Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Christie, Obama demonstrate true leadership in the face of adversity

Looking beyond partisan divide, NJ Gov and POTUS work to aid those in need

The true measure of leadership sometimes takes you in directions you'd never imagine possible.

Case in point: Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a run-of-the-mill conservative in today's hyper-partisan Republican Party, has certainly surprised many by working side-by-side with President Barack Obama. The two have surveyed the damage of Hurricane Sandy, have discussed and begun implementing plans for recovery, all while both being on the exact opposite sides of the political spectrum.

In truth, we shouldn't really be that surprised, given the nature of both men's jobs. What's expected of both of them in their respective offices is to work together during such travesty, to get people's lives back on track.

Yet in a year that saw the nation nearly stumble into a second recession due to partisan politics, with conservatives on the right refusing for a time to increase the debt limit, it wouldn't have been too surprising to have seen Gov. Christie refuse to acknowledge Obama's presence in his state at all, especially during the final week of the presidential campaign season where Christie's ally, GOP nominee Mitt Romney, could capitalize.

Credit is due to both Obama and Christie. The two saw past the hyper-partisan atmosphere of today's political climate, saw the events taking place before them as more than mere opportunities to enhance their respective images, and instead put aside their differences to work together for a common good.

As a supporter, I didn't expect anything different from President Obama. He has, time-and-time again, tried to reach out to his opponents on the right, rejecting the extremism from Tea Partiers but hinting he'd acquiesce to some ideas from conservatives as long as they made sense.

I'm touched and humbled, however, by the cooperative spirit of Chris Christie, who became one of the most ardent opponents of President Obama during his rise to governor of the state of New Jersey. It's quite inspiring to see that Christie, who once criticized the president as presiding over an "era of absentee leadership in the Oval Office," is recognizing Obama's commitment in ways that go beyond what's expected of him, openly thanking him and giving him props for his leadership during this challenging time.

This isn't just a moment that legitimizes either man's political career; this isn't an event that, whether it's Obama in 2012 or Christie in 2016, will propel either man to greater things in the future. Rather, this moment gives us reason to hope once again, as the president urged us to do in 2008, for a better America overall, for Democrats, Republicans, and all others.

For I, like so many Americans, still hope for a day when we can put partisan divide behind us. Substantive arguments that debate the merits of this or that method of governance is one thing; it's an entirely different can of worms when sides refuse to even sit across from one another to open dialogues.

The Christie-Obama relationship that has blossomed as a result of this catastrophe gives us reason to believe that we can rise above the mess of partisanship. It shouldn't have taken a natural disaster for this to have happened. But nevertheless, there's still reason to celebrate the fact that, even during the toughest of times involving the harshest of divides in our nation's history, some fundamental truths can still be recognized by both right and left.

Gov. Christie and President Obama get it. No matter how distant we are in ideologies, when people are hurting, when disaster strikes, we cannot allow our differences to cause even more hurt in the lives of those in need.

It's one of the reasons why I support Barack Obama for president. But it's also a reason why I have new-found respect for Chris Christie.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Paul Ryan's "charity work" a clear example of GOP smoke and mirrors act

Both Romney and Ryan attempt to deceive the American people

Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan visited an Ohio soup kitchen this weekend, where he made time to wash dishes for a photo op on the campaign trail.

The problem with this particular photo op, however, was that it was entirely staged: Ryan didn't even do anything, didn't perform a service of any kind, because the dishes he washed were already clean.

As if that weren't bad enough, Ryan was apparently an unwelcomed guest in the kitchen. According to the president of the Mahoning County St. Vincent De Paul, the vp candidate "ramrodded" his way into the kitchen, violating the standards the organization has for political activities in its facilities:

Brian J. Antal...said that he was not contacted by the Romney campaign ahead of the Saturday morning visit by Ryan, who stopped by the soup kitchen after a town hall at Youngstown State University.

"We're a faith-based organization; we are apolitical because the majority of our funding is from private donations," Antal said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. "It’s strictly in our bylaws not to do it. They showed up there, and they did not have permission..."

He added: "The photo-op they did wasn’t even accurate. He did nothing. He just came in here to get his picture taken at the dining hall."
Emphases added.

Ryan's presence could also potentially cause damage to the mission of the charity as well:
[Antal] noted that the soup kitchen relies on funding from private individuals who might reconsider their support if it appears that the charity is favoring one political candidate over another. "I can’t afford to lose funding from these private individuals," he said. "If this was the Democrats, I’d have the same exact problem."
But Paul Ryan's impromptu performance at a soup kitchen (conveniently located in the most important swing state in the nation) wasn't just a flop -- it's also indicative of a greater problem within the Republican Party's presidential ticket. Whether it's talking about how horrible the economy remains under Barack Obama (while leaving out how terrible a condition it was when handed over to him), or erroneously describing Medicare savings through Obamacare as a "cut" towards current seniors' benefits, both Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have attempted several times to throw the wool over the collective eyes of every American citizen.

There's still plenty left unknown about the GOP ticket -- for example, they say they can cut taxes for the rich and keep the debt down, but refuse to tell us how. When called out on it, they play the denial card, calling their critics liars but still supplying little-to-no information on the subject.

Americans deserve to know more about their potential leaders, about how they intend to govern the nation and what plans and specifics they will attempt to put into law. We've already received that courtesy from President Obama -- there's no doubt, whether you like him or not, that most Americans know where he stands on the issues; and where confusion does occur, it's not the fault of the president but rather due to confusion conjured up by those who oppose him.

But from the Republican ticket, we're still unsure of where Romney and Ryan stand on certain items. Indeed, when a presidential candidate can switch his positions on an issue of great controversy within a 24 hour period of time, it makes it difficult to understand with great clarity what his positions will be once sworn in.

That isn't to say that a candidate can't change their mind on issues; that's an entirely different can of worms altogether. But shifting your stance on an issue to satisfy the audience you happen to be standing in front of, and then doing so again later on in the day...what sort of candidate is that? Certainly, not one of great integrity.

The Republican ticket is employing a campaign strategy of smoke and mirrors. With Paul Ryan, we see a candidate who is trying to appear more humane, but fails to do even that with his fake work washing dishes; and with Mitt Romney, we see a presidential candidate who is trying to appease everyone all at once, taking several stances on issues when all we need is just one, definitive answer.

Either way, the Romney-Ryan ticket is trying to deceive us all into believing they're two men who stand alongside the people. In reality, they stand directly in contrast with real Americans, promoting the very policies that put us in an economic mess to begin with. No amount of tom-foolery, no clean dishes washed or false advertizing, should cause us to be forgetful of that fact.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Biden won the debate

Conservatives' tone shows focus has shifted Democratically

It may be two days late, but some analysis on the vice presidential debate is certainly warranted.

We're continuously asked to consider who "wins" debates, no matter what election year it is. Such analyses tend to miss the big picture -- such as, even when you win a debate, it can be done due to appearance rather than substance -- but regardless of such reservations, it remains important to consider who had the better points, and who came out on top overall.

In the first presidential debate, Gov. Mitt Romney appeared to overpower President Barack Obama in terms of his oratory skills. But looking at the debate itself, it's clear that, though he didn't appear to win, Obama stuck to the facts much more than Romney did. If one has to resort to telling a multitude of lies to win a debate, then in the long-run it could prove to be more beneficial for the "loser." Indeed, the following day Barack Obama was on the campaign stump touting his rivals misdeeds, and had a campaign commercial highlighting Romney's lies from the evening prior.

In terms of the vice presidential debate, however, I'd have to say that Vice President Joe Biden out-did Rep. Paul Ryan on a number of issues surrounding the event. First, in terms of energizing the base, Biden certainly woke up liberals across the country. Following a dismal performance (but again, more factually accurate) by Obama, Biden needed to do this more than anything. And he did -- Twitter and Facebook feeds across the nation have lit up with Biden "memes," as well as anti-Ryan images poking fun at recent images he posed for with Time Magazine.

Second, Biden did the exact opposite -- he had the conservatives on the defensive. Both candidates performed equally as well in terms of the bases of both. That is to say, conservatives with Ryan as well as liberals with Biden could both be considered satisfactory with respect to their ideological allies.

But Biden's performance more than infuse electricity in the liberal base -- it did so in the conservative side as well. Criticisms of Biden's performance from Thursday night varied, but for the most those on the right were more concerned with his behavior, focusing on his smiling and his interjections rather than his substance.

Meanwhile, their defense of Ryan's performance has been minimal, even when it's been shown that he told a multitude of lies. Put another way, conservatives were in attack mode, while liberals were celebrating. The end result was a promotion of one candidate (Biden) versus significant criticism of another (Ryan).

In the long-term, the debate won't determine who will win the least when it comes to policy. But the liberal base, newly energized, is ecstatic with Biden's performance. Conservatives, meanwhile, are equally ecstatic, but have focused much of their attention towards meaningless critiques of Biden, shifting the overall focus towards the Democratic Party's nominees in the mainstream.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Unemployment rate down, helping Obama

7.8 rate lowest since Obama took office

The Bureau of Labor statistics released jobs data today (PDF) that will without a doubt help President Barack Obama on the election trail during the final weeks of the 2012 campaign.

The U.S. unemployment rate is down three-tenths of a percent, to 7.8 percent, the first time it's been below 8 percent since President Obama took office. 114,000 net jobs were added in September, which isn't a significant margin. However, delving into the data a little bit more reveals that Obama's economic recovery, though slow, is indeed a reality.

For example, the number of individuals who have been unemployed for more than 27 weeks (6-7 months) went down by 189,000 from August to September. Year-to-year, from September 2011 to now, that number has decreased by 1.35 million. The number of short-term unemployed persons also went down: the number of unemployed for less than five weeks has decreased by more than 300,000 individuals from August to September.

These two stats (long-term and short-term unemployment), taken together, suggest it's easier to find work if you lose it.

There are undoubtedly going to be critics who will argue that the overall unemployment rate went down this month due to workers giving up. However, there's good news on that front as well: the number of "discouraged workers" went down by 44,000, and those "marginally attached" to the labor force went down by a similar measure.

The change in unemployment won't be a significant game-changer in this election. And while the numbers are improvements to previous data, it's going at a pace that's considerably slower than most Americans want at this point. Still, President Obama has a serious advantage here. When he talks about his record on jobs, he can say he has a net growth after inheriting one of the worst economies our nation has ever seen from his predecessor. When it comes to the unemployment rate, he can say he brought it back to levels from before he took office.

Mitt Romney will have a difficult time attacking that record. At best, he can say that growth is going too slow -- yet Obama can counter even that attack, stating that he achieved this feat even with a filibuster-crazy Republican Senate caucus in 2009 and 2010, and a completely oppositional Republican-led Congress in 2011 and 2012, which was hellbent on obstructing any improvements to the economy if it meant Obama would get some credit.

For the next few weeks, at least on jobs, Obama is in a strong place to control the debate.