Posts Tagged Democrats

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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An outrage deficit

On Tuesday, the New York Times was full of disturbing headlines. A couple dealt with Rep. Todd Akin’s remarks on “legitimate rape” and the Republican’s somewhat nonsensical decision to announce an anti-abortion platform plank as they denounced Akin. Another was a grim milestone: the death of 2,000 Americans in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, there’s only so much outrage one person can muster.

If you take the time to find out what is going on in the world, it’s hard to know what to do next. This would be an appropriate time for remarks about how Americans forget the wars they send other people to fight and how we should “support the troops,” but how?

I think, now that Osama bin Laden is dead and Al Qaeda is no longer a threat to the United States, we should extricate ourselves from Afghanistan. President Obama thinks likewise; he’s said on multiple occasions that he is working on getting our troops out. Unless your name is John Rambo, it’s hard to speed up the process.

By the same token, should one pay less attention to the abortion debate, especially when one party makes a major political move, because it is less important than one of the nation’s longest wars? Regardless of how you feel about abortion, if you feel strongly about it, it’s hard to ignore something like Akin’s comment, or the Republican anti-abortion plank.

I can see why some people don’t bother voting. In November, the Republicans will either be rebuked or confirmed, and both sides will be reminded about Afghanistan, but what do we do until then? Argue amongst ourselves?

These issues are much larger than any individual, but that can be pretty overwhelming for said individual.

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Election overload

I Voted stickerIn the beginning, Senators were chosen by state legislatures, not the people. Lawmakers reasoned that people weren’t informed enough to make those decisions. Not anymore: today Congressional candidates feel like telemarketers. Thank God the primaries are almost over.

If a politician or their representative calls you several times a day, does that make you want to vote for them? It’s no wonder they don’t get anything done: they spend all their time campaigning, and telling people what they plan on doing.

On the other hand, maybe the blitz of phone calls and junk mail is a response to low voter turnout. People will be motivated to vote if it makes the voices go away, and it’s not like they’ll forget what day the primary is.

It doesn’t stop either. I went to the polling place and filled in the circles on the official piece of paper (when did voting become the same as the SATs?) hours ago, but they’re still calling. Maybe things will quiet down when the polls close (I’m writing this at about 7:00 EST Tuesday night), but I doubt it. On to the general election!

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An opinion on opinions

Ricky-BobbySaying what’s on your mind can have unfortunate consequences, but there is a way to avoid them. I get into a lot of political debates/cage matches with people, some of whom say things that are flat out wrong. How do they maintain their credibility? They use a magic phrase.

Saying “Open Says Me” can open doors, and saying “This is just my opinion” apparently allows someones to make any stupid remark they want with impunity. I’ve had people tell me that, on average, conservatives are smarter than liberals, and that President Obama will raise more money than Mitt Romney because of his Hollywood connections. These seem like things that need to be backed up with evidence, but since each person qualified it as “their opinion,” they didn’t feel the need to.

In the cinematic triumph that is Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, a redneck NASCAR driver played by Will Ferrell uses the same tactic. Ricky tells his boss that “With all due respect, I didn’t know you had experimental surgery to have your balls removed.” That sounds inappropriate, but he did say “with all due respect.” Most people who debate politics think they are smarter than Will Ferrell’s character, but I’m not so sure.

People don’t need to be reminded about the First Amendment, but they do need to be reminded about responsible use. Saying whatever you want and using the right to free speech as en excuse is not responsible; it just makes the speaker look dumb, and makes rational discussion more difficult. Everyone has an opinion, but they can still be wrong.

Still, being able to say whatever I want by using one simple phrase sounds like fun. I’m going to give it a try. This is just my opinion, but:

Mitt Romney is an alien sent to conquer Earth with an army of dancing horses.

John Boehner is an Oompa-Loompa who took steroids.

On average, conservatives are most likely to be cannibals.

After being defeated by the Light Side, Emperor Palpatine fled to Earth, starting a new life under the pseudonym “Dick Cheney.”

Ronald Reagan did not end the Cold War.

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Wisconsin Talgo a no-go

Wisconsin Talgo train. Photo by Angela Peterson.

Wisconsin Talgo train. Photo by Angela Peterson.

Sorry for the week of no posts; even lazy bloggers need a vacation sometimes.

A couple of weeks ago, I ranted about mass transit and mentioned Wisconsin’s high speed Talgo trains. Two trains were about to enter testing, so it seemed like Wisconsin had the right idea. Apparently, they don’t.

Wisconsin’s two Talgos will still be tested, but then the 14-car trains will probably be put into storage. According to Trains magazine, the state reneged on a 20-year maintenance contract for the trains, which involved the construction of a maintenance facility and employing Talgo workers to repair the sets. The state doesn’t want to spend the money, so those workers will be laid off and passengers will continue riding 25-year-old coaches on the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor.

Before the 2010 elections, Democratic governor Jim Doyle secured $810 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding to upgrade tracks and build new trains. When Republican Scott Walker took over, he decided that improved rail service and potential jobs at Talgo’s Milwaukee facility were not worth the cost. He returned the federal money, and his administration says the state is saving $10 million by not running the trains.

I’m not an economist, or a governor, but this still doesn’t make sense. Republicans hate to see the government spend money, but what are they saving it for? The economy is supposed to be the nation’s primary political concern, yet Talgo is laying off workers because the Wisconsin GOP will not follow through on a predetermined contract. The state may be saving $10 million, but it has already wasted $70 million on two trains that will do nothing but gather dust.

The Talgo project should have been a no-brainer. The trains, which can tilt to take corners at high speeds, have proven popular on Amtrak’s Cascades route in the Pacific Northwest, and Talgo went to great lengths to bring them into compliance with current Federal Railroad Administration crash standards. Wisconsin needed new trains, and Talgo need customers. What went wrong?

Republicans like to think that completely eliminating government spending will solve America’s problems, but Walker’s actions show that frivolous spending cuts can actually make things worse. Who benefits from Wisconsin’s reneging? Is it the people stuck on worn-out trains, or the people without jobs?

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Does anyone really care about gun control?

The death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman struck a deeply upsetting chord with most Americans. It was a senseless killing with a disturbingly racial dimension. However, it is possible to prevent incidents like this without resolving over 200 years of racial tension overnight. The answer is simple: Florida should repeal its “Stand Your Ground” law. Unfortunately, that probably won’t happen.

The anti-repeal crowd already has its troops mustered, as one would expect of people that spend their time playing with M16s and M1911s. “The media is using Martin’s death as an excuse to attack gun ownership,” they might say. Groups like the NRA exist solely to fight that threat, which enthusiastic gun owners view as an attack on their Second Amendment rights. In reality, they shouldn’t be so worried.

Gun advocates have the Republican Party on their side. Even straight-laced Mitt Romney admitted to shooting a few “critters” and “varmants.” Republicans love guns, which is odd, because they seem to hate everything else. We known Republicans don’t like taxes, abortions, gays, Muslims, Atheists, immigrants, the government, and Michael Moore. However, it’s unusual for the GOP to be candid about something its members actually like.

It also gives the Democrats a unique opportunity. If their opponents can stir up fear and vitriol about taxes and healthcare, imagine what the Dems could say about guns, which are weapons, which are designed to kill things. The Democrats will never stand up for gun regulation, though, and that’s why this whole situation is so intractable.

The Democrats are ostensibly the party of gun regulation, but unlike the Republicans they prefer pragmatism over ideology. The Republicans take absolute positions on issues; they’re right (no pun intended), and everyone else is wrong. The Democrats see things in a more nuanced way. They support gun regulation; they don’t think guns are inherently evil. Just look at gun-toting Vice President Joe Biden.

It is important to consider other people’s viewpoints, but something has to be done about the Florida law. Holding someone responsible for shooting another person is not radical or totalitarian, it’s just common sense. Repealing “Stand Your Ground” would also show that politicians really care about what happens to their constituents, and not just the ones with a massive lobbying organization supporting them.

Today, politics are extremely polarized, but I think we can all agree that if one person kills another, they should not get off scott-free. George Zimmerman will have ample opportunity to prove his innocence at trial, just like any other American citizen. Gun owners have plenty of powerful allies, but someone needs to stand up for everyone else.

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The Republicans’ worst enemy

Nixon portrait by Norman RockwellEvery political party has members that it is ashamed of. The Democrats have Lyndon Baines Johnson and, to some extent, Jimmy Carter. The Republicans have that incompetent oaf William Howard Taft. However, the GOP’s biggest political bogeyman is Richard Milhous Nixon, and not just for the obvious reasons. Republicans could probably excuse Watergate, but they could never excuse Nixon’s love of big government.

Today’s Republican Party is obsessed with small government, but few presidents have done as much to expand government power as Nixon. Like any power-hungry leader, his foreign policy was a one man show. Nixon made many controversial decisions, such as the Christmas Bombings and the invasion of Cambodia near the end of the Vietnam War, unilaterally. “Tricky Dick” was also pathologically secretive. He sent Henry Kissinger to negotiate secretly with China, a move that would surely be out of line in a party that believes the president shouldn’t even raise taxes.

When President Obama authorized air and cruise missile strikes against Qaddafi loyalists in Libya, the right wing decried his actions. They said Obama was overstepping his authority by authorizing military action without consulting Congress, and accused the President of dragging America into another war. Those are valid points, but Obama didn’t do anything Nixon wouldn’t have done. American troops did not invade Libya, but they did invade Cambodia.

Nixon was also a fan of big government in domestic policy. He may have thought everyone under the age of 30 was a filthy hippie, but he also created the Environmental Protection Agency and approved the Clean Air Act. Most Republicans believe the government should spend less, but Nixon authorized massive agricultural subsides, so you can thank America’s 37th President for all the high-fructose corn syrup in your food.

In a stump speech, Newt Gingrich implied that all African-Americans are lazy, and the conservative backlash against birth control made the Republican Party seem a tad misogynist. In that context, the current frontrunners would be appalled by Nixon’s platform. In 1970, Nixon implemented the Philadelphia plan, the first major federal affirmative action program. While he was not exactly a feminist, he also supported the Equal Rights Amendment.

Clearly, a lot has changed since 1974. Today, Republican candidates are encouraged to take a more absolutist view, saying “yes” to tax cuts, “no” to health care reform, and leaving it at that. Nixon, who ran on a “Southern Strategy” meant to play on whites’ opposition to the Civil Rights movement, but also supported affirmative action, seems much more rational and nuanced than his successors. How could that be?

Many people shudder every time Newt Gingrich talks about the biased liberal media, or when Rick Santorum talks about religion or family values, but they were nothing compared to “Tricky Dick.” This was, after all, a man who kept a list of enemies. Nixon cut his teeth politically in the “Red Scare” days of he 1950s, and thought he could convince North Vietnam to sign a peace treaty by dropping more bombs. There was that whole Watergate thing, too.

The Republican Party of 2012 is very ideological; its members adhere to certain ideas and believe they are non-negotiable. Nixon was the same way, which is what drove him to act unilaterally. He sent Kissinger to meet with Chinese premier Zhou Enlai in secret because he did not want to deal with opposition from Congress and the media.

Nixon could be just as stubborn as any current Republican candidate, but he was also more interested in holding onto power. Anyone in 1968 could tell that supporting peace in Vietnam would garner a significant number of votes, so that’s what Nixon did. In office, he supported liberal policies because he knew it would give him political credibility beyond the Republican base. In other words, Nixon was a real politician.

That level of activity is in stark contrast to the current Republican strategy, where members of Congress stall debates and candidates spend more time talking about what they disagree with than what they actually plan on doing. When Richard Nixon starts looking like a big government liberal in comparison, America is in a very scary place.

Nixon’s abuse of power was a clear demonstration of how badly things can go when a Commander-in-Chief shuts out the voice of opposition. Yet Nixon was able to acknowledge that opposition, at least for his own selfish political reasons. Even that is too much compromise for today’s Republican party.

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