Re-Acquainting with our National Treasures – the Museums


The national capital of the United States is not only the citadel of governance for the world’s most powerful democracy, it is also the repository for an incredible diversity of treasures of art, science, culture, and history.  The city itself was designed as a jewel of urban expression by the famed architect Pierre L’Enfant, presented in 1792 as an ideal of a world class city laid out on a marshy elevation north and east of the Potomac River, at a time when most of the country’s population was hundreds of miles away from the District of Columbia’s wilderness.  French born, L’Enfant was every bit a revolutionary American, who had served as an engineer under Washington, was wounded in the war, suffered with him and the troops at Valley Forge, and later was present for the general’s ultimate victory over Cornwallis.  He saw the fledgling nation as a eventual world power and saw no fantasy in designing a world power’s capital stage, with massive boulevards, epic public buildings, and beautiful gardens and squares.  The capital he left us is every bit the work of art, and on its grounds contains treasures of incalculable value and diversity.

Prominent on the National Mall are its magnificent art museums, among so many  I would humbly  like to highlight two great art repositories, the National Gallery of Art and the Corcoran Gallery.  The Corcoran Gallery sits at the west end of the mall juxtaposed to the White House grounds and contains a spectacular display of great American artists of the country’s expansive beginnings.  The great portrait artist of the revolutionary period, Gilbert Stuart, is best known for capturing the strength and humanity of our nation’s fathers, no more prominently displayed then in the wonderful Washington portrait of the president seen above.  Excellent representations of the American wilderness glorifying American exceptionalism with religious overtones, as a chosen land, abound the walls in great works by Albert Bierstadt and Frederic Edwin Church.  Bierstadt’s Corcoran Peak reminded Americans that the Rockies were every bit as epic as the Alps.  Church’s Niagara captured  the epic scope of the great falls and reflected the pristine beauty and power of the American wilderness as representative of the country’s power and inexorable drive.  The ultimate in scale, imagery, and symbolism of America’s special connection with its  pristine,  savage wilderness is Bierstadt’s Last of the Buffalo,  an homage to a disappearing innocence when the horizon, and the bounty was limitless.The Corcoran collection extends into other great examples of American painting genius such as Singer Sargent,  Mary Cassatt, and Whistler, but does not neglect European masters such as Gainsborough and Rembrandt. It would be the premier display of artistic greatness were it not for the overwhelming spectacle of the collection on the opposite end of the Mall, the National Gallery of Art.

The National Gallery of Art defies a proper adjective for its bounty in fantastic art. Thousands of absolute masterpieces line the walls from the brilliance of American Winslow Homer to three exquisite Vermeers.  The very majesty of the collection may be in the Mellon family’s greatest gift to the nation, Leonardo DaVinci’s Ginevra de Benci , a painting in my mind every bit as special and beautiful as the Mona Lisa herself.  The National Gallery had in 1995 maybe the most spectacularly popular art exhibition in history in providing in one place the entire collected works of Johannes Vermeer, and the representations present currently of this enigmatic Dutch master are worth an hour alone of contemplation.  The play of light in its complexity on the every day female subject exemplified in Vermeer’s classic, A Woman Holding a Balance, knows no equal in art.  The Americans are also spectacularly represented with the early portraitists such as Copley and Stuart, the chroniclers of American life like Caleb Bingham and James Whistler, and bookended by the brilliant 19th and early 20th century work of Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent.  Homer’s Breezing Up displays common American courage and fortitude in the everyday lives of  Americans against the violent environment of the sea.  Homer framed America in quiet dignity overwhelmingly influenced by his absorption of the selfless examples of everyday Americans caught up in the brutality of the Civil War yet able to rise above it, and it showed in every subsequent painting.  Singer Sargent was a modern painter caught in a 19th century traditionalism that eventually exploded out of his portrait work into emotionally tense works such as Street in Venice where a young woman catches the not so innocent stares of  young men with a latent sexuality more appropriate for the 20th century than the Victorian principles ruling the nineteenth.  Singer Sargent dissolves the puritan impulse forever in the languid Repose,  the subject  cascading over the boudoir couch in satin finery,  her mind distant to the presence of the artist studying her.

The bounty that is the National Gallery continues over six centuries of European and American art,  from  Giotto to Gauguin , Raphael to Rembrandt.  Though absorbed for hours over each visage like a boy in the candy shop unable to choose, I still managed to focus on a few artists I have been anxious to see in person.  One in particular that brought particular pleasure was J.M.W. Turner, the well known 19th century English painter with extraordinary gifts. An artist who grew out of the romantic stylings  of Byron and Beethoven to presage the luminescence and abstraction of Impressionism, Turner imparts a special emotional longing from the viewer.  In Keelmen Heaving In Coals By Moonlight, an intense impressionistic lightshow is brought to bear with the furious red glow of the coals juxtaposed on the pewter metallic moonlight, and ghostly ships appearing and disappearing out of the mist. Fantastic.     The art alone would take a lifetime to see and absorb it all, but the Smithsonian collection along the Mall is of equal import and diversity in treasure.  From Natural History to American History, the Museum of the American Indian, Arts and Industries, and the Portrait Gallery, the Smithsonian spans the American experience.  The visual highlight for me on this trip is the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.  The entry alone, contains three epic giants in the history of flight – the Wright Brothers Flyer, the Spirit of St Louis, and Apollo 11 – from the first controlled flight to man’s conquering of the ocean by air, forever shrinking the planet, to escaping earth to land on another celestial globe.  All in the same room and all within 66 years. For whatever reason, I feel the most connectiveness with  the little monoplane that carried Charles Lindbergh across the Atlantic in 1927.  This was no decade long monumental commitment of a nation to achieve a goal.  This was a 24 year old postal service pilot, who rigged a design out of a small American entrepreneurial aircraft company, had them build the craft over a few months, flight tested it by flying it cross country to break the record at that time for solo transcontinental flight, and on the same mission hopped over the Atlantic in 33 consecutive solo flight hours with no backup, no escape plan, and no previous indication of success for such an undertaking.  This spectacular little plane would go on to achieve thousands of hours of flight, but the first one is seared in our memory, and our national mythology.The museum has superb examples of passenger service flight, from the original passenger carrier the Ford Tri-motor to the workhorse of the mid-century the DC-3 to the modern Boeing 747.  It shows in close up fashion the story of combat craft from the Sopwith Camel of World War I to the German Messerschmidts, Japanese Zeroes and American P-51 Mustangs of the Second.  The history of rocketry is noted with Minuteman missiles and V-2 rockets, as well as the critical contribution of Russian aerospace from Sputnik to Soyuz.  The journey is endless from Tomahawk cruise missiles to Saturn V engines,  LEM lunar landers to Space Ship One, the first private service  passenger ship to space. Its a visual feast for the air afffectionato and the perfect bookend to the museum extravaganza on the National Mall.

This brief survey does not scratch remotely  all that there is to explore in the national repositories celebrating our civilization’s watershed achievements.  each venue offers days of study and a lifetime of reading.  Consider the story of the electric light bulb or the electric guitar, the harvesting of hydroelectric power, the prayers of the Navajo, the invention and outgrowth of the gasoline engine, the crafts of the native Americans and those who suffered in servitude, the portraits of all the nation’s chief executives, the dresses of the First Ladies. On and on and on in magnificent promotion of what it means to struggle, to seek, to conquer, to create, and ultimately to triumph in the never ending celebration of life well lived.

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Re-Acquainting With Our National Treasures – The Monuments

I had the occasion this past week to plum with some depth the national treasure that is our nation’s capital, Washington D.C.  I had visited it some eighteen years before, but viewed the incredible wealth of venues as a quick aside to a business trip.  I was determined this time, to absorb with more gravity, all I could physically reach on foot in three days, and despite only scratching the surface of what is available, was thrilled with what I saw, and frankly, emotionally moved by our nation’s story.   Washington D.C. is not only the source of much of our history, it is the keeper of our historical flame, and no where is that more profoundly put in perspective than on the monuments that frame the National Mall.

The epic story of the mall is framed by its immense bookends, the obelisk of the Washington Monument and the temple of the Lincoln Monument.  There is no more dramatic tale to tell than that of the revolutionary leadership of Washington, who risked all to secure the improbable birth of a nation against the resources and will of the most powerful nation on earth, a man who could have been King but refused, a man who recognized that he as a leader was the one indispensable component to securing a revolution, but as a man representing  a true republic ruled by its people, critically and ultimately dispensable.  The soaring obelisk reaches for the sky and approaches the heavens as fitting for nation’s father figure whose calm and steady demeanor in the face of incredible stresses and odds was  Olympian in its majesty.  At the other end of the reflecting pool, the massive temple to our national martyr Lincoln, seated solemnly contemplating the incredible sacrifice required to preserve the union and cleanse it of its greatest scourge, slavery.  The two men, so different – the greatest landowner and wealthiest man in America, Washington, and the commoner Lincoln, borne of the most primitive circumstances and abject poverty in the Kentucky wilderness, arose to shared immortality as our nation’s greatest servants, bound by the foundation of an ideal that in this place called America all men could pursue  their destiny with equal birthright and opportunity.  Unique among monuments is the pronounced stillness of the crowds within the Lincoln Memorial, a quiet not of worship but of reverence, for the man and his profound understanding of his nation and the weight of the task he took upon himself to accomplish in order to preserve it.

Centered now between the homage to the two great leaders of the nation is a memorial to the greatest shared challenge of the nation’s  people, the World War II Monument. It balances beautifully the two great structures bracketing the reflecting pool, to celebrate a nation’s shared heroic will and sacrifice, rather than the individual warriors of the conflict.  Each state and territory holds a place in the circle of honor for the commitment of lives and fortunes to the national engine of victory.  The individual battles provide only background context for the scope of the nation’s shared focus and contribution.  Before I personally saw this monument I was somewhat doubtful as to how it would project such a complex and profound story in a place more occasioned to illuminate individual heroes.  In person, it does so beautifully and in context with the surroundings and the streams of people visiting it speak to its success as a monument in a place of epic monuments.

Just off the reflecting pool are other reverent displays of our nation’s battles. The Vietnam Memorial has become legendary for its starkness and its solemn focus on the individual sacrifice, as evidenced by the mirrored listing of each dead soldier sacrificed in what was, until Afghanistan, our nation’s longest war.  Lesser known, but equally moving is the Korean War Memorial, that takes a slightly different approach to the individual American sacrifice, in a war of shorter length but perhaps more brutal and intense fighting.  A platoon of soldiers wordlessly exits out of a stand of trees, warily searching the horizon and each contemplating the potential dangers, yet marching onward nevertheless.  To the side, a polished granite wall has  thousands of ghostlike etchings of the faces of the conflict that touch so many lives, yet is lost in historical perspective between the immensity of the war that preceded it and the controversy of the war that succeeded it.  On this particular day, a wreath of flowers from the Republic of South Korea showed the mists of time have not diminished this nation’s recognition of what role America played in preserving their independence and ongoing prosperity.

As one leaves the Mall for the Tidal Basin, the Mall’s symbolic reflection of national struggles are now left behind to return to the epic adoration of individuals on a massive canvas. The newest is the Martin Luther King Memorial at the crest of the Tidal Basin.  One walks between the cleft of a marble mountain to confront a  man emerging out of stone, with a look of resoluteness and determination convinced of the righteousness of his cause. Despite the structure’s  almost “soviet” overtones, there is a real sense of this man’s capacity to confront and overcome human inequities with the power of his intellect and logic that speaks to Mr. King’s critical place in the American story and the overwhelming propriety to place his presence among America’s pantheon of heroes. A mild complaint is the selection of a relatively political nature of his quotations, rather than the multiple magnificent quotations that spoke to his universality – I guess this should come as no surprise in today’s more politically correct world.  From the King Memorial, one travels the Basin to the monumental Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, huge in scope and story, highlighting the President’s leadership framing his most famous statements against the pain of the Great Depression and the challenge of the colossal World War.  The most significant statue is that of a war weary President comforted by his dog Fala, as he gazes back on the huge events that bookended his three terms and four elections as America’s longest serving President.  The most poignant is a line of hungry, desperate men leading to a door that suggests an unemployment or perhaps food line that underscores the devastating effects on the nation in the torment of financial and personal collapse.  We could certainly take some heed as we approach our own generation’s approaching fiscal crisis with a currently casual nature that it was not so long ago that an equally confident America succumbed to a financial calamity.

The Tidal Basin than completes its beautiful circularity, populated by beautiful cherry trees,  with the appropriately cool and isolated Thomas Jefferson Memorial  and the tiny and unfortunately neglected George Mason Memorial.  These colossal intellects of the American Revolution, Jefferson, the supreme poet of the Declaration of Independence and Mason, the Father of the Bill of Rights and intellectual framer of the Constitution have surprisingly unequal treatments.  Thomas Jefferson peers across the Basin detached from his heroic compatriots on the Mall, his elevated words providing the cool logic and intellectual force of the Revolution, rather than participating the calamity directly as a military man as did so many of his fellow Virginians.  The memorial  building so beautifully reflective of Jerfferson’s own Monticello stands in stark contrast to the little garden trellis that hovers over George Mason, seated at a bench like a country gentleman rather than the intellectual force he was.  It is one of the peculiarities of history that unfolding of the story is not always weighted by the profoundness of the contribution but rather the perspective of the story teller – thus the relative neglect of the great contributors to the nation’s birth, John Adams and George Mason.

The return to the National Mall from the Tidal Basin completes the circle of history as memorialized in stone and sculpture.  On a beautiful day like the one I appreciated above, the memorials exult in a special magnificence of scale and profundity.  We are reminded that our heroes have reached national veneration not so much through their circumstances as much as their selfless actions. They are immortalized for the eternal validity of their ideas and clarity of purpose by which they made such lofty ideas actionable.  In this nation of common birth, the most uncommon brilliance has sprung forth.

 

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Debates – 2012 Style – A Tragic Comedy

     In 1858, the Illinois senatorial contest between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A Douglas was occasioned by the most spectacular debates between the two men, that to this day resonate with passion and intellect and remain a focus of intense study.  The arguments were carefully constructed, the rebuttals pointed and clarifying, the respect for each other’s opinion profound.  The very discussion centered not on winning or losing the election, but entirely on winning or losing the argument, for each man knew that nation was listening, and contemplating, the immense import of the topics on the nation’s future, and which set of guiding principles should reign supreme.  It was brilliant, vitally important theater.

The 2012 Vice Presidential debate between Mr. Biden and Mr. Ryan  – not so much.

Its not as if the topics were of any less significant to the survival of the nation.  The continuing foment of radical Islamic terrorism despite 2 wars, thousands of lives lost, and a trillion spent in national treasure to attempt to defeat this fundamental threat to our civilization.  The burgeoning debt of the primary economic stabilizer and guarantor of freedom of the world, the United States, as the debt spirals past 100% of GDP, increases at the rate of a trillion dollars a year, and is progressively beholden to foreign powers.  The rise of the threat of thermonuclear war in the Middle East.  The fundamental argument of whose version of interpretation will prevail as to the founding principles of this nation.

The issues were indeed profound, but television allowed the hostage taking of the event by one of the participants into the theater of the absurd.  Instead of the solemnity and probity expected of such daunting issues, the Vice President of the United States, Mr. Biden, determined  we were to be treated to a national version of the typical discourse we see on the Judge Judy show.  As if he were the jilted girlfriend of a wayward relationship, we were treated to a hyper emotional, bordering on hysterical, cacophony of forced laughter, guffaws, cat ate the bird grins, feigned outrage, and dismissive smirks that Judge Judy producers would be hard pressed to achieve from their hyperbolic participants.  In between the clownish behavior the Vice President managed to treat facts and fabrications like long lost brothers invited as equals in Mr. Biden’s version of the world.  He proclaimed the administration had no knowledge of the reduced security presence in Benghazi, Libya that led to the most successful terrorist raid on an American dominion since 9/11/2001 and the murder of the American ambassador, despite his own state department stating the exact contrary the day before in Congressional hearings.  He declared the tax policy of the administration to represent tax increases on millionaires and reductions for everyone else, in the face of the repeated demarcation line at 250,000 and up in every campaign declaration.  He insisted the difference between the restraint required in Syria and the active intervention undertaken by his administration in Libya is the need to understand that Syria is five times as big and population half as large as Libya, when the exact opposite is the reality.  He dismissed any concern for the administration’s policy in achieving a brake on Iran’s intentions to become a thermonuclear power, as saying it is not about how much fissile material for making bombs Iran accumulates, its about preventing the bomb casing – a change in decades of nuclear proliferation policy that is bound to have the mullahs of Tehran doing handsprings. Too many distortions, too many outright fabrications to go on contemplating to any sensical end.

In the face of such nonsense, the opponent in a debate has two choices.  He or she can attempt to aggressively respond to each fabrication, leading to what appears to be argumentative violence and noise rather than debate, or simply sit back and watch the prevaricator to be hoisted upon their own petard.   Mr.Ryan accepted the second course, and as the days unfold from the event, this may prove to be the better course.  Each Biden petard is showing a slow fuse to progressive damage as the light of the facts stray into the nonsensical framework of Mr. Biden’s so called arguments.  Mr. Ryan, who has spent his professional life framing the discussion of difficult topics into extended logical reconstructions, was out of his league in trying to convert the debate into a battle of bombastic flame throwing, and was smart enough to recognize it.

So Mr. Biden was clownish, bombastic, and time and again prevaricating – so what? The dismal reality of such debating behavior and personality display is that this individual is Vice President of the United States, one tragic moment from being the most powerful executive in the world.  The issues to be adjudicated are of fundamental import to the future of the United States, not whose most at fault for the lack of garbage pick up in the 8th city ward in Chicago.  It has been said by President Roosevelt’s Vice President  John Nance Gardner that the role of the Vice Presidency is “not worth a bucket of warm p**s.” For that, in Mr. Biden’s case, we can be thankful.

Unfortunately, it is the damage to the tradition of careful choice of words, crafting of arguments, and recognition that what you say has great import on the national and world stage, when you are representing your country at its highest offices.  Lincoln and Douglas knew that. Webster and Calhoun knew that.  Kennedy and Nixon knew that.  It appears from Thursday’s debate, that only Mr. Ryan knew that.  We are diminished as a nation and a culture when the tools of democracy are used by a leader to promote a theater of the absurd, and attempt to appeal to our most base instincts, instead of our most fervent aspirations.

 

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The World Waits For No Campaign

The U.S. presidential campaign rumbles on after the debate regarding domestic issues with an intensified focus.  The predominant issue of the American economy and what should be the guiding philosophy behind its management dominated the debate and most of the past year’s political discourse.  In a few weeks the candidates will turn their debate attention to foreign affairs, and might just have a lot to talk about.  The world continues to spin in an unstable orbit that would benefit from clear leadership from the world’s foremost power, and is not about to wait for a campaign schedule to determine a course. Ramparts highlights a few of the many places where the drought in American attention may not be able to be sustained much longer:

  • Turkey – Syria :      The Syrian internal conflict has been worsening for over a year, and is now a fully fledged civil war with thousands dead.   The United States initially supported President Assad as a stabilizing force in the Middle East,  infamously referred to as a “reformer” by Secretary of State Clinton, only to find itself completely out of influence as events degenerated into all out conflict. As reformer Assad propped up his regime with one massacre after another, the opposition has radicalized, and outside forces are being drawn in which has significant potential to create a world wide crisis.  This past week Syria made several incursions across the Turkish border, resulting in the deaths of Turkish border patrols, and the country that sees itself as the traditional leader of the Islamic world through its Ottoman past and possessing the the largest and most modern military, is not about to take the incursions lying down. The Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has declared Turkey “is not far from war”. The obvious complicating feature is that Turkey is a NATO member and the NATO charter says an attack on one member is seen as an attack on all.  Does NATO stand by and refuse to supply or help defend its partner showing the NATO pact to essentially be a modern farce, or does it enter in support of Turkey which has declared significant designs on dominance of the region and risk pulling Syria staunch defender Russia further into direct support for Assad?  What expansion of the conflict between the regional powers Turkey and Syria would not also draw Israel and Iran directly into the mess?  Now that’s a series of events that a “leading from behind” policy will likely result in an America finding itself drawn into a cataclysm with little idea of what the outcome would be.  I would think this would be an excellent subject for our incumbent and presumptive president to explain their grasp of events, before events grasp them.

 

  • Venezuela  :  Today is Venezuela’s Presidential election between military strongman and proto-socialist Hugo Chavez and state governor Henrique Capriles.  Chavez is unique dictator in that he has been willing to put his form of redistribution in front of the people for elections, although most in Venezuela would suggest that controlling the military, security forces, and media as well as the constant spigot of petro dollars to “support” voters in making their decision, has made Chavez nearly unbeatable.  This year may prove differently, as a candidate with special allure has put the old dictator on the defense.  Henrique Capriles is a young governor with enormous appeal to the young, and disaffected middle class in Venezuela, and for the first time Chavez’s old tricks are not having an impact in dividing the opposition’s organization or intensity among the population.  Chavez, struggling with metastatic cancer, is looking old and feeble, a dangerous visual for the macho Latin persona he has always put forward, and the young handsome and highly capable governor Capriles has been fearless in campaigning in poor neighborhoods felt to be locked up by the Chavez machine.  If Venezuela surprises the world and defeats Chavez, a man who has used Venezuela’s huge oil reserves as a bank account to prop up banana socialist fantasy dictators such as Castro of Cuba and Evo Morales of Bolivia, the United States will need to be ready to help nurture the return to free enterprise and personal freedom.  Both U.S. candidates should be able to express themselves in depth on this issue, and President Obama should  explain why Hugo Chavez states Obama is the candidate he supports and feels comfortable with.

 

  • China – Japan :    Two old foes are heating up their rivalry in the East China Sea and the United States could find itself in the middle of instability that will have direct inflections on the world’s economy, security, and stability. Although the current issue seems to be regarding some innocuous uninhabited rocks in the middle of the ocean, the deeper considerations are deadly serious.  Two oil poor countries with massive economies in continuous need for energy supplies are looking to deep sea deposits of oil that lie beneath the waves and the  presumptive ownership of these little islands allow each to claim sovereignty over the oil.  China, the largest country and progressively larger economy sees itself as holding the rightful hegemony over its regional sphere, and Japan, neutralized by pacifist influences since its disastrous military oligarchy led it to complete destruction in World War Two, has been late to the game but is starting  to actively defend what it sees as its national interests.  The United States under President Obama has declared a Pacific centric foreign policy, with a  pre-meditated reduction of influence in Europe and Middle East. It would be an excellent topic to here the two candidates explain how they would respond to an escalation of hostile acts by the two hugely important  Asian countries.  Even a cold war between two of the world’s largest economies, and reawakening of martial instincts in the quiescent Japanese personality would not be a healthy direction for the world’s economy or stability.

 

  • The continuing Euro crisis:   The Prime Minister of Europe’s largest economy, Germany’s Angela Merkel, is heading into a hornet’s nest this week when she visits Athens to interact with the Greek government and discuss the means by which Greece can stay in the Euro zone.  The symbolism of a German leader dictating to Greek politicians the actions they must take to be a partner in an alliance has nasty overtones to a similar more subservient position for the Greeks 70 years ago.  The memories of the Nazi overlords remains fresh, and despite Greece having obviously playing the predominant role in getting themselves into this economic mess, they are none to anxious to have a German Chancellor dictate their way out of it.  The changes in Greek society required to support an economic union with the rest of Europe are proving extremely difficult to stomach, and the elements of economic collapse remain just over the horizon.  Merkel is in the unenviable position of convincing hostile Greeks to accept the draconian terms of receiving crucial German financial support, then having to turn around and explain to frugal German voters if despite all the investment, the Euro collapses anyway.  Now that’s a nasty situation that both U.S. candidates better show a deep understanding of, when it comes to a continent that has seen nothing but internecine wars for the past thousand years.  A coming return to deep recession is potentially the tinderbox that could set all of the superficial modernity and passiveness into turmoil.

The U.S. electorate would like to presume that foreign instabilities are faraway secondary affairs to the average American life, but reality and 110 years of America being drawn into foreign conflicts would suggest otherwise.  Ramparts holds the opinion that “leading from behind” is the wrong end of the donkey and will lead to smelly and dirty conflict more than prevent it.  The debate regarding the United States position in the world will hopefully show both candidates have a grasp of the stakes.

 

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The Emperor Has No Clothes

     The great Danish author of morality tales, Hans Christen Andersen, tells the story of a vain emperor who is sold a special “invisible cloth” by two conniving tailors who entice the emperor to purchase the fantasy cloth by proclaiming the cloth invisible only to those undeserving or too incompetent  for their public posts.  The emperor, “wearing” the special invisible garment, sees himself standing naked in the mirror, but is too vain and embarrassed to admit that he might not be smart or deserving enough as emperor to see the cloth and declares it beautiful.  He proceeds to parade among his people in the cloth quite naked and in denial,  until one little boy too honest and unaware of the “secret” declares, “the Emperor has no clothes!”

And so it was with our “Emperor” last night in front of a national television audience watching the presidential debate between challenger Mitt Romney and President Obama.  The President, treated to almost four years of complete deference to his wobbly logic, cockamamie schemes, and self directed platitudes by an enthralled, unquestioning media, had his record and his performance laid out nakedly in the klieg lights by Mitt Romney and the exposure was every bit as startling to Obama as to Andersen’s fictional emperor.

The two pillars of ‘invisible cloth” of this President – an unquestioned superior “grasp” of complex governmental issues by a totally unprepared, inexperienced college professor on the basis of his supposed superior intellect,  and and the glossing over of an abysmal record of performance unmatched since James Buchanan came crashing down under the persistent attack of  the smarter man in the room, Governor Romney.

The President seemed almost stunned by the lack of deference to previously accepted paper thin logic used to underpin a multi-trillion dollar binge on the economic stability of the United States.  The challenger Romney struck with blow after blow of report card  assessments on the President’s performance in his four years in office – “23 million unemployed”, “half of college graduates leaving school with no hope of employment”, “32 million on food stamps when you started, 46 million Americans currently”, “one sixth of America living in poverty” , and “projected greater accumulation of national debt than all the other American Presidents combined.”  The feeble recitation of a so called plan to apparently cut the budget deficit deficit while raising taxes and adding more stimulus spending for “100,000 teachers” left one aghast at the numerical logic.  Even this one small retort was crushed under a devastating Romney rebuttal.  To paraphrase the governor:

 Mr. President, you talk of spending even more stimulus money for teachers while helping to pay for it by eliminating “subsidies for Exxon Mobil”, yet the 2.8 billion in current oil subsidies pales in comparison to the 90 Billion for so called green subsidies to friends of Obama. You want to pick winners and losers in this economy, but you seem to have a knack for picking losers only, such as Solyndra.  A hundred thousand teachers? Had you truly considered education your number one priority, the  90 billion wasted on losing green industries could have paid for 2 Million teachers!

The need to defend the indefensible proved an impossible task for the President, and this time there was no media to spin the vacuousness into stature.  This time, an opponent with principles rock-rooted in the fabric of American exceptionalism, was ready to debate the liberal daydreaming of what ifs, if onlys, and how it should bes, with the cold hard logic of how to get our game back.  It was a beautiful thing to watch, and the exposure of the mythical emperor as ,after all, only a man, and an  average one at that, can never be again  foisted upon the discerning voter.

On this particular night the professor was schooled on what should really be our nation’s curriculum, and the effect on the rest of this election preamble will be fascinating to watch.  This President may be committed to his losing argument, but it is a two fisted death grip on a loser, and now we all can see it for what it is.

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The Decline and Fall of the First Amendment

The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The election of the President of the United States lumbers onward past the 40 day mark to election day with seeds of the future demise of this great concept, America, being progressively planted and nurtured.   The nurturing force? Money. Gobs and reams of it. Hundreds of millions of it. Two candidates face each other in a titanic battle of never ending spending to attempt to control the message, not the truth of American politics.  And what was once the arbiter of separating fact from truth, the so-called fourth estate, the press, has becoming a willing participant in picking sides and fashioning the message Americans will use to make their decision.  Freedom of the Press, specifically mentioned in the initial article of the Bill of Rights, secured to assure the capacity of the people to control their government and protect its excesses, has now become a vehicle for the government to squash the redressing of grievances, and the correcting of electoral mistakes.

The collusion of the press and the abandonment of their first amendment role has been made ever so clear in a two week period of scandalous government performance and purposeful neglect of that performance by the media.  The story so carefully tendered of a brilliant, competent President performing his difficult tasks with dexterity and foresight has proven to be Potemkin facade glaringly exposed in the debacle in Libya of an assassinated ambassador and the pathetic administration performance in the aftermath.  It would be a story on the level of the failed Carter rescue mission of 1979, the Bay of Pigs catastrophe and aftermath of 1961,or even the infamous George Bush ‘flyover’ of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 if a free, investigative press was still functioning – but only silence and more silence.  The main stream media has bought into this President and allowed him to buy into them.   With this incestuous relationship, the primary freedoms declared in the nation’s founding act are crumbling, an with it the relationship of its government to its people.

In the past two weeks, an American administration frankly lied for days after about what it knew regarding a  devastating failure of foreign policy.  An American ambassador to Libya and three other American citizens were murdered in a calculated, planned military style operation of the sworn enemy of the United States, Al Qaeda.  The inability to predict and secure against such a revenge operation in one of the world’s most volatile places on the anniversary of 9/11 borders on stupidity,  but the administration’s response and cover-up of events borders on criminal.  Within hours of the attack the Libyan President himself stated on American television that this was no spontaneous outburst of  anger towards an unseen video but a coordinated  attack of enemies of the state.  The government of the United States was clearly aware of the realities on the ground.  The response, a cover story – agitated Libyan citizens grew out of control protesting a video they had never seen,  and had in their anger at our insensitivity to their culture, murdered Americans.  The nonsensical story was stuck to, with the President allowing the Ambassador to the UN to go on five Sunday morning news shows and proclaim no evidence of an organized terrorist attack, but conclusively claim the bogus video incitement as the cause of the catastrophe.   The “director” of the said video is rounded up by police after the event to intimidate American expressions of free speech and apologies for the essential American right of free expression guaranteed in the First Amendment are slathered over Arab media.  The press response to such willful cover-up of failed policies? Silence.

The President, the admitted designer of the “lead from behind” foreign policy tenets that led to the complete lack of coherent response to islamic extremist takeovers of the Arab Spring  revolts, the Muslim Brotherhood takeover of Egypt, the chaos in Libya, the genocide in Syria, the flagrant rebuff of the Green Revolution in Iran – continued the charade of cover-up in action after action.  The press response? Silence.  The President during the height of the explosion in the middle East against multiple embassies manages the crisis from an Obama fundraiser in Nevada.  The President interviewed on national television describes the deaths of U.S. representatives by a resurgent Al Qaeda as mere “bumps in the road” to his overall Arab Spring policies (see above cartoon),  The president days after acknowledgement of the obvious falsehood of his attempted scenario for the Libyan massacre goes before the United Nations and declares again the role of an unseen video and American cultural ignorance in propagating Arab responses.  He purposefully states he is too busy and refuses to meet with the leader of his only ally in the Middle East, Israel at one of the most unstable, dangerous times in recent history in which the words “world war” are being evoked by both sides, and instead appears on the fawning morning television show the View to present himself as “eye candy”.  On and On and On.  The press response to such blatant casualness about the primary threat to American sovereignty over the past twenty years? Silence.

The Silence is more than a national embarrassment, more than a potential negative to be explored on the way to the President’s attempt at re-election.  Its a threat to our way of life to have elected leaders so unaccountable to explain and be responsible for their actions.  Its a threat to the principles of America, the securing of an open government, the right to dissent, the press’s independent role to investigate,  the need to vet our candidates to represent us and who we are.  40 days before the election of the next American President, we are in the midst of a calamity with the current one, and the press acts like its role is to make sure no one finds out.

The former Democrat pollster Pat Caddell believes the foundations of America are being corrupted beyond repair by the joining of a willful dictacrat in the White House and a lap dog media.  Though he is a liberal, he makes it very clear he is not an idiot and can see the trappings of the loss of American freedom written all over this unholy marriage.  Democrat or Republican, collectivist or free thinker, no American can look at whats happening and not demand a “coming to Jesus” moment of the 2012 electorate.

 

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Who Really Had The Bad Week?

The Presidential 2012 Election is under 50 days away and if we were to believe “trends” as reported by media sources, the actual vote is anti-climatic. This was apparently a “good” week for the President,  who is to the media sycophants urging him on, incapable of “bad” weeks.   The national polls “suggest” a broadening of President Obama’s lead of Mr. Romney, and the key battleground states show slippage of Romney traction across the board.  It must be over, because everyone says it is.

The notorious need to prematurely “call” elections for their candidate has left the media with a candidate graveyard of never were Presidents such as the re-elected  President Carter, President Dukakis, President Gore, and President Kerry.  In each case, there was an omnipresent need by the media to try to inform public that the outcome was assured and inevitable, hopefully dampening the hopes of those who would support the alternative candidate and thereby suppressing their vote.  The polls, with oversampling of enthusiasms more appropriate for the 2008 campaign,  say the lead for President Obama is widening, and it is a bad week for Mr. Romney.  Just accept it, lay back and take it, and you won’t feel so crushed when Obama prevails on November 6th.

Really? Just who was it that had the bad week?  In the past week we note the following:

  • 26 states reported worsening unemployment rates in August – the economic flop that was the stimulus, the President’s one trick pony understanding of the economy, continues to reveal its self in the ongoing flat tire of private economic job growth.  The usual source of recession employment recovery, small business growth, is non-existent, and given  the President’s disdain for this vital tool for economic restoration, is a vise that the unemployed can expect to be confined by.  What’s the chance that unemployed voters will see this President as their way out?
  • The calamity in Afghanistan– One week, two blows.  The President declared that President Bush had wasted his time and our nation’s resources in Iraq.  President Obama was going to fight and win the “good” war in Afghanistan defeating the Taliban.  This past week has seen the utter failure of the President’s Afghanistan surge strategy as the at the very moment the U.S. has pulled out of the final soldiers involved in the 40,000 soldier surge over the last two years on a predeclared Presidential timetable, the Taliban determined to show the U.S. just how little was accomplished, punctuated by a brazen coordinated attack on Camp Bastion, resulting in the deaths of two marines, and the greatest loss of fighter jets since Vietnam.
  • The White House got “everything wrong” in their cover-up of what happened in the murder of U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens –  This week the press is coming to grips with what every American knew instantly, and what the clueless White House vehemently deneied,  was the reality of the September 11th attacks on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya. This was a pre-meditated coordinated Al Qaeda attack on a United States institution to mark the anniversary of 9/11, and not some over emotional response to a video that no one has seen.  The President accused challenger Romney of “shooting from the hip before the facts are in”, yet sent his UN Ambassador Rice to vehemently deny any connection to terrorism regarding the murderous assault.  He continues to apologize for the mythical video no one has seen, buying airtime in Pakistan for ongoing apologies, and intimidating the video’s creator with midnight interrogation on trumped up charges in one of the most blatant attacks on the freedom of speech clause in the U.S. Bill of Rights, in years.  The administration’s pathetic explanation and attempted cover-up of the Libyan massacre of four Americans is progressively unraveling, and may prove to be a real debacle for this President and his superficial veneer of competence.
  • The Univision Interview – President Obama while managing to avoid formal press conferences has looked to media outlets of his choosing to provide the fawning softball interviews that allow him to control the message.   Thus the lollypop questions of that incisive political investigator David Letterman, or the “what is Your Favorite Color” t-ball pitches of those intrepid reporters at the New Mexico radio station.  There was no reason for Obama to expect any different from what he assumes is a captured constituent, the Hispanic community.  Taking a seat on stage on Univision the Spanish language television station, his desire to educate Hispanics on his favorite mole sauce was ruined when the interviewer determined to call him on his immigration policy, or lack thereof.  The usual Obama banter of Bush, I didn’t have time, Bush, my heart cries out to the poor illegal immigrants I deport, Bush, Republican congress obstruction, Bush, I’ll get it done later did not sit well with the audience that was looking for at least a considered thought from the President.   How this will sit with the Hispanic voter who already has qualms about this President will be interesting but a continuing reliance on “You like me better, remember?” will inevitably lose traction with a population that is every bit about economic opportunity and family.
  • Moody’s issues “fiscal cliff” warning – The investor service Moody’s acknowledged that with the recent passing of U.S. debt beyond 16 trillion dollars, and the fourth deficit in a row over a trillion dollars, that the United States faces a significant credit reduction from AAA to Aa1. The Federal Reserve, seeing the ineptness of the federal government to fashion an economic recovery determined to initiate “Quantitative Easing III”, the pouring of billions of dollars of month into the economy for the third time, but this time “open-ended”, thereby sitting the stage for greatest tax ever to hit the lower and middle classes, inflation, and its profound effect on nest egg savings.  The President’s  response to such dire indications of the nation’s economic future, pronounced to David Letterman and his American  television audience, “We don’t have to worry about the debt short term” and pretended to not know exactly how big the debt was when he took office.  Well after all, his Noble Prize is for Peace, not Economics.  The ones who lend money to keep President Obama’s debt train running do know, however, and the current low lending rates that allow the present administration to spend at the rate of 42 borrowed cents on every dollar spent, will not be as unaware when interest rates inevitably rise and the estimated 11.3 trillion d0llar debt currently held by the public will begin to spiral out of control and with it, the capacity to pay.  The President has participated in increasing the accrued debt of the United States in one presidential  term by 34.2% in less than 2% of the time since the nation’s formation.  At that rate, another four years of these kind of economics, and even David Letterman will be able to figure out what’s catastrophically wrong about this President’s understanding of the country he leads.

The presidential race defies the normal considerations of an informed voter.  The country appears detached from the impending national crisis, consumed with celebrity over performance, and unwilling to grade objectively  the current White House occupant’s job performance.  A few more weeks like the last one, however, and the recognition of the worst presidential job performance since James Buchanan will be hard to hide from even a disinterested voter who gets his or her news from TMZ.

A bad polling week for Mitt Romney is an inch deep, but the growing chasm in the President’s performance and the progressive realization of it is a mile wide. Its not even remotely – game over.

 

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“Obviously Our Hearts Are Broken”

The President of the United States managed to briefly interrupt his fundraiser in Las Vegas to inform the crowd of his regret regarding the death by murder of the representative of the United States in Libya, Ambassador Chris Stevens.  “Obviously our hearts are broken,” he exclaimed. Well as Mark Steyn would say, not so obvious.  The middle East is exploding in a masturbatory orgasm of Islamic radical spasm toward the great satan America, and the President, who once exclaimed that his mere personhood would reduce the invective felt by all Muslims towards America due to the unique blundering heavy-handedness of the clueless Bush, could not manage separate himself from the needs of the fundraiser to serve the needs of his nation, other than that brief, offhand remark.  Honestly…. stunning.

Chris Stevens was a man who had given his entire avocation to understanding the Islamic crescent of North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean seaboard.  He had earned a college degree from Berkeley, a masters from the National War College, and a Law degree from the University of California.  He had served in the Peace Corps in Morocco,  learned French and Arabic in addition to his native English, and ably served his country diplomatically in Jerusalem, Damascus, Cairo, and Riyadh.  He was one of the pivotal figures in helping to direct the United States communication with the Arab Spring rebels, fundamental in achieving the  overthrow of the  Libyan dictator Qaddafi, and in May 2012, was named American Ambassador to Libya and its fledgling government.  Chris Stevens was one of those special people who made their life work trying to find a way out of the chaos for those whose lives were perpetually crushed by the chaos.

Chris Stevens’ life of service was paid back by the Libyans he helped by brutal assassination and the obligatory infantile dragging of Stevens’ lifeless body through  the streets of Benghazi by the thugs who murdered him and their sycophants.  The Secretary of State Hillary Clinton managed to view this as “Libyans carried Chris’s body to the hospital.” Again….absolutely stunning.  Are these clueless people truly the ones implementing our national policies and protecting our sovereignty?

We live in times dominated by the theater of the absurd.  The President and Secretary of State of the most powerful nation on earth enunciate their vision for American diplomacy as “leading from behind”.   The Ambassador representing them in one of the most hostile and unstable places on earth is left on September the 11th, the anniversary of Islamic Radicalism’s greatest triumph, essentially unprotected at an”interim facility” in Benghazi on the terrorists’ most sacred date, the perfect sacred cow for sacrifice to the Islamic radicals greatest deity, the god of death. To bring the Absurdity to culmination, the UK Independent reports that the vulnerability of the American Mission was known for 48 hours and the American administration did nothing (except guest appearances on television shows and fundraising events).  Most absurdly, this American administration’s interpretation of this organized assassination squad was that it was after all the fault of America, because an obscure video on YouTube had obviously driven the initially peaceful protesters to distraction, and propagated their uncontrollable outrage to engage in ambassadorial murder… with apparently the RPGs, mortars, and other heavy weapons they just so happened to be carrying on their heretofore peaceful demonstration.  Absolutely, absurdly stunning.

We are currently being led into a snake-pit of financial collapse and paralytic foreign policy by a President whose most important constituency is himself.  He sees this country as his personal petri dish, where he can concoct absurdest  policies and visions of socialist utopias, and the lemmings will support him blindly.  Tremendous individuals  like Chris Stevens are being burned up in circular policies with no beginning and no end except the re-election of the prevaricator in chief.  Before we all pitch ourselves off the cliff following this absurd pied piper, let us find our sanity, and do the right thing on November 6th, 2012.

 

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Pictures After An Exhibition

The country has now survived  the two packaged events once known as political conventions, and the early indications are that not much has changed in the snapshot of the November contest.  The President holds a several point lead over Mitt Romney that continues to be paced on something obliquely referred to as a “likeability ” factor and a general sense that the President speaks for the everyguy.  Its the “everyguy” that is the facinating feature to me, and how that has changed so dramatically in the course of my lifetime – specifically, what apparently the “everyguy” cares about.

Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post has a spot on commentary as to what the Democratic Party image has become as reflected at the convention and is a must read.  The party has morphed into a series of two dimensional pictures at an exhibition, each a specific image of grievances bound together only by the intensity of their sense of grievance.  The African American political activist at one time energized by the fight for civil rights and the concept of individual liberty, now consumed with the fight for monolithic governmental benevolence.  The 30 year old female law student, having achieved equal access to the law, now wanting the law to assure her free birth control as the signature achievement of her educational journey.  The public union leader, who has turned the concept of public service into the responsibility of the public to serve the public official.  All together, strident pictures of an America not founded on elevated ideas of personal liberty and freedom to succeed, but an America that is owed something, and the something that is owed, is owed  by one American to another.

And the framer of all these disparate pictures, the artist in chief, President Obama.  The lofty goal setter of 2008, with a vision of a healed planet and oceans whose rise is slowed, was no where in sight at the president’s acceptance speech.  That Obama was replaced with the plea bargainer, asking for more time to achieve the transformation of America from the united vision of the founders to the land of “at least I got mine”.  There was no mention anywhere of the approaching calamity of trying to support those entitled, on the backs of those who would provide the means for the entitlement.  Rubin states it perfectly:

So then it wasn’t merely that Obama let lose the rent-seekers (and birth control-seekers and free-education-seekers). No, he needed them to fill up the space and the airwaves, to promise that no matter what (fiscal crisis, recession) he will still be there to cater to the whims and demands of the constituent groups. Sure the economy is bad, but whose going to give you free college tuition?

It’s ludicrous, of course. If the economy doesn’t improve and we don’t avoid the fiscal cliff, we’ll be taking away, not handing out stuff. This is the “austerity” against which the liberals inveigh. In fact, they are driving us ever closer to the point where we will will have to quickly and severely cut out the handouts.

It is, as conservatives have said for so long, the Western European syndrome. As we spend and cater to the demanding crowd, we push ourselves closer and closer to the point where both the excessive demands and actual needs will go unmet.

Indeed. Yet the pictures as idealized as they are painted by the President can not hide the crumbling edifice beneath.  The promises of an economy put forth by this President that would equalize risk and reward, and therefore elevate all – the socialist ideal – is sliding into a malaise that may prove beyond any of our control.  The policy of picking winners has led to more and more Americans simply giving up on their efforts to find their way.  August 2012 employment figures show the unemployment rate dropped due to an ever increasing number of Americans who have simply stopped looking for work.  These are the pictures the artist in chief could not reveal – the student graduate in their twenties who can’t get started and the laid off workers in their fifties who have recognized there won’t be one more chance out there to finally get things right.  This country is increasingly looking like just another failed state, with no idea how to move forward and no will to adjust priorities.

The American everyguy used to be someone who regardless of personal circumstances could sense the larger picture, feel when the country was dangerously surging off kilter, and recognize the need to right the ship of state.

The election in November looms large.  We need the “everyguy” to step up and do what is necessary. We need to change the artist, if we have any hope of changing the picture of our future.

 

 

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RNC 2012 Day 3 Impressions: Mitt Romney -The Competent in Chief

The 2012 Republican convention had a unique problem to solve when its presidential candidate rose to the podium to give the closing speech to the conventioneers and the nation.  What to do when your standard bearers, the articulate, impassioned, and committed spokesmen for the cause – have already spoken?  Like a great ship on the ocean, the Republican Party has dramatically shifted course toward a different horizon, and the captains of that ship from this time forth are Ryan and Rubio.  No two presentations before a national convention have ever put in place a more perfect bookend explanation as to what this political party believes and fights for, and the two will likely be the coming generational face of the party for the next 16 years.  Both will be indispensable, and it is likely both will be President someday.

But someday is not 2012, and the party’s candidate is Mitt Romney, and from all appearances he took on the problem of the two shining stars that preceded him and laid out a case that in executive positions, it is not flash, but competency that matters.  Challenging in prose and delivery the two previously mentioned  superstars would have been risky, and frankly I don’t believe is in Romney’s DNA.   His speech (and the speechwriters who framed Romney’s thoughts) went with a beeline to the residual pool of disaffected Obama voters who hoped for more production from the President to match his soaring rhetoric of 2008. Romney made the speech about competency, and since this is after all a contest between he and Obama, who would be the better competent in chief.

He made the argument rather well, but without the symphonic tones of the Cicero lectoring before him, Marco Rubio.  Recognizing President Obama’s residual likability advantage in polls, Romney did not try to paint the President as uncaring or disconnected, but simply not up to the task of management of a enterprise as complex as America.  Echoing Clint Eastwood’s quirky tome on Obama earlier in which Eastwood said, “And when somebody doesn’t do the job, we got to let them go.”  Romney stated it in terms of the disillusionment he believes is out there:

 If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama? You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.

Romney pointed towards President Obama’s tendency to put the position of American President in a different kind of metaphysical calling, as a global arbiter of morality and fairness, not the elected representative speaking for, and standing up for,  the American people.  This dissonance from the American purpose was perfectly framed in Romney’s best line in the speech:

President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. MY promise…is to help you and your family.

Romney spent the greater part of the speech outlining the relative ordinariness of his upbringing and personhood, ordinary in the extraordinary way that seems to be a recurrent theme in American success stories – immigrant routes, one generation sacrificing so that the next generation may prosper, the importance of family, the willingness to try and fail ultimately to succeed – all endearing elements of the Romney story that perhaps may have provided some softened nuance to the media so determined to paint him as some kind of uncaring capitalist hedge fund manager.  To my ears, however this section seemed somewhat disjointed and overly long, and lacking in connectivity to Romney’s argument of competence.

Conclusively, however, Romney eventually restored managerial competency to the forefront and laid out an evidence and results based tone to a Romney administration, a stark contrast to Obama’s cork in the ocean journey of no budgeting, no adjustments, and no practical plan for the looming crises:

And unlike the President, I have a plan to create 12 million new jobs. It has 5 steps.

First, by 2020, North America will be energy independent by taking full advantage of our oil and coal and gas and nuclear and renewables.

Second, we will give our fellow citizens the skills they need for the jobs of today and the careers of tomorrow. When it comes to the school your child will attend, every parent should have a choice, and every child should have a chance.

Third, we will make trade work for America by forging new trade agreements. And when nations cheat in trade, there will be unmistakable consequences.

Fourth, to assure every entrepreneur and every job creator that their investments in America will not vanish as have those in Greece, we will cut the deficit and put America on track to a balanced budget.

And fifth, we will champion SMALL businesses, America’s engine of job growth. That means reducing taxes on business, not raising them. It means simplifying and modernizing the regulations that hurt small business the most. And it means that we must rein in the skyrocketing cost of healthcare by repealing and replacing Obamacare…

The speech as a summation of all the collected voices of this convention was a success in reminding all what American exceptionalism is all about.  That it is not enough to field a team of stars, strivers, and dreamers, but humbly direct them with competent management , is the foundation on which Mitt Romney is staking his claim to the American Presidency.  It may not be enough to get Romney eventually on Mt Rushmore, but it may be the perfect recipe to restore balance and adult standards to a shaky America that is concerned that our leaders are playing loose with our destiny.

 

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