Monday, April 7, 2008

A maverick ‘doesn’t stab you in the back – he stabs you in the FOREHEAD’

By Howard Larkin

The “maverick” in question is, of course, Arizona Senator John McCain, the presumptive standard-bearer of the Republican Party in the November US presidential election.

The characterisation comes courtesy of Tony Snow, erstwhile chief flack for the current US President, George W Bush.

Tony graphically amplified his opinion of how Senator McCain has treated his fellow Republicans with a gesture involving a fist and a forearm. He’s still pretty sore about stuff like McCain supporting political campaign financing reform, and opposing tax cuts for the rich and torturing prisoners of war.

Your humble blog-o-spondent can only apologise for not having camera at the ready. Maybe you can download the tape from the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery’s new EyeSpaceMD (Note: link to )? Hard for me to say without a password, but it appears to be there.

Tony was the featured speaker at the ASCRS Government Relations Committee’s general session at the society’s annual meeting in Chicago. You might more expect this kind of gesture along the docks in the Windy City’s Calumet Sag than on a tony stage in McCormick Place, one of the largest and highest priced convention centres in America, if not the world. Well, maybe not the world these days. Y’all come down to America, now, it’s gittin’ cheap. Well, cheaper, anyway.

Tony admits that the US economy isn’t looking so good at this instant. How could he when just two days ago the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a 3/10ths per cent increase in unemployment to 5.1 per cent in March alone?

But Tony points out that more people made more money in the US under George W Bush than in any period in history – an unprecedented 52 months of uninterrupted economic expansion and job growth, in fact.

Never mind that for most of those months jobs added fell well below the estimated 150,000 needed to keep up with population growth. Or that peak median household income during the current economic expansion didn’t exceed the peak during the previous business cycle for the first time since such statistics have been kept. Or that the US government only considers you “unemployed” if you have no job income at all and have actively looked for a job during the past month.

In other words, if you make $100 a month babysitting or have just given up looking for work after months of no luck, you’re not unemployed you’re just lazy, I guess. Add in the 4.9 million who are working part-time for “economic” reasons, a figure that has jumped more than 629,000 in the past year, and the 400,000 who are “discouraged,” meaning they are not looking for work because they don’t think jobs are available, and the unemployment rate jumps to a not-so-impressive 8.5 per cent.

Tony also failed to mention that for the most part, unemployed Americans also have no health insurance coverage. About 20,000 of the 47 million uninsured in the US die every year because they cannot get adequate care without coverage, according to studies by the Institute of Medicine and other researchers.

Still, Tony believes that the US remains the engine of economic development in the world. We are still the country where people come to make their fortunes, he says. And even though 81 per cent of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track, he says that about the same percentage say they themselves are doing just fine. As I go online, I’m having no trouble verifying the 81 per cent on the wrong course figure, but so far have yet to find the other data Tony vaguely refers to. But I’m sure it’s out there.

Anyway, if it seems a bit indecorous for a guy who fronted for the top Republican to bash the heir apparent like Tony does, just consider what he has to say about the Democrats.

Hillary Clinton: “When [Bill Clinton] walks into the room he is the focal point of everyone’s attention. When [Hillary Clinton] walks into the room, you ask ‘who turned up the air conditioner?’”

Bill Clinton: “I love to watch Bill Clinton for the same reason I watch the Indianapolis 500. I want to see what happens when he hits the wall at 200 miles per hour.”

Barack Obama: “Obama has Bill Clinton’s gift for telling people what they want to hear. …Hope and change? Raise your hand out there, who’s against hope?”

Tony even thumps his ex-boss George W: “He speaks English and Spanish in the same way – they’re both second languages.”

Very funny stuff. Standing ovation stuff.

Tony believes the real problem in America is that the political establishment, in the words of George W, “misunderestimates” the American people. The entire political establishment, on both sides, lacks a “governing ideology.”

Tony doesn’t say what that ideology should be beyond suggesting that it should reflect the spirit of freedom that America embodies. Apparently, it has something to do with standing together and shouting “USA, USA, USA,” like several thousand American citizens of all national origins did at Ground Zero in New York City several weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. More substantively, it should promote technology and business growth somehow. I think.

Tony says he doesn’t think that any of the three prospective presidents has the oomph to break through the poisonous partisanship that has paralysed Washington. He thinks that this time around, Obama and McCain will slug it out, McCain will win the presidency, the Democrats will take large majorities in both houses of the US Congress, and the stalemate will continue. A “transcendent political leader” will be needed to break the gridlock and that might happen in the 2012 election cycle, if we’re lucky, says Tony.

Tony also notes that everyone expected Hillary Clinton to have the nomination in hand by now, and no one expected McCain to get the Republican nomination. Barack Obama, with his perfect political pitch, came out of nowhere, Tony says. With a superbly organised national campaign, I might add.

Democracy broke out, Tony says. And for once, he’s right. Maybe we won’t need to wait for 2012 to get away from personal attacks and obscene gestures as part of our political discourse. Though somehow, I doubt it.

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