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I’ll admit it. I like firing people too, especially if they suck at what they do. So Mitt Romney, your comments don’t bother me.

Indeed, I agree that Romney’s comments–about enjoying the act of firing people–were taken out of context. But it’s really quite a stroke of luck for the GOP front-runner that few people are trying to square those comments with the actual context.

Yes, it is pink.

As everyone knows by now, Romney was talking about health insurance when he made his now-famous remarks.

The problem with health insurers is not that their customers can’t fire them (i.e., find better coverage at better prices). It’s that the insurers can simply refuse to do business with you in the first place, for example, if you are sick and urgently need an insurance company’s services. Or if you have been sick in the past and might need the company’s services again.

As a result, I doubt that a sick person who has a problem with an insurance company can realistically fire that company and hire a new one in its place.

Romney probably knows this. As governor of Massachusetts, he signed health care legislation designed to spare people from this problem. As president, Barack Obama did the same. Insurers agreed to cover all comers in return for the requirement that all people buy coverage–not just buy it when they’re sick.

I guess at some point in this contest we’ll get to that debate. But I’m not going to hold my breath. It might make me sick–and then I’d be the one on the firing line.

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I can’t believe this became news to me only this morning: Obama is a heretic. His alleged sin? Failure to believe in American exceptionalism.

The irony, already pointed out, is that he is no such thing. He just expresses his beliefs differently. Pity.

Dude, where's my country?

What this country needs is someone to point out the absurdity of the belief. Hello! People in every country believe their homeland has some special quality or mission.

For us, it happens to be our political system, which is increasingly indistinct from our economic system. Other countries are proud of their social safety nets, their excellent taste in wine, their clean, roomy prison systems, etc. No one is sitting around thinking, “Why can’t we merge our garden-variety nation with our cooler, more exceptional neighbor to the north/south/east/west?”

It takes courage to see the world as it is, not the way we imagine it to be. But it’s not the kind of courage we expect from a politician, liberal or conservative. But why shouldn’t we?

 

 

A lot, and we might go blind. So with that out of the way, I hope you enjoyed President Obama’s State of the Union speech.

Rock, paper...shredder!!!

What I love best are the critics who blast it as just words. Um, it was a speech. Of course it was just words. Did you expect Obama to pick up a hammer and start building that wall we want erected along the Mexican border? Or did you expect him to whip out some federal grant checks and run them through a shredder? “This is how serious I am about cutting spending!!!!”

His speech is just words. The response is just words. And all those people pointing out that Michelle Bachmann wasn’t looking at the camera? Words. What can we say? We’re in love with them.

 

So I’m waiting for someone to come up wth a convincing reason for me to care that not one House Republican voted for the economic stimulus bill this week.

Given the circumstances, it was practically a free vote and serves mostly as a Clinton-like refrain circa 1994: We’re still relevant. Take us seriously

The Senate is going to work its magic on the bill. It probably will look very little like the one that passed the House. So House members will have another chance to squawk — and another few weeks of doom-and-gloom economic news to condition them.

Barack Obama is  most likely not quaking in his boots over the power of the House GOP to stifle his agenda. They obviously can’t. It’s big of him to make nice, but I’m sure he or his advisers understand the politics driving House members. It’s the Senate they have to worry about.

They may even have anticipated a party-line “no.” I haven’ t heard anyone in the White House complaining (not that I have an ear anywhere near that hallowed ground).

How can we forget the many token “no”votes cast against the bank bailout? It died, then it came back to life so we could beat it up again over how ineffective it’s been. If you wanted to conjure up fresh proof that government spending doesn’t seem to work, you would have done the same.

It continues to intrigue me — the biblical point Obama raised in his inauguration speech on putting away childish things.

He seems to mean things like partisanship and political gamesmanship and their attendant ills, with self-righteousness and ideological rigor mortis being two of the biggest.

But those things are decidedly not childish. They are the sole province of adults (and adolescents, I might add). Name me a child who sticks to a course of action, no matter how foolish, based on some abstract philosophical notion.

Children may fixate on something and carry on like fools, but it’s generally over a concrete object, say a chocolate chip cookie, a Matchbox car or a pair of footie pajamas. I don’t see them crying over failed adherence to free-market principles or skepticism over Keynesian economics.

I guess it sounds clever to compare peculiarly adult blind spots to childish things. But it doesn’t do much to advance our political discourse when we seek to infantilize people based on what they may feel are important principles.

Or when we seek to explain away what is decidedly an adult problem as some sort of childishness that needs to be abandoned. Good luck with that.

Obama gave a great speech yesterday and I especially enjoyed his call to put away childish things (I hope he wasn’t referring to McDonald’s milkshakes).

However, only when this country grapples directly with pollution (of which global warming is but one symptom) will I believe we are serious about the future.

It’s a given that we fret about the economy and the wars we’re fighting (gee that looks like fun!). We wring our hands and issue dire predictions, but our ability to fix problems is hemmed in by a meek imagination that wants nothing more than to restore things to how they were.

Like they were in our childhood perhaps. When no one worried about the fumes drifting from a tailpipe or the clouds billowing from a power plant.

We patch and re-patch the holes. Do we dare seize the power to build a new roof? Polls have not been encouraging.

It’s easy to say we’ll miss W. after he’s gone. It’s harder to say why, however, without resorting to cliches. Here’s a feeble effort:

* We’ll miss having an obvious, high-profile target for our political self-righteousness. The comedians will survive  W’s passing. But what about the everyday blowhard writing letters to the editor?

* We’ll miss the air of superiority we felt in believing ourselves smarter than the man in the oval office. No one feels that way about Obama, at least not yet. Quite the opposite. People are placing great faith in his intellectual ability to get the country out of its current jam.

People at least knew where they stood with Bush, either with him or against him. Maybe it’s for the best that we melt the polarizing style of contemporary politics. And maybe we really are prepared to give Obama time.

But patience is a virtue best left untested. While it may be the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression, our attention spans may be at their shortest since, oh, Moses shattered the ten commandments in anger at an unfaithful people.

A long absence — i had to let the election and the last month of campaigning speak for itself. A nice rationalization, eh?

At any rate, I was recently at a panel looking back at the Web component of the 2008 election. Much of the discussion centered on how Obama could transition his use of Youtube, social networking, etc, from campaigning to governing. Hey look! It’s a presidential radio address on Youtube! [media swoons, populace  yawns]

It’s taken me a while to figure out exactly what I think about this, but here it goes. I think the transition from campaigning to governing, whatever form it takes, will be a big disappointment. Leave aside the difference between a focus on one goal, the election, and the more diffuse tasks facing a government, and chew on these:

First off, the people pushing for more electronic government rely too heavily on technology as a force for change. Culture always has and always will play a bigger role, and it is much harder to identify cultural forces than it is to hold up the latest shiny gadget. I’m not sure the culture of governing is apt to change just because of online videos and twitter. Never underestimate the power of bureaucratic inertia. If and when bureaucrats do change, it won’t be in any way that we can easily identify.

And it might not be for the better. One participant on my panel claimed the full potential of the Internet would have the same effect on government as the discovery that the world was round. Sounds nice, but I should have pointed this out then (what can I say, I’m a slow thinker): what mattered wasn’t the roundness of the world but Galileo’s discovery that it revolved around the sun, pushing the earth and its inhabitants out of the center of the universe. The internet seems to put us right back in that un-humbling spot.

Let’s say a bunch of people Twitter angrily about a long line at the DMV. What’s the state supposed to do? Rush over untrained workers from some other office to handle the crush? Or make a case for higher taxes so that the DMV can be fully staffed or stay open for more hours? You decide.

Second, Obama adapted Web tools to fuel an insurgent campaign against an institution, the Democratic Party, that had already anointed Hillary Clinton. It’s unclear how you adapt those tools to running an institution, whether party or government. Unless you are prepared to radically change the institution.

Third, too often  the assumption behind publishing reams of gov’t information online and fostering discussion seems to be that people will arrive at a rational consensus on where the country should go. For example, I saw a comment here asking how people can use a bunch of congressional info for the public good. When you come across a definition of the public good that every voting American can agree on — and a set of policies designed to get there — get back to me. If I’m still alive, I’ll gladly entertain debate on the use of this particular info.

Fourth, the debate simply overlooks how much our forebears were able to do without the Internet. Adopt the reforms of the New Deal and the Progressive Era? Populate a continent and build the world’s largest economy? It should be obvious, but no one appears to appreciate it. Technology alone does not guarantee sweeping political change. It could even hinder it.

Electronic mediums seem to inflame differences rather than bridge them. It’s why testy email exchanges degenerate so quickly. They take away as much of our common humanity (our physical presence being a big part of it) as they let us share.

If elected president, John McCain will raise taxes.

Why? Because this election has so many eerie parallels to 1988. The older war hero emerging from the shadows of a two-term Republican. The move to paint his Democratic opponent as an elite tax-and-spend liberal. The young, once-obscure sidekick that many people argue is inexperienced (I can’t wait for Sarah Palin’s first visit to a Central American market or her first speling lesson).

Barack Obama is running hard to escape the trap and become Bill Clinton, not Michael Dukakis. But even Obama has repeated some of Dukakis’ steps. The main one is tapping an experienced Washington senator to be his vice president. Obama’s saving grace is his charisma, which puts him back in Clinton’s league. Clinton also gave a great speech, lest anyone forget.

But the biggest parallels of all are these: Rising deficits, a big defense build-up abroad and a financial crisis requiring the government to cover bad debt.

The Resolution Trust Corp. may very well have ended the savings-and-loan crisis, but the rescue came at a cost. George H.W. Bush was willing to pony up. I suspect McCain will do the same once in office — provided we can expect a war hero not to worry about paying the ultimate (political) price for doing the right thing.

People try to draw connections between campaigning and governing, but the two remain wholly separate. George W. Bush ran as a uniter not a divider, and has been anything but for the last eight years. Some say McCain is running as a divider. That doesn’t mean he won’t be a uniter in office. It’s just unclear whether the distinction will matter on election day.

All this debate about “executive experience” is getting a little stale. Since when did Americans need a president who could order people around? Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a president who could empower us to do for ourselves? Isn’t that what democracy and the free market are supposed to be about?

Ideally, yes. Realistically, I guess not. But still. It would float my boat to see a debate about which candidate — McCain, Obama, Palin, or Biden — would be better able to empower us instead of assume power over us.

Drill, baby, drill!