It’s All Fun and Games, Until Someone Runs For President

Young Mitt RomneyNo, news of Mitt Romney’s alleged prep school misdeeds did not slip past me.  I just held off blogging about them while they marinated in my brain.

Despite my strong dislike of Romney — with his creepy smile, shameless fear-mongering, and oily pandering to the Republican fringe — my first thought was, “Oh please, no high school dredging.”  I couldn’t imagine suffering through almost six months of the candidates debating which one inhaled/cheated on his trig midterm/lied when he said he once won Most Valuable Employee at the Dairy Queen for three consecutive months.

Besides, who among us didn’t do things in high school that we now regret? Like most teenagers, I was supremely self-involved, and often a pain in the backside to be around.  So I figured, how unusual could Romney’s behavior have been?  Then I read the details… and his response from the protective bosom of Fox News.

First, Romney trivialized bullying.  “I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks during high school and some might have gone too far and for that, I apologize”

Hijinks?  Seriously?  Five former classmates at the posh Cranbrook School say Romney was incensed by the long blonde hair of John Lauber — a frequent target of bullying because of his non-conforming ways and assumed homosexuality.  Romney would eventually lead a “posse” to corner him, pin him to the ground, and cut his hair while he cried and pleaded for help.  If this was just madcap Romney horseplay, what precisely constitutes bullying?

Mitt Romney has emphasized that he doesn’t even remember the event, which is absurd.  I wasn’t a bully, but I can recall specific instances when I failed to defend someone who was marginalized and vulnerable, in the Lord-of-the-Flies world of high school.  In fact, they are so fresh in my mind they could have happened yesterday.  And let me tell you, they still make me cringe.  So either Romney’s cruel bullying was an anomaly — and he’s lying through his teeth about not remembering because he really wants to be the next President – or he has a hard time keeping his many acts of thuggishness straight.

What’s even more ridiculous?  Romney’s claims that even if the bullying he can’t recall DID happen, it definitely DID NOT happen because John Lauber was rumored to be gay.  “That was the furthest thing from my mind back in the 1960s.”

This was the 1960’s, Mr. Romney, not the 1560’s.  What are we supposed to believe, that you just thought the poor kid needed a trim?

I don’t think there’s anything Mitt Romney could do that could compel me to vote for him, but I would have respected him more if he’d admitted his mistakes, shown sincere remorse, and spoken out against bullying.  Instead he treated it like a joke.  But most of us aren’t laughing.

Have a Look Under the Hoodie

I was horrified by last month’s killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida — as horrified as 73% of Americans polled by CNN, who believe George Zimmerman should face charges for shooting the unarmed teenager.

I have no doubt that race was central to what happened.   What’s more, you couldn’t find stronger proof that allowing anyone — no matter their education level, emotional maturity or temperament – to carry a gun and use it if they feel “threatened” is a terrible, terrible idea.

George Zimmerman – a wannabe police officer, and self-appointed head of his neighborhood watch group — dialed 911 at least 46 times over the past six years, because he felt threatened.   In other words, the man is easily spooked.  With a gun in his pocket, it was only matter of time.

Did Trayvon Martin attack George Zimmerman, once he caught up to him and demanded to know what he was doing in his apartment complex?  Perhaps.  Have any of Zimmerman’s supporters stopped to wonder how threatened Trayvon must have felt at that moment?  Unlike George Zimmerman, though, Trayvon didn’t have a gun.

There have been many protests, all over the United States, calling for justice for Trayvon.  On March 23, members of the Miami Heat posed in hooded sweatshirts – like the one Trayvon wore, that George Zimmerman found so “suspicious” – to show their support.  Church congregations and City Councils nationwide have worn hoodies too.

Why is it that, the more commonplace hoodie protests become among politicians, the less impactful they seem, and the more contrived they appear?

Today – more than one full month after Trayvon Martin was shot and killed – Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) was asked to leave the House chamber after taking off his suit jacket and revealing that he was wearing a hoodie.   As it turns out, wearing a hood or hat while the House of Representatives is in session is against the rules.

“Racial profiling has to stop Mr. Speaker,” shouted Rush. “Just because someone wears a hoodie does not make them a hoodlum.”

Wow, powerful speech Sir!  If only someone really influential could take up the cause — someone who won’t just TALK about addressing the issues. We need someone with power to pass legislation!  Maybe a Congressman!  Someone like… Bobby Rush.  Oh damn, now I see the problem…

Rick Santorum’s Trade School Of Thought

I had planned to blog about all the pretty dresses and hairstyles at the Academy Awards tonight, but first I feel compelled to unload a bit about what I saw on NBC’s Meet The Press this morning:  Rick Santorum, being a fool.

It’s becoming a Sunday morning tradition.  Of all people, shouldn’t he have more respect for the Sabbath?

Santorum actually made his most jaw-dropping statement, which was then discussed on Meet The Press, at a Tea Party rally in Michigan on Saturday.

Apparently, Santorum believes that attending college, and recommending it to others, makes you snob.  Such was his response to President Obama’s recent statement that he would like all American young people to attend a four-year university.

Yes, this is the same Rick Santorum who earned an undergraduate degree from Pennsylvania State University, an M.B.A from the University of Pittsburg, and a law degree from Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law.

I am fairly confident that President Obama was not really suggesting that all American students — regardless of intellect, skill set or interest — be forced to attend a four-year university.   That would make no sense, and would be completely impractical.  Rather, I suspect he would like to see all American students with the desire and aptitude for college have an opportunity to attend a four-year university, regardless of their means.  The nerve!

Politicians on both sides of the aisle are fond of waxing poetic about The American Dream, and predicting that it will slip out of reach if the other side wins the White House.  The American Dream has a few key components, including the promise of a better life for our children.  What parents who want success and prosperity for their child would object to him/her attending a four-year university?   And if a university like Harvard accepted that child, would his/her parents be anything but proud and supportive?

Are we seriously expected to believe that Rick Santorum would not support one of his seven children attending Harvard because he/she might be “taught by some liberal college professor [who tries] to indoctrinate them”?

Just a few weeks ago, Republicans criticized President Obama for highlighting the widening gulf between the haves and have-nots in the U.S., and suggesting that it is wrong for Warren Buffet to pay less in taxes than his secretary.  Mitt Romney complained that this was not appropriate public discourse, because it was akin to inciting class warfare.  Yet it’s OK for Rick Santorum to call the President a snob for supporting a liberal arts education, since “there are good, decent men and women who work hard every day and put their skills to the test”, who never got one?

The facts are in:  Americans with a college education earn more, and are less likely to be unemployed, than Americans without one.  But Rick Santorum reassures us; he’s on the case.  If elected, he’ll resuscitate manufacturing in the United States so that graduates from trade schools have opportunities comparable to those of their liberal-arts counterparts – thus reversing a decades-long shift towards a service economy.

So… if your son or daughter is accepted at Princeton in the spring, and you are fortunate enough to have the means to pay the tuition, what will you do?

Uh huh, that’s what I thought.

Great Balls of Fire!

It’s been a busy week for the Republicans, culminating in tonight’s Arizona debate – another performance that no doubt had President Obama switching over to the Knicks game in time to catch the fourth quarter of Linsanity(!).

The day started with Rick Santorum referencing “what’s on fire down here” at one of his tent-revival-style campaign stops.  The media played it over and over again, but I still don’t know what he meant by “down here”.  He seems pretty fixated on the Prince of Darkness, so maybe he was referring to Hell, where it’s far too hot for comely sweater vests. Otherwise, I just don’t want to think about it…

Not surprisingly, attention in the debate quickly turned to contraception.  References were made to a recent New York Times story about the scourge of unwed motherhood in the United States.  I read that article, and the candidates grossly distorted the facts in it.  To hear them talk, this is a growing problem among poor urban teens – when in fact, the article highlights that the growth in single motherhood is a decidedly middle-class phenomenon.  Teen pregnancies in the U.S. are, in fact, declining.

While it’s true that educated upper-middle-class and upper-class women are not part of the single motherhood trend, the fear mongering claims of abject poverty and abuse in the homes of single mothers was a mischaracterization, intended to create the all-too-familiar sense of danger so critical (it would seem) to convincing Americans to vote for you.

The candidates flailed around for a while, trying to hammer home that even though they are avidly pro life, pro church and anti contraception, they aren’t anti women.   Each argued that he did more than the others to banish the morning-after pill for rape victims.  I think I started to drift off for a moment, then… BOOM.  Ron Paul blinded them all with science.

He explained that it’s all contraception; the active ingredient in birth control pills and the morning-after pill is the same — hormones.   The candidates stared at him blankly, then moved on to a new question.  Behold, the product of a non-scientific, creationist education!  Proceed with caution, America!

Ron Paul, as usual, seemed upbeat and just a tiny bit crazy.  I wouldn’t vote for him in a Presidential election, but you have to hand it to him – he is candid, witty and consistent.  He pointed out that abstinence is not mentioned in the Constitution, so while he is against government involvement in matters of contraception he doesn’t think we should be funding or legislating abstinence education either.  (Cue more blank stares from guys who think we all honestly believe that they are defending the Constitution and religious freedom, rather than evangelicalism.)

Mitt Romney looked nervous.  Rick Santorum emphasized that he’s a team player – a character flaw only in politics – and came across like a policy-wonk insider who rolls his eyes a lot when he’s defensive.

Newt Gingrich stayed out of the scrum, saving most of his criticism for President Obama.  He tried giving the audience a history lesson on the Founding Fathers, claiming they would have had strong views on balanced budgets and unemployment.  I don’t think the colonials suffered many layoffs down at the blacksmith’s shop, but I guess I should defer to the guy who made a fortune as an “historical consultant” to Freddie Mac.

Throughout, the crowd behaved like fans of the WWF — or Senators at the State of the Union Address — loudly cheering for their guy and jeering his opponents.

Late in the debate, the candidates were inanely asked to describe themselves in one word – a question no doubt put forth by a retired college recruiter.  Lucky Ron Paul got to go first, and snagged “consistent”.   Tough break for Romney – I’ll bet he really, really wanted to be consistent!   He went with “Resolute”.  Not terribly convincing but at least his voice didn’t go up at the end, like he was posing a question.  (i.e. resolute???)

In (merciful) conclusion, the candidates were asked to clarify the biggest misconception about them.  Ron Paul answered the question.  Newt meandered a bit, but eventually answered it too.  Then Mitt Romney tried to just go with his talking points, à la Sarah Palin.  When reminded that the question was about a misconception, he curtly replied “You ask the questions you want to, and I’ll answer the questions I want to.”

We all watched the 2008 Vice Presidential debate, so we know what comes next – even if Romney’s debate coach doesn’t.


Here’s One For All Time

Next week will mark the 67th anniversary of the taking of one of history’s most famous – and certainly one of its most reproduced — photographs.  Shot by American Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal on February 23, 1945, it captured the remarkable image of six Marines from East Company raising the American flag on Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima.

The first AP editor to see the photo in a darkroom in Guam reportedly exclaimed, “Here’s one for all time.”

My friends and family know I love history.  And I am a sucker for a good history story… especially if there are pictures to go with it!  So on Monday I attended a lecture at Stanford University by Hal Buell, former head of the Associated Press Photo Service, and Author of Uncommon Valor, Common Virtue, the story of the Iwo Jima flag raising.   Mr. Buell retraced the impact of the famed Iwo Jima photograph on Mr. Rosenthal, and America.

The war in Europe was easy for Americans to understand and relate to.  They could visualize – and had perhaps even visited — London, Paris or Berlin.   The war in the Pacific, however, was waged on tiny islands most Americans had never heard of like Mindoro and Sulu Archipelago – with casualties that were inconceivably massive.  Joe Rosenthal’s photograph helped provide context, understanding, and a desperately needed morale boost back in the U.S.  It won the 1945 Pulitzer Prize, and Joe Rosenthal was awarded $1,000 (the only real money he every made from the photo).

In April 1945, on President Roosevelt’s direction, the photograph was the central image of the 7th (and final) bond drive of WWII, which was hugely succesful.  The photo was ubiquitous; it could be found on murals in bank lobbies, train stations and schools, on war posters and even on postage stamps — a coup, as postal service policy prohibited the use of images of living people on stamps.   (Of the six Marines who raised the flag only three survived until April.   Those three remaining flag raisers reluctantly agreed to participate in the bond drive.)

While Americans everywhere recognize Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photograph, many are unaware of the controversy that has surrounded it.  It was not, in fact, a shot of the first flag raised on Iwo Jima.  That original flag was photographed by military photographer Staff Sergeant Louis R. Lowery, but was lowered a few minutes later on the orders of the Secretary of the Navy who wanted it as a souvenir.  Joe Rosenthal captured the raising of a second, larger flag.   He happened to be in the right place at the right time, well after Lowery headed back down the mountain.

Joe Rosenthal did not, as was often claimed, stage his photograph, nor did he try to cover up that there was a prior flag raising.  Yet skeptics accused him of everything from planting the flagpole himself to stealing the film from the camera of a fallen Marine.

Rumors were further fueled by a remark Mr. Rosenthal made before he’d learned that his flag-raising photograph had become a sensation in the U.S.  When asked about the impact of the image, he assumed the question referred to his photo of Marines cheering alongside the already-raised flag (right), which he described as “posed”.

Film footage of the flag raising from Sergeant Bill Genaust, a Marine motion picture photographer, bore out the photo’s authenticity, yet Life Magazine jumped on the story by accusing Rosenthal of staging on its radio show.   Life later broadcast a retraction, but the damage had been done.

Hollywood helped perpetuate other myths about the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima, often showing fierce Japanese sniper fire during the event – which never happened — and choosing macho actors like Lee Marvin to portray the humble real-life flag raisers.

The Marine Corps War Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery was modeled after Joe Rosenthal’s photograph.  When it was dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954, participants from the first flag raising were in attendance and again expressed bitterness at the lack of recognition they had received.  No reference was made to Mr. Rosenthal on the statue until 1978, when a plaque with his name was added to the monument.

Given the frustration and humiliation his famous photograph sometimes brought him, Joe Rosenthal was often asked if he ever regretted taking it. Or, did he ever wish someone else had taken it?

No, he replied.  He did his job, and he was proud of the picture.  Besides, it didn’t matter that he took the photograph – what mattered was, the Americans took Iwo Jima.    Well put, Joe.

Stuck In Newtral

This is my first political blog post, and I’m leading with a pun on Newt Gringrich’s name.  Too easy you say?  Well I’m still fairly new to this blogging business, and the former Speaker just provides too much rich material to pass up.  “Everything Old Is Newt Again”?  “Romney Gets Newtered” or even “Mitt Gets Newtralized”?

In fact, so much can be done with Newt that I’ll just have to save my Mitt witticisms, or I should say my “Mitticisms”, for another day.  (See what I did there?  A little something to look forward to.)

Against my better judgment, perhaps, I watched a 2012 Republican primary debate start-to-finish for the first time this week. Under no circumstances would I vote for any of these guys, but I am just so puzzled by this primary I was looking for a basic understanding.  And if I had to sit through more than one hour of Wolf Blitzer to get it, well then so be it.

First… Did America learn nothing from the 2000 election?  Enough of the he’s-someone-you-could-see-yourself-having-a-beer-with nonsense!  I do not want to have a beer with the President of the United States.  I want him to be really, really good at governing – not playing quarters.  Did Americans want to have a beer with Abraham Lincoln?  Could they see themselves shooting pool with FDR or clearing brush with Harry Truman?

Likewise, it was disorienting to watch these very wealthy white men call one another out for being too wealthy and successful.  In particular, how ridiculous were the attacks on Romney’s business success… from a man with a $500,000 credit line at Tiffany & Co.?  I am astounded that Gingrich wasn’t booed – or laughed – off the stage when he played that card.

Why would we want someone who is only marginally successful sitting in the Oval Office?  Again let me be very clear on this point: I don’t want to have a beer with a President who is just like me.  I want a President who is sober, and much smarter and more successful than I am.  I want to ride his coattails.  I want to hitch my wagon to his (or her!) star.

I have other observations: Newt Gingrich won’t look anyone in the eye during debates, aside from the moderator.  He launched one nasty zinger after another, always looking at his notes or the floor.  If you believe in what you say, Newt, hold your head up when you say it.  Is he really who we want negotiating with foreign heads of state?

Some of the audience questions at the debate floored me – and reinforced why an average American has no business in the White House, except as part of a tour, safely behind the velvet ropes.  Who would make the best First Lady?  Seriously?  Insipid… or perhaps brilliant if submitted by one of Newt’s opponents.  Every candidate on stage could wax poetic about his devoted life partner, except Gingrich.

The question (and answers) about divine guidance elicited gagging and eye rolling from me.  But since Romney flubbed the worst, I’ll save that for my next political blog… tentatively titled “If life is a bowl of cherries, then what are we doing with Mitt?”