Who Should Be Romney’s Running Mate? Who Cares?

There’s a lot of chatter about who Mitt Romney might pick as his running mate.  Why not?  It’s a boring time in the political cycle, the economic data and the news from Europe are relentlessly, soul-crushingly bad, and today the President laid an egg with a turgid speech about the economy that offered no new ideas or magic bullets.  So why not spend a lot of time yakking about who might be Romney’s veep, rather than facing the painful truth about our current predicament?

It’s fun to speculate about such things.  Wouldn’t blunt, plain-spoken New Jersey Governor Chris Christie be a riot to watch in a vice presidential debate with Joe Biden?  And speaking of governors, how about Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal or South Carolina’s Nikki Haley, just to show that the GOP isn’t just a bunch of white guys with ’50s haircuts?  Or Senator Marco Rubio, who brings some dash and flash and can deliver a killer speech?  And for every interesting candidate, of course, there’s a dull, safe choice, like Ohio’s junior Senator, Rob Portman, who has lots of experience with budgets but not much pizzazz.

Only Romney and his advisors know for sure who they are considering, and what kinds of factors will enter into the mix.  For now, it’s worth mentioning that the selection of the vice president really doesn’t make much difference.  Consider Joe Biden.  He was a windbag and a gaffe-making machine as a long-serving Senator from Delaware, and he hasn’t changed as vice president.  Does it make any difference?  Does anybody really believe that Joe Biden has much influence on policy, or is entrusted with anything significant?  I sure hope he isn’t; I’m quite comfortable with his role as U.S. representative at high-level foreign funerals and inaugurations and one of the President’s chief errand boys and message-deliverers.

In my lifetime, most of the vice presidents have been either non-entities (Humphrey, Mondale, Ford) or embarrassments (Rockefeller, Biden), and sometimes both (Agnew, Quayle).  The country has somehow survived them all.  Even when the vice presidents seemed to be something more than the standard officeholder (George H.W. Bush, Gore) it’s not entirely clear whether they did much of substance in developing policy or advising the President.  The only veep who really seemed to have a significant role, at least for a time, was Dick Cheney — and I think his prominence made some people uncomfortable.

So let the speculation continue.  It can’t hurt, and it might distract us from the drumbeat of bad news.  Just don’t expect me to care much about who Romney picks, because it doesn’t really matter — even if Romney ends up winning.

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“Joe The Plumber” Throws His Hat Into The Ring

“Joe the Plumber” is back on the national scene, and this time he is looking for more than his duly allotted 15 minutes of fame.  “Joe” — aka Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher — has filed papers to run for Congress as a Republican in his home district in northern Ohio.

In October 2008, Wurzelbacher was tossing a football with his son in the front yard of his Ohio home when he was touched by the Fickle Finger of Fate.  Democratic candidate Barack Obama was campaigning in the neighborhood and met Wurzelbacher.  Wurzelbacher told Obama he hoped to buy a plumbing business and asked whether Obama’s tax plan would increase his taxes and interfere with the American Dream, and Obama’s lengthy answer said, among other things, that he didn’t want to “punish your success” but that “when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”

The moribund campaign of Republican candidate John McCain seized on Obama’s use of “spread the wealth” and McCain mentioned the exchange with “Joe the Plumber” repeatedly in the final presidential debate, raising Wurzelbacher to national prominence.  “Joe the Plumber” appeared on TV and at McCain campaign events, and the media and Obama’s supporters put Wurzelbacher under a microscope.  Was he a licensed plumber or not?  Did he owe taxes?  State employees even searched Ohio governmental databases for information on Wurzelbacher, resulting in a mini-scandal.

Now, three years later, “Joe the Plumber” has decided to re-enter the spotlight.  He’d better be prepared for searching scrutiny, because he’s likely to receive far more attention than the average, unknown challenger.  Every skeleton in Wurzelbacher’s closet will be rattled a few times before voters get the chance to decide they want “Joe the Plumber” to play “Mr. Fix-It” in Washington, D.C.

Please Say it Ain’t so O(bama)

So now that I have a laptop at home and I am semi-retired I spend most of my daylight hours reading by the pool or working at the Windward Passage and when I come home at night I like to surf the internet.

Tonight while surfing the internet I was quite disturbed when I came across the following article US-troops-may-stay-in-Afghanistan-until-2024.html. If this article is in fact true it looks as though we are in talks with Afghanistan to sign a contractual agreement that would supposedly allow American military trainers, American special forces and American air power (estimates of 25,000 American soldiers) to remain in Afghanistan until 2024.

One of the biggest reasons I voted for the current president and the change he was offering was because I was hopeful that he would get us out of the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan once and for all. My thinking was there was a much better chance of that happening with Obama as president as opposed to McCain. To my dismay this hasn’t happened yet.

From what I have read our current cost right now to support 100,000 troops in Afghanistan is $1 billion per day. So if we agree to  keep 25,000 American troops in Afghanistan until 2024 you can do the math, we’re talking about a lot of money that we quite frankly don’t have.

I think the Russian ambassador to Afghanistan said it best when he said “Afghanistan needs many other things apart from a permanent military presence. It needs economic help and it needs peace, military bases are not a tool for peace”. Well said Mr ambassador. When I see a picture like the one above I am outraged that we are doing what we are doing, isn’t anyone else outraged ?

Can any Republican, Independent or Democrat, anyone for that matter give me a logical reason as to why we need to be in Afghanistan for thirteen more years ? Bin Laden is dead and we need to get the heck out of there as soon as possible. If this deal is signed I will have no choice but to write in Ron Paul for President in 2012 since he is the only candidate who has promised to bring all of our troops home.

The Science Of Fake Smiles

What really distinguishes a fake smile from the genuine article?  And why do people give fake smiles, anyway?  Science offers some answers.

We’ve all seen fake smiles — in school pictures, on the faces of clerks taking orders at Starbucks, from politicians, and in countless other scenarios.  It turns out that people are better at detecting fake smiles in photos than in real life, because we tend to study photos more closely.  And the key indicator of fakiness is not the position of the grinning mouth and bared teeth, but the eyes.  A muscle around the eye called obicularis occuli contracts when a real smile flashes across the face, giving the eyes that crinkle that separates the real deal smile from the pretenders.  Most people who aren’t actors, con men, or psychopaths just can’t control that muscle.

Studies also indicate that women smile more than men.  The theory is that girls are encouraged from an early age to be more expressive emotionally than boys.  Girls also learn faster than boys that a good fake smile can be an appropriate, polite, social response under certain circumstances — like when Gramma gives you a lame gift for your birthday.  In view of that, it also should not be surprising that women tend to be more adept than clueless male brutes at detecting fake smiles in others and accurately determining what a person’s smile really means.

It follows that if people learn to give fake smiles, and then realize that people often can’t tell the difference, they may decide to wear a fake smile as a matter of course.  When you walk down a Midwestern street and see people with smiles on their faces, how many of them are fake?  No way to tell for sure, of course — but studies also show that people smile much more infrequently when they are alone.

A Tough Choice

I’ve been unable to read through an entire news story about the recent congressional battle over the fate of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. I become so incensed towards the Republican Party that I lose control of myself. It strikes me as a cosmic injustice that a party that shows such naked greed and disregard for the unfortunate swept the 2010 elections. How could a party that won by promising to reduce the deficit now insist on continuing tax cuts that will add something like a trillion dollars to our debt in the next decade? The fact that they earned the goodwill of voters makes me lose faith in the judgment of the American people.

The reptilian core of my brain tells me that Obama should let them block extensions of unemployment benefits and of the middle- and lower-class portions of the Bush tax cuts. The legislative stalemate would humiliate them by exposing the lengths they are willing to go to protect their millionaire constituents. Poll numbers for Republican members of Congress would drop, and Obama’s numbers would rise, putting Democrats in a good position for the 2012 elections. Finally, I would enjoy reading and talking about politics again. Justice would be restored to the universe.

The mammalian outer layer of my brain, however, gently reminds me that millions of Americans are jobless and suffering. It’s important to remember that casting the Republicans in a negative light is not the first priority of the Democratic Party, although it seems to be in this rancorous age. Instead, the Democrats were elected on a promise to work to end the recession, and, in the meantime, to lessen the hardship it causes. If they played a game of chicken with the Republicans on the issue of the Bush tax cuts, they might win the hearts of the American people, but they would lose sight of their real goals – to help the needy and to jump-start the economy.

Instead of being a moment of disgrace for Obama, this compromise represents a fulfillment of his 2008 campaign promise to rise above the bickering of party politics. It’s painful for a left-winger like me to watch Congress extend tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent of a society that already suffers from a shamefully lopsided distribution of wealth, and already has way too much debt. But if that is what Democrats must accept to keep Republicans from blocking unemployment benefits, so be it.

Business As Usual

I really haven’t followed the Joe Sestak/Barack Obama/Arlen Specter story because I didn’t care about the outcome.  Now that the full story has been told — at least, according to the White House — it is weirder than I thought it would be.  According to the report, President Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, dispatched former President Clinton to approach Sestak and offer him an unpaid position on an obscure advisory board if he would drop out of the primary against Specter.  Sestak declined, then disclosed that decision in an interview where he suggested the job that he turned down had a bit more meat — like the Secretary of the Navy, for example.

What is strange about this story is that the White House thought that Sestak would ditch his chance to run against a weakened, mush-mouthed, party-changing hack for a chance to get a coveted seat in the U.S. Senate in exchange for a seat on the 36-member Federal Advisory Board on Widget Construction, or something similar.  Did they really think even a master arm-twister like Bill Clinton could sell such an empty and one-sided bargain?  And it is weird that Sestak would trumpet his decision and make it out to be some incredible act of intestinal fortitude, when the actual offer was about as tempting as 2010 season tickets to the Cleveland Indians at a five percent discount off face value.  If the White House account is true, both sides look pretty stupid.

The AP has a story today about how this episode really hurts President Obama’s reputation as a “different kind” of politician.  I don’t agree with that, because I really doubt that any voter has viewed him from that perspective for months.  His effort to portray himself as a squeaky clean, “transparent” anti-politician took a few mortal hits below the water line and sank like a stone during the crass, endless “health care reform” horse-trading and deal-cutting.  No, the people who support President Obama right now do so because they agree with his agenda and think he can accomplish the policy initiatives they support.  To me, the harm for President Obama is not that this incident hurts his reputation as a pristine politician, but rather that it hurts his reputation as a capable politician.  Why in the world was President Obama running interference for a hopeless and undependable dish rag like Arlen Specter?  Specter must have driven some kind of seriously unholy bargain with the President to create that kind of political obligation.  Why would the President agree to such a bargain under the circumstances?

A Damned Good Idea

At his meeting with the House Republican caucus on Friday, President Obama said that some Republicans had misrepresented his health care bill as “some Bolshevik plot.” The Republicans in the audience responded with good-natured laughter. There was a lot of laughter at the event, actually. I joined in when Obama called Republican Illinois gubernatorial candidate Paul Ryan “a pretty sincere guy” then quickly added, “by the way, in case he’s going to get a Republican challenge, I didn’t mean it.”

It’s nice to see Democrats and Republicans laughing together at how ridiculous partisan politics have become in this country. Public dialogue between the two parties has reached a new low. Better we all find humor in it than be overwhelmed with frustration and spite.

One party makes a big deal out of a supposedly bombastic statement made by a member of the other, usually taken out of context. Guests on TV news channels blame their ideological opposites for refusing to compromise. Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann warn us that certain politicians would steal America’s soul if they had their way. The media, which loves drama as much as any reality tv show producer, stokes the fire.

All this bickering helps explain why Congress had so much trouble getting anything done in 2009. As Obama said at the caucus, the Republicans spent so much time demonizing his health care bill that any Republican who wanted to support it would fear the ire of his constituents and would become a pariah within the party.

Friday’s meeting was a welcome break from this mayhem. No one accused Obama of trying to force elderly Americans in front of “death panels” or asked him to provide a birth certificate. There were no shouts of “you lie!” Instead, the tone was friendly. A handful of Republican congressmen politely criticized the President, who actually admitted to some mistakes – like that he should have done a better job of keeping his campaign promise to put meetings between health care interests on C-SPAN. Like I said, there was lots of joking: the transcript I linked to above indicates 22 breaks for laughter. The President and his audience disagreed a lot, but always in a civil fashion.

It just shows what is possible when all that separates the two parties is a microphone cord. The other party doesn’t seem so bad when everything they say and do isn’t filtered through the bloodthirsty media and party leaders who want to demonize them as much as possible before the next election.

The New York Times notes that Britain has a tradition similar to Friday’s meeting. I’d like to see this become an American tradition. I don’t know if any compromises will come from it, but it’s certainly better than the way things are. At the very least, political dialogue will distract less from the real issues.