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GOP Debate: Where's the Rest of Me?

07/25/15

The way FOX News is running the first Republican presidential debate got me thinking of the last Republican to win two landslide elections, Ronald Reagan.  In his best film, King’s Row, Reagan’s character finds that his legs have been maliciously amputated.  He looks down and cries out, “Where’s the rest of me?”

Which is what the Republican National Committee ought to be asking FOX News.

That cable channel says it presents “fair and balanced” news.  In other words, FOX claims to balance the perceived liberal bias of the rest of the broadcast media by giving Republicans, conservatives and libertarians a place to be heard. 

Yet based on absurdly early and statistically insignificant polling, FOX is inviting only the “top 10” GOP candidates to its first debate, and ditching the other six.  So they may exclude the only woman in the race -- former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, and the man who governed Texas for 15 years, Rick Perry.

As I show in the video you can watch by clicking here this is like scratching six horses as soon as they get out of the gate at the Kentucky Derby.

And there’s no need.  CNN realized you can’t put 16 candidates on one stage, so it’s splitting the field and hosting two successive debates.  The only problem is that CNN is relegating the lower-polling candidates to its second, minor league debate. 

The better solution is for FOX to hold two or even three debates in a row and choose candidates for each with a random draw.  After all, there are eight more debates scheduled and plenty of time to winnow the field.  Why dismiss anyone more than a year before the convention?  Don't voters have a right to see everyone at least once?  Recall that at this point in 2007, Senator Barack Obama was nowhere in the polls. 

All Republicans, even the front-runners, ought to be asking FOX, “Where’s the rest of me?”   




Trump and Obama

07/22/15

The Republican establishment says their party's presidential frontrunner, Donald Trump, does not speak for the party.  That’s true.  Trump believes the party is weak as water.  Instead, Trump is speaking like Barack Obama. 

Don’t believe that?  Contrast our unbending Democratic president with two shaky pillars of the GOP establishment.  

After voters gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives in 2010, John Boehner explained  why he still could not be expected to accomplish much: “We control one-half of one-third of the government.  We can’t impose our will on the Senate.”

Okay.  So voters in 2014 gave Republicans control of the Senate.  The incoming majority leader, Mitch McConnell, had run for reelection promising to pass a repeal of Obamacare even if he lacked a filibuster-proof supermajority.

But only one day after the election, McConnell backed down, claiming he needed that 60 vote majority.

And so it goes.

Now take Barack Obama.  Just before the 2008 election he told supporters: “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming America." 

One way the new president did that was by ignoring the filibuster rule and buying a bare majority of Senate votes for Obamacare with side deals like the “Louisiana Purchase” and the “Cornhusker Kickback.”

In other words, unlike McConnell, Obama didn't just talk big.  He acted.  

Even after what he conceded was a mid-term “shellacking” in 2010 and then in 2014, President Obama vowed to keep achieving his agenda, warning, “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone.”  We’ve seen him use that pen and phone to skirt Congress and transform everything from immigration policy to sanctions on Iran.

Trump’s response to all this does not reflect the stance of the Republican establishment.  Because the Republican establishment has no stance.  It’s taking all this lying down.  Centrists like Jeb Bush and John Kasich claim to be grownups because they know how to compromise with Democrats.  Even though Democrats show no interest in compromise.  They ram through key policies on their own.  Obamacare, you’ll recall, got not a single GOP vote.  Yet Obamacare is the law of the land.

The Republican establishment is embarrassed by Trump, much as they were embarrassed by Ronald Reagan.  But many Republican voters are embarrassed by the establishment that lost the White House with Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney. 

Trump is no Reagan.  He’s also no Boehner or McConnell.  Trump is now number one in many polls for one simple reason. For better or for worse, he seems just as committed to victory as Barack Obama.  




Kasich: Pros and Cons

07/20/15

In the video you can watch by clicking here, I try to sum up Ohio Governor John Kasich’s pros and cons as he becomes the 16th Republican candidate for president.  

The pros include a remarkable resume'. But that may not be enough to sway the GOP's conservative base.  It’s highly skeptical of the likes of Kasich, Chris Christie and the leading centrist, Jeb Bush.  All three are running against that base, arguing that the only candidate who can win the general election is one who can win not only independents -- as Mitt Romney did in 2012 -- but also some Democrats, by reaching across the aisle.  
This infuriates many conservatives.  They think centrism was a losing strategy for Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney.  

Instead, that conservative base longs for the Reagan strategy of challenging moderate Republicans -- even Gerald Ford, when he was a sitting president -- and turning out-of-work Democrats into Reagan Democrats, as the Gipper did in two landslide victories.

So Kasich's failure to rein in public unions, as Scott Walker managed to do, and Kasich’s accepting short-term Obamacare dollars to expand Medicaid eligibility, as Scott Walker refused to do, may keep the Ohio governor from winning the nomination.  

On the other hand if Jeb Bush prevails, the chance for a Florida/Ohio ticket could make Kasich the ideal running mate.  But that's a year away. First let's see if Kasich can break into the top 10 tier of candidates and FOX's first GOP debate.   




Hillary’s Media: Grinning Sheepishly

07/07/15

We’ve heard barely a bo peep from most media about reporters being penned like sheep during this Hillary Clinton parade.  Her rope-a-dope strategy is nothing new.  God spoke to Moses more often than Hillary takes questions from the press.  With Bernie Sanders breathing down her neck, Mrs. Clinton finally agreed to her first national interview since announcing in April. 

Why should you are care? 

Because the press is not fulfilling its constitutional role.

In a parliamentary democracy like the UK this wouldn’t matter so much.  The British prime minister is just another member of parliament and he or she submits every Wednesday to Question Time in the House of Commons.  That Q&A is broadcast by the BBC and here for us to see on C-Span. Click here  to glimpse how fierce those questions can be.  So Britain doesn’t need its press to ask tough questions. Prime ministers and cabinet members of any party will get grilled weekly by their opposition for all the world to see. 

Our Constitution is different. Article II Section 3 requires only that, the president "shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

Before Woodrow Wilson, presidents followed the precedent set by George Washington and sent Congress written reports.  By contrast, Barack Obama uses his State of the Union addresses to berate a captive audience.  Remember how he chastised the Supreme Court, squirming before him, about their campaign finance decision?  Justice Samuel Alito was raked by mainstream media for objecting to what he considered a mischaracterization by the president, silently mouthing the words, “Not true.”  Alito has not attended another State of the Union.

Since Supreme Court justices and lawmakers are not entitled to confront a president, we have to rely on the media.  That’s one reason the First Amendment prohibits government from “infringing on the freedom of the press.”  But when it comes to questioning Democrats, the media too often surrender their freedom.

Don’t believe that? Well let’s play our favorite game, “Can You Imagine?”  Can you imagine the headlines and 24/7 cable coverage we’d see if a Republican presidential contender spent most of his or her time in a cone of silence, stepping out only for occasional photo-ops and softball interviews?  Much less if a Republican roped off a holding pen like the one the press was herded into in New Hampshire?

And it’s not as if reporters don’t have questions for Hillary Clinton.  Forget the email and Clinton Foundation scandals.  How about how her failed Hillarycare as first lady compares with Obamacare?  How about, as secretary of state, helping to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq and paving the way for ISIS?  Or welcoming the Muslim Brotherhood into Egypt?  Or al Qaeda offshoots into Libya, including the one that attacked us in Benghazi? Or standing by as Russia gobbled up Crimea and China now slurps up the South China Sea?

Republicans won’t get a chance to ask Clinton any tough questions unless she wins the Democrats' nomination and submits to general election debates. That's by no means a certainty.  Lyndon Johnson refused to debate in 1964.  Richard Nixon refused in 1968 and 1972.  And increasingly, Hillary Clinton is being compared with the secretive, press-despising Nixon.

One fellow Democrat is asking Clinton tough questions, from a distance, and that’s why Bernie Sanders is surging.

But the media?  Shepherded into its pen, most of that media are just grinning sheepishly.              




Our Unweeded Garden

07/06/15

While gardening today my wonderful wife said, “If we had time-lapse photography you’d be amazed to see how quickly the weeds grow!”  
Is that a surprise?  Look how quickly weeds are infesting popular culture.  And how those weeds are overrunning our politics.

Believe it or not cartoons, superheroes and movies about dinosaurs used to be kid stuff.  Adults made Gone with the Wind the highest grossing film of 1939.  In 1941 it was Sergeant York, the true story of a reluctant World War I hero.  In 1943, For Whom the Bell Tolls, from Hemingway’s novel about the Spanish civil war.  As late as 1964, the last year the culture of the Greatest Generation remained dominant, the top Hollywood moneymaker was a musical based on a play by George Bernard Shaw, My Fair LadyGone with the Wind had something in common with My Fair Lady.   In both the hero said something shocking:  “Damn.”

I’ve written here about how America once yearned for even higher "culture" and how it was available everywhere from Hollywood to The Ed Sullivan Show.  Now high culture can scarcely be found in schools.  A California teacher says she won’t teach Shakespeare because the world’s greatest writer is a dead white European male.  This teacher is less interested in literature than in promoting a new dominant coalition. 

But is it necessary to scorch the earth for that new group to rise? 

Cultural heroes often have been rebels and liberators.  The titanic Beethoven refused to be an aristocrat’s lackey.  The cubist Picasso broke free from 500 years of representational rules.  Yet Beethoven drew strength from forebears like Handel and Haydn.  Picasso kept up a dialogue with ancient Greeks and the creators of African masks.  These rebels were not know-nothings.  They did not repudiate the past.  They built upon it. 

By contrast, Hollywood today envisions a future of arrested adolescents, from Blade Runner through The Hunger Games.  In two classic dystopian novels, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World predicts a world where leaders keep their followers fixated on sex, while George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty- Four writes:

(T)he only secure basis for oligarchy is collectivism... (N)ot even the smallest deviation
of opinion on the most unimportant subject can be tolerated… But stupidity is not enough... (T)he Party member, like the proletarian, tolerates present-day conditions partly because he has no standards of comparison.  He must be cut off from the past… because it is necessary for him to believe that he is better off than his ancestors.

In that pilloried past William Shakespeare loomed large.  And not just for academics and the privileged class.  It's hard to believe, but New York’s Astor Place Riot of 1849 pitted fans of Shakespearean actor Edwin Forrest against those who preferred William Macready.  Another great Shakespearean actor of that time was Ira Aldridge.  He happened to be black.

Nobody’s suggesting we ought to riot over Shakespeare.  You may think it’s more important that we teach a little American history.  This amazing video shows beachgoers in San Diego who know nothing about the Fourth of July except that it's a day at the beach. 

But history is more than battles and political revolutions.  It’s culture.  And my wife’s gardening remark had us agreeing with Hamlet about much of our culture: 'Tis an unweeded garden that grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature possess it merely.

What to do?  Well, how about taking our kids to something more elevating than the latest movie about comic book heroes and dinosaurs.  Let's ask them to look up from their devices once in awhile and talk with us while we sit and really listen.  Before we can change the world we have to start at home.  As another dead writer, Voltaire said at the end of Candide, “Let us cultivate our garden.”




Weekend At Bernie's

07/02/15

Bernie Sanders is now stirring interest among political pundits who are paid to be stirred by the slightest breeze.  They note that Hillary Clinton’s rival for the Democratic presidential nomination is drawing  big crowds in places like Madison, Wisconsin.  This got me thinking of a movie that might have starred Senator Sanders, Weekend at Bernie’s

It’s about two young guys who, for reasons we can skip, pretend their boss is alive.  So they traipse around with his dressed up remains.

At 73, which is the new 53, Bernie Sanders is still very much with us.  But I don't think he will be next July, when the Dems’ nominee takes the stage in Philadelphia.  Why?

First, Sanders is an avowed socialist.  This thrills undergraduates in Madison, Wisconsin, but it won’t play in Peoria. 

Second, Senator Sanders is not even the second coming of Senator Eugene McCarthy.  That gadfly from Minnesota almost -- almost -- beat President Lyndon Johnson in the 1968 New Hampshire primary.  Weeks later Johnson announced that he would not seek reelection.

But what knocked out Johnson was not McCarthy.  It was the Vietnam War.  And the most powerful anti-war message came not from Clean Gene but from Uncle Walter. “The Most Trusted Man in America” (network anchors back then had that kind of clout) Walter Cronkite had “reported” that America after the Tet Offensive was “mired in stalemate.”

In 2016 America may well be mired in another war, the one against ISIS.  And Sanders can try linking it to Hillary Clinton, since she voted for the Iraq War and was secretary of state when we pulled all US troops out of Iraq, arguably paving the way for ISIS.  
Still, even though terrorists pose a greater threat to America than the Vietcong ever did, America is not consumed with ISIS for one key reason.  We no longer have a draft.  There might be more interest if, heaven forbid, America suffers another attack on the order of 9/11.  Yet it’s unlikely we would then turn to a non-interventionist, if not a pacifist, like Bernie Sanders.

One more thing.  After LBJ dropped out, Eugene McCarthy did not win the 1968 Democratic nomination.  Had he not been assassinated it probably would have been won by Bobby Kennedy, who entered the race after McCarthy cleared the way. 

Is there any RFK in the offing today?  Is there even a Hubert Humphrey, who ultimately lost to Richard Nixon? The latest contender, former Senator Jim Webb is interesting, but he’s to the right of the Democratic base, and Webb left the Senate in disgust with politics.  Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley? Hello?  Joe Biden --  the voice for a new generation? And even if Senator Elizabeth Warren did show interest, she might be like a backup quarterback:  everyone’s favorite until you actually take the field.
 
So for now we’re left with Senator Sanders.  His candor and clear principles pose a stark contrast to Hillary Clinton.  But like the boss in Weekend at Bernie’s he may be all dressed up with nowhere to go. 




Which July Revolution?

07/01/15

We're all about to celebrate July 4th.  But maybe without knowing it, more and more Americans are also celebrating July 14th.  Bastille Day.

The vive la diffe'rence between the American and French Revolutions explains most of today’s political differences. So how about a different kind of holiday road trip.  Let’s jump in the Way Back Machine and see where American and French ideals diverged, and which road we want to take going forward.  It's a long trip but, hey, this is a long holiday weekend!

Our first stop, the slow-motion decline and then very sudden fall of the Roman Empire. That started Europe's Dark Ages. With no jobs and no law to protect them, peasants huddled around powerful lords, taking shelter in their castles when other lords went marauding.  This came to be called the feudal system. Peasants didn't own any property.  Instead, they were allowed to farm on the lord's land.  In return for giving him most of their crops.

Those peasants only got the chance to make a career move when free trade spurred the growth of cities. Now a peasant could start a business and hire other peasants.  They no longer had to serve a feudal lord.  However, the biggest lords of all -- kings -- fought to control cities and their free citizens. Royal decrees and taxation soon came to cramp business owners.  So did royal wars over religion.

Seeking religious freedom, our Thanksgiving Pilgrims were among America's first European settlers. They set up rules for self-government even before getting off the Mayflower.  And New England town meetings fostered democratic traditions.

Colonial Americans came to believe they had rights given to them by God -- some called this Natural Law -- the rights to life, liberty and property.

Yes, property was listed in Thomas Jefferson's first draft of the Declaration of Independence.  And the founders believed these rights trumped the powers of government.  In fact, as every law school used to teach, the Constitution strictly defined the new national government's powers, noting in the ninth and tenth amendments of the Bill of Rights that all other powers were retained by individuals and the states.

In other words, the American Revolution began with the proposition that individual citizens -- free and equal under the law -- needed to create a limited government to protect their own, individual, inalienable rights.

Now contrast all this with the French Revolution.

The French were rebelling against divine right kings like Louis XIV, who declared, "I am the state!"  When France's peasants and shopkeepers finally said, "The heck with that" (it sounds more elegant in French) they unfortunately had no tradition of self-government. So unlike the American colonists, the French botched their chance to establish a democratic republic and instead came up with the Reign of Terror and then Napoleon's empire. 

But that's not surprising, because French ideas about government did not start with individual rights.  Far from seeking to secure private property, they agreed with Rousseau that private property was a crime against nature.  Instead Rousseau said individuals and their property claims had to bow to the "general will" of the state.  Karl Marx, a follower of Rousseau, later inspired Russian Bolsheviks and Chinese communists to make state collectivism supreme.

Why should we Americans care about the French Revolution?

Because many Americans today prefer it to the American Revolution.  They believe that America's founders, far from advancing the equal rights of all Americans, instead disenfranchised and oppressed Native Americans, African slaves, Mexicans, women, gays, lesbians, transgender people and many others.  And they believe only government can redress those wrongs, since the United States remains a fundamentally intolerant, unjust society, much as the French believed their society was fundamentally unjust.

But others disagree.

They note that more than 600,000 people died in a civil war that, however belatedly, emancipated slaves and recognized their equal rights under the law by amending our Constitution -- though shamefully it took much more time to make those rights a reality.  They note that waves of immigrants from around the globe faced discrimination upon landing here but ultimately assimilated, worked hard, and achieved success.  And they note that gays, lesbians and transgender Americans were persuading fellow citizens in 37 states and counting that they had the right to marry even before the Supreme Court stepped in.

In sum, conservatives and libertarians believe that while America at times has been unjust, a fundamentally transformed America would be much more unjust.  Because instead of protecting individual liberty and encouraging people to achieve success, a collectivist state fuels its own expansion by making people more and more dependent on the state. 

And not just poor people.  Businesses, media and academia are all becoming more reliant on state favors like Quantitative Easing, zero interest rates for the rich, and crony contracts.  And they in turn prop up ever-growing government.

Yet all this begs the question, why are so many Americans, rich and poor alike, choosing to be more like the French?

To paraphrase James Carville's famous advice for Bill Clinton's campaign, "It's the CULTURE, stupid!"  We'll look at that in an upcoming blog.

Meantime, as we shoot off fireworks let’s thank all those who risked their lives to defend the greatest nation in the history of the world.  And it is still great, not least because people of good will still have the freedom to debate our future.


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