On Aging Politicians: Essay for May 19, 2012

The year 1976 is memorable for many things: the Bi-centennial celebration brought Op-Sail to New York Harbor; “Rocky,” the first “Rocky,” was the top movie; the Dow-Jones Index was at 1000; Mao Tse Tung had died and Richard Lugar was elected to the US Senate for the first time at the age of 44.
Richard Lugar, a Navy veteran and Eagle Scout, rose to prominence in Indianapolis politics, compiled what seems to be an impressive record and eventually grew his tenure in the US Senate. He was never seriously challenged until he lost in the Republican primary this past week by a landslide. Richard Lugar will leave the Senate chamber after this session ends after 36 years of service. He is 80 years old.

By any measure, his career is a distinguished one. He was a mover and shaker on the weighty issues of national security and nuclear proliferation. His colleagues on both sides of the aisle have paid him tremendous platitudes after learning of his defeat. Senator Susan Collins said that she cannot imagine the US Senate without him. Perhaps that is because she was only 23 years old when Mr. Lugar was elected. Senator John Kerry called it a “tragedy.” Has he not read “King Lear?” Peggy Noonan saw this coming and wrote an impassioned column pleading to spare Richard Lugar and grant him one more term because “the entire American government needs grownups.”

Well, Mr. Lugar was dealt a defeat at the hands of tea party backed candidate Richard Mourdock. I do not know much about his politics but I were a Hoosier I could imagine myself wondering if any individual who has been in service for 36 years could be anything but a career politician. These are bad times to have that label appended to anyone who holds office. Add a 6 year term on top of his 80 years and, well, you do the math.

These times are changing for both parties. Simply attaching an “R” next to your name does not automatically grant immunity from scrutiny, no matter how precarious the balance in the Senate may be. Extreme longevity disrupts the natural progression of candidates who otherwise seek other career paths. So many of us desire a real return to citizen legislators who are committed to service, yes, but not a career in office. A new Rasmussen poll indicates that 68% of Americans would replace the entire Congress if they could do so. The time for Richard Lugar to pass the reigns was long overdue. No matter what his accomplishments, the continued vitality of our government demands turnover more frequently than that of the old Soviet Politburo. I will not cry for him but I do applaud and honor his service to America.

And that brings me to another aging politician, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I would not normally call attention to her age and appearance except for the fact that she herself did so this week. Secretary Clinton let her hair down, quite literally, in South America. Her long locks cascaded to her shoulders; she appeared without make-up to cover up the age spots or smooth the crow’s feet; her glasses were the dark, thick rimmed kind normally reserved for reading in bed; and her attitude screamed, “I’m tired of talking about age and appearance.” Said Hillary, “You know at some point it’s just not something that deserves a lot of time and attention.” Amen to that.

Now here is a lady with a career that can rightly be described as distinguished. One can certainly argue about pedigree and positions and choose to vehemently disagree on issue with her politics. What cannot be denied is that Hillary Clinton has not followed the traditional career path of one in such a position of power. She has been First Lady, US Senator, Presidential front-runner, and Secretary of State. She has not strung together more than two consecutive gigs in politics. That much I like.

There has been a lot of speculation about her upcoming resignation as Secretary of State and the potential of her running for President in 2016. Her timing may be quite ripe. Whether President Obama is done in 2012 or 2016, the Democrats will need a candidate. Many say why not her? I say, quit while you are ahead. At age 68 she may not physically be too old to run but she should take her clue from Richard Lugar and get while the getting is good.
I look forward to advising the same thing for the Senior Senator from Massachusetts, now in his 28th year in the Senate, when his term expires in 2014. Or he could step down sooner. Aren’t you just itching for another Senatorial special election?

Press on.

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On the Political Fire Triangle: Video Essay for May 5, 2012

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On the Political Fire Triangle: Essay for May 5, 2012

It has been said that the tea party has actually preserved the Republican Party from sliding towards insignificance by electing to remain a part of its conservative wing rather than attempting to establish a standalone third party. The informational and electoral efforts of the tea party since 2009 have sent a clear message to Americans that there is a sizeable and growing force for limited government and limited taxation. In recent months we have also seen a decided cleaving of some elements of the movement towards vocalizing a social agenda.

It is important to note that the tea party does not yet have the critical mass to become a third party. In the near term it cannot grow to a size that would command a majority without a collaborative effort of other conservative voices within the Republican Party. In some circles this collaboration would seem to be natural and welcomed; in other circles, it can be seen as impolite. But a collaboration of some sort is inevitable.

The tea party does not equal third party and impolite does not equal impolitic. We have seen over the past week just how much the Republican National Committee (in tea party terms “the Establishment”) cannot control these rabble-rousers from the small-p party of change, the tea party. We saw strong evidence of such rabble-rousing this past weekend in the National Convention caucuses in Massachusetts and Louisiana. Delegate slates selected by the State Party pledged to Mitt Romney went down to defeat, down in flames, to well organized efforts by supporters of Ron Paul, the last remaining challenger to a near certain Romney nomination.

It begs the question, “How did the rabble-rousers get so organized?” The better question may be, “Why did the State Party ignore the passion of the most grassroots active, if not well healed, part of their Party?” The fact is that there are many well organized groups within each State whose grass root support has been taken for granted. They may not frequent the same circles as the so-called establishment Republicans but they certainly have a similar passion for conservative and libertarian viewpoints. The establishment types would like them to play by the rules. These new insurgents simply said, “We just did and we beat you fair and square.”

It remains to be seen but I suspect these insurgents do not desire to undermine Mitt Romney as much as to have an influence over Party platform. In true tea party form, they want to be heard. They want to upset but not up-end the status quo. But we will have to wait and see. Rule 38 of the Republican National Committee may well leave open the question of constitutionality of the Unit Rule that binds any delegate to a certain unanimous group vote. Does this leave a chance for a convention challenge to Mitt Romney from Ron Paul supporters, or others? I hope not.

For the record, I supported Mitt Romney in 2008 and I support him in 2012. I hope this challenge to authority is a warning shot across the bow to the RNC leadership but not a direct hit. If it changes the outcome of the Convention or serves to distract the Romney Campaign from its’ daily duty to win in November to winning in August, it is not a good thing for America.

America needs to relieve itself of the Obama Administration. It sorely does. More importantly, it needs to install a Romney Administration. It is time to forget about any illusion of Ron Paul, Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich winning the nomination. Not in this year divisible by four, at least. The collective goal of those right-minded individuals ought to be, must be, to win back the Presidency in 2012. And along the way, it must secure the House majority and fight to at least win a slim majority in the Senate in order to get the gavel back from Harry Reid.

The Presidency will come down to winning the Battleground States. It always seems to. Massachusetts being the home of Mitt Romney may not be enough to carry the State against President Obama. One may have to leave that burden to voters in Ohio, Florida, North Carolina and the like. The heavy lifting in Massachusetts must be for the reelection of Senator Scott Brown and a number of Congressional candidates who have a shot, however slim, of infiltrating the delegation. There are several who might do so with the right combination of dedicated grassroots support and adequate financial backing.

This is the shoreline where establishment meets insurgency around a candidate. A good candidate is the fuel that burns. The establishment can provide the financial resources to a campaign as heat; the insurgency has demonstrated it can provide the oxygen.

Fuel, heat and oxygen. It is the fire triangle. Without each element, there is no flame. It is high time that our feuding Party factions stop messing with the Political Fire Triangle. Deprive the triangle of heat or oxygen and the fuel will not burn. You can ask any Fireman.

Press on.

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On Headlines and Headaches: Essay for April 29, 2012

Reading headlines can be hazardous to your health. Maybe there should be a warning label. I recently scanned a one page summary of top stories and blanched at the increasing level of polarization being fomented by the Obama Administration. President Obama might as well assume the title of Fomenter-in-Chief.

Consider these teaser headlines for which the Fomenter-in-Chief is directly responsible: Obama Attempts to Intimidate Contributors to Romney’s Campaign; Most Unpopular US government in 15 Years; Blue Collar Dems Jealous, Angry Over Lavish Vacations. And how about these that the Obama administration presides over: Plunge: Growth Falls to 2.2%; US Firms Add Jobs but Mostly Overseas; Falling Home Prices Drag New Buyers Underwater.

In such a target-rich environment it is difficult to know where to begin to tear apart the failings of this President and his administration. It has been said that at the personal level President Obama is likable. I sure don’t find him so. I would take a pass on so much as having a beer with this particular leader of the Free World. I have no respect for someone who has no respect for the Office of President.

Mr. Obama seems to care about reelection more because of his competitive spirit than in his fierce desire to lead a willing nation in a difficult battle for our future. He has been using the Office to intimidate the opposition in ways we, as Americans, deplored in the Nixon Administration. His campaign is publishing lists of Romney donors and defiling their names. As Kimberly Strassel recently pointed out in the Wall Street Journal, it is dangerous to cross swords with the power of an incumbent President who controls the mighty levers of government. Imagine exercising your First Amendment right of free speech and then being contacted by the Justice Department, the SEC, and the IRS. You could be indicted, fined or audited for political beliefs alone.

Is it any wonder why people grow weary of politics and are reluctant to run for office? It is the politics of division using a Scorched Earth Policy. No prisoners. No survivors. Take the opposition off at the knees.

If we are still, indeed, suffering the effects of the Great Recession, why is it acceptable for the President to play golf as often as he does while millions are out of work? And why does the First Family take such opulent and frequent vacations? Michele’s vacation to Spain cost about a half million dollars. Why not vacation in Detroit? They could sure use the stimulus. Or maybe indulge in a Stay-cation like so many of us are reconciled to do with the economy in the dumps. Michele could take the kids to the Smithsonian. It’s free! There will be ample opportunity and resources for the Obamas to globetrot on personal vacations once this administration is over. A little self-restraint would be appreciated by us taxpayers.

On the economy, once again growth for the past fiscal quarter has been revised downward. It now stands at 2.2%. That is anemic growth and a far cry from the 3% that was first reported. And let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that 3% is wild growth, either. It is simply the line above which we create an appetite that begins to eat into our massive unemployment numbers. Put in some perspective, the rate of growth in China is moderating to about 8%. A mature economy such as ours would tolerate 3 ½% to 4% to reabsorb the un- and under-employed.

Home ownership, long considered to be an indication of prosperity in America, is at a 10 year low. Now, only 53% of Americans feel their home is worth more than what they paid for it. That is down from 92% only 5 years ago. Only a third feels that their home will increase in value in 2012.

A home reflects the bedrock investment for a family. It is where you start a marriage and raise a family. It is where you establish yourself in a civil society. In a vibrant economy, mobility is essential for economic success. When you are underwater with your home mortgage, or cannot afford to pay the realtor fees required to sell your home, economic opportunities simply pass you by. You are no longer mobile.

The election in November will reflect many issues. We all have our lists and there will be many distractions to the main issue from which the President cannot escape: the economy needs to grow. And it needs to grow organically without the type of Federal stimulus we saw in 2009. A vibrant economy will restore confidence and revenues.

There is an expression that I am fond of: Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way. On the first two points, this administration has failed. Last week, Michele Obama revealed a “secret fantasy” during an interview with CNN. She said, “…you know one fantasy I have…is to walk right out the front door and just keep walking.”

That is a fantasy of mine, as well. I ask only one thing. Please take the President with you. And please stay out of the way.

Press on.

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On Political Crosshairs and the Massachusetts 4th: Video Essay for April 20, 2012

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On Political Crosshairs and the Massachusetts 4th: Essay for April 20, 2012

Politics cuts a wide swath across America yet there is a confluence of news items this past week that landed squarely in our backyard here in Massachusetts. There is a trio of happenings and utterances that would otherwise come as no surprise were it not for the local connection of the people who uttered them.

Here is the first revelation: Obamacare was a mistake. Congressman Barney Frank said so. He said, “I think we paid a terrible price for health care. I would not have pushed it as hard. As a matter of fact, after Scott Brown won, I suggested going back.” Mr. Frank counseled the President on pressing forward without a mandate and the risk of alienation of a country that was, and remains, intensely skeptical of a widespread reform. Of course, that did not stop him from voting the party line in lockstep with then Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation. Instead, Obamacare narrowly passed the House and technically passed the Senate. The newly minted 41st Republican Senator Scott Brown never cast a vote in the intense debate. His sword was never unsheathed.

Here is revelation number two. Enter former Congressman Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island. He now heads up a non-profit group that had sought Administration support. He wanted to ensure access to the White House. Funny, a Kennedy wanted to buy his way into the White House. Patrick Kennedy plunked down a maximum donation of $35,800 with apparent gladness. He said that this is the way the system works. Quoting Kennedy, “If you want to call it ‘quid pro quo,’ fine,” he said. “At the end of the day, I want to make sure I do my part.”
Do my part? To what end? Should public policy be left in the hands of well healed donors, only? Patrick Kennedy seems to think so. It is part of the process that guarantees access to decision makers and thought leaders. Money talks, nobody walks.

This brings us to the third revelation. Isn’t it interesting that 31 year old Joseph P. Kennedy III is running for the seat vacated by Barney Frank in the newly redrawn Massachusetts 4th Congressional District? He seems like a nice enough person: a couple of college degrees; a stint in the Dominican Republic as the only Peace Corps volunteer from the Kennedy family; and a few years experience as an Assistant District Attorney. He has not a lick of business experience. He is, at best, a lawyer.

But that has not stopped him from raising more money than any sitting member of the Massachusetts delegation by a factor of almost 3 to 1. He has raised $1.3 million dollars. About 20% came from PACs eager to ride that bandwagon once again. So eager was the AFL-CIO that he received their endorsement before he announced his candidacy!

So what does that money buy? What are donors expecting from young Joe Kennedy? Access.

What I want from my Congressman is empathy, understanding and action. So far, Joe Kennedy is failing in each area. He recently visited a diner that I frequent and asked the right question of the proprietor: How’s business? When he heard the truth about the state of small business in this Commonwealth, his jaw dropped.
Said the proprietor: “The federal government is in one pocket, the state government is in the other. When I put my hand into my own pockets, there is nothing left. All you guys want to do is take out more. It’s not there. I can’t give what I don’t have.” Joe the 3rd had no answers. He had not even a retort.

Like every small business owner I know, this one pays himself last and he hasn’t paid himself in a long, long time. Even if he were so inclined, he could not even conceive of making a political contribution to gain access to the House of Representatives no less the White House. This notion of quid pro quo that Joe Kennedy’s uncle praises falls upon deaf ears for this small business owner.

Small business is barely holding on in this country. Shops that depend upon discretionary income are folding their tents. Three quarters don’t need new employees as sales won’t justify the costs. Two thirds are worried about the state of the economy. Half worry about cash flows and their ability to make payroll. Half worry about the cost of healthcare and new government regulation. A quarter are worried about remaining in business for the next 12 months.

Economic growth is the surest way out of this calamity but we must also seek systemic and permanent cuts in taxes and fees that serve only to redistribute wealth. If our goal is to provide for the neediest in this country let’s do that. But do not make those who take the big chances and risk it all become poor in the pursuit of a utopian dream of equal outcomes for all.

This November, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will top the ballot in what is shaping up to be a very close election. The most hotly contested Senate race is Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown versus Elizabeth Warren. Barney Frank is hoping to bequeath his seat to a member of the Kennedy dynasty who has not yet earned his stripes in life.

This will be the most interesting place to be in the country on November 6th.

Press on.

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