Dealing With The Annoying Door-To-Door Salesman

They call the presidency the bully pulpit because the President’s visibility and stature allows him, to a significant extent, to set the nation’s agenda.  I wonder, however, whether President Obama hasn’t abused the bully pulpit with his constant drum-beating on health care.  Every poll shows that a large majority of the American people don’t want the overreaching, budget-busting, “health care reform” bill that was passed by the Senate, but the President just doesn’t seem to get the message.

Today, President Obama left Washington D.C. to make yet another speech on health care reform.  It is hard to believe he has anything new to say — and he hasn’t.  Sure, he’s set another arbitrary, unilateral deadline for Congress to act on the bill, but he’s done that countless times before.

It is as if President Obama is trying to wear people down, like a persistent vacuum cleaner salesman who has stuck his foot in the door and just won’t leave until he has tried every possible trick to get you to buy an expensive contraption that you have said, repeatedly, that you don’t really want and can’t really afford.  Sometimes polite efforts to get rid of the annoying salesman just don’t work.  Perhaps it is finally time for voters to tell their elected representatives to slam the door.

Vacation in Arizona pt. 1

I finally arrived in Prescott, Arizona at 5 PM yesterday, after driving more than two days.

I left Columbus after work Friday evening, taking I-71 south. I passed through Cincinnati and Louisville, Kentucky before getting on I-65 south, which took me through Nashville, then I-40 west, which went through Memphis. Unfortunately, it was dark the entire time I was in Kentucky and Tennessee. I stopped for the night at a Holiday Inn Express an hour and a half east of Little Rock, Arkansas.

A traffic jam in Arkansas near the Texas border

Saturday morning I entered Texas, where I would be for the next 700 miles or so. Around one o’clock, I stopped at a restaurant a few hours east of Dallas called the Pitt Grill, where I ordered a country steak with gravy, home fries, toast, and vegetable soup. The country steak was covered in an obscene amount of gravy and the toast with an obscene amount of butter. After the meal I took a little walk around a nearby neighborhood to stretch my legs and I swear I could feel more congestion in my heart than usual.

Dallas-Fort Worth is the ugliest, most sprawling metro area I’ve been through in my life. It probably spanned 50 miles. The highways are wide and crowded, with signs for retail stores and fast food joints on either side. I expected it to be sort of in the desert, but the terrain reminded me more of Oklahoma – brown grass and dense forests of black, craggly trees.

The scenery didn’t change much the rest of the day. The forests became less dense, but it still wasn’t the desert. I stopped at a BBQ place near Abilene for another heart-congealing meal. Like the restaurant I had lunch at, most of its patrons seemed to be locals and they were all really chummy with each other. I got great service at both places.

That night I stopped at another Holiday Inn Express west of Midland, Texas. When I woke up I realized I had entered the desert at some point the night before. I was surrounded by beautiful desert scenery the rest of the trip.

I was pulled over for speeding in El Paso. I was going 89 in a 70 zone, but in my defense the speed limit had just dropped from 80. The Texas state trooper who pulled me over seemed more wary than the cops in Ohio. After I stopped, she walked to about six feet behind my window to tell me to get out of my car, instead of letting me stay in my car the whole time. She told me to stand on the shoulder ten feet away while she peered through my windows for contraband. She was polite, however, asking me about my trip and telling me to make sure I get a full night’s sleep.

I zipped through New Mexico pretty fast, stopping only for a McDonald’s lunch, a U.S. Border Control checkpoint, and to take these pictures from the top of a hill near a rest area:

I actually enjoyed the drive until the very end. Before leaving, I burned 10 good mix CDs that, along with the scenery, kept me entertained. I was excited every morning to get on the road. Around Tucson, however, I finally got sick of being in my car. The length of the trip was starting to take its toll: a strip of my neck was sunburned from my passenger window being open, the floor was covered with litter, including a mushy half-eaten banana from the Holiday Inn’s complimentary breakfast, and there was even a callus on my right foot from where it was resting on the floor. I had listened to all of my CDs, some more than once, and I wasn’t finding anything good on the radio. I started to wish that I could just teleport myself to my destination and skip everything in between.

Unfortunately, around this time it started raining pretty hard. Probably because I was in the desert, it would rain really hard for a little bit and then it would abruptly get sunny again. There was also a lot of traffic on the highway between Tucson and Phoenix.

In Phoenix, it started raining really, really hard. So hard I almost pulled over at an exit to wait it out. But before I could do that, the rain stopped again.

I didn’t stop to give Tucson and Phoenix a close look, but I thought they were better looking cities than they get credit for. Just from the highway I saw a lot of bold, colorful, southwestern-style architecture.

After Phoenix I got on Arizona Highway 69, which curved through some mountains towards Prescott. Scott had warned me a few hours before that it was snowing there, and sure enough, once I got high enough it was.

Notes/observations:

* I think President Obama should hold a special press conference to inform the American people that the left lane is for PASSING ONLY.
* I saw more Texas state flags than American flags in Texas.
* I was surprised how many cars have TVs in them now, especially minivans.
* I read a New York Times article about how Arizona closed most of its rest areas to trim the budget, and the locals are pissed, and sure enough every rest area I passed was closed. Not that it mattered to me, there were plenty of gas stations and other places to stop.
* I don’t agree with its politics, but I’m glad Texas is part of the U.S.A. It has a strong character and attitude.

The Prez And The Press

Some members of the press are raising questions about President Obama’s lack of formal, prime-time press conferences.  Indeed, he has gone longer between such conferences than did President Bush before him.  Most people probably will find this hard to believe, because President Obama seemingly has been all over the television screen since his inauguration.  Most of his appearances, however, are through scripted speeches, “town halls,” one-on-one interviews, or other forms of media exposure that do not involve fielding live questions from skeptical reporters.

It’s odd that President Obama seems to be dodging formal press conferences.  He obviously is an intelligent person, and his answers to questions typically are well-formulated.  Of course, the danger of a press conference is that an unscripted answer might gin up a media firestorm that distracts the President until it dies down.  Something like that happened at the President’s last formal press conference, when he said Cambridge police “acted stupidly” in their interaction with Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.  The resulting controversy was not put to bed until after President Obama hosted an awkward “Beer Summit” at the White House.  It may be that that experience caused the President to conclude that formal prime-time press conferences just aren’t worth it.

As a former journalist, I think such press conferences are worth it.  I think it is good for the President to break out of controlled environments and meetings with nodding, sycophantic followers and face some tough and even oddball questions from the media.  Presidents who are skillful in handling questions from the media — like President Kennedy — look sharp and at ease; their ability to deal with aggressive, probing questions with intelligence and humor inspire public confidence.  Press conferences undoubtedly keep the President more on top of issues that are of current interest to the country, even if they aren’t particularly of interest to the President or his advisors.  They also show that the President is not some remote, all-controlling figure, but a human being, elected to an important office, who is answerable to the public.  If Presidents duck the press, they end up being depicted as out of touch — and maybe they are.