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On a Future State: Video Essay for June 29, 2013

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On a Future State:Radio Essay for June 29, 2013

When it comes to Republican politics, it is generally acknowledged that Massachusetts is a little lopsided. Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by a factor of 3:1. Historically speaking, Republicans have not fared well in elections held in Massachusetts. According to recent analysis, the Republicans sport a worse win-lose record over the last decade than the ‘62 Mets.

True conservatives within the Republican Party fare even worse. There is the occasional Governor, to be sure, but none in recent years have been beacons of conservative thought. The Constitutional Offices of Secretary of State, Auditor and Treasurer have long been in the hands of the Democrats. And, really, there is no such thing as a “conservative Democrat” in Massachusetts. By any national standard, most of our “conservative Republicans” could qualify as card carrying members of the other side in States such as Texas.

Still, whenever a solid Republican candidate is fielded they seem to capture about 43% of the vote. In the recent special election for US Senate, Gabriel Gomez actually received 45%. Was that because of a poor turnout or did the campaign actually reach a few more voters.
Gomez did better in some cities than did Scott Brown last time out. Brown got smoked almost 3:1 in Springfield, for instance; Gomez lost by a factor of 2:1. Progress?

For all of the hype about “The New Republican” Gomez claimed to be; the fact that he beseeched Governor Duval Patrick to be the choice for interim Senator; the fact that he repudiated Republican positions on Gun Control, immigration reform and abortion; and, the fact that Gomez was a first generation American of Columbian parents who did not speak English until 5 years old. The numbers tell us that it may have shaken loose only 2% more votes. Did I mention that he was a Navy SEAL?

The problem was less that Gomez was running on a resume that did not include political experience; many people pine for that. The problem was that he was running without political positions that would distinguish him from the opponent. This was an issueless campaign so why not vote for the guy who you count upon to be a hard core liberal who will deliver on every vote rather than a soft core liberal who might surprise you when predictability counts?

We are in the fifth year of the Great Recession. We have not even recovered the lost jobs from 2008-2009 no less created opportunity at the rate of 125,000 jobs per month necessary to sustain our economy. Our foreign policy is in shambles. The Middle East is on fire and the administration, with the complicity of some Republican Senators, pours fire on the situation by arming rebels who have no love of the United States. Vladimir Putin lectures us on world affairs and outmaneuvers us in the United Nations.

So what do we talk about in The Great Senate Special Election? Toilet bowls, absentee representation, reaching across the aisle to be more catholic than the Pope and arithmetic rather than math. We deserved a better campaign.

The problems with the Gomez campaign belie the fact that the major political parties are in cahoots. They exist to preserve the status quo. Discussing the size of government is like arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. When the music stops, all that matters is that there is a narrative that the players can manipulate to their advantage so as to maintain their seat.

Is being a Member of Congress so satisfying that a person wishes to do it for 30 or 40 years? Or even more? I think that the satisfaction of the role ultimately becomes secondary to the power that it brings, to the egotistical nature of the incumbency. Humans have a preservation instinct and politicians have a highly refined sense of self preservation.

So where does that leave us poor constituents? What are we to do in a world where left and right collude to find a good ‘ol boy (and girl) network of back slapping colleagues who pontificate and bellow but who really don’t stand for anything? Anything except reelection, that is.
We know what the answer is. We have seen this coming for a long time. We have seen it at least since the advent of the Tea Party. Since the beginning of a group of people whose only ambition was to ask the one simple question, “Why?” And one more follow on, “Please explain this to me.” And what we have gotten from our efforts is to be vilified and investigated and instigated and infiltrated and demeaned and demonized.

The Democrats cannot have us and the Republicans will not have us. The time for a third party is upon us now. I fear it may well be too late.

Press on.

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On the Loss of Innocence Again: Radio Essay for April 20, 2013

http://ustre.am/_293d3:1sfFTom Wesley 2

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On Loss of Innocence Again: Essay for April 20, 2013

The news came across my car radio while listening to a sports talk show in New York City. Something awful had happened at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. There was the first blast, then another. The unnerving pattern of twin explosions, eerily reminiscent of the aircraft that struck the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, left little to the imagination. The chances of this being a random event seemed immediately implausible. America had been terrorized once again in the most public of ways on a stage as big as the world itself.

Immediately you do the accounting. Is my family safe? Did anyone have reason to be in Boston this afternoon? It was impossible to know how many people I may have known who were involved in running or support of the marathon. Where I live it is simply too big an event to ignore. When out-of-towners ask me where I live in relation to Boston, I tell them that I live to the West about 26 miles, 385 yards. People immediately make the connection.

I vividly recall assembling my children on September 11, 2001, and describing for them how their lives were going to change. Life in America was to be forever altered. They were barely adolescents then. What could my statement have meant to them having not yet known the personal pain of such loss? Or the implications to our security and liberty that were sure to follow. It was my duty to ease into that explanation and prepare them for an adulthood that would all too often ooze tragedy.

Terrorism is personal to me, especially 9/11. I used to work in the E-Ring of the Pentagon; I entertained in the Windows of the World atop the World Trade Center. Several of my classmates were New York denizens. Four of them worked in the impact zone. Two of them were away from the city as their buildings were hit; and two never made it out. These were the stories I would pass along my children and their children. This was now part of my life narrative.

The Boston Marathon bombing was immediately different. Nearly 12 years after 911, it was my children who first contacted me to see if I was accounted for rather than the other way around. And when quizzed, it turned out that they had fewer degrees of separation with their friends and colleagues than did I. Their friends were all around that scene of carnage. It became immediately personal to them. And urgent.

That’s when it hit me. No longer could I shelter my children from the cold reality of life. No longer could I gently explain what was happening around them in a world that all too frequently gets turned upside down. No longer could I protect their innocence. It had been snatched from them. And they turned their protection towards me to provide shelter from the shock of the horrific situation.

So now, in this new social reality in a post-911 context, my children are now citizens of the World of Terror. They have their own recollections of simpler, less violent times. They have their own images of once sacred spaces forever marred by the incomprehensible reality of a world at war with itself.

It is an unfortunate rite of passage in this new world. Sadder still is the thought that my kids will shelter the next generation of Americans who will inevitably need sheltering when the next act of terror touches their lives. If the Boston Marathon bombing settles one thing it is this: however quiescent current events might become, there will be another act of terror that will require explanation and tenderness.

So, for me, the baton has been passed to my children. Now having borne witness to their own incomprehensible nightmare, having made the numerous connections to people within their ever expanding number of acquaintances, they are fully adult. Perhaps it is their rightful turn to begin to bear the burden of the weight that life presses down upon our shoulders. I wish I could shelter them from that awful burden but I fear they will need to develop that strength sooner rather than later. This problem will likely be with us long after I leave this earth.

Over time, we will prevail. We will rise again. Life will regain a sense of normalcy. But the bar of normalcy has been raised. Like a balloon that has been stretched, it never regains its original shape. It is forever deformed.

We ARE Boston Strong.

Press on.

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On the Ship of State: Essay for August 18, 2012

Who doesn’t go on vacation with an anticipation of blissfully hiding from the headlines for a week or so? And so it was my expectation as we headed out on a Saturday morning that the next newspaper I held in my hands would be to light a fire on the beach. Only on that particular Saturday Paul Ryan was picked to be Mitt Romney’s Vice Presidential running mate. It has been difficult to hide my head in the sand this week but I have tried to go “pundit-less” so that I could accurately capture my thoughts about the selection of Paul Ryan.

I am excited by this pick for a number of reasons. It has excited Mitt Romney. He seems a bit like the boy who is so excited about tomorrow that he can’t go to sleep. There is an excitement in the ranks of Republicans, too, as the Romney campaign appears to have picked up a conservative philosophical tone. Finally, there is both trepidation and exhilaration on the part of the Democrats that describes their uncertainty over the selection of Ryan as a conservative architect of the Republican budget. Some can’t wait to sink their teeth into him and others are shrinking from the inevitable debate with Joe Biden. You think the Olympics were a highly watched event? Wait till the hype for this: “Biden-Ryan in Kentucky: Dropping the Anvil in Danville.”

There has been so much ideological debate this campaign season about who is the purest of the pure when it comes to conservatism. Could any candidate survive that dissection and also win a nomination? No candidate with a voting record could demonstrate that purity without contradiction. Stalwart that he is portrayed to be, even Paul Ryan would fail to turn the litmus paper red every time.

When last I looked there were over four hundred 2012 Presidential hopefuls registered with the Federal Elections Commission. Collectively we have had exposure to only a dozen or two. We never came to know very many and I am certain there were fine people among them with great plans but no traction. So now it has come down to these two Republicans, Romney and Ryan, to be pitted against the incumbent Democrats President Obama and Vice President Biden.

It is a mega-match up. Given the woodpile of Presidential timber from which to choose, this is the best set piece of an ideological battle for which we could hope. On one hand, the Obama-Biden ticket promises more of the same wealth redistribution approach to government. Steady as she goes. Without a course, any wind will take you there.

The Romney-Ryan ticket promises something else. We know the mantra: smaller, less intrusive government with fiscal responsibility. The ticket promises us a better economic plan to get us back on track but it has to be so much more than that. It must truly begin to reflect the nature of the conservative/tea party rebellion that we have witnessed for the last three years. Without it, the economy will falter and we will be pointing fingers at Party Politics, the Political Class and the Establishment as the usual suspects.

Picture the Ship of State as an aircraft carrier. It is a mighty and powerful behemoth with tremendous momentum. If the Captain wants to stop the ship he can call all engines full astern. Nothing will happen for a painfully long time. But the Captain will anticipate that and have faith that physics will prevail and the intended consequence will ensue. In the meantime it is all about the leadership to set the stage for patience for the physics take hold. That same Captain could stop the ship with more rapid effect by running aground but with deleterious consequences. Speed of execution is less important than certainty of outcome.

Extreme times call for extreme measures and require extreme explanations and consensus building. Not the kind of consensus that delivers merely the lowest common denominator but the consensus that results from an intelligent conversation, with urgency, which improves the decision because people share the vision of what is possible. This will require communication above and around and through Congress directly to the American people who have so much at stake.

And make no mistake about it, true reform in Congress is going to be extremely difficult. No one has been successful in nearly 20 years and the stakes have changed remarkably. Every President gets one good shot at making their mark, of navigating their way to a destination. Course and speed affected by tide, set and weather. This is a true crossroads in American history and the Romney-Ryan ticket must have the guts to see it through.

This is where Paul Ryan can use his Roadmap for America to best advantage. Of the 435 members of the House, who had a better articulated vision for the sustainable future of America than he? Yet I don’t suppose even he thought that his proposal would sail through without debate and amendment. What he started two years ago was a dialogue, perhaps a monologue, with the American people. It was they who began to see the intelligence of looking under every rock and having a plan to do something about the consequences of the fiscal realities that were staring us in the face if we would only open our eyes.

So I am quite happy that this battle is drawn. I am pleased that there are two distinct options this November. The course to port leads us closer to rocks and shoals with no means of egress. The path to starboard, even if it is not hard right, offers us hope to lead us out to deeper waters to allow us to have grown up conversations about our great republic.

The choice is less about Republican versus Democrat or right versus left. It is about leading America in ways it wishes to be led and knowing how to execute a vision. The time between now and November must be used for building the vision in real terms so that Americans will look forward to the journey. No more hope and change on either side, please, just the facts.

Captain, let’s turn this ship of state around. “Helmsman, come starboard to course 180 degrees!”

Press on.

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On Ben Franklin in Paris: Video Essay for July 4, 2012

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On the Blame Game: Video Essay for June 30, 2012

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