Your Politics Suck

Willy Wonka explains it allMost of you reading this live somewhere with free speech. This is wonderful. It turns Orwell’s vision of Big Brother on its ear because while Big Brother is watching, he’s seeing a lot of middle fingers waved at him.


Let’s talk about social media, shall we? I get that you’re passionate about your beliefs. It’s why too many atheists sound like Jehovah’s Witnesses these days.

“Religion is the root of all bigotry and hatred in the world.”

That’s nice, dude, but I only asked if you liked the Seahawks in next week’s game.

I tend to ignore religious posts. The point of most religions, including atheism, is “Don’t be an asshole. You’re not that important,” a universal and undeniable truth. What are people usually mad about? Other people being assholes. Sometimes, it’s assholes arguing with other assholes. Sometimes, I’m even an asshole, though I try not to be.

And then we come to politics. I submit that politics, not religion, makes for the most morally bankrupt posts on social media. Why? Let’s look at Mr. Webster’s fine book on what words mean, shall we? Here’s the online entry for politics:

Most of you think you’re “debating” this:
1a:  the art or science of government
What you’re really ranting (I won’t dignify it calling it “debating”):
3c: political activities characterized by artful and often dishonest practices

And so we get Facebook walls full of such egregiously stupid things as “Obama is a socialist” (posted normally by people who could not define socialism if you put a gun to their head) or some faux outrage from pointing out that Mitch McConnell forgot to wipe his ass once in the Senate restroom before shaking hands with the Pope.


Let’s be clear at something. 75% of political posts on Facebook have nothing to do with facts, or the facts are conveniently chosen with no context. The most benign quotes are spun in the worst possible light. And how about that rant you posted two days ago on Rand Paul or Hillary Clinton that just got debunked on Why don’t you feel like the idiot you just made out of yourself?

I don’t believe in grand conspiracies. They require too much cooperation and effort on the part of people who frankly don’t give a damn about each other’s interests, let alone yours. I do believe in trends, however, and every outrageous factoid you post is carefully designed to stir up your outrage and get you frothing at the mouth so you’ll vote against whoever it is that’s against whomever the source loves/works for. That’s not a conspiracy, kids. That’s marketing. It’s the same reason you know the Golden Arches mean fast food along that lonely stretch of Interstate. It’s why some of you buy into the Cult of Apple while Samsung makes billions off some of you who hate it. Marketing.

It’s not a conspiracy. It’s your willing participation in the process. Stop that.

Now I’m not going to insult your intelligence telling you I’m objective. I’m not. It’s no secret I lean left, though I’m not sure I’m quite left enough to be called liberal. I openly mock a lot of conservative posters because they tend to post the most nakedly stupid things on Facebook. But…

You may be surprised to learn that I’ve unfriended and unfollowed more people who agree with my views than those who oppose them. Why?

Tell me, why do I want to wallow in your hatred and negativity when I don’t want to listen to theirs? All you do is feed the machine campaign managers depend upon. Why is it okay for you to post questionable facts and passive-aggressive bullshit, but not the other person? Doesn’t that make you just like the person you despise? What, exactly, are you trying to accomplish? To impress your like-minded friends? How do you think we got a useless Congress in the first place. If you foam and froth at the mouth at the slightest provocation, those tasked with getting politicians elected are going to see that as a valid means of getting the job done.

The question you must ask yourself is this: Does this accomplish anything besides expressing whatever outrage I’ve been told I have this morning? If the answer is no, you screwed up.

Repost: Politics – A Carlinesque Rant

Hey, it’s the midterms today! Get out there and punch some serious chad. In the meantime, a little perspective for you on American politics.

If you’re like me, politics drives you insane. Maybe you’ve come down firmly on the left or the right, but you have to put up with that annoying coworker who loves the opposite side and wants you to love it, too. Or, if again you’re like me, you’re a political atheist who really doesn’t want to listen to someone’s passionate beliefs spoon-fed to them by some washed-up rock DJ or a whiny ex-sportscaster. Then you get bombarded by political ads designed to convince you the opposition is totally evil and will eat your baby in front of you first chance they get. Let’s face it. Politics stink. Why?

Politics is all about one word: shit. And let me tell you something, people are passionate as hell about their shit. Where the conflict comes in is what kind of shit people are passionate about.

In most places, our definitions of shit fall into two camps: Left and right. Yes, it’s a shitty system. Either/or has never represented reality very well in the best of times. To think that it does is, in itself, a bunch of shit.

But never mind that shit. How do the two sides define shit?

Let’s look at the left first. The left is all about people. They don’t like it when people get treated like shit. They hated the shitty practice of slavery and that whole shit about women not getting the vote. They have shit fits about taking shit away from the people who lived here when the rest of us arrived, telling women what shit to put in or take out of their bodies, and shitting on immigrants, gays, and anyone else who doesn’t exactly fit the identity of an American touted by a bunch of shitheads Abraham Lincoln spent four years beating the shit out of.

But then the right is all about keeping their shit. “Hey, man, I work hard for my shit. Don’t take my shit. And while you’re at it, keep your shit out of my shit. That’s my shit.” They want to get and keep as much shit as possible. They also believe that the government that shits best is the one that shits least.

These definitions aren’t perfect. For instance, the left thinks that, because your grandpa was a flaming shithead, you should give up some of your shit to make up for shitting on all those people grandpa shat on. In other words, if you got a lot of shit, it’s your fault we’re all in the shitter.

On the other hand, the right, who are all about keeping your shit ‘cuz it’s your shit, doesn’t hesitate to tell you, “Hey, don’t do that shit!” They don’t like that shit. Even when they do it, they hide that shit. You can do whatever shit you like, as long as it looks like their shit. And if you lose your shit, “Hey, that’s shitty. Just stay out of my shit. And don’t do any shit I don’t like.”

But it’s all bullshit, of course. True, you shouldn’t treat people like shit. And you should be able to keep your shit. It’s not crime to get more shit, just don’t shit on somebody else doing it.

Now that you understand all this shit, it’s time we all get our shit together, or we’re all fucked.

And Now To Get Political…

It’s the midterms. And while I’ve not been as political as I have been in previous years, I don’t think I’m doing any favors by not speaking up the day before the elections. If you regularly read this space, you already know where I stand on the Congressional and Senate elections: Anyone who held a seat in October, 2013 needs to be sacked. Now, that’s not going to happen to House Speaker John Boehner. His Democratic opponent, whatsisname, is so forgettable that I’m convinced they ran him just to have a slot on the ballot. According to one local blogger, the opponent’s web site lacks a means to donate and resembles a fanfic site from the old days of Geocities and

But that’s one district over from me. Not my circus, not my monkey. Butler County and Dayton will continue to slip Congress a Boehner.

However, since my Congressman Brad Wenstrup, a normally reasonable guy who paid the requisite amount of lip service to the Tea Party (occupational hazard in the GOP these days) was my Congressman in October of 2013, neither he nor Rob Portman nor Democrat Sherrod Brown (the last two Ohio’s current senators) will ever get my vote for anything again. Not even to the board of the local homeowners association. Yeah, kids. I’m pissed, and I hold looooong grudges with politicians. It’s a virtue I’d like to see more people embrace.

The big race in Ohio is for governor. I usually have to have a compelling reason to vote out an executive, be it governor or president. For instance, most of the complaints against Obama was that he was not Republican, which is a stupid reason to vote against someone. You want to be loyal to a party? Go move to North Korea. Also, the opponent would have to be either so spectacularly awesome that I can’t not vote for them, or they have to be so spectacularly bad that I’d vote for Kim Jong Un before I’d vote for this person.

Well, John Kasich has managed to piss me off quite a bit, but when the people exerted their will when he went against it, he shrugged, said the people have spoken, and got on with the job. I voted for his predecessor last time because, really, I had no compelling reason to get rid of him. That’s where Kasich finds himself with me. Moreover, his opponent is… See above. Ed Fitzgerald is a man who drove without a license for a decade and was caught with a woman in the backseat of his car. It was not Mrs. Fitzgerald. And this guy wants to govern an entire state. So let’s do the math here: Recovered state economy + stubborn but cooperative incumbent + an idiot running against him = vote for Kasich.

The auditor’s job belongs to Dave Yost, who has run only one real attack ad this season. (And I think that one was actually run by some front for whatever Citizens United calls itself these days.) Yost points out that he’s saved the state a lot of money on his watch. Again, do a good job, and I’ll vote for you.

I’m kind of torn on the attorney general’s race here. On the one hand, we have incumbent Mike DeWine. I voted against him in his last run for Senate because it was his second term. That’s part of my calculus. Two and out for anyone. (For representatives, I give them eight years because the two-year term is one of the dumbest things the Founding Fathers came up with. Not the dumbest. That was counting each slave as 2/3 of a person. But two-year terms is pretty stupid.)  On the other hand, I’ve generally liked Democrat David Pepper in the past. Since the FOP like him for Ohio’s top cop, I’ve decided to go with Pepper. He almost lost my vote, however, when his ads started resembling…

Josh Mandel, the incumbent treasurer. But where Pepper’s attack ads are largely puffery or out-of-context comments, Mandel out and out makes up stuff about his opponents. In his initial run for treasurer, he accused the then-incumbent of giving a contract to a guy who went to his mosque. Then, as now, he ends by reminding you he’s an ex-Marine. There are four problems I have with that: 1.) It’s not criminal to be a Muslim, nor even an indication of any moral failing, 2.) said deal never happened, 3.) John Kerry pimped his military service, too, and that didn’t convince anyone, and 4.) his opponent was not even a Muslim. So don’t vote for a guy who cut a nonexistent deal because the other guy attends the same fictitious mosque, oh, and Josh Mandel was a Marine. Uh-huh. Lots of people have served our country, including my sister-in-law, who thinks he’s an idiot. That’s the most egregious example of Mandel’s tactics. He does it every time, and it cost him a senate run. This year, he’s whining about non-existent attack ads. There were none. His opponent, Connie Pillich, doesn’t even mention this lying sack in her ads. Let’s put it this way. If Josh Mandel told me the sky was blue, I’d have to go outside with a color chart just to make sure he wasn’t lying. And even then, I’d have my doubts. And since Pillich is my state senator, a vote for Pillich is a no-brainer. Josh Mandel should not be elected to anything, even president of the Liar’s Club. This jackass reminds me too much of Nixon. Only Nixon had some redeeming qualities. I’ve yet to see any in Mandel.

Finally, there’s the secretary of state, which in Ohio is the guy who not only manages the registration of businesses and trademarks but also runs the elections. John Husted already lost my vote by trying to rig polling hours to deny Obama a win in Ohio. (Didn’t work.) But I’ve already decided that I will never again vote for a major party for this office. So I’m voting for Kevin Knedler, the Libertarian Party chairman for Ohio, who’s running for this job. I have no idea what his position is. I only know that Husted’s job is to preserve the office for a Republican successor and, failing that, ensure that only a Democrat can take it away. A Democrat does exactly the reverse: Preserve the job for his party, and make sure only the opposing major party has a chance to take over. Unacceptable. So I’m voting for Knedler. Oh, and Greens, Modern Whigs, and Constitutionalists? You’ve let me down. I don’t see a single name from any of you this time.

And that’s about it. I’ll spare you the local races. They’re not of much interest outside of the Cincinnati area. But that’s where I stand. Tomorrow, go let them know where you stand. If I put things in perspective for you, great. Even if I haven’t, vote your conscience. And if you don’t vote tomorrow, kindly sit down and shut up.

I’m Jim Winter, And I Approve This Message

Vote like an adult then whine like a baby.Yes, we’re in that final week before the midterm elections. Isn’t it appropriate that Halloween, followed by the Day of the Dead, falls within in this time?

In Ohio, it hasn’t been too bad. Most of the state offices will likely cruise to reelection. Even Josh Mandel, whose past political ads would get him sued into bankruptcy used for anything other than trying to get elected, is sticking with the Ohio GOP’s line of “Endorsed by my kids” messages. A few years ago, our Congresswoman, Jean Schmidt (R – Her own massive ego), tried this and barely kept her job. She’s since had her ass handed to her by a former mayoral candidate from Cincinnati, who paid lip service to the Tea Party, then promptly acted sane during the primaries. Tea Partiers and their opponents in my district were very pleased. After all, how’d you like to be represented by someone who called a wounded Vietnam vet a coward on the floor of the House? I didn’t. What saved me from straight ticket hell was the Democratic challenger to an incumbent judge. Desperate for some attention, he ran an ad saying the sitting judge was pro rape (based on a witness misbehaving in the courtroom). It was a silly and rather offensive ad. I said, “Bless you!” and voted for the incumbent. The judge became my token Republican that year. Haven’t heard a peep out of the challenger since, and I think the ad was a campaign manager’s idea. This guy was a law professor who ran because most incumbent judges usually get to keep their jobs in Cincinnati anyway.

Kentucky’s ads have been particularly egregious. Mitch McConnell and Allison Grimes have been trading some particularly nasty jabs at each other since day 1. Not surprising. There are two people Kentuckians hate more than Hitler these days: Mitch McConnell and Barack Obama. And McConnell has been busting his tail to make Grimes look like Obama’s puppet. When I see an ad for either one, it’s usually my cue to hit the john, get a soda, or even zone out.

We’re lucky in Ohio this year. In 2006, the GOP’s slate of candidates were so spectacularly bad that I fretted I would have to do something I find akin to treason: Vote straight ticket. See, I don’t live Democratic States of America or the Republican States of America. I live in the United States of America. And in 2006, I was going to be forced to vote straight Democrat because the only candidate I liked was a two-term senator. I also have a strict rule on term limits. If you’re in for two terms (I give representatives eight years because the two-year term is quite possibly the dumbest surviving part of the Constitution the framers came up with. Thank God that 2/3 rule on slaves got stomped on.), I don’t vote for you. Period.

Political ads give me a headache and have since Reagan ran for his second term. Sure, “Morning in America” got the nation off its collective ass by making us feel good about ourselves. But Walter Mondale’s ad running CSN&Y’s “Teach Your Children” ruined that song for my mother, who used to sing it to me when I was a toddler. Willie Horton in 1988 was a low for the elder George Bush.

The Kentucky ads are particularly bad this year. Mitch McConnell is not running against Grimes. He’s running against Obama. You know. The elected leader of the nation? The best this has accomplished is tying with Grimes in the polls. Then again, when your strategy is to run with “I’m not the other guy,” and the other guy is not even your opponent, you are very likely going to lose. See Kerry, John; Romney, Mitt; McGovern, George. And let’s be honest here. McGovern should have been able to not only hand Nixon his lunch, but shove it so far down Tricky Dick’s throat that it’d leave food stains in his boxers. But it was a different world back then, and these days, even Nixon would look at the campaigns and go, “Um… Not going there, dude.” (That image is particularly effective if you picture the jowly former president growling it.)

But then it’s over next week. And we can move on to what’s really important: Racking up massive debt to buy crap no one needs for people we don’t get along with so everyone’s happy at the end of the year.

Er… I mean Christmas shopping.

Firing Congress

In 1995, Congress and the White House deadlocked over a budget issue and allowed the government to shut down. In 1996, I voted for my only write-in candidate for president and against my Congressman. Why?

If you count the vice president, that made 537 people who were derelict of their Constitutionally mandated duties. Supporters of either side would say, “Well, they have to make a point.” To me, there is no point that important to make. We didn’t live in a country torn by civil war. We were in the middle of an economic boom. The only point to be made was ideological. And in a democracy, ideological points are never ever that important. In fact, they seldom have anything to do with reality.

So rather than choose between the sitting president and one of 100 sitting senators, I wrote in the man who lost the Reform Party nomination to Ross Perot. I’d painted Perot, perhaps unfairly, with the same brush. I suppose if I had to do it over again, I’d have cast a vote for that mad little Ferengi.

So in October of 2013, the government shuts down again, and over even more dubious reasons than in1995. And once again, I will not be voting for my Congressman. Nor will I vote for Republican Senator Rob Portman in 2016, either for Senate or for president. Nor will I give Democrat Sherrod Brown my vote in 2018. It’s too bad on the Congressman. Brad Wenstrup finally kicked that vapid harpie Jean Schmidt to the curb in 2012. And despite the Tea Party rhetoric, he’s always been a reasonable sort of guy.

But Wenstrup, Portman, and Brown were in Congress the day the government shut down. And there are have to be consequences. And the consequences are that I don’t vote for them. Never again.  So I’ll be voting for some guy I’ve never heard of. Come 2016, the Republicans have a chance to court my vote (Slim, maybe) as long as their nominee was not a sitting member of Congress in October, 2013. Likewise, the Democrats. As long as they do not nominate one of that useless body or Vice President Biden, I’ll listen. So what if it’s Biden vs., say, Rand Paul? Well, the Libertarians, Greens, and Modern Whigs usually get a presidential candidate on the ballot in Ohio.

Or maybe I can write in Ross Perot. I kinda feel like I owe the guy.

There are few unforgivable sins in politics. Shutting down the government needs to be one of them.

The Presidents: What About George And Barry

I’ve managed to read about the first 41 men to serve as president. It’s been a great way to look back at US history. I’m sure, though, there are some ideologues out there who wonder why I’m not using these posts to foam and froth at the mouth about George W. Bush or Barack Obama. Simple.

To look at these two administrations, especially when one of these men is still in office, usually ends up being an excuse to foam and froth at the mouth. There’s too much foaming and frothing, usually with a lot of misinformation. Then again, we are a society that thought what Phil Robertson said was really, really important. (Hint: No, it wasn’t.) The simple fact is their tenures are too recent for an objective look.

I admit I was hard on George W. Bush. It was hard not to be when we were embroiled in a war that turned out to have a dubious purpose, coupled with an exploding deficit. Likewise, Barack Obama could have cruised through an easy second term were it not for a signature program ham-strung by a poorly designed web site.

Still, in reading about all their predecessors, I’ve discovered often that, when a president screws up, the results are almost immediate. Their accomplishments, though, often aren’t noticed until years afterward.

What I’ve also discovered (and have witnessed in recent years) is that modern presidents generally take a dim view of criticism of their successors. For instance, George W. Bush, who will occasionally defend himself if he thinks Barack Obama might have crossed a line, generally frowns on those trying to bait him into attacking Obama. “He deserves my silence,” he famously said. Granted, Nixon was hard on his successors. He thought Carter was an idiot, and he never really forgave Reagan for shifting the party’s ideology. Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt had a legendary feud that kept Hoover out of the public policy loop until late in World War II. Truman eventually offered the olive branch. Eisenhower was a mentor to Kennedy. Nixon sometimes turned to Johnson for advice. Both Bushes and Clinton have worked together on humanitarian efforts.

It wasn’t always like this, though. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson did not speak for years after Adams left office, and only settled their differences in their old age. Adams’ son John Quincy Adams, made it a point to be a thorn in the side of Andrew Jackson. And William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt fought each other so bitterly, it all but guaranteed a Woodrow Wilson presidency.

But prior to the twentieth century, America seldom had more than one or two former presidents living. While the Viriginia Dynasty and Adams survived well into the younger Adams’ administration, it wasn’t until the leadup to the Civil War that we had more than three living presidents. There were a record six alive on the day Abraham Lincoln assumed office (one of whom could not wait to get out of Washington.)

Most presidents loved the job. Many did not. Buchanan, arguably the worst chief executive, was so disgusted that he told Lincoln he was happier than the new president to be leaving. William Howard Taft only ran as a favor to Theodore Roosevelt and to please his wife. He himself wanted a seat on the Supreme Court (which he later attained.) Truman and Ford both felt overwhelmed. Chester Arthur hated the job and the system that put him there virtually unelected.

But really, presidents are often only as good as the Congresses we saddle them with. Yes, I said “We.” You and I are the ones who vote for all 435 representatives and 100 senators. So some of the blame for the recent gridlock, the government shutdown, and even the more poorly thought-out parts of the ACA goes to us the people. Some of it. We’re still paying them to get stuff done, whether what the president proposes or some opposition alternative. So while we probably need to do a better job picking people to send to Washington for lobbyists to bribe, ultimately, they need to do their jobs.

Presidents don’t normally do well when their party holds Congress. It’s almost (not always, but almost) a rubber stamp on a president’s agenda with no chance for opponents to adjust legislation. However, it seems that the worst scenario is when Congress is split between parties, which is a large reason why this Congress is one of the most despised Congresses in US history.

One thing that struck me, though, was how our laws came to be. No, not the old School House Rock “I’m Just a Bill” cartoon. (Those were awesome!) The Constitution was written with a quill pen. After the Civil War, laws and amendments were typed. Now we are on the cusp of the original documents being electronic.

Another thing that’s striking is the communications presidents have had to rely on. George Washington depended on horse-and-rider. The peace offer that could have stopped the War of 1812 literally passed the declaration of war against England somewhere in the Atlantic, both taking three weeks to arrive. On the other hand, Lincoln, by necessity of a war literally in sight of the White House, was the first wired president, keeping a bank of telegraph units in the nearby War Department. Since Johnson, presidents have had satellite capability and instant links to world leaders. Barack Obama can Skype with Vladimir Putin (though they likely use something more secure for direct conversations.)

It’s been a fascinating way to look at American history.

2013 In Review


  • How many members of Congress does it take to balance a checkbook?
  • President Obama is sworn in for a second term, which marks the beginning of the 2016 campaign season.


  • Pope Benedict announces his retirement. And Anakin turns away from the Dark Side.
  • North Korea detonates a third nuclear “bomb.”


  • Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, dies. Secretary of State John Kerry, when told of the rock star dictator’s death, said, “Who?”
  • The Vatican elects Pope Francis to succeed the outgoing Pope Benedict. The election marks a significant change in Catholic policy as they Cardinals chose to elect an actual Christian for the first time since 1978.
  • Pope Emeritus Benedict signs up for


  • North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un threatens South Korea and Japan with nuclear war. On an unrelated note, the Japanese government expresses it’s approval of the two demo units delivered by the US in 1945 and ask if they can get those mounted on cruise missiles that will reach, say, Pyongyang?
  • Two college students bomb the Boston Marathon. The marathoners’ response? Finish the race.


  • Minnesota, Delaware, and Rhode Island legalize gay marriage. Glenn Beck cries.


  • The Supreme Court says the Federal government cannot ban gay marriage. Glenn Beck cries.
  • Millions of Americans are shocked to learn that the NSA, a government agency tasked with spying on pretty much everyone, has been spying on pretty much everyone.
  • The Egyptian military takes President Mohammed Morsi’s red Swingline stapler away and has him move his desk to the basement next to Hosni Mubarak’s.


  • George Zimmerman is found not guilty of the murder of Trayvon Martin. However, he is found to be pretty much a douchebag.
  • Princess Kate gives birth to Prince George, now third in line to the British throne.


  • Edward Snowden, who blew the whistle on the NSA, gains asylum from the freest, most democratic and transparent country in the world: Russia.
  • Mobster Whitey Bulger is convicted of racketeering. No, he will not be allowed to share a cell with Paul Sorvino and Ray Liotta.


  • Breaking Bad ends. No, I’m not allowed to post spoilers.


  • Khhhhhhaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnnn-gress!!!!!
  • New Jersey legalizes same-sex marriage, kicks Glenn Beck in the balls, makes him… You know.


  • Obamacare has encountered an error and needs to be restarted.
  • Phillipines is flattened by Katrina’s bigger, badder, bitchier sister.
  • Iran agrees not to build nukes, for now, at least. Isreali Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu still isn’t happy.
  • George Zimmerman is arrested for assault and attempted murder. 12 of his peers were heard saying “D’Oh!”


  • Nelson Mandela dies. The world got a little colder.
  • Many people want to kill their relatives during the holidays. Kim Jong Un actually does it. Legally.

Bill Clinton

Bill ClintonI may have gone a president too far in going through all of our Chief Executives. Bill Clinton still inspires a lot of controversy today, and not just for his dalliance with intern Monica Lewinsky. However, he did preside over the longest sustained period of growth in US history. And yes, he does deserve much of the credit.

Conservatives like to say that Clinton did nothing, that his success all comes from the efforts of Ronald Reagan paying off during his term. Most men who have sat in the Oval Office would find that assessment extremely offensive, including – and maybe especially – Ronald Reagan. There is, however, a kernel of truth. Reagan’s (and Bush’s) success stems from shattering a petrified structure that grew out of the Great Society, Lyndon Johnson’s attempt to reinvent the New Deal. Love trickle down or hate it, the freewheeling eighties could not have happened with the huge tax rates of the seventies or the burdensome regulations that contributed to the stagnation of the American economy.

That said, Reaganomics represented a course-correction, not a new vision. What Reagan did was put forth a program and challenge the nation to do better. They responded. But when capitalism has the safeties taken off (something, incidentally, Adam Smith frowned upon, since being a douchebag actually went against the ideas he put down in The Wealth of Nations), it has a nasty habit of pulling apart the middle class. Clinton sought to reinvent government, offering a scaled-down version of the New Deal while massaging the markets by slashing the deficit, a perpetual thorn in the side of George H.W. Bush. It almost did not happen.

While Clinton’s appetites later became a distraction, early on, it was Clinton’s informal management style and failure to comprehend Washington politics that almost sank his presidency within the first six months. Clinton had three goals when he took office: create jobs, slash the deficit, and reform health care. (Sounds like Obama’s mandate, doesn’t it?) This last, of course, went down in flames, resulting in little more than reforming the health insurance industry. (And no, I have no nostalgia for the HMO’s of the 1990’s.) The latter was stalled until mid-decade by discretionary spending caps, but later fueled by the tech boom. That same boom would not have been possible were it not for his biggest first-term victory, the deal to slash the deficit by $480 billion.

To look at Clinton, I read Bob Woodward’s The Agenda. Woodward paints a portrait of a chaotic White House populated by about a dozen Type A personalities from the president himself to Hillary Clinton (more an adviser and informal cabinet member than a First Lady, hence her later Secretary of State posting) to point man George Stephenopoulos to consultant (and now CNN analyst) Paul Begala. Everyone on Clinton’s economic team had their own pet projects, as did Secretary of Treasury Lloyd Bentsen (channeling the ghost of LBJ), Hillary Clinton, and Vice President Al Gore. Whenever someone had to compromise, they would loudly complain. Whereas getting a consensus served Governor Bill Clinton well in Arkansas, it bogged him down with indecision early on as president.

Eventually, Clinton found his voice, his theme, and his spine. It took counseling from none other than Richard Nixon, who told him it was fine to compromise on the deficit, but he would have to hit Congress hard in demanding any new programs. Americans, the disgraced former president said, wanted a leader.

I do remember being impatient with not just Clinton, but the Congressional leadership under both parties. The Democrats in his first two years in office proved to be a fractured and contentious lot, unable to agree on much without nearly sinking their own cause. (They would do this to Obama from 2009 to 2011.) When the Republicans took over, the government ground to a needless halt because Clinton held his ground, Newt Gingrich held his breath (and stamped his feet and whined), and Bob Dole, normally a master deal-maker, wanted to be president in 1996. Even Ross Perot, the last credible third-party candidate for president, so incensed me that, in 1996, I voted for my only write-in candidate for president, writing in Richard Lamm, who lost the Reform nomination to Perot. Yeah, I was pissed off over the government shutdown. (These days, I refuse to vote for any representative or senator who held a seat in Congress in October, 2013. Sorry, but there must be consequences. If I did that at my job, I wouldn’t even be eligible for unemployment.)

Clinton presented an affable image to the public. To admirers, he cared about the middle class and minorities. To detractors, he was a snake oil salesman. There’s truth to both views, but ultimately, his 1993 deal to hack $480 billion from the deficit by 1997 ultimately led to a budget surplus in 2001. Yes, Reagan and Bush 41 definitely deserve credit for loosening up the economy in the 1980’s, but Clinton managed to balance fiscal prudence with investment in the nation’s infrastructure, education, and technology.

Since he left office…

The deficit exploded, America has lost its standing in the world, and attempts to reinvest in America have been underwhelming. As I said in my post about the elder George Bush, something seemed to leave when our best one-term president retired. Clinton managed to pick up on it and, for a time, rediscover it, but since the twenty-first century began, leadership in Washington has been spectacularly absent in two of the three branches of government.

George H. W. Bush


George H.W. Bush Library

George Bush had an unusual path to the White House, though not as unusual as that of Chester Arthur or Gerald Ford. No, Bush had only held one elected office, as a congressman from Houston, Texas. From there, he became Ambassador to the UN, Republican National Chairman, head of the US Liaison Office in China, and director of the CIA. The presidents who have taken office since World War II have been senators (Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Obama, with Ford coming from the House), governors (Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and GW Bush), and four vice presidents (Johnson, Nixon, Ford, GHW Bush), two of whom were senators before stepping one heartbeat away from the presidency.

It may surprise many to know that Bush was actually considered for the vice presidency, a job he held under Ronald Reagan, as early as 1972, when Nixon considered getting rid of Spiro Agnew, and again when Agnew resigned. Ford twice considered him (complaining later in Write It When I’m Gone that Congressional leaders twisted his arm to make Bush head of the CIA essentially to keep him off the 1976 ticket.)

Bush ran in the second election in which I was eligible to vote. I immediately liked him because, unlike so many who run for president, he struck me as a manager. He was definitely a politician. He had to be to hold the jobs he held before joining the Reagan Administration. But spending most of his career in business and in appointed jobs showed in his demeanor and his approach to domestic and foreign affairs. He would manage the country, whereas Reagan, though active and involved, also served as a larger-than-life figurehead.

What I also remember is that Bush was better suited for foreign policy – which he excelled at – than domestic. It may have been that he simply approached domestic matters with a more low-key approach than Reagan did. Bush is a Republican in the mold of Bob Dole (who probably should have been Nixon’s second vice president, though Ford did well enough.) He leaned conservative, but was more center right than he cares to admit even now.

Reading his book of letters, All the Best, George Bush, I got a sense of a man who did business in a way that Washington sorely needs to return to these days. Bush valued friendship and even sought advice from political rivals during his political career. One letter playfully needles his former opposite number on the Democratic National Committee after Bush’s posting to China.

I often say Bush came in the finish Reagan’s paperwork. Considering that he was president at the end of the Cold War, that’s a somewhat accurate assessment, but hardly a dismissal. After Reagan was shot in 1981, he became an essential part of the administration, a sort of unofficial diplomat. (“You die, I fly,” he once joked after some ribbing in the press about his frequent trips to attend funerals, where, he points out in his book, a lot of diplomacy would get done.)

But, as with Reagan, Bush saw the rough-and-tumble of politics as a sort of Sam Sheepdog/Ralph Wolf routine. Legislators, candidates, and officials would snipe in the press, then roll up their sleeves and figure out how to get work done.

There’s something missing in the way DC governs now. Clinton, who learned a lot from his predecessor, may have been the last to govern the way Bush did, but it’s something more. Bush was the last World War II vet to sit in the Oval Office. While the living presidents tend to be friendly, if not close (George W. Bush is surprisingly the most sympathetic man to Barack Obama’s woes, which should really make some of Obama’s – and Bush’s – detractors ashamed of themselves), it seems as though real civility in the White House and on Capitol Hill began dying off as the Vietnam Era generation began to retire from politics. Today’s method seems to be hold one’s breath, stamp one’s feet, and make sure nothing positive is ever said about one’s opponent.

I admire Clinton, but I suspect something very deep and very important began disappearing the day George H. W. Bush went home to Houston. Johnson, for all his crassness, showed it. Ford was the embodiment of it. Carter and Reagan did it without thinking. Bush was the last of a generation that survived a Depression and fought a war to save civilization. Today it’s all demagogues, posers, and people who are incapable of compromise, nuance, or even substance.

It died when our best one-term president in modern history left office.

Getting To The End With The Presidents


On President Whitmore’s watch, most Americans died. Source: 20th Century Fox

We’re getting to the end of my quest to read about most of the presidents. It’s been a great way to gain perspective on American history. I’d love it if some of the talking heads would do this. But then they’d all have to admit they’ve been getting paid to talk out their ass for too long.

George H.W. Bush is on deck. I found a book of his letters which should provide some perspective on his life and presidency. I also decided to read about Bill Clinton, even though most books on our 42nd president aren’t worth the lighter fluid needed to burn them. A few weeks back, I voiced some concern about Bob Woodward’s books on the presidents. Starting with Reagan, Woodward seemed interested only in revisiting his glory days with Carl Bernstein and taking the sitting commander-in-chief down a peg. But I also read a few reviews of his book on Clinton, The Agenda. This one is probably the only one I’ve seen that could give me an honest look at Clinton’s presidency.

I’d rather not read a book of Clinton’s letters or those of his successors. Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama are email and text presidents. That makes for some torturous reading, and frankly, I’d rather not read something by the most powerful man in the word with “LOL” prominently featured.

I’m going to have to stop at Clinton, however. Bush and Obama are too recent to be assessed objectively. Most books about them are written by detractors and opponents. Usually, such books aren’t worth lining a cat box with, nor worth the cat’s time to use them for litter.

Also, as strongly as we might feel about the sitting POTUS, the truth is history is the only objective judge of a president. Bush and Obama are two of the most embattled presidents in recent history. Either one can go down in history as another Harry Truman. Just as likely, they can go down as another Franklin Pierce or Rutherford Hayes. At least they are assured of not being the second coming of either James Buchanan (nearly unanimously considered to be the worst president ever) or Warren Harding (a man whose cabinet was so corrupt it made Nixon’s staff look merely unlikeable.) But we’re too close to these men to be honest about their impact. Not everything has taken effect. And the voices of extremists do little more than stir up hysteria and send more rational people diving for the remote in search of the latest Duck Dynasty or The Big Bang Theory.

So this series will finish up in December.

Then I have to go find something else for blog fodder.