Worthwhile Reads


It’s clear that one path to a more functional government in America is electoral reform.  Former Congressman and once independent Presidential candidate John Anderson had authored an Op-Ed in the Christian Science Monitor (September 1, 2011) that is worth a read.  It’s entitled “Tired of partisan gridlock? Reforming electoral rules gives voters real choice.”   Thanks to the blog Poli-tea for bringing it to my attention.  The blog posting on the article can be found here.

 

 

Five years ago when I started this blog it was with the conviction that the American political system is broken.  I am more convinced of this than ever and heartened that more Americans every day are finally understanding the degree which our government has become disfunctional.  I recommend highly an excellent piece in the July/August Atlantic Magazine by former Congressman Micky Edwards entitled How to Turn Republicans and Democrats Into Americans.

It contains some excellent ideas for reforming the system.  If we want to see a government that works again, it is time Americans take reform of the system seriously.  Mr. Edwards provides us with some excellent ideas.

In the week since the No Labels roll out in New York City, there has been no shortage of critics.  That’s being interpreted by most of us involved in the movement as being a good thing.  No Labels is obviously ruffling a few feathers in both ideological extremes.

I’ve already commented upon the critique by Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne Jr. in my blog posting of December 16 entitled Finding a Home in the Political Center.  His piece was entitled Where the ‘No Labels’ movement falls short.

Also weighing in from the left, from last weekend in the New York Times, was Frank Rich in an Op-ed entitled The Bipartisanship Racket.

On the right, perspectives were offered by both Rush Limbaugh on his radio show and George F. Will in an Op-ed in the Washington Post entitled The Political Fantasyland of the ‘No Labels’ movement.  It is clear that No Labels has managed to push a few buttons.  I’m glad we are.

The extremes don’t really believe we have a “dysfunctional” government in America.  Each side is only too pleased to be engaged in rugged combat with their opposite ideological enemy, firmly convinced that they are right and that their side will ultimately prevail.  It’s nonsense of course.  In the meantime, serious crises facing the country go unaddressed and Americans lose faith in their government by the day.  This can’t continue.

While No Labels may not in the end solve anything, I think we owe it a chance to work – to change the game enough to break the current deadlock.  If No Labels can indeed mobilize the “silent majority” to actively involve itself in the next few election cycles, there is every reason to believe we can halt the trend toward hyper-partisanship in both parties.  Time will tell, of course.  Count me among those that are willing to make this effort.  We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

In an Op-ed in today’s Washington Post entitled Where the ‘No Labels’ movement falls short, columnist E. J. Dionne Jr. argues that the left isn’t nearly as distant from the center of the political spectrum as is the right.  Observing that there were few Republicans in attendance he concludes that “No Labelers can yet be a constructive force if they remind us of how extreme the right has become and help broker an alliance between the center and the left, the only coalition that can realistically stop an ever more zealous brand of conservatism.”

As a distinctly left-leaning Democrat, it is not surprising that Mr. Dionne perceives the gap between the center and the left of the Democratic Party to be minimal and gap between the center and the Republican right to be enormous.  He is right that there were few apparent conservative Republicans in attendance.  I didn’t meet any personally while I did meet a number of self-described liberals.  Additionally the Republicans in attendance, such as myself, were almost uniformly moderate Republicans.  I will also concede that there do seem to be more moderate Democrats in America these days than moderate Republicans and more of them were in attendance on Monday.

From my personal perspective, however, in the center right of the spectrum, there is still exits a considerable gap between where I stand politically and both the Democratic left and the Republican right.  I’d be just as conflicted as a moderate Democrat as I am today as a moderate Republican as I find a Henry Waxman every bit as objectionable as I do a Jim DeMint.

This traces without doubt to my political roots.  I was a Democrat as a kid — I was very much a fan of Lyndon Johnson and I was appalled by Barry Goldwater.  I remember at the age of 10 begging my parents to take me to a Republican headquarters where I could guiltily pick up a Goldwater bumper sticker and cut it up so as to create a new bumper sticker that read “Old Wet Rag”.  My disillusionment with the Democratic Party began with the ascension of the left of the party, including  Robert Kennedy and Ed Muskie.  The nomination of George McGovern in 1972 was the final straw for me and I registered as a Republican in 1972 and voted for Richard Nixon.  An activist even then, I became the “Young Voters for the President” Chairman on the campus of Trinity University in San Antonio that year.  I have never since been able to trust the Democratic Party and I remain highly distrustful of the Democratic Party’s extraordinarily influential and left-leaning activist groups (labor, peace, and environmental to name a few).

The fact is that I don’t believe I’ve shifted a great deal politically in my life time.  I was then and am still in the relative center of the spectrum.  As the Republican Party began its shift to the right with Ronald Reagan, I have had a harder and harder time remaining a Republican.  And yes, in many ways I suppose I am a classic Republican In Name Only (RINO), still hoping that sanity will prevail and that the pragmatically conservative Republican Party that I first joined will re-emerge.

In the meantime, I have to find a home in the center and today No Labels is offering me just such a home.  As I expressed in my blog post on Tuesday, it was so refreshing on Monday at the No Labels kickoff to be surrounded by people who thought almost exactly as I did.

And so Mr. Dionne, however you care to label it, No Labels can be a place where centrists can come together to discuss reasonable solutions in the middle of the spectrum and effectively work to support candidates who are willing to craft solutions as unpopular with the far left as the far right.

Expect to hear a lot from me in the coming weeks about No Labels.  A posting on this weblog in mid-October introduced readers to the group.  To refresh, No Labels is a grassroots organization of people who believe we should “Put Labels Aside” and “Do What’s Best for America”.  We are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents who are united in the belief that we do not have to give up our labels, merely put them aside to do what’s best for America.  I will be attending the national kickoff for No Labels in New York City on December 13 and will make an effort to post on the event in real time from New York.

In the last few weeks there has been growing national publicity about No Labels, including an excellent Op-ed in this mornings Washington Post by William A. Galston and David Frum entitled A no labels solution to Washington gridlock.  I recommend the piece.

Also, for those of you in Washington, DC, I am hosting a Meet Up on January 4, 2010 (at a location still to be determined) to meet and discuss No Labels.  We’ll talk about the December 13 National No Labels Kickoff in NYC and what those of us in DC can do to advance the No Labels agenda.  You can sign up for the Washington DC event here.

For those of you in other parts of the country, there are Meets Up planned in early January in a number of locales.  See the No Labels website for details.

On December 1, 2010, the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform issued its report.  The Washington Post reported just a few minutes ago that at this morning’s meeting of the commission that commission members voted 11-7 in favor of the report, 3 votes shy of the number that would have forced congressional consideration of the report.  Still, this final vote was far larger than many expected.

Clearly, something has to be done.  It also appears that the necessity of action has finally cracked the national consciousness and it’s going to be hard for Congress to ignore (see David Broder’s piece in the Washington Post this week entitled A bipartisan end to fiscal denial).  This is very good news.  It’s also good news that there was support on the commission from both the left (Senator Durbin) and the right (Senator Coburn).  The support appears enough to be able to get the ball rolling.  I particularly applaud Senator Coburn for his vote — it shows a courageous politician in a time when such courage appears in very short supply.

On the subject of the Deficit Commission’s recommendations are two pieces in this morning’s Washington Post.  One is an Op-ed entitled Saving the American Dream by Senator Judd Gregg.  The other, and a more important read, is Steven Pearlstein’s We need a grand compromise on the deficit, not hyperbole.  I am in strong agreement with Mr. Pearlstein’s remarks, with the exception of Pearlstein’s endorsement of an amended plan offered by Andy Stern, a former president of the Service Employees International Union who as a member of the commission who voted “no” this morning.  I am not familiar with Mr. Stern’s alternate proposal.

What I know is something has to be done.  With the majority proposal released this week and the ideas that have already been put on the table by others, including those of the Domenici-Rivlin Task Force of the Bipartisan Policy Center, the ideas are out there.  It is time for Congress to act.  As pointed out by Mr. Erskine this week, and reported by Mr. Broder in the link to his Op-ed above, “the era of deficit denial in Washington in over”.  As pointed out by Mr. Pearlstein, the economic imperative in clear, both in terms of the country’s long and short-term economic future.

Let’s get on with it.

Of a number of great Op-Eds since the election, I am posting three that I believe are particularly important to read.  They are:  David Broder’s Goals worth fighting for in the Washington Post on November 4, 2010;  Steven Pearlstein’s Leadership challenge: Take voters’ mixed messages and deal, also in the November 4 Washington Post; and Charles Blow’s The Great American Cleaving in the New York Times on November 5, 2010.

While all are important , the last two address the theme expressed in my posting on this weblog entitled Winning is Everything.  Steven Pearlstein is right that this country can’t move forward without compromise and that without it the country will suffer continuing economic decline.  That one party apparently decided two years ago to refuse to compromise believing, apparently successfully, that the tactic would enable them to retake Congress is concerning for its implications.  Convinced it’s a sound strategy for Republicans, they are likely to carry that strategy forward in the next session of Congress.  Second, this no-compromise strategy is a potential blueprint for Democrat Party strategy in the House for the next two years.

Charles Blow ends his piece with these words:  “That ripping sound you hear is the fabric of a nation.”  The author is absolutely right.  We are in deep trouble as it means nothing can happen in this country to address our daunting problems until one party takes complete control.  Maybe that’s on the way if the Republican’s chief goal is defeating Obama in two years.  I’ve been a lifelong Republican but am dismayed at the course the party is taking; it is very dangerous.

The implications on the nation’s ability to govern itself are staggering.  I must conclude that indeed, the fabric of the nation is being ripped apart.

There was an interesting piece in last Sunday’s (10/24/10) Washington Post by Charles Murray entitled The tea party warns of a New Elite.  They’re right. Murray observes that the tea party is “of one mind on at least one thing:  America has been taken over by a New Elite.”

Accompanying the article in the printed version of the Washington Post is a graphic containing 10 questions.  The more “no” answers one has to the questions, the more solidly one’s membership in the new elite is established.  The questions were as follows:

1.  Do you know who Jimmie Johnson is?  (The really famous one, not the football coach.)

2.  Can you identify military ranks by uniform insignias?

3. Do you know what MMA and UFC stand for?

4.  Do you know what Branson, MO is famous for?

5.  Have you ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis or Rotary Club?

6. Do you know who replaced Bob Barker as host of “The Price is Right/”

7. Have you ever lived in a town with fewer than 25,000 people?  (During college doesn’t count.)

8.   Can you name the authors of the “Left Behind” series?

9.  Do you live in an area where most people lack college degrtees?  (Gentrifying neighborhoods don’t count.)

10.  Can you identify a field of soybeans?

The answers:  “Jimmie Johson is a NASCAR driver who won the Sprint Cup Series championship four years in a row.  MMA stands for mixed martial arts; UFC stands for Ultimate Fighting Championship.  About 7 million tourists travel to Branson, MO, each year to visit its 50-plus coutnry-music halls.  Drew Carey replaced Bob Barker on the “Price is Right.”  Time LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins are the authors of the “Left Behind” series.”

A “yes” to 0-2 questions seals you “in the New Elite bubble.”  A “yes” to 3-7 suggests you “need to get out more.”  “If you can answer “yes” for 8-10 questions, it doesn’t matter if you went to Yale or live in Georgetown, you’re part of the American Mainstream.

My score of 4 indicates that while not a full-fledged member of the new elite, I need to get out more.  (I knew about Branson, MO, I was once a member of a Rotary Club while living in a town with fewer than 25,000 people and I can identify a field of soy beans.  I could identify a few, but not all, of the military rank insignias and I thought one of the authors of the “Left Behind” series was named LeHane – close but incorrect.)

What does this all mean?  It is clear to me that there are many Americas out there.  Several of those Americas genuinely frighten me, including those parts that never read a newspaper but have strong opinions about issues of the day.  It’s not that regularly reading a newspaper makes one wise, but it’s a step in the direction of having informed opinion.  And without informed opinion we have chaos.  While I would again have to note that the “new elite” are neither necessarily wise nor well-informed, the odds increase if they read a newspaper with regularity.

I am glad that I’ve lived in small town America.  I also visit that America regularly when I travel to a beach community in Delaware.  While it is indeed refreshing to leave the intellectually snobbish Washington, I’m clearly also not really a part of the greater local community.  That was brought home to me this past weekend as I walked along the route for Rehoboth Beach’s annual Sea-Witch Festival Parade.  This was definitely not an America of which I feel a part.  This is no doubt partly the consequence of my being full-fledged member of the definitely-not-mainstream “gay” America.

While the article seems to suggest that the gap between elite and mainstream America can be bridged by the elite “getting out more”, I think a more fundamental solution lies in doing a much better job of educating all of America.  There is an education gap between mainstream and elite America that must be addressed.  I have also personally spent a lot of time trying to become a more “conscious” individual, aware of the complexity of the universe and my role in that universe.  I am convinced that increasing the “consciousness” of all of humankind is the only path toward a more peaceful, just and prosperous world.  It involves not only education, but self-awareness and an ongoing commitment to spiritual development.  I am thus far from convinced that educating myself about NASCAR, the MMA, the UFC, and “The Price is Right” would accomplish anything of real value.  In fact, I am quite convinced of the opposite.

There are two additional two Op-Eds today that are well worth reading, both of which appeared in today’s New York Times.  They concern, respectively, two issues that have been much discussed on the campaign trail this year.  Specifically they concern two government programs upon which it now seems almost all candidates, incumbent and otherwise, believe were dreadful mistakes.  I am referring to the Troubled Asset Relief Program of 2008 (the “bailout”) and the fiscal stimulus bill.

The first article, concerning the “bailout” bill is authored by Ross Douthat and is entitled The Great Bailout Backlash.  The second, by Paul Krugman and concerning the stimulus bill, is called Falling Into the Chasm.  Both offer important perspectives on these important issues that have been grossly misunderstood it seems by a majority of the electorate.

I regard both the “bailout” bill and fiscal stimulus as having been essential to the country’s economic welfare.  The problem is that the first was badly executed and explained and the latter poorly crafted so as to result in far less in economic stimulus than could almost certainly have been achieved with a better designed (less political) bill.

Unfortunately, we are going to have a lot of Congressmen and Senators elected next week who wouldn’t voted for the TARP bill or any economic stimulus.  This is frightening, very frightening, and it doesn’t bode well for the ability of the incoming Congress to tackle future economic crises.  Let’s hope some sense yet creeps into the public debate in advance of next week’s election.

Robert J. Samuelson writes an Op-Ed in this morning’s Washington Post on the polarization of the American political system.  The piece is entitled Politics has lost its center of balance (online it is entitled “The dysfunction of American politics”).  Indeed it has.  Samuelson cites four reasons:

First, politicians depend increasingly on their activist “bases” for votes, money and job security (read: no primary challenger). But activist agendas are well to the left or right of center. So when politicians pander to their bases, they often offend the center. In one poll, 70 percent of registered voters said Republicans’ positions were too conservative at least some of the time; 76 percent likewise thought Democratic positions often “too liberal.”

Second, politics has become more moralistic from both left and right. Idealistic ideologues campaign to “save the planet,” “protect the unborn,” “reclaim the Constitution.” When goals become moral imperatives, there’s no room for compromise. Opponents are not just mistaken; they’re immoral. They’re cast as evil, ignorant, dangerous, or all three.

Third, cable television and the Internet impose entertainment values on politics. Constant chatter reigns. Conflict and shock language prevail; analysis is boring.

Finally, politicians overpromise. The federal budget has run deficits in all but five years since 1961. The main reason: Both Democrats and Republicans want to raise spending and cut taxes. To obscure their own expediency, both parties blame the other.

I am in complete agreement with Mr. Samuelson and I recommend reading the piece.

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