Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Worst President Ever?

If you've spent any time lately on Facebook, you've undoubtedly noticed one of your "friends" and his/her vote on whether George W. Bush was the worst President ever. Worst. Ever. Gets you to thinking, doesn't it? I mean, what's the criteria for being the worst President ever? Those are two words with quite a stigma, "worst" and "ever."

For Presidents, there's a long list of factors to consider, evaluate, and ultimately judge - domestic and foreign policy, economic stability and growth, human and civil rights, education, health care, national security, and international leadership, just to name top of the list. It's easy to forget a President doesn't do it alone, and I'm not just talking about cabinet Secretaries. Our "Checks & Balances" government includes the Legislative (Congress and Senate) and Judicial (Supreme Court) branches. It's far from a one-man show, but that clouds our sound bite attention spans and one-liner appetites.

You want the office, you (and your family) has to bear the scrutiny. Yeah, it's a bit unfortunate, but all candidates know the game.

Now, for the matter of G.W. No question, he had a tough row to hoe. September 11, 2001 knocked the luster off his inauguration faster than you can say "Osama is a sniveling little bitch hiding in a cave." Despite how bad ass our military is, public opinion never embraces a modern war for long - the graphic pictures from the frontlines are just too much for many of us to stomach. Bookend the wars with the global economic meltdown. In between is a shit sandwich of failed diplomatic relations and a variety of other woes. Tough eight years, no doubt.

But, worst ever? For that, you have to compare, and to do that, we need to flip back the pages of history just a wee bit.

Andrew Johnson was a white supremist who opposed Reconstructionist efforts to extend the most basic of civil rights to freed black slaves. Richard Nixon visited China, yes, but he also rode roughshod over the Constitution and abused the power of the Presidency, eventually getting implicated in the Watergate burglary. James Buchanon divided our country into the North and the South, where brothers fought brothers. Calvin Coolidge oversaw wide-spread corruption and the dawn of the Great Depression. James Polk attacked Mexico unprovoked and took one third of its land.

And I'm just getting started.

I don't want to defend W. I also don't want to indict him. Smarter people than me will debate the merit of his Presidency and its rank among the others. Key words above are "smarter people" - in those I trust, and I look forward to reading their opinions. No, what, or rather who, I want to indict are the less than smarter people who serve up opinions like Courtney Love serves up eight balls to house guests.

Now, I think I should be the last one to assert that everyone isn't entitled to their own opinion - after all, I write a blog titled, "Just this guy's opinion." But, before spouting off, it's good to at least assume some degree of credibility. I'm not suggesting you have to be a Presidential scholar to weigh in on the debate, and you certainly don't need to know Tippecanoe (William Henry Harrison) and Tyler (John Tyler) too. But, there has to be some litmus test to serve as a qualified contributor to the discussion. I've never been one to shy away from proposing guidelines, so here it goes - the somewhat definitive criteria that must be passed before passing judgment, in at least the neighborhood of an educated opinion, on the "worst President ever" includes:

  • You have to know how many U.S. Presidents there have been. I'll cut you some slack if you don't know all their names. But, you absolutely must know the number. How many Presidents have there been, including President Obama? If your answer is a number other than 44, then resist your temptation to spout off - you're simply unqualified.
  • Second consideration: If you're over 18, not a convicted felon, and a citizen of the United States, you must be registered to vote. If you're too stupid to exercise your right to choose government representation, you're too stupid to afford an opinion; at least too stupid to offer one that anyone wants to hear.
  • Next, you must be able to name all the Presidents, in order, since you were born. This is a minimum requirement. If you want to judge merits relative - worst ever, after all - you at least need to know some names of the others in which you're comparing. Forget for the moment platforms and policies - all I'm asking for is names. Now, if you can't name names, you can't offer up "worst ever" or "best ever." You'll have to settle for just "good" or "bad."
  • Of the Presidents who held office before you were born, you have to know the names of at least 10%. C'mon, it's 10%. Are you smarter than a 5th grader?
  • You have to know the difference between Washington state and Washington, D.C. I'm not just talking geography either. I need to move this one to the top of the list.
  • You have to swear to never have voted a straight party ticket just for the sake of voting a straight party ticket. If you don't examine the individual merits of each candidate, regardless of party affliation, you do not make decisions on all the available data. Said differently, you don't make good decisions. Said even more differently, no one wants to hear the opinion of someone who doesn't make good decisions.

So, there you have it. Was George W. Bush the worst President ever? I don't know. To tell you the truth, I don't care. I just want to make sure that the current President and all of the next Presidents don't become the worst ever. As for those of you compelled to express your opinion on history, I look forward to hearing them - but only if you first pass the minimum qualifications.

Then again, what do I know? That's just this guy's opinion.

Like what you read? Hate? Vote on Twitter @RayHartjen.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Tallest of Trees for Polanski

Perhaps the saddest part of our cultural "evolution" is our collective obsession with celebrity. We can't - we won't - get away from it. Are there really over three million people who care what Ashton Kutcher tweets? Simply, unbelievable.

It's everywhere you turn, our obsession with celebrity. Years ago, it used to be only the checkout aisle of the grocery store and its tabloids - half of which featured alien babies and "jackalopes." Over time, the newstand sprouted US Weekly and all the other glossy trash, to whereas now a shopper has to deploy a search and rescue team just to find a Snickers bar at the checkout aisle. Our stupid obsession with celebrity even gave birth to the absolute shittiest channel in television history, the E! network, where even bad shows won't go to die.

Somehow, over the past two decades, celebrities have grown in stature to shape the very opinions we used to develop on our own. Did you know that 50% of women 18-55 won't do anything unless Oprah tells them to do/believe in it? Okay, I made that statistic up, but I bet it's pretty close. As for politics, since when does the beacon of intelligence shine from none other than Alec Baldwin or Susan Sarandon, or some other idiot best known for entertaining us in little 30-minute to 2-hour segments?

Thankfully, we my be experiencing just a bit of a turn - for the better - away from our celebrity fixation. On September 26, famed director Roman Polanski was arrested as he entered Switzerland, on his merry way to being honored at an awards ceremony. We tend to forget, as we snatch up Blu-Ray copies of Chinatown out of the bargain bin, that Polanski is a fugitive from justice, running from a 1977 felony conviction for unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor.

As news of Polanski's arrest spread virally through the world media; including, presumably, through Kutcher's 140-characters-a-tweet-literary-brilliance; several members of the close-knit Hollywood community offered vocal support for ol' Roman, including renowned celebutard, Woody Allen.

I know - ridiculous. After all, what does Woody Allen know about taking advantage of a young, impressionable girl who ... . Uh, never mind.

Defending Roman Polanski and his past actions? Some of us ordinary non-celebrities almost fell for it too. Luckily, the facts of the case have re-emerged after 32 years and one somewhat off-base documentary (2008's Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired) suggesting Polanski has already served his punishment (yes, in many respects, living in exile in France could be construed as punishment). For those living far removed from both tabloids and Twitter, let's review the legal facts of the case, to which Polanski has confessed:
  • Used the false pretense of a fashion magazine photo shoot to lure a 13-year old girl to a friend's house (the friend being Jack Nicholson, no less)
  • Provided several glasses of Champagne to set the mood
  • Took topless photos of the child
  • Provided a now drunk adolescent with a Quaalude
  • Forced himself on the teen (that's euphemistic phraseology for vaginally and anally raping her)

13 years old. Collectively, the above would be designated multiple felonies if the victim was 31. No matter where you're from, it's wrong.

Polanski wrote in his autobiography that he remains bewildered that "I should be sent to prison, my life and career ruined, for making love." Are you kidding me, Roman? Yes, you should be sent to prison. And, it wasn't love, you douche bag, it was a rape of a scared 13-year old girl by a then 43-year old sexual predator. As for your career, your Hollywood buddies, the very ones who gave you an in-absentia raucous standing ovation when The Pianist won you an Oscar in 2003 - well, they don't seem too terribly put off by your crimes.

Over the past ten days or so, public support for Polanski has, for the most part, waned. Celebutard indignation may sprout privately over egg white omelets and vegan sausages at The Beverly Hills Hotel, but thankfully the loud and noisy proclamations have been re-targeted at the old standbys - the war(s), the environment, the price of "bling," etc.

We still have a nice political tug-of-war in determining if Polanski, a French citizen, will be extradited by Switzerland to the Unitied States, where upon Polanski would land in a Los Angeles courtroom. One can only hope that it works out - for the justice system, that is, not for Polanski.

Maybe it's because I'm the father of a 14-year old girl, I don't know. But me, if I can't see "short eyes" Roman swing from the tallest redwood in California, I would like to at least see him do a little well deserved time in the joint. It doesn't have to San Quentin, Pelican Bay, or any of the other gladiator schools. Rather, LA County lock-up would be good enough, where I'm certain one of our societal standouts would show Ro a whole new enlightened meaning of justice and "love."

Now, of course, I could be wrong - that's just this guy's opinion.

Tweet me up @RayHartjen

Friday, October 2, 2009

Blending Olympic and Presidential Seals

So, did you hear about the one about the 4 international cities – Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, and Chicago – that each put up a bid to host the 2016 Olympics?

Oh, you did, huh?

Interesting story out of Copenhagen, Denmark today. The International Olympic Committee went through its series of secret ballots to determine the host country of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. While not as mysterious as a papal election, an Olympic vote is every bit as much shrouded in intrigue, suspense, and secrecy. Delegates gather their votes in blocs (all of Africa voting for the same country, for example) and vote in rounds, with the lowest vote getter eliminated after each round until a single survivor remains standing.

The real intrigue begins after the first round. An entirely new election is held for each subsequent round. A country could vote for one city in Round 1, then, even if the city they voted for originally is still in the running, vote for any of the three remaining in Round 2. Blocs and alliances are built, and double-crosses are played, all in the protective enclave of a secret ballot.

Now, there was a better story in the good old days – and, by the good old days, I mean just a decade ago. Used to be votes were plied the good old fashioned way – bribery. Sure, there was the usual – and very boring, I might add – cash and gifts. Better yet were the storied, sordid forays into the debauchery of steak and lobster, scotch and cigars, and strippers and hookers. Nobody parties like an IOC representative, save maybe hair metal rockers from Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the bozos in Salt Lake City; who, as we know, are a bit inexperienced in hosting raunchy parties; got caught with their pants down with the whole bribery thing and ruined a good party for everyone. Never would have happened from a Las Vegas Olympic Organizing Committee, I’m telling you that now.

So, in the absence of strippers and hookers, scotch and cigars, steak and lobster, and cash and gifts, the big story of this Olympic voting process was the primping and pimping of the Obamas, President Barack and First Lady Michelle. In the midst of a national debate on health care and the economic recovery, the Prez went to Norway to sell the IOC on the relative merits of his adopted hometown Chicago.

By all accounts, the Obamas were a hit – some in the media described them as “rock stars.” Yeah, that’s what I want. I want the President of the United States (POTUS), not that long ago universally described as “the most powerful person in the world,” degraded to the level of a celebritard signer. You know what’s going to happen if Bret Michaels gets wind of all this, don’t you? I can see his candidacy speech on VH1 now, followed by a new episode of “Daisy of Love.”

Rio, today’s winner, is a good choice for the Olympics – in its history, the Olympics have never been held in South America. Hey, it’s not just going to be samba, boat drinks, and topless beaches, although all of that sounds great. Imagine the fun of watching Usain Bolt try to sprint away from a mugger on the streets of Rio. Or, the Brazilian police supplying the javelin throwers with equipment from their “let’s make the homeless children problem disappear” arsenal. But, if it hadn’t been Rio, I would have had no quarrel with any of the cities being named host.

I do have just a bit of a problem with the President working delegates for votes like a truck-stop waitress slinging hash looking for a wrinkly Washington so she doesn’t have to double-shift at the strip bar for baby formula money.

There’s supposed to be dignity in the Office of the President. Naturally, I mean after it was steam-cleaned after the whole Monica Lewinsky thing. We’re not supposed to cheapen the man (okay, okay, Hillary - or woman, someday) and his message – our message – by using the platform for anything less than the highest of public priorities. What’s next? Can we expect Obama to hit the trail for votes for some dim-witted, gorgeously hot bimbo on the next season of American Idol (quick word to Kelli Pickler – call me)? Will we start to see sponsorship of press conferences and speeches – “This segment of the State of the Union address is brought to you by Budweiser, the King of Beers?” Will Air Force One sport Home Depot sponsorship, making it an airborne version of Joey Logano’s racecar?

Interesting deficit reducers, mind you.

Some might describe Obama’s Olympic campaign as the ultimate in pork barrel spending, benefiting Chicago to the detriment of the greater United States. Collectively, we’ve hosted the Olympic Games recently – 1980 (Lake Placid), 1984 (Los Angeles), 1996 (Atlanta), and 2002 (the aforementioned Salt Lake City). Let someone else deal with the hassle and the incredibly large security bill – anyone take a look at Greece’s post Olympic financial situation lately?

As for you, Prez, we have slightly more pressing issues than committing to spending billions of dollars on hosting a two-week party. Enough with the pimping, time now for governing and leading. Losing was good – your charisma and charm couldn’t carry this day. Hopefully it humbled you a bit too, because if you haven’t noticed the polls recently, the post-G.W. honeymoon is coming to a close, and your charisma and charm aren’t likely to carry the day domestically much further.

Of course, I might be wrong - that’s just this guy’s opinion.

Tweet me up @RayHartjen.