A quick scan of political news seems to turn up the names of two people these days. One is Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) which is not that surprising. Congressman Ryan is the GOP point man on the budget issue and the major political battles going on right now are all about the budget. You would expect him to be out in front arguing the Republican side. The other person is more surprising. It is common to see him on TV and in the news, but not usually political news. He is Donald Trump, he fires people once a week for a hefty paycheck. The question is, just what the hell is Donald Trump doing on news/political TV. Apparently, he is seriously considering running for President, and his major issue seems to be that the President may not be a citizen. That’s right, Trump has put the “birther” movement back on the table and he’s pushing it hard.
If it were just Trump, I wouldn’t be here typing this. Donald Trump can run around playing presidential candidate and I really don’t care, but it’s not just him. Michele Bachmann mentioned that she would make her birth certificate public if she decided to run. She’s from Minnesota. If you are from Minnesota, North Dakota, or Wisconsin you don’t need a birth certificate. Just talk a little. As long as you don’t say, “aye” after everything we believe you’re American. If it were just Rep. Bachmann, I might not worry too much. Then at CPAC this year I saw a clip of Mitt Romney making a joke about his birth certificate. Mitt Romney is the Republican front-runner. This things got some staying power, and Republicans are trying to ride it to the White House. In fact, a recent poll showed Romney in first with Trump tied for second.
I could go on at length about the birther issue. I could talk about “certificates of live birth” vs. “certifications of live birth,” both of which fit under the umbrella term “birth certificate.” I’m not going to because I firmly believe that people are on one side or the other of this issue and nothing is changing people’s minds.
What’s more important is the rhetoric people are using. If you were to ask Mitt Romney if the President was a citizen he would say yes, but in front of a very conservative crowd he’s willing to fan the flame. What these people say matters, and they seem willing to push their words to the point of insanity if it will help them win. Sarah Palin is a master of this, and it’s why she has an ardent group of supporters. They may not be a huge block of people but they are very strong in their support. They are a group that truly buys into the things she says even if they don’t really make sense. It those kind of people who destroyed town hall meetings on healthcare. By dropping terms like “death panels” and “healthcare rationing” politicians like Palin were able to enrage the people who believe anything they say. So rather than having an honest open debate about healthcare, we had angry white people screaming at the President, and the HHS Secretary and so forth. We have to demand more. We cannot sit back and allow the blatant hyperbole. When Newt Gingrich goes on TV and says America is headed toward, “a secular nation, perhaps one run by Islamist Fundamentalists,” More people need to call him on that. We are a secular nation. We have no national religion, and what crazy muslim terrorist are you going to find who would run one? That statement probably helped him. It uses all the right terms to appeal to a white, conservative, Christian. Those are people he’s going to need if he wants the Republican nomination. Apparently, he doesn’t care if he sounds insane. Listening to NPR during the labor protests in Wisconsin, I heard a woman describe the protesters as, “willful idiots in the Communist agenda.” What Communist agenda!?!? Twenty years after we won the Cold War, and there are still people out there who think the President is a Communist and he’s renaming Dupont Circle after Stalin. Republicans are using the old standard tactic. If you want to win an election take an issue. Make people afraid of it, and tell them whose to blame for it. So they brought out death panels, terrorists and communists, and it’s all Obama’s fault. Oh and he’s not really a citizen by the way.
I bet that the closer we get to the 2012 election we’re going to start hearing about how important it is. I would put money on the table that we will hear that this election is a fight for America’s future. It’s the most important election of our lifetimes. They will play it up to make people think if Obama wins this election on Jan. 20, 2013 he’s going to pull out the launch codes and shoot nuclear missiles at all the red states. This election isn’t the most important in our lives. I would argue that the election in 2000 was the most important one I’ve lived through. It was one of the few times in American history that the succession of the Presidency was unclear. Also every election is a fight for America’s future. We’re picking the people who run the country. This one will be no different.
What needs to be different is the tone. With all the money going into advertising by special interests the tone is unlikely to change. Politicians have to start really talking about the serious issues. That is the biggest threat to the US in the long term. We cannot continue to allow politicians to push rhetoric to the fringe of reality. We have to expect more. Politicians will always focus on what gets them elected. It is our job to be more engaged in the public debate. We have to hold them accountable for what they say. If we do that they will start saying different things. Hopefully, we could have a more honest and open election. Unfortunately, I, and I’m guessing you also, will believe it when I see it.