An American Editor

July 18, 2012

On Politics: The Logic of the Illogical

As an editor, I constantly have to watch for author statements that are illogical. Unfortunately, that practice doesn’t stop at the workplace door; it carries over to election-year politics and makes me a wary consumer of political talk.

What brings this to the fore is a recent statement by the Republican (expected) nominee for president, Mitt Romney. As reported in the New York Times (“Romney Seeks Obama Apology for Bain Attacks,” by Michael D. Shear, July 14, 2012, electronic edition, p. 31), Mit Romney said on Fox News:

You just had very bad news on the economic front, with now 41 straight months with unemployment above 8 percent.

Romney made this statement in support of his demand that the Bush-era tax cuts on the income of the top 2% of earners be made permanent and not be allowed to expire come January because these 2-percenters are the job creators and to raise their taxes would destroy job creation!

This has been a constant refrain of the Republicans and the Romney campaign. What I would like to know is, “Where are these jobs being created?” In publishing, the jobs are being created in India, not America. In America, editors are both losing work and being forced to accept lower wages as a result of this migration of jobs from America to India. I do not see John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan, or Markus Dohle, CEO of Random House, or the CEO any of the other major American publishers — all members of the 2% club — promising, in writing, to create new American jobs if their personal tax cuts are preserved.

In response to a recent solicitation I received asking me to make a campaign contribution in support of Romney and the Republicans, I wrote back with this offer:

I will make a contribution if you will answer these questions directly and without obfuscation: If keeping the tax cuts on the wealthiest 2% of American society will create jobs as you claim, why haven’t those jobs been created in the past decade while the Bush-era tax cuts have been in place? Why, if these wealthy 2-percenters create jobs, did we have significant job loss during the current life of their tax cuts? How many new American jobs have the Koch brothers, and John Sargent (Macmillan CEO), and Markus Dohle (Random House CEO) guaranteed — in writing — to create within the next 12 months (and how many new American jobs did they create over the past 4 years) as a direct result of the reduced personal rate of taxation they received from the Bush-era tax cuts?

I am still waiting for a reply, and I’m not holding my breath.

The reality is that the claim that reducing taxes for the wealthiest 2% of Americans increases American jobs is illogical, whether made by a Republican or a Democrat. It is a remnant of the flushdown economics of the Reagan era and ignores the fact that jobs grew under Reagan only after Reagan increased taxes and continued to grow (with resulting budget surpluses) under Clinton when tax rates were both raised and significantly higher than under the Bush-era tax cuts and current rates.

Interestingly, Obama, who should be attacking this kind of illogic, doesn’t seem to fight back by demanding that Romney and the Republicans put their cards on the table face up. It seems to me that Obama should be demanding real numbers from the Republicans. Make the Koch brothers pledge in writing to either create 100,000 new American jobs within 6 months of the election if the tax cuts are extended — regardless of whether they are extended by Romney or Obama — or agree to pay a $5 billion penalty. Require other 2% recipients — such as the John Sargents and the Markus Dohles — of the benefits of the tax cut to make the same pledge to create a specific number of new American jobs or pay a significant penalty, and have enough of them make the written pledges so that American unemployment will be reduced to less than 2%. Then I’ll buy the argument that these are the job creators, as will all other Americans!

The reality is not only will the 2-percenters not make such written pledges, but that they are not job creators. They are money makers and obligated to make as much money at as minimal a cost as possible, which means exporting American jobs if it is cost-effective to do so, which is what they have been doing all through the Bush-era tax cuts.

I have noted that Romney and the Republicans are very careful to talk about “job creation” but not “creation of American jobs”. The implication is that the jobs that the 2-percenters create are American jobs; the reality may well be different.

The Republican rhetoric also ignores the realities of the business world. Consider the recent $7+ billion loss suffered by JP Morgan Chase as a result of bad trades. The losses were incurred by a small group of individuals but already threaten the jobs of thousands of ordinary employees who had no connection to the loss-making trades or the division of Chase that made them. Yet, Romney and the Republicans want to give Jaime Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, a tax break because he will “create” new jobs. What will he do? Hire another valet? Tax breaks for Dimon have no effect whatsoever on whether JP Morgan Chase hires or fires employees.

How much more misleading can the Republican discourse be? Not much, but it sure makes for good bullet points on Fox News. Most of the 2-percenters are employed by a corporation or a foundation or some other business organization whose job-creation decisions are made independently of the personal finances of these 2-percenters. Yes, there are some exceptions, but not many.

The Romney-Republican argument on taxing the top 2% of Americans belies another premise of their presidential campaign: to-wit, that Romney really understands how jobs are created. Jobs are created by the masses spending more money and buying more goods and services, not by a 2-percenter suddenly deciding to trade in last year’s Lamborghini for this year’s model. Economic recovery is not in the hands of the few; it is in the hands of the masses, which is why consumer confidence measures are so important.

It isn’t clear to me what it will take to get voters to look beyond the twitteresque rhetoric and demand that politicians put up or shut up. Nor is it clear to me what it will take to get the Obama campaign to put the Romney and Republican campaigns’ feet to the fire. But in both instances, I hope that such a test occurs because the decision we have to make in November could be catastrophic for America if it is the wrong decision, especially if it is a decision made on platitudes rather than fact.

March 2, 2012

Politics: Negative Advertising

This is the political season in the United States. Sadly, the season has been in effect for months and still has many months to go.

I know that negative political advertising is more effective than positive, which is in itself a very sad commentary on Americans and the depths of their thinking and the limits of their attention spans, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Although all of the Republican candidates and their super-PACs (political action committees) are guilty of such advertising (and the Democrats will join them as the fall campaign gets closer), I’d like to see an “independent” PAC take on negative advertising.

Perhaps an ad should be run along the following lines, with equal time for all candidates who use negative advertising —

The background imagery would be the candidate whose negative ads are the subject of this ad, in this case Mitt Romney, and some of the candidate’s misstatements. The overnarration would run along these lines:

Why does Mitt Romney use negative ads? Is it because not even he can find anything positive or good to say about his beliefs and positions?

Why does Mitt Romney distort the truth about what others have said? Is it because Mitt Romney cannot tell lie from truth?

What kind of president would Mitt Romney be? How would America know whether or not he was lying to it?

Negative ads make candidates untrustworthy; presidents shouldn’t be untrustworthy.

Needless to say, one could substitute — currently — any of the Republican candidates for Mitt Romney, and I suspect that come the Republican vs. Democrat battle in the fall, one will be able to add Barack Obama to the list of players.

If I were to create a negative ad to support a candidate, I think I would use the following tag line (substituting, of course, the name of the candidate I was being negative about), which could also be a bumper sticker:

Mitt Romney — bringing America to her knees, one lie at a time!

(And for any of you politicians or politically oriented folk who are thinking about coopting these ideas, remember that they are copyrighted. I know politicians and their most fervent supporters often ignore copyright, but it really isn’t a good idea to do so.)

March 26, 2010

On Words: Panjandrum

I hadn’t read anything that used the word panjandrum in decades. Truth be told, I’d forgotten what it means, even that it exists, until a couple of weeks ago when I read the following in The Economist in an article about President Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel:

Mr Emanuel is famous for being the president’s pugnacious panjandrum.…

One thing I can say about The Economist, it doesn’t mince language. By reputation, not by pronouncement, it is the newspaper/magazine, and it tends to choose words to describe events that one rarely encounters in daily American English. Panjandrum is just the most recent example.

Probably the best place to start is with its meaning. I confess that upon reading panjandrum I immediately reached for my dictionary. According to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate 11e, panjandrum means “a powerful personage or pretentious official.” Well, there’s no doubt about Rahm Emanuel’s power or pretentiousness.

The word comes from Grand Panjandrum, an invented phrase in a nonsense passage written in 1755 by Samuel Foote, an English actor and dramatist, to test the vaunted memory of the actor Charles Macklin, who claimed he could repeat anything after hearing it once. The memory-testing passage was:

So she went into the garden to cut a cabbage-leaf to make an apple-pie; and at the same time a great she-bear, coming down the street, pops its head into the shop. What! No soap? So he died, and she very imprudently married the Barber: and there were present the Picninnies, and the Joblillies, and the Garyulies, and the great Panjandrum himself, with the little round button at top; and they all fell to playing the game of catch-as-catch-can, till the gunpowder ran out at the heels of their boots.

I don’t know if Macklin lived up to his boast, but this is surely a passage to test one’s short-term memory!

Nat Hentoff used the word to describe “a panjandrum of the publishing business.” Salman Rushdie used the term in his novel, The Satanic Verses: “Look: there she is, down there, sitting back like the Grand Panjandrum.” George E. Farrow, in his Dick, Marjorie and Fidge: A Search for the Wonderful Dodo, wrote, for example,: “Panjandrum is a very severe one” and “I am the Ambassador Extraordinary of his Magnificence the little Panjandrum, and you tell me that you have seen the Dodo; that is enough.” E. Cobham Brewer wrote, in his Character Sketches of Romance, Fiction and the Drama (1892), “The squire of a village is the Grand Panjandrum, and the small gentry the Picninnies, Joblillies, and Garyulies.” And Jessie Hubbell Bancroft, in her Games for the Playground, Home, School and Gymnasium (1922), listed one of the instructions as: “One player is chosen to be the Panjandrum, an important personage requiring a body guard.”

In the Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1898), also by E. Cobham Brewer, panjandrum was defined as “The Grand Panjandrum. A village boss, who imagines himself the ‘Magnus Apollo’ of his neighbours.”

In the 1922 Roget’s International Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, the word was placed amidst more sinister words: “…TYRANT, disciplinarian, precisian, martinet, stickler, bashaw, despot, the Grand Panjandrum himself, hard master, Draco, oppressor, inquisitor, extortioner…”

Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886), a great 19th century children’s book illustrator and author and for whom the Caldecott Prize is named, illustrated a book titled The Great Panjandrum Himself (Samuel Foote was the named author although Foote had died in 1777) and authored and illustrated The Panjandrum Picture Book.

Panjandrum was also a Broadway musical by Woolson Morse and J. Cheever Goodwin. It had a short run by today’s standards, opening May 1, 1893 and closing in the following September.

But panjandrum never dies. In World War II, panjandrum was a massive, rocket-propelled, explosive-laden cart designed by the British military. It was one of a number of highly experimental projects developed by the British Admiralty’s Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapons Development in the final years of the war. The cart never was used in the war. Tom Wolfe mentioned this project in his 1979 book The Right Stuff. On June 5, 2009, the Daily Mail ran an article about the panjandrum experiment and the online version includes a video of the Great Panjandrum (reconstructed) in action.

Great Panjandrum also appears in Jasper Fforde’s 2003 novel The Well of Lost Plots, featuring literary detective Thursday Next. The Great Panjandrum is the leader of BookWorld, where the action takes place.

So even though I haven’t seen the word used in years, it obviously has been, albeit sporadically. Now that I have reencountered it, I think I will try to incorporate it into my vocabulary, especially when discussing politics. After all, a nonsensical word seems a most appropriate appellation to use when discussing politicians. And I will watch for its next appearance in my readings.

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