A Real American Value

Earlier this week, I saw this (see above) posted by a friend on facebook. In the context of other messages he’s posted, I know it was posted seriously, that is to say unironically. He means to assert the message contained in the image, not poke fun at it.

So, let’s unpack what my friend seems to believe.

He believes that if I vote for the re-election of the president, I am either ignorant (wittingly or unwittingly), “a communist” (almost humorously anachronistic), or just generally anti-American. (I’ll leave for another time a discussion of what the generally accepted list of “American values” might be.)

What this image doesn’t say is what I believe: Americans (that is, smart, engaged, well-intentioned, good-hearted, patriotic Americans) can disagree sincerely and passionately about policy, assessments of fact, political philosophy, understandings of history and world affairs. We can argue. We can do so civilly.  We can support and vote for different candidates in elections and for or against ballot propositions.

I know a great many well-educated, productive, decent, hard-working Americans, some of whom are voting for Mitt Romney, some for Barack Obama, and some for other candidates for the presidency. I agree with some and disagree with some others but, either way, I don’t necessarily think those who disagree with my particular choice to be traitors, delusional and/or idiots.

And none of that disagreement means we’re any less American; quite the opposite. Civil public expression of the divergence of opinion is one American value I treasure greatly. In fact, any list of American values without it is, in this American’s opinion, fatally incomplete.

Don’t like who others are voting for? Don’t call them stupid or suggest you – and only you – have the keys to what it means to be a “real” American.

Discuss. Argue. Persuade.

In short, be a real American about it.

Let’s Grow Up

In a nutshell, here’s the pathetic state of political rhetoric in America. We’re good, others are evil. Obama is the new Hitler. We Democrats are at war with Republicans. I’m the only true believer. I’m the only fair one. Presidents control gasoline prices. The right man in the White House could prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Judging by the emptiness and stupidity of our political speech, candidates and their highly-paid consultants must think the American electorate is made up almost entirely of know-nothings and simpletons.

Some examples, by no means the most egregious, follow.

Mitt Romney, GOP presidential candidate and former governor of Massachusetts:

“I believe America is an exceptional and unique nation. President Obama feels that we’re going to be a nation which has multipolar balancing militaries. I believe that American military superiority is the right course. President Obama says that we have people throughout the world with common interests. I just don’t agree with him. I think there are people in the world that want to oppress other people, that are evil.”

Anti-Obama website:

“Barack Obama, the first black president, proved to millions this year that he is either trying his best to lead the nation during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, or he is the modern-day incarnation of Adolph Hitler pushing his Socialistic agenda. One of the two.

In 2010, Barack Obama made a number of political compromises while still trying to pursue many of the reforms laid out during his 2008 campaign. Also, he was a totalitarian monster comparable to the perpetrator of one of the worst genocides in history…Barack is either a president who passed a comprehensive health care measure despite staunch opposition from powerful private interests, or a radical-Islamist sympathizer bent on systematically dismantling American democracy and eradicating all human liberty.”

James Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters:

“Everybody here has a vote…If we go back and we keep the eye on the prize, let’s take these sons of bitches out and give America back to America where we belong…We didn’t declare war on them, they declared war on us. We’re fighting back.”

Rick Santorum, GOP presidential candidate and former US Senator representing Pennsylvania:

“It really has to do with what your principles and what your core is. I have a core…. And that’s a sharp contrast with Mitt Romney, who was for RomneyCare…. this is someone who doesn’t have a core. He’s been on both sides of almost every single issue in the past ten years.”

Barack Obama, president

“Lot of the folks who are peddling these same trickle-down theories, including members of Congress and some people who are running for a certain office right now, who shall not be named, they’re doubling down on these old, broken down theories.”

Newt Gingrich, GOP presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House:

“We paid $1.13 on average during the four years that I was speaker. When Barack Obama became president, we paid $1.89 that week…That’s right, President Obama has taken us from $1.89 to the most expensive gasoline on average we have ever had.”

Mitt Romney, GOP presidential candidate and former governor of Massachusetts:

“Finally, the president should have built a credible threat of military action and made it very clear that the United States of America is willing, in the final analysis, if necessary, to take military action to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon. Look, one thing you can know and that is if we reelect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if we elect Mitt Romney, if you elect me as the next president, they will not have a nuclear weapon…And our current president has made it very clear that he’s not willing to do those things necessary to get Iran to be dissuaded from their nuclear folly.”

Nuclear Bullsh*t

Not long ago, as reported by ABC News, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney criticized his opponent, president Barack Obama, for not doing enough to stop the Iranian development of nuclear weapons.

“If Barack Obama gets re-elected, Iran will have a nuclear weapon…and I’m not willing to allow your generation to have to worry about a threat from Iran or anyone else that nuclear material be used against Americans,” Romney said.

I’ve written previously about the hypocrisy of much political campaign talk about Iran’s nuclear weapons program and the ability of this (or any) American president to influence its eventual (and inevitable) outcome. I’ll say it again: short of bombing it to the Stone Age (which no one can seriously advocate), the American president can do nothing to prevent any other highly-motivated and highly-resourced country from developing nuclear weapons. The science is known, the materials and technology are available, the expertise exists. Sanctions (economic, trade, or otherwise), diplomatic action, even targeted military action will not prevent anything. These steps can only make nuclear weapon development take longer and be more costly, so, at best, temporarily forestall the inevitable.

So, Romney can say he won’t “allow” Iran to have nuclear weapons all he wants; it’s merely campaign ‘sound and fury.’ And it’s mighty telling that, when pressed, Romney hasn’t been able to articulate a concrete path toward the stance he suggests Obama can’t deliver. Know why? The path doesn’t, in fact, exist.

In this election season, can’t you at least be honest about that one little thing, Mitt?

It’s Ohio

A caveat: a lot can happen between now and election day (November 6).

That said, I have done the math a few different ways, and if the presidential election goes the way I think it will, this will be fairly close, and hotly contested Ohio will be the deciding state.

Here’s how I think it happens: Obama carries the northeast, pretty much outright, and the west coast. With some of the upper midwest, he gets to 266 electoral votes, just shy of the 270 the winner will need. Romney carries the southeast, some of the midwest, the Plains and mountain states. That gets him to 254 electoral votes.

Ohio has a delegation of 18 electors. Whoever carries Ohio will win; I don’t believe either candidate can win without carrying Ohio.

So, if you want to know who will occupy the Oval Office starting in January 2013, keep your eyes on the Ohio polls.

Plain As The Nose On Their Faces

Not many people know it, but I have a super power. I can see through words to see the intent behind them, in political speeches, campaign advertisements, OP/EDs.

Well, to be honest, it isn’t all that super. It comes from about 25 years of writing speeches and coaching people. But still, it’s pretty cool.

Today, The New York Times published an “obtained” copy of a storyboard for an anti-Obama TV ad produced by Strategic Perception, a political public relations firm founded by Republican ad man Fred Davis, and funded by Chicago Cubs owner and long-time conservative cause bankroller Joe Ricketts. The link to it is here.

Looking it over gave me a clear “ah-ha” moment. I know how the Romney campaign is going to work, what buttons they’ll try to push and to whom.

You can flip through all the pages of the storyboard, but I’d like you to pay special attention to the photographs of the actors/models who stand in for “real” Americans. See the character types they represent. Notice their ages, ethnicities, apparent walks of life. Notice, too, who’s missing.

Get it? Isn’t it perfectly obvious? Do you see now how these political consultants conceive their candidate’s path to victory in the election?

I see you there, Fred, hanging out with your dark-suited, white-shirted pals. You’re not so clever. I know just what you’re thinking.

Leak!

I was amused no end by the latest news about Michele Bachmann; she has, apparently, held dual American-Swiss citizenship since her marriage in 1978. For anti-intellectual Tea Partiers (i.e., Bachmann’s political base), a presidential candidate with dual citizenship, even Swiss citizenship, was anathema. It meant divided loyalties. And the disclosure was blood in the water.

It’s funny enough, of course, that self-conceived uber-patriot Bachmann, who is a singularly hilarious combination of willful ignorance and inspired lunacy, found herself coming under the same right-wing fire she had lately trained on her competitors.

But, for me, the real joy came in understanding why this story came to light at this particular moment.

It’s clear to me that Bachmann was being seriously considered as a vice presidential running mate by the Romney campaign, that the fact of her dual citizenship was uncovered during the process, that someone in the campaign didn’t want her to proceed in the process, and then had to find a reason to dump her that didn’t get the GOP’s right-wing enraged at their presumptive nominee.

Et, voila. So are leaks to the press born.

The real question is whether it is more disturbing that Romney’s campaign was considering Bachmann as his running mate or that there is a well-placed leaker on the inside who might hurt the campaign next time.

Call the plumbers, Mitt.

This Disaster Averted

Thanks to many articles and posts being shot around the online world by rabid supporters, I’ve read a lot lately about the size of Ron Paul rallies, especially in contrast to the size of Mitt Romney rallies. In light of Romney’s primary successes, many postings posit a coordinated and conscious media and political establishment conspiracy to keep Paul away from his due, which is to say the Republican presidential nomination. (Why do we Americans never seem to tire of conspiracies? Frankly, they exhaust me.) Here’s a YouTube video that makes that case; the Michigan crowd looks particularly large and excited.

If rallies were convention delegates, there might be something to talk about. But, of course, they aren’t, so there isn’t. Michigan, the location of that especially stirring rally shown in the video (above), is an interesting case in point: Paul got a little over 11% of the Michigan vote, Romney a little over 41%. Did bigger rallies really matter? Exactly.

Here’s why I think the Paul 2012 campaign has floundered: his policies would be a complete disaster for America and, thank providence, enough Republican voters were able to recognize it.

Throughout American history, we have balanced the competing impulses of individual liberty and collective responsibility more or less within a sustainable range. Paul would push the balance so far in the direction of personal freedom (as he conceives freedom, that is) it would be nearly impossible to keep this society together.

Some examples:

Income tax: In an interview with The New York Times, Paul said: “I want to abolish the income tax, but I don’t want to replace it with anything…We could eliminate the income tax, replace it with nothing, and still fund the same level of big government we had in the late 1990s. We don’t need to ‘replace’ the income tax at all. I see a consumption tax as being a little better than the personal income tax.”

First, the personal income tax funds over half of federal government operations. Can more than half of what the federal government spends possibly constitute waste or misapplication? Let’s see, that would be, like, Social Security (21%), Medicare and Medicaid (23%) and interest expense (6%). Take those off the books and we could come out where Paul thinks we should be. Do we really want to do without them? Would we or our fellow citizens be better off? Of course, Paul thinks these programs are unconstitutional anyway; he suggests the federal government has no right to collect income tax, and has violated the Constitution by doing so since 1913. Second, the so-called consumption tax is regressive; it hits the poor hardest because a higher percentage, nearly 100%, of poor budgets go to necessary consumption, like food and shelter.

States Rights: Paul believes the Constitution lays out the full responsibilities of the federal government, literally and comprehensively. If it isn’t specifically written in the Constitution, he believes, the right to set policy reverts to the individual states, not the federal government. Voting rights. Contraception. Marriage. Environmental policy. Disabled accommodation. Paul believes there is no federal right to ensure equal protection for all Americans, that it should be up to each individual state to decide. In other words, we’d be doing something vital, like environmental policy, by crazy-quilt.

Voting Rights: The men who actually wrote the Constitution intended and expected only white men to have the right to vote. Sorry to you, women and people of color. Most believe our definitions of personhood and suffrage have evolved since the Constitution was initially written, but not Paul. Paul called the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1964: “a massive violation of private property and contract, which are the bedrocks of a free society,” and said he would have voted against it had he been a member of Congress then.

“Streamlining” Government: Under a Paul administration, the federal government would lose the following agencies and their programs, in favor of allowing “market solutions” to work: the Environmental Protection Agency, the Departments of Education, Energy, Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Labor. We’re going to depend on market solutions to address environmental issues, education inequities, health challenges, workplace inspection and safety? Seriously? To believe it, one must be dangerously unaware of the true character of modern American life, and/or want to create a radically different society.

Hands Off? Sometimes.: For all his libertarian talk, there are some absolute limits of libertarianism for Paul. While he does advocate legalization of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and other harmful and addictive drugs, and the abolition of the FBI, the CIA and the IRS (Individual states fighting terrorism?), Paul is much less hands-off when it comes to women’s bodies. As a member of Congress, he introduced legislation that defined life as beginning at conception and granted legal rights to “people” from that moment onward, including the right to be free from harm (a euphemism for abortion, plain and simple). Paul signed the “Personhood Pledge” published by PersonhoodUSA. This pledge says in part: “I stand with President Ronald Reagan in supporting ‘the unalienable personhood of every American, from the moment of conception until natural death,’ and with the Republican Party platform in affirming that I ‘support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment protections apply to unborn children.” When it comes to women making decisions about their own bodies, Paul believes the government should have a very substantial and active interest indeed.

Yesterday morning, just down the street from my son’s school, I saw the pitch-perfect totem for Paul’s campaign; it was an $78,000 Range Rover with a Ron Paul bumpersticker. Federal government hands off my gas-guzzler!