Posts Tagged ‘Democrats’

The Curse of the Mainstream Media

‘Democrats have their own SuperPAC, it’s called the mainstream media.’- Senator Marco Rubio  (October 28, 2015 Republican Presidential Candidate Debate)


Anyone who’s ever worked at one of the broadcast television networks knows that their staffs are composed of a hodgepodge of political (and a-political) opinions.  The only agenda is to be relevant and interesting to the 18-49 year old American adults who advertisers yearn to reach. There’s also the news division’s quest, which they take very seriously, for journalistic integrity.

Here’s something to consider. By definition, doesn’t’ “mainstream media” mean that it resonates with the majority of people; the actual mainstream?

Of course, the reason that “mainstream media” is such a tempting target for these politicians and for demagogic radio and TV personalities is that the audiences to whom they are pandering tend to be fringe groups; outsiders who perceive themselves as special, unique and superior to the majority of their fellow citizens. Therefore, media who represent the values and attitudes of those in the mainstream must, somehow, be tainted.

And who, actually, are the “mainstream media”? Are they just the ABC, CBS and NBC television networks and their cable news subsidiaries? Is Fox News a member of the “mainstream media”? What about Facebook and Twitter? One could argue, given their vast audiences and news dissemination services that they also belong in the category of “mainstream media”.

So, the next time you hear someone attack the mainstream media, it might be worth asking yourself exactly which fringe group that person is trying to impress.

The Price of Politics

Listening to the conversation during the past year about the recent US Presidential elections, I had the distinct impression that many of my fellow citizens equate the belief that the person who holds the office of American president is “the most powerful (person) in the world” with a notion that s/he is omnipotent. It seems like magical thinking. That, somehow, an American president can just declare something   ( wave a magic wand, so to speak) and it will become so. Of course, the world is more complicated than that.

Last April, I attended Bob Woodward’s lecture at Union College and was surprised that Woodward seemed to have a negative attitude toward President Obama. I was recently reminded of that experience while listening to Jon Meacham discuss his new book about Thomas Jefferson and the similarities to our current political situations. According to Meachan, Jefferson explained to his constituents (I’m paraphrasing here) that they should expect to be disappointed in some of his decisions because he had more information about situations than they did. The idealists who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 have been actively critical of some of the President’s actions and decisions during the past four years. In this book, Woodward seems to delight in pointing out contradictions between what Mr. Obama said and what he did. Again, I’m paraphrasing: “The president said: ‘I don’t want to lecture you” and then proceeded to lecture them.”  The guy was a college professor. Is it a surprise that lecturing is his default mode of communication?

This book concerns the negotiations during 2011between the Obama administration and Congressional Republicans regarding the national budget. Woodward’s usual style is to interview as many participants and observers of conversations, both on and off the record, as possible in order to reconstruct those situations. The amount of distrust that Republican political leaders display during these interviews towards President Obama’s attempts to arrive at a bipartisan agreement is disconcerting.  I understand that during negotiations each party positions itself towards the extremes so that they can eventually create a compromise for which each side can save face and claim victory. We don’t get any sense from this book that such was the case during these negotiations. Even when Obama is making clear the administration’s willingness to sacrifice for the sake of negotiation, there’s a sense that the Republican leaders believe there must be some evil intent.

An impression I take away from Woodward’s book is that Obama senior advisors Valerie Jarrett and Rahm Emmanuel contributed to this perceptions, perhaps without the president’s knowledge.  Especially following the 2008 election, Woodward reports that both Jarrett and Emmanuel responded with arrogant “Tough luck. We won” attitudes to Republicans while President Obama was working to convey his willingness to create bipartisanship.  GOP leaders presumed that Jarrett and Emmanuel were speaking for the president but, given the problems that Obama was having with the left-wing idealists of this Liberal constituency during the first two years of his presidency, that doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

There’s one fact I recall from this book which I find to be quite ironic. The Republican leadership’s emphasis was on cutting costs.  Of course, their emphasis was on “entitlements” and they reacted very negatively toward any considerations about to cut the Pentagon’s budget. However, when the Department of Defense was asked how many people they employed, their response was “somewhere between one and nine million”.  When pressed, they couldn’t be more specific.  Republicans are the political party of business. I find it difficult to believe that any company CEO or president would react well if, when asked about the number of people their company employed, HR provided such a stunningly vague response.  If the number of people employed by the Pentagon is “somewhere between 1 and 9 million”, it seems like there much be some fat which could be cut from its budget.

As  I write this in late November 2012, President Obama has won re-election, Republicans are still resistant to returning to Clinton-era rates for those earning more than $250,000, and the “fiscal cliff” looms ahead of us. Let’s hope our leaders have all learned some valuable lessons from the experiences described in Woodward’s book.


The Passage of Power

In this book, Robert Caro picks up Lyndon Baines Johnson’s where he left off in Master of Senate.  LBJ was nothing if not a complex person. Victim/bully/ champion of human rights/manipulative politician/devoted family man/adulterer.

Having grown up in predominantly Irish Catholic Southern New England during the 1960s, I was enamored with President Kennedy.  Unofficially, he was sanctified by the majority of New Englanders that I knew.  So, it’s disappointing to learn how the Kennedys and their colleagues treated Johnson. The Kennedys ridiculed and humiliated the man.

Bobby comes across as mean-spirited, self-centered, and a bit of a jerk.  I hadn’t realized that Bobby had been a staffer for Senator Joe McCarthy.  And there’s a scene where Bobby mocks then-Vice President Johnson at a dinner party by sticking pins in a Johnson voodoo doll. And Johnson, who was insecure in his VP role to begin with, feared that Bobby would thwart his ambitions to be the Democratic party’s presidential candidate in 1964 and 1968.

Early in this book, Caro reveals some behind the scenes details about the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Being a teenager who grew up in post-World War II America, I presumed that we had the situation under control and that everything would turn out alright. Apparently, we were a  lot closer to nuclear war and annihilation than I thought we were.  Fortunately, we lucked out.

The dominant theme for most of Caro’s book is the frustration that Lyndon Johnson felt during his time as JFK’s vice-president.  Another VP, who was marginalized by FDR’s charisma, John Nance Garner described the office as “not worth a bucket of warm spit”. There’s little doubt that LBJ, who enjoyed using his power as Master of the Senate, agreed with that description of the vice-presidency.

The story in “The Passage Of Power” is far from boring. As the Washington Post’s reviewer writes: “In Caro’s account, LBJ comes across by turns as insecure, canny, bighearted, self-defeating, petty, brilliant, cruel and …domineering.” “Caro infuses his pages with suspense, pathos, bitter rivalry and historic import.”

The book contains interesting behind-the-scenes details about JFK’s selection of Johnson to be his running mate and about RFK’s efforts to thwart that decision. There’s also the story about how, after being denied the presidential candidacy and being offered the VP position, LBJ has staff members research how many presidents had died in office and, doing the math, calculates that the odds are in his favor that he might gain the presidency under those circumstances. Although Caro’s book cites authorities which make it clear that Johnson had no involvement in the JFK assassination, I have little doubt that the revelation of that particular anecdote is sure to fan the flames for conspiracy theorists.

For those of us who live through it, the story of the hours and days immediately following the events of November 22nd, 1963 are the most riveting part of this book.  Being the personality type who becomes calmer and more focused during times of crisis, I could relate to Johnson’s reactions during those chaotic hours at the hospital immediately following the assassination. Witnesses marvel at how calm and in control he seemed. We also learn the reactions of Bobby and the Kennedy staff who despised Johnson and their unfavorable interpretations of his behavior.  One gets the sense that, even when LBJ was trying his best to be sensitive the Kennedy group’s situation, he just couldn’t win.  And, of course, the fact that the assassination occurred in LBJ’s beloved Texas didn’t help the situation.

In Bill Clinton’s review of Caro’s book, he marvels at LBJ’s political skill and talks about how, after Johnson assumed the presidency, he determined to get JFK’s Civil Rights bill passed by Congress despite the strong opposition of his fellow Southern Democrats. LBJ was advised to avoid squandering the political capital he’d gained as a result of the assassination on a cause that seemed hopeless. But Johnson’s response was: “Well, what the hell’s the presidency for?”

Clinton says that that’s the question that every president has to ask and to answer. To LBJ, during the final weeks of 1963, “presidency was for two things: passing a civil rights bill with teeth…and launching the War on Poverty.”  It’s LBJ’s knowledge, skill and expertise in schmoozing, bullying, and cajoling Congress which gets the legislation passed by the House and the Senate. One gets the sense that, had John Kennedy lived, his administration wouldn’t have been able to achieve those results. It’s an interesting hypothesis and, of course, an answer which we’ll never know.

One thing that struck me while listening to this audio book is the comparison of how different things were back then when a president and congressional majority leader could use their powers to withhold perks and powerful positions in order to control Congress and get legislation passed. Today, when Tea Party candidates aren’t interested in becoming “professional politicians” and are determined to undermine the legislative system, those tactics can no longer work.  So, I’m amused when I hear pundits criticizing our modern day president for not being able to control Congress under these circumstances.  One only has to look at John Boehner’s frustration at trying to control his GOP colleagues in the House to understand the dilemmas of American political leadership in the 21st century.

“The Passage Of Power” ends  as LBJ is deciding how the USA will proceed with its military efforts in Vietnam. His decisions about that war along with those of his successor, Richard Nixon were factors in creating the divisions between the Babyboomers and their parents’ generation and what Jimmy Carter described as our national “malaise” in the 1970s. As I finished this book, the thought struck me that the erosion of our attitude towards the presidency had its roots in Lyndon Johnson’s administration.




The Health Of The Nation

On Thursday, the United States Supreme Court, SCOTUS to the politicos among us, will announce its decision on the Affordable Health Care Act or as master of rhetoric Dr. Frank Lunz has repositioned it, “Obamacare”. This collection of political cartoons pretty much summarizes the extent and divisiveness of the debate on this issue:

Of course, most of us have been more inclined to listen to the rhetoric of this debate than have actually bothered to read about the details. Here’s a link to the summary provided by the US Senate: