Friday, November 30, 2012

Barack Obama is a Classy Guy

Like him or not, you have to admit that Barack Obama is a classy guy.

You may not like his politics, you may disagree with his philosophy, and you can even question his integrity if you want to. But you cannot deny that this president has class. I give you three undeniable examples.

Example #1: At the end of the inauguration ceremonies in 2009, the new president and his wife escorted the former president and his wife from the dais (where Mr. and Mrs. Bush had been honored guests), all the way through the capitol building, out the front door, down the front staircase, and to the steps of Marine One, the (new) president's own helicopter. Marine One would deliver the Bushes to Andrews AFB for their flight home aboard Air Force One, the (new) president's own airplane. Obama didn't have to do any of that. What is more, the Obamas escorted the Bushes alone, without any personal assistants, TV cameras or other hangers-on. Cameras were kept at a great distance - we wouldn't even know these details if it weren't for huge telephoto lenses on distant TV cameras. The four of them engaged in friendly (and private) conversation all along the way. The Obamas treated the Bushes with courtesy, kindness and the greatest respect. They parted at the steps of Marine One with smiles, sincere embraces and words of farewell. Then the president and his wife turned around, held hands, and walked back into the Capitol.

Example #2: In the midst of a bitter and hard-fought election campaign, the two contenders, Obama and Mitt Romney, took time out to attend and speak at the Albert E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, a black-tie affair held on Thursday, October 18, 2012 in Washington, D.C. Laying the campaign aside for a while, both men poked fun at themselves and at each other. The jokes were in good taste and bore not even a hint of mean-spiritedness. At the end of their remarks, each candidate praised the other and made special mention of the other man's family and of his role as husband and father, which (to paraphrase their words) was more important than being president.

Example #3: Obama likes having lunch, or tipping a beer, with different people of varying degrees of fame. These lunches are always great publicity opportunities and are exploited as such by the president's handlers - except for last Wednesday, November 29th. After having won re-election, Obama invited Romney to lunch, and they dined at the White House on Wednesday. It was a VERY private affair. Besides Obama and Romney, the only other people in the room were the waiters - no photographers, no staff, no members of the press. The conversation was cordial, even friendly, and strictly confidential. The only details that we got on the lunch were part of the menu (turkey chili, chicken salad). Romney arrived and left as a friend, or at least as an esteemed colleague.

Class doesn't depend on intellectual or political superiority, or on wealth or heritage. Class is something that comes from inside of you, no matter what your station in life. For example, you know that story about the NYPD beat cop who, on the frigid night of November 14, went into a store and spent $100 on socks and boots for a homeless man, then knelt down on the sidewalk to help him put them on? That cop had class.

President Obama has class, too. Cynics will add their own details to these three stories, or put their own spin on them, but these are just three examples of an indisputable fact: President Obama is a classy guy.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I didn't vote for Grover Norquist

Here's a great illustration of why we should despise, and even get rid of, the unelected powermongers who prowl the streets of Washington, New York City, London, and other seats of power in the world.

Grover Norquist is the president of an organization called "Americans for Tax Reform." Twenty years ago, he started pushing newly elected Republican Congressmen (and women), or those who were running for election, to sign a pledge that they would never vote to raise taxes.

After 20 years of fiscal irresponsibility on the part of both the executive and legislative branches of the federal government, our country finds itself in a difficult financial position. We need to implement our own "austerity measures" before they are dictated to us by someone else — like international banks and foreign governments. We are facing a fiscal crisis which can be resolved in several ways, most of them painful. One of the least painful ways is a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.

I didin't say it was "painless." I said it was "one of the least painful." Don't be stupid.

You will recall that, on August 2, 2011, the U.S. Congress set up a bipartisan "supercommittee" that was supposed to break through the Congressional gridlock and come up with a solution to this fiscal problem while there was still time to act. As an incentive to getting things done, Congress wrote a Plan B into the legislation, a bitter pill that the nation would have to swallow on January 2, 2013 if the supercommittee failed in their mission. This was no secret to anybody — nor was the timing of Plan B, two convenient months after a critical national election. Congress as a whole may be a pack of idiots, but they're clever idiots.

At any rate, the supercommittee proved to be as fractious and stubborn as the body which had created it, and they hit their deadline without completing their mission. So Plan B kicked in, and the automatic spending cuts and other measures that it specified will also kick in, on January 2, 2013. These automatic measures, if activated, will severely impact the still-fragile economy and could drive the country back into a recession. Some wag coined the term "fiscal cliff" to describe the country's situation, and now everybody is saying it. I'm so sick of hearing the term that I get the urge to chew my leg off every time someone says it.

Now that the election is over, the executive and legislative branches are scrambling to find a way to deactivate this time bomb before it goes off. As I said earlier, one solution involves raising taxes.

Enter Grover Norquist.

In general, Democrats have always been eager to raise taxes, and Republicans have been just as eager to cut taxes, or at least not to raise them. For the most part, every tax vote that has come up in Congress for the past 20 or so years has gone right down party lines. Now, for the sake of the country, some Republicans are warming up to the idea of raising taxes on some people. This includes some powerful Congressmen who signed Norquist's pledge 20 years ago, such as John McCain, R-Ariz, and Lindsay Graham, R-N.C.

Now, Norquist is holding their feet to the fire, insisting that the pledge lasts forever and that they can't back away from it just because it's no longer practical or convenient. He compares the power of the pledge to the power of a mortgage or a marriage vow. (It's ludicrous that he should pick these two analogies, when homeowners are walking away from underwater mortgages and the ratio of divorces to marriages in this country exceeds 50%.) But a pledge not to raise taxes is not as sacred as a marriage vow, nor as legally binding as a mortgage commitment. And it ignores the fact that, in politics, practicality has to win out over ideology. We've had four years — actually, we've had 20 years, but the last four years are a representative sample — of a Congress ruled by ideologues, and you can see what a mess it has gotten us into.

Norquist has been in the news a lot this week, sounding like someone who's in charge of Congress. He is attempting to enforce his will through threats, blackmail, and innuendo. His tax pledge is an ideology that has blinded him to the current reality. He cannot see past the tax pledge, to what is really important for the country. He is no better than the members of the supercommittee, who couldn't see past their own positions and party platforms to work out a compromise and act in the country's collective best interests. Actually, he's worse than they were, because we didn't elect him.

Our Congresspeople should be accountable to us, the voters, not to some unelected lobbyist or to the president of a lobbying organization like Americans for Tax Reform. I didn't vote for Grover Norquist. I don't want him running the country. To grant him any measure of power in Washington is just plain wrong. We as Americans should stand up and, in one loud voice, tell Grover Norquist to "SHUT UP!"

John Cassidy, of the New Yorker, apparently beat me to the punch, publishing this analysis of Norquist two days ago.


While we're at it, here are some other people who should shut up and keep their power-hungry paws and their fat, padded asses out of the halls of power in Washington, D.C.:

  • Donald Trump
  • Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton
  • Bank presidents, bank lawyers, banking organizations, and lobbyists acting  on behalf of banks
  • Uh, the same thing, this time substituting "auto company" for "bank" and "banking"
  • The same thing again, this time substituting "insurance company"
  • The same thing again, this time substituting "investment firm" or "finance company"
  • Any special-interest group representing a privileged minority of Americans
  • Actors, musicians, sports superstars and anyone else trying to parlay their fame into power - unless they run for office and get elected

And here are some people that we should see and hear more of in Washington. Somehow, these people come across as wise, as speaking up in behalf of the American people instead of themselves. Both the legislative and executive branches would do well to heed their advice.

  • Warren Buffett
  • Mitt Romney, the private citizen
  • Meg Whitman
  • Wow, this is a frightfully short list!


Some of those paws are money-grubbing paws, not power-hungry paws. But the first rule of power is "Power follows money," so in my mind there's not a lot of difference between them.