For me, there’s really only one choice

Four nights of debates, finally over; I slouched in my comfy recliner with a determination to listen to what was said rather than make clever refutations or point out logical missteps (I was mostly successful) because I wanted to hear their arguments from their own mouths, to see if they could persuade me.

An American president has so many responsibilities to fulfill that no person can be expected to have expertise in all the necessary areas, so I’m looking for a candidate who can convince me that he or she understands what’s going on and what’s at stake, who can manage the day to day responsibilities of government, who has a plan for responding to current needs and the agility to respond to new crises as they develop, and who is willing to listen to new ideas and to respect and work in concert with members of Congress for the good of the entire nation.

Any candidate put forth by today’s Republican Party starts at a disadvantage in my eyes. The party of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon—the one that believed in a strong defense, in law and order, in limited government that still supports the weakest among us, in free market capitalism with common sense regulation to encourage broad growth that strengthens us all—that party has been eaten alive from the inside, leaving a shell that still wears a nametag reading “GOP,” but the ideas in its head and its heart today are foreign to that legacy.

To win the support of today’s Republican Party, candidates must bow to a combination of economic extremists who don’t believe in raising taxes to pay the bills but refuse to cut back the programs that are running the bills up, and evangelical extremists who are working to make America the Christian nation they claim it was always meant to be, despite the evidence of the First Amendment to the contrary; they must deny objective fact and scientific evidence when it doesn’t support their position, and cast aspersions on the sanity and motives of anyone who dares object; they must be encouraging of those who insist their “conservatism” is an indication of greater virtue as a person and a citizen, albeit ones who must bravely shoulder the burden of the so-called Americans who are just waiting for their entitlements to roll in.

Mitt Romney wants to be president; that much is clear. He says he wants to save our Mitt-Romney-2756economy and create jobs, but he refuses to let me in on the details of how he plans to do that. And it’s not that I expect him to have a perfect plan he can turn on and walk away from; I know circumstances will change and he will have to adapt. But I need more than a knowing wink and a “just trust me on this,” particularly when the record shows Romney’s vibrant history of changing his positions on issues—and not changing just because he’s become wiser with age, but changing in order to win popular support…and later changing back again if need be. I don’t know what he really stands for, what he really wants to do, and I have no reason to trust that he has any other core interest at heart beyond his desire to win an election.

I believe Barack Obama wants to do what’s best for America, and that he has done good in his first term evenobama though some of that has led to an increase in the national debt—he had to try something to stem the economy’s slide into the worst recession of most of our lifetimes. I don’t buy the argument that he’s a failure because he didn’t do all the things he promised four years ago, because I know he’s had an immoveable object in his way. Since before he took office Republicans in the House and Senate have been in opposition: not just opposing ideas they don’t agree with but opposing ideas they do agree with, because they declared quite publicly, and with no little glee, that preventing Obama’s re-election was their top priority; they would go to any length at all to ensure that he had no achievements of which to boast…and then argue against his re-election because of his failure to work productively with Congress.

Think I’m overstating the case? Courtesy of The Daily Show, click the pic for a reminder of a small part of the catalogue of plagues that the Right has warned us were inevitable if Barack Obama was elected (none of which came true). And keep in mind: either these people really believed everything they were saying, or they thought we were just scared enough or stupid enough to believe anything they said…then imagine what might happen if these Republican obstructionists operating on behalf of their American Taliban brain trust were to have a president of their own party, one carefully crafted to avoid any pesky checks and balances…

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You’ll never see the debates the same way ever again

…after you have a look at this from Bad Lip Reading:

“Eye of the Sparrow” indeed–hilarious!

ESPN: The Worldwide Sellout

A blind man can see that the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader in Sports is no giant of journalism, but the hype-pool of Super Bowl week is no excuse for the eyewash ESPN put out yesterday masquerading as an Earth-moving event of epic proportion.  It was pathetic; it was sad; and it goes to the heart of my belief that many in the news media compromise their integrity every day in covering sports stories, giving control over what they ask and what they publish to the players and the teams.

Loads of reporters have wanted to interview Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, whose great career came to an unexpected (and perhaps only temporary) stop when he missed this entire season recovering from neck surgeries.  They’ve especially wanted to talk to him since (1) his contract is expiring and everyone wonders if he’ll come back to play with the Colts, or if the team will drop him to save money and use the first pick in the upcoming draft to secure his successor, (2) the Super Bowl is being played in Indianapolis on Sunday, (3) Manning’s brother Eli, the quarterback of the New York Football Giants, is playing in this year’s big game, and (4) anything new to report on would be a blessing.

They’ve all wanted the Big Get, but Peyton Manning has declined the offers, which is his right, until yesterday, when he agreed to an interview with ESPN’s Trey Wingo.  But you and me, the great unwashed American tee wee viewer, we had to be sharp to notice that the interview was arranged through the good offices of Gatorade, which granted ESPN access to its spokesman Manning so he could talk about a Gatorade promotional event.  As such, Gatorade leveraged its position to turn a “news” interview with a hard-to-get person at a time when he’s even more in the news than normal into a commercial for Gatorade (Manning was interviewed with Gatorade bottles lined up behind him, for crying out loud!); as a business with a product to promote, that’s Gatorade’s right.

But it only works when ESPN agrees to the charade.  Check out the interview, parts 1 and 2.  I give Wingo credit for repeatedly trying to get Manning to talk about his injury, his unfortunate public disagreement with his team’s owner, and his contract situation, all things that Manning didn’timage want to discuss—all the reasons why he hadn’t been talking to anyone lately.  As for Manning—and this is particularly true in part 2—I give him credit for not straying from his intended topics.  But for a guy who is so good on camera in so many commercials and interviews, and when he hosted “Saturday Night Live,” I thought he looked uneasy throughout, as if he were seated on something not flat or soft.  When you think about it, that isn’t surprising for a guy who agreed to be interviewed but knew he wasn’t going to be responsive to most of the questions.  I’m not the only one he thought that the very camera-friendly Manning looked uncomfortable in this “interview.”

I’m not saying you can’t do an interview arranged by a press agent or a corporate sponsor, but if you put yourself out to the public as an independent journalistic voice then you don’t roll over (insert inappropriate sexual metaphor here, if desired) and let the flaks have their way with you.  This interview wasn’t live to air—ESPN had the time, and every right, to edit it as they saw fit before airing it, or not to air the damn thing at all if they determined that it wasn’t newsworthy.  What they aired was an embarrassment…or should be.

And then I think about Newt Gingrich, and the traction he’s getting complaining about presumptuous reporters asking uncomfortable questions during campaign debates.  (Jack Shafer takes him to task for pouting and blaming journalists.)  Gingrich is smart enough to know that asking hard questions is what reporters are supposed to do, and also smart enough to know that a lot of people will find him brave for “standing up to” the hated left wing liberal news media.

Remember, most people don’t see any substantive difference between the reporters covering the candidates for president and the reporters covering high school football.  When those people see that “the media” is willing to surrender control of the content of an interview and allow a pro football quarterback to hawk a promotion put on by his sports drink company but conspicuously refuse to answer any question of substance, we shouldn’t be surprised when they think it’s inappropriate “gotcha” journalism for reporters to ask a pointed question of a candidate for president.  And we sure as hell shouldn’t be surprised when the candidate exploits those feelings for his own benefit.

Thank you, Worldwide Leader, for your contribution to journalism education—the bad example.