Election 2012: The Real Debate

About the only talking point worth talking about from Monday night’s presidential debate, was nobody played “Beat Up the Moderator!”  Given the amount of flak Jim Lehrer and Candy Crowley took in the first two debates, I’m surprised.   I was looking for Bob Schieffer to show up wearing Kevlar underpants — especially since he’s a known associate of the ever-demonized George W. Bush.  However, Bob’s boy bits remained safe, and that set the tone for the evening.  Neither candidate went for the goolies, although both could have and probably should have.  In the end, it was Obama’s “horses and bayonets” zinger that carried the day, and nobody but Romney partisans is saying the Republican won.  However, the only thing the American people actually learned Monday was President Obama can still argue heaven is hell with the devil and end up with Beelzebub bringing him a cold beer.

In an increasingly war weary America, it’s no wonder both candidates stayed away from talking foreign policy during a foreign policy debate.  In a race that’s this close, nobody wants to be the guy bringing the bad news – especially if your name is Romney.  It’s too late now to do chapter and verse (Barack Obama has left the building) but Mitt missed just about every opportunity he had to score points on the Commander-in-Chief – up to and including the recent debacle in Benghazi.  I don’t think either candidate mentioned President Obama’s drone war on terrorism, and hypothetical or not, Israel is not going to go quietly into an Iranian nuclear nightmare.  These things are real and immediate, and they’re not going to go away (jobs or no jobs in Ohio.)  They need to be talked about.  Certainly by the two guys who think they can handle this kind of action for the next four years — especially since the last four haven’t exactly been a Golden Age in American diplomacy.

The problem is American foreign policy means a lot more to the rest of the world than it does to anybody west of Kennebunkport.  It’s a common fallacy that America wants to beat the rest of the world into submission.  They don’t.  They want to barbeque and watch the ballgame.  (Bless You Boys!)  Actually, especially in times of domestic crisis, Americans don’t worry about what goes on outside their borders.  Throughout most of their history they’ve been confirmed isolationists, trying (as Washington and Jefferson told them) to avoid foreign entanglements.  They don’t honestly care about Syria or Pakistan or even Afghanistan. The only reason it even comes up on the panel is voters have relatives “somewhere” over there getting shot at.  To the average Joe (and Jane) on the American street, the world outside the U. S. of A is either a tourist destination or a wretched place full of angry people who hate them – and they’re not far wrong.  Besides, contrary to popular belief, Americans don’t hold a grudge (they don’t have the attention span) and now that they “got” Bin Laden, they could care less about Aleppo, Abbottabad or the Khyber Pass.  Their major concern is when are Dolores and Delmar coming home?

I think it was James Carville who helped Bill Clinton coin the phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid.” and that’s squarely where this election lies.  It’s all about Alvarez’s job, not Ahmadinejad’s bomb — and rightly so.  The fact is, unless one of these guys can stop the economic hemorrhaging in the next four years, foreign policy won’t even be on the agenda, because somebody else will be running the world.

The Vice President: A Short History

Despite what the pundits have been telling us for a week or so — and all the yipping that went on last night — the vice president (not this one particularly) really isn’t worth that much.  His (or her?) job is to wake up every morning and ask the important question: “How’s the president feeling, today?”  After that, he can have a leisurely breakfast, read the paper, work in the garden or play on the Internet, if he likes.  Of course, if some second tier somebody dies somewhere in the world, he has to show up and look sad, or if some not-so-notable notable comes to Washington, he has to show up and look happy.  To paraphrase Dorothy Parker: “His emotional range must run the gamut from A to B.”  However, for the most part, the vice president’s time is his own.  Yet, even though the office is totally useless on a daily basis, it does serve an essential purpose: the vice president must be ready and able to run the country if the president can’t.  It’s kinda like the first runner up in a beauty contest.

Actually, originally, that’s the way it worked.  The vice president was the guy who lost the election.  Obviously, this wasn’t an ideal arrangement, even back in the day.  For example, John Adams’ vice president was Thomas Jefferson.  I’d have loved to have been a fly on the wall when those two started tearing into the nation’s business.  After all, about the only thing they ever agreed on was when to die.  To put this into perspective, in this century, George Dubya’s vice presidents would have been Al Gore and John Kerry; Barack Obama would have been stuck with John McCain.  Just let that sink in for a moment.

Oddly enough, the vice presidency is not an automatic ticket to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue1.  Actually, it’s almost a political dead end.  Of the forty-seven vice presidents so far, only fourteen have ever gone on to become president.  Eight of them took office when their bosses suddenly died; one, Gerry Ford, became president when Richard Nixon resigned and only five have ever been elected independently (and one of those, Richard Nixon, had to run twice.)  In fact, most politicos regard the office with some disdain.  Daniel Webster, who was offered the vice presidency by two separate administrations,2 replied the first time by saying “I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead and in my coffin.”  Likewise, John Nance Garner, who was, for a time, Franklin Roosevelt’s vice president, described the office as “not worth a bucket of warm piss.”  Not much has changed since Garner’s time.

For many years, both parties either let the backroom boys choose their vice presidential candidate or threw it open to the convention floor.  Either way, there have been some spirited campaigns for this worthless office – John Kennedy in 1956, for example.  However, in 1976, Ronald Reagan ran into political trouble and needed a boost to try and unseat Gerry Ford during the primaries, so he named his running mate, Richard Schweiker, early.  It didn’t help: Ford won the nomination.  However, this has become the norm.  Now, all the campaigning for second banana is done in the backrooms, long before the delegates ever meet.

Also, for many years, being selected as a vice presidential candidate was sort of a consolation prize for not getting the Big Kahuna.  However, these days, vice presidents usually bring balance to the ticket, either geographically, politically or — twice — (Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin) by gender.  Of course, there are some cynics who maintain that the vice president is chosen simply as assassination insurance.

Regardless, most vice presidents have done their jobs uneventfully and vanished into history.  And the nine who were called upon to fulfill their primary function have served adequately, if not spectacularly, with one notable exception: Theodore Roosevelt, who was so good at it, they put him on Mount Rushmore with Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.

1BTW, some people think the vice president lives and works in the White House – he doesn’t.  Actually, up until the 1970s, the vice president had to find his own accommodations in Washington.  And it wasn’t until Jimmy Carter made some space for Walter Mondale that the VP even had a formal office in the West Wing.

2From the Pretty Darn Strange Department: If Webster had shut up and taken the job — either time — he would have ended up as president.  Both men who invited him to be their Veep died in office.

Barack Obama and the Great Debate

Okay, that’s it!  I’ve had enough!  The Obama apologists have finally jumped the shark.  The latest missive from the Our-Guy-Is-Never-Wrong school of journalism is maybe President Obama just doesn’t want to be president anymore.  Do you believe this?  It’s getting to the point where everything this guy does has some pure and saintly purpose.  He screws up one debate and suddenly we’re no longer worthy of his leadership.  It’s as if Obama were some ancient god who has grown weary of his bickering children (who continue to ignore his teachings) and more in disappointed than in anger, must now forego the redemption of the human race until mankind is ready for his message.  Or maybe Barack just operates on such a high plane of consciousness that ordinary human traits like fulfillment and ambition don’t apply to him.  I don’t know which it is, but come on, people!  Get real!

Last week, when they turned off the microphones on the Romney/Obama debate, the air pressure dropped in every newsroom in America as journalists, commentators and caterers collectively gasped in horror.   It was right out of the scene in The Man Who Would Be King when the High Priest of Kafiristan discovers that Danny bleeds red like everybody else and isn’t a god.   The priest raises his hand to show Danny’s blood to the assembled multitude, and for a full three seconds, they all stand there, stunned.   Such was the case last Wednesday.  The echoes in Denver took a long time dying as the interior monologue of every bicoastal opinionator was screaming, “Holy crap!  What just happened?”  When they shook themselves back to reality, the wailing was uncontrollable.  The guy from The Daily Beast was practically in tears, Bill Maher tried to slash his wrists with the sharp end of his tongue, and I’m sure Chris Matthews strangled at least one fact checker in abject rage on his way to the microphone.  From there, everybody east and west of the Continental Divide who wasn’t hanging onto something simply got buried in the Excuse-and-Blame avalanche.

Nothing was sacred.  One commentator said that Romney (the dirty cheater) had an unfair advantage because he’d had several recent debates during the primaries and Obama hadn’t had any.  Another guy blamed Senator John Kerry for being too easy on the president during their practice sessions because he wants to be Secretary of State.   They accused Romney of having notes on his handkerchief.  They blamed the format, the venue and the altitude.  Hell, at one point they even turned on Jim Lehrer and denounced him for being old, semi-retired and losing control of the situation – which, apparently, gave Romney yet another unfair advantage.

If I sound bitter, I am.  I’m absolutely fed up to the eyeballs with the cult of personality that surrounds this president.  He’s not Kim Jong-un for God’s sake!  President Obama puts his pants on, one leg at a time, just like everybody else.  He can and does make mistakes.  He has off days and bad nights.  He proved that, last Wednesday.  He is not all-knowing, all-seeing and all-wise.  And face it, folks: he is not now, nor, was he ever, America’s one-size-fits-all Glorious Leader.  And while I’m on the subject, just because I disagree with Barack Obama’s political philosophy, that doesn’t make me stupid, an insensitive moron or a witless dupe of some Republican propaganda machine.  I am just as aware of the issues as the next person and my opinion is just a valid as theirs is.

Here’s the deal: President Obama screwed up last week.  For whatever reason, he didn’t get the job done.  However, just because he didn’t meet the expectations of his supporters doesn’t automatically mean he was the victim of a plot, a conspiracy or Jim Lehrer’s gross incompetence.  Whether you like the guy or not, it’s time to remember he’s just a guy, trying to do his job the best way he knows how.  If you think he’s doing a good job, vote for him.  If you don’t, don’t.  But this never-ending beatification is getting really tiresome.