Tuesday, October 30, 2012

My Morning Charlie

I've been expecting this article from Charlie Harper. He's a Republican; he's a syndicated columnist; of course he's going to write an article justifying his obvious choice next Tuesday. Half the time, much to the chagrin of his fellow partisans, Charlie surprises. Not today.

Forever, will today's column be known as the jelly bean column. Charlie is not one to normally succumb to mythology, but the pull of Reagan is difficult for any modern Republican to resist.

In those "glory" years of the 80s when we saved the economy from the Great Depression brought on by the feckless Carter and shot laser beams through red, white and blue lenses to obliterate the Berlin Wall, President Reagan's fondness for jelly beans was legend. A former smoker, he used the sugar nubs to curb the cravings. He was also known to use them, along with his aw shucks, Will Rogers (without the Communism) ways, to seduce Democrats into agreeing with his agenda.

Despite living in the post-partisan world after the 2000 election, after 9-11, after Katrina, after the largest economic collapse since the Great Depression, apparently there are people who still think jelly beans are magic.

Let's dig in.
America faces a stark choice for this Presidential election.  Despite third party groups who choose to paint the contrast between the Republicans and Democrats as two versions of the same flavor, there is perhaps a difference in philosophy between these choices that is greater than any election since 1980, and possibly even since 1972.  In many ways this contest has been ongoing for four full years.  Such is the nature of campaigns these days.  Tuesday, it is again time to choose.
 The  shibboleths here are not surprising. Want to paint someone a liberal? Call up the recently deceased McGovern. Want a shadow of failure, summon the scolding Carter. On the one hand you have arguably the most liberal candidate Democrats have ever nominated; who won exactly one state in 1972. On the other hand, you have a Democrat whose administration was forever stained with the perception of weakness on foreign policy.

Then on the hand of reality, you have a President, elected with the largest majority since 1988, who proposed the same health care policy Republicans proposed in 1994 and 1996, who agreed to cut taxes, whose foreign policy has included the promised pull down of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Oh. And yeah. Ordered the death Osama Bin Laden.

Do I have to replay the last debate where, except for brief calls of that rare beast named nuance, Romney practically agreed with every facet of the current President's foreign policy?

Yep. Just another weak, socialist, scolding liberal. Quite the stark choice.
Americans do not vote against incumbent Presidents easily.  In the last 50 years only two have lost a re-election bid.  We are a nation that likes to criticize, but often still prefers the known status quo to the fear of the unknown.  As too many corporate management consultants are overpaid to say, “we fear change”.
Yet with the backdrop of the housing market collapse and interconnected banking turmoil of four years ago, change was not only desired but demanded.  Along with it, we were given the promise of hope.  The two words coupled together were enough to capture the imagination of a fearful public who had no idea what problems were ahead of them.  They were delivered by a reassuring telegenic messenger – A fresh face who offered stark contrast of the status quo which had failed so dramatically and abruptly.  The American people embraced the idea of change.
 Also true.
We were short changed.
 ZINGER!  On to the real meat.
The President who promised to bring the parties together summoned Republican leaders for a bi-partisan photo op outside the white house early in his Presidency.  When one spoke up to offer a contribution, the President responded on camera with a dismissive “I won”.  It was but one of many early signals that the rhetoric of the campaign would not reflect how this President would govern.
Actually, we were short changed on this anecdote. The Republican leader who offered a "contribution" was the recently defeated John McCain who essentially offered the idea the President should pursue his party's platform even though it had been soundly defeated just a few weeks before.

This is a popular brick in the wall of Republican myth - Obama never tried to work with us. Peggy Noonan recently rolled out the canard, "He misread his Republican opponents from day one. If he had been large-spirited and conciliatory". Apparently, Peggy forgot how President Obama snubbed the Republican press by meeting with them in January 2009 to discuss issues; truly an amazing piece of political amnesia as she was there.

Then there's that guy that prayed at the Inauguration.  The pro-life, anti-gay marriage preacher from Texas.

Sideshows you say? Well, there was also that time in January 2010, with the healthcare battle looming, when he met Republican leaders and took their questions for hours. Maybe the Republicans have a point; maybe Obama does want to convert us to a European style of government. He certainly takes as many questions from the opposition as leaders in a Parliamentary system.

Ronald Reagan's first budget passed with the support of 62 Democrats. President Obama's stimulus package passed with exactly 0 Republican votes. If only he had more jelly beans.
Instead of working together the President remained distant and alone.  Bob Woodward, who has chronicled the inner workings of virtually every administration since Watergate writes in his new book the amazing distance President Obama has between himself and members of Congress from both parties.  His dramatic rise through political ranks left him little time to forge the friendships and alliances that may be unseemly to some who reject the notion of any backroom dealing, but are in reality quite critical to the way Washington works.
More jelly beans. See above.
His challenger, by contrast, was Governor of the most Democratic state in the country.  He has been an executive in government, corporate, and non-profit settings.  He understands that speeches filled with hope and idealism are nice, but unless there is a tactical and realistic way to implement those ideas, as well as metrics to gage their success, then words are, in fact, just words.
Which is why he as Governor of Massachussetts, Romney used his veto power over 800 times and was overriden by the Democratic legislature over 700 times.  Not a lot of jelly beans there.
The President, whose actual record is in stark contrast to the promises made as a candidate and during his first year, has instead chosen to abandon hope and change for an attempt to characterize Mitt Romney as someone who is aloof and out of touch.  Romney, in response, spent most of the early part of his campaign – including the critical infomercial that is what political conventions have become – to sell himself as a person instead of focusing on his agenda.
Promises versus record. Economic stimulus passed - check. Healthcare reform passed - check. No longer use torture - check. Draw down of forces in Iraq - check. Draw down  of forces in Afghanistan - delayed but by 2014 will be a check. Got Osama Bin Laden - check. Yes., that's quite a stark contrast. Disagree with policies if you must, but pretending the President hasn't delivered on major promises is myth building at its finest.
The debates, written off by many pundits as events that no longer matter, allowed the candidates to face off and for once, revealed much of their contrast in style and substance.  In the first debate, voters were able to see a candidate who has had to sell his ideas to investors, legislators of opposing parties, and taxpayers.  They were also able to see the response from a President whose career has been one of speeches filled with lofty rhetoric but often lacking in substance.  One who has been surrounded by a bubble of yes-men for four years who seems out of practice with having genuine conversations with those who disagree.
Most of the speeches I hear contain lofty rhetoric, but they also contain the checklist of accomplishments I've laid out. As far as yes men, maybe true. We'll hardly know until the years down the road when the books are written. But I look back at that first term and see Bush Defense Secretary Gates and former  rival Hillary Clinton and I find it hard to spot sycophants; men or women.
Whichever of these men is chosen to serve our country for the next four years will face a daunting challenge of moving a legislative agenda through a hyper-partisan Congress while facing the will of a sharply divided electorate.  With the challenges we face, however, we cannot afford four more years of gridlock.
Mostly true, but about that gridlock thing. Charlie etal. seem to be stuck in one gear - the only way to solve gridlock is give us all the power. Funny, four years ago, I heard many of the same people say the only way to reign in out of control government was divided government. Now, the only way to reign in out of control government is to give complete control to one party. One question - how's that working for you in Georgia, Charlie?
I will be voting for the person whose experience in bringing together those of opposite parties extends beyond speeches and into actual experience demonstrated in the Governor’s Mansion in Massachusetts.  Mitt Romney is my version of hope and change.
I haven't said who I will vote for yet, but I will say this - I'm leaning towards the moderate Republican.

1 comment:

Dave Bearse said...

The intermixing of truth and spin in Charlie's column was masterful making it too difficult for me to even attempt to comment.

I'm glad to learn you're leaning towards the moderate Republican, Barrack Obama.