Posts Tagged With: presidential elections

THE POLITICS OF THE ABSURD

Have those deliciously obnoxious political TV commercials come to your state yet. You know, the ones that are comprised of maybe 5% or 10% fact, followed by as much as 90-95% fiction. Perhaps you’re one of the lucky ones living in an uncontested state where there is no need for either side to waste resources on commercials bashing the other guy. Political pundits are saying there is at most, 15 states in play for this fall’s election. So if you live in say Utah or Wyoming or the deep South, everyone knows they are going to vote Republican so why bother campaigning there. Conversely, everyone knows that states like New York or California or Maryland will likely go Democratic, so again, no need to spend money campaigning there either. I, however, live in Nevada which is presumed to be up for grabs, so the obnoxious commercials have already begun with each side running TV ads saying their opponent has shipped tens or hundreds of thousands of jobs overseas. These ads are so blatantly dishonest as well as being obnoxious, that it’s hard to believe the voting public falls for them. But since each side is prepared to spend in the neighborhood of a billion dollars each on such ads, I guess people do make their voting decisions based on what they see on TV. I find it ironic that people in the 19th century, when hi-tech was a telegraph and a local newspaper were better informed about political candidates, than people today in the electronic age when all the information they could ever want is at their fingertips. But after all, who has time to spend researching candidates political positions when there are so many other more pressing issues, like the latest Kardashian antics, or who will be the next American Idol.

I have to admit I miss those Republican debates that took place before Romney became the inevitable choice. All those whacky kids up there on the platform, each one trying to prove they were more of a right-wing, looney-tunes, space cadet than the other guy, was highly entertaining. As an aside, one of those looney-tuners, Michele Bachman, just announced that she has become a Swiss citizen. Seems she will hold a dual citizenship with the United States and Switzerland. (Immediately after the announcement, there was a sharp upswing in the Swiss suicide rate as people were found to be throwing themselves off the highest peak in the Swiss Alps. Ms. Bachman was finally prevailed upon to announce that she had no intention of running for office in Switzerland. A huge, collective sigh of relief could be heard throughout Zurich.) In any event, the Republican debates gave the candidates an opportunity to showcase the bottomless pit of their right-wing extremism, and Romney had to describe himself as a “severe extremist” to prove to a doubting GOP constituency that he could sink further into that pit than the others.

Anyway back to the obnoxious, devious and mudslinging commercials. They’re just beginning now, but by September and October they will be flooding the airways (unless you are one of the lucky ones living in one of the 35 states that are not competitive.) Your choices then will be to shut off the TV for good, or at least until after the election, or tape every program ahead of time so you can fast-forward through all those commercials. In any event, I thought that I would give the pros and cons of each of the candidates strengths and weaknesses, and the key issues to consider,  so readers can make up their own minds. Here goes.

An important issue that thus far has gotten very little attention, is the fact that the next President will get to make at least one, and possibly 2 or 3 nominations to the Supreme Court. This means that legal abortion hangs in the balance. Ruth Bader Ginsburg who is 80 years old and has survived pancreatic cancer, will undoubtably be the first to go. She is strongly pro-choice. We know that Romney’s mouth has written checks that his large, anti-abortion, evangelical base of supporters expect to cash once he becomes President. That means appointing anti-abortion judges to the Supreme Court. Bottom line, if Romney is President, Roe V. Wade is overturned, and legalized abortion is history. Obama, of course, would nominate a pro-choice judge.

The economy, of course, or the lousy state it’s in, is ostensibly the dominant issue in the campaign. There is no question that Obama has made some serious mistakes in that regard, and it may cost him re-election. Unemployment which was 10% when he took office, is now down to about 8% which is an improvement but a pretty tepid one. Obama’s initial efforts to aid the economy didn’t work out too well, and his attempt to achieve universal health turned out to be a 2700 page behemoth that everyone seems to hate. It will also likely be overturned by the Supreme Court, sending us back to square one in trying to devise a system where everyone gets decent health care. Then there is the ballooning deficit which is heading toward the 16 trillion dollar neighborhood, although that’s mainly due to the lack of revenues because of the poor economy, rather than increased spending. The problem was that Obama was a rookie, with only 2 years of Senate experience, and he made a lot of rookie mistakes. With 4 years experience under his belt he would probably be a better president in his second term. On the plus side, he got Osama bin Laden and a host of other low-life terrorists,  he saved General Motors and Chrysler from going out of business, he got us out of Iraq and is getting us out, finally, from Afghanistan.

Advocates for Romney would point out that he is a smart businessman, looks presidential and would sharply reduce Government expenditures as well as regulations if elected. The problem is that almost all of those sharp reductions would be in benefits that go to the poor, the elderly and the sick. The rich would not be asked to make any sacrifices, and in fact, would reap huge windfalls under Romney’s proposed tax plans. After cutting programs for the disadvantaged, he would significantly increase military expenditures, although he hasn’t said where he would get the money to do that. Must be from that good old money tree that continues to grow in the Pentagon courtyard. Then there’s the problem that Romney will say just about anything, and flip-flop on every issue he once stood for, in order to get elected. I’ve written about that before, so I won’t go into the gruesome details again. But from abortion, to health care, to gun control, to gay rights, Romney has had a complete reversal of previous positions, now that he’s decided to become a ” severe conservative.”

I could go much deeper into these issues, but if you’re interested, as I’ve said, there’s a ton of information just a few clicks away. If you do intend to vote I would urge everyone to be as informed about the issues as is reasonably possible.

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HERE’S TO PRESIDENTIAL LOSERS (PART III)

This is the last one in this series, I promise. We left off last time when Jimmy Carter assumed the Presidency in 1976 after a narrow win over Gerald Ford. Interestingly, Carter is still alive today and pushing near 90, while Ford made it well into his 80s, before saying sayonara. Being president seems to promote longevity. In any event, Carter’s presidency is often deemed a failure by most historians, but like Nixon, he did make some significant accomplishments.

James Earl Carter started off the 1976 race with like a 30 point lead over Ford according to reliable polling data. This was primarily due to how adversely the Watergate scandal had affected the GOP. By election day, however, Carter appeared to be in over over his head and entire lead had evaporated, leaving him to win by the slimmest of margins. He did this by carrying every southern state except Virginia, in a complete role reversal of today’s voting patterns. This occurred because Carter was a southern Governor with evangelical religious beliefs. Now, a Democrat can’t get elected dog catcher in the deep south. His presidency was marred by a poor economy, as evidenced by high rates of inflation and fairly high unemployment. They called it stagflation at the time. Nevertheless, there was considerable achievement.

Carter, using personal diplomacy, managed to pull off a peace treaty with Israel and Egypt, who had been in a virtual continuous state of war since Israel’s founding in 1948. In what came to be known as the Camp David accords, Carter got both sides to not only make peace, but to establish diplomatic relations, which was unthinkable in the Arab world at that time, and even to this day. He also turned over control and ownership of the Panama Canal to Panama where it belonged, despite the howls of protest from the Rush Limbaugh-types, that such action would allow Red China and Russia to invade and conquer the U.S. at will. These accomplishments paled, however, because during Carter’s presidency, the Shah of Iran was overthrown and the country was taken over by the fanatical mullahs that run the government to this day. One of their first actions was to invade the U.S. Embassy in Teheran and take all personal assigned there as hostages. As negotiations for their release dragged on and on, Carter authorized a daring covert rescue attempt. But 2 of the rescuers’ helicopters crashed in the air over Iran during this botched attempt, killing all on-board. It seemed to symbolize all the ineptitude of the Administration, and doomed Carter’s chances for re-election.

In 1980 Carter ran for re-election against a second-rate movie actor, who had managed to become Governor of California, named Ronald Wilson Reagan. Reagan talked as a tough conservative, but had a huge gift of gab, including a lot of self-deprecating humor, and had actually governed California as a moderate. In any event, due to the poor economy, the botched hostage rescue, and Reagan’s highly skilled campaign abilities, Carter lost the election in a landslide. Reagan set out to quickly change the political landscape by sharply increasing Defense spending, cutting social spending, and significantly reducing income taxes, especially for the wealthy. In the end, his cuts in social spending were modest and around the fringes, but his Defense  increases and tax cuts sharply led to huge deficit spending. The accumulated deficit from George Washington through Jimmy Carter was one trillion dollars when Reagan took office, but mushroomed to four trillion in the following 12 years, or a 300% increase. Today Republican candidates for President all hail Reagan as their model, but the truth is that the tea-party dominated GOP would never allow Reagan to be their candidate. He had too much common sense and pragmatism. Reagan eventually succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease which started appearing late in his second term.

Reagan was followed into the presidency by his Vice-President George H. W. Bush, a very decent, honest and down-to-earth individual. The year was 1988, and the Democrats put up the Governor of Mass. named Michael Dukakis to oppose Bush. But like the George McGovern candidacy and the Carter years, the Democrats and Dukakis went into a full incompetency mode, and Bush won the election easily. His 4 years in office were generally unremarkable, but he did agree with Democrats to a small increase in income tax rates, for which his was branded a traitor by right-wing Republicans. He also led us into the first Gulf war against Iraq, when Saddam Hussein tried to take over oil rich Kuwait. Bush was successful in freeing Kuwait, but he let Saddam stay in power, which we paid for dearly soon after.

In 1992 the economy experienced a slight down-turn, and it cost Bush his re-election bid to another southern Democrat Governor named William Jefferson Clinton. Clinton ran on a platform of: “It’s the economy, stupid,” and the country seemed to believe him, as he won easily despite a reputation of sexual affairs outside of marriage. The 8 Clinton years (he won re-election in 1996 against a hapless Bob Dole) were probably the best era of peace and prosperity in my lifetime, and I’ve been around over three-quarters of a century. We had a booming economy, low interest rates, low inflation, and except for a relatively brief scuffle with Serbia, the absence of war.  Of course, in Clinton’s second term, the whole Monica Lewinsky scandal erupted, and Clinton became only the second president to be impeached by the House of Representatives. But Clinton survived the scandal, and because the times were so good, his approval ratings were through the roof when he left office. To this day, there are still those that bemoan the fact that he’s no longer president.

I’ve already written about how the election of 2000 was taken away from Clinton’s Vice-President, Al Gore, despite his winning at the polls, and how this led to the second Gulf war with Iraq and the ensuing huge loss of life and destruction. George W. Bush, son of the former president, George H.W. Bush, assumed the Oval Office, only to be hit with the tragic events of 9/11, eight months later. He is a decent man like his father, but he got us into a highly questionable second war with Iraq which took about eight and a half years to extricate ourselves from. Under his presidency the prescription drug benefit was added to Medicare, another huge accomplishment on the road to try to achieve universal health care. But the economy took a huge hit starting in 2007 and the country soured on the second Bush presidency. This paved the way for the first black president elected to the Oval Office in 2008, Barak Obama. We all pretty much know how it’s turned out since then. In 2013, either Obama will be back in office, or we will have the newly elected Mitt Romney.

In any event let’s drink a toast to those that made it, but , more so to those that tried and failed. How much different would our lives be, or would the nation’s affairs be, if the other guy had won instead. It would be interesting to theorize about it.

 

 

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HERE’S TO PRESIDENTIAL LOSERS (PART II)

Just one footnote to the presidential race in 1960 between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon that I discussed in the last entry. I was still living at home in Brooklyn with my parents. (Yes, I put off growing up into a mature adult as long as I could. Some say there are still unresolved issues in that regard.) This would be the first election I was eligible to vote in, since the voting age was still 21 at that time. So imagine my excitement when the Kennedy campaign came to Brooklyn on a cold October day, and there was JFK standing up in a convertible limo with the top down, waving to the crowds as his motorcade rolled through the streets very near to my residence. Up until then, men always wore hats, especially in cold weather. You can see evidence of that if you ever watch movies made before the late 1950s. But JFK went hatless, mainly to show off his great looks and thick shock of hair. That started a new fashion trend almost overnight, where men started giving up wearing their hats, and the male hat industry quickly went out of business.

We left off last time with Richard Nixon winning the 1968 presidency in a close race with Hubert Humphrey. Now everyone knows that Nixon had to resign the presidency in disgrace over the Watergate scandal. But what most people don’t appreciate was that Nixon accomplished huge achievements during the time he was in office. If not for Watergate he could have been considered one of our greatest presidents. First, Nixon finally got us out of Viet-Nam, which was deeply dividing the nation. We had been involved in Viet-Nam since the 1950s, and huge protests against the war continued almost on a weekly basis. The generals in command were calling for another 200 thousand troop increase to go along with the 500 thousand troops already there. Instead Nixon started withdrawing troops and eventually signed a peace treaty with North Viet-Nam that enabled us to extricate ourselves from that horrible mis-adventure. By the time it was over, the war had cost us 58,500 American dead, with hundreds of thousands more wounded, and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese dead. Nixon being able to finally end that misguided effort was huge. Today we have peaceful relations with Viet-Nam and it is considered a valuable trading partner. In the end, all that loss of life and destruction was really in vain.

Nixon’s next huge achievement was opening up diplomatic relations with Communist China, who along with the old USSR, was considered our implacable enemy. Nixon had a reputation for being a hardline anti-communist, so  that he was able to pull off ending the cold war, at least with China, was almost unthinkable at the time. Today China is one of our largest trading partners, and holds about a trillion dollars of our debt. Nixon also established the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, which consolidated and expanded public social services . The Education part was eventually split off and became a separate department, while the rest of HEW has now become the Department of Health and Human Resources. Nixon even wanted to institute universal health care, but it was the Democrats in Congress that balked because they felt his bill didn’t go far enough. Although he talked as a tough conservative, Nixon presided over an enlargement of social benefits almost to the degree that Lyndon Johnson or even FDR did. As I’ve said, his accomplishments were huge.

Nixon’s Achilles heel, however was that he was deeply paranoid. He felt he was continually besieged by people hostile to his administration, despite all his accomplishments. He kept enemies lists and made secret recordings of conversations he had with visitors to the White House. In 1972, he ran for re-eletion against a largely unknown liberal Senator from South Dakota named George McGovern. McGovern was a decent and sincere man, but the Democrats went into their full incompetency  mode, including not nominating McGovern during their convention until about 2 in the morning when everyone was asleep and could not hear his acceptance speech. As a result, Nixon won in a mammoth landslide, capturing 49 out of 50 states. However, during the election, a curious event occurred that would eventually destroy the Nixon presidency.

Late in the campaign season, a group of third rate Republican hacks one night broke into Democratic campaign headquarters in the Watergate apartment complex in Washington DC. God knows what information they were hoping to learn or steal, especially since it was obvious at the time that Nixon would win by a landslide. If Nixon had come out at the time that the break-in was discovered, and stated that he in no way authorized or condoned the break-in, and the perpetrators would be punished to the full extent of the law, his presidency would have been unscathed. But Nixon’s paranoia would not allow him to do that. Instead he and his closest White House advisors went through elaborate schemes to try to cover-up any higher Republican involvement in this third-rate burglary. The more the story made the news, the more elaborate the cover-up became. Finally, the entire story became public thanks to the diligence of two “Washington Post” reporters, and several Congressional and judicial investigations. Nixon’s involvement, not in the crime, but in the coverup became evident, and he was forced to resign the presidency.

Since Nixon’s Vice President also had to resign his office due to a different scandal, the Republicans chose Gerald Ford, who was their leader in the House, to take over the presidency. Ford was a decent and moderate Republican and his basic honesty helped clean up the mess in Washington and restore the people’s faith in their government. But Ford made one crucial mistake that cost him the Oval Office when he ran for election in 1976. He had given Nixon a pardon from any possible prosecution connected to Watergate for the rest of Nixon’s life. The public was still in an unforgiving mood as it related to Watergate, and thus elected a largely unknown peanut farmer who managed to become Governor of Georgia named Jimmy Carter. The Democrats were so delighted that they had a Southern Governor who not only wasn’t a racist, but had actually championed civil rights, that they practically handed Carter the nomination on a silver platter. Carter’s presidency would also end in failure, but like Nixon, he had several significant achievements which we will pick up with next time. It is interesting to note, however, that two Republican presidents, Nixon and Ford, would likely be drummed out of today’s tea-party, Rush Limbaugh dominated Republican Party.

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