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Posts Tagged ‘PACS’

Beards: Presidential and Otherwise

For some reason, beards have been a big theme this week. It started Thursday when I attended a Washington Nationals baseball game and my good friend, Walter Ludwig, whom I had invited, noted the very excellent beard sported by right fielder, Jason Werth.

Beard Werth

Exceptionally full and outdoorsy, even woodsman-like, I’d say.

The beard theme continued Friday when I read this article in The Hill about the creation of a political action committee dedicated to the financial backing of bearded candidates, regardless of party affiliation or ideology.

This PAC is for real. The paperwork for the Bearded Entrepreneurs for the Advancement of a Responsible Democracy (BEARD) was filed with Federal Election Commission Wednesday by a Jonathan Sessions, who describes himself on his website as a member of the board of education in Columbia, Missouri.

Sessions notes, as did this fine article on Slate.com nearly a year ago, that Benjamin Harrison was the last U.S. President to fashion a beard and that it’s high time political beards came back into fashion.

As this touches on Presidential history, one of my absolute favorite areas of study and expertise, some cursory research finds there were five American Presidents with actual beards:

Abraham Lincoln
US Grant
Rutherford B Hayes
James Garfield
Benjamin Harrison

This period of 1861 to 1893 was truly the high point for Presidential beards. The only exceptions were Andrew Johnson who had no facial hair at all and was, perhaps not coincidentally-impeached; Chester Alan Arthur, who did sport impressive mutton chops- and Grover Cleveland, one of our four mustachioed Chief Executives (the others: Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft). Early Presidents, John Quincy Adams and Martin Van Buren were also mutton chop enthusiasts but did not have mustaches (or beards).

Since Taft, we have had nothing but clean shaven Presidents beginning with Woodrow Wilson who was inaugurated in 1913. The first patent for a safety razor, by the way, was issued in 1880 but even then the early razors still needed to be sharpened by professionals. The point is that about 1916, some 15 years after the release of the first disposable razor, there was widespread adoption of this remarkable tool from Gillette. Politics has not been the same since.

The political beard article in Slate, by the way, points out that recent adoption of beards was significantly stymied by the images of both hippies and Fidel Castro.

(Fidel Castro, Jerry Rubin)

(Fidel Castro, Jerry Rubin)

This trend could have been stopped dead in its tracks had Richard Nixon done a Richard Nixon to China thing with beards (the analogy that’s probably outdated now about how only an anti-communist could escape political peril offering peace to communists).

Beard Nixon

That is, I must say, a pretty cool looking Tricky Dick.

And then, of course, there’s this gentleman:

Beard Uncle Sam

And that, ladies and gentlemen, makes beards as American as:

beard apple pie

SuperPacs and Cynicism and Disgust with the Democratic Process

January 5, 2012 2 comments

I don’t know if the five Supreme Court justices who signed off on the Citizen’s United case have been reading the newspapers and watching cable, but the effect of the ruling has been on full display over the past month and things are not going according to the high court’s rose-colored-glasses view that unlimited political expenditures are harmless expressions of free speech.

The ruling that gave corporations and labor unions the right to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns assumed a number of things.  Justice Anthony Kennedy, for example, denied it would “give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”   And that was because the public would know where the money was coming from and because candidates and so-called “Super Pacs” (PAC= Political Action Committees) would never coordinate.  Please.

The candidacy of Newt Gingrich was destroyed in Iowa with $4 million in withering negative ads from PACS supporting Mitt Romney.  The brief Gingrich resurgence following the death of the Herman Cain campaign was sliced and diced by the assault, cutting the former House Speaker’s poll numbers by half. 

Direct coordination with the Romney campaign would be illegal, of course.  But as the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus points out, there’s darned near a shadow campaign staff operating the Romney PAC called “Restore our Future.” 

The committee is run by Carl Forti, political director of Romney’s 2008 campaign. Its treasurer is Charles Spies, the Romney 2008 general counsel. Its fundraiser, Steve Roche, headed the Romney 2012 finance team until jumping to the super PAC last summer. And to underscore the flimsiness of the PAC’s supposed independence, Romney himself has spoken at “Restore Our Future” events.

Yet up-to-date information about who is bankrolling this effort will not be available until the end of January, by which point four states will have voted and Romney may have the nomination wrapped up.

And it’s not just Republicans.  Former Obama aides run a PAC called Priorities USA which has already been releasing nasty anti-Romney ads.  One can only imagine the slime and dirt that will fill our TV screens and radio dials this fall from all the Super Pacs that are out there .   

In a very insightful article in Slate.com, Dahlia Lithwick, writes that even some state courts are beginning to question the wisdom of the Citizen’s United ruling.  The Montana Supreme Court, for example, has recently ruled by a vote of 5-2 that corporations are not people and that to assume unlimited political expenditures are benign goes against well over a century and a half of practice in Montana state politics.

Chief Justice Mike McGrath dove deep into that history, ranging back over the “tumultuous years … marked by rough contests for political and economic domination primarily in the mining center of Butte, between mining and industrial enterprises controlled by foreign trusts or corporations.” Noting that, back in the last Gilded Age, Montana’s wealthy “Copper Kings” bought judges and senators, picked the location of the capital, and owned the media, McGrath pointed to Montana’s vast size, sparse population, low-cost elections, and long history of having its resources plundered by foreign corporate interests to emphasize that the state has a compelling interest in maintaining its ban.

The sad fact is that negative campaigning and advertising are hideously effective and only nominally based on any discernible truth.  To not be able to identify who’s putting up the money for these organizations that put out these ads means there is absolutely no accountability for them.  Nor will we be able to tell how the donations by anonymous individuals impact the candidate once they become an office holder and are in a position to make public policy that may benefit those contributors.

At a critical juncture in our history and our economy, when fundamental philosophical views need to be aired, debated and decided- we may, instead, be reacting to and basing our votes on the primal, negative personal attacks of politicians on one another.

That we will be hip-deep in this kind of swill from now until November can only increase the already deep cynicism the public feels about politics and government.  Watching how it’s actually playing out, a great public disservice may have been committed in the name of free speech when the Supreme Court made the Citizen’s United ruling. It is eroding -not helping- the function of a healthy democracy.