The Lowe Down

Category: Barack Obama (175)

Chan Lowe: Do corporations have religious beliefs?


Who can forget Mitt Romney’s fateful campaign line, “Corporations are people too, my friend?” It was just the kind of rhetorical faux pas that reinforced the developing narrative of Romney as a soulless plutocrat.

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Chan Lowe: War with Syria


Thank you, Cheney, Rummy, Condi, Wolfie and the rest of the hubristic cabal that felt they alone held the solution to the geopolitical puzzle. Thank you, George W. Bush — who couldn’t find the Middle East on a map before September of 2001 — for giving them the keys to the car.

The Iraq debacle looms over any discussion about what to do in Syria, since we’re still recovering from the burns received from the last time we placed our hand on the hot Middle East stove.

Iraq, according to the neoconservative strategists of the Bush administration, was the key to stability in the region. If we toppled Saddam, a grateful Iraqi people would allow us to establish a model Jeffersonian democracy, creating a thirst for freedom among their neighbors. They in turn would overthrow their dictatorships, establish U.S.-friendly governments, and our source of oil would be secure for generations to come. Win-win.

They made a couple of mistakes. First, there is no such thing as an Iraqi people. “Iraq” is a construct whose borders were imposed by Europeans with little concern for the ethnicity, creed or compatibility of the enclosed peoples.

Second, in a “nation” with no democratic traditions, what the locals prize most isn’t freedom, but stability. The former concept is strange and abstract, the latter is very real and concerns daily life in the streets. Saddam Hussein, for all his sins, provided a healthy dose of social order. The daily mayhem in Iraq is taking a back seat to the news about Syria, but there are many Iraqis who believe life was a lot better for them before the Americans came.

It’s no surprise that our leaders are reluctant to involve us in Syria. We hate to stand back while a dictator gases his own people, but we’ve learned the meaning of “mission creep” the hard way. Besides, if we did get rid of Assad, a hostile Islamist faction could well replace him.

The American people would like to be the good guys, but thanks to the misadventures of the past, intervention — even for the most humanitarian of reasons — has become a political third rail.

As British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain said in 1938 during the Czechoslovakia crisis:

How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.

For post-Iraq America, that utterance doesn’t sound as craven as it once did.

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Chan Lowe: Obama's scandals


The affection that Barack Obama’s supporters feel for him has always been based more on what he is rather than who he is. The first African-American president. The constitutional scholar. The man who dedicated his early career to organizing society’s underdogs for their collective empowerment.

Barack Obama the man is not as easy to love as Barack Obama the symbol. It’s often said he’s too cool, too above it all. This sounds trivial, but being that guy you would like to have a beer with is essential to effective leadership and political durability in modern-day America. George W. Bush had it, but unfortunately he was a screw-up. Bill Clinton had it in spades, but that lovability and desire to be loved (absent the leavening of good judgment) is what got an otherwise supremely gifted politician into so much trouble.

Now that the Obama administration has hit rough waters, the sharks on all sides are circling. Had he not felt that the gritty, relationship-building, back-slapping, schmoozing and stroking side of politics was beneath him, the relationships he might have built over the past five years would have stood him in good stead now, when he needed personal allies.

The so-called “lame-stream media” are deeply offended that the Obama justice department pulled a Big Brother on the AP by snagging its phone records without warning. Actually, this is an act of monumental political tone-deafness that offends all Americans, regardless of whether it was justified by the underlying imperatives. It could have been handled much more adroitly, and it leaves the news outlets with a sour taste in their mouths at a very bad time for the administration. When you mess with source records, you threaten reporters’ livelihoods.

The other stuff—Benghazi and the IRS scrutiny business—will play itself out, but it will endure as long as it can be shown to damage the president.

Obama likes to think of Abraham Lincoln as his inspiration. At lonely times like these, maybe he wishes he’d looked more to LBJ to understand the importance of developing personal bonds.

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Chan Lowe: Obama, Lin and Clinton collide in Miami


I never thought I would be drawing Jeremy Lin. I’d heard his name bandied about, but since I don’t follow sports, I had to ask my editor who he was.

When the Sun Sentinel news desk found out that⎯by coincidence⎯an incumbent president, a former one, and more important, the sports flavor of the month would all be in Miami on the same day, it was decided that we would do a full court press (sorry, I couldn’t resist) to commemorate the serendipitous event.

My editor, Tony Fins, and I batted the subject around. He opined that Obama and Lin had something in common. They had both come out of nowhere and become instant media darlings.

It occurred to me that Clinton, too, fit into this category. He grew up poor in Arkansas, did well in school, ended up at an Ivy League college, and the rest is history. Lin is the son of Chinese immigrants, also got into an Ivy League school, and was not even mentioned the last time the Knicks played the Heat in Miami. Now, thanks to his recent accomplishments, everybody in the country (except, obviously, me) knows who he is. Barack Obama, the self-described “skinny kid with a funny name,” gained admission to Harvard, gave a memorable speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and became America’s first African-American president an incredible four years later.

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Chan Lowe: The birth control brouhaha


If you use your imagination, you can almost hear the political gears grinding in the Oval Office over this decision. Valerie Jarrett and Kathleen Sibelius are arguing passionately for the preservation of women’s rights. You owe it to them, Mr. President⎯not just politically, but on principle. It’s everything you stand for in a nutshell.

At the other end of the sofa, Bill Daley and Joe Biden⎯two veteran Catholic pols who should know⎯imploring him to let this battle slide and live to fight another day. “The blue collar types won’t go for this,” they counsel, “even though their wives all use birth control. The Republicans’ll turn this into a ‘war on religion.’ They’ll make the slippery slope argument!”

Evangelical feelings weren’t even considered. After all, their hatred is visceral, and how many times can you vote against the same candidate?

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Chan Lowe: End of the Iraq War III


There were some who argued that the government should have imposed rationing of fuel, foods and consumer goods, as we did in World War II. Not because we needed to, but just to be a constant reminder that there was a war on.

It was somehow unseemly that people blithely gassed up their gargantuan SUVs while our troops were fighting in the oil fields. But the Bush administration felt that the best way to keep Americans from getting in the way of executing the strategy (whatever it was) was to keep the war below the radar. The American people, above all, should not suffer privation. Privation costs votes.

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Chan Lowe: End of the Iraq War


Well, that was certainly a bust. In hindsight, it looks like our trillion bucks and thousands of casualties didn’t exactly produce the shining democratic example to other Middle Eastern regimes the neocons were hoping for.

Instead, we’re leaving behind a weak sectarian government that will be a puppet of the Iranians, the very bad guys Saddam was doing a fine job of containing before we took him out. Nice job.

Not that our troops let us down. They went in there and fought for their country, the way they wanted to and the way they were expected to. It was the civilian leadership that failed in its duty by squandering them in a pointless endeavor.

If you want to blame somebody for Iraq, blame Florida voters (and not for the reason you’d think). The late Lawton Chiles got tired of being a U.S. Senator from Florida and came back home to run for governor back in 1994. Had he not edged Jeb Bush out in that election, the smart son would have been the heir apparent to the presidency. Instead, W., as governor of Texas, was the only Bush left standing to anoint.

Jeb, whether or not you agree with his politics, would have been competent enough that Poppy Bush wouldn’t have felt compelled to attach training wheels to his boy’s administration in the form of Dick Cheney. Jeb probably wouldn’t have allowed Cheney and his paranoid fellow travelers anywhere near the White House, anyway.

Which is to say that we here in Florida had plenty of chances to screw things up, and we took advantage of every one of them.

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Chan Lowe: The latest unemployment figures


Assigning blame to the other side when things go badly and taking credit for good news, even when credit is not due, is the stuff of politics. Any party would and should do this; it’s what parties are for.

Things get tricky, of course, when your victory strategy of hanging responsibility for the nation’s ills on the president involves, in effect, rooting for hard times to continue until your side takes power. It can look a tad unpatriotic, in fact. The only thing to do when rare glad tidings are announced is to keep your mouth shut and hope that unhappier days lie just around the corner.

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Chan Lowe: The NASCAR diss of the First Lady


It was an unlovely moment. A quintessentially American one, too, since as a nation we love to voice our true feelings lustily.

I’m sure there were many fans in the NASCAR stands who were embarrassed when their brethren booed the nation’s First Lady, and who were ashamed on their behalf for not having enough respect to at least keep their mouths shut if they didn’t approve of the way the woman’s husband is running the country. After all, she came all the way down to help the families of veterans in need.

It really isn’t about respect for the First Lady, though. It’s that many Americans (some of whom attend NASCAR races, and some who do not) feel that she is a usurper to her position, as her husband is to his office. They don’t actually see the Obamas as President and First Lady, because to them they are squatters in the White House. Their very existence sullies the institutions they represent. It’s the same attitude that allows a member of the U.S. Congress to feel perfectly comfortable shouting “You lie!” during the State of the Union speech.

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Chan Lowe: Cain's foreign policy


Even though Herman Cain is in the midst of his final meltdown as flavor of the month, I had to get in this last lick (sorry) before he completely dropped out of sight to join Michele Bachmann in well-deserved obscurity.

Yesterday’s performance with the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was so spectacularly inept, particularly for a person who tries to present himself as the potential leader of the free world, that it couldn’t be allowed to pass without notice.

All I can conclude is that the conservatives really, really hate Mitt Romney—so much so that they have embraced a succession of candidates that resembles nothing if not the stream of characters that emerges, miraculously, from the tiny car at the circus. Let’s hope it’s just to send a message and that they aren’t really serious. Are we in for calliopes at the inaugural ball?

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Chan Lowe: Chris Christie bows out


I don’t blame Chris Christie. The white-hot media scrutiny was just beginning to crank up, and it wasn’t going to be pretty. In the end, he still gets to misuse a state helicopter to fly to his son’s sporting events, and that’s almost as good as having Air Force One without the attendant hassles.

It looks like this is the best the Republicans are going to do, so they might as well start getting that lovin’ feeling. How frustrating it must be to have your opponent in the White House with a 42 percent approval rating, the economy in the toilet, and all you can scrape up are these two characters.

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Chan Lowe: Bibi's stamp of approval


It’s in keeping with the bizarre way the 2012 elections are shaping up that the most important endorsement any candidate of either party has managed to land so far is from a foreigner.

Considering that President Obama cannot win reelection without Florida’s electoral votes, and that our recession-ravaged state could easily swing either way a year from now, anything that might get disillusioned Sunshine State Obama voters off their sofas and down to the polls could spell the difference between national victory and defeat.

This is purely anecdotal, but I talk to a lot of people down here in New York’s sixth borough, and their sentiments about the president’s handling of Israel⎯and the Middle East conflict in general⎯range from bewilderment to disappointment to anger to disgust. “He hasn’t even visited Israel as president yet. What’s he thinking?” one person said to me. Symbolism means a lot in this thorny corner of politics.

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Chan Lowe: Obama's "class war"


“Class war.” How absurd. House Speaker John Boehner has said that pitting different income levels against one another is “not the American way.” He conveniently omits that America has been in a class war for years now, and the top 1 percent has been winning it to the detriment of the lower 80 percent. For his sponsors, it is very much the American way.

Obama’s advisers have tried, perhaps naively, to present the president as a reasonable compromiser, hoping that Republicans would respond in kind. That might have worked 50 years ago, when everybody saw benefit in getting along, but the problem now is that petulance and intransigence have been overwhelmingly effective in today’s politics. All that strategy did was to make him look weak.

The key, then, is to be equally petulant and intransigent, but in a way that resonates with the vast swath of the American people. The top one percent, while they do have most of the cards stacked in their favor, still have only one vote each, just like the poorest among us (at least, those who haven’t been disenfranchised by Republican vote suppression efforts).

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Chan Lowe: Barack Obama and the Solyndra scandal


Most self-respecting administrations, at this mature point in their terms, are reeling from at least one crippling scandal. But, as in so many other departments, the Obama Presidency has let us down.

This Solyndra brouhaha does involve the not-insignificant amount of half-a-billion dollars of taxpayer money (talk about shovel-ready), but size matters little compared to whether there is any sex involved, and there doesn’t seem to be any here. We might have derived more energy benefit out of the money by burning it directly rather than investing it in a shaky solar panel company, but on the surface, at least, it appears to be more of a case of boneheadedness than malfeasance. It’s a dry, uninteresting scandal, not even rating a “-gate.”

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Chan Lowe: The new poverty numbers


I’ve indulged in a thought exercise lately. What if, in 2012, a disgruntled and notoriously fickle electorate, fed up with high jobless numbers, decided that it had had it with the Obama Administration’s flounderings and voted in a Rick Perry or Mitt Romney as president? What if all the so-called anti-voter fraud laws promulgated by Republican legislatures in the various states worked as intended, disenfranchising core Democratic voters so that both houses of Congress went Republican (and a filibuster-proof Senate were created)?

If we gave the Republicans the full set of keys to the store, with unfettered access to every nook and cranny, what would they do with the privilege? Would they whack taxes on wealthy “job creators” and corporations to absolute zero? After all, if lower taxes theoretically (if not empirically) create more jobs, then logically no taxes whatsoever ought to yield a tidal wave of them, bringing in so much revenue from a newly employed middle class that the ban on upper-level taxes can continue indefinitely.

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Chan Lowe: The President's big jobs speech II


When you get right down to it, there isn’t much a president can do to affect the economy in a government that is both divided by design and, as in our current situation, politically.

It ultimately boils down to “optics,” which is political jargon for how something looks to the average citizen—for example, giving a ballyhooed speech in hopes that prospective 2012 voters will come away with the impression that the president actually has his hands on the controls of commerce and is playing them like the stops of a pipe organ.

His only tools—or weapons, if you wish⎯are cajolery and shame. Judging by recent events in Congress with the debt ceiling debacle, cajolery is out as far as Republicans in the House are concerned. They will not countenance anything that might help burnish President Obama’s image with the public, even if it happens to be best for the country.

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Chan Lowe: The Obama vacation ruckus


To be fair, the Democrats were just as hard on W. whenever he went off to Crawford to clear brush.

Wait a second. By this point in his term, he’d already taken three times as many vacation days as President Obama.

Well, okay. But the nation wasn’t in a crisis, the way it is now.

Wait a second. Under Bush, we sustained the worst attack on our soil since Pearl Harbor, and we started two separate wars that weren’t going too well.

Fine, but Bush wasn’t really running the country. Cheney, Rummy and the neocon cabal were. W. was just the front man. What difference did it make if he went on vacation?

Well, you’ve got us there.

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Chan Lowe: The hope and change president


Remember President Obama’s campaign promise that he was going to “change the way Washington works?” Unfortunately, he fulfilled it. Who’d have thought we’d be pining for the good old days back in 2008 when the parties in Congress couldn’t agree on anything, but at least one of them didn’t have a death wish?

One can probably lay the rise of the tea party at Barack Obama’s feet, not for anything he did or didn’t do, but for who he is. There’s nothing he can do about that, but there is something he can do to lead this country, which is to stop pussyfooting around trying to appease its adherents.

Instead, he can stand firm and push a sweeping, budget-busting, comprehensive public works program, whether he thinks he can get it past Republicans or not. If he can rally Americans behind him on this, he will prevail, because it makes sense that getting people back to work eventually reduces the deficit.

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Chan Lowe: Rick Perry waits in the wings


Remember Fred Thompson? He was one of the conservatives’ great hopes, too. He had swagger. He also boasted impeccable credentials, having played a Manhattan district attorney on Law & Order for several years. As it turned out, once he was on the stump he didn’t have much gravitas. His bid lasted about 48 hours before fizzling out. Just the other night, I saw him selling reverse mortgages in a TV ad. Guess he has enough gravitas for that.

Now, I ain’t sayin’ Rick Perry is as much of a lightweight as ol’ Fred, but when someone poised to make the plunge is surrounded by that much buzz, it’s hard for any mere mortal to live up to the hype. Maybe Perry isn’t a mere mortal. Maybe he really is God’s candidate, just like he believes himself to be.

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Chan Lowe: America gets downgraded


Well, they did the unthinkable. Standard and Poor’s gave us the shaft. In the suspenseful lead-up to the final debt-ceiling bill, the more conservative Republicans in Congress were talking tough and allowing as how a downgrade, or even a default, didn’t matter all that much. It must matter to them after all, the way they’re now heaping blame for it on President Obama.

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Chan Lowe: Snoozin' through a crisis


It’s the financial stigma Republicans won’t talk about, and average Americans won’t remember because it happened before last week.

It was the golden son, George W. Bush, who inherited a humming economy and a surplus from his predecessor. Thanks to his bumbling, and that of the two houses of Congress his party owned for six years⎯we squandered our wealth and undercut our revenue base to the point where yahoos elected in a reactionary wave to the appalling spending spree now threaten to ruin the reputation of the country we all love. The only silver lining to the crash having happened in late 2008 is that there is no way it can be blamed on his successor⎯President Obama’s detractors have to content themselves with attacking him for cleaning up the mess too slowly, and (horrors!) for spending more money in the process.

Meanwhile, President Mission Accomplished slumbers on, enjoying the undisturbed, dreamless sleep of the benighted.

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Chan Lowe: Rick Scott, American hero


Without even trying, Florida Gov. Rick Scott could turn out to be a national hero.

That’s right, after a mere seven months in office, he’s become so unpopular in the Sunshine State that he’s now a liability to his party. The Republican hierarchy is worried that, thanks to his abuses, Floridians in November of 2012 will fail to pull the lever for the Republican nominee at all, or worse, vote for Obama in retaliation.

There is no strategy for a Republican to win the required number of electoral votes next year without taking Florida. In effect, Scott may singlehandedly save feckless Obama-hating Americans from accidentally electing the likes of a Bachmann or a Palin.

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Chan Lowe: Obama threads the needle on gay marriage


Talk about being in an awkward position. Here’s President Obama, trying to smooth over a group of gay activists in Manhattan, and instead of being greeted like a hero, he’s forced to endure jeers and catcalls for not giving them the Full Monty on same-sex marriage. Hours later, New York legalizes it, leaving him eating dust and playing social catch-up to Dick Cheney, of all people.

This is one of those times when heading the great Democratic coalition can be...challenging, to say the least. Let’s not forget that⎯unlike Republicans⎯the Democrats are a loose alliance of interest groups that have banded together to push their own agendas by agreeing to help others with theirs, much like a nationwide Amish barn-raising.

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Chan Lowe: Anti-Afghanistan war sentiment


Don’t you remember way back, like four or five years ago, when to talk about winding down a war was condemned as “cutting and running?” When to even question the president’s thinking on the matter of our various foreign military involvements was labeled as unpatriotic, that it was undermining our brave troops who were out there in harm’s way?

Well, today’s Republicans are betting you don’t remember, either. Now that we have a Democratic president running things, it’s all right to question motives like getting involved in a war overseas just to topple a dictator. And now that Afghanistan has lost its luster, we can simply label it “Obama’s War,” and agitate to withdraw the troops without fear that we’re undermining their morale in the process. That’s the wonderful thing about short memories.

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Chan Lowe: Mitt Romney, the Wild One


I wouldn’t want to be in Mitt Romney’s shoes right now. The punditocracy is pushing the conventional wisdom that, despite having an empty account in the personality bank, all Romney needs to do is trumpet his business experience and sit tight while the economy continues to tank. No amount of Obamic charisma and charm will be able to save a president who can’t deliver the goods. In frustration, we will even turn to a stiff like Romney to save us. At least, that’s the theory.

Neither the chatterers nor Romney appear to have thought this thing through. Since he’s offering little or nothing in the way of specific solutions to our economic problems, what remains is a strategy that consists of betting on the president to fail. Unfortunately, if Obama fails it means the country has failed as well. This puts Romney in the uncomfortable position of cheering for higher (or at least, sustained) unemployment and deepening misery.

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Chan Lowe: Obama's Israel stumble


The ongoing Middle East conflict is so sensitive, so nuanced and so tinder-dry that any alteration in what is said, what is not said, the timbre of the saying of it, and which parts are emphasized and de-emphasized can cause a conflagration to break out.

Added to these variables are the one that has been occupying the news of late: Who says it. George W. Bush, who was considered a “Friend of Israel,” could say that peace negotiations should use as their basis the pre-1967 borders with mutually-agreed swaps. No ripples in the waters of the status-quo. But Barack Obama says it, and suddenly it’s an international incident.

A colleague who has been to Israel several times, and who has her finger on that country’s political pulse, says that our president is not a popular figure in Israel. This is putting it mildly. She says the general feeling there is that Obama “is too busy trying to suck up to the Arabs.”

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Chan Lowe: Obama's Middle East speech


Some would say the Israelis are being intransigent, and have always been. Of course, if you look at it from the Israeli point of view, their homeland is an area about the size of New Jersey, and all their neighbors would like to annihilate them. When they balk at making any concessions that might erode their ability to defend themselves, one can hardly blame them.

Some would say the Palestinians are being intransigent, and have always been. Of course, if you look at it from the Palestinian point of view, a bunch of foreigners arrived in their homeland carrying this sense of entitlement in their collective breast, stole their property, threw them out of their own country, and continue to squat there with no intention of ever giving it back. When they balk at making any any concessions that amount to institutionalizing and legalizing this perceived crime against their nation, one can hardly blame them.

Barack Obama is the latest American president to plunge into the fray. He must do so because every president before him has done so, at least since the establishment of the State of Israel. American presidents are expected to try to broker an accord; the rest of the world and the American electorate demand that they at least try. It’s part of the job description.

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Chan Lowe: Candidate Gingrich


Unlike candidates Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich, Newt Gingrich doesn’t embark on quixotic undertakings like running for president solely out of principle. He does it because he thinks he can win.

This demonstrates how out of touch he’s become with the down-home folks who comprise his would-be base. Gingrich is a Washington creature, and as such is lionized by the beltway media and establishment GOP party leaders as a towering intellect who bubbles ideas like a champagne fountain at a Long Island wedding. On paper, he is formidable.

If you want to analyze his strategy, however⎯which is to embrace the favorite hot-button causes of the cultural right, brandish his newfound religiosity, make slanderous assertions about Barack Obama, flog fiscal austerity, and bash the entire Muslim faith whenever possible⎯then you know that his intended listeners have certain strongly-held beliefs about personal and moral responsibility. They will expect their candidate to be a paragon of probity.

Ronald Reagan was able to get away with being divorced because he was an affable guy. That goes a long way with the American electorate (see the “Who would you most like to have a beer with?” polls). Gingrich is not only twice divorced, he has openly admitted he was unfaithful to two of his wives. He asked one for a divorce while she was in the hospital, recovering from cancer. Does he honestly think women voters will ignore all this?

Combine this with his demeanor, which falls far short of Reagan’s in the “beer” category (Gingrich would probably stick you with the tab—just because he feels so passionate about his country), and it’s difficult to imagine how God-fearing souls could bring themselves to pull the lever for him, considering there will be a lot of other Republicans on the primary ballot doing the identical pander to his.

That isn’t to say we won’t be looking forward to his performance in the debates. Scorched earth, anyone?

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Chan Lowe: Obama strokes the Latino community


If I were a Latino, me estaría herviendo la sangre (my blood would be boiling) right about now.

El Presidente came down to El Paso on a campaign sweep, paying lip service to the notion of immigration reform, but he was really laying it out to the Latino community this way: “Vote Democratic, because we’ll only show you benign neglect, whereas the Republicans really have it in for you.”

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Chan Lowe: Trump takes a tumble


Somewhere in a secret aerie high above the mean streets, Republican money men are relaxing in their high-backed wing chairs and drawing more easily on their Havanas now that The Donald has been cut down to size.

Ever since the appearance of the long form birth certificate a mere fortnight ago, the sands beneath the golden-domed dilettante’s feet have been melting away. Then came the humiliation in front of the nation’s media at the very hands of his nemesis, the pretender to the throne.

Finally, there was the bin Laden tour de force, which permanently discredited any assertion that the occupant of the White House was incompetent.

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Chan Lowe: Birthers, Deathers and Truthers


A friend of mine claims that she receives PBS signals in her head. She knows this for a fact because one day, she was out gardening and suddenly “Masterpiece Theatre” started coming in. Just to prove she was right about possessing this unique ability, she went inside, turned on the TV, and sure enough the transition was seamless. I asked her why, then, she wasted so much money on cable, and she said, “Unfortunately, I don’t receive video.”

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Chan Lowe: The death of Bin Laden

A big day. More later.

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Chan Lowe: Obama reveals birth certificate


So the White House finally did it. The Donald is strutting around like a gamecock, taking credit for forcing the administration to do something no one else had been able to. Effortlessly shifting gears, the pompous pompadour has moved on to questioning the president’s academic qualifications for getting into Columbia and Harvard, two institutions of higher learning that remained unattainable to Mr. Trump despite his financial advantages.

Meanwhile, the “legitimate” birthers are left scrabbling for a rationale, the way millenialists do after they’ve predicted the world will end and the sun stubbornly rises the next morning. Not to worry. They won’t believe this birth certificate any more than the last one.

The fact remains that this is the first president in history who has had to present documents to prove his origins. Some say it’s because his doubters believe he’s a closet communist. They said that about FDR, too, but nobody asked if he was born in the United States. John McCain has a much more tenuous hold on the “natural born” label than Mr. Obama, yet no birther movement coalesced to doubt his background, either.

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Chan Lowe: Tone-deaf Republicans


The first polls are out since the unveiling of the Ryan Plan and the Obama response to it. It appears that a majority of Americans are in favor of including an increased tax rate on those making over $250,000 per year as part of the deficit-reduction mix.

Democrats favor it overwhelmingly. Republicans less so, but it’s still a majority. Even rich people favor it. They have said they feel they ought to pay more, but no one is asking them to. The only ones who don’t favor it are the Tea Partiers, who are against raising taxes of any kind, but these same Tea Partiers have indicated in the same polls that they don’t want Medicare to be fooled with. So they shouldn’t be taken seriously, anyway. You can’t have it both ways.

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Chan Lowe: Gutting Medicare II


There were elements of President Obama’s budget speech that left us wanting more, but in one area he delivered. He was right to cast the coming battle over the deficit as a moral issue, since the main battleground will be entitlement programs like Medicaid and Medicare, which exist because at the time of their inception, this nation felt an obligation to fulfill a moral imperative.

The Republican Party, particularly its Tea Party wing, is making an amoral, purely financial argument. The argument is simplistic and cunning, yet does not stand up to the test of the American character.

One thing everyone agrees on is that the deficit must be reduced. How it is done will depend on who is able to make the most compelling case to the American people. Republicans, in their zeal not to raise taxes on anyone⎯particularly the wealthy⎯will continue to push the discredited notion that by removing any financial fetters from the well-off, we will stimulate an economy that will float all boats.

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Chan Lowe: Tax day for the rich


President Obama was giving his deficit reduction speech while I was inking this cartoon, and among his proposals were the expected ones about raising more revenue by closing loopholes and hiking taxes on the well-to-do.

Two questions immediately came to mind: First, why did it take so long for him to bring up the dreaded tax issue? He (and all of congress, except for a few lefties in safe districts) allowed the entire shutdown debate to continue with no mention of “revenue enhancement.” It was all about cost cutting.

Is the American public really so selfish, so irresponsible, that it cannot understand that the beneficence it has enjoyed for so long needs to be paid for somehow? And if not by us, then by our children? And is it so dense that it doesn’t understand that raising taxes on those who make over $250,000 per year is different than raising taxes on the middle class?

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Chan Lowe: Obama runs for reelection


For a seduction to work, you need the cooperation of both parties.

Back in 2008, when Barack Obama was wooing the nation, he was saying all the things many of us wanted to hear. We were deep into Bush fatigue, especially toward the end when the economy collapsed (that’s right, it did happen during the Bush Administration, although it’s so easy to forget).

Here was a new face, telling us that he was going to come in like a fresh breeze, blow out the cobwebs, and change the way Washington did business. Of course, those of us who had been around long knew that they always say that. Nevertheless, we fell for the roses and chocolates because we so wanted to believe at that point.

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Chan Lowe: Arm the Libyan rebels?


We’ve done so well until now. Let’s not go and shoot ourselves in the foot. What little we know about this ragtag band of so-called “freedom fighters” is that they come from a part of Libya that is a popular recruiting ground for al-Qaida.

The UN mandate empowered the coalition to “do whatever is necessary” to protect innocent civilians from harm. We’re already stretching that language to the limit with our aggressive action, regardless of how you euphemize it (Did William Tecumseh Sherman really say, “Kinetic military engagement is hell?”).

“It wouldn’t be prudent,” to quote a former president, not to find out for certain that these people aren’t arsonists before we put gasoline and matches in their hands. Let’s take note, also, that the materiel we would supply to them isn’t exactly of the simple point-and-shoot variety. It’s sophisticated, as befits weaponry for which the U.S. taxpayers paid plenty in order that our defense contractors could bedazzle the bejeezus out of our military procurement people.

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Chan Lowe: Obama's Libya speech


In his speech about Libya the other night, President Obama hit all the right patriotic notes. After all, he was selling something, and there’s no better way to move merchandise than to butter up your customers.

Americans like to hear that they are an exceptional nation, and Obama, who has often been accused by conservatives of not properly accepting this notion, turned the tables and presented our exceptionalism as the key justification for intervening in the Libyan conflict.

For us to stand by and let Gadhafi massacre his own people, he asserted, would be to violate our very character as a people. It’s true that of all nations, we’re the ones most likely to involve ourselves militarily to protect the human rights of others, on the premise that to allow someone else’s rights to be trampled puts those of all in jeopardy.

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Chan Lowe: The tsunami...what really happened


Admittedly, this cartoon is speculative, but it’s certainly as plausible as the brave Minutemen who fired the shot heard round the world at Concord and Lexington, New Hampshire (Even then, the Colonials knew it was going to be the first primary state, and accordingly relocated the border with Massachusetts until the skirmishes were over).

Or as credible as how someone’s passion for his country prompted him to commit adultery (“Oh, God…oh, God…oh GOD BLESS AMERICA!!!!”).

One of the oddities about listening to the utterances of people like Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich when they address friendly crowds is that they can say the most preposterous things, and no one among their nodding listeners ever steps up to correct them, or bursts out laughing at their inanity.

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Chan Lowe: Send in the Marines?


Will they never learn?

We’ve had troops mired for years in two theaters, and they’re spread so thin that the stress of repeated tours of duty is breaking them. Just a couple of weeks ago, the Secretary of Defense said that anybody who considers getting involved in another Middle East conflict ought to have his head examined.

Yet, the armchair hawks in congress are ready to go to war all over again in Libya, and they have the gall to chastise the president for moving too slowly. Sure, it plays well back home, where people are screaming about gas prices. But it’s President Obama who, if he gets us involved militarily, will be lying awake nights with those lives on his conscience.

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Chan Lowe: Arab revolt


Back in the glory days of the British Empire, the mother country was frequently accused of playing fast and loose with troops from the dominions. In WWI, for example, there was a perception Down Under that the cream of Aussie youth had been thrown into the meat grinder against the Turks at Gallipoli while tea-sipping British officers and regulars remained in the rear, thus avoiding the carnage. In the British mind, a British soldier’s life was somehow worth more, and should be conserved at the expense of others. At least, that was the perception.

It’s like that with the U. S. and the regimes we have historically propped up in the Middle East. Democracy is a beautiful thing. It begets prosperity and the freedom to pursue life’s enriching pleasures. But what’s good enough for our exceptional Shining City On The Hill isn’t good enough for the inhabitants of the oil-rich states of the Middle East.

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Chan Lowe: Breast feeding with Michelle, Michele and Sarah


Nothing gets the right wing more lathered up than Michelle Obama, Wife of the Great Pretender, opening her mouth to render an opinion--even if it’s about something as innocuous and well-meaning as encouraging mothers to breast feed.

Michele Bachmann was first to screech off the mark, skillfully framing the issue as an attack on the IRS for declaring that breast pumps were medical devices for the purposes of tax deductions and medical flex accounts. Another overreach by the Nanny State, she said. This, of course, conveniently overlooks the fact that Tea Partiers are supposed to be against taxes of any kind, so technically, the decision ought to have pleased her.

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Chan Lowe: The Obama budget


When I was in college, I took one of those “Physics for Poets” classes designed for art majors and other people who couldn’t count without using their fingers and toes, and who needed to fulfill a science requirement in order to graduate. Oceanography was an alternative, but it was already sold out.

Our professor opened his first lecture by saying, “This is how light travels.” He then scrawled out a ludicrously complex equation on the blackboard containing arcane symbols, superscripts, and for all we knew, Jane Fonda’s measurements. He whirled around to face slack jaws and a few signs of outright panic. “Okay,” he nodded sagely. “No more numbers in this course.”


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Chan Lowe: Egypt and the Tea Party


To me, insistence on a punctilious, “authentic” interpretation of any document from another era is the safe haven of the small and fearful thinker.

We rightly esteem the legacy of enlightened reasoning and principles embodied by the U.S. Constitution, and the thinking that led to its writing ought to be revered and heeded as the philosophical bedrock upon which our way of life is built, but the act of divining the “original intent” of the authors from a 21st Century perspective is a form of freewheeling interpretation in itself.

Ought we modern readers to attempt to climb inside the heads of a group of men who never heard the sound of an internal combustion engine, who never conceived of machinery that could keep people artificially alive for months or even years, or who could translate “web” and “site” into Latin and Greek, but would be clueless as to the meaning of the two English words when combined?

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Chan Lowe: Obamacare headed for the Supreme Court


It looks like the Affordable Care Act is headed to the Supreme Court, thanks to a rash of conflicting lower court opinions.

Court kremlinologists in the media and legal communities, basing their prognostications on the previous records of the nine justices (you get a gold star if you can name all nine without cheating, and no…Judge Judy is not one of them), have already decided that “Obamacare” will be decided by a vote of 5-4, with the battlefield being the heart and mind of the Swing Justice, Anthony Kennedy (far left in this group portrait).

Why they say they know this is because the case turns on how you view the reach of government in individual lives, and at what point you feel that reach becomes an overreach. The much-reviled “individual mandate,” which is at the core of the battle, is either within the purview of the Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution, or it’s an unjust intrusion, imposing a penalty on people for not doing something.

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Chan Lowe: Michele Bachmann rises


Just as we are finally becoming oversaturated with Sarah Palin, her tweets, her Facebook postings, her bull’s-eyes, her surveyor’s marks, her book signings and her narcissism, we learn that⎯like a female version of John the Baptist⎯she has only been preparing the way for the one who is to follow.

For a couple of years now, Michele Bachmann has lurked on the lunatic fringe, not exactly a household name. But she whose unabashed and unapologetic verbal bombs make Ms. Palin, by comparison, seem like a model of statesmanship is about to catapult herself onto the national stage in the form of a Tea Party (she is its self-proclaimed Grande Dame) rebuttal to both the President and the Republican establishment.

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Chan Lowe: Big mob bust


How long do you think the outbreak of brotherly love between the parties is going to last? Well, let’s call it the appearance of an outbreak. As we know, in Washington it’s all about projecting an image for the day’s news cycle.

My guess is that we’ll be treated to some unlikely seating arrangements during the State of the Union Address (i.e. Schumer/Coburn), and then things should rapidly deteriorate to normal.

Republicans are, no doubt, heeding the latest poll numbers, which show President Obama’s approval ratings surging. If their past behavior is any indicator, they’re heeding them and coming to the wrong conclusions.

Obama’s newfound popularity is originating from the public perception that he has begun constructively engaging his political opponents for the betterment of the country. He does this whether the opposition likes it or not, and it has taken them tactically by surprise.

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Chan Lowe: The Obamacare repeal vote


So the Republicans have dutifully thrown the Tea Party people their bone. Yes, it was absurd and a waste of time, and while the Republicans won’t talk about it openly, they know just as well as everyone else how foolish it looked to pass legislation that was going nowhere.

These are the same people who accused the Democrats in the last Congress of putting their own agenda ahead of that of the American people, which purportedly consisted of jobs, jobs and jobs. This is why they inserted “job killing” into the title of their legislation, as a head fake toward relevance.

They were paying off a political obligation, and one must fulfill one’s promises. Yesterday’s vote, however, doesn’t eliminate the crosscurrent that the establishment GOP finds itself caught in.

The whirlwind that was unleashed at last year’s town hall meetings may have been directed at Democrats, but the Tea Partiers are still angry, they have no party loyalty, and they know when they’ve been played. They are not going to be satisfied with a mere kabuki dance and then quietly go back to their caves until the next election season. They will continue to clamor for the meaningful action they feel is their due.

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Chan Lowe: The tax cut deal spreads the joy


Suddenly, now that the grand bargain has been struck over the Bush tax cuts, we don’t hear any whining out of the Republicans about budget-busting programs.

Remember, before the midterm elections, when President Obama was getting blamed for every penny of the deficit? It seems that since $700 billion of new debt is being incurred to finance tax cuts for the Republican Party’s most important constituency, the deficit is no longer a problem.

Oh, and let’s not forget that to Republicans, tax cuts don’t really have to be offset to balance the budget the way government programs have to be. You see, in the fantasy world of the Laffer Curve and Trickle-Down, tax cuts more than pay for themselves in increased economic activity. Just ask George W. Bush (but don't ask his father, George "Voodoo economics" Sr.).

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Chan Lowe: Obama caves on Bush tax cuts


The Democratic base can go ahead and scream that Obama caved on the Bush tax cut extension, but the fact is that the Republicans were going to go to the mat on this one, and the President knew it.

Making sure that corporations and the rich pay as little in taxes as possible is the core reason for the Republican Party’s existence. For Republican members of Congress to give an inch on this matter would be tantamount to throwing up their hands and admitting that they are just being obstructionist because it’s fun.

If progressives think that they can shame Republicans by staging populist votes of principle that highlight their allegiance to the wealthy over average, unemployed Americans, then they are being naïve. When it comes to this issue, there is no shame. This is existential. As Deep Throat once said, “Follow the money.”

Besides, the GOP has an ace in the hole. There's all that other stuff⎯the social issues like prayer in the schools, the death penalty, abortion, gun rights, gay bashing⎯that’s just cotton candy the GOP picked up along the way to entice the rubes in the hinterland to vote against their own economic self-interest.

It’s been working, too. Wave the prospect of, say, gays getting married in front of some God-fearing, churchgoing taxpayer, and he won’t see that behind the curtain, his earnest, sincere vote to “take America back” is being twisted to empower cynical plutocrats who are happily picking his pockets.

Barack Obama’s greatest handicap is that, as President, he must be concerned with the welfare of all Americans, not just the ones who can buy influence. The Republicans, not being burdened with that responsibility (and moreover, not caring if everybody knows it), will always hold the strongest hand in negotiations.

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Chan Lowe: The Wikileaks debacle


I used to think that Hillary Clinton was too strident, too self-centered, too opinionated and too vindictive to be President. Since then, another personage of the female persuasion has grabbed the center stage of politics, and by comparison Hillary seems like an exemplar of cool-headedness under fire.

Considering the plateful the incoming President was handed back in January of 2009, it has become more apparent than ever that simple, cold competency was and is the foremost quality needed in our leader in these tough times. The jury’s still out on Barack Obama in that regard, but Hillary has left no doubt that she possesses it in abundance.

I make light of her in this cartoon, but right now I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather have in the hot seat when there’s so much ’splainin’ to do, as Ricky Ricardo might say. Not only is she handling a touchy situation with the same grace she displayed during the Monica Lewinsky circus, she might yet make a silk purse out of this mess.

Take, for example, the Gulf States’ constant behind-the-scenes badgering that we waste Iran and President I’m-A-Dinnerjacket for them. Now⎯thanks to the Wikileaks cables⎯ it’s out in the open that they, we, and Israel are all on the same side. You know that Arabic cliché, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend?” Peace agreements have been forged on shakier grounds than this, and Hillary definitely has the resourcefulness to uncover opportunities in our newly revealed camaraderie.

May the Force be with you, Madame Secretary.

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Chan Lowe: Free advice for President Obama


Being president is one of those jobs that is far more complex than outside observers⎯particularly the Greek choruses on both ends of the political spectrum⎯will ever be able to understand.

They look at it through their narrow prisms: Is he being the president we wanted him to be? The one we voted for? Is he being even more irresponsibly extreme than we imagined?

Only when you’re in the hot seat, though, can you truly comprehend the expectation that you’re meant to be the President of the entire United States and all its citizens, not just the Tea Party, the moderates, your liberal base, or whatever pressure group one might think of.

This is why the White House has to field simultaneous complaints that Barack Obama is both the most radical socialist who ever occupied the building, and that he is a sellout who only pays lip service to progressive causes.

Every group has advice on how he can succeed, if he would just do it their way.

But then, none of these people is the leader of the free world, when every utterance and action can have grievous consequences, and must be weighed in advance with great deliberateness. So, it’s easy to carp when you’re just doing it to hear your brains rattle, and everything is risk-free.

Just ask Sarah Palin.

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Chan Lowe: Post-election reality check


My favorite period of any election cycle is the first few days after the polls have closed and the outcome is decided, when the party that won drops the façade and begins carefully recalibrating its campaign rhetoric to reflect reality.

This is when we find out how they really plan to use their newfound “mandate,” and what they admit that they can’t possibly do and never really thought they could but didn’t want to tell us until it was too late to take our votes back.

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Chan Lowe: Republican victory


Reduce the deficit! Halt runaway spending! Starve the beast! Shrink government! It’s time to take our country back!

All lovely-sounding slogans, designed to snag votes. Something that House Speaker-elect Boehner and the rest of the Republican establishment know, however, is that actually making good on the exhortations is a much tougher proposition than shouting them out from the cheap seats.

We have learned from this election that in these times of extreme hardship, the American people are nothing if not impatient. It doesn’t matter who got us into the mess, it only matters that two years have passed since the last election and things aren’t getting better.

The Republicans and their Tea Party wing did an admirable job of getting themselves elected without having to delve into specifics. Let’s face it, there are two ways to reduce the deficit: raising revenue and lowering expenditures.

Since a Republican House will never raise taxes, that leaves cutting programs (the part they avoided talking about during the campaign). The military and national security are off the table, they tell us, so that leaves…

Social Security? Can’t cut people already getting it, or even people who are old enough to smell it. They’ve all paid into the system already. Young people? How can you expect them to keep paying in if you welsh on their future benefits?

Medicare? “Huh, whassat? We’re gonna have to start paying for Grandma’s dialysis? NO WAY, BOZO!”

And--finally--earmarks, which amount to almost nothing compared to the rest of the budget, anyway. “You mean we ain’t gonna get that civic center (or fairgrounds, or underpass, or highway spur) our congressman promised us after all?!!? We’re votin’ Democrat next time!”

Congratulations, Mr. Speaker…and our condolences.

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Chan Lowe: Health insurance shock


One of the great bamboozlements of the last couple of years has been the success of special interests in convincing ordinary Americans that health care reform was an attempt by Big Government to purloin their personal freedoms.

The strategy can be encapsulated in the simplistic, bumper-sticker slogan, “Do you want a government bureaucrat making medical decisions instead of your doctor?”

Not only is this an inaccurate scare tactic, it conveniently ignores the reality that private insurance company bean counters are already making life-and-death decisions that should be made only between you and your doctor, and have been doing so for decades.

The fear strategy was so successful that candidates who voted to pass the legislation⎯rather than taking credit for their vote⎯have been shying away from it in the 2010 election campaign.

And maybe they should. Once the public option was dropped in order to get the bill through Congress, the future law was rendered toothless in terms of its ability to contain private rates through competition.

Sure, there are a few things we can be happy about (elimination of the pre-existing conditions restriction, for example), but those yearning for true reform might also want to use the pejorative “Obamacare,” in this case, to describe what might have been but wasn’t⎯by a long shot.

Think I’m wrong on this public option thing? Americans with employer-provided health plans are currently in the middle of their open enrollment periods for next year’s coverage, and what they’re seeing ain’t pretty.

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Chan Lowe: The Afghanistan morass


I haven’t read Bob Woodward’s new book, Obama’s Wars, yet, but enough has leaked out (all Bob Woodward has to do is belch and it becomes a weeklong media beltway story) to tell us that we’re really stuck.

Wars are always a confluence of pragmatism and politics. A political genius like FDR was able to unite the American people behind our involvement in World War II by laying out a clear purpose. In so doing, he provided the nation with a way of knowing exactly when it had achieved its objective.

It didn’t hurt his case that the Japanese pulled a sneak attack on the Pacific Fleet, or that we were fighting organized nation-states that knew how to officially surrender and cease hostilities when they were beaten.

In other words, in WWII the politics and the resoluteness of national will were not issues that needed tending, so we could turn our focus completely and wholeheartedly to prosecuting the war.

In the case of Afghanistan, we are bogged down building a nation whose “citizens” don’t even think of themselves as “Afghans,” and where the original purpose for invading⎯to root out al-Qaida⎯may no longer even be operative.

Besides, it appears that we’re losing. Americans hate to lose. What they hate even more is sacrificing American lives when they don’t see a clear purpose.

And in case we didn’t think things could get any worse, now we all know--thanks to Bob Woodward--that nobody in our leadership agrees on what to do to extricate ourselves.

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Chan Lowe: Rise of the Tea Party


None of this would be happening if we weren’t feeling economically insecure.

When people are fat and happy, they don’t care much about politics. Why fix something if it ain’t broke? As long as you are free to splurge on flat-screen TVs, iPads, SUVs and vacation getaways, then finance your sprees by taking out another mortgage on your house, you don’t sit around whining about having your constitutional liberties taken away.

If those halcyon days were still with us, Sarah Palin would be just a better-than-average-looking footnote in history, Glenn Beck would be calling high-school football games for a small-town radio station, and Barack Obama would be sailing toward reelection in 2012.

Our current national unrest is evocative of that experienced in the 1920s during the runaway inflation in Germany, when families brought their life savings to the market in a wheelbarrow to buy a loaf of bread.

In those days, the anger and frustration reached such a boiling point that every political party had its own paramilitary wing composed of thugs who went out to crack heads in the streets. It was only a matter of time before the frantic and demoralized populace tired of their weak central government’s lack of ability to maintain civil order and provide them with a basic living. They ultimately turned to someone who promised deliverance.

The irony, of course, is that in so doing they sacrificed every personal liberty they ever had.

In other words, it’s all about jobs, jobs, jobs…in a much more far-reaching sense than merely determining which party might win a by-election in November.

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Chan Lowe: Obama's Middle East peace initiative


We have a wry saying on the Editorial Board that there is only one editorial about the Middle East peace process. We just pull it out of the files, dust it off, change the name of the president in question, and run it again and again.

You have to give Obama credit for even trying, particularly since he has so much on his plate already. Failure, once again, is a distinct possibility. Nevertheless, the payoff is enormous for all parties involved if, somehow, this time, there is a real breakthrough.

As Prime Minister Netanyahu likes to say, it takes a hawk⎯a la Nixon in China⎯to forge a meaningful peace. In Mahmoud Abbas, he has a Palestinian partner to work with who certainly has his own problems, but who is not seeking to serve cynical ends, and who understands that Israel has certain requirements which need to be met before she can feel truly safe.

No president can call himself worthy of the office unless he makes at least a stab at resolving this intractable issue. So much follows from it; the end of killing would be enough in itself, but other benefits would include comity among our allies and a united front against the threat from Iran⎯the real enemy we all face.

What Obama is doing (in tandem with the extremely able Secretary of State Clinton) is much more than a stab. He’s putting a lot of political capital on the line. It’s a shame that the only people dumb enough to buy that garbage about his being a Muslim are Americans. If the Palestinians believed it too, it might help establish him as an honest broker (Don’t write in…I’m being facetious).

Our thoughts and prayers ought to accompany all the negotiators involved as they engage in their mission. There can never be too many attempts.

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Chan Lowe: The end of combat operations in Iraq


Tuesday night, President Obama gave just about the only speech that could have been given to properly mark the transition of America’s role in Iraq.

He sounded like the maid stuck with cleaning up a hotel room the morning after it has been rented by a rock band. There really wasn’t much to say about the whole endeavor that was positive, except that our troops did their jobs superlatively. The whole subject is uncomfortable for us, because while our service members did their duty and in many cases made the supreme sacrifice, we’re at a loss to know what they did it for.

We’re at a loss because our leaders violated the sacred pact the civilian leadership has always had with the military: We will ask you to go into harm’s way on behalf of your country, and in return you can have faith that we will only ask you to do so if the cause is worthy, if the mission is clear-cut, and if it has a reasonable chance of success.

We went in because they said there were WMD. Well, there weren’t any. Then it was about democracy, and we “surged” to give the Iraqis time to form a government. They still haven’t formed one. The place is a hair’s-breadth away from anarchy.

We had intentions of building a Western-oriented Arab bulwark in the Middle East. The only thing the Iranians will lack after the last Americans leave is an engraved invitation to invade.

Americans like to win wars, particularly after they’ve spent a trillion borrowed dollars when there are pressing needs at home. With Iraq, there is no surrender at Yorktown, no signing ceremony on the deck of the U.S.S. Missouri, just a fizzling-out.

Years from now, after the accursed place recedes into painful memory, it will probably revert to what it was before: a dusty crossroads ruled by whichever warlord among its contentious populace happens to be the most ruthless.

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Chan Lowe: Leaving Iraq


So much for Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn Principle about Iraq: “If you break it, you own it.”

Just because Powell got snookered by the Cheney-Rummy tag team into being a shill for the bankrupt WMD argument doesn’t mean that everything he ever said ought to be disbelieved.

Sadly, even though he’s right on the Pottery Barn thing, it looks like we are leaving the place broken and only partially pasted back together with bubble gum and masking tape, ready to fall apart again at the slightest jarring.

What’s even sadder is that we don’t care anymore. We don’t care after spending a trillion dollars, sacrificing thousands of our best young people, maiming thousands more, and leaving even more thousands with psychological damage. And we can’t even begin to fathom what our altruistic act of political liberation has done to the Iraqi people.

Geopolitically speaking, we’ve removed the only counterbalance the West and the Arab world had to keep Iran in check. Saddam may have been a bad man, but he was doing some pretty effective work in that department. We’re enjoying the fruits of removing him from power now.

Knowing what we know now, was it all worth it? As a nation, we shy away from that question, because the answer might be too painful, and could throw doubt on our core belief in the myth of American exceptionalism; that we are a force for good in the world.

At this point, we just want to wash our hands of the whole mess. The Iraqis can keep the pottery shards, courtesy of Uncle Sam.

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Chan Lowe: The Obama Muslim hoax


Those of us who have heard the story are reminded of the famous Halloween hoax of 1938, when Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre of the Air broadcast a production of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. The radio play, disguised as a series of perfervid news reports, was so realistic that many Americans, actually believing they were under attack from extraterrestrials, packed up what they could and attempted to escape. Wells made a disclaimer at the beginning and the end, but many chose not to hear it.

This just proves, once again, that people will swallow anything if they’re scared enough. The year 1938 was a time of uncertainty and fear, just like 2010. The Great Depression had been grinding on for almost a decade, and as if that weren’t enough, Hitler looked poised to take over the world—at least all there was of it on the other side of the Atlantic.

Just substitute radical Islam (to a lot of ignorant people, the term is a redundancy) for the Nazis, and you have a vile-smelling brew of deception simmering on the current stove of state.

It does not help that there are opportunists out there willing to stoke the fires of hatred for their own immediate gain, whether it’s to win an election in a couple of months or to attract more listeners and viewers to their radio and TV shows.

What they are doing by taking advantage of the fears of those who don’t know any better is tearing holes in this nation’s fabric that will take a long time to mend, certainly longer than the span of our lifetimes.

All of us—liberals, progressives, moderates, and conservatives—rallied behind President Bush after 9/11. There were aspects to the man many of us didn’t like, but he was our leader, and we were smart enough and scared enough to know that we needed one, for better or worse.

We need one just as desperately now. Why is it so hard for some of us to accept the man who was duly elected by a majority of the people?

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Chan Lowe: The Kagan confirmation


The National Rifle Association told senators that they were going to "score" the confirmation vote on Elena Kagan, which is to say that it would be factored into the gun-rights "grade" they give each legislator.

Those who did not show proper fealty would be retaliated against at the polls by single-issue NRA members who march in lockstep to orders issued from Washington headquarters, not to mention all the campaign funding that would be choked off.

That may happen, but evidently the strong-arm tactic didn't work. Every Democratic senator from states where this might matter, with the exception of the reliable Ben Nelson of Nebraska (a DINO, or Democrat In Name Only), voted to confirm her anyway.

It would be intemperate and unrealistic to infer from this that the NRA is losing its clout. I think the Democratic senators made the clear-eyed calculation that most NRA members were going to vote Republican in November anyway, and that they had a lot more votes to lose among Democrats if they voted against her.

It is also not to be inferred that they won't scurry like scared rabbits the next time an NRA vote of consequence comes up.

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Chan Lowe: The leaked Afghanistan papers


This should tell you something about the shifting, treacherous sands we find ourselves in while fighting the longest war in our history: Leaked classified documents reveal to the American public that we’ve been indirectly financing our own enemy, and government types in the know dismiss it as “old news.”

Which is worse…that a website released the information, which is surely damaging to our cause, or that our leaders have learned to accommodate this travesty as part of the cost of doing business with the Pakistanis?

The Bush team thought they were the sharpest guys around. After 9/11, they were going to go in there, shoot ’em up, and show the Rooskies the right way to tame those Afghans. Bring back Osama’s head on a plate.

They should have known they were getting this country embroiled in a part of the world where, if the locals didn’t actually invent intrigue, they certainly refined it to an art form.

There’s a story about a meeting in the Holy Land during the Crusades between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin, the local warlord. It’s probably apocryphal, but that doesn’t mean it can’t teach us something:

Richard, in order to demonstrate his military might to Saladin, draws out his huge, heavy double-handed broadsword and, in one blow, smashes a rock to pieces with it.

Saladin smiles, and pulls out a silk handkerchief. He tosses it in the air and unsheathes his scimitar of fine Damascus steel, holding it out cutting-edge up while the kerchief flutters down across the blade, splitting itself in two.

That’s what we’re up against over there.

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Chan Lowe: The USDA Sherrod debacle


Ultimately, this is a story about fear.

Fear on the part of Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, that a racist time bomb was about to blow up on his watch and embarrass the administration.

Fear on the part of the White House that the rabid right would use this as an excuse to accuse the administration of harboring racism within the ranks of the executive branch, a rap to which it is particularly sensitive, since the African-American president’s popularity is sinking among whites.

Fear on the part of the NAACP that it would not appear as pure as Caesar's wife when it came to condemning racism, no matter what quarter it came from.

And, of course, Fox News—in what is the most egregious motive of all⎯leaping to profit by stoking the fears of those who have never been comfortable with the Obama presidency.

In their fear, all parties started flapping their mouths without putting their brains in gear, or doing even the most rudimentary of background checks to find out the nature of the entire story. Everyone involved, except one, covered himself with shame.

The one person who did not show fear was Shirley Sherrod, who confronted her fears a quarter of a century ago, realized they were misplaced, and went on to back up her convictions with actions. Naturally, she’s the only one who got screwed.

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Chan Lowe: Immigration reform

mariachi.gifThe Spanish expression for “to patronize” is, “tratar a alguien con condescendencia.

Now, when President Obama just happens to give a speech in favor of immigration reform, and its intended audience knows he knows there’s nothing he can really do about it--given this Congress and the current public mood--it doesn’t matter if he’s treating them with condescencia or not; that’s they way they’re going to read it.

It doesn’t help that the speech came just as the polls show that Obama’s support with Latino voters is slipping a few months before the November election, when all Democratic hands are on deck to minimize the inevitable losses.

People get ticked off when they think they’re being taken for fools. It’s an affront to their dignidad. They went along on this ride the first time around, and now they’re being asked to get back up on the bronc after it already threw them into the mud and rode off into the sunset without them.

The political calculus in the White House is that Latinos aren’t going to suddenly vote Republican; the principles of that party are inimical to Latino self-interest. But they are worried they’ll stay home on election day out of disgust with the way they and their issues have been kicked to the back of the line. Hence, bring out the old silver tongue and woo them once more.

Words are nice, but action is all that counts at this point. The word in Spanish for “word” is “palabra.” Interestingly, there's a cognate to that in English: “palaver.”

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Chan Lowe: Chef Petraeus' busy kitchen

kitchen.gifDavid Petraeus may be a bigger hero than most of us realize.

Here’s a guy who doesn’t just salute and say, “Yessir!” when called upon by his commander-in-chief, but he does so knowing there’s a good chance that in the end, he may be associated with the failure of the longest war in our history.

When you listen to all the supporters of the President’s Afghanistan policy, there appears to be a lot of wishful thinking involving the Afghan “police” suddenly identifying themselves as Afghans (instead of Pashtuns or Tajiks or whatever), and Hamid Karzai experiencing a spiritual conversion wherein the scales fall from his eyes and he emerges reborn as an enlightened Jeffersonian democrat.

I’m guessing that after the November mid-term elections, the White House will begin a gradual campaign to prepare the American people for failure, and come August of 2011, the nominal date for the beginning of the pullout, we will have been reasonably convinced that the fabled “conditions on the ground” have developed to a point where we can extricate ourselves with something approximating honor.

While reason would indicate that we might as well abandon our effort now as a year from now, politics does not. Obama cannot afford to be known as the man who “lost Afghanistan,” which is the way he would be cynically portrayed by those who secretly agree the situation is hopeless, but would hasten to profit in the short run from that very hopelessness.

It will be up to General Petraeus, the most respected man in uniform, to tell us that we did our best, and that we’re leaving the place better than we found it.

And for that, he’ll deserve yet another ribbon on that chestful of fruit salad.

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Chan Lowe: McChrystal, crazy like a fox?

McC.gifYou can go ahead and fault Gen. Stanley McChrystal for insubordination, but you have to give him credit for his impeccable timing.

Everyone is wondering why on Earth a smart guy like McChrystal would allow such intimate access to a reporter from Rolling Stone, of all places. Was he crazy? Maybe like a fox. Here’s a theory, admittedly far-fetched but plausible:

If you’re going to torpedo your own career, it’s best to do it now just as the situation in Afghanistan is really beginning to go south. That way, you may be written off as a frat-boy who couldn’t control his mouth, but your war-fighting prowess will never be called into question. Walking away in the middle of battle marks you as a quitter. You must be forced to leave.

To put a modern twist on Douglas MacArthur’s famous aphorism, “Old soldiers never die; they just end up on TV news as in-house military analysts.”

With the new cred McChrystal has just acquired by holding Obama and his team in open contempt, he’s a shoo-in to be Fox News’ next celebrity battlefield poo-bah. For all we know, Roger Ailes was already on the horn asking Big Mac to simply name his price before Obama had even finished his speech announcing his dismissal.

Meanwhile, the ever-dutiful and heroic General Petraeus, answering his commander-in-chief’s call, will preside over a degenerating mishmash involving military and civilian brass who don’t get along, locals who simply want us out so they can return to their feudal ways, and a corrupt puppet in Hamid Karzai whose only saving grace is his snazzy wardrobe.

It is Petraeus who will be tarred with the way things turn out. If, by some miracle, our final exit isn’t a debacle, then good for him.

Does anyone have a better explanation?

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Obama's Oval Office speech

infamy.gifFirst, a word of thanks to all you readers who kept faith with the blog while the Lowe-Down was off in the lush, rain-kissed mountains of Western Massachusetts attending his college reunion.

To those who posted comments hoping to see their deathless prose online, my apologies. Even cartoonists have to take a break once in a while to rest the fingers.

As for President Obama’s speech last night, I found myself unsatisfied. Sure, we elected the guy partly because he was cool and unflappable under fire, but sometimes circumstances call for more than a reasonable, analytical approach. They call for a little kick-ass.

Some say we shouldn’t blame him, because there really isn’t much a president can do besides show up at the scene and look concerned.

They are wrong. Were the president an FDR-style leader⎯a man with a sense of theatricality who was not afraid to display his emotional side with a nation in need of an emoter-in-chief⎯he could harness the inchoate babble of public anger and⎯like a laser mirror⎯forge and amplify it into a monochromatic, coherent beam of pure political energy.

He could focus this beam ⎯ a beam so white-hot that no lobbyist could quench it, not even with a fire hose spewing campaign contributions⎯on an inert and fearful congress, making its seats sizzle to the point where members would jump out of them to pass a set of meaningful laws that would finally break our addiction to fossil fuels and get us on the road to sustainable, clean energy, Manhattan Project-style.

Oh, well.

Artist's note: Why no color today? I was evoking a speech given in 1941. Everything back then happened in black and white...just ask your grandparents.

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Chan Lowe: Oil and the government

boot.gifThis is a Manhattan Project moment, as was 9/11. And we’re squandering it the same way we did then.

Had George Bush surrounded himself with advisers of broad vision and foresight, he could have molded the world into an interdependent, terror-proof network. He could have laid the foundation for a crash program leading to energy independence for America. Instead, he started a couple of wars.

Now a nation that is just beginning to grasp the true scope of the unfolding tragedy in the Gulf cries out for leadership, as it did in 2001.

Rather than provide it, the Obama Administration has gone into bunker mode, uttering empty platitudes and hollow ultimatums in an attempt to divert blame and responsibility in an election year.

We are awakening to the reality that our government is powerless to deal with the mess. A victim of its own lack of political will in not requiring that adequate safety provisions be put in place before drilling even began, it now reaps the whirlwind of its corrupt impotence.

We as a nation are forced to entrust the rescue and restoration of our environment to the very same soulless private sector whose cutting of corners resulted in its rape.

We are angry at the oil industry, the way a debtor is angry at his loan shark. We know that the oil companies are exacting what amounts to a national indemnity by providing us what we cannot do without. We are in their thrall, and we look to our leaders to extricate us.

But we don’t elect leaders anymore; we elect people who tell us what we want to hear. They reflect us, with all our weaknesses and addictions. If we can’t do anything ourselves to stop the madness, why should we expect them to?

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Chan Lowe: The long finger of blame

blackhole.gifSmall government, in theory, is an intoxicating idea until you suddenly need the benefits of big government.

Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, who turned down federal stimulus money for his state last year in a fit of partisan pique, is now screaming about how little the feds appear to be doing to save his coastline.

Sarah Palin is out there, too, condemning the Obama administration for its ineptitude.

These are Louisiana’s wetlands being ruined, though, so isn’t this technically a state issue? Why should the people of Montana have to help pay to clean it up?

I’m being facetious, of course. We all know that BP is going to pay for everything and make us all whole again…the same way Exxon did after the Alaskan spill.

As for blame⎯it’s a long bar, and there are plenty of us who ought to be bellying up to it. Every time we hop in the SUV to tootle down to the store when we could have walked or ridden a bike, every time we leave the engine running to keep the AC cool when we duck into the dry cleaners, we stoke the beast’s appetite.

It’s fine to vent our spleen at BP for plowing up the Gulf in search of riches without a disaster plan, and it’s fine to rail at the government for not regulating enough or not enforcing the few regulations we have.

But it’s a lot like the drug trade. There wouldn’t be the murders, the kidnappings and the cartels if there weren’t a market for the product. Prevention of future disasters must begin at home.

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Chan Lowe: Elena Kagan on the hot seat

kagan.gifIf the past is any indicator, we’re in for a poison-pen version of “This Is Your Life,” where every utterance ever made by Elena Kagan will be unearthed, deconstructed and evaluated for its damaging potential.

And that ain't all.

Just this morning, not twelve hours after the definitive leak that Ms. Kagan was to be President Obama’s nominee to fill the coming vacancy on the Supreme Court bench, the Internet honchos at my paper informed us that “Kagan and lesbian” was the No. 1 search term on Google.

The hunt for damning personal shortcomings will be especially thorough in this case, because Ms. Kagan has never been a judge. Her lack of a paper trail frustrates those who would destroy her candidacy in hopes of handing President Obama a defeat right before the midterm elections.

If Ms. Kagan is in fact a lesbian, one has to wonder why this matters any more than being a heterosexual when it comes to interpreting the Constitution and deciding matters of law.

There will, of course, be a whispering campaign larded with what Chicago’s original Mayor Daley used to call “insinuendo.” It will be ugly and stomach-turning, but I’m sure Ms. Kagan knows what’s in store for her. If she can weather this, Antonin Scalia will seem like a pussycat by comparison.

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Chan Lowe: Wall Street reform

limox.gifLet’s face it, the image of wealthy financiers crying the blues doesn’t exactly tug on our heartstrings.

If the Republicans in Congress make an issue of preserving a laissez-faire policy toward Wall Street after what has happened to this country, they’re singing to an empty house.

The Dems know this, and they’re itching for the GOP to rise in defense of their natural constituency: the fat cats. Most Americans hate big government in the abstract, except when it’s applied to restrain the rampant greed of the plutocrats who got us into this mess.

As President Obama has said, it’s a fight he’s looking forward to having.

We may finally see the cracking of the solid Republican bloc that would rather do harm than deliver Barack Obama a victory.

After all, to a pol, self-preservation comes first and foremost. Wall Street and all its lobbying dollars aren’t worth anything to a member of Congress who can’t win the next election.

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Chan Lowe: Confederate History Month

confed.gifSo maybe the declaration of Confederate History Month was just the Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell using code to assert that his state was not about to knuckle under to the overlordship of the federal government (particularly when it came to reforming health care for its citizens).

After all, the Confederacy, so they say, was all about the preservation of “states’ rights"-- which in turn was code for preserving the South’s “peculiar institution” of slavery.

You don’t need to be a cryptologist to detect the tone-deafness here, particularly when the man sitting in the White House is African-American. That’s assuming the governor was only being insensitive, and not intentionally sending a more pointed message that resonated merrily in the ears of his more extreme constituents.

Florida “celebrates” Confederate history, too⎯which is a little presumptuous since the state, before air conditioning was invented, was mostly swamp and didn’t count for much.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: if you are about to extol the virtues of a period in history that remains an open wound to a large percentage of the general population, maybe it’s best to just do it behind closed doors. Go ahead and be proud, but be private about it.

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Chan Lowe: Supreme Court fight coming

nominee.gifBefore my usual claque of commentators gets its nose out of joint, I will acknowledge that the type of behavior alluded to in this cartoon is practiced by both extremes of the political spectrum. It is inappropriate--and unhelpful--no matter who is doing it.

We happen to have a Democratic president and Senate right now, so the protesting of whomever is nominated to fill Justice Stevens' seat will be the province of Conservatives.

I think it was John McCain who said, "Elections mean something." It is the constitutional prerogative of the president to present a nominee in the event of a court vacancy, and it is the Senate's job to decide whether that person is qualified.

It made sense to the Founding Fathers. What wouldn't make sense to them are the ideological hoops we make the nominees run through, thanks to our poisonous political atmosphere, and the attempts to discredit them by digging through their pasts to find out if they talked back to their kindergarten teacher during recess.

One of these days, Justice Scalia, Roberts, Alito or Thomas will want to retire. Chances are he'll wait until a Republican president is in office to do so. This is as it should be.

Then, it will be the Liberals' turn to make a public display of their unreasonableness, which they will do without a doubt.

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Chan Lowe: The new security policy

While the Obama administration, in a nod to the base, is splitting hairs over whether or not its new "intelligence-based" terrorist screening system is profiling, that's what it's beginning to look like.

Physical characteristics, where they're from... if those are going to be the criteria, then let's cut the doublespeak.

It used to be that we could afford the luxury of treating everyone as an equal threat, but with limited resources, and the consequences of a system failure so catastrophic, it may be time to rethink whether it's worth sacrificing Lower Manhattan just to ensure that someone's feelings don't get hurt.

If little old church ladies in tennis shoes had been found to be the preponderant cohort of those who performed terrorist acts, then it would make sense to single them out for special treatment. The innocent little old ladies who were searched unnecessarily would no doubt be grateful that we had focused our efforts on the most likely suspects.

I think many of us, in a perfect world, would wish to preserve the dignity of certain groups, and not ask that they be temporarily humiliated for the sins of a few among them.

In this imperfect world, how many of us are willing to risk our lives and those of our loved ones to defend that principle?

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Chan Lowe: Obama drills

chill.gifThe White House's chess game is verging on being a little too clever for its own good.

The calculation is that throwing a sop to the Republicans in the form of relaxed offshore drilling restrictions will buy cooperation from them later. In fact, they will be so disarmed by this gesture that they'll dance with Obama on more ambitious energy initiatives.

Meanwhile, the Democratic "base," which counted on Obama to rectify some of the environmental misdeeds of the Bush administration--and certainly not ape them-- will have nowhere else to turn in November.

Even if the Republicans don't play ball, their slapping of this outstretched hand will prove to the public that they are, indeed, the party of obstructionism, and it will punish them on election day.

There are two things wrong with this scenario: First, it looks like the Republicans, far from being charmed, are saying that the gesture is so flimsy, it's almost an insult. Saying "no" has worked for them so far. Why change the strategy now?

Second, what Obama did was just enough to infuriate the environmentalists. Yes, they have somewhere else to go on election day, which is to go hug some tree in the backyard rather than head to the polls.

The grand plan a gamble, and not even a smart one. He could well lose, and so will the environment.

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Chan Lowe: Health care reform passes

sonny.gifThe reason that health care reform has inflamed so many passions on all sides is that it goes to the very core of what each American believes his relationship to his government should be.

Because we are a nation founded on principles, not ethnicity, it is a stand-in⎯for better or worse⎯for what “being an American” means to many people.

This has been a conflict of fundamental world-views. If, through your prism, you view the providing of health care as primarily an economic issue, then you embrace the argument that if the nation can’t pay for it, we shouldn’t have it (A more rugged variant is “Why should I pay for someone else’s?”).

If, however, you believe that health care is a citizen’s right, and that it is the moral obligation of government (as an expression of the people who empower it), to provide it to every American, the same as it does their national defense⎯then you accept that as an imperative, and find a way to pay for it.

If you adhere to the latter view, you prioritize. Maybe depriving the rich of some extra lucre is the way to go. They won’t miss their next meal, and it might save someone whose child has a catastrophic illness from missing theirs. Un-American? Depends on your point of view.

Or maybe you want to pay for it some other way. Fight fewer pointless wars, perhaps. Whatever. If you truly believe, you’ll find a way.

There is no right or wrong way of looking at the role⎯or the reach⎯of government. Deciding what it will be is the function of elections.

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Chan Lowe: Dr. O prescribes heath care reform

waah.gifThe rest of the industrialized world scratches its head in wonderment as the greatest economic power on earth--the shining city on the hill--squabbles over something they've all taken for granted for generations.

Why are we so far behind even our Canadian cousins when it comes to health care? It's our uniquely American way of viewing the solution to societal needs through the prism of the free enterprise system.

From the days that the Declaration of Independence was written and before, government has been viewed as something individuals need to be protected from, while other countries see it as the collectivization of individual needs under one paternalistic umbrella.

Both approaches have their pros and cons. Unfortunately, looking after the medical health of all citizens, including the underprivileged, is not one of free enterprise's strong suits.

Obama is trying to get Congress to go out on a limb with this one, and Congress is never comfortable treading where its immediate self-interest does not lie. One thing the Republicans are right about: If health care reform does pass, it'll be with us for good, because no member of any party will be willing to take back something the have-nots have begun to enjoy for the very first time.

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Chan Lowe: Health care summit

summit.gifIt's a testament to how trust and cooperation have deteriorated in Washington that when President Obama first called a televised bipartisan health care summit, the Republicans immediately branded it a "trap."

Since then, some GOP members of congress have grudgingly agreed to attend, presuming--rightly--that it would play better in Peoria if they at least looked like they were trying to accomplish the people's business.

After all, with everyone's health care premiums continuing to rise at multiples of the inflation rate, even the Republicans' core business constituency is squawking.

If you deconstruct Republican logic, the only thing they would have to fear from revealing the elements of their health care reform plan to America is that it might be something Americans won't like. Otherwise, why not jump at this opportunity to stand their plan up against the Democrats' in a bully televised forum?

Either that, or they simply don't have one.

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Chan Lowe: State of the Union

trust.gifEven if you are repulsed by Barack Obama and everything he stands for, you have to agree with one thing he said in his speech last night.

"Not every day is election day." By that, he meant that members of each party are so preoccupied with scoring points at the expense of the other that the welfare of the nation is forgotten in the melee of ego-stoking.

Early on in the health care reform process, for example, the Republicans realized there were short-term political gains to be made by not engaging in the give-and-take. If the whole ugly piece of legislation--warts and all--fails to pass, they will crow with jubilation that Obama's presidency has been mortally wounded. Meanwhile, where does this leave the poor and those with preexisting conditions? Worse off, even, than before.

This hostility hasn't developed overnight. It has taken several decades to fester into what it is today. It has been the norm for so long that there remain very few old-timers who remember the good old days, when parties compromised on legislation just to get it passed, knowing everyone would benefit if there were something in the bill each pol could bring home and point to with pride.

And when the old-timers finally shuffle off, they will take the faded memories of those days with them.

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Obama the Populist

fight.gifIt’s sad that it took the loss in Massachusetts to get Barack Obama to put the people’s core concerns back on the front burner where they belong--at least, rhetorically.

He should have had them there all along. Instead, he was distracted by the sweep of grand policymaking—saving banks and corporations, getting health care reform passed. Now, the sudden talk about fighting for the common man has a whiff of reactive desperation about it.

Worse, the dewy-eyed idealists who plunged into the political system for the first time and pushed him over the top not only feel that he has favored centrist wishy-washiness over their progressive hopes, they are turned off by the Man of Change’s morph into Just Another Typical Pol. The process of the health care battle has been protracted and repellent, and Obama’s willingness to get his hands dirty and make whatever deal was necessary to get it passed deeply offends those who craved a “new kind of politics.” The high talk is beginning to ring hollow.

The new rhetoric out of the White House may gain back the soft support of some skeptical independents, but by compromising his political soul, Obama risks forever losing those who were prepared to forgive him just about any failing, as long as he stood for something.

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Obama snags the Nobel Peace Prize

nobelz.gifMaybe those besotted Nobel panelists got the Obama charm dust sprinkled in their eyes when he made that campaign lap through Europe in 2008.

What better way to demonstrate the hipness of the Peace Prize than to give it to the biggest rock star going at the time...bigger than Bono, even.

That was then. They might have had second thoughts after Surge II, Afghan Version, but it's poor form to yank it after it's been awarded and the guy's already been fitted for his white tie and tails.

At least the honoree had the grace to point out the, um, awkwardness of it all in his acceptance speech, and it'll never come close to the embarrassment suffered after they gave it in a three-way split to Yasser Arafat, who probably melted his third of the medal into bullets or something.

Remember when you were a kid, and your parents bought you new sneakers a couple of sizes too big because they knew your feet would eventually grow into them? And you spent a few months tripping over the big, floppy toes?

Maybe we should think of it like that.

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Chan Lowe: The education of Barack Obama

idea.gifIt isn't so much the passage of time that has caused the scales to fall from Barack Obama's eyes; it's the view.

Things look a lot different from behind that big, heavy desk in the Oval Office than they do on the campaign trail.

Out on the stump, you can pretty much say whatever you want, attack whomever you want for whatever policy or character flaw, and the only thing you have to worry about is your continued credibility with your listeners. And oh, how they love it when you throw them a fat chunk of red meat.

Once in that hot seat, though, you're confronted with a kaleidoscope of moving parts never dreamt of in your philosophy, and you have to start worrying about things like what's good for the country, not only your base.

Your base just doesn't get it. They don't understand how the dominoes work over there. If you explained it to them the way it's been explained to you, they wouldn't believe it, anyway. But you can't blow them off, because you need them to bend over and give up something for you on health care.

So you sit there at the intersection of domestic politics and global strategy, trying to thread the needle in a windstorm.

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Obama makes the pitch for the Afghan war

plan.gifRemember that much-maligned line first uttered by Condi Rice when the Bushies were bamboozling congress and the American people into war in Iraq: "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud?"

It turned out--as we now know to our everlasting regret--that Saddam had no WMD, and her cute turn of phrase, while mighty scary, was empty at its core.

This time, though, it's for real. It's now Barack Obama's unenviable job to convince an incredulous public that the old Domino Theory is still valid. If Afghanistan falls to the Taliban and al-Qaida is allowed to thrive there, the infection will spread even deeper into an already rickety Pakistan, and possibly overwhelm its government.

Normally, we'd just allow the warlords and nut jobs in that part of the world to cancel each other out, but we're talking upwards of 80 nuclear weapons here, any one of which in the wrong hands could mean disaster.

Obama's speech will have to be short, sweet and to the point: no "nation-building," no "nurturing democracy," no subtlety. If he's going to sell this thing, we have to come away thinking, "Either we commit, or someday we're all going up in a ball of flame."

Americans aren't good with abstract concepts (think, "deficit spending"). They do, however, understand matters of life and death.

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Chan Lowe: Obama and the empathy thing

empathy.gifBarack Obama needs to learn there is more to governing than staying cool and bringing his calculator mind to bear on the weighty problems of state.

Where is that legendary charisma we saw during the campaign? The dewy-eyed youths willing to follow him to the gates of Hell, or even to Washington, D.C.? His followers are turning away in disgust, not just because he isn't following through with his more liberal promises, but because he isn't stroking them enough.

Remember that stupid poll about who you'd rather have a beer with? There's something to it, because an aloof professorial type may be able to tell you what's best for you, but only a drinking buddy can actually talk you into doing what you have to in order to achieve it.

Barack needs to connect. I don't have any specific suggestions on how to do it--he's the president, after all. He's the one who's supposed to know.

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The terror trials

terrorcourt.gifThe hypocrisy is delicious.

The same conservatives who passionately promote the sacredness of the constitution--and appointing judges to the federal bench who would interpret it strictly--are now in favor of suspending it out of fear that our constitutional guarantees are nothing but Swiss cheese through which terrorist vermin might escape justice.

You can't have it both ways. Either it is the noblest document ever written, or its freedoms should only be applied to lesser crimes in which the outcome isn't so serious. It saddens me that its vocal supporters have so little faith in its effectiveness.

As for the argument that terrorists make war on America, and therefore have no right to be tried under our system of presuming innocence until proven guilty: I don't recall anybody saying that Timothy McVeigh should be denied a trial by jury. He made war on America the same as these guys--just ask the loved ones of those unlucky enough to be in the Murrah Federal Building that day.

By the way, he was convicted and executed under our supposedly flawed system that bends over backwards to give the accused the benefit of the chill. This is about us and who we are as a nation, not about them. If we try them fairly and openly for all the world to see, then the terrorists have lost.

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Chan Lowe: No presidential slack

vaccine.gifOne thing Mr. Obama has learned about being president is that nobody ever cuts you an inch of slack.

When he went to Denmark to argue Chicago's case for the Olympics, he was criticized for using up all that aviation fuel and coming home empty-handed. Had he not gone, he would have been accused of not doing all he could to help out a great American city.

Another example: Now the gay rights movement is upset at him for not going up to Maine and making the pitch against repeal of that state's gay marriage law. They feel that it's just one more in a long string of Obama disappointments related to their cause.

They might want to remember that Obama always said he was against gay marriage. He prefers civil unions with all the rights pertaining thereto, to use the dry legalistic phrase. Gays have plenty to be disgruntled about--it looks like "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is still in place despite his assurances to the contrary--but Obama's silence on gay marriage should come as no surprise.

With so many other irons in the fire, Obama has had to perform some painful triage in order to get his top priorities accomplished. It's hard, understandably, for interest groups to accept that their top priorities may not be his. Maybe this is one of the reasons presidents serve four-year terms, to force a restless public to be patient.

If Obama still hasn't delivered by 2012, then those with a grievance have a remedy. I wish them the best of luck with the Republican To Be Named Later. So does Barack Obama, which is probably why he made the political calculation he did. It's cruel, but that's politics.

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Chan Lowe: Obama and the Afghan whirlpool

afghani.gifThis is one of those times when you wonder why anybody would want to be president, much less spend years of his or her life running for the job.

I remember the 2000 campaign, and drawing a cartoon commenting on how Al Gore had been preparing all his life to be president. He would probably not take a loss well.

Bush, on the other hand, looked like somebody who'd been drafted because his brother was defeated when running for governor of his state, which happened to be the case. After losing, he would probably shrug and say, "I tried, Daddy!" and happily go back to running his baseball team.

To him, being President was all about the cool plane and getting to wear that nifty windbreaker with the presidential seal on the chest. The rest--sadly--is history.

There is no upside to the Afghan war. We won't know when we've won, but we may well know if we've lost. Like Vietnam, it could go on and on, ensnared in the tentacles of geo- and domestic politics.

Not something you'd want to be commander-in-chief for in your worst nightmares.

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Chan Lowe cartoon: Barack and Balloon Boy

balloon.gifMy guess is that the Limbaughs, Hannitys, Coulters and their fellow travelers in the entertainment biz are secretly hoping that despite their most ardent efforts, Barack Obama gets reelected to a second term.

Let's say, just for yuks, that the Mayan calendar is wrong and we don't all go up in a plume of fire in 2012.

Sarah Palin--through an electoral fluke (most likely another mechanical error in Florida)--succeeds Obama. Frankly (and I think I speak for those from all political spectra here), round-the-clock cheer leading is a lot less interesting than juicy, red-meat attack rhetoric.

When things start to go bad and the public realizes that she can't even figure out how to find her way down to the shooting range in the White House basement, a bored and cynical base will stop tuning in to the frantic yelping of ultra-conservative lapdogs locked in perpetual denial.

Let's remember: the talk show hosts aren't in it for the power, but the money. It would be delicious indeed to listen to Rush having to modify his spiel in order to attract a more moderate audience. Those Town of Palm Beach property taxes are, I hear, almost confiscatory.

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Chan Lowe cartoon: Not such a gay old time

promises.gifThe Obama administration has made it abundantly clear that it's a whole lot easier to make rash promises as a candidate than it is to actually run a country.

When George W. Bush uttered the pathetic, plaintive statement in a 2004 campaign debate that
"It's HAAAARD!" being president, you could almost see his arms flailing.

Balancing the competing priorities of America's constituencies, especially if they number among one's supporters, has to be among the tougher tasks of any chief executive.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender groups, having campaigned their hearts out to get Barack Obama elected, are rightfully miffed that their man has relegated their issues to the back burner. Democrats seem to do this with the GLBT crowd, the same way Republicans pay lip service to social conservatives when they need to get elected.

From Obama's viewpoint, he's using every ounce of his capital to get health care reform passed, and while he is surely sympathetic to gays, he feels he would so squander his clout if he took a side foray into that minefield that in the end, he'd get nothing accomplished. Remember what happened to Bill Clinton and Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Sure it makes political sense from a coldly analytical perspective, but cold analysis wasn't what Obama was delivering in those roof-raising speeches about "This Is Our Time!"

And, as every cynical White House has said since the dawn of the republic when the base feels dissed: "Where else are they gonna go?"

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Chan Lowe cartoon: B.O.'s big haul

Just a week or two ago, the Obama haters were crowing that Chicago's elimination as a summer Olympics site amounted to a personal loss of prestige for the president, when in fact the decision had very little--if anything--to do with him.

Had he not gone to Copenhagen, the same carpers would have attacked him for not doing all he could to bring the Olympics to the U.S.

How can you blame the International Olympic Committee? Given the choice, wouldn't you rather loll on Copacabana Beach in the shadows of Sugar Loaf than on the steamy shores of Lake Michigan beneath the hulking pile of the Sears Tower?

Anyway, that's old news. Last week, he won the Nobel Peace Prize--again an event he had little to do with--and they say he didn't deserve the accolade. So, which is it?

From the tepid response out of the White House, the prize was viewed as something of a mixed blessing for a president who is already perceived (and perception in politics is reality, as they say) as being all mouth and no follow-through.

Those crazy Europeans. Don't they remember that one of the reasons Sen. Kerry lost the election in 2004 was that he looked "too French?" They should keep their pompous little prizes to themselves, thank you very much.

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Chan Lowe cartoon: Crazy Mahmoud

mahmoud.gifSo much for engagement.

Engagement only works when the guy you're trying to engage is rational. Remember the Cuban Missile Crisis? Both President Kennedy and Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev were veterans of WWII. Kennedy knew that his adversary had experienced what all-out war can do to a nation--in the USSR's case, wipe out nine million of its citizens.

He knew that behind all the saber-rattling, Khrushchev was worth engaging, because he understood the argument that mutual annihilation benefited no one.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does not act like someone who is aware of the possible consequences of his actions. Either that, or he's performing one of the most daring high-wire acts of all time.

The Israelis are realists. After all, it's their country these missiles crazy Mahmoud is waving around are aimed at. They're not going to sit around forever while President Obama conducts a debating society, or relies on leaky "sanctions" that the Chinese have a vested, petroleum-based interest in sabotaging.

Proof once again that it's a whole lot easier to conduct a Foreign Policy of Change We Can Believe In from the campaign lectern than from the Oval Office.

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Chan Lowe cartoon: The Graveyard of Empires

serpent.gifAmericans have never been much for learning the lessons of history.

Part of it is that America is so different from other nations, founded on principle rather than ethnicity or geography.

A corollary to this is the myth of American exceptionalism, which, loosely translated, means: "Others failed in the past because they did it wrong. When we do things our way, we succeed. Plus, we've got God on our side."

When it comes to Afghanistan, a backwater that has been notoriously hostile to outsiders, "The Graveyard of Empires," we may learn that even our way won't win us the highway.

Take the Brits, for example. If you have any FAQ's about how to run an empire, they're the go-to folks. Anybody who can subjugate the entire Indian subcontinent--several hundred million people--for over a hundred years using nothing more than a few thousand civil servants and soldiers must know what they're doing.

Well, Afghanistan's inhospitable inhabitants and topography broke them, too. Even the Russian Bear lumbered off with a bruised backside.

Do we honestly think that we can cram our Age of Enlightenment ideals down the locals' throats and leave them with a functioning agrarian democracy in the Jeffersonian mold (well, growing opium poppies is a form of agriculture) through military might, just because we happen to be more charming than our predecessors?

It doesn't matter who's sitting in the Oval Office hot seat, be they Democrat or Republican. When it comes to Afghanistan, they're earning every penny of their salary.

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Chan Lowe cartoon: Barack Obama, head shill

heir.gifThe White House handlers obviously believe that their strongest suit is the Pitchman-In-Chief, and they're playing their hand for all it's worth.

The Charismatic One, in an unprecedented tour de force, appeared on five morning yak shows on Sunday.

Then came the David Letterman appearance, another first for a sitting president.

While poll numbers show that the President himself remains personally popular, his programs continue to be decidedly less so, and there is a clear danger here that repeatedly putting him out there as the head shill is going to wear thin over time.

If there's one thing Americans hate, it's being exposed to the same old shtick over and over. This is why ads lose their effectiveness with overexposure.

For example, I'm sick of seeing that couple holding hands in those side-by-side bathtubs (obviously, I watch a lot of news programs), and wondering how on earth they managed to rig the plumbing for them when they're perched on some Grand Canyon pinnacle five thousand feet in the air, or why anybody would want to take a bath in separate tubs way up there in the first place.

I figure if they're going to insult my intelligence like that, then I'm not going to spend my hard-earned medical insurance dollars on their lousy pills.

See? This is the risk the White House runs.

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ACORN unmasked

acorn.gifFor sheer entertainment value, the idea of a couple of young people posing as a hooker and her pimp in order to run a sting on a major community organizing operation can't be beat.

The U.S. House of Representatives, in distancing itself from this little bit of theater, immediately voted to yank ACORN's federal support dollars. One has to ask why our tax money was being spent on this kind of thing in the first place. Rather, it sounds like the perfect opportunity for corporations to polish their public images by contributing to something civic-minded that would help turn out the vote. Oops...they'd be Democratic votes. Never mind.

Anyway, we all know that there's a secondary reason the Right is foaming at the mouth over ACORN. The tax issue is one thing, although I never hear them grousing about U.S. companies that headquarter themselves abroad in order to avoid paying federal taxes.

No, it's really because in the woolly public mind, ACORN is associated with Barack Obama, as if it were some wholly-owned subsidiary of the Obama campaign.

Well, that's how politics is played, although rarely in such a coherent, focused way.

It's a slippery slope, and the Progressives aren't exactly fools. I'm looking forward to some counterscams. It's all mother's milk to a cartoonist.

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Chan Lowe cartoon: What happened to presidential privacy?

viral.gifThe theme of the week appears to be presidential privacy, or the lack of it.

First comes some obscure lower-echelon speechwriter in the Bush administration who is earning his thirty pieces of silver by publishing a tell-all book.

In it, he quotes (or misquotes) his former employer uttering embarrassing comments that he thought were being made in confidence.

Remember those executive privilege arguments, cited by all administrations, about how a president must be able to depend on the confidentiality of his conversations if he is going to get honest advice? Now the wound comes from an inner, trusted member of the tribe. How crass.

Second, we have Barack Obama being twitted, or tweeted, or whatever, about by news personnel for an offhand remark he made--and which he thought was off the record--that Kanye West was "a jackass." Nobody seems to disagree with his assessment, but the controversy has something to do the fact that he said it.

In this high-tech world, with surreptitious cell phone video cameras, social media, instant Internet connectivity, and the promise of big payoffs for loose lips, no leader can be sure that everything he says or does--no matter how trivial or banal--won't be public knowledge within seconds.

I guess all we can do is be grateful that this stuff wasn't available during the Clinton years. The cocktail dress was bad enough.

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Chan Lowe cartoon: We're mad as hell...

rage.gifNobody has a corner on anger. We’re all angry.

We’re angry that a lifetime of hard work leaves only the promise of more hard work (if we can hang onto it) until we drop, rather than the retirement our parents deserved and got.

We’re angry about the moral degradation of society. We’re angry about huge Wall Street bonuses for people who caused us to lose our homes, about loud hip-hop music and toenail fungus. A million affronts--some petty, some gross. All irritating.

Some say our anger stems from fear. Fear that “they” have taken away our country, and that we’ll lose what’s left of it if we don’t mobilize to snatch it back.

If they have, where have they taken it? If our guns can stop their act of larceny, what direction do we point them in? Who are “they?” If “they” are really Big Government, how do we contain it? Do we go down to the federal courthouse and shoot out the windows?

You know what we need? We need scapegoats. What’s more American than finding a scapegoat? That’s it—let’s focus on people who don’t talk like us, look like us, or think like us. Let’s start with that guy who wasn’t even born here, yet acts like he’s running the place.

Whew… That makes us feel better already.

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Chan Lowe cartoon: The Party of No

illuminated.gifThings are starting to jell in Congress.

The final contours of health care reform are yet to be defined, but the fractious Democrats, possibly prodded by the President's speech, are beginning to see the advantages of passing some kind of bill, even if its contents don't completely mesh with their individual dreams.

Meanwhile, there are misgivings in Republican ranks. So far, just saying No has pleased the base, but while the base is well-organized, it's shrinking compared to the number of moderates who are being alienated by their behavior. The "You lie" comment didn't help make them look reasonable.

As I've said before, once a program is in place, people start to think of it as their birthright. Even if all the Democrats pass is a skeleton, it'll be enough to start hanging the Christmas ornaments on down the line. As Americans begin to enjoy (maybe) health care that for many was previously beyond their reach, and discover in the process that we haven't all started speaking Russian, they'll start looking at the GOP as the party that wanted to deny them the goodies.

Look at Social Security--which is certainly socialism--or Medicare, which is just what Obama wants for everybody, except limited to old people. Nobody dares even question those programs now.

The train's pulling out the station, and the Republicans are in danger of being left on the platform, looking in the wrong direction.

Can you hear that lonesome whistle blowin'?

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Chan Lowe cartoon: Our president, right or wrong

unamerican.gifSome of the recent comments about Barack Obama by readers of this blog have bordered on the kind of talk that gets one a knock on the door from the Secret Service. One of my commenters even posted on our weather blog , fantasizing about the president’s helicopter getting caught in a hurricane.

I’ll paraphrase my response to someone who sneeringly referred to Obama as “your” president (meaning mine): Even though it was unseemly that the person who officially certified the Florida vote count in 2000 also happened to be chairwoman of the Bush Florida campaign, we accepted George W. Bush as president because the Supreme Court ultimately decided in his favor. Some had to swallow pretty hard, but it’s the law, and we are a nation of laws.

I was angry at Bush when we found out there were no WMDs in Iraq. I was ashamed of him in the aftermath of Katrina. I was disgusted by him when the news about the torture of prisoners came out. But I never once thought he wasn’t my president. We can disagree with him, we can try to influence his behavior through public involvement, but in the end, he’s the only leader we’ve got until his term is up. That’s why we have terms.

In the meantime, those who say of Obama that “he isn’t my president” for whatever reasons should buck up and face reality. He was elected fair and square by the majority. In this country, the majority rules.

As we approach the eighth anniversary of 9/11, it is instructive to remember that George W. Bush’s approval rating soared to ninety per cent afterward, which means even those who felt he stole the election rallied around him as our head of state—the embodiment, for better or worse, of the American people. They may not have liked him, but they accepted him.

I doubt the same would happen if, God forbid, another such tragedy befell us. Those who feel Barack Obama is not their president would be too busy blaming him for doing a lousy job protecting us as chief executive.

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Chan Lowe cartoon: Obama "poisons" young minds

It's hard for reasonable people to even wrap their minds around the ugliness of thought that would cause a parent to prevent his child from being exposed to the words of the President of the United States.

One should at least have enough respect for the office to listen to its occupant before disagreeing.

It would be an excellent civics lesson, it seems to me, to talk to one's child after hearing the president speak and explain to him that it is all right not to agree with everything--or anything--he says. But all this does is teach children to hate, rather than listen to, those with whom we disagree. A variation, I suppose, on the Bush "we don't talk to our enemies" doctrine.

The other stuff, that he's trying to poison young minds with his socialistic, communistic dogma--well, if you really believe what Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck et al feed you, then I'm not going to waste further keystrokes trying to talk you out of it.

Oh, and if you have a problem with my cartoon or anything I've said, don't bother to post your comment, because if you do, I will remove it in order not to expose my other readers to your thoughts. By not being in lockstep with mine, they are ipso facto unworthy for this blog.

I'm kidding. Go ahead and rant; just keep it clean.

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The health care long knives are out

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for meaningful health care reform to pass through this congress.

There are so many moving parts in this game of three-dimensional chess, so many special interests, so much money to be made and lost, that only someone with the legislative skills of a Ted Kennedy--or maybe a Tom Daschle--could have played it pitch-perfect.

Sadly, the American people seem to be forgotten in all the jockeying.

We have only our own ignorance to blame. If the majority of this country had any idea what the average citizen takes for granted in Europe, and for what cost, our members of congress would pass universal health care in a heartbeat, to the light of torches waving outside the U.S. Capitol windows.

But those of us who have some semblance of health care coverage desperately hang onto our miserable scraps, because it's all we know. Those who have nothing...hell, nobody listens to them, anyway.

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Dick Cheney cries out in the wilderness

We were deep into 2002, probably five or six months after 9/11, before my editor would even entertain the idea of my drawing a cartoon that did not portray George W. Bush in anything but a favorable light.

"We're not ready for that yet," I remember him saying. He was probably right, as far as the sentiments of our readers were concerned.

The terror was still fresh, the country had rallied around its president, and unbeknownst to us, Dick Cheney was quietly machinating behind the scenes to exploit our national myopia and expand executive power to unheard-of levels.

It was a failure on the part of the media as much as anyone else, but consumers of news weren't ready yet for hard-nosed reporting, or commenting for that matter, about our leaders.

These are different times, and the man who used to condemn the Bush naysayers as unpatriotic didn't even wait for the inaugural platform to be disassembled before he began loudly trashing the new president. It's his right. Too bad he didn't see it that way when he was on the receiving end.

As for setting himself up as the world's authority on keeping us safe, let's remember that clever locution Cheney and his supporters like to use to justify their excesses: "The terrorists haven't hit us again since 9/11."

As I recall, Dick Cheney had been running this country for almost eight months when the terrorists did hit us on 9/11.

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The CIA revelations

You can “look forward, not back,” as President Obama says he is doing in distancing himself from his “rogue” attorney general, Eric Holder.

This, of course, is an adroit little sidestep. After all, Obama’s the one who nominated the guy. Holder, as a member of Obama’s cabinet, serves at his pleasure. I guess this kind of waffling is what they call “leadership.”

Anyway, an investigation of alleged illegal acts is probably a good thing for the republic. Obama has made it clear that those who were only following orders will not be prosecuted (that argument didn’t fly when it was made with a German accent, but this is the national security of the American homeland we’re talking about now, folks).

That leaves…whom? Probably nobody, because going after the principals of the Bush administration who set the policy would distract everyone from Obama’s priorities, not to mention possibly derail his presidency.

In any case, if we don’t at least examine the excesses of our behavior and do a little public self-reflection, then our already-battered worldwide reputation as a nation of laws will suffer even further.

And the terrorists—while not exactly winning—will have achieved a tactical victory in the battle for hearts and minds.

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FDR he ain't

There are several ways to look at this.

You could say--if you were a starry-eyed believer in the Obama campaign speeches of a year ago--that the so-called "public option" was already a compromise from a pure single-payer plan, which is the holy grail for the left. So this is a compromise of a compromise, or in other words, a sellout.

Or, you could say that Barack Obama is a pragmatist, and that by abandoning one of the cornerstones of his health care reform plan, he is merely acknowledging reality. A partial loaf is better than nothing at all.

I can appreciate Obama's realpolitik, particularly since health reform has been staked out by all sides as a make-or-break issue for his presidency. If your entire credibility depends on getting something--anything--passed, it's better to pass an empty shell so that everyone can declare victory and maybe flesh things out later.

As we all know, government programs are virtually impossible to kill. They develop constituencies that tend to vote as self-protective blocs. They are much easier to fatten over time, like a Christmas goose. If you want to be cynical about it--and there is always a large component of cynicism in any White House's strategy--just getting the framework in place is enough to ensure a thriving, growing bureaucracy as well as mission creep.

Give it a decade or two, and even conservatives will be fighting to protect the National Health Care we have come to accept as an American birthright. Have you ever seen one turn down Medicare?

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Health care screamers

Fear has always been a potent motivator in American politics.

Fear of Communists lurking under the bed, fear of Liberals re-distributing our hard-earned money to welfare queens, fear of hippies undermining our kids' morals with their drugs and free love.

The Bush Administration was particularly adept at wielding the fear weapon: Remember how they used the climate after 9/11 to start wars and pass a raft of questionable legislation?

Fear of the unknown is a particularly useful tool. It’s what people can’t get their mind around that they find most terrifying, and what makes them most easily manipulated.

In the health care debate, the president and his people have fallen down on the job by failing to articulate what all Americans, the haves as well as the have-nots, have to gain from reform. By creating a vacuum of information, they’ve allowed special interests to define for the nation what change may mean in their own scary and self-serving way.

Like a herd of cattle, people can be spooked into stampeding if you manage to generate around them a fog of anxiety about an unknown peril; in this case, a fear of what they may lose, even though what they may now have is a lousy deal. The problem with a stampede is that once it begins, it’s difficult to control.

The stampede could go over a cliff, and then what would you have? Nobody left who can afford to buy your insurance, or your pharmaceuticals, or whatever else you may be peddling. Be very careful what you wish for.

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The "Beer Summit"

This whole little sideshow has the sickly air of a face-saving gesture about it.

We'll probably never know what happened inside Professor Gates' house that day he was arrested, but I'm sure he was tired and cranky after a long flight from China, and maybe Officer Crowley was still a little tense, not knowing what he might face when he answered the supposed burglary call.

President Obama, on the other hand, should have known better. He was right: he didn't have all the facts. We all are guilty of shooting our mouths off without knowing what we're talking about, but we're not all President of the United States, whose every word is parsed, weighed, and weighed again for symbolism and meta-meaning.

Only an African-American can truly know how intimidating it is to face a law-enforcement officer who may be harboring a presumption of guilt just because of his color. Hell, I'm afraid of them, and I'm white. Obama may have used the word "stupidly" because of his own experience, but it is prejudiced thinking also to assume that the white officer was automatically at fault, just because other white officers in the past have acted a certain way out of bigotry. As it turns out, Officer Crowley was exactly the wrong person to hang the bigot label upon.

Obama had the grace to admit to his poor choice of words. I'm sure he learned a valuable lesson from this. He's one of the fastest learners in public life.

Let's hope the "Beer Summit" works in that it gets Gates and Crowley to bury the hatchet without resorting to suing each other in civil court...the country really doesn't need that kind of a circus right now.

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"Birther" true believers


There must be a great deal of consternation and disappointment among certain circles that Barack Obama has been in office for six months already, and to date has not placed a mark on the Oval Office wall indicating the correct direction of Mecca.

Since the Muslim rumor has proven to be unsubstantiated, one must resort to a backup line of attack, the notion that the Hawaii Certificate of Live Birth is a forgery, and that Obama, actually born in Kenya, is therefore not qualified to hold office.

One can only wonder whether the "Birthers," as they are called, would have been so zealous in their pursuit of truth and justice had John McCain been elected, considering that his claim to naturalized birth (Canal Zone) is much more tenuous.

Nor can we escape the irony that several of our very first presidents--among them the sainted George Washington and Thomas Jefferson--were born British subjects, since there was not even a United States at the time within whose borders they would have come into this world. But nobody is questioning their legitimacy.

This whole affair would be comical, except that it does play to the worst aspects of the American character. In stressful times like these, such messages of hate have a way of rapidly infecting a fearful and ignorant populace. And there are certain public figures, who, for their own selfish reasons, are pouring fuel on the flames.

For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.

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Walking the tightrope on Iran

It's very easy to say all kinds of nutty stuff designed to please your base when you're (a) campaigning for something, (b) holding an elective office where what you say on a particular subject really doesn't matter to anybody, or (c) a non-elected political big shot standing on the sidelines.

Barack Obama is certainly guilty of transgression (a) regarding a raft of subjects, including gay rights, Guantanamo, and the Iraq War. The scales fell from his eyes when he got in the Oval Office and realized that to make good on all those reckless promises, he would basically torpedo his presidency before he even got out of the gate.

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven," to quote Ecclesiastes.

Guilty of transgression (b) are those who, from the safety of their armchairs, would take a tougher line with Iraq in its electoral crisis, like members of Congress who have the luxury of not representing the official American line with every word they utter. Guilty of (c) are smart-mouthed ex-pols jockeying to be presidential nominees in 2012 and broadcast types seeking to boost ratings.

I think Obama is handling this one correctly. Rash statements now will only serve to unite the Iranians against the Great Satan. Don't confuse the protesters with Yankee-lovers. It has nothing to do with us. But it could if we muscled in there and tried to interfere.

Besides, what would we plan to do to back up the tough talk? Use Iraq and Afghanistan as staging grounds for Operation Iranian Freedom? The Pentagon would probably have something to say about that.

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Mr. Obama goes to Cairo


In the end, it's all about respect.

His detractors will say that he didn't introduce any new ideas. While they'd like to think that's a criticism, it isn't. It's a fact. It also wasn't the point of the speech to throw new strategies or initiatives into the stew.

The point was to show people who think we hate them that we treat them as equals, that we value their contribution to civilization, that we appreciate and understand their grievances, and that they will find a new, welcoming attitude from us if they approach with outstretched hands and open hearts.

Regardless of what everybody may have been expecting in his own mind, that was President Obama's goal in Cairo, and he accomplished it with his customary eloquence and grace.

Some may say that that isn't the way to treat these people, that they only respect you when you slap 'em around a little, walk tall, strut your stuff, rattle the saber, let 'em know who's boss.

Well, that hasn't worked very well to date, so what's the harm in trying the human approach?

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The Sotomayor nomination


This is going to be fun.

President Obama has his hands full trying to sell health care, save the economy, and conduct foreign wars, so the last thing he wants to get involved in right now is a mudslinging campaign over a Supreme Court opening.

As soon as the White House drew up its short list of prospective candidates, the opposition research started. As I've mentioned before, a Supreme Court opening is just about the most potent fund raising opportunity that exists in American politics, so even if Obama nominated Snow White, they'd come up with something about her highly unorthodox, and no doubt immoral, living arrangement with seven men.

But there's a fly in the Conservative ointment: Sonia Sotomayor is Hispanic, and stands an excellent chance of becoming the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice in American History.

It is a delicious dilemma: The Democrats have an overwhelming majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee, so it's a sure bet her confirmation will be passed to the main body of the Senate for a final vote. They also are just one short of the votes needed to prevent a filibuster. So you're a Conservative Republican, and you want to gin up some righteous anger about yet another radical activist judge, blah, blah, blah.

At the same time, Hispanics constitute a growing proportion of the vote, and alienating them could be tantamount to committing political suicide. These are people the Republican Party desperately wants to attract.

I had the pleasure of being the one to inform a Puerto Rican colleague about the Sotomayor nomination. "It's about time," she said, and grinned with pride.

Let's see now...who wants to be the pol who will be remembered for standing in the way of history?

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The coming fight over health care


The health care industry is throwing words like "socialized" around to scare people into hanging onto the status quo, where there's money to be made.

There are two problems with this argument: First, the cold war ended twenty years ago, so "socialized" doesn't carry quite the menacing "Rooskies hiding under the bed" sting that it used to.

Second, we watch our Canadian and European friends make life decisions--like retirement--based on when it's best for them, rather than being forced to work until they can crawl across that bridge to Medicare.

Them ungodly socialistic types also rest easier when they lose their jobs, knowing that state benefits will kick in to protect them from starvation, and that their children can still see a doctor even if they're unemployed. Assuming that meeting these basic needs is what the state is primarily there for, then socialism doesn't look so bad, after all.

As for the "your taxes will skyrocket" argument, to me it's semantic. Taxes, health care premiums--either way, they get taken out of your paycheck. If, by calling them "taxes," they guarantee me and my family health care no matter what my employment status, then sign me up. Chances are they'll be less than the combination of premiums, co-pays, and "your provider charges more than the standard accepted rate for your region" dodges.

And finally, if single-payer "socialized" health care is so bad for us, why are the private insurers fighting hammer and tong to prevent that option from being passed into law? Could it be that we might get something closer to our money's worth?

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The Afghanistan mess

It just shows you that no matter who is in the White House, our republic--with all its awesome and high-priced might--remains at a disadvantage when it comes to asymmetrical warfare.

What do you do if you're the Taliban, you're armed with rocket-propelled grenades and maybe some old Enfield rifles the British left behind back in the Nineteenth Century, and you're fighting a foe who has precision missiles that can rain down destruction from the sky with no advance notice, obliterating an entire crowd?

You make sure the crowd he obliterates is the wrong one.

Remember, this battle is for hearts and minds, not body counts. You use jiujitsu, turning the aggressor's own bulk and momentum against him. Enough of these little mistakes, and pretty soon the whole country sees you as the heroic defender of innocent women and children.

What are a few thousand more deaths in a country that has suffered so much already, especially if they serve a strategic goal? The locals don't know the Twin Towers from the Doublemint Twins, and when you say "terrorism," they look at all the bodies of their friends and loved ones that need to be buried.

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Obama's first one hundred days


There's a reason why nobody is interested in marking President Obama's first hundred days except the media.

The observance, or appraisal, or whatever, is entirely a media creation. It's as artificial as Four Corners, where four states meet because somebody decided that would be the place (turns out they were several miles off, anyway, due to surveying errors).

It all started with FDR, and ever since then, the pack journalism mentality has dictated that this so-called milestone must be the subject of innumerable news stories, analyses, and navel-gazing exercises.

Why? Because some assignment editor or news director, worried about his or her job, fears that some other news outlet will churn out a bucketload of pointless blather and that his or her boss will come in screaming, wondering why he or she didn't have the story. Hence, the pack.

All of us in the news business worry about our continuing relevance as the information superhighway becomes a light-speed torrent. One way might be to concentrate on things that really matter to people. We should be making these hundred-day appraisals every day, without ballyhoo, in such a way that they make clear how Obama's policies affect everyday lives. This other stuff is like screaming yourself hoarse in an echo chamber.

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The rescue of Capt. Phillips

What a feel-good moment. We certainly needed it. Reminds me of the "Miracle on Ice" during the Lake Placid Winter Olympics, and more recently, the Hudson River plane crash.

The first thing that struck me when I heard the news on Easter Sunday was how capricious fate can be. Barack Obama is being hailed as a man who, when tested, made the right decision under pressure.

What if, God forbid, a rogue wave had lapped against the side of the little lifeboat, throwing off the rhythm of one of our snipers just enough so that he hit the hostage, instead of his captor, in a horrible accident? The President would be condemned as a man whose intemperate rush to conclude the impasse cost an innocent man his life, when further negotiation might have yielded fruit.

I would have liked to be inside Jimmy Carter's head for a moment yesterday. Remember when he sent the task force into Iran to free the hostages, and the effort ended in tragedy? All because a few rotor blades got tangled up with each other, and some sand got in the engines. Had it succeeded, he might have been reelected.

Upon such discrete and seemingly trivial phenomena do the great wheels of History turn.

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Obama-the first international tour


There are people who will carp about how Barack Obama is spending too much time becoming a world celebrity, when he should be occupying himself with more mundane chores like fixing the economy.

What do they think he's doing over there? This is not a man whose ego needs a constant fix. He's already gotten enough accolades for a lifetime. He's using his and Michelle's star power as potent weapons in the service of American national interest.

Take the speech which he gave (not accidentally) at Strasbourg, the crossroads of Europe. By seducing the fawning crowds from Europe's two largest countries, he sent a signal to Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy that they cross the American wunderkind at their own peril. It's a strategy he has already used with some success to go over the heads of his own Congress.

And speaking a few words of Czech to the multitude in Prague--that took some guts. Nobody should ever dare to try speaking Czech before he's gotten a few liters of Pilsener under his belt. It was a gamble that paid off hugely.

A word about Strasbourg. It's too bad that, for security reasons, the President isn't allowed to eat anything local. They have this dish there called Choucroute a l' Alsacienne, which involves sauerkraut, goose fat, smoked, cured and fresh sausages and pork products with a hint of caraway that should only be eaten once in a lifetime, because of what it does to your circulatory system. I had it at the railroad station restaurant there in 1968, and I'm still working off the accumulated cholesterol.

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The Obama Cabinet's tax problems

The arrogance is breathtaking, and not confined to Wall Street. The latest to surface with tax issues in her background is Gov. Kathleen Sibelius of Kansas, who is being confirmed for HHS secretary.

The way these people get snagged with such regularity (Timothy Geithner being the most egregious; I mean, Secretary of the Treasury, really) you wonder how many others in our government are getting away scot free simply because they're not being considered for cabinet positions.

Not paying social security for their servants? It would be nice to have servants. If I were wealthy enough to afford them, I would certainly feel it was my duty to pay their social security.

Then again, maybe I wouldn't. The above paragraph is only the journalist talking. Wealth and power work a transformation on people. It's easy to say they're rich because they know how to hang onto their money, and not spend it when they think they can get away with it, but there's that entitlement thing. They come to believe they have it because they deserve it.

Government of, for, and by the people. It looked good when Lincoln wrote it on the back of the envelope.

Well, from where I sit, an old envelope is good for just one thing: scratching out the address and reusing it to send a Letter to the Editor.

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General Motors Obama Wagoner


They're calling it "tough love." President Obama has given General Motors sixty days to clean up its act and present a plan for the future, or we're cuttin' it off. He demanded the head of its CEO, Rick Wagoner, as part of the price of government aid.

Of course, Mr. Wagoner isn't the only one to blame. Sure, his company built big, fat profit-rich SUVs, but we--the American consumer--happily snapped them up. Then, being fickle, we abandoned them when the price of fuel rose. Now, nobody's buying anything, even small cars. Is that his fault?

Let's not forget the unions. I just heard that they get five weeks of vacation, 15 paid holidays a year, and Cadillac health insurance, for which they do not have to pay. Pretty hard to be competitive with the Japanese when so much fat is built into the cost of every car.

Why didn't Obama sack the big financial types? I heard it was because they're the only ones who know enough about the Byzantine system they created to unravel it. Wagoner's big weakness is that he runs a big industrial concern, and there are a lot of people who can do that, certainly as well or as poorly as he did.

It may or may not have been the best move, from a businees standpoint, for Obama to reach in and make breathtaking personnel decisions, but it was certainly politically astute. It looks dramatic, and in this climate, it gives people a warm feeling to see some bigwig's head rolling around on the assembly line floor.

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Obama overexposed?

FDR had Fireside Chats, after all. If he'd had Jay Leno, he would have been on there, sure as God made dry martinis, pushing his alphabet soup legislation, or trying to pack the Supreme Court. Whatever.

When you have something to sell, it's all about getting past the media filter. You see, Obama can't get on a news program and say a word without their feeling the need to fulfill some journalistic requirement by trotting out John Boehner or Lindsey Graham to give the contrarian point of view.

The tobacco people and the climate change-deniers learned this lesson well. If all you can scrape up is one pseudo-scientist (who happens to be on your payroll) to say that smoking is good for you, or that whales breaking wind causes global warming, they'll give you equal time, even if ten thousand Nobel laureates say the opposite.

So if it means putting on a puce Harry Belafonte shirt and pirouetting on prime-time, our 21st-Century president will do what it takes to bring his message straight to the people.

That's what leaders do...LEAD! (One, two, cha-cha-cha...)

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Tim Geithner, Obama, and the financial crisis


You know you're in trouble when the head honcho expresses his unqualified confidence in your abilities.

Yes, there's no question that Tim Geithner has walked into the kind of hailstorm not faced by a Treasury Secretary in any living person's memory. All the same, his days are numbered. For one thing, he hasn't exactly covered himself with glory. For another, Washington is never happier than when there's blood in the water.

Some feel it's time to put a chink in the armor of the Victory Garden-cultivating, Jay Leno-schmoozing arriviste whose poll numbers remain annoyingly high. What better way than to pick off a Cabinet member?

Pack your bags, Timmy.

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Obama and earmarks

First, as a U.S. Senator, he bellied up to the pork trough. Then, as President, he condemned it. Now, he's gotten religion again: letting Congress bring home the bacon is the cost of doing business.

The hypocrisy!

Actually, we're talking about less than 2% of the appropriations bill's total cost. Hardly worth getting exercised about, especially if earmarks greased the skids and got the thing passed.

Dare I ask why earmarks are such a terrible thing? It's how federal money gets to the localities. If the Florida delegation doesn't steer the money our way for Everglades restoration, do we think the Montana delegation is going to do it for us?

It's how hospitals get built in rural areas. It's how channels get dug for ports so that we can trade with the world. Sure, bridges to nowhere are egregious, but pork in and of itself benefits real Americans in real places. Maybe we just get upset when too much of it goes to one location because those folks happen to have a powerful congressman, or senator, or it looks through our distant eyes like it's being thrown away on something we never heard of.

I'm sure the locals, who also happen to donate to the IRS just like we do, have a different view.

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President Obama's address to Congress


This must be what they mean when they say "leap of faith."

Imagine how worried you are about your job, your home, your watched that speech, and you wish you could summon up the confidence that President Obama appeared to exude up there on the dais. You want to, but it's soooo hard.

Then, try to imagine how things would look to you if that were John "Don't Know Much About Economics" McCain standing up there, instead of Obama.

And count your blessings.

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Obama signs the stimulus package


It looks like Obama's already gotten lost in the "bubble." Sure, Denver has economic problems, but why did he have to fly a 50-ton airplane all the way out there and back to "emphasize" that the cavalry is coming to the rescue? Tone deafness has set in all too quickly.

What do we maintain a White House Rose Garden for? Sure, it's cold out there this time of year, but Denver isn't exactly balmy in February, either.

If Obama wanted to make a point about housing and jobs, he could just as easily have motorcaded over to one of the many neighborhoods in D.C. that are suffering. The visuals would have been just as compelling, and the government would be a few million dollars less in debt.

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The Daschle debacle

Remember when President Bush said that if anybody were found to be involved in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame they would be fired? He said this, I suppose, knowing that he couldn't statutorily fire his Vice-President.

It was all supposed to be different with Obama. Accountability. Responsibility. One after the other, his nominees for cabinet seem to have tax problems that make it look as though Obama tacitly recognized one set of rules for big shots and one for ordinary working stiffs (despite his vehement denial).

The only thing different this time is that Obama trotted in a bunch of news anchors and did a mea culpa all over the airwaves. That's refreshing, but some important questions remain unanswered, at least in my mind: What kind of so-called "vetting" went on that Obama's people missed something so significant? Daschle's no fool. He knew, like every other Washington pooh-bah, that a car and driver are taxable income. If he was dishonest with his own potential boss, how could he be honest in his Cabinet post? If Obama knew about it, did he actually think he could finesse this through Congress? What about the fact that Daschle made millions from the very industry he was going to be regulating? What happened to those high standards?

If this is the New Politics we were promised, then why not bring back the best in the business? All he did was lie under oath to a grand jury, and as far as we know, he pays his taxes.

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The Guantanamo dilemma


It takes somebody who really knows what he's doing the better part of a minute to shoot and reload a musket. Longbows are faster, but they can still only launch one arrow at a time.

You have to wonder if the doctrine of habeas corpus, first developed in English Common Law and later enshrined in ours, would be as unconditional had bad guys in those days cared nothing for their own lives and could get their hands on weapons that were capable of annihilating large swaths of the population.

Much as we revere our rights, we live in a tricky new age. Would you want to be the one who stood on principle and sprang some nutball who later came back with a suitcase nuke and laid waste to one of our cities? All of our civil rights advocates would come down with a sudden case of laryngitis while everybody else screamed for your head.

There is one good thing about lawyers: if you pay a smart one enough, he'll figure out a legal path through any thorn bush. I understand they're hiring some pretty sharp ones right now in the Obama Justice Department.

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The pendulum swings back

One school of thought holds that the Obama Administration should investigate the violations of America's moral code that occurred under President Bush's watch: the torturing, the extraordinary renditions, Abu Ghraib, the whole Guantanamo charade. It would be like South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Punish those responsible (read here Cheney, Rummy, and lesser-known figures) so that those who might ponder these acts in the future would know that they couldn't get away with it. Also, prosecution would reaffirm to ourselves what we stand for as a nation.

Another school says let's move on, we have far more pressing problems to face down without getting mired in the sins of the past. Besides, it must have worked, because we didn't get hit again after 9/11.

President Obama, as is his wont, would like to split the difference: indulge in a little garbage-picking after we've addressed the immediate stuff. A pragmatic solution, although my gut says we should hold the malfeasance up to the light, and go wherever an investigation takes us. The national guilt we might feel for turning a blind eye to the dilution of our principles might inoculate us against falling prey to such apathy in the future.

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America's new face abroad


In his inauguration speech today, President Obama addressed the Islamic world directly, saying that those who were willing to work with us in building things, rather than destroying them, would receive the hand of friendship.

Here is one place where his heretofore burdensome middle name probably helps him. He has an enormous reservoir of political capital abroad as well as in this country. If he uses it more wisely than his predecessor, it could go a long way toward alleviating at least one of the many vexing problems that face us--that being our standing in the rest of the world.

I understand that one of Obama's first overseas trips will include Indonesia, the land where he spent a portion of his childhood. Can you imagine the reaction in the world's most populous Muslim nation when he makes a few remarks to them in their own language?

A far cry from a President who even had difficulty making a few remarks to the American people in their own language.

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The shifting sands of public opinion


Not to rain on President Obama's parade, but the American people (at least the current crop) do not weather hardship well. The difference between us and our forebears from the 1930's is that they never had it all that good to start with, so the Great Depression represented, for them, a more severe degree of personal restraint, not a quantum contraction of lifestyle as our current situation demands.

Our history of living high on the credit hog, those big fat cars and houses we really couldn't afford, the flat-screen TVs, the travel, the dining out, are all too vivid in our recent memory. We got used to the taste of prosperity, even if it was just a chimera. We want it back, pronto. A few more months of denial, and we're going to forget that the crash happened on George W. Bush's watch. All we'll think about is that Obama seems to be spinning his wheels at a furious pace, but we're no closer to moving back into our mcmansions.

That'll be right around when things start heating up for the off-year Congressional elections, and the Republicans will be more than happy to point out how little progress we will have made under an all-Democrat government.

How did it all begin? Heck, who will be able to remember that far back?

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Obama the great unifier


One thing George W. Bush learned from Karl Rove is that all that high-minded stuff about brotherly love and the Great Melting Pot is dreck.

We're a nation of tribes, prejudices and special interests. If you can cobble together a big enough coalition of angry people by appealing to their basest hot-button phobias, you can get something done in this country, like passing tax cuts for the wealthiest five per cent of our population.

Now comes Barack Obama with an innovative concept: to be a true unifier (I refuse to use the Bushism "uniter"), why not tick everybody off by goring all the oxen at once? It's a little like the martyr who gathers all the spear points into his own body so that his army can break through the lines.

At least, in their mutual disappointment, the factions are talking to one another. This is a lot further than W. got in eight years, and Obama isn't even president yet.

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Joyride to nowhere


It's easy to scream about tolerance when you're the one on the outside being excluded. Now that the left thinks they've won the brass ring, they want the whole ride to themselves.

Listen to what one group said (I paraphrase): "Obama's choice of the Rev. Rick Warren means that he doesn't believe gays and lesbians have a place at the table."

Exactly wrong. What it means is that everybody, for a change, has a place at the table. You're never going to heal the divisions in this country by keeping any of the stakeholders out. And the stakeholders are all of us.

Grow up, for crying out loud. Getting even isn't getting ahead.

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Obama will steal your toys

First, he was a Muslim. Then, just a plain old garden-variety Pal of Terrorists. He wanted to teach kindergartners how to have sex. Next, there were lawsuits saying the authorities in Hawaii LIED and are part of a cover-up to obscure his true furrin origins.

Now, worst of all, he's going to take away our God-given right to own guns.

One of the things I find most fascinating about the paranoids is the sheer fecundity of their imaginations. I heard some folks, during the campaign, complain that if Obama won the presidency, they were going to move to Canada.

Why don't they hurry up and move, already, or are they afraid of living in a country where everybody has health insurance?

And let's not even discuss Canadian gun ownership laws.

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The Obama prank that wasn't

You can hardly blame Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, one of Miami's three anti-Castro amigos (along with the rabid Diaz-Balart brothers), for imagining herself to be yet another victim of a telephone prank.

After all, local Miami stations are past masters of the art form, having famously fooled Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez into thinking his pal Fidel Castro was on the horn, and then reversing the prank on Fidel, himself.

We all know about the French Canadian "President Sarkozy" who called Sarah Palin a couple of months ago.

It is no wonder, therefore, that Ileana hung up on President-elect Barack Obama when he called to congratulate her on her election victory and tell her how much he was looking forward to working together on common goals. Just to make sure she had dug her hole deep enough, she then slammed the receiver down on his future chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who had called to tell her that the Barack outreach was una llamada verdadera.

When the whole mess was finally ironed out, everybody had a good laugh, sort of. But Ileana is no fool, and in her embarrassment, she knows full well that Obama managed to carry Florida without the help of what is left of the anti-Castro Miami Cuban exile community. Which means that he's free to pursue any policy on Cuba that he chooses to, without fear of backlash from her or her constituents.

Not exactly the best way to play your hand with the new administration, particularly when you come to the table without so much as a pair of deuces.

As for the Miami radio pranksters, this must be the sweetest victory of all. They didn't even have to pick up the phone.

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The more things change that you can believe in...


One of the more rewarding aspects of editorial cartooning is that you are limited only by your imagination. Each day presents a new challenge. That doesn't just go for the subject matter, but for the way you choose to make your point.

This cartoon couldn't be more different from the previous one, where I drew a cartoony little boy wearing absurd-looking eighteenth-century dress.

In the one at the right, it made sense not to show the actual people doing the talking, but rather to highlight the building itself, which is a stand-in for the institution of the executive branch of government.

By necessity, the drawing ended up looking more like an architectural rendering than a typical cartoon, and I was hoping that its very dryness would help to accentuate the distinction between the tropes of the campaign and the new reality of the Obama White House.

I tried to stick to the "Keep It Simple, Stupid" rule. No unnecessary lines, no need for color.

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The man with the golden tongue


As America gets used to the words, "President-elect Barack Obama," it's both amusing and cringe-inducing to watch Barack Obama himself get comfortable with the concept.

What would have been nothing more than an inconsequential aside when he was a mere mortal, that being a reference to Nancy Reagan's seances, suddenly became a cause celebre in the Conservative blogosphere (which is not willing to give the man a nanosecond of honeymoon period) now that he's the leader of the free world.

It necessitated a personal call of apology to America's most revered widow, who probably wasn't all that offended, anyway, considering it was actually Hillary who held the seances and Nancy who brought in astrologers. But that's off the point.

From now on, he'll have to realize that every grunt and burp is going to be scrutinized, parsed, and mined for its subtext. It's a shame, for it may strip the man of his spontaneity and quick wit. Ronald Reagan, as we know, never learned to zip it. Remember the time he tested the microphone by announcing that we were going to begin bombing Moscow immediately? It almost started World War III.

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Talk about hitting the ground running. After a grueling two-year campaign wherein he slew not just John McCain but--lest we forget--the most well-oiled political operation until now, the Clintons--he barely gives the confetti time to hit the ground before he's choosing a cabinet and fielding snarky demands from Hamid Karzai, of all people.

My guess, as illustrated here, is that Inauguration Day is going to be pretty much a formality. The "Uniter" seems to have already packed up his comic books and checked out, so somebody is going to have to move in to fill the vacuum, especially at this time of crisis.

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For such a choice, I waited three hours in line?!!?


Normally, I don't like to rely on so many words in cartoons, but I couldn't think of a more effective way to make the point about negative campaigning... without resorting to cliches (like avalanches of mud pouring out of the TV set).

Why not list, in simplistic terms, the way each side has tried to frame its opponent in our minds? When you lay it out this way, we really see how absurd this type of campaigning is when we're staring a possible depression in the face.

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Political slurs examined


Have you ever finished a project, and been so proud of it that you can't wait to show it to your friends, because you know it'll confirm to them, unequivocally, that you really are the genius your mother told you you were when you presented her with that first crayon drawing of a flower?

That was the case with this cartoon. It's also the curse of the cartoonist, who always gets the cartoon because he's the one who dreamed it up in the first place.

Imagine my dismay when I ran it past my distinguished colleagues, Antonio Fins and Nicole Brochu, and the sketch was greeted with no more than a yawn and a scratch of the head. Tony told me to go ahead and run it if I wanted to; it was my call. Maybe I wasn't as brilliant as I thought, after all.

Conversely, there are times when, pushing deadline, I pull an idea out of a dark place that, to me, is the most moronic, simplistic excuse for a cartoon--and for some reason, it hits everybody's funny bone.

If any of the readers of this blog care to weigh in on the topic, I'd be interested in hearing what you think. SPOILER ALERT!!! DON'T READ PAST THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON'T WANT TO SEE THE EXPLANATION OF THIS CARTOON!!! I feel I owe it to you, though.

The point is that it is as absurd to question Barack Obama's patriotism because his middle name is Hussein, as to believe that John McCain is a closet Australian because his middle name is Sydney. Neither man had his choice of names. Sydney, by the way, is a large city in Australia. Which is a foreign country.

Okay, it's a stretch.

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America meets Joe the Plumber


Meet America's newest celebrity. I'm sure you'll be seeing him on Larry King and Katie Couric. Maybe the ladies of The View can get him to unclog the john in the dressing room. Never did Andy Warhol's dictum about fifteen minutes of fame ring more true.

I think Obama and McCain fully entered a bizarre parallel universe when they began addressing Joe directly, as a stand-in for the American people. Pick up the phone, I say. Don't waste my time with Joe's tax woes. He makes a lot more money than most of us do. Of course, Joe--being a plumber--would have started the meter running from the moment he answered the phone, so maybe McCain was just trying to save his campaign money by talking to him through the TV networks.

For those of us old enough to remember, I envision a sitcom involving Joe, his mother, Josephine the Lady Plumber, and his grandmother, Rosie the Riveter, who all share the same huge mcmansion. They sit around the proverbial kitchen table, scheming a way to hornswoggle the government into bailing out their toxic mortgage by rescheduling it at the house's new, depressed value.

With special guest appearances by U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson as Mr. Clean and Sarah Palin as Betty Crocker. It's a green-light project for sure.

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Presidential debate


Crisis over. With the Dow surging an unprecedented 938 points today, we can, with our characteristically short national attention span, move on to the next topic.

That means, our candidates can once again spar over ephemera like lipstick on pigs or who went to a cocktail party at whose house or who flew on whose private plane way back when.

I propose (considering how stilted and boring the debates have been so far), that rather than listening to those two stiffs yak at each other about their past associations, we draft the actual principals to get up on stage and do battle as surrogates. Ayres can even wear a Che Guevara t-shirt if he wants to.

If this idea grabs high ratings, we could schedule as a bonus for the American people--who have had to endure so much for so long--a debate between the Rev. Wright and Sarah Palin's witch-hunting pastor from Wasilla. They could sell it on Pay-Per-View, foreign objects from outside the ring allowed.

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Sarah Palin the pit bull


You don't have to be in the tank for one candidate or the other to be repulsed by what John McCain's vice-presidential running mate, Sarah Palin, has been doing on the stump lately.

According to news reports, she has incited her adoring crowds into yelling terms like "traitor," "terrorist," and "kill him" when she utters the name of her opponent at the top of the ticket, Barack Obama.

Nobody is against tough campaigning, but I think many would agree that this kind of rabble-rousing is beyond the pale. It is an attempt to awaken the ugliest side of the American character, and once one gets over the spine chills at the idea of what this kind of rhetoric could unleash in the body politic, one is overcome with sadness that a man as honorable as John McCain, who has given so much to his country, has stooped this low in his single-minded quest for the brass ring.

For, surely, it is John McCain who allows Sarah Palin to continue in this vein. His advisers may have seduced him with the siren song, "You can either be principled, or you can win," but had he not chosen to look the other way while she did his dirty work for him, it would surely not happen. He probably figures there is plenty of time to regain his integrity after he's elected, but we've now seen what he's capable of.

I liked the John McCain of 2000, along with many of my compatriots. I heard one wag on TV say, "Back in 2000, John McCain said there was a special place in hell for those Bush campaign operatives who smeared him. It seems that place is now in the McCain campaign, because they're all working for him."

Yes, it's all very sad.

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Obama and the financial crisis


Let's face it: the Wall Street meltdown has been good for the Democrats and the Obama campaign. His poll numbers suddenly surged as the numbers in our 401K's diminished.

I doubt Obama has any better idea how to fix the problem than McCain, but campaigns have little to do with truth and everything to do with perception. The fact that the Illinois senator cautiously stood back while Sen. Can-do McCain charged into the fray like a runaway rhino now makes him look like a wise elder statesman.

You can't help but think that, way down in their guts, die-hard Dems are praying that we teeter on the edge of the Apocalypse until November 5, when the clouds miraculously part and the future once again beckons under a President-elect Obama.

And not a day sooner--we know that the American electorate has the attention span of a flea. They might get seduced by another come-hither wink from Sarah Palin.

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Barack Obama's dilemma


There’s something the Obama campaign knows, and the McCain people know it too. It’s that little secret many Americans don’t know about themselves: Way down deep in parts of their souls they never visit, they’re prejudiced.

They don’t know it because the prejudice, until now, has remained dormant, waiting to be triggered. Racism comes in many forms. It isn’t just the overt kind-- the bigoted redneck shouting slurs.

Once activated, it’s cunning, pernicious. It steals into our thinking, cloaked in euphemism and rationalization.

As long as Barack Obama stays cool, speaks like a Harvard graduate and wears nice, tailored clothing, he doesn’t present a threat to the average white American. If John McCain gets angry, he’s just a patriotic war hero expressing righteous indignation for the lamentable state into which his country has fallen.

If Barack Obama gets angry, suddenly he’s a Black Panther about to hurl a Molotov cocktail into our gated community. He’s Rev. Wright, Jesse Jackson, Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, and Al Sharpton rolled into one. “Martha! I knew it all along! He’s that guy hanging out at the intersection that we roll up the windows and lock the doors against! And HE wants US to give him the keys to the CAR???”’

It’s Obama’s job not to be goaded into rising to the bait that the McCain camp is so generously scattering on the waters, and lose his temper. He’s hobbled in that he can’t really sling it back the same way it’s being shoveled at him. He’s a new kind of politician, remember?

At the same time, nobody wants a man for President who appears weak. If he can’t stand up to John McCain, how will he keep Vlad Putin from using him as a chew toy? Americans like to see a little fire in their Presidential candidates. Well, in some of them.

It’s an almost impossible act to finesse. The race issue, much as we’d like to deny it, is just sitting there, throbbing softly... the cobra in the corner. Whatever the outcome in November, it’s going to take some time and honest self-examination as a people before we realize how truly groundbreaking the Obama candidacy has been in our society.

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Hillary's immortal words live on...


OK, politics had the day off yesterday. I'm back to bashing your favorite political icon.

Actually, this was a rare opportunity to hit both sides at once: first, Hillary for being so disloyal to her own party as to indicate she thought the Republican was more qualified than her Democratic opponent to be President. There's nothing wrong with ambition, but I think this was unprecedented in a primary campaign.

Second, John McCain for concentrating on the insults Hillary hurled months ago in the heat of a primary battle, when what the country desperately needs to know is how he plans to get us out of our mess.

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Democratic Convention unity


From a journalistic perspective, you have to be grateful to Hillary and her most ardent followers for at least creating some news at what is otherwise a very predictable coronation ceremony. I hope they scream, wave signs, try to drown out the presumptive nominee, and make a general spectacle of themselves.

There will likely be no such antics at the Republican convention, plus they're trotting out Dick Cheney to keep the disgruntled conservatives fat, happy and in line.

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Hillary diehards


First, the idea floated by Hillary herself that her supporters need some kind of "catharsis" before they can be convinced to vote for the presumptive Democratic candidate is patronizing (matronizing?) on its face. It's exactly the kind of notion that feeds prejudices about why a woman would make a lousy president: that a female is more likely than a male to sacrifice common sense and reason to the altar of emotion, and God help us if her finger is on the button when she's having one of her...days.

It's surprising that a woman as smart as Hillary would buy into that line. Or, maybe it isn't so surprising if you believe that she's really out for Hillary and that the whole "Joan of Arc of the Women's Movement" trope is just her vehicle for getting where she wants to be.

For those "dead-enders" (to quote Donald Rumsfeld, which I try not to do too often), who would rather vote for John McCain or sit on their hands than settle for half a loaf, I have three words: "Supreme Court nominee."

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McCain's shame


You don't have to be a big Obama supporter to agree that McCain's current line casting doubt upon his opponent's patriotism is beneath the integrity of a war hero who served his country with distinction, and contrary to the "campaign of issues" he pledged to conduct what seems like eons ago.

There are two possible conclusions to draw here: the charitable one, which is that McCain is truly a man of honor and principle who listens to his advisers too much, which means he's a patsy. Or, that he's a charlatan who's sold his soul to fulfill his dream of becoming President.

So, this is what they call "experience."

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The Olympics and Politics


To paraphrase the Roman poet Juvenal (I think): an anxious populace, having long ago abdicated its duty to govern itself, awaits only bread and circuses.

Why Juvenal? Because I'd rather paraphrase him than Paris Hilton or Britney Spears.
Actually, he's proof that societies have been practicing avoidance techniques for thousands of years. Let's face it-- McCain and Obama are a couple of downers who spend all their time telling us what a mess we're in, and how the other guy will make things even worse. Who wants to listen to that day in and day out?

Light the torch, nuke the popcorn, and let the games begin! There's plenty of time for self-government later.

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Obama returns from overseas


It's called "The Trudeau Effect," for those old enough to remember. It's named after the late Canadian prime minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, a hip and charismatic figure whose popularity increased in direct proportion with the square of his distance from Ottawa. In other words, the rest of the world loved him, while Canadians used a variety of epithets (and in the case of French Canadians--gestures) to describe him. Not that Obama has reached this extreme yet, but you can bet he eventually will if he becomes President.

So our Golden Boy has returned from abroad, and his feet must now, once again, touch the ground. No more soaring visions, no more paeans to the Unity of Man. He's gotta talk about national defense, pump prices, foreclosures, job outsourcing, education money, and all the other humdrum stuff that average Americans base their voting decisions upon. If you don't get mud on your boots, you can't reach for the stars.

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Barack Obama's World Tour


You have to feel for the McCain campaign. He visits a marketplace in Baghdad, and the only thing that gets mentioned is that he had to wear body armor and walk with a protective cover of helicopter gunships. Or, that he can't tell Shia from Sunni and has to be reminded of the difference by Joe Lieberman.

Obama, on the other hand, takes a little trip abroad and the media types start acting like teenyboppers at a rock concert who can't wait to throw their underwear onto the stage. No, it ain't fair, but unfortunately war heroes, while worthy of our respect, don't make for sexy TV ratings.

Our better angels tell us the media are supposed to be a public trust, but in the end, only the BBC can afford to be boring, because it's government subsidized. Obama, God bless him, moves car insurance, Boniva, retirement plans, erectile dysfunction meds, Activia, Touch of Gray, and all the other essential components of American life that undergird the First Amendment. McCain, unfortunately, only reminds people that they need them.

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Jesse Jackson


Looking over my archives a while back, I realized I've been drawing Jesse Jackson for over thirty years. Like all of us, he's changed over time, and he has matured along with the civil rights movement he nurtured. My first drawing of him was as a young militant with an Afro, fist thrust in the air. Now, he has mellowed, and become one of the living monuments--some would say dinosaurs--of the struggle.

Again, like all of us, Jesse is a man with an abundance of flaws. But there is no denying that the ascent of a politician like Barack Obama (who was a small boy when Jesse was in the trenches) could not have been possible without the sharp elbows of men like Jackson who went before him, who never backed down when the odds seemed insurmountable. Whatever you think of Jesse Jackson or his methods, Obama's modern candidacy rests on the shoulders of people like him.

Now, it is Jackson's responsibility to himself, to his movement, and to his legacy to accept the gratitude and respect of those he has helped, and to pass the torch to the next generation with grace. It's just another challenge for a man who has faced many of them in a long and distinguished public life. I think he can handle it.

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The Quicksands of Satire


Below is a column I wrote that will run on the Opinion Page of the Sun-Sentinel on Wednesday, July 16:

In keeping with the superheated rhetoric of the campaign season, an enormous brouhaha has erupted over the latest cover of the New Yorker magazine, which depicts a turbaned Barack Obama in the Oval Office fist-bumping his wife Michelle. Her hair is coiffed in an Afro, and she is toting an AK-47. There is an ornately framed portrait of Osama bin Laden on the wall, and an American flag is burning in the fireplace. The cartoon has been described as inflammatory, and has been condemned by both the Obama and McCain campaigns as insulting and in poor taste.

Satire as a rhetorical device has been around since the ancient Greeks. Probably before that, even, when some Neanderthal stand-up comedian mimicked the effeminate spear-throwing style of his tribal chieftain and got bonked on the head with a club. Speaking as an editorial cartoonist, I have learned, painfully, that there are two kinds of people in this world: those who understand satire, and those who don’t. It would be easy to take the elitist route, and say that an understanding of satire comes as the result of education, but I remember that there were plenty of people in college who relentlessly took things they saw and heard at face value. They were a minority, to be sure, but I think the inability to read the intent of a message as being the opposite of what they are being presented with is a genetic thing. It should not be looked down upon any more than the inability to distinguish colors. You either have the gene, or you don’t.

I suspect that the Obama campaign understood the satire the way it was intended, as a device to showcase exactly how absurd are the many accusations being made about Barack Obama’s (and his wife’s) general suitability to be the President and First Lady. They are running a campaign, however, and they know that when the “satirically challenged” vote, their vote is worth just as much as those who “got” the cartoon. Hence, the show of huffiness. As for the McCain campaign, they’re just making some cheap points, pretending to be great humanitarians while knowing full well that the cartoon reinforces the subliminal and enduring message that opponents of Obama’s candidacy have been so effectively spreading.

As satire, I thought it was a good cartoon. It could have been drawn better, but that’s just a matter of personal taste. Whether it should have run at all is a more nuanced matter. If I were an editor of the New Yorker, I would be fully aware that my readership is a self-selecting group that would more than likely not only understand the satire of the cartoon, but get a hoot out of it. Being familiar with the editorial and visual content of the New Yorker, I am guessing that those who lack the satire gene are unlikely to spend their money on the magazine, so no harm done except when the cover is displayed in public, or becomes the property of the blogosphere and cable TV, as it now has.

From an editor’s point of view, the cover has pleased the magazine’s readership, become controversial, and as a result, sold more magazines—which is the goal of publishing a magazine. From the point of view of a concerned citizen who is interested in making sure the best man for our country is elected President, regardless of who he might be, anything that gets the less-capable person elected for the wrong reasons is to be avoided.

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Barack Obama tacks way to the right


The thing that makes Barack Obama such a brilliant politician is that he managed to fool so many people for so long into believing that he was more than just a brilliant politician.

You have to give Hillary credit--at least she made it clear that she was a cynical, pragmatic pol ready to do anything, including extolling the virtues of her would-be Republican opponent over those of her rival, to get nominated. So, yeah, now that he's got the liberal base eating crumbs out of his hand, Barack's heading for the Dark Side. It makes excellent political sense. Only--which Barack Obama is going to sit in the Oval Office, if elected? Does he really believe all that stuff he's been shoveling about a new kind of politics?

A note on this cartoon: some people saw the Bush eyebrows and ears, signifying Obama's transformation, and some didn't. One of my colleagues said, "Nobody can get into your (weird) world. Maybe ten people will catch that, and they'll all be other cartoonists."

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Barack Obama and patriotism


You know what that Obama fella's problem is? His message is too subtle, too nuanced. He's talking to an electorate that cares whether or not he wears a little enameled pin on his lapel, and he's trying to explain why they should get all misty-eyed over ten little chunks of dry eighteenth-century prose on a piece of parchment. Except for the second one, it's pretty hard stuff to get a lump in your throat over.

Wouldn't you, as a red-blooded American, rather see a platoon of cheerleaders in cowboy boots and fringe marching across the field carrying the red, white and blue? I know I would.

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Campaign 2008, Bill Clinton and the Obama endorsement


You could say that this cartoon dances on the ragged edge of good taste, and you would be right. I was so cocksure that this baby would get spiked that I had already gotten on my high horse and crafted a sharp-as-a-tack comment in its defense for my Reject Corner.

Imagine my surprise when my editor looked at it and said, "I have no problem with it." After almost twenty-five years at this place, I thought I had him figured out. Pleasant little surprises like these are what keep the job interesting.

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Campaign 2008, Barack Obama, and Public Campaign Financing


A new kind of politics. Yes, we can. Change We Can Believe In. In the end, it's the same old story--it' all about the Benjamins. It was a smart move for the Obama campaign to renege on the pledge now. Considering the short memory span of the American people, this will all be obscured by the mists of history come November.

It's hardly a sexy enough topic for the Republicans to keep bringing up...they'd do the same if they thought it would benefit them. Still, it's time the Obamaphiles took off the rose-colored spectacles.

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Campaign 2008, Obama, rumors and smears


I applaud the Obama campaign's new anti-smear website, but there are some people who will never be disabused. A friend of mine said she patiently explained to a co-worker that Obama was a member of the United Church of Christ, etc. She responded, "Well, he'll always be a Muslim to me." No need for supporting evidence.

Here's the side of this reasoning that perplexes me: if he really WERE a Muslim, how do they think he would have ever made it this far? Wouldn't some patriot have managed to blow his cover by now?

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McCain, Obama, and the economy


When it comes to affecting economic cycles, there is very little a President can realistically do. Candidates for President can do even less, so they bloviate like whales spouting on a distant horizon.

The debate between McCain and Obama on this topic has an abstruse, how-many-angels-can-dance-on-the-head-of-a-pin quality about it. We should move on to topics that matter to the American People, like whether Cindy McCain looks like a Stepford Wife, or whether Michelle Obama is too radical and edgy to be a First Lady.

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Barack Obama, for better or worse


Hillary's concession speech over the weekend is sure to create further strife in already divided households. As if that weren't enough, there is that pernicious "secret Muslim" rumor, which is particularly rampant here in South Florida. Just thought I'd stir the soup a little.

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Campaign 2008 and the "Dream Ticket"


Talking about Hillary Clinton with someone is like talking to your friends about whether or not they want anchovies on their pizza. Everybody has a violent opinion, and nobody is indifferent. From what I can tell, Clinton supporters are well-meaning and honestly feel that a Clinton/Obama ticket would be greater than the sum of its parts.

In their zeal, however, they forget that there are others in the electorate who so viscerally detest her that it would drag people out of the woodwork who might otherwise not care that much whether Barack Obama or John McCain became President.