Tag Archives: Elections

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.

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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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On Political Armageddon: Essay for January 14, 2012

We have endured no fewer than 15 televised debates in the Republican quest for the Presidential nomination. In addressing the remedies to the many ills that have befallen this republic has anyone of the candidates really told the truth? The Republic is in danger and neither single person nor sound bite can bail us out. Any realistic remedy will require sacrifice in the form of less government largess that extends to all of us. No one is exempt from the downsizing that government aspirations must surely endure in order to restore fiscal balance. To borrow an expression from my Great Depression-era father, we have champagne tastes with a beer pocketbook.

The status quo is simply not sustainable. We cannot spend like there is no tomorrow because there must be a tomorrow. Any person who thinks that their personal special interest can escape the budget ax is either kidding themselves or is fiendishly selfish. Perhaps both. To be sure, a strong economic recovery can serve to mask the deficit but it cannot mask spiraling government spending.

The duopoly of the Republican and the Democrat Parties and the Political Class they have created has lulled us into a false sense of security that we can fix everything without living within our means; without saddling future generations with debt that they cannot possibly relieve. We have heard each of the Republican candidates offer their version of economic nirvana: We can grow our way out of debt if we could only fix the economy; we can stem the spending tide if we could only erase one third of government spending; we can end entitlements if we make people more independent and get them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps; we could end terrorism if we could only get foreign governments to think as we do.

It is not working out for America.

Constant bearing, decreasing range. In nautical terms, that spells collision. That is where the Captain of our Ship of State, President Obama, is navigating us. With Mr. Obama at the helm, our heading is on autopilot. The radar target up ahead is a rocky shoal that can’t change its’ position. We must alter our course or catastrophe is imminent.

Here is my fear. The Republican Presidential Class of 2012 is not going to make a significant difference in the course the nation is taking. They might reduce speed but that will only serve to delay the inevitable. Circumstances demand bold action and I am not certain that our Republican candidates are up to the challenge. Scarier yet, I am not certain our electorate is up to that challenge. The electorate may ask for change but for the other guy, not for them.

This is the crux of the argument of the Tea Party and, oddly enough, the unwitting message of the Occupy movement: the parties are not up to the challenge of the moment. And that is why we must be patient but not too patient.

The election of 2010 brought sweeping change to the US House of Representatives. To that august body were added some 65 members who described themselves as outsiders. They sleep in their offices; they vote their conscious; figuratively speaking, they have lain across the tracks of the status quo. And what thanks have they gotten? The final verdict is still out but they have not captured the imagination of the unions, the special interests, the political class and least of all, the Republican establishment. Witness the recent squabble on Capitol Hill over the 2 month extension of the Social Security tax rollback. Republican leadership does not understand the position of the newest members of their own caucus, the Tea Party; they do not understand the clamor of the populace.

This is why the election of 2012 has such importance. It may be the last two-party election. It’s now or never for the Republican Party. If the Republicans are to ever lead the recovery of our worldwide position of leadership, political, economic and moral, they must first preserve the gains of 2010 and expand them in 2012. But it is not enough to expand the margin in Congress if the lessons learned through victory are diluted by the mantra of the past.

The Republican Party is the last best hope for our Republic but only if it embraces the message of change for which the people of this country are clamoring: bring common sense logic to Washington; don’t make us beg you to actually lead.

If the Republican Party misses this opportunity to capture the aspirations of the mainstream of the American people in this election, there will be a real third party challenge in American politics. It will be organized and it will pull from both parties but will come at the greater expense of the Grand Old Party. And it will be of a consequence of failure to read the obvious tea leaves of the tea party: the old way is leading our nation to ruin.

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On the Prize: Radio Essay for January 7, 2012

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On the Prize: Essay for January 7, 2011

The New Year has turned and we have officially entered into a year divisible by four. In other words, it is a Presidential election year. We have just finished Week 1 and already he have had the first caucus and in a few short days the first primary of this election year.
The candidates spent about $12.5 million on advertising in Iowa. Considering there were less than 125,000 votes cast in the caucus that comes down to about $1000 per vote. In the meantime, some 3 million Cornhuskers had to endure mind numbing and incessant ads day and night. Mitt Romney won Iowa by a scant 8 votes, capturing just over 30,000 votes.

Let’s put this in perspective. One hundred twenty five thousand votes are enough to win a Congressional election. Thirty thousand votes in an entire State is nothing. Most of the losing Congressional candidates in Massachusetts earned three times that many in 2010. It is not a mandate: it is a snapshot. There will be 125 million votes cast in November. What those votes represent is the crucible of challenge.

It is said that primary challenges make for better candidates. I believe that is true to a point. This beauty pageant has been a long and tedious one so far with ten candidates in the limelight and another ten candidates, mostly fringe, lingering in the shadows. Some candidates, people like Buddy Roemer, have not caught fire because of lack of exposure; others with exposure, like John Huntsman, have not caught fire. Go figure.

The American electoral process may be described as a play in three acts. Act I is the ritualistic mating and vetting dance where each candidate auditions and elbows the others for time. We have just entered Act II, the primary stretch to determine the nominee. It resembles the first Act but only for a short while. Victories yield momentum and donations, losses yield nothing but unfulfilled expectations and suspensions of campaigns. Act III is the head-to-head competition between the two party nominees. Will this year bring a third party candidate, too? I hope not.

Ironically, there are three factions in the Republican Party at this moment. There is the evangelical conservative, now led by Rick Santorum; the libertarian side, headed by Ron Paul; and the conventional, establishment side, headed by Mitt Romney. What amazes and disturbs me now is just how heated and divisive the interactions between these factions have become at the grassroots level.

If Facebook is any guide at all, there is very angry debate going on amongst conservatives who are seeking the anti-Obama. By necessity, they congregate in the Republican camp because there is no place for them amongst the Democrats. But it does not mean that all is well in that expanded Republican circle. These factions are in conflict right now. Each has their own candidate for the moment but the real test will be if they can coalesce once the three candidates whittle down to one. And that decision can come fast if Mitt Romney can keep his head of steam.

Romney has the national footprint and the broad financial base. He will be difficult to overcome because he has played the game according to the standard rules. He has been at this for years and the organization and discipline shows. But it is just that discipline and mastery of the established rules that have labeled Mitt as an establishment candidate in the eyes of the libertarians and less than effervescent in the eyes of the evangelicals.

Here is my suggestion for the anti-Obama forces: get together. There is only one chance to remove Barack Obama from office before damage is done to this country that we cannot begin to imagine. He cannot kill this country and he cannot kill our spirit but he can do us harm.

Too many people are seeking a sweeping victory that will not only reverse the damages wrought by Mr. Obama, but of The Great Society, The New Deal and Wilsonian Progressivism. It is a bridge too far. As in first aid, you must immediately stop the bleeding. Once that is done, you can deal with each malady as it presents itself.

The November elections will be a referendum and an opportunity to flip the rudder hard over. Like an aircraft carrier, this ship of state will take a few miles to perceptively change course. The first step is a Republican victory in November by the candidate who is the Republican nominee, no matter who it is. It is time to circle the wagons around the candidate, yes, but then on the party, too. The party needs fixing to be sure, but the country needs our help first. That is the prize. Let us keep our eyes upon it.

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On Rock-Paper-Scissors: Essay for New Year’s Eve 2011

The other night my son and I were discussing who was going to peel the cucumber for the dinner salad and determined that the only fair way to decide was the tried and true Rock-Paper-Scissors method. You remember, “Rock-Paper-Scissors-Shoot.” Rock crushes scissors, paper covers rock, and scissors cut paper. It is an order of magnitude more complicated than simple odd and even. There are web sites dedicated to the methodology of the game strategy.

The game has elegance to it. There is the raw power of the rock; the stealth of the paper; and the ingenuity of the scissors. No single element is omnipotent. Overplay the power move of the rock and the paper will surely counter it. The stealthy application of the paper will yield to the ingenious play of the scissors. Success derives from the masterful and timely play of one element over the other. And seldom is the gamed played in a single round. It typically plays out over some odd number of rounds, thus allowing for a bit of give-and-take and room for some strategic compromise.

I was immediately drawn into a political context for this childhood game. Let’s consider the three players in November 2012: Barack Obama, Rock; Mitt Romney, the likely nominee, holds the scissors; and the American People, the paper. The President has the power of the mightiest office in the land. That’s why he is the Rock. Romney has to be clever and ingenious to win, thus the scissors. The American People are the paper because we are the stealthy ones. We hold a lot of leverage but also have a lot at risk.

We the People have the power to cover the Rock, the President, and bring a halt to the national calamity in which we have been embroiled since the dawn of the era of Hope and Change. But the Scissors held by Mr. Romney can cut us, if he turns out to be something different from what we seek. And we seek a lot.

There is risk here but I invite you to consider how much riskier the status quo under four more years of Barack Obama would be than under Mitt Romney, the pragmatic one. Some may wonder where Mr. Romney stands on certain issues. Yes, there have been the so-called flip-flops. And there is Romneycare. The Right can question his conservative credentials until the cows come home but one thing is certain: Mitt Romney loves America with all of his heart and will work to restore the way of life that has provided so much for so many in our country for so long. Can one say that about Barack Obama?

When you play Rock-Paper-Scissors, you play for the long haul; you use wit and guile to outsmart and outflank your opponent. You can withstand small defeats and still attain a large victory. There is no litmus test in the game. Only the final outcome counts. And so it must be in November. There is no litmus test that will restore American greatness. And one should not expect a string of unending victories without an occasional compromise along the way.

As Lord Macaulay once said, “A single breaker may recede but the tide is evidently coming in.” And so it must be in restoring American greatness. We will have our occasional setbacks as part of democratic give and take. Sometimes they are issue-by-issue, Congress-by-Congress or even administration-by-administration. We will prevail in the end.

We don’t need candidates who scare people, however righteous they may appear. It is a sure indication that they cannot effectively govern. Is that not where we are today with our current President? Is he a man to debate issues of the day over a beer? Certainly. But do I trust him with the future of my country or the destiny of my children? I do not.

There is a saying that everything will be alright in the end: if it is not alright, it is not the end. We must have faith and have patience. The American vision held by Barack Obama is not the vision held by Mitt Romney. It is not the vision held by you and me and the vast majority of Americans.

It is as simple as that for me. Rock-Paper-Scissors-Shoot. I’ll take the guy with the scissors, please. Best two out of three.

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