Whether it’s OK to use killer drones to blow people up depends on their citizenship and geographic proximity to the Good Old USA.
Mitt Romney bought companies through LBOs: borrowing the purchase price using the target company itself as collateral, then selling off the profitable parts and cutting loose employees to turn a profit. Now he’s pretending to have votes polls say he doesn’t have, trying to convince undecided voters who want to back a winner to climb aboard his ersatz winning horse. It’s the attempted leveraged buyout of the United States.
I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).
This week: If Governor Jerry Brown’s tax hike plan wins at the polls, he’s golden. If it fails, he’ll have to preside over some budget-balancing alternatives that will anger the public.
Voters Turn Against Pols’ Follow-the-Polls Strategy
In order to be a good leader, Disraeli said, “I must follow the people.”
Aided and abetted by toe-sucking pollster Dick Morris, Bill Clinton finessed the art of leading from the rear, relying on Morris’ tracking surveys to help him decide everything from whether to bomb Serbia to when and if to take a vacation.
By definition, however, leaders point where their followers should go. Americans haven’t seen much real leadership on the federal level since Reagan. Where there’s been progress, such as on gay rights, the President only stepped forward after public opinion had shifted enough to make it safe.
For the first time in 30 years, Dick Morris’ follow-the-voters strategy appears to be running out of steam. This year, the electorate seems to be hungering for presidents in the mold of TR, FDR and LBJ—old-school leaders who painted ambitious visions of where America could go and why it should, who took political gambles that the people might not be ready for what they had in mind, who anticipated crises and challenges before anyone else, and explained why we had to act sooner rather than later.
The craving for leadership is evident in the polls. Though personally popular and enjoying the advantages of incumbency, President Obama is running neck and neck against Mitt Romney, an awkward candidate from a minority religion who has trouble connecting with, and is seen as out of touch by, ordinary voters.
Democrats must be worried. Historically, Republican presidential nominees typically gain on Democrats throughout the fall. At this point in the game, Democrats need a substantial lead in order to emerge victorious in November.
What’s going wrong? Mainly, it’s the economy. It sucks. Still. Democrats say the President inherited the meltdown from Bush. But Americans blame Obama.
“The nation’s painfully slow pace of growth is now the primary threat to Mr. Obama’s bid for a second term, and some economists and political allies say the cautious response to the housing crisis was the administration’s most significant mistake,” reports The New York Times. Obama’s big screw-up: “He tried to finesse the cleanup of the housing crash, rejecting unpopular proposals for a broad bailout of homeowners facing foreclosure in favor of a limited aid program—and a bet that a recovering economy would take care of the rest.”
Recovery? What recovery?
The depressed housing market, coupled with the reduced purchasing power of tens of millions of Americans who lost their homes to eviction and/or foreclosure, makes recovery unlikely to impossible for the foreseeable future.
Many people, including yours truly, warned that the millions of Americans who were evicted under foreclosure, many of them illegally, were more “too big to fail” than Citigroup. Some, like former Congressman Jim Marshall (D-GA), voted for TARP, but urged the Obama Administration to condition the bailout on forcing the banks to refinance mortgages and write down principal to reflect the new reality of lower housing prices. “There was another way to deal with this, and that is what I supported: forcing the banks to deal with this. It would have been better for the economy and lots of different neighborhoods and people owning houses in those neighborhoods,” Marshall says.
Voters aren’t mad at Obama for not being clairvoyant. They’re pissed off because he ignored people who were smart and prescient in favor of those who were clueless and self-interested, like Tim Geitner. He may be about to pay a price for that terrible decision.
Tens of millions of Americans already have.
Speaking of leadership—the art of seeing what comes next and doing something about it—what looming problems are the political class ignoring today?
It’s too late to stop the 2008-to-2012 economic meltdown. But it’s still possible for Obama (or, theoretically, Romney) to get ahead of the economy—permanent unemployment benefits, anybody?—and other pressing issues.
Americans want leaders who point the way forward, to anticipate monsters we can’t yet imagine. For example, there is a huge looming crisis: pensions. In 10 to 15 years, Generation Xers will hit traditional retirement age. How will they eat?
Close to none have traditional defined-benefit pension plans. Gen Xers, who earn far less than the Baby Boomers at the same age, have been shunted into 401(k)s, which turned out to be a total ripoff: the average rate of return between 1999 and 2010 was 0.3 percent.
And much of that was withdrawn—under penalty—to subsist after layoffs.
“[Gen Xers] have no savings, and what they had was devastated by two market crashes,” said Andrew Eschtruth of the Center for Retirement Research. “They never got off the ground.”
If you’re 45 years old now and just beginning to save for retirement, financial planners say you should save 41 percent of your income annually (if you haven’t gotten laid off again). As if. Half of Gen Xers live hand to mouth; the rest save a piddling six percent a year.
The Gen X retirement crisis represents 46 million people waiting for a savior—and 46 million potential votes.
Attention Mssrs. Obama, Romney and anyone else presenting yourself as a would-be leader: Don’t just read the polls. Don’t follow us. Show that you care about, and have a credible plan to confront, the problems of the future. If you do that—and we’re not holding our breaths—we’ll pay attention to you.
(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
Obama Accepts 21st Century View of Gay Marriage
In the BDSM world the phrase “topping from the bottom” means conditional submission: when the sub questions or disobeys the instructions of his or her dom. Subverting the submissive role defeats the whole purpose of a BDSM relationship; it is thus frowned upon.
President Obama frequently engages in the political equivalent: leading from the back.
True leaders lead. They declare what society needs and tells it what it should want. Leaders anticipate what is possible. They open the space where long-held dreams intersect with current reality, allowing progress. “Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail,” Emerson advised.
The role of a leader has been clearly defined since the first time a member of a clan convinced his tribe they should follow him if they wanted to find more food. So why has it been so long since we Americans had real one?
In recent decades we have had two kinds of political leaders, bullies and followers. Beginning with Nixon but more so with Reagan and George W. Bush, Republican presidents have been bullies. Unwilling or unable to achieve the consensus of the majority for their radical agendas, they got what they wanted by any means necessary—corrupting the electoral process, lying, smearing opponents, and fear-mongering.
The Democrats—Carter, Clinton, and Obama—have been followers, and thus far less effectual. Leaders from the back.
Carter was the proto-triangulator, tacking right as a hawk on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iran hostage crisis, while ignoring his liberal supporters. Clinton famously relied on toe-sucking Machiavellian pollster Dick Morris to develop stances and market memes that synced up exactly with public opinion on micro mini wedge issues. Both men left office without any major accomplishments—unless you count their sellouts to the Right (beginning “Reagan”‘s defense build-up, NAFTA, welfare reform).
Obama’s decision to come out in favor of gay marriage is classic Morris-style “leading from the back.”
“Public support for same-sex marriage is growing at a pace that surprises even professional pollsters as older generations of voters who tend to be strongly opposed are supplanted by younger ones who are just as strongly in favor,” notes The New York Times. “Same-sex couples are featured in some of the most popular shows on television, without controversy.”
No wonder: the latest Pew Research poll shows that 47 percent of voters support gay marriage, versus 43 percent against. (Among swing voters—of more interest to the Obama campaign—support is 47-to-39 percent in favor.)
“I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage,” Obama said days before the 2008 election. At that time, Americans were running 40-to-56 percent against allowing same-sex couples to wed.
I can’t read his mind, but I bet Obama was OK with gay marriage in 2008. Like most other educated people. Cynically and wrongly, he sided with anti-gay bigots because he thought it would help him win.
The president’s change of ideological heart was painfully awkward. “I have hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought that civil unions would be sufficient,” he told ABC. “I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people the word ‘marriage’ was something that invokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs and so forth.”
But now that’s changed, he said. “It is important for me personally to go ahead and affirm that same-sex couples should be able to get married.”
If Obama was a real leader, he wouldn’t care about offending “a lot of people”—i.e., right-wing homophobes. He would have gotten out front of the issue four years ago, when it mattered. The truth is, Vice President Joe Biden’s unscripted remarks a few days ago forced the issue.
Maybe Biden has the makings of a leader.
Six states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay weddings. True, the president’s statement may hasten the demise of the vile Defense of Marriage Act, which blocks federal recognition of gay marriage (and which Obama’s Justice Department defended in June 2009). But it comes too late to be meaningful.
Gay marriage was a historical inevitability before Obama spoke.
That hasn’t changed.
“For thousands of supporters who donated, canvassed and phone-banked to help elect Barack Obama, this is a powerful reminder of why we felt so passionately about this president in the first place,” said Michael Keegan, president of People for the American Way, a pro-Democratic Party interest group.
Maybe so. I don’t see it that way. I see a nation that led itself on this issue. The public debated and thought and finally, at long last, concluded that gays and lesbians deserve equal treatment before the law.
Obama didn’t lead us. We led him.
So tell me—what good is he, exactly?
(Ted Rall’s next book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt,” out May 22. His website is tedrall.com.)
Conventional Wisdom Is Wrong. It’s Romney’s To Lose.
Catching Barack Obama in a rare moment of candor, an open mic found the president confiding to his Russian counterpart that he expects to win this fall. “This is my last election,” he told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Last, yes. But I wouldn’t bet on Obama winning.
The corporate pundit class has largely conceded the general election to Obama, already looking ahead to 2016. The mainstreamers have their reasons. Their analysis is based on good, solid, reasonable (inside the box) logic. All things considered, however, I would (and have) put my money on Mitt Romney this fall.
This isn’t wishful thinking. I voted for Obama last time and wanted him to succeed. He failed. His accomplishments have been few and have amounted to sellouts to the right. Even so, the prospect of watching Mitt Romney move into the White House fills me with as much joy as an appointment for a colonoscopy. And I think he’s going to win.
For me, the D vs. R horserace is a parlor game with minor ramifications for our daily lives. Whichever corporate party wins, unemployment and underemployment will continue to worsen, income disparity will widen, and most of our taxes will fund the worst approach to international affairs since a former Austrian corporal blew out his brains out in a bunker under Berlin.
Thanks to the Occupy movement, real politics is back where it belongs—in the streets. That’s what I’ll be watching and working. With a lot of luck (and even more pepper spray) this will be a year of revolution rather than more electoral devolution.
Revolution is inevitable. But we don’t know when it’s coming. So the 2012 campaign may still matter. Besides, handicapping elections is a game I enjoy and am good at. During 17 years of syndication my pick to win has only lost once (for the 2004 Democratic nomination). So, on the off chance that you’re one of those who still cares about our husk of a democracy, who hangs on every meaningless development of a political process devoid of politics—or you’re just a betting person, here’s my thinking.
Barring an assassination or a scandal, Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee.
Obama currently leads Romney by about four to five points. But that’s not nearly enough of a lead to carry him to November. History shows that Republican nominees steadily increase in popularity throughout the summer and fall of an election year.
In April 2004, for example, John Kerry led George W. Bush by eight points. But Swift Boating erased that lead, and then some.
In order to win, a successful Democratic nominee has to begin with a big margin. That early lead must be large enough to wind up in the black, after months of being whittled away, when the votes get counted in November. I can’t see Obama pulling far enough ahead soon.
Incumbency is a huge advantage. If the election were held tomorrow, Obama would prevail. But the election is not being held tomorrow. It’s being held in November.
By the time they head to the polls this fall, voters’ brains will be drowning in months of hundreds of millions of dollars of slick, demographically targeted, pro-Romney attack ads. Republican campaigns are more effective at this sort of thing, and as Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum can attest, Romney’s consultants pull no punches. Obama’s current lead will be a faded memory.
Every political campaign comes down to a contest of narratives. In 2008 Obama developed an effective sales pitch: Hope and Change for a nation exhausted by eight years of Bush, 9/11, war, taking off your shoes at the airport, and a full-fledged global economic crisis to boot. Obama’s advisers turned his biggest weaknesses—his inexperience, race, unusual name and foreign background—into assets. Here was a new kind of president. Just the guy to lead us out of the Bad Old Days into something better. McCain-Palin’s narrative—a cranky old ex-POW paired with a zany housewife-gone-wild—didn’t stand a chance.
This year the narratives favor Romney.
Romney is already pointing to the biggest issue on people’s minds, the economy, and claiming that his background as a turnaround artist qualifies him to fix what ails us. His prescriptions are Republican boilerplate, vague and counterproductive, but at least he’s doing something Obama hasn’t—talking a lot about creating jobs. Voters prefer useless attentiveness to calm, steady golfing (Obama’s approach). And—despite its illogic—they like the run-government-like-a-business narrative (c.f. Ross Perot, the Bushes).
Obama is boxed in by three-plus years of inaction on, well, pretty much everything. He’ll argue that he’ll be able to “finish the job” during a second term, but that’s a tough sell when you haven’t tried to start the job—in 2009, when Democrats had huge majorities in both houses of Congress. His single signature accomplishment, healthcare reform, is disliked by two-thirds of the electorate. The recent “good news” on the economy has been either insignificant (net positive job creation of 100,000 per month for two months, less than one-tenth of one percent of the 25 million jobs needed) or falsified (discouraged workers no longer counted as unemployed).
Despite what Obama tells them, Americans know things are still getting worse. Similarly, Obama’s recent, feeble, impotent rhetorical attempts to shore up his support among his Democratic Party’s disappointed liberal base will probably not generate enough enthusiasm to counter other factors that favor Romney.
You can’t vote for the first African-American president twice. Unless he picks a woman as vice president, a vote for Obama will be a vote for the same-old, same-old. The history-making thrill is gone.
At this writing the Republican Party appears to be in disarray. No doubt, Romney is emerging from the primaries battered and bruised. His awkward and demented soundbite stylings (“corporations are people,” “the trees are the right height”) will provide fodder for countless YouTube parodies. But Romney hasn’t been damaged as much as the official political class seems to think.
Republicans are a remarkably loyal bunch. United by their many hatreds (liberals, blacks, gays, poor people, Mexicans, Muslims, foreigners, etc.), they will set aside their comparatively low simmer of anti-Mormon bigotry this fall. Picking a standard-issue white Anglo Christianist thug as veep will cinch the deal.
The GOP enjoys a huge fundraising advantage, especially via the new-fangled SuperPACs. Romney has raised $74 million against $151 million for Obama, but look for that ratio to flip after he locks up the nomination. Cue those vicious, potent ads mentioned above.
About the only major factor working for Obama is the presidential debates. Romney doesn’t stand a chance against the cool, articulate Obama.
Of course, it’s a long way to November. A lot can happen. It’s very possible for Obama to win. But that’s not how it looks now.
(Ted Rall’s next book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt,” out May 22. His website is tedrall.com.)