Posts Tagged ‘clinton’

Fraudulent Slips: Hillary Clinton’s Lethal Weapon

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

On Hillary Clinton’s unerring sense of footinmouthity.

Philosophy blog: Hillary Clinton Ted Kennedy Robert Kennedy presidential campaign 2008 democratic primary barack obama

Capitalizing on the tragedy of her inability to be sensitive, Hillary Clinton has once again demonstrated her supreme political aptitude for footinmouthity. Stricken with a malignant brain tumor she is not, but Hillary needs no excuse to usurp Teddy Kennedy’s tragedy and achieve her outrageous best. Is it her fault that Robert Kennedy was assassinated in June of the year of his foreshortened primary bid? Of course it isn’t. Then why are people so bent out of shape that she would attempt to make political capital out of it…?

Jeez. Anyone would think you’d never seen a man shot before.

And now, with rumors that her fellow liability, Bill, is agitating for her to be Obama’s VP, one wonders how she’ll outdo Dick Cheney (remember him?) who managed to shoot his old friend in the head with a shotgun… (more…)

Conservative Versus Liberal Philosophy

Friday, March 28th, 2008

On cell phones for Cubans and bailouts for homeowners.

Philosophy blog: talking on cell phone whil crossing streetAs I walked through Manhattan this morning I watched as some buffoon on a cell phone began to cross the street just as the “don’t walk” sign blinked from flashing to solid. He didn’t realize that he was blocking traffic until he was half way across the street. With his phone still glued to his ear he first stopped in his tracks, then loped ahead to the far corner without so much as looking back.

Oh, to live in a world without cell phones! Even Cuba, my last hope of refuge from the cursed devices, has relented to the cell phone tide. Raul Castro — Raul The Reformer, we may as well call him — has declared that ordinary Cubans will be permitted to get cell phone contracts going forward (a privilege previously reserved for key state employees or workers for foreign firms). But since the cell phone contracts will be too expensive for most Cubans, who earn an average of a little less than $20 per month, perhaps it will take a while until cell phones cause traffic accidents in Havana.

Philosophy blog: Fidel and Raul Castro cell phones now allowed in cubaBut this snippet of communist party friction (Raul’s brother Fidel had held fast to the no cell phone policy for years) got me wondering about whether Raul should be classified as a liberal, allowing for progressive ideas, and Fidel a conservative. And if Fidel is a conservative how does that jive with him being one of the foremost and staunchest communist leaders of all time? Could Fidel Castro and his nemesis George Bush perhaps be sitting on the same side of an ideological fence? And if so, how?

As the current presidential hopefuls put forward their proposals (an odd phenomenon, this, since they’re just running for something, not running something) on fixing or mitigating the mortgage crisis, the stark differences in approach provide a lens through which to examine Democratic ideology versus Republican ideology.

Philosophy blog: liberals conservatives obama clinton mccain differ on bailout of homeownersThis is a subject that fascinates me. For there to be such a clear division along political lines on so many issues, it seems that the roots of these divisions must live in a fundamental philosophical difference of perspective.

With some differences Obama and Clinton endorse proposals that would provide help to homeowners facing forclosure. McCain (and Bush) oppose any plan for homeowner bailout.

To paraphrase the liberal perspective “let’s help people stand on their own two feet.”

To paraphrase the conservative perspective “let people stand on their own two feet.”

As ideologies, both are rational and consistent. Where and why do they differ?

McCain has made it clear that he believes that homeowners deserve some blame if they’ve bought themselves into an unaffordable mortgage. His perspective is founded on personal responsibility, the freedom to succeed comes with the freedom to screw up. You make your choice and live with it. This same perspective underpins the conservative view on all manner of subjects, such as gun ownership and the death penalty (by all means get a gun, but if you shoot someone you shouldn’t you’ll pay for it with your life).

The conservative philosophy rests on the concept that the individual should have more control over his life and that government should not meddle.

The liberal philosophy rests on the concept that for the good of society, and the good of the individual, government should be ready to step in and provide protection or support.

Obama believes that homeowners need protection from banks eager to foreclose to stem their loses, for instance. While some may get help when they don’t deserve it. Many unwitting victims will be spared. And on gun control, a liberal may say that having the right to bear arms is all well and good unless innocent people are getting hurt by that right.

Is this just a difference of perspective without any deeper significance? I think not.

philosophy blog: egyptian sphinx civilization human beings as social creaturesThe roots are evolutionary: As social animals, human beings developed an awareness that while acting for themselves could lead to short term gains, acting for the good of all could lead to long term gains. Sharing your food might make you less well fed in the short term, but when you’re short of food, you’ll be happy for someone to share his food with you.

This is all very rational and common sensical, but even thoughtful people in a well ordered society still feel the pull of self preservation and self-satisfaction. We all experience impulses that lead us to want to act for ourselves, and we all experience impulses that lead us to want to help others. Whether we come out liberal or conservative hinges on the degree to which we believe it’s right and feel the rightness of balancing our own needs with those of others.

(For those who are interested, LIFE! Why We Exist… And What We Must Do To Survive explores a deeper philosophical basis for this line of reasoning by working from the principles of space and time.)

But what about Fidel and Raul?

Fidel Castro exhibited a deep conflict between his personal feelings about individualism — in which he was a conservative (how could a man who led a revolution and took firm control of a country not be convinced of the power and independence of his individual spirit?) — and his intellectual conviction of the benefits of a collaborative, equalized society, communism after all is liberalism on steroids.

This is perhaps why so many of us have a soft spot for the old guy (Fidel) despite his serious flaws and failings, despite his human rights abuses. We empathize with his internal conflict. We see the numbskull stopping traffic while he gabs on his cell phone and we want him to be delivered a comeuppance not a helping hand. But presented with the intellectual idea of helping those who took on too much mortgage debt (numbskulls, most likely, some of them) we easily fall on the side of assistance.

LIFE Why We Exist and What We Must Do To Survive Rational Science-Based Book About Meaning and Purpose of ExistenceFor more rational, science-based explanations of life’s meaning and purpose, please refer to my book: LIFE! Why We Exist… And What We Must Do To Survive. (more…)


Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

On testing in.

lower voting age to 16 sixteen and require a civics testAnya Kamenetz today makes a case for lowering the voting age to 16. This initially struck me as a ridiculous idea. But that was before Anya set out the details of her plan: “16-year-olds who want to start voting should be able to obtain an “early voting permit” from their high schools upon passing a simple civics course similar to the citizenship test.” She likens this to a driving permit granted to a young person after they’ve demonstrated that they are qualified.

In this season of political fervour, my daughter’s high school engaged the children in a voting exercise: The result? All (100%) of the children voted Democrat, and the vast majority chose Obama over Clinton. So, while my heart wants me to embrace Anya’s proposal, bless those little idealists, my head says that 16 is too young for the vote, even after getting a passing grade on a civics test.

Britney Spears driving while holding babyOn the other hand, requiring that voters are qualified to vote strikes me as a wonderful idea. (It reminds me of the conviction of a particularly misanthropic friend of mine that only after passing a parenting test should people be allowed to have children.) To purloin Anya’s parallel, people of all ages need to pass a driving test if they’re going to drive, so why not a voting test if they’re going to vote?  Yes, yes, I know it goes against the very premise of a democratic society, but can you argue with the logic?

The Times Editorial today makes the reverse argument. The editorial complains that the current political contest isn’t helping fix the country’s state of polarization. Obama fans are saying they won’t bother voting if he doesn’t win the nomination. Republicans miffed at McCain’s unamerican brand of conservatism are saying that they’d rather see a Democrat in the White House than see McCain there. “That is not the way democracy is supposed to work,” the Times laments.

Frankly, if Obama fans aren’t engaged enough to vote for Clinton, let them stay at home. It’s the job of the Democratic party to convince them to come out and vote (which is I think one of the points the editorial is trying to make). If Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter want a candidate who passes all their litmus tests, let them want. I for one won’t be unhappy if Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and their ilk are disenfranchised. Democracy as it exists in America today is a ramshackle, unfair, unrepresentative, incredibly flawed system for selecting leaders. If fewer people vote but those who do are less passionately partisan and better-informed, it can only improve matters.

Democratic primary results maprepublican primaries results mapAt the risk of being helpful, I noticed something about yesterday’s voting maps. (Democratic map to the left with Obama in green; Republican map to the right with McCain in orange.) The support for Obama is pretty much the mirror image of the support for McCain. Here’s my theory: McCain will likely win the Republican nomination. Ironically, McCain’s support is strongest in traditionally Democratic strongholds (the east and west coasts) and weakest in traditionally Conservative strongholds (the middle and lower states). I would assume that Obama could hold off McCain in the Democratic strongholds if he edged out Clinton for the nomination. And he has a much better chance of picking up votes in the middle states than Clinton does. Judged by the demographics of the primary support so far, Obama then has a better chance than Clinton does of beating McCain.

Of course, if you’re a Republican you can apply the reverse logic and determine that the best way to beat Obama would be to vote for Romney. In which case, I guess you’re pretty much screwed…


On Rhetoric And Reality

Friday, November 30th, 2007

Clinton Office Hostage ReleasedThe unfolding hostage (just freed) and bomb threat at Hillary Clinton’s New Hampshire campaign office provides a sobering example of the difference between rhetoric and reality. As an armed man stands off with a bomb strapped to his chest the sparring between campaign candidates doesn’t seem the slightest bit important. Reality trumps rhetoric every time.

Critics of former mayor Rudy Giuliani have stepped up their attacks on his rhetorical device of bandying about mistated, inflated or exaggerated statistics to present his mayoral accomplishments in a brighter light. Here, it seems, rhetoric and reality combine to demonstrate that Giuliani, if elected, would prove to be a deceitful and egotistical leader. Something that by now we’ve surely had enough of.

Outcry in Sudan Gillian Gibbons sentence Teddy Bear MuhammadThen there’s the “outcry” in the Sudan over the thankfully relatively lenient sentence (15 days in jail versus six months and 40 lashes) meted out to Gillian Gibbons for allowing the children in her elementary class to name a teddy bear Muhammad. Sudanese demonstrators have called for Gibbons to be executed. But witnesses indicate that the protesters were supplemented  (or perhaps seeded) by government workers. And the outcry seems to provide convenient rhetoric for the Sudanese government as it tries to block Scandinavian peacekeepers from being sent to Darfur — this in response to last year’s publication in Scandinavia of cartoons that depicted Muhammad and offended muslims.

And for all of the endless rhetoric about Iraq, when one reads some of the details of the violence there (as I’ve been doing in the New Yorker (Inside The Surge)) one realizes just how bloody and brutal and real the war is, and how divorced from those facts is the rhetoric.

The aim of rhetoric, when it has an aim, is to sway the listener or audience. The speaker uses rhetorical devices (such as emphasis, repetition, sarcasm, humor, logic or sophistry, the inducement of fear, omission, bullying, and charisma) to highlight his or her points, and to persuade the listener that his or her perspective has greater merit than any other. Unfortunately, the better the speaker the harder it becomes to differentiate a valid, worthy perspective from an invalid or fatuous perspective. And, given the established methods we employ to select the leaders of our regions, cities, states, and countries, rhetoric must remain for now an indispensible part of the process.

Plato and Socrates in a medieval picture.Rhetoric is employed so pervasively around the world that it’s almost impossible to imagine processes of government and leadership without it. But perhaps that’s because we’re not trained to recognize and counter rhetoric. Plato’s Socratic dialogs or their teachings should be required readings in schools. If we could learn to decode rhetoric and diminish its influence the world would be a better place.

Reality on the other hand often gets too little attention. It takes a lot of reality to impinge upon our consciousness. And all too often it’s the sensational stuff that we focus on. In the past few days I’ve been struck by the number of high profile news stories that have focused on tragic disappearances and deaths for no other reason than there was something odd or grizzly or heartbreaking about them (the hoaxed teenager who killed herself, the missing teenager who’d been involved in porn, the couple who allegedly killed their two year old child, the ex-cop who may have killed his wives). I’m not saying that these tragedies aren’t worth our attention, but should they occupy, relatively speaking, so much of our news-space? News serves two purposes — it delivers information of note and it keeps society apprised of things that we should care about and perhaps act upon. Of course, news media don’t make the news, it’s the consumers (us) who dictate our appetite for sensation to the savvy editors and pundits. What would it take to bring about a more enlightened media? A more enlightened public…

One can only hope that the armed hostage taker in New Hampshire is defused. I’d rather have more rhetoric than that kind of reality. (more…)

Democracy Maid-Wrong

Friday, November 9th, 2007

(Beware: This news is already a day old. Sniff before ingesting.)

It took me several Google searches to find the Hilary Clinton “fact hub” entry that rebuts the charge that Hilary Clinton’s entourage didn’t tip its waitress after a meal at an Iowa Maid-Rite. (No-one seems to want to know what Clinton was doing eating at a Maid-Rite in the first place; didn’t she just have a million dollar birthday party?) Hillary’s campaign team has established the “Fact Hub” as a method of rapidly disseminating such critical details as the amount the meal actually cost and the amount of tip that was actually left. After the first couple of failed searches, I would not have continued to look for Hillary’s Fact Hub website unless I’d needed the website’s address to put in this entry, so I remain unconvinced about whether it serves its ostensible purpose. But that’s not why I write.

I write because in an interview with the Times, the Maid-Rite waitress, in lamenting the media’s focus on the matter when other seemingly far more important things are going on in the world, commented “You people really are nuts.”

Maybe not nuts, but certainly priorities are awry. Where have we come to when political process hones in on such inane details?26th century BC document listing gifts to the high priestess of Adab on the occasion of her election

Ironically, perhaps the first democratic processes appeared in Mesopotamia, a region now known as Iraq.  Admittedly, Iraq has strayed far from the democratic path since then, but exporting American democracy kind of feels like hawking a used car when you know the undercarriage is rusted out. (Something that happened to me recently, but that’s another story.)

Can democracy really withstand the weight of the fluff that’s piled atop it?

One presumes that the system of checks and balances between congress, senate and the judiciary gives the country some protection against a severly broken democratic process. We should worry about such things as the current administration’s flouting of international processes and conventions, and we should worry about its redefinition of what’s legal. These kinds of things deserve a vigorous response, perhaps more vigorous than the response has been. But I’m thinking more about the fundamental process of democracy.

If I have it right, democracy aims to permit society to decide how it should be governed, what the economic policies should be, the law of the land, the policies for education and investment in infrastructure and healthcare, etc., etc. If it’s to work, democracy requires two things:

1. A fair system by which to select qualified leaders.

2. A fair system by which to influence those leaders toward choices that reflect the educated will of the people.

In America today, I would argue that neither of these requirements can be met with any degree of confidence. Here’s why.

We scrutinze the qualifications of those who govern through a lense of such intense focus that we see the pimples on the chin but not the axe in the hand. (Does it really matter whether Hillary left a tip at Maid-Rite? Do we really care? Would she really do such a thing through meanness or pettiness when she knows that the eyes of the world are watching?) We allow political candidates to be run off the podium for changing their mind or expressing doubt or being flawed. Aren’t all humans flawed? Do we really want to be governed only by those who are squeaky clean and offend no-one or are so good at hiding their flaws that we don’t see them for who they are?

And politicians seem to be influenced by many things, but not by the desire to reflect the educated will of the people. Rather than educating us, they want to sway us or dupe us, sometimes because they have ulterior motives, sometimes because they think we need to be swayed or duped. Rather than reflecting the will of the people (which is a long term thing), they seek to reflect the mood of the people (which fluctuates like anything else).

I realize that these arguments are one-sided. But when there is momentum in the wrong direction only by steering against that momentum can we hope to correct our course.

Coach Barta Smith Center RedmenOn a more heartening note, another story today tells the tale of a Kansas high school football team undefeated in 51 games. Roger Barta, the Smith Center Redmen’s coach isn’t proud of last month’s record-breaking game against Plainville, in which the Redmen took a 72-0 lead in the first quarter. As the NY Times reports Barta swapped in his freshmen lineup after the third touchdown, but his team kept scoring. He even went so far as to tell his players to run out of bounds or fall if they broke free. “Sure, we like our football around here,” Barta said. “But we truly believe it takes a whole town to raise a child, and that’s worth a whole lot more.”

Now isn’t that the kind of person you’d want running the country? …But wait, I think I see a pimple on his chin. Can I get a fact check on that?