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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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Conservatively Speaking: June 30, 2012


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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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Memorial Day Parade Comments, Hopedale, MA: May 28, 2012

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On Memorial Day 2012: Speech at the Hopedale (MA) Parade

When soldiers fight, soldiers die. It is the unfortunate calculus of conflict. Evidence of that most extreme sacrifice is etched in the granite and marble of so many monuments in town squares and cemeteries in America.

Why do soldiers fight? A frequent response is, “to preserve our freedoms.” I think the answer lies within the document that is the foundation of our democracy. I believe
that answer is embodied within the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States.

To form a more perfect union. To secure the blessings of liberty not only for ourselves but for our posterity. We, in this audience today, are the posterity for whom our forefathers fought. The WWII veterans from Milford VFW Post 1544, fought for the posterity of my generation as their fathers fought for theirs. My generation has fought for the posterity of the next. And we send our sons and daughters into service so that they might fight for the posterity of the babies in this audience today and for the generations of Americans yet to be born. It is the way of America.

My son, John, stands beside me today in the uniform of his country, still in training and willing to follow in the footsteps of generations of family before him. I have served; my brother has served; my father has served. John will serve. This unbroken line of succession in service to country is a luxury.

Three of my mothers’ brothers served in WWII. Uncle Ben was a crew chief and ordnance man in the Army Air Corps. He returned from England with his new bride Margaret. I remember his witty sense of humor and Aunt Margaret’s British accent. They eventually settled in California where my cousins remain today.

The story of the other two brothers ended differently. I never got the chance to meet them but I have read their names etched in marble in American cemeteries in faraway lands.

The Wall of the Missing in the American Cemetery in Manila contains the name “Gunners Mate Third Class Anthony J. Lajkowicz, US Navy.” Uncle Tony was Lost at Sea after his cruiser USS Vincennes was ultimately torpedoed and sunk off Guadalcanal in the dark, fiery morning of August 10, 1943. The battles were fierce and the losses heavy. That area was to become known as Ironbottom Sound.

The Wall of the Missing in the American Cemetery in Margraten reads “Staff Sergeant Joseph P. Lajkowicz, US Army Air Corps.” Uncle Joe went Missing in Action after his B-24 Liberator was shot down while on a bombing mission over Poland on December 26, 1944. No one saw a parachute. No one found a body.

They left no spouse; they left no children. No aunt to pass on the stories; no cousins for me to play with in the backyard; no great grandchildren for my mother to bounce on her knee. We are left with etchings on a wall.

Recent events found my family at a happy occasion reunion. We got a chance to take a photo portrait that covered four generations starting with my mother. I will cherish that portrait forever but I can almost see the silhouettes of my missing uncles and the children that never came. This is the continuing cost of their sacrifice long ago.

President Herbert Hoover addressed the Republican Convention in June 1944. It was just a few short weeks after the allied invasion of Normandy that would eventually spell the end of war in Europe. He said, “Older men declare war. But it is the youth that must fight and die.” The second part of the quotation is not as often heard. He went on to say, “And it is youth who must inherit the tribulation, the sorrow and the triumphs that are the aftermath of war.”

Building a more perfect union always takes courage. For civilians it sometimes involves great risk to their lives, fortunes and sacred honor. In the case of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines placed in harm’s way, it too often asks a far greater cost. And when their life is taken too soon, ours is forever affected, as well.
Today we honor the memory of those who gave their lives for no other reason than their nation called. The nation asked them to do their best to preserve the Union, to make a more perfect Union. To paraphrase a well known expression: All who served gave some. And some who served gave all.”

And so do us, survivors of the aftermath of war.

May they rest in eternal peace.

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