Sorry, Hillary

Please understand that I am a staunch Hillary Clinton supporter. I think she is a bright and very capable woman and I would dearly love to see her take a run at the Presidency in 2016. At the same time, as a teacher of logic for 42 years and a responsible blogger who tries hard to see both sides of complex issues, I must point out that Hillary wasn’t thinking clearly earlier this week when she testified to a Senate committee about the killings in Benghazi last September. Facing an angry Republican Senator Ron Johnson from Wisconsin, Hillary apparently lost her cool and pounded the table as she said:

“With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” Clinton responded, suggesting that Johnson was focused on unimportant semantics. “Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk last night who decided to go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator.”

Now think about it: if we want to “figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again,” don’t we have to think about the possible causes? It does matter whether the cause was a planned attack or a simple, spontaneous outburst over a low-budget film on U-tube that angered Muslims all over the world. That is, it does matter whether it was a “protest or…because of guys out for a walk last night who decided to kill some Americans.” What matters is why this happened, and Johnson was right to pursue this line of questioning and Hillary seems to have lost her presence of mind (and her cool) in the heat of the moment. I don’t judge her in this case because I can only imagine the pressure she was under, but I do point out that her response makes no sense. Figuring out why it happened requires an examination of possible causes. It’s simple logic.

What happened in Benghazi was terrible and it does demand answers to the question why. This is especially so given the current unrest in that part of the world — and the attitude of the radicals in Libya toward all Westerners. And if that answer suggests that the State Department was remiss in not responding to requests for increased security, or if perhaps it was indeed a spontaneous outburst over a  hateful movie, we need to know. The Republicans typically tend to make hay even when the fields are wet  (it’s hard not to look for hidden agendas), and during the campaign when this story broke I thought it was just another political ploy designed to garner votes for candidate Romney. But in this case they are right to seek answers so that, as Hillary correctly points out, this sort of thing doesn’t happen again.

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Selling The Presidential Product

I swore to myself that I would not kick the dead horse of the debates again, but like New Year’s Resolutions, this one evaporated quickly: I read an opinion piece in Yahoo News dissecting the last presidential debate on foreign policy. I knew going in that Obama should be the stronger voice in this arena, given Romney’s gaffes in England during the Olympics and his untimely remarks after the disaster in Libya. But what I did not anticipate was the degree to which this debate, like the others, is really all about image and making the right impression in order to win a political contest — and what this implies for the rest of us Consider the following remarks by Jeff Greenwald, opinion guru of Yahoo News:

There were times during this last debate when I almost thought I could hear the words of Mitt Romney’s advisers playing in his head:

“Look, big guy, you’re on track to win this thing. What they want to see tonight is a calm, confident leader, unthreatening, informed, unruffled. So don’t get up in Obama’s grill. Bring the conversation back to the economy when you can, and be the reasonable, credible Commander-in-Chief the voters want.”

In a word, create the impression that you are the man who these people want running the country for the next four years. Forget about the truth; forget about principles, and even about foreign policy; forget about strategies for strengthening the tattered reputation of this country in the Middle East; forget about how we might best deal with warring political and religious groups elsewhere in the world. Just smile and look calm and in control. Your audience tonight will be mostly women because their husbands and brothers will be watching sports, so your job is to bring them into the fold. As Greenfield said further on in his analysis:

Rather, his [Romney’s] challenge was to stand—or sit—face to face with the incumbent president and demonstrate that he could credibly argue matters of state, in the face of a debate foe determined to thrust and spar at every opportunity. Without question, Obama came into this last debate knowing that his presidency is hanging by a thread, in large measure due to his remarkably weak performance in the first debate. There was no opportunity he let pass.

If Greenfield is right, and he knows more about this sort of thing than I do, then those who plan debate strategies know that people don’t listen carefully; they just want to get a warm feeling after they watch another TV performance. This debate was carefully staged as one more form of entertainment on a night when the debate itself had to contend with Monday Night Football and the seventh game of the National League Baseball Championship between the Giants and the Cardinals. Know your audience and tell them what they want to hear.

Obama’s election is “hanging by a thread” because he failed to perform well in the first debate. How bizarre! I have always said these debates are about image and impressions. But the really disturbing thought is that the voters in this country buy into this crap; they are willing to be manipulated by image-makers and marketers into buying the candidate with the most sparkle. The debates are really about who a great many voters will cast their vote for — on the basis not of political records and probable performance in the highest office in the land, but about how a man looks on TV in a 90 minute debate with a political opponent who is working hard to create an even stronger impression. The founding fathers must be proud!

Sitting On The Fence

I read a fascinating article on Yahoo News about a young woman in Ohio who was monitored while watching the presidential debates. Though she thought Obama “won” the debate, given his “confidence and better grasp of policies,” she wasn’t particularly impressed by either candidate. Her name is Maggie O’Toole and she is still on the fence trying to decide which candidate will get her vote. Maggie is part of the “Millennial generation,” so-called; a somewhat independent voter who leans toward the Republican camp though, like many others in her generational group, she is disenchanted with the Republican social proposals regarding such things as gay marriage and abortion.

At one point in the article, Ms O’Toole was asked what would get her off the fence and her reply included this rather interesting comment:

With two more debates to go, what will it take for O’Toole to make a decision?

“Maybe just [for] one of them to terribly screw up and have a Sarah Palin moment where one of them proves to be inept,” she says.

If anyone doubts what I have been saying about the TV debates and their value as entertainment (borrowing from Neil Postman), this comment should seal the deal. Clearly, this woman is more interested in seeing how the candidates perform on TV than she is in thinking about how they would perform in office. Where has she been for the past several months? Mitt Romney has had several “Palin moments” off-camera where he has proven himself to be “inept.” His comments to a group of well-healed Republicans about the poor in this country (which he is trying mightily to take back as I write this blog) and his foot-in-mouth gaffes in England during the Olympics and more recently after the killings in Libya would comprise “Palin moments” in most people’s minds I would think.

But Maggie O’Toole, like so many others, apparently does not follow the news or read excellent blogs like those of the “old fart.” She is waiting to see something happen in one of the three 90 minute debates that will decide the issue for her. And she is supposedly a well-educated person (as we loosely define “education” these days), a “20-something professional” who is a marketing coordinator for an accounting firm while currently working on her MBA. Needless to say, she wants to see which of these two men will turn the economy around. But one has to ask what she expects to see in 180 minutes of TV watching that will change her mind?

Neil Postman was absolutely right: we live in the age of entertainment. We have short attention spans and base our decisions largely on how we feel about things rather than what we think about things. There are a great many people like Maggie O’Toole who still sit on the fence waiting for a strong wind to blow them one way or the other. Her time would be better spent checking on the records of the two men and looking behind the words and the TV impressions to get a better grasp of what one or the other of these men will do in the coming years to help the country regain its footing, nationally and internationally.

The remarkable thing here is not that there are a great many undecided people like Maggie O’Toole, but that there are so many people who will weigh heavily in their deliberations the performance of a man on camera exchanging bromides, zingers, and slogans with his opponent  — voters who apparently wait to see how these men perform three times on TV before they begin to decide who is worthy of their vote. But then, perhaps that is better than those who vote without even watching the debates or bothering to think about what these men have done thus far in their respective political careers.

Calm In A Storm

The documentary singling out  Egyptian Muslims for their alleged bias against Christians coupled with a blatant attack on the Prophet Muhammad as a womanizer and a fake led to a series of terrifying events in the Middle East recently. I have already written about the inappropriate response of candidate Romney to the attack and killing of the Ambassador and three diplomats in Libya, and especially for turning the terrible event into a political football. But the aftermath of that response tells us even more about the character of the man who would be our next President.

A recent story by John Hellemann in New York Magazine includes this interesting paragraph:

That the left heaped scorn on Romney’s gambit came as no surprise. But the right reacted almost as harshly—with former aides to John McCain, George W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan creating an on-the-record chorus of disapproval, while countless other Republican officials and operatives chimed in anonymously. “This is worse than a Lehman moment,” says a senior GOP operative. “­McCain made mistakes of impulsiveness, but this was a deliberate and premeditated move, and it totally revealed Romney’s character; it revealed him as completely craven and his candidacy as serving no higher purpose than his ambition.”

Initially I gave Romney high political (but not moral) grades for attempting to turn his gaffe into a plus by assuming the offensive. I have noted in the past the Republicans are very good at this sort of thing: taking an event that results in mud in their own face and insisting it is chocolate. Instead of apologizing to the President and the country for criticizing the President at a moment when the country needed calm reassurance, he insisted his response was appropriate as he was “defending American values,” and such a defense, he insisted, is always appropriate. I knew this was B.S. but I thought it a clever attempt to attract the voters who still sit on the fences of this political contest and bring them into his camp. I wasn’t excusing the man, mind you, just noting his guile. I suspect he thought he would appear the stronger man while the President was adopting a conciliatory and meek posture. Clearly, it was a ploy designed to garner votes. I figured it might indeed work with voters who hear only what they want to hear.

But my son has convinced me (with articles like the one above from the New York Magazine) that this will likely not happen. He thinks, and I now agree, that Romney’s gaffe will hurt him the way McCain’s gaffe over the financial panic following the collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank hurt his candidacy. The fence-sitters will see him as a self-absorbed political animal grasping at straws. No one left of the far right will see his attempts to attack a President in the midst of a crisis of major proportions as anything but a blunder of the first order.

I hope this is the case. John Hellemann certainly thinks so. He thinks it shows “. . .that Romney is losing, knows he is losing, and is starting to panic.” We do not need a President who panics in the face of calamity. Heaven knows terrible things happen and they seem to happen more and more frequently these days. We need a person in charge who exhibits confidence and calm in the face of chaos. That man is clearly not Mitt Romney. And judging by his past behavior in the Lehman Brothers crisis and his handling of the current situation in the Middle East it is Obama.  We will see if this episode hurts candidate Romney the way McCain was hurt by his panic in the face of the Lehman Brothers debacle. Time will tell. It usually does.

Conflicting Beliefs

I wonder of there is any hatred and distrust as deep and pervasive as that between or among various religious sects. It has been said that human history is the history of wars and a great many of them — far too many — are religious wars. The Christians hate the Muslims and the Muslims hate the Christians and — as Tom Lehrer so cleverly pointed out — everyone hates the Jews.

The latest story out of the Middle East is disquieting, to say the least. Religious extremists have attacked the American embassy in Cairo and In Libya the American Ambassador and three diplomats were killed by extremists — all over a movie funded by Morris Sadek, an American Christian, that seeks to show the depth of prejudice in Egypt toward the Christians by the Muslims who dominate the culture in that region of the world. As a recent Yahoo News article points out

 “Protesters in Egypt chanted Sadek’s name because of his support for the film, which presented the Prophet as a bloodthirsty womanizer and religious fake, among other characterizations that deeply offended many Muslims who consider any depiction of the Prophet as blasphemous.

Now I am not an expert in foreign policy, but common sense tells me that a movie depicting the leader of one of the world’s major religions as a “bloodthirsty womanizer and religious fake” is certain to stir up anger and hatred — especially in a region of the world where “America” is something of a dirty word. Of course, that is hard for us to fathom, because we are blinded by our pride and don’t see this country from the perspective of the rest of the world. But it is certainly the case that in the Middle East, at the very least, this country is the embodiment of evil. Obama’s presidency has helped, but as one wag recently pointed out, it will take more than a few speeches to mend the broken fences between this country and the Muslim countries. And Michele Bachmann’s recent crusade against the Muslim Brotherhood certainly won’t help matters a bit.

In any event, the incident in Libya has become a political football as Mitt Romney has leveled untimely criticism at Obama’s foreign policy in the region and the Democrats point out that Romney has a tendency to put his foreign policy foot in his mouth and is not the man to deal with such a volatile situation. Neither side wants to yield as each points fingers and accuses the other of incompetence and inexperience. And while the bodies in Libya are still warm newsmen debate in public which political candidate most “benefits” from the upheaval in the Middle East. Does anyone wonder why this country is held in low esteem by so many people around the world?

In any event, whether it is a political football or merely another chapter in the history of humankind that exhibits our inability to get along with one another, much less to tolerate religious differences, recent events in the Middle East raise red flags and should make us all aware that whichever man is elected to the Presidency in this country, he had better be able to present a formidable front while at the same time showing that he can mend fences and admit that while we don’t do things the way other people do things, they may be right and we may be wrong. That’s something it is difficult for Americans to admit.