Wednesday, February 15, 2012

“Smarter Than Bush” Sets the bar Pretty Low

Barack Obama’s easy election in 2008 said more about the state of the country and John McCain’s relative merit as a candidate than it did about Team Obama. This guy, and his crack staff, have all the political savvy of Don Imus.

It started with picking Joe Biden for vice-president. I love Joe Biden. Voted for him for president as far back as 1988. I think he’s done a nice job as VP. The trouble is, he would have been a lot more help in the Senate, where he was a senior member who knew how to get things done. Casting the tie-breaking vote in The Age of Filibuster so neutered his abilities his dog feels sorry for him. Hillary Clinton has been a fine Secretary of State, but she and Biden (along with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar) could have given Obama the filibuster-proof majority he needed for some of his initiatives.

Senate and House Republicans routinely roll him on negotiations, yet Barack “Charlie Brown” Obama keeps thinking John “Lucy” Boehner will let him kick the football. A prime example can be found in last year’s deficit reduction negotiations. The original ratio of tax increases to budget cuts was supposed to be 1:1, until Obama looked like he might agree to it. Then it was two dollars in cuts to every dollar of tax increase. Then 3:1, 6:1, until now moderate Republicans say 10:1 and the firebrands will accept no tax increases. Obama doesn’t only not draw lines in the sand; he doesn’t even draw them in water.

The current blow-up over health insurance paying for contraception is a perfect point. First, how could people smart and sensitive enough to public opinion to win a presidential election not realize conservatives would pounce on this like a tiger on a tethered goat? (I left out religious leaders because they are but stalking horses for conservatives here. This is all about politics, or they would have complained over similar rules put out by the Bush Administration.) After getting burned once, Obama stepped in it again with his “compromise,” which not only failed to satisfy the original critics (surprise, surprise) but now placed a burden on private enterprise by requiring insurers to provide birth control for free.

The solution was easy. These are health insurance companies we’re talking about, right? They pay for prescriptions, right? Then just say they have to pay for all prescriptions and be done with it. Birth control pills, Viagra, insulin, tranquilizers, heart medications, you name it. Don’t distinguish among what the scrip is for; just fill, baby, fill.

Anyone who isn’t depressed by the fact that Obama is far and away the best choice to be president for four more years—considering what Republicans are passing off as candidates—isn’t paying attention.

Monday, February 06, 2012

21 the Hard Way

Football teams usually score 21 points on three touchdowns and their subsequent conversions. Last night’s Super Bowl saw the New York Giants score a two touchdowns, one point after touchdown, two fields goals, and a safety; they missed a two-point conversion after the second touchdown. It was still enough to beat New England 21-17.

I have come to realize nothing is better than watching the Steelers beat Baltimore; the second best thing in football is seeing New England lose. I wondered why last night, and I think I’ve figured it out. The Ravens are mere felons; the Pats are cheaters.

The New York safety came when Tom Brady was called for intentional grounding in the end zone. Grounding calls when the ball is thrown deep down the field are unusual, but this was the right call. Announcer Chris Collinsworth noted how rare such mistakes are for Brady, but a look at Brady after the call shows he was convinced the error was the officials’; not his. He’s Tom Brady. How could officials advance through what is allegedly a merit system and make a borderline call against him?

Doubly sweet was watching Pats coach Bill Belichick after the game. The players looked disappointed; 99% of coaches would, too. Belichick wore an expression you’d expect to see from Tony Soprano after he’d fixed a horse race and the wrong horse won. Somebody fucked up somewhere, and it wasn’t him.

The ending was satisfying, but not because I rooted for the Giants; I was cheering against the Patriots. I dislike New York teams on principle, flowing downward from the Yankees. The Giants and Rangers have worn me down a little. Eli Manning is hard to dislike, and even Tom Coughlin has been supplanted as the Official Rat-Faced Fuck of the Home Office by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Still, I would have rooted for the forces of darkness against the Patriots, except the Pats vs. the FOD would be an intra-squad game.

The first pitchers and catchers report in five days.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Conservatives Are Not Dumber Than LIberals

A new study is getting a lot of play lately, as it suggest conservatism and racism are linked to low intelligence. That’s an iffy proposition on multiple levels.

The first is trying to define intelligence. The study uses childhood IQ. That’s one measure, though over time this has been debunked as a magic number for determining intelligence. There are different kinds of intelligence; IQ measures only one.

Second, and maybe more damaging, is linking conservatives and racism. There may be studies that show conservatives are more likely to be racist than liberals or moderates; I really don’t know. I do know that racism takes many forms, and the less intelligent may be less able to cover it up in their actions. Many conservative politicians are happy to sprinkle racist comments through their speeches using code words. Whether they are truly racist, or cynically appealing to racist voters is open for discussion.

Linking “conservative” and “racist” in the same breath brings to mind the stereotypical redneck who lives in a trailer, drives a pick-up truck with a shotgun rack and a Confederate flag, and thinks getting some strange means sleeping with other than a blood relative. Yes, those people are out there (stereotypes have to come from somewhere), but not in the quantities people believe. Therein lies the problem.

Let’s separate true racists from the argument. A died in the wool racist is a piece of shit not worthy of discussion. They can all die and the world will be a better place. Yet there are shades of racism. Is a person a racist because they are uncomfortable among others who are different, and want better outcomes for those more like them? Common sense and scientific studies imply these traits are natural. We may well be hardwired that way from our tribal ancestors. It’s how we respond that’s important, and is the crux of the discussion.

We live in a country that believes the average TV viewer cannot understand a football play because it’s too complicated, yet can solve the problems of society with a solution that fits on a three-by-five note card. Life is complicated, and it’s a lot more complicated than even those who think it’s complicated want to deal with a lot of the time. Pull one thread and the whole sweater will eventually unravel. An enlightening discussion could probably arise from playing Six Degrees of Separation with what’s going on in the country instead of movie stars.

Conversations, blogs, and message boards have led me to believe conservatives are not inherently less intelligent than liberals. They’re perfectly capable of thinking about an issue in depth; they just don’t want to. Life is hard enough as it is, with jobs and family and health and retirement and the transmission and your pain-in-the-ass shiftless brother-in-law. A lot of people don’t have the energy do sift through the ramifications of No Child Left Behind or the Affordable Care Act or Dodd-Frank. They’re busy, and they want someone to distill it for them.

Up step Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, and their ilk. (Rarely has “ilk” seemed a more appropriate word.) These “pundits” cherry pick statistics and ridicule opposing points of view and lower the bar for rational discussion. Much has been written about why there is no counterbalancing liberal talk radio. Among the reasons cited is that, while liberals will listen to conservative radio (if only to better understand the enemy), conservatives are not inclined to listen to a liberal. Once the idea is set, let no thought pull it asunder.

Conservative “solutions” tend to be simpler. They won’t work, but people can understand them without taking time off work to attend a focus group. Too many immigrants from Mexico? Build a fence and be done with it. Ignored is the fact the Soviet Union couldn’t keep people from slipping through the Iron Curtain when they lined it with machine guns and had a border a fraction the size of ours to seal.

I can’t begin to recount how many discussions I’ve had with conservatives where points are won until the argument is conceded, only to have the final point be, essentially, “I don’t want to.” That is the core of conservative thought today. They have things they want, or don’t want, and they don’t really care what the potential complications are, or who else is affected. Conservatives by and large aren’t stupid, but their thought processes are often selfish and immature.