Sunday, September 30, 2012

Fact and Friction

“Fact checkers come to this with their own set of facts and beliefs and we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers’ Romney pollster Neil Newhouse said at a panel organized by ABC News.”

A tip of the hat to Mr. Newhouse and his candor! I could never have described Republican indifference to fact as convincingly as he has demonstrated it. I agree that these folks come with their own set of beliefs. But they’re Democrats and they see things a little differently. You have to expect them to get a little contrary now and then.

But it’s another cup of tea having “their own set of facts.” I’m put in mind of a New Jersey local political radio commercial years ago, in which the candidate, who happened to be a Republican, warned voters not to be taken in by his opponent’s “false facts.” Can there be two incompatible facts on a specific subject? Can the earth be round and flat?

Fact checking by both political parties is nothing new. Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, has worked in this capacity for years doing extra-curricular work digging up dirt on Democrats when there are no facts to check. I’d argue that we’d all be better off if statements were checked for accuracy before we heard them, an “ounce of prevention” sort of thing.

Fact checkers by definition check facts. To publicly declare that you won’t let your party’s campaign be dictated by their findings, reduced to its essentials, is declaring freedom to lie, a transgression comparable to claiming that science is irrelevant. Neither political party has a monopoly on spreading misinformation. But I am a partisan who thinks Republicans are guilty of it more often and more egregiously than Democrats. It gives me great satisfaction to hear one of them coming so clean publicly.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Political Incivility

In my last letter I referred to the “speech” Romney made in Boca Raton. But the “forty seven percent” business took place later in his answer to a question from a member of a $50,000 a plate audience. The questions themselves give an even clearer picture of the core thinking of these people. Certainly Democrats say things behind closed doors that would be damaging if they were made public. But there is a proportional difference in degree, forty seven to one as a rough estimate. We know that James Carter III, grandson of the former president, procured the recording. But the original source is unknown at this writing. It’s a reasonable guess that it might be one of that forty seven percent in question who likely makes less annually than the price of the dinner.

These words are prima facie evidence of “class warfare” of which Republicans commonly accuse Democrats. As I’ve mentioned, using a different metaphor, any warfare is like a tango, it takes two. Class warfare is nothing new. It goes back at least as far as recorded history.

The language spoken by Romney in presumed privacy was pure Wall Street which doesn’t translate all that well. The other Republicans, many of whom carry the Tea Party banner, are mostly Archie Bunker types and Evangelicals. They are not as circumspect and tend to let it all hang out. An illuminating moment was at a party presidential debate when the audience broke into wild applause at the mention of Rick Perry’s Texas having the nation’s highest death penalty rate. I’m against the death penalty for my own reasons, but I know people who disagree with me who can make an arguable case, who would never demean themselves this manner.

Political incivility is hardly new to this country. There have been Congressional fist fights, canings and I believe a shooting or two. But the differences there were more personal than ideological. Demonizing entire classes of people is a relatively new development.

As I see it this incivility was started by Ronald Reagan. Nixon was more a megalomaniac than an ideologue.  He signed measures into law that are blasphemous by today’s right wing standards. Gerald Ford quietly vetoed egalitarian legislation from a Democratic Congress. The “Great Communicator” was able to stigmatize an entire race of Americans with fairy tales about a “welfare queen in her Cadillac” cashing benefits acquired under several aliases and a “strapping young buck” buying T bone steaks with food stamps.

This line of “reasoning” was picked up by the whole party. It was at the heart of the 1994 “Republican Revolution” led by Newt Gingrich. It was undoubtedly enough to push W over the top in his two elections and was used by the Tea Party to great effect in 2010. But the African American population in the last census was 12.6%, well short of the 47% Romney has taken on. The Republican Party’s eyes may be too big for its stomach.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Just Between Us

Mitt Romney’s speech to big time donors in Boca Raton is now being analyzed by media minds six ways to Sunday. My synopsis has him saying “there are 47% who are with him, [Obama]” who, because they pay no income tax, are basically schnorrers.* I guess this sort of thing limits the efforts of some of the wealthier remaining 53% to save the economy by playing the old derivative game.

What I haven’t heard mentioned, and can’t understand, is why a major party presidential nominee wouldn’t know better than to publicly shoot from the lip, even to an audience of true believers. George Allen’s “macaca” moment should have been adequate warning that there might be someone with a recording device lurking in the vicinity.

Of greater concern is the way these people talk to each other in what they presume, in this case mistakenly, to be privacy. They don’t mess with this right/wrong or fair/unfair business as we on the left do, perhaps naively. A musician I know working a party at Bohemian Grove, a northern California retreat for upscale men, quoted one of the group speaking of a hostile takeover by one member of a fellow member's corporation. “You don’t (expletive) a friend, you (expletive) John Q. Public.” At least there’s loyalty, even among thieves.

Another item buried in this news cycle, but perhaps equally revealing, is Romney’s ABC interview in which he defined middle class income as from $200 thousand to $250 thousand these figures being in the top ten percent nationally. In his defense he did add “or less” in a barely audible voice that sounded mighty like an afterthought. If he hadn’t I might have put in for some of the filthy lucre he says is floating around for the less affluent. He might have eventually had to say something like this in defense of his position on retaining the Bush tax cuts, although specificity is not his forte. But I thought he would have tried to avoid these specifics as long as he could, until after the election if possible. People like me have been shouting about just this for years. How considerate of him to spell it out so definitively!  

Mitt Romney has been criticized for a lack of conviction. His off the cuff address in Boca Raton, particularly his tone in the audio, belie this criticism. He has some strong convictions that, to the extent they are known should doom his candidacy. If he is elected president it can be said that this is a case of carrying our version of democracy too far.

*Of course he didn’t use this word. But it summarizes and condenses his words nicely. “Hooray for Captain Spalding, the African explorer.” (Groucho Marx in “Animal Crackers”)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Last Hurrah

To repeat something I mentioned recently, I can’t remember a presidential election that wasn’t being called “the most important in our history.” Count me in on this one. This is the second time in my life that the radical right has made a serious bid for the White House, if you consider Goldwater’s try in 1964 serious. When it comes to pure comedy the current crop may be giving Goldwater’s bunch a run for the money. What makes this one different and more dangerous is the fact that Romney, at this late date, still has a reasonable chance of winning. That’s because more Americans are willing to accept as fact that extremism in defense of liberty is not a vice. This may be OK, but only if we agree on where defense of liberty begins and, more important, where it ends.

This election looked very good for the Republicans on paper. Citizens United, selective voter suppression, public perception of Obama’s handling of the economy and the fact that he is hated by many for reasons not altogether political is a good starting point. They have been engaging in far right rhetoric to accommodate Tea Party types with the expectation of winning. In doing so many of them have publicly taken stands that are against their beliefs, most significant being their candidate for president. If they can’t pull it off this way the Republican establishment, for whose benefit the party is run, will not make this mistake again. What happens next is anybody’s guess. It could be the last hurrah for a marginalized Tea Party with rearrangement of our entire political structure, not necessarily a bad development as I see it.

If Romney is elected it would be only a matter of time for the rabble to realize that there was never anything in it for them. Tea Partiers may learn, too late, who their enemies are. Republicans, through newly elected governors, are now trying to in effect remove poorer voters from the electorate. If they become further empowered I don’t think they’d have qualms about doing the same to former allies, by less subtle means if necessary.

And they might well become necessary. America has never experienced as minuscule a minority ruling class that would be comprised almost completely of beneficiaries of stated Republican intentions. The only way this hegemony could be preserved would require actions never before seen in this country and make us for sure the greatest nation in the world, the Third World.

Monday, September 10, 2012

On the Other Hand

If I were assigned the unenviable task of trying to make a rational case for Mitt Romney’s election it would go something like this;

“After four years the nation is not appreciably better financially than when Obama took office. This may be the result of an intransigent disciplined Republican opposition committed solely to his defeat. But in an emergency the financial well being of the nation trumps democracy as it’s supposed to work. If the past is prologue Romney will have a more compliant Congress to enact his agenda. There’s no reason to think that Obama will be more successful with Congressional Republicans than he was in his first two years with a Democratic House and a Senate, filibuster proof until Ted Kennedy’s death after a hundred and thirty three days. It may not be nice for corporations to refrain from investing available money that would create jobs because it would help Obama. But that would change to some degree if Romney is elected. To the extent that Republicans have control of the nation they’ll have some interest in working for it rather than against it as they have since Obama became president. It may not be pretty, but that’s the way it is.”

Remember, this is just an exercise. The specifics of Romney’s agenda, that a sympathetic Congress would be likely to enact, are by themselves grounds to knock the whole argument into a cocked hat. As a strictly practical matter they would be voting for a candidate who advocates expanding the fiscal policies of a man whose presidency is held in such regard that his name was barely mentioned at his party’s convention. But there are unaffiliated pragmatic voters who may be susceptible to my feeble attempt at logic. I hope enough of them give further thought to the consequences.

In a deeper sense these people would be selling the nation’s soul and the well being of younger Americans on the premise of little more than a hunch, that the next four years will be better for themselves. It’s sort of Hansel and Gretelish, enough food for two but not for four. It’s all quite simple. For the past thirty years the disparity of wealth has been growing with financial support from an already rich minority. A major step was taken in just one day by the Citizens United decision. To paraphrase an old song, Republicans and their nominee want to help the rich to continue getting richer while the poor are having children, that are becoming more expensive to raise and particularly to educate to their potential.

It’s inaccurate to paint all extremely wealthy people with the same brush, Warren Buffet being a case in point. But a majority is inexorably devoted to becoming even wealthier. Should they control both the executive and legislative branches of government, resulting from an election where the lines are as clearly drawn as this one, with many poorer voters disenfranchised, there’s no telling where they’ll stop. It’s not fear mongering to suggest that some sort of serfdom could be in our future. Right wing “historians" take note. This is something for which the early Americans known as “settlers” would never have settled.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Threat To Far

County Judge Tom Head, the top elected official in Lubbock, Texas, recently had this to say about the consequences of Obama’s reelection; “He is going to try to hand over the sovereignty of the United States to the U.N. OK, what’s going to happen when that happens? I’m thinking worst case scenario and civil unrest, civil disobedience, civil war, maybe. And we’re not talking just a few riots and demonstrations. We’re talking Lexington, Concord, take up arms and get rid of the guy.” (Italics mine)

Among other things his statement cries out for derisive humor, the allusion to Lexington and Concord being the juiciest part, and I’ve been kicking this approach around, but without much success. I thought about Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman competing for the part of Molly Pitcher, the invasion coming through Mexico with help from illegal aliens and the difficulty of saying “I surrender” in Bulgarian. On the whole I wasn’t living up to the subject’s potential.

Then I received a phone call from a friend who was planning to vote for Obama, but as a Second Amendment devotee was alarmed by his alleged plan to have our gun control laws dictated and enforced by that same bad old U.N. This was my “eureka” moment. Some nut cake from Texas has the U.N. invading the country. Cooler right wing heads prevail because this is too preposterous for anyone minimally rational, so they tone down the story to serve as material for NRA pep rallies.

All this was done in just a week and not by word of mouth. “One if by land, two if by sea” is so Eighteenth Century. It couldn’t have come from the mass media, being too far-fetched for even Fox “News” or the National Enquirer. The obvious source of this fiction is those “pass it on” emails that I’ve been ranting about lately.

What is particularly incongruous about these messages is that Barack Obama, who has now been president for nearly four years, is being accused of outlandish plans that are completely out of character. His opponent, at this point a relative stranger, is known to openly favor expanding the regressive tax cuts that have served our economy so well for the past ten years and a Medicare system that limits future beneficiaries to $6,000 a year. Whether it’s called a voucher system is beside the point.

What seriously concerns me is the last eight words, “take up arms and get rid of the guy.” Mr. Head is referring to the President of the United States. This is something that would normally attract FBI attention. Wherever the line restricting freedom of speech is this man has crossed it. I’ll finish with a rhetorical question. How would previous Justice Departments have responded?  OK, add an “if.” The question is still rhetorical.