Tag Archives: Elections

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 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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On China and American Moral Leadership: Essay for February 4, 2012

Traveling as do, I have literally circled the globe a couple of times each year over the last several decades. In fact, travel has taken me overseas for three of the last four weeks to Asia and Europe to conduct business; doing my part in growing the business of a large multi-national corporation. It is an experience that has produced a world view that is seasoned and uniquely mine.

The United States is an island nation. Our east coast abuts the mighty Atlantic Ocean. Heading westward, as our pioneer ancestors did, brings us to the vast Pacific. America has been blessed with abundant natural resources that, for most of our existence, made us self-sufficient and blissfully isolated in a world that long ago relied upon delicate interdependencies and alliances. We avoided colonial aspirations and fiercely resisted entering global conflicts in Europe and Asia until dragged in by grievous circumstance.

And when the dust settled after the Second World War we were still standing. The industrial might of the nations of Europe was destroyed and Japan laid waste by nuclear attack. The Arsenal of Democracy became the Factory of the World. The Marshall Plan rebuilt Europe and MacArthur oversaw the rise of a democratic Japan, each dominated by American industrial might.

Ironically, we created the monster that ate the American factory. Our efforts to restore stability and prosperity to a war torn world led to great infrastructure improvements. Germany and Japan built new factories and highways that were more efficient than the aging behemoths in the United States that just a few short years earlier produced the war material that defeated the Fascists and the Nazis. Taiwan and Korea built ships that Henry Kaiser, the father of the Liberty ship, would envy. Year by year, the newly industrialized world nibbled at the heels of American industrial dominance.

Slowly but steadily, American businesses grew weaker. Large industrial employers began to ship production elsewhere for better efficiencies and labor costs; first to the Sun Belt, then abroad. In 1960, 9 of the top 10 employers in the United States were industrial companies. Today, 7 of 10 are service providers. Here’s the rub: the job multiplier for industrial companies, such as automotive and steel, are much higher than for service industries such as retail or healthcare. For every 1000 jobs created in the steel industry, an additional 11,000 jobs are created elsewhere as a direct result. In retail, the same 1000 jobs create only an additional 240.

The bottom line effect is that losing 1000 steel workers has an impact that cannot be offset by creating 1000 jobs at Wal-Mart. Not by a long shot. America needs to retain, create and repatriate industrial jobs in order to preserve the post-war economy that ushered in the era of Pax Americana. And it needs to do so fast.

The erosion of domestic American business accelerated once Most Favored Nation status was conferred upon the People’s Republic of China in 1999. Since then, foreign direct investment has grown geometrically as a vast low cost labor market became available. Our balance of payments deficit has ballooned from $89 billion in 1999 to a level three times higher today.

And with all the wealth sprung from wildly successful businesses built in newly built cities in China, more than one third of the 1.3 billion Chinese live on two dollars a day. Human Rights and Workers Rights have not kept pace with the pace of change. Environmental respect long ago yielded to unbridled development. The cost of environmental stewardship is not passed along to producers.

These factors greatly enhance the competitiveness of Chinese businesses. They are not likely to change unless the world cries out for change. And we are held hostage by the addiction we have to low, lower, lowest cost manufacturing and the consumerism that drives consumption in America. We have failed to hold China accountable for their lack of responsible leadership in the face of the dynamic change their society is undergoing.

We can talk about leveling the playing field against unfair tariffs, product dumping and currency manipulation but until we begin to exert pressure on the Communist regime to act in a responsible way towards their society and our environment, the United States is a willing co-conspirator in our own industrial demise and the erosion of our moral leadership.

President Hu will shortly be visiting the United States. Who in our government will exhibit the courage to lead against this nascent economic giant? And in so leading, do we not gain a chance to reclaim a stronger economy in the process. The whole world should be watching.

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On Political Armageddon: Video Essay for January 14, 2012

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