Good government

I attended the No Labels kickoff yesterday in New York City.  Stories on the event can be found in both the Washington Post (here and here) and the New York Times – the NY Times piece is more of a story on conference participant Michael Bloomberg.

It is hard to express how great the experience was for me.  The crowd was enthusiastic and the speakers almost uniformly excellent.  It was also gratifying to again be around people again with whom I felt I was in sync.  Although I’m still a registered Republican, most Republicans that I meet are far more conservative than I am.  That means that in a group of Republicans I often don’t feel very “at home” for while I agree with the Republican Party on many issues, I am finding it harder and harder to agree with the party a host of others.  I also have particular problems with the party’s apparent 2+ year “no compromise” strategy.  No compromise = Dysfunctional government.  As a country we must agree to talk and compromise.  It is the only way forward.

In the coming days, I hope I can provide links to the remarks of several of yesterday’s speakers, including New York Times columnist David Brooks. Congressmen Bob Inglis’ remarks were also especially relevant and poignant as were those of Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, NJ.  Additionally, the panel discussion led by Mika Brzezinski was particularly good.  The panel included Joe Scarborough, Senator Evan Bayh, Senator Joe Manchin and David Gergen.

In closing, let me repeat the comments that I made today to a Washington Post story entitled Can ‘No Labels’ change the tone in Washington?:

I am writing this from New York City where I yesterday attended the No Labels kickoff as a “Citizen Leader”. I have lived in Washington DC since 1987. In my 23 years in Washington I have seen the political system cease to work. I have also seen my Republican Party drift further and further to the right and the Democratic Party remain largely under the control of its liberal wing and its host of special interest groups. Neither side is is willing to compromise and the last three elections have shown an electorate punishing the party in control, yet the two parties continue to miss the point.

No Labels as a collection of mostly moderate Democrats, Republicans and Independents can change the game by applying pressure from the center of the spectrum, mostly in influencing primary elections but also in mobilizing support for candidates who take courageous stands. We can also influence redistricting processes in the states, which has the potential to enormously impact the ability of both parties to maintain their duopoly.

I will be actively involved with No Labels in Washington DC, starting with hosting a Meet Up on January 4. DC area voters interested in learning more and go to labels for more information.

Please join our movement to move the country not left or right, but forward. Help end the hyper-partisan dysfunction.

While the Republican Party spends its life in fantasyland (no new taxes, etc.) and welcomes with open arms the delusional tea party movement, the Conservative Party in Britain is going about the task of governing.  Ruth Marcus’ Op-Ed in the Washington Post on Wednesday entitled British Conservatives tackle their fiscal crisis with ‘real’ magic gives us a perspective on how the Conservative Party, through the coalition government it leads, is realistically addressing the big issues facing the United Kingdom.

This call to govern in the United Kingdom, albeit in a coalition government, came because voters decided the nay-saying, fantasyland Conservative Party of yesteryear (almost two decades yesteryear) had learned its lesson andwas ready to govern again.  While the Republican Party may take control of the U.S. House and even, perhaps, the Senate, next month, they are unlikely to capture the White House in 2012 or any time soon unless the Republican Party, like their Conservative Party counterparts in the U.K., is willing to realistically address head-on the serious issues facing the country.  This will require a realistic as opposed to a rigidly ideological mode of governing.  Don’t count on this happening soon here in the U.S.  The GOP needs a decade or two of losing elections, like their Conservative Party counterparts in the U.K., to learn this lesson.

I am a firm believer that the best government is government in the relative center of the political spectrum where one can acknowledge the need for government, and indeed taxes, but actively fight the “liberal” impulse to make government the ultimate solution to every problem.

In an October 2, 2010, Op-Ed in the New York Times entitled Third Party Rising, Thomas L. Friedman hits a nail directly on its head with two primary assertions:  (1) That our government is failing to seriously address the significant crises that beset it, and (2) that we must, as a country, rip open the two-party duopoly and have it challenged by a “serious” third party that will be able to develop rational and centrist public policy with greatly diminished special interest influence.

I couldn’t agree with more with this piece.  In fact, I am making it a mission to identify these groups working on East and West coasts to develop “third parties”.

Let me close with a excerpt that especially resonates with me:

“We basically have two bankrupt parties bankrupting the country,” said the Stanford University political scientist Larry Diamond. Indeed, our two-party system is ossified; it lacks integrity and creativity and any sense of courage or high-aspiration in confronting our problems. We simply will not be able to do the things we need to do as a country to move forward “with all the vested interests that have accrued around these two parties,” added Diamond. “They cannot think about the overall public good and the longer term anymore because both parties are trapped in short-term, zero-sum calculations,” where each one’s gains are seen as the other’s losses.

Hear, hear!

There was a good editorial in the Washington Post this morning entitled Party purges.  It’a about the polarization of American politics.  The editorial also announces that the Post is going to provide a forum over the next few months to discuss the issue in more detail.  I intend to participate.  Here’s an excerpt that explains the Post effort:

Is there a way to push back against the movement toward partisanship and paralysis — to carve out some space for those who strive to work across party lines in the national interest? We can think of no more important question, and in the months before the election we intend to provide a forum, on our letters and op-ed pages, to continue the discussion. Is today’s polarization part of a normal American cycle or is it a new phenomenon arising from new factors such as cable television, the Internet, geographic self-sorting, campaign finance reform or computer-assisted redistricting? Does it open a space for third parties or other forms of “radical centrism”? If so, would that be good or bad? We’d like to hear your views.

On the eve of the election in Great Britain there were two Op-Ed pieces in the Washington Post that I regarded as worthwhile reading. They were Mark Penn’s A new wind in politics and David S. Broder’s A test of two parties.  While Nick Clegg’s Liberal  Democrat Party didn’t do nearly as well as predicted (an understatement), it looks like it will still play the role of kingmaker. That is hopefully good news for those of us who believe that two-party rule is failing in the modern world to move policy in the right direction.

Let this also announce my complete and total endorsement of Charlie Crist’s run as an independent for U.S. Senator from Florida.  Two-party rule must be broken.

My first reaction when I read that Senator Specter was to become a Democrat was shock.  I hadn’t thought he’d take such a radical step.  Make no mistake, in America changing one’s party is a radical action.  I had thought that perhaps he’d become an Independent – a far easier step along the continuum of politics.  No, he had decided to make the full leap.

As I’ve had a day to think about it and to read the numerous stories and commentary in the Washington Post and the New York Times, it’s made more sense to me.  For readers who aren’t regular readers of this blog, I, like Senator Specter, sit in a place on the political spectrum that is hard to categorize–liberal on this issue, conservative on that, and, often, very centrist.  Yet I would have a lot of trouble becoming a Democrat.  I would have trouble for the same reasons I have trouble any longer calling myself a Republican.  Each party has wings and viewpoints with which I am in vehement disagreement.  For me, it is merely trading one set of issues with which I agree/disagree for another.  For Senator Specter, however, it would appear that in his calculation it was what will be necessary for political survival.

While I’d have preferred he become an Independent and run as an Independent in Pennsylvania in 2010, he obviously calculated that such a move would unlike result in his re-election.  Instead of one one party opposing him, he’d have two.  And since it seems our system is such that unless you’re either a Republican or a Democrat you don’t have much chance of being elected in America, one must chose one party or the other if one hopes to be elected to public office.

For the time being I don’t have that dilemma.  I can be an Independent.  Still, I would very much like to create a middle-of-the-spectrum party that would have a chance of seriously playing in the political game with the big two.  It would reform the big two like nothing else I can think of.

In a Washington Post editorial this morning entitled Aisle Crosser, there is a quote of Senator Lieberman, a rare elected Independent.  Here’s what he’s quoted as saying:  “You know, it’s good for the Democratic Party, bad for the Republican Party that Arlen Specter left them and joined the Democratic caucus.  But you know what? Overall, it’s not great for American politics, because both parties should have moderate or centrist wings in them that . . . [create] more opportunity for common ground and less partisanship.” 

I couldn’t agree more.  In an ideal world Arlen Specter could have remained a Republican and still been renominated by his party.  This isn’t an ideal world.  He would have been beaten by a conservative ideologue in the Republican primary.  Personally, I would like to remain a Republican and fight for a more moderate party.  However, I don’t see that happening in the next decade.  So Specter is going to seek his home as a Democrat and I will seek mine as an Independent.

My hope is, as unideal as this situation is, that Senator Specter can and will remain a voice of moderation and principal in his new party.  My hope is that he can try to pull Democrats to the right more successfully than he was able to pull Republicans left.  I actually think he’ll have better luck.  Smart Democrats realize that the secret of winning elections is drawing in the center.  Republicans are, as I indicated above, a decade of losing elections (hopefully) away from learning this lesson.  In the meantime we have to hope the Democrats don’t head full-tilt left and contribute to a Republican win before they’ve learned their lessons.  Then we’re all in real trouble.

In closing let me recommend another two pieces on this topic, this first from the New York Times.  It is by Senator Olympia Snowe and it’s entitled We Didn’t Have to Lose Arlen Specter.  Also well worth reading is this New York Times blog by David Brooks and Gail Collins entitled Specter, At Least for Now.


I began Easter Recess a little earlier than Congress this year, heading out of a cloudy and rainy Washington, DC on Wednesday to find refuge in sunny and warm Palm Springs, California.  I was luckily able to see the cherry blossoms before I left. 

I’ve decided that I’m not going to read the papers this week, which is providing me with a welcome break.  I’m hopeful that the break will provide me with perspective.  To say I’m tired of the Washington, DC grind is an understatement.  If I saw Washington, DC as a place that functioned better, I might feel better about living there.  As it is, it’s a dysfunctional mess and I must conclude that the Obama team isn’t really changing the game much.  While I believe Obama means well, he’s not willing to take on his party which is what would be necessary to shake the dysfunction out of the system.  So, I must conclude that it’s just a new group of ideologues in charge, hell bent on doing their ideological thing and otherwise maneuvering to win the next election.  Sad.

Enough of this.  It’s time to get back out to poolside for more reflection, very little of it, thankfully, about politics.

There is an excellent Op-ed in today’s Washington Post entitled Weakening A Market Watchdog: An Accounting Rule Change’s Real Costs.  The author laments the interference of Congress in the independent and sound regulation of our banks.  Specifically, he discusses the political pressure that has been applied to an independent entity to change “mark to market” rules.  He suggests that this pressure, if heeded, is dangerous precedent.  Levitt makes a powerful case that both the present instance and the likelihood that other regulatory bodies will be forced to capitulate to political pressure bode poorly for the future.  It’s not good news for the American investor that independent bodies and regulatory agencies can be coerced by politicians.  I am persuaded and recommend the piece highly to readers.  

As readers will know, I believe that the biggest threat to a successful Obama presidency lies in Nancy Pelosi and her House of Representatives.  Their full-left tilt, if left unchecked, will mean measures more extreme than are both wise for the country and sound politics for Democrats and especially Obama.  Politically, too far left means the Democrats give Republicans the amunition to potentially scuttle Obama initiatives and perhaps even alter the composition of the House and Senate over 4 years.  The good news is that there are mechanisms to neutralize Ms. Pelosi and her band of liberal brothers.  One of these is called the United States Senate.  For the good of the country, the Senate is almost always the more deliberative and cautious body.  Even better is when you have moderates of either party in the Senate working for reasonable compromise.  We saw it in the last administration when a number of Republicans joined with Democrats to defuse “the nuclear option” threatened by harder core Republicans in response to Democratic foot dragging on the confirmation of federal court nominations.  We are also fortunately seeing it in this administration and this piece in yesterday’s Washington Post by Senators Evan Bayh, Tom Carper and Blanche Lincoln called Building Bridges on the Hill informs us as to why they believe that moderates working together is a good thing.  Here’s an excerpt:  

As moderate leaders, it is not our intent to water down the president’s agenda. We intend to strengthen and sustain it. Moderation is not a mathematical process of finding the center for its own sake. Practical solutions are practical because they offer our best chance to make a difference in people’s lives today without forcing our children to pick up the tab tomorrow.

As a centrist, or “moderate”, I could not agree with the words above more.  Moderation is absolutely not a mathematical process of finding the center for its own sake.  What it is about is finding rational solutions that work irrespective of party and party politics.  That is the core message of this blog–its raison d’etre.  Thank you Senators for attempting to give it life in the United States Senate.

This post continues what I began in my posting to this blog yesterday and concerns the public and political overreation to the AIG bonuses and the risk that this overreaction poses to our broader and much more important goal of getting the American economy out of the severe economic crisis that it’s clearly in.  Today, there are a number of editorials and columns that reinforce my view that we need to just calm down a little and not loose sight of our broader and more important goals.  The basic story of what I’m calling an overreaction can be found in these stories:  Congress Moves to Slap Heavy Tax on Bonuses (Washington Post); House Approves 90% Tax on Bonuses After Bailouts: Connecticut Senator Draws Voters’ Ire for Payout Role and A.I.G. and Wall St. Confront Upsurge of Populist Fury (New York Times).  In particular see In New Dilemma, Banks Cite Two Paths to Disaster.

I’m not going to say any more on this.  Today I’m turning the floor over to others, most of whom I’m in total agreement. 

Let’s begin with the Washington Post editorial this morning entitled Washington Gone Wild: Congress’s destructive reaction to the AIG bonuses.  It makes the basic case perfectly.

As for the columnists today, I recommend and agree with Charles Krauthammer’s Bonfire of the Trivialities(Washington Post),  Michael Gerson’s Commanding The Heights of Hypocrisy (Washington Post) Steven Pearlstein’s Let’s Put Down the Pitchforks (Washington Post) and David Brooks’ Perverse Cosmic Myopia.  If you can only read two, read the latter two.  The Post story (In New Dilemma, Banks Cite Two Paths to Disaster), the four columns and the Post editorial should be required reading for every American this morning, and particularly our political leadership.

Offering different perspectives are the columns Off With the Bankers (Simon Johnson and James Kwak in the New York Times) and Does Geithner Get It? (Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post).     

As I’ve thought about what’s going on here I have been tempted to resort to aphorism or adage.  The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines aphorism as “a terse formulation of a truth or sentiment: adage.  There are a few that seem relevant to the present situation:

Throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Doing more harm that good.

Making a mountain out of a molehill.

I am certain that there are many more.  It is clear that in this fiasco we are treading very well worn ground.  I would suggest that we would be wise to take the counsel of this common wisdom, accepting it as a gift from the ages.  

I remain hopeful as well that in the United States Senate that saner heads will prevail.  As it was designed to do, let us hope that the United States Senate deals with this issue in a less rash, more prudent, and more deliberative way than did the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday.  It will be for the country’s good.       

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