Putting words in candidates’ mouths


This editorial from the Amarillo Globe-News seeks to take issue with those who link Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney with some hideous remarks about rape by GOP senatorial candidate Richard Mourdock of Indiana.

The essence of the editorial’s concern is that it is inappropriate to hold Romney accountable for remarks made by one of his supporters. Mourdock’s thoughts on rape are his own and are not necessarily Romney’s.

Mourdock said that if a woman becomes pregnant as the result of a rape that her pregnancy is “God’s will,” suggesting that the Almighty has determined she must give birth to a child conceived in an act of violence.

I won’t criticize my former colleagues for the position taken by this editorial. But I do want to point out the hypocrisy of Republicans who are bemoaning the effort to link Mourdock to their party’s presidential nominee.

Why the hypocrisy? Remember back in 2008 when the Rev. Jeremiah Wright – Barack Obama’s former Church of Christ pastor – was uttering some incredibly hateful talk about America. Wright excoriated the nation over racial inequality. What did Obama’s foes do? They said the then-U.S. senator should disavow Wright’s comments and heaped mountains of criticism on him for attending a church led by someone such as Jeremiah Wright. Indeed, Obama eventually did issue a strong disavowal, but in the brass-knuckle political world, that hasn’t been good enough for many of Obama’s persistent critics – who bring up Jeremiah Wright’s name to this very day.

Didn’t Barack Obama deserve the same benefit of the doubt being sought for Mitt Romney?

Celebrities embarrass their political icons


Eva Longoria is gorgeous and from I understand a quite capable actress.

She’s also a loudmouth and a lout, based on what she reportedly said about Mitt Romney. Longoria is supporting Barack Obama. She referred to Romney with a “t-word” that rhymes with “swat.” Enough said about what she uttered.

But she is just the latest example of why celebrities do not need to garner undue attention because they support a presidential candidate. Longoria’s utterance has prompted quite a bit of discussion in recent days from commentators who say she ought to resign from whatever position she has in the Obama campaign. I don’t think she occupies an actual post. She’s just a celebrity who’s lending her name in support of the president.

Before we paste the boorish celebrity label on liberals, let’s be mindful that both parties have their share of show biz crassness.

Exhibit A of this behavior during the 2012 campaign has been the Motor City Madman, right-wing rocker Ted Nugent who some months ago made a statement that the Secret Service interpreted as a direct threat against President Obama. Nugent said if the president is re-elected, he (Nugent) would be dead or in prison; many observers believed Nugent was referring to harm he might seek to bring against the president.

Celebrity endorsers don’t lend any expertise to these campaigns. They do provide a laugh or two along the way. Yes, they also cause considerable heartburn among the candidates they intend to boost.

With friends like these …

‘Apology tour’ never happened


One of the big lies Mitt Romney insists on retelling as he runs for president of the United States is that the man he wants to succeed in the White House embarked on an “apology tour” of the Middle East not long after he took office in 2009.

President Barack Obama, as fact checkers have noted, did travel abroad and along the way made speeches in which he pointed out mistakes the nation has made in the past. He did not apologize, let alone apologize – as Romney keeps saying – “for American values.”

This is a canard that has gained all kinds of traction in the conservative media. It’s also an outright lie that the fact cops are trying to counter. But with individuals’ minds already made up, it’s a difficult notion to disprove. The Obama-haters already have crystalized their view of the president and their feelings about him have hardened.

It’s a sad consequence of these times. Opinions take shape without all the facts. They’re reinforced by commentators who echo the innuendo. They give life to the innuendo instead of snuffing it out.

Then we see heavily edited videos designed to put words into the president’s mouth. Any video producer knows how the tactic achieves that end. Some of this stuff is quite clever. It’s also false.

And then candidates such as Mitt Romney seize on these falsehoods, mold them into snappy stump speech zingers and perpetuate these lies.

What if it’s a tie?

Here’s a chilling thought to ponder.

Suppose the Nov. 6 presidential election ends in an Electoral College tie, with President Obama and Mitt Romney each collecting 269 electoral votes.

Impossible, you say? Highly improbable, but the scenario is beginning to get some play. The election is going to turn on about three or four states. Depending on how Romney does in, say, Ohio, New Hampshire and Iowa, the race might end up in a tie.

Then what? Well, then the selection goes to the U.S. House of Representatives. Yes, that bunch. The Republican-controlled House arguably is among the very worst assemblages of lawmakers in American history. They have exhibited absolute scorn for whatever the Democratic president has sought to do to turn the economy around. The single-digit poll numbers bear out the public’s disgust with that body.

So, let’s call them the Nine Percent Ninnies. These are the individuals who could select the next commander in chief of the world’s mightiest military establishment.

But there’s a sliver of good news here. Each state gets one vote. Under the 12th Amendment to the Constitution, every state is equal. Texas’ vote counts no more than Delaware. The state congressional delegations will decide among themselves who gets that state’s vote. Texas, dominated by Republicans, would cast its vote for Romney.

Something else to ponder: Suppose a state’s voters endorse the candidate of one party, but the congressional delegation is dominated by members of the other candidate’s party. Does the delegation honor the voters’ wishes or does it toe the party line?

The first candidate to win the endorsement of 26 state delegations wins the presidency.

No one wants this to happen. We all prefer a clear winner. The best case would be that one candidate wins the popular and Electoral College vote. But the beauty of our system is that the Constitution provides a solution to whatever confusion might erupt when all the ballots are counted.

I believe it was Winston Churchill who expressed disdain for the democratic system of government while saying it is the best system ever devised. We just might get to see the Old Bulldog’s wisdom play out.

Civility has lost another champion


This link from the Washington Post contains an essay by former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, a stalwart Republican from Kansas.

In this essay he pays tribute to his great friend, the late U.S. Sen. George McGovern, an equally stalwart Democrat from South Dakota.

Dole writes of the genuine affection he had for McGovern. They were friends, whose bond was forged perhaps by their shared World War II experience; McGovern flew a B-24 bomber over Eastern Europe, while Dole was an infantryman in Italy. And with McGovern’s death on Sunday, American politics has lost another champion for the cause of civil discourse. Dole speaks eloquently of his friend and the feelings – dare I say “love” – they had for each other as men, as patriots.

We’re missing that sense of collegiality these days. Adversaries have become enemies. They are demons. I keep harking back to 1994 when the back-bench bomb thrower in chief, Republican U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich, called Democrats “the enemy of normal Americans.” He parlayed that demonization to the House speakership, to the shame of the system that put him in power.

I’m trying to imagine Bob Dole or George McGovern doing that to each other. These gentlemen took their politics seriously, but also took their roles as Americans even more seriously. They knew enough to remain friends even after quarreling publicly over policy.

I am reminded in the wake of Sen. McGovern’s death of an interview I witnessed on PBS back in 1988. It was on the MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour. McGovern was being interviewed with another old warrior, Sen. Barry Goldwater, the conservative icon from Arizona. McGovern and Goldwater also were great friends. They both were WWII aviators. They shared another unique bond: They both lost their presidential campaigns by very large margins to their opponents, McGovern to President Nixon in 1972 and Goldwater to President Johnson in 1964.

They lamented the nastiness of the 1988 campaign. They couldn’t understand why the two parties were so angry with each other. And, yes, these men spoke admiringly of each other throughout the discussion.

At the end of the conversation, Goldwater said to McGovern, “George, why don’t you and I run … as a ticket?” Both men laughed.

Try to imagine such an exchange occurring today.

Fighting around the world for women

Tonight’s the night when President Obama and Mitt Romney debate one final time before the Nov. 6 election. The topic will be foreign affairs.

But my friend Cliff and I had a discussion this morning at the Amarillo Town Club about a topic we agree could be woven into the debate: women.

“I would bet you 10 bucks that the topic of women will come up tonight in the foreign policy debate,” Cliff said. I didn’t take the bet, because the moment I began thinking about it, the more plausible the notion became.

We came up with this context:

The discussion will turn quickly to Afghanistan and our ongoing war against the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan with the heaviest of iron fists for many years before we threw them out of power right after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

I can hear the president say something like this: “And let me assure my fellow Americans that our brave men … and women … are fighting for the rights of Afghan women, who for so many years were subjugated as second- or even third-class citizens in their own country. Did I mention that our women are in the battlefield as well?”

Why the interest in women at this debate? The president is seeking to rebuild the narrowing gender gap between him and Romney. Women favor Obama, but by a smaller margin now than they were, say, a month ago. So here’s the president’s chance to score points at home while making an important statement about our nation’s role in the world. Granted, it would take some rhetorical deftness, but of the two, Obama is the more verbally nimble.

Democrats and Republicans are competing vigorously for the women’s vote. You can take this to the bank as well: Both sides are looking for any advantage they can find with that critical voting bloc.

I think my pal Cliff is on to something.

R.I.P., Sen. McGovern

Maybe it was my affinity for the underdog that drew me initially to George McGovern.

But I did admire his conviction and his dedication to fundamentally progressive political principles. He believed government had a role to play in helping people in need. He was fundamentally honest, decent and caring. He also was a heroic figure.

Sen. McGovern – who died Sunday at the age of 90 – ran for president in 1972 and was buried in an electoral landslide by President Nixon. Newly discharged from the Army (two years earlier, actually), I signed on as a volunteer for his campaign in Multnomah County, Ore. I had re-enrolled in college after returning from the service. My task there was to register new voters at the school I attended. My hope was that we could lure prospective Democrats to the polls that November. The Republicans had a similar operation there and they were out in force, as we were.

I do not know how much we accomplished by ourselves in helping Sen. McGovern’s effort in Oregon’s most populous county, but I take a measure of pride in knowing that he actually polled a majority votes in Multnomah County, even as he was losing other one-time Democratic stronghold counties to the Nixon juggernaut.

Mission accomplished.

His campaign for president introduced me, even at the lowly level at which I worked, to the hard-ball aspect of that profession. I witnessed the smearing of this man by his opponents. He opposed the Vietnam War and was called cowardly by his foes. As a returning Vietnam vet, I understood his opposition, as I had no clearer understanding of the nation’s mission there when I came out of the Army than I did when I went in two years earlier. I was confused and sought to express myself by working for McGovern’s campaign.

But what galled me at the time was his campaign’s refusal to rebut directly the implication that he was afraid to fight. He knew first hand about the horror of war. He survived 35 combat missions during World War II at the controls of a U.S. Army Air Force B-24. This courageous bomber pilot knew up close the hazards – and terrible cost – of war. And yet his campaign never sought to set the record straight. He didn’t answer the scurrilous flurry of innuendo launched against him.

I think I have to come to understand why he remained silent. It is because true-blue heroes don’t talk about those things.

George McGovern was an honorable man who stood tall among those who comprised The Greatest Generation.

Do newspaper endorsements matter these days?

I’m curious about something. Does it really matter these days what a newspaper editorial page says about a political contest?

Endorsements for president are coming out now. One of them has surprised me. It comes from the Salt Lake Tribune, in the heart of Mormonland, aka Utah. The Tribune endorsed President Obama over Mitt Romney, the man who saved the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and a lifelong member of the Mormon Church. The Tribune’s reason? There have been too many Romneys, owing to the remarkable change of heart he’s had on some key issues. My bet is that the Deseret News, Salt Lake’s other paper – the one owned by the church – will back Romney.

Take a look at the Tribune’s editorial here. Be advised: It’s a long one.


The Dallas Morning News the other day endorsed Romney for president. The News’ rationale is simple: Obama’s had his chance and he hasn’t done the job of turning the economy around.

I toiled on editorial pages exclusively for nearly three decades. I long ago lost count of the number of editorial endorsements I’ve written. But of late I’ve wondered about whether they matter.

Newspaper editors say they don’t intend to get people to vote the way they recommend. I’ve said it, too. But I’ve been thinking about that. If so, then why even bother? If it doesn’t matter what newspaper editorial boards say about political races, then why waste the space and expend the effort it takes to tell people what you think?

In this age of instant info and opinion – and age of cable news channels’ mixing of news and opinion and, indeed, presenting opinion as news while hoping no one can tell the difference – newspaper endorsements have become something of a relic.

I’m going to ask for some feedback on that one. I’d be quite interested in learning what others think of endorsements and whether anyone’s opinion on a political race ever has been swayed by what they’ve read on a newspaper editorial page.

An answer to that final question – about being swayed – will require a huge dose of honesty. Any takers?

Maybe the fight will come to Texas … one day

I’m a political junkie and I must admit to some envy at those who live in those “battleground states” where the presidential campaigns have been spending all that time – and money – trying to win those states for their candidates.

The campaign’s final two weeks will be spent in basically four states: Iowa, Wisconsin, Virginia and Ohio. Throw in occasional visits to Florida and Colorado and you’ll see where this election will be decided. The rest of the nation? Forget about it.

Texas never really became a battleground state. It once was heavily Democratic. It’s now even more heavily Republican. The beginning of that dramatic swing is open to some debate. Some argue it occurred way back in 1961, when Republican John Tower was elected to the U.S. Senate after Lyndon Johnson became vice president. The momentum picked up a huge head of steam in 1978 with the election of Republican Bill Clements as governor. And it’s been on a headlong rush toward the GOP ever since.

I would love to see Texas become a battleground state that commands the attention of the candidates for president. Democratic presidential candidates come here only to raise money at those high-dollar fundraising events. Republicans, with their death grip on every statewide office, come here even less frequently. Why bother raising money they know is going to pour in already from Texas?

Statewide census trends foretell a probable shift. The state’s Latino population – which tends to vote Democrat – is growing at a much greater rate than other demographic groups. And that brings into play the state’s large 38-vote Electoral College treasure, a number that figures to grow after the 2020 census.

Although the state’s political power once rested with the Democrats, let’s understand that traditional Texas Democrats didn’t resemble their current political descendants. No one ever accused Sam Rayburn, LBJ, Lloyd Bentsen, Big John Connally (before he changed parties) or my former congressman, Jack Brooks, of being squishy liberals. Conversely, the modern Texas Republican Party has been commandeered at many levels by some – to borrow a descriptive term – “severely conservative” officeholders who adhere to rigid ideology.

A majority Texans seem to agree with that view, as they keep electing and re-electing these clowns, er, individuals.

Thus, Democratic Party moguls have given up on Texas and their Republican Party brethren have taken the state for granted.

I hope I live long enough to see the day when that changes and Texas can command the kind of attention that little ol’ Iowa and other puny states are getting.

Let’s call it the “Disinformation Age”

U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry delivered some words of wisdom to the Rotary Club of Amarillo: If someone tells you something is true because they saw it on the Internet, do some factchecking before drawing such a conclusion.

Thornberry’s remarks should ring true in this age of instant communication. It’s the product of the Internet and the proliferation of media, many of which have a political axe to grind.

Thornberry, a Republican from Clarendon who has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since January 1995, cited Rotary’s Four-Way Test – which is a sort of code of conduct for Rotarians – the first of which asks: Is it the truth? In this age of instant information, Thornberry has concluded that whatever he hears isn’t always necessarily the truth. Instead, it is someone’s version of the truth.

Emails get distributed instantly around the world with assertions about all manner of things. One of the examples Thornberry cited Thursday involved President Obama. An email has been bouncing around that says the president has issued more than 900 executive orders during his term in office. Not true, Thornberry said, adding that Obama has issued a little more than 100 such orders, which is “about normal” for a president.

The Information Age can be described as the Disinformation Age, given all the bogus information that gets passed around as “fact.”

Allow me some candor here: So much of it in recent years has sought to demonize Barack Obama with filthy innuendo and outright smears.

What I’ve learned in my professional life is that one man’s fact is another man’s propaganda. Thus, I’ve learned the hard way to believe only a tiny fraction of whatever I see on the Internet. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve cringed at the words, “I know it’s true because I read it on the Internet.”

Thornberry’s message was a measured, reasoned response to the proliferation of malarkey (to borrow a phrase from Vice President Biden) that is littering cyberspace at this very moment.

I’m reminded of what an investigative reporter once told a meeting of journalists at an Investigative Reporters and Editors conference I attended in the 1970s. “If your mother tells you she loves you,” he said, “check it out.”

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