Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Behind the Conservative Mask

Many of today’s most outspoken conservatives are merely anti-liberals, people who wouldn‘t know a traditional conservative ideal if they stepped in it.


Over the last 20 years the political education of the blowhard wing of the Republican Party has come primarily by way of living within a talk radio echo chamber. They've learned to consider liberals as book-learned pansies who favor socialism … whatever that particular ism might be.

Millions of so-called conservatives are supporting former-Gov. Mitt Romney this year. Many of them aren't so keen on Romney. But since they see President Barack Obama as a flaming liberal, they can eagerly embrace Romney, the anti-liberal candidate. 

Legions of today’s conservatives have been taught by self-styled pundits to hate a government that wants to take their money and give it to foreigners and lazy people who deserve nothing. These Dittohead conservatives view those who favor such a forced redistribution of wealth -- tax-and-spend liberals! -- as their sworn enemies.  

Yet, when it came to financing collective endeavors, such as roads and schools, old fashioned conservatives, like Virginia's Sen. Harry F. Byrd, believed it was more prudent to tax than borrow. In the past, conservatives in Virginia supported the principle that government-backed banks should be extra careful with other people’s money.

At one time, American conservatives generally opposed risky military adventures overseas. Too many of today's trash-talking conservatives seem to believe the White House can and should decide who occupies the seats of power in lots of other countries.

Destroying nature in pursuit of profits does not conserve, it doesn‘t cherish and protect what was left to us. To a hedonist, squandering an inheritance might sound like fun. Still, it’s anything but conservative.

Saying the world was created in six days and that it is only 10,000 years old isn't as conservative as it is stubbornly ignorant. While it might be fun to pretend the Flintstones cartoons are documentaries, with dinosaurs and people living together, it's too bad some children are still being taught to ignore science.  

Conservatives on abortion?

Hey, it’s more totalitarian than it is conservative to insist women surrender their bodies over to the will of the government, with regard to pregnancies. When right-to-lifers seek to impose their religious beliefs about personhood on others that may seem conservative, because it harkens back to a God-fearing past. Others might call such throwback thinking simply Un-American. 

Likewise, fanning the dying embers of racism, in order to thwart a president’s reelection, is more backward than it is conservative. It's hardly about the future. Conservatism can't be anti-future.

A conservative used to have ideas. Conservative icon William F. Buckley didn't need to torture the truth to back up his ideas. There is no Buckley of today's Tea Party-driven conservative movement. Instead, we get smug spin doctors.

Behind their masks of conservatism, anti-liberals have more passion than ideas. This year their man is Romney. It doesn't matter so much what sort of temporary conservative he might be, this time around Romney is the candidate who is not a liberal ... and, of course, he's white.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Through an Endorsement Darkly

The Richmond Times-Dispatch has found its way to endorsing the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, for president. That news probably comes as no surprise to most of those familiar with the consistent tone and purpose of the Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial page over the last several decades. 

The editorial which was published on Sun., Oct. 28, begins this way:
The tone of the 2012 campaign might best be captured by the need to begin with an emphasis on what the Republican candidate will not do. Mitt Romney will not raise taxes on the middle class. He will not destroy Medicare. And he will not lie to the American people every time he opens his mouth.
The obvious implication being that Barack Obama has done/is doing these things. Of course, those thinly-veiled accusations have been borrowed from the most partisan of rightwing poppycock -- the sort of Obama-bashing rhetoric easily available on talk radio.

So, it’s hard to be persuaded by an essay that shyly parrots the sloganeering of hacks who laugh at the poor suckers who buy their brand of shinola.    

Later the same editorial says: 
In the service of accuracy, let's look at the generally straightforward proposals and philosophy espoused by Romney, who strikes us as both more earnest and more accomplished than your average presidential candidate.
Well, the newspaper isn’t exactly setting the bar all that high, when it comes to earnestness. Have you ever heard anyone say, "Yes, that's an earnest group of presidential hopefuls"?

OK, Romney, who oozes artificiality, does come off as somewhat more sincere than Herman Cain or Sarah Palin, but Romney is nowhere near as funny as either of them. And, almost anyone might be seen as more sincere than Newt Gingrich.

However, when someone tells me I should put a lot of trust in a person, because they are “generally straightforward,” I usually check to make sure I still have my wallet.

So, at this point I have to ask the author(s) of the piece, if they are so keen on Romney, why did they load it up with weasel words? So much so, the endorsement itself reeks of insincerity.

Seeing Romney as “accomplished,” is less of a stretch, in a generic sense. Yes, he has some noteworthy accomplishments. Whether one should take from his record in business and as governor that he would make a good president is debatable.

The notion that a high-powered businessman is what this country needs to turn around the economy can be supported by history. The last presidential candidate to run primarily on his wild success in business was Republican Herbert Hoover in 1928. The economy certainly did change directions during his one term in office. Cleaning up the mess that was the Great Depression took a few years for the Democrat who followed Hoover. 

With how Romney has shifted his positions, when he tries to obscure and explain away bothersome aspects about his business and political past -- no tax returns! Romneycare! abortion! -- there’s just no way the shape-shifting son of a governor inspires trust in a prudent person’s mind.

This endorsement is what anti-liberals and Obama-haters need to throw a cloak over the truth: They don’t like Romney, either, but they pray they can live with him ... easier than they did Bush II.

This sort of conservative philosophy is only about having the power. And, it’s backward. Which, in some ways, makes the choice for president on Election Day a matter of direction. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Horses, Bayonets and Maybe a Bad Clam

On Mon., Oct. 22, the third presidential debate took place on the Lynn University campus in Boca Raton, Florida. The topics covered were supposed to be about foreign policy.

Perhaps some Mitt Romney supporters would say otherwise, but I suspect it will be remembered as the Horses and Bayonets Debate. 

After each of his three debate moderator predecessors were lampooned for their performances, Bob Schieffer of CBS News did a solid job as the questioner and referee. He allowed both debaters to wander, which included forays into what sounded like domestic policy areas, but Schieffer eventually called time on them, to change subjects when it seemed appropriate.

As a 15-round boxing match, roughly with 15 questions, I scored it this way: Barack Obama won seven rounds, Romney won two rounds, with six rounds even.

The two instant polls I've looked at today found in Obama’s favor, too: CBS had it Obama 53 percent, Romney 23 percent; CNN had it Obama 48 percent, Romney 40 percent.

Romney landed some punches on Pakistan and future threats. But his decision to agree with so many of his opponent’s policies didn’t earn him better than a draw in too many rounds. Romney even broke some news, along those lines: He now supports the 2014 deadline for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. After all his previous criticism of the strategy of announcing an end date, who knew?

At times Romney looked decidedly uncomfortable, too, which is never a good thing in a presidential debate. In this category, Romney looked about as bad as Obama did in the first debate, but in a different way.

In Denver, Obama appeared passive and aloof. In Boca Raton, Romney looked like he had eaten a bad clam. 

Obama scored well on Libya, America’s role in the world, Israel, Iran, bin Laden and the auto industry. At times Obama schooled his opponent. For instance, when Romney chided Obama about the Navy having fewer ships than in World War I that’s when Obama lowered the boom:

“Governor,” said Obama, “we also have fewer horses and bayonets.”

Then the president went on to point out how the modern Navy’s capability hasn’t got much to do with having more or less ships than 95 years ago. In other words, comparing the power of nuclear submarines to WWI class battleships is strictly apples and oranges.

The exchange made Romney look particularly foolish. Obama obviously enjoyed twisting the bayonet. 

Obama stunned Romney when he brought up the president's “apology tour,” suggesting that Obama's popularity abroad is a sign of weakness. Obama promptly labeled that assertion the “biggest whopper” of the campaign. 

Which brought to mind the utter strangeness of modern Republican thinking that would have us believe that it’s a strength for an American president to be seen as arrogant and out of touch in as many countries as possible.

Maybe Romney went into this third debate scared of making a gaffe and believing he had a lead to protect. Because rather than hit back when Obama tagged him with sharp jabs, Romney complained about how his opponent was “attacking” him, rather than offering solutions.

Anyway, in several respects Romney was less forceful this time around. Whether it was according to plan or not, Obama was the more aggressive player in the last debate.

Whether winning the last debate will change any minds, at this late date, is debatable.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Obama 9, Romney 3, with 3 rounds even

On Tues., Oct. 16, the second presidential debate took place on the Hofstra University campus in Hempstead, N.Y. It will likely be remembered for the tense confrontation over Libya, when both the Republican Mitt Romney and the Democrat Barack Obama plainly revealed what scant admiration they have for one another.

Both men were well aware they could not allow the viewing audience to perceive from their words or demeanor that they were being dominated by the other guy. At times that prickly aspect of the hour-and-a-half of questioning, answering and posturing put the moderator, Candy Crowley, in a position something like that of a put upon referee for an athletic competition. 

Depending on one’s point of view, Crowley either did a good job with a tough assignment, or the CNN political reporter overstepped her bounds as moderator.

As a 15-round boxing match, roughly with 15 questions, I had it scored with Obama winning nine rounds, Romney winning three rounds, with three rounds even.

The instant polls I've seen today found in Obama’s favor, too: Reuters had it Obama 48 percent, Romney 33 percent; CBS had it Obama 37 percent, Romney 30 percent; CNN had it Obama 46 percent, Romney 39 percent.

The debate’s noteworthy Libya moment had Romney saying Obama and his administration waited a couple of weeks to label the killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans on Tues., Sept. 11, as a terrorist act.

Obama pounced on the opportunity and corrected Romney. In his defense Obama pointed to his own comments on the day after the incident: “The United States condemns in the strongest terms this outrageous and shocking attack ... no acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation."

Nonetheless, Romney challenged the veracity of his opponent and then Crowley spoke up to say the president was right about what he had said, even if at the time there was still considerable confusion about actually happened in Benghazi.

Obama also bristled at Romney’s suggestion that politics somehow had played into the scenario, and he chastised the former Massachusetts governor that it was “offensive” for him to make such insinuations.

Romney never explained why it is so important for the White House to rush to label every act of violence in the world as terrorism, or something else, before all the facts have been studied.

Both candidates ducked some questions. Both candidates milled around uncomfortably on their feet. At times the stage didn’t seem big enough for both of them.

Romney’s best moments were spent talking about the need to create more jobs, energy policy and tax cuts.

Obama’s best moments were spent talking about saving the automobile industry, equality for women in the workplace and foreign policy.

Complaining about how bad the refs were is what sports fans who are disappointed with the results of a game do. The fans of the winners of the game don't usually have much to say about referees.    

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Biden, 8 to 3, with 4 even

Two debates down, with two to go. We’re halfway through a process, an aspect of the campaign being covered this year with an unprecedented breathlessness by the press.

No doubt, most Republicans liked the way the Oct. 3 presidential debate went in Denver. Mitt Romney’s focused salesmanship played better on the television screen than Barack Obama’s studied nonchalance.

Democrats seemed to be happier about how the vice presidential debate unfolded in Danville on Oct. 11. Joe Biden’s repeated schooling of Paul Ryan eventually made the younger man look uncomfortable.  

So, if the debates are to be seen in a sporting context, Romney won his match-up with Obama. Then Biden defeated Ryan, although perhaps less decisively so. The shrill complaints voiced by spokespersons for both parties, immediately after the debate they thought they lost, have been either annoying or comical, depending on your point of view.  

History tells us similar debates have proven to be significant factors in some presidential races, not so much in others. Still, by putting the debates in such a broad context, it can inspire complaints. One reader, in particular, chided me about my analysis of the first debate, because I didn‘t judge it as an event, all to itself ... like a game with a final score.

So, what follows about Ryan vs. Biden is being written with that helpful reader’s criticism in mind. I suppose I should mention he is a lawyer.

As I watched the Veep debate I took notes and scored it as I might a boxing match. Although the moderator, Martha Raddatz, said at the onset there would be nine questions, I ended up with what seemed to be 15 questions. By the way, I have to say she did her tricky job reasonably well.

My scorecard had it this way: On eight questions Biden did better. On three questions Ryan did better. On four questions they tied. So, if it was a 15-round boxing match, I judged Biden the winner by eight to three, with four rounds even.

Neither man was seriously stunned or knocked off of his feet by the other. In general, I have to say the efforts of both debaters probably pleased their partisan backers. I'd like to think an undecided, unbiased voter would judge the match similarly to how I did, but I really don't know many undecideds. So I'm just guessing about that.    

With the first question about Libya, Ryan opened with a stiff jab and did better than did Biden. When the discussion moved on to Iran, the Democrat seized the moment to cast a telling light on Ryan’s rather shallow understanding of a dangerously complicated situation.

The Republican tried to recover by talking about how the minds of Ayatollahs need to be changed. It only made him look more naïve.

Naturally, Biden was happy to mix it up over the automobile industry's escape from what seemed to have been doom in 2009. After being reminded of his running mate's famous line, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," Ryan was not able to get off the ropes.

Biden was slightly more effective than Ryan when talking about Medicare and Social Security, but he missed his opportunity to land punches on taxes and loopholes. Ryan scored during the tax cuts round.

It was on Afghanistan and Syria that Ryan looked most uncomfortable.

Religion and abortion were next on Raddatz's list of questions and Biden handled them both better, with Ryan still trying to gather himself from body punches he had absorbed to do with Romney's ambiguous positions on foreign policy and how to use armed forces.

The question about what each of them have to offer the country that is unique was too off-the-wall to risk improvisation, so neither landed a good punch. Then neither of them said much to change minds with their closing remarks.

Much has been made by Ryan’s supporters of Biden’s smiles and interruptions. Yet, as debates go, this one didn’t strike me as particularly uncivil. Both debaters used tactics designed to needle his opponent.

Dwelling on that picky aspect of it is for people who thought their man lost. It’s like old Finley Peter Dunne used to say, “Politics ain’t beanbag.”

The next 90-minute debate, to be staged on the Hoftra University campus in Hempstead -- Romney vs. Obama II -- will be broadcast live on C-SPAN and many other channels at 9 p.m. on Tues., Oct. 16. You can keep score for yourself, it doesn’t cost a penny extra.  

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Monday, October 8, 2012

All Shook Up

On March 21, when Mitt Romney’s communications director, Eric Fehrnstrom, told us via CNN, just how his candidate would campaign in October, many observers laughed. A lot of people, especially Democrats, saw that quip as a gaffe.

“Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign,” Fehrnstrom said. “Everything changes. It's almost like an Etch-A- Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again.”

Much to the delight of the press, in the course of the first presidential debate Romney shook it up.

In doing so, Romney pivoted toward the center, much as Fehrnstrom told us he would. To his credit, Romney’s salesmanship of his new talking points was on the money. Post-debate polls suggest some undecided voters may have bought what he was selling. Maybe that's true, for the time being. What his salesmanship surely did was stoke Republicans' enthusiasm.

On the other hand, Barack Obama’s presentation was lackluster, at best. Whether he was flabbergasted by his opponent’s sudden changes in his positions, or he and his strategists had decided in advance not to attack Romney -- either way -- the president’s performance didn’t serve his cause.

The Romney from the Republican debates and the campaign trail was not much in evidence in Denver. October's Romney didn’t try to bet Obama $10,000. This time Romney didn't say: “No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate.” He didn’t say: “I like being able to fire people.” He didn’t say: “Corporations are people, my friend … of course they are.” And, he certainly didn’t say: “I was a severely conservative Republican governor.”

But a condescending Romney stood behind a podium, faced Obama and did say: “Look, I have five boys, I'm used to people saying something that isn't always true and keep on saying it hoping ultimately I will believe it.”

After Romney’s debate-winning, Etch-A-Sketching denial of his longstanding tax plan and much of what he had been repeating on the campaign trail for months, we know more about how his five sons came by their penchant for telling lies.

Romney’s debate strategy was a gamble aimed at undecided voters. It had two prongs: Romney figured the ultra conservatives now have nowhere else to go, so they won‘t abandon him for abruptly changing a few positions at this late date. Secondly, he figured most undecided voters haven’t been paying much attention, so they wouldn’t notice that he was flip-flopping, once again.

Moreover, the day after the debate, Romney guessed that undecideds wouldn’t care so much if Democrats and left-leaning pundits call him out on his latest flip-flopping episode, because to the undecideds it would sound like more boring spin doctor noise ... like, so what? 

Romney couldn’t have counted on Obama’s passiveness on stage in Denver. That must have been a welcomed bonus. But it was one debate. If Obama repeats that same bemused reaction to what Romney says on stage on October 16 in Hempstead, N.Y., then the president’s bid for reelection will be in a lot more trouble than it is today.

Romney has now demonstrated he is a good salesman. For the time being, he has halted what had the appearance of a death spiral. We already knew Obama is a good writer, which has been largely responsible for his wordsmith reputation. Before October runs its course, we'll have a better idea which candidate is actually the better debater.

On Election Day, November 6, we'll find out how much that matters to all the eligible voters who vote.

-- Words and art by F.T. Rea

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Oct. 3 Debate Analysis

Political campaigns are often likened to horse races, or boxing matches, or poker games. Any of them could be useful today as a handy device to characterize last night’s presidential debate as a chapter in the story of the 2012 presidential contest.

Whatever metaphor you prefer, you have to remember that winning a debate is not the ultimate goal. Winning the election is.

However, in the debate in Denver, Mitt Romney was facing a mission quite different from that of his opponent. After a summer of stumbles and gaffes that concluded with a convention that fizzled, in September Romney’s campaign looked to be falling into a circling pattern indicative of a death spiral. The recent release of his telling 47 percent tape only tightened the nose-diving spiral.

In desperation, on October 3rd Romney knew he had to do something to change the momentum. He had to take a big chance with some freshly scripted lines ... perhaps pivoting-to-the-middle lines that could outrage his most strident Tea Party backers.

In contrast, Barack Obama's mission was to avoid making a big mistake by falling for a gambit.

As it played out last night, Romney obviously wanted to tie Obama up with calling out his Etch-A-Sketch lies, which would have left little time for anything else. Romney wanted to force Obama to call him a liar, or a flip-flopper. Obama was smart not to take the bait that could have made him look like a scolding negative campaigner.

Instead, Obama played the game like a guy who was way ahead on points, and would be content to let the Thursday morning quarterbacks and outraged pundits do the fact-checking and hyperventilating.

That Obama allowed his opponent to be the aggressor and perhaps breathe new life into his campaign was disappointing to many Democrats. Notably, MSNBC’s primetime roster of lefty pundits acted like they had been abruptly jilted, left alone and in tears at the alter.

If Romney wins the election, no doubt, his miracle comeback will be traced back to winning the first presidential debate. If he loses, the bad reviews of Obama's performance will rate no more than a short paragraph in the history of the Romney vs. Obama horse race across the nation's metaphorical countryside.

Satisfying all the Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow fans who expected to see Romney’s ears get pinned back was not a priority for the front-running incumbent. It's not important to the president whether cable news channels get the ratings-enhancing, nose-to-nose horse race they crave.

Obama is smart enough to know he doesn't have to say everything that ought to be said about Romney's tactics. That will become more obvious in the days ahead.

If this was a championship boxing match Obama had a comfortable lead and Romney needed an 11th- or 12th-round knockout to win. Last night was not a knock out.

So, Democrats who are worried about the sky falling should take a dose of whatever medicine they use to soothe their roiling anxiety. And, they should stand aside to let the Republicans crow and strut their premature jubilation. After all, politics-wise, it's the first good day they've had in a while.    

If it was a large-stakes poker game, Obama deliberately lost a hand with a small pot, in order to set up a chump for a subsequent hand, when all the chips will be on the line.

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