Friday, August 31, 2012

Final Thoughts About The GOP National Convention

     Reflecting on the three-day Republican National Convention just concluded, my first thoughts are of the surprises--the happenings that I didn't expect.

I certainly didn't expect the show-stealing performance by Clint Eastwood.  And I didn't expect to see him looking, sounding and acting older than his 82 years.

 His bizarre behavior gets a pass from me because I have to believe--perhaps it's more like I want to believe--that senility or something even more sinister was responsible.  This was not the Clint Eastwood America knows and loves.

I didn't expect to come away from this convention feeling better about Mitt Romney the man, the human being.  But I've learned a lot about his good side, and I now find myself  excusing such incidents as teenage bullying and pet mistreatment as character imperfections--which we all have. 

I didn't expect Mitt Romney to do as well as he did with his acceptance speech.  He was poised, but being under control didn't keep him from an impressive, forceful delivery.  I only wish he had been more honest.

I didn't expect Mr. Romney to continue his distortions of the truth.  I thought that the fact checkers criticism of Paul Ryan's speech would make him more cautious.  But false statements such as the claim that President Obama would raise taxes on the middle class were sprinkled throughout the address.

I didn't expect the excessive self promotion that so many of the speakers shamefully displayed.  It was as though Mario Rubio,  Chris Christie,  and Rick Santorum were selling themselves to America's voters, with 2016 in mind.  

I didn't expect the extent of the apparent disinterest in Paul Ryan by the American electorate.  Whereas 40 million people tuned in to catch Sarah Palin last year, only 22 million were watching Paul Ryan Wednesday evening.

Lots of surprises in Tampa.  Now it's on to Charlotte and the Democratic National Convention--where we should probably expect more of the unexpected.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Questioning Romney Strategy

     Mitt Romney currently owns the airwaves in Florida.  His campaign, and the super PACS supporting him, are driving Floridians to distraction with a nonstop barrage of TV ads.

The frequency is such, however, that one wonders if the saturation, the repetition, could cause a backlash.  There's already a definite feeling of annoyance that's becoming a part of everyday conversation.

But I don't question the Romney camp's thinking as far as the number of ads is concerned.  People may complain, and yet be swayed by the ads.

What I do question is the message that is being delivered. A preponderance of ads is being devoted to "China", and that isn't anywhere near the top of the list of issues folks in these parts are interested in.

In Florida, it's the economy, and then medicare, and after that immigration.  With the President leading Mitt Romney on all three, it would seem logical that more money, more ads, should be given to these issues.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Random Thoughts About The GOP Convention

     The Republican National Convention has been gaveled into the flurry of fiery speeches that  will ask voters to buy what the GOP is selling--a controversial political platform, and a struggling presidential candidate.

This abbreviated 2012 version--three days instead of four due to Hurricane Isaac--is a story with the same plot as all conventions.  Execute a (hopefully)  well-conceived plan to win the hearts and minds of voters.  And like all conventions, this gathering has a variety of intriguing sub-plots.

One that spells trouble for the Republican party this year, and potentially for the American electorate in future years, is the inexcusable and shameful treatment of Ron Paul and his supporters.

As a GOP presidential candidate who fought the good fight, and  finished second to Mitt Romney in the delegate count, Ron Paul was deserving of respect at the convention.  First and foremost, he should have been given time at the podium.  But an equally galling affront was not permitting his name to be spoken during the roll call of delegations.

That display of disrespect brought to mind the first Republican national convention that caught my attention way back in 1952  . One of the things that was fascinating, and got me interested in politics was the roll call.

 Each delegation gave the name and vote total for all of the candidates, and it was exciting.  "The Buckeye state of Ohio casts __votes for its native son, Robert Taft; __ votes for Dwight David Eisenhower"--and so it went on.

Ron Paul put forth a lot of ideas and proposals--some good, and some that many folks would consider not so good.  But he earned the right to be heard.  And his treatment does not bode well for future grass-roots campaign efforts.

Another development on the first full day of convention activities was the contrast in the back-to-back speeches of Ann Romney and keynote speaker, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

In speaking in support of her husband, Ann Romney took a speech with wonderful material and made the most of it.  She said at the outset that her speech was about love.  Ann Romney was immediately followed by Christie, who drove home his opinion that respect trumps love.

Most of the speakers Tuesday evening seemed to be more interested in promoting themselves than their presidential candidate.   It was as though 2016 was paramount in their minds.  It was not until very late in their speeches that Rick Santorum or Chris Christie even mentioned Mitt Romney's name.

The Republican platform provides a number of intriguing sub-plots--most notably the one concerning abortion--absolutely no abortions, even in the case of incest and rape.

And now the pressure is on for Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan to sell himself Wednesday evening.  His speech is sure to provide more food for thought for political pundits, and political junkies like me.  


Monday, August 27, 2012

Charlie Crist -- A Moderate Looking For A Home

     Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist's endorsement of President Obama is being treated as big news, as breaking news.  It is neither.

That's because Charlie Crist's dissatisfaction with the GOP--which not all that long ago considered him a rising star--is nothing new.

Since losing his U.S. Senate race to Marco Rubio, Crist has left the Republican party and become an Independent.  For a couple of years now, Charlie Crist has been a former moderate Republican looking for a home.

Moderates are a vanishing breed in today's GOP, and the takeover of the party by the far right has spelled the end of many a middle-of-the-road, willing-to-compromise Republican career.

The beginning of the end for Charlie Crist as a Republican politician came during a visit to Florida by newly elected Democratic President Barack Obama. 

Charlie Crist had endorsed the President's stimulus legislation and had welcomed stimulus money sent Florida's way.  For the far right of the GOP, insult was added to injury when Republican Governor Crist warmly embraced the Democratic President.

So now Charlie Crist will speak at the Democratic National Convention, and will urge his Florida followers to likewise support the President at the polls. 

The extent of Charlie Crist's political influence with Sunshine State voters is an unanswered question at this point, but in a sure to be close election in a critical swing state, his endorsement of the President is sure to help.   

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hurricane Isaac -- The Great Equalizer

     The hurricane watch has now become a hurricane warning, and Key West is only hours away from heavy rains,  and winds of 74 miles per hour or more--quite possibly much more.  And Hurricane Isaac, like hurricanes of years past, will serve as a great social equalizer.

Key West, with its highest elevation only 18 feet, and most of the Island just  three feet above sea level, is especially susceptible to storm surges.  IN 2005, it was the flooding after Wilma that caused the most destruction of any hurricane in recent years.

Key West High School will be serving as a shelter beginning today, but should Isaac intensify and the forecast grow to a category three hurricane--or four or five,  the mandatory evacuation and mass exodus to the mainland will immediately begin.  The destination will be the shelter at Florida International University in Miami--some 150 miles, and at least four hours away.

Whether it is Key West High School or F.I.U., those seeking shelter will find that a hurricane is a great social equalizer.

There will be those taking refuge who are the poorest of the poor.  But there will also be some of the wealthiest of citizens seeking a safe place from the storm.

That's because there is seldom enough time to get to a hotel or motel that is safely removed from the path of the hurricane.  And even if time permits, there are never enough hotel and motel availabilities to accommodate everyone who can afford them.

So there they will be this weekend, the rich and the poor, on equal footing in a shelter with few amenities.  Some will have cots.  Some will sleep on a cold tile floor.  The temperature will necessarily be kept low--making for a chilly overnight.

A fat wallet and a lot of credit cards won't help.  Everyone will share whatever food the Red Cross can provide. Cell phones won't work for the rich and the poor alike.  There may be one TV--if the Island still has electricity--and that one TV will remain tuned to hurricane coverage.

All in all, it's a miserable way to spend a weekend, but the folks in Key West will have that special feeling that comes from shared misery--knowing you are all in this thing together, and that you are collectively making the best of it.

Oh, that such a feeling could spread throughout America--the feeling that through these troubled times, rich or poor, we are in this thing together.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

If We Had It All To Do Again.....

Most of us seldom have the time, or take the time, to reconsider the life-changing choices that we've made along the often bumpy, ever winding road of life.

But ever so often, something happens that takes us back in time, and brings to mind an intriguing question.

 If we had it all to do again, what, if anything, would we change?  And today, a certain something happened  that has me asking myself that question.

The U.S. News and World Report is out with it's annual listing of the top party schools among America's colleges and universities.  And my school, West Virginia University, tops the list for 2012--the third time in five years that WVU has "earned" this dubious distinction.

I attended West Virginia University as a journalism major for two years a very long time ago.  I always mention that fact during speaking engagements.

I find that audiences enjoy a little self-deprecating humor, and I always get a collective laugh when I say that after two years, I changed my major from journalism to beer drinking 101.

It's a funny story, but it's also the bitteersweet, somewhat sad truth.  WVU was already known as a party school way back then, with fraternities and sororities consuming much too much of students' time.  And after a freshman year with high marks, I succumbed to beer-hoisting camaraderie at the expense of my studies.

So about now, I'm guessing that most readers assume that this flashback has me full of regret--telling myself that if had it all to do over, I would stay in school and hit the books and walk away with a degree.

Not exactly the case.  With all the ups and downs since those college days of long ago, I don't know that I would change a thing.

There are those students--the vast majority to be sure--for whom the classroom is the best teacher.  And for them, the everyday life at a party school can be a ruinous distraction.

As for me, attending a party school was in some ways ruinous, but in other ways the beneficial beginning of life experiences that enable me now to feel a worthy use of borrowed time.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Remembering The Courage Of Walt The Barber

     I first met Walt the barber at his shop in Billings, Montana in August of 2009.   Since then, I have written five columns which were entirely, or partially, about Walt.

Yesterday, I received a call from my friend Bruce in Billings, telling me that Walt the barber has passed away--another victim of Alzheimer's disease.

I  have been working on a column about Alzheimer's for the Huffington Post that includes Walt's story.   My reason for writing about the courage of Walt the barber, and others afflicted by this horrific killer disease,  is to add one more voice--albeit a small one--to the growing chorus pleading for Congress not to slash funding for medical research.

Some of the monies that some Republicans propose giving to the wealthy in the form of further tax breaks should be given instead to causes such as Alzheimer's research.  That would be in the best interest of all Americans. 

I'm wondering today, as I do from time to time, if  the members of Congress and our wealthiest of Americans ever stop to consider that they are just as susceptible to the ravages of Alzheimer's as the poorest of our people.   

Thursday, August 16, 2012

There's Something Nixonian About The GOP Ticket

     Let me say at the outset that the Obama reelection team is not exactly a paragon of virtue.  Example A is the TV ad that shamefully attempts to link a woman's death to Mitt Romney's modus operandi at Bain Capital.

But the boys--and girls--at Obama campaign headquarters in Chicago come off looking downright squeaky clean when compared to the Mitt Romney team.  The GOP also displays an aversion to the truth in its negative ads, but there are more troubling aspects than that to the Republican presidential campaign

The Romney team is guilty of arrogance in the first degreee.   Questions that the electorate has a right to have answered go unanswered, and information that voters have a right to know is blocked from public view.

There's the lingering matter of Mitt Romney's tax returns.  And now there's the issue of the details of the Romney economic plan.

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan have both defiantly stated that the public will see no more tax returns.  And incredibly, both candidates have said that some of the details of the Republican economic plan will not be revealed before the election.

Wednesday morning on MSNBC,  Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Phebus reaffirmed the Romney/Ryan stance on disclosure--or lack thereof.   Time Magazine's Mark Halperin pressed the issue--stressing the need for transparency, and arguing for the voters' right to know.   Phebus didn't budge--and didn't seem to care.

The GOP leadership is operating with another kind of secrecy that borders on the sinister.  It's a troubling situation that could be labeled Nixonian in nature.

Three days after being introduced to the nation as the Republican Vice Presidential candidate, Paul Ryan flew to Las Vegas to meet with the GOP's billionaire backer Sheldon Adelson.  The get-together took place in a private meeting room in Adelson's casino.  No media coverage.  No photographers.  Shades of  "The Godfather".

Sheldon Adelson has committed unlimited millions, or in his words, whatever it takes, to defeat Barck Obama.  Sheldon Adelson has been, and still is, under federal investigation.

It sounds more than a little like a movie plot.  Politicians in need of money and their financier in need of a little help.  It may all be completely innocent, but it sure doesn't look good.

Could we possibly have reached the point where one man,  one billionaire--or a handful of billionaires--could buy an election?


Monday, August 13, 2012

A Dangerous Time For Paul Ryan And The GOP

     The joint appearances are over, and Paul Ryan is on his own.  For the foreseeable future, and possibly all the way to the Republican national convention, there will be no more sharing the stage with Mitt Romney. 

From here on out, the GOP candidates for President and Vice President will go their own ways, with separate campaign schedules.  And so, while Mitt Romney is winding up his bus tour in Florida and Ohio,  Paul Ryan will be appearing  alone in Iowa.

The Wisconsin Congressman will be the sole focal point at his campaign stops--and the target for all of the "gotcha" questions that are sure to come.

Paul Ryan is good on his feet and he appeared quite comfortable at the podium over the weekend as he was introduced as Romney's pick for a running mate.  And he has always handled himself quite well answering the tough questions he has fielded as a Republican leader in Congress.

But now Paul Ryan has made it to the big leagues and it's a brand new ball game. His expertise is in economics and that strength may turn out to be a liability. 

You can safely bet your bottom dollar that the always prying press spent much of the weekend digging into the details of the Ryan budget plan, looking for a question that might stump or embarrass him, and make news.  There are myriad items in the plan that run contrary to public opinion and preferences, and the possibilities for gotcha questions are too numerous for mention here.

But where Paul Ryan is most vulnerable to gotcha questions lies outside the realm of taxes or budgets or economics. 

As the man Mitt Romney has selected to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, Paul Ryan will be expected to be knowledgeable in other areas--among them foreign affairs and national security.  Count on the media to thoroughly test a candidate they know is green as grass in those other areas.

Campaign advisers will be giving Paul Ryan crash courses on unfamiliar subjects, but while he is cramming, it will be nervous time, a dangerous time, for the GOP.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

It's Paul Ryan -- And The Dems Are "Salivating"

     Earlier today I wrote and posted the preceding column predicting that Tim Pahlenty would be the choice to be Mitt Romney's running mate on the GOP's  2012 presidential ticket.   It seemed to me, then  and now, that Pahlenty was the logical choice.

Mitt Romney, however, has just told us that he has decided otherwise, and that Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan will be the Republican party's candidate for Vice President.   And so for the second time in four years, the GOP is announcing a runnimg mate whose selection is being made in large part to add some energy to a bland campaign that is trailing in the polls. 

Last time around, the addition of Sarah Palin did add vigor to John McCain's 2008 presidential bid, but she soon showed that she was far from  ready for prime time, and she hurt as much as she helped the Republican ticket.

This presidential election year, Paul Ryan will also energize  Republicans, in general, and ultra conservatives, in particular.  How he performs and how voters--especially Independents--react is a story with its many chapters yet to be written.

But suffice it to say that the selection of Paul Ryan serves to emphasize the differences in the policies,  proposals, and plans of the Democratic and Republican parties.  There will be a clear choice for voters come November 6.

As for the logic behind Mitt Romney's choice? 

Well first of all there's the question of whether the choice was really Romney's, or a selection that was forced upon him by right wing columnists, commentators, and conservative bigwigs.   In recent days there has been a growing chorus of calls for the pick to be Ryan.

It is being reported that the decision was made August 1 after the conclusion of Romney's less than spectacular trip abroad.  If these reports are true, then the Paul Ryan pick is all  the more puzzling  from the standpoint that Paul Ryan has zero foreign affairs or national security experience in his resume.

But that's not the only reason I see Mitt Romney's choice as a mistake.  To sum up the several reasons why Paul Ryan's selection is a mistake,  I quote CNN White House correspondent, Brianna Keeler, who said a few hours ago that Democrats are "salivating" over the prospect of enlightening the electorate about Ryan's proposed budget plan.

It is being argued by many economists--including some with no political axe to grind--that the Ryan budget plan will not only drastically change medicare and social security, but will actually increase the deficit and health care cost.

Perhaps the most noteworthy, and politically damaging attack on the Ryan budget plan has come from a Republican who will be speaking at the GOP convention.

Newt Gingrich, who worked with a Democratic administration to produce balanced budgets, has criticized the Ryan budget as "right wing social engineering".

Paul Ryan's inclusion on the GOP presidential ticket also takes away something Mitt Romney has been selling for nearly six years--himself, Mitt Romney, as a Washington outsider.  Paul Ryan is a career politician who has been a Washington insider since his early 20s, and he has never, ever worked in the private sector.

There's an old expression that says, "be careful what you wish for", and no one knows for sure how Paul Ryan's place on the Republican ticket will play out;  but for now, the Dems see Paul Ryan as a wish, a dream, come true.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Looking Back At The Bull Moose Party

     With the 2012 national political conventions fast approaching, it's fun to use the intervening weeks to think back to other, earlier  conventions--those we remember firsthand and those we have read about,

One of the latter is a unique and historic convention that took place one hundred years ago this week.  It was a third party gathering in August, 1912 that resulted from a split in the Republican party.  The inspiration for the movement, and its presidential candidate, was Theodore Roosevelt, who had already served nearly two full terms as President.

Officially named the Progressive Party, it became better known as the Bull Moose party  following one of the most  bizarre incidents in presidential campaign history.

 An assassination attempt just before election day failed, but left Teddy Roosevelt with a bullet in his chest.  Later, on the same day he was shot, he delivered a planned speech, and then afterward proclaimed himself to be as fit as a bull moose.

Growing up I didn't know all that much about Theodore Rosevelt, and I remember wondering why he was given prominence on Mount Rushmore with the likes of Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln.

But then, through my travels on Greyhound, I came to know about Teddy Roosevelt's foresight in, and dedication to, setting aside and preserving the lands that comprise so much of our national parks system.  That admiration led me to learning more about the man, and discovering the amazing political event that was the Progressive--Bull Moose--convention of 1912.

It should be noted that the story of  the Bull Moose convention would not be considered a success story in the minds of many people.  Teddy Roosevelt lost the presidential election of 1912.  He finished behind Democrat Woodrow Wilson, and ahead of the   Republican candidate, William Howard Taft.  A late start and lack of big money donors were too much to overcome.

But when judged by the forward thinking of the party platform, the Progressive--Bull Moose--convention  of 1912 must be considered one of the most meaningful in American history.

Teddy Roosevelt and his team were the first ever to call for national health care--doing so 98 years before Obamacare.  And social insurance was a plank in the platform a quarter of a century before social security was enacted into law.

The Progressives went on record in favor of women's suffrage and a minimum wage for women; as well as an eight-hour workday for all employees.

A plank sought to establish a federal securities commission and regulate industry.

The platform called for a constitutional amendment that would allow for a federal income tax.  There was also a proposal for an inheritance tax.

There was a plank endorsing the ideas of primary elections and recall elections and a plank calling for thedirect election of United States Senators.

Teddy Roosevelt and his Progressives were ahead of their time in a myriad of magnificent ways.

 In addition to the aforementioned far reaching, forward looking proposals, they bucked the isolation sentiment espoused by many Americans and promoted instead a vigorous foreign policy, and a strong military.  They made it clear that their platform was all about protecting the middle and working classes.

The Bull Moose convention of 1912--one of the reasons  Theodore Roosevelt deserves his place on Mount Rushmore.


Friday, August 3, 2012

The GOP -- And Voodoo Economics

     The GOP is under a 32-year old spell that may prove to be a curse.

This presidential election year, Republicans are once again selling something they call trickle down economics.  It's a plan that says take care of the wealthiest of our citizens with lower tax rates and tax breaks and tax loopholes, and their prosperity will eventually trickle down to the rest of Americans.

Trickle down economics is the way to go,  they say, because the wealthiest among us are the job creators.  And as everyone knows, they add, improving the economy is all about jobs, jobs, jobs.

Back in 1980, then GOP presidential candidate George H.W. Bush coined the phrase "voodoo economics"  as a more appropriate name for the trickle down idea being promoted by Ronald Reagan, But when Reagan won the Republican nomination that year, and George H.W. Bush became his running mate,  the word voodoo all but disappeared from political vocabularies.

Republicans have remained,  through ensuing campaigns,  under the spell of voodoo economics, which they still sell under the better sounding "trickle down" economics.

But cal it voodoo, or trickle down, the GOP economic plan may turn out to be a curse.  The polls show voters moving from Romney to Obama as the man with the best economic plan.  That's because President Obama has been hammering away on the truth about trickle down economics,, and the truth is it doesn't work.

 George W. Bush's version of trickle down economics gave generous tax breaks to the super rich in 2001 and 2003--with Bush promising that these incentives would create jobs.  At the end of the Bush presidency, however, trickle down economics had given us a net loss in jobs, and turned a surplus at the beginning of the Bush years into a deficit when George W. left office.

President Obama has also been hammering away on his own economic plan, which is based on first improving the job prospects for the middle class as the best way to promote prosperity for all Americans.

 His oft-repeated message is apparently getting through to voters and is largely responsible for the President's swing states surge in the polls. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Two Lone Star Latinos To Keep An Eye On

     Eight years ago about this time, the Democrats gave the coveted, and oh, so important job of keynote speaker at their national convention in Boston to a virtually unknown state senator from Illinois with the funny sounding name of Barack Obama.

His speech electrified the audience and, a scant four years later, Barack Obama became America's 44th President.

That amazing, meteoric rise from a state house to The White House comes to mind today as two  politicians from Texas--one a Republican, and the other a Democrat--burst upon the national scene. 

Ted Cruz  has won a Republican primary runoff, and is heavily favored to defeat his Democratic opponent in November and take a seat in the United State Senate.  Cruz, with strong Tea Party support, came from nowhere to upset the Republican establishment candidate.

Julian Castro has been tapped to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic national convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, the first week in September.  Castro is currently the mayor of San Antonio.

Both men would seem to be on the way to long and  promising political careers, for they are young--Cruz, 41, and Castro, 37.  Both are Hispanic, and therefore all the more valuable to their respective parties, as the importance of the burgeoning Hispanic population continues to grow.

Two Lone Star Latinos to keep an eye on.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

This WeekThe Media Favors Obama By 25 To 3

     Talk to the national media today, and you will find President Obama favored over Mitt Romney by a count of 25 to 3.  The lopsided favoritism is a matter of accessibility.

The 25 is the number of random questions Barack Obama took from the traveling press corps during his pre-election overseas trip in 2008.  Three is the number of random questions Mitt Romney took from reporters during his just-concluded travel abroad.

Both presidential candidates had sit down interviews during their trips, but the traditional shouted questions were welcomed and fielded only by Obama, while Romney awkwardly and unwisely turned a deaf ear to reporters whose news gathering organizations had invested heavily in order to cover his foreign affairs  learning experience.

Turning his back on the members of the fourth estate who are covering his campaign was an insult to them, and an injury to him--to his image.