Sunday, March 6, 2016

On Taking Responsibility

Flipping through the digital pages of the online edition of the Washington Post the other day, I chanced upon a "Fact Checker" piece that examined accusations of complicity of the Michigan Governor's office in the poisoning of the water supply that feeds the city of Flint. It's not much of a surprise to see such a piece, after all the incident is much in the news these days and being that this is the political season the trading of accusations of malfeasance, corruption and incompetence, always a popular subject of conversation in political circles, is, if anything, amplified in both frequency and volume of late.

This piece looked in particular at the charge leveled by Hillary Clinton that the tainting of the water supply in the aforementioned Michigan town was a result of the governor "wanting to save a little money." Ultimately the charge was awarded a score "two Pinocchios" out of a possible four, meaning, I suppose, that the glass is either half full for the claim, or half empty, depending on what side of the political spectrum your allegiances happen to reside.

But aside from the accusations and counter-accusations, the damning and the mitigating evidence, the punches laded and the punches blocked, what struck me as most curious about the piece was the juxtaposition of the following two statements. 

The first, early in the piece, is a nutshell summary of the Fact Checker's findings:
"There are signs pointing to decisions possibly being made in the governor’s office, but a direct link to the governor himself is hard to find."
The second, is taken from a statement read by Ari Adler, Governor Rick Snyder's communications director:
"Gov. Snyder has apologized, taken responsibility for what happened and has begun a top to bottom culture change in Michigan state government,”
Harry Truman, 33rd President of the United States, famously kept a sign on his desk at the Oval Office that read "The Buck Stops Here." It was meant to reassure voters and the public that in his administration there would be no shirking of responsibility, no "passing of the buck" as it were. The failures of the administration would be acknowledged as failures of the President himself. The phrase is as iconic to and colors popular perceptions of the Truman administration as the legend of the cherry tree informs popular views of George Washington and his upright moral fiber. It has also become a kind of litmus test of an administration's trustworthiness and willingness to claim responsibility for its failures. The following exchange delivered by George W. Bush press secretary Scott McClellan in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina fiasco is just one such example of the many we could produce:
Q ... First, just to get you on the record, where does the buck stop in this administration?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President.
Q All right. So he will be held accountable as the head of the government for the federal response that he's already acknowledged was inadequate and unacceptable?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President's most important responsibility is the safety and security of the American people. He talks about that often. That is his most important responsibility. ..."
George W. Bush paid an enormous political price for the Federal Government's bungling of the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, perhaps no further proof is needed than the various attempts that Republicans have made over the years to label some incident or other "Obama's Katrina." But the truth is, that President Bush didn't pay that price because he accepted responsibility for Katrina, but rather because the aid effort his administration undertook was so woefully inadequate to the task and his initial response to the disaster so inadequate that any attempt to deflect responsibility would have been met with disdainful laughter by all but the most sycophantic of supporters.

Indeed, there's a good case to be made that the formal acceptance of responsibility is more often an attempt deflect actual responsibility than embrace it, as when, for instance, John Pointdexter echoed Harry Truman's famous phrase in an attempt to shield Ronald Reagan from responsibility for the Iran/Contra scandal.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

July Forecast: Storm Clouds Over Cleveland

A pair of articles are worth considering side by side today. The first comes via Politico and deals with the likelyhood that the GOP nomination race will reach its climax in a brokered convention:

Republicans are waging a shadow primary for control of delegates in anticipation of what one senior party official called “the white whale of politics”: a contested national convention.

The endgame for the most sophisticated campaigns is an inconclusive first ballot leading to a free-for-all power struggle on the floor in Cleveland.
“This is going to be a convention like I’ve never seen in my lifetime,” said veteran operative Barry Bennett, who managed Ben Carson’s campaign until December and is now advising Trump. “It’s going to be contentious from Day One.

The rules of the GOP convention require a candidate to carry a majority of delegates coming in to the convention to win the thing outright. Failing that, it becomes a high-stakes game of horse trading as leading candidates attempt to convince delegates to switch to their side. And given that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz seem in this thing for the long-haul, and that at least one establishment candidate (Rubio? Kasich?) is bound to tag along, there's a very good chance this race comes down to the wire.

Which leads to the second article, this time via Vox, where Jeff Stein notes that twice in as many days, Donald Trump has threatened to mount an independent campaign for the presidency if he feels that the party has slighted him:
In September 2015, Trump signed a pledge not to launch an independent bid for president if he lost the GOP primary. There was a catch: He added an exception to the pledge that made it invalid if the Republicans mistreated him — "a loophole so enormous it could mean anything Trump wants," as New York magazine's Jonathan Chait pointed out. 

Trump affirmed his willingness to exploit that crater-size exception during a town hall in South Carolina on Monday, in which he criticized the GOP for allegedly packing the last Republican debate audience with Trump opponents. 

"The RNC better get its act together because, you know, I signed a pledge. The pledge isn’t being honored by the RNC," Trump said, according to ABC News. "I signed a pledge, but it’s a double-edged pledge. As far as I’m concerned, they’re in default on their pledge."
The pressing question now is this: if Donald Trump heads into the GOP convention holding a plurality of delegates, but loses to Cruz, Rubio or Kasich through bartering and back-room deals, what comes next? Does Trump swallow his pride, shake hands with the other men in the room, congratulate them on a race well run and then go home? Or does he stage a press conference, point an accusatory finger at the RNC and announce that he will make good on his pledge to run as an independent as a result of what he decrees as the Republican Party's failure to abide by its pledge to treat him fairly?

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

You May Have Already Won!!!

Looks like Ted Cruz is targeting the "keep the government's hands off my Medicare crowd" with his latest mailer which promises free money from the government. The Huffington Post reports:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is out with a deceptive new mailer that masquerades as official government business and promises people there's a "check enclosed" when it's actually asking for money instead. A New Jersey resident sent The Huffington Post the latest piece of mail he received from Cruz's campaign. The envelope appears to have come from Cruz's Senate office and has his name printed the same way it often is for Senate business. In small type the mailer clarifies that it is for "personal" matters and was not sent at taxpayers' expense. It also promises a check.
And here's an image of the mailer:

I wonder if he'll find a way to blame CNN for this one, too...

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Being Ted Cruz Means You Never Have to Apologize for Lying.

The Washington Post quotes Ted Cruz from tonight's GOP primary debate:

“First of all we have seen how in 6 years of Obamacare that it’s been a disaster. It is the biggest job killer in this country. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, have been forced into part time work, have lost their health insurance, have lost their doctors, have seen their premiums sky rocket.”

What do we make of Cruz's claim that millions of Americans have lost their jobs? This is what the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics tells us about job growth in the Obama era:

The truth, of course, is that under President Obama the nation has seen 69 straight months of private sector job growth, with over 1/4 million new jobs in November alone and a net increase of well over 13 1/2 million new jobs over that span.

What do we make of Cruz's claim that millions of Americans have lost their health insurance due to the Affordable Care Act? The truth is the current rate of 9.2% uninsured is the lowest it has ever been in this country:

Cruz's rather tenuous grasp of the facts when it comes to health care reform should perhaps not surprise us. After all, this is a man so clueless on health insurance issues he mistakenly claimed to have lost insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act, only to have to walk the claim back when it was revealed that, despite his claims to the contrary, Cruz in fact had it all along.

In a reversal from claims made on the campaign trail, Ted Cruz's presidential campaign is now saying the senator and his family do have health insurance and never lost coverage. The late night Friday revelation came more than 24 hours after Cruz had told a New Hampshire audience that he and his family were without health insurance and were scrambling to obtain new coverage--and used the claim to slam Obamacare for the mess he was in. 
In statements to Bloomberg and Wall Street Journal, campaign spokeswoman Catherine Frazier blamed Cruz's false assertion that his family had lost their health insurance on a misunderstanding... 

I guess "misunderstanding" is one way of putting it, another might be to say that he was "caught in another lie."

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Problem With Being A Racist, Nativist Party...

I guess it was only a matter of time beforeTed Cruz, presidential candidate and most hated man in the U.S. senate, would fall victim to his own party's anti-immigrant fervor. Climbing in the polls and threatening the Trump campaign in Iowa, Cruz has become the target of accusations and insinuations that the conservative firebrand, born of a Cuban father and American mother on Canadian soil (Calgary), does not meet the Constitutional requirement that a president be a "natural born citizen."

From the left, it's deliciously ironic to see this sort of comeuppance for man who sought to reassure GOP voters of his anti-immigrant bonafides by paraphrasing George Wallace's "segregation forever speech" for The New York Times. And of course, there's more than just a little satisfaction to be gained by watching the party that spawned an industry of nutty conspiracy theorists dedicated to casting doubt on Barack Obama's eligibility now setting its sights on destroying one of its own.

While questions about Cruz's eligibility have popped up now and again for years, this latest round of doubt sowing started with Donald Trump, who in his typically disingenuos, trademarked passive-aggressive way insisted that he was only looking out for the good of the Republican Party:

"Republicans are going to have to ask themselves the question: ‘Do we want a candidate who could be tied up in court for two years?’ That’d be a big problem. It’d be a very precarious one for Republicans because he’d be running and the courts may take a long time to make a decision. You don’t want to be running and have that kind of thing over your head. I’d hate to see something like that get in his way. But a lot of people are talking about it and I know that even some states are looking at it very strongly, the fact that he was born in Canada and he has had a double passport.”

Not long after Trump lobbed his non-accusation accusation right-wing harpy Ann Coulter chimed in in more direct fashion, explicitly proclaiming through her twitter account that Cruz was not at natural born citizen.

And now the floodgates seem to be opening with Rand Paul and John McCain questioning the Texas senator's eligibility to hold the highest office in the land. The McCain attack is particularly amusing, given that the Arizona senator was himself born abroad and ran for president nonetheless. The distinction, as McCain sees it, is that he was born in a U.S. Territory (a military base in the Panama Canal zone):

“Barry Goldwater ran for president; was born in Arizona when it was a territory. The Panama Canal was a territory of the United States of America. That’s different than being born on foreign soil. I think there is a question. I am not a constitutional scholar on that, but I think it’s worth looking into. I don’t think its illegitimate to look into it.”

In 2008, when John McCain decided to seek the presidency, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama co-sponsored a Senate resolution affirming the Arizona senator's eligibility to run for president. Today, Texas senator Ted Cruz is seeing questions about his eligibility being raised within his own party. I guess that's what happens when you set out to promote your personal career by trashing everyone around you, then cynically shut down the government to establish your own "holier than thou" ideological purity, while forcing others in your party to do the thankless work of keeping the country from a disastrous default.

I think I'll just sit back an enjoy the show.