Once More Into the Abyss

Rick Santorum has this face he makes in debates. He made it a lot last night in Arizona. I couldn’t find a picture on the Google machine, which is disappointing because I figure someone has to have shot it at some point. It’s a combination of expressions that sort of add up to “You are such an idiot.” It’s kind of his trademark face, and to be fair, he’s not the only one who has a trademark face. Newt Gingrich has his blank “no, it’s really not that hard” face that immediately precedes a superior, one-word answer to a complicated question. Mitt Romney has his wide-eyed eyebrows-up face that means “I’m going to pretend I don’t really, really hate being questioned.” Ron Paul has his similarly wide-eyed face that means “Just stop fighting wars. How many times do I have to say it?” but, on the street, could be misinterpreted to mean “Just take my wallet, here, don’t hurt me.”

But Rick Santorum’s trademark face pisses me off more than the rest of them (Newt is a close second). Because it is the frequent mark of his condescension and belies his diplomatic approach to most (non-social) issues.

Right now, he’s edging Mitt Romney in national polls. Yes, it’s true, at least per Real Clear Politics and the Associated Press-GfK. Santorum got a bump from the birth control debate and might not be hurt by any of his anti-women in combat, semi-anti-women in the workplace rhetoric… probably because the women who support him are like-minded, and those who don’t support him never will.

Mitt Romney: Tree Hugger. So liberal!

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney just keeps struggling. He opened the debate with his introduction and, when he got applause, he quoted George Costanza from Seinfeld. I guess he wants to prove he’s a regular guy, but mostly, he’s just awkward when nobody writes down his words for him. Last week he declared his love for Michigan in part due to the height of its trees. Apparently they are of exactly the correct stature, as compared to, say, Iowa or Utah or Massachusetts or New Hampshire. Immediately after this declaration, Romney professed his bright-eyed love of cars. And then last night he reminded everyone of how he would not have favored the auto industry bailout, preferring instead to let them all go into managed bankruptcy and work their way out. You can agree with him or not – I respect the approach – but you can’t deny that the bailout did save a million jobs that might otherwise have gone the way of the Pontiac, and that isn’t going to help Romney in his native Michigan, where his father was a very popular governor. He’s trailing Santorum there.

He’s also trailing in Pennsylvania, by a lot. Pennsylvania is the state responsible for Rick Santorum. It’s also the state that kicked him out of the Senate in 2006.

The Crazy Train left the station right from jump, after Romney quoted George Costanza and Newt Gingrich told the country he’d get gas back to $2.50 a gallon.  (He also said BMW, Toyota, Honda and Mercedes plants in the US were all doing fine during the auto crisis. Anybody see a political and economic problem with that logic?) Ron Paul pulled no punches and suffered no hesitation when asked why he’s calling Santorum a fake in his campaign ads. “Because he is a fake,” he said, citing a number of instances in which Paul believes Santorum veered dramatically off his allegedly fiscally conservative course. That’s a set of accusations Santorum deflected with his own proof positive. No points for either side.

Romney tried to explain what on earth he was talking about when he claimed last week to have been “severely conservative” as governor of Massachusetts, as though it was some sort of disease (which some people might actually believe is the case). He said “severe” meant strict, that he was without question a conservative governor. That’s a long way from saying you were severely conservative, and nothing he noted in the answer struck me as being particularly right-wing:

 I campaigned for and fought for English immersion in our school, and had that successfully implemented. My policies in Massachusetts were to — were conservative, and in a state, as Rick indicated, a state that was a relatively liberal state, I stood up and said I would stand on the side of life when the legislature passed a bill saying that life would not be defined not at conception but later.

I said no. When there was an effort to put in place embryo farming and cloning, I vetoed that. When the Catholic Church was attacked, saying, look we’re not going to allow you to continue to place children in homes where there’s a preference for a man and a woman being the mom and dad, I worked with the Catholic Church to put legislation in place to protect their right to exercise their religious conscience.

They’re conservative positions, but not “severely” so. A lot of more liberal people would support those efforts, if only because there is a degree of government overreach in forcing private organizations to do something against their beliefs – whether we agree or not. (For the record, I believe the administration’s efforts to force groups like the Catholic Church to pay for birth control was overreach. It might seem like outdated theology to those who don’t adhere to it, but the government can’t force the Church to directly contradict its own belief system. It’s a violation of the separation of Church and State.)

Santorum in the driver's seat. Only makes right turns. (I put the pic on the left just to bug him.)

Santorum’s Achilles heel for the night was earmarks. His voting record does include a lot of bills with earmarks. He’s confessed that he now believes some of them were mistakes. But here’s where his social conservatism is moderated a bit: he has voted to fund Planned Parenthood, which is something that a lot of his more socially conservative supporters might find surprising. It wasn’t recent, since he hasn’t been voting in the House or Senate for years, but it’s still in his record. And his defense was, “Well, they asked for the earmarks.”

That’s stupid.

They’re governors. Governors ask for money. Yes, Romney asked for the earmarks associated with the Olympic Games for which you voted. But you can’t say earmarks are bad and then say your record is all the fault of various governors. The truth is, Santorum doesn’t have a firm stand on earmarks, no matter how much he wants you to believe he does. He has a fairly reasonable approach: some earmarks are bad. Some are good. But on the whole, they contribute to the debt and deficit, so let’s curb them. That’s his real stance, no matter what he says.

A viewer emailed or tweeted or Facebooked or whatevered a question about birth control, and the audience booed it.

The audience booed a viewer’s question.

Audiences. Honestly. Jackals, the lot.

And so began a conversation that included the phrases “legalized infanticide” and “dangers of contraception.” (Two different candidates – you guess who.) In case you’re wondering, the dangers of contraception apparently include the increasing number of children born out of wedlock.

Call me confused… I’m pretty sure that’s a danger of not having contraception.

They also include the number of sexually active teens. I’ll grant that concern.  But I find fault in a logic that says that the problem of “children raising children” out of wedlock in this country is because there’s birth control available. Birth control, by definition, cuts down on the numbers of children raising children. Its availability does not lead kids to have unprotected sex – that doesn’t even make sense. Misuse, miseducation… that might lead to children having children. Contraception’s availability leading to too many babies? Come on.

One thing did come to light, though. Romney said now we know why George Stephanopoulos insisted on the conversation about birth control in a previous debate against which I ranted. Touche’.

Ohhhhhhh. He knew about the thing with the healthcare and the... Ohhhhh.

CNN moderator John King (taking less crap this time) moved the conversation to gas prices, and something strange happened. Mitt Romney punted. Right away, he said that the price of gas is nothing compared to the danger of a nuclear Iran. At first I thought he was saying we have to deal with high prices if we want to keep Iran from going glowing. Strait of Hormuz and all that. But no. Turned out, he was completely diverting onto the president’s way of handling Iran. Clearly, the two items are linked somewhat, but he didn’t make the connection. He just ignored the question about gas prices. This makes me think he has no plan to lower them (which I personally think can’t be done anyway, without a federal subsidy beyond that which is already in place or a calming of all international tensions, not just Iran).  But the discussion went on, about Iran and then Syria, and then Libya and Egypt, without any kind of reference to oil and gas until Newt Gingrich circled it back around (and you knew he’d be the one to do it). It gave him an opportunity to talk about his plan to decrease the country’s reliance on foreign oil and open up the US oil fields. He was the only one who talked about a specific energy plan.

But the point he made that might have landed the best punch was when he said this, almost as an afterthought:  “This is an administration which, as long as you’re America’s enemy, you’re safe. You know, the only people you’ve got to worry about is if you’re an American ally.”

Santorum nodded broadly. The point: the candidates believe the Obama administration has kowtowed to foreign leaders of dangerous states while alienating those with whom the US historically stands firm. Like Israel.

The conversation turned to education, and Rick Santorum again admitted that his vote in favor of No Child Left Behind was a mistake. His reason: he thought it would do good, but didn’t realize at the time of the vote how much money would be spent to go a relatively short distance. He was booed when he said sometimes you take one for the team. But he schooled the audience by replying, “Politics is a team sport, folks. And sometimes you’ve got to rally together and do something.”

Not wrong.

Mitt Romney talked about Massachusetts’ program for education and charter schools when he was governor, and Newt Gingrich backed up the idea of charter schools and insisted that the problem in education is the teachers’ union. I won’t go into the whole thing here, but it’s worth reading in the transcript. You can search for “education” to find it.

Oh, and Ron Paul flatly stated the Constitution gives the federal government no authority to be involved in education whatsoever. Which I suppose is true, if we’re literal.

One wonders, with everything Paul declares unconstitutional, what he would be president of, exactly.

In the last segment of the debate, John King asked each candidate what he thought was the biggest misconception about him. Ron Paul said it was that he can’t win. Newt Gingrich strayed a bit and talked about what he did as Speaker under Saint Ronald Reagan. Rick Santorum said (albeit long-windedly) it’s that he can’t beat President Obama. Mitt Romney went way off topic and just started reciting his stump speech. When King reminded him of the actual question, he replied:  “You know, you get to ask the questions want, I get to give the answers I want. Fair enough?”

No, sir. Not fair enough. Exactly the opposite of fair enough. What’s fair enough is to answer the question.

Of course, the audience applauded Romney’s line.

Audiences. Hmph.

Transcript: http://archives.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1202/22/se.05.html

Alright, Now It’s Just Fun

There is some serious political news today, y’all. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, two political posts in a row… but you don’t want to hear me whine anymore about my failing body (feeling better, by the way) and I don’t have anything funny to share with you right now except Dave the Dirty Old Co-Worker’s ongoing ministrations to pregnant women (and new dads, turns out – I guess that is a defense against sexism?). So instead I’m going to tell you what made me giggle this morning.

Texas Governor Rick Perry dropped out of the presidential race and endorsed…

…Are you ready?…

…Newt Gingrich.

Are they... are they holding hands?

When I read this, I bounced in my chair and clapped with delight. “Heeheeheeeeee!”

No, really, I did.

I know. I need a hobby.

Now, there are three reasons Rick Perry dropped out of the race. Lack of support, diminishing campaign funds, and… um… what was the third one? Uh… Wow, um… I can’t.

Oops.

Perry’s campaign has had more than one mini-implosion since he got into the mix in August. He wasn’t really ready for the national spotlight. He was not prepared for his earliest debates. I mean not even close. And when he couldn’t remember the three federal departments he would eliminate if he became president, he came off as flaky, uncommitted and unconvinced. A series of gaffes followed him around, and if you’re willing to forgive gaffes, we can put those aside and instead point out the ways he may have alienated the base: his position on illegal immigration being a critical one. But when he said last week that the Obama administration had “overreacted” to a photo of four Marines urinating on the bodies of Taliban fighters, it seemed like a bridge too far.

Perry has always been a staunch defender of the military and was, he rightly claims, the only candidate who voluntarily joined up. But to say that it is anything less than incendiary, offensive and absolutely wrong for America’s military men and women to be photographed happily urinating on the bodies of men they’ve killed made it clear that Perry does not understand the implications on the global scale of pissing on… and pissing off… the organization behind so much of our strife in the last decade. It’s not about respecting the Taliban. It’s about not making them want to kill as many of us as possible all over again. It’s not that all American service members are well-behaved. It’s that there are photos.

Again.

This is not what American values are about. And if Rick Perry wanted to tout American values, he fell off the box.

His other profound misstep was telling his supporters (and the country) that, after a poor showing in Iowa and staging no effort in New Hampshire, he was going to go home to Texas to think about the way forward. The next morning, he announced he was going to be in South Carolina, but by then the fatal blow may have been dealt. The South Carolina primary happens on Saturday and Perry never gained any traction. He now joins Jon Huntsman in nixing the run before the votes are even cast.

But if you were paying attention during the debate the other night, you heard Perry basically concede the nomination early on when he told Mitt Romney that the country can’t un-nominate Romney in September if they find out then about a problem with his tax returns.

Gingrich under fire

So why the endorsement of Gingrich? Gingrich, who is standing squarely under fire for his comments about welfare (seemingly forgetting that there are a lot of white people on welfare, too) and with an indicting story from his second wife, Marianne, in the hopper for tonight on Nightline? Gingrich, whom several prominent Republican congresspeople have said they would not like to work under again because his time as Speaker of the House was such a struggle?

It’s because the Republican voters are so not solidly behind Mitt Romney that the candidates are trying to give them a way to avoid him as the nominee.

Romney ducking shots

It has long been my opinion that, if Mitt Romney gets the nomination (and I believe he will), Republican voters who are not behind him will stay home, and that will hand the election to President Obama. Perry and others are trying to keep that from happening. Just Tuesday night, Sarah Palin told Fox News Channel’s audience that “If I had to vote in South Carolina, in order to keep this thing going, I’d vote for Newt.”

That’s not exactly an endorsement. The prepositional phrase there is key. What she was likely saying was that if Romney wins South Carolina, it’s all over but the shouting, and pushing Gingrich to a win there would at least give him, Santorum and Paul a little room to work. But it came off, to those who may not realize the nuance, as a nod.

Things are looking up. But does it matter?

The other fun news of the day is that Rick Santorum actually won the Iowa primary.  (This is the part where I do my little I Knew It Dance.) An official count released today shows that he beat Romney by 34 votes, reversing the previous result of Romney’s eight vote win over Santorum. There were eight precincts whose votes were not certified by 5pm last night, which disqualifies them. They could have gone either way, but officially, Santorum was the winner. Will that change the trajectory for Mitt Romney? Probably not. It’s too late for people to care now; they’ve moved on from Iowa to New Hampshire where Romney’s win was overwhelming, and now to South Carolina. Iowa never picks a nominee. South Carolina does.  South Carolina has picked every nominee in the Republican party since 1980.

The irony of the Perry drop-out is that it may push votes Santorum’s way despite his endorsement of Gingrich. Santorum, despite what some less evangelical voters consider to be prejudicial stands on social issues, doesn’t come off as nasty and know-it-all as Gingrich does.  Maybe they’d rather have religion than elitist condescension. And really, I’m not sure the people driving the truck care either way. Right now, it’s all about taking the ball away from Romney. Because if he does win South Carolina decisively, he’s going to run right to the end zone with it, to the deafening silence of the crowd.

"I'm open! Right here! Guys? Here!"

 

Now on my bookshelf: Then Again by Diane Keaton

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Superbad

Well, the guy who speaks Chinese is out, and the guys who talk trash showed up in force.

Debate #16. Which I’m not going to belabor here today. I’m going to use this post to belabor something else instead.

The debate was full of arguing. Real, acrimonious, barely civil arguing. (I don’t care what you think politically about Newt Gingrich; the man is a condescending, sanctimonious, know-it-all pr–k. And that’s not a word I ever use. Ever.) The stuff that’s been happening up until now? That was just warm-up. And I think it’s going to be worse this year than ever, because of two relatively small words.

Citizens United.

It sounds so lovely, doesn’t it? Citizenship and unity? Kumbaya. Ha. Yeah. Not likely. Citizens United was the legal case that wound up in front of the Supreme Court in which that illustrious body decided that corporations were people and would be allowed to donate as much money as they wanted to support a candidate indirectly (i.e., not going straight into the candidate’s campaign coffers).

I thought only “liberal” judges were “activist.”

Legal lecture

This was the decision, you may recall, that led to President Obama’s eyebrow-raising hand-slap of the Supreme Court during last year’s State of the Union speech. (That was the one in which a United States Congressman did not yell “You lie!” The You Lie speech was the year before.) But the reason the president upbraided the Court for making the decision is becoming oh, just so crystal clear now.

 

The Super-PAC. It’s going to become the thing you hate most about Campaign 2012, whether you know it or not.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to be a critical enough consumer in the next ten months to read that little print at the bottom of the TV commercials for or against any one candidate or the other. If it says “paid for by” anybody other than the name of a candidate, you’re being snowed by a PAC or a super-PAC. If you have to choose the more evil of the two, it, predictably, is the super-PAC. That’s the one that’s built of ridiculously high donations and contributions, largely from companies that won’t be listed at the bottom of the screen.

Running on principle

Comedy Central standout Stephen Colbert was not invited to last night’s debate in Myrtle Beach, hosted by Fox News Channel (again). But he is running for “president of South Carolina.” He saw a poll that said, even without his name in the race, he was ranked ahead of poor, sad Jon Huntsman in South Carolina. Recognizing the patent ridiculousness of that particular situation, and some other stuff, Huntsman dropped out of the race officially yesterday. I’m sad about that, because even though there was no chance he’d be the nominee, I’d enjoyed watching him develop as a campaigner and yelling at him to please, for the love of all that is holy, drive the point home about China owning so much American debt already. Alas, it is not to be. But Colbert (who is telling media outlets he’s formed an exploratory committee to be on the SC ballot) is doing his thing not to make a mockery of the system, but rather, quite the opposite. He’s doing it to make a point that super-PACs are damaging the already mangled political system in a big, big way.

If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you check out his breakdown of how a super-PAC, full of money and its own misguided virtue (regardless of whose side it’s on), can be run in veeeeerrrry close proximity to a candidate who is not technically allowed to talk to it. Like when your brother would stand with his finger an inch from you and chant, “I’m not touching yoouuuuu…” (First you have to understand that Colbert created his own legitimate super-PAC as the beginning of this point he’s making. And you have to know that some super-PACs are run by candidates’ former staffers.) It may be comedy, but it’s an accurate explanation of how it can legally work. And yes, that guy on the left really is Colbert’s lawyer.

Super-PACs can now do stuff like this. But worse. (This was from the Bush campaign.)

Upshot: super-PACs can say anything they want, about anyone they want, while giving the candidate they purport to back a complete pass on responsibility for the content because they’re not legally allowed to be involved in the ad. And when I say “anything,” I don’t just mean they can put a nasty negative spin on true stuff. I mean they can literally say whatever they want. They can make it up entirely, should they care to court libel law. And nobody can stop them. Even if they did draw a lawsuit, the message would have already been out – that’s the only way the lawsuit could be filed. Begging forgiveness instead of asking permission. And the stations and channels that run the ads are prohibited by FCC law from altering the ads. Remember the anti-Dukakis Willie Horton ads of 1988? It’ll be worse than that.

Are you pickin’ up what I’m layin’ down, here?

Super-PACs are awful. Regardless of who the ad is for or against. Nothing is off-limits. The only thing that reins them in is the judgment of their own people.

And whose fault is it? Not the candidates’. Not really. We all know they’re in it to win, but they don’t totally love the concept of these groups because A) it makes them look like terrible people when an ad from one of their super-PACs runs; and 2) they don’t want to see anyone else run an ad like that against them. They have already – all of them – spent so much time explaining or defending or disavowing what a given super-PAC ad says that it drove a major portion of last night’s debate. Mitt Romney said flat-out that he’d love to get rid of super-PACs entirely. Everyone has said (publicly) that if an ad contains falsehoods it should be removed – but they can’t demand the removal because they’re not allowed to coordinate with the super-PACs. So it’s really not their fault.

It’s the Supreme Court’s fault.

“Corporations are people.” This is what that means.

This is why it’s increasingly important to be informed. Watch the real candidates and listen to what they say. C-SPAN TV and radio are great for this. It’s unedited, so you get the full context. Check out the candidates’ websites, but remember they’re biased and spin-crazy. Read credible sources instead of just the first thing that pops up on Google. Read a lot of stuff, so you get a better overall sense. Read my Political Snark category for all my posts since the dawn of time (aka long-ago beginning of this campaign season). Most of them contain direct breakdowns of debates and candidates’ positions, even if I do use humor and snark here or there. (I make it a serious priority to tell you what the candidates truly said – and in some cases did not say – about a given topic, so you really will know where they stand.)

In case you haven’t figured it out yet… I’m never going to stop telling you it’s important to be active in your citizenry.

The transcript from last night’s debate: http://foxnewsinsider.com/2012/01/17/transcript-fox-news-channel-wall-street-journal-debate-in-south-carolina/

The American Educational Standard: Up For Debate

Yes. There was another debate. This time hosted by CNBC on the campus of  in Rochester, Michigan. And I’m doing this post a little differently, because… well, frankly, I feel like it. I’m going to mostly just rant about one particular topic they discussed, and the reaction thereto, which made me wonder if I was having a stroke and just hallucinating what they said. Turns out… nope.

This debate focused almost entirely on the economy, and when I say almost entirely, I mean there was only one question that wasn’t about the economy. It was the question Herman Cain got about sexual harassment allegations. The moderator tried desperately (and pathetically) to link it to economic subjects by talking about CEOs and character, but the question was still about scandal. Cain responded that the American people deserve better than someone who gets tried in the court of public opinion on (he says) false allegations.

The audience booed when he got the question and cheered raucously when he answered it. As usual, the crowd really got fired up a lot in this event. I have to remember that they’re going to be oriented to the right of political medians since they’re attending a GOP debate, so maybe they’re just more likely to cheer for things like Newt Gingrich basically telling an entire generation of Americans (while standing on a college campus) that they’re a bunch of bums who expect too much from their education.

Yeah.

"Oh, you academic elite, you just don't get it."

Fine, I’ll be more specific: about 2/3 of the way through the debate, the candidates got a question on the burden of student loan debt. Among the answers: suggestions that maybe everyone should just go to college online instead of at institutions with actual brick-and-mortar buildings. Sure. Who needs the formative social and intellectual experience of college? Just do it over the web, alone, in your basement. Like porn.

Ron Paul, not surprisingly, began ranting about the Fed creating a bubble, audit the Fed, now the government holds a bunch of debt for an education system that isn’t working and is spitting out kids who can’t get jobs. On its face, that’s hard to argue against. But here’s where it started going to the zoo: Paul said he wants to get rid of the department of education and give tax credits to students if you have to. So the moderator asked how kids are supposed to pay for school if they can’t get government-backed student loans, and Paul said, “The way you pay for cell phones and computers!”

"Cell phones and computers! Ahh, that was a good one!"

Um… what?

I think what he was trying to say is that the market principles of supply and demand will eventually lower the price of tuition, but it’s a totally unequal comparison that left him looking absolutely clueless about how much it costs to go to college. As usual with Paul, I think there were thoughts in his head that had to go unexpressed due to time constraints, and he couldn’t congeal a coherent response, leaving viewers to take their own cognitive leaps.

"I crack myself up! They bought it! Can you believe it?!"

And then we proceeded to the next zoo exhibit when Newt Gingrich curmudgeonly blurted that these little rat bastards are just going to have to work for it. He cited the Johnson administration’s investment in student loan programs that eventually ballooned, he said, to allow kids to go to school longer because they don’t see the cost; take fewer hours per semester; and tolerate absurd rises in tuition. (“Absurd” is one of Gingrich’s favorite words.) Then he used the College of the Ozarks as an example of what he wants: a school you can’t apply to unless you need student aid, but which has no student aid. Students have to work 20 hours a week during the class year and 40 hours a week during the summer to pay for school, and most of them graduate with no debt. And then he said this:

“It will be a culture shock for the students of America to learn we actually expect them to go to class, study, get out quickly, charge as little as possible, and emerge debt-free by doing the right things for four years.”

The crowd went wild.

And my head exploded.

I don’t even know where to start with this. Does anyone even know a graduate of the College of the Ozarks? But I suppose I’ll start with the ways in which I think they might be right: I agree that tuition goes up absurdly from year to year at most schools. I agree that the federal loan system isn’t really working very well, creating insurmountable debt for students and for the government. And I agree that maybe more tax credits for parents or students paying tuition costs would help.

And that’s about where my agreement ends.

I did not hear anyone talk about how to actually get costs at colleges and universities down while still offering students the best possible competitive education, with highly qualified teachers and well-developed curricula that implements up-to-date resources. That is what is necessary to continue the education of America, which, by the way, is what leads to American business and manufacturing success… which leads to a better economy. Sure, back when American business and manufacturing were booming, a lot of people didn’t go to college, and there are people who didn’t go to college who have succeeded in business astronomically well (Bill Gates comes to mind). But it’s the exception, not the rule, in a changed world and a global marketplace. And in a time when we are hammering away on the American education system and the need for higher learning so that we can be successful as individuals and as a nation, it sort of tweaked me off to hear Newt Gingrich say that college kids just expect to ride through school without a care.

Does he know a college kid?

I worked before college. I babysat as a kid and had a job by the time I was 15. I worked when I was in college, 1995 – 1999. I worked a lot. And my school, my freshman year, cost $16,000 in tuition alone. By my senior year, it was $19,000. That’s incredibly good for a private, small, liberal arts college that has consistently been ranked among the best buys in education by US News and World Report from years before I started all the way through the present day. My four-year scholarship paid $8,000 a year. I was the oldest child and my parents saved for their entire married lives to send me (and my sisters) to college. My school turned out to be the second-least expensive of the four daughters. And I still had a student loan. It wasn’t a big one, but it was there.

Frehsman year I made $50 a week from the school for working on campus, unlimited hours that weren’t tracked; I just worked until the job was done. Spring of sophomore year, I was working without pay in an internship for at least 20 hours a week. By junior year, I was working those hours or more (sometimes 30) with pay, for $7.50 an hour, in the industry in which I wanted to work upon graduation. By senior year, I was working up to 38 hours a week. But I wasn’t paying my tuition or my room and board, because I wasn’t making a salary that was livable. I was just trying to save money so I could be independent when I graduated, get a place and not move back home. I was paying for my car insurance and my gas, and some incidentals here and there, but I was not a wasteful kid. My guy friends bought my beer. My money went to a car and an apartment when I graduated, and health insurance until my employer’s program kicked in. My paychecks through college got me to graduation. My $25,000 salary when I graduated kept me paying my bills and eating. That’s what I worked 20-38 hours a week (sometimes with two jobs) to build up.

And not everyone can work 20 hours a week. Some kids aren’t blessed with the same gifts. They have to study harder, spend more time on things. And by the way, Mr. Speaker: if you want them to work 20 hours a week for pay while they’re in school, you’re leaving them no time to get internships that might give them entry into their field of study.

This is all a bunch of shouting at the rain, because Paul and Gingrich won’t get the nomination. I’m angry about their responses because they reflect what, judging by crowd reaction, is apparently a larger sentiment: you damned kids and your “intellectual endeavors.” Come down off your high horse and stop whining about how much it costs to get the education we’re telling you is essential to your escape from poverty.

I get that some kids don’t appreciate what they have, and some kids don’t realize that maybe they can afford the time to bear some of the financial burden of college. But to call out an entire segment of the American population – the ones who will take care of you when you’re really old, by the way – is just ignorant, careless and a lot of other words I won’t use because they’re blue. I’ve said since I was 19 that my generation will be the first not do to as well as or better than its parents. The generation after mine is in a world of hurt, too. They want something better, and Gingrich made it sound like the problem with the American higher education system is the students. And the crowd seemed to agree.

I’ve been saying for months that I might do a post on debate audiences. I intended it to be funny. But every time they cheer rampantly for things like this, I can’t fathom understanding them enough to do it. To be honest, the way debate crowds cheer for things I find completely objectionable really scares me. It seems fairly obvious that these people are voting with their voices and will probably vote with levers or paper ballots on election day. I have to hope they’re just excited to be there, and that their exuberance is the product of a strange kind of Orwellian group-think that takes over. Because if this many people all over the country really think that a candidate for president should not be questioned about sexual harassment allegations, that college students are lazy golddiggers, that gay people don’t deserve rights and protection from violence at the hands of their own military brethren, that might always makes right, that only white Christian straight Americans deserve food and healthcare and affordable roofs over their heads, that companies always matter more than individuals because that’s where the money is… I don’t understand what we’re doing anymore.

End of rant. Other, semi-impartial debate observations in brief:

"Hey, everybody! I've got you all fooled!"

Herman Cain’s answer to everything is “it’s not true” or “grow the economy” or “999.” That’s all he’s got. I don’t get why he’s still polling a the top. Wake up, America. There, I said it.

Most of the candidates are isolationist when it comes to Europe’s debt crisis. They do not want the US to step in beyond the capacity it holds with the International Monetary Fund.

"How can I convince you? What do you want me to say?"

Romney had a weak answer when questioned about how Americans can be sure he’ll stand firm on his positions if he changes his mind so often to run for office. He said he’s a steady and consistent man who’s been with the same woman for 42 years, in the same church all his life. It was a personal approach to a professional problem and I’m not sure it will work.

It seems the candidates have been scolded by the ghost of Ronald Reagan (and apparently he’s a saint now), so they did much, much less fighting with each other and gave each other much more credit and leeway on positions. Very interesting change from the last two debates.

Nobody won this debate, but Rick Perry had a total mental meltdown when he was asked which departments of the federal government he would eliminate. I can’t even describe it to you, so I’ll link to it instead.

Huntsman embraced the Occupy movement by saying he wants to be president of the 99%… but he also wants to be president of the 1%. Everyone else either avoided talk of the Occupy movement or distanced themselves from the people involved (and Gingrich still thinks they’re all a bunch of bums, like college kids, who, along with the media and “academia,” have no clue about history. He said it. I swear. And once again, the crowd roared in his favor. These people realize they’re on TV, right? They’re part of the media machine at this point. They know that, right?)

Michele Bachmann says freedom isn’t free, so people who are destitute should pay something – even if it’s “$10… the cost of two Happy Meals.” I don’t know whether that example was meant as a way to quantify what $10 is or if it was a sweeping judgment on the poor.

Herman Cain said the previous Congress kept a House bill off the floor because it would have required Americans to send healthcare control back to doctors and patients. He said “Princess Nancy” kept it in committee. He was referring to then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi. To call her “Princess Nancy” in the face of a growing sexual harassment scandal was incredibly stupid, let alone disrespectful.

"Ha! Did you hear that?! How is this guy standing here?"

The moderators (who sucked, by the way, and I usually don’t say that) gave Romney the lion’s share of time responding to what do do about China vis-a-vis trade, currency manipulation and the rising possibility that they will overpower the US in the world. I get that this is because he’s the likely nominee, but there’s a guy standing all the way down stage left who was the freaking ambassador to China. You wanna maybe ask him? Romney said he’d slap tariffs on China because they’re manipulating market price with their control of currency valuation. Huntsman (who laughed when the moderator told him he had 30 seconds to answer the same question) said you can toss out applause lines about slapping on tariffs, but that’s only pandering; it won’t work and in fact it will cause a trade war, because they’ll put tariffs on American goods in exchange. He said you have to continue sitting down and talking out trade options, without glamour or flash, but with productivity.

Why isn’t anybody listening to this guy? Oh, yeah, because the crowd wants blood instead of rationale.

Moderator Jim Cramer is completely obnoxious and better suited for a bad sports show than CNBC. Yelling questions at candidates is not helpful. It is entertaining, though.

Going forward: Cain’s got a lot to lose, and I think he’s on minute 13 of his 15. But nobody was particularly impressive tonight, so things might stagnate for a while until this Cain mess is over.

 

Swinging For the Fences

I had a serious dilemma trying to figure out whether to watch the GOP debate or the baseball game last night.

No, really. I did.

Technically, I shouldn’t have cared about either thing. The Phillies are out, their hopes dashed in five games by Jack’s beloved St. Louis Cardinals. Pfft. Whatever. And the debates may now officially be an exercise in futility, because despite the fact that Herman Cain has surged, nobody is talking about Rick Perry anymore, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie body-slammed the right with two major announcements:

  1. He is still not running for president… no really, he means it.
  2. He is endorsing Mitt Romney.

The first thing wasn’t a surprise, because he’s been saying all along that he’s not running, but he gave a speech at the Reagan National Library and Nancy Reagan was there and some people were all “You should run” and so out of respect for the former first lady he said he would reconsider.

There are lots of reasons he answered correctly, by the way. For example, and in no particular order: his style works in New Jersey, but wouldn’t work nationally; he is far, far more moderate than some of the people who were calling on him to run realized, particularly on illegal immigration, climate change and gun control; and he doesn’t offer anything that the other guys (namely, Mitt Romney) don’t offer. He’d be a redundant candidate, and he knows it. Any run from him this year would have been only to gain national exposure to run for either the Senate or the presidency down the line.

But Tuesday, when he came out and endorsed Mitt Romney, he pushed momentum very clearly in Romney’s favor, and wasted no time doing it. It’s sort of like Game 2 of the NLCS when the Cards brought out the bats in a big way in the fourth through sixth innings. Sure, things could change, but if you wanted to beat the traffic home, you were probably okay to leave early.

That got me thinking: baseball and political campaigns are kind of similar. Both can sometimes be overly long and tedious processes. Both contain their share of change-ups and even sliders here and there. Both need good pitching to come out a winner. In either sport, a match-up can be won or lost on a single error. In either sport, there are some spectacular meltdowns and some teams that just peak early and fade.

There’s even a little bit of a financial comparison. Herman Cain and the Tampa Bay Rays both proved that they can pull off an impressive surge without having the funding that the big guys have. And both wind up sitting in the bleachers for the championship run. (Cain is too green to get the nod from the GOP.) Still, it’s fun to watch and it reminds people of why it’s sometimes so much fun to root for the underdog.

I found a way to watch both events, by the way. Hooray for the internets.

This debate was only about the economy. I hope you’ll forgive me for not giving you a real play-by-play. Nobody said anything new, and since part of my multitasking was also that I was trying to get some work done, I didn’t get to watch the whole time; I was just listening to a lot of it. So instead of giving you platforms, with which you’re familiar if you’ve read my previous debate posts (check out the Political Snark category for a comprehensive review), I’m going to break this down into baseball terms.

Herman Cain, for all his momentum recently, still can’t stop talking about his 9-9-9 plan, and in this debate, a couple of the candidates got to expose it for the overly simple problem it would likely be. In fact, this translated to my favorite Rick Santorum Moment, in which Santorum questioned Cain directly and asked him, with his lack of governing experience, how the American people could trust him not to allow that tax to be raised. Cain’s response was that there are three deterrents to that:

  1. He would ask Congress to include a 2/3 majority vote before raising the tax;
  2. His simple, visible and transparent plan would allow the American people to hold Congress’ feet to the fire;
  3. He would be president and wouldn’t sign anything that raises that tax.

Under his breath, Santorum groused, “You wouldn’t be president forever.”
And I agreed with Rick Santorum. And then the world shifted on its axis. But I digress. Point is: Cain put up a pop fly everybody would cheer for, but Santorum easily caught it and Cain was out.

A moderator asked Rep. Michele Bachmann if it was right that no Wall Street executives have gone to jail for the damage they did to the economy. Her answer was that the problem could be traced back to the federal government, not Wall Street. She said it was the government that pushed subprime loans and community reinvestment and housing goals, pushing banks to lend to those who were not qualified and withholding business merger possibilities if the banks didn’t make the loans. She said Freddie Mac & Fannie Mae created artificially low mortgage rates and lower credit qualifications for the first time in history.

Republican home run.

But later she blew the run when she championed her stance on insisting that Congress not raise the debt ceiling and give President Obama “a $2.4 billion dollar blank check.” She’s said this several times before. You know what makes me nuts about it? If there’s an amount written in, it’s not a blank check. Error. Then she said she’s a federal tax lawyer: “That’s what I do for a living.” Wait. I thought you were a congresswoman. Error #2. And then she said that if you take Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan and turn it upside-down, you’ll find the devil is in the details. I don’t think she’s wrong about the flaws in the plan, but what’s with the kitsch? You just sort of called the plan evil, and called Herman Cain Satan by association. Bad throw. Error #3.

Newt Gingrich continues his codgerly rant against all media, which makes me write him off as a sore loser arguing a call with an ump, with or without spittle. I had to chuckle at his characterization of the Occupy movement: he figures they’re basically two groups – either left-wing agitators who would happily show up at whatever movement springs up next week, or sincere middle-class people who are much more like the Tea Party. Gingrich says the difference is that the decent people pick up after themselves, and the activists trash the place and walk away.

I think Newt Gingrich might be the out-of-touch, once-great old manager in this campaign. He grumbles in the dugout while scratching himself and occasionally looks up and notes accurately that someone has just completely screwed up on strategy and cost the team. You don’t know what to do with a guy like that.

Meanwhile, if there’s an umpire in this bunch, it’s Mitt Romney. He’s the guy who doesn’t like being argued with or interrupted, but he’s also the guy with the good eye who tends to know all the rules and stays on message. He generally sees what questions are coming and knows how to call the play. He doesn’t get them all right, but if somebody gets in his face, he calmly points at the dugout and sends them on their way.

And Rick Perry is starting to strike me as the owner who has no real idea of how baseball works. (This, from the woman who just realized yesterday that, in 34 years, she has never asked anyone what the catchers’ signals to the pitchers actually stand for.) He’s still horrible in debates. His moderation does still show here and there, but mostly he’s struggling to find a way to word his answers.

Jon Huntsman is the fan who scores the game obsessively. Finally, he’s started talking about China, and man does he have useful knowledge. But now he has to find a way to make it understandable. After a question about China’s manipulation of currency and its effects on pricing and exports, he started talking about quantitative easing, parts one and two. He eventually figured out how to be social, but at the moment, nobody wants to sit next to him.

And I’m not even sure Ron Paul suited up. He didn’t blow anything. He just didn’t really get any hits or force any outs.

I’m learning a lot about baseball lately, watching the signs and thinking through the plays. And I’m starting to wonder if this bunch of candidates is doing that, or if they’re just taking the swings that will make the crowd cheer. In the major league playoffs, if you want to win the game, there’s a delicate balance. Play it right and you’ll get the crowd behind you. Play it wrong and you could be going home to watch the big games with everybody else. Or you could be the team that comes from relative obscurity and wins it all, without anybody ever really understanding how.

Ding! Round Three: the Reagan Presidential Library

“If 10% is good enough for God, 9% had better be good enough for the federal government.”

And so began the latest GOP presidential debate. What a perfect way to gel the GOP presidential candidates’ general philosophy: “Render unto God what is God’s. Ceasar can kiss my ass.”

Herman Cain is the candidate I quoted off the top, there. He was talking about his proposed 9-9-9 tax system: 9% tax on corporations, personal income and sales. His theory is that this tax system would level the playing field for all businesses, large and small, and create a new, otherwise unheard-of version of a flat tax that would benefit members of every socioeconomic class.

It was just the first of several semi-ridiculous things uttered on the stage.  To wit:

Rep. Michele Bachmann thinks that “Obamacare” (I hate that term) is responsible for a 47% jobless rate for young African-Americans and 37% for young Latinos. I have no idea how, since most of it hasn’t been implemented yet and I’m pretty sure those young people were not working in the health industry before that law was passed.

President Reagan? Is that you?

Rep. Rick Santorum said Ronald Reagan would have “melted like the old Wicked Witch of the West” before he would have handled Libya the way President Obama did. It was only one of many, many pandering statements and suppositions about the late president. Don’t get me started on the canonization of Ronald Reagan. (This debate was held at the library bearing his name.) I mean no disrespect to the late president, but aside from the fact that he was president 30 years ago – an eon in political time – the gilded age that Republicans seem to remember under President Reagan just did not happen. Maybe these politicians just think it did because they were among those wealthy people whose money it was hoped would “trickle down” to the lowly masses below them.

I told you not to get me started.

Gov. Rick Perry says “maybe it’s time for some provocative language in this country.” He

This man does not control Social Security.

was talking about his firm belief that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme and that it is a “monstrous lie” to tell young people that they’re paying into a system that will be there for them when they need it. This statement did two things: it told everyone who votes in Republican primaries that Bernie Madoff gave them Social Security; and it perpetuated the misunderstanding that what we pay in is what we can expect to get out. But I’m not going to argue about Social Security; I’m a member of a generation that’s fairly certain we won’t see any of its benefits when we reach “retirement age.” That is, should we actually get to retire — my PayPal account will be set up shortly; feel free to make donations to my future well-being. Yes, it’s socialist. Deal with it. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, HeadStart, welfare, college loans, federally-backed mortgages, FEMA, the stock market vis-a-vis your 401(k)… all socialist to some degree, if you want to be literal about it. So would it kill you to give $10 so I can still blog when I’m 80?

Anyway, what I’ll argue with Gov. Perry about here is the idea that it’s time for some provocative language in this country. I argue with that because I seem to remember spending eight years under the leadership of another Texas governor who had a “Bring It On” attitude toward foreign policy that earned us substantial dings in our reputation around the world.

Rep. Ron Paul doesn’t think the government should regulate the safety of vehicles or air travel; that should be left up to the companies that do the business in those arenas. Let’s ask the thoughts of drivers whose vehicles’ manufacturers resist recalls until some real disasters happen. He also thinks gas could cost 10 cents a gallon if we just applied ourselves. So… he’s still nuts. He makes sense, I root for him, and then he goes off the rails and I’m all, “Why do you keep doing that?!” It’s amazing. But I give him props (not “propes,” as Rick Perry called them) for being consistent.

Newt Gingrich says the President doesn’t really want to create jobs, because he hasn’t   asked Herman Cain how to do it. I don’t even know what to do with that assertion. He also told Brian Williams that he, frankly, was not interested in the moderators’ efforts to make these Republicans fight with each other. Memo to Gingrich: that’s what debates are for.

The candidate whose campaign frustrates me the most is still Jon Huntsman. He’s still not jumping up and down enough about China, where he was an ambassador for the US. Brian Williams fed him a question on China’s relationship to the American economy, and he still didn’t do it right. Sigh. He delivers applause lines and doesn’t get applause. Three people clapped when he said that he wants to bring American troops home from Afghanistan. At least half the room clapped when Rep. Ron Paul said it. Makes no sense. Huntsman, when asked about being the only one on the stage not to sign a pledge on taxes, said, “I’d love to get everyone to sign a pledge not to sign pledges. I have a pledge to my wife. I pledge allegiance to the United States of America. Aside from that, no pledges.” His point was that pledges equal special interests and that gets in the way of governing. He gets it. Apparently, the audience didn’t.

But Huntsman is working the eyebrow and I think he’s been studying the Andrew Shepard model of public speaking. That’s not an insult; I love Andrew Shepard. Then again, Shepard was a Democrat, so that’s probably not what Huntsman was going for.

Also he wasn’t real.

If you're standing behind the engines of what used to be Air Force One, how can you NOT think there's such a thing as man-made climate change?

But here’s what I love about Huntsman: he’s not like the others. I loved the anti-pledge line. I loved when he flatly stated that you can’t run away from science. He was talking about climate change, but I think it can be applied universally in this crop of candidates, be it climate change, human development, medicine, whatever you’d like. Gov. Perry said about climate change, “The science is not settled on this. The idea that we would put the American economy in jeopardy based on science that’s not settled yet…” I’m sorry, but I have to ask: WHAT MORE PROOF DO YOU NEED? If you’re going to talk to me about the economy versus the literal breakdown of the planet, and, in your head, the corporate (not individual) economy wins hands-down, I have to question your morals.

Isn’t that ironic?

Rep. Bachmann seemed to want to compensate for her flagging numbers by pumping up

Pump up the volume!

the volume in her hair. It was the only thing about her that didn’t fall flat in this debate. That sounds sexist, so I’ll also point out that Mr. Romney seemed to have just gotten out of the shower before the debate began. Maybe that was actually the case. Maybe he just had way too much gel in his hair. But between that and the graying temples, and a suit that looked super-blue under the lights when the camera had him head-on, he actually looked a little like a lean version of Paulie Walnutsfrom “The Sopranos.”  And Newt Gingrich has the most amazing hair of all of them. It’s so fluffy and shiny and white. I was transfixed by it. So transfixed that I

Even Rick Santorum is awed by Gingrich's hair.

almost forgot to be completely befuddled by the way the crowds at these debates react to him when he says something populist. He reminds me of my father when he does it. He says something curt and snippy and gives the moderator a look that says, “I dare you to defy me,” and it goes over. This is, as I’ve said before, the most cerebral candidate on the stage. From what I’ve seen in recent campaigns, a populist approach and a cerebral approach do not go hand-in-hand. But when it comes from him, all awkward and unsure of how it will land, the audiences eat it up.

I think I might have to do a post on debate audiences. They crack me up.

Rep. Bachmann did herself some favors on foreign policy by talking about her service on the congressional committee. But I don’t think she had a night that was better than average. She’s been the most threatened by Perry’s entrance in the race. I haven’t quite worked out why she’s suffered as much as she has for it. If you have, please share your thoughts.

Former Pennsylvania senator and Google sensation (and oh, what a sensation) Rick Santorum got called on a few times. Who knew MSNBC would call on him more than Fox News Channel did? But he’s still a fringe candidate and I don’t see him ever gaining ground. He’ll hang around until Super Tuesday and then he’ll be gone.

Gov. Rick Perry sounds more like Pres. George W. Bush than he did last time I heard him

"You wanna go?! I'll fight you right now, old man!"

speak. “We got rid of a bad man in the form of Osama bin Laden,” he said. It’s not that it’s not true. It’s that he sounds exactly like the guy most of us (including a lot of staunch Republicans) were dying to get rid of in 2008. Why is it working for him? That said, I don’t think he had the night he hoped for in this debate. This was his chance to really explode onto the national stage, and instead I think he just introduced his persona with his “cuttin’ and cappin’ and gettin’.” Right now, I see no difference between him and President Bush.

I take that back. Gov. Perry comes off as being more thoughtful and intelligent.

I don’t actually think anyone really stood out in this debate. But that puts it in the Romney win column, for me. He’s still the one to beat, and with Bachmann fading and Perry gunslinging, he’s the only one left looking presidential.

But I really hope Rep. Ron Paul hangs around, just for the entertainment value.

Huntsman debates whether to use his powers for good or evil over Perry and Paul.

For a transcript of this debate: check out this link from the New York Times.

Monuments To Mediocrity: How Soundbites Ruined Government (and Why It’s Our Fault)

We live in an age of immediacy and abbreviation. Email instead of snail mail. Texts instead of voicemails. One hundred forty (oh, sorry, 140) characters in a tweet. Four hundred thirty-two (432) characters in a Facebook status update. Drive-thru restaurants. ATMs. (We can’t even spell those words out.) Give it to me quick and let me get on with my life. If it can be done without me having to actually listen to you, so much the better.

So is it any wonder that the world of politics is what it is today?

The clearest example I can find in recent history is the 2004 presidential campaign. Kerry v. Bush. Why did Kerry lose that election? I, personally, don’t believe it was because of the Swiftboat thing. I believe it was because Kerry did not know how to speak in easily-digested, clever, 15-second soundbites. He was mocked, made the subject of late-night comedy, for his tendency to go on and on about any particular topic. I remember a Jon Stewart bit, years later, about what he named his boat. (If you don’t have the patience to watch the whole thing, just fast-forward to the 2:04 mark.) It was hilarious, sure. But was the joke actually on us?

What Senator John Kerry understood, for which the rest of us just didn’t have time, is that governing is not easily boiled down to a quick snippet of memorable slogans. This is complicated stuff. And one needs a complicated mind to understand it and do it well.

In American history, there are examples of complicated minds who understood how to govern while also understanding how to speak to the American people. Bill Clinton. Ronald Reagan. Ted Kennedy. Ann Richards. You’ll notice I’m giving relatively recent references. That’s not because of politics. That’s because of Americans.

When Americans pioneered and then embraced the nature of the mass media (r)evolution, politics had to change. No longer could we put up with wordy fireside chats.

(Who wants to sit and stare at a radio?)

No more did we tolerate laborious discussion in a public forum without some flash to entertain us. As the digital age dawned and then grew, we didn’t want to sit for hours and watch debates. We wanted soundbites. We wanted low-effort ways to figure out in an instant who we liked and who we didn’t. Maybe it mattered what they said. Maybe it only mattered how they said it.

Suddenly, there was a ubiquitous poll question on every network’s graphics: Which candidate would you rather have a beer with/invite to a backyard barbeque?

Really? This is how we’re deciding who will run the country? I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough beers and been to enough backyard barbeques to tell you in no uncertain terms that I do not want any of the people with whom I spent that time to become the leader of the free world. Beer pong and badminton skills do not a president make.

Except for President George W. Bush, the first man elected almost exclusively, you have to figure, because he won the backyard barbeque poll.

Mmmmm... pork!

Look where that got us.

Somehow, in the technology age, wit and pith overtook erudition and intelligence as our main standards of leadership. We favored sassy over smart, savvy over strategic, composed over considerate. We wanted style instead of substance and punch instead of precision. “Bring it on” instead of “Achieving our goals does not require us to build a flawless democracy, defeat the Taliban in every corner of the country, or create a modern economy—what we’re talking about is “good-enough” governance, basic sustainable economic development and Afghan security forces capable enough that we can draw down our forces.”

Ironically, when it comes to politics, the Information Age is actually keeping us from truly being informed. And now, we blame politicians for the fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.

I’m not saying they shouldn’t shoulder some of the blame. By and large, they’ve given in to the hype, and the next thing we know, they’re offering Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate. But what would we do if they all bucked the trend and spoke like Senator John Kerry instead of like President George W. Bush?

When we think of our most honored leaders, our most revered patriots, we think of Lincoln, Roosevelt, Washington and Kennedy. We remember Jefferson and Dr. King. Those are the men to whom monuments have been erected. And we cherish them not only because they could give fine speeches with soaring rhetoric, or write documents that give us chills. We cherish them because they had the brains to back it up.

Somehow, we’ve gone from that level of appreciation to completely writing off an impressive leader because he said he was for the Iraq war spending bill before he was against it, (halfway down the page) and then trying to offer his reasons. Fine, so Kerry wasn’t the best at playing the game. Since when is changing one’s position in the face of the facts – and wanting people to understand why – such a loathsome quality?

Now, we’re gearing up for the next presidential race. No one has announced for sure that they’re running, but here’s who’s stirring the pot:

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who paints himself as “the opposite of Obama.” Interesting, since he’s a good ol’ Southern white boy with a Confederate flag hanging in his office.

Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who thinks the American Revolution began in New Hampshire rather than Massachusetts, and holds up tea bags when she talks.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is widely regarded as one of the most cerebral politicians around, who thought Sen. Kerry was a flip-flopper… and then flip-flopped on Libya.

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.The only person so far to form an exploratory committee (required to start raising campaign funds). His present strategy includes apologizing for his support of cap-and-trade.

Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Donald Trump and Sarah Palin are still out there, floating around in the pool of potential candidates, but none of them have really committed to anything, and none of them showed up in Iowa or New Hampshire recently.

Is anyone else completely underwhelmed by this lot? These Packers of the Populist Punch who bring nothing formidable to bear on the national conversation? Who may be capable, but apparently aren’t desirous, of articulating anything other than party lines?

This week, we’re back to hearing soundbites about the budget battle. House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Whip Eric Cantor squaring off against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senator Chuck Schumer (who got caught on tape this week telling fellow Dems what words to use in interviews about the budget process. Like this is a huge surprise, and everyone thought it was pure coincidence that all of the Republicans use the same words, and all of the Democrats use the same words). “The Democrats need to show that they’re serious about fixing the problem” vs. “The Republicans need to decide which is worse: angering their Tea Party base or shutting down the federal government.”

And both sides repeatedly spouting the new favored line in modern rhetoric: that the other side is “kicking the can down the road.”

My personal opinion, based on the actual budget proposals in play, is that both sides still have it wrong. And I think they both know it. There is a $1.5 trillion deficit. Democrats want to cut $21 billion in spending for the fiscal year, but might be willing to take it to $33 billion if they trim defense and “mandatory” programs that get automatic funding. Republicans want to cut $61 billion, including funding for Planned Parenthood, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Environmental Protection Agency, and education programs. They’re not willing to lower the number. And lest we believe that the Republicans are the closest to the correct answer because they want to cut the most, we should require them to show their work: their $61 billion cut would make it basically impossible to enact the health care overhaul. So now you know their motive.

That doesn’t really work in a soundbite, though.

I’m sitting here now, staring at how I’ve wound up this entry, and I’m thinking, “It needs something. It needs… pizzazz.” But you know what? I’m going to leave it like it is. Because reaching for pizzazz just means I’ve fallen for the same tricks I’ve been ranting against.