Presidential debates don’t change the presidential race much — except when they do.
One-liners have reshaped campaigns in years past, with more than a few of them coming from actor/president Ronald Reagan. Saddled with low polling numbers, Governor Romney is likely sharpening a handful of zingers to throw at President Obama in the debate tonight, hoping that one of them may stick like an “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” (Reagan) or a “Where’s the beef?” (Mondale).
As for Obama, he has more to lose with a one-liner that misses Romney and slices off into the kleig lights, so the stakes are high for both candidates.
Political Relief has studied the zingers from debates past and fed them into a proprietary algorithm incorporating the current candidates and political landscape. Here are a few of the one-liners we predict the candidates may use in Denver tonight:
Romney: “There you go again. You see everyone? There he goes, and again, no less!”
Obama: “I knew Lloyd Bentsen; Lloyd Bentsen was a friend of mine. Governor, you’re no Lloyd Bentsen.”
Romney: “I want you to know I will not make race an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s blackness and birth certificate difficulties.”
Obama: “Are you better off now with a Republican candidate who wants to take us back to four years ago?”
Romney: “So I promise to use a ‘lock box.’ People with capital gains or horse breeding income over $200,000, your profits will be tax-free in a ‘lock box.’”
Obama: “Governor, when I hear your ideas, I harken back and wonder about the positioning of the meat, or the beef, as it were. So I posit to you now: the beef — where’s it located?”
Romney: “As President, I’d eliminate three major federal programs. The National Highway System, Food Safety, and the … uh … err … [53 seconds will elapse]. By the way, that was Hawaii I was reaching for a while ago.”
When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead
And the white knight is talking backwards
And the red queen’s off with her head
Remember what the dormouse said
Feed your head, feed your head.
-White Rabbit, Jefferson Airplane
It’s the dog days of summer and as the presidential race of 2012 heats up, politics are resembling Alice’s Wonderland and common sense is rare as rain.
Fans of democracy like myself might expect a quadrennial, national election to feature the issues of the day – how much to regulate banks to prevent another financial disaster, how to attack the ever-growing problem of climate change, and maybe – just maybe – how to keep the worst weapons out of the hands of the craziest people.
“All the pundits are saying this election is going to be about jobs and the economy. I disagree.”
But the President seems to have run out of steam on the first issue, hit a wall on the second one, and punted on the third, and the man who wants his job, Mitt Romney, thinks none of those is a problem in the first place. In fact, Romney wants to gut what few common-sense banking rules Congress did manage to pass as if he’s trying to most closely recreate the exact point in 2008 when the financial feces hit the fan.
And as Republicans try to shrink state voter rolls as insurance against their candidate’s likeability problem, the political dialogue is sounding as senseless as the language in Wonderland.
The President may have passed a health care plan forged by a conservative think tank, adopted by a Republican governor, and approved by a conservative chief justice, yet Romney’s party has labeled it socialist, and Romney of course was the Republican who adopted it years before Obama. Calling the health care act socialist would mean Romney is also a socialist, but that hasn’t stopped the G.O.P. from hurling the charges. What does that say about the state of the party?
And just last month, Obama’s health secretary gave states more flexibility in their administration of welfare reform. In a nod to conservative values of states’ rights, local control, etc., they allowed states to adopt innovative strategies to get people from welfare to work, contingent upon them reaching measurable targets.
In short, Obama did exactly what conservatives wanted, and – wait for it – Romney himself asked for such flexibility when he was governor. But rather than thanking him, or even slyly changing the subject, Romney’s campaign attacked him on it, falsely stating in a TV ad that he was “gutting” welfare reform.
In fact, on just about every issue, President Obama has addressed national problems with centrist policies bordering on center-right. When a candidate resembles the sitting president so closely, apart from his whiteness and his $230 million net worth, I suppose he’ll do anything to draw a contrast. But if you’re a voter, you don’t have to buy it.
All the pundits are saying this election is going to be about jobs and the economy. I disagree. The 2012 race is turning out to be a referendum on common sense.
And right now, it looks like it could go either way.
What if President Obama or Governor Romney gave a commencement speech at some heartland university and claimed that the nation he wants to be President of rests not on the U.S. Constitution but on a “tradition” of Greek mythology or the philosophy of Carl Jung?
Reporters and pundits would go wild. But a candidate demotes the Constitution beneath “Judeo-Christianity” as the foundation of the nation – as Mitt Romney did on Saturday at Liberty University (full text here) – and the supposedly atheist-liberal media elite hardly notice. Instead we get pre-fabricated headlines like “Romney Woos Evangelicals…”
(By the way, why do writers see politicians as “wooing” voters? Wooing would be Mitt Romney sharing a caffeine-free diet Coke with his future wife, Ann, while reading her the Smiths (Adam Smith and Joseph Smith). Displays of religious submission before an entire political party is better known as pandering).
“The founders did not say, ‘Congress shall favor no religion, but we’d still like to give a non-binding shout out to Judeo-Christianity!’”
Anyway, yes, we’ve heard politicians promote Judeo-Christianity as the basis of our system so often now that reporters hardly notice. But it’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the “genius of the American system” that the same politicians like to salute.
Ten seconds of U.S. History 101: The founders declared independence from the king of England and later created a constitution that gave no power to any king or queen – or God or gods – putting ultimate power, instead, in the hands of the people. That some of the founders were religious (or “deists,” more accurately) makes it all the more significant that they deliberately vested zero power or authority in God or any church.
Sure, Romney’s speech paid lip service to the Constitution, but only the First Amendment part about religious freedom, and mainly as an excuse to slam the left for opposing that freedom, a particularly cynical accusation since religious freedom is one thing on which the right and the left do agree.
Oh and about that line. The authors wrote, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” They didn’t say, “Congress shall put no religion above Judeo-Christianity.” They didn’t even say, “Congress shall favor no religion, and we mean it, but we’d still like to give a non-binding shout out to Judeo-Christianity!” They essentially said the state can neither promote religion nor suppress it.
And to those who do believe Judeo-Christianity is the foundation of this country – isn’t it more than a little odd that the founding fathers didn’t even mention God in the founding document? (Nowhere to be found!) The Declaration of Independence does mention a “Creator” and “Nature’s God,” but that document is mostly about men freeing themselves from the tyranny of King George III, and it’s the Constitution – not the Declaration – on which the entire government rests.
(And the founders certainly didn’t mention any particular religion, or the hyphenated rainbow term, “Judeo-Christianity,” which conveniently draws lines which include Mitt Romney and his Abrahamic Mormonism but exclude the Abrahamic Islam of some 15,000 U.S. military servicemembers.)
The increasing insistence of the right that Americans accept this upside-down version of American history is at best dumb and at worst preparing the ground for the passage of more and more rules based on religious texts rather than democratic law. Mitt Romney may just be a willing vessel for this message, delivering it as the price to pay for Republican turnout on election day, but it’s the people who will pay for it, and those who came before us.
The genius of the U.S. system, nearly 223 years old now, is that it gave no authority to gods, kings, or anyone claiming to rule on their behalf, granting it instead to “We, the people.” Every schoolkid learns this in history class and grows to appreciate it. Unfortunately, any of them who watch election coverage with their parents at the dinner table will see the Republican candidate distort that history over and over.
The president swears an oath to the Constitution, not the Bible, and any schoolkid would be happy to explain it for Romney again.
The re-education of Florida Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen is nearing completion. After uttering an unauthorized statement about Fidel Castro a couple of weeks ago, the formerly outspoken sports team manager has progressed through the stages of public shaming, ownership, confession, self-censorship, and repentance. All that’s missing was the show trial; all that’s left is the loyalty test.
Known for saying a lot of crazy stuff about a lot of different things, Guillen told Time magazine, alongside a heap of other provocations, “I love Fidel Castro … I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that motherf**ker is still here.”
He was suspended from his job, and like a communist party member who failed to toe the line, his career and livelihood became threatened.
That alone is sad, but the submission and self-renouncement in his words is sadder still. “I put myself on probation, me, nobody else,” Guillen said. “Probation about growing up and being better…”
“The message is clear: you can say whatever you like in America, but you’d better not.”
Of course, two weeks is a short time to complete a real political re-education, but no one truly cares about Guillen’s beliefs; what upset the Cuban-American community is his First Amendment expression and the fact that it doesn’t contain the hatred they feel for Castro. Their pressure led to his team suspending him for five games, but Cuban-American activists will be soothed only when the media have beamed Guillen’s self-flagellation to every corner of the land and all have received the message: you can say whatever you like in America, but you’d better not.
As Bill Maher put it on his TV show, “Castro is a communist, and if you say something communists don’t like, they take away your job and send you to a re-education camp until you come out with the one approved opinion. And we wouldn’t want to have that happen here in America!”
(It seems obvious but necessary to note here that Guillen did not endorse Castro’s policies anyway, but rather admired his resilience in the face of repeated attempts to overthrow and assassinate him.)
And let’s not forget, no one should be looking to the manager of a baseball team for pronouncements on foreign affairs anyway, any more than people seek assessments of a pitcher’s throwing arm from the Secretary of State. Whether you think Guillen’s opinion is misinformed or not, what’s truly stupid is getting offended by the offhand remarks of a baseball player.
And demanding an apology. In a sorely-needed and long overdue piece, Please Stop Apologizing, which ran in the New York Times before this latest teapot tempest, the same Bill Maher asks, “When did we get it in our heads that we have the right to never hear anything we don’t like?”
This faux scandal hasn’t sparked a debate about the most effective ways of improving life for Cubans given the failure of the embargo to do much more than keep the Castros in power. And therein lies the hypocrisy in the Cuban-American community’s rhetoric: they rightly bemoan the oppression of Cubans but will not tolerate free expression here, nor entertain an open debate about how to lift the oppression of Cubans. Their hatred of Castro precludes their consideration of policies that might deliver sooner to Castro’s people the same freedoms they themselves enjoy on this side of the Straits of Florida.
Lastly, I return to Maher for a little perspective. We should care about Cuban dictators, but why don’t we ever get riled up about the others? “There are worse dictators in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Equatorial Guinea and Turkmenistan. And those are just our friends.”