Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Art of the Pirouette

It's no secret that I will be voting to re-elect President Obama. But despite what some will claim, I'm not making that choice because I think he's perfect or because I think Democrats can do no wrong. I have been disappointed in a number of choices that he's made over his first term. Even allowing that some of these issues were outside his control, something most of his opponents would never admit publicly, I'm not really happy about the way some things have gone. I'm also not comfortable with a straight party line vote, but that's most likely what I'll do. Again, not because of some idealized view of Democrats, believe me. I'm quite aware that they can be as untrustworthy as their colleagues across the aisle.

But, in the end, the Republican party has forced me into this. They have offered no level headed, logical alternatives. Many of their premier voices utter such nonsense that it amazes me that they have any supporters at all. And it's not just Representative Todd Aikin and his "legitimate rape" idiocy. It's not just VA Governor Bob McDonnell's bill to force women to have an internal, vaginal ultrasound for daring to exercise their Constitutional rights. A procedure that could be argued is all but rape itself, since it would have resulted in non-consensual, penetration of a women simply to humiliate her for making a legal choice. It's not just the bizarre, time warp that has us actually discussing the wisdom of contraception in 2012. It isn't just economic 'plans' that rely more on magic than solid, empirical evidence and basic common sense. No, it's all of this and more. The storm of insanity from the Right would be awe inspiring if it wasn't so scary.

It's scary because a surprising number of Americans have jettisoned critical thinking for empty, emotional rhetoric that is about rousing anger, not informing the voting public. And the master of this trade is none other than Willard 'Mitt' Romney. This will be a historic election, no matter the outcome, but not for any of the reasons you probably think. I have been shocked and amazed at Romney's audacity. His deadpan, almost eerie ability to say whatever seems correct for that specific time and place. I'm not talking about the time tested political skill of focusing a message for your audience or even misdirection or exaggeration. I mean perfect, gold medal worthy pirouettes from black to white and back again, all in the blink of an eye. Not simply framing his policies to his audience, but to say one thing to one group in the morning and then declare something completely different to another. Sometimes completely reversing positions! Just doing that would be impressive enough, but he does it with such absolute belief. As if he truly doesn't remember what he said months, days or even hours ago.

Before the internet and the days of multiple cable news channels, this would not have been possible. It would have been a disaster, since there were limited media outlets so any reversals would be clear to just about everyone. But these days, you can get away with it. There's so much noise and so much partisan compartmentalization that large portions of the voting public will never know that a candidate's remarks, reported by CNN, were contradicted by others they made on Fox only hours later. It's the pinnacle of the art of telling people what they want to hear. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say it's the low point of that strategy, because it does not serve the country well. If Romney wins, and I'm scared to death he might, it will signal the end of any sort of accountability for political candidates. It will usher in an era where candidates will lie to our faces as a standard political tactic and we will elect individuals about whom we can be sure of nothing, except their desire for political power. Some will argue that we've always had that, but I don't believe that's true. Up till now there have been limits beyond which few politicians would go. And those that did often paid a high price for it. Gov. Romney brings an entirely new level of dishonesty to the game.

Look, I make no secret that I believe a Romney-Ryan victory would be a disaster for the country. Neither has shown any hint of the type of level headed, pragmatic thinking that is required of a President. Neither seems to have the vaguest understanding of foreign policy or how to work with our Allies rather than dictate to them. Their economic plans still hinge on cutting revenue, i.e. cutting taxes, and only later negotiating a way to pay for them. And both of these men have shown a staggering comfort with telling bald faced and easily provable lies at the drop of a hat. Some of you reading may sneer and claim that Obama has done the same, but that would be just as much of a lie. I have no doubt there are examples of exaggeration or political fancy footwork from the Administration. But I think you'd have a difficult time finding many, if any, examples of the President saying one thing to an audience in the morning and contradicting himself completely eight hours later. Given a few minutes, I could dig up several such examples of this with Romney, and I'm not exaggerating. There are sites and blogs that have long lists of quotes and video links that chronicle his dishonesty from his first Senate run to the current campaign. You can watch and read as his seemingly sincere beliefs magically change to fit whatever audience he's attempting to win over. Even if you kinda like the guy, how in this wide world can you trust anything he says at this point? The only thing about Governor Romney that I have absolute certainty about is that he wants to be President. That alone should NOT be enough!

Land of the Gullible

I received an email forward the other day that reminded me why so many Americans believe so many astonishing things. The email was supposedly from a September 2008 edition of 'Meet the Press' where Senator Obama was being questioned about his stance on the National Anthem. Strangely it was also attributed, at the bottom, as being from a Washington Post columnist as well, which should have been a tip-off to readers that something wasn't quite right. The text contains explosive statements about Obama's plan to disarm America and that the flag is a symbol of oppression and so on. Suffice it to say that you would be hard pressed to find many Americans who wouldn't be shocked by the comments attributed to, then, candidate Obama.

The only problem is that it's completely made up! The actual guests on that edition of 'Meet the Press' were Sen. Joe Biden and Tom Friedman. According to info on this urban legend from, a site that is sort of a Myth Busters for rumors and other misinformation, the seeds for this doozie were sown by a political columnist's satirical "Semi News" feature. A feature explicitly subtitled, "A Satirical Look at Recent News". Yet, either by ignorance or intentional design, this piece was used to mislead gullible people into thinking Senator Obama was about to replace the national anthem with 'I'd like to teach the world to sing." No, seriously, that was one of the so-called quotes!

I know I shouldn't be, but I'm still amazed that this story could have been taken seriously. Though, to be fair, I'm just as amazed that people think an African prince wants to give them millions of dollars or that a long lost acquaintance you've never heard of is desperate to have sex with you, and by the way she's a hot redhead with a "killer bod". What makes these things insidious is that they play to our weaknesses. If you weren't lonely, then you'd be a lot less likely to believe an email from some anonymous, sex obsessed woman. If you didn't already have deep seated distrust of Senator/President Obama then you'd never be taken in by an email claiming that he wants "to disarm America to the level of acceptance to our Middle East Brethren." They play to our own prejudices. In that way they can be a bit of a wake up call, alerting us to some of the thoughts, desires and concerns that lurk just beneath the surface of our conscious mind.

We're all gullible to some degree, otherwise advertising agencies would all be out of business and Miller Lite ads wouldn't feature armies of busty, scantily clad women. The important point is to recognize our own biases and factor that knowledge into our decision making. If you recognize that you have a knee-jerk response to anything related to a particular person, then be honest enough with yourself to acknowledge it as the baseless emotional response it is. We all have this problem to some degree, as it's part of being an emotional creature. But it's pointless, and sometimes self destructive, to let it rule your actions. Maybe you do dislike President Obama, but just make sure your disagreement is based on actual policies and positions and not a bunch of lies and urban legends designed to play to your emotions and trick you into following someone else's agenda.