Posts Tagged ‘mitch daniels’

The senator formerly known as Stuart Smalley

Newt Explore notwithstanding, the 2012 Presidential campaign hasn’t officially begun, but as of late last year, President Obama seemed, to some, extremely vulnerable. Since then, however, a slowly improving economy, the President’s exemplary speech after the Tucson massacre and his pragmatic spirit of compromise—maddening as it is to his Progressive base—have edged his approval numbers toward respectability, certainly competitive with other POTUSes midway through their first terms.

There have been rocky patches—many on both sides of the spectrum have questioned Obama’s handling of the remarkable events in the Middle East. But the President has received an unexpected boost—from Republicans. The weepy John Boehner & Co. have flailed in the early months of their post-“shellacking” control of the House, concentrating on culture war issues to assuage their far-right base—eviscerating women’s reproductive rights, de-funding Planned Parenthood and public broadcasting.

Now, overreaching Teabagger Governors in the Midwest have united progressives and repulsed moderates. In the abstract, folks may think public employees should pay more for their benefits. But despite the GOP’s zealous attempts to demonize them—blaming them for fiscal problems instead of tax breaks for the wealthy and tax-dodging corporations— nobody likes to see someone’s rights taken away. And people generally do like their cops, teachers and firefighters.

Like. It’s the word you check on Facebook. And, symbolically, at the ballot box. People want to like their Presidents—after all, you have to live with them for four or eight years. Look back over the past eight decades, since electronic media brought presidential candidates into our homes: Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Reagan, Clinton, W. The multi-term presidents, or those elected in their own right after filling the term of a fallen chief executive, tend to be the ones who came across as more likable than their opponents.

The obvious exception is Richard Nixon. He won a second term—but one wonders if he’d have survived Watergate if he’d been warmer and fuzzier. And one could argue over LBJ’s likability—he was the most complex of men. But in a wave of post-assassination emotion, matched against the abrasive Barry Goldwater—viewed as an extremist in those days, maybe now, not so much—he won election in his own right in an epic landslide.

Which brings us to 2012. Most polls tell us that even if they disapprove of some of his policies, Americans like Barack Obama—apart from the ones who consider him the Antichrist and despite Fox News’ efforts to paint him as a damn furriner. And that visceral response, as much as anything, could well carry him to re-election. Especially when compared to the current crop of GOP contenders:

1)   Mitt Romney. Looks like central casting for the part of a President. But he’s also been described as looking like “the guy who laid you off.” Smarmy and a congenital flip-flopper. Plus, his Romneycare millstone may knock him off in the primaries.

2)   Mike Huckabee. He’s the front-runner as of today, and once seemed cuddly and likable.  But he has bought bigtime into the “Obama as The Other” racist birther meme, lying about the President’s origins and making a complete ass of himself. Plus, no one wants a president named Huckabee.

3)   Tim Pawlenty. He can make all the action hero campaign videos he wants. But he still comes off as the kind of guy people who give wedgies give wedgies to. Especially since, after once seeming reasonably moderate,  he’s had his head so far up the Teabaggers’ butts he’s looking through their eyeballs.

4)   Newt Gingrich. One of the most strident, dislikable politicians of our lifetime. Once considered the Right’s intellectual, he has gone way off the wingnut cliff with rants about Sharia Law and other Beckian nonsense. Plus there’s his embarrassing marital history.

5)   Mitch Daniels. He actually might be the real smart guy among the GOP. But he’s uncharismatic. And too short.

6)   Ron Paul: Get out your foil hats.

7)   Michelle Bachmann: Ditto

8)   Sarah Palin. Seriously? Besides, the Presidency doesn’t pay enough.

9)   Chris Christie. He’s the Right’s Playguy of the Month, and  getting a lot of mileage and publicity out of saying he’s not running. People like his tough-guy, my way or the highway and fuck you, vibe. But for that same reason, he’ll remind the rest of the country what they don’t like about Jersey. Plus—how can I put this delicately, without offending millions of Americans struggling with weight issues—I just don’t think our image conscious electorate will vote in someone who reminds us of Big Pussy from The Sopranos.

10) Jeb Bush. He’s vastly smarter and more thoughtful than his brother. He’d win Florida and peel off Hispanic votes. I have a friend, a Democrat, who worked in his administration and found him genuinely kind. But it’s just too soon. He’ll be Hillary’s problem.

If the GOP’s sabotage pays off, and their job-and-growth-killing policies send the fragile economy reeling backward, or if Obama fucks up some huge security crisis, maybe none of this will matter. I may eat my words—political fortunes change overnight.

But if the likability factor carries its usual weight, I’m betting on Barack.


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Not to put too fine a point on it, but much of the time, many of us Americans—and I don’t exempt myself for a minute—essentially have our heads up our butts. You can’t entirely blame us. We’re trying to get through the day, consumed with the moment-to moment events of our own circumscribed lives, with our loved ones, with our homes, with our jobs (if we have one), with having sex, not having sex, losing the weight, changing our hair, avoiding our colonoscopies. (Which actually brings this paragraph full circle).

Lately, we’re obsessing over whatever iGizmo it is we’ll never surrender till someone pries from our cold, dead hands. If we focus on the outer world, it’s pure escapism—sports & Snooki.

But when it comes to history and politics, that’s when we Americans really rear our buttheaditude. Two illustrative stories come to mind:

1) A recent Gallup Poll of 1,015 adults asked to name the nation’s greatest president.

2) The Battle of Wisconsin.


As for the presidents: For most historians, naming the top three is a gimme—Lincoln, Washington, and FDR. Only the order is in dispute.

Not so for Gallup’s sampling of regular folks in Feb. 2011:

Ronald Reagan — 19%

Abraham Lincoln — 14%

Bill Clinton — 13%

John F. Kennedy — 11%

George Washington — 10%

Franklin Roosevelt — 8%

Barack Obama — 5%

Theodore Roosevelt — 3%

Harry Truman — 3%

George W. Bush — 2%

Thomas Jefferson — 2%

Reagan? Seriously?

Well, no. Liberals of course, argue that he set the country back 50 years, empowering repressive social conservatism and promoting the trickle-down economics that helped create the ever vaster economic chasm between the rich and the rest of us.  But leaving aside ideology I don’t even think Nancy Reagan would give Ronald Reagan the gold. Nor, to be fair, would any sane person rank Clinton third or the 34-month term of JFK fourth, or Obama in seventh, above TR and Truman. And when was the last time W and Jefferson were mentioned in the same sentence?

The point is that these surveys always skew wildly toward contemporary presidents. This is the year of Reagan’s centennial, he’s in the news again, Teabaggers are summoning his memory (though, as many point out, he’d probably not survive a primary today). At the same time, if you asked these same 1,015 folks to name the worst POTUS, I suspect W, Bubba, Ronnie and Barack would poll very high—certainly better than Harding (Warren, not Tonya) or Buchanan (James, not Pat).

Now, to current events: How many Americans are really aware of the Battle of Wisconsin—specifically the fight over collective bargaining—and if they are, do they know the stakes?

How many Democrats, moderates and ordinary working stiffs realize that Scott Walker’s anti-union purge is part of a nationwide effort by the GOP—backed by powerful right-wing forces like the Koch Brothers and U.S. Chamber of Commerce—to use “fiscal responsibility” as a weapon to crush the Democratic Party? To make Karl Rove’s wet dream of a permanent GOP majority reality? And in the process, wage nuclear class warfare, obliterating workers’ rights and recourse, suppressing wages and benefits and maximizing profits for a very few?

For insight into the GOP strategy, look at the Citizens United decision delivered by our tea-stained Supreme Court, which allows corporations and labor unions to flow unrestricted cash into the political campaigns.

Corporations tilt heavily toward Republicans; unions tilt Democratic. Shutting down unions is like cutting off the Dems blood supply. And it’s not just money; unions are crucial to getting out the vote, and registering new voters—who historically trend Democratic. Squelching unions is key to GOP voter suppression plans—the same reason they waged a vendetta against ACORN, why they’re pushing voter ID legislation, and trying to end same-day voter registration. The more new voters, the higher the turnout, the better for Democrats—at least most of the time.

But as Andrew Levine, Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, writes in CounterPunch:

“Even this is not the main reason why Madison matters. It isn’t just Democratic-leaning unions that Walker and his Tea Party colleagues want to undo – it’s public sector unions. This matters for reasons that are much more obscure than the others but that are plainly related to many of our contemporary afflictions — the financialization of contemporary capitalism, the globalization of manufacturing and trade, and, more generally, the world-wide assault on social and economic advances won at great cost over the past century and a half. The problem, in short, is that to survive, capitalism must expand – and, with so few areas left for expansion, the public sphere is a target too tempting to resist.”

That’s a hell of a lot harder to digest than, “I gotta cut the budget which means those overpaid public workers have to suck it up and STFU.”

All we know is what’s in our own, narrow frame of reference. And, when it comes to contemporary politics, what’s quick and easy to digest. What’s in front of our face—and we take most of that at face value. Bumper sticker stuff. That’s why Fox News is so effective—it spews out falsehood, opinion and wild speculation as fact. And as Mark Twain said, more or less, a lie can circle the globe before the truth can put its shoes on.


And yet, truth may be gaining ground. The thousands of peaceful anti-Walker protesters in Madison seem to be getting their message across. According to polls, a significant majority of Wisconsin voters oppose Walker’s attempt to crush collective bargaining. Now, faced with a similar revolt in Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels—perhaps keeping in mind his presidential ambitions—has backed off union-busting “Right-to Work” legislation in his state.

Whatever one thinks of the Koch-Tea Party, it has dominated endless news cycles and shifted the national conversation  with its anti-government, anti-labor, Obamaphobic demagoguery.

Maybe the progressives, union members and Democrats making their stand in Madison can change the subject

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