Government Power: “We Must Be Competent if We Appear Competent”

Is it just me, or has something been happening to the manner in which our American governmental officials project themselves into our lives?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in history and attuned to the goings on of government representatives.  Everything human fascinates me:  religion, politics, society, culture, philosophy.

Still vivid in my mind is the memory of my father attempting to take a photograph of an image on our black-and-white television when I was three years old.  It was the funeral of President John F. Kennedy.  I also remember as a twelve-year-old kid that I was glued to the television in 1972 when Richard M. Nixon accepted the nomination of the Republican party for his second term in office (an election which he won with a landslide).  Not long afterward, Nixon would leave office disgraced.  Since that time our highest officials have gotten better at hiding their hijinks and deflecting inquiries into their shady political dealings.

For too many politicians on both sides of the aisle, reality is what they tell us it is.  We’re manipulated for their gain.  My own congressman is a suitable example.  As a candidate in the Republican primary that would eventually lead to his election to the 4th Congressional District in 2010, Steven Palazzo blatantly lied about his opponent, Joe Tegerdine.  When confronted on camera about the matter, he made it clear that it was just “politics as usual.”

In describing these dangerous antics, I used the word “hijinks,” but that word isn’t accurate.  “Hijinks” imples some sort of light-hearted, perhaps troublesome fun.  There is nothing fun about what’s being done to the American people these days except perhaps for the well-paid, powerful elites who realize just how successful their games have been and continue to be.  It’s great work if you can get it.

And while American officials have always been good at projecting power, during the current presidential administration, a new emphasis has been added that chilled me to my core from even before Barack Obama took office.  In June of 2008, Obama spoke to Democratic governors.  Pasted to his podium was a reproduction of the presidential seal remade for Obama.  His campaign used the image only once, but one has to wonderful if that was the plan from the beginning or if they took too much heat for the candidate’s sense of elitism.

The trend returned when candidate Obama became President-Elect Obama.  From his first post-election news conference his staff festooned the podium with an official-looking sign proclaiming Obama’s new anointing as the nation’s next president.  According to one blogger who quotes the United States Code, the act may have been illegal.  Does anyone else remember the days when the most powerful man in the world sat at a simple desk to speak to the American people?  Back then, the nation’s “first citizen” didn’t seem to need the trappings of power to legitimize his voice.  He didn’t need larger and more impressive governmental symbols to remind us of his power.

It’s one thing to have a backdrop clarifying who the speaker is, or what office they represent.  It’s another thing altogether to put the emphasis on the person.  Such a move is a subtle shift that says not who the person is so much as it emphasizes the power the person wields.  Look at the picture of Obama’s campaign “seal.”  Compare the size of the semi-official presidential image on front of the podium to the man standing behind it.  To my mind this image doesn’t speak of someone who wishes to help or to serve, but of an excessive ego bent on control.

These efforts have continued in numerous ways.  Early in the Obama campaign, artwork featuring the candidate was unveiled that closely followed a style that previously had been seen mostly in one-party regimes throughout the world, often associated with communism.  Children sang the candidate’s name–and later, as president, he was sung and chanted about again and with even more enthusiasm.  Symbols of the American nation were appropriated and changed in ways suggesting that to be American meant to be an Obama supporter.  Or was it meant to tell us that Obama is America?  It’s hard to tell.

It’s easy to dismiss my concerns by pointing out the fact that candidates for office have long used the nation’s flag and its cultural and historic values for their own success.  I understand that candidates must make some identification between themselves and the nation’s values in order to gain the confidence of a voting constituency.  But just how far is too far?  At what point do candidates begin to look excessively authoritarian?  How far will this trend go?  What does their use of authoritarian symbols tell us about how they will actually use their power and extend their control?

All of my adult life I remember the press conferences and announcements made by the Federal Reserve Chairman.  Whomever it was at the time, he was always dressed in a suit, looking like a typical business person, speaking in an environment that looked like a typical banker’s office or speaking before Congress.  Take a look at the picture that marks the beginning of this blog post.  Ben Bernanke is nothing more than chairman of the federal government’s central bank.  He’s an unelected official, so why these days is he featured in such a way that he looks like a two-bit South American dictator?  Is this his way of reminding us that he has nearly unlimited amounts of power when it comes to monetary policy?  What’s next for our federal officials?  Will they begin to wear ornate sashes and medallions?  Will they adopt military-style uniforms?

Call me an alarmist if you wish.  Write me off.  Forget this blog.  Ignore me.  But before you do so, ask yourself if we’ve turned a corner in the development of our national ideas about the power and prestige of those who serve in government (elected and unelected).  Is it possible we’ve adopted a trend that needs to be changed?  Are our problems so vast that we seek lords instead of leaders?  Are we a new generation of serfs, allowed by our government to keep a bit of what we earn but robbed of the rest so the elected among us can buy votes?  Must we continue to be the victims of corporatist and political elites who move back and forth between the halls of power and the offices of large corporations?

Philosophically speaking, what does the use of these symbols mean?  What is the message being sent to us by our leaders?  Are these people truly wise?  Are they competent?  Or is it just a fact that because they have power–and the symbols of power–they project an image of competence whether they’re truly competent or not?

As they like to say at the jam company, “with a name like Smuckers it has to be good.”  Perhaps something similar is going on here:  “With all these flags and symbols of authority, we must be doing what’s right.”  To believe that, we voters have to ignore the economy, along with a growing tide of voices suggesting that more economic suffering lies ahead due to irresponsble fiscal policies.  We’ll also have to ignore the violence surging all around our embassies and consulates.  And, of course, we’ll have to ignore one dead American ambassador.

Of course, if enough of us are being bought off with promises of more governmental assistance we just might be willing to ignore everything else.  Oops.  Now I’ve written something unreasonable.  As the “mainstream” media has recently pointed out with its coverage of the Romney campaign, speaking unpopular truths only brings derision.

I have written before that Americans are beginning to wake up.  But are we waking quickly enough to save ourselves?  I am but one voice.  The answer to these questions belongs not to me, but to us all.

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Governing By Appearances and Sound Bites

Obama the Conqueror has gone to Afghanistan, spoken to the troops, and presented medals.  Most importantly, he has addressed the American people from Afghanistan, standing before camouflaged war equipment festooned with the Stars and Stripes.  The primary goal of this multi-million-dollar trip, however, was not the agreement with the Afghan government–it was the re-election of Barack Obama.  As his so-called “moderate” supporters abandon him in droves, he needs to shore up that component of his electorate by appearing to be strong in defense and international issues.

If you doubt my interpretation of events, I challenge you simply to look at the context.  Just prior to the trip to Afghanistan, the Obama campaign went into high gear in its attacks against Mitt Romney, who is all but anointed at this point by the GOP as Obama’s opponent.  The campaign released an ad featuring no less than the lecherous Bill Clinton singing the praises of Obama’s bravery in authorizing the taking down of Osama bin Laden a year ago.  As Clinton would have us believe, Obama’s love of country led him to risk his political strength in ordering the assault by Navy Seal-Team 6.  “You hire the President to make the calls when no one else can do it.”  Clinton should know.  After all, he made the call to destroy an aspirin factory during his own term of office–presumably to prevent the members of al-Quaeda from finding the headache relief they undoubtedly need.  In addition, the Obama campaign has insinuated that as President, Romney would not have made the decision to take down bin Laden. (The same type of tactic was condemned by the Obama team when it was tried by Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primary race against Obama–remember Hillary’s ad about the phone call at 3:00 am?)

If you want to understand what’s going on, you can see all of this as the sound of the campaign starting pistol for the November presidential election, at least as far as Barack Obama is concerned.  The most important thing between now and then will be the effects brought about by sound bites and appearances.  Obama is a good leader because he looks like a good leader.  He’s strong on defense because he flew a long way to look strong, and because he addressed the nation in front of camouflaged vehicles.  Facts are less important than appearances.  As voters step into the voting booth in November, he wants them to take his preferred sound bites and appearances with them.

But let’s not kid ourselves.  This tactic gets a great deal of play in the Republican party as well.  A perfect example would be that of my own congressman, Steven Palazzo (of the 4th Congressional District of Mississippi).  About a month ago he showed up at Sumrall High School to tell those in attendance that the nation has a spending problem.  Sounding like a member of the Tea Party, he boldly proclaimed that “we are not in a revenue crisis.  We are in a debt crisis.”  He’s another politician counting on us to forget, hoping to gain our vote by shallow appearances and sound bites.  The fact is that Mr. Palazzo is a big-spending supporter of Speaker John Boehner; their votes and the votes of moderate Republicans have helped to give us the debt problem Palazzo now uses to preach fiscal responsibility.  What an odd turn of events!

On August 1, 2011, Palazzo voted to raise the debt limit.  He has consistently misrepresented his vote as a vote for “the largest spending cut in American history” that takes a “blank check” away from President Obama and the radical wing of the Democratic Party.  In reality, the Republicans who cooperated with this rise in the debt ceiling did nothing more than secure a very small decrease in the growth of future spending.  The passage of this dangerous bill—with majority Republican support—immediately accomplished two things:  it resulted in a lowering of the nation’s credit evaluation by Standard and Poor’s Rating Services and it turned on another spigot of cash that can be diverted to top supporters of the agenda of the Democratic Party.  On September 21, 2011, Rep. Palazzo voted for the Continuing Appropriations Resolution to fund the federal government through November at a level $24 billion higher than the previously passed budget offered by more conservative members of the House.  Twice in February of 2011 he voted to increase federal spending.

Clearly, dear reader, political gamesmanship is a skill that is widely exercised on both sides of the aisle.  Democrat or Republican, wouldn’t it be nice to have a politician who believes less in games and appearances and more in statesmanship?  Wouldn’t it be refreshing to have a representative who speaks plainly and honestly?  Wouldn’t it be nice to choose our elected officials because we have heard them speak their minds truthfully and we know how they will vote on particular matters like spending?  And wouldn’t it be a blessing if they actually did what they promised?

The politics of honesty.  One can only imagine.

Dick Durbin Does the Democrat Two-Step for Barack Obama

I happened to catch a bit of an interview this morning with Dick Durbin on CBS This Morning.  “Trickie Dickie” is the senior senator from Illinois, the bastion of political purity and honesty.  (OK, now I’ll take my tongue out of my cheek.)  Dick is also the Senate Majority Whip, responsible for keeping Democrats in line with the marching orders issued by Harry Reid and Barack Obama.

Let’s face it:  Democrats have long been better at the political game than Republicans.  I’ve been a Democrat and I know that from the inside.  As a master politician and an avoider of truth, Dick did such a good job of peddling dishonesty this morning that I quickly lost my appetite and I failed to eat breakfast.  Here are a couple of gems from his commentary.

He lashed out at Paul Ryan (R-WI) for his budget-cutting plan entitled A Roadmap for America’s Future.  In my estimation, it should be entitled A Different Roadmap for America’s Future because the Obama regime already has a map and it includes a sharp decline as the nation goes over a financial cliff.  That being said, there is much in the Ryan plan that is admirable.  But Durbin criticized it for its lack of balance.  You know the complaint:  Republicans don’t want to increase taxes. 

What Durbin failed to say is that the solution must be proportionate to the problem.  The nation does not have an income problem … what we have is a spending problem.  This is precisely why the Democrat-controlled Senate, under Harry Reid’s frightening and irresponsible leadership, refuses to pass a budget (it’s been more than 1,060 days).  Any realistic budget will have to make cuts, and cuts always anger somebody.  So the Senate dodges the problem in order to give the Democrats an edge in the next election (Obama included).

Honestly, when it comes to taxes, I understand that they’re necessary.  Any community of persons that spends as a corporate body must have a system for the financing of community interests.  What we have now, however, isn’t healthy.  Spending choices have more to do with keeping large blocks of voters happy so that politicians can be re-elected.  It’s dangerous.  It will be the end of the nation as we know it.  As we move rapidly toward socialism it will mean less wealth for most of us, but more for the powerful elites in office and more for their cronies in industry and in Hollywood.

Durbin really showed his dancing abilities when the CBS interviewer asked about gas prices.  In line with the Obama mantra, he talked about alternative fuels and efficiency.  That’s all fine and good, but it’s tough to pay almost $4.00 a gallon for gasoline while you’re driving on top of enough underground resources to provide fuel for the next 100 years.  Oh, Durbin also got a chance to get to mention the re-election line that is destined to go down in history:  Obama can fix all our problems if we just give him another term.

God help us if this becomes the case.  I suspect that the 2012 election is our last chance to slow the economic blood-letting.  Make no mistake, dear reader, the election of Mitt Romney (which I predict will take place) will not change our course dramatically.  But it will slow the economic death march on which we’ve embarked.  What I fear, however, is that it’s too late to avoid some of the most difficult consequences of our past mistakes.  If the economic chickens come home to re-roost after we put a Republican in the White House, the popular tide may change again and we may quickly return to Democrat control of Congress and the Presidency.

An honest plan of real cuts to spending is our only hope.  It’s not enough to talk about cuts to future growth in spending–we need cuts now.  Many Republicans are afraid to say it, and this includes my own congressman, Steven Palazzo (R-MS).  He calls himself a conservative and certainly appears on track to be re-elected now that he has taken the Republican primary victory.  Compared to Obama he is a conservative.  In the court of common sense and national salvation … not so much.

I suppose such realities are the reason that I voted for Ron Paul in the Mississippi presidential primary.  I still harbor concerns about his foreign policy.  He’s not a perfect candidate; none of them are perfect.  But I suspect that Paul’s sense of urgency is so overwhelming that he would make immediate changes upon assuming office.  Those changes would be much like a U-turn on the interstate.  One way or the other our Ship of State has to come about.  At some point the plug in the tub will pop and the ship will sink if we remain on our present course.

Friends warned me that a vote for Paul was a wasted vote.  Perhaps.  But it sends a signal.  Nearly 13,000 of us in Mississippi cast our vote for Ron Paul.  I think we’re trying to send a message:  “it’s time to change course.”  With every passing day I am more confident that my prediction of a Romney nomination will come to pass, but signs of disappointment abound.  Illinois Republicans turned out in very low numbers.  They are not excited about Romney.  Interestly, though, Ron Paul received twice as large a percentage of the vote in Illinois as he did in Mississippi.

Our nation is at a “hinge moment” in its history.  Let’s follow the course over the next few months and let’s remember to pray for our country.  Feel free to offer your own comments on this blog, even if you disagree.  I don’t have all the answers.  Please invite your friends to join us here as well.  I suspect we’re going to be surprised by some of the things that take place between now and November.  We need a place for reasoned debate on the significance of those events.

Remember the Vote to Increase the Debt Ceiling in August? It’s “The Gift That Keeps on Giving”

In a move that seems destined to add insult to outrage, President Obama is about to get another $1.2 Trillion increase in the already outrageous debt ceiling.  Who helped him make this possible?  Speaker John Boehner and the majority of the GOP, including my senators (Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker) and my representative (Steven Palazzo).

As reported by Reuters, the President will ask for this increase by the end of this week.  And he’ll likely get it because the debt deal that was reached back in August gave him the authority for further increases that are automatic unless Congress specifically votes against them.  Where is Congress?  On Christmas break, of course.

If Boehner, Cochran, Wicker, and Palazzo are conservatives–as they constantly claim they are–they’ll insist that Congress return immediately to deny this request.  That won’t happen, dear reader, so ask yourself why.  Then go back to your dictionary and check on the definition of “conservative.”

Conservatism’s Greatest Enemy: It’s Not Who You Think!

If conservatives in our country are feeling overlooked, they have a right to it.  They are overlooked, even though they make up the majority of citizens.  The liberals in Washington DC have done such an effective job of framing political debate that it hasn’t been between liberals and conservatives for a long, long time.  Instead, it has been a debate between liberals and moderates.  I’m speaking generally, of course.  There are exceptions but they are few and far between.  (Whatever your thoughts may be on Ron Paul, at least he’s speaking honestly about the excessive size, scope, and cost of government.)

If the GOP would reclaim its conservative roots, take control of the reigns of political discourse, and refuse the liberal Democrat agenda that is so forcefully argued as supposedly “mainstream,” Republican victories could be guaranteed for years to come.  Since most of us think of ourselves as right of center (and in the South this includes many Democrats), that means that most of us these days feel like the “red-headed stepchildren” who don’t quite fit in with the family.

Of course, lots of Republican candidates run on so-called “conservative” principles.  That’s the rub, really.  GOP candidates know that most of us are conservative, so they happpily adopt the label.  But once they get into office their conservativism fades.  Like the Greek mythological character Icarus, they fly into power with conservative wings but once elected they get too close to the sun, the wax of their wings melts away, and they become bland moderates.

Congressman Stephen Palazzo (MS-4) is a perfect example.  It’s not difficult to find online videos of Palazzo touting his conservative credentials.  In these videos he uses the word over and over and over.  He beat Gene Taylor after ten terms because he convinced the people of South Mississippi that he’s most conservative than Taylor. 

Honestly, I’m not so sure.  The most recent correspondence from Palazzo’s office has me shaking my head in disbelief. 

I recently sent an email to the representative expressing my concern about HR 3261, the nice-sounding bill called the “Stop Online Piracy Act.”  (Even the name of the bill is intended to fool the public, but that’s a debate for later.)  The bill will place such difficulties upon companies hosting websites that it’s bound to have a chilling effect upon free speech.  International treaties and national laws already provide sufficient protection to prevent online piracy by requiring someone to remove any content that an owner discovers to be used without permission.  The owner simply makes the demand and the site must remove the content.  If there is contention or disagreement involved, that’s why we have courts.

My email to Congressman Palazzo expressed my fears for free speech if the more difficult requirements of the proposed law are enacted.  In essence, because the policing requirements will be excessive, it is expected that online hosts will simply stop allowing certain types of posts–most surely putting a damper on political speech.

What was Mr. Palazzo’s reply to my grave concern?   It may truly be the most sterile, non-commital commentary of all time.  In a nutshell, it says “we’re still talking about this but we’ll keep your concerns in mind.”

Huh? 

This is not the reply of a conservative.  This is the reply of a wishy-washy moderate who hopes to keep everyone happy.  It exemplifies exactly what’s wrong with the majority of elected officials in the Republican Party.

Guys of gals of the GOP, for goodness sake, and for the sake of the surivival of our Republic, take a stand!  Stop with the threats upon free speech.  Put an end to the earmarks.  Take a stand against excessive regulations that are overburdening us and destroying our economic vitality. 

I’d like to see Speaker Boehner put the entire House GOP in a room where they would craft the most energetic, conservative, liberty-minded agenda the nation has seen in a hundred years.  Our federal government is bleeding us dry and what it pirates from private citizens and businesses it funnels to those who can provide large voter blocks.  It’s going to be the death of a nation.

I’m exhausted by bland.  I’m tired of Speaker Boehner and I’m tired of Rep. Palazzo.  I’m tired of politicians who tell me what they think I want to hear.  I’m tired of wondering why we can’t do better.  And on the horizon I’m not sure that I see much better coming my way in the 2012 presidential election.

Printing All the Political News That’s … Been Around a While?

 In an article published today, the Sun Herald demonstrates why print media either has to change or go the way of the dinosaur.  One of its front-page articles is entitled “Potential Palazzo Challengers Lining Up.”  Written by Geoff Pender, it’s hardly worth front-page status since it reports absolutely nothing that is new.  Everything in the article is a rehash of what’s been around the blogosphere for weeks.  In addition, the title is misleading in its claim that challengers are lining up.  It reports only a list of those who are “pondering” a run against Rep. Steven Palazzo.  In other words, at this point they are just potential challengers. 

All of the contenders listed by Pender are among the well-known players of their respective parties:  Democrat Gene Taylor (former ten-term congressman), Republican Michael Watson (state senator for District 51), and Republican Brian Sanderson (a coast businessman who helped lead Gov. Barbour’s  post-Katrina recovery and whose wife is a policy director for the governor).

There is no mention of the other names that have been circulating in the 4th Congressional District, nor is there any substantive analysis of what must be happening in the ranks of the GOP leadership that would allow “big names” in the party to consider a primary challenge to Palazzo.  Has he become an embarrassment to the Republicans?  Has it become that obvious that he has been advanced beyond his abilities? 

To his credit Pender does list the issues that are causing dismay among Palazzo’s constituents and he did interview representatives of the Tea Party who are rightfully disgusted by the freshman representative’s record since his election in 2010.

According to the article, Palazzo stated recently that “overwhelmingly the people sent me up here to be responsible” and “level-headed.  They didn’t send me up here to be reckless, dangerous, to shut the government down or to default on the national debt.”  Yet, as genuine conservaties would have it, he’s done exactly what he says he hasn’t.  His support of the debt-ceiling increase was neither “responsible” nor “level-headed.”  True conservative leadership, which Palazzo claimed he would give us, would have refused a debt increase. 

Such a vote would have sent an immediate signal to his district and to the world that he was serious about bringing government spending under control.  Putting us deeper into debt was not an example of leadershipIt was an example of party loyalty.  As an assistant whip, Steven Palazzo fell in line behind Speaker Boehner and the rest of those Republican sheep who are assisting in the economic demise of a great nation. 

Essentially, their vote to raise the debt limit (August 1, 2011) accomplished two immediate things:  it brought about a reduction in the national credit rating from Standard and Poor’s Rating Services and it turned on another spigot of cash for the Democrat Party and its union allies.  Most disastrous of all, it moved Barack Obama one big step closer to re-election.

For a guy who is a CPA, Mr. Palazzo isn’t very good with numbers; he should rethink his comment to the Sun Herald about being voted into office “overwhelmingly.”  He only received about 5% more votes than Gene Taylor.  He has some election worries, to be sure.  Big worries.

Will Gene Taylor Challenge Steven Palazzo?

 Time to get local.  For awhile now I have heard rumors of a campaign sign or two going up for Democrat Gene Taylor.  He’s the former ten-term representative of Mississippi’s 4th Congressional District.  Well, yesterday afternoon I spotted one of his signs in downtown Ocean Springs (on Porter Avenue near Highway 90).  He was beaten in 2010 by newcomer Steven Palazzo.

Will Taylor run?  If he does, I speculate that he’ll be a major challenge to Steven Palazzo.  The level of dissatisfaction with Palazzo is palpable, even within his own Republican Party.  He quickly inserted himself into powerful and influential places in DC, but that’s what has proven to be the cause of his problems back home.  You see, Steven Palazzo is the assistant whip.  And he’s very proud of that.  Since his election I’ve had two letters from him.  Both make specific mention of his role as assistant whip.

In this role it’s his job to assist Speaker John Boehner in whipping the GOP members of the House into line for the big-government, big-spending Republican agenda.  And that’s the rub with many of us in Palazzo’s district.  He is an excellent representative for Boehner, but who is representing us?  How many more times will the Republicans in the House vote to increase spending? 

Palazzo beat Taylor by only 10,370 votes (according to the figures found on the website of the Mississippi Secretary of State). 

Gene Taylor is well liked in South Mississippi, but Palazzo tied him closely to Nancy Pelosi and the healthcare debacle.  Just a few months before the 2010 election I wrote Taylor and warned him that he’d better distance himself from Pelosi if he expected to keep his seat.  Palazzo outspent him and beat him.

Will South Mississippians return to Gene in 2012?  It wouldn’t be their first choice.  I believe a true conservative running in the Republican Primary in March could take the nomination from Palazzo and then handily beat Taylor.  It would take someone believable who is known to espouse genuinely constitutional values, someone practicing the politics of truth telling.  He or she must speak well and be able to argue clearly about why the power and expense of government must be rolled back.  We’ll watch and see what happens ….