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Conservatively Speaking: June 30, 2012


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On Pessimism: Essay for June 26, 2012

“Optimism is a force multiplier.” So said General Colin Powell long before he was involved in politics. It was the mantra he used to lead those under his command. From The Little Engine That Could to the 1980 US Olympic hockey team, optimism bores through an obstacle like a candle burns through the darkness.

The converse of that statement is equally true. Pessimism is a force diminisher. The real problem with pessimism is that it is virally contagious. It spreads like a pandemic without antidote. Its’ effects are deleterious. Pessimism convinces us that darkness is okay because our eyes will adjust over time especially if the daylight is first overcome by dusk.

It reminds me of the instructions of how to boil a frog: start with cool water and turn up the heat until the deed is done. No intelligent frog would long stay in boiling water but lull them into a false sense of security and they will stew in their own juices and thank you for the effort.

A recently released Rasmussen poll said that only 37 percent of Americans think that the best days for America lie ahead. Some 45 percent think that our best days are indeed behind us. I don’t know when those numbers were reversed. As far back as 2006 with America deeply involved in a bloody war in Iraq and a holding action in Afghanistan and with political partisanship at full throttle, the numbers were fairly similar. Pessimism abounds.

Winning streaks are hard to maintain. They are noble and enduring. Losing streaks take little effort at all to maintain. They are ignoble and best forgotten except in trivia contests. Longest batting streak in baseball? Fifty six games by Lou Gehrig. Longest losing streak for a pitcher? Twenty seven games by Anthony Young. They made movies about Hall-of-Famer Lou Gehrig. What about Anthony Young? He coaches youth baseball.

Is this to be the way of America? Are we destined to become the youth coach of the burgeoning democracies of the world? Or are we metaphorically poised to begin our fifty seven game hitting streak? I think it is a mental choice. As the great philosopher Yogi Berra once said, “Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.”

The world is an unstable and unpredictable place. It demands a steady hand on the tiller and America is the only country that can provide the leadership that the stability of the world demands. We must be willing to offer that leadership. Allowing warlords and Lesser Developed Countries to dictate the terms of their participation in the family of nations to the largest single force for good in the history of this planet is ludicrous. The outcome will be as certain as it was in Lord of the Flies.

The world needs adult supervision and that supervision must come from the United States. That leaves us with a very real problem. Who among us in this great country is up to the task of leadership? And I mean bold leadership.

The world is full of follower countries waiting for the resurgence of a renewed and focused United States. And Americans are waiting for the same leadership in our own country. We’ve heard the platitudes and we reject them not so much out of incredulity as out of desperation. The words are threadbare and shopworn.

The United States has the largest and most resilient economy in the world but who is filling the pipeline of talent to take over the seats of the aging demographic that is poised to retire? Who seriously thinks that US businesses can successfully repatriate their manufacturing if the workforce is barren of the skills necessary to complete? Our next President must do, not talk.

The United States has the largest and most competent military force in the world but does anyone think we can continue to put our forces in harm’s way to support illegitimate and unjust countries with values incompatible with our own world view? Who thinks we can continue to rotate our best and most precious human assets into combat stalemates without sacrificing the core of our collective soul? Our next President must do, not talk.

The United States has provided a safety net to the neediest among us but how long can this net endure if it becomes a hammock for those who put personal gain at odds against the collective good? Who among us thinks we can pass along the decisions we are too cowardly to make to our children and grandchildren? Our next President must do, not talk.

Certainly our President has not had enough time to bring about change that this nation so desperately needs. That is because he is lost in the wilderness and a worn footpath looks like a superhighway. He is presiding over a losing streak of epic proportions because he has no vision of what American can be and must become.

This is not the fault of the previous administration. It is the fault of President Barack Obama. This President has talked, not done. We are ready for the leader who will light the candle in the darkness.

Yogi said it was 90 percent mental and 50 percent physical. It is hard to argue with that.

Press on.

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On Turning Points: Video Essay for June 10, 2012

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On Turning Points: Essay for June 10, 2012

Great moments in history are most often noted in retrospect. We often do not see the significance of any one action, however large, in its proper perspective without the benefit of time. In politics a day can be can be can lifetime, a week an eternity. What a week it has been. The question I pose is this: Has the week of June 4th been the Waterloo for President Obama and his chances for reelection in November?

I know it is early and so much more can happen but it appears as though the wheels are coming off the wagon for the President. Here are just a few of the leading indicators of despair for him.

First and foremost, Scott Walker not only survived the recall election in Wisconsin, he thrived. It is a clear repudiation of organized public sector labor union thuggery. It also exposed a rift between the private and public sector union rank and file. It is quite a luxury that the public sector unions view municipal budgets as blank checks for their incessant demands while their brothers in the private sector are dependent upon the continued vibrancy of the private companies for whom they work.

But wait, there’s more. Bill Clinton, the Godfather of the Democrats, praised Mitt Romney for his tenure at Bain Capital. He said he did a great job. Of course he had to amend his statements later on but the horse was out of the barn. The jury shall disregard the remarks, as they say. Besides, he later went on to say that median income was down since his administration, an off-handed reminder that the Bush-era tax cuts should remain in effect lest we crush the 98%. The Obama big-bad-businessman reelection narrative was destroyed.

Next, Ben Bernanke, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, indicated that the Bush-era tax cuts should stay in place lest the economy fall off a cliff, raising the unemployment rate, curtailing consumer spending and bringing on another recession. There goes the Presidents’ “tax the rich” narrative.

Then the employment figures of May were released. A mere 69,000 people got work, tens of thousands more stopped looking for work, and the previous two months of employment statistics, already poor, were revised downward. That shoots the Forward narrative right in the foot.

Finally, reports surfaced in a new book that David Axelrod, campaign strategist to the President, got into fisticuffs with Attorney General Eric Holder over politicization of the Justice Department. Maybe that actually reinforces the “Team of Rivals” concept for the President’s cabinet.
And there is so much more. Did anyone mention that the Supreme Court decision on the Constitutionality of Obamacare should be out before the end of the month? A repudiation of the mandate would reinforce the Mitt Romney narrative that Obama fiddled with his pet project of dubious value while the economy was ignored.

Add to this some polling from Rasmussen that indicates a record number of Americans favor one-party rule in Washington and you have enough elements of a turning point week in the “Run for the White House” that favors the challenger, Mitt Romney. How unlikely did this seem only 2 months ago while the Republican primaries were in full swing and the candidates were talking trash about each other. Quick, name me five other candidates for the nomination. Bet you it took a few seconds. Now, there are reports that liberals will refrain from grassroots support and donating money. They may even stay away from the polls in November. Imagine that.

The battle lines are drawn very clearly. President Obama is pleasing nobody these days. It is a self-inflicted wound for whom he can only blame himself. People on both sides of the aisle are disappointed. The further from the center one gets, right or left, the more the disappointment grows. To the Right, Obama is too much a Marxist-Leninist and should be removed from office because he is not what he purported to be. To the Left, Obama is too little of a Marxist-Leninist and should be removed from office because he is not what he purported to be. It makes you want to scratch your head but I would be pleased with the outcome following each extreme.

In July 1863, General Meade and the Union Army of the Potomac defeated General Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg. Today it is clearly perceived as the turning point of the Civil War. It was not as clear at the time. The war continued for nearly two more years at great loss of American treasure. As Kierkegaard once said, “Life must be lived forwards; but it can only be understood backwards.”
In a real sense, the turning point that may have just occurred is larger than the contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney itself. Evidence is coming in that suggests that so much more is at stake than electoral victory. At stake is world leadership in the 21st century. Are the best days for America behind her or still yet to come? We will find out in November.

Press on.

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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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