October 13, 2012

Saturday Morning Essay: The Snarky Smirk versus the Wrinkled Forehead

Brought to you by Trader Joe's Bay Blend (Ultra Dark Roast)...

I confess at the outset that I've always thought Joe Biden was the example par excellence of everything that is wrong with modern American politics.  He is, without doubt, the apotheosis of the style-over-substance practitioner of the black arts of the Beltway.  (Okay, Black Arts of the Beltway: that one's going in the pantheon.) 

Joe doesn't stand for anything, least of all the middle class.  When he ran for President in 1988, he didn't even run as Joe Biden; he ran as Neil Kinnock, a British politician who had challenged Margaret Thatcher.  Biden liked Kinnock's stump speech so much (redolent of rags to riches touches) that Joe began borrowing whole segments of it for his own campaign stops.  That wasn't quite enough, however (Joe, as you saw Thursday night, never knows when to stop), so Biden then began borrowing actual details of Kinnock's life, and soon we were hearing about the coal miners in Biden's ancestry.  Which seemed plausible, since Biden was from Pennsylvania, but unfortunately was contrary to reality.  Other tales of flagrant plagiarism from Biden's law school days then came out and Biden abandoned his run for the presidency (a picture of Joe in 1988, under siege, is above).  For 1988, at least, but he's made periodic stabs at it since then.

Biden was the perfect choice as Obama's running mate, as the Big Dog Triangulator, Bill Clinton pointed out early.  Obama had "knocked it out of the park" by choosing Joe.  And what wasn't to like?  Running against George W. Bush's record, with wars "put on credit cards" (Biden trotted that very hoary cliche out on Thursday night), there was the straight-talkin' Joe to watch Barack's back.  Because Joe Biden had always been a fervent opponent of the wasteful wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, hadn't he?  He must have been, because the "liberal caucus" in the Senate in 2002 would certainly include this fearless champion of the people, a man who, even when the war drums were beating loudest, would keep his head and see through the propaganda.  Certainly Biden would demonstrate the kind of moral courage that I thought, even at the time, was reminiscent of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

So here's the list:

Sens. Akaka (D-HI), Bingaman (D-NM), Boxer (D-CA), Byrd (D-WV), Conrad (D-ND), Corzine (D-NJ), Dayton (D-MN), Durbin (D-IL), Feingold (D-WI), Graham (D-FL), Inouye (D-HI), Kennedy (D-MA), Leahy (D-VT), Levin (D-MI), Mikulski (D-MD), Murray (D-WA), Reed (D-RI), Sarbanes (D-MD), Stabenow (D-MI), Wellstone (D-MN), and Wyden (D-OR).

Hmmm.  Something's wrong here.   Certainly Joe Biden wouldn't leave Ted Kennedy, Russ Feingold, Patrick Leahy, Carl Levin and other vocal war opponents just hanging out there, would he?

Well, of course he would.  He voted for the other war on the charge card, too, Afghanistan.  Joe's "tough on terror."  Maybe Biden himself never served in the military, but he can claim (as he does, endlessly) that at least his son has put his life on the line fighting in these pointless wars his father voted for.  So that's something, at least.  What, I'm not so sure.

Joe was asked for another performance Thursday night, one where he just couldn't stop laughing at everything Paul Ryan said.  It got very, very silly, since Biden's risibility was so obviously counterfeit.  Biden was either not listening or he was high on nitrous oxide.

I suspect it worked.  That's not surprising, since Biden, who derived most of his campaign funding from banks and credit card companies (the Delaware senator led the charge in "reforming" the Bankruptcy Code to make it more difficult for the "middle class" to escape those onerous 29% interest charges through bankruptcy, another 2005 event that's gone down the memory hole), continues to survive politically through pure imagery.

As for Paul Ryan: who really cares?  I will say this.  At least he stated a few unpleasant facts, which we don't often hear in the anodyne evocations of America's glory which characterize all political appearances during the campaign.  Ryan said that Medicare and Social Security are insolvent, and they are.  He said that 10,000 Americans are reaching retirement age every day, and that's true, and the social safety net is being ripped asunder as a result.  Ryan said that 23 million Americans are unemployed and underemployed, that 15% of the total population lives in poverty, that the economy is actually decelerating, and that there are not enough millionaires in the United States, even if taxed at the 100% rate, to balance the federal budget.  These are the facts.

Joe Biden prides himself on a "lifetime of service" to the American people, and yet what this really means is that he's a career politician who has presided over the fiasco that the American economy and budget have become.  Biden, with his craven votes for war and Big Defense, has seen to it that the Social Security "trust fund" was squandered on pointless military adventures, so that now, in a debate, he attacks his opponent for wanting to "privatize" Social Security (as Bill Clinton proposed during his second term).  There's really nothing left to "privatize."  The money's all gone and the system is collapsing under its own weight.

Still, as Joe bragged on Thursday night, he always says exactly what's on his mind.  Or Neil Kinnock's, but the effect is much the same.

October 07, 2012

Sunday Morning Essay: The Show About Nothing

Brought to you by Costa Rican Organic coffee.... 

Some ideas for questions for the next "debate:"

Q:  Professor Michael Mann, a leading climatologist at Penn State, has stated that Arctic ice melt and the melting of land-based ice shelves in Greenland and Antarctica are "decades ahead of schedule" according to climate models.  Groups at MIT and Stanford have concluded that the forecasts of the IPCC are, if anything, much too optimistic.  Do you consider the future habitability of Planet Earth by human beings an important issue?  Should we do something?

Q:  Almost everyone in America is clinically obese and dying of Type II diabetes.  Should we take a look at the federal government's massive subsidies to the inedible corn industry?

Q:  Since the world is running out of affordable petroleum, should we think about building a railroad so people can get from one place to another?

Q:  Should food be labeled so that Americans know whether they're eating a biological substance produced through millions of years of evolution, or is something concocted last week by a genetic engineer at Monsanto?

Q:  Gentlemen, should the President of the United States be given the power to assassinate American citizens without judicial process of any kind?

Q:  Mr. President, Governor Romney, should the President be allowed to invade and bomb any foreign country he chooses without seeking Congressional authorization under Article I of the Constitution and even without complying with the War Powers Act of 1973?

Q:  Should the President be allowed to suspend the right of habeas corpus for an American citizen on American soil simply by labeling someone a terrorist or by accusing him of material support of some terrorist organization?

Q:  Should an American official ever be prosecuted for a capital war crime, such as causing death by torture, in compliance with the War Crimes Act and with the Convention Against Torture to which the United States is a signatory? Should the answer be any different if the American official in question admits on national television that he ordered torture?

Q:  Should anyone on Wall Street be prosecuted, ever, for committing mega-fraud in the mortgage securitization business? Or were President Obama and Attorney General Place Holder correct that, "unfortunately," nothing anyone ever did was illegal?

Q:  Should the rule of law be reinstituted as a governing principle in the American Republic?

Such questions seem unlikely.  Rather, the passions of the mob will be stirred up instead by the riveting arguments over such issues as whether Mitt Romney does or does not propose $5 trillion in tax cuts at the top marginal rate over the next ten years, and whether Obamacare does or does not involve "raiding" Medicare reimbursements.  That's pretty much the whole story.  

Oh, and jobs.  Both candidates favor jobs.  I guess the next go round will be all about foreign policy.  Whereas in Round One there might have been a dime's worth of difference between the two candidates, this time the gap will narrow to the dimensions of the aperture in the electron slit experiments of quantum mechanics.

I tend to agree with those wags who opine that the problem with the debate format isn't that third party views are completely excluded.  It's that there is no second party represented.