Notes of a Reporter at Large • 09-06-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 05 September 2012 15:16

The Debates

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

If, as polls suggest, the race for the White House remains a virtual dead heat after the conventions, the focus of the campaign shifts to the debates. And that raises questions since much is left in the hands of the moderators, the people who ask the questions. They are familiar faces on the news, safe and trust-worthy.

PBS’ Jim Lehrer moderates the first 90-minute debate between President Obama and former governor Romney on October 3 at the University of Denver. Domestic issues are the subjects. Lehrer’s an old hand, done presidential debates before. In picking Lehrer for the first and possibly the most important debate, both sides are playing it safe.

Martha Raddatz, ABC News’ chief foreign correspondent, moderates the next debate – the only one between the vice presidential nominees, Joe Biden and Paul Ryan. It is set for October 11 at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. Domestic and foreign affairs are the topics. Raddatz is known for her reporting overseas but is no stranger to Washington politics. She may well find herself presiding over the most contentious ninety minutes of all the debates.

The president and Romney  meet for the second time on October 16 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. It is a town hall meeting format with questions from undecided voters. Candy Crowley, CNN’s chief political correspondent, will field the questions. I don’t often watch CNN but when I’ve caught her she’s  struck me as scrupulously non-partisan.

Bob Schieffer of CBS News moderates the third and final presidential debate on October 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. Foreign affairs is the bone of contention. Schieffer’s an old hand and, like Lehrer, has lasted a long time.

My concern is simple: these fine journalists are Washington insiders. It can’t be helped. The press depends on the  politically powerful for information and the political class needs favorable news to promote its own interests. In a manner of speaking, they live off one another every day.

In the Reagan years I remember walking into a Washington restaurant and finding  prominent journalists and important officials having a merry old time together. In Eureka, where I’d started out in the news biz, a reporter would have had a lot of explaining to do if he was seen having lunch with the mayor. It took some getting used to how the pros operated in the big time.

Now that I’ve got all that off my chest, I’ll be watching all four debates. May the moderators pull no punches!

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 08-30-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 30 August 2012 14:55

Moving on to Oblivion

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

The Republican party is moving on to oblivion. Like Mitt Romney, its standard-bearer, the party is a confusion of disparate ideas. Reducing the size of government and cutting spending and taxes is traditional fare, but the Tea Party movement is pushing the rank and file to adopt harsh positions on abortion and immigration.

As Adam Nagourney wrote in the New York Times Monday, such a party platform “could undercut the party’s need to broaden its appeal.” Many leaders “feared it was  hastening a march to become a smaller, older, whiter and more male party.”

Dan Quayle, who was the elder President Bush’ vice president, (1989-1993), told the paper, “The Republican Party needs to re-establish its philosophy of the big tent with principles. The philosophy you hear from time to time, which is unfortunate, is one of exclusion rather inclusion. You have to be expanding the base, expanding the party, because compared to the Democratic Party, the Republican Party is a minority party.”

Another voice from Republicans past, George E. Pataki, the former Republican governor New York, agreed with the Tea Party on lowering taxes and reducing the size of government. But he worried that anti-government sentiment could get out of hand, push the party to the fringes, and alienate most voters.

“What I fear,” said Pataki, “is that that very positive desire to limit the power and the role of the federal government, could turn into a philosophy that is antigovernment. Sometimes those who I fear have that anti-government view, as opposed to the limited government view, rise to the center of the nominating process. I think that is not a good thing for the Republican Party.”

Today’s GOP is made up of many conflicting factions. Tea Party adherents are just one of the forces competing for power. “Super PACs” bankrolled by billionaires are challenging the influence of party leaders. The babel is said to run deeper than pros can remember in a long time.

According to the New York Times the other voices include “ who would accept no tax increases and a dwindling band of deficit hawks who might. There are economic libertarians who share little of the passion that social conservatives hold on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. There are neoconservatives who want a hard line against Iran and the Palestinians, and realists who are open to diplomatic deal-cutting.”

Meanwhile, the country is moving on. The influx of Latinos in Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Florida has changed the demographics in what were conservative Republican strongholds. Some trace the beginning of the decline  to 1994 when California Republicans supported an initiative, Proposition 187, to cut off services to illegal immigrants. It was voided by a federal court but not forgotten.

Richard White, a Stanford professor of history of the American West, explained it this way to the Times:

“Once California started alienating Latinos and once Latinos started moving in large numbers to Arizona and Texas, that changed the whole game.”

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 08-16-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 16 August 2012 13:18

Romney’s Choice

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

Was picking Paul Ryan a smart move for Mitt Romney? The selection excited the conservative base of his party but at what price?

Throughout his public life Romney has stayed the middle road. His far-right bromides persuade no one. He often comes across as a bumbler, not terribly quick on his feet, a multi-millionaire out-of-touch. Slick political ads aside, we perceive he’s not the villain Barack Obama would like to portray.

A few days after the news it seems as if Paul Ryan was at the top of the Republican ticket instead of Mitt Romney. Four years ago a similar thing happened. With the selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate, he was all but invisible. Then the scales fell as the true picture of the nominee for the second highest office became clear. She was unfit for the office. In the view of many, Palin was McCain’s undoing.

In the present instance, we know the young congressman from Wisconsin is smart and articulate and ambitious to do big things. But could that be the problem?

A member of Congress since 1998, he supported  Bush era policies that led to today’s huge budget deficits. In a recent article in the New Yorker, Ryan Lizza counted the ways: “sweeping tax cuts, a costly prescription-drug entitlement for Medicare, two wars, the multibillion-dollar-bailout legislation known as TARP. In all, five trillion dollars was added to the national debt.”

The Wisconsin representative reportedly has regretted some of those votes but that was then when he was making his way up the greasy poll. These days as head of the House budget committee he has proposed privatizing Social Security, replacing Medicare in the future with a voucher program for those under 55, and turning Medicaid and food stamps into block grants to the states, according to Wickipedia.

Based on his voting record in Congress, Ryan, is said to be the most conservative Republican member of Congress to be tapped for vice president since 1900.

So how to account for Romney’s gamble to go with so conservative a running-mate? Nate Silver, a pollster for the New York Times, said Sunday, the day after Romney announced his decision:

“When a prudent candidate like Mitt Romney picks someone like Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, it suggests that he felt he had a losing position against President Obama. The theme that Mr. Romney’s campaign has emphasized for months and months – that the president has failed as an economic leader – may have persuaded 47 or 48 or 49 percent of voters to back him. But not 50.1 percent, and not enough for Mr. Romney to secure 270 electoral votes.”

By rolling the dice, Romney may have cause to rue his choice of the strong-willed Ryan even if Romney wins. Just ask the last Republican to live in the White House under his vice president Dick Cheney.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 08-09-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 09 August 2012 13:07

Looking Back for Inspiration

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

If this is the worst economy since the Great Depression more than seventy-five years ago, why are there so few ideas for how to get us out of it, as Robert Reich, a former secretary of labor, asked in his column Sunday in the San Francisco Chronicle?

His explanation is that Romney and Obama are playing it safe. “Neither candidate wants to take any chances by offering any large, serious proposals,” says Reich. “Both are banking instead on negative campaigns that convince voters the other guy would be worse.”

Reich argues that the president could propose a public works program along the lines of Roosevelt’s WPA. It provided hundreds of thousands of jobs for the unemployed rebuilding the country’s infrastructure. Another example Reich cites would be a new Civilian Conservation Corps, perhaps the most popular of all the New Deal creations.

Over the 10 years it was in existence, the CCC had put “more than three million idle youngsters to work on forestry and flood control, building firebreaks and lookouts in the national forests, and bridges, campgrounds, trails, and museums in the national parks,” according to David M. Kennedy in his fine history of the Depression and the Second World War, “Freedom From Fear.”

Of course taxes had to be raised to help pay for all that. No surprise, the wealthy balked then as they balk now at efforts to level the playing field.

In 1936, Harold L. Ickes, Roosevelt’s secretary of the interior, writes in his diary of a conversation with Harry F. Guggenheim, a member of a family that made one of the world’s great fortunes in mining. As Ickes pressed him to support the charge that FDR was antagonistic to business, he said “it became clear that the...issue today is taxation. Roosevelt, according to these very rich people, is penalizing business and tearing it down because he has increased the income taxes in the higher brackets...the fear of increased taxes...has made (FDR) such a bitter enemy out of practically everyone” among the super rich.

A Republican and a Teddy Roosevelt progressive before joining FDR,  Ickes claimed that by “giving the underdog a chance” and an “opportunity to earn enough to live on,” the New Deal “really saved capitalism.”

Frances Perkins, Roosevelt’s secretary of labor, and the first woman to sit in a cabinet, said Roosevelt’s method of work reminded her of a painter mixing colors on his palette, experimenting, until things began to feel right. Like an artist, FDR would try something, almost anything, and if it didn’t work he would try again, but kept trying.

The late historian, Richard Hofstadter, summed it up when he said, “At the heart of the New Deal was not a philosophy but a temperament.”

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 08-02-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 02 August 2012 16:47

Romney Stumps Abroad

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

In case you missed it, Mitt Romney has been abroad showing off his expertise in foreign affairs. In London, the man who managed the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City in 2002 cast doubt on whether the Brits were up to the task of providing enough security and dealing with a posible strike of customs and immigration officials.

The visitor’s musings inspired a sharp response from Prime Minister David Cameron: “We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course, it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.”

On this side of the Atlantic, conservatives like Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s mentor, and the columnist, Charles Krauthammer, were nonplussed over Romney’s diplomatic gaffe. “You have to shake your head,” said Rove. “Unbelievable, it’s beyond human understanding. It’s incomprehensible,” said Charles Krauthammer, according to Maureen Dowd in Sunday’s New York Times.

On his stop in Israel, Romney was in full campaign mode. He said the Palestinians had only themselves to blame for lagging behind the Israelis economically – never mind that “years of Israeli occupation, security measures and blockades have disrupted their territories for years,” as the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out.

Further, he insulted the Palestinians – people whose trust he will need if, as president, he has any hopes for brokering the peace efforts of  Israelis and Palestinians – by saying, as he did – that cultural differences are the reasons why the Palestinians are so far behind the Israelis.

Like all politicians, Romney must take pains to please his donors. One of them, the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a staunch supporter of Israel, is reportedly spending $100 million to make Obama, who is pro-Israeli but obviously not pro enough to please Adelson, a one-term president.

Romney’s other audience, as the Times pointed out, is Jewish voters and evangelical Christians in states such as Florida and Ohio where a close election could be decided.

Even as Romney allied himself with hard-liners on Israel he may have got himself into trouble at home with other Republicans. In his bid to win friends on Israel, he called attention to the fact that the Jewish state spends a good deal less on health care than the U.S.

“Don’t go there, governor,” warned the Chronicle...Israel has universal coverage and requires residents to buy coverage – conditions at odds with Republican doctrine and his 2012 campaign positions.”

After London and Israel, wise men in the high command of  the GOP, like Karl Rove, will have to put  Mitt Romney back together again. Adelson’s multi-millions may not be enough.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 07-26-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 July 2012 15:17

Vice Presidents on My Mind

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

“Have you ever been unfaithful?” That’s a leading question Mitt Romney is asking of those who would be his No. 2. There are scores of others covering the financial and the personal. But the questions don’t stop there. The candidate’s style of speaking is important. How does he/she sound, look, handle pressure? The main thing is to save the person at the top from embarrassment.

When the post was created in 1787, Benjamin Franklin was said to have described the office as “his superfluous majesty.” Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations attributes the following figure of speech to John Nance Garner who served as Franklin Roosevelt’s vice president for eight years and spoke as the voice of experience: “The vice presidency isn’t worth a pitcher of warm piss.”

Thirteen presidents were once vice presidents, but, so far as I know, no one has gone to great trouble to grade their performances in the lesser job. Maybe that’s because there’s not much to add to what Benjamin Franklin and John Nance Garner have said.

The New York Times on Tuesday recalled a disastrous Democratic pick for No. 2 in 1972. Those were the days when journalists and politicians were generally unwilling to delve into the personal lives of public figures. As the Times recalled, Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota, the presidential nominee, picked Sen. Thomas Eagleton, of Missouri, for his  running mate. It’s said McGovern made up his mind after a conversation with the senator that lasted 67 seconds.

As word leaked and then spread of Eagleton’s treatments for depression  and electric shock therapy, McGovern came under mounting pressure to drop his man. At first he refused, famously declaring that he was “1,000 percent” behind him, but Eagleton was dumped in the ensuing outcry. Richard Nixon won re-election to the White House that November by the largest margin in history.

Nixon had been Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president (1953-61). He got into trouble during the 1960 campaign against John Kennedy  for keeping a slush fund, the gift of private contributors, to defray expenses. Nixon saved his candidacy with a brilliant TV speech. But after he was elected president eight years later, his own vice president, Spiro Agnew – a former governor of Maryland and spiteful critic of the news media and liberals – was forced to step down.

Agnew pleaded no contest to one charge of income tax evasion. He was fined $10,000 and placed on three years’ probation. In 1983 he also paid $268,000 to the state of Maryland “as reimbursement and penalty for his misdeeds as governor,” according to the Complete Book of U. S. Presidents.

After Agnew was gone, and only two years after his triumph over McGovern, Nixon became the only president in history to resign the office in the Watergate scandal.

Pick well, Mitt Romney. Obama did with Joe Biden.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .



Notes of a Reporter at Large • 07-19-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 July 2012 16:06

Fear and Politics


By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

Otto von Bismarck, Germany’s leader in the 19th century, was the first statesman to bring socialized medicine to Europe. In the 20th Century, American presidents – Theodore  Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and now Barack Obama – have more or less subscribed to the principle that the health of the people is the country’s most valuable resource. But here we are in the early years of the 21st Century and universal coverage is still beyond our reach.

What is within reach – unless Mitt Romney is elected president – is the Affordable Care Act – or Obamacare – which, as Bill Keller pointed out in Monday’s New York Times, delivers 30 million new customers to insurance companies. This part of the law doesn’t  go down well with liberals who wanted a strong public option or an expansion of Medicare. But, that said, it is a better deal than what millions of Americans have to contend with today.

In his article, Keller, who was executive editor of the Times for many years, takes apart the “myths” that Republican propaganda and right-wing punditry” have spread about the Affordable Care Act  or Obamacare – the name “critics have made into a slur.”

Perhaps the most frightening “myth” is  that “Obamacare is a job killer.” In taking note that the Republican House “staged” yet another “theatrical vote” to bury the Affordable Care Act, Keller points out that some of the “job-killer stories” were based “on a deliberate misreading of a Congressional Budget Office report that estimated the law would ‘reduce the amount of labor used in the economy’ by about 800,000 jobs.”

Keller, who read what the budget office actually wrote, reports that “while some low-wage jobs might be lost, the C.B.O. numbers mainly refers to workers who – being no longer so dependent on employers for their health-care safety net – may choose to retire earlier or work part time.” Those jobs, he adds, would be open to others in need of work.

What’s more, the experience under “Romneycare” in Massachusetts, the blue print for Obamacare, refutes the “jobs-killer” argument. Nonetheless, “after years of... alarmist falsehoods,” says Keller,  the president’s enemies have found a myth that seems to be playing well “with the fears of voters.”

Which reminds me that when I was a graduate student at Columbia’s school of journalism I interviewed James Farley for a school paper. It was in the early 1960s, the heyday of  television. Farley was one of the masterminds behind Franklin Roosevelt’s historic landslides in 1932 and 1936. I asked Farley whether television, had changed the message since the time of print and radio. Shaking his head, he said people voted their fears. The message remained the same.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 07-12-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 July 2012 15:04

In Search of the Real Nixon

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

The lady Friend and I went down to Southern California to see the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda. The Watergate tapes were the hook. Although the information was not news, Nixon remains an evergreen subject, not just for journalists and historians but for psychiatrists as well.

I was working at NBC in the Watergate years, 1972-4, so Watergate is still fresh for me. Years earlier in 1962 I’d interviewed Nixon when he came through Eureka when he was running for governor of California against Pat Brown. He reminded me of a traveling actor, a good one: Hamlet this afternoon, Richard III or Macbeth tonight. Politicians are actors; the best usually wind up in the highest offices.

Watergate began as an attempted burglary of Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., with the arrest of five agents of the Committee to Reelect Nixon. The date was June 17, 1972. The bungled break-in sparked a chain of discoveries over the next two years that was to unravel the worst political scandal in American history.

Nixon was in the Bahamas on the day of the break-in. Three days later on June 20 he was back in Washington meeting with his chief of staff, H. R. “Bob” Haldeman. It is the tape of this conversation where there is a mysterious 18 1⁄2-minute gap that experts concluded had been erased. You hear no voices, but buzzing and clicking. Your imagination does all the work.

In another excerpt from the tapes, Nixon is heard  complaining, “The government is full of Jews, and generally speaking, you can’t trust the bastards.” He did, however, exempt Jews like Henry Kissinger and William Safire, the columnist.

Over a period of two years numerous offenses were linked to Nixon or  people acting in his name. One was an Enemies List which, according to a White House memo, was intended to use the federal bureaucracy to “screw our political enemies.” The CBS correspondent Daniel Shore was such a target, “a real media enemy.”

Nixon wondered what an agency (like the FBI or IRS, for example) was told when a request was made seeking confidential information on someone whose reputation the White House wanted destroyed. In Daniel Shore’s case it was, said the Nixon aide, that the journalist was being considered for a high administration post, the remark causing both men to chuckle.

In the end, Nixon acknowledged misleading the country after claiming he did not know of the cover-up until early 1973. A tape revealed that Nixon had been told of the White House connection soon after the burglaries occurred, and that he had OK’d a strategy to foil the investigation. Facing certain impeachment he stepped down on August 9, 1974, the first president to resign from the office. He died in 1994 at 81 after suffering a stroke.

A friend, who I’d told of my visit to the library, wrote to say, “Your search for the real Nixon was a quest that will never end for those who really care  about America.”

He had in mind, for example, that the same Nixon, who rose to power as a fierce anti-communist, journeyed to China in 1972 to begin the normalization of relations between China and the U.S. It was a trip no Democratic president could afford to make.

“What a strange bird he was,” my friend said of our 37th president.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 07-05-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 05 July 2012 11:23

The Typewriter

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

This column originally appeared on March 11, 2010

My trials with the computer are no secret among people who know me.

I am a displaced person from the age of typewriters who came kicking and screaming into cyberspace.

I have missed typewriters ever since computers took over the world. I am not, for example, like one old friend who ditched his typewriter the day he bought his first computer. In fact, I’ve kept an antiquated Olympia, a weighty table model, not as a writing machine but as a reminder of a simpler age.

The insecurity of the electronic miracle drives me nuts. The other day my printer was on the fritz. But if it’s not the printer, it’s the ink cartridge, or the screen, or the modem, or a short, or the wires, or a finger strays and presto! I’ve lost a document, weeks of work down the rabbit hole.

Saving on the hard disk is not security enough. Think power outages. So think CDs, or  SanDisk’s Cruzer Micro. The friend who made a gift of the latter says it’s a cinch to connect to the computer. And probably it is, but the Lady Friend and I are still figuring it out.

I’m telling you all this because after the printer failed I dropped in at an office equipment store that sells typewriters, old typewriters, to be sure.

“I just want to look at your typewriters. I don’t know if I’ll buy anything.”

“Take your time,” said a burly fellow who didn’t stir from a desk in a large room with all sorts of devices for business. “Take all the time you like.”

I liked the Smith Corona for $180 but I really liked the Olivetti for $250. But then I asked myself, why am I doing this? I’ll never use the typewriter. I’ll never give up the computer.

“I like the Olivetti,” I said. “But I need to sleep on it.” I hesitated, then wrote him a check on account for $50.

That night the printer was running again, and to my relief functioned flawlessly. In the morning I went back to the store lugging my old Olympia. The burly fellow fiddled with it a moment, then we bargained. In the end I wound up paying a few dollars off the listed price and left happy with the Olivetti.

When I got home I showed the typewriter to the Lady Friend. “It’s very nice,” she said. “But you’ll never use it.”

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .



Notes of a Reporter at Large • 06-28-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 28 June 2012 14:35

Of This ’n That

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

This column originally appeared on July 15, 2010

Manual labor was once honored, but in this day and age it is much demeaned and left to immigrants, legal, illegal, or whatever. Are we not in danger of becoming a nation of hedge funds, iPods, and hot air?)

* * *

When I went to high school more than 50 years ago a kid with a talent for working with his hands could look forward to a rewarding life, owning a home, and a vacation place and a boat, and looking forward to a comfortable retirement.. Nowadays those prospects seem quaint if not antediluvian.

* * *

And now to politics:

David Axelrod, a close adviser to Obama, has said the White House was not trying to shift blame with its frequent invocation of the “mess” it had inherited from George W. Bush, but to seek public patience for policies that may require months and in some cases years to pay dividends.

Said Axelrod, “Whatever problems he (Obama) inherited walking in the door, they’re his responsibility now. Nobody’s trying to duck responsibility or make excuses for them. But it is important at times to put it into perspective, not to fix blame but to underscore that some of these problems are complex and they’re going to take time to resolve.”

The Republicans shot back that blaming the guy who came before doesn’t work long. But in fact it has. The classic example is FDR. In 1936, when he was running for re-election, Roosevelt reminded voters of the sorry state the country was in when he took charge in the worst days of the “Great Hoover Depression.” Reminding voters of the failures of the Hoover years helped the Democrats keep possession of the White House for 20 years.

Taking his cue from FDR, Ronald Reagan blamed Jimmy Carter for passing on a lackluster economy in 1980. Bill Clinton  blamed his predecessor, the first president Bush, for the flat economy in 1992.

Obama has a case to make as good as FDR’s. The Bush tax cuts for the wealthy at the expense of the middle and working classes, and giving Wall Street a pass to plunder, plus an unprovoked war, led the way to the historic deficits.

Now, less than two years since the 2008 election, the polls show Democrats, and the president, taking most of the heat for the slumping economy. It doesn’t add up. But the “Party of No” has cruelly and hypocritically exploited the misery of our times.

* * *

About the enactment of stronger reforms on Wall Street. Paul Volker, the former savvy Fed chairman, is concerned about the legislation, already approved by the House and likely to be approved soon by the Senate, and which Obama is ready to sign into law. Volker still thinks it gives banks too much room to finagle. Not a pretty thing to comtemplate.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 06-21-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 21 June 2012 15:22

Romney on the Defensive

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

I got up early Sunday morning because I wanted to hear what Mitt Romney would say about the president’s order to stop deporting some young immigrants, an estimated 800,000, who came to the U.S. as children.

A lot of people, myself included, don’t think Obama has suddenly gone soft on illegals. In the more than three years that he has been in the White House, he has deported more than 1.1 million immigrants, the most by any president since the 1950s, according to the New York Times. But with less than five months before an election believed to be close, the president must have felt that his immigration policies risked chilling Latino enthusiasm. So he acted to keep this growing bloc of voters solidly on his side.

In courting the far right of his  party during the Republican primary debates, Romney declared that, if elected,  he would veto the so-called Dream Act, a path to citizenship for young immigrants who go to college or serve in the military. Romney sounded then as flinty as the most reactionary of his rivals. But, as they say that was then. On “Face the Nation,” when Bob Shaeffer reminded him of  his promise,  the former Massachusetts governor hedged:

“With regards to these kids who were brought in by their parents through no fault of their own, there needs to be a long-term solution so they know what their status is.”

He also said, ”What the president  did – he should have worked on this years ago. If he felt seriously about this, he should have taken action when he had a Democratic House and Senate, but he didn’t. He saves these sort of things until four and a half months before the general election”

Not quite true. As the Times noted, the president supported passage of the Dream Act in 2010, but it was blocked by Senate Republicans.

His advisers have said that Romney is likely to make his position on immigration known when he speaks  to a conference of elected and appointed Latino officials in Florida on Thursday. For the moment, Obama – who speaks to the same group after Romney – seems to have the upper hand in this debate, with Romney on the defensive.

Even so, on “Face the Nation,” Romney had the chutzpah to decry the president’s move on immigration as pure politics.

In the endless season of Republican debates the former Massachusetts governor vilified the Dream Act time and again, asserting that if he got to be president, it would be history. But Romney was not challenged in the interview, and I think an opportunity was missed. This was the first time that Romney had agreed to an interview on network television with a broadcasting company other than Fox News.

As it turned out, the most arresting moment of the show may have been when Schieffer mentioned the success of a dressage horse that Romney’s wife, Ann,  co-owns – that is a horse trained in obedience and precision movement. It won a place on the U.S. Olympic team.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 06-14-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 14 June 2012 14:54

Is the Supreme Court Necessary?

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

The Supreme Court is not very popular with Americans, according to a recent New York Times and CBS News poll. Just 44 per cent say the court is doing a good job. Three-quarters say the decisions the justices make are “influenced by their personal or political views.” In the late 1980s approval was as high as 66 percent. (Warren Berger and William Rehnquist were the chief justices in that period). By 2000 approval had dropped to nearly 50 percent.

The Times speculates that the decline in the court’s standing may reflect in part the public’s growing skepticism with regard to big business and government. The fall in favor may be due as well to a sense that the court has been notably political since ruling 5-4 in the 2000 presidential election in favor of George W. Bush over Al Gore. The 2010 decision in Citizens United ruled 5-4 that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting political expenditures by corporations and unions.

The Citizen United decision  changed the rules.

Thanks to that grotesque decision a rising flood of money was uncapped to outside political groups, changing politics as we have known it. Campaigning is longer now and more intense for many races, not just for the presidency. The super PACs, a consequence of Citizens United, are free to mount attack ads that were once the responsibility of candidates. The people in the PACS making the decisions are consultants and wealthy donors with no obligation to report, explain or justify anything they do. In sum, the public interest be damned.

Think about it. Because of Citizens United an increasing number of those mapping campaign strategy –  Republican and Democrat — need not  be tied to the career or philosophy, of a candidate. They are only answerable to the tycoons who are answerable to no one.

As a Republican consultant put it, “If you’re a top consultant today, you’d much rather have a presidential super PAC than a presidential campaign.” Because of Citizens United super PACs can accept unlimited contributions which are off limits to political parties and candidates.

We expect to hear from the court again, as early as this month. It may move to overturn some or all of the 2010 health care law. The court may also decide the fate of an Arizona immigration law that in part requires police to check the status of immigrants they stop or arrest.

In all this I am reminded of what Theodore Roosevelt once said: Important public questions should not be left up to the Supreme Court but debated by the people and decided in a plebiscite. If we had had such a vote in 2000, we wouldn’t have had 8 years of George W. Bush who, we later learned, had lost the election by a majority.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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