Posts Tagged 2012 Presidential Election

We need another villain

cinematic villainsI’m looking for a good villain. I’ve had enough of relatable bad guys that need to be empathized with as well as feared. Maybe it’s just leftover angst from the Presidential Election, but I’d like to see a character whose two dimensionality I can point out without making me look like a bad person.

What the public needs is someone they can love to hate. Someone whose iPod has a playlist of children crying. Someone who keeps a cat around just so they can maniacally pet it in a revolving chair. Someone who looks good (and by good, I mean bad) with a mustache.

In the world of nerd literature, definitely the best place to look for archetypal bad guys, the opposite is the trend. As writers strive for more depth, characters wearing both white and black hats become more realistic.

That’s great most of the time, but sometimes it’s just fun to watch Captain America punch the Red Skull in the face without having to consider the Skull’s perspective.

Giving a character a detailed set of motivations makes him or her more relatable, but it also makes the character less evil. Audiences were supposed to view the army Voldemoort raised in the final Harry Potter film as the ultimate force of darkness, but it looked like a mob of homeless people. You’re supposed to fear the Army of Darkness, not empathize with it because social stratification left it with no other viable options!

A good work of film or literature needs complex characters, but sometimes readers and viewers need absolutes. Everyday life is a gray blob, we face choices that are morally ambiguous and often inconsequential outside of the moment. Even when someone commits a genuinely bad act, there is usually a reason behind it.

We forgive people’s bad vibes, and wonder if we’re making the right choices, but we often don’t know anything for sure. A little fictional certainty once and awhile is a good thing. Shakespeare had it right when he created Iago.

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The 2012 election is over… Now what?

Obama victory speech 2012If anyone actually reads this, sorry for the missed posts. It’s been a busy week.

I was very pleased by the results of Tuesday’s election, but they do put the country in an interesting place. As Jon Stewart pointed out, Obama is still president, the Democrats still control the Senate, and the Republicans still control the House, so America’s billionaires apparently wasted their money. So how do we keep from repeating the mistakes of the past four years?

Bipartisanship seems to be the key, and it is, but not all the time. If both parties put aside their differences, forgot the ugliness of this decidedly ugly campaign, and compromised to create practical policies, it would be a major achievement for rationality. However, it might not solve every problem.

I’m a fan of Matt Taibbi, but when he wrote, on the morning of the election, that there was essentially no difference between the candidates, I had to disagree.

“When push comes to shove, we all should know most Americans want the same things, but just disagree on how to get there, which is why it should be okay to not panic if the other party wins,” Taibbi wrote on the morning of November 6. That’s true, but sometimes Americans disagree. What then?

The vitriol and plain bullshit slung by both politicians and the media in this election was awful, not just because it made compromise harder, but because it obscured real issues that Americans genuinely disagree about.

Could a woman really believe that Romney had her interests in mind, even after he talked about banning abortion, or after his “binders full of women” comment? If one of the two main presidential candidates make a threat to one’s rights a part of his platform, there is no reason to assume that he will not act on that. Otherwise, why bother having elections?

So the solution to America’s problems isn’t blind compromise. Politicians and their constituents should stop the name calling, and generally recognize their opponents’ humanity, but both sides have the right and obligation to try to enact their policies.

Some might argue that this is what caused the ongoing deadlock in Washington: both parties pushed to get what they wanted done, and tried equally hard to obstruct their opponent.

However, we just had an election, where the majority of the country chose a Democratic president, that seems to point things in a certain direction. The Democrats shouldn’t ignore the Republican constituency, but the Republicans need to acknowledge that, in the White House and Senate races, they lost.

After a major Republican upset in the 2010 midterm elections, Mitch McConnell said that, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Someone really needs to call the Republican party on this counterproductive behavior.

When Mitt Romney is accusing President Obama of being anti-coal, and the President is accusing the former governor of being a corporate raider, some people think that all the parties care about is defeating each other. However, we need to remember that this all started with the Republicans and, now that they’ve lost the presidential race, they need to be stopped from continuing to obstruct the functions of government.

A maxim of journalism is that there are always at least two sides to every story. That’s true, but not every side is equal. In politics, compromise is important, but the job of politicians is to serve the people, and the people have spoken.

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Mitt Romney: Do as I say, not as I do

map of the Middle EastI was finally able to vent my near-homicidal rage against television journalists and concentrate on the issues (imagine that!) in the final presidential debate Monday night. As usual, I was left wondering if Mitt Romney actually hears the words that come out of his mouth.

Twice, the former Massachusetts Governor told President Obama that, “Criticizing me is not a foreign policy.” That seems like a noble statement, except Romney spent almost the entire debate criticizing the President while offering only a vague phantasm of what he would actually do if he wins on November 6.

Romney criticized nearly every aspect of Obama’s foreign policy, from the drone strikes that killed al Qaeda’s leadership, to his use of economic sanctions on Iran, to when he “skipped Israel” during a trip to the Middle East.

Obviously, debates are all about criticism, but if Romney wanted the President to say something constructive instead of just attacking, why didn’t he?

Instead, Romney went for semantics. He said he would put tougher sanctions on Iran, and label China a “currency manipulator,” which is apparently more severe than actually prosecuting China for trade violations, as Obama has done.

When asked what he would do if Israel decided to attack Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities, Romney begged off saying he wouldn’t answer a hypothetical question like that. Instead, he used the time to attack Obama… again.

Perhaps it was because Romney didn’t know how long it would take Israeli planes to reach Iran: earlier in the debate, he said Syria was an important ally for Iran because it gave the latter access to the sea. Iran has its own coastline, and the two countries do not share a border (Iraq is in between).

So much for building a foreign policy on ideas instead of criticism. Obama, on the other hand, gave specifics, as he always does. He outlined the aforementioned cases against China, and reminded Americans who was responsible for eliminating their arch enemy, and a dictator that even the Republicans’ favorite president, Ronald Reagan couldn’t take down.

With regards to Iran, Obama, said he would put every option on the table. That sounds a lot more presidential than Romney’s “answer.”

Conservatives probably have their own criticisms regarding Obama’s policies, but what I want to emphasize here is Romney’s “do as I say, not as I do” mentality. If attacking your opponent doesn’t help build a foreign policy, then stop wasting time attacking your opponent. It goes both ways.

Romney doesn’t seem to think the laws of language apply to him; he thinks that he can say one thing and have it mean something else. That is one of many reasons why he is unfit to be our president.

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The presidents: relative greatness

FDRPerspective is a good thing which, I guess, is why Newsweek decided to release a list of the 10 best presidents since 1900. With 18 presidents vying for a spot, each had about the same odds of making the list as they did of getting elected in the first place. However, the stakes were much lower here.

People (especially people with history degrees) like to say that the real measure of a great president is his legacy. That’s true; it is hard to know what a president’s impact on the country will be until we see the long term effects. Still, I’m not a fan of ranking the presidents.

Certain presidents are obviously greater than others: FDR topped Newsweek’s list, and rightfully so. The problems come when historians, pundits, or the general public try to compare incomparably great acts.

FDR won World War II, but Abraham Lincoln won the Civil War and freed the slaves. So which one is better? America wouldn’t be the same without either man, so how can one be better than the other?

The United States of America has had many moments that have defined its history and character. Singling out one triumph or crisis as the moment that made America the country it is today is nigh impossible.

There are other methods of ranking presidents, though. If weighing the relative importance of different historical events is too subjective, why not make it a popularity contest? Instead of pretentious historians, why not leave the decision of up to the people each president has sworn to serve?

That would be even more subjective. Frankly, the public may not know enough to make the choice. People live in the present, which is where they need to be to make informed decisions in the 2012 election, but it’s not so good if they’re judging the president from 1912, or 1812.

Ronald Reagan made Newsweek’s list, and he was also chosen as the “Greatest American” in a 2004 Discovery Channel poll. Most people think the Gipper deserves these accolades because he ended the Cold War. In reality, other parties deserve more credit. Reagan didn’t make the people of East Germany and the Soviet Republics to overthrow their governments.

Historians can be pedantic sometimes, but they have the contextual knowledge that allows them to understand the “big picture” of a president and his time. That’s why Barnes & Noble sells their books.

A quality like “greatness” may be too subjective to quantify although, like certain other things, people know it when they see it. That will inevitably lead to arguments over relative greatness, which will lead to a new search for an objective measure. It’s vicious cycle time.

Even if there were an objective way to measure presidential greatness, it wouldn’t accomplish anything. We might know that the man who ended slavery is greater than the man who fought World War II, or the man who was president first, but what meaning does that distinction actually have?

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It’s all about the presentation

As President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney stepped away from their podiums on Wednesday night, I was satisfied with the President’s performance. It was only when the post-debate coverage started that I became nauseous.

The mistake I made was apparently listening to what the candidates were saying more than their mannerisms. The general consensus is that Obama looked like he was asleep, while Romney was fired up and confident.

That may be true, but what Romney actually said doesn’t amount to much. At the beginning of the debate, moderator Jim Lehrer said he wanted the candidates to explain their positions in detail. Obama did that, and Romney did not.

Obama gave a detailed account of his work over the past four years, including a surprisingly long string of legislative victories (from Obamacare to the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”) and an explanation of what he will do in the next four, if reelected.

The President talked about investing in education and the green energy industry as ways of improving America’s position in the international community, while growing the economy. He also discussed an ongoing effort to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next ten years. Whether you agree with his policies or not, you can’t say the man didn’t explain himself.

Romney refused to go into details. He said he wouldn’t cut taxes by the rich by $5 trillion, he would reduce the deficit, and that he would or would not do many other things, but he never explained how.

In fact, Romney seemed quite evasive about answering questions on his policies, at least to this viewer. When Lehrer questioned him about federal funding for education, Romney went off on a tangent about Obama’s green energy funding, without even mentioning schools or teachers.

Romney may have been more aggressive, but what he was saying utterly lacked substance. This debate was supposed to be an opportunity for candidates to introduce and elaborate on their plans for the next for years, but all Romney did was attack Obama. We still don’t know any more about his plans for this country than we did on October 2.

Obama made his share of mistakes too: he filled in some of the blanks of Romney’s vague policies to make himself look better, and he really was lacking energy. Still, does that negate outright lying and evasiveness? Does the fact that Romney continued to quote the “$716 billion Medicare cut” number, even though it was debunked during the party conventions, not matter because Obama didn’t smile enough?

People may be disappointed with the President’s performance, but that is no reason to give the win to Mitt Romney. At the very least, it’s a tie, between a man who impulsively says “$716 billion of Medicare cuts and $90 billion to green energy” regardless of their truth or context, and a man who says rational, sensible things in a less-than-exciting manner. I know who I’m voting for.

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Fact check fact check

In this brave new world of instant media gratification, fact checking has separated itself from conventional journalism, since time is required to check facts. Through the two national political conventions, the morning after each speech has been followed by a barrage of asterisks from PolitiFact, FactCheck, and other independent organizations. Now, like the conventional media, their work is getting political.

Trying to see if a politician is telling the truth should seem like a straightforward, non-partisan thing, but that’s tough for a party that lies so much to accept.

Republican demigod Ronald Reagan once said that “facts are stupid things,” and his party proved that at their convention last week. A quick Internet search will turn up thorough dissections of each speech, showing where each candidate was less than truthful.

How does a political party respond when it is caught with its pants on fire? Blame the fact checkers! In an interview on the Colbert Report earlier this week, CNN Contributing Editor Reihan Salam tried to take some of the heat off his fellow conservatives.

“I think that people are being obtuse,” Salam said. He said the issue was not whether Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan lied about the closing of car factory or whether he voted for Simpson-Bowles, but that both parties were making claims about lying to distract people from the issues.

“When people hear something that sounds vague, seems like it’s ill defined, they don’t say “Oh, that must be what he meant,” rather, they say, “Let’s define it as narrowly as possible as a lie, rather than have a real conversation about what we’re saying,’” Salam said.

While it’s true that reality is rarely black-and-white, and that political parties deserve to emphasize certain (factual) points to make their candidates’ case at their own conventions, some things are simply false. Salam defended Ryan’s claim that the plant in Janesville, Wisconsin closed during the Obama administration, saying it had only been mothballed in 2008 due to low demand for SUVs, not fully closed. Who’s being obtuse now?

That is a distinction without a difference. The plant was still closed: it was not producing cars, and its employees were out of work. In addition, if the reason for the shut down really was lack of demand for SUVs, then Obama cannot be blamed for it. The President may be the most powerful man in the free world, but he can’t stop poor product planning.

One person’s views do not always represent those of an entire political party or movement (Salam could’ve also been kidding, I suppose), and I hope this isn’t how conservatives plan to deal with their leaders’ penchant for stretching the truth.

If given the opportunity, politicians will endlessly stretch the truth until it’s nothing but Orwellian doublespeak. People get frustrated by political lies, but the media gives them an opportunity to see through those lies. If someone doesn’t want to acknowledge the truth, that shouldn’t be everyone else’s problem.

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Where is Mitt Romney from?

Mitt RomneyWith the Republican Convention going on this week, I thought it would be a good idea to say something ridiculous about Mitt Romney…

Mitt Romney may never have shown anyone his birth certificate, but that doesn’t mean much because it’s still hard to tell where this man is actually from.

Romney’s unusual mannerisms give him the air of something not of this Earth, and his itinerant ways just add to the mystery. He was born in Michigan, and spent his childhood there while his father ran American Motors and started a political career. After that, things get confusing.

Mitt left the state of his birth to run the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, then became governor of Massachusetts. Then, after failing to ingratiate himself with Bay Statahs, he retreated to his lairs.

The GOP Presidential Candidate currently has three homes: one each in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and California. Obviously, that’s not unusual for a man as rich as Romney. It’s just strange that he doesn’t seem to prefer one domicile over the others.

Only America could produce something as milquetoast as Willard Mitt Romney, but that still doesn’t answer the question of where his true home lies. Where will he go to vote in November?

Maybe Mitt is too big for one state; with so much money, he can move about at will and still count on a steady flow of cash (not income, according to the tax codes) from his investments. He’s like the romantic loaners of folk songs and beat literature, except with perfectly coifed hair, an aversion to alcohol, drugs, and anything spontaneous, and a large, creepy family.

Then again, what else would you expect from a man who comments on the height of trees?

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