Eli's Observations

Month: June, 2012

You Want Morals With That?

The Tea Potters’ sweeping attacks on government remind me of earlier political clichés: “Where’s the beef?” Some critics now call the Tea Potters all sizzle and no steak. That flatters them. Their rages don’t sizzle, they just sputter, like a smoking fat fire in a fast food kitchen. No ideas, just noise.

But in politics, the customer wants to know a little about his burger. What’s in this fun meal for him? Not long ago, people were expected to vote their economic interests, not their moral beliefs. Has that changed? Many vocal Tea Potheads say it has, thanks to technology.

In the second half of the 20th Century, our voting patterns did show signs of change. The “Reagan democrats” were an early harbinger of a real shift. Reagan was elected in spite of his “trickle down” economic theories. He was an actor who arrived on the scene just in time for television. Many “blue collar” voters liked Reagan and voted for him.

Business leaders in America already had years of experience in using television to sell everything from cars to coffee to canned soup. This was mass marketing and the GOP was the first to apply it to candidates and political issues. The internet, seen by people as a merchandising tool, was spotted by others as an “aggregator.”

One of those smarter, political types was Lee Atwater. Atwater saw a way to bunch voters and aim messages at them, indentifying their biases, resentments and fears. Tailoring ads to these biases (especially in the South) allowed Republicans to fan the flames of resentment against Democrats. These ads especially played to civil rights issues, rights for women, and other social conflicts.

The technology for aggregating voters turned out to be a genie that the Republicans couldn’t put back in the bottle. The Party had always exploited social and moral issues to win elections. But now, were confronted with people who actually believed that their stand on those issues was morally right.

The internet is also an amplifier for people determined to be heard. True believers had much more impact than your old-style Republican activist combined with the new Super Pac billionaires. They have now driven our political conversation far to the right.

So far, this moral minority has had more success driving moderates out of the GOP (Bennett of Utah, Lugar of Indiana, Snowe of Maine.) Where the race is more local than in one congressional district, the Moral Mouseketeers haven’t been electing people. They’ve done better in some state-wide elections.

During the Iowa caucuses earlier this year, I wrote in my blog that these vehemently virtuous groups were “splinters.” I still believe that, but the GOP should always remember that stepping on a splinter can be very painful.

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Independent? Not So Much.

All of the talking heads who cover politics spend a lot of time talking about the Independent vote. Some of us are not sure what that means. Most Americans love the word independence. We started out with s Declaration of Independence. We generally envy people of “independent means” and, of course, nobody wants to be dependent. But in politics, especially national politics, the only real alternative for an Independent is Democrat or Republican or “Throwaway.”

The Independent can stomp his or her feet in frustration and say “no, no, no. I don’t accept that as a choice!” But come election time a choice still gets made, only without you. And worse yet, every Independent who bows out of the whole political process inadvertently doubles the voter impact of someone who may not be your cup of tea (pun intended!)

Of course, there are third parties in our history. We’ve had Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose party, and the Farmer-Labor party and we’ve even had Socialists and Communists on the ballot once or twice. They all lost by very wide margins.

We’ve had charismatic single-issue dark horses: Huey Long, George Wallace and Ross Perot, all of whom lost. At least they were interesting. The rest are simply spoilers.

The best example of a spoiler is that tireless (and tiresome) egomaniac Ralph Nader. He has never come remotely close to carrying a single state but he probably siphoned off just enough votes in Florida to give that state to George W. Bush. We all know how well that turned out.

We realize that many Independents are simply people of conscience who can’t seem to find a way to express their views. But there are also the Slackers who are too intellectually lazy to do the hard work of sorting through the issues. There are also more than a few Snobs who find the current political process just too contemptible, especially some of the candidates. Finally, there are some Refuseniks who see not voting as a meaningful protest. Dream on.

If any citizen wants to be a part of a throw-away-your-vote movement, he or she runs the risk of giving it to some nitwit. That’s any citizen’s privilege. But they won’t get much sympathy from the rest of us if the person who comes out on the Inaugural platform in January is someone they consider totally unfit. “Hail to the Chief!” That person got your vote even if you didn’t vote.

McConnellcare

When Stephen Sondheim wrote “You Gotta Have a Gimmick,” the song was about strippers but it applies universally to efforts to get public attention. Acronyms are especially good!

For years the poor old ASPCA struggled to get our attention but ASPCA was an awkward mouthful. Along came PETA and presto! And everyone was talking about animal rights.

Medicare was a wonderful program from its inception (except to the Republicans who almost all voted against it.) The name Medicare was perfect, and most people loved the program and still do.

But the GOP couldn’t stop hating it and anytime a modification came up in Congress, they would try to turn the word Medicare into something bad. In the Clinton years, they used Hillarycare to defeat the (then) First Lady’s ambitious effort at health care reform. The right wing’s obsessive hatred of President Obama has focussed on his name. (‘Goldurnit, an Amurican President oughter have a real Amurican name like Bush or McCain!’) When the President’s Affordable Health Care Act became law, expanding access to health care to 30 million Americans, the Tea Baggies found a perfect acronym: Obamacare!

The press, typically lazy, found the new acronym easy to use and it became common for people in favor of the Act to call it Obamacare.

Since then, Obamacare has become a GOP mantra, repeated mindlessly. If parrots could vote I’m sure they’d be Republicans: “Obamacare! Pretty bluebird! Obamacare! Pretty bluebird!”

When former Governor Mitt Romney was caught having enacted a reasonable health care bill for Massachusetts, the right wing jumped all over it and he’s been trying to avoid “Romneycare” ever since.

The health care debate will continue, but with Romney hiding, the Republican voice of it will become Senator Mitch (one track mind) McConnell. As he never tires of telling us, he’ll block any action in Congress at all to make sure President Obama isn’t re-elected.

Invest in education? McC0nnell doesn’t care. Create more jobs in America? He doesn’t care. Rebuild bridges and roads? Absolutely doesn’t care.

Energy independence? He — you guessed — doesn’t care.

About 50% of Americans now have no health insurance. That’s McConnellcare in action. Of course, Mitch’s Congressional gang are all signed up with first-rate federal health insurance. Guess how many opted out of their plan for McConnellcare? Does the word zero come to mind? The GOP may not know it, but they’ve offered us quite a choice: Obamacare or We Don’t Care!

“Richard’s Himself Again”

Richard Cheney is back! Bush’s former Vice President, who has had more brushes with death than an undertaker, is once again scuttling in the shadows of American politics.

Thanks to Shakespeare, “Richard” has always been synonymous in my mind with villainy. You may remember Richard’s opening soliloquy: “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York.” The “son” was the King of England standing in the way of Richard’s ascent to the throne. (Can’t you just see our own Richard C. scowling as he spoke that line?) The son is a play on sun. The Elizabethans, drunk with the burgeoning English language, were incessant punimaniacs.

Dick Cheney had no such flair for language, nor any sense of humor, but he did know a good image when he saw one. Remember “smoking gun?” Richard C. likes images of war. In fact enjoys starting wars. And so, he’s at it again. Last time, he was the President’s puppet-master. This time, Chemey is out to de-throne President Obama before he ruins us all! Obama’s sin is trying to disengage the United States from two ruinous and useless wars and instead lead by skill rather than by military might.

Still working in the shadows, Richard C. has assembled a strong group of neo-cons who might more properly be called neo-nitwits. They have no grasp of the world around us, prominent among them is Rummy (Donald Rumsfeld) and Wolfie (Wolfowitz), those strategists who couldn’t tell Saddam Hussein’s missiles from a pile of pipes.

To show that they’re up to date, Rummy and John (Boots on the Ground) McCain want us to establish a Syrian no-fly zone. Unless they’re talking about insects, they should know that Syria is not Libya. Assad’s Syria has a good air defense system. (Gaddafi seemingly had nothing more in the way of air defense than a wonderful collection of giant kites with his picture painted on them.)

Boots McCain also wants to cordon off key land areas in Syria to allow us to ship weapons to the rebels. They are an unidentified group who look a lot like clean-shaven al-Qaeda. Senator McCain, it must be wonderful for you living back in the 1950s!

Some people accuse Cheney of being a war-lover. This is not fair! He did register for the draft. During the Vietnam war, when young men were being drafted and U.S. casualties were high, Richard C. secured two draft deferments — no, wait! Two deferments — that was Mitt Romney. Richard the Chicken-hearted had at least four deferments.

It would be nice if this story had a dramatic ending at the Battle of Bosworth Field, with Cheney lying gravely wounded on an Afghan sand pile, crying “a Drone! A Drone! My kingdom for a Drone!” But the U.S. is not a kingdom and our foreign policy is decided by our elected leaders, not by someone like Darth Cheney.

The OMG Nation

A recent visitor from Europe was asked to compare political discourse in the U.S. with the way it’s practiced at home. He said the thing that struck him most was the way God is dragged into every civic and political event. Not so, in Europe.

At first, I thought this was another jab by a foreigner eager to feel superior. But let’s face it: woe be it to any U.S. politician who doesn’t end every speech with “And God bless the United States of America!” Does this mean we’re a nation of chronic sneezers, or is it a sincere expression of love for this country?

We’ve always had a fair amount of God printed and sculpted on currency, coins and many of our monuments and public buildings. Many decades ago, “Under God” was inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance.” Next to “Coke,” the most heavily promoted word today is probably “God.”

In a pluralistic nation of Protestants, Catholics and Jews, Moslems, Mormons and non-believers, religious distinctions were usually muted and most public references to G-d were non-sectarian. Not any more! Jesus is a growing popular image, hence the title “Jesus Christ Superstar.” This popularity often sharpens the differences between Americans.

Some would say these labels are the new “wedge” issue in today’s politics. A growing number of those who practice divisive politics insist that America should identify itself as a “Christian nation” and should openly question candidates’ religious beliefs as a litmus test for serving in public office. Abortion, birth control, sex education, same-sex marriage and a lot of seemingly private and personal practices are now “qualifications” for election to office in this country.

Ministers (especially in the South) feel free to endorse candidates, to oppose legislation and to admonish parish members from the pulpit that those with different views are defying God’s will!

It’s surprising that people whose ancestors came to America to escape religious oppression don’t see the slippery slope they’re pushing us toward. As they see it, they’re just spreading the word that God has entrusted to them. Remember “the Devil made me do it?” Now God gets the blame for the mean-spirited ignorance of any angry minority.

It’s an election year and we desperately need to begin to find solutions to real problems, starting with our huge financial deficit. Our educational system lags far behind most of the countries competing with us in the global marketplace. Our political system is held together by bombast and bribes: big bribes for the wealthy, little safety net bribes for our diminishing middle class.

For “bombast,” consider our constant self-congratulation (“we’re number one! We’re number one!”) and the assumption that the world better listen to us. They won’t and they shouldn’t. Increasingly, our internationalist foreign policy is seen as one backed by a military force we can no longer afford. Did I forget to mention we have no effective policy for dealing with nuclear weapons in Pakistan, North Korea and Iran?

What would Jesus do if he were the next American president? No disrespect intended and I don’t have one of those direct lines to Him like all those True Believers. Still, I would hazard a guess that if Christ were to look around this country today, He might just say “OMG!” and decide to emigrate.