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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Military Service is for Suckers

Monday was Memorial Day, when Americans are supposed to remember military veterans, particularly those who made sacrifices — lives, limbs, sanity — fighting our wars.

As usual, rhetoric was abundant. People hung flags. Some placed flowers on military graves. There were parades, including one in which a reporter got hit by a drone. President Obama added an oddly pacifist twist to his annual speech, noting that it was “the first Memorial Day in 14 years that the United States is not engaged in a major ground war.”

Excuse me while I puke.

Talk is nice, but veterans need action. Disgusting but true: when it comes to actual help —spending enough money to make sure they can live with dignity — talk is all the U.S. has to offer.

It isn’t just last year’s scandal at the Veterans Administration, which made vets wait for ages to see a doctor, then faked the books to make itself look responsive — and where a whopping three employees lost their jobs as a result. The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that more than 57,000 homeless veterans, some just poor, others suffering from mental illness, sleep on the street on any given night.

The Pentagon can easily afford to solve these problems. But vets aren’t a spending priority. New wars are. For example, we’re fighting a $40 billion-a-year air campaign against ISIS, although the Islamic State can’t attack the U.S. $40 billion is enough to buy every homeless veteran a $700,000 house.

What you might not know is that this isn’t new.

The U.S. has consistently and ruthlessly screwed vets since the beginning. At this point, army recruiters should thank the heavens that American schools don’t teach history; if they did, no one would enlist.

During the Revolutionary War, officers had been promised a pension and half pay for life. After the British were defeated in 1783, however, Congress reneged on its pledge and issued checks for five years pay, period. “If officers felt cheated, enlisted men felt absolutely betrayed…the common soldier got a pat on the back and a shove out the door,” wrote the historian Andrew C. Lannen. “Some soldiers were given land warrants, but it took many years before they became redeemable. “Impoverished veterans in dire need of cash sold them for pennies on the dollar to investors who could afford to wait several years to collect at full value.”

For more than half a century after beating the British, veterans of the War of 1812 got nothing. Finally, as part of a payout to vets of the Mexican War of 1846-1848 — who themselves were made to wait 23 years — the 1812 vets received service pensions in 1871. By then, many had died of their injuries or old age.

Union troops won the Civil War, but that didn’t stop the government from cheating them out of their benefits too. By the end of 1862, the military was only making good on 7% of claims filed by widows and orphans of the fallen. At least 360,000 Union soldiers were killed, leaving close to a million survivors. But 20 years after the war, the pension office only acknowledged receiving 46,000 applications — less than 5% of those eligible.

Though fading from historical memory, the “Bonus Army” was perhaps the most famous example of the American government’s poor treatment of its war heroes.

Repeating the Revolutionary War policy of “I will gladly pay you a thousand Tuesdays from now for your cannon-fodder corpse today,” Congress awarded veterans of World War I service certificates redeemable for pay plus interest — in 1945, more than two decades later. The Great Depression prompted impoverished vets to form a proto-Occupy movement, the Bonus Expeditionary Force.

In 1932, 43,000 Bonus Army members, their families and supporters camped out in Washington to demand that Congress issue immediate payment in cash. Two generals who’d later become notorious hardasses during World War II, Douglas MacArthur and George Patton, led troops to clear out the camps, shooting, burning and injuring hundreds of vets, whom MacArthur smeared as “communists.” Eighteen years after the end of World War I, in 1936, Congress overrode FDR’s veto and paid out the Bonus.

Even those who served in the so-called “good war” got cheated. “According to a VA estimate, only one in seven of the survivors of the nation’s deceased soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who likely could qualify for the pension actually get the monthly checks,” reported The Charlotte Observer in 2005. These nearly two million survivors include those whose spouses and parents served in World War II, as well as Korea and Vietnam.

Remember this the next time you hear some politician or their media allies claim to “support our troops.”

Support? They don’t even pay them enough to let them sleep inside.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Hillary Clinton’s Life of Crime

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Bill and Hillary Clinton “earned” — can a mortal earn such stratospheric sums? — “at least $30 million over the last 16 months, mainly from giving paid speeches to corporations, banks and other organizations,” The New York Times reports. “They have now earned more than $125 million on the [lecture] circuit since leaving the White House in 2001.”

This is an important issue. But the big story has little to with what actually matters.

Coverage of the Clintons’ spectacularly lucrative speaking career has focused on how it affects Hillary’s 2016 presidential campaign — specifically the political damage caused by the public’s growing perception that Hillary is out of touch with the common man and woman. It is a promising line of inquiry for her detractors (myself included).

Hillary is out of touch. She hasn’t been behind the wheel of an automobile for nearly 20 years, is a multi-multi-millionaire who nevertheless considered herself “dead broke” and still believes that she and her husband are not among “the truly well off.” (Maybe Bill still drives.) Ostentatious wealth coupled with tonedeafness didn’t help Mitt “47%” Romney in 2012, or John “I can’t remember how many houses I own” McCain in 2008 — and they were Republicans, a party that gleefully despises the poor and jobless. For a Democrat under heavy fire from her party’s progressive base — with Elizabeth Warren, Bill di Blasio and Bernie Sanders leading the charge — this stuff could be politically fatal.

But the media ought to focus on the real issue. FDR was wealthy, yet he created the social safety net as we know it (what’s left of it, anyway). JFK and RFK came from money, yet no one doubted their commitment to help the downtrodden. Liberals distrust Hillary due to her and her husband’s long record of kowtowing to Wall Street bankers and transnational corporations, supporting jobs-killing “free trade” agreements, backing the NSA’s intrusions into our privacy, and as an unrepentant militarist. Her progressivism appears to have died with her law career.

Conflict of interest: that’s why we should be concerned about all those $250,000 speeches.

The big question is: why do corporations and banks shell out a quarter of a million dollars for a Hill Talk?

Corporations and banks don’t pay big bucks to Hillary Clinton because they’re dying to hear what she has to say. After having been front and center on the national political scene for a quarter century, she and Bill don’t have new insights to share. And even if I’m wrong — even if you’re a CEO and you’re dying to learn her ultimate (new) recipe for baking cookies — you don’t have to invite her to speak to your company to get the dish. You can ask one of your CEO pals who already had her speak at his firm — or pay to attend one of the zillions of other lectures she gives.

This is not about Hillary’s message.

Corporations and banks bribe the Clintons to buy political favors. The speaking racket is a (flimsy) cover.

Like, there’s the time Goldman Sachs paid $200,000 for a Bill Talk a few months before the financial conglomerate lobbied Hill when she was secretary of state. At least 13 companies paid Bill and Hill at least $2.5 million in similar sleazy deals.

Those are just the brazen quid pro quo deals.

Among the companies that have lined Hillary’s pockets over the last 16 months are “a mix of corporations (GE, Cisco, Deutsche Bank), medical and pharmaceutical groups (the California Medical Association and the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association), and women’s organizations like the Commercial Real Estate Women Network,” the Times says. “Mr. Clinton’s speeches included a number of talks for financial firms, including Bank of America and UBS, as well as technology companies like Microsoft and Oracle.”

GE, Cisco and Deutsche Bank aren’t run by idiots. Nor are lobbying groups like the female realtors. Their boards know that Hillary may well become president. Even if she loses, those bribes — er, speaking fees — are a smart investment in DC influence. The Clintons have strong ties at the highest levels of the Democratic Party establishment and on Wall Street. If you’re GE, it makes sense to make nice with people whose help you might want someday, so they’re likelier to pick up the phone when you call to, say, grease the skids for a merger in danger of getting derailed by antitrust laws.

Laws governing the sale of political access are relatively clear, but rarely enforced. The ethics, however, are simple: honest people don’t take money from people they may be charged with governing or regulating in the future.

“Behind every great fortune,” Balzac maintained, “lies a crime.” If there were any justice, the Clintons would be in prison for a generation of criminal activity that has left America a corrupted, Third Worldified nation, poorer for having been looted by the companies and banks whose criminality they aided and abetted.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Presidential Politics: All Personality, No Platform

Distributed by Creators Syndicate (click the link to purchase for publication):

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Hillary Clinton has everything she needs to run for president: money, name recognition, staff, organization. Everything except ideas.

The 2016 presidential campaign will begin in earnest in late summer. This hasn’t snuck up on her; she has known this was coming since at least 2008. Yet here she is, six months before the unofficial start of her run, starting to figure out what she’ll do if she wins.

“People close to Mrs. Clinton say she has not yet settled on a specific platform” on the economy, the New York Times notes in a report about a recent series of meetings she held with 200 economists in order to collect their assessments of the economy.

There’s nothing wrong with asking experts for suggestions about how to fix the problems you want to solve. But you should already have a vision for what America and its economy ought to look like. You should be born with your platform – and, if you decide to run, collect advice from your brain trust on a granular level, concerning how to realize your goals.

If you haven’t always known what you would do if you woke up tomorrow morning as president, and whom you would appoint to help you govern, you have no business running.

Unfortunately, the former senator’s lack of ideas isn’t unique. She reflects a disturbing shift in American politics that most people haven’t noticed because it snuck up on us over time: in the past, politicians ran on a slate of ideas. Now they campaign as personalities.

Look at political buttons from a century ago. FDR ran on “prosperity” and “jobs.” They’re vague — but they’re ideas. And when he won, FDR demanded that his ideas become laws within his first 100 days. Reagan declared that it was “morning in America.” What does that mean? It’s been 35 years, he served two terms, I still don’t know. “Yes we can,” Obama promised in 2008. Can what? It worked because your mind fills in the rest, but it says nothing. “Hope.” “Change.” For/to what?

Reading the diaries of Chief of Staff HR Haldeman, I was surprised to learn that the newly-elected Nixon administration – led by this reputedly hardheaded ideological warrior – spent much of its first year, 1969, recuperating from the campaign it had just won, learning how to use the White House phone system and how to liaise with Capitol Hill before finally sitting down to determine what it actually wanted to do domestically and vis-à-vis foreign policy. I realized that, at least dating back to the 1960 race between Nixon and JFK, presidential candidates haven’t gone into it with much of a vision of how they want to change America. Their primary goal is to get the job, to add the gig to their resume, satisfied that their face may someday end up on a stamp or maybe a coin, and that schoolchildren will forever have to memorize their names.

Think back to the first year of every presidency in recent memory. None, even those like Reagan and George W. Bush who eventually oversaw radical policy changes, pushed major legislation right out of the gate – which is surprising given that a president will never have as much political capital as when he first takes the office. Stepping in during the middle of a global economic crisis, Obama never proposed anything on the economic front and handed off his Affordable Care Act to congressional Democrats throughout his first year. Since 2009 Obama has come off like a guy who achieved everything he wanted simply by having been elected. Bush’s first year was derided as aimless and policy-free until 9/11 gave him a sense of purpose. No major policy prescriptions came out of the Clinton White House for much of his first term.

2016 is once again shaping up as a clash of personalities over ideas, a high school student council-style personal popularity contest – “who would you most rather have a beer with?” (or, in Clinton’s case, are you “likeable enough“?) – as opposed to a debate over the direction of the country. Writing in the Washington Examiner, Michael Barron asks: “Can Jeb Bush — or anyone — come up with a platform for primaries, general, and presidency?”

Implicit in this question is the curious fact that none of the likely contenders for the Republican presidential nomination have yet articulated a platform. Even the most ideologically grounded GOP candidate, Rand Paul, finds himself showcased in a New York Times profile as drifting to the so-called “center” of his party – i.e., away from libertarianism. Isn’t it a little late in the game to be drifting?

Instead of dealing with ideas Paul, who made headlines for filibustering against Obama’s drone strikes and aggressively criticizing NSA spying, is said to be facing “questions about his style and temperament.” Never mind what he wants to do. This is about style: “Does someone who can be so impetuous and unapologetic have the finesse and discipline to win over people who are more naturally inclined to vote for someone else?” asks the Times.

They say we get the candidates and the presidents we deserve, but that’s not true. The system is broken, and has been for a long time. What else can you say about politics that isn’t about politics, but primarily if not exclusively about personality?

We may or may not deserve it, but we need better.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

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Archival War

FDR asked Congress for a formal Declaration of War against Germany and Japan. Subsequent presidents asked Congress for various forms of legal justifications to attack other nation-states. Now Obama is further eroding Congress’ right to declare war by relying on obselete and irrelevant authorizations for old conflicts.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Fooled Again

Six Weeks After Reelection, Obama Sells Out Liberal Democrats

After the election Kerry Eleveld wrote a piece for The Atlantic titled “Why Barack Obama Will Be a More Effective Liberal in His Second Term.”

“In response to their initial disappointment with the president’s early performance, many progressives speculated that Obama was just waiting for a second term to be more liberal,” he said. That was true. They were.

Eleveld continued: “A more likely explanation is that Obama was still finding his groove, figuring out which levers worked best for him in the context of governing the nation. And in some ways, he was still developing the courage of his convictions.”

That, it turns out, was false. He wasn’t.

You can’t develop convictions that you don’t have in the first place.

It’s hard to remember now, more than six weeks later, but there was once a time (six long weeks ago) when liberal Democrats who naïvely chose to ignore Obama’s consistently conservative first term, his consistently conservative career in the Senate, and his consistently conservative pre-politics career as a University of Chicago law professor, seriously believed that his reelection would lead to a progressive second term.

“It’s time for President Obama to assume the Roosevelt-inspired mantle of muscular liberalism,” Anthony Woods wrote in The Daily Beast. “This is his moment. He only has to take it.”

It’s his moment, all right. And he’s taking it. But when it comes to Obama, liberals are once again guilty of some major wishful thinking. Obama’s economic policies are closer to Herbert Hoover than Franklin Roosevelt.

With re-election safely behind him, we hope Obama will be bolder in his second term,” Peter Dreier and Donald Cohen wrote in The Nation.

Again with the Hope!

Change, not so much.

Race doesn’t matter. Looks don’t matter. Age doesn’t matter. Style doesn’t matter. Only one thing matters when you’re electing a politician: policy. And the willingness and ability to carry it out. Everything you needed to know about Barack Obama boils down to the fact that he voted nine times out of ten to fund the Iraq war, at the same time that he was giving speech after speech pretending to oppose it. And that was before he won in 2008.

It didn’t take long for Obama to sell out the liberal base of his party the first time. Everything became clear in December 2008, when his cabinet picks didn’t include a single liberal. Well, here it is, December 2012, and can’t get fooled again but we did, as George W. Bush would sorta say.

Wait a minute: I thought Obama was a Democrat. So why is he appointing a Republican as secretary of defense? Not just a Republican, but a homophobe? In 1998 Republican Senator Chuck Hagel criticized President Clinton’s nominee for ambassador to the sensitive strategic hotbed of Luxembourg not only for being gay, but for being “openly, aggressively gay.” Gay rights groups demanded that Hagel “repudiate” his bigoted comments, and he dutifully did so, but the point is that a truly progressive Democratic president would never have appointed a gay-bashing right-wing Republican in the first place. Yeah, America has changed, but it wouldn’t be that hard to find a liberal Democrat who thought gays and lesbians were real human beings back in 1998.

The “fiscal cliff” negotiations have led to another replay of Obama’s 2008 sellout, this one on economic fairness. Throughout the 2012 campaign the president promised to raise taxes on the top 2% of American households, those earning over $250,000 a year. As of November 9th he was still “sticking to his guns,” calling his stance nonnegotiable. On December 17th, however, without the defeated Republicans even having to propose a counteroffer, Obama pulled a classic Democratic negotiating-against-himself maneuver. Not only did he offer House Speaker John Boehner to protect the spectacularly wealthy taxpayers who earn up to $400,000 from a tax hike, he quietly sold out senior citizens by gutting the current system that calculates cost-of-living increases for Social Security and other federal entitlement programs.

At first, few people would notice Obama’s switch to a so-called “chained consumer price index.” (Under the new system, if the price of steak goes up, the government assumes you’ll switch to hamburger—so it doesn’t count as inflation.) This year, for example, the inflation rate under the chained CPI is 0.3% less. But inflation is exponential and the effect is cumulative. By the time you hit age 92, you’d lose an entire month of Social Security benefits each year.

This, remember, was the president who was supposed to bust out as an FDR-style crusading liberal ready, willing and able to fight the right-wing Republicans and stand up for ordinary Americans.

The good news is, the anticipation is over. Liberals who worried that Obama would sell them out need worry no more. Not so deep down, they knew this would happen. Now they can settle down for four more years of depressing Republican-lite kowtowing to corporations and the one percent.

I know what they’re thinking. Things would be even worse if Mitt Romney had won.

I wouldn’t be so sure.

Policy-wise, a Romney administration would have been pretty much the same as Obama’s second term. Who knows, he might have picked Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary.

In terms of building the political Left, a President Romney would have galvanized liberals and progressives to fight for a fairer society that treats everyone equally and with dignity. Obama, his sellouts, and his faux liberal apologists represent two steps backwards for progressivism.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Leftist Republican Party of the Future

To Survive, GOP Should Out-Democrat the Democrats

Republicans, engaging in the traditional losing party’s post-election wound-licking, blame-flinging and anger-at-the-dumb-voters ritual, are facing the awful truth: The American people just aren’t into their gay-bashing, race-baiting, woman-hating, Eisenhower-era positions on social issues.

“It’s not that our message–we think abortion is wrong, we think same-sex marriage is wrong–didn’t get out. It did get out,” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville told The New York Times. “It’s that the entire moral landscape has changed. An increasingly secularized America understands our positions, and has rejected them.”

Exasperated radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh asks:

“Condoleeza Rice…is a pinnacle of achievement, and intelligent, and well-spoken…You can’t find a more accomplished person. Marco Rubio. And really, speaking in street lingo, we’re not getting credit for it…Are these people perceived as tokens?”

Yes. Uncle Toms are easy to spot.

“In order to get the Hispanic or Latino vote, does that mean open the borders and embrace the illegals?”

Yes.

“If we’re not getting the female vote, do we become pro-choice?”

Yes.

Liberal pundits are helpfully offering advice to their Republican counterparts this week, arguing that if that if GOP officials and pundits make a few nips and tucks into their Neanderthal platform and tone, downplaying their unpopular stances on social issues, they may yet save their white male–dominated party from irrelevance.

Let’s set aside the obvious fact that no one does nor should listen to counsel offered by their enemies. And that even a devastating defeat–not that this one was–doesn’t always necessarily take long to recover from. Consider, for example, the post-2008 commentaries wondering whether there was a future for the GOP; by early 2010 the written-off-as-dead Republicans were riding high.

Nevertheless, Republicans might be more willing to listen to me than to other left-of-center columnists. After all, I love the GOP just as much as I care for the Democrats (not at all). Really, truly, I don’t give a rat’s ass which corporate party wins or loses.

The Republicans’ big problem is that they think they’re me.

I am a pundit. I am an idealist. The pay isn’t great, but I get to be pure, to stand up for what I think is right regardless of whether or not anybody else is willing to follow me. My job isn’t to be popular. It’s to be right.

If I were tapped to head a major political party like the Republicans, however, I wouldn’t have the luxury of being right at the price of being unpopular. Political parties are in the business of trying to win elections. To paraphrase the philosopher Don Rumsfeld, you run campaigns with the voters you have, not the ones you wish you had.

It’s one thing to push for changes that your ideological base believes in. God knows the Democrats should do that sometimes. It’s another to commit political hari-kari, trying to fight the tide by espousing points of view that are not only in the minority, but whose constituencies are consistently shrinking.

If Republicans want to win elections here in the United States, they need to set the stage for a transformational shift as dramatic as 1932, when FDR turned the Democrats into the party of liberalism and progressivism.

Republicans need not wonder why Obama got 71% of the Latino vote; if anything, the shocker is that that figure wasn’t higher. For decades, right-wing talk radio hosts and other Republican surrogates have been bashing illegal immigration (racist code for anti-Hispanic propaganda, particularly on the West Coast). Now that the Latino vote has become essential to win national races, the GOP can no longer afford its hardline stance on immigration, whether the reasons behind it are evilly nativist, benignly protectionist or law-and-order upright.

On every social issue of note, Americans are moving away from the Republican Party. We are becoming more tolerant of gays and their rights, more supportive of abortion rights, and more open to people of different backgrounds. Despite the terrible economy, Americans are less inclined to blame their troubles on competition from undocumented workers.

These trends toward a leftier country are long term and unlikely to reverse in the near future.

Beginning last summer, Republican strategists consciously decided to downplay Mitt Romney’s stances Republican Party platform’s takes on social issues. Now liberal commentators are joining them, strangely and cynically suggesting that Republicans need to change their emphasis of their messaging–but not the content of their policies.

Style isn’t enough. Republicans are doomed unless they radically change to social-issues policies that are not only in step with the country, but to its left–since the electorate will soon catch up. If the Party of Lincoln is adaptable and intelligent–which I seriously doubt–they will exploit the opportunity to move, not just left, but to the left of the center-right Democratic Party, which abdicated its traditional progressive stands on social issues when, for example, Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act and gutted welfare.

The GOP could make good on its long-standing assertion that it favors a legal path to immigration by proposing that we open our doors to a huge surge of legal immigration. That would be consistent with previous opinions, and outmaneuver the Democrats, who have been reluctant to favor much immigration at all, and who have deported record numbers of Hispanics over the last four years.

Yes, Mr. Limbaugh, the Republican Party must become unabashedly pro-choice if it wants to keep the women’s vote. The Republican Party claims to be the party of small government conservatism; why not say that this is a simple matter of keeping the government out of our bedrooms and out of women’s bodies? Same thing goes for gay marriage and other rights for people who are discriminated against due to their sexual orientation.

You can’t roll out a new and improved Republican Party social-issues platform overnight without alienating the crazy Christian fundamentalists and other unattractive sorts who currently form the basis of the Republican Party at present. But you can start a transition to a viable future in a methodical, gradual way that prepares the Republican Party for the huge demographic shifts that will drive the politics of the country as it moves further and further to the left.

(Ted Rall‘s is the author of “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Finding Privatizer Ryan

If Romney Loses, Blame His Running Mate

      Unless something surprising and dramatic happens, Obama will win the election. Earlier this week the Associated Press released an analysis of public and private polls that put “within reach of the 270 electoral votes needed to win a second term.” Obama is running ahead in many major swing states, including Ohio—a necessity for a GOP candidate to win. Yeah, yeah, this week’s presidential debates could make a difference—but they rarely do.

What went wrong with the Romney campaign? (Insert the usual fat-lady-not-over-blah-blah-anything-could-happen disclaimer here.)

All things being equal, this should have been a cakewalk for Romney—or any half-decent Republican. The economy is still awful. The official unemployment rate is over 8%, a magic number that historically kills reelection campaigns. Since Obama hasn’t promised any big jobs programs, neither Hope nor Change is on offer. And Romney has/had a sales pitch tailored for hard times: he turned around companies; his business experience will/would help him turn around the U.S. economy.

This election is/was Romney’s to lose—and apparently he has. The cause can be summed up in two words: Paul Ryan.

Sure, there were plenty of other missteps. His bizarre “47%” remark turned out to be a game changer that alienated swing voters. Like the (unfair) story about how George H.W. Bush was so out of touch that he’d never seen a supermarket price scanner (no wonder that preppy pipsqueak didn’t care about Americans who’d lost jobs under the 1987-1992 recession), Romney’s 47% slag fit neatly with our overall impression that Romney is a heartless automaton of a CEO who doesn’t feel our pain. Worse, he’s a man with something to hide; his refusal to release his taxes proves it.

Though greeted by Very Serious pundits as a canny combination of intellectual heft and Tea Party cred, the selection of running mate Paul Ryan has been a bigger disaster than Sarah Palin in 2008. (To be fair to John Cain, Palin was a Hail Mary pass by a campaign that was way behind.) As Paul Krugman pointed out in the New York Times, the selection is beginning to shape up as a “referendum” on the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society, on Social Security, Medicare and, yes, Obamacare, which represents an extension of that legacy.”

Which is Ryan’s fault.

Before the veep announcement, the campaign was a referendum on Obama’s stewardship over the economy. Which was good for Romney. Since August it has been about Paul Ryan, known for his plan to trash reform entitlement programs. Misfire! The one time you don’t attack the safety net is when people are feeling squeezed and pessimistic about the future.

Sensing resistance, Republicans walked back Ryan’s extreme agenda using the classic “divide and conquer” approach, guaranteeing that people over 55 would keep their Medicare and Social Security. No sale. Romney-Ryan forgot something: senior citizens have children and grandchildren.  Older Americans want younger people to enjoy the same benefits they’re getting now. Many senior citizens no doubt see the slippery slope of austerity: taking away Social Security for people under 55 next leads to going after those over 55. Finally, with the U.S. Treasury squandering trillions of dollars on wars, it’s hard to argue that the sick and old ought to resort to Dumpster-diving.

The Romney–Ryan campaign understood that voters were pissed at Obama. But they didn’t understand why.

There were two types of anger against Obama. Mostly prompted by Obamacare, right-wingers hate the president for growing an intrusive federal government. But there is also liberal resentment—shared by many moderates—at Obama’s refusal to help the jobless and foreclosure victims. Lefties also dislike Obamacare—but because, minus a public option, it’s a sellout to the insurance conglomerates. Romney could have seduced these voters with his own plans to help the sick and poor. Instead, he went with Ryan—who would destroy programs that are already too weak—and frightened disgruntled Democrats back into Obama’s camp.

Romney ignored the time-tested tactic of moving to the center after winning your party’s nomination. Romney repackaged himself as a right-winger to win the GOP nomination. In the general election, he needed to appeal to Democrats and swing voters. Choosing Paul Ryan sent the opposite signal.

This is not to say that President Obama will have an easy second term. Unlike 2008, when the vast majority of Americans felt satisfied that they had made the right choice, Obama is only likeable enough (the words he used to describe Hillary Clinton) compared to Romney. The only reason Obama seems headed to victory this November is that he was lucky enough to run against one of the most staggeringly inept campaigns in memory, headed by an unbelievably tone-deaf plutocrat.

(Ted Rall‘s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com’s Lean Forward blog.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Rebranding of the President, 2012

Why Is Obama Running on His Record?

“It’s not clear what [President Obama] is passionate to do if he is elected for another four years,” writes David Brooks, conservative columnist for The New York Times. “The Democratic convention is his best chance to offer an elevator speech, to define America’s most pressing challenge and how he plans to address it.”

Addressing the DNC Wednesday night, Bill Clinton came as close as any Democrat has this year to answering Brooks: “In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president’s reelection was pretty simple: We left him a total mess, he hasn’t finished cleaning it up yet, so fire him and put us back in. I like the argument for President Obama’s reelection a lot better.”

Nicely done—though this argument only works for voters stuck in the two-party trap. But the biggest piece is still MIA: Obama’s domestic and foreign policy agenda for a second term.

Two principal arguments are being advanced in favor of Obama’s reelection: first, that he “took out” Osama bin Laden; second, that we are “absolutely” better off economically than we were four years ago.  These arguments, if they continue to be the Democrats’ main talking points, will lead Obama to defeat this fall.

U.S. history shows that the candidate who presents the most optimistic vision of the future usually prevails. The future he sells doesn’t have to be specific (Romney’s 12 million new jobs, say). Ronald Reagan, who projected vague aw-shucks optimism reflected by a 100%-pabulum campaign slogan, “It’s Morning in America,” defeated Jimmy “Malaise” Carter and Walter “Let’s Tell the Truth About Taxes” Mondale. (Never mind that Carter and Mondale were more honest, smarter and nicer.)

Obama followed the Reagan model in 2008: hope, change, charming smile, not a lot of specifics. And it worked. (It didn’t hurt to run against McCain, the consummate “get off my lawn, you damn kids” grouch.) So why is Obama trading in a proven winner? Why is he running on his first-term record?

Obama’s entourage has obviously talked themselves into believing that the president’s record is better than it really is—certainly better than average voters think it is. Grade inflation is inevitable when you evaluate yourself. (In 2009, at the same time the Fed was greasing the banksters with $7.77 trillion of our money—without a dime devoted to a new WPA-style jobs program—he gave himself a B+.)

First, the extrajudicial assassination of bin Laden, an act of vengeance against a man in hiding who had been officially designated to pose no threat since at least 2006, makes some people queasy. Sure, many voters are happy—but getting even for crimes committed more than a decade ago still doesn’t spell out an optimistic vision for the future.

Similarly, and perhaps more potently since jobs are the most important issue to Americans, claiming that we are better off than we were four years ago, either personally, or nationally, is a dangerous argument for this president to make. Four years ago marks the beginning of a financial crisis that continues today. GDP remains a low 1.7%. Credit remains so tight that it’s still strangling spending.

Four million families lost their homes to foreclosure, millions more were evicted due to nonpayment of rent, and a net 8 million lost their jobs under Obama. Structural unemployment is rising. New jobs are few and pay little.

Most Americans—by a nearly two-to-one margin—feel worse off now than they did four years ago. Coupled with the media’s ludicrous claim that the recovery began in mid-2009, Obama’s “who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes” (or pocketbook) sales pitch is so insulting and reminiscent of George H.W. Bush’s tone-deaf attitude during the 1992 recession that it can only prove counterproductive.

The historical lesson for Obama is 1936. Franklin Roosevelt is the only president in recent history to have won reelection with unemployment over 8%, as it is currently (it was 17%). Why? FDR’s New Deal showed he was trying hard. And things were moving in the right direction (unemployment was 22% when he took office).  Fairly or not, Obama can’t beat Romney pointing to improvement statistics don’t show and people don’t feel.

Obama must articulate a new vision, relaunching and rebranding himself into something completely different—in other words, running as though the last three four years had never happened. Like this was his first term.

New image. New ideas. New policies. New campaign slogan.

Not only does Obama need to float big new ideas, he needs to convince voters that he can get them through a GOP Congress. Not an easy task—but there’s no other way.

It isn’t enough to simply say that Romney will make things worse. Lesser-evil arguments are secondary at best. As things stand now, with people angry and disappointed at government inaction on the economy, Romney’s “Believe in America” meme—though stupid—is more potent than Obama’s reliance on fear of a Ryan budget.

(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com’s Lean Forward blog.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Four Bore Years

The Second-Term Curse Belies Obama’s Optimistic Vision

Breaking news: Obama willing to compromise!

Everybody (<—translation: media types) is talking about an interview in which the President makes his case for reelection. A second term, he argues, would end the current gridlock between the Democratic White House and Republican Congress, leading to some sort of grand bargain–or at least a deal–that would improve the crappy economy.

Here’s the money quote:

“What I’m offering the American people is a balanced approach that the majority agrees with, including a lot of Republicans. And for me to be able to say to the Republicans, the election is over; you no longer need to be focused on trying to beat me; what you need to be focused on and what you should have been focused on from the start is how do we advance the American economy. I’m prepared to make a whole range of compromises, some of which I get criticized from the Democratic Party on, in order to make progress.”

Liberal commentators scoffed (though more in sorrow than in anger), pointing out that Republicans who blocked Obama’s slightly-left-of-Milton-Friedman agenda throughout his first term aren’t going more likely to compromise during his lame-duck second term. Furthermore, Obama is wrong about GOP tactics changing once he hits his constitutional term limit. Nasty–and effective–attack ads aside, it really isn’t personal for them. Republican strategists will work to defeat whoever wins the Democratic nomination for president in 2016 just as hard as they schemed to stymie Obama. Which is, of course, exactly what an opposition party should be expected to do.

Unless they’re Democrats. But I digress.

I couldn’t help noticing two remarkable aspects to Obama’s statement:

First, it tacitly admits that he didn’t get much done on jobs, unemployment and the economy–the issue that has consistently ranked as the voters’ top concern the entire time he’s been president. This is a dangerous gambit. Blaming the other party for leaving a mess and for obstructionism has a poor record of electoral success, particularly on the economy; fair or not, voters tend to hold sitting presidents responsible for the state of their wallets.

Second, it asks us to assume that a president’s second term is an opportunity. In fact, history suggests anything but. The vast majority of the signature legislative and policy achievements by U.S. presidents occurred at the beginning of their first terms: FDR’s first 100 days, LBJ’s civil rights act and his war on poverty, Reagan’s partial dismantling of the aforementioned social safety net. Though slow out of the gate, George W. Bush got a reset in the form of 9/11, which he used to push through all sorts of mayhem: the Patriot Act, legalized torture, and a pair of ridiculous optional wars.

The record of non-achievement of second terms is so grim that you have to wonder why presidents ever run for reelection. Whether you look at Richard Nixon, who won a record 1972 landslide only to resign two years later, or Bill Clinton’s second term, when he was caught in the mire of the Travelgate and Monica Lewinsky scandals, or Ronald Reagan’s second term, which was dominated by Iran-Contra and hobbled by the early onset of Alzheimer’s, it is hard to think a president who got much done during his second term. Look at George W. Bush’s number two: he wanted to privatize Social Security and expand the GOP into a permanent majority party; instead, his popularity sank like a stone.

Why do these guys want a do-over so badly? Must be the free food and rent.

Whether Obama is aware of presidential history or just blowing smoke, you shouldn’t expect much from a second term. If you’re voting for Obama simply to keep Romney out–to deny him a chance to get anything done–that’s fine. But don’t expect Obama to get a liberal agenda–assuming he ever wanted one–through Congress. That ship sailed after the 2010 midterm elections.

Or a grand bargain. That boat was never built.

There are a couple of things Obama could do to mitigate the second-term curse.  He could take his case directly to the American people, asking the citizens to pressure the Republican-dominated Congress to push through popular agenda items like forcing banks to write down principal on homes that have lost value since the burst of the housing bubble, tax subsidies for college tuition, and extending benefits to the majority of unemployed Americans, who no longer receive any. Democrats have forgotten this approach: Obama has failed to rally his supporters, Bill Clinton, another man who put too much faith inside the Beltway, had the same failing.

Another way Obama and the Democrats could make the most of a second term would be to replicate what the Republicans did with Newt Gingrich’s 1994 Contract with America, in other words, to state a list of policies and new laws that voters would effectively be endorsing if Obama wins. After November, Democrats would then be able to argue that they have a direct mandate for their agenda.

(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com’s Lean Forward blog.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

 

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why We’re Apathetic

Obama and Romney Ignore the #1 Issue

Don’t be apathetic, they tell us. If you don’t vote, you can’t complain. But how can people get excited about a political campaign that doesn’t address the issues we care about most?

Polls show that Americans are more concerned about the economy than any other issue. That has been the case since Obama became president in 2009.

Ignoring the elephant in the room, neither Obama nor Romney have put forth credible plans for getting the unemployed back to work or getting raises for those who still have jobs—and forget about underemployment. (In the long run, America’s biggest jobs problem isn’t that workers don’t have enough skills, but that millions are working beneath their level of intelligence and educational attainment.)

Obama says he inherited a mess. He’s right. His supporters say climbing out of the hole created by the 2008 meltdown and Bush’s deficit spending will take time. Which is true. But Obama never proposed a jobs program—so he can’t claim that Republican Congressional meanies blocked him.

Bizarrely, the President doesn’t explicitly promise that the economy will get better if we reelect him. His reelection campaign is mostly backwards looking, pointing to his achievements so far: healthcare, pulling out of Iraq, the assassination of Osama bin Laden, and his unpopular bailout of the big banks. On the economy, his overall approach has been to counsel patience, while hoping for things to improve.

Say this for Mitt Romney: he doesn’t share the president’s reticence. “If I become president, you’re going to see an economic resurgence: manufacturing resurgence, high-tech, health care. You’re going to see this economy take off,” Romney told supporters in New Jersey last month. “And I say that because I know what I’m going to do, and I know what kind of impact it will have.”

Romney’s ads strike the same can-do tone. “By day 100, President Romney’s leadership brings new certainty to our economy, and the promise of new banking and high-tech jobs.”

Whoa.

How will this kickass FDR-like miracle transpire? Romney has put forth what John Cassidy of The New Yorker calls a “ragtag collection of proposals—59 of them, ranging from eliminating the inheritance tax, to capping federal spending at twenty per cent of GDP, to opening up America’s energy reserves for development [which have been] widely dismissed as inadequate by his fellow Republicans.”

Trickle-down redux. Warmed-over drill-baby-drill

Sarahcuda. A dash of Steve Forbes (remember him?). In short: not so whoa.

If I were Romney I’d be proposing a conservative-based jobs-growth agenda—i.e., one that puts money into the pockets of business. Tax incentives for employers to hire new workers. Federal subsidies for job training programs. Higher payroll deductions for corporations. Capital gains tax cuts conditioned on funds being invested into projects that generate new jobs.

Romney could shore up his party’s nativist base by promising to build an impenetrable fence along the border with Mexico and to crack down on undocumented workers.

Thanks to the Republican Congress, it would be easy for Obama to make the case to voters that he’s trying to create jobs. He could propose something bold and grand, a new WPA that directly employs 20 million Americans building high-speed rail lines, new bridges and tunnels, teachers, artists, you name it. Best of all, it’s a promise he wouldn’t have to keep. The GOP would block it—turning them into the obstructionists Democrats portray them as.

Obama could also pursue small-bore approaches to the jobs problem, such a “first fired, first rehired” law that requires large employers to offer new jobs to their first layoff victims. The United States should join European countries, which don’t set arbitrary time limits on unemployment benefits. Layoff victims shouldn’t lose their homes; a federal program should cover their rent or mortgage payments until they get back on their feet.

Would these ideas fix the economy? Maybe not. But they would certainly go a long way toward reversing the current toxic state of electoral politics, in which the major parties float irrelevant wedge issues in their perennial battle over two or three percent of the vote in a handful of swing states, by engaging citizens in the process.

Will either party push forward a credible solution to the economic crisis? Probably not. Which is a reflection of the system’s inability to reform itself, and a harbinger of revolutionary change to come.

(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com)

(C) 2012 TED RALL, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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