In late September, the “nonpartisan” website Real Clear Politics reported that President Obama leads Republican nominee Mitt Romney is several battleground states. According to the polls, Obama led by 5.2 percent in Ohio, 4.5 percent in Virginia, 4.2 percent in Nevada, 4 percent in Iowa, and 3 percent in Florida. Do we believe the polls? I’m not so sure. But I surely don’t believe these polls should alter an aggressive effort to re-elect this Democratic president.
There are lots of ways to do voter suppression. One is to deny people ballots, or to change the rules on voting. Mandatory state-issued ID, new and more distant polling places, and all of the shenanigans documented by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law are methods of voter suppression. In some cities and states, police cars have been parked outside polling places, intimidating those who may have minor infractions of law, including unpaid parking tickets.
Another way to suppress the vote is to attempt to influence voter attitudes. For example, in the 2008 election, a Republican operative did robocalls to the Black community telling people they didn’t need to vote because Democratic candidates President Obama and Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland had already won. He was convicted of four counts of fraud last year and faces jail time.
Other communities have experienced similar pranks, including one that crudely told people that the election was on a Wednesday instead of a Tuesday, and another that said polls were open until 10 p.m., although they closed at 8 p.m. Well-informed voters repel these shenanigans, but some voters fall for them. If such tawdry tactics affect only a few voters in a few precincts, they can have an impact on an electoral outcome. That’s why it is so effective to go door to door on Election Day, to provide rides for those who need them, and to do anything and everything to ensure that every voter gets out. That’s why it also makes sense to encourage early voting, especially for the elderly and others who may have challenges getting to the polls.
I am wondering if these polls showing President Obama in the lead in key swing states represent another form of subtle voter suppression. If we think the president is leading, then some will pull back on their efforts. And that’s exactly what some Republicans are counting on. Jay Cost, who writes for the conservative Weekly Standard, told radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt that “Democratic enthusiasm is going to recede.”
Another analyst said the current polls are assuming a “record Democratic turnout.” Still another said that while 90 percent of registered Republicans will vote for Romney and 90 percent of Democrats will vote for Obama, the race will be decided by independents, many of whom are not polled.
My grandmother used to say, “Don’t feed me fat meat and tell me it ain’t greasy.” Or, “Don’t spit on me and tell me it’s raining.” In other words, don’t believe the hype. To be sure, President Obama may be leading the polls in some states, but polls are like putting your finger in the air to see which way the wind blows. They are like calling the basketball game based on who is leading after the first half. They are like handicapping the horse race based on who is first out of the gate. They tell a story about a point in time, but not about the outcome.
Thus, polling results are both good news and provisional news. The good news — the polls tell us that an Obama win is not only possible but likely. The provisional news — President Obama won’t win unless we work for it. Imagine that the basketball team started chilling in the second half because they led in the first, or that the horse first out of the gate decided to slow up because, after all, the win was decided. We’ve all heard about the flash in the pan, the tortoise and the hare, and the importance of persistence.
These polls ought to be a motivator for those who support President Obama. The goal ought to be to make these poll results a reality by ensuring that Democratic enthusiasm increases, not recedes, and that Democratic turnout does hit record numbers. It ain’t over til it’s over, and the outcome of this election will depend on the work that is done in the next several weeks. — (NNPA)
Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is president emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.
At a time when there is so much doubt about the future and apprehension about the global economy, it is refreshing and reassuring to millions of people across America and throughout the world to witness the steadfastness of leadership that daily exudes from the first lady of the United States of America. Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama has evolved into one of the most admired first ladies in the history of America.
It is said that what the economy needs more than anything else today is to regain a sense of economic “confidence” by both producers and consumers. But when it comes to how the majority of people feel about first lady Michelle Obama, there is no lack of confidence and there is no hesitation to salute her dedication to family, nation and to the uplift of humanity. As we are about to enter into the heated national political debates and campaigns of the 2012 national election year, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will be under intense pressures to maneuver through what may be one of the most difficult periods of time to maintain resilience and hope.
I am encouraged and optimistic, however, that President Obama will be re-elected if millions of us do what we are supposed to do and that is go out and vote in record numbers 12 months from now. The pivotal role of women who will vote and the critical role of the youth vote will help to determine the outcome of 2012 elections. Here is where Mrs. Michelle Obama can be, and will be, an invaluable asset to President Obama’s re-election campaign. Recently, the first lady spoke to grassroots campaign workers at the Obama 2012 National Headquarters in Chicago. It was reported that she was enthusiastically received by the campaign workers not only for her charm and motivational spirit, but also for Mrs. Obama’s grasp of the challenges ahead of campaign. As a result of her spending time with the workers in the Chicago campaign office, the staff and volunteers were thoroughly reinvigorated. David Axelrod, President Obama’s key political strategist, affirmed, “Her mission is to energize folks and give them encouragement to go out and to the work.”
According to U.S. News & World Report, the first lady “has attended dozens of events with and for veterans and earlier this month announced a program at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Washington to get 100,000 vets hired by American firms.” Michelle Obama continues to be a strong advocate for the support of veterans and their families across the nation. She also is helping to champion passage of the president’s American Jobs Act to put millions of Americans back to work. While the U.S. Congress is taking too long to act or vote on many of the provisions of the American Jobs Act, the clear articulation of support for the Jobs Act by the first lady helps to arouse a groundswell of national support for Congress to act on this important pending legislation.
“Women for Obama” is an initiative by President Obama’s re-election campaign. The purpose of this initiative is to galvanize millions of female voters to be active in the 2012 elections on behalf of President Obama. The honorary chair of “Women for Obama” is first lady Michelle Obama. In 2008, President Obama received a plurality of votes from the majority of women voters. A CNN exit poll showed that Obama received more than 56 percent of the female in 2008. A large percentage of independent swing voters are also women and the calculus of victory in 2012 will hinge on the largest turnout of female voters and young voters in every state.
At a youth get-out-the-vote (GOTV) rally last month at Ohio State University both the president and the first lady emphasized the importance of the youth vote in helping to continue to change America for the better. The crowd of college students gave a thunderous affirmative response to a question posed by Michelle Obama about the readiness of students and young voters to rise to the occasion again with a large voter turnout. She asked, “Can we do this?” The crowd shouted back with a tremendous roar, “Yes we can!” The Obama 2012 Re-election Campaign made the right move in establishing “Greater Together: Young Americans” initiative that is focused on registering and mobilizing millions of young voters to support President Obama. The National Youth-Vote Director for Obama 2012 Re-election Campaign is Valeisha Butterfield-Jones, a young dynamic leader, who is proving to be another important asset to the President’s re-election efforts. The point here is the first lady is leading the way and young leaders and activists are being inspired every day to defy the negative pundits who are underestimating the growing national support for President Obama.
First lady Michelle Obama is brilliant, determined, caring, effective and very resourceful. We all should be responding by lending a helping hand, giving of our time, energy and money, and to make our own contributions to push forward for more progress to ensure the re-election of President Barack Obama. Let’s determine the future by how we act today.
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is senior advisor to the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) and president of Education Online Services Corporation and the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN).
The Christmas and New Year’s holidays are a time of joy and celebration for most people, but sometimes holidays can turn tragic.
“More people are likely to die in alcohol-related traffic crashes during the holidays than at other times of the year,” according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
“Statistics show that during Christmas and New Year’s, two to three times more people die in alcohol-related crashes than during comparable periods during the rest of the year. And 40 percent of traffic fatalities during these holidays involve a driver who is alcohol-impaired, compared to 28 percent for the rest of December,” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Traffic Safety Facts, December 2007.
Many people are aware of these troubling statistics but often misjudge the effects of heavy drinking because of persistent myths including:
• Some think they can drive as long as they are not showing obvious outwards signs of intoxication such as slurring their words or acting erratically. Too many drivers do not recognize that critical driving-related skills and decision making abilities are diminished long before they show signs of physical intoxication. They fail to recognize that the sedative effects of alcohol increases the risk of nodding off or losing attention behind the wheel.
• Drivers often misjudge alcohol’s lasting effects. Many mistakenly believe that they can drive safely once they have a cup of coffee. While caffeine may help with drowsiness it does not counter the effects of alcohol on decision-making and coordination.
The facts show there are no quick cures to the effects of alcohol on decision-making and coordination. The body needs time to break down alcohol and return to normal.
So what should revelers do during the holiday season?
First do not underestimate the effects of alcohol. “If you drink pace, yourself. Know what constitutes a standard drink, and have no more than one per hour,” says the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism.
Alcohol-related arrests also go up during the holiday season.
During the holiday season police will be conducting increased DUI enforcement.
Increased sobriety checkpoints and heightened enforcement activities will be deployed to show zero tolerance for anyone caught driving intoxicated.
Considering the consequences of a DUI arrest or a potential fatal crash reveler should make the following plans to get home safely:
• Designate a sober driver in the group who hasn’t had any alcohol.
• If intoxicated, use a taxi, call someone to give you a ride or take public transportation
• If you happen to see a suspected drunk driver on the road, call 911.
Have a safe holiday season!
There are fewer than 100 days until voters throughout the country cast their votes for the next president of the United States of America as well as candidates for U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives, state legislatures and city councils. The campaign war chests for President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney total almost $3 billion! However, as of this writing, not one dollar has been spent in the Black Press.
Once again the Black Press has been unfortunately relegated to an “Oh, By the Way” campaign that features a single 1/2 page ad placed two weeks before the election in all Black newspapers totaling a shameful $1.2 million dollars! That is the money placed by the Obama for America Campaign (OFA). The Romney Campaign has zero dollars allocated! To put this all into paper perspective, let me give you some background.
In January of this year, we had conversations with the OFA campaign. At that time, we were told that money was not coming in as expected so they could not talk about advertising in Black newspapers. In late April, after we found out that the OFA campaign had only $800 million, we put together a very detailed advertising proposal for $21 million, which included multiple insertions in all NNPA publications from June through November. The plan recommended a campaign that encouraged three phases of action. The first steps were “Voters registration- you can’t vote if you are not registered.” Second, “Proper ID – What to take to the polls.” Understanding that voter suppression laws vary from state to state, it is important that voters know what to take to the polls in order to vote. The last stop is “GOTV – get out the vote.” Mobilizing our communities to go to the polls is the key to winning the upcoming election. Our proposal also included an aggressive digital and social media campaign as well.
Today, we are once again in a position of being taken for granted. Does Jim Messina know something about Black folks that we didn’t know? I am beginning to wonder where are the Black folks who are advising this campaign? Do they not see the money being spent around them? Are they not asking why are there no Black pollsters, ad agencies, placement, firms, or other Black-owned businesses reaping the benefits of the only $3 billion being spent in this campaign season? SHOW ME THE MONEY!
At the end of the election, over $3 billion will be spent. Some people will be very happy. They will not care who wins. To borrow a quote from the movie, “Trading Places,” “No matter what happens … Duke and Duke still get their commission!”
What are we to do? Do we stand by and again wait four more years? Let’s get moving now! Come on, Roland Martin, Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Cliff Kelly, Steve Harvey, Oprah Winfrey! Let’s talk about this now. SHOW ME THE MONEY!
The response in the Muslim world to the display of the anti-Muslim video mocking the Prophet Muhammad stunned many people in the United States. The brutal murders of Ambassador Chris Stevens and his staff in Libya, blamed on the anger over the display of the video, now appears to have been a premeditated murder by terrorists. That said, the antipathy toward the U.S., illustrated by widespread demonstrations after the release of the video, for its long-standing treatment and demonization of the Muslim world should not be downplayed.
In addressing both the video and the response, representatives of the Obama administration, as well as other members of the political establishment, condemned the violence but also distanced themselves from the video. At the same time, they offered the view that as abhorrent as is the video, in the U.S. there is the First Amendment that guarantees freedom of speech. The message, and one that the Republican Party screamed as loud as they could, was that in the U.S. one can say whatever one wants and that this is guaranteed by the Constitution.
Except when it comes to the matter of Israel.
A recent resolution of the California State Assembly, introduced on Aug. 6, that covered anti-Semitism (specifically in post-secondary educational institutions in California), has sent chills up the spines of many people who actually believe in freedom of speech. Claiming to be encouraging a clamping down on anti-Semitic activities, this very strange resolution expands the definition of anti-Semitism to virtually any criticism of Israel. Included in the list of criticisms that should be silenced are suggestions that Israel is a racist and apartheid state.
Let us be clear: This is a tremendous expansion of any legitimate definition of anti-Semitism. This would be the equivalent of suggesting that a criticism of the government of the People’s Republic of China is automatically anti-Chinese. Or that a criticism of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe is automatically anti-Black.
Anti-Semitism has a long, ignominious history, particularly in Europe. It has been associated with the persecution and murder of millions of Jews over time. It has been associated with identifying Jews, as a people, with the execution of Jesus Christ. It has been associated with the myth that all Jews are wealthy. It has been associated with the notion that there is some sort of global Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world. That is anti-Semitism. That is the sort of irrational, racist thinking and behavior that must be fought.
But to link the struggle against anti-Semitism with the question of Israel is nothing short of duplicity. It completely ignores the manner in which Israel was formed (over the objections of the people who were living there); Israel’s constant violations of United Nations resolutions; the establishment of the apartheid wall that destroys entire Palestinian communities; as well as Israel’s pre-1994 collaboration with apartheid South Africa in the creation of weapons of mass destruction. As such, speaking out on Israel is political criticism and should not be confused with anti-Semitism.
The U.S. needs to have one standard. If it is going to claim that a hideous mocking of the Prophet Muhammad is protected by freedom of speech it cannot, at nearly the same moment, suggest that those who criticize the racist and expansionist policies of Israel are anti-Semitic and not subject to the protections contained in the U.S. Constitution. Doing so is not only duplicity, but it also helps to explain why the motives of the U.S.A. are so often questioned around the world. — (NNPA)
Hodari Abdul-Ali, an African-American Orthodox Muslim called it “a disaster for Africa, for the African Diaspora and for Sudan.” The separation of Sudan is perhaps the most contentious foreign policy issue among Black Americans.Some African Americans support dismemberment of Africa’s largest country, and some, like the late Abdul-Ali believed it to be “a disaster.”
When the people of South Sudan split from Africa’s largest country, they formed the world’s 193rd and youngest country. South Sudan, officially the Republic of South Sudan, marked its first anniversary on July 9. A landlocked country in east-central Africa, South Sudan experienced a challenging first year and several issues remain unresolved. The two countries, formerly one, are locked in delicate negotiations after the failure to agree on the amount the South should pay Sudan to use its oil pipelines.
When Southern Sudan’s voters broke away, it was one of the least developed countries in the world. Revenue from oil provides 98 percent of South Sudan’s budget. The new nation’s economy is heavily reliant on oil. It’s not surprising therefore that its decision to shut down production has left the economy in a precarious state. After South Sudan became independent, southern and northern negotiators were not immediately able to reach an agreement on how to split Southern oil field revenue. Approximately 80 percent of the oil deposits are in South Sudan, while the pipelines flow north.
Many in government in South Sudan are imploring the U.S. to help the new nation obtain its “economic independence.” NNPA newspaper columnist and former NAACP Executive Director Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., said, “African Americans should be paying attention, reaching out to South Sudan for humanitarian and economic reasons and see that there are significant and immediate economic and growth opportunities. At a time of very high unemployment among African Americans, this is a great moment to develop new business relationships with Africa, and with nations like South Sudan.”
The stories you’ve been hearing about “helping the poor Africans” should be discounted as a lot of hype. Whether you are of the Christian or Muslim persuasion, Southern Sudan is a resource-rich land many want to rule. It is ripe for agricultural development, but less than 5 percent of the land is currently cultivated. In terms of overall income generation; South Sudan does quite well compared to its East African neighbors. The 2010 GDP per capita was estimated at $1,546 (U.S.) compared to $769 (U.S.) in Kenya. South Sudan is bordered by Ethiopia to the east, Kenya to the southeast, Uganda to the south, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the southwest, the Central African Republic to the west, and Sudan to the north.
Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan has fought for decades against the Americans’ designs on breaking up Sudan, but Washington, D.C.-based businessman Malcolm Beech agrees with Chavis in that African Americans should get a piece of the South Sudan action saying, “U.S. Agency for International Development and State Department funds will be flowing to that part of the world and we need to be in the deal.”
South Sudan has a population of approximately 8 million and a predominantly rural, subsistence economy. This region has been negatively affected by war for all but 10 years of the independence period, resulting in serious neglect, lack of infrastructure development, and major destruction and displacement. More than 2 million people have died, and more than 4 million are internally displaced persons or have become refugees as a result of the civil war.
The capital of South Sudan is Juba. However, due to Juba’s poor infrastructure and lack of centrality, the South Sudanese government adopted a resolution to study the creation of a new planned city to act as its capital seat. This proposed project is functionally similar to those which resulted in the construction of Abuja, Nigeria; Brasília, Brazil; and Canberra, Australia. This will be just a part of the building from the ground up that will be occurring in South Sudan. — (NNPA)
William Reed is head of the Business Exchange Network and available for speaking/seminar projects through the Bailey Group.org.
Although there is still a debate between those who say “Happy Median” and “Happy Medium,” despite the latter being in the overwhelming majority, there is no doubt that in today’s parlance “median” is the topic of conversation; but, it is definitely not a happy median. To the contrary, the topic on the minds of many in this country is the decrease in median income and net worth, and that’s making a lot of people very unhappy.
The latest depressing report came from the Pew Research Center, titled, The Lost Decade of the Middle Class. To no one’s surprise I am sure, it pointed out the dire straits of the so-called middle class, citing that median household income had dropped 5 percent, but even more important was the fact that median household wealth had gone from $129,582 to $93,150, a startling 28 percent decline. Where do you fit in this statistical dilemma?
All of this talk about the “middle class” leaves me wondering what politicians and statisticians think about the poor or lower tier people in this country. All of the conversation and concentration are on the middle class. Of course, the upper class is well taken care of and, according to folks like Paul Ryan, it’s only significant when poor people get freebies from the government, not Wall Street bankers and major corporations.
Mitt Romney’s assertion about the poor having a safety net, therefore, he was “not worried” about them, paints a very graphic picture of the antithesis of what this country should be about. Who was it that said we should be judged on how we as a nation treat the least among us? I wonder if the folks in charge think that by ignoring the poor they will just go away.
We will hear much about the middle class and how both parties plan to help that group of people, but I’d like to know what their plans are for the poor, some of whom were pushed out of the middle class because of loss of jobs, housing foreclosures, or a reduction in the value of their homes. A story in USA Today in September of 2011, headline, “Typical U.S. family got poorer during the past 10 years,” stated: “The share of people living in poverty hit 15.1%, the highest level since 1993, and 2.6 million more people moved into poverty, the most since Census began keeping track in 1959.” The article went on to say, “Median income for black households fell 3.2% to $32,068.”
The term “Unhappy Median” points to the seriousness of the problems facing this country, especially among Black and poor people. And right now no one is addressing this ever-expanding group of citizens. President Obama “can’t” say anything in support of Black people, and Mitt Romney doesn’t “care about the poor.” Where does that leave us? Well, as usual, it leaves many of us on the sidelines, watching the game and even cheering for one side or the other, in spite of our unhappy state of affairs. As for that “safety net,” chew on this statement by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: “While the increase in poverty primarily reflects developments in the economy, weaknesses in the safety net particularly in the temporary federal unemployment benefits program also contributed to it.”
A great deal of the crime in this country emanates from an economic position. I suppose only when we have seen enough killing among young folks, who are willing to get money or things they value by any means necessary, will we see a significant change in how we address the issue of poverty. Statistics and rhetoric obviously will not solve the problem. To show how silly we are when it comes to our own economic security, we vehemently complained about the Shackle Gym Shoe, so much so that it was taken off the market. But that $315 pair of LeBron James gym shoes will surely be the rage of the marketplace, mainly the Black marketplace.
Determining median household income and net worth are great exercises for the statisticians, economists, and politicians; but to those at the bottom of the economic spectrum things are in a most unhappy state. Regardless of what happens in November, we will wake up the next morning and find ourselves in the relative same situation, and it will persist until we decide we have had enough. Then and only then will Black economic empowerment move to the forefront of our psyche and take the precedence it deserves and should have had for decades. — (NNPA)
Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati and can be reached through his Web site, blackonomics.com.
Like a sequel to a bad horror movie, the “great vampire squid” is back.
That was gonzo author Matt Taibbi’s description in a 2009 Rolling Stone article of Goldman Sachs, the financial giant that played a central role in the 2008 financial meltdown. The world’s most powerful investment bank, he wrote, was a “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”
Today, that hungry description is beginning to sound a lot like JPMorgan Chase, which, at best, has been swimming around in the same troubled waters.
Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon has come under fire after disclosing “significant” losses estimated at $2.3 billion in a portfolio of credit investments. Dimon blamed “errors, sloppiness and bad judgment” for the “terrible, egregious mistake.”
The disclosure recalled Wall Street’s 2008 meltdown and the mammoth financial houses that were bailed out at taxpayers’ expense, judged “too big to fail” without bringing down a sizeable portion of the global economy.
Yet as squids go, JPMorgan has had a reputation for managing its tentacles well — until now. The bank’s new snafu has reignited debate over what new rules are needed to limit risk at government-insured banks. It also raises big questions about whether a bank that supposedly is “too big to fail” may be too big to manage.
The good news about JPMorgan’s bad news is this: Its huge size helps it to contain its problems and avoid igniting another major meltdown.
While $2 billion sounds like a lot of money — because it is — it is only a drop in the bucket, compared to JPMorgan’s $608 billion in customer deposits. A smaller bank might be wiped out, but JPMorgan can handle it and move on, one hopes, somewhat chastened.
Yet Dimon makes an inviting target for criticism, partly because he has been one of the most prominent and vociferous opponents of the strong regulation that President Barack Obama and other critics say is necessary to prevent risky bets from causing another disaster.
Even Dimon, widely regarded as one of the savviest managers in the business, Obama has pointed out, can make mistakes. And, as other critics have cautioned, troubles like this usually don’t just happen only at one bank.
We have been here before. JPMorgan’s error came out of the sort of risky behavior that brought the financial system crashing down four years ago: Specifically, the loss stemmed from a complex deal involving credit default swaps, the insurance-like contracts that essentially allow firms to bet on whether a given loan will default. In 2010, Congress passed the “Volcker rule,” named after Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman who proposed it, as part of the Dodd-Frank Act to prevent companies from using their own money to make such bets.
However, the Volcker rule has yet to be implemented. Regulators are still writing the rules. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said recently they might not meet the scheduled July deadline for the rule’s implementation.
Besides, Dimon insists that the Volcker rule would not apply to this case anyway because the rule allows hedging, which can most easily be described as a risky investment made to offset the risk of another investment. If so, that’s a huge loophole.
Meanwhile, the big banks, led by heavyweights like Dimon, continue to lobby against the rule, even as it is being written.
For now, the big banks still appear to be winning their battle against those of us who remain skeptical as to whether any bank should be judged “too big to fail.” They argue, reasonably enough, that bigness is good in banks that have to deal with big customers and remain competitive in a big global economy.
However, in recent years we have seen big financial risk-takers collect big winnings when times were good and, when their bets went belly-up, taxpayers pay for their losses. Capitalism should be consistent. Even if you believe some banks should be too big to fail, we’re in big trouble if they have become too big to regulate.
WASHINGTON — I don’t want to talk about Newt Gingrich’s many marriages. I really don’t. Nor do I want to talk about an alleged extramarital affair that Herman Cain may have carried on for 13 years. There are so many better reasons to doubt the leadership skills of both men — sound, practical grounds to resist their claims of fitness for the nation’s highest office.
But we are destined for several more news cycles, it seems, dominated by the personal peccadilloes of public men. There are several reasons for that, but none more important than this: Cain and Gingrich belong to a political club that has branded itself the Party of Purest Personal Morality. The GOP has not worn its “family values” mantle wisely or well, but it insists on wearing it still.
So here we are, witnessing the spectacle of new and firmly denied charges of adultery (Cain) grabbing headlines while old, more-or-less acknowledged facts of adultery (Gingrich) are relegated to footnotes. Is there a statute of limitations?
(I don’t want to confuse allegations of a consensual affair with serious charges of sexual harassment and assault, which have also been leveled against Cain. Sexual harassment is an abuse of power that often crosses the line into illegal treatment of employees; it deserves public disclosure.)
For decades, I’ve watched as the flimsy veil of privacy afforded to presidential candidates was ripped, flayed and finally shred to tiny scraps, leaving every medical infirmity, every romance, every intemperate moment exposed to public view. I’m not sure we are better off for that.
The presidency of John F. Kennedy seems impossible now, given his very active social life. Lyndon Johnson would have been brought down by his lechery long before Vietnam did him in. The entrance of women into the presidential press corps did much to bring the private lives of politicians into public view. Feminists, understandably, rebelled against a journalistic standard that allowed too many powerful men to treat their wives shabbily while basking in the glow of an adoring public who believed them to be public servants of unblemished moral character.
But there was a certain naiveté about the revelations that became standard news fare with the hapless Gary Hart: They sully a politician’s reputation without telling us much about the person’s character. Some voters still believe that a politician who lies to his spouse is unworthy of office because he cannot be trusted to keep his marriage vow. That thinking suggests that any person who betrays his sacred marital pledge will certainly betray the country sooner or later.
Alas, humankind is much too complicated for such a simple rule to be true. While Bill Clinton’s philandering kept his GOP rivals occupied for much of his second term, George W. Bush was never accused of stepping outside the bonds of marriage. Who was the better president? Clinton lied, disgustingly so, about Monica Lewinsky, but he didn’t lie about an issue critical to the fate of the republic.
Bush may never have betrayed his wife, but he betrayed the entire country by taking us to war on the wings of a wretched lie. Nothing about his marriage could have informed us about his capacity for deceiving the public.
So, does a politician’s personal life tell us anything we need to know? Perhaps.
If the politician is someone like Gingrich, who led the Republican House of Representatives when it impeached Clinton, it tells us much about his capacity for sheer, brazen hypocrisy. During the impeachment process, Gingrich was carrying on an extramarital affair with Callista Bisek, who later became his third wife.
Of course, Gingrich’s capacity for stunning hypocrisy was already clear before that. So is the hypocrisy of many “family values” Republicans, who cannot be bothered to care for poor children once they are outside the womb, who denounce gay couples as threats to heterosexual marriage, and who would split up immigrant families if any member is in the country illegally. Their public record tells us all we need to know.
We don’t need to peer through the keyhole to figure out whether our politicians are men and women of decency and integrity. Just look at what they do in public.
Whose side is he on? Mitt Romney’s assault against President Barack Obama’s welfare reform policy sounds good, except that it gets in the way of putting welfare recipients to work.
In a July 12 directive, President Barack Obama’s administration invited the states to apply for waivers from welfare reform that require recipients to get a job, seek a job or engage in job training.
That opened up an opportunity for his challenger Mitt Romney and other Republicans to charge, as a Romney campaign ad puts it, that the president is single-handedly trying to “gut” President Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare overhaul “by dropping work requirements, …”
Since the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, anyone seeking cash assistance has faced strict work requirements and a five-year lifetime limit. But “(u)nder Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job,” says the narrator in the Romney ad. “They would just send you your welfare check. And welfare-to-work goes back to being just plain old welfare. Mitt Romney will restore the work requirement because it works.”
But the directive’s aim is to improve welfare-to-work, not gut it. Major fact-checking organizations tend to agree. PolitiFact gave the ad a “Pants on Fire” rating, calling a “drastic distortion.” FactCheck.org gave a similarly low rating. The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler gave “four Pinocchios” to Romney and three to Team Obama for insufficient evidence to back up their claim that Romney sought the same sort of waiver authority when he was governor.
Yet Obama’s waivers might well have been greeted as sound conservative policy, returning power to the innovative laboratory of the states, if they had come from a Republican president. But Obama is a Democratic incumbent, which would give him special vulnerability on the welfare issue even if he were not a mixed-race man of African descent.
Politically, welfare reform is a potent political wedge issue. It brings up images of able-bodied adults sitting around collecting public assistance. It touches all the hot buttons of race, class, culture, poverty and morality, as exemplified by the near-mythological “Welfare Queen” against which Ronald Reagan railed during his presidential rise.
It took the great triangulator Bill Clinton to defuse the issue enough to bring positive changes. In his 1992 campaign Clinton promised to “end welfare as we know it.” In the 1996 law, pressed by a Republican Congress and then-Speaker Newt Gingrich, he accepted tougher welfare-to-work requirements than he preferred. But he did win concessions that helped to ease the transition from welfare to work.
The result: Welfare dependency went down, along with child poverty, as employment of welfare recipients went up, helped along by the 1990s economic boom. Even in today’s sluggish economy, the Brookings Institution, one of the reform’s main authors, told the Washington Post that never-married mothers, the likeliest demographic group to be on welfare, are still working at rates higher than they were before the reforms.
Enter President Obama. Team Romney insists that the new Obama policy opens the door to a weakening of work requirements because it allows states to give a higher priority to the type of work recipients take than to their participation rate. “If I am president,” Romney said in suburban Elk Grove Village, Ill., last week, “I will put work back in welfare.” But the Obama policy explicitly states that waivers will be granted only to proposals that will increase the percentages of cases to be moved off welfare rolls.
At least five governors, including Republicans Gary Herbert of Utah and Brian Sandoval of Nevada, have been seeking such regulatory relief for years, the White House pointed out. In return, the directive offers states a new level of flexibility and breathing room for innovation, something that Republicans and conservatives usually favor.
Now Romney has put his fellow Republicans in the awkward position of defending their requests to reporters without stepping on his claim that Obama’s directive hurts welfare reform.
In fact, state governments have little incentive, especially in this economy, to load up their welfare rolls with nonworkers. If the states have good ideas to make welfare-to-work more efficient and turn more tax users into taxpayers, let them try.