Author Archives: Felicity Plume

Non-Stop Gaffe Riot

Presidential politics.

It’s about as close as you can get to A Game Of Thrones in America. Tricks. Political feints. Lies. These elections bring out all of it. While the stuff that gets play on the television is already enough to make us long for an emperor, the truly wicked remains largely unknown. Yes, now and then there are twitter scandals, but most of the nasty stays out of the public eye.

So when I heard one Todd Akin let slip his actual feelings about rape and it’s impact on the abortion issue I had the same reaction everyone else had.

We can make a handfull of these but we can’t figure out a simpler tax code?

Really? Really? What does legitimate rape mean?

And then I promptly went back to my day. I mean who has time for this when there are way more important things. For starters, have you ever seen an aircraft carrier? It’s like a million tons of metal, sits about 80% out of the water, and carries billions of dollars in military aircraft? HOW DOES IT FLOAT?!?!?! I mean, yeah, I get the theoretical mechanics, but that’s probably just scientific flim flam.

Anyway, I thought Akin would quit, but he’s decided to double down and make the race about abortion. Truly this will be a most entertaining election, but I don’t vote in Missouri, so what I think about the matter doesn’t carry much weight and I can’t do worse than the court of public opinion. So instead I started thinking about gaffes and how truly petty they are. All of them.

Remember when Barack Obama said small business owners don’t earn their money?

How about when Mitt Romney said corporations are people?

Didn’t Joe Biden say something about chains last week?

All of these comments became 10 second sound bites for the talking heads to analyze. Politicians blather on and on about all kinds of stuff, but the pundits like to pick the most incendiary (and often least important) parts to explain to us. While I always appreciate being told how I should feel about something I can clearly hear myself, I’m at the point where I mistrust all television news.

All these comments are taken out of context. Most “gaffes” are. Many of them, like Mr. Akin’s, seem awful in their full context. Others are more… complicated. Not that it matters because we’re trained to pass up the entire message in exchange for our own visceral reaction.

Obviously I’m not talking about the well-read politicos that argue the finer points of international policy or even those folks that read THE ENTIRE ARTICLE of more than one site when learning about an issue. This is reserved for the “heard it in the background while watching FOX/MSNBC and cleaning my gun/vegetable garden” crowd.

Am I defending Mr. Akin? Absolutely not. Any way you slice that statement, he either said some rape isn’t actually rape or he implied women lie about rape at least some of the time. And the stuff about women’s bodies doing whatever he thought they did to stop unwanted pregnancy was bananas.

No, I’m saying that the reason we have so many gaffes, so often, is because people are fallible, cameras are everywhere and the internet makes sure that all secrets are just funny things waiting to be discovered.

Imagine, if you will, that you have one 3×5 notecard to relay to the world the most important thing you’ve ever had to say. You’ve been given a single black sharpie and been informed that you have 10 minutes to write it and whatever is on the card is what everyone in the world will find out about.

That’s about the size of public speaking in politics. Whatever you say, whether you accidentally cough mid-sentence or have low blood sugar, is what the people will hear.

When I consider how often I misspeak or even incorrectly fill out paperwork I’m not so surprised that candidates actually say the wrong thing from time to time. Now throw in the pressure of party leadership, media demagogues, and a news cycle that sways from side to side like a WVU student.

No soundbite, no matter how damning, can tell you everything about a candidate or his position. Odds are the politician is more nuanced than whatever 20 words were picked up by the media machine.

So I guess what I’m saying is make sure you look into that condemning quote before you make your judgement… or just ignore it altogether and pay attention to something that’s actually important.

For instance, can anyone tell me why this is happening? I’ve brought it up before, but can someone actually explain to me how this headline is possible? If the GOP figures it out there will be a titanic shift in politics. And if you didn’t feel like clicking on the linky-link I’ve posted the funniest thing I’ve seen today below.

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Hope, Change, And Growing Pains

Yes We Can?

My grandmother sent me an email last week with a hip, new video about electing Barack Obama. If you can’t tell, I use “hip” ironically. It’s not a huge surprise that my grandmother, an elderly African American swept away by Obama fever four years ago, would still want to help engage the youth. I’m sure this email, with “Fw: Fwd: Fw: Fwd: FW:” proceeding the subject title, is an attempt to cut through the cynicism that seems to enshroud my generation’s political efficacy.

Maybe that cynicism is the reason this video feels forced and embarrassingly generic. Also, is it just me or does that guy accidentally sniff that girl’s butt at 0:54?

Watching “Take Us Forward” makes me feel the same way watching Austin Powers 2 made me feel–uncomfortable. I’m simultaneously struck by mild humiliation and a profound sadness with roots in a more genuine video that came out in the 2008 Democratic primary.

I would be lying if I said this video didn’t win me over. These four minutes turned me from a Hillary supporter to an Obama voter during my junior year of college. I told folks that I changed because of the policy differences, but looking back, I really flipped because Barack Obama was bold enough to hope to tackle our problems, eloquent enough to express the boundlessness of American potential without sounding jingoistic, and fortunate enough to have Will.I.Am put his thoughts to lyrical verse.

I was transformed by those three simple words.

Watching the video now, Mr. Obama and Kate Walsh cut through my political doubt in seconds. But below that is a painful dissonance. A voice in the back of my mind whispers, you are not the man we thought you were.

How did this youthful candidate become synonymous with raining death from above with UAV drone strikes? Are there clues in this video that Obama administration transparency would be Bush-like in its execution?

Is this what happens when the idealist comes to power?

Was it a constant chorus of “no” from the political opposition that ended “yes we can?”

Was the job so complicated, so full of secrets the public doesn’t know, that he couldn’t dare maintain his hopeful agenda?

Was it the dream of a second term that tempered the fire he stirred?

Even my questions sound like apologies on his behalf. Maybe Barack Obama underestimated how much ugly there is between the spaces of misunderstanding that define our political reality.

Don’t mistake my meaning. I love Barack Obama in spite of his flaws and missteps. He has, arguably, the most difficult and demanding job in the entire world, made more complicated by hyper-partisan gridlock and the racist overtures of a country coming to terms with its first black president. I weep for what the man could have accomplished if the economy hadn’t tanked right before he took office.

But that dissonance I feel comes from the loss of hope. For a few months Barack Obama made us believers. His audacity and, dare I say naivete, made us all innocent again.

And “Yes We Can” reminds us, with heavy hearts, that the last four years have been the loss of that innocence.

I believe, somewhere under the mountain of cash and talking points, most candidates run for office because they want to do good. Each of them, at some time, feels what Barack Obama made many of us feel during his first run for the presidency.

But I suspect, somewhere along the road to the presidency, too many secrets are created to keep that hope alive. As more and more of a candidate’s time is given to raising money and fighting the PR war it seems like there’s little opportunity to fulfill the dreams of those early days.

It’s oddly poetic that Will.I.Am’s inspiring refrain is replaced with the painfully forced “Take Us Forward”

Guess the dream was deferred after all.

The uncomfortable truth about growing up is that we often compromise our values to get shit done. Barack Obama has become the avatar for a generation of kids who grew up between 2009 and now. And maybe my cynicism is showing, but I’ll be voting for the president less because I dare to hope we can be the kind of country we deserve, and more because it’s the pragmatic choice.

Grumble grumble. Adulthood sucks.

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The More Romney We Come Across, The More Problems We See

Mitt Romney’s tour abroad (which includes all of two European countries and Israel) has produced some interesting commentary from the would-be next president. No doubt most of these comments are blips on the radar, but with enough points on the page we can start to connect the dots.

Late last week an anonymous foreign policy advisor within the Romney campaign had choice words for the Daily Telegraph concerning the Obama administration’s regard for the UK.  Specifically:

Gage Skidmore  via Wikimedia Commons

“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage and he [Romney] feels that the special relationship is special…”

And further on

“The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.”

Curious words given how many Americans don’t have Anglo-Saxon history. Many of those same Americans owe a lot of historical hardship to that heritage. The problem with that Anglo-Saxon heritage is that it’s wrapped in colonial history and colonialism hasn’t been kind to everyone.

Are we to take it to mean Barack Obama doesn’t appreciate the Anglo-Saxon heritage because he’s not Anglo-Saxon? Was this a subtle reminder about some of the convenient differences between Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama?

Maybe, but it feels more like this was a nuanced commentary on a shared history that was poorly stated.

There was also some commentary Mr. Romney had for the British people concerning preparedness for the Olympics:

“A few things that were disconcerting. The stories about the private security firm not having enough people, supposed strike of immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging.”

Not racist. Not really even that important… even if it is kind of a dickish thing to say to a country trying to get excited for the risky business of turning the Olympics into an economic boon.

And then there’s the trip to Israel where Romney was overheard commenting on the cultural differences between Israelis and Palestinians.

“It is a deeply moving experience to be in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel…”

And a more complicated cultural comment on the triumph of the Israeli economy.

“Culture makes all the difference… And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few others things?”

The first comment is interesting because while contentious, or so I read according to experts in middle eastern geopolitics, but it falls in line with previous presidential comments. So maybe not so serious, even if it did get serious attention. Guess that’s Liberal Media: 1, Romney: 0

The second comment is a little weirder. By comparing Israeli success by citing their GDP against Palestinian scores. If the idea is that Israeli culture is the deciding factor… it means that other comparable cultures cannot be as successful.

Are these hints at the careless, racist culture within the Romney camp?

Maybe, but it feels like there are a couple different elements at play. We’ve already talked about how the Mitt Romney isn’t class sensitive, but it feels like he also doesn’t understand why you can’t comment on someone else’s culture without perilous risk. Our culture is made up of the values we hold important.

It would be kind of like me saying that the culture of Alabama is the reason poverty is rampant in that state. Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not (though we should try not to confuse culture with politics or economics) because it still pisses people off when they hear it.

More importantly, Mr. Romney was supposed to be taking this tour to prove that he’s capable of leading abroad. And maybe he did just that. These 3 gaffes represent only the smallest part of what he did in Europe and Israel. And, to be fair, it seems like he failed at making complicated observations that are probably more correct than not. The problem is that instead of coming back from Europe looking like the next president, he looks like a rookie. This may just be a PR failure, but it’s a failure none the less.

Finally, there is a part of me that wonders if some of this has to do with how foreigners feel about Barack Obama. It’s no secret that our president has enjoyed a higher approval rating abroad than at home until recently. Actually, even in decline 63% of Europeans approve of Obama’s policies. It makes me wonder if Romney’s walking through a PR minefield.

It often seems like American liberalism is European conservatism, which would make Romney the crazy right winger trying to lead the country with the most nukes and drones. But that is just a hunch.

What I do think is that the Romney camp isn’t very good at dealing with folks that aren’t like themselves. Take that NAACP speech he gave last month. That was a prime opportunity to address a huge disparity in our electoral politics: Why do African Americans (and other minorities and women) vote for Democrats over Republicans in such large margins?

That’s a real question that deserves a real answer, and it would have been fascinating to hear about why the candidate thinks that happens and how he would like to address it. Hell, if the GOP could figure out how to stop Dems from pulling down the minority vote or the women’s vote they could probably win every election outside of a coastal state… and maybe a lot of those too.

Instead it turned into he said she said about whether Romney was trying to get booed to fire up his own base.

What it seems like, from my vantage point, is that Romney isn’t very good at appearing empathetic. It looks like he doesn’t understand  why racial, cultural, or economic differences matter to the people in those circumstances. That may or may not be true, given that I’m looking at three things he said in a sea of other statements, but even the appearance that he doesn’t get “it” is a real problem.

 

(Feature Image: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons)

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