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, 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.