Monthly Archives: November 2014

UNCIVIL DISCOURSE

The Friday after the mid-term elections two weeks ago, Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders, i.e. the guys who will be running the show when the new Congress convenes in January, met in the White House with President Obama to hammer out an agenda that both sides could agree to, that would actually benefit the American people. It was supposedly a show of good will that both Democrats and Republicans could work together for the two remaining years of the Obama Administration, to produce needed legislation to better the lives of most Americans. After all, isn’t that what they were sent there to accomplish in the first place. Well, obviously not, as evidenced by the fact that both parties were at each others throats, about 30 seconds after this new “era of goodwill” began. So much for legislative productivity.

It all started over the issue of “amnesty” for illegal aliens. There are an estimated 11-12 million undocumented people who have supposedly entered the U.S. through illegal means. Almost all are from Latin America. Of course, I don’t understand how this figure was arrived, since almost all illegals maintain a very low profile, and go to great lengths to avoid being counted in the first place. Nevertheless, this is this figure that’s usually bandied about. Many have been in the U.S. for 20 or 30 or even 40 years or longer, generally living in the shadows. They usually don’t pay taxes, vote, or have a drivers license; and most live in constant fear of being rounded up and deported back to whence they came from. To address this rather deplorable state of affairs for both U.S. citizen and non-citizen alike, the Senate in 2013, passed legislation that would strengthen border security, but would also provide a pathway to legality and eventual citizenship for most illegals that didn’t have a criminal record. This legislation was sponsored by Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida whose parents had immigrated here legally from Cuba. One would have thought that with Republican sponsorship of this act in the Senate, it would have been a slam-dunk for passage in the GOP controlled House. Instead just the opposite was true. Where would the fun be if the House just went along with the Senate. Why, there might even be a slight dissipation in the hyper-partisanship, dysfunction and polarization that so engulfs Washington these days. Couldn’t have that.

The right-wing lunatic fringe of the GOP began bellowing that this act was nothing more than amnesty for illegals; and besides, if they received such amnesty, they would most likely vote Democratic. Perish the thought. House Speaker John Boehner didn’t have the courage to override the protests from the Tea-Party crackpots in his own party, and, thus, didn’t allow the Senate bill to come to the House floor for a vote. If he had, the votes were there  to secure passage. Rush Limbaugh, and all the other right-wing whackos on talk radio (that I wrote about last time) kept screaming about amnesty as if this was an awful thing. As we all know, the connotations surrounding the word “amnesty” used to be that of generosity of spirit, forgiveness, providing shelter for the persecuted, being a benefactor, and establishing a safe harbor for those most in need, etc. However, in right-wing looney-tunesville, amnesty became something ugly, to be despised and feared. Thus, nothing has been achieved in the past 2 years concerning the plight of illegal aliens in the U.S.

Hence, after that supposedly goodwill meeting between Republicans and Democrats that I discussed at the outset, President Obama declared that if Congress failed to act on the immigration issue, as apparently it will, he was going to issue an executive order that would, in effect, provide “amnesty” for several million illegals. Oh noooo, not “amnesty.” It was like waving a red flag in front of a charging bull. Or in this case, an elephant. Speaker Boehner quickly mounted the dais to announce that Obama could expect a rather unpleasant visit from 2 GOP enforcers named Tiny and Knuckles, if he did undertake such unilateral action. Tiny got his name because he’s 6ft.9 and weighs 380 pounds. Knuckles got his name because he likes to use brass knuckles when whaling on his victims. If they showed up at the White House, things would definitely not go well for Obama. Okay, so maybe Boehner did not use that exact verbiage, but the sentiment was clearly evident. With an executive order from the President due out almost within the hour, Republicans are furiously plotting counter-strategies. Some are talking about impeaching Obama, while others are focusing on shutting down the Government.

Now, it should be noted that Obama gets down on his knees every night before bedtime, and prays to God that the Republican Congress will initiate impeachment actions against him. Nothing would rescue his dismal approval ratings faster than having the Republican Party initiate impeachment against the first African-American president of the U.S. One only has to go back to the late 1990s, when a Republican Congress tried to impeach Bill Clinton, who also had low approval ratings at the time because of the Monica Lewinsky fiasco; to see how well that strategy worked out for the GOP. Once impeachment proceedings got underway, the public recognized them for the ultimate in bullying tactics; and Clinton’s low approval ratings suddenly began to soar. The formerly disgraced President became a conquering hero; especially at the 2008 and 2012 Democratic conventions, where he played a major role in getting Obama elected President.

Assuming that the GOP is not stupid enough to make the same glaring mistake twice; the next best thing for Obama would be if they shut down the Government. The Republicans would be sure to feel the heat for such action. After all, they have been publicly advocating for such a shutdown. The trouble is, that even people that have great antipathy toward a variety of Government actions, (or non-actions as the case may be) usually are opposed, nonetheless, to Government shutdowns. So after all the sound and fury of Obama granting amnesty to illegals starts to wear thin, a shutdown might not occur either. However, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Obama receiving a very unpleasant visit from Tiny and Knuckles.

 

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FAKING SINCERITY

To appreciate the full ramifications of the Republican sweep of last Tuesday’s election, one has to explore various and complicated aspects of the human condition.  For example, as I wrote previously, the election results in most cases were decided by the people who didn’t vote, versus those that did. About 45% of eligible voters did cast their ballots, which is actually slightly higher than most off-year elections. But a solid majority of eligibles couldn’t be bothered to show up at the ballot station, or couldn’t care less about who won. Supposedly, most of those that did vote were turned off by Obama Administration and Democratic ineptitude and failures, and that prompted a fairly strong turn-out for the Republican cause. This was best illustrated in the state of Virginia, where Democratic Senator Mark Warner was supposed to have coasted to an easy re-election win over a Republican hack named Ed Gillespie. Instead the election was a nail-biter through the entire evening with Gillespie leading most of the time. Warner finally edged out a win by the skin of his teeth in the early morning hours. The reason for Warner’s near loss- people in southern Virginia were motivated to turn out in heavy numbers to vote Republican as a protest against Obama; while Democratic strongholds in northern Virginia saw meager numbers of voters at the polling booths. Ironically, people that benefit most from Government assistance, such as the poor, the sick, and the unemployed, tend to vote in light numbers, while those opposed to Government redistribution vote much more heavily. Also, young voters who generally are more liberal tend not to show up at the polls, while oldsters, like myself, who are usually more conservative, will vote in heavier numbers, even in off-year elections. What else do they have to do with their time.

Then, there’s the way candidates appeal to the voting public, as a crucial factor. In 1946, both Jack Kennedy and Richard Nixon had returned home from fighting in WWII, and both were elected to Congress that year. In Kennedy’s case, it was part of family tradition to run for high public office. But in Nixon’s case, no political aspirations were initially in evidence. Not until a group of wealthy businessmen from southern California approached him, and said they liked his style and that he should consider entering the political arena. They, the businessmen, would provide the necessary financial support for such an effort. Nixon was grilled on variety of issues to ensure that his views were sufficiently conservative to suit the businessmen’s interests. But most of all, Nixon was told, to become a viable candidate, he had to appear thoroughly sincere in belief of the issues he would be promoting. “Well, hell,” replied Nixon. “I can fake that; at least as well as the next guy, if not better.” Since I wasn’t at that meeting, perhaps the exchange of verbiage didn’t go down in exactly those words. But I’m pretty sure that it was very close to that. Nixon was so good at faking his sincerity, that he would go on to be elected Congressman and then Senator from California. Next he was chosen to be Eisenhower’s running mate in the 1950s. From there, after some political setbacks, Nixon was elected to the Presidency in 1968. He made huge accomplishments as President; but was eventually done in and disgraced by his own paranoia during the Watergate scandal, which forced him to resign the Presidency. Faking the sincerity factor no longer worked for him.

Another good example of the fickleness of the average American’s political thought-proceesses also occurred during the tumultuous 1960s. In 1968, America had already been devastated by the assassinations of two leaders of monumental consequence, namely, John Kennedy and Martin Luther King. In 1968, Robert Kennedy, affectionately known to his supporters as Bobby, decided to enter the fray for the Democratic nomination for President. He had been Attorney-General in his brother’s administration, and then was elected Senator from New York. Possessing much of his brother’s charisma, he generated huge popularity and seemed well on his way to securing the the Democratic nomination, when he too was assassinated in June of that year. It was a shattering loss for most Americans. I remember writing at the time that no nation, not even one as powerful as the U.S., could sustain such devastating losses in leadership without going into a tailspin. Hubert Humphrey, a decent enough Senator from Minnesota would go on to obtain the Democrat nomination while Richard Nixon was the GOP nominee. But there was a third player in that year’s election.

His name was George Wallace, and he was the racist Governor of Alabama. In 1968, segregation and Jim Crow laws were still alive and well throughout the South. Wallace decided to run as an independent in the Presidential race that year, figuring that he had as good a shot as the main-stream party candidates. So, who was George Wallace? Five years previously, he had declared, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” That racist statement occurred when Wallace stood in the school house door to block black students from entering the University of Alabama, as had been decreed by the courts.  He eventually was forced to back down by an edict from then Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who had to federalize National Guard troops to provide protection for those black students. But that wasn’t the most interesting part of that 1968 scenario.

The most interesting part was that the very  people that had actively supported and voted for Bobby Kennedy in the Democratic primaries, were now turning out in huge numbers to listen to, and support George Wallace on the campaign trail after Kennedy’s assassination. Even though you couldn’t have two politicians who were more diametrically opposed to each other. Kennedy was a liberal who was for civil rights, and strongly opposed segregation and Jim Crowism. He was opposed to the war in Viet-Nam and promised disengagement if elected. He vigorously favored Government intervention to help the plight of the poor and sick. Wallace was just the opposite. He was not only a strict segregationist, but he was also one of the few public supporters of the Viet-Nam war. He couldn’t care less about reducing poverty, as noted by the fact that Alabama was the second poorest state in the union, with Mississippi being dead last. And yet many of the same people who were enthusiastic about Bobby, became similarly enthusiastic about Wallace.

How does one account for that? It’s the sincerity factor. When questioned about this supposed anomaly, voters were unapologetic. Bobby was a good man because he wasn’t talking out of both sides of his mouth, said one man. Now, Wallace is the only guy who means what he says and isn’t trying to please everyone at the same time. One woman added that “they say what they mean and they don’t try to beat around the bush.” So, in the end, it’s not about ideology. It’s about which candidate can sell the public on the fact that they are the authentic, real-deal. After all, politics is a game of salesmanship. The one that can best fake sincerity will usually rise to the top.

 

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TALK RADIO

Most of you are probably unaware that there used to exist in radio and TV land something called the “Fairness Doctrine.” This was a rule established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and applied to all companies seeking licenses to broadcast on radio and TV. The rule required that TV and radio stations holding FCC issued licenses be required to devote some of their broadcast time to controversial issues of public importance. It also required that equal time be devoted to both sides of, say, a political controversy. For example, if a Rush Limbaugh type ranted for an hour on the radio demonizing liberals and Democrats; another hour had to be set aside for some one to talk in favor of the liberal position, and in turn castigate conservatives and Republicans. Broadcasters were required to  actively determine the full spectrum of views on any given issue, and to present those people best suited toward representing both sides being discussed. Additionally the rule required that broadcasters alert any public figure of the fact that they, or their views were being attacked on the air; and allow them equal time to rebut those accusations. The “Fairness Doctrine” originated back in 1927, and was further strengthened in 1949 with the advent of commercial television. It had thus been around for quite some time as we headed into the 1980s; and it seemed to work reasonably well.

Come the Reagan era in the 1980s, the “Fairness Doctrine” was increasingly being challenged in the courts as being an infringement on the first amendment’s constitutional right to freedom of speech. The FCC began to reconsider this rule in the mid-1980s, after Congress passed a resolution expressing its disapproval. The FCC then revoked the rule in 1987, and, thereby, opened the floodgates of what is called “talk radio” in present day vernacular. Democrats were completely clueless as to the havoc that dissolving the “Fairness Doctrine” would wreck on their political fortunes and aspirations. But without the requirement of having to broadcast both sides of all controversial or political issues, the door was open to any looney-tunes, crackpot with a reasonably good speaking voice, and the ability to master the art of demagoguery. The first one on the scene was Rush Limbaugh, who until the late 1980s, was basically a small time radio sports and news broadcaster. But with the “Fairness Doctrine” gone, Rush, ever the opportunist, realized “thar was gold in them thar hills” of bashing and demonizing Democrats and progressives. With demagogic skills approaching that of a Josef Goebbels, (if you don’t know who he is, look it up in your Funk&Wagnalls), Rush developed a loyal audience of millions tuning in every day to get their 3 hours of first Clinton and then Obama demonization. When a Republican became President, such as George W. Bush, Rush’s format would switch to protective coating of each dumb decision they made, such as the Government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, or the whole Iraqi invasion fiasco. But, as I’ve said, millions bought his drivel, which made Rush a very, very wealthy man.

Not long after, other opportunists such as Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter and hosts of other Rush wannabes joined the right-wing whacko parade, each seeking to outdo the others in demonizing what they consider to be their political enemies. Using, perhaps 5-10% fact, and 90-95% fiction, each uses the same basic format steeped in demagoguery to make a good living off the gullibility of millions of adherents. One such lunatic deserves special mention, because even the lunatic-fringe considers him too unhinged to be allowed recognition in polite society. His name is Michael Wiener; but he changed it to Michael Savage, and hosts a radio program called the “Savage Nation.” After all, I guess the Wiener Nation wouldn’t sound quite so fearsome. In any event, his bellicose rantings against Obama, the Democrats, liberals, minorities, environmentalists, etc. are so vile and hate-filled that Great Britain has put him on a list banning him from entry into their country. The other names on this British list are known terrorists, serial killers, or recognized criminals. He’s the only one on that list that talks on the radio for a living. Yet, we, in this country, allow him freedom of the airways to spread his filth and poison. Ain’t democracy wonderful.

The most disturbing aspect of all this, is not the fact that there are so many unhinged lunatics freely pounding away on the radio, and TV also, (Fox News.) The most disturbing aspect is that millions of Americans are not only rabid fans of all this right-wing drivel, but apparently can’t get through their days without listening to a steady stream of such demagogic lunacy. One might say, to be fair, that there are also left-wing zealots on the radio and TV airwaves. That may be true; but apparently they can’t perform nearly as well as the right-wingers do, and no prominent name stands out on the left side of the spectrum.

So why does all this matter in current day realtime. Because Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage and all their wannabes are basically shills for the Republican Party. Republican fortunes over the past 25 years have improved vastly, in no large part due to these right-wing broadcasts on talk radio. Tomorrow we have an election coming up, in which all the pundits have predicted that the GOP will win the Senate and increase their majority in the House. To say nothing of electing more Governors and state legislators. We’ll have a total Republican Congress that basically despises President Obama, and Democrats in general. Won’t life be fun then. Look for lots of Government shutdowns, as well as more extreme hyper-partainship, polarization and dysfunction. One might be well advised to examine how we painted ourselves into this corner in the first place.

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