How is Christmas Like the Presidential Election?

Black Friday(Mansfield)

Black Friday(Mansfield) (Photo credit: George Artwood)

ANSWER:  Each is supposed to be about one thing, but is actually about something else.

Take the recent election.  Given the huge problems we face with a weak economy and a rapidly growing, and already huge public debt, one might think that picking the President to lead us would relate closely to those issues.  But that would be wrong.  Very wrong.

It wasn’t the big issues that counted, but whom each of us disliked less.    Despite a steady smear job of Obama throughout his first term, along with a dragging economy that he was of course blamed for (the standard talking point  being “the economy was bad when he took over, but he made it worse”), in the end more of us apparently disliked Mitt Romney even more.  Of course, Democrat negative advertising helped a lot in that regard, but nothing helped more, in my opinion, than that one secret video revealing Romney’s vision of America, or at least the 47% of it, of us, as essentially people who feel entitled to mooch.

In my previous post I referred to a prize fight being ended by one punch.  This was metaphorically true of Romney as well, though ironically, he hit himself in the face.

My point is that neither Obama nor Romney said much that revealed how either was going to come to terms with our domestic problems and were sufficiently vague about our complex foreign issues to be indistinguishable.   On issues that really count, politicians believe less is more.   The less you say, the more safe you are from attack.   That’s why Obama and Boehner’s fiscal talks  are totally private right now.  If they come up with something, they want to announce it together so the blame – which surely will come – can be shared.

In short, the big issues which the pundits babbled about ad nauseum for months were largely divorced from the reality of political selection, which for many boiled down to:   I don’t like this guy, but I dislike the other guy more.   Sorry my more liberal friends, but being voted the somewhat more likeable man is not much of a mandate (*1).

Now take Christmas.  On the surface Christmas is about the miracle of Christ’s birth, the spirit of giving, the importance of family ties, stuff like that.    Its real significance, however, is that our economy is 70% consumer driven and at this time of the year there are no speed limits.  Many stores make their entire annual profit right now.   Black Friday seeped into Thursday evening this year and mark my words, give it another twenty years, and it will kick off on Halloween (Perhaps called:  Orange and Black Friday).

O. K.  O. K.   I realize some of you really love this season, probably because you are good at focusing upon just what you like about it and not what you don’t, so  I’ll keep my Grinch-like self to a minimum.

And I am happy if you’ve been maxing out your credit cards of late, even if not specifically on my behalf.  Your spending pumps up our economy, and I thank you for it.  I really do.  If all of you were as frugal as I am (some, lacking in Christmas cheer might say “cheap”), we would not be tap dancing around a recession, but in a deep depression that would be insurmountable.  I’m not ungrateful.

It is just that when I hear, as I did yesterday morning, a cable pundit pointing out how all this fiscal cliff uncertainty is cutting down our Christmas consumption, and that’s the last thing we need going into the new year, and that horror of horrors, Walmart moms, reportedly anxious about the fiscal cliff, are spending 15%  less this year, well….. I feel my failure to spend is positively unpatriotic.

Last year as I was driving home one evening a female disc jockey seemed to sum it all up.  After playing some porn pop song, she said:  “Now I’ll  play some Christmas carols to put you in the shopping spirit.”

Remember when it used to be called the Christmas spirit?

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(*1)  In a previous post I wrote about a pre-election poll I conducted consisting of one bartender who was undecided about his presidential vote.   Later I learned he left the presidential box blank on his ballot, leading me to conclude he disliked both candidates enough to pick neither.

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Seceding from the 21st Century

You have probably heard that after the election numerous petitions for states to secede from the union have been sent to the White House, a few of them with more than 25,000 signatures, with Texas gathering over 100,000 (countered by a petition from Austin, Texas of 5,000 requesting to remain in the union should the rest of Texas secede)(*1).

United States presidential candidate Barack Ob...

United States presidential candidate Barack Obama speaking at Auditorium Shores in Austin, Texas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The petition from Alabama was initiated by the owner of a car wash which was shut down because of its topless attendants.   The city of Mobile closed it down, not the U. S. government, but no matter, secession still seemed the solution to owner Derick Belcher, and about 30,000 other signers used the opportunity to express their discontent, too, though there is no telling how many decried the loss of those topless girls as opposed to other grievances.

I imagine some of the thinking of other secessionists is a bit sounder than Mr. Belcher’s, but I doubt whether a single petition would have been filed had Mitt Romney won.   Not that a Romney win would have saved Mr. Belcher’s car wash, or even likely have made government a smidgeon smaller, it just would have symbolized less government interference in everyone’s personal economy.  Because Mitt Romney said so.

The Texas petition begins with these words:  “The US continues to suffer economic difficulties stemming from the federal government’s neglect to reform domestic and foreign spending.”   Again, I assume these Texans believe Romney would change all that, or at least be a step in the right direction.

I doubt if many of the secessionists read The Economist, a weekly British magazine well regarded world wide.  It has a high estimation of the benefits of capitalism and less government but even they could not back Mitt Romney:    “Many of The Economist’s readers, especially those who run businesses in America, may well conclude that nothing could be worse than another four years of Mr Obama. We beg to differ. For all his businesslike intentions, Mr Romney has an economic plan that works only if you don’t believe most of what he says.”

The secessionists aren’t seceding from the union.  They’re seceding from Barack Obama.   Following four years of his being branded as a foreign born Muslim socialist while black as well, it is easy to see why they feel that way, despite the image being eons removed from reality, except the black part.    Just by not being Obama,  Mitt Etch-a-Sketch could appear to be a big improvement, especially when he said things like “the less government the better”.

Angry people want a target for their anger, someone to blame and spew venom upon.  Those on the right target Obama, but I think he is simply a symbol of rapidly changing times that produce anxiety and fear which lead to anger.   Foremost technological change, but social change as well, and the only thing moving slowly is our economy.  Its sluggishness is likely to remain so for quite some time and many sense that never again will it offer  good paying jobs for those not highly educated, at least technologically so.   Those old high-paying semi-skilled assembly line jobs at the car factories, for example, are never coming back  (*2).  While gay marriage and the non-white populations will continue to grow.

While of course there is a big racial element in Barack Obama’s becoming such a prime target of dislike, even hate, it is only one part of an image of “the other than ourselves” cemented by foreign and socialist caricatures which provide more acceptable reasons to reject him.

He symbolizes a world changing at break neck speed from the much slower, simpler America many of us grew up in.   These newest of rebels don’t want to secede from the United States, they want to secede from the 21st century.  At times I have such cravings myself, but I don’t blame Barack Obama for it all.

Seceding from the union, even if it were to be allowed, won’t counteract these changing times, especially for you and your carwash Mr. Belcher.

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(*1)  What has made this all possible was the White House having a “We the People” response section on their web site.   It is one more example of the law of unintended consequences.

(*2)  While American manufacturing is coming back, many of its jobs are not according to a recent world study:   “Manufacturing contributed 20 percent of the growth in global economic output in the decade ending in 2010, the McKinsey researchers estimate, and 37 percent of global productivity growth from 1995 to 2005. Yet the sector actually subtracted 24 percent from employment in advanced nations.”

Libya: A Political Moment that Shouldn’t Be

The general consensus of media pundits is that Obama won Tuesday’s debate, albeit narrowly.   Again we are  talking about rhetoric and style with only a tangential relationship to substance, i. e. Obama is judged to have thrust and parried a bit better than Romney, and much better than in the first debate where he barely lifted his sword.

English: map of Libya with Shabiat Banghazi hi...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a sports fan, I have to say I’m a little excited about the rubber match to be fought this Monday over the issues of foreign policy.  But as a citizen, when I regain my sanity and see clearly the chasm between the pretense and reality, I think I belong in a rubber room.   All of us do who find the race exciting, like playing fantasy football.  Except it is more our version of the Hunger Games.

The problem with making the Monday debate really interesting is that by most accounts, Romney’s foreign policy is not much different than Obama’s.  The primary difference is his asserting he will just handle it all better.  And in the process his strategy will be to show how Obama has come up short.

As the patron saint of Wisconsin, Vince Lombardi, put it decades ago:  “Winning is not everything; it’s the only thing.”  True of football back then in Green Bay;  even more true of this presidential election.  This morning I heard Chuck Todd, an MSNBC analyst, articulate what we all know.  “This campaign is ugly and over the next 18 days it will become uglier.”

It is against this backdrop that the issue of the four American deaths in Libya has become a powerful campaign tool for the Republicans, probably viewed by some fundamentalists as a gift from God.    I flicked to FOX news several times yesterday and almost every time they were talking about Libya and what the Obama administration  knew when and what they did about it and what they covered up.

Ambassador Chris Stevens father said several days ago that it would be “horrendous” if the death of his son and three other Americans would become politicized.   Sorry Mr. Stevens, but this presidential campaign is being fought as if it were to the death, and the death of your son is like blood in the water to Republican sharks.   For them, he and the three others make wonderful symbols to contradict the Obama claim that al Queda has been steadily weakened and to show that the Obama team has not done enough to aid the development of democracies in Egypt and Libya (never mind that some other Republicans argue we should have strongly backed Mubarak our long time ally, and a few argue that it was even wrong to help topple Gaddafi as well, who had been our ally of sorts for awhile).

Granted the Obama administration hasn’t handled the news about the Benghazi killings well and their earlier stances about a spontaneous demonstration  seem wishful thinking, some cherry picking between different reports.   But let’s remember the situation in Benghazi is chaotic (it took three weeks for the FBI to feel it was safe enough to go investigate the consulate) while both campaigns have war rooms looking for every weakness in the “enemy” that they can turn to strategic advantage.   The Obama administration was not eager to reveal anything the Republicans could use.  Do you think it would have gone down any differently if the roles had been reversed?

Let’s also remember that Republicans like  Darrell Issa and Jason Chaffetz, who feigned outrage at the lack of security have voted several times to reduce the state department’s budget over the years, especially in the area of foreign security.   They remind me of the police prefect in that ancient movie Casablanca who was” shocked” to discover gambling taking place at Rick’s casino while someone discreetly hands him his winnings for the day.  Though in this case the hypocrisy is not humorous but galling.

What happened and why regarding those deaths in Libya is complex and will take time to sort out, but in the meantime Republicans will make it very simple for all of us:  the Obama administration has its head in the sand regarding al Queda and should have protected those Americans, an example of Obama policy failure writ large.  (FOX is more than willing to “help” in the sorting with a special investigative report this evening).

Kathleen Parker, somewhat right of center and one of my favorite columnists,  offers a much more balanced picture in a recent Washington Post editorial in which she gets to the heart of the real story in Libya:  “Stevens went to Benghazi knowing the risks and died in the service of his country, the people of Libya and the greater good. It is tragic, but it is war.”  

For now that’s the important point, not to rush to judgement on blame, but how brave our foreign service people can be  in chaotic, dangerous situations.  They see interacting with the local populace as vital to their work.   As such, to be so well protected as is our embassy in Iraq makes the foreign service people feel “incarcerated” as characterized by Daniel Server, a former diplomat.  In regards to Ambassador Stevens he has said:  “For our diplomats to do things right, it requires taking risks.  And Chris Stevens did things right.”

The bravery and commitment of Ambassador Chris Stevens,  computer expert Sean Smith and security contractors Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods is what should be focused upon, but don’t expect to see the tragedy play out that way Monday night.  If you are going to bother to watch.  I’m not.

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Those who want to delve more deeply into the complexity of the Benghazi attack should find interest in an article by Dan Murphy in the Christian Science Monitor Getting in on the Benghazi Blame Game.

Pre-Debate Pondering the Undecided’s

I’ll be curious to see how the debate goes tonight, especially since this will be in a town meeting format with the audience asking most of the questions, though moderator Candy Crowley will have the questions beforehand and select the ones to be used, and provide some follow-ups.

English: Pictography of Alfred E. Neuman used ...

Alfred E. Neuman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I hope you understand these debates are not about substance but style and rhetoric.  And, given the town meeting venue, how and where each candidate moves takes on importance.  Romney won the first debate because his debate performance was much better.  A point made by a number of pundits is that the Obama team had spent months trying to make Romney seem “unacceptable”, and that changed for many that night.   Romney looked like he’d make a good president.  And Obama was caught flat footed when  Mitt tacked sharply to the center saying things he had never said before (well, not for a long time at least).

I have heard various suggestions from cable pundits of what pose each candidate should strike tonight if they want to win, including one focus group suggestion that the winning pose is that of  “a good husband.”  David Frum mirrors that in a recent post when he suggests Mitt Romney work on his appearing “empathetic.”  You know, the opposite of the “I don’t care about the 47%” attitude.

I keep thinking about the undecided’s, and wonder what varieties they come in.   I have no idea what might tip each balance, either in this debate or on election day.  Since my last post I have  heard a poll estimates undecided’s as 12% rather than 5%.   Could the undecided’s actually be growing in number?  The numbers might be increasing from people who are not really undecided.   Instead, they have just decided they are sick of it all.   I know one reader who finds both camps  so disgusting that, as far as I know, he may decide not to vote.  How many undecided’s will make that decision?

Adding to the difficulty in understanding the undecided’s is what Nate Silver (a pollster’s pollster) calls  “the confusing polling landscape” in an Oct 14 post:   Even some of the decided’s seem to be deciding differently since the first debate, as Silver’s projected Nov 6 estimate of Obama’s winning the presidency is down to 63.3%, a big drop from the 80+% of a few weeks ago.

This past weekend I watched Melissa Harris-Perry, a cable political chat show on MSNBC that devoted a  segment to the issue of the “undecided’s”.    I was struck by what seemed likely futile attempts of most of the participants, especially Melissa, to make substance points for selecting Obama, as if that would sway any undecided voters at this point.

In an email she has probably not gotten around to read, I pointed to a recent Pew poll in which 48% of voters don’t even seem to know that Obama is a Christian, including 17% who thinks he’s a Muslim.  If nearly 50% of voters don’t know that much yet, how much swing can reason bring?

Also, what may sound reasonable is often wrong.  Or the poll is.  Another recent Pew poll cited in a column by Matt Miller indicates that older voters favor Romney over Obama 58% to 37%.    Say what?  Liberal commentators and Dem operatives have cemented the impression we old folks are a slam dunk for them, that the threat of a change in Medicare to a voucher system would turn us into gray panthers.  But that poll suggests many of us  are jumping ship instead?  Maybe we are not the one-issue segment the Dems think.   Or maybe some of us would like to actually see how the Obama team will save Medicare as opposed to how Romney will disfigure it.   Or maybe, being old, some of us got confused (not my fault, nobody asked me).  Or maybe anything….who knows?

When I start feeling very confused by it all I think of Ohio.  Unless there are some major surprises in voting elsewhere, it seems that as Ohio goes, so goes the nation.   The Republicans haven’t won a presidency without Ohio in their corner, and Obama has held a solid lead there for weeks in all the polls I’ve seen, though it seems more wobbly now.    Many Ohioans, employed in car-related businesses, benefited from the saving of GM and Chrysler and the state’s unemployment is around 7.2%, much lower than the national average.

No wonder both candidates (or their VP surrogates) seem to be visiting the state every other day, which after the election may prompt yet another round of debate about doing away with the Electoral College, so the rest of our votes would count as much as those in Ohio.

If Ohio winds up going for Romney, not only will I likely feel the need to avoid several people I’ve made wagers with, I will really be surprised.  And then, while I don’t want to do it, I’d encourage someone else to write a book maybe titled:  Who Were the Undecided’s and How Did They Decide the 2012 Presidential Election?

Laughin’ Joe and the Kid

I saw only the first one-third of the debate last night because I had a meeting to attend.  I taped the program, but will not bother to watch the rest.  I saw enough, and I have a pretty good idea of what I missed by watching some post debate coverage on both MSNBC and FOX, and from reading  several editorials today.

It seems that if you favored Biden and the Democrats, you liked his feisty  ways.  If you favored Ryan and the Republicans, you saw a”grinning, grimacing, condescending Joe,” as Carl Rove put it on FOX.  Chris Wallace said it was the most “openly, disrespectful” performance he had ever seen in a VP debate.   In contrast, someone on MSNBC called it a “superb performance” by Joe, maybe Chris Matthews, who gleefully added:  “This was a Joe Biden night.”

I imagine Biden did energize the Democrat base who have probably upped their orders on anti-depressants since Obama’s mail-it-in effort in the first debate, but I also imagine Republicans believe Ryan held his own – held serve, so to speak, for Romney in next week’s debate.

So, fine, both VP candidates found approval from their bases while dissed by the other side, but it is the undecided’s that interest me at this point, as indicated in my previous post.  I ponder:  Who are they and what are they waiting for?  How much swing do these swing voters have and will only a slight breeze be required to  push them in one direction or the other on Nov 6?  Or will they feel little wind at all and just stay at home or waft to the movies?

As with the last debate, Frank Luntz had a focus group of undecided’s on FOX, but unlike the other group, this time they seemed to end up decidely undecided.

As a piece in Newsmax.com stated:  “Some of the 26 interviewed by Luntz said they were put off by what they described as Vice President Joe Biden’s “condescending” and “disrespectful” attitude towards the younger Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.

Others in the group said they didn’t understand why Ryan couldn’t be more specific about how GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney intends to implement his “five-point” plan to get the economy back on track.”

In the end, the swing voters seemed to feel little wind in either direction. Another focus group of undecided voters on CNN split their votes evenly: 1/3 Biden, 1/3rd Ryan, 1/3rd Undecided. While that group seemed to feel small gusts in both directions, it still seems that Frank Luntz summarized the undecideds in general when he said: “We’re going to have to wait until next week’s debate [Oct. 16] to see when the undecided decide.

“One added thought. Though supportive of much what Joe Biden said, and not put off by his 82 interruptions as tallied by FOX (he needed to make up for Obama’s ennui), I was one of those put off by his frequent imitation of chuckles the clown.

I liked Biden better just listening to him on the radio en route to my meeting. One Democrat suggested those smirks and Cheshire cat grins were Joe showing outrage at the falsehoods spun by Ryan. I’d say most of us would think that is an odd way to show outrage. A serious demeanor and intense stare would have been less off putting to those capricious swing voters.

But, as we so often hear, Joe’s gonna’ be Joe.   And, all told, I doubt this debate will be much remembered by anyone by election day.

The Thrilla in Manila….er, Denver

Tomorrow night Barack Obama and Mitt Romney square off in their first of three debates. It is being played up like a heavy weight battle reminding me of one of the most famous, that won by Ali over Frazier in Manilla back in 1975, their third and last fight .   Both candidates have been in training camps verbally sparring with mock opponents, and the pundits have speculated on who needs the win more (Romney) and who has the most to lose (Obama), etc., etc.

Viewers might want to do some of their own fight preparation and, since the first half of the Wednesday debate deals with the economy, you might want to read a Monday column by Robert Samuelson:  The truth deficit from both campaigns.

As Samuelson points out:  “What defines this campaign, in part, is a yawning gap between the political rhetoric and the country’s budget problems.”  You know, such as the imminent fiscal cliff and the fact that neither side has devised a multi-year budget plan that really tackles the problem of our burgeoning national debt (I know, the Ryan plan supposedly does, but even in theory (dubious theory at that), it doesn’t balance the budget until, oh, about 28 years from now at best.  Maybe just in time for my 95th birthday.

The chart below projects our downward trajectory of  S. S. and Medicare debt if we do nothing to alter its course:

Medicare & Social Security Deficits Chart

The big unaddressed issue is that too many of us are beginning to retire and fall apart at about the same time.  As Samuelson puts it:  “As you know, the great driver here is the retirement of baby boomers. Between 2011 and 2025, the number of retirees on Social Security will grow by nearly 50 percent to 66 million people; Medicare experiences a similar rise. The resulting spending surge perpetuates huge budget deficits.”  (emphasis added)

Now I will be interested to see if host Jim Lehrer will come up with a question that prompts either candidate to address this issue.   Without tackling that and what it suggests about the need for both budget cuts and increased taxes (and not just on the richest among us), I envision the first half of the debate with both candidates playing rope-a-dope, only seeming to be fighting a real fight.

Oh, they will argue over the  issue of jobs, of course, but who really knows what either could get accomplished in that area given likely continued gridlock in Congress?   Since the economy is slowly picking up, that will produce more jobs in itself, regardless of who is President.   At least that seems a frequent prediction of late (the “fiscal cliff” might have a say about that, though)

Included in the second half of the debate will be the topic of government, and here I hope Jim Lehrer asks this question prompted by Matt Miller in a column:   “….ask the candidates if they are in favor of restoring majority rule in this country. In other words, ask them if they would urge the Senate to scrap the filibuster – and if not, how do they expect to get anything done?”

I will be surprised if either the burgeoning baby-boomer-budget-issue or that of the filibuster are even raised by Lehrer, but they should be since the former is our greatest budget challenge and the latter seems crucial to returning Congress to being a functioning body.

If either point is brought up, I will stop channel surfing and actually pay attention.

Jon Stewart’s Wit Helps the Medicine Go Down

English: President Barack Obama tapes an inter...

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While pondering which glum topic to touch upon today, I became inclined to write about the fact that President Obama had not met with a single foreign leader who visited New York this week for the United Nations General Assembly.   As described in Newsmax, this prompted criticisms and at least quizzical reactions from several quarters.

Add me to the list.  The fact that Obama made time to appear on The View accentuates the anomalous situation.   Meeting with foreign leaders is what  Presidents have generally done in situations like this.  Given the unrest in Egypt, for example, meeting the new President of that country seemed like a good idea in particular.

The White House has defended the decision with a “if you meet with one you have to meet with a lot of them” kind of logic (though in the past, Presidents have seemed capable of drawing a line).  They have also noted that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will have a number of bilateral meetings with leaders.

But it seems to me there is something important in having the “big guy” meet with at least a few of these leaders, especially when he finds time to appear on The View.    Despite all of our connective contraptions, or perhaps because of them, there is still something special about face to face meetings, especially with people you must deal with on important matters but haven’t met.   If this were not true, business executives would never bother to fly to meet each other.

President Obama has often been characterized as aloof and virtually incapable of schmoozing and if he is to become more successful with Congress this next term (assuming the world economy doesn’t  collapse by then, making Mitt decidedly more attractive as the Un-Obama) a more personal touch seems likely to be needed.   If he gets re-elected I’ll get back to this point in a later post.

Since beginning to write this post I ran across a clip from The Daily Show this past Tuesday, Sept 25.   In typical Jon Steward fashion he captures  the oddity of the Obama U. N. mini-appearance in a laugh-out-loud way, then follows it up by making fun of Mitt Romney’s lame campaign and ends with a serious  interview with King Abdullah II of Jordan.   The last part helps give some perspective on the Muslim/Arab world and the limits of U. S. power there.

For Romney supporters who cannot stomach more bashing of their candidate (even if in gest), you could go to the link above to see Obama bashed and then use this link to skip to the end segment interview with Abdullah which I think would be interesting to most.  You will have to endure a several second commercial there first, but aren’t we all used to that by now?

This is me reaching out to those to the right of me.