Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Real and Phony Gaffes

They say that a gaffe, in politics, is speaking the truth at the wrong time. That certainly was the case when President Obama, meeting with Russian Premier Medvedev (back to P.M., I believe, since Putin's restoration as President), told Medvedev that "after the elections, we will have more flexibility" in our negotiations with them on mutual nuclear arms reduction. Problem was, there was an open microphone nearby and Obama did not know it.

Mitt Romney and others wasted no time in assailing the President's appeasement of "our enemy", calling him everything short of a Commie traitor. His statement's truth was proved by the reaction: how can one negotiate--leave aside the fact that the Russians are our partners in reducing nuclear arms and improving monitoring of nuclear facilities--when the prevailing response is a feral attack mode, forgetting that the Cold War ended 20+ years ago, and when the slightest new indication will be barraged with criticism? This will be true of many more issues going beyond foreign policy, as well: the debt ceiling, taxes, budgeting, etc. Nothing is going to happen until 2013, regardless of who wins the election. Nevertheless, it was truly a mistake, and by the President himself.

Defined by his Friends and a 8" X 10" Toy
A "reset" of a different kind from the one Obama has attempted--with some success--in his dealings with Russia came from one of Mitt Romney's leading campaign officers. In an unguarded moment, he explained to some reporters that Romney's right-wing stance on the issues for the primaries would be no burden in the general election campaign. "He'll be able to reset--like an Etch-a-Sketch" (I paraphrase).

This was one of those truths that would damage anytime or place that it would be spoken in public, particularly coming from Romney's own camp. Of course, the general election now will start with Rick Santorum's suspension of his campaign, so Romney has a transition period of 3-4 months to mix his pretend hard-right posture (though who really knows what's pretend and what is real with him?) with some flavoring of the moderate positions he will want to take on for the main event. It won't be quite "Etch-a-Sketch" fast, but the lingering impression that he gives anyway of a panderer willing to pivot on a dime and say anything to get himself elected was etched into more permanent form by this gaffe.

We Miss You Already, Ozzie
Ozzie Guillen left his position as the Chicago White Sox' manager in the offseason for a new contract with the newly-renamed, newly-ballparked Miami Marlins. He left behind a deep trail of public relations disasters, verbal outbursts, and provocative statements. So, it came as no surprise when he stepped in it verbally this week in an interview with Time Magazine, saying he "loved" Fidel Castro; he didn't mean it romantically, but instead marveled in "respect" for Castro's ability to survive decades of confrontation with his big bad neighbor, the US.

The problem was not what he said, but where he is when he said it. I'm no fan of Castro, who is without doubt a murdering, Stalinist tyrant who has caused incalculable damage to Cuba's economy over the last 50 years, but it is undeniably true that Castro has successfully given us the finger, defeating coup attempts we have sponsored as well as assassination attempts. So, Ozzie was right, but very wrong in provoking the local Cuban refugee population, who define themselves by their hatred for Castro.

Guillen was suspended for five games; he seems to have accepted his punishment, including giving a rambling public apology, rather than stand upon his rights to free speech, which surely have been violated by his employer. This has nothing to do with baseball (though Castro was supposedly a serious major league prospect in the '50's: imagine how history might have changed if he had made it!) or the conduct of his job, and everything with toning down his un-American opinions (he's a native Venezuelan, the current Latin American bugaboos for national zealots) to appease his self-righteous local fan base.

The Chicago press jumped onto the Marlins' side; rather than just "Ozzie's like that, you have to get used to it" or even defending his right to an unpopular opinion (what one should expect from journalists), their opinion was to the effect of "we're so glad you're gone so we don't have to deal with this anymore". Actually, they don't realize that Guillen was broadly popular as a guy daring to speak his mind honestly--a rare quality in public figures these days--and I think it's because they feel guilty for not exposing some of the more lurid things he said back in Chicago.

I've admired the Marlins' past ability to rise to the top (two World Series championships in a fairly short history), then disperse and rebuild, despite a weak fan base and a (previously) crummy stadium. I'm writing them off this time, though.

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