“The System Is Rigged”?

Does Elizabeth Warren really believe what she said tonight?  Does she really believe that the American system is “rigged”?  Seriously?

Perhaps Professor Warren just wants to get into the headlines with her provocative comment — but does she realize what it says that, after four years of President Obama, one of the key speakers at the convention that is renominating him takes the position that the system is rigged?  Even if you believed that the system is “rigged” — and I don’t — why would people who hold that belief want to re-elect someone who was so ineffective they didn’t successfully address that claimed fundamental unfairness in our society after four years in office?

I tire of sanctimonious people like Elizabeth Warren, who has lived for years in the ivory towers of academia.   What in the world does Elizabeth Warren know about creating jobs?  When has Elizabeth Warren ever created a job?

Maybe I’m missing something, but a Harvard professor bashing a country that President Obama has run for four years — and with a Senate under Democratic control to boot — doesn’t seem like a very compelling re-election message to me.

What’s With The Podium At The Democratic National Convention?

After two days of speechifying, I confess that my attention is starting to wander.  As the last few speakers have come striding up to the podium — always waving or pointing at someone, incidentally — I’ve found myself thinking about the podium itself.

What’s with the podium, anyway?  For one thing, it looks like the generic podium you might find at some bland ballroom at the conference facility on the outskirts of Anytown, U.S.A.  You feel like Democratic National Convention organizers had to pry off a cheap plastic “Knightsbridge Conference Facility” sign that used to be bolted to the front of the podium.  Who’s responsible for returning the podium so that the next motivational speaker coming to the local airport “convention facility” has a place to put his notecards?

And then there’s the design.  I’m no architect or interior decorator, but the podium looks like an awkward combination of the prow of a clipper ship, an art deco facade, and one of the decorations in the Emerald City.  You kind of expect to find  one of the Wizard of Oz’s guards to be lounging behind there, checking IDs.

Finally, the podium is massive.  What’s behind that ponderous edifice, anyway?  One of the recent speakers apparently found a bottled water back there.  The podium looks big enough to accommodate a Frigidaire — or maybe even a Sub-Zero.

Or perhaps the podium was designed to serve as a kind of ready-made shield, in case delegates rioted and started hurling placards or silly hats after hearing one speech too many.  On second thought, that podium might make sense after all.

The Double-Edged Student Loans Sword

Student loans have been a focus of many of the speeches at the Democratic National Convention.  The speakers obviously feel that talking about “making college more affordable” through more student loans is a winning issue — but is it?

To be sure, at one time going to college, and especially being the first person in your family to do so, was viewed as a sure way to get ahead and realize the American Dream.  Is that still the case?  As the scope of student loans has expanded — and as such loans have been used to finance educations in traditional colleges, and trade schools, and for-profit schools, and as all such schools seem to increase their tuition requirements on an annual basis — many have come to see student loans as less a gateway to opportunity, and more as a gateway to lifelong debt.

The statistics about the debt load related to student loans are striking.  Believe it or not, the Treasury Department is garnishing the Social Security payments of more than 115,000 senior citizens — to pay off their student loans.  More than 2 million people 60 and older have student loan debt; I know people who are hoping to pay off the loans they took out to attend college and law school at some point in their 50s.  As the article linked above indicates, younger Americans are carrying enormous amounts of student loan debt, debts that have affected the choices they are making about their careers and their lives, debts that have affected their parents who agreed to guarantee the repayment of those loans, and debts that may even make it impossible for the students to later get a mortgage for their purchase of a home.

How much has the easy availability of student loans encouraged universities, trade schools, and for-profit colleges to constantly increase their tuitions, rather than looking for ways to reduce costs?  How are students who borrowed heavily to go to college, or graduate school, or both, to manage in an economy that isn’t producing enough jobs that will allow them to comfortably repay those debts?  How many individuals who took on such loans now regret that decision?

Going to college and receiving a higher education is great, but you need income to repay debts — and that means getting a good-paying job.  If a struggling economy isn’t creating such jobs, student loans can quickly go from a blessing to an albatross.

Voting No On God And Jerusalem

A weird scene at the Democratic National Convention today, one of those impromptu moments that makes you wonder if you aren’t seeing something a bit deeper, something hidden that wouldn’t be shown if only scripted moments were permitted.

After people pointed out that the official Democratic platform didn’t mention God or support Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, embarrassed Democratic leaders acted to return those two concepts to the platform.  Unfortunately, their effort to do so by voice vote unleashed a torrent of shouted “no” votes and boos, as opposing delegates stood on their chairs and screamed at the top of their lungs.  After three attempts, the chairman declared that two thirds of the delegates had voted in favor, even though there was no material difference in volume between the “ayes” and the “nays” on the question.

Does any normal citizen — that is, anyone who isn’t a party activist or someone who is searching for fodder for an attack ad — read the platforms of our political parties?  I don’t think so . . . but will people pay attention to TV footage of angry delegates doing whatever they can to prevent even a mention of God, or a message of support for Israel, and perhaps draw inferences about what that party really believes as a result?

The First Lady’s Difficult Job

The First Lady’s job — and I think we all need to view it as a job like any other — is a difficult one that has changed over the years.  Ever since First Ladies moved beyond serving as the gracious White House hostess (and behind-the-scenes influencer of presidential decision-making) to become public figures in their own right, they have been expected to champion a  cause that commands broad public support and serve a kind of above-the-political-fray role in the national zeitgeist.  Some First Ladies — Hillary Clinton comes to mind — seem to have chafed a bit at the limitations imposed by this traditional role.

By all accounts, Michelle Obama has been a fine First Lady who has filled the expected role admirably.  She serves as a role model for many, and she has been an effective advocate for returning veterans and their families and for combating the scourge of childhood obesity.  No one disputes the country’s need to help our veterans, and whether you agree or disagree with how to deal with childhood obesity — and, specifically, how much of a role the government should play in specifying what children should eat, how much exercise they should get, and what should happen if they become morbidly obese — no one denies that encouraging children to eat right, get exercise, and avoid weight problems is a good thing.

Lately the First Lady’s role seems to be changing again, as First Ladies, and potential First Ladies, have begun to make major speeches at political conventions.  There is some tension between that activity and the First Lady’s traditional role as a kind of non-partisan national figure.  Some have dealt with that tension by confining their remarks to extolling the good qualities and hard work of their presidential spouse, how they have been good and caring fathers and husbands despite the weight of their duties in the Oval Office.  That kind of testimonial has been accepted as appropriate:  what loving spouse wouldn’t support her husband and be happy to describe his virtues?

Last night Michelle Obama gave her prime-time address to the Democratic National Convention, and I wonder if in doing so she hasn’t presaged another shift in the role of First Lady.  Mrs. Obama spoke eloquently of President Obama’s character, beliefs, and values, his important role as loving father to their two daughters, and how her story and his story touch upon the well-visited themes of the American Dream — but she also mounted a more full-throated defense of the President’s policy positions than you would expect in a “traditional” First Lady’s speech.  Mrs. Obama did it graciously but also unmistakeably, leading some to wonder whether, like Hillary Clinton before her, she may have her own political career in the future.

This shouldn’t be surprising.  In the modern world, where the endless campaigns demand so much commitment from candidates and their families and political spouses of both genders often are highly accomplished professionals in their own right, it is unreasonable to expect that presidential spouses will simply serve as an ever-smiling, neutral national symbol who never speaks a controversial word.  Perhaps it is time to accept that First Ladies — and First Gentlemen — can properly be advocates for the policies their spouses support and be recognized as such.  In the successful marriages I am familiar with, spouses tend to strongly and vocally support what each other are doing in their jobs and the goals they are striving for in those jobs.  Why should political spouses be any different?