Short Attention Span Theatre

Last time I mentioned how lots of misinformation gets thrown around during U. S. presidential election cycles. While some of the blame certainly lies with the “experts” the media trot out to let you know what you should think, there remains a certain level of responsibility on the part of the news consumer/voter. I’d like to call your attention to some recent events involving both the exercise of Constitutional power by our elected officials and the race to win election. In each case, a little memory, research, and critical thinking on the part of citizens could help them put things into the right perspective.

Remember last spring when President Obama was attempting to negotiate a deal with Iran to control its nuclear weapons program? Senator Tom Cotton and other Republican senators wrote a letter to the government in Iran under Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. They informed the Ayatollah that such an executive agreement would be subject to change or revocation by subsequent legislative or executive action.

             c001095_200                          Seyyed_Ali_Khamenei

                            Cotton                                                                     Khamenei

Secretary of State John Kerry reacted publicly and angrily to this letter, saying it was an unconstitutional attempt to undermine the president’s negotiating power on foreign matters. He stated that the letter had no precedent, that he had never seen anything like it during his years in government, and that if he had, he would have repudiated the letter and supported the president, any president, in the matter.



Unfortunately, his statements that he had never seen anything like Cotton’s letter and that he would have supported whoever was president are simply untrue. In 1984, the Reagan administration was actively seeking ways to bring down the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, in part by finding back-door ways of supporting the anti-Sandinista Contra rebels. A group of ten Democrats in Congress, including majority leader Jim Wright and Intelligence Committee Chair Edward Boland,  wrote a letter to Daniel Ortega, head of the Sandinistas, expressing their approval for his regime and vowing to oppose any further U. S. aid to the insurgents. Republican Representative Newt Gingrich reacted angrily, declaring that the letter was unconstitutional, imprudent, and possibly illegal.

Now, if you ask me, that sounds like a completely analogous situation. Based on Kerry’s statement about the Republican letter to Iran, he should have distanced himself from the “Dear Comandante” Democrats and supported President Reagan. Instead, after winning election to the Senate in 1985, Kerry visited Nicaragua to meet Ortega and assure him that he and his colleagues considered the Contras “terrorists.”

Some pundits have claimed that the Nicaragua letter is completely different from the Iran letter. They base their claim on two points: 1) Congress had passed a law in 1982 ending Reagan’s support for the Contras, and 2) many other nations are currently involved in the negotiations with Iran. However, this very claim validates the current Republican position that they can undo Obama’s foreign policy decisions by legislating against them. And if the president negotiated a treaty, the senate would still need to approve it before it took effect here, regardless of how many other countries were involved.



Lest you think I’m playing favorites, I’ll go on record saying that Republicans are not blameless in this matter. If they objected to the Democratic letter to Ortega in the ’80s, they had no business doing the same thing in the Iran situation. Also, you’ll find many conservative sites claiming that Kerry signed the Dear Comandante letter. Well, here’s the signature section of the letter:


Not a Kerry among them.

So, what’s the point? I believe that part of holding our elected officials accountable is remembering what has occurred in the past. We would be far less easily swayed by the sensationalist claim that, “Nothing like this has ever happened before.” [This is as silly as the belief held by most sports fans that the greatest player or team or game or dynasty has happened within their own viewing experience.] There’s really very little new under the sun. Also, we would be able to tell if our leaders and reporters are remaining true to their claimed core beliefs or giving off the aroma of hypocrisy. If something is illegal or unconstitutional, it’s just as wrong for your side to do it as it is for your opponents. You can’t have it both ways.

As we become more and more inundated with information, we must also be aware of issue framing by media sources. When current vice president Joe Biden was a candidate for the 1988 presidential election, he admitted to press reports that he had plagiarized material for a paper when he was in law school in the ’60s. This became a major factor in his decision to withdraw from the race. However, as David Greenberg pointed out, there was little mention of the plagiarism when Biden became Obama’s running mate in 2008. This means one of two things: either reporters are willing to overlook misbehavior if they believe in a particular candidacy but point it out when they don’t support someone, or they have come to believe that plagiarism is no big deal. Either possibility is just as scary as entrusting the preservation, protection, and defense of the Constitution of the United States to someone who claimed he did not understand the rules and procedures for citing sources. WHILE HE WAS IN LAW SCHOOL.


“You got me.”

The current parallel: media scrutiny of candidate Donald Trump’s history of Chapter 11 bankruptcies. Many feel that this demonstrates an inability to manage corporate finances responsibly or a callous disregard for the jobs and livelihoods of employees. While this may be true, his actions were permissible and public. He took advantage of a legal opportunity, even if we feel that the legal opportunity needs revision.


“I don’t need to steal someone’s law school paper. I’ll just buy it.”

If reporters supported Trump’s candidacy, would they downplay his financial history? Is bankruptcy worse than plagiarism? These are issues a responsible voter will investigate and ponder in order to make good choices in elections. You should not just believe what pundits or candidates want you to believe simply because they make television shows or write on line.

Remember, no one can deceive you without your consent.