2012 race starts with a “Meh”

Image courtesy Today's News NJ

The South Carolina GOP Debate, where "Who's who" meets "Who's that?"

As far as JV games go, it was pretty typical. The first debate in the 2012 race for the White House, hosted by the South Carolina Republican Party, featured a couple of guys who looked like they were ready to elevate themselves to varsity status, one who seemed comfortable where he is, and one dude who might enjoy finding another extracurricular activity…art or music, maybe?

The debate, hosted live by Fox News, was watched by a Frank Luntz focus group. That group scored former radio talk show host/pizza chain CEO Herman Cain the runaway winner. I didn’t see it quite like that. Here’s my scorecard from the less-than-thrilling evening.

1. Gov. Tim Pawlenty (MN) – T-Paw needed a good night, and he got one. This was his chance to prove he was ready to play on the same court with the big boys, to shed the “nice, but boring” image. He’s still not the most exciting guy on the dais, but he did have a little more fire than normal. He painted himself as well-traveled and in touch with the problems and, most importantly, didn’t dodge the questions. The most telling exchange came when he was asked about changing his position on “cap-and-trade.” He had this to say:

What i concluded subsequently is it is really a bad idea. Not in the last six months. I sent a letter congress I think about two years ago. And other times have said, I was wrong, I was a mistake and I’m sorry. It is ham fisted, it is going to be harmful to the economy.

Pawlenty admitted the mistake and showed how, with new information, he changed course. That’s a respectable stand that most politicians won’t make, because admitting you made a mistake is a fantastic way to not get re-elected. The audience seemed cool with it, though. T-Paw was also willing to give props to Pres. Obama on getting bin Laden, something that has been difficult for Republicans to do.

Let’s be frank…T-Paw didn’t create a lot of buzz for himself with this performance, but I think it’s the kind of consistent performance that could help him in the long run.

2. Herman Cain (GA) – This man captured the buzz in a way Pawlenty can only dream of. Cain is a big presence in any room, with a stern glare and booming voice. He is well polished, too, thanks in part to the fact he hosted his own talk radio show in Atlanta (it ended in February of this year). The buzz came with plenty of buzzwords to surround his performance. The Luntz Bunch said things like “a breath of fresh air,” “common sense,” and “clear and concise.”

But while I put Cain second in performance, I’m still not sold on his staying power. Most of his bullet-point answers came with three points – and as S.E. Cupp pointed out hilariously, he only got to three points of a four-point answer – and while he’s good with a quip, it’s not clear yet (because he’s so new on the scene) if there’s any depth behind them. As one member of the Luntz Bunch described him, “Talking points, no real solutions.”

This is not to say Cain can’t win. I’m only pointing out that for a man who has never run a successful political campaign, the 18-month run-up to November 2012 is going to present a lot of challenges. His ability to solve those challenges will prove if he’s capable of winning the nomination.

3. Rep. Ron Paul (TX) – It was a very Ron Paul-ian performance by the Texas Libertarian. He brought the house down with his discussion of the legalization of heroin and prostitution, a stance that seemed to irk the South Carolina GOP (unfortunately I’ve lost the link to that story). Paul drew several rounds of applause, including for advocating for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

Paul is an interesting voice in the GOP race. He helps drive the discussion in ways that are important if uncomfortable for the Republicans. This current batch of GOPers advocate for getting government out of the way and out of our personal lives, but they only seem to mean it when it comes to the financials. Paul is willing to take it much farther, advocating for not only heroin and hookers, but also for allowing gays and lesbians to marry. If the Republicans hope to snare independents and moderates who are fiscally conservative and socially liberal, Paul is the man who can help them do it. Paul’s views are seen by many as eccentric and “out there,” leaving him unlikely to win. But maybe he doesn’t have to. Maybe it’s enough to drive the debate in different directions.

4. Sen. Rick Santorum (PA) – Santorum is, as The Root contributor David Swerdlick says, what a GOP candidate would look like if you had to “concoct the stereotypical Republican candidate in a science lab.” T-Paw gets the knock for being boring only because of the distaste Santorum’s conservative social views have stirred up (if you have a really, really strong stomach, Google the word “Santorum” to see the sexual neologism created after he went on record comparing homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia). Santorum was as plastic as can be expected in the SC GOP debate, landing no wild haymakers but drawing nice rounds of applause for being, well, Rick Santorum. The JV game suits Santorum well. He’s not ready for the varsity game, though.

5. Gov. Gary Johnson (NM) – Poor Gary. He seems like a nice enough guy, but he was clearly out of his comfort zone in this debate. His elbows were pinned to his ribs and his hands spent most of the night nervously rubbing against things. Those tics made it hard for me to hear his message, which I understand is the “far out” right (he’s made no secrets of marijuana use). The only other thing I’ll remember about Johnson is line, delivered early on in the proceedings:

“Hey, there’s been like nine questions for these guys and none for me.”

Sorry, Gary. You weren’t doing much with the opportunities anyway.

The next chance for the Republican field to create some Cain-esque buzz – and for Cain to keep it rolling – is just about a month away. CNN and WMUR are co-sponsoring a debate June 13. It will air at 7 p.m. (Central) on CNN.



Debt fight! A game of honor and dimplomacy!

"...Debt fight! Tensions are high. Debt fight! Eye for eye.

I thought I might make a list of things I’m looking forward to over the next few weeks than I am the fight over the federal budget and our national debt. But that was taking too long, so I decided to make a list of things I’m dreading more than the budget/debt fight. But, I couldn’t come up with anything.

President Obama gave his speech outlining his deficit-reduction plan today, after Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) gave the GOP version. Commence finger pointing and name calling. Each side is accusing the other of not being serious about debt reduction. “There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires,” said Obama. “The American people will not stand for (raising the debt limit) unless it is accompanied by serious action to reduce our deficit,” countered Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH).

Both the Republican Democrat plans estimate they can shave about $4 billion off the debt over the next 10-12 years, but – of course – they have very different ideas about how to get there. Both of those plans – also of course – cling to traditional party ideologies. Boehner was very revealing on Sean Hannity’s radio show this afternoon, claiming he did the best he could for his “team” during the negotiations to keep the government from shutting down last week and he’ll keep fighting for his team. It’d be nice if he was fighting for Americans, but whatever.

The Tanned One told Hannity that they won’t budge of tax cuts, a stance for which he was praised. Hannity frequently claims he wants an “all hands on deck” strategy when it comes to energy policy, including coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear and green energies in working toward energy independence. He clearly doesn’t believe in the same approach when it comes to the deficit. None of the Republicans do, apparently. At a time when both sides agree it’s time to get “serious” about fixing our debt problem, it’s a shame Republicans are willing to take options off the table.

Raising taxes doesn’t have to be “soaking the rich,” as the Republicans call it. A small increase to the upper-level income earners can be a key piece of balancing our budget, and we don’t have to look any farther back than the Clinton administration. The top tax rate then – when we last had a balanced budget – was 39.6%. Under Obama it’s currently about 35%. Pushing it back up4.6% is hardly a soaking, especially when you consider it was 43.5% under Bush and went from 69.13% to 50% between 1981 and 1986 under Ronald Reagan. From there it went to 38.5% – close to the Clinton-era number – before falling to 28% over Reagan’s final 13 months.

But that alone isn’t going to fix things. Spending cuts are needed across the board, and it’s hard to imagine there should be any sacred cows right now. Democrats need to give some ground on Social Security, unemployment/welfare benefits, Medicare and Medicaid. Republicans need to allow meaningful cuts to our defense budget. World military expenditures reached an estimated $1.531 trillion in 2009. The U.S. was responsible for 46.5%. The next highest country was China, at 6.6%. In fact, you can add the expenditures of China, France, the U.K. and Russia and only come up with 18.1% Heck, add the next 10 countries to that total and you won’t equal what the U.S. spends on defense.

Defense, Social Security, unemployment/welfare, Medicare and Medicaid. That’s approximately 75.48% of the budget. None of them have to suffer too much if all of them suffer a little.

But there’s one big problem: 2012. There’s a big election coming and this fight over the deficit is going to be a prelude to what should be a particularly nasty election season. This will be all about team, not country. Don’t doubt that.


P.S. — If you don’t know where the title of this blog post came from, watch this: “Bat Fight,” on Funny or Die.

Was this in the pledge?

Editor’s note: Yes, I realize this is way behind the news cycle…but I wrote it, then had to set it aside for a while. I spent a lot of time on it and I don’t want it to go to waste. Humor me, please.

With crystal clear focus and laser precision, the Republican party made sure we knew it was gonna be different this time.

It’s hard to believe it was just six months ago when the Grand Old Party unveiled its “Pledge To America,” a 21-page document that outlined the its governing agenda. Just 11 grafs in, it’s spelled out in simple language: “The need for urgent action to repair our economy and reclaim our government for the people cannot be overstated.”

That, apparently, includes taking away funding for public broadcasting. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a measure recently that would prevent stations from buying programming from National Public Radio – or any other source – with the $22 million they receive from the federal government.

So…is that repairing our economy? Or does that reclaim the government?

It’s interesting to see a party that blamed, in part, a “polarizing political environment” for “fraying the bonds among our people and blurring our sense of national purpose” spend so much time passing bills that they know will never pass the Senate, let alone get signed by President Obama. This measure, just like “repealing” the Affordable Health Care Act, is nothing more than red meat for the conservative base, designed to stir them up as we approach the run-up to the 2012 presidential election.

One could try to declare this a great victory for fiscal conservatives, but look at that figure a few grafs up: $22 million. Barely a dent in the federal budget. No less than Rep. Ron Paul took to the house floor to criticize the move, saying:

“The very most they might save is $10 million, and that’s their claim to fame for slashing the budget. At the same time they won’t consider for a minute cutting a real, significant amount of money. All empires end for fiscal reasons, because they spread themselves too far around the world – and that’s what we’re facing.”

“That’s their claim to face for slashing the budget.” This is the root of what the Republicans are doing. They are returning to this focus on divisive wedge issues that helped drive me from the party in the first place. The attempt to cut funding from Planned Parenthood was just the beginning.

Public broadcasting, specifically NPR and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, have long been conservative targets, considered to be far too liberal. The 228 Republicans who passed this measure will indeed brag to their constituents about cutting the budget while sticking it to the liberal elite at the same time. They may have accomplished neither.

Mike Durbin, the author of Principled Thoughts, asked me “If NPR is so great, how come it can’t be privately funded”? That, I told him, was the wrong question…and not just because NPR gets only about $5.4 million per year from the federal government. The majority of its $65 million budget comes from local stations, which pay for the programming (you’ve heard the pledge drives…I know you have). So it’s entirely possible that, minus this money, NPR will survive. But again, this is the wrong question.

Here’s the right question: Why does the United States need public, non-commercial, news broadcasting and reporting? It was answered in a far more eloquent manner than I could achieve in the pages of The Washington Post by Leonard Downie, Jr., a professor of journalism at Arizona State University, and Robert G. Kaiser, an associate editor at The Post. It’s well worth a read. Here’s a key snippet:

“…equally important to us is local news coverage, which has been even more severely weakened by shrunken reporting staffs and ambitions at newspapers and commercial stations in too many cities and towns. We have long believed that Americans benefit when powerful institutions and important issues in their lives are scrutinized by good reporters on their behalf. Yet this kind of ambitious local news coverage by commercial media has diminished in community after community in recent years.”

I have a clear bias here. Every paycheck I ever collected as a sports editor came from a community publication. While national and regional news organizations do wonderful things, there is no replacing what local, feet-on-the-ground, immersed-in-the-community reporting can offer a town of any size. And no group is better prepared to than a group that doesn’t have to rely on advertising revenue to survive. Those are the journalists who are able to take risks, to go after stories that might make advertisers or members of the local government uncomfortable.

James Fallows wrote a piece on “Why NPR Matters” back during the Juan Williams debacle, well before this bill was introduced. It’s timely now, though, as he points out:

“In their current anti-NPR initiative, Fox and the Republicans would like to suggest that the main way NPR differs from Fox is that most NPR employees vote Democratic. That is a difference, but the real difference is what they are trying to do. NPR shows are built around gathering and analyzing the news, rather than using it as a springboard for opinions. And while of course the selection of stories and analysts is subjective and can show a bias, in a serious news organization the bias is something to be worked against rather than embraced. NPR, like the New York Times, has an ombudsman. Does Fox? [I think the answer is No.]”

But perhaps my whole rant here is overthinking things a bit. This is not a serious bill introduced by the Republicans. They have to know – like repealing health care reform – it will never make it through the Senate or get signed by the president. They don’t necessarily want it to, though. This is a chance to stir up partisan feelings in preparation for the 2012 elections. Plain and simple. And it’s exactly the kind of thing they pledged to us they wouldn’t do. They are just continuing to fray the bonds among our people and blur our sense of national purpose.

And yes, Michael, I know you favor cutting all federal funding to private organizations. I know this won’t sway you. But this is my honest answer.


Of cheeseheads and mortar boards

I’ve yet to weigh in on Wisconsin, but something has really caught my attention, so here we go…

The new GOP talking point seems to be the salaries that teachers in the Badger State take in. Rush Limbaugh was on it today, and I’m pretty sure I’ve heard it from other people too, though The Daily Caller’s Matthew Boyle wrote about it more than a week ago. Are you ready to be outraged by Wisconsin’s teachers? Here we go:

“Wisconsin’s 2010 Teacher of the Year, Leah Lechleiter-Luke of Mauston High School… makes $54,928 in base salary and $32,213 in “fringe benefits,” which includes health insurance, life insurance and retirement pay. …Per the Department of Commerce, in 2009, the average personal income for all Wisconsin workers was $37,398.”

Are you OUTRAGED?!?!?!? Because I’m not. So what?

Boyle’s piece doesn’t specify, so allow me a bit of conjecture here: When he says “all Wisconsin workers,” we’re going to guess he means all human beings in the state of Wisconsin who hold a job. That’s a big group of people, ranging from doctors, lawyers, etc. on the high end, to – I’m guessing – janitors, food service employees, etc. on the other. And what one thing that usually separates those on the high end from the low? An education.

A quick Google search reveals that Lechleiter-Luke holds degrees from both the University of Wisconsin-Osh Kosh, and Viterbo University in La Crosse. That information comes from this document, a list of the 2009-10 Wisconsin teachers of the year. Perusing that list reveals that all of them have at least one degree, and one of them is currently working on a Masters.

What does this have to do with salary? A lot. CNN noted in 2006 that a “survey found that adults 18 and older with a bachelor’s degree earned an average of $51,554 in 2004, compared to $28,645 for those with only a high school diploma.”

Go back to this Wisconsin numbers again for a second:$54,928 in base pay for one of Wisconsin’s teachers of the year (who holds two college degrees) compared to $37,398 for all workers. Not that far off, are they?

Here’s another document for you, this one from Wisconsin’s Technical Colleges. It lists 10 occupations typically requiring a bachelors degree. The average salary of that group is $48,472.

So, yes, Wisconsin’s teachers don’t do too shabby when it comes to salary, but it’s not way out of line when compared to other workers with bachelor’s degrees.

Listen, Conservatives…if you want me to get on your side here – and I’m open to that idea – don’t attack teachers for making salaries commensurate with their education. No offense, but I’m not dumb enough to fall for that.

Keep your hands off Nick Reed’s lightbulbs!

Glamour Shots!!!!!

See that guy on the far right? Don't mess with his LIGHT BULBS!

Today was one of those rare days I decided to listen to talk radio in the morning, and – boy – am I glad I did! I just happened to luck into a Nick Reed diatribe on KSGF and ended up reconsidering my opinions of the President of the United States of America.

Reed was all worked up over this story, where people are stocking up on incandescent light bulbs before compact fluorescent lamps, or CFLs, take over the shelves. Incandescent bulbs, as you may remember, are being phased out because of an energy law. Now, consumers must buy what Reed calls crappy light bulbs.

“I say crappy ones because I don’t like ’em,” said Reed. “God forbid we live in the kind of country where you can choose the kind of LIGHT BULBS we want.”

Some people concur with Reed’s disapproval of the bulbs, but only because the light isn’t is good, or they take too long to turn on, or there’s some concern with the bulbs’ small mercury content and the clean up involved if one should break. Not Reed.

“Quite frankly that doesn’t worry me nearly as much as the fact that we live in a country where we aren’t even gonna be able to buy the kind of LIGHT BULB that we want,” he said, later adding:

“Do you not understand what this says about our country? I’ve explained this before, but I feel like I need to explain it again. The reason I get upset about it is because it is something that should be so…such a small portion of our lives, yet the government feels to even dictate THAT. And, to me, when the government’s dictating things as insignificant in life as what sort of light bulb we want, that’s when you get real trouble.”

Incandescent bulbs will still be available, just with a different capsule, and that’s not good enough for Reed. Nor is it good enough for a whopping 13% of Americans who, according to an Osram Sylvania survey, will stock up on the incandescents – like it’s Russia in the 1980s. And we know who was in charge in Russia in the 80s, don’t we?

“What fantasy world are we living in? Light bulbs.”

That got me thinking: Maybe I should re-think this president. Maybe Reed is right, this incandescent prohibition is the start of a slippery slope to “real trouble.” What kind of man would do that? What kind of communist, nay, socialist would want to tell us what kind of light bulbs we can or can’t use?

Ol' Mr. Light Bulb himself!

President George W. Bush signs into law H.R. 6, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the act that had Nick Reed all fired up!

Oh, right.

“Today we make a major step with the Energy Independence and Security Act,” President George W. Bush said at the time. “We make a major step toward reducing our dependence on oil, confronting global climate change, expanding the production of renewable fuels and giving future generations of our country a nation that is stronger, cleaner and more secure.”

The bill passed 264-163 in the House, with 36 Republicans for and 159 against. It passed 65-27 in the Senate. It’s worth noting that Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill both voted against it, while Kit Bond was one of only seven senators that did not vote.

Let’s not let our political memories get too short. This light bulb edict came on Bush’s watch, as did the first Troubled Asset Relief Program – and he said this past November that he’d do it again. You ever wonder why some independent voters like me say there just isn’t enough difference between Republicans and Democrats sometimes? Here’s Exhibit A. Admit it. You totally thought I was talking about Obama.


P.S. – I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the bump music for this segment – which aired shortly after 8 a.m. – was a song called “Pony” by Ginuwine. It’s notable for two things: 1) Spawning the “Dancing Alone to ‘Pony'” meme and 2) Featuring this suave line, “If you’re horny, let’s do it / Ride it, my pony…” It was a classic moment. Ginuwine sings “My saddle’s waiting / Come on, jump on it…” just as Reed gave us the winter weather advisory.

Lecturing…or as some call it, pleading

I make no secrets that, in my political soul searching during the George W. Bush administration, I have found myself to be a bit left-of-center. But I also strive to be an independent, non-partisan thinker, weighing each issue, each candidate, each vote I cast, on its individual merits. Think it’s easy?

No. It’s not. In an attempt to stay well-informed on both sides of the issues, I make it a point to consume both liberal and conservative media. The problem with that? Sometimes I get whiplash from having my head jerked from left to right so fast. Last night was a prime example.

President Obama literally walked across the street to extend an olive branch to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Feb. 7. The president and the chamber don’t see eye to eye, you see. In fact, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent more than $30 million in the last election, 93% of it – according to the New York Times – supported Republicans or criticized their opponents. This was a lion’s den of sorts for Obama.

Rachel Maddow blog screenshot

So how’d it go? Depends on who you ask. First, I watched The Rachel Maddow Show, where she told me that Obama, “true to his style, did not say that anybody was wrong. …The president is on the other side of the Chamber in this, but he is not calling them his opponent, let alone, his enemy.  Can the president win a fight that he‘s refusing to pick?”

Screenshot from The Blaze. Same story, different take. Like, really different.

Wow. So the big guy took it easy on the Chamber, huh? That’s what I thought, until I got online to look at Glenn Beck’s news Web site The Blaze. That’s where I found this headline waiting for me: “‘Get in the game’: Obama lectures Chamber of Commerce on ‘mutual responsibility.'” The article tells me that

“…the president’s remarks seemed to demonstrate a continuing divide between the president and the business community. Throughout the course of his speech, the President stressed that businesses owe certain responsibilities to the nation.”

The Blaze’s commenters were more direct. Calling Obama’s speech a veiled threat, without the veil.

There you have it. President Obama lectured and threatened the U.S. Chamber of Commerce while, at the same time, pleading with them and refusing to pick a fight.

Whiplash, y’all. Who got it right? Neither of them, I’m sure. The truth is usually somewhere in the middle…and I’d find it if my neck wasn’t so sore.


Over-the-top Rhetoric: You’re doing it right

via The Conservative Outpost

I wish I knew what was behind that "censored" box and who put it there.

I’m not sure how, but I got on the e-mail list for “Conservative Outpost,” which is exactly what it sounds like. As an information junkie, I read it so I can understand all sides of the issues. Their latest missive was commentary from Drew McKissick (screenshot attached) titled “Advancing censorship with dead bodies.” I know what you’re thinking: It’s about Hosni Mubarak, right?

After all, the Egyptian military leader and president, is seeing his country go through a violent civil upheaval. Protesters are dying in clashes with riot police, internet and cell phone service is being shut off by the government and police are reportedly confiscating cameras from guests, including tourists, at the Hilton Hotel in Cairo.

Advancing censorship with dead bodies? Gotta be Mubarak, right?

No. It’s Obama and the Democrats. See, Obama didn’t speak up soon enough or forcefully enough when Conservatives were blamed for inspiring the shootings in Tucson with their violent rhetoric, and now some Democrats are questioning if it’s time to re-instate the Fairness Doctrine.

It’s not, and they won’t. Those calls, which do happen from time to time, have not amounted to anything in the past, and President Obama himself has previously spoken out against it.

So for those of you keeping score at home…In the past week or so we’ve had a Democrat on the floor of the House compare Republicans to Nazis and this guy, McKissick, accuse Democrats of “advancing censorship with dead bodies.” Now that’s what I call bi-partisanship!