Tag Archives: U.S. Election 2012

The American politics of Canadian health care

Scary! Screen cap from the ad featuring Shona Holmes blasting Canadian health care.

She’s back.  Shona Holmes, the Hamilton, Ontario native who became a poster child for the American right wing in 2009 as the debate over health care reform roared to life, is starring in a new Koch Brothers-funded Super PAC ad warning voters about the pitfalls of socialized medicine – and not only that, she’s hanging around the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte all week and available for interviews.  Given all the talk about the tidal influx of corporate money into the American electoral process since the Citizens United decision, if the best spokesperson the Kochs can come up with to star in their $27-million fear-mongering campaign against the ACA is an outsider whose complaints about her native land’s health care system have been thoroughly debunked, that’s some pretty weak-ass sauce – or, dare I say it as I put on sunglasses, unhealthy?  YEAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!  Can you imagine the reaction on the right if an Obama-supporting Super PAC ran an ad featuring Canadians demanding higher taxes on the rich?  Cries from the Fox News cabal about filthy foreigners tampering with the sacred trust of American elections would be positively deafening.

The message of the ad is essentially that because the Canadian health care system allegedly failed Ms. Holmes, Americans should run as fast as they can in the opposite direction.  This one Canadian (out of 34 million) claims she had a bad experience, so let’s stick with the disastrous version we have now rather than pursuing a model that is so treasured by the Canadian people because of its success that no party dares broach the subject of changing it lest they suffer massive electoral blowback.  I find the right wing’s approach to attacking programs they don’t like (read:  they haven’t figured out a way to make money off) amusing in that it’s always the all-or-nothing gambit.  They’re always looking for the insignificant opening into which they can bludgeon the moneyed weight of their angry wedge.  A single slip-up, to them, warrants the dismantling of an entire organization – just as the appearance of a couple of bad apples in a malicious, heavily edited, out-of-context amateur video was grounds for taking apart ACORN (the real reason being that ACORN was instrumental in getting a lot of Democratic voters to the polls).  It’s as facetious and flimsy a position on which to build an argument as suggesting that if a single brick in the Great Pyramid of Giza cracks, the entire thing might as well be dynamited.  But it’s all you have when the only reason you can offer for being against something is that you don’t happen to like it very much.

It’s telling indeed that Shona Holmes is the only Canadian the Kochs could find to speak against Obamacare, and that she would be dragged out again three years after her initial appearance on the scene.  They probably couldn’t find anyone else.  For Canadians, what is almost as universal as our health coverage is our pride in our system – and our gratitude that getting sick in Canada doesn’t mean a financial death sentence.  Several years ago I was hospitalized for a serious lung condition, requiring X-rays, painkillers, and finally an intercostal tube drainage treatment.  My total bill for my week-long stay:  $12, for the optional phone at my bedside.  Everything else was covered by the program I pay into with my taxes, and nothing required was withheld because it wasn’t on my plan or whatever other spurious reasons the private companies invent to deny care in the U.S.  And my experience is not unique.  As to the myth of Canadians dying as they wait for needed surgery, it’s just that.  The Canadian system is based on triage – urgent cases go to the front of the line and everyone else is placed in priority sequence.  Decisions about who goes first are made by medical personnel (with apologies to the ex-Governor of Alaska, not once has any Canadian been forced to file a request with their local Member of Parliament before calling their doctor).  In the case of Shona Holmes, she was diagnosed with a benign cyst and panicked, and rather than waiting as recommended by a doctor she chose to cross the border and pay over $100,000 to the Mayo Clinic to have it removed immediately.  And with respect to her complaints about being attacked for expressing her opinion, if you are going to become a shill for U.S. corporate and political interests by spreading specious half-truths to every camera in sight because you didn’t get your lollipop right when you wanted it, you can’t be that shocked if more than a handful of folks decide to disagree with you.  Free speech goes both ways – that’s how the concept works.  (People shouldn’t have been calling her home to yell at her of course, but that’s just more proof of how passionately Canadians support and believe in their system of health care.)

It took an incredible effort on the part of President Obama, the Democratic Party and its supporters to overcome the blockades thrown up by Republican obstructionists, corporate lobbyists, lawsuit-happy state attorneys general and Tea Party zealots to get the ACA passed, half-baked half-measure as it may seem to many liberals and progressives who were longing for something more transformative.  Building on this act to craft a truly fair health care system where no one ever needs to fear getting sick in America ever again is going to take even more, and unfortunately the political damage borne by the Democrats for taking it on has made the issue something of a third rail.  But it should provide some comfort to those Americans dreaming of a single-payer program like Canada’s to know that the side fighting to keep the status quo has no real argument to make.  They may have more financial resources, more members of Congress in their pocket, but at the end of the day, it’s all smoke and mirrors – their hand is empty.  They just don’t like health care, and if you’re looking to win the conversation with the people, truth and facts are a much better starting point.


“I Misspoke” and non-apology apologies

Rep. Todd Akin, Republican candidate for Senate (Missouri). Not pictured: Todd Akin’s brain.

By now, everyone with even a passing interest in the U.S. election has heard of Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin’s remark that “legitimate rape,” whatever on earth that is, doesn’t cause pregnancy.  Compounding the sheer idiocy of this comment was Akin’s follow-up non-apology apology, in which he claimed he misspoke and pivoted as hard as he could without acquiring whiplash to bashing President Obama on his handling of the economy.  It’s been observed that Akin likely isn’t sorry at all that he said what he did, that his original remarks come from a place of deeply-held convictions fuelled by religion and God knows – pun intended – what else.  Saying “I misspoke” is poll-tested politicalspeak for “I know what I said will probably lose votes but I don’t want to outright disavow it because that will lose the votes of my base and I really don’t want to be portrayed as a flip-flopper or give my opponent something they can use against me in a TV ad and… SQUIRREL!”  Akin’s hoping to ride out the news cycle and trusting that the rubes who would vote for Vlad the Impaler so long as he was running on a Republican “values” platform will still put him and his 15th Century views on women in the Senate chamber come November.  That’s what “I misspoke” really is, no matter who uses it:  a Get Out of Jail (or at least a Get Your Foot Out of Your Mouth) Free card.  It’s a stopgap half-truth designed to soothe the angry, reassure the faithful and ultimately prove what a spineless weasel the candidate is – a small person without courage, without integrity, and without any business occupying elected office.

Real men own their mistakes.  If Todd Akin says he’s going to take out the garbage and forgets, what does he say to his wife?  “In reviewing my remarks to you at the dinner table earlier this evening, it’s clear that I misspoke in our discussion and it does not reflect my deep empathy for the millions of trash bags left rotting at the curb every year as the truck drives away.  This is clearly a result of President Obama’s failed waste collection policies and an example of why we need new leadership in Washington.”  Wonder how that doesn’t end with him sleeping on the couch for a month?  If this hypothetical situation goes down, what really happens is that Akin begs on his knees for forgiveness, buys Mrs. Akin flowers and a spa day and never forgets to take out the garbage again.  Why don’t we demand the same level of accountability for those we entrust with the public purse?  Why are they allowed to say “I misspoke” and get off scot-free – or worse, get into office where they can screw our lives with impunity before retiring on a glorious pension after utterly hosing the millions who voted for them in the first place?

 When you think about it, the “I Misspoke” is genius.  It has the effect of feigning contrition where there is absolutely none – where the costs of doing so are deemed by a focus group to be politically suicidal.  It sounds amazingly remorseful, yet isn’t in the slightest.  From what I’ve observed, there are essentially three components to the “I Misspoke,” and none of them involve acknowledging responsibility:

  1. Point out that there may have been some confusion about the intent of the remarks.  Even if the remarks were abhorrent, it’s always about the confusion.  Shorter version:  It’s your fault you’re upset by what I said.
  2. Claim I’m really a nice guy because I love flowers and rainbows and kittens and I feel really bad for people who have to go through hard times (the subtext being, elect me and I’ll vote to cut funding for every single one of you, you freeloading bastards).
  3. Pivot to something completely unrelated as long as it’s a poll-tested, campaign-approved message.  “Yes, I probably should not have expressed my admiration for the German economy of the 1940’s but man, did you get a load of Ryan Lochte’s abs?  And what’s the deal with Nyan Cat?”

Notice too that the word “sorry” seldom, if ever, appears in the context of the “I Misspoke.”  That’s only used by people who feel genuinely distraught about the weight of what they’ve done, and intend by whatever means necessary to rectify it.  If Todd Akin is elected to the Senate, he will not experience any road-to-Damascus conversion and suddenly become a champion of abortion rights and women’s issues.  He’ll vote according to what was on display in that original interview, saying “aye” to every mandatory ultrasound-requiring, Planned Parenthood-defunding, women’s health care-eliminating bill that comes his way.  If Akin is upset at all it’s that he’s put his Senate bid in jeopardy – he does not give one-tenth of a rat’s ass about women, which is why his non-apology apology rings so false.  As Rihanna might opine, “don’t tell me you’re sorry ‘cause you’re not, when you’re only sorry you got caught.” 

Because voters treat political parties like baseball teams, supporting their side to the bitter end regardless of faults (Jan Brewer winning re-election as Arizona’s governor after spacing out during the gubernatorial debate is a prime recent example), Akin stands little chance of seeing any serious long-term blowback on this issue – despite calls for him to stand aside as the Republican nominee for the Missouri Senate seat, calls which as of this writing he is brushing off.  If I were Todd Akin’s campaign manager right now, I’d tell him to stay the course, that Missouri trends right and so long as he stays on message for the rest of the campaign (read:  Obama bad!  Taxes bad!) he’ll probably win anyway, thanks largely to Karl Rove and Super PAC money.  But I wouldn’t be his campaign manager, because I’d never support such a backwards-thinking, poorly-educated head-in-the-sand empty shirt for an office of such stature.  See, the problem with the “I Misspoke” isn’t that people use it.  It’s that we have lowered the bar so far that people can “misspeak” and carry on regardless.  So long as we fail to hold our elected officials accountable when they reveal their true character as Todd Akin has, and like Akin, refuse to accept responsibility for their dumbassery, we will continue to be outraged instead of inspired, and dragged down by the worst of us instead of lifted by the best.

And I do not misspeak when I say that.

Following the money, missing the point


It really is just a pile of dead trees.

It’s with equal degrees of bemusement and resignation that I read articles speculating on how the real-life breakup of Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart may affect the box-office performance of Breaking Dawn, Part II.  Nor is it any stretch of the imagination to suspect that the morning following the Aurora massacre an emergency meeting was called in a studio boardroom somewhere to discuss how that tragedy would impact the ticket sales for The Dark Knight Rises.  The biggest questions in the presidential election revolve around money – how much of it Mitt Romney may or may not have paid in taxes, how much his campaign is raking in from billionaire Super PAC donors, whether or not Barack Obama can become the first incumbent president to be outspent and still secure re-election.  Austerity, whether advisable or not, and deficit reduction dominate the agenda of every government on the planet.  The rich are vilified in one circle for acting like feudal overlords, and praised in another as job creators.  Money is the filter through which we examine everything – we have become a species of accountants obsessed with numbers and the bottom line.  And yet we’re more miserable than we’ve ever been:  impatient, demanding, and more prone to outbursts of rage for the most insignificant reasons.  Something is clearly askew.  Is it perhaps time to undertake the first step in recovery and admit that we have a problem – that obsessing over money isn’t getting us anywhere?

I’m not naïve enough to suggest that the acquisition of wealth is ever going to fade away as a motivating factor in human behaviour; it’s been that way ever since the first Australopithecus looked out with longing at the bigger, cosier cave his neighbour across the way was occupying.  But that motivation is rooted in the biggest lie of all – that having more means being happier.  Marketers and advertisers understand this, which is why every commercial you’ve ever seen is designed to make you feel inadequate and envious, and to suggest, in somewhat the same manner as a drug dealer would, that you just need a hit of whatever is being sold – cars, shoes, cologne or designer jeans – to ease the pain of your unendingly terrible existence.  We all know better, and yet we buy in – pun most depressingly intended – to the lie, sacrificing what we’ve earned for temporary relief, at least until the next ad comes on and we begin to think ourselves lacking in some other area.  It does not have to be this way, and yet we have been conditioned in the same manner to define success in dollars alone – not influence or reach or the fundamental amelioration of our collective humanity.  Somewhere along the way, the virtue of working hard as its own reward transformed into only a means to the end of securing one’s fortune at the expense of the well-being of our peers.  Men of business the world over with less moral integrity than the average cockroach are revered as leaders and held up as ideals to emulate because they have managed to accumulate piles and piles of cash, with little, if any, consideration given to the lives that have been destroyed by their greed.  We are forced to listen to their obscene rants and give credence to their perverted worldviews because we have decided that they deserve our attention based on the size of their bank accounts.  Opinions that would otherwise be dismissed the ravings of lunacy shape policy for billions of people, because money defines the parameters of the conversation.  To our everlasting shame, we have allowed it to – in whom we have voted for and whom we have chosen to place upon gilded pedestals to admire.

Enough is enough.

Some would argue that there is a moral imperative within each soul born upon this planet to leave it in a better state than which they found it.  This is an aim hardly served by pillaging and plundering the earth’s treasures for the benefit of a select few.  What is needed is a reorienting of our values and a new form of currency, one that cannot be tied to the whims of banks:  a currency of ideas, in which the ideas are evaluated on their substance and not on how much cash is flowing behind them.  Do I think this is ever going to happen?  Well, probably not in my lifetime.  The forces of money are too deeply entrenched within the corridors of power.  But we can get the process started – by refusing to grant those forces our slavish attention, and by shedding the ridiculous belief that someone is better than we are because they are wealthier.  By not caring anymore how much so-and-so gets paid for his latest album or her starring debut.  By emphasizing quality over quantity, and evaluating character completely independently of the size of a person’s wallet.  By making “successful businessman” roughly the same estimation of a man’s worth as “frequent water drinker.”  Not going so far as vilifying financial success outright, but making it the very least important of the measures of a human being.  Saying “oh, you’re a billionaire casino entrepreneur?  How nice for you – my kid just scored three goals at his soccer game last Saturday.”

We cannot achieve true fairness in this world until we stop worshipping those things that make the world unfair.  What’s most encouraging is that we still have the choice to do that.  We just have to make it.

Mary Sue Romney and the illusion of leadership

Sleeves rolled up? Check. In front of flag? Check. Pithy podium slogan? Check. All glory to the Leader!

Mitt Romney’s campaign out-fundraised the re-election campaign of incumbent President Barack Obama again last month with over $100 million in donations taken in, to say nothing of what is going to the various Super PACs supporting his candidacy (with naturally, no coordination whatsoever, fingers crossed, honest to God, swear on his baptized father-in-law’s grave).  A seemingly unending reservoir of money dedicated to pushing a man with no convictions he will not abandon, no principles he will not set aside and no lingering shred of integrity he won’t compromise in a heartbeat of expediency into the powerful office in the world.  A man so utterly mediocre and lacking in empathy and imagination, indeed, in personality, that in a logical world he should barely register in the single digits of political support, stands a dishearteningly good chance of taking over in November – and who knows what happens then.

Yet Mitt Romney epitomizes how our notions of what constitutes leadership have been distilled, diluted and dismantled.  In the darkest archives of fan fiction we find the concept of the “Mary Sue” – the flawless new-to-canon character who saves the day repeatedly with a combination of irresistible charm, unfathomable skill and perfect breasts.  Mitt Romney has neither charm, nor skill, nor any breasts that I’m aware of, but he does share one notable trait with Mary Sue:  they are both as dull as dishwater.  “Mitt Romney” in a novel would be rejected by a publisher for being bland, unappealing and unbelievable, but in real life he’s perilously close to winning the Presidency.  The problem is, bland is the new black.  Bland is the new leadership – a trope which has been drilled into our heads by seeing too many Romney types waving to the crowd in TV ads as a faceless voice repeats “strong leader” as many times as the 30-second spot will allow.  See enough of these, as Goebbels would note, and the message starts to seep in, regardless of how antithetical it may be to the nature of the person being described.  In Canada, enough of us believe Stephen Harper is a strong leader not on any evidence that he’s shown in his actual style of governance, but because four successive election campaigns have said that he is (and more to the point, that whichever Leader of the Opposition he’s been facing isn’t).  This proroguing, speech-stifling, attack ad-funding, shameless crony-appointing former oil company mailroom boy with a massive inferiority complex rates first in all polls of the Canadian leadership scene.  And the rest of the world asks, with 34 million of you to choose from, that frickin’ guy’s the best you could come up with?  Just like the rest of the world is looking at the U.S. race and saying “Look, perhaps President Obama hasn’t been perfect, but really?  The guy who strapped the dog to the roof of his car?”

Romney locked up the Republican nomination not because he was a singular, inspiring figure, but because he was less insane than the other pretenders to the throne – Newt-Tiffany’s-Gingrich, Herman-9-9-9-Cain, Rick-Old-Testament-Santorum, Ron-I-don’t-believe-in-Social-Security-but-I-still-collect-it-Paul and Rick-What-planet-am-I-on-anyway-let’s-just-shoot-it-Perry.  Faced with the prospect of any of those characters with their fingers on the nuclear trigger, Romney sounded like a much safer bet, beliefs in magic underwear, baptizing dead relatives and Planet Kolob aside.  His blandness enabled him to emerge from the pack of the weakest contenders the Republicans have ever fielded.  And blandness combined with money enables him to pose a serious challenge to a President who has struggled with the worst economy since the Depression and an opposition Congress determined to see it stay that way in the cynical expectation that voters afflicted with Guy Pearce’s illness from Memento will turn to them to right it.  This somehow translates to Romney being perceived, against all sense, as a leader. U.S. progressives hope that the presidential debates will be Obama’s chance to demonstrate for good how empty a shirt Romney is, but they forget that John Kerry wiped the floor with George W. Bush during their three sparring matches in 2004 and still lost the election.  Proof of leadership is unnecessary; the appearance of leadership is enough, even if it’s all smoke, mirrors and flight suits.

David Letterman has famously said of Mitt Romney, “He doesn’t look like a President, he looks like the guy who plays the President in a Canadian made-for-TV movie.”  For many, that’s a dream candidate.  The guy who takes no stands that might possibly make him the slightest bit unpopular, best expressed by Marlee Matlin’s pollster Joey Lucas on a first-season West Wing:  “There go my people, I must find out where they’re going so I can lead them.”  Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney once observed cannily that he and three of his contemporaries in the office reached the highpoint of their popularity before they had done anything.  Mitt Romney is at his best right now; there is no evidence whatsoever that he has it within him to “rise to the challenge of the office” and become a man of destiny.  One does not even get the sense that anybody particularly wants him to – infamous anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist has said publicly that he doesn’t want a President who thinks, just one who signs whatever Congress puts in front of him.  As long as Mitt Romney can spell his name, Norquist and his supporters think he’s leadership material.  A bar set so low it’s hovering near the earth’s core.

For the majority of the right, it’s enough that Romney is not Barack Hussein Obama.  But let no one labor under the illusion that leadership and gravitas is acquired just by not being someone else.  An orange is not a pineapple just because it’s not a pear.  Romney has no vision, no plan, and fundamentally no real belief in the nobility of the office he aspires to.  The evidence is overwhelming:  Mary Sue Romney should not be President, and hopefully it doesn’t require four agonizing years of a Romney presidency for America to realize that.

Dear Pasty Republican Billionaires: Haven’t You Got Anything Better To Do?

Founder of the new Super PAC, “Americans for a Prosperous Tatooine.”

You can’t read U.S.political news lately without seeing a story about a septuagenarian Republican one-percenter with a hate-on for the President pouring millions of his fortune into a new Super PAC.  Thanks to Citizens United, right-wing sugar daddies are emptying their coffers to Karl Rove and ilk to flood the airwaves with ads blaming President Obama for everything from sunspots to the common cold.  Figures like the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, Foster Friess and most recently, Joe Ricketts, are positioning themselves as the new architects of what is left of American democracy.  You’d think that achieving staggering levels of wealth would be enough, but apparently, multiple mansions and car elevators are not where it’s at anymore.  These oligarchs-in-waiting are determined that the government is destined to be a rich guys-only club, and who gives a damn how many poor people get steamrolled out of existence in the process.  In fact, the more poor are simply obliterated, the better.

Stories about Republican Super PAC funders seem to have one thing in common – the men in question are uniformly old, bloated and incredibly sour-faced, as if their soul has been eaten away by a lifetime of stress, drinking, smoking and rage.  Paul McCartney told us that money can’t buy me love; these characters are the embodiment of that axiom.  These real-life Charles Foster Kanes have conquered the business world, crushed enemies in their wake and accumulated wealth to rival that of the pharaohs.  But love remains elusive for them, no matter how many zeroes in their Cayman Islands offshore holding account.  Nobody loves these guys.  No young boy goes to sleep at night dreaming of being a hedge fund manager and forcing people out of their homes.

Instead, Republican billionaires squirm and twist in a constant state of paranoia, terrified that colleagues, friends, family members and even the postal carrier who slips on the ice in their two-mile long driveway in Aspen are scheming to take everything away.  It’s no surprise, given the path a man has to take to claw his way into mega-millions.  You simply don’t get there by being adored.  How frustrating, then, that others of far more limited means can still manage to find love.  Joe Ricketts’ recently announced plan to dredge up Reverend Wright again centers on trying to make voters hate the President.  Not disagree with his policies; hate him.  So, presumably, the President can then feel as down-trodden and hopeless about life as Joe Ricketts must.  You get the feeling that we could have been spared the phenomenon of the Super PAC had their mothers just hugged these people more.

What Ricketts and the rest of these billionaires despise most about President Obama is that he is everything they are not, and will never become.  Truly self-made; someone who came from nothing and got where he is by working hard and applying himself, instead of being parachuted into accidental greatness by a generous trust fund.  A man with a beautiful wife he clearly adores beyond words and a happy, loving family.  President Obama is a greater embodiment of the American Dream than any of these grumpy old guys.  Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, he has the ability to inspire people across all walks of life, and around the globe.  Hope and change remains a potent campaign slogan because it appeals to our better angels.

For crusty old billionaires, this does not compute.  They believe everyone is as greedy and money-grubbing as they are; that altruism is a fool’s game, that no one ever does anything out of a simple wish to be good.  And it positively bakes their collective noodles that not everyone wants to be rich.  The majority of us just want to earn enough to look after our families, so they don’t have to worry about getting sick or feeding themselves or having a roof over their heads.  Amazingly, you can still do that without millions in a diversified asset portfolio, and working hard at that goal despite difficult odds is far more likely to earn you genuine love than the extra fifty million you’ll earn if Obamacare is tossed by the Supreme Court.

Simply put, a heart that is rotting cannot lift others.  The Koch brothers may have helped the Tea Party become a ground-shifting political force, but no one would ever accuse David and Charles Koch of being inspiring men.  They and those like them don’t inspire with words and ideas; they push with threats and cattle prods, because they don’t know any other way.  And they come to envy and hate the ones who do.  Whenever you see Karl Rove’s picture, this pudgy, balding sinister figure without a kind word to say about anything left of Genghis Khan, you can’t help thinking that he must have been the fat kid who was always picked last for the team, and is continuing to take his revenge on the popular kids forty years on to satisfy some long-simmering Freudian dysfunction.  And it is all so futile.  Mitt Romney could sweep all 50 states and half of Australia and these people will still be stewing in their self-loathing and cursing their inability to feel any better.  No one will love them any more.  They’ll feel even worse if they blow all this cash and President Obama still wins.

So here is my modest suggestion.

Take the money you had intended for your Super PAC and found a charity instead.  Build a school.  Refurbish a hospital.  Fund cancer or AIDS research.  Erect a nature preserve.  Start a new business and hire some people, for god’s sake.  Then go visit one of these places anonymously and look for the genuine joy in the eyes of the people you’ve been able to help.  Just stand there and soak it in – the sense of gratitude, of warm feelings.  Let your heart quicken.  Feel the love.  Then think about how you can do even more.  How good it will feel when a child whose life has been saved because of an initiative you backed mentions you in their prayers before going to sleep at night?  Wouldn’t that be amazing?  Don’t you like the idea of being remembered, like Ebenezer Scrooge at the end of the story, as “as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world”?  Or would you rather spend your money on TV ads demonizing the President of the United States, ads that will be as forgotten as swiftly as you will be the day your rotten heart finally croaks its last beat?

Ball’s in your court, Super PACs.  I know I’m sleeping fine tonight.