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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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On the Real Tea Party: Video Essay for April 13, 2012

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On the Real Tea Party: Essay for April 13, 2012

Do you remember April 2009? Tax Day to be exact. That is when the Tea Party first emerged as a force to be reckoned with. T-E-A: Taxed Enough Already. Clearly the message was one about the profligate government spending paralleling an excess of government intrusion in our lives. The Obamacare debate was beginning. Cap and Trade was raging. TARP was in full swing. The Stimulus was being enacted.

Across the land sprung up spontaneous protests. T-E-A protests. Protests urging Congressmen to have Town Hall style meeting with constituents. Americans from the mainstream had determined that the government had become unresponsive to their pleas. This movement was not representative of a party. In fact, there may be more people unaffiliated with party than with. It was philosophical as to the scope of government, to the torrent of government spending and debt and to the spirit of American individualism.

That movement in April 2009 caught a head of steam that propelled it into and beyond the November 2010 elections. Political titans fell and a new legion of citizen-legislators rose to take their place. That almost all of the new Congressmen elected were Republicans is misleading. These candidates were running against the political class and the members of that political class that most needed changing happened to be Democrats.

It is now April 2012, a full three years since the first volleys were exchanged in the rebellion to retake control of our government for the people. Some grassroots organizations still exist with fiscal conservatism and wariness of big government intervention as their hallmarks. Other organizations, such as the Tea Party Express, went national with obvious electoral agendas. Still others have taken a turn towards advocating a socially conservative agenda. Somehow they all claim the title of Tea Party advocates.

And they are all correct. There is a very large umbrella under which can fit people of varying beliefs all tied together with one single thread: government is not paying attention to our demands to make it smaller and more responsive to our collective voices.

There has been a lot of chatter on the social media pages regarding who truly speaks for the heart and soul of the Tea party. The answer is simple: nobody does. Therein lays its beauty and its power. When opponents attempt to grab hold of the Tea Party it is as if they are grabbing a piece of a cloud. The Tea Party is ephemeral. It speaks for everyone by allowing the many who gather under its large umbrella a platform to voice their opinions as our history has allowed us and permitted us to so do.

Whatever confusion that diversity of opinion amongst Tea Party groups may create is largely irrelevant. To be sure, the movement will not attract those of a liberal persuasion. Those 30 to 40 percent will seek to cast their ballots elsewhere. No matter how the media portrays the movement, it will not alter their perceptions of the Tea Party one iota. The remainder constitutes the target audience for a more responsible government on many levels. What better ways to connect with people whose priorities are staggered from yours than by offering them a choice?

This Sunday afternoon on Boston Common will gather a Patriots Day Rally. Their website poll reflects the economy and government ethics as the top two vote getting issues. Their speaker line up reflects those issues, to be sure, as well as Libertarians, pastors and rabbis. The rally will likely start on those topics and include commentary by social conservatives, as well.

There is another Tea Party Rally in Worcester that same day. This one is more focused upon the Taxed-Enough-Already theme that sparked the upheaval three years ago. Their website identifies Real American Values of Capitalism, Individual Rights and Freedom for All. Their speakers that day will no doubt reflect upon those American values.

So what is a person to do? Which Tea Party rally is best? Who represents the real Tea Party? It is a silly question. Our individual sense of liberty and freedom of choice tell us that the best course of action is to select the one that best reflects our personal expectation of the pursuit of happiness.

The Tea Party succeeds because it cannot be conveniently categorized. It succeeds because it is not monolithic in nature. It is the epitome of liberty and freedom of expression. It is a modern day Town Hall meeting where every citizen has a voice and is given a forum to speak.

Let the major political parties cultivate their image. This is a party with a small “p.” Everyone is invited but nobody has to attend. Don’t worry about any bad press. It is part of the equation. We won’t win the media war. The only war we have to win is in November. Perhaps we can reschedule any internal battles about the heart and soul of the Tea Party until after our victory celebrations.

Press on.

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On Defining Moments: Video Essay for March 29, 2012


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On Defining Moments: Essay for March 29, 2012

In our nation’s history, there have been numerous defining moments. They are times characterized by incredible amounts of courage and foresight, principle and action. The root of all defining moments for these United States of America took place on July 4, 1776, in Congress assembled, when the founders signed a declaration with the most empowering words the world had ever, and still has ever, known.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Thirteen years later, many of these same founders developed a constitution that precisely delineated how this government was to derive those powers from the governed. They created three distinct branches of government to provide the checks and balances necessary to dampen any intemperate actions of the executive and legislative branches. They did so by applying the scrutiny of the judiciary through a laborious process that ultimately rests with the Supreme Court of the United States.

And so our country now finds itself at a defining moment in its history. We have concluded the oral argument phase regarding the Constitutionality of several provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. What is at stake here reaches far beyond a debate about health care or medical treatment. It is not a disagreement between the rich and poor in America. It is not about where our morality lies.
What is at stake here is a single word: Liberty. Can our government compel its citizens to do something against their will under penalty of tax? The Declaration of Independence lists no fewer than 27 grievances against the British Crown, including this one, “For imposing taxes on us without our consent.”

It is thought that the Supreme Court of the United States will announce their decision shortly before their summer break in July, almost 236 years to the day the Declaration of Independence was signed that first codified the concept of consent of the governed. It was the first time in history that the rights of the governed limited the acts of government.

Liberty is indeed at stake in this debate. Also at stake is the integrity of the Supreme Court. To the untrained ear, the passion and persuasion of the legal and Constitutional arguments among the protagonists is nothing short of breathtaking. It is a showcase of our Republic. I am certain the whole world is watching but we citizens of America, we descendents of these brave founders, must admire the process that has taken this bitter and hotly contested legislation to a point of resolution.

So what will the Supreme Court decide? I do not know with certainty. I have no crystal ball. But I do have a feeling that despite ideological and political proclivities, despite hull crushing pressure from constituencies across this country, despite the unrelenting media spotlight that will descend upon this Supreme Court, justice will prevail.

I believe the decision will surprise any who think that Presidential appointments anneal a Justice to the party of the appointing President. The line of questioning has been balanced and encouraging to me; so much so, in fact, that I do not foresee a 5-4 decision of an ideologically split court. While I have my own opinion of the outcome I am no Constitutional scholar. We leave that to these professionals, these 9 Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, to determine. I believe they have a sense of the gravity of the moment as well. I believe they see the obvious conflict between the power of the government and the necessary consent of the governed.

Said Thomas Paine in December of 1776:

These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.

In three months we shall learn the outcome of two years of litigation, frustration and intimidation. We shall learn whether we will emerge from this chapter in our history with a renewed sense of liberty or a heightened sense of despair.

The ball is in their court: the Supreme Court. And I have faith in them.

Press on.

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On Koran Burning and American Leadership: Video Essay for February 25, 2012

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On the New ‘Okies: Essay for February 18, 2012

In a very visceral manner, there is something deeply troubling to me about the country these days. The dismal economy is taking a toll on Americans in a way unseen since perhaps the days of the Dustbowl. I recently flipped through John Steinbeck’s novel, “The Grapes of Wrath.” Is it me or is there a resurgence of Okies in America? Far too many people remain out of work. Far too many people fear for their jobs. Far too many people have lost hope and lost confidence. They no longer can look in a mirror without questioning the meaning of their entire lives. They sense judgment in other people’s eyes as they are forced to swallow their pride and put out their hand. First it is from their friends, then their community and finally, their government. In the words of John Steinbeck, “Okie means you’re scum. Don’t mean nothing itself, it’s the way they say it.”

A recent front-page story in the New York Times recounted tales of once proud conservative Americans in Minnesota. They were the type who never would support taking entitlements. They do now. The affect such charity on their souls is palpable. These are the same sort of Midwesterners of which Steinbeck wrote. They were guilt ridden and unsure if they would ever get off the dole. They qualify for Earned Income Tax Credits. Their pride is crushed as they accept school lunches for their children. Said the Times article, “…they want to reduce the role of government in their own lives. They are frustrated that they need help, feel guilty for taking it and resent the government for providing it.”

Some might call these entitlements a gravy train. In many cases, that is true. In the very same article a man described people who paid for their $400 tattoos with government disability checks. Ironically, the sister of that very tattoo artist was receiving disability payments and living in an assisted living facility.

Governor Romney had to remove his foot from his mouth when he said that he did not worry about the poor in America because they had an effective safety net. Crude as the remark sounded; there is a good deal of truth in that statement. There are many comprehensive programs to deal with the poorest among us. Here is the interesting fact, however: the poorest in America, the lower quintile, are receiving a far smaller share of entitlement spending than they did in 1980 when they received more than one half of entitlement spending. It is down to about one third. The middle quintile, those proud members of blue collar America, has actually seen their share grow by fifty percent.

What that tells me is that the poor remain so but are being joined by middle class families sliding down the scale to meet them in despair.

Ironically, statistics show that support for conservative Republican runs higher in States where government benefits outweigh taxes. The opposite also runs true. Liberal Democrats are favored where the outflow of taxes exceeds payout. Nobody can fully explain this phenomenon. What is clear, however, is that the majority of people who are forced to accept these payments would rather be working for what they need rather than extending their hand for a government check. They recognize the paradox of taking for themselves today while burdening their children with debt.

This brings us back to the subject of many of our conversations over the past year. The economy, job growth and the role that the Federal government can or should play in creating an environment that supports growth. Whether one loves or hates the corporation, business will drive growth for its own survival. It will do so wherever the environment for that growth is fertile.

The government cannot stop business from trying to remain in business. Government must lead, follow or get out of the way. While small business is the “canary in the cave,” so to speak, large business is the tail that wags the dog of small business. They control the vast majority of manufacturing jobs in America and drive small businesses to produce. They have the capacity, given the proper incentive, for determining the fate of those remaining jobs and the fate of those offshored already. Some indicators are leaning towards relocating some more highly technical manufacturing out of China. Given a proper environment many of them can come back to the United States.

Lack of talent in the American workforce will prove to be our Achilles Heel if we do not start getting the right people into technical pipelines. There is a group of manufacturers in Massachusetts who are taking matters into their own hands. They are Manufacturing Vigilantes. They see their future vitality directly connected to a steady influx of machinists, tool and die makers, CAD programmers and technicians. The vocational schools have not been successful in promoting manufacturing careers. These careers have an average pay in Massachusetts of $1500 -$2500 per week. That is a nice piece of change. These businesses have realized that they cannot afford to wait for government to solve their problems so they are willing to go it alone.

Nationwide, there are 600,000 open positions in manufacturing. Last count, some 19 million people are under or unemployed. The multiplier effect of filling those jobs would be to create perhaps additional 2 million more. In short order, there will be a steady influx of veterans either returning home from war or being involuntarily discharged under new budget guidance. This fresh crop of dedicated and intelligent people should be the ones targeted for placement in our manufacturing positions.

The New ‘Okies are everywhere. The economic dustbowl is very real. It is forcing contrarian behavior in our middle class ethos.

Steinbeck also said, “I know this… a man got to do what he got to do.”

Press on.

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