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Stagecraft: Our Presidential Contest Has Devolved Into Little More Than A Fake Wrestling Match

by on Friday, September 28, 2012 at 3:34 pm EDT in Economy, Election 2012, Politics

For those on the Left, one of the most frustrating aspects of this Presidential election has been following the narratives of both establishment parties, each aligned with the other in their complimentary fictions, as they deceive the American voters into believing there is an actual choice to be made here. 

Beyond the rhetorical divide, the actual differences between Obama and Romney are minor, if not downright trivial. Each candidate, regardless of how he has actually governed in the past, uses the talking points from his party’s platform to tap into the ideological preferences of his base. The contest is little more than a theater of deception.

Romney, who governed like a Clintonian Democrat, now speaks in ways that appeal to his base, which continues to drift rightwards a la Tea Party.

As Governor of Massachusetts, Romney implemented what would become the blueprints for Obamacare, and offered generous subsidies for those in his state who couldn’t afford it. He embraced a pro-choice position, favored gun control, was pro-gay-rights. He opposed the flat tax, was critical of Bush tax cuts. He believes in global warming, and has supported ‘cap and trade’ policies. 

Whereas Romney has been forced to move rhetorically to the right, Barack Obama, who himself has governed from right-of-center, needs to reestablish his own cred with his liberal base, and is thus, only too happy to accommodate Romney in aligning their fictions.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle that both candidates have had to overcome with regards to their respective bases is in trying to convince them that there actually are fundamental differences between their visions for America’s economic model.

The Obama campaign was the first to seize on a distinction when it released a video showing Mitt Romney at a Boca Raton fundraiser expressing disdain for Obama voters, suggesting they are “dependent upon government” and feel entitled to handouts.

But this video revelation actually enhanced the far-Right cred that the Governor had been so desperate for. You might think his own campaign planted the video. In fact, he proudly wore the video revelation around like a medal. The Tea Party won’t see me as a RINO anymore, he likely surmised.

Seeing this as the perfect red meat issue needed to re-energize his base, Romney pivoted to the hot-button ‘Socialism’ charge. He charged Obama with being another Socialist-minded liberal who wants to take money from those who work hard and succeed, to then redistribute it to those who don’t.

After unearthing a 1998 video showing a young Obama expressing that he believed in “redistribution at a certain level,” Romney pounced:

“He [Obama] really believes in what I’ll call a government-centered society. I know there are some who believe that if you simply take from some and give to others then we’ll all be better off. It’s known as redistribution. It’s never been a characteristic of America,” Romney said Wednesday at an Atlanta fundraiser. “There’s a tape that came out just a couple of days ago where the president said yes he believes in redistribution. I don’t. I believe the way to lift people and help people have higher incomes is not to take from some and give to others but to create wealth for all.”

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus seconded that description of Obama, and now all GOP surrogates are on message, making the ‘redistribution’ buzzword the central theme in Romney’s campaign.

But of course this depiction of Obama couldn’t be further from the truth. Obama has actually governed like a starry-eyed Milton Friedman disciple. Bloomberg News decided to investigate Romney’s ‘redistribution’ charge, and here is what they found:

If President Barack Obama is trying to spread the wealth, he doesn’t have much to show for it. […]

[S]ince Obama took office in January 2009, wealthy Americans have continued to pull away from the rest of society. In the aftermath of the recession, income inequality in the U.S. reached a new high in 2011, Census Bureau data show.

Even as the president has decried the hollowing out of the middle class, the fortunes of labor and capital have diverged on his watch. Quarterly corporate profits of $1.9 trillion have almost doubled since the end of 2008, while workers’ inflation- adjusted average hourly earnings have declined.

“At the very high end, people got a whole lot wealthier whereas income stagnated at other levels,” said Anne Mathias, director of Washington research for Guggenheim Securities LLC. “Fifty years ago, people talked about the other half, how the other half lived, and now we’re talking about the other 1 percent.”

But, forget reality — back to the fantasyland that is our Presidential Election.

Knowing his progressive base sees the U.S. economy through the 1% vs 99% prism and views his last 3 1/2 years as a monumental sellout to the 1%, Obama likely sees an opening in Romney’s ‘redistribution’ charge. This Republican accusation may be exactly what he needs to energize his own base. Perhaps it can help him to get his populist mojo back.

And the theater just continues on and on …

But make no mistake about it, whichever candidate wins — be it Obama or Romney — things will continue right along this Neoliberal road we are on, and the firmly-entrenched 1% will have their man.

Edit: In response to reader who questioned the validity of statement re: Mitt Romney’s alleged support of gay-marriage when Governor of Massachusetts, and after further review myself, I have decided to remove the statement: (he implemented same-sex marriage by executive fiat).

President Obama’s Appearance on 60 Minutes: The Good And The Bad

by on Monday, September 24, 2012 at 2:11 pm EDT in Economy, Election 2012, Middle East, Politics

President Obama and Governor Romney both appeared on 60 Minutes last night in what is being billed as an indirect debate between the two candidates. They interviewed separately, but both used it as an opportunity to level some attacks at one another and to defend themselves against the other’s talking points.

Here are some of the things that struck me about Obama’s performance:

1. The Good

The President subtly distinguished U.S. interests from Israels’:

The President cleverly addressed Steve Kroft’s question regarding Israel PM Netanyahu’s blatant attempts to force the U.S. into war with Iran. Kroft asked him about the pressure being leveled at him during the U.S. elections (a time when a sitting President is most likely to placate deep-pocketed special interest groups). Obama appropriately recast the issue to the interests of the American people.

Although this tact might seem logical and obvious to most Americans — A U.S. President putting U.S. interests above those of a foreign government’s — anyone who follows the Israel / Palestine issue closely, knows this is practically unheard of in Washington, and actually constitutes bravery:

Kroft: How much pressure have you been getting from Prime Minister Netanyahu to make up your mind to use military force in Iran?

Obama: Well, look, I have conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu all the time. And I understand and share Prime Minister Netanyahu’s insistence that Iran should not obtain a nuclear weapon because it would threaten us, it would threaten Israel and it would threaten the world and kick off a nuclear arms race.

Kroft: You’re saying you don’t feel any pressure from Prime Minister Netanyahu in the middle of a campaign to try and get you to change your policy and draw a line in the sand? You don’t feel any pressure?

Obama:When it comes to our national security decisions, any pressure that I feel is simply to do what’s right for the American people. And I am going to block out any noise that’s out there. Now I feel an obligation, not pressure but obligation, to make sure that we’re in close consultation with the Israelis on these issues because it affects them deeply. They’re one of our closest allies in the region. And we’ve got an Iranian regime that has said horrible things that directly threaten Israel’s existence.

Later in the interview, Kroft brought up Romney’s assertion that Obama was weak on national defense and foreign policy, saying that he “needed to be more aggressive on Iran, he hadn’t done enough to support the revolt in Syria, and that our ‘friends’ don’t know where we stand, and our enemies think we’re weak.” To which Obama replied:

Well, let’s see what I’ve done since I came into office. I said I’d end the war in Iraq, I did. I said that we’d go after al-Qaeda. They’ve been decimated… That we’d go after Bin Laden, he’s gone. So, I’ve executed on my foreign policy, and it’s one the American people agree with. So, if Governor Romney is suggesting we should start another war, he should say so.

Essentially, Obama is turning Romney’s pro-Israel hawkishness around on him, by reminding Americans that war is too important an issue to be championing for mere political expediency. That committing the United States to another unnecessary war in the Middle East, once again driven by fear mongering, would hold severe repercussions for U.S. interests.

2. The Bad

The President was unapologetic about his overarching Neoliberal policies. In fact he bragged about them:

Kroft told Obama that Romney has framed him as someone who doesn’t have a clue about the economy. That he doesn’t understand “that private enterprise is the engine of growth in this country, and that’s what creates jobs, not big government.” And that Obama is “crushing economic freedom with taxes, regulations, and high-cost health care.” Instead of taking issue with Romney’s Neoliberal ideology, he rejected Romney’s depiction of him as someone unkind to Neoliberal values. 

Despite all the debt created by George W. Bush’s deep tax cuts, at a time we were engaged in two costly wars, Obama highlighted that he himself has been the true tax-cutter:

Taxes are lower on families than they’ve been probably in the last 50 years. So, I haven’t raised taxes, I have cut taxes for middle class families by an average of $3,600 for a typical family.

And after all the calamity in our economy created by Bush’s deregulatory policies, Obama still touted his own non-regulatory record as more brazen than Bush’s, as if that is something to be proud of:

When it comes to regulations, I issued fewer regulations than my predecessor George W. Bush did during that same period in office. So it’s hard to say I over-regulated.

When Kroft asked him how he will get obstructionist Republicans to agree to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, Obama used it as an opportunity to tout his austerity credentials, and the Grand Bargain he plans once reelected:

Ultimately the American people agree with me. The only way to bring down our deficit is in a balanced way. So, keep in mind, I’ve agreed with the Republicans, and we’ve already cut a trillion dollars of spending. And I’ve told them I’m prepared to do additional spending cuts, and do some entitlement reform. 

But what I’ve said is, you can’t ask me to make student loans higher for kids who need it, or ask seniors to pay more for Medicare, or throw people off of healthcare, and not ask somebody like me or Mr. Romney to do anything. Not ask us to do a single dime’s worth of sacrifice?

Parse that again carefully. He doesn’t promise that young Americans WILL NOT be asked to pay more for student loans, or that seniors WILL NOT be asked to pay more for Medicare. He states you can’t ask these people to suffer even more, unless you also ask the wealthy, like him and Romney, to pay more in taxes.

This is a very significant point. He is willing to cut a Grand Bargain that will further harm those least capable of contributing financially, IF ONLY Republicans will agree that the rich need to toss a bit more tip money into the till. Because to Obama and the rest of the elite establishment this “shared sacrifice” between the “haves” and “have-nothing-to-spares” somehow constitutes a “balanced approach.”

Kroft pointed out that the housing crisis led to Obama bailing the banks out, and yet he decided that very few homeowners should be helped with mortgage-relief. Obama responded by touching on a few things he did do, but mostly distinguished his “modest” approach from Romney’s approach:

[…] We still have a long ways to go, but this is in contrast to Governor Romney’s proposal. When asked about what we should be doing with the housing market, [Romney] said, “Just let it bomb out.” That’s a quote. So, he was opposed to even the modest proposals we put into place.

So, instead of flogging his predecessor and Governor Romney for their irresponsible ideological beliefs, Obama attempted to out-‘W’ them, as if Bush’s Neoliberal economic policies were something to strive for, if not to exceed. In making the points above, Obama gives us a glimpse into his true economic compass, which deeply contradicts the policy platform he ran on in 2008.

Yes, his appointments of Neoliberal Wall Streeters and the policies he championed since he was elected have already confirmed that candidate Obama was a fraud, but it is interesting to see him four years later honestly aligning his rhetoric with his preferred policies.

The long-term damage done in propagating these sorts of pro-Neoliberal messages to the American public — that laissez-faire, non-regulatory, no-tax, pro-austerity policies are credible, responsible and commendable — only works to lend legitimacy to these long-failed policies, which now lie at the heart of our nation’s deep structural economic problems. 

Who knows, before long, in order to prove his pro-business mettle, Obama might even begin to boast about his NAFTA-like trade deals (the kinds he panned as a candidate in 2008), and how they’ll help U.S. corporations be more competitive, by encouraging them to lay off Americans and outsource their operations to low labor-cost countries. 


WATCH: Jon Stewart Blasts MSM For Trying To Marginalize Presidential Candidate Ron Paul

by on Tuesday, August 16, 2011 at 2:56 pm EDT in Politics

Last Saturday (August 13), Presidential candidate Ron Paul came within 152 votes (behind Michele Bachmann) of winning the Iowa straw poll, only to find himself completely ignored and marginalized by ALL the mainstream media outlets who covered the contest.

Here are the straw poll results:

1. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (4823, 28.55%)

2. Congressman Ron Paul (4671, 27.65%)

3. Governor Tim Pawlenty (2293, 13.57%)

4. Senator Rick Santorum (1657, 9.81%)

5. Herman Cain (1456, 8.62%)

6. Governor Rick Perry (718, 3.62%) write-in

7. Governor Mitt Romney (567, 3.36%)

8. Speaker Newt Gingrich (385, 2.28%)

9. Governor Jon Huntsman (69, 0.41%)

10. Congressman Thad McCotter (35, 0.21%)

On the Sunday morning political shows that followed, not a single news network invited Ron Paul to appear. Nutter Michelle Bachmann appeared on all five major networks: NBC’s Meet the Press, CBS’ Face the Nation, ABC’s This Week, Fox News Sunday and CNN’s State of the Union. Tim Pawlenty (who received less than half the votes cast for Paul) appeared on ABC This Week, and Shit4Brains Herman Cain (who came in 5th, receiving less than a third of Paul’s votes) appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union”.

Politico’s Roger Simon wrote yesterday: “Ron Paul just got shafted”, and he pointed out that most of the major newspapers’ coverage of the event, either completely ignored Paul, or trivialized him with a side note: 

A Wall Street Journal editorial Monday magnanimously granted Paul’s showing in the straw poll a parenthetical dismissal: “(Libertarian Ron Paul, who has no chance to win the nomination, finished a close second.)”

Again, Paul won second place (out of ten candidates), and Michele Bachmann only beat him by 9/10’s of a percentage point to win first place.

To me, this just highlights the deep-seated contempt the elite media holds for democracy itself. It doesn’t care who the American people believe to be the best candidate(s) in a given race. The corporate media believes itself to be the custodian of the US political process, entitled to thin the pool of candidates down to the ones it deems ‘suitable’ for consideration.

So the logical question would be, “What is it that worries the MSM about Ron Paul?”

The MSM aggressively promotes ‘establishment narratives’ on a whole host of issues, which in turn become the ‘acceptable public discourse’ for ‘serious candidates’. Be it narratives on US Middle East policy, torture, Bush war crimes, the Federal Reserve, WikiLeaks, the Iraq war, the Patriot Act, etc — the MSM will not allow a candidate who doesn’t walk the line on these narratives to get the favorable exposure they need to win an election.

Makes no difference whether the candidate in question is from the right, like Ron Paul, or from the left, like Ralph Nader. 

Personally, I disagree with Ron Paul on most of his ‘free market, anti-regulatory’ domestic initiatives, but this MSM ‘blackout’ serves as a great example of how the establishment marginalizes popular Presidential candidates who refuse to walk their line.

This Jon Stewart video is a must-watch. Stewart takes the MSM to task for their brazen effort to bury Ron Paul as a viable Presidential candidate: