Thursday, August 16, 2012

"Put Y'all Back in Chains"

Sydney M. Williams
                                                               Thought of the Day
                                                          “Put Y’all Back in Chains”
August 16, 2012

The use of “Y’all” by a white man from Scranton, Pennsylvania – never mind the word “chains” – while speaking to a largely African-American crowd in Wyethville, Virginia, is condescending to his audience and insulting to his target. The use of such language is based on the concept that if people hear lies repeated continuously they will be considered truths. Campaign managers, like David Axelrod who conceive of such slogans assume the electorate is stupid. There are many who are convinced that nasty campaigns help win elections. I don’t know. I find it supercilious and unattractive. I have to believe that people are smarter than that. It was good to hear the stolid and respectful Mr. Romney finally hit back at Mr. Obama: “Mr. President, take your campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago.”

Mr. Biden’s comments that headline this piece represent the modern role of Vice Presidents – attack dogs on the campaign trail. Perhaps it is because they have so little to do. Conventional wisdom suggests that it is the head of the ticket that determines for whom an elector votes, freeing up the Vice Presidential candidate to become the aggressor, while the Presidential candidate can assume a role of composure and decorum. You wouldn’t know that from some of Mr. Obama’s rhetoric, but then he has a record he cannot defend; so attacks have become his favored venue. It is certainly possible, though, that a Vice Presidential candidate may have negative consequences, as was likely true in 1992 with Dan Quayle on the ticket with George H.W. Bush, and almost certainly was a negative when John McCain selected Governor Sarah Palin to serve on his ticket. Joe Biden added maturity to a relatively youthful and inexperienced Barack Obama in 2008. However, four years later and at 69 getting long-in-the-tooth and with a propensity for gaffes, he may prove more of a hindrance than a help. That may be especially true running against a youthful and highly intelligent Paul Ryan. It is worth keeping in mind, though, that the last time a President dumped his Vice President was in 1944, when Franklin Roosevelt tossed Henry Wallace out in favor of Harry Truman. That doesn’t mean, though, that the “win at any price” Mr. Obama won’t scuttle Mr. Biden. He could well do so.

From the earliest days of the Republic, the Vice Presidency has been considered an office of very little worth. John Adams, the nation’s first Vice President once described the office: “The Vice Presidency is the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or is imagination conceived.” Since Mr. Adams had been present at the creation, those are telling words. Daniel Webster, a few years later, refused the offer, saying, “I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead.” The most famous comment about the office of Vice Presidency was said by the Southern Democrat John Nance Garner who served as FDR’s Vice President for his first two terms. He described it as being “not worth a bucket of warm piss.” After helping to defeat Mr. Roosevelt’s attempt to pack the Supreme Court in 1937, he was summarily dropped from the ticket in favor of the aforementioned Mr. Wallace whose Socialist credentials were just what FDR wanted.

Once President Eisenhower was asked by a reporter as to whether his Vice President, Richard Nixon, had ever contributed to a major policy decision. The former General responded: “If you give me a week, I might think of one.”

Richard Nixon was one of seven Vice Presidents in the 20th Century to become President. The others were Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge (who once said that being Vice President allowed him to get his nightly allotment of eleven hours of sleep), Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Jerry Ford and George H.W. Bush. Interestingly, the first President Bush and Martin Van Buren have been the only Vice Presidents, since the 12th Amendment was passed in 1804, to be elected President directly from serving as Vice President.

Curiously, with the exception of the crook, Nixon, most of the Vice Presidents who later became President have had their reputations enhanced with time, unlike the reputations of those they served – exceptions being Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, whose reputations remain strong.

As dust settles over musty old history books, and memories fade, most of us cannot recall the names of Vice Presidents from the previous century. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on one’s point of view, that is unlikely to happen today with the advent of the internet, YouTube and a 24-hour news cycle. The current resident of the Victorian mansion on the grounds of the Naval Observatory, whether he makes it on to the ticket again, will long be with us. Who else but Mr. Biden would have said, with a live microphone still on, at the signing of the President’s healthcare bill, “This is a big f***’n deal.” We cannot forget the numeracy-challenged Mr. Biden once saying: “If we do everything right, if we do it with absolute certainty, there’s still a 30% chance we will get it wrong.” And, once, but this time speaking to a largely white audience while stumping for Mr. Obama in 2007, Mr. Biden said: “I mean, you get the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice looking guy. I mean that’s a storybook, man.”

And this is the guy who calls Republicans, and Mr. Romney in particular, racist! When Mr. Obama was elected President in November 2008, unemployment stood at 6.5%, and for African Americans it was 11.1%. Today, unemployment is 6.5% and for African Americans it is 14.4%. And the 14.4% was up from 13.6% the month earlier. It is hard to argue that the Obama-Biden team has been good for the economy and even harder to argue that they have been good for African Americans.

Words mean something; so you should tone it down, Joe. And, given the sorry state of unemployment, you should focus on helping find jobs for the people you were elected to serve, rather than focusing on your own.

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