May 28, 2012 -- The battle is enjoined. The combatants have girded their loins, donned their armor, mounted their steeds, and begun to gallop toward each other lance in hand (have I missed any trite euphonium to incite that the presidential campaign is now in full swing even before the party conventions or the presumed Republican stalwart that is no longer presumptive?). The ugly campaign television ads are airing, the rhetoric is heating up, the drums are beating louder.
Before we march farther it might be interesting, although not relevant, to do a background check, sort of a personal heritage review of the two standard bearers. For openers neither one of their fathers was born in the United States, something of a coincidence, one in Mexico, one in Kenya. Should they have Green Cards?
Both are products of cultures that allowed a man to have many wives and not in the Newt Gingrich sense of one at a time but all at one time like pearls on a string. The father of each was the first in the family to attend college. Mitt’s dad attended college several times but did not earn a degree. Obama’s father got his start by winning scholarships as a brilliant student, earned two degrees from U.S. universities, including an advanced degree in economics from Harvard, was Phi Beta Kappa while Barack’s mother, also a student at several colleges, earned a Ph.D. Like the way “trickle down” economics is supposed to work, trickle down education seems to have happened in Obama’s case.
Both fathers served in important positions in the governments of their respective nations—George Romney, who made a brief stab at seeking the Republican nomination as a presidential candidate despite not being “native born,” as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Obama Sr. held senior economic positions in the government of Kenya.
Both fathers were immigrants but one was an ardent fan of such American pop culture activities as progressive jazz, like Dave Brubeck, and the game of basketball. George Romney? No, Obama Sr.
The religious histories of both men do not fit the pattern to which we are accustomed. Romney Sr. of course did his two-year stint as a Mormon missionary, held official church positions, and was a life-long leader in a faith that many Americans see as more cult than religion. Obama Sr. began life in Islam, was baptized a Catholic at an early age, was taken under the wing of the British Angleton Church as a young adult, later in life took a Jewish wife (our President has two half-brothers who are Jewish) and eventually became an Atheist. What is the difference between Rev. Jeremiah Wright (drug back in the news to be used in scurrilous campaign ads) and a Mormon Elder? Mandated official underwear.
One father was an advocate of trade unions, had their strong support, worked hard to increase government funding for low-cost housing. Obama Sr.? No George Romney, both as the governor of Michigan where he imposed taxes on wealthy to balance a budget, and as a member of the Nixon Administration. He certainly would not be welcome in an administration headed by his son. Obama Sr. published papers on how to improve agriculture in African countries. Of the two George Romney seems to have been more blue collar (a color that did not rub off on his son) who rose through the ranks to achieve positions of importance. The father of Obama Sr., our president’s grandfather served in the British Colonial Forces and traveled widely.
So what is to be made of all of this? Not a cotton-picking thing if I am allowed to use an old Southern expression without the baggage of racial or immigrant overtones. And that is the point. This should not be a likeability contest. We are not voting on which has the most winning personality, or should not be at any rate, we are voting on an administration, on who the president will surround himself with (think George Bush), on the next Supreme Court appointment (think Roberts and Alito), and economic initiatives (think austerity). While our two candidates are products of their parents, if they had stayed the course Mitt would be, if not a progressive, at least a “moderate” Republican and Obama would have probably stayed in academia.
How the “L Word” morphed into the “M Word”
Remember? In 1988 candidate Ronald Reagan had a lot of fun (and success) pinning the “L” word for Liberal on Democrats. Were he alive today he would be branded by members of his own party with the dreaded “M” word, for moderate. Not a chance the Tea Party would support a man who expanded Social Security, raised taxes on the wealthy, and said of trade unions, “There are few finer examples of participatory democracy.” By today’s standards those, like George Romney’s, take moderate stances and there is no room in the G.O.P. for moderation. All moderate Republicans, willing to work with the other side to compromise and cut deals where each side gives a little are gone or going. In my market there is a heavy schedule of a television ads devoted entirely to demonstrating how the Republican candidate’s Republican opponent is widely seen as moderate. Horrors. As the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne writes the ultimate epithet? “Moderate.”
But even so, Reagan remains the patron saint. In what seemed to be a little creepy to me, not being into the current fad of vampire movies, a sample of Reagan’s blood went up for auction on the internet and reached the level of $30,000 before the owner had a change of heart and donated it to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation. Will it go on display? That sounds like something the Vatican would do. Republicans take the “Saint” in Patron Saint to heart. Like the Catholic church they could save relics from their anointed, a sweaty T-shirt George Bush used while cutting brush in Texas, say, or a leftover part from Dick Cheney’s old mechanical heart now that he has a new one of flesh and blood.
Now what depraved Democrat would stoop so low as to pin that phrase on the activities of Mitt Romney’s old hedge fund, Bain Capital? Oh, it wasn’t a Democrat. It was Rick Perry in one of the Republican primary debates.
What else did Perry say? “There is something inherently wrong when getting rich off failure and sticking it to someone else is how you do your business. I happen to think that that is indefensible.”
Well, that’s just Perry shooting his mouth off again, right? Ah, but fellow Republican Rick Santorum was not that thrilled either: “Do you think that’s the kind of experience we need? Someone who’s going to take and look after, as he did, his friends on Wall Street and bail them out at the expense of Main Street America?”
How about the deep thinker, Newt Gingrich? He said “The Bain model is to go in at a very low price, borrow an immense amount of money, pay Bain an immense amount of money and leave. I’ll let you decide if that’s really good capitalism. I think that’s exploitation.”
That was then and this is now. As the Obama campaign runs ads along the lines of what Perry, Santorum, and Gingrich said, the Romney camp is screaming that they are attacks on capitalism and such criticism is dirty pool. Except since the Romney campaign is claiming Romney’s experience and success at Bain make him better suited for the presidency. That makes such criticism as evaluation fair game.
In actuality, equity capital, which has not long been with us, is something of a mixed blessing. The Gingrich view is pretty much on target. Bain sought out small companies they thought might grow and weak ones they might rescue. When they were right—as they were with Staples as an example—good things happened and they, as well as everybody else made a lot of money. But when they were wrong, they took the huge management fees, cut the operation to the bone eliminating jobs and pension plans, and driving the company out of business in order to retrieve as much of their original investment as possible. The experience gained here is business experience, looking out for investor interests only which is the unfettered free market system. But in the White House the president is charged with looking out for all citizens, not just a few so questioning the value of the Bain experience is fair game. You might say if applied to governing it could be a hindrance.
Mitt Romney said of the multi-billions in losses at J.P. Morgan that is just the free market at work with winners and losers, ignoring the fact that the betters were making unregulated bets using funds guaranteed by the federal government, namely us. As Eugene Robinson at the Washington Post put it, “Shouldn’t free markets serve the American people, rather than the other way around?”
“Big enough to crash the financial system”
And a bank whose deposits are federally insured. That’s why Paul Krugman asks if it should “be standing at a craps table in the middle of the night yelling, ‘Baby needs a new pair of shoes.’ ”
Of course Morgan fights any kind of regulation tooth and nail spending millions to lobby. In his NYT column economist Krugman points out, “productivity in America grew faster in the postwar generation, an era in which banks were tightly regulated and private equity barely existed, than it has since our political system decided that greed was good.”
Do regulations impact trade deficits? “Big trade deficits only started in the Reagan years, that is, during the era of runaway finance.” The trickle down factor? “Trickle down gains: only a small part of those gains got passed on to American workers.” This is the “fifth year of a slump brought on by irresponsible bankers”, says Krugman who is like a playground supervisor watching a free for all pickup ball game.
“A whole cohort of young Americans graduating into an abysmal job market.”
Krugman again with another reality check as Romney made his first major speech on education and was about as jolly as Krugman. Gail Collins covered it for the New York Times saying, “it had a quality of mushiness seldom seen outside of a six-week-old pumpkin.” Romney says we have an “education crises.” He is big on crises adding this one to his ‘job crises” and “sending crises” list. Bit he said something usual, that Obama inherited them complaining that the President just hasn’t done anything about them.
A Republican saying things are all the fault of Bush? Collins says it’s no wonder all Bush would say when badgered by reporters was he was going to vote for Romney, the ringing endorsement of the year. Actually, the day the Bush Administration handled education is, in general, considered to be a bright spot. But Collins says, “Tea Party folk hate, hate, hate No Child Left Behind as a federal intrusion on states’ rights to screw up their schools in whatever way they see fit.” The student body of Texas A&M used to call the student body of the University of Texas “Tea Sippers,” a useful term these days to describe any Republican running for office.
Mitt Romney – American by birth!
That was the signoff line on an e-mail trashing Obama, touting Romney, the likes of which we will be assaulted with from now until November, not a very subtle way of keeping the canard that Obama is not a natural born citizen, that somehow his mother managed to deliver him in Kenya without ever leaving the United States. The latest chapter of this story closed after the Arizona Secretary of State, Ken Bennett who couldn’t say Obama’s name would be on the November ballot until he saw an actual copy of his birth certificate, sent two deputies to Hawaii to look at the original on file. I saw no report that he made Romney show his. But Romney, American by birth (unlike his dad from Mexico), lingers on. You would think that loopy Joe Arpaio, sheriff of Arizona's Maricopa County who swears the Obama birth certificate is a fake, would go after a man whose father immigrated from Mexico, apparently the birth place of all whom Arpaio seems to find evil, namely Romney.
We’ll be gorging a lot of rancid rhetoric in the weeks ahead and some of the imagery won’ be pretty. You have Mitt Romney’s “prairie fire of debt” to Obama’s “cowpie of distortion,” saying Romney’s plan would lead to $5 trillion in tax cuts, crippling the debt.
We should be in for much more of this stuff than ever before since Citizen’s United decision by the Supreme Court turned loose billionaires like Joe Ricketts, the fellow who was about to support the film bringing up Rev. Jeremiah Wright again to spend their billions at will, like Johnny Appleseed, however it turns them on.
“Natural born citizen” sounds like something from Macbeth”
This requirement that the president must be a natural born citizen keeps coming up, sometimes as a big issue, sometimes just blown off. John McCain had to face it both times he ran for president since he was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936. Barry Goldwater was born in the Arizona territory in 1909, before it became a state (did anyone tell Joe Arpaio?) and he was nominated anyway. Chester A. Arthur was rumored to have been born in Canada, George Romney of course in Mexico and Lowell P Wekcker Jr. from Connecticut once tried for the office even though he was born in Paris (Paris? These days that would give the European Socialist denounces a field day). Perhaps it is time, as has been suggested, we implant a little chip beneath the skin with family history, at birth.
Prurient Report of the Week’ Activities
The Senate held a hearing (when in doubt hold a hearing), chaired by Senator Susan Collins of Maine, into the culture of the Secret Service triggered by the recent scandal in Colombia. Looks like the activities are pretty normal for what is popularly called the “Secret Circus” as a bunch of macho guys travel around the world on duty, some 200 of them in Cartagena. 200? You would expect more than 12 to be involved, but maybe there just weren‘t enough hookers to go around. Supply and demand.
As widely reported, Bill Clinton was photographed at a gala at a Monte Carlo casino with two young women who turned out to be porn stars. At least they were still photos; no Paris Hilton type performance video to turn up on You Tube.
The oddest report came from the John Edwards trial; alternate members of the jury seem to be flirting with Edwards, who appears to be blushingly responding. And four young women are appearing in court in color coordinated apparel and it looks like Edwards is changing his tie in response. One attractive young woman smiles at him, flips her hair at him, and came in Friday wearing a sort of sexy off the shoulder dress. The jury is still hung, and so is Edwards.
Other Odds and Ends
An organization who studies such things reports that Congress now speaks at grade level lower than it did seven years ago, now 10.6 grade. The Constitution, they say, was written at a 17.6 grade level. Looks like if Mitt Romney wants to fix the “education crises” he should start with Congress.
Looks like Elizabeth Warren, running for the Senate in Massachusetts, may be in a little trouble for once claiming that she is 1/32nd Cherokee and is having a hard time proving it. She will have to pull a Will Rogers, an old Cherokee: do rope tricks and tell a few jokes about Congress.
Germany and France are at it again. Angela Merkel and the new president of France, Francois Hollande are at odds over issuing Euro bonds or not, to fight the debt problem. Merkel and her German bankers do not want to pool he debt with 16 other members of the euro currency union. It looks like Germany is saying it’s payback time for the way WWII turned out.
The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, once a proud (an arrogant) daily newspaper is only going to publish three days a week and lay off a bunch of people. Signs of the times. Soon we will all be reduced to texting. God forbid that we should lose a thumb. We would go mute.
Data shows the British recession is deeper than originally thought, with the gross domestic product shrinking 0.3 percent in the first quarter, compared with 0.2 percent estimated earlier. Yet, they still are hanging on to their austerity programs which are stifling growth. We could be very well heading that way, sort of like watching a friend step in a hole and sink under water and saying I can do that.
H.P. said it would cut 27,000 employees, or 7.7 percent of a global work force. Their red ink cartridge seems to be overflowing.
More Words out of Washington
But these in search of comic relief
The Washington Post has for years been publishing Style Invitational, a series of word games in various forms, the current one, Week 972 being Trends and Neighbors. The object is to select any two names or words from a random list they provide and make a funny connection. The example they use takes John Edwards and jellyfish from the list with this result:
- A jellyfish is like John Edwards: Even when it’s washed up and dead in the water, people don’t want to get anywhere near it.
Here is another example from a list of entries I submitted, using jellyfish and JP Morgan:
- When would a JP Morgan trader invest in Jellyfish? When he could turn them into derivatives.
But since we are all politics here, let’s hitch-hike on their game but combine words of our own choosing.
- What does Paul Ryan think the difference is between an egg and needy people? Only the egg should be coddled.
- Republicans in the House want to repeal the Violence Against Women Act so with impunity they can bludgeon Nancy Pelosi.
- What name should John Boehner, Speaker of the House, give to legislation meant to prevent raising the debt limit to borrow money? How about this line from the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam: “take the cash and let the credit go.
- How does California make JP Morgan look like a piker? They went $14 billion further in the hole.
- What is the difference between a resident Nixon healthcare plan and a Mitt Romney healthcare plan? Nixon actually had one.
- What kind of link is Rick Santorum to modern Homo sapiens? The missing one.
- What do Republican “job creators” and unicorns have in common? They are both mythological creatures.
- What is written on Senate Minority Leader and practicing Catholic Mitch McConnell’s prayer card? Please God make Obama a one-term president.
- What’s the difference between Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand? Two consonants.
What is the difference between Travtrivia and the Washington Post? About 600,000 copies.