August 30, 2012

Election 2012: Bland Candidates but Vital Issues

After the American Century

There was a New Yorker cartoon some months ago showing a lawn sign with a caption that ran, as I now recall, "Well, OK, its ROMNEY." It captured the faint enthusiasm for Romney among Republicans, and also suggested his lack of affect, the pasteboard quality of his persona. His wife has tried to breath life into his stiff frame in her speech at the Republican Convention, but can his persona really be changed this late in the campaign?

We have entered a strange political twilight zone where apparently only bland politicians can stand for a year or even longer the overexposure of 24/7 media attention. A strong personality apparently is too much to take these days, and a man with weak convictions who flip flops on many issues and who seems to have no large emotions becomes the nominee. (Instead, the VP nominee, who arrives on the scene in the closing months, has the job of being colorful, dynamic, opinionated.) Imagine Romney laughing with his whole body, a real belly laugh. Or try to imagine him really sympathetic to a poor person. Imagine him telling a story so well that it becomes fascinating. Imagine him without his handlers speaking freely through an open microphone without making a blunder. Hard to do.

By the same token, the 2012 Obama seems more buttoned down and less inspirational than 2008 Obama. His pragmatism and unflappability have been assets in the day-to-day grind of being president, but the lofty rhetoric seems largely to have deserted him. He has more empathy than Romney, but that is not saying much. 

Ideally, candidates should inspire an election debate that focuses soberly on the issues. But instead, we are being subjected to a massive amount of advertising and spin. It is quite possible that this election will be one of the most important in decades, but it may be decided by negative advertising and impression management.

The debates are one of the few times where the voters get a glimpse of these two men in a (somewhat) unscripted discussion. In the second debate, they took off the gloves and had some pointed exchanges. Both were articulate and well prepared. They were by no means bland that night. Their encounter helped to underline the choices the United States must make during the next four years, choices that will have an impact much further down the road.

Will the country return to taxation high enough to pay its debts, or will it follow the Republican program of un-financed tax cuts?

Will the US really regulate banking or not? Right now it does, but Romney would roll that back.

Will the US keep the new health program created by the Obama Administration, or will Republicans dismantle it?

Will the country commit to green energy or remain locked in the carbon fuel economy, and fall further behind the curve and let other economies reap the benefits of being first movers?

Will the US again invest in education or will it fall behind the best systems in Asia and Europe? Already the US is behind in public schools, as measured by the PISA tests, but the challenge is beginning to come at the university level, too.

Will the US definitely reject the use of torture, rendition, and imprisonment without trial, which were routinely denounced under Bush but have become more "normal" under Obama?

These are vital choices that will determine whether the US remains competitive and strong in this new century. Unfortunately, Americans do not seem entirely to realize the situation, and they are being encouraged to think that the election is about such issues as Obama's birth certificate, gay marriage, teaching evolution, immigration, and the supposed "socialism" of the Democratic Party.

August 29, 2012

What Republicans are (not) Saying at their Convention

After the American Century

By their words ye shall know them. What words have the Republicans been using so far in their Convention? Paying no attention for the moment to the arguments, what are the dominant concerns, the focal points, based on the words alone?  Based on the Transcripts from the Federal News Service, the New York Times has compiled a data base, an interactive one, so we can find out what they are talking about, and also what they are ignoring.

Start with what they are avoiding. There has not been a single reference to the Euro, which might come up, given the difficulties of many European economies. But for the Republicans, the rest of the world does not seem to exist. There have been no references at all to Canada, Britain, France, Russia, China, or Europe, though there was a single reference to Germany.  The word "foreign" has turned just three times, as has "Mexico."

What other topics are Republicans avoiding?
Terror 0
bin Laden 0
Homeland security 0
Mass destruction 0
George Bush 0
Richard Nixon 0
Gerald Ford 0
Tea Party 0
Sarah Palin 0 (as in "Sarah Palin was our VP candidate last time.")
Abortion 0
Gay 0
Homosexual 0
Warming 0 (as in global warming)
Solar 0  (as in "solar energy")
Windmill 0
Detroit 0 (as in "Obama bailed out the Detroit auto industry.")
NASA 0 (as in "NASA is in Florida.")
Lobby 0
Special interest 0
Bubble 0   (as in "Real estate bubble.")
Evolution 0 (as in "The theory of . . . ")

Fear  1
9/11  1
Mormon 1 (as in "Romney is a Bishop in the Mormon Church.")
Social security 1 (as in "We need to privatize social security."
weapon/weapons 1  (as in "weapons of Mass Destruction")
Lincoln 1  (as in "Lincoln's generals invaded the South.")

Climate 2   (as in climate change, etc.)
Cuba 2  (as in "There are many Cuban-American voters in Florida.")
Iraq 3  (as in, "George Bush invaded Iraq.")

There are the usual patriotic words.
America 189
American  111
Country 90
Nation 47

Most of the focus has been on the economy
Work  142
Business 136
Jobs 130
Success 65
Economy 58
Note however:  
Banker 0
Bank 0
Bonus 0
Bankrupt 1
Foreclosure 2

A cluster of terms concerns family life
Families 81
Children 53
Life 33  (as in "right to life")
Father 12

There is some focus on religion, usually in a vague way
God  62
Faith 12

A cluster of terms deal with the future, hope, and the like:
American Dream  36
Hope 24
Change 28
Opportunity 27
Promise 7

What leaders do Republicans mention, other than Romney, Ryan and Obama?
Reagan 5
Clinton 2  (either Bill or Hillary)
Kennedy 2
Kissinger 0
Gingrich 0  (as in "Gingrich led the opposition."
Eisenhower 0
Roosevelt 0
Goldwater 0

So far, hapless John McCain, the GOP standard bearer in 2008, has not been named even once.

August 22, 2012

If corporatations are people, then hostile takeovers are corporate rape

After the American Century

The Republican syllogism

1. Corporations are people
Mitt Romney famously said that "corporations are people, my friend," a view common among businessmen and lawyers. This view is enshrined in American law, and it means that corporations can enjoy all the rights that the American Constitution grants to individuals.

2. Abortion is wrong in all its forms
Republicans also have a plank in their party platform (approved at their Convention) that opposes abortion, without noting any exceptions. This platform therefore applies to corporations.

3. Corporate abortion should therefore be outlawed.

The syllogism applied to the economy

1. Hostile takeovers are corporate rape. But if they produce offspring (profits, new companies, assets), then the rape was legitimate, as a corporation that resisted takeover would not be fertile.

2. Divisions sold off after a hostile takeover have a right to life, for they are people too.

3. A corporate takeover of Medicare or Social Security, if approved by a Republican Congress, would not be a hostile takeover or a corporate rape but a profitable arranged marriage.

4.  Government regulation of any market, like contraception, is a violation of nature. It strangles economic growth, and is therefore a form of corporate birth control and in many cases corporate abortion. Regulation leads to economic murder.

August 14, 2012

Paul Ryan May Hurt Romney's Electoral Vote

After the American Century

Updates added the day after the election in this color.

A VP nominee must bring more than competence and an ideological profile to the ticket. He or she is also from somewhere, usually a place there the presidential candidate needs help. John Kennedy picked Lyndon Johnson, who brought with him the considerable prize of the Texas electoral votes, as well as credibility in the rest of the South. 

When Romney chooses Ryan, he is embracing not just an ideology, but also reaching out to a region, in this case the upper middle west. Wisconsin voted for Obama last time, but is a swing state this time around. Ryan, the Republicans are calculating, ought to be able to bring Wisconsin into their voting column. Not only that, but Ryan looks and sounds familiar to voters in the crucial swing state of Ohio. Romney lost Wisconsin.

The choice of Ryan has some clear risks, however.

(1) He wants to privatize the social security pension system and medical care as much as possible. This might be attractive to some younger voters, but for those who are now retired or anywhere near retirement, it is anathema. They have paid into the current system, and they will not like the idea. In electoral terms, this will hurt Romney in the largest swing state, Florida, which has a disproportionate number of pensioners.  Romney lost Florida

(2) Ryan is militantly against abortion. Romney already had trouble attracting women voters, and partnered with Ryan he risks scaring many moderate women away.  This will hurt the Republicans most among urban and well-educated voters. Romney did not do well with educated voters.

(3) Ryan wants to cut back severely on federal employment. This will alienate those who are on the US payroll, notably in northern Virginia, a swing state that Romney really needs to win. Romney lost Virginia, and he did so in northern Virginia.

(4) Ryan and Romney together are Catholic and Mormon. This may not appeal to Bible-Belt protestants. Part of the Republican base is happy Ryan was chosen, but does this apply to the fundamentalists and the evangelicals? Romney and Ryan roughly split the Catholic vote with Obama and Biden.

(5) This ticket will not do well with Hispanic voters. The heated Republican debates about how hard to punish illegal immigrants had already taken their toll. I doubt Ryan will appeal much to this, the largest of American minority groups, because he voted to build the fence along the Mexican border and he is on record as being against amnesty for illegal immigrants. Since Hispanic voters can be found throughout the country, and not just in the Southwest, this could hurt Romney in many close races, Romney got less than 30% of the Hispanic vote.

On the whole, choosing Ryan was a bold, but perhaps dangerous choice. It polarizes the election, and provides a clear choice in ideological terms. Despite an enormous war chest of more than $1 billion, Romney certainly could lost the election. Romney lost.

But if Ryan can deliver Wisconsin and Ohio. . .
Romney both of these states. Ryan added nothing to the ticket in electoral terms.