A Word of Explanation

Welcome to my political commentary blog. I figured I’d use this introduction to explain how I arrived at writing this blog. I grew up as a Conservative Republican and went through college and law school essentially holding to those beliefs. Being an Evangelical Christian as well, I would have been considered a member of the Religious Right. However, over the last few years, I became increasingly disillusioned by the Republican party. For instance, I believe in conservative fiscal policy, so I could not agree with continuing massive tax cuts aimed at the wealthiest Americans while the country had a serious budget deficit which was only increasing due to fighting two wars. I am also a firm believer in the rule of law, so I took issue with the Bush administration using the cloak of national security to deny habeas corpus rights. Finally, the politics of fear & division used by the Bush political team, turned me off. Especially, their use of the War in Iraq, which I now believe was a major mistake.

In 2008, this caused me to do what 5 years before, I would have thought to be the unthinkable – I voted for a Democrat for President. In supporting Barack Obama and since I am an advocate by trade, I decided to write a political essay setting forth my rationale. I enjoyed the process so much, I was looking for an outlet to continue my political thoughts. When my cousin started a personal blog, it gave me the idea to start a political commentary blog.

Like the name suggests, I still consider my self a conservative as many of my political stands are conservative, but I definitely have a more progressive line of thinking. You should see both sides come out as I post. Some of the posts will be more analysis while others will be more editorial and take a position. I look forward to any feedback. Let me know if there is a topic you would like me to discuss (see my contact info at the bottom of this page).


Friday, December 25, 2009

The Health Care Debate – Perfect v. Good

Ever since the health care debate started this past summer, I have been trying to figure out how to express my thoughts on this controversial topic. Part of my hesitancy to post was due to my own uncertainty concerning the proposals and part was due to the fact that I was struggling on how to express my thoughts in a concise cohesive fashion. As I have researched it; listened to the talking heads; listened to the common man and even listened to health professionals, I have come to the conclusion that the topic is too confusing to even be summed up in one post, let alone in the 15 second sound bites that you hear on the evening news.

That made me think of something I heard recently from some of the democrats who were calling for compromise regarding the health care bill. They said that you can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. In other words, just because something is not perfect does not mean it shouldn’t be pursued. Rather if it is still good and better than the alternative of doing nothing, then indeed, it is worth pursuing even if it may not be the ideal. I am sort of viewing my post along those lines. This is not going to be a perfectly thought out position, nor is it going to be some treatise on the bill. Rather, here are some general thoughts about health care in general and how they relate to the proposed bills.

First of all, something needs to be done. Nothing makes me more frustrated in the health care debate than to hear conservatives say things such as “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” This insinuates that the current system works. For the average American who has a good health care plan through their employer, yes it does work and the people who make that comment are generally (if not always) in that category. Unfortunately, the number of people in that category continues to shrink.

As an attorney in practice for myself, I am thankful that my wife’s work provides coverage for us (at a cost), but frankly, there are many times my wife Jen and I look at each other and say to one another, “what are we paying this for?” Everything health related that we do use seems to either not be covered (like chiropractic care or medical massage both of which Jen requires for her bad shoulder) or if it is covered, they come with such large co-pays that we wonder if we would actually save money by not paying for the insurance and just paying the service as we need it. The only thing that prevents us from doing so is the chance at some major medical need arising where we would need the coverage. I hear other people saying similar things regarding coverage and co-pays. All this means to me that he current cost of health care has gotten too far out of control. Along those lines something clearly needs to be done.

Second, just because the Senate passed a bill on Christmas Eve does not mean that passage of the bill is a certainty. They are MANY differences between the House and Senate versions and for those of you who need some brushing up on your Government 101, the bill will now go into conference between the two chambers to try and hash out a deal. If a compromise is reached (and I emphasize IF), the bill then goes back to both chambers for a simple up or down vote. No more amendments are allowed once it comes out of conference.

You will now be hearing a lot in the news about the conference that will be meeting between the House and Senate to try and work out the differences. For instance, one of the major hurdles is abortion and the so-called Stupak amendment. Congressman Stupak (D-MI) offered an amendment to the House version of the bill that would prohibit federal dollars from being spent to cover abortions. The amendment passed in the House and therefore was added to the bill. It was largely believed that many moderate house democrats, like Congressman Stupak, were unwilling to vote for the bill as a whole if the amendment was not added. A similar amendment was introduced in the Senate by Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) but it was never added and therefore is not part of the Senate bill.

Another major difference between the bills is the existence of a public option. The House bill provides for a government insurance option that people would be able to purchase based on income level. At certain income levels, it would become an entitlement. The Senate bill does not provide for such an option. Instead it mandates everyone carry insurance and provides some tax credits and some public funding to make it affordable for people to buy policies from private insurers. Whether the conference can come to some resolution on these and many other differences will decide the ultimate fate of the health care bill.

Thirdly, like I said above something needs to be done and I think that the bills that have been proposed are a step in the right direction. First of all, both bills require insurance companies to accept applicants with pre-existing conditions and not disqualify them from coverage. Additionally, they require coverage for certain preventative screenings which will actually cut long term health care costs if problems are detected earlier. These are things that have been sorely needed for some time now.

Along these lines, I hope that it will make health insurance companies think more about their customers than their shareholders as has been the case in the last several decades. Another line that conservatives spout that makes me cringe is when they decry “government run health care” as meaning the decision about someone’s health will not be made by the patient and the doctor but by some government bureaucrat. The problem with this argument is that it assumes the current system allows for medical decisions to be made by the doctor and patient when in fact it is made by some insurance company bureaucrat. So what’s really the difference? At least the government bureaucrat won’t be answering to next quarter’s profit and loss statement and what that will do to stock prices.

So those are some of my thoughts for now. I’ll try and be better about posting as the bills go through conference. As for my next post, since I still consider myself a Republican, I’ll post where I think they went wrong in the long term on this health care debate – so keep checking in.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Reflections on Ted Kennedy

Unless you were completely hiding under a rock this week, you know by now that Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy passed away Tuesday of this week. His passing made me think a lot about my political pilgrimage as my reaction to his death was clearly not what it would have been 10 years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I would never have celebrated someone’s death, but I used to tell a joke in reference to his future passing. It went – “When Ted Kennedy dies, they won’t elect a new senator in Massachusetts, they’ll just stuff him & sit him in his senate chair & keep voting the way the liberal faction of the democrats would want.”

Obviously, the joke was filled with sarcasm, but as I think of it now, it certainly wasn’t a respectful way to talk about a man who served as a senator for well over half his life just like a similar comment would have been inappropriate from the left to say about an arch conservative like Jesse Helms. It is this lasting legacy that Ted Kennedy has left on me. Once, I considered him to be the punch line of jokes about the liberals in this country, but now my perspective has changed. While I still enjoy good political humor, I now view it as just that – humor. I don’t let it mold my thinking of the individual about which the joke is being told.

I think too often those of us on the different ends allow political humor to shape our image of the people on the “other side.” It reminds me of a story I put in my political essay on my view of the 2008 election regarding an incident that happened while I was in college. The story I wrote at the time follows: A friend of mine who was a fellow political science major had returned from a summer internship back at his home in Maine. It was with US Senator George Mitchell, who was the Democratic Majority Leader at the time. Upon learning this and knowing we were both conservatives, I asked him how he was able to work with them for the whole summer. His response was simple, “Karl, even though we disagree with their policies, they love this country just like we do.”

Think about that the next time you tell a joke about people in this country on the other side of the political spectrum. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have a good laugh with some political humor; just don’t let the caricature created in the joke affect your image of the real person.

One of the books that I read a couple years ago that really got me thinking about this was No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner by Bob Schrum. Bob Schrum was a clear liberal and was a campaign worker/advisor/manger for virtually every democratic presidential candidate from Jimmy Carter to John Kerry. He was one of Ted Kennedy’s closest advisors in his ill-fated attempt to take the democratic nomination from Jimmy Carter in 1980. I read the book as a staunch conservative because I just love the idea of a book that is sort of an Inside Baseball approach to politics, no matter which side it is. However, as I read the book, I was struck with how it showed the humanity of the politicians in the book and the fact that they love America even if we disagree with them. Even though I disagreed with many of the policies that Schrum and his candidates were proposing, I found that I had to respect their love of country.

The amazing thing is that the politicians themselves seem unfazed by the caricatures we place on them. I was watching MSNBC’s Morning Joe the day the news broke of Senator Kennedy’s death and I was fascinated by a conversation between Bob Schrum and Pat Buchanan about Ted Kennedy and his relationship with those on the right. Here you had two commentators now on completely opposite sides of the political spectrum talking about Senator Kennedy and how Kennedy and Buchanan used to battle oratorically over policy, yet at the end of the day they could still respect one another and share a laugh about what the other was saying about them.

In other words, they weren’t letting the words of the debate shape their respect for the person. That will be my lasting impression of Senator Ted Kennedy. While I disagreed with many things he stood for, I truly believed he loved his country and wanted what he thought was best for it. He also respected those on the other side of the aisle and was willing to try and work with them. Let that be our goal in life as it relates to politics. Fervently advocate for what you believe in, but respect others and ultimately try and find what is best for our great country.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Random Thoughts

It has been a while since I posted on this blog and with everything that has happened in the past couple of months, I figured I drop a few random thoughts.

Sonia Sotomayor: When I last posted it was to give my thoughts on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the US Supreme Court. At that time, I took the position that I thought she should be confirmed and that the Republicans should avoid a big nomination fight. So I was pleased that she was confirmed as the first Hispanic justice on the high court. As I said in my last post, I am sure that the worst case scenario for conservatives is that the balance of power will remain as is.

Republicans and the Hispanic Vote: In my last post, I also indicated that I wanted to do a post regarding the growing Hispanic vote and what that means for the Republicans. I still plan on doing that in more detail in the future, but for now I was glad to see that, except for a wayward comment by Newt Gingrich, the Republicans seemed fair in their treatment of her and those that voted against her clearly did so on ideological grounds. In other words, I do not think that the Republicans did anything in the confirmation vote that would specifically turn off the Hispanic vote.

However, on a bad note, the Republicans lost their only Hispanic member in the Senate with the resignation of Mel Martinez. I have already begun doing some research on the Hispanic vote for the Republicans and I will write about it as we head into next year’s mid-term elections. However, suffice it to say if Republicans do not figure out how to begin to make more inroads into the Hispanic vote, they will be a minority party for many years.

Health Care: At this point I am still doing a lot of research on the current health care bill(s) pending in Congress and I really have not decided what my position is on the controversial bill. I do know that something needs to be done, but I want to know more about the current proposals before I decide if they are appropriate. My wife, who is a nurse, has given me plenty of suggested reading. If any of you would like to add to this list, feel free to let me know. In the meantime, I have contacted my local Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-PA) and requested a meeting to discuss what the bill means for those with disabilities – an issue that is obviously close to my heart.

At this point, I will hold off on my other thoughts regarding the bill, but there is one thing that has me very fired up and that is some of the out right misinformation that is being given about the bill. It is one thing for someone who is advocating for or against a certain measure to misstate a fact or get some statistics mixed up, but with the debate on this bill it seems as though advocates on the right such as Sarah Palin have crafted an outright lie as a way of stoking the right into a frenzy about the bill.

By now you may have heard of Sarah Palin referring to a “death panel” that her down syndrome son would have to face if the current bill is passed. It has caused many on the right to become very fired up about this bill. Now I know that there are other reasons why the town hall meetings that congressmen have been holding have been so contentious, but Ms. Palin’s comments certainly did not help.

So what is the truth? There is a provision in the House bill which would reimburse doctors who have a consultation with their patient about making end of life decisions. It is a voluntary consultation for the patient and the patient and their own personal physician ultimately make the decision about that end of life care. It is being supported by The American Medical Association, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and Consumers Union. Additionally, AARP has come out and called the claims false as well and will take out print media ads to say so. However, it is this provision that the right is now using to say that there would be a “death panel.”

An interesting note, as an attorney I have helped numerous clients prepare living wills which make these same end of life health care decisions. Sometimes the client is uncertain about various parts of the living will, so I counsel them to consider it with their family and their doctor. With the proposed provision, the client would then be able to make an appointment with their doctor to discuss the living will and it would be paid for so that the client would not have to pay for such an appointment.

What bothers me most about this misinformation is that it is so blatantly false that the only explanation for it is that the right is trying to use it to anger its base and get them to oppose the bill even more ferociously. For those of you who read my essay on the 2008 election and why I supported Barack Obama, one of the reasons I gave was that I was sick and tired of the way the right campaigned in elections and issues. While both sides can debate in a divisive manner, in my opinion the conservatives have been more guilty, at least recently, of trying to use distraction, misinformation and division in politics. President Obama clearly tried to “change the tone in Washington,” but it seems clear to me that many of the Republicans are not willing to let that happen.

It is obvious that the tone has not changed in this debate and many Republicans are of a mindset that they just want to “win.” They do not care about the hearth care crisis in America. Well as long as they just try to use the issue to damage President Obama’s approval ratings rather than actually come up with a solution, this is one Republican vote that they will NOT win back. I want statesmen right now, not individuals who are just trying to see how they can win some seats back in Congress next year. A note to you Republicans who are trying to win the “issue” so you can win an election: by being more divisive you only further alienate those of us in the middle. You may “fire up” your base and you may actually win a few seats back in the House, but at what cost?

Like I said, I am unsure on how I feel about the health care reform bill as a whole, but I know something needs to be done. As someone watching the action from the sidelines, it appears to me as though President Obama is actually trying to craft a solution while the Republicans are just trying to turn back the clock to 1993-94 all over again. I wish that Congress would put aside some of the party labels every once in awhile on a very serious domestic issue and come up with one bi-partisan solution and rather than try and use every issue for political advantage. We see Congress unite when there is a serious foreign threat to our country. Why can’t they behave the same way for a serious domestic threat?

I’m not saying that Republicans should give the President whatever he wants, but they should pull their heads out of the sand and realize that there is a health care crisis in this country. If there is a crisis, then shouldn’t something be done about it? And if something should be done, isn’t there some common ground that can be reached? No, instead the party to which I have belonged for my adult life is more content to just sit back and try to play political football with the issue in order to score some points and possibly help their chances in the next election. That is not statesmanship, it is politics at its worst.

Please Republicans in Congress, will more than a handful of moderate Senators step up to the table and have a meaningful conversation about how to solve an issue which does threaten our economic vitality? I know I would feel better as a citizen if both parties hashed out a plan that most could agree upon.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

My Thoughts on the Nomination of Sonia Sotomayor

It has been a couple of weeks since President Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to replace Justice David Souter on the United States Supreme Court. Since the President’s announcement, conservatives have been divided in their reaction to the nomination. The Republican conservative base, including many in the conservative media and even some Congressmen, have urged a fight and want to see the Republican Senators even threaten a filibuster of the nomination. However, Republican Senators themselves have been guarded in their approach and, at least in public statements, seem to be willing to allow Judge Sotomayor to have her say at the upcoming confirmation hearings before they decide how to vote. For both ideological and practical reasons, count me in the latter group.

First off, for ideological reasons I firmly believe that it is the Senate’s job to confirm qualified jurists to the federal bench. In other words, it is not the Senate’s job to step in and make an ideological determination about whether the candidate is one that will rule the way they want on various cases. I began feeling this way in the 1980’s when Supreme Court nominations began to turn into the elaborate process they are today. It used to be that the Senate only did look at the qualifications of the candidate and did not even hold public hearings where the nominee was questioned on a whole host of issues.

Everything changed in 1987 with the nomination of Robert Bork. Democrats and liberals began attacking Judge Bork because of his record and eventually the Senate voted against his nomination to the High Court. None of the reasoning provided by those who voted against him had to do with his qualifications, instead it was entirely on his judicial philosophy and ideology. In fact, if you looked at Judge Bork’s qualifications, he was one of the most qualified nominees ever to the Supreme Court. At that time, I advocated the responsibility of the Senate should not be getting into the ideology of a nominee, but simply determine whether the candidate was qualified or not. For me to now oppose a nominee solely on ideology would be hypocritical.

So how do Sonia Sotomayor’s qualifications add up? She certainly has a resume that suggests she is qualified. She was nominated to the US District Court by the first President Bush and then nominated to the US Court of Appeals by President Clinton. She has been serving on the appellate court for eleven years. I am interested to see how she “performs” under the intense questioning of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Supreme Court deals with some of the most complex legal issues in the land and we need individuals on the High Court of the highest intellectual ability to grapple with these issues. While I do not think that the Senators should consider ideology, I believe that the hearings are helpful in the process. They provide for an opportunity to judge the intellectual prowess and judgment of the nominee. In a sense, they act as a public job interview for the position. For this reason, I will continue to reserve judgment.

However, there are also some practical reasons why I believe that the Republican Senators should be wary of a big nomination fight. First of all, it is a fight that they cannot win. For the Republicans to successfully filibuster, they will need all 40 Republican Senators to vote in favor of the filibuster, something which is very unlikely when you consider that there are still a couple moderate Republican Senators. However, even if all current Republican Senators vote in favor of a filibuster, then the Democrats can still get the required 60 votes to break the filibuster if they manage to get Al Franken seated in the still contested Minnesota election. At this point, short of a new revelation about her or a very poor performance at the Judiciary Committee Hearings, it appears as though Judge Sotomayor will become the next Associate Justice to the Supreme Court and to fight it simply to make a point seems fruitless.

The second practicality that I think suggests that the Republicans should avoid an ugly confirmation battle is the effect such a fight would have on their voting interests within the Hispanic community. It has been well reported that Sonia Sotomayor is the first person of Hispanic heritage to be nominated to the Supreme Court and I think the Republicans would be foolish to attack her and potentially alienate another minority voting block. Over the years, Republicans have struggled to win any support in a national election among the African-American community, and that was before Barack Obama ran for president. With many Republicans taking a tough stand on immigration issues, the support for Republicans among Hispanics has been eroding as well. In my next post, I think I will go into more detail about the shifting electorate among Hispanic Americans and what that means for the future of American politics, but suffice it to say, the Republicans cannot afford to have huge margins in the two most significant minority voting blocks in the country.

Finally, in the essay I wrote in preparation for the 2008 election, I pointed out the fact that any justices appointed by President Obama will not change the current make up of the Supreme Court. That is the case with this nomination. Retiring is a liberal member of the court in Justice David Souter and it appears as though Judge Sotomayor is probably similar in ideology. So even if Judge Sotomayor is confirmed and has a reliable liberal voting record, there will still be four conservatives, four liberals and a moderate-to-conservative in Justice Kennedy. I’ll take my chances with that breakdown.

We shall see how the Sotomayor confirmation plays out and I will continue to post my thoughts, but for now, I think the Republicans in the Senate would be best served sitting back and allowing the confirmation to play out and react only if something comes out that would call her qualifications into question.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Obama’s First 100 Days – Grade: I

Over the last few days, I have read several reviews of President Obama’s first 100 days in office (that mile marker was reached yesterday). Most of the reviews were positive, and those that were not were predictably from the right wing. In thinking about doing my own review, I have struggled. The reason why is that if we were to honestly to give President Obama a grade on his first 100 days, it would have to be an I for incomplete, which is why I think that the process of grading the President (or any other president) is so ridiculous.

Think about it: the President has been in office 100 days out of a total of 1,461 days of his whole 4 year term. That is just under 7 percent of his entire term. In fact, I would argue that the only possible grade you can give a president this early in a term is either and I or an F. If the President has had some legislative accomplishments, then it will take some time to judge whether that will be a success or not. The only way to say a president has been a failure is if they cannot get their message out and are completely unable to accomplish anything. That clearly has not happened with President Obama.

All that being said, I can at least look at some of the reasons I voted for him and see how his progress is coming on those issues. For those of you who read my essay back in August of 2008, you know that I provided three main reasons why I was voting for Barack Obama. In summary, these were:

  1. Barack Obama can better bring this country together and change the way politics works in order to tackle the challenging problems we face as a nation.
  2. Barack Obama has a better plan to fix our ailing economy and address our long term economic issues, namely a balanced budget.
  3. Most importantly, Barack Obama was right to oppose the Iraq War and has a better plan for the broader War on Terror.

So let’s review his progress on these three areas.

Bi-partisanship: Unfortunately, the political climate has not changed much when it comes to the partisan rancor in Washington. However, I would not blame the President for this. Early in his presidency, he tried to reach out to Congressional Republicans on the passage of the stimulus package. When all the House Republicans voted against the plan, you may recall that I placed the bulk of the blame for the lack of Republican support on Speaker Pelosi for pushing the bill through. Since then, I think it has been more of a function of the Republicans just trying to be an obstructionist party. Right now, it does not appear that the Republican Leadership has any clear plan. For the first 100 days, it seems like their whole strategy has been to wait for President Obama to propose something and then they say, “NO!”

I have said repeatedly on this blog that this is a recipe for disaster, especially with a President who has approval ratings in the 60’s. I’m not saying that the Republicans should just roll over, play dead and let Obama have whatever he wants, but they should try and engage him in the process. With the passage of the stimulus and his budget, a lot of President Obama’s early focus has been on the economy. The focus will now shift to areas where the action required will not be as immediate. These areas include health care, energy and education. The Republican Leadership should challenge President Obama to fulfill his campaign promise and allow them a seat at the table to try and craft solutions that have broader support. If the Republicans continue to simply sit back and criticize the President and Congressional Democrats, they actually make it easier for the Democrats to simply ignore them and do what they want.

Economy: This is one of the main reasons that I feel President Obama has to get an incomplete on his first 100 days. It will take probably a few years to see if his economic stimulus plan works and revives the economy. I was having lunch with a friend yesterday, and when we discussed this, we recalled how President Reagan’s economic recovery plan, which he passed at the beginning of his first term, took at least until 1983 before the economy started to turn around.

There is one point that I have made on this blog before, which I will reiterate again. As a deficit hawk, I thought that candidate Obama had a better prescription for balancing the budget than Senator McCain did. Ultimately, for long term economic growth and security, we need to reduce the massive deficit. Unfortunately, through the fall campaign and even after the election, the economic crisis only got worse which depressed tax revenues and made the deficit even worse. I am willing to give President Obama a pass on the deficit for now, but as the economy begins to recover, I think it is imperative for him to look at how the federal budget can be brought more into balance.

Foreign Policy: President Obama has not had any real foreign policy crisis to face yet, unless you count some pesky Somali pirates. I do like the direction he is taking us on the War on Terror. Refocusing us on Afghanistan and Pakistan is the only way we will have long term success against Al Qaeda. As for conservatives trying to make some hay out of the fact that he shook Hugo Chavez’s hand a the Summit of the America’s, I just wonder if those conservatives realize how small that makes them seem that they get that worked up over a hand shake.

As for Guantanamo Bay, this is another position that I part ways with conservatives on. I don’t wish to get into all my reasoning, but I was glad to see President Obama move to close the base down. As for the torture memos, there are Democrats who are calling for criminal charges to be brought against Bush Administration officials who approved the torture. Thus far, President Obama has refused to go that far, although he has yet to completely rule it out. I think it would be a big mistake to bring such charges and President Obama should come out and say that such charges should not be pursued. We need to turn the page and put it in the past. I don’t think the torture was right, but I think it would be best for us to close this page on American history. Let’s not make this black eye any blacker than it already is.

Well, there are my thoughts on President Obama’s first hundred days. For those of you who didn’t vote for him and think he is going to be the end of the republic, look at it this way, there are only 1,360 days left – of his first term.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Specter of the Republican Party

The big political news of the day is the announcement from Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter that he is switching parties and will be running as a Democrat in next year’s election. The two big questions are “Why did it happen?” and “What does it mean?”

The first is much easier to answer. In 2004, Specter faced a challenge in the Republican primary from conservative Pat Toomey. Toomey campaigned against Specter saying that he was too liberal. In that primary challenge, Specter barely won. Toomey has already announced plans to run again in 2010. However, the Republican electorate has shifted largely to the right since Specter’s last election. This is due in large part to last year’s pro-longed Democratic primary fight between Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton. Since Pennsylvania has a closed primary system, many moderate Republican voters changed their registration so that they could participate in the Pennsylvania Presidential Primary. In fact, voter rolls show that over 200,000 Pennsylvania Republican voters switched their party affiliation. While some of them were conservatives who were trying to cause trouble as part of Rush Limbaugh’s “Operation Chaos,” most were the moderate Republicans who had been voting for Specter over the years. The same voters were not switching back to the Republican party and Specter realized that he would not be able to beat Toomey without them.

The final nail in the coffin for Senator Specter was his support of President Obama’s stimulus plan back in February. The conservatives in Pennsylvania did not take kindly to his vote and were looking forward to taking him on in the primary next year to hold him accountable for the vote.

Many Republicans are critical of Specter saying that he is being opportunistic and looking out only for his career. While there is certainly some truth to that, I don’t think you can discount the fact that a large number of his Republican constituents left the party before he did. In other words, Specter is simply following that part of the party which elected him to the Senate five times. He may be one of the few politicians who can say that he didn’t leave his party, his party left him and he would be able to back that assertion up with hard data.

So, what does this all mean? There will be a lot of talk about the fact that Specter’s switch will put the Democrats at 60 Senators (assuming Al Franken holds on to his lead and becomes the Senator from Minnesota). This will allow the Democrats to stop a Republican filibuster. While practically, that is true, it assumes that the Democrats will all stay in line. Democrats need only ask the Republicans if they can expect Specter to always do that.

More importantly, I would like to look at what it means politically for the Republican Party. It means that the Republican Party is moving further and further to the right. I heard on radio and read a lot of “good riddance” and I know that there are many Republicans who are actually glad Specter left the party. Do not count me as one of them. The history of the success of the Republican Party was based on the alliances of the cultural conservatives, the defense minded hawks and the pro-business advocates. Here in the Northeast, a large percentage of the party was that pro-business group who were sometimes socially liberal and were known as the “Rockefeller Republicans.” That wing of the party is now almost gone. Maine Senators Snowe and Collins are probably all that is left of that dying breed.

Without that wing of the party, there is really not much left. The Democrats are not near the “peace-niks” they were back in the days of the Cold War, so it is getting harder and harder for the Republicans to criticize a Democratic candidate as soft on defense. All that leaves the Republicans with is the cultural conservatives, and while I agree with them on the issues a lot of the time, they are certainly not a group that looks to try and be inclusive and create large governing majorities – something necessary to win national elections. I know that there are Republicans who are trying to say that they are the party of fiscal discipline and lower taxes, but I still believe that such a message is tone deaf in these tough economic times. It is specifically when the economy is bad that the electorate looks to the government to step in as the last possible source of help and to be critical of such a plan is going against a tide and may only result in further electoral losses.

One of my favorite political commentators is Michael Smerconish, a moderate-to-conservative Republican radio talk show host here in Philadelphia. I think he said it best when he was commenting on the Tea Parties that Republicans were holding back at tax time. He said, “It's too late for tea. At this stage the Republican Party needs a double espresso.” In other words, they need a wake up call. I couldn’t agree more. I fear that if the Republican Party does not heed the warning of Specter of the Republican Party that they will become a specter of a Republican Party.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Return of Obama the Campaigner

With the debate surrounding the economy and the upcoming budget negotiations, one thing has become readily apparent over the last month: President Obama has rediscovered his inner campaigner. Since he gave his budget address to Congress at the end of February, the President has gone into “campaign mode” meaning that he is doing a lot to get out in public and sell his plan. This includes numerous speeches, town hall meetings, a press conference and yes, even a late night talk show appearance.

In my last two posts, I focused on the voice of the Republican party (or lack thereof). If the Republicans are disorganized and bickering, they will not be able to get a clear message across to the American public. With President Obama’s recent media blitz, we are seeing the flip side of this situation. As I said previously, the Presidency has little actual constitutional power. The importance of the presidency is the very office itself and the ability of a president to articulate a clear vision for the country.

This is exactly what President Obama has been doing – articulating a clear direction that he wants to take the country. And right now the majority of Americans are willing to give him a chance to take the country there. As of the time I write this, Gallup has President Obama’s approval rating at 60%. (Click here for the daily tracking on his approval rating). Whether or not you agree with him, you have to give him credit for his ability to break down an issue and communicate it clearly to the American public. As I have said here before, President Obama is the best communicator to occupy the oval office since Ronald Reagan.

In the first month of his presidency, Obama was focused more on trying to work on Congress to have his stimulus plan passed. While the bill did pass, I think he learned an important lesson with the way some members of Congress beat him up. That lesson was that he was no longer a member of Congress and he needed to stop trying to negotiate like he was. This explains why he is approaching the budget process so differently. A president is at his most effective when he is trying to sell his plan to the American public. For this reason, look for the White House to keep President Obama in a perpetual “campaign mode” especially when it comes to domestic policy and the economy.

I also noticed something else interesting over the last week or so. Lately, President Obama seems to have a protégé who is also on a media blitz. That is Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. After the AIG bonus story hit, there was increased criticism of the Secretary Geithner and some in Congress were even calling for his resignation even though he was only two months into the job. Let us remember that Secretary Geithner is not a natural politician like the President. He was an under secretary at treasury in the 1990s and then he was president of New York’s Federal Reserve Bank. While he has dealt with politicians in the past, he was not required to act like one. However, this past week he came out of his political shell and gave several speeches and made several appearances in support of the administration’s proposals. It seems to have helped the embattled Secretary as he has had much more positive press recently and has even earned the praise from some Republicans, like Senator John McCain.

The Treasury Secretary’s media blitz culminated today with his appearance on Meet the Press, where Geithner said, “[W]e're going to emerge stronger than this. When we get through this, people are going to care less about what they make, more about what they do, what they achieve with what they make, and that will help make this country stronger.” He went on to explain further, “I think people will be living within their means more, which is helpful.” Let’s hope that as both the President and Treasury Secretary stay in campaign mode that they continue to preach this message to the American public and eventually make living within our means a priority not just for American families but for the American government as well.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

And the True Spokesperson for the Republican Party Should Be . . .

In my last post, I laid out the arguments for seven different individuals as to why they could be the spokesperson for the Republican Party. I also indicated the cases against these individuals. With the Republicans unveiling their “budget blueprint” today, it got me thinking that I had not weighed in on this issue yet.

I must say that with today’s announcement by Republicans of their budget plan, I am becoming less and less impressed with the party to which I have belonged for most of my adult life. The release made by Congressional Republicans was even criticized by Fox News for its lack of detail. In releasing this blueprint, House Minority Leader John Boehner said “The president came to Capitol Hill and laid out his blueprint for his budget during the State of the Union. He didn’t offer his details until days later. Today we are offering our blueprint.” While that is true, it almost appears as though the Republicans were not even planning on proposing an alternative budget until President Obama called them on it in his press conference Tuesday night.

It has been a month since President Obama went to Congress and presented his overview. Two days later he submitted his budget. In the four weeks since the President submitted his budget, the Republicans have done nothing but criticize it. Now the Republicans are asking for more time. What were they doing the whole month while they were criticizing the President’s budget? It’s almost as if the Republicans were going to be content in sitting back and criticizing while never being a contructive part of the conversation.

All this leads me back to the original purpose of this post. Who should speak for the Republicans? Based on the above statement, Congressman Boehner and those like him should not speak for the GOP. If you are only going to criticize and not put forth a real effort to solve this country’s problems, then you need sit down and shut up. In fact, that is the problem I have with most of the candidates on the list. Rush Limbaugh, Bobby Jindal, Sarah Palin, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell have all been very content to sit back and criticize President Obama’s budget and economic plans. Until today’s feeble attempt, none of them had proposed any measures aimed at fixing the ailing economy. In addition, Rush Limbaugh, Bobby Jindal and Sarah Palin are not part of the federal government and therefore, have no ability to enact any proposals anyway.

All this leads me to who I believe should be the spokesman for the Republican party: John McCain. While Senator McCain has been critical of some of President Obama’s initiatives, he has also recognized the need for action and has been willing to listen to the Obama administration’s proposals. In speaking to the Heritage Foundation today, he praised Treasury Secretary Geithner for at least making some progress in dealing with the toxic assets in the financial industry.

Senator McCain also recognizes that the Republicans cannot simply be obstructionists. In that same speech to the Heritage Foundation, said the following: “As both a policy and political matter, it is vitally important that Republicans refrain from becoming or appearing to become the party that just says ‘no.’” The entire text of Senator McCain’s speech can be found at his Senate website. While it is loyal to Republican “talking points,” it is measured in its approach and looks to try and work with Democrats to accomplish initiatives where common ground can be found. It is this kind of common sense approach that we need to have in these difficult economic times. Now is not the time for us to simply attack the other party and hope we can wait for the next election. Americans want action and Senator McCain recognizes that. It is his considered approach and conciliatory message that the Republican party needs to embrace during this economic crisis.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Will the True Spokesperson for the Republican Party Please Stand Up?

One of the difficulties for the political party which is out of the White House is that it does not have one unifying figure who can articulate that party’s position and vision. While the US Presidency does not have a lot of actual constitutional power, the ability of the President to use the “bully pulpit” gives him enormous power in the public policy debates that occur.

In recent weeks, there has been an increasing amount of attention placed on the role of Rush Limbaugh and his role as spokesman for the Republican Party. This got me to thinking: Who should be the spokesperson for the Republican Party? In this post, I will “make the case” for and against seven different individuals. I then ask you to vote for who you think the rightful spokesperson is (no pun intended). Later, I’ll share my opinion on the subject.

The Candidates:

Rush LimbaughCase For: How many reasons are there for Rush to be the spokesman for Republicans? Try 20 million reasons, as in 20 million listeners who allegedly tune in to listen to him. There is no question that he wields a great amount of influence. Conservatives dare not cross him for fear of getting on his bad side. For this reason, what he says, many times goes for Republicans. Case Against: Who elected him to anything? Other than his “bully pulpit” he has absolutely no authority.

Michael SteeleCase For: Unlike Rush Limbaugh, the RNC Chair has at least been elected as Chairman of the party, even if it was just by a handful of Republican insiders. However, as national chairman he certainly has the position from which he can legitimately claim to be the spokesman for the Republican party. Case Against: If you are like most Americans, you probably just responded, “Michael Who?” While his position makes him the most logical choice, that same position also puts him in a relatively obscure place.

Bobby JindalCase For: The Louisiana Governor did give the Republican response to President Obama’s budget address at the end of February, so apparently someone in the party thinks he is a spokesman. He has also already made a trip to Iowa fueling speculation that he is considering a run for president in 2012. Finally, since he is a governor, he is in the perfect position to rail against Washington politics. Case Against: If you saw his performance after President Obama’s budget address, you will understand why it was panned throughout the media. Even conservatives were saying it struck the wrong tone.

Sarah PalinCase For: As with Governor Jindal, she is a young Republican governor who can rail against the excess of Washington. Also like Governor Jindal, she too is seen as a possible presidential candidate in 2012. In addition, she was on a national ticket and has much more national exposure. Case Against: Does the name Tina Fey mean anything to you? While she certainly has the name recognition, that has not been a necessarily good thing for her. While she is adored among conservatives, the majority of Americans do not have a good opinion of her. Do you really want a spokesperson who your base admires but the rest of the country views as incompetent? Just ask President Bush how that worked out.

John McCainCase For: He was just the party’s standard bearer in the presidential election last year. He is also a little more moderate than some Republicans. In fact, he is the most moderate on this list. This allows him to be able to play deal maker with the Democrats when they are looking for bi-partisan support. In fact, President Obama has already reached out to him on issues like the troop withdraw from Iraq. Case Against: The Republican base has never fully embraced Senator McCain. They only did so grudgingly in 2008 as he was the anti-Obama. Many view him as a RINO (Republican in Name Only). How can someone be the spokesman if many in the party don’t trust him?

John BoehnerCase For: As the House Minority Leader, he was the one largely responsible for the unanimity among House Republicans in opposing the stimulus plan. He has certainly become one of the more visible opponents of President Obama’s agenda. Case Against: While he is in a great position to speak out against the President’s agenda, most Americans blame Republicans for the current mess and as such, he is viewed as part of the problem. Additionally, the majority of Americans do not know who he is. Finally, he is not really in a position to do anything except criticize the agenda. Since the Democrats have a comfortable majority in the House, Representative Boehner cannot do much except make sure the Republicans continue to vote against the Democrats.

Mitch McConnellCase For: The Senate Minority Leader certainly has more ability to oppose the Democratic agenda. Since the Republicans do have enough in numbers to mount a filibuster, that is something that Senator McConnell can use to back up his words. Case Against: Unfortunately for Senator McConnell, the Republican Senators are not nearly as cohesive as his House colleagues. This was seen in the stimulus plan when three Senate Republicans broke ranks to vote for the stimulus package. This means that Senator McConnell may threaten a filibuster on some piece of legislation, but he may not be able to deliver on that threat.

Well those are the candidates. Please vote for who you think should be the Republican spokesperson. Later, I’ll post who I think should be and who will be from this list. If you vote for other, please leave a comment as to who you think it should be. Thanks!!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Thoughts on Obama’s Budget Address

First off, on the whole, I thought the speech was well crafted and well delivered. I know that most conservatives cringe when I say this, but I think that the Democrats have found their Ronald Reagan. Obama’s ability to communicate is unmatched in anything we have witnessed in American politics over the last 20 years. One of the amazing things about the modern American presidency is the amount of power that can be wielded in the office despite the fact that the office has very little power given to it by the Constitution. This is due to the fact the president can use the “bully pulpit” to advocate for his position. The reason that Reagan and, to a lesser extant, Clinton were so effective was their ability to be persuasive to the American people and, by extension, to Congress. One of George W. Bush’s weaknesses was his inability to effectively articulate his argument – a point not lost on the late night comics.

Obama is such a strong communicator that it is as though he is trying to inspire us out of our current condition much the way Reagan did in the early 1980’s. In fact, I read an interesting article today by Howard Fineman of Newsweek and MSNBC, where he draws this parallel. Fineman’s cautionary tale (and one that I echo) is that while President Reagan did inspire us out of the economic malaise of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, he never cut spending or got the deficit under control after we recovered. If (& when) we do recover from the current recession, it will be President Obama’s difficult task to try and cut the deficit.

Which brings me to the details of the speech. If you read my post on Tuesday, you will know that I was looking forward to President Obama providing some detail on his pledge to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term. By my count, he gave eight different ways he was going to do this. They were:

  1. Eliminate education programs that don’t work
  2. Eliminate payments to agri-business companies that don’t need them
  3. Eliminate no bid contracts which wasted billions in Iraq
  4. Reform defense spending to stop paying for Cold War weapons we don’t use
  5. Eliminate waste, fraud & abuse in the Medicare program
  6. Eliminate tax breaks for companies that ship job overseas
  7. Eliminate tax breaks for wealthiest 2 percent of Americans
  8. Reform in Medicare and Medicaid through comprehensive health care reform which will bring about long term savings

Another interesting point he made was what he referred to as the “Deficit of Trust” we have in government when it comes to spending. Along these lines, he is advocating openness and honesty in budgeting, which includes doing ten year projections and including the cost of both wars in our budget projections. The significance of the ten year projections relates to PAYGO, which those of you have read my writing before know, I am a big supporter of. In the early part of this decade, one of the “tricks” that the republicans used to avoid PAYGO was to limit the time of certain spending projects or tax cuts in order to avoid PAYGO which requires an equal offset for every spending increase or tax cut.

Earlier today, President Obama submitted the actual proposed budget to Congress. The total price tag = $4 Trillion. Yes, you read that right. It projects a deficit of $1.75 Trillion. Just for some reference, last year’s budget was $3.1 Trillion with a deficit of $1.3 Trillion. Some of the increases are due to the President’s pledge to be more honest with the items stated above, but make no doubt about it, there are definite increases.

All in all, I thought the President’s address set a perfect tone for difficult times. It also provided quite a few details on cutting the budget, which is what I was looking for. However, as they say, the devil is in the details and I was disappointed when I saw the price tag of the budget that came out today. The bottom line is that we will only know in time whether President Obama will be able to make good on his promise to cut the deficit or whether he will fall prey to the same trap that President Reagan did in allowing the deficit to soar as high as his oratory.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Preview of the President’s Budget Address to Congress

Tonight, President Obama will make his first address to a joint session of Congress as President. Officially, this speech is not a State of the Union Address since he just took office, but it will sound and feel like a State of the Union Address. President Bush gave a similar address about a month after he took office as well, so there is precedent for this kind of speech.

So, what will I be looking for in this speech? In a word, details. You may recall that I commended the President for telling us in his inaugural address that we would need to sacrifice. Yesterday, he was speaking at an economic summit when he vowed to cut the $1.3 trillion deficit in half by the end of his first term.

One of the big criticisms that Republicans had of the stimulus plan was the fact that it would explode this deficit. President Obama seemed to acknowledge this criticism when he said, “If we confront this crisis without also confronting the deficits that helped cause it, we risk sinking into another crisis down the road. We cannot simply spend as we please and defer the consequences.” In other words, the stimulus plan is a temporary fix, but the long term solution is cutting the deficit.

While Candidate Obama discussed many proposals during the campaign of how to fix the deficit, President Obama has been consumed with the stimulus plan and attempting to bring about an economic recovery. As a result, he has not proposed specifics on how to begin cutting the deficit. It is now time for the President to make the shift where he is placing his focus and he seems to be doing that. Tonight, I will be looking for what specifics he will be proposing in order to accomplish his lofty goal of cutting the deficit in half.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Congressional Republicans – Where Do They Go Now?

Throughout the stimulus debate and votes, there was a lot of coverage over the fact that the Republicans stood united in voting against the package. In fact, all the House Republicans voted against it and all but three Republican Senators did likewise. You may recall I did a post after the first House vote criticizing Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership in the House for pushing the bill through without allowing Republicans to be brought in on the process which President Obama was attempting to do. By the time the bill got to the Senate, the spirit of bi-partisanship had gone out the window. However, I still think there was time for the Republicans to try and work with the President if they wanted to.

Many conservative talking heads are saying that this is great as the Republicans are being true conservatives again. The argument goes that during the eight years of the Bush Administration, Republicans had abandoned their principals of limited government and fiscal discipline. By opposing the stimulus package, Republicans were returning to their roots, so to speak. According to these conservative pundits, this was a stand on principal.

I beg to differ. I think it is an extreme return of partisan politicking which is just what we don’t need right now. The Republicans are trying to be the nay-sayers and are opposing this plan basically because it is a spending package put forth by the new Democratic President and a Democratic Congress. If it were Republicans standing on principal, wouldn’t the Republican governors agree? But they are not. According to the New York Times, several of them have openly supported the plan. When I first read this, my initial reaction was that the governors were all from more liberal states, such as California and Vermont. However, there was one big exception – Charlie Crist from Florida, who actually introduced President Obama at a rally in Florida which was for the purpose of drumming up support for the stimulus plan. Charlie Crist is no liberal.

Initially, there was some indications that some of the Republican governors were going to refuse the money from the stimulus plan out of principal. However, many of them have had a change of heart, due probably to the fact that the practical side of their brain woke up. I mean, why would a state want to turn down money when most (if not all) of them are in deficits? In the end, I think you will find that all of the Republican governors will accept the money. For now, they are just grand standing. Which is what I believe many of the partisan minded Republicans are doing. Only the practically minded ones, like Governor Crist, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and (yes, Pennsylvanians) Senator Arlen Specter are behaving responsibly.

This all brings me back to the original point of this post: where do the Congressional Republicans go from here? Think about it – basically, the Republicans are now going to be rooting against an economic recovery. That is the only way they will win in this. However, even if the economy does not recover, I think it will be hard for them to profit as Americans blame the Republicans for this mess in the first place, and in my opinion, they are right to do so.

While the Republicans may have scored some political points with their conservative base on this, they did so at a cost. In the long run, I think it would have been better for the Republicans to try and work with President Obama and the Congressional Democrats, so that it looked like they were part of the solution and could have taken some credit for it. Instead, they are forced to root against American interests, and that is never a popular position to take with the electorate. Going forward, I think it would behoove the Republican party to take a cue from the likes of Governor Crist and Senator Specter and try and work with the President to find common solutions. Otherwise, they may be looking more and more like an obstructionist party and there is another word for an obstructionist party – a minority one.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Political Philosophy Quiz

I was doing some research on some Congressmen yesterday when I ran across this website which I found very interesting. You should select political philosophy at the top & then answer the twenty questions below. It will then tell you where you fall on the political spectrum, which are shown in quadrants of Liberal, Libertarian, Conservative and Populist, with a box for moderates in the middle. Anyone want to guess where I fell? Let me know where you fell as well. I'll post my result in a couple days.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

What’s a Deficit Hawk to Do – My Position on the Stimulus Plan

In my last blog post, I addressed the lack of bi-partisan cooperation when it came to the House’s passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (“ARRA” also known as the stimulus package). In that blog, I said I was not going to discuss the merits of the bill. In this post, I will provide my thoughts.

For those of you who read my position paper on the 2008 election, you know that one of my biggest criticisms of the Bush Administration was the growing federal budget deficit. Additionally, one of the reasons I supported Barack Obama was his willingness to rollback the Bush tax cuts as a way of bringing the budget closer to balance. I still believe that the budget deficit is one of the biggest reasons why our economy is in the situation it currently is. In looking at the current versions of ARRA (both the House and Senate versions), there is no doubt that this bill will cause the deficit to get worse at least in the immediate future.

You would think that this would cause me to oppose this bill. However, I have come to the conclusion that passage of this bill is better than the alternative, which is doing nothing. The federal budget is already in a deficit and with the economy in a state of recession, that deficit will only get worse, even if we don’t increase spending. This is due to the fact with a recessed economy, incomes are down and growth is down. Since our taxes are built on an income based tax, when these drop off, our tax revenues fall as well. In fact, if the recession deepens, incomes will continue to fall, further reducing tax revenues. Additionally, more people will lose jobs thereby putting a further strain on governmental programs such as unemployment.

So this creates a choice between no short term prognosis for recovery or trying to jump start the economy in the short term. In either scenario, the deficit will increase. In the long term, doing nothing may result in the economy coming back on its own, but this may take years. Doing nothing also runs the risk of things actually getting much worse before a recovery ever occurs. ARRA is designed to provide a jump start, and if that works, it will get us out of the recession much quicker and allow a recovery to take place. Which is why economists from both sides of the political aisle are saying that something should be done sooner rather than later.

What is included in ARRA? According to the White House, ARRA is intended to jumpstart the economy by doing the following:
  • Doubling the production of alternative energy in the next three years.
  • Modernizing more than 75% of federal buildings and improve the energy efficiency of two million American homes, saving consumers and taxpayers billions on our energy bills.
  • Making the immediate investments necessary to ensure that within five years, all of America’s medical records are computerized.
  • Equipping tens of thousands of schools, community colleges, and public universities with 21st century classrooms, labs, and libraries.
  • Expanding broadband across America, so that a small business in a rural town can connect and compete with their counterparts anywhere in the world.
  • Investing in the science, research, and technology that will lead to new medical breakthroughs, new discoveries, and entire new industries.

In addition, ARRA will also extend unemployment benefits and other assistance for individuals. Finally, another large component to the bill are tax cuts aimed and lower and middle income tax payers. All in all, while it is not a perfect bill, it should provide a much needed boost to our ailing economy.

As for the deficit, once a recovery begins to occur, I think it will be imperative for President Obama and Congress to do what it needs to start and bring the budget back into balance. In the meantime, I think it is too important for the government to simply do nothing. ARRA will make much needed investments in infrastructure and new industry. In the process, it will also put much needed money into the struggling economy. For those reasons, Congress should pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Bi-partisanship, What Bi-partisanship?

Well the House of Representatives passed President Obama’s economic stimulus plan by a vote of 244 to 188. The real interesting fact about the vote was that despite the President lobbying Congressional Republicans for their support, all of them voted “No.” The bill appropriates about $820 billion for various projects and tax breaks designed to jump start the economy. It now must be approved by the Senate, so the attention will now turn there.

While I do not wish to discuss the merits of the plan, I would like to ask “Where did the bi-partisanship go?” During the campaign, President Obama promised a renewed sense of bi-partisanship. He then went about courting House Republicans to support this first big piece of legislation. So, what went wrong? Who is to blame for the lack of cooperation?

In my opinion, it wasn’t President Obama or the House Republicans. It was Speaker Pelosi and the House Democrats. While President Obama was doing his level best to try and get Republican input, the Speaker and Democratic leadership ignored them and just pushed the bill through. Here’s an interesting fact: President Obama spent more time meeting with Congressional Republicans regarding the stimulus plan than Speaker Pelosi did. Keep in mind that the Congressional Republicans are her colleagues and Speaker Pelosi appeared to just ignore them.

Things will probably be a little different in the Senate as things tend to move slower there and Republicans do have enough members to filibuster. Although it will be interesting to see if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid takes the same tactic Speaker Pelosi did and try to ignore the Republicans, or will he allow the President to try and woo some bi-partisan support.

All this convinces me of what I thought post-election, but prior to the inauguration. President Obama’s greatest challenge will actually be with how he deals with the members of his own party in Congress. If Speaker Pelosi continues this tactic, it will be interesting to see if he stands up to her and the other Democrats in Congress. If he truly wants to have an inclusive government with bi-partisan cooperation, he will probably need to. For now, I’m sure President Obama was glad that the stimulus package passed the House, but he said “I hope that we can continue to strengthen this plan before it gets to my desk.” Sounds like he is not ready to give up trying to get Republicans on board.

One thing is for sure, the Democrats are owning this attempted solution while Republicans in the House are now running from it. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the 2010 and 2012 election results will very much be tied to whether the stimulus plan works or not. Stay tuned. . .

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mistakes in Obama Inauguration

Just a side note to the Presidential Inauguration – there were two glaring mistakes that I saw as I watched. The first one was the one that was all over the media outlets the next day – they got the Oath of Office wrong. The Oath according to Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution is “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” How did the exchange on Tuesday go? Here’s a transcript:

Roberts: I, Barack Hussein Obama...
Obama: I, Barack...
Roberts: ... do solemnly swear...
Obama: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear...
Roberts: ... that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully...
Obama: ... that I will execute...
Roberts: ... faithfully the office of president of the United States...
Obama: ... the office of president of the United States faithfully...
Roberts: ... and will to the best of my ability...
Obama: ... and will to the best of my ability...
Roberts: ... preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Obama: ... preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Roberts: So help you God?
Obama: So help me God.
Roberts: Congratulations, Mr. President.

Chief Justice Roberts moved the word faithfully to the end of the first clause. If you watched, you could see that President Obama paused after he said the line “that I will execute” almost as if to give the Chief Justice a chance to correct it, which he did. The only problem was the President said it the way which the Chief Justice had originally said it, which was the wrong way. Not to worry, the President retook the oath on Wednesday just to be extra cautious that there were no legal challenges that he was not President.

The other mistake was just as glaring to me, but I know I’m a little anal about these things. It was at the beginning of President Obama’s Inaugural address. The line was “Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath.” Did you catch the goof? Actually, only 43 Americans have served and been sworn in as President. While Barack Obama is our 44th President, he is only the 43rd man to hold the office. This is due to the fact that Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms from 1885-1889 and then again from 1893-1897. Since he had two separate terms and administrations, he is listed as both the 22nd and 24th President, but he of course is only one person who took the oath.

Just some trivial trivia from a very historic day!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Reflections on Obama’s Inauguration

Well it certainly has been an historic day. You all know that I supported & voted for Barack Obama, but regardless of who you voted for, I trust we can all agree that there is an amazing historical significance to seeing an African American sworn in as President of the United States. Our nation was founded on the belief that “all men are created equal,” but it took almost 100 years until black slaves were freed and another 100 years until segregation was eliminated. While Barack Obama’s election will not rid us of all racism, hopefully, it is a sign that our nation is moving to a place where we will all be able to look at one another as God does – without color.

As for the Inaugural address itself, what struck me the most was the focus President Obama placed on the responsibility of us as citizens. So many times, our politicians tell us what they will do for us, but never what is required of us. I found it curious that the Biblical passage he referenced was I Corinthians 13:11, which says “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.”

Was he calling America childish? I think so. Consider he went on to say, “[W]e understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.” It sounded to me like he was telling America that the reality TV culture of 15 minute fame had to end and we all had to get serious if we wanted to correct our troubles.

Another passage from his speech: “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task. This is the price and the promise of citizenship.”

When he was running for President, Obama said that he would have an honest dialogue with us as Americans about what is required. It seems as though he started with his inaugural address. Our nation has become one where people have become too comfortable and not willing to make sacrifice. In order to truly fix the problems we have as a nation, sacrifice will be necessary. With the good will he has, I hope that President Obama follows up with specifics of what we will need to do. He has already called us to increased public service, but we will need to do more. Since today was about celebrating equality in America, let us all look for how we can all sacrifice so that we can better our country.

Monday, January 19, 2009

George W. Bush’s Legacy

I watched President Bush last Thursday night give his “Farewell Address,” and given the fact that we are on the eve of the Obama Inauguration, I figured it was fitting to look back on the last eight years. After the Farewell address, I watched and read over the next few days some of the media discussions about what his legacy will be. The reactions were mostly harsh critiques or suggestions on what he could do to try and rebuild his image. The only somewhat positive review of his tenure that I read, on Fox News, focused on the lack of attacks on US soil post-9/11. Needless to say, the short term look at his eight years is not good by most people.

I do believe that history will treat him better as we get further from the current economic crisis and the War in Iraq. In fact, in some ways I feel he may be treated much like Harry Truman has been by the historians. Truman left the presidency with some of the lowest approval ratings of all time. In fact, his approval ratings are similar to George W. Bush’s ratings now. However, history has been kind to Truman. Bush and Truman were both known to make decisions that were not very popular at the time. Remember that President Bush was elected very much as the anti-Clinton, i.e. someone who seemed to poll on everything and went the way of public opinion. While all presidents wish that they could enjoy the public’s support all the time, President Bush was going to make what he thought was the best decision for the good of the country, regardless of the public opinion.

Bush and Truman also had something else in common – they were both thrust into a foreign policy crisis near the beginning of their presidency for which there was no precedent. For Bush, it was the 9/11 attacks and the resulting War on Terror. While Truman is known for bringing an end to World War II, the real crisis he faced was the growing threat from the Soviet Union and the emergence of the Cold War. In many ways, Bush’s Iraq War is similar to Truman’s Korean War. Both wars were early battles in a broader conflict and both were viewed very unfavorably by the end of their terms. As was the case with the Cold War, it will take a longer view of the War on Terror to see what role the Iraq War really will play and how George W. Bush’s handling of the broader War on Terror will be judged. However, given the folk hero status Truman now has, Bush can take some comfort in knowing that all is not lost.

Since it will take some time before we really know what George W. Bush’s historical legacy will be, for now, all I can do is give my thoughts on his presidency. As someone who voted for him twice, I can sum up my opinion on him in one word: disappointment. For those of you who read my position paper on the 2008 election, you know that I believe that there were a lot of missed opportunities by the Bush Administration to accomplish something, especially having a Republican majority in Congress for the first six years. However, nothing was done on Social Security reform or energy independence. As I have said, I believe the way he was elected played a large role in this. The controversial way he won in 2000 insured that he was going to have an up hill climb to win over any Democratic support. However, the way he ran the White House after 9/11 and the Republican electoral strategy in 2002 and 2004 of an us v. them mentality destroyed any remaining good will with Democrats. While they were willing to work with him on foreign policy issues, it eliminated any possible cooperation on domestic issues. So missed opportunities are my short term legacy for President Bush.

This is not to say that I do not feel he accomplished anything worth while during his terms as President. If I were to list his accomplishments, they would have to include his initial response to the 9/11 terror attacks and bringing the intelligence communities together more. It has been well documented that prior to 9/11 the various American intelligence agencies did not like one another and were resistant toward working together. The fact that President Bush was able to make these agencies better work together was a great accomplishment that goes overlooked and is probably one of the main reasons that we have not had another terror attack on US soil since 9/11.

One more note about President Bush’s legacy and that was one of the main reasons I voted for him in the first place – judges. His appointment of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito will probably insure a conservative leaning Supreme Court for the next several years. He also appointed many lower court judges and while it goes unreported, all Presidents continue to wield tremendous influence in this country long after they leave the White House because of the judges they appoint. I just read the other day a stat showing who appointed the current judges sitting on all the federal benches. According to the Federal Judicial Center, there are 807 sitting judges on the Federal Bench and of them 75 were appointed by Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Reagan. That is almost 10% of the Federal judiciary being controlled by presidents who are no longer alive! That is a long lasting legacy and for that reason, I am still glad I voted for President Bush.

Just another thing to consider, regardless of who you voted for: as you watch the inauguration (or the highlights), remember how rare it is that we live in a country that the transfer of power has always been peaceful. Join me as I pray for President Obama to have the wisdom he will need to guide our country and that he will seek guidance from the Lord to do so.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

How Obama Won the Debates & Won the Election

For my first post, I figured I would give some final thoughts on the election cycle that was 2008. During the general election, I tracked data regarding the statewide polls and the likelihood that either Obama or McCain would win a given state. I then compiled that data to create a chart showing the track of the general election by electoral votes. That chart is to the right. A state was considered strong for a candidate if there was a greater than 80% chance that he would win that state; it was a “lean state” if the likelihood was between 51-79%. Obviously, 50/50 is self explanatory. A word of thanks to 270towin.com, which was the website that was largely responsible for my data. I started collecting the data on September 16, which was about a week and a half after the Republican National Convention. This allows for the post-convention bumps to be felt and for things to return to some normalcy. I then checked it every 2-4 days thereafter until election day, November 4th.

In looking at the data, I noticed an interesting turning point. When I started in mid-September, McCain actually had more states in the “Strong” category than Obama did (216-196). When adding in the “Lean” states, McCain still had the advantage (261-259). Through the second half of September, Obama slowly began taking the lead, so by September 26-29, he has a lead in “Strong” states of 229-163 and an overall lead of 286-252. This was President Bush’s margin in 2004, so it was still relatively close. However, at the beginning of October, Obama really began taking control of the race. On October 4, he leads in “Strong” states 260-163 and overall he leads 340-185. By October 7, the “Strong” lead for Obama is 291-163 and the overall lead is 364-174. This ended up being the final tally if you add the 1 electoral vote that Obama picked up in Nebraska (In looking at the list of states on my October 7 chart, the only two that were wrong were Indiana and Missouri, and since they both had 11 electoral votes, they cancelled out). After October 7, the race actually remained fairly stable. In fact, McCain’s “Strong” states remain at 163 almost consistently through the rest of the cycle. There was some fluctuating in Obama’s states from “Strong” to “Lean,” and occasionally one would fall into a tie, but his lead remained constant and his “Strong” states never dropped below 291. Essentially, this data shows that Obama had the race won by October 7th.

While everyone likes to point to the economy and John McCain’s mistimed comment that “the fundamentals of the economy are strong,” that comment was made on September 15th and the economy had been poor for some time. In looking at the political calendar, there were two things that were occurring at the end of September that would be reflected in the polls at the beginning of October (it usually takes about a week for events to be reflected in state polls). First was the Congressional debate regarding the bailout. Certainly, the way that John McCain behaved during that discussion did not help his campaign, but as I said the economy had been poor for some time and Obama was only gaining gradually through the end of September. There had to be a “game changer” that occurred at the end of September that allowed Obama to take control of the election

It is a second event that I believe has been overlooked. That event was the first Presidential debate which occurred on September 26. I do not mean to down play the economy in this election cycle. Clearly, it was a major factor, but I believe the media and pundits have not properly recognized the significance of the debate in allowing Obama to take control of the race.

What was it about the debate that allowed Obama to win? Actually, it was just as much about McCain’s tactics as it was Obama’s performance. When Senator McCain picked Sarah Palin to be his running mate, he undercut one of his best criticisms against Obama and that was his lack of experience. It would have been disingenuous for McCain to attack Obama for a lack of experience when his running mate had even less. McCain’s response to this quandary was to be less obvious that he was raising the experience argument by attacking Obama’s judgment by repeatedly saying, “He doesn’t get it.” It was the repeated statement by Senator McCain that Obama didn’t “get it” that I believe was his final undoing. Why did this hurt him? Because to the average viewer, they watched as Obama clearly articulated his positions and his rationale for those positions. To most Americans, I believe that they watched as McCain said “He doesn’t get it” and they watched Obama’s answers and thought, “It seems to me like he gets it.” There was an inherent disconnect between what McCain was telling them and what they were witnessing.

As I said, clearly the economy had a huge role in this election as did the way Obama ran his campaign as he essentially reset the rules on how to finance and run a campaign. Both of these factors had a huge role in the outcome of the election and have been widely discussed, but the debates were the one equalizer that McCain could have used to try to keep the race close. As the statistics show above, he was unable to do this and instead he let the election slip completely out of reach. Ironically, if he had been able to keep it close, then his argument may have had some effect as doubts may have arisen in the electorate as to whether Obama was ready. Instead, he raised the argument too early and allowed the American voters the chance to get comfortable with Obama during the debates thereby eliminating the potency of the argument.