Tag Archives: obama

Perspective vs. Experience: A Presidential Conversation


So I published a post titled A Lack of Perspective on Monday about why I believe that Mitt Romney shouldn’t be president because he can’t understand what it’s like to be poor. That’s dumbing it down a bit, but that’s the general premise.

In response, one of my favorite Facebook critics, Mark Ashley*, asked me whether I really believed that someone had to be poor to understand what poverty is and stated that a person’s actual policies show a lot more about a politician than their life experiences.

I’ll restate his argument here:

Had this been written in 2004, it would have been a great argument against John Kerry. Of course, the alternative was Bush, who also came from wealth, but you have effectively disqualified the likes of JFK, FDR, and a lot of other presidents.

The idea generally that one ought to have been poor at one time to be a good political leader seems odd to me. How poor is poor? Does one’s family have to have begged at one time to qualify? Been on government assistance? Or is simply struggling to make ends meet enough? I’m not being facetious in asking these questions, and I am well acquainted with living below the poverty line. My expectation is that any person running for president would be long past poverty–nobody is interested in electing a person who has never been successful in life–and many up-from-the-bootstrap people are not particularly sympathetic to the poor either.

Ultimately, there are a lot of people who have been poor whom I’d not trust to run an office lottery pool, let alone the country, and there are a lot who have been rich about whom I’d say the same. Likewise, many who have been poor and who have never been poor have genuinely good perspectives on poverty and even sometimes good policy proposals. What matters more is how a person has processed those life experiences and what a person chooses to do with them.

I’m not about to offer any defense of Romney, and I do think that life experiences matter, but I am skeptical of the notion that someone has to be/have been [poor, rich, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, female, male, etc.] in order to empathize with, represent, and lead people who fall into those categories. Show me a person’s actual policies. That, to me, is much more revealing of how a politician thinks.

First, let me address the idea that this argument would have disqualified JFK, FDR, and a lot of other presidents. On its face, that’s a valid argument, but I believe that there is one important factor that makes this argument moot:

Thanks to Mother Jones for the graph

The income equality gap is higher now than it has been at any time since the Great Depression.

When FDR came to power, despite coming from old New York money, he set out New Deal Legislation, got us through World War II (I am not going to debate the wisdom of either New Deal legislation or his policy decisions in WWII right now) and worked with civil rights organizations like the NAACP. Point being: He wanted to help.

On to JFK. Was he wealthy? Yes. Was he from a wealthy family? Great. But he seemed to understand the problems and priorities of this country in a way that Romney does not. (Kennedy also wasn’t a draft dodger, but that’s another kettle of fish.) Kennedy genuinely wanted to better the lives of his countrymen. I can’t say I’ve seen any indication of that from Romney since his campaign began.

When Mark says “The idea generally that one ought to have been poor at one time to be a good political leader seems odd to me,” I have to say that it’s not to me. He goes on to say that “My expectation is that any person running for president would be long past poverty” and that “there are a lot of people who have been poor whom I’d not trust to run an office lottery pool, let alone the country, and there are a lot who have been rich about whom I’d say the same.”

Does my argument come down to attitude and life experience as much as it does money? Absolutely. But there’s such a huge gap now between rich and poor that I really feel that Romney and other people in his income bracket just simply don’t get it. He has not ever had to worry about a single thing I do on a daily basis.  And his comments about the 47% being “dependent on government” and that a middle class income is “$200,000 to $250,000,” just for a few examples, show how out of touch he truly is.

This baffles me, considering healthcare and gay marriage in Massachusetts, but I don’t trust that he’ll revert back to being a ‘progressive moderate’ once he takes office.

Obama came up from relatively nothing. His mom, while educated, was not rich. He lived in parts of the world where not many people are rich by anyone’s standards. He went to prep school on scholarship and then to Columbia and Harvard the same way most people in my income bracket would, by shelling out for student loans. He worked as a community organizer in Chicago and organized African-American voter drives.

I could go on and on, but my point is that he gets it. He gets what my problems are. He’s worried about money. He’s had to pay off student loans. He’s worried about health care for his family. He’s experienced the problems of being a minority in this country. And the policies that he’s tried to implement (again, the merits of those are a different argument) reflect that.

So while, yes, a lot of it comes down to empathy and policy, I don’t believe Romney has enough of either to lead our country.

Maybe, until the income gap goes down to levels that make sense, we should only allow people who came up from nothing to run. It might help.

*Mark Ashley is a buddy of mine who is also working to be tenured at a university and so doesn’t want his name associated with silly political blogs at this time. Due to his needing to use a pseudonym and then coming up with one as silly as Mark Ashley, I am dubbing him Professor Who, Master of Mystery. (Feel free to insert a booming voice worthy of that title here.) Prof. Who for short. You’ll be seeing a lot more of him, as he’s been set into a contract to write me 8 blog posts by the end of the year.

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I am the… 47 percent?


Ah, Mittens, Mittens, Mittens. How am I supposed to get any actual work done when you keep saying such ridiculous things?

I have to admit, when my friend asked me I’d heard about Romney’s latest comments taken from an undercover video at a Republican fundraiser, I was skeptical. This is the age of the Internet after all, and, not to diss Huff Po, but they’ll publish anything as long as someone else does first.

But for once it wasn’t merely a hoax. I was honestly momentarily speechless. Even in the context of a campaign, saying that 47 percent of the country are victims and believe they’re “entitled” to things like housing and health care is pretty blatant discrimination and classism.

At first I was merely outraged. Excuse me? I’m “a victim?” I’m “dependent on the government?” I’m “entitled?” I HAVE a job. I PAY taxes. WTF? Coming on the heels of his comments that a middle class income is between $200,000 and $250,000, I was amazed. Is there really no connection at all between the actual middle class and “1 Percent” anymore?

But last night I realized that really is the problem. There’s just no connection at all.

I was explaining the situation to a friend last night and was trying to explain Romney’s view of the role of government and she was just baffled.

“If it isn’t the government’s role to protect and provide for its citizens, whose job is it?”

Me: “Well, they believe that it’s your responsibility to take care of yourself. The government is just there to regulate trade with foreign countries, provide infrastructure like roads and keep us safe from other countries. The rest is private.”

“But what if you can’t take care of yourself and you need some help? What if you’re a kid? Besides, I like things like the FDA. They keep me safe. I wouldn’t trust a corporation to do that.”

To that, all I could do was shake my head and say, “Yeah, I don’t know.”

Among Romney’s comments was another that I was incredibly upset about until I got some idea what he actually meant. Saying that it wasn’t his job to “worry about those people” is a horrible thing to say taken out of context. A president should worry about everyone. But his rebuttal on Fox  essentially said “Dude, I’m talking about running a campaign. I can’t worry about those people because they aren’t voting for me anyway.”

However, that’s where his misconceptions really show, because that’s simply not true.

First off, according to the Policy Tax Center, of the 47 percent of people that don’t pay income tax, 28.3 percent still pay payroll taxes. Which means they have jobs and likely don’t view themselves as dependent on government. Myself included.

Secondly, a lot of people who don’t pay income taxes are staunch Republicans. I come from a small middle-of-nowhere town where over half the population will vote for Romney because, despite having no health care of their own and probably going to the local food bank a couple times a month, they believe they have a responsibility to  take care of themselves. They are not “victims,” they don’t believe they are “entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

Thirdly, a lot of people that believe that everyone is entitled to a good life, provided by the government if needed, are people who DO pay income taxes. Think Warren Buffet’s progressive tax plan. They’re the people that ring Salvation Army bells and donate to food pantries.

So statements like “those who are reliant on government are not as attracted to my message of slimming down the size of government. And so I then focus on those individuals who I believe are most likely to be able to be pulled into my camp” show, in my opinion, a huge flaw in Romney’s thinking.

Democrats are not always poor. Republicans are not always rich. There’s far more correlation between religion and political affiliation than money and political affiliation. (See this really interesting article for a more in-depth analysis.) So stereotyping those likely to vote for Obama as poor? Pretty bad judgment call.

And the race goes on.

Imagine this


Imagine this:

Obama at this afternoons press conference Thanks to the New York Times for the image

You’re stuck in a marriage with a person who seemed alright when you married them. Not great, but they said they cared about you and that things would be alright. You would both learn to compromise, since you both brought children to the marriage and, hey, kids need a stable home and family life and your respective exes ruined your lives. You buy a house together. You have a job to do raising your children, taking care of a house, making sure everyone has clothes on their backs and shoes on their feet and food to eat  and can afford to go to college.

And then you find that your partner doesn’t care about you at all. They undermine you at every turn. They want to take your children away from you, and take all your money. They want the big screen TV, the Ferrari, and the vacation house on the beach, and when you explain that to keep a balanced budget, your family can’t afford all that and to take care of the kids, they stop contributing to the marriage at all. They stonewall you. They lie to the kids about all these bad things you’ve done. They let you take all the flack. They want a divorce, but only after they’ve taken you and the kids for everything you have. (You forgot a pre-nup.)

And this whole time you’re doing your best to keep the children fed and clothed, because you promised them, shortsightedly, that everything would be alright. But Johnny and Sue don’t believe you anymore. Even your best friends are tired of you trying to compromise with someone that’s turned out to be the most royal  *blank* on the planet, and are ready to quit talking to you.  But you giving your partner permission to lease the Ferrari allows your children to have food, clothing and shelter, even if it’s against what you believe.

So, what do you do?

If you’re Obama, you let the Bush tax cuts go through for 2 more years in exchange for 13 more months of unemployment benefits. You take the flack from your friends the Democrats. You let the country talk about how you don’t know how to run the household. You explain again that you know this whole situation sucks, but your child can’t find a job and you need to help him eat till he can. (You also mention again that your child can’t find a job because your partner helped close half the businesses in town, but no one is listening anymore.)

And no one, especially you, is happy.

This may be a bad example, and certainly isn’t a thorough one. But I am so ridiculously tired of everyone attacking Obama. “He’s capitulating!” “The Republicans are winning!” “Things aren’t happening fast enough.” “You hurt my principles.” Excuse me, but would you PLEASE STFU???

Am I happy with this situation? Absolutely not. Has the man delivered everything he said he would? No. Is he one human being up against a party that thinks they have a mandate to be jerks for the next two years? Absolutely yes.

The time to stand up and tell the Republicans to sit down and deal with it was 2 years ago. Not now. Now is the time to make sure that everyone that hasn’t been able to find a job in the last two years (and believe it or not, for most people it’s not for lack of trying) still has money for the basic necessities.

Is this radical? No.  Is it going to make Democrats happy? No. Is it going to make the Republicans happier? Unfortunately, yes. Is it going to add to the deficit? Yes. Are some people going to be able to eat that wouldn’t be able to if the unemployment benefits expired? Yes.

And maybe it’s because I’m 22 and I don’t understand the economy well yet. Maybe it’s because I’ve paid my own way through college and know firsthand how tough it is to find a job, unlike all these opinion editors and senior officials. Hell, I’d stay in school longer if I could just to avoid trying. It’s that scary. Maybe it’s because I make less than $10,000 a year, loans and 3 jobs included, and I feel unemployment benefits and tax cuts for the little guy are important. Maybe it’s because I’ve already learned that being an idealist in politics isn’t going to help anyone. Maybe it’s because I honestly feel sorry for Obama.

I want to throw the question out there, with our current situation, would you let people run out of unemployment benefits and raise taxes, just to prove a point?

An Argument Against Calling a Pot a Kettle


Before I begin this rant, remember that primaries are on Tuesday! Don’t forget to vote! And if you lean my way, live in Wisconsin and aren’t sure who to vote for, Fair Wisconsin Education Fund has put together a great list of LGBT-friendly politicians across Wisconsin! Check it out, and again, DON’T FORGET TO VOTE!

Twin Towers Burning

Twin Towers Burning on 9/11, courtesy of encephalus.com

Over the last week, I’ve had several conversations with members of my age group about 9/11. It’s amazing that it’s been nine years since my parents, glued to the radio, tried to explain the importance of hijacked planes and burning buildings to my baffled 13-year-old self. (I was home-schooled. No TV for me.) And most of my friends and I, discussing 9/11 in bars and between classes and during smoke breaks, have agreed: we’ve moved on. It’s a tragedy, and one we will never forget, but the world has continued to turn. Not all Muslims are terrorists. Airport security is still a bitch. We voted in a half-black man whose middle name is Hussein, for chrissake. We just want him to help us find a job.

Except midterm elections have appeared and, since the economy isn’t going to revive itself in the next 2 months, politicians and the media need something, anything else to talk about. Cue the “Terror Mosque.” Cue some guy in Florida holding “International Burn a Koran Day.” Cue the Tea Party Movement. Cue a 24-hour news cycle. Cue an over-flowing of intolerance. And here we are.

Now before I begin talking about the complete difference between the Park51 site, a debate with some actual merit, and an idiot with a handlebar mustache making Christians and Americans look intolerant and uneducated, let me acknowledge how much all this intolerance makes sense. Not logical sense, but in the sense of two wars draining our resources, a government and media that have scared the spit out of gullible Americans about terrorism, more failed terrorism attempts (think Times Square and the Underwear Bomb), and most of all, a failing economy. America is tired. America is scared. America just wants someone to blame, because honestly, we’re still not sure how we got here in the first place. Republicans can’t blame Bush, Democrats can’t yet fully turn on Obama, Independents are blaming everyone. So let’s blame the people that started this mess in the first place by disrupting our happy economy and lives and killing over 2,000 innocent people: Muslims.

Now I fully understand the inaccuracy of that last sentence. But put short and sweet, it makes sense, doesn’t it?

Now, on to the difference between Park51 and Pastor Terry Jones.

International Burn A Koran Day

International Burn A Koran Day sign, courtesy of the NYT

In case you’ve been living without technology, human contact, or any interest in America for the last few months, a man in Gainesville, FL with a ridiculous handlebar mustache proclaimed that “Islam is evil” and he has a right to burn the Koran because it’s “full of lies.” (I reserve the right to burn his pamphlets for the same reason.) The media picked it up and suddenly Mr. Jones caused a giant stir, causing even President Obama to call him off, and inciting riots in Afghanistan and Pakistan complete with burning effigies. Intolerance at it’s height.

But here’s the thing about Mr. Jones and his 50 fundamentalist parishioners. While they obviously need to learn about the Koran, it’s origins, and the common tie between Islam and Christianity, they’re well within their rights to burn the Islamic Holy Book, (assuming the city granted their burning permit, which it didn’t). If you can burn a flag, you can burn a Koran. They’re allowed free speech just like the rest of America. The End.

To me, they proved a point they weren’t trying to make. Namely, that just as Terry Jones doesn’t speak for all Christians, the members of Al-Qaeda don’t speak for all Muslims. The world mourned with us during 9/11. And that includes Middle Eastern countries.

Well, you’d think that would be the point. But looking to the Park51 site, it’s obvious that most people haven’t thought about it that way, though some, like those in Gainesville, have. Instead, somehow Terry Jones has become equated with a supposed mosque site by Ground Zero. Which really just makes the whole thing worse. It’s legitimate, at least in some ways, for people to worry about having a mosque so close to the site of a horrific tragedy caused by Islamic extremists. It becomes less legitimate when this worry is associated with people like Terry Jones. Now even those actually concerned with the feelings of the 9/11 survivors just look like, how to put this, intolerant blanking blanks. The two should NOT be compared!

Does that mean that every single person complaining about the Park51 site is just concerned about hurt feelings? Absolutely not. Many do think just like Terry Jones. Case in point: the site is not just a mosque, but part of an entire community center complete with a pool, and somehow that gets neglected a lot.

But it’s an important debate to have within our nation, and one long coming. Can we finally begin to put aside the suspicion, the fear, the us vs. them mentality, or are we going to make some of our citizens move their place of worship to a less unsettling arena? The answer remains to be seen. But I believe Park51, if built on the planned site, could give people a chance to see that building a mosque, along with a pool and community center, will not blow up New York City. Neither will it in any way endanger our right to pursue life, liberty and a thriving economy.

Instead it will provide construction jobs, give neighborhood kids a place to play and learn life skills, and offer some of our citizens a place to worship the God of Abraham in the manner they see fit. As they did in the World Trade Center and the Twin Towers. As is their right.

Disagree with me? Want to offer another opinion? Have better links than I do? Comment below!

State of the Union Address


Currently watching the State of the Union address. I’m a bit behind, but I dvr’d it like the dork I am so here are some of my thoughts:

Nuclear energy?–Only with you there when you figure out what to do with nuclear waste. However, I completely agree with the focus on green energy and how we need to keep up with the rest of the world. Look at Sweden and Denmark. Its entirely possible to live almost without oil and nuclear.

I’m slightly worried about strengthening trade with places like Columbia and S. Korea, but exports would be helpful.

How are we going to cut college costs from within the colleges themselves? At the UW, I know that we have money problems up the wazoo. Biddy just had to convince everyone that upping tuition would be good for everyone.

And now we’re down to the start of the nitty-gritty. What exactly do you have to say about health insurance Mr. Obama? Start out with a funny, and ease everyone in. Good as usual. If we’re going to be reducing costs for people for health care, where is the extra money going to come from? I was reading in the NYT a few days ago (link here) about how insurance companies will have to up costs for everyone to allow high risk people into the boat. Alright, explain it a bit better, please.

I still haven’t heard an explanation. I’ve heard praise and calls to action, but I still don’t understand how this plan will affect me, my parents, or my community. Which is the problem, and is why your approval ratings are dropping.

The amount of money we owe other people and ourselves amazes me. I know i’m young and naive, but I can’t even fathom a trillion dollars. Ha, Obama just passed the buck on Bush. Good call. It was a great PR idea to remind people of what we had before.

So we can pay for wars but not for anything else? How is this going to affect education?

I feel that he’s pretending we have far more bi-partisan support than we do. Ok, at least he acknowledged it. I feel like this fighting Obama is the one we were promised. Where has this been the last year? I’m not convinced.

We’ve been promised openness in government and it hasn’t happened. He promised proceedings would be open during the last year and they weren’t. If this is another fake openness promise from yet another politician I’m going to puke.

OH MY GOD he’s taking on the Supreme Court. They just reversed that century of law and he’s going to sign it back into place. But it was put as a First Amendment question to the courts. Can he just reverse that? Is he allowed? I can’t wait to hear the talking heads tomorrow morning. I want some “experts” 😛

He’s using the Web and social media again. Even if its just for earmarks…Yes! Help the people who helped put you in office. Us. The young people. We did so much to put you in office. Show us again what you are all about. You need our support. Social media did this. Thank you.

I love watching the Republican vs. Democratic sides of the room every time he talks. Its like watching a bunch of angry teenagers vs. kids with way too much school spirit. Biden and Pelosi are also interesting. Biden looks like a bobble-head doll. Pelosi isn’t sure whether to laugh or cry.

He lied about the war in Afghanistan. He promised to take the troops out when on the campaign trail. I hope he doesn’t dance around this issue. Ok, so Iraq is out. “We’re going to continue to partner with the Iraqi people.” What does that mean? Is that contradictory to all our troops coming home? Oh no wait, we have ‘private security forces.’ Never mind.

I really love watching people trying to decide if what he said was worth standing for.

JFK and Reagan. Interesting combination. The golden boy and…I hate to admit I don’t know much about Reagan. Add to summer research list: Learn at least a little about Reagan.

No clapping for saying we’re helping with AIDS. I wish people realized a little bit more how important this disease is. The Haitian ambassador looks very small and very uncomfortable.

About goddamn time he mentioned Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Ooh, and then women afterward. Nice tie-in. Nice rebuttal to the concept that gays are a big enough and strong enough group that they don’t need help. Women are half the population, but we need help as well.

Thank you for calling everyone out. literally everyone. And its true. I’ve lost so much faith in government this last year. I’m glad he called out the “campaign fever” as well. That has really been worrying me.

Good ending. Now if things don’t happen, everyone will know the Republicans are to blame. And now everyone will know.

Obama is mad. Very very mad. I truly hope that changes something. A lot of Republicans were getting to their feet by the end. Not that that means a lot legislation-wise, but here’s hoping.