Monday, September 26, 2011

Annie Rides Again

Back in the 1950s Al Capp, giving his reasons for allowing Daisy Mae to marry Lil Abner, mentioned a rival comic strip featuring “an orphan who spoke like the Republican platform of 1928.” Well folks; Orphan Annie has been reincarnated, and not surprisingly, in the form of the entire Republican Party. The common denominator is the claim that American business needs fewer, not more, regulations and should be left to its own devices. “Small” is the adjective of choice in referring to business. This is either a euphemism or a lie, take your pick.

The word “regulations” is being used by Annie’s disciples in a tone that makes it sound like a profanity. Regulations, rules or laws, call them what you will, have always been with us, and not necessarily to our benefit. A strong argument can be made, with which I agree, against our legal position on marijuana. On the other hand I doubt that the most fanatical libertarian would call for eliminating traffic lights.

Back in Annie’s day a grossly unequal share of the wealth resulting from unbridled laissez faire didn’t shake voters’ faith in Herbert Hoover’s promise of “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.” A couple of years later, when even rich folks started jumping out of tall buildings, people realized that something was very wrong so they made rules to prevent a repeat performance.

Years later Annie made her first reincarnation in the form of a Hollywood actor and started convincing us that these rules were no longer necessary. Eventually it became evident that she was wrong again, except for folks like her Daddy Warbucks (a well chosen name) who haven’t been jumping out of buildings. In fact they’re doing quite nicely thank you.

Of course the financial community still has some regulations. Embezzlement is frowned on in courts of law and apprehended violators generally do jail time. But Daddy Warbucks and his friends have avoided the hoosegow and are now busily comparison shopping for their most practical items, members of Congress. Annie should be so proud!   

A bit of trivia: Al Capp subsequently inserted Orphan Annie type characters in Lil Abner. Daddy Warbucks was “Uncle Sawbuck” and his assistant was “Franklin Finog,” spelled backwards Gonif, Yiddish for thief.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Not To Be Spoken

“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one term president.” It’s common knowledge that these words were spoken by Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell.  This is hardly an unthinkable thought. I wouldn’t be surprised if throughout our history a majority of Congress has felt this way about a first term president from the opposing party.  But to my knowledge it has been an unspeakable thought for someone of this prominence who can be considered as spokesman for his political party.
It’s easy to see that under normal circumstances this statement could put Mr. McConnell out on a limb. After all there are legislative decisions that might conceivably benefit the nation during Obama’s tenure and, in the process, enhance his reelection prospects. The words “single and most important thing” are unequivocal as to how Republican Senators should vote in such situations if they followed instructions as they have been doing. Our history is replete with unspoken conflicts of this nature in both political parties with the nation often getting the short end of the stick.
But to my knowledge this candor from someone so high in our legislative hierarchy is a first of its kind. It was no slip of the tongue and raises the question of why McConnell would break precedent and run the risk of confirming doubts on the integrity of votes from members of his party. It’s one thing not to play by the rules, or at least the pretense of rules. It’s quite another to defiantly announce that you intend to break them.
To me the answer is that he thought he could get away with it. Subsequent events have proven him right. This leads to another question. How did he know he could publicly and blatantly flaunt President Barack Hussein Obama without adverse consequences? Need I answer this question?
Maybe we should be appreciative of McConnell for his honesty. My personal take, to borrow a phrase from the British, is that if this is loyal opposition I shudder to think of the alternative.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Greater Evil

It’s human nature for people of a political persuasion to hope that the least electable candidate represents the opposition. A graphic example is the Nixon campaign in 1972. The “dirty tricks” against his moderate opponents, Muskie and Humphrey, were well chronicled in the Senate Watergate hearings. Few people seemed to notice that George McGovern’s name was not among the victims. The fact may be forgotten or not even known by many. But during the primary season when he was unopposed, Nixon donors were instructed to send their donations to George McGovern.*  By this standard, as a Democrat I should be hoping for the nomination of Rick Perry, now that the GOP field seems to be distilling to two candidates. This is not the case.
I’m not an admirer of “Mitt” Romney and will not vote for him in the general election. Like all Republicans he is a candidate of money, although the same can be said of most prominent politicians including, to a lesser extent, Barack Obama. Unfortunately that’s the way our system works. But in Rick Perry I see more than avarice. I sense meanness.
“Sense” is by definition subjective. Mine is based in part on his answer to a question by the moderator in a recent candidate debate, as to his feelings about the disproportionally high number of executions in his state. His answer, that anyone who killed someone in Texas deserved to pay with his or her life, was followed by wildly enthusiastic audience response. It ignored the point of the question which didn’t concern the death penalty itself, but the justice of the convictions.  
I’ve referred several times to Barry Goldwater and what a majority of voters considered his off the wall ideas. But most of us who voted against him didn’t feel he was mean, only wrong. Perry, in promoting his recent Jesus fest on TV, blubbered like Jimmy Swaggart every time he mentioned “Jesus.” Having heard him speak on non religious issues, and looking at his eyes as he spoke, I consider this man incapable of any kind of humility.
If cross party voting in primaries were possible in the state in which I vote I’d be a Republican for a day and cast an enthusiastic vote for Romney. Given the quality of candidates generally, for many of us voting is a question of the lesser of evils. In my judgment no serious candidate, or even some of the frivolous ones, is as great an evil as Rick Perry, who just might become President of the United States of America.
*I heard this point confirmed, voluntarily and defiantly by Pat Buchanan, a minor player in the saga, late in the Senate Watergate hearings. During that primary season I was hired to provide a band for three McGovern rallies, after which I was assured of the same job in the fall before the general election. You might guess what happened, actually didn’t happen, and why.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Song Is Ended

I am a card carrying Democrat who has voted for every Democratic presidential candidate since Adlai Stevenson. I intend to vote for Barack Obama, despite being disappointed with his presidency. One reason can be summed up by five names; Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy, Roberts and Alito. Another is the caliber of the current potential opponents. All are certifiable fruitcakes with the exception of a former Utah Governor whose GPS appears to have malfunctioned and a former Massachusetts Governor who has yet to locate the center of gravity.   

Barack Obama has some accomplishments to his credit, such as resuscitating the auto industry and changing the military’s policy on gays. But these are fringe issues compared to the more important ones on which he has attempted little if anything. On the environment the flat earth types still hold sway and our unbalanced tax code is fundamentally unchanged.

The capitulation to raise the debt ceiling is was inexcusable. To give in to the legislative demands of a political party threatening the solvency of the nation was a craven concession to blackmail.  Common sense should tell us that this same tactic will be repeated the next time the ceiling needs to be raised, unless the president at the time happens to be a Republican. Obama declined the preferable options of calling the blackmailers’ bluff or invoking the part of the 14th Amendment that says that the validity of the public debt “shall not be questioned.”  

Many of his former supporters complain that Obama should be more like Truman. The short answer is that he’s not Truman, nor was any intervening president. It can be added that no person of color could have become president behaving as Truman, who even his critics never claimed to be anything other than “true blue” in ethnicity and religion. Barack Obama may be more articulate than any president my lifetime, a gift that has value in explaining issues to the electorate. Yet some of his most important decisions have been a major disappointment to those of us who had such hopes when we voted for him. Facility with words is an important quality for the presidency. But to paraphrase an Irving Berlin lyric, when the song is ended it’s the melody that lingers on.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Bring Us Together

“Bring us together.” This was a major theme in Richard Nixon’s l968 election campaign.* It said as much about his presidency as “compassionate conservative” did about George Bush’s. Still the principle is inarguably worthy. By this yardstick, it can be said that we haven’t done well the intervening forty three years. Of course peoples’ political opinions will always differ. It’s just that they used to differ more politely.

Whatever Barack Obama has done to his credit or discredit, he is our president. Yes, past presidents have been vilified at times in unforgivable ways, but not with this much breadth and intensity. The incivility is not limited to slapstick performers at Tea Party rallies. Titled leaders of the opposition in both Houses of Congress have refused specific presidential requests for their time. I believe this is a first and, make no mistake, it is very personal.

Within Congress itself, there is a diminished pretense of courtesy. All administration appointees are now routinely filibustered. The comity that used to exist among Senators has all but disappeared. Will Rogers spoke of Senators addressing a colleague they didn’t like as “the honorable gentleman” really meaning “the rotten polecat.” At least they observed the formalities. Late on election night 1972 I saw both local opposing party chairmen in East Rutherford, New Jersey sharing a few cordial rounds of drinks in a jazz club where I was working. Does this sort of non partisan conviviality still exist at this level, and if so, to what extent?

In the public sector, where these divisions are the most harmful, my evidence is entirely anecdotal. A friend wrote me about a 77 year old companion who was physically attacked at a Florida bar over a political argument with a younger man whose ultimate bone of contention was being addressed as “young man,” a poor choice of words perhaps, but nothing demanding physical retaliation.  

Tea Party types, and consequently the entire Republican Party, are clearly moving sharply to the right. If one accepts the premise, my premise at least, that the political left is fundamentally the same old left, it’s easy to see where this new divisiveness and the rancor accompanying it come from.

I believe that religion has no place in politics, to which I’d add that politics should have no place in religion. For far too many people their politics has become their religion.

*Nixon claimed that the idea came from a sign carried during the campaign by a young girl in Deshler, Ohio. A 13 year old girl named Vicki Cole claimed to be the sign carrier and achieved a “Joe the Plumber” celebrity status. This ended with Watergate and suspicions within the Nixon campaign, by staffers who were on the train at the time, that she was a phony.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Cause and Effect

There isn’t much argument these days over the importance of jobs. To openly oppose job creation is the rough equivalent of advocating corruption. Declaring their importance is merely stating the obvious. But to call this an issue muddies the water. Underemployment does exacerbate hard times. But it is to a much greater extent a symptom rather than a cause. The cause by itself is indeed an issue.
Sufficient jobs for a healthy economy cannot be created by government fiat. FDR did what he could with WPA and other federally funded programs that added a glimmer of hope. But the Great Depression didn’t end until the fall of France in 1940, when industrialists, with a nudge from the president, saw armament in their future.
What is at issue is how best to create jobs. The president and most Democrats see the solution as increased investment in an economy now in deficit. Republicans, who are in effect running the show, advocate fiscal austerity, which as I see it has two major flaws, one relating to the Great Depression. Despite all the hardship during the pump priming phase of FDR’s stewardship, the nation was in somewhat better financial condition, and considerably better spirit than it had been under three years of Hoover’s fiscal prudence. The other is that at this time Republicans are intentionally working against the national interest, expecting to pick up the pieces with a new president. Their Senate leader McConnell’s publicly stated plans on the length of Barack Obama’s tenure should pretty well set the matter straight. I’m certain that if Republicans retake the presidency next year their concerns over a balanced budget would evaporate in a hurry.
The need for a sound fiscal policy can’t be denied. But in the general course of events it is more a long term matter than the current hard times which, by their nature, necessitate a quicker response. If we continue to move in the direction in which Republicans are now leading us we’re more than likely to make long term problems out of both.