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May 28, 2013

Game Change: A New Standard for VP

January 30, 2013 by

Now that Game Change, Jay Roach’s 2012 political drama, has enjoyed a release on DVD, it deserves reappraisal as a pedagogical tool for professors of American politics and history. Instead of inviting cheap laughs and indulging in belittlement, the film asks its audience for careful character study. The three main players in the 2008 presidential campaign storyline, Steve Schmidt, John McCain, and Sarah Palin, emerge as flawed but determined and intriguing figures.

Game Change concerns the downfall of one of the weakest running mates in presidential campaign history, but in fact the film uplifts the office of the vice president. The film honors the nobility of public service. Palin’s political failure evidences the historic uptick in public expectations for the vice presidency—a significant, new American political tradition.

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President Obama Wins a Second Term for Whom?

November 10, 2012 by

President Barack Obama delivers remarks in the James S. Brady Briefing Room

The Democrats could not have won so handily without the Citizens United ruling. That is what enabled the Koch Brothers to spend their billions to support right-wing candidates that barked and growled like sheep dogs to give voters little civilized option but to vote for “the lesser evil.” This will be President Obama’s epitaph for future historians.

Orchestrating the election like a World Wrestling Federation melodrama, the Tea Party’s sponsors threw billions of dollars into the campaign to cast the President’s party in the role of “good cop” against stereotyped opponents attacking women’s rights, Hispanics and nearly every other hyphenated-American interest group.

In Connecticut, Senate candidate Linda McMahon spent a reported $97 million (including her earlier ego trip) to make her Democratic challenger look good. It was that way throughout the country. Republicans are pretending to wring their hands at their defeat, leaving the Democrats to beat up their constituency and take the blame four years from now.

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The Kardashians voted: Now you have no Excuse

November 6, 2012 by

The ever-preening reality stars, Kim and Kourtney Kardashian let it be known to their millions of fans via social media that they exercised their right to vote. While I find their celebrity status to be undeserved, I will give them credit for exercising their right. Leaving her fans in suspense, Kim Kardashian tweeted her 16,542,488 followers, “Sending in my absentee ballot now!!! Make sure you vote!!!!… I’m filling out my voting card in a room filled w people,everyone is telling me their opinions! Vote how YOU want.” I’ll forgive her butchery of the English language, Twitter only allows for a limited number of characters.

Sadly, the USA Today found that 90 million eligible voters plan to sit this election out. Their reasons vary from too busy, their enthusiasm is lacking or the always popular their vote won’t matter.

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What the Middle East will Look Like if Iran is Attacked

November 5, 2012 by

Two weeks ago the US denied that an agreement was made to meet with Iranian officials to discuss the Iranian nuclear program after the American election. It appears that Iranian officials either expect Mr. Obama to be reelected or are trying to get back to the negotiating table before they are forced to negotiate with a Romney administration. Iran seems to be signaling its opening position - that it will settle for a “break-out” nuclear capability (wherein the components of a weapon are available for assembly but not readily available) in exchange for the end of sanctions, or an agreement with Israel not to strike. Last month the Iranian Foreign Ministry stated its flexibility in negotiating to “ease western concerns”. In the face of crippling sanctions and an increasing likelihood that Israel may indeed bomb Iran, has Iran finally blinked?

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The GOP: Retrograde or Reformist?

November 5, 2012 by

The Republican Party Today and the Romney Campaign

The Republican Party is in a state of disarray and needs to change. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, and the extreme positions from which he is now trying to distance himself, provides insights into this situation. It is not surprising that Governor Romney tacked hard to the right during the Republican primary and is now emphasizing a more moderate brand in his latest incarnation of himself.

Nonetheless, I am concerned about a range of public policy issues: the deficit, a disastrously dysfunctional Congress and the rising cost of higher education. I am also worried that there is no overarching strategy that underpins American foreign policy today. Yet, as this election cycle painfully draws to a close, what bothers me the most is the current state of the Republican Party and its dismal prospects for the future.

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Prelude to Election: The Third Presidential Debate

October 23, 2012 by

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama during the debate. Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

There were no spectacular implosions, no remarkable points of stumbling. The third and last debate between President Barack Obama and contender Governor Mitt Romney was not the most exciting affair, though it showed Obama to be far more accomplished, and the result for Romney acceptable. Sitting down, Obama could assume the role of academic in viva mode, searchingly probing Romney on vulnerable points.

The theme of the debate was foreign policy, a suggestion that irked some commentators.  Ezra Klein, writing for The Washington Post, put it starkly: we shouldn’t be having a foreign policy debate at all. “Gas prices are set on a global market. Flu pandemics with the possibility to kill thousands or even millions of Americans begin on farms in Asia. Food safety is no longer a domestic question when you’re importing your grapes from Chile.”

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US Politics and the Middle East

October 19, 2012 by

President Barack Obama in Florida. Photo by Bill Ingalls

US elections are manifestly linked to the Middle East, at least rhetorically. In practical terms, however, US foreign policies in the region are compelled by the Middle East’s own dynamics and the US’ own political climate, economic woes, or ambitions. There is little historic evidence that US foreign policy in the Arab world has been guided by moral compulsion.  When it comes to the Middle East – and much of the world - it is mostly about style.

The country’s two leading political parties have proven equally to be interventionists. In the last two decades Democrats seemed to lean more towards unilateralism in foreign policy as in war, while Republicans, as highlighted by the administration of George W. Bush, are much less worried about the mere definitions of their conducts.

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Romney’s Proposed Foreign Policy: Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle

October 9, 2012 by

Stuck in a Cold War, Ozzie and Harriet time warp, Mitt Romney is living in a black and white dream world where America’s foes are easily identifiable and manageable, military solutions are preferred and effective, and America simply cracks a whip and everyone else snaps to attention. This was in clear evidence at yesterday’s VMI speech, in which Romney characterized America as a weak and feckless power under President Obama, and where every enduring high profile conflict in the world has a simple solution and would simply disappear as he waves a magic wand as president.

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Mitt Romney Comes out Swinging

October 4, 2012 by

Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama in Denver. Shawn Thew/EPA

Verdicts on the first presidential debate of 2012 overwhelmingly favour Governor Mitt Romney.  Romney articulated his message with a sense of clarity about the political ideas and principles he represents. In contrast, President Barack Obama conveyed his arguments with the deftness of a policy wonk, the clarity of his own vision overshadowed by dense policy explanations.

The debate was always Obama’s to lose, with a senior Romney advisor noting that voters expected Obama to prevail in the debates by a margin of 25 points. The Atlantic national correspondent James Fallows points out that Romney was destined to exceed expectations, both through his proven debating skills, and by mere virtue of being seen on an equal footing with the President.

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A Look to the US Presidential Debates

September 28, 2012 by

Workers put the finishing touches on the stage for the final presidential debate that will take place at Lynn University on Monday between U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney October 21, 2012 in Boca Raton, Fla. Image via Minnesota Public Radio

For political junkies, US presidential debates can be both exciting and formulaic.

There are too many restrictions and candidates invariably pull out numerous stock phrases that sound excessively scripted. However, there’s also the possibility for drama, doublespeak and, most entertainingly, mistakes or miscalculations.  The first of the three presidential debates, moderated by Jim Lehrer, will be held in Denver on October 3rd. It will cover domestic policy. The economy and jobs should dominate the agenda, but questions on healthcare and “the role of government” will also receive significant attention.

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Some Thoughts on a Frustrating Presidential Race

September 20, 2012 by

Mitt Romney accepting the GOP nomination in Tampa. Photo by Mallory Benedict/PBS

Barack Obama inherited a mess, but his presidency has been, by most historical standards, a massive disappointment. Obama has had some foreign-policy successes, but most Americans could not care less about foreign policy. Besides, he has alienated the left-wing of his party by perpetuating (and even expanding upon) many of the counterterrorism policies of his predecessor.

Obama is telling the American public that we need to move “Forward” and that Mitt Romney would be a step backward for a host of reasons. It would appear that Obama’s strategy is working.

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Romney’s Contribution to the Unrest in the Middle East

September 14, 2012 by

Mitt Romney campaigning in New Hampshire. Photo by Marc Nozell

Among the things that are consistent about Mitt Romney are the chameleon-like nature of his political character, his incessant pandering to the small-minded among his political constituency, his frequent flip-flopping on major policy issues throughout the course of his political career, and his ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong time.

None of this would serve him well as president in a country as divided along ideological lines as the United States of America today, but even less so in a world convulsing with political change and yearning for thoughtful leadership.

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Public Sector Jobs Are Real Jobs

September 4, 2012 by

In 1976 at a time when economists thought more about unemployment, the US economist Charles C. Killingsworth wrote a paper entitled “Should full employment be a major national goal”. He was a long-time advocate of public employment programs and understood how deficient the economics profession was when it came to caring about people.

I thought about this paper recently upon reading an article in the Daily Beast by the always insightful Michael Tomasky, “The Real Obama Needs to Fight Five GOP Myths About the Imaginary Obama” . Tomasky discusses the myths that Obama needs to dispel during his party’s upcoming convention. One in particular caught my attention: the idea that the President needed to confront the myth that he allegedly believes that jobs come from government.

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Reflections on the Republican National Convention and the Week to Come

September 3, 2012 by

Paul Ryan at the Republican National Convention. Mallory Benedict/PBS NewsHour

I’m not surprised the Republican National Convention (RNC) was light on policy but what was surprising was that it was so light on policy. I don’t think I’m the only one who was disappointed.

I wasn’t expecting the RNC to have the feel of a Brookings panel discussion, but I was still expecting the speeches to have more substance. I was hoping to hear a clearer delineation of the way forward for this country if Mitt Romney were elected president. But I didn’t hear much of that. Instead I heard more platitudes and generalizations. I heard more talk about American greatness and the unyielding virtues of free enterprise.

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Picking Sides in November

September 2, 2012 by

Mitt Romney at a town hall in Dayton, Ohio. Photo by Terence Burlij/PBS NewsHour

November’s Presidential election is coming down to the wire. And with neither candidate holding a clear and decisive lead in the polls, it is still anyone’s guess as to who will be America’s next President.

In a recent Wall Street Journal editorial the argument is made, “If America were in a better place, Mr. Obama would be cruising to a second term. But most Americans have come to realize the country is in trouble and is heading for worse on its current path. Mr. Romney’s life experience makes him more than qualified for what Mr. Ryan aptly describes as a ‘turnaround.” Obama might take offense to the argument made in the WSJ. While the American economy is still sputtering along, it’s becoming clearer with each passing day that America is on the road to a slow recovery.

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