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Let’s learn something

I was watching Meet the Press at the gym yesterday (yeah, I’m that guy) and heard something that gave me pause.  Moderator David Gregory had top surrogates from the Romney and Obama campaigns – NH Senator Kelly Ayotte and MA Governor Deval Patrick respectively – on the show and closed the interview by asking about education.  Specifically, in regards to education, he wanted to know if the panelists believe that we have “moved beyond this union– pro-union, anti-union debate in this political discourse?”  Governor Patrick chose to respond by touting the achievements of students in Massachusetts, while commenting that MA is the most unionized state in the country.  Senator Ayotte responded by saying “…obviously Governor Romney believes kids first, unions last.”   And that comment is what caused me to pause my elliptical machine pedaling.

Education comments

Kids first, unions last.  It’s a line that, if delivered in front of the right audience at a political rally, would bring raucous applause and an extended ovation.   Unions.  It’s a dirty word in America today and that breaks my heart.  You know what she is actually saying?  She’s actually saying that Governor Romney believes kids come first and teachers come last.  Teachers come last.  Not investors.  Not reporters.  Not politicians or policy makers.  Nope.  For Romney and Ayotte all of those people, and anyone else I may have left out, come before teachers.  That attitude is, at best, ignorant and, at worst, a pathetic attempt to demonize some of the most important people in our society.

Her comments imply that, in education policy, teachers should have the least important voice.   She couldn’t be more wrong.  Teachers are the ones in the classroom every day, working with our nation’s children.  They are the ones who inspire, who educate, who support students in their formative years.  And they are the ones who are constantly asked to do more – educating more students, teaching more information – with declining resources.  They are the ones who KNOW what they need in order to be successful and, yet, somehow Senator Ayotte and, according to her, Governor Romney don’t value their voices.   Students, teachers, parents, educational experts.  Those are the groups that should have the most important voice at the table – not ignorant politicians who think teachers are the problem.  Not ignorant politicians who are fine with more tax cuts, even if it means less revenue for our schools.  That’s viewpoint is not only short-sighted, but detrimental to America’s ability to compete on the world stage.

Teacher’s voices aren’t valued because they are a part of the dreaded union.  Those on the right are so quick to assume unions are the problem and, I submit, that attitude betrays a remarkable lack of appreciation for the history of this great nation.  Let’s not forget that unions were formed to protect the rights of individual workers against business owners and governmental whims.  Unions are responsible for things like the weekend, ending child labor in America, fairer wages and more.  So why is a teacher’s union so important?  That particular union plays a crucial role in ensuring, despite all the tax cuts and increased defense spending, there is still money for education. That particular union plays a crucial role in ensuring people aren’t forced to choose between making a living wage and helping prepare the next generation for success.  That particular union has a remarkable wealth of knowledge about best practices when it comes to education – knowledge that should be embraced, listened to and respected.

Looking back on my educational experience, I know how fortunate I was.  I remember  classrooms that weren’t overcrowded.  I remember having my own text books and not having to share a desk.  I remember my school being clean, safe and I remember not having to learn hungry.  And I remember teachers who cared – who went above and beyond to help me, to inspire me to succeed.  But not all educational experiences are like mine.  All districts across this country have teachers who care.  But not all have the resources to do the things we know are critical for student success.  Rather than attack those teachers who are trying to do more with less, let’s honor them.  Let’s respect them.  Let’s listen to them and let’s give them the resources they need.  Money isn’t the only answer but it shouldn’t be that, just because I grew up in a wealthy suburb, my educational experience should be so vastly different from my peers in other areas.

To the teachers who have made such a difference in my life, I say thank you.  To my friends who have chosen to spend their career in education, I say thank you.  To the millions of teachers around the country who constantly find new ways to inspire, I say thank you.  To Senator Ayotte and Governor Romney, I suggest you stop talking and start listening.  Listen to those who have dedicated their career to building the future American workforce.  Listen to the parents who have seen, first-hand, the lasting impact a teacher can have.  Listen to the students who have become inspired by a teacher and, as a result, are now pursuing a career in engineering or math.    You just might learn something.

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Funny, I don’t feel like a victim

I don’t feel like one but, according to Mitt Romney, I am.  By now you have, no doubt, heard about the infamous video that’s all over the internet of Republican Presidential Candidate, Mitt Romney.  Apparently the Governor was secretly recorded while speaking at a fundraising event in Florida on May 17th and his comments have raised a lot of eyebrows.

Here is the video from the fundraiser as released by the website Mother Jones.

The key quote I want to focus on from the Governor is the following:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax…[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Since the video has been made public, the Romney campaign has made a number of statements in response.  Here are a sampling:

“Mitt Romney wants to help all Americans struggling in the Obama economy. As the governor has made clear all year, he is concerned about the growing number of people who are dependent on the federal government, including the record number of people who are on food stamps, nearly one in six Americans in poverty, and the 23 million Americans who are struggling to find work. Mitt Romney’s plan creates 12 million new jobs in four years, grows the economy and moves Americans off of government dependency and into jobs.” – Romney Campaign Statement

“I think he has to not apologize. … What he said is probably what he thinks.” – Donald Trump

“I am sure I can state it more clearly and effectively than I did in a setting like that…I am talking about a political process of drawing people in my campaign. … My campaign is about helping people take more responsibility…This is ultimately a question about the direction of the country. Do you believe in a government-centered society that provides more and more benefits? Or do you believe instead in a free-enterprise society where people are able to pursue their dreams?”  – Mitt Romney

Lots of explaining away the remarks, but no backing down.  Romney also added this his remarks were “off the cuff” which, rather than help explain, makes it even more clear these statements reflect his true and honest view of the country.  Trump is right.   Based on the response to the video being made public, it’s clear that the only regret on the part of Romney is that his statements were not as “eloquent” as they could have been.   That, my friends, is a good thing.

Too often we are forced to analyze candidates based on what we think they believe based on carefully scripted public statements and, of course, their actions – actions which, too often, are explained away by a spokesperson.  Here we have a candidate who has clearly articulated how he views the country and those who may not vote for him.  But it goes beyond that – it’s impactful because it doesn’t introduce a new idea.  We have always suspected this is how Romney views  the electorate, so these statements are serve as more of a confirmation than anything else

Beyond that, however, there are 3 reasons this gaffe (if one can even call it that) won’t be going away.

1. He’s wrong

In the video, Romney says that those who don’t pay any income tax won’t support him.  But a quick look at the map, below, shows just how wrong that is.  Look at the 10 states with the highest percentage of people not paying income tax – almost all Republican states (8 of the 10 have Republican Governors).  On the flip side, those with the lowest percentages tend to skew Democratic.

 

2. Who is Romney counting in the 47%?  Who is he leaving out?

The other point here is that, while it is true about 47% of Americans don’t pay income tax, the majority of those do pay other taxes (state, federal payroll etc…).   The percentage of Americans, according to the Tax Policy Center, that really don’t pay any Federal taxes is closer to 18%.   Most of those are elderly living on social security or extremely low-income families.  If you remove the elderly from the math, you are left with about 8% of the population – the majority of whom don’t have jobs and are living on other income (alimony,  child support etc…)  So, according to the non-partisan tax policy center, the percentage of the population not paying Federal taxes, and making more than $20K annually, but below the threshold for tax liability based on household size and other factors, is closer to 1%.  Of course, some of what makes up that 1% may well be the roughly 3,000 people who, despite making $2,178,866+ in 2011 – some of whom may have been in the room when Romney made his pronouncement – pay no federal income taxes.  Are they victims and irredeemable?

3. What does being reliant on the Government actually mean?

This is the crux of the issue with what Romney said.  He is deriding a significant portion of the population for being reliant on Government support.  But does that mean?  Is it reliance to take advantage of tax breaks to purchase a home?  Is it reliance for a Veteran take advantage of the GI Bill to get education?  Is it reliance to have student loans?  Is it reliance to use roads the Government paid for paving?  Is it reliance to expect a tax deduction for making a contribution to charity?  Is it reliance to deduct childcare expenses?  Is it reliance to call 911 in an emergency?

These questions are relevant because, so far, we don’t know what Mitt Romney would cut in order to balance out the giant tax cut he is proposing.  He has said time and time again that any tax cuts would be “revenue neutral” and offset by closing loopholes and ending certain tax breaks.  What he hasn’t said is which ones he is eyeing.  Given these comments, it is safe to assume that the loopholes he would close are the ones that “moochers” like me use.  That would be things like the aforementioned student loans, the mortgage interest tax break and others.  It might be cutting even more from Medicare and, while repealing the Affordable Care Act, it might mean the promised replacement (which he also refuses to talk about) would be something more akin to a privatized system.

So what does this all mean?  Well, to Governor Romney, it appears that tax breaks for the wealthy are right and proper, but “loopholes” that allow middle and lower class people to have an opportunity to succeed leads to entitlement.  Governor Romney’s assertion that those lower income people think they are entitled to things like food and housing suggests a society that has no responsibility for helping those less fortunate.  His callous writing off of these people as folks who he will never be able to reach suggest this is a man who should not be running for President.  It suggests a society where it is truly every person for themselves.  That’s not the country Ronald Reagan imagined and it’s not the America I believe in.  Reagan’s 1986 tax reforms, thanks to the Earned Income Tax Credit, took an estimated (according to his administration) 6 million low income people off the tax rolls – to him that wasn’t a problem, but the right thing to do.  In today’s Republican party that idea would seem to be a non-starter.  Romney called the EITC a “sweeping victory for fairness…perhaps the biggest anti-poverty program in our history.”  Quite the difference from how Romney sees the low-income population.  Reagan clearly cared.  Romney said “My job is not to worry about those people. ”

I’ll let conservative columnist David Brooks, writing in the New York Times, have the final word.  While he acknowledges Romney’s points about an “entitlement state growing at an unsustainable rate” he takes great issue with what Romney said and how he said it.  He lists several misconceptions that Romney must hold given the comments and says:

“The Republican Party, and apparently Mitt Romney, too, has shifted over toward a much more hyperindividualistic and atomistic social view — from the Reaganesque language of common citizenship to the libertarian language of makers and takers. There’s no way the country will trust the Republican Party to reform the welfare state if that party doesn’t have a basic commitment to provide a safety net for those who suffer for no fault of their own.”

I’m absolutely furious today.

An American Ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens is dead.  Three other Diplomats – Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and another whose name has not been released – are dead.  They were killed in a raid on the American Consulate in Libya after a pastor in Florida posted a insensitive and inappropriate video mocking the prophet Mohammed.  This raid was an attack on America by disgusting and deplorable people and, at a time like this, it is critical that Americans, and our allies, stand united.  But that’s not how Mitt Romney and RNC chair Reince Priebus saw it.  They saw it as an opportunity to criticize the President in a political attack that was, at best, dishonest and ignorant.

Courtesy of the Talking Points Memo blog, here’s what happened.  On September 9, a scene from the anti-Muslim film “The Innocence of Muslims” was shown on Egyptian television.  Given the timing to the 9/11 anniversary and the absolutely offensive material contained in the video, the United States Embassy in Cairo posted the following statement at 6:17 AM EST on September 11:

The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.

Note the time here.  6:17 AM.  Well before any attack and, in my opinion, a completely appropriate, balanced and important statement.  It’s not apologizing for America.  It’s making a statement about what America believes and taking the stand that tearing down the beliefs of others is not who we are.  Around the same time peaceful protesters were gathering outside the Embassy in Cairo and the statement, it was hoped, would help to ensure there would not be violence.  Hours later some protesters scale the walls of the Embassy and burn an American flag.  The invasion is quickly contained the Embassy sends out a statement condemning the breach.   Later, at 5:41 PM EST, and shortly after pastor Terry Jones announced he would be showing the film that evening, an attack begins on the US Consulate in Libya.  We learn in the subsequent hours that several Americans have been killed in that attack.

Romney’s response is to release the following statement at 10:25 EST on 9/11 (violating the embargo on campaign attacks on that date):

I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.

Preibus follows with a tweet at 12:01 AM on 9/12 (at least it wasn’t on 9/11) that reads “”Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic.”

Here’s the problem – the attack happened AFTER the Embassy released their statement and, in fact, after the attacks occurred, new statements were released condemning them in no uncertain terms.  The Romney campaign saw this as an opportunity to further their “Obama likes to apologize for America” narrative and, rather than stand with the President and those who were attacked, chose to make it political.  It is shameful.  It is disgusting.  It is dishonest.  It is wrong.  But don’t take my word for it.  Congressional Republicans have refused, almost to a person, to back up Romney’s attack and many foreign policy experts, conservative ones, have criticized his response.  And, the decisions he made, are markedly different from the choices made in time of crisis by two former Republican Presidents.  If Romney wants to join them as Presidents, he better get a handle on when to attack and when to show unity.  That judgement is something this man is severely lacking.

However, let’s assume, for a moment, that everything Romney and Priebus said was actually the truth.  How much more powerful would it have been if, instead of  releasing a negative statement or holding a press conference in the moments before Obama was scheduled to speak on the issue, he had done something different.  Imagine if he had called the President and said something like “I’m with you today and will do whatever I can help us show a unified front.  Would you like me to come to your press conference so we can stand together and say that, no matter our political differences, we mourn the loss of these courageous Americans and stand united in our condemnation of those who seek to do us harm.”  If Obama declined the offer, he would come off as playing politics.  And, if he accepted, Romney would be seen as a thoughtful and honorable leader who puts his country first.  Instead he chose to lie and, in so doing, came across as someone truly unfit to lead.

Just another thought-filled Monday…

Happy Monday all!  Random thoughts from the weekend:

Politics:

  • It appears that President Obama may have gotten a 5-7 point bounce out of his convention.  According to several polls (great graphic here), Obama’s bounce has sustained, even despite a weaker than expected jobs report on Friday.  We won’t know the full bounce for a few more days, because most of these polls include some percentage of interviews conducted before key convention moments.  So, there is still the potential for a larger bounce, perhaps as many as 10 points.
  • For months we’ve been hearing that this election is a “base election.”  In other words, given that most people have already made up their mind, turnout will be the key to winning.  That’s why you saw the Democrats hit social issues so hard in Charlotte – they are trying to fire up their base and get key constituents out to the polls.  And therein lies the advantage for the President.   The New York Times calculated that, if everyone who is registered to vote shows up at the polls, Obama has a 90%+ chance of winning based on party registration etc…This blog has a great breakdown of how that figure was identified and what it all means.  If you are interested in party registration over time, check this out.
  • The debates are going to be more important this year, than I can ever remember them being.   Between now and election day, Romney and Obama will debate 3 times and Biden will square off against Ryan once.  In an election where both sides are willing to say anything (true or not) and the challengers have steadfastly refused to provide specifics about their economic plan, it will be super interesting to see how much the moderators or candidates push for information and call people on their lies.  Who can say the things that will motivate and excite their base, while not turning off the few undecideds or the ones who could still be swayed?  That, ultimately, will decide this election.

Sports:

Football is back and I could not be more excited!  All you need to know is that, at the Red Sox game on Saturday night (another loss), the fans started chanting “Go Pats” in the 7th Inning.  And I was among them!  After a great first weekend, here are my winners and losers:

Winners:

  • New York Jets

I don’t think you can understand how painful it was for me to type that.  Look, their top two QBs (Sanchez and Tebow) didn’t score a single TD in the preseason (see below).  And they were facing the Buffalo Bills, who sport a revamped, and very expensive defense) in Week 1.  Many, including me, were convinced it would be an embarrassing display by Ryan’s boys, but were we ever wrong.  How they managed to put up 48 points is beyond me.  This was more shocking than Brady Anderson’s random 50 homers in 1996.  Which reminds me, someone check the Jets’ offensive coordinator for steroids!

  • Peyton Manning

In the you’ve gotta see it to believe it category, I give you Peyton Manning.  After not playing in a game for 600+ days, Manning returned to the field and, against a pretty good defense, led his team to a comeback win.  Seeing him in Bronco orange was defintely strange, but the result was not.  He’s still got it, folks, and that’s a scary thought for the rest of the AFC.

  • Replacement Officials

Look, they weren’t perfect, but they survived and this ragtag bunch of retirees, teachers and insurance salesmen got some difficult calls right.  Although they did their best by giving Seattle an extra timeout at the end of the Seahawks-Cardinals game, they didn’t change the outcome of any game and that, my friends, is a win.  Of course, regardless of how long this strike lasts, they also made history by counting in their numbers the first woman to ever officiate a NFL game.  Congratulations to Shannon Eastin and I hope you blaze the trail for more gender equality in the sport.  Way to go!

Losers

  • Preseason footbal

It means nothing, as the Jets showed, and 4 games is way too many.  It looks like the NFL may, finally be making the change.  Week 1 showed just how meaningless those games really are.

  • Rookie QBs

It’s a tough jump from college to the pros, no question about it.  All the rookie QBs starting this weekend, with the exception of RGIII looked way over matched and out-of-place.  Weeden, Luck, Wilson and Tannehill all may be great NFL players but, on week 1, they looked very mortal.

  • New Orleans Saints

After quite the offseason, I thought the Saints would come out firing on all cylinders.  Us against the World would be their motto and, especially playing at home, they would steamroll over any opponent unlucky enough to be on the other side.  That didn’t happen.  They looked flat for the first half of the game and, to me, didn’t seem like there was any motivation or desire to beat the odds.  They tried to recover in the 2nd half, but it was too little too late.  Let’s see which team shows up next week.

3 Nights in Charlotte

Oh, the benefits of going second.  It’s not hard to imagine, after the Republican Convention last week in Tampa, Democratic leaders huddling somewhere to rewrite speeches, redo videos and shift the lineup to more effectively respond to the various charges and claims made by their opponents.  I’m here to tell you that, whatever they did, it worked.  Besides putting on a very entertaining show, the Democratic National Committee effectively made the case for President Obama’s re-election while, at the same time, energizing their base.  My prediction is that the President gets a 7-9 point bump out of this, but we’ll see once the new polls come out.

Before I get to the winners and losers of the convention, I want to share the best moment to come out of either event, by far.  On January 8, 2011, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords held an event in Tucson, Arizona.  Her “Congress on Your Corner” events were a great way for constituents to meet their Representative and have their voices heard.  On this particular day, however, the meeting ended in tragedy with six people (including a 9 year old girl) dead and Giffords critically wounded.   As anyone who has ever had or cared for someone with a serious brain injury knows, the path to recovery is long and extremely challenging.   She has made very few public appearances since the shooting and none have had the power and emotion of what she did last night.  Just watch.

Sure beats an empty chair as a lead-in to the party nominee!  Ok, without further ado, here are my winners and losers from the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Winners:

  • Bill Clinton

President Clinton has been delivering speeches for many many years and he is a master storyteller.  When Clinton takes the stage, people listen and hang on every word.  Love him or hate him, you have to admire his ability to captivate an audience and deliver key messages in an engaging and exciting way.  The speech he gave on Wednesday night, nominating President Obama was, in my humble opinion, one of the best he has ever given.  He was forceful, he was funny and he left no doubt about how he has seen the past 4 years and why he believes Barack Obama should be re-elected.   As CNN Republican strategist Alex Castellanos said following the speech, “If Barack Obama gets re-elected, I think tonight will be a good reason why.”  Hard to do better than that.

  • Barack Obama

Watching the Republican Convention, one couldn’t help but wonder how much the party elite is really excited about the prospect of a President Romney.  Many of the speakers seemed to be more focused on building themselves up for a future run, rather than making the case for Romney.  By contrast, the Democrats are clearly excited about their ticket and that passion shone through in speech after speech.   In addition, I thought Obama’s speech was very impressive.  I left his speech thinking that this is a serious guy who has learned from his mistakes, but whose commitment to doing what he believes is right hasn’t wavered.  I really liked the reframing of the “hope and change” arguement from 4 years ago and found it quite effective.  Was it a soaring speech that Obama 2004 or Clinton 2012?  No.  But I don’t think it needed to be or, quite frankly, should have been.  He needed to let the others do that, and come across as a leader we can trust.  Which I think he did.

The other thing about the convention is President Obama came across as much tougher and stronger than I have seen before.  We heard from Vice-President Biden about how he goes about making decisions and what a strong character he has.  Biden told us that Obama “has courage in his soul, compassion in his heart, and a spine of steel” and we saw that in Obama’s speech.  All of those traits were there and, when combined with his messages, Obama very much came across as someone who we can trust to work for all Americans and continue to make a difference.

  • Deval Patrick, John Kerry, Jennifer Granholm

Aside from Clinton and Obama, these three leaders delivered the best speeches of the convention.  Each focused on different issues, but all three were extremely effective in their defense of the President and convincing in their support for him.  All three are going to play a critical role in the campaign between now and November 6 and all three delivered stirring and memorable speeches.   Patrick (Romney’s record in Massachusetts), Kerry (Foreign Policy) and Granholm (Auto bailout) all made the point that Americans are better off today because of the leadership of President Obama and all made the the point that Governor Romney would be the wrong choice.

  • Michelle Obama

Wow.  Just, wow.  Michelle Obama delivered an incredible speech that was beyond a simple endorsement of her husband.  She told us more about the man, what drives him and, most importantly, connected his ideas and beliefs to their family and the future they imagine for their daughters.  It was powerful, it was compelling, it was funny and it was effective.

Losers

  • George W. Bush

It’s clear that Obama’s team see winning Michigan and Ohio as crucial to their chances in November.  That’s why they focused so heavily on the Auto bailout and how many jobs that effort saved.  What no one mentioned, however, is that President Bush was the one who first began to lay the groundwork for the bailout and, in fact, authorized the first loan to Detroit.  The fact is that the bailout worked, but the facts are, also, that Bush deserves some of the credit.

  • Martin O’Malley

The Governor of Maryland is often mentioned as a potential 2016 Presidential candidate.  However, he did not do himself any favors with his convention speech.  The Republicans want to make this election a referendum on the past 4 years and, as such, are making the argument that Americans are worse off than they were when President Obama took office.   Leading into this convention, the Democrats had primarily tried to counter that argument by attempting to make the election a choice election – that is, putting the Obama/Biden plan alongside the Romney/Ryan plan and asking Americans which one works best for them.  However, in Charlotte, there was a much more forceful argument that we are, in fact, better off than we were 4 years ago.  It’s important because if they can defend both their record and promote their future plans effectively, there is no way Romney can win.

However, in a pre-convention interview on Face the Nation,  Governor O’Malley undercut that message when asked by host Bob Schieffer if he could ” honestly say that people are better off today than they were four years ago?”  In response,  O’Malley said “No, but that’s not the question of this election. The question, without a doubt, we are not as well off as we were before George Bush brought us the Bush job losses, the Bush recession, the Bush deficits, the series of desert wars — charged for the first time to credit cards, the national credit cards.”  It may have been honest and it may have been an attempt to link Romney to Bush.  But, as a result, O’Malley had to spend the convention backtracking and that’s not a position a 2016 candidate wants to be in.

  • Charlie Crist

Party changers are rarely well received at conventions, but Crist’s speech was embarrassingly bad.  It was such a transparent attempt to further his own political ambitions and those in the hall saw right through it.  I have no idea if Crist will help Obama win Florida by appealing to moderates but his speech last night didn’t do the President any favors.  As bad as Artur Davis was last week at the RNC, Crist was worse because he was clearly only speaking to help set himself up for a Gubernatorial run as a Democrat.   Not good.  Not good at all.

  • Platform Committee

The party platforms are rarely read and the news media, generally, only spends time talking about them if there is something controversial or different.  The fact that the RNC platform is anti-abortion, with no exceptions, was newsworthy and will become an issue in the campaign.  The Democrats made the decision to not mention God, and to not endorse Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  Then, after some backlash from both inside and outside the party, the committee made the decision to add that back in.  This resulted in some awkward moments where, when the change was announced, there was scattered booing in the hall.  Likely the delegates were booing the fact that a change was being made, but it gave the appearance (as hyped up on Fox) that they were booing God.  Whatever the truth, it was not a good image for the party.

______________________________

Before I let you go (and kudos if you’ve read this all the way through) I want to leave you with two videos. I think it is ENORMOUSLY important that all Americans, regardless of where you may stand, see the speeches from both Presidential candidates.  Please set aside some time to watch – it’s important to know where they stand and what their vision is for the country.

Clint Eastwood + Mitt Romney = ?

I know what I should write about today.  I know I should be giving my take on the fairly impressive speech that Governor Mitt Romney made last night at the Republican National Convention.  A speech that was effective in helping voters to get to know him, while still not revealing too much about what he would actually do as President.  I know I should talk about how he, finally, tried to be open about his faith and about what makes him tick as a person.  I know I should commend him for talking about real emotions and, for the first time, coming off like a human being rather than a stuffy buttoned-up man.  I know I should commend him, again, for not following the lead of others this week in that he decided to tell the truth and be honest about his perspectives.  Even if I don’t agree with the direction he wants to take this country, I still believe it was a very effective speech and I congratulate him for it.  But I can’t.  I just can’t spend any more time on Romney, because I need to talk about Clint Eastwood.

I’ll admit that I was wrong.  I thought the Mike Huckabee/Chuck Norris marriage (sorry civil partnership?) would never be surpassed as the strangest politician/celebrity match.  I really did.  But, last night, Clint Eastwood proved I have much still to learn.  For months, the RNC has been teasing a celebrity guest appearance on the final night of the convention.  And, when Clint made his way up to the stage, I’ll admit to being excited.  This is a guy, after all, who has brought us some of the greatest films ever and oozes talent from every pore.  (Yeah, I said that.)  What would he do, I wondered?   And then, after much fanfare, and a tremendous ovation, he talked to an empty chair.

Now, I get what he was trying to do.  His conversation with the imaginary President Obama was designed to, in a more lighthearted way, showcase the differences between Romney and Obama.  It was designed to make Obama look silly and like less of a leader.  And it was brilliant.  Really, if you haven’t seen it, you need to watch.  It was funny, weird, entertaining, bizarre, engaging and downright strange.  He did what he always does in his movies – he stole the scene.  However, this isn’t a movie and therein lies the problem.  He was so good that it’s what people like me (and real writers too) are talking about today.  They aren’t talking about the Romney speech or about the clear enthusiasm in the convention for this ticket.  They are talking about an 82-year-old actor spending 10 minutes talking to an empty chair.  Was it amusing?  Sure.  But was it the right thing to do right before the nominee – a man who struggles to be engaging and connect – delivered his huge speech?  Not in a million years.

And the worst part for the RNC?  Now everyone is going to be tuning in next week to see what the Democrats come up with for a response?  I’ve heard Clooney might talk to an empty suit named Mitt?  Maybe Oprah talking to an empty chair.  Who knows, but you can bet they’ll do something and you can bet we’ll all be watching.  One difference, however.  Obama can hold his own against a Hollywood star trying to steal the scene.  Romney, well he proved he can’t and that’s a shame.  Because the speech he delivered really deserves more than being regulated to the second paragraph – he deserved better than being upstaged by an empty chair.

 

Tonight, Tonight…won’t be just any night.

We are mere hours away from Governor Mitt Romney taking the stage at the Republican National Convention to, finally, accept their nomination for President of the United States.  Regardless of your political stripes, it is sure to be a memorable and exciting moment.  Think about it for a minute.  This is a man who has a dream of being President.  Worked hard, did well and, when his time came, poured himself into a campaign.  It was a divisive, ugly and combative primary that Romney emerged from.  Yet, tonight, there won’t be a revolution led by one of the losing candidates.  There won’t be accusations of cheating or threats of violence against those who supported him.  Rather, his party will, together, celebrate the primary season that was and listen to the new leader of the party.  It’s a special moment and I congratulate Romney on making it to this point.

Leading up to tonight, we had two packed days of convention activities that are worth reflecting on.  The blog is called sportypolitics, so let’s do this winner/loser style.

WINNERS:

  • Ann Romney

Ann Romney has been called her husband’s secret weapon on the trail and, on Tuesday night, she proved why.  Her primary job as a speaker was to humanize her husband and introduce the country to who he really is.   She did that swimmingly, but didn’t stop there.  Her speech was also an effective political one, in which she attacked the Obama Administration for their failures, but did it in such a way that built her husband up.   In addition, in a departure from many other speakers, she didn’t use lies to make her point – instead she grounded her ideas and key messages in facts and her own personal experiences.  The more we see her on the trail, the better it will be for her husband’s prospects in November.

  • Social Conservatives

From Rick Santorum getting a prime-time speaking slot, to the official party platform, social conservatives could not possibly be happier with what they got from the RNC this year.  It remains to be seen if these issues (abortion, gay marriage etc…) will play a large role in the election but, for now, it’s clear the power that this group has in the party.

  • The 2016 or 2020 Republican Candidates for President

I can’t remember a convention where so many of the speakers seemed, so clearly, to be setting themselves up for their own future run.  As weak a field as the Republicans had this time around, if Romney is unable to prevail, the 2016 field will be one of the strongest we have ever seen.  Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Rick Santorum, Susan Martinez and Pam Bondi all delivered stirring speeches that, at the very least, made themselves more well-known and will stoke talk of the next election.

  • Bobby Jindal

Had he been in Tampa he would, no doubt, have been included in the previous paragraph.  However, Hurricane Isaac’s assault on his state meant that he decided to skip the festivities and return home to deal with the storm.  Assuming all goes well with the clean-up and recovery, he’ll come off looking like a leader who put his state before his party – something people want in their leaders.  It’ll make him a very compelling candidate in 2016 or 2020 and, in fact, sets him apart from the other contenders.

LOSERS

  • Mitt Romney

Watching the speeches, one couldn’t help but wonder how excited the leaders in the party are about the Romney/Ryan ticket.  And how confident they are in a potential victory.  The convention keynote speaker, Chris Christie, took a full 16 minutes to mention Romney by name (in a 24 minute speech) and spent most of the time talking about himself.  To have that in your keynote speaker, doesn’t say good things about you.   Plus, one of Christie’s signature lines implied that people didn’t have to love Romney, they just have to respect him.   It’s often said that Democrats fall in love and Republicans fall in line.  Rarely, however, do you hear that sentiment expressed so publicly and so obviously in a high-profile speech.

  • Party organizers

I’m not sure who had the idea of having Christie follow Ann Romney, but it didn’t work.  The fact that her speech was all about her love for her husband made Christie’s remarks about love not not being important seem callous and out-of-place.  At best it was a distraction and, at worst, it lessens the power of Ann Romney’s words.  Given that the Romney camp knew what Christie was going to say, spacing out the speeches would have made more sense.

  • The truth

Look, politicians have been lying, misleading, distorting and distracting since the beginning of time.  It’s nothing new and, sadly, it’s unlikely to change.  However, it’s been taken to a new low throughout this campaign and, the past two days, have taken us lower still.  Speeches by Senator John Thune, Governor Chris Christie and, especially, Vice-Presidential nominee Paul Ryan have been notable for their misleading statements and downright lies.  But don’t take my word for it.  Fox News, in an opinion piece, called Paul Ryan’s speech “dazzling, deceiving and distracting” and commented that “The good news is that the Romney-Ryan campaign has likely created dozens of new jobs among the legions of additional fact checkers that media outlets are rushing to hire to sift through the mountain of cow dung that flowed from Ryan’s mouth. Said fact checkers have already condemned certain arguments that Ryan still irresponsibly repeated.”

Among the many inaccuracies (and you can see a larger list in the Fox article) is around Medicare.  Ryan derided Obama for cutting more than $700b from Medicare as part of the Affordable Care Act and he said “A Romney-Ryan administration will protect and strengthen Medicare, for my Mom’s generation, for my generation, and for my kids and yours.”  The fact is, however, that Ryan’s own budget assumes the EXACT SAME cost savings from Medicare and he spends that money elsewhere.  Finally, the reduction in funding actually, according to non-partisan experts, strengthened the program and, in fact, lowered the out-of-pocket payments that retirees had.   Why is it that even when they agree, they lie to create fake disagreements?

In addition, the theme of the first day of the convention was “We did build that,” a reference to President Obama’s statement about who should get credit for small business growth.  The accusation, repeated by speaker after speaker, is that, essentially, Obama doesn’t believe that innovators and entrepreneurs deserve credit for their success, because the Government did it for them.  Here, however, is the full quote they are attacking.

“There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet. The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”

Now, I will be the first to acknowledge that Obama could have phrased his statement more artfully.  But, if you actually read the full quote (and not the truncated, carefully edited versions we are seeing in campaign ads), you see a very different message from what the Republican Party wants to you see.   And, in fact, the speakers they are trotting out there to help make their point, are proving Obama right.  Take Steven Cohen, president of Ohio-based manufacturing company Screen Machine Industries, who spoke at the convention last night.  In his speech, Cohen told delegates that he did build his company – problem is, his company received over $200K in Government stimulus money on top of the $2M+ in Government contracts they have claimed.  I don’t fault them for being successful – I fault them for lying.

So, all-in-all, it’s been quite the couple of days.  Looking forward to tonight and to seeing Mitt Romney’s vision for the future.  Here’s hoping he decides to give us more than Obama bashing and generalities.  Here’s hoping the fact checkers can take the night off!

An inspirational girl

Look, we know there is a lot of stupid in the world.  And, over the past few weeks, the stupid has really been coming out to play.  I was all set to do a post today about two such idiotic comments, but I’m not.  I’m not going to spend much time on Tom Smith or Rush Limbaugh.  Instead I want to tell you about Alice, a 16 year old girl who has been living with cancer for the past 4 years.

But before we get to Alice, let’s touch on two people who could learn a thing or two from her.

Tom Smith – Mr. Smith is a Republican running for the United States Senate in Pennsylvania.  In an interview with a local reporter he compared the difficulty a woman faces when she is raped to when she has a pregnancy out of wedlock.   He now claims he never intended to make that comparison, but it is clear to me from the transcript that it was a deliberate comparison.  The fact that Smith has now joined the rowing chorus of men (mostly) on the right trying to minimize rape and take decisions out of the hands of the victims is horrifying to me.

Rush Limbaugh – We’ve talked about Rush once or twice on here before.  In the category of “you can’t possibly believe what you are saying, Rush” comes this latest gem.   Essentially he believes (or claims to believe) that, somehow, President Obama manipulated the weather forecast to make it look like Hurricane Isaac was going to hit Tampa.  Then, once the Republicans canceled the first day of their convention, he redirected the forecast to what was actually going on.  It would be hilarious, if there aren’t so many people who are ready to believe anything this man says.  It’s dishonest and it’s shameful.

Now, on the flip side, let’s meet Alice Pyne.   Alice is 16 and has terminal cancer.  Last year, when faced with her prognosis, she made a “bucket list” of things she wanted to do and experience.  A couple of weeks ago, thanks to the generosity of total strangers and those in her community, she completed the last item on her list.   I hope you’ll all take the time to read through her blog.  As someone who lives with a chronic medical condition – Marfan Syndrome – I have so much appreciation for how she has chosen to live her life and approached her medical challenges.  I could write volumes on Alice an others like her – people who have taken a diagnosis as an opportunity to make a difference through their deeds. Alice has gotten thousands of people to give blood, join bone marrow registries and, I’ll bet, re-evaluate how they look at life.   I’ll admit to having tears in my eyes reading about Alice and I think we call learn something from this remarkable young woman.

So why did I include her in this post?  Alice didn’t start this blog for fame or to bring attention to herself.   She and her family weren’t thinking about personal gain or their own ambitions.  She started her blog as a way to chronicle her progress towards her bucket list.  Once it went viral, however, they could have used it to promote themselves the way Rush Limbaugh loves to do.  Instead, they used it to raise awareness about bone marrow registries and have, no doubt, saved many lives through their efforts.  Reading through it, it is refreshingly honest and genuine.  Alice demonstrates a remarkable ability to care for other people, even she battles her own cancer.  An ability to care that so many, like Tom Smith, don’t seem to have.

Finally, I read about Alice’s experiences, her doctor appointments and her health struggles and I can’t help but wonder.  What if Alice lived in America and was born to a poor family who didn’t have health insurance? What if she lived in America and her family had similar policies to what many middle-class families have today? What then?  Alice’s parents never had to worry about choosing between medical care for their daughter and paying their mortgage.  They never had to worry about being dropped from coverage because Alice is a fighter and isn’t going to give in easily to this disease.  Survival doesn’t bring financial stress, rather it breeds an opportunity for this girl to inspire millions with her attitude, perspectives and accomplishments.  Would that have happened here to a poor or middle-class family?  If the Affordable Care Act is repealed, like Governor Romney and Congressman Paul want, will it ever?