Sitting on the Fence

As every pundit knows and every TV analyst says, when undecided voters finally make up their minds, it can swing a presidential election.

That’s why we launched the historic Horse-You-Rode-In-On poll of undecided voters.

This is a report on why it’s taking a little longer than we expected.

We began by canvassing a scientific sample of everyone we know and everyone in our respective families. For the sake of objectivity, we didn’t ask them any questions – we just look at them, and we know exactly what they’re thinking and how they’ll vote.

The good news is that a robust 87% will vote intelligently, and only 13% are completely hopeless and always have been.

That’s not the problem.

Our conundrum is that not a single person we know is actually undecided. In hundreds of conversations ever since the last election, not one of them has ever fretted and fussed or burst into tears and stuttered and stammered…..

“I’m distraught! I just can’t decide how to vote!”

It’s astonishing. You would think that when one of the candidates has changed his mind and his policies and his fundamental philosophies and his hat and demographically selected pants and belt throughout the Republican primaries — and then changed it all again every week or so at general election campaign stops – well, shouldn’t that mean that millions of voters have to keep changing their minds about him?

That’s what our poll set out to determine.

What we discovered, instead, is that the undecided voter is extinct.

We haven’t even found any who are unsure whether they’re undecided or not.

If we don’t find one fairly soon, we’re thinking of turning the whole project over to teams of cryptozoologists who specialize in elusive specimens such as the Sasquatch, the Yeti, and the Loch Ness Monster.

It’s frustrating — like conducting a study of beverage preferences and trying to find an undecided vampire.

Who Is This Romney?

The Economist (one of our nominees for essential reading) is economically conservative though often liberal on social issues.

From across the pond, its editors would love to get behind Mitt Romney if they could believe that he would approach the presidency as a businessman determined to reduce the growth of regulation and of government. But they’re having a hard time accepting any such characterization. This week, The Economist’s lead story is titled,

“So, Mitt, what do you really believe?”

After reciting an appalling litany of Romney flip-flops on major issues, the editors say:

“Would that Candidate Romney had indeed presented himself as a solid chief executive who got things done. Instead he has appeared as a fawning PR man, apparently willing to do or say just about anything to get elected.”

And, in their closing paragraphs:

“Mr. Romney may calculate that it is best to keep quiet: the faltering economy will drive voters towards him. It is more likely, however, that his evasiveness will erode his main competitive advantage. A businessman without a credible plan to fix a problem stops being a credible businessman. So does a businessman who tells you one thing at breakfast and the opposite at supper.

“Indeed, all this underlines the main doubt: nobody knows who this strange man really is.”

No More Mr. Nice Guy

Democratic and independent voices of reason (first and foremost Barack Obama) decry the polarization and partisan vehemence of politicians and candidates. Republicans laugh and pay their think tanks to concoct an even more malevolent lie than yesterday’s.

But let’s be calm and statesmanlike, like responsible Democrats – like Harry Truman, for example, in 1948, referring to

‘…Republican gluttons of privilege, who have stuck a pitchfork in the farmer’s back’

Or Clarence Darrow:

‘When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I’m beginning to believe it.’

And Will Rogers:

‘The problem with political jokes is they get elected.’

A Smoke-Filled Courtroom

E.J. Dionne Jr. of the Washington Post is one of our favorite Op-Ed columnists. Here’s today’s example of why:

“Three days of Supreme Court arguments over the health care law demonstrated for all to see that conservative justices are prepared to act as an alternative legislature, diving deeply into policy details as if they were members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.”

He gives one example from Justice Alito and another from Chief Justice Roberts, who said some of the law’s provisions had to be included “to cobble together the votes to get it through.”

“Tell me again,“ writes Dionne, “is this a courtroom or a lobbyist’s office?”

One Good Thing

Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul (the only honest one in the debates) doesn’t believe in global warming, gun control, the CIA, the Civil Rights Act, hate crime legislation, foreign aid – you get the idea – but at least he’s consistent. Next debate, he still doesn’t like them.

And amid all his silly ideas, columnist Gail Collins finds something worthwhile. In her Saturday Op-Ed for the Times, she quotes from Paul’s book, Liberty Defined:

“Chicken Hawks are individuals who dodged the draft when their numbers came up but who later became champions of senseless and undeclared wars when they were influencing foreign policy. Former Vice President Cheney is the best example of this disgraceful behavior.”

“Really,” concludes Collins, “you can’t totally dislike the guy.”

School for Scoundrels

As the candidate debates have made manifest, the Republican party has utterly lost its way in the quest to identify suitable nominees.

Being loyal Americans, we cannot stand idly by as this sorry farce unfolds. For our nation and our Republican friends, we hereby reprint for their renewed attention the framing principles – the 21st century bylaws – on what qualities must be exhibited by a Republican candidate for public office.

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I
Candidate must demonstrate that he or she is:

Slogan-inventive
Anal-retentive
large in capacity for mendacity

Example slogan. For a Republican urban revitalization bill:
MEND-A-CITY

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II
Candidates must veritably ooze a talent for:

Posing as innocents
Hosing constituents
Smiling strategeously lying egregiously

Rule of Thumb: The bigger the whopper, the bigger the smile, and do mention your mother, even though she will rap your knuckles later.

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III
Candidate must screen supporting lobbyists and billionaire puppet-masters to be sure they have chosen the most virtuous names for their most scurrilous schemes – such as Americans for Prosperity (Koch brothers), Focus on the Family (anti-science, anti-mother, anti-gay), Manhattan Institute (anti poor people), Pacific Institute for Public Policy Research (anti-black).

Rule of Thumb:

The bigger the prick,
the dirtier the trick,
the surer it would have made Socrates sick,

the more righteous its title,
and lay it on thick

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Those are the basics. Ignore them at your peril.

And don’t go feeling guilty that so many Republicans are boneheaded creationists. Your whole history is one long reversal of evolution – a slow, sickening 146-year descent from Honest Abe all the way down to Eric Cantor.

Who wouldn’t be disoriented?

Quote of the Week

Joe Nocera, in his Times Op-Ed piece Tuesday, writes about Tennessee congressman Jim Cooper – a blue dog democrat and “a lonely voice for civility in this ugly era.” Nocera quotes a characteristic Cooper comment:

“We’ve gone from Brigadoon to Lord of the Flies.”

Round Them All Up

We’ll have to determine who has the authority to get this done, but by now it should be clear to everyone that the five conservatives on the Supreme Court should have their offices relocated to K Street.

Based on their decisions, the right wing justices are obviously creatures of the same corporate oligarchy that pays the lobbyists assembled there to pull the puppet strings of Congress.

To make room for these new tenants, it will be necessary to downsize the sprawling office suites of incumbent K-Streeters, limiting each firm to an efficiency apartment. That should be sufficient space because, as Mitt Romney recently pointed out, corporations are people; and no person needs more than two rooms to do anything that’s above board.

The Republican justices asserted the same theory in Citizens United – the worst decision in the history of the court. They ruled that, being people, corporations have the same right right you and I have to free speech, but in their case flooding the media with their “free” speeches cannot be restricted to bushels or even truckloads of money.

They’re entitled to buy entire elections, city or state legislatures, the U.S. Congress, or whatever other subversions of democratic process they happen to fancy.

But nobody said anything about allowing them unlimited office space.

Relocating the justices cheek by jowl with the other lobbyists anticipates the day when Americans finally realize what’s been going on.

Pitchforks and torches in hand, they’ll find that the culprits – or at least their henchmen — have already been rounded up.

Crisis in the Caucuses

Reminiscent of the chorus of adulterers who solemnly demanded Bill Clinton’s impeachment, Republican congressmen and senators have been calling for Anthony Weiner to resign. Even though he did nothing illegal and did not misuse government or campaign funds to buy off mistresses and misters (unlike some of his accusers), he lied about how those photos came about.

What wonderful news!

For the first time, Republicans in congress are taking the position that when one of them is shown to have lied, he should resign.

I have my list. I’m sure you have yours.

Of course Democrats have also been known to lie, but under the tutelage of Karl Rove, Republicans have migrated en masse from facts to fiction to fantasy and flimflam.

When did you last hear a word of truth escape the mouth of a Republican speaking on healthcare reform, deficit reduction, job creation, Medicare, or for that matter NPR and Planned Parenthood?

Mass resignations of demonstrable liars will pretty much depopulate the Republican caucuses – except for a few Tea Party post turtles who can’t be accused of lying because, honestly, they can’t tell fact from fantasy — and Democrats can go back to squabbling among themselves like they always do and losing close votes despite having an overwhelming majority.

Where to send contributions to the unemployed liars? Never mind. They’ll all get cushy sinecures as lobbyists.

Free-Market Monopolists

Conservatives incessantly bemoan the tangled thicket of government regulation, which is what they say socialists like Barack Obama live to inflict on otherwise productive free market capitalists.

This is a note about two curious omissions from that perennial lament.

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For eight giddy if not glorious years, the free-market capitalists had everything they ever wanted. Under Bush/Cheney, regulations evaporated.

Republicans controlled the Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court. Congress repealed time-tested, essential regulations. The Court struck down others. And Bush/Cheney wouldn’t let government regulators enforce the rest. When any bureaucrat tried to maintain order, ethics, safety, or transparency in the market, one of the regulated companies would complain and the errant regulator was summarily transferred, demoted, or fired.

So how did their golden age of unfettered capitalism work out?

They blew up the financial system, crippled the economy, screamed for emergency socialism to bail out the banks, caused the worst recession in half a century, and wreaked untold misery on millions of Americans who lost their jobs and their homes.

Surely, they had finally learned their lesson? Naah. They’re singing the same song, only louder, now that Democrats hold the White House and (sort of) the Senate.

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And there’s a second shell game afoot when entrepreneurial capitalists complain about regulation.

These supposed free-marketers are the first to demand corporate welfare, protectionist trade restrictions, and every other form of government intrusion that will hamstring their competitors or preserve their cartels and monopolies.

Remember how they lobbied the Senate into Prohibiting Medicare from negotiating better prices on pharmaceuticals?

This week’s Economist looks at one such batch of regulations demanded by business –- anti-competitive licensing requirements. In the U.S., 38% of all jobs now require some form of certification (In the UK, it’s 13%).

For example, Benedictine abbot Justin Brown in Louisiana has been supplementing his tiny income by handmaking wooden coffins. He was just notified by the Louisiana Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors that state law says he can’t do that unless he’s a certified member – which they would make it excruciatingly difficult and expensive to become.

“Heaven knows,” says the Economist, “what harm a corpse might suffer from an unlicensed coffin.”

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To lighten the regulatory burden, Florida’s legislature recently advanced a bill to remove licensing requirements from 20 non-critical occupations, including hair-braiding, interior design, and teaching ballroom dancing. Surely everyone, left or right, could get behind this fresh breeze of liberation from wasted time, money, and frustration.

Cartels of businesses engaged in such pursuits sent in their lobbyists and kept all the regulations in place.

In many if not most states, licenses are required for florists, barbers, wigmakers, wrestlers, tour guides,  interior designers, and purveyors of frozen custard, fireworks, and second-hand books. You can’t be too careful. Alabama demands that would-be manicurists take 750 hours of instruction and an examination.

(Hey, cuticle, how much is five plus five?)

In Utah, Jestina Clayton, an African hair braider with 23 years of experience (this, too, from the Economist) is barred from pursuing her craft.

The Utah Barber, Cosmetologist/Barber, Electrologist and Nail Technician Licensing Board (all hail the laissez-faire capitalists of Utah!) decrees that Jestina must have a license – which will cost up to $18,000 for 2,000 hours of study, none of it dealing with African hair braiding.

Thus do crusading free-market foxes regulate capitalist hen houses.

To save you from socialism, they would regulate every hair on your head.