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).


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.