Lipstick On The Pig

What is it they say? If you put lipstick on a pig it’s still a pig? This appears to be an application of that adage! The Donald is making every attempt to pretend he is something he is not — since what he is turns off so many people. This is part of his effort, initiated by his new PR people (staring Kellyanne Conway) to create a different image for him and make him out to be someone else. Note the brief excerpt below:

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is planning a Thursday morning meeting with Latino and African-American activists at his Manhattan headquarters in Trump Tower. The activists are fellows from the Queens, N.Y., office of the Republican Leadership Initiative, a program designed to train young, diverse recruits to be campaign field operatives.

Multiple GOP sources confirmed plans for the meeting and characterized it as part of Trump’s outreach efforts in the African-American and Latino communities. While the initiative is not solely focused on training minority activists, a source said the Queens office of the program is in a predominately African-American and Latino area and has attracted its participants from the community.

An email circulated earlier in the day Tuesday indicated that former U.S. Rep. Bob Turner, current chairman of the Queens County Republican Party, was helping to organize the event, which was initially set to take place in Queens. Turner told Yahoo News the event had subsequently shifted to Trump Tower and described it as part of Trump’s efforts to court Latino voters.

We all know how The Donald feels about minorities generally and this is almost funny — having them come to Trump Towers to meet with the great one (in his surroundings) to see what he can do to placate these folks and convince them he’s really not a racist and orthodox bigot so they will go forth and spread the word to their peers. He had his fingers crossed the whole time! Right!

There are so many things wrong with this one hardly knows where to begin. But I suppose we could start with the fact that he is not going to these people, he is asking them to come to him. The meeting was “shifted” to Trump Towers. I dare say he wants to intimidate them with his opulent surroundings and the emotional effect it must have on these folks to have to visit the great man in his palatial surroundings. It borders on the sick, if we find it difficult to laugh at the shenanigans of this man and his supporters.

It is so clear to any disinterested bystander that this man is making an effort in the final two months of this campaign to unsay some of the things he has said, win over new voters, and bring back many of those who have defected from the Republican Party. One would hope those people cannot be this naive. And I gather from this snippet that many of those targeted will not fall for this codswallop:

Many rank-and-file black voters, meanwhile, dismiss the overtures as another racially charged pitch from a campaign aimed exclusively at whites, from Trump’s emphasis on “law and order” to his withering critiques of President Barack Obama, the nation’s first black chief executive. It was Trump in 2011 who fiercely challenged Obama’s U.S. birth.

“Any minority who would vote for him is crazy, ought to have their head examined,” said Ike Jenkins, an 81-year-old retired business owner in the predominantly black suburb of East Cleveland.

It’s all about selling the candidate, and his name has grown sour and isn’t selling very well to the uncommitted voters, especially minorities whom the man has eviscerated repeatedly, while driving away many of those loyal to the Party. So we change the image and present the new version to those out there who haven’t already decided that voting for this man would be the greatest of all possible mistakes. Seriously. There’s not enough lipstick in the world to make this pig look like anything but what he is. He remains the same belligerent, bellicose, bigot with an ego the size of the Pacific Ocean.

Teddy’s Transformation

One of the most captivating political phenomena in this country to my mind is the radical transformation of Teddy Roosevelt from his early years to his run for the presidency in 1912. He began as a wealthy, landed Republican with strong convictions about the benefits of free-enterprise capitalism and became a radical proponent of the rights of the common man (and woman) in his run for reelection in 1912. Along the way he was known for his progressive programs, his growing sympathy for the disadvantaged, and his hatred of the predatory rich — those whose only goal in life is to accumulate wealth with no concern whatever for their duties as wealthy citizens (you know, like the Koch brothers). During this period he was close friends with William Taft who wore himself out stumping for his friend during Roosevelt’s first run at the presidency. Teddy, in turn, after serving as sitting president for seven years, worked hard to make sure Taft was elected as his successor to carry on with his progressive programs. It is interesting in this regard that, despite his bluster, Teddy was successful in pushing through fewer progressive programs than his successor, even though he later criticized Taft for being too conciliatory and too willing to compromise with the trusts.

In any event, when the split finally came between Taft and Roosevelt, it was deep and wide. After the Republican convention in 1912 selected Taft as the Republican candidate for president, Roosevelt accused Taft of stealing the nomination and split with the Republican party to form  an Independent Party that embraced his principles and promised him another term in the White House. He ran a vicious campaign, one of the first in which the man himself actually rolled up his sleeves and went on the campaign trail, something the old soldier loved to do. He continued to attack Taft, often personally, and the rift between the two men became wider and wider — though Taft refused to lower himself to the ad hominem level where Teddy was very comfortable, preferring to remain as much out of the public eye as possible and responding only to a list of Roosevelt’s charges against his presidency that were clearly based on untruths.

But what is most interesting during this period is the platform that Roosevelt pushed through the convention he called in Chicago that nominated him for president. It reflected Roosevelt’s growing populism, his conviction that the people, including women, should be more involved in the political process and entitled to government protection against the blind greed that was motivating the corporate giants. He even advocated a judicial override system that would allow citizens to overthrow the decisions of the courts through a referendum! As noted in Doris Goodman’s excellent study of the Bully Pulpit, his platform included, besides a call for the right of women to vote,

“a living wage . . .  the prohibition of child labor, federal regulations of interstate corporations, a graduated inheritance tax, an eight-hour workday for women, new standards for workmen’s compensation, and finally a system of social insurance designed to protect citizens against ‘the hazards of sickness . . . involuntary unemployment, and old age’ to which employers and employees would both contribute.”

As Roosevelt himself noted, “Whatever fate may at the moment overtake any of us, the movement itself will not stop.” He was right, but also aware that as an independent president he would have no allies in Congress and his chances of pushing through any of these items were slim at best.

Because of the radical nature of this platform, which resembled in many ways the platform Woodrow Wilson ran on as the Democratic candidate, Taft had to distance himself from Roosevelt and adopt a decidedly conservative platform — despite the fact that he was at least as passionate about the rights of the disadvantaged and the excesses of the trusts as was his former friend. Needless to say, they split the Republican vote and assured Wilson of a victory (sound familiar?). If Roosevelt had remained in the Republican fold, his party would have had the necessary electoral votes to reelect a Republican president, as he himself acknowledged later on.

As it happens,Taft, who was a gentle man not cut out for politics at all, and Roosevelt, who had supreme confidence in himself and a fierce love of political infighting, managed to mend their tattered relationship and once again became close friends in their declining years — due largely to Taft’s persistent determination to knock down the fences between them and repair the damage. But the fact that stands out above the rest is the strange fever that attaches itself to many in the political arena that inflames their emotions and blinds them to the obvious. I am put in mind of Socrates’ admonition that a person cannot become involved in politics and remain true to himself. Roosevelt’s ego was immense, doubtless a part of his charm, but it became so large — as a result of his love of power, perhaps — that he nearly lost a dear friend and caused a split in the party to which he had devoted his political life. Ironic and a lesson to be learned. The ancient Greek dramatists would have loved this story.

His Own Man?

You’ve got to like Chris Christie of New Jersey, the rebel Republican Governor who refuses to play by the Republican Party rules. In fact, you have to admire any politician these days who refuses to play by the rules of their party, though you do have to wonder about their political future. The name of the game these days is money and independent politicians have to garner a huge popular following to even keep close to those who are funded by the Big Spenders.

Governor Chris Christy

Governor Chris Christie

In any event, Christie has refused to play the roles assigned to him, first by having the gall to thank Barack Obama when he sent Federal help to the state of New Jersey after the carnage from Hurricane Sandy. (Heavens! What is the world coming to?) He was recently denied an invitation to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference because he doesn’t mouth the strict party line on gun control: he does not oppose the state’s current laws, which, according to a 2011 scorecard from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, are the second strictest in the nation after California. (Gasp! What next?) Most recently he has indicated that he will not join a dozen other Republican governors in refusing to become involved with the Affordable Health Care Act, since that is regarded by the party faithful as a Democratic plan — despite the fact that it was initiated in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney several years ago. In any event, what Christie said in accepting Federal assistance in accordance with the Affordable Care Act was most refreshing. According to a recent HuffPost story his reasoning was as follows:

“These folks are consistently among those who need help the most — men and women who have suffered trauma in their lives, live with mental illness, rely on New Jersey’s emergency rooms for primary health care, or those citizens who lack insurance or access to treatment in other ways,” Christie said.

“These folks” are the poor who are in desperate need of health care and can’t afford it. Christie seems to be placing their needs above his own political future. Or so it would seem. If he is an astute politician, as I suppose he is, he may see the end of the stranglehold the ultra-conservative, true believing, Tea Party types have on the Republican Party and may be placing himself at the head of a group he hopes to draw from the middle ranks of the Party. It would make sense. After the recent election, the Republican Party is in shambles, divided into several unequal parts and a strong leader who emerges from the middle might well pull the party faithful with him and begin to build a new consensus. Let’s hope so for the future of our Democratic system. We need two healthy parties that will work to accommodate one another and even agree to compromise from time to time. As things now stand the two Parties are drawn up into warring camps throwing stones and accusations at one another across an ever-widening chasm.

I speculate, of course. I have no idea what Christie’s plan is. But I do admire him for giving the finger to the Powers-That-Be in the Republican Party and for doing the right thing — regardless of what his reasons might happen to be.

Who Will Annihilate Whom?

This HuffPost story caught my eye:

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) warned fellow Republicans this week, saying President Barack Obama’s inaugural address had convinced him that the president was undertaking an effort to “annihilate” the GOP.

“Given what we heard yesterday about the president’s vision for his second term, it’s pretty clear to me — should be clear to all of you — that he knows he can’t do any of that as long as the House is controlled by Republicans,” Boehner said during a speech at the Ripon Society on Tuesday. “So we’re expecting over the next 22 months to be the focus of this administration as they attempt to annihilate the Republican Party.”

The story struck me because I had been thinking that the Republican Party was doing a pretty good job of annihilating itself without help from Barack Obama — or anyone else for that matter. Clearly there are deep divisions within the Party among the far right spiritually certain and Tea Party types, the mainline Republicans, the intellectual conservatives (with whom I share many values), the moderates, and the left-leaning Republicans who are open to antithetical points of view (a rare thing these days on both sides of the aisle). There’s even a group of Republicans that has started to pull away from the Party. Given those divisions and the recent failed attempts like those of candidate Romney to please them all, the Party could be said to be on the brink of annihilation.

It is true that Barack Obama has said publicly that he will no longer be “Mister Nice-Guy.” He spent four years trying to reconcile conflicting points of view and play the compromise game — playing it a bit too enthusiastically for my blood. It didn’t work. Now he says he will take off the gloves and get serious. We shall see. It could get interesting.

Consider the fact that a recent report indicates that when Barack Obama was elected to his first term a group of Republican politicians (and their sponsors, I dare say) met in Washington and swore to oppose anything the President attempted to do. For the most part the strategy worked, though the Affordable Health Care Act slipped through the cracks. But the sort of opposition that denies the possibility of compromise a priori makes it impossible for anything to get done — as we have seen first-hand. This last Congress was the least productive on record and the newer version will continue to be unproductive until or unless those who are elected to public office recall that their ultimate responsibility is to further the common good — not special interests or their political party.

But that may never happen. In the meantime, the Republican Party will continue to overwhelm us with its many divisions within its own house and its leaders like John Boehner will continue to point in the wrong direction in his effort to determine the cause.

Hillary For President?

A recent story in the Christian Science Monitor caught my eye. It begins as follows:

If Hillary Rodham Clinton decides to run for president in 2016, would she be unbeatable? That’s the pronouncement of former GOP Speaker and onetime presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, Mr. Gingrich flatly proclaimed his party “incapable” of beating Mrs. Clinton in a potential 2016 matchup.

“[I]f their competitor in ‘16 is going to be Hillary Clinton – supported by Bill Clinton and presumably a still-relatively-popular President Barack Obama – trying to win that will be truly the Superbowl,” Gingrich said. “And the Republican Party today is incapable of competing at that level.”

There are so many aspects of this report one hardly knows where to start. For one thing, it’s Newt: the new Guru of the Republican Party, waxing wise. For another it’s four years away, for Pete’s sake, and Hillary may not be healthy enough or even want to run. Recent pictures suggest she’s worn out — as one might expect from a woman trying to repair this country’s fractured image abroad. And for another the report is being carried in the ultra-conservative Christian Science Monitor and the lead-in paragraph is fodder for a rebuttal by the article’s author to which Newt (and Hillary) has not (yet) replied.

But if Hillary were to run I would certainly support her without reserve. She strikes me as the sort of person who has a mind of her own and would be able to take on the monied interests that currently own politics in this country. For that reason alone, however, she may never run: they may see to it that it simply doesn’t happen. There’s enough truth in Newt’s pronouncement to make even the staunchest Republican quake in his gold-plated boots. They sure as Hell don’t want a Democrat running they cannot possibly beat. There are enough weak opponents out there to at least make it a close race. This, of course, assumes that the Republican Party can get its act together in the next four years (and that may be Newt’s motivation here) — and figure out what to do with their lunatic fringe.

But let’s get serious: the new President hasn’t even been sworn in yet and there’s that freakin’ fiscal cliff staring us all in the face as Obama currently meets with Republican no-taxers to try to wrangle a compromise. In the end there will almost certainly be a slight rise in the taxes on the rich (not enough for my blood; they own the country; they can damn well pay taxes!) and there will be cuts in social programs. The latter worries me, because the programs that are likely to be cut almost certainly benefit those in need.

I am not (repeat NOT) a “bleeding heart liberal.”  I am a political moderate who leans left on some issues and right on others. I am fully aware that there are social programs that support the entitlement ethos that has gripped this country (and which I have pilloried in a number of my blogs). But there are people in need and they require assistance. Even though there are abuses of the “hand-outs” from a generous U.S. government, there are also a great many stories to be told about how many lives have been saved from going under for the third time.

It is better to err on the side of compassion it seems to me, especially in a country that claims to be predominantly “Christian.” In any event, the next election is years away, thankfully, and whether or not Hillary Clinton decides to run, we know it will be a circus and we will have to learn about how to put up with the nonsense all over again. Come to think of it, that may be the reason Hillary will decide not to run. The system really doesn’t encourage the gifted and able to run for public office: it wants clowns.

Your Typical Pauper

A recent blog written by “Salty Political Musings” on July 7th received a belated comment this month from someone calling himself “Auth.” In his comment, Auth said that “In Wisconsin we have what is called Badger Care and it has . . . left the poorer citizens having nothing to pay for, when they are the folks who are usually smoking crack and pumping out babies at 1 a year. .. . ” For some reason this comment showed up on my blog and I thought I would respond to it.

To begin with, I have a problem with anonymous writers, though I realize that the broad audience of the blogosphere demands for many people that readers not know who they are. Anonymity allows them the license to say what they think without fear of recrimination. I can understand that, and I respect it. But sometimes it is also a shield to protect the narrow-minded and bigoted, as in this case. The reference to the poor as “usually smoking crack and pumping out babies at 1 a year” suggests a narrow, if not a closed, mind. It suggests stereotyping and castigating all of those who are below the poverty level — what is it, $23,000 a year for a family of four? — as beneath contempt. It suggests that we should have no sympathy whatever for those who struggle to keep their heads above water in an economy where many are going under for the third time. It suggests that the poor are a burden the rest of hard-working Americans must carry about on their backs. Finally, it suggests a heart closed to the pain and suffering of others. It is truly sad.

The assumption seems to be that poverty is the result of a lack of will, that the poor are somehow poor on purpose. These people are not impoverished, they are “bums.” They bring it on themselves, thus we should not have any patience with them or any sympathy for their plight. This view is insensitive and naive to the point of stupidity. It suggests a prejudice strong enough to be called “bigotry.” I have no doubt whatever that there are some, perhaps many, who can be described as the poor are in this comment. I have said before that there are indeed many abuses of the welfare system. Let’s agree that there are thousands. For all those thousands, there are tens of thousands more who are pulled from under the waters and brought back to life as a result of the social programs that have come under attack by politicians on the right side of the political spectrum. This is not acceptable. Surely, we should err on the side of compassion for our fellow humans.

When one reads that a Tea Party audience cheers and shouts “yes!” when Ron Paul is asked  by Wolf Blitzer during a primary debate whether an uninsured man should be allowed to die, one can infer that Auth’s position is not just an anomaly, but is rather widespread in this country. And this is deeply disturbing, though it explains why the Republican Party has received such broad support for its continued call for tax cuts and the reduction or elimination of social programs that sustain the poor. If, as one suspects, there are a great many Americans who regard the poor as lazy and unmotivated, who are poor not through accident but on purpose, then the attacks on social programs by people like Mitt Romney and Ryan Paul make perfect sense.

What is most disturbing about this phenomenon, however, is that we are supposed to be a nation of caring people guided by ethical and religious principles built around the notions of love and charity. But this may in fact be a fiction if there are enough people like “Auth” and those who cheered at Ron Paul’s comments about the uninsured. And if it is indeed a fiction then the character of this nation has assuredly changed for the worse. Time will tell.