at Harvard Law School? But no sane person really believes that to be the case. It is merely an opportunity to paint Warren as something she is not and as someone different from the guy with the pickup truck and the barn coat. And Braude and his press colleagues have gone along with what is without question a partisan pile of crap, hand delivered to them by political hacks. It is how it works and we have unfortunately gotten used to it. Which means we are unlikely to demand better, let alone know that something better is possible,

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Living in Lies: America Goes to the Polls

Posted January 19, 2012 on 10:50 am | In the category Politics, Republican Party, Romney | by Jeff

Truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred.
—— Vaclav Havel

The late Vaclav Havel promoted the concept of “living in truth” as a revolutionary strategy for overcoming the authoritarian crimes committed on the Czech people by the Soviet regime. A frequently jailed dissident, Havel led the Czechoslovak people through their Velvet Revolution, became the president of Czechoslovakia, and watched sadly as the country’s Czech and Slovak populations went through their Velvet Divorce. Havel then re-emerged as the President of the Czech Republic and started the process of re-invigorating the country’s political and economic cultures. Throughout his life his commitment to truth remained paramount and constant, both in his literature and his politics. Small of stature, he was a giant among the world’s leaders.

And that brings us to those of our home grown political practitioners who are convinced that truth is at best a relative term and at worst an inconvenience. We are stuck – and I do mean stuck – with a group of Republican challengers for the presidency whose commitment to truth is about as strong as Newt Gingrich’s commitment to his first two wives.

The likely Republican challenger to President Obama, Mitt Romney, flits from one stance to another while manufacturing Obama quotes that were never actually said. People expressed shock when Newt Gingrich said on national TV that Romney is a liar, but their shock was only that he said it, not that the description was untrue. Our candidates are expected to lie and we accept it as part of the game. But the result of our willingness to play along with that game is that we end up electing people we cannot trust and then wondering later what went wrong.

The Czech Republic is a country of approximately 10 million people and it produced the leadership of Vaclav Havel; our country of 300 million produces the Lilliputian likes of Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Donald Trump and Rick Santorum. Go Figure.

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