Friday, February 3, 2012


So can a president be "toity"? Many thought Wilson was (I saw a TV series where Robert Vaughn played him to a Toity T.) But it seems like, should one be, the GOP will want nothing to do with him. So I started thinking about how we evaluate presidents in this month featuring birthdays of same, in the month of an election year when a cluster of primaries is as likely as not to put paid to the selection process.

Washington is considered great partly because he served out of a sense of duty, partly because he considered each weighty decision carefully, then decided emphatically, and partly because he was more or less the sole character among the FF's who did not have a classical education, and yet commanded absolute respect for the clarity of his opinions among his high-flown peers. And, of course, for other reasons relating to his military service, and yet others not relating to it.

Have we had a modern president who could be described in that way?

Adams, who like Washington was a Federalist or somewhat like a big-government Democrat, was temperamentally a Gingrich of his time, railing against all and sundry for reasons both personal and political, oppressively arrogant and chronically irritable. The FF darling of the GOP, Thomas Jefferson, was milder-mannered and more devious, perhaps more of, perhaps, a Reagan by temperament, somewhat remote, although Reagan didn't live in his brain the way Jefferson appeared to.

Is there a current candidate in the Jefferson mould?

FDR has never ceased being a paragon of all that is not right philosophically to those in the GOP. Mitt Romney keeps on hammering away at the term "cradle-to-grave" when he talks about the government coddling us, and only partially backpedaled when it appeared that his comment that he was "not very concerned about the very poor" had caused political erosion:

"I've said something that is similar to that but quite acceptable for a long time."

Barack Obama had a "poor are always with us" moment at the prayer breakfast, when he implicitly chided his likely opponent:

"It’s also about the biblical call to care for the least of these –- for the poor; for those at the margins of our society."

But for all that, does the President have a clear advantage from the character standpoint for swing voters?

And, if he does, does it not matter given that ideology is on the ascendant right now?

Fuller responds:
In today's climate, it's a mug's game trying to figure out this stuff. Almost everything is corrupt. Prior to the 2000 election, I remember Alexander Cockburn saying it didn't matter whether Gore or Bush won - they were both products of the same monied interests. I'm not saying I necessarily agree with him, but there's a whole lot more people who are saying the same thing today because so much of the Bush era still lives on! Foreign affairs? Obama continues our Never Ending War. Wall Street? Obama stocks his cabinet with banker types. Core freedoms? Assassination by presidential decree without trial, unlimited detention without trial, and so on. No, I wouldn't vote for whichever (Romney) of the Republican goofballs is their candidate, but the Obama disappointment is real, despite his apologists. No, I haven't given up on him, but it sure would have been nice for some grass roots progressive Democrat to have at least tried to take him on.

Obama's pretty toity, a bona fide ivy league egghead, if ever there was one. Don't you remember how "intimidating" that was to so many people back in 2008? Luckily, he started his "let's have a beer and talk this over" approach. Ah, he's just a regular guy after all; now we can all rest easy that he's just like us! But maybe we need a graphic of presidential education, because the vast majority of presidents (all but 10) had a college degree. Let's take a look at the data: In the "modern era", since 1897, when Grover Cleveland left office, ALL presidents have had a (usually highly pedigreed) college education with the exception of Harry Truman. But I guess in this latest political climate, "acting" like it is a liability; Bush (Yale graduate) was a "regular guy" but Obama (Columbia and Harvard Law) isn't.

Who are these "swing voters" you mention? This country is so extremely divided, I can't figure this out. I guess none of 'em live in California. Do they actually exist? Do you know any?

What a mess. Is this historically business "as usual", or are we in fact in some new era of the damned? Is this truly the beginning of the end of the American Dream, or is this hopelessness cyclical? And how do "Millennials" see it? Am I just the product of too many bitter political disappointments? Maybe the younger voter has a fresher, more idealistic outlook ?!

Here are some swing voters NRP talked to:
79-year-old Annita Milani talked to an interviewer, who summed up what she said thus:

"[Annita] was caught up in a wave four years ago captivated by [Obama]...the promise of Obama has turned to ashes. Disillusioned with a Congress she views as corrupt, a health care overhaul she sees as ill-advised... [she] is struggling to choose a Republican alternative."

Bill Mullin, 53, produced this narrative:

"'[Obama] is handcuffed by congress...I need to hear that there's going to be action on lowering the deficit.'... [he] isn't opposed to legal abortion or same-sex marriage."

The Arroyos immigrated decades ago from Puerto Rico, and see the Republicans "knocking each other out" but Obama failing to deliver on promises for a better life for hispanics.

The pieces make them seem quite ordinary and familiar to me.
So how do the candidates intend to make sense to them? Here's some aftermath on an Obama photo op:

"As President Obama gave his speech at Master Lock about "insourcing" Wednesday. Newsradio 620 WTMJ's Nick Iannelli had a chance to talk to speak to several Master Lock employees about the recent history of Master Lock.
One Master Lock employee had a telling story. That employee has been at Master Lock for several years and has seen jobs come and go. The man remembers having an office at the company and seeing several hard working employees at the company. Then suddenly, the jobs just left."

And the up-and-comer on the other side of the bird?

"Santorum criticized [Romney]'s record on federal bailouts in particular, although both men opposed the government's decision to rescue the auto industry.
"Gov. Romney supported the bailout of Wall Street and decided not to support the bailout of Detroit. My feeling was that the government should not be involved in bailouts period," Santorum said in an address to the Detroit Economic Club..."

And speaking of him, from his Nevada victory speech:

"Four years ago, candidate Obama came to Nevada, promising to help. But after he was elected, his help was telling people to skip coming here for conventions and meetings. Today, Nevada unemployment is over 12%, home values have plummeted, and Nevada’s foreclosure rate is the highest in the nation."

A cheap shot both because that state was a worst case, and the "telling people to skip" is much overstated...

"We won’t settle for a President who tells us it could be worse. What defines us as Americans is our unwavering conviction that things must be better."

Intended to be a feelgood line, but I suspect those tracking audience response devices didn't move much on this one.

"President Obama wants to “fundamentally transform” America. We want to restore America to the founding principles that made this country great. Our vision for the future could not be more different than his."

I tend to interpret this as fairly reactionary - it does seem that he believes in both the 50's good old days and the Enlightenment good old days, and neither had government bailouts, same-sex marriage as a public issue, or much regulation of business.
And I just saw this on a chat in the web page gutter as I typed:

" I just have a hard time believing that voters in MI would be dumb enough to vote for Santy..maybe because so many younger voters don't remember Mitt's dad as Governor here...I met Gov. Romney when he visited our catholic school..I was in 4th grade. "

Presumably someone who thought RomneyCare did work.

Do you think any of this adds up to a targeted trajectory to victory? Would Mitt make a difference? Is Santorum after a different kind of "fundamental transformation"? And on the monied interest front, isn't it interesting that (as Time pointed out this week) the president famous for the "Ask not" quote was our wealthiest? And it was a card-carrying patrician who we associate with the resolution with our most dire financial crisis?

Fuller responds:
As February 2012 becomes a memory, nothing seems to have changed. The aberrant elephants left in the room rumble along, trampling everything in sight, but unless things drastically flip, the victory in November will be Obama's. At least I have to tell myself that. Despite my bubbled insularity, as most Californians have to admit being a part of, I refuse to believe this country is made up of more voters who want Santorum or Romney. It just doesn't fly with me. I understand that many Americans have hardly any historical/political memory whatsoever, but I can't leave myself open to the prospect of a country full of people who, in the first place believe John Kennedy said what Santorum said he said, and then want to vomit because of it. And speaking of intestinal weakness, I cannot stomach any possibility that I live in a country where the majority of voters would actually believe Romney has any concern for them in any way except to further his own power lust. I understand the Obama-hate is deep, but surely it's not dominant? I've just recently heard that Obama is the man of the toitys and the have-nots, but that the middle folk can't quite "understand" him. What a bizarre thought, and yet it seems to make some kind of perverse sense. Or maybe not!? In six weeks, I will be visiting Arkansas for the first time. I think it will be quite the fascinating journey. More on that later.