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.

Money Matters

I’ll say it flat-out: Randy Newman is a treasure. His music weaves the ancient motifs of American popular and folk with brilliantly sarcastic (some would say caustic) lyrics to convey, I think, the essentially dual nature of our national character.

Polite but mean. Happy but depressed. Erudite but dumb as dirt. Self-satisfied but never sated.

As I hear the overheated (but, I believe, completely beside the point) campaign rhetoric about which candidate has raised more than which other candidate for president, my mind keeps coming back to one of Newman’s masterpieces, ‘It’s Money That Matters.’ You can watch the video here. Some lyrics follow (below).

Of all of the people that I used to know
Most never adjusted to the great big world
I see them lurking in book stores
Working for the Public Radio
Carrying their babies around in a sack on their back
Moving careful and slow

It’s money that matters
Hear what I say
It’s money that matters
In the USA.

All of these people are much brighter than I
In any fair system they would flourish and thrive
But they barely survive
They eke out a living and they barely survive…

It’s money that matters in the USA
It’s money that matters
Now you know that it’s true
It’s money that matters whatever you do.”

I don’t want to see infusions of un-Godly big pots of money unduly influencing elections but I also don’t want money, and how much of it gets raised, to be either (a) used by our news media as a tool to distract the electorate from the real issues facing our country at this moment in history, or (b) an excuse used to explain why an extremely electable candidate eventually loses.

Money does matter but issues, including policy positions, matter more. One problem, I believe, is that those in our news media (especially cable and broadcast media) have shown themselves ill-prepared to discuss the substance of policy and issues. Therefore, they concentrate their coverage almost exclusively on three relatively unimportant sideshows: (1) the horserace, polls, who’s falling, who’s gaining, delegate counts; (2) gaffes, blunders and bloopers, embarrassing personal disclosures; and (3) easy to obtain and understand data, like campaign contributions.

But part of the blame also rightly belongs to the campaigns themselves. I’ve been surprised (not in a good way) by the amateurishness of even national-level campaigns this year. Lack of depth. Lack of candidate preparation for events. Lack of ‘brand’ awareness and adherence.

Money does, of course, matter in politics, in the sense that the public conversation can be seeded with advertising and so forth. But let’s be honest. Campaign contributions aren’t in any way a surrogate measure for popular support, as is frequently posited by media pundits and analysts. The truth is, rich people, including the candidates themselves, and corporations spend a lot of money on campaigns because they have vested interests in certain candidates winning.

Nothing more or less than that.

Americans aren’t complete dumb-asses; we’re just treated that way.

Maybe Randy could write us a song about it.

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.

My Lunch With John

Maybe five or six years ago, a friend who was active in the campaign asked me if I wanted to have lunch with John Edwards. I’d thought highly of Edwards and might have supported him in the election, so I happily accepted the invitation.

It was a small lunch, just some people around a conference table at a local law firm. I had a good opportunity to take measure of the man. Edwards chatted with the people there, mostly donors and potential donors, then made some remarks.

Here’s what I remember:

Edwards talked about the Democratic presidential primary campaign as if winning it were a formality, provided he had adequate resources early (wink, wink). He’d always done well in Iowa, and figured to repeat, due to the fervor of young people. He then thought it likely he’d finish a strong second to Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, owing to his name recognition. But finishing second there wouldn’t be bad. He assured us, he’d kick ass in South Carolina because, now affecting a comically exaggerated Southern accent, “I’m the only one in the race who talks like this.”  The South Carolina bounce would feed momentum into Super Tuesday, which would guarantee positive coverage in other states, which would blah blah blah, then I win.

Okay, you’re speaking to donors, so you’d better outline a way you will win, but I didn’t sense any awareness on Edwards’ part that, in Hillary Clinton (I didn’t even know Barack Obama was going to be a serious candidate then; it was early in the campaign.), he faced an incredibly able adversary with deeply committed supporters. Further (and this is based on almost 25 years in the speech business),  although I agreed with Edwards on almost all positions of policy, I couldn’t sense his emotional connection to his positions, which is death for candidates.

He smiled real big as his eyes worked the room. But neither his eyes nor his smile had the authentic glee Bill Clinton’s had when I saw him work the same kind of crowd early in his first presidential campaign. Clinton, I thought, always looked happy to be the guest of honor at any party that would invite him. With Edwards, it had seemed more like business than pleasure.

As I look at John Edwards now, facing trial in a North Carolina court, I think back harder on that lunch, trying to remember anything that might have been an indicator of the type of man he actually was, not the type of man I tried to see in him. And I can’t. He was attractive and facile, just like every other political candidate I’ve ever seen.

But as I think back, I think back in anger; John Edwards flew around the country soliciting donations for his campaign at the same time he was having an extra-marital affair and consciously planning to funnel some portion of those funds to his mistress. He asked for my money so he could become President of the United States, knowing he was engaging in behavior that would, in all likelihood, prevent him from ever attaining that office. And he asked for my money knowing that some of it would be used to underwrite the cost of his sexual gratification. [I’m not even going to address his wife, and all the campaign goodwill he harvested from her fight with cancer, and his very visible support of her.]

Like many other people, I was fooled by John Edwards, but I take no small measure of solace in the fact that he is facing the possibility of justice for his actions now.