Thursday, September 20, 2012

Businessman Romney vs. Presidential Candidate Romney

Ignore for a moment Mitt Romney’s stated Conservative values, attitudes, and policies, whether he believes them or not (who knows?).  Even ignore the fact that he’s a very rich man with a fuzzy, flawed view of the different kinds of people and struggles within the 47% he contemptuously lumped together, as well as everyone else who’s not rich.  The thing to keep in mind is that Mitt Romney is a senior corporate executive, not just in his past experience, but in his business view of political leadership.  There seems to be considerable sentiment that America needs a businessman at the helm, rather than a politician.  But Romney is proving them wrong.

Many Americans have come to dislike, mistrust and ignore politicians, dismissing them all as corrupt, self-serving and/or ideologues.  Of course there is more than a nugget of truth here.  But corrupt, crazy, blatant hatred and disrespect, and a lack of bipartisan camaraderie weren’t always the norm.  So, I still believe that many politicians become so because they genuinely want to serve the public good.

Unfortunately, I don’t think serving the public good is Gov. Romney’s motivation.  He doesn’t think like a sincere public servant, he thinks like a dedicated businessman.  For example, he doesn’t take the long view; businesspeople think in terms of business quarters and how they’ve performed.  He also doesn’t connect the dots among the many issues a nation faces and over which a president must preside simultaneously.  Very few of society’s problems exist in a vacuumwhereas in business, a malfunctioning situation may be isolated in one or more specific areas, or cohort, as Romney said the other day.  In life, a cohort is a friend.  In business, a cohort is a team, department, or division. 

As in business, Romney’s focus is on money – overhead and profit, in business; in political terms, the economy, deficit and debt.  He objects to spending in general and taxing the rich in particular.  But he does not see the connections between many social issues and why spending and taxing are needed, e.g., the connections between unemployment and outsourcing, downsizing, public service and private sector employment, primary/higher education and adult training, poverty, health care, child care, et al, the sum of which will shape our future.

Mitt Romney has taken on the role of politician in his years-long effort to become President of the United States.  But he doesn’t understand how to function in big time, hardball politics.  Like a good businessman, he understands the importance of delegating, so he has essentially delegated his campaign.  He’s laying low to avoid conflict and association with all his own untimely and revealing remarks , leaving his subordinates to fight the fight and take the heat.  In essence, Romney doesn’t understand that political leadership must quickly give way to national, governmental, personal leadership.  Politics and business are not the same thing, and confusing or interchanging them is bad business and dangerous politics.

It’s significant that Romney famously said corporations are people, and, that on a recent stump speech, he used the word “company” when he meant to say “country.”  When Romney says corporations are people, he’s not referring to a corporation’s human life/workforce.  He means a business entity, the legal paperwork that creates the foundation on which corporations function, is a person.  It’s a whole other kind of wacked “personhood.”

If Romney understood the rules and dynamics of social leadership as well as he understands the same things in business, he might be a force to be reckoned with (I still think he’d be a dufus, but let’s just say, for the sake of argument…).  The problem is Romney thinks being president is essentially being the CEO of the USA.

He wants to streamline and downsize and purge systems and personnel (citizens) that are not making the corporation…er, the country…profitable.  He’s more concerned with Return on Investment for his stockholders (the infamous one percent) than the contributions and needs of his stakeholders (workers and everyone else).  He wants to keep power and information close to the vest, and have his Cabinet function like a rubber-stamp board of directors – like any good CEO would.  This is a close race and Romney is a disaster waiting to happen.

I wish Romney would get out of politics and go back into business.  He might conceivably do some good.  With any luck, he’ll be available as of November 7th.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

An Important Correction – and – a Word About Bad Political Judgment & Timing

Now it's time to discuss the political ramifications of yesterday's events.  In my post yesterday, I was incorrect in saying that Gov. Romney criticized the President’s initial response to the extremist attacks in Libya and Egypt.  That is not what the Republican/Conservative presidential contender did.  In point of fact, what Romney did was much worse and demonstrated a level of bad political judgment and timing that should give every American “independent” and “undecided” voter serious pause.  It wouldn’t hurt if it gave a few Republican voters pause, too.

What actually happened was this.  The American Embassy in Cairo got wind of possible pending attacks in response to a movie trailer that had appeared on the Internet.  In an effort to avert the attacks, the Embassy issued a statement on its own authority (e.g., without the knowledge or approval of The White House).  This is the statement they issued:

“The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims -- as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”

Right after Romney learned of the attacks and without the full facts about their resulting fatalities – and without waiting to hear to anything directly from The White House – he issued this statement:

“I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi.  It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

Needless to say – or, rather, in this political climate, unfortunately necessary to say – this in no way was a reply to the President’s actual response (made later in the day after the facts were in), nor “the Administration’s” response.  This was an uninformed politician’s effort to make premature political hay out of a sensitive, dangerous, international event – thus proving that to Mitt Romney, understanding and speaking about America’s foreign policy really is “a distraction” (as he recently, stupidly said).

Some Republicans (to my surprise) have quickly spoken out against Romney’s untrue and untimely remarks.  Others (hardly to my surprise) are standing firm, parroting the “official” support statement.  As Gail Collins explained in her New York Times column this morning:

The Romney campaign, according to CNN, helpfully passed out suggestions for supporters who might want to defend Mitt. (When asked whether he was too quick on the attack, loyalists were supposed to say: “No. It is never too soon to stand up for American values and interests.”).”

Folks, this incident may hurt Mitt Romney’s chances of winning the presidency, but it very well may not – because millions of Americans are still not paying attention and still think all politics and politicians are the same, and what they say or do makes no difference in their own lives or those of others.

I don’t know who or what is most disheartening: Mitt Romney’s clear lack of presidential intelligence, strategy and gravitas, or the American people’s clear lack of active citizenship by watching, analyzing, and engaging in the political process (voting!!!).  I fear that between both of them, we may all be seriously screwed.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Where Are the Moderate Muslims?

We are still just getting a clearer picture of yesterday’s attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed US ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three of his staff.  A similar angry, armed mob also attacked the US Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, which resulted in more general destruction, injury, vandalism and demonstrations of Muslim extremist hatred for America.  What we have not seen, as usual, nor are we likely to see, is a swell of protest against these actions from moderate Muslims – not in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Asia, or most important, Muslim-Americans.  Why not?  Where are the Moderate Muslims?

I do not condone the sentiments and often the behavior of those who are Muslim-phobic in this country, and I fully understand that most Muslims worldwide are not extremists engaging in or supporting of terrorism and political violence.  But it becomes increasingly irritating to not see this larger Muslim World stand up to the extremists – the violent, ignorant, bullies – in their ranks.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.  He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

These most recent incidents were apparently set off by an obscure, amateur video that is extremely anti-Islam and, of course, deeply insulting to the Prophet Mohammad.  And as stupid as it may seem to us, the extremists believed the video was a blockbuster Hollywood movie that was going to be released to coincide with the 11th anniversary of the September 11th attacks.

According to today’s New York Times:

“The trailer was uploaded to YouTube by Sam Bacile, whom The Wall Street Journal Web site identified as a 52-year old Israeli-American real estate developer in California.  He told the Web site he had raised $5 million from 100 Jewish donors to make the film.  ‘Islam is a cancer,’  Mr. Bacile was quoted as saying.

“The video gained international attention when a Florida pastor began promoting it along with his own proclamation of Sept. 11 as ‘International Judge Muhammad Day.’  In a statement on Tuesday, the pastor, Terry Jones of Gainesville, Fla., called the film ‘an American production, not designed to attack Muslims but to show the destructive ideology of Islam’ and said it ‘further reveals in a satirical fashion the life of Muhammad’.”

Lest you’ve forgotten, it was Mr. Jones who, a while back, thought threatening to burn a copy of the Koran would be helpful in fighting terrorism and strengthening positive relationships between the US and Muslim nations.

I don’t want to devote too much space to noting that in today’s impossible 24-hour news and politics pace of life and governing, it is regrettable that Gov. Mitt “Foreign Policy is a Distraction” Romney felt both obliged and entitled to immediately criticize the President’s initial response.  After all, in the middle of The Campaign, everything is fair political game for a kick in the balls.  “America First,” indeed.

For the record, Obama’s “objectionable” statement was as follows: “While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants.”

No, I want to concentrate on the fact that contemporary, moderate, ordinary-folks-just-like-you-and-me-Muslims have never collectively done anything to disparage the brethren who are making them look bad and are doing nothing to make the world better – in general or for Muslims in particular – with their violence, hatred and, frankly, a complete lack of sense of humor about themselves and what they believe in.

If you really believe in what you say you believe in – whatever that may be – you don’t get crazy every time someone writes a book or draws a cartoon or makes a movie that offends you.  You let it roll off your back at the least, and peacefully protest about it at the most.  And it would also have been nice, in this instance, if the protesters had given the US some slack, given our support of the Arab Spring and our efforts to avert a Libyan genocide.

To his political detriment, President Obama has consistently tried to walk a fine line between improving relations and communication with the Muslim World and maintaining a consistently supportive policy with Israel.  For his efforts, he’s been accused by the radical American Right of being a Muslim; and rejected, even reviled, by American Jews for not doing enough for Israel.  Instead, Obama and the US have been attacked by Muslim extremists who have no understanding of a culture in which ideas are expressed that are not shared by government, religious leaders, or the populace at large.

If the vast majority of Muslims just want to live their lives and practice their religion in peace, they must show some collective gumption and stand up for sanity and order.  If they don’t, the extremists will make it even worse for them, as well as incur reprisals that would otherwise be unnecessary; it will be a self-fulfilled prophecy, realized in large part by those who stood by and did nothing.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Conventionally Speaking

I watched all of both the Republican and Democratic Conventions and found both of them informative, fascinating and revealing.  I watched them on C-SPAN so I wouldn’t be harangued by in-the-moment media analysis or irritated with commercials.  Then, over the several nights of both events, I watched analysis on PBS and the Cable Big Three (MSNBC, CNN and FOX).  I no longer pay any attention to the Big Three Broadcast networks that pay nothing to broadcast (and never have) yet still pay no attention to their civic obligations as massive media institutions; screw ‘em, let them play football while Rome burns.

I’m saddened to learn that convention viewership was low and that by and large, Republicans/Conservatives and Democrats each watched their own conventions but not each other’s.  I can only hope the debates will inspire greater and more bipartisan viewership.

And it’s too bad more people didn’t watch, because the differences between the two conventions were stark and very important.

The Republicans were stiff; many of the speakers were more politically self-serving than anything else; the delegation was (as usual) glaringly Caucasian; and the messages were clear.  Barack Obama is the most terrible, dangerous thing to ever happen to America and if Romney/Ryan win, they will undo as much Obama policy as they can and run the country like a corporation.  They made obvious their devotion to Norman Rockwell-like families and marriage; their belief in having as little government as possible doing as little as possible (except where women’s autonomy is concerned, of course); talked endlessly about God and taxes; and showed nothing but contempt for social issues, social programs and the poor – to the very minimal extent they addressed them at all.  They also outright lied about several matters, then afterwards announced they “would not allow this campaign to be controlled by fact-checkers.”  That’s true chutzpah.

In contrast, the Democrats produced a much more lively show.  The music was hotter, the speakers were numerous, diverse, and largely fired up and ready to go.  The delegation was a greatly mixed, cheerful crowd, with many people in outrageously fun get-ups.  But they weren’t there to play.  The primary topic of discourse was the Man of the Hour: Barack Obama.  There was much commentary from speakers about what he’d accomplished (Obamacare, the auto-bailout, ending the war in Iraq, getting bin Laden, the Lilly Ledbetter Act, ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” etc.) and an obvious understanding that much more needs to be done, on the economic front especially.  But as Bill Clinton accurately observed, “No president, not me, not any of my predecessors, could have cleaned up the mess that was left for him in just four years.”

What was most heartening about the Democrats was what I can only describe as their humanity – a sensibility I sure didn’t feel from the let-them-eat-rice & beans GOP.  The Dems talked about community and citizenship and the fact that we’re all in this together.  They emphasized that while government should not be involved in everything, there are good and important things government can and should do.  They repeatedly referenced women’s rights, from pay equity to complete control of our health care, including reproductive freedom.  There were several gay speakers and broad support throughout the hall for GLBT rights, including marriage.  They talked about the fairness of The Dream Act, new energy initiatives, science, climate change and the enormous importance of affordable education and retraining working people whose skills are outdated.  There was assurance that the very young, the elderly, the disabled, and, singularly, returning veterans, would be protected and supported.  The said a “civilized society” looks forward, moves forward, works cooperatively and doesn’t leave anyone hanging out to dry.

Neither party was coy or closed about its values, priorities, positions or beliefs.  They couldn’t be more clear in their differences about who and what they want to serve.  Both parties also had interesting omissions in their statements.  The Republicans in general and Romney in particular said nothing about the Afghanistan War, the troops, or his party’s platform!  The Democrats didn’t mention the Stimulus Package during the president’s first two years.  The Democrats also didn’t say outright that a corporation isn’t a person and a country isn’t a corporation and a president isn’t a CEO and the Cabinet is not a Board of Directors.  The Republicans didn’t say a word about civil service, service, which is what government is about – service and leadership.

I’ve often been upset with Barack Obama over the past few years.  Even allowing for the obstructionism and outright hatred he was faced with from Day One, I thought he was at times too eager to cooperate and compromise with a Disloyal Opposition that was more dedicated to making him a one-term failure than they were in helping the country and its people.  They see the world – and the country – as a business deal.  That’s a very bad thing.

I appreciate that many people have lost faith in the political process entirely, who think that both sides, all sides, are corrupt and dishonest and not worth getting out of bed to vote for.  I don’t deny that political chicanery abounds.  But if you’d seen these two conventions, you would know that the Republicans have officially become right-wing extremists controlled by the Tea Party fringe, and the Democrats, however disjointed and disorganized they are at times, are still the party who cares about everyday people.  To them, the “bottom line” is not the whole story.  So please listen, please watch – and please vote.