Posts Tagged ‘president obama’


Romney’s Big Bird Problem

October 11, 2012
How to Save Money in today's Economy - Romney Style

Saving America’s Economy – Romney Style

Who didn’t chuckle when Romney said Big Bird at last weeks presidential debate? Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Tea Partier; no matter who you are, summoning an image of Big Bird makes you happy.  He’s yellow, feathery, rides a unicycle, sings and lives in a nest on Sesame Street. Baby Boomers raised their kids on him and we loved it. Kids still love him. Understandably then Romney’s spending cuts that threaten Big Bird’s livelihood have been met with alarm. The Obama camp promptly pounced on the opportunity to exploit Romney’s gaff with an ad this week.

And amidst all this Big Bird hoopla, I can’t help but wonder if European and Asian democracies are snickering at our squabbling politicians at the heels of an election. But then I realized, Big Bird commands this much political attention because he is a symbol of the American childhood experience. And when Romney so bluntly made axing him a pillar of his economic policy, it demonstrated his unintentional, but apparent lack of empathy for the public.

Most people may not have a problem with an argument to cut government subsidies to certain programs, but by specifying Big Bird, Romney just confirmed aloofness to the average American experience. Any politician may have made an argument for cuts to public spending but might not have singled out Big Bird and the very host who was moderating that debate. Romney however seems so convinced that his success in business necessarily will translate to all realms of politics that he seems to forget that what matters most to him (dollars and cents), is not what matters most to all Americans, all the time.

Even in this difficult economy, people may want more than a detached businessman in office, and justifiably so. Someone who sees public broadcasting as nothing more than a dollar figure that can be cut does not understand the cultural value it holds. An unadulterated business person without nuances to see the limitations of free market capitalism and rational actor model just does not seem like a good pick in an economy suffering a financial meltdown as a result of insufficiently checked private markets. And Romney’s Big Bird comment epitomized this imbalanced approach to not just economics, but America.

By extension, I think the reason women have had such a hard time with Romney is not just because of his right wing stance on hot button political issues including abortion and contraception, but because this lack of empathy is unnerving. Beyond a business man with aggressive economic success, I don’t know what this man stands for. It’s unnerving because according to classic economic and rational actor theory, maximizing profit are ideal objectives. So when Romney talks about cutting spending, it doesn’t matter how many American families actually feel  about public broadcasting, it doesn’t matter if Big Bird has come to symbolize a child’s happy, healthy world of learning and imagination. Rather, Romney’s gaff is a sincere commitment to the bottom line; dollars and cents. It’s a gaff because it inadvertently revealed a lack of empathy and economic arrogance.

Mitt Romney's Idea of Economic Reform

Mitt Romney’s Idea of Economic Reform

His Big Bird comment reminds me that a leader of this country needs to be more than just an accomplished professional, but also an empathetic person. It is still a unipolar world and the American President has a tremendous responsibility to this country and beyond. I think Americans are more nuanced than Mitt Romney, and no matter how much spin and politicking takes place from here on out, I hope we realize that this country represents more than a dollar figure.


Where Comedy & Intellect Coincide

October 29, 2010
No Question too Tough for Obama - The Daily Show with Jon Stewart : October 2010

No Question too Tough for Obama - The Daily Show with Jon Stewart : October 2010

I just remembered why I liked Barack Obama so much. His appearance on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart last night showcased the President at his best: intellectual, elegant, steadfast and most importantly: insightful.

Without divulging how I voted in the Democratic primaries or General Elections of 2008, I will admit to being skeptical of Obama’s static foreign policy agenda and also feeling apprehensive about his left of center public policy. Because with such immense charisma calling for sweeping change amidst sentiments of “hope”, (which gave him mass appeal, especially amongst my generation) actual substance of his promises on policymaking were left out.

For better or worse, realities of effective politicking in our commercial election culture denied us an opportunity for substantial debate. Ironically, that gap in information was filled last night not by a mainstream news outlet, but Comedy Central .

This morning though, the mainstream news outlets probably realized this and have been abuzz over the interview. The Christian Science Monitor questions: Did Mr. Obama take Jon Stewart to the cleaners?” In one word: Yeah. But with such questions abounding, apparently many of us expected otherwise. Stewart is so widely celebrated as a voice of younger generations; recall pundits taking swipes at him in 2008 citing “stoned slackers”  were his majority viewing demographic. But his impact is far greater than such talk suggests. The Daily Show has become a relatively legitimate cultural representation of political inquiry and dissent. While the material is sometimes crass, I’ve found that well informed members of the public actually pay attention to what is said on the program.

If Wikileaks is the mighty foreign affairs whistleblower of our time, the Daily Show is it’s naughty little brother, revealing less dramatic yet just as irrational and unacceptable public policy absurdities of the day.

To boot, Jon Stewart actually asks compelling questions on important issues that he sincerely seems concerned are not addressed by mainstream media. And he did this impeccably in interviewing the President yesterday. Decidedly subduing humor, Stewart was poised and firm. He questioned Obama a number of times on Democratic party infighting as symptomatic of a larger problem within our system of government:

“Is there a difference between what you ran on and what you delivered? You ran on, if I may, such “audacity”…yet legislatively it has felt timid at times. I’m not even sure at times, what you want out of a healthcare bill

Cheeky use of “audacity but the question was an honest, direct investigation of the American President keeping promises, complete with a serious suggestion that he has not. Undaunted and with characteristic level-headedness, Obama responded deftly by listing accomplishments of healthcare reform thus far:

–       30 million more Americans are to be insured

–       A new Patients Bill of Rights ensures carriers can’t cancel coverage when one is sick

–       Abolishes Lifetime Maximum’s on health policies

–       Children/Young adults have extended stay on parental coverage until age 26

–       All while cutting the deficit by 1 trillion + dollars

“This is what I think most people would say is as significant a piece of legislation as we’ve seen in this nations history. But what happens is it gets discounted because the presumption is we didn’t get 100% of what we wanted, we got 90% of what we wanted, so lets focus on the 10%. And right now there is a woman in New Hampshire who doesn’t have to sell her house to get her cancer treatments because of that healthcare bill. And she doesn’t think it’s inconsequential, or “timid”

It was one of the most substantial responses I’ve heard a politician say on television that I can remember. We’ve become so used to seeing political figures evade questions (in the few instances they are asked serious ones), ambiguously address issues, irrelevantly tout campaign slogans, and regurgitate party rhetoric. Obama did not resort to any of that. He steadily addressed each pressing question with facts followed by insight. The highlight and defining moment of the interview came when Stewart peppered the President with a third follow up inquiry on healthcare reform, insisting enough had not been done in line with campaign promises to which Obama responded:

“Look, if the point Jon is that overnight we did not transform the healthcare system, that point is true. When we promised during the campaign, change you can believe in, it wasn’t change you can believe in, in 18 months. It was change you can believe in, but you know what, you’re going to have to work for it”

Sold. It was witty, honest and directly answered the question: And he elaborated:

“When social security was passed, it applied to widows and orphans and it was a very restricted program, and overtime that structure that was built, ended up developing into the most important social safety net in our country. The same is true on every piece of progressive legislation. When the civil rights act passed, there were still folks down south who couldn’t vote, and I’m sure there were commentators who said this law is not doing the job, but the point was we had created a structure, we put a framework in place that allowed us to continue to make progress. That’s what we’ve done in the past 18 months, and that’s what we’ll keep on doing as long as I’m president of the United States”

Behold: Factual + insightful = solid answers the public deserves. And while we can complain about an apparently dismal state of affairs wherein cable comedy television is perhaps the most substantial access to political discourse we have, let us instead revel in this moment when our Commander in Chief authoritatively leads with intellect. Our hegemony deserves nothing less.


%d bloggers like this: