November 4, 2009 in Opinion

Smart Bombs: Kick the presidential addiction

By The Spokesman-Review

The American habit of viewing politics through a presidential prism is increasingly irritating. You wouldn’t know this was a nation of separated powers and checks and balances given the daily obsession with the White House occupant.

The Letters page is dominated with rants and raves about President Barack Obama or George W. Bush or Bill Clinton or … you get the picture. Readers cancel subscriptions or hold lifelong grudges based upon endorsements in that race. It’s bad enough that so many people think this way, but they think everyone else does, too. So even if an issue-oriented editorial or column doesn’t invoke the president, we often hear that we only hold that view because the current president does or doesn’t.

The media deserve much of the blame because they’ve spoon-fed this fixation. Tuesday’s elections were not simply thousands of races across the land. No, they were a referendum on Obama’s first 10 months in office and they presage the 2010 midterm elections, which, in turn, will be portrayed as an Obama barometer for the likelihood of his re-election in 2012.

The health care debate should be complex, but the media have no problem boiling the issue down to a popularity contest for the president. Mandatory insurance and public options are merely tools to measure the man. The competing congressional bills are labeled Obamacare, even though the White House didn’t write them and they contain significant differences.

A quick scan of Google News reveals story after story in which issues are billed as co-stars to the president. It’s Obama and The Stimulus Package. Obama and The Midterms. Obama and Health Care. Obama and Wall Street.

The O’s, B’s, A’s and M’s on the nation’s keyboards won’t be able to last three more years, let alone seven.

Presidents have responded to this compulsive disorder with continuous spin to feed 24-hour news cycles. They figure if they don’t make the news, the news will be made for them. Even their vacations are choreographed to keep the leader of the free world in the headlines. Count me among those who would applaud if the White House issued a blanket “no comment” while presidents took occasional breaks.

Permanent campaigns distort what’s truly important by making everything seem important. They cloud the perception of politics by diminishing the role of the other branches of government, which, in turn, hands the presidency even more power, which leads to more unnecessary coverage.

It would be so refreshing to still this hamster wheel and evaluate the important issues of the day without mentioning you know who. And, no, I’m not just saying that because I love him or hate him.

The road to serfdom. A Wall Street Journal analysis of corporate executives found that their pensions increased in value by 19 percent in 2008, with 200 business leaders seeing 50 percent bumps.

This rise in value came while share prices declined by an average of 37 percent.

These executive pensions, called supplemental executive retirement plans, or SERPs, differ in two key ways from traditional pensions: they are becoming more prevalent and more generous.

Meanwhile, the value of retirement plans for working stiffs dropped from 7.8 percent of pay to 6.9 percent of pay from 2002 to 2008. About half the decline came from employers eliminating health care pensions. Another factor is the switch-over from traditional pension plans to 401(k)s. Gotta cut costs, you know.

Maybe we should call these plans SERFs, as in Sapping Employees’ Retirement Fast.

Curse the darkness. After 12 years, I’ve decided that the worst aspect of living in the Northwest is rolling back the clocks to usher in darkness at 4 p.m.

The best part about living in Arizona was that they left the clocks alone.

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks and appears Wednesdays and Sundays on the Opinion page. Crooks can be reached at or at (509) 459-5026.

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