Seven Times Silence Would Have Been Golden

Politics as unintentional comedy.  Here are a few of my favorite quotes.

Senator Marco Rubio: “We already have a president now that has no class.”  To be fair and put the quote into context, he was criticizing President Obama for using “selfies” and inviting You Tube celebrities to the White House.  Hmm…the last I knew (whether you like this president or not), there has been no scandal during nearly seven years of Obama’s presidency, no national embarrassment emanating from the White House.  The First Lady and the two Obama daughters have been models of decorum.  OK, Senator, what does he have to do to have “class” in your eyes?  Make late payments on credit card bills?  Default on a mortgage?  Get more than a dozen traffic tickets?  I guess when YOU are president, things will get classy.

Former Arkansas Governor and current Preacher-in-Chief Mike Huckabee:  “We are moving rapidly towards the criminalization of Christianity.” This  is the guy who  stood and made a speech supporting Kim Davis, the county clerk from Kentucky who refused to perform her secular duty toward any couple that did not merit her approval (faith-based, of course) and still applied for a marriage license.  This sort of thing is red meat to Huckabee, but of course, you have to buy his reasoning that law is subservient to religious edicts.  While there are countries where that is the case (most prominently, Iran), it is STILL not so here in the United States.  I know, I know, that’s different…

“Reality TV” star, real estate multimillionaire, and Presidential candidate Donald Trump:  “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U. S. manufacturing non-competitive.”  Well.  Glad he was able to clear that up…wait.  They must have also falsified all the climate records all over the world and bought off the vast majority of climate scientists, too!  Meteorological records indicate a warming trend that several started years ago, and that globally, 2014 was the warmest year since records began to be kept, but will probably be exceeded by 2015.  Well, those scientists are not as rich as the Donald, are they?  And how many of them own their own casinos or golf courses?

Former First Lady, Former Senator, and Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton:  “I remember landing under sniper fire.”  This was purportedly about a visit to Bosnia.  It was researched immediately and refuted just as immediately.  She is unlikely ever to live this one down.

 Jeb Bush, former Florida governor and current Presidential candidate: “As it relates to my brother, there’s one thing I know for sure.  He kept us safe.”  All except for 9/11, of course, and if that had happened during the Clinton years, you can just imagine the howling Jeb would be doing every day since.  At this stage, though, it almost seems like piling on to quote Jeb.

Ted Cruz, U.S. Senator from Texas, Presidential candidate, and by his own admission, “proud wacko bird”:  “The last 15 years, there has been no recorded warming.  […]  It hasn’t happened.”  OK, I get it, talking about climate change is not good politics for a guy from Texas.  But just ignoring all the data collected the world over to try to make everyone look the other way?  That’s a whole other thing.

And last but not least, the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden:  “You cannot go to a 7-11 or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. “  Oh, Joe. We are going to miss you!

My wife made me promise to lay off politics.  OK, but NEXT time…

GIVING THANKS

Thanksgiving: everybody knows what it’s about.  Sort of.

To begin, let me say that Thanksgiving is one of my very favorite days of the year.  Food, family, good cheer–who could ask for more?  I am always reminded, though, when the store displays and the TV specials start, that the observances and meaning of the modern day are far from what they were in the 17th century.

Tradition is at the heart of much of what goes into Thanksgiving, and as is the case with any tradition, something gets handed down through generations.  The result is still a link to the original tradition, but often modified to a greater or  lesser degree, and Thanksgiving is no exception.  Religion and food (a harvest or thanksgiving feast) are central to the holiday, and a look at both may surprise a few.

The small group of English colonists in modern Massachusetts are known to millions of American schoolchildren as “the Pilgrims.”  The word means, literally, a person who undertakes a journey for religious reasons.  This particular group was not known as pilgrims by their contemporary English countrymen, but as “dissenters” or “separatists” because of their quarrel with the Church of England, which had itself succeeded in wrenching itself free from papal control only within the past few decades.  One of their own number, William Bradford, named the group.

King James (of England, also known as James VI of Scotland, and patron of the 1611 version of the Bible known today as the King James version) was only too happy to bid them farewell; England was bubbling with sectarian strife, and giving these folks land far across the Atlantic was a good way to remove them from the mix.  (The group was further splintered into those who hoped to reform the Church of England, and those who considered it beyond reform, and would later come to be known as “puritans.”)

A well-known part of the Thanksgiving mythos in the United States is that these people came to these shores for “religious freedom.”  And they did–sort of.  Religious freedom simply did not extend to any other sect of Christianity, much less any other than Christian or non-believer.  Their repute for repression is probably a bit overblown, but they are known to have exiled one woman in the early years of their settlements for talking too freely about her experience of marital pleasure!  And Roger Williams also was exiled for, among other things, questioning the right of one settlement to take over Indian lands without payment to those Indians.  Disagreement with the community elders, whether in matters of theology or law, was dealt with by excommunication.  One can admire the courage of their conviction while noting that the stifling of any dissent was achieved in a manner familiar to those “pilgrims”: with intolerance and exile.

As to the feast aspect of Thanksgiving, both harvest festivals and days of thanksgiving were known to many cultures.  This one in particular was observed to celebrate and thank God for the colony’s safe establishment on these shores, and one must grasp that only some 50 of the original 100 members of the colony survived after a year, when this celebration took place, so those who survived may have felt thankful indeed.  Squanto, a Native American of the local tribe, had previously been taken as a slave to England and later returned, so he spoke English.  He taught the English settlers the ways his band grew crops and caught eels; he also served as translator for dealings between the two groups.  Again, one might imagine the settlers were very grateful for Squanto’s aid.  The settlers invited some 90 or so of the local natives to the feast, so the first Thanksgiving was indeed more American than English!

And the food bore little resemblance to what we eat today,  Turkeys there were, though not the domesticated flightless type we consume by the millions; they roasted or boiled wild turkeys, a stringy, tough cousin.  These turkeys were supplemented by other birds, from passenger pigeons (now extinct) to ducks.  No modern roasting, either.  Customary methods to cook birds included boiling and roasting over an open fire, or a combination of the two.  It included neither potatoes nor yams, both of which were unknown in North America at the time.  There were beans and wild fruits–and squash, as close as they got to pumpkin pie, and corn, which they had learned to grow from Squanto and his band.  No wheat, no wheat flour, so no pies, either, though they may have put berries or fruits in an earthen vessel and baked (by the fire) a sort of “pie” without a crust.

In considering how the first American Thanksgiving was celebrated, I can think of a few things to be thankful for–that the proto-Puritans did not succeed in establishing their kind of commonwealth over the whole USA, and that we now have a much bigger variety of festive foods to eat!

Now if we could just dial back “Black Friday…”

SOCIAL…SECURITY?

The dangers to a successful and wildly popular program are not what you may think they are.

In the midst of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt instigated passage of the US Social Security program.  Both houses of Congress were heavily Democratic at the time, and the resultant legislation passed by large margins.  The first Social Security benefits went out to recipients in 1935.  It has been part of the national landscape ever since.  Every American knows someone who receives such benefits, and few current Americans know a time when this was not the case.

In 1935, one political party was less than enthusiastic about a new government program that would transfer money to older Americans–the Republicans.  Prominent Republican officeholders denounced it with claims that it would kill jobs and that the federal government had no business interfering in the private sector to the extent of taxing wages to fund such a scheme.  The states, it was claimed, were more fit to cope with of citizens no longer able to support themselves; if not the states, families of the elderly, or churches, or charitable institutions should be taking this on.  Voices were raised to say that each worker had the obligation to save for his (or in some few cases at the time, her) old age.

Flash forward several decades, and the refrain is somewhat different, though the intent is very similar, though not openly so.  Social Security will run out of money in (pick a number) years if we don’t have some sort of “entitlement reform,” a term that stands for “benefit reduction.”  We have all seen the calmly presented arguments to show that the ratio of workers (payers) to the SS fund to recipients is going steadily down, while the drain on funds is accelerating.  Sober-looking politicians (think Paul Ryan) tell us they are hard at work devising ways to “save” Social Security, while the only changes that ever come up are reductions in payments: means-testing, higher retirement age, etc.  And at the same time, the same party is, as always, advocating for Wall Street types to be given access to the money being paid in.  George W. Bush was a robust advocate of what he referred to as “personal accounts.”

The political parties (and yes, I used an “s” purposely) are increasingly beholden to the part of the populace that can afford to donate large sums of money to campaigns.  These people are the same ones who object to paying in a percentage of their earnings to a government program, since the “return” (an eventual monthly payment) is not large, and they feel that they could get more by their own means.  There is some logic to this, but one need only think of the market crashes of 1987 or 2008 to realize that private speculation offers the chance of great reward, but also the chance of sudden ruination.  The prospect of the current crop of politicians acting in the public interest, rather than in that of, for example, hedge fund managers, is of little comfort.

So, is there a simple solution for Social Security?  Not really.  But a combination of several smallish steps can go a long way.  Here are a couple to think about, but please note that Medicare and SS disability payments are not mentioned.  Those are separate topics for another time.

Dropping or raising the yearly limit on income subject to OASDI withholding.

The yearly limit on withholding is not widely understood.  I recently spoke to someone who insisted that the current system treats everyone the same on payday, since we all pay the same percentage of what we make.  This is a common misimpression.  It holds true to a point; every dollar subject to the payroll tax is levied at a rate of 6.2% to the worker, and a matching 6.2% by the employer.  But that dual levy stops at a ceiling of $118,500 in 2015.  In other words, if you make $50,000 this year, you will have $3100 taken out over the course of the year, and your employer will pay an equal amount, thus, in theory, at least, raising $6200 for the Social Security fund.  (In reality, Congress raids this fund regularly, so it is specious to think of it all going into a fund to pay SS benefits.)  Self-employed people pay both ends of that tax, so your friend who makes $50,000 in self-employment pays in $6200.  If you have a friend who earns $118,500 a year, he pays the same percentage for a bill of $7347.  Another friend, if you have one this fortunate, who makes $200,000 will also pay $7347.  A million dollar earner?  $7347.  Why?  Don’t answer.  The point is, why not continue to levy against big earners at the same rate?  This would raise a few billion.  If Big Business howls, I could see dropping the employer’s share after a certain figure–but higher than $118,500.

Raise the basic withholding rate.

Is 6.2% sacred?  I hardly think so.  A raise to 6.5 or 7% would not create undue hardship. but would raise funds for Social Security use.  A rise to 7% from 6.2 would mean an extra $800 per year on a $100,000 earner, or less than $16 a week.  For a $50,000 earner, less than $8.

Raise the penalty for early retirement.

While 65 was the original age envisioned for Social Security pensions, once can now retire (albeit with a reduced monthly benefit) at 62.  A higher penalty would keep a few from retiring early because of the reduced benefit.

Are there more possibilities?  Of course.  This is not at all exhaustive.  Just be aware, the danger to Social Security, on which millions of older Americans depend for their principal source of income in the so-called “golden years.” is in some danger, but the danger is not due to inevitable problems.  It’s the shadow government of billionaires who want less “confiscation” from them to subsidize the “takers.”  That’s everybody else.

 

 

IMMIGRATION, A FAVORITE TOPIC–ONCE EVERY FOUR YEARS

Here’s a bold prediction: nothing happens soon

In a presidential election cycle, certain topics make headlines until the election is over, and then just go away.  Such issues excite certain factions among voters, and politicians use such topics to attempt to turn out voters (I know, you’re shocked…) but then do little in the interim. The furor goes quiet until it proves a useful election tool again.  Immigration “reform” is the poster child of such issues.

The reform of actual immigration law and procedure would be a worthy goal.  It is not likely to come up for discussion in any serious forum.  The topic of the moment is illegals or undocumented immigrants, depending on your point of view.  Many Americans are disinclined to want more people from other countries admitted to this country, based on our perceived inability to assimilate these new arrivals.  Others favor the “Statue of Liberty” rhetoric (Give me your tired, your poor…) and want to liberalize current law and procedure in favor of more immigration.

There are arguments to be made for both points of view, but they are not currently being made with any effort to persuade anyone.  Pre-Columbian America had no national identity.  America as a nation had its beginning as a British colony, with substantial other European representation.  While these “colonists” (or “settlers, conquistadores” etc., as you will) were European in their thinking and acculturation, they shared a sense that the old country, whether England, Ireland, Spain, what have you, did not offer them the opportunity they wanted, and they wanted to try to make a life in this New World.  Eventually they grew tired of being administered and directed by colonial powers and their representatives on site, and went their separate way.  There arose an isolationist sentiment that is still strong in our national thought.

Those who want “open doors” see economic benefits in a stream of both skilled and unskilled labor coming from outside.  “We are all immigrants,” they say, and bemoan the lack of charity from the more nativist among us.  This strain is also augmented by those who see the whole thing in terms of self-interest: they still have cousins, parents, friends, etc., who are “over there” and would prefer to be “over here,” so restrictive immigration policy is “inhumane.”

As is usually the case, things are not as simple as either side would have you believe.  21st century reality is not as amenable to the nativist “pull up the drawbridge” thinking as it was in simpler times.  If we as a nation want the best scientists, not to mention baseball players and other skilled athletes, etc., we can recruit them only by being somewhat open to the world while we continue to produce our own.  Anyway, if someone chooses to marry a non-American, we, in principle, welcome the addition.

To the side who wants to let everyone come, I humbly point out that there are many like me who, while not an elite old society group, are not exactly “immigrants” either.  Many of us can trace American-born ancestors back to before the Revolutionary War.  We’ve been Americans for more than two centuries.  Yes, there’s room for many more, but it’s not ignoble to want newcomers to abide by established law.  Ample exception is provided for refugees and asylees.  And there is, as a last resort, the “visa lottery” that lets people who meet minimal educational standards try their luck at joining the party.

So what is comprehensive immigration reform?  At this moment, it’s hard to say.  An overhaul of the immigration system might be a good thing in and of itself.  Another “amnesty” program like the one instituted in the 1980’s would permit millions who entered under other than legal circumstances or overstayed a legal but temporary stay to get a “path to citizenship,” and while the idea has its boosters, those who are opposed are inalterably opposed.

How about this: we don’t round up eleven million illegal/undocumented aliens, but we don’t bend everything to “legalize” them either?  Say you’re here as of a date specific, and you’re self-supporting somehow or other, stay if you like.  If you have a US citizen spouse, he/she can petition for your legal immigration, and that is to be encouraged.  If you have a US citizen child, once he/she is old enough to file a petition legally, that is your path.  It obliterates any sense of fairness to those who abide by the law to oblige the country to accommodate itself to you.

Of course, this hypothetical approach gives something to each side…wait, that’s a compromise.  Never happen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YES, I’M A BABY BOOMER.

But that doesn’t mean you should judge me.

Not for what we’re being blamed for, anyway.

I consulted Wikipedia (Hey, this is not a scholarly treatise, OK?) for a working definition of the term “baby boomer.”  I’ve noted increasingly ill-tempered references to “my generation” for some time, and now that I’m retired and have time to think about such things, I’ve thought about the shade thrown my way in concrete, analytic terms.  The two most common definitions used dates of birth to delimit boomers–one included those born between 1946 and 1964, and the other included those born between 1943 and 1960.  OK, if that’s how we define a boomer, then I am one, since my date of birth falls within each of those periods.  Each definition included a breakdown as well, into “leading edge” boomers and others, and I similarly am, under each definition, a “leading edge” boomer.

Common experiences of my cohort’s childhood years, in paraphrase, included an optimistic expectation of our own prosperity, accompanied by the vague but ever-present tension of the Cold War; a sense that we were “special” (i.e., different from those from earlier generations); increased influence of technology; the national trauma of the Vietnam War; and cultural, musical, and sexual “revolutions”; and a subsequent return to more socially conservative values.

Well, OK.  There is, quite frankly, no brilliant insight there.  We all are to some extent products of our environment, and environment is a four-dimensional construct; it changes over time, and exerts different influences on those who are in a given environment at a given time.  Anyone who was a grade-schooler in the 1930’s certainly had a different experience with socialization and early education than I did in the late 1950’s.  Think of the grinding dreariness of the Great Depression vs. periodic school atom bomb drills or a home life that may have featured heavy doses of radio drama serials vs. one where Leave it to Beaver appeared weekly and you will not wonder at the differences in generational outlooks.

Such comparisons in other areas of culture, sociology, etc. are equally revealing, but the pace and the depth of socioeconomic change in the United States accelerated greatly in the period of our “coming of age,” an acceleration that continues today.  Volumes have been written about the effects of the Vietnam War, but one facet critical to understanding that wretched conflict as an agent of change is the realization that, for the first time in US history, our leaders proclaimed a national military mobilization, and a large segment of the population reacted with a collective “I don’t think so.”  I served four years in the military (without seeing combat) during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s with no sense of being part of a national mission.  Some us were initially enthusiastic, some did all that could be done to avoid service; many, I think, were like me.  We did what we were supposed to do.  Our parents were the Greatest Generation, those who fought World War II, and in many cases, they aided their offspring in avoiding military service.  A national consensus was dissolving during this time, and that dissolution is much more evident now.

Many have observed that economic and social mobility were more available to us than has been the case for subsequent generations, and I have to agree.  This factor, however, is largely the result of the lack of national governmental thought and action to preserve that mobility.  I was the first among my immediate family to attend college and to receive a degree (along with many others), in large part because there was, in the post WWII era, a consensus that wide availability of  higher education was in the national interest and further, that those who had served the country were worthy of assistance if they wanted to pursue that education.  Beginning about 1980, higher education began to be more what it was in the 1920’s: available, certainly, but not nearly as affordable as it had been, and, with a trend toward “outsourcing” of US jobs, no longer a nearly automatic ticket into the middle class.

There is much more in this vein.  Public religion is not as influential as it once was, and the country is no longer united in what that religion would be even if it were.  Women are no longer under a life sentence to remain in bad marriages.  There are many effects from that.

Most of all, though, all you millennials, generations X and Y, etc. (I really don’t even know the definitions for these terms), you should not direct your ire over the economic and sociological situation in the US in 2015 toward a generation.  Opportunity is not as great not as a result of our numbers, but because of a revolt by a class of people that crosses generational lines.  They set in motion a few years back certain changes that now cause everything to be seen as a commodity to be bought and sold (education, financing for housing, even health) and they have been extremely successful in causing enormous change in this society, gathering ever more power, wealth, and influence into their ranks.   Welcome to the new plutocracy.  I don’t like it, and I know you don’t.  Change it.  It’s within your power–you and your numbers. You can do it with your votes.

IF ONLY IT WERE THAT SIMPLE, (PART II)

After finishing this thought, it’s on to something other than politics, I swear…

The upshot of the circumstances mentioned in the last post (a disincentive to discuss policy in campaigns, a lack of serious planning on the part of candidates and their campaigns, etc.) is rather simple, and one that will surprise no one who has observed a national campaign.  Campaigning politicians exaggerate, twist the words and positions of their rivals, and most of all, advance specious “solutions” to what their audiences may see as problems.  Such problems may seem blown far out of proportion or even nonexistent to the portion of the electorate not committed to  a particular candidate, but that really doesn’t matter: the speechifying candidate has no real intention of carrying out most of the things he/she advocates, anyway, and perversely enough, his/her followers are fully aware of that fact, but often appear to be swayed by the idea of someone’s putting it into words.

I’ll just take a couple of examples to illustrate this paradox.  Once again, Donald Trump serves as the prime example, if only because of the sizeable outrageousness of a couple of his pronouncements, for example, his recent statements on illegal immigration.  On different occasions, he stated that the “…Mexican government sends…” these people to the United States, as if some official in Mexico toured that country to draft people to decamp for the United States.  (And never mind, by the way, that many are not Mexicans anyway.) This is so absurd as to need no rebuttal, but then he expanded on the proposition, stating that the number of such persons present in the US without benefit of legal immigration status was probably more like 30,000,000 than the commonly estimated 11,000,000.  Where did that number come from?  Never mind, it’s just to make a point that he could simultaneously get rid of all these people and stop more from coming by…wait for it…building a wall all along our southern border with a “wide doorway” to welcome in those we wish to welcome.

Huh?

A wall more than 2,000 miles long?  How high?  Built of what?  By whom? At what cost?  In what time period?  Don’t worry, there will be a detailed plan later.  Right after we announce how we will push out 30,000,000 people against their will.  (And, in the case of a good number, against the will of US employers, as well.)  You see?  It’s really simple.  Our leaders are just stupid.  And many “man in the street” interviews featured people who lauded Trump for his “plain speaking” or “saying what is on his mind.”  Non-serious talk is met by non-critical acceptance, because those who cheer Trump on know full well he is not serious…but are sure he’ll do something.

Let’s look at another campaign theme.  Climate change is an issue this time around; in brief, the specifics are hard to nail down.  Burning fossil fuels causes a concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and that increased carbon dioxide absorbs more heat than said atmosphere used to; ergo, the earth is gradually heating up, but climate science is complex, and the numerous variables present in a layer of air large enough to cover the entire earth mean that atmosphere may react in quirky ways at times.  Though the general trend is toward a warmer and warmer climate, it is not possible to quantify it in neat tables leading toward a date specific when, for example, polar bears will definitely be extinct.

Rather than accept the scientific consensus, though, the fossil fuel industries point to that impossibility to interpret the whole issue as indicating that climate change is “not settled science.”  Dollars continue to flow into Exxon-Mobil, Shell, and Consolidate Coal’s coffers (among many others) while the issue is “debated.”  This is not politics, in reality.  It may eventually be survival, but deep-pocketed industries are endangered by any effort to curtail current practices, and those industries will want to stall, at least until they can find somewhere else to make more millions.  So campaign contributions flow to oil state senators like James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) who uses a snowball made in Washington, DC, on a winter day to “prove” climate change is not real.  Does this show up in the current campaign?

Texas Republican Senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz has been quoted to the effect that there has been no significant evidence of a global warming trend for the last 17 years.  Former Pennsylvania (coal state) Republican Senator Rick Santorum also has spoken disparagingly of scientific studies that came down on the side of massive climate change, declaring that various predictions have not come true.  Others find different ways of putting off any genuine action.  While this topic is not exactly parallel to Trump’s outlandish posturing about immigration, he again takes any unknown quantity to the extreme, claiming climate change is a “hoax” perpetrated by people who want to intrude into, and regulate to a greater degree, the lives of the American public.  Many voters, fearful for their livelihoods if any change in energy generation and use is in the cards, react in the usual way.  If our candidate says it, it must be true.  Sort of.  Well, at least he won’t let “them” intrude and regulate any more than they already do…right?

IF ONLY IT WERE THAT SIMPLE (PART I)

One of these days, I’m going to write about something other than the contemporary political scene.  Honest.  But there is so much more to say…

It is hardly necessary to point out that the general public has neither the time nor the inclination to analyze in depth the political speech and assorted spectacle, posturing, and outright misrepresentation that the political class orchestrates each campaign.  The higher the stakes, the less the claims and promises made in the campaign resemble what happens on planet earth.  And when the dust clears after each election, there is rarely if ever any penalty paid by any candidate; an atmosphere of “winning is the only important thing” pervades the scene.

What often results is a sad breakdown of one of the foundations of democracy: an informed electorate.  It can be argued that it is the job of a political candidate to inform the electorate, and equally, the job of the electorate to take full advantage of competing claims offered to educate itself on the issues of the day, and then make a truly informed choice.  This is not what is happening; while one can make a case that the informed electorate has always been more of an ideal than reality, the trend is toward less honest debate and fewer informed voters.

The tendency to treat political campaigns less as a clash of ideas and philosophies and more as just another game becomes more evident with each passing cycle; whole presidential elections come and go featuring claims that Candidate X is a “proven winner” or the “most electable” without any reference at all to any ideas, policies, or accomplishments attributable to that candidate (not to mention whether those ideas or policies might be beneficial to the republic or any section thereof).  Primary campaigns are, if anything, worse, since it seems to be assumed that all candidates are playing to some “base” or other, and that, in the end, the survivor will “tack to the center'” or move to expand his/her base of support–i.e., become more inclusive.

So there are really two campaigns in presidential cycles: first, a candidate must excite a narrow base in an intraparty series of primaries and hang on while the press of finance and fickle voter bases and donors winnow lesser-known and/or less well-financed candidates from the field.  If Candidate X survives this gauntlet, donors and endorsers typically fall in line behind him/her and a much more brutal one-on-one slugfest ensues, party machine vs. party machine in a winner-take-all general election.

So the world’s best-known democracy undertakes the election of its next leader, usually without any in-depth discussion or serious debate until both major parties have chosen standard bearers.  Both have, at this point, usually made outlandish claims that they will do wonderful things, that anyone who opposes these plans does so out of some nefarious plan, and that a glorious new era is just around the corner after the election if only voters are enlightened enough to choose correctly.

In this tedious (and I apologize for that) summary, there is no mention of detailed plans or of serious studies designed to gauge the possibility that this plan or that course of action will lead to a particular positive result (e.g., a reduction in American military commitments overseas, a long-term economic upturn for the populace at large, etc.)  Why is this?  Because to offer specifics in detail invites scrutiny by opposing campaigns or by front groups for those campaigns.  On the face of things, there is nothing wrong with that, and it should not, in theory, discourage a serious candidate from offering such detail.  However, the operant theory is that an opposition candidate or his campaign will offer only sneering rebuttals in an attempt to reduce the public stature of the candidate who rolls out ideas, so why bother?

So how does a candidate differentiate himself from other seekers of the same office?  By smearing the character, morals or associates of  any opponent, by attempting to make his audience see themselves in his self-descriptions, and most importantly, by insisting that nothing is really complex about governing; all that’s necessary is a little “common sense” (or business sense, or old-fashioned American something or other.) This is and always has been of dubious veracity, and at times, dangerously naïve.  But it has worked before, and probably will again.  In Part II, a few pertinent examples will help illuminate why and how.