Nancy Pelosi

An Op-ed in today’s Washington Post offers an example of a mis-guided argument that predictably emanates from the extremes of the partisan spectrum following an election, usually from the party and extreme ideology that has suffered  a big loss.  Today’s example is offered by Michael Lerner in a piece entitled Save Obama’s presidency by challenging him on the left.  Mr. Lerner argues that Obama’s problem is that he hasn’t been “progressive” enough and that it may be necessary to have a Democratic primary challenger from the left in order to force Obama to the left in order to win in 2012.  To those of us in the center of the spectrum, this is utter nonsense.

I’ve rarely witnessed a more clear voter rejection of a party in power, and an ideology, than what occurred in the U.S. in November.  Democrats got shellacked because they were perceived by the electorate as taking the country too far left — in the direction of higher taxes and more government.  That clearly isn’t popular in this country.  Notice I said perceived.  The Republicans did a very good job of painting President Obama and the Democrats into this corner, often inaccurately, but the party itself and its progressive wing aided and abetted.  Nancy Pelosi, Queen of the California’s extremely liberal congressional delegation, was the perfectly wrong choice to be the face of the party.  She is ‘nails on a chalkboard’ to much of America.  In addition, Democrats have puzzled over why the business community and independents supported Republicans as strongly as they did in the election.   Much of the standard Democrat election rhetoric is about class struggle, the little guy against the evil corporate behemoth.  That may sit well with the base of the Democratic Party, but it doesn’t sit well with the majority of Americans.  No, what President Obama and the Democrats need to do for the next two years is appear to the American electorate as the rational, sane and relatively centrist alternative to Republican ideological excess. Democrats’ clearest path to control and the re-election of President Obama is moderation — a la Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, both of whom were also constrained by Congresses not in their control and each of whom were re-elected handily.

Republicans, on the other hand, are making a great mistake in their apparent conclusion that it was their conservative ideology that won them election in November.  The reason the electorate voted for them in November was because they weren’t Democrats – they were the “other”, the alternative party.  This was exactly the reason that Democrats, including Obama, won in 2008 — because they were the “other”, the alternative option to George Bush and the Republicans.  These last two elections haven’t been about the electorate supporting a party so much as completely repudiating the party in power.

Thus, the last thing Democrats need to do is up the stakes and offer the electorate a clear picture of a party controlled by left wing ideologues.  Let Republicans hang themselves on their own petard — by viewing that it was their ideology that won them this last election.  The party that grabs the center, that demonstrates to America that it is willing to compromise and to find rational solutions in the middle will be the choice of an electorate that can once again be expected to vote to reject an ideological extreme.

It is my view that 2012 is shaping up as an election that Democrats should win, but it is distinctly losable.  Just consult with Mr. Lerner.  He has the strategy for losing all figured out.

In a piece posted on the Washington Post website this afternoon entitled Bailout vote that was deadly in 2010 to live on in 2012 , we learn that the vote on the Targeted Asset Relief Program (TARP) proved an almost-certain election loser for House and Senate candidates in the 2010 elections.  Although not a complete surprise, as most 2010 election observers saw this coming, it is nonetheless a tragedy.

More than any other vote in recent memory, the vote on TARP clearly defined those who were deserving of election to the House and Senate, and those who were not.  Had the irresponsible naysayers prevailed, the banking system would almost assuredly have crashed with devastating consequences for the country.  Today’s economy looks robust compared to what it would have looked like but for the successful TARP vote.

That the American electorate on one hand apparently believes that government needs to focus more attention on the economy and on the other hand believes that the TARP vote was an unnecessary corporate give-away, shows the gigantic problem we have in America with informed decision-making.  Our problem today is that apparently too few voters get their information or “news” from balanced sources, such as mainstream newspapers.  Today, the sources are all too often the over-opinionated pontificators on networks such as Fox or MSNBC.  It is impossible to make sound public policy without accurate information and we are today seeing the terrifying consequences of uninformed decision-making.  Good luck America, as it appears only luck will be able to save us from the consequences of our ignorance.

I penned a piece on this blog last week entitled Some Advice for Democrats wherein I criticized the election of Nancy Pelosi as Minority Leader in the House.  It seems, however, that most liberals are clueless as to just how offensive Nancy Pelosi became to most of America.  Having her, again, as the House Democrats’ key spokesperson is like nails on a chalkboard to a vast portion, and apparently a majority, of the American electorate.  Why?

To answer this inquiry I go no farther than a blog posting from this website dated September 29, 2008.  It is entitled Speaker Pelosi Didn’t Help Today.  It contains an embedded video link of the Speaker’s remarks during the TARP debate.  It says all that needs to be said on the matter.  This is not the diplomat the Democrats need to counter their Republican opposition.  As Sarah Palin might say to House Democrats, let’s just see how this works for ya.

In a follow-on to yesterday’s posting, there are two additional pieces today, both in the New York Times, that address the Republican Party’s identity crisis.  The first is a front page article, above the fold, by Adam Nagourney and David M. Herszenhorn entitled G.O.P. Debate: A Broader Party or a Purer One? The other is on Op-ed by former Governor (and EPA Administrator) Christine Todd Whitman entitled It’s Still My Party.

I am convinced the Republican Party’s only path forward is to become a party that can not only tolerate a variety of perspectives, but can accommodate those perspectives in its platform and in the way it governs.  Frankly, I don’t see this happening for a while.

My history as a Republican goes back 37 years.  Although I’d always identified as a child as a Democrat, I was a Scoop Jackson or moderate Democrat, at least on defense issues.  When the party rejected Scoop Jackson for the presidential nomination in 1972 and nominated George McGovern, my path forward was clear.  I was able to comfortably remain a Republican up through the George W. Bush’s first term, although the Reagan ascendancy was a mighty challenge.  When the conservatives began to exert control of the party in 1976 when Reagan challenged President Ford for the Republican nomination, I first witnessed the ‘purist’ wing of the party in action.  At my local ward meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I saw the purists in action for the first time as they showed up in droves and defeated the Ford slate.  At the state party convention the purists would later deny slots on the state’s delegation to the national convention to New Mexico’s sitting Republican Congressmen and Senator, who had all supported Gerald Ford.  Four years later I held my nose and voted for Reagan and, to my surprise, I did come to regret that decision.  I even served as an Reagan alternate delegate from New Mexico to the 1984 GOP convention.  What was notable was that although I was viewed then within the delegation as a “moderate”, that was still apparently OK.  It isn’t today in most places.

In her Op-ed Christine Todd Whitman argues that it’s important that “moderates to stay [in the party] and work from within. One thing we can be sure of is that we will have no impact on the party’s direction if we leave.”  She goes on to observe that “[t]o the extent we lose more members of the Republican Party, we lose what ability we have left to affect policy, and that is going to be devastating to our nation. Our democracy desperately needs two vibrant parties.”

Although I may not change my party registration, I am functionally an Independent these days, for the party has left me and the things it once stood for.  It has become something else with which I rarely identify.  At this juncture I am also tired of doing battle with the purists.  I am of the mind that the only way the purists are going to learn their lesson is the hard way in a succession of devastating losses.  Either that, or, the purist Republican Party needs to be isolated with the formation of a new political party in the center.  I agree with Christine Todd Whitman that it will be devastating for the country to have one-party rule.  But that doesn’t mean that second party needs to be the Republican Party.  Let’s get a third party in the mix that can draw moderate Democrats and Republicans and challenge both the left and the right of the political spectrum.  Let the Republican Party stay pure and let’s give the Democratic Party to Nancy Pelosi and her friends on the left.  Let the rest of us join and belong to a brand new party.

That would be my choice, although it’s been pretty clear to me since I started this ‘centrist’ blog, that there been no groundswell of people who agree with me.  Certainly moderate Democrats are not disaffected at present with a capable President who’s steering a relatively moderate course.  And Independents seem to like the middle ground and the ability to move back and forth as they see fit.

So for now I must just watch the show from the sidelines, the show being the Republican Party’s process of trying to make itself relevant again.  What I know is that I have no intention of being part of the process.  I’m tired of tilting at windmills.

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.

There are two columns in today’s Washington Post that continue the debate about the wisdom of Congress’s plan to retroactively tax bonuses paid to companies receiving financial assistance from the U.S. government under its Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP).  Anyone who’s been reading my postings of the last several days will know my views on the subject.  The two Post columns go further than the AIG bonus debate, however, and lodge more broadly substantial criticism of Congress and the Administration.  The perspectives come from the right, George F. Will, and the center-left, Richard Cohen.  There is much truth in both columns, which is to say, again, that I am in substantial agreement with both.  While one expects a strong critique from Will, one does not expect it from Cohen, making it all the more salient.  He is critical, although subtly, of Nancy Pelosi, acknowledging clear strengths but pointing out clear dangers to the President of abdicating too much control to her. 

I continue to believe that unless reined in, Nancy Pelosi and her left-leaning cohorts have the potential to sink Mr. Obama.  Cohen, citing Charlie Cook, concludes that Obama is beginning to slip in the polls, with a notable loss of independents.  The loss of political independents is a bad sign.  (The Cook column, Are Independents Hedging Their Bet?, from which Cohen apparently got his information is a most valuable-read.)  It is a sign of a backlash against liberals.  It is a sign of the country beginning to see merit in divided government.  For Obama, it signals that he needs to control the Pelosi House of Representatives in order to stave off a Republican resurgence in the next election.  That’s what many of us thought that was one of the reasons that Obama selected Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff — to keep Pelosi and the House under control.  Well, he clearly hasn’t been doing it.

The George Will column is entitled The Toxic Assets We Elected and the Richard Cohen piece, With Friends Like Pelosi…     

First the speech, now the budget.  We’re beginning to see that Obama is no centrist after all.  His agenda is distinctly to the left of left of center and he’s not an incrementalist.  He’s setting about to change America radically and fast.

America needs change.  The problem is that our choice for political leadership in this country is between a hyperactive Democratic Party with a leftist agenda and tired and worn out Republican Party with a right wing, moralistic, and arguable overly-free market agenda.  The fact remains that there exists a huge amount of real estate between the two extremes, real estate upon which I would argue America would be better building its future home the than real estate being proposed by the two American parties.  And today, one party is in control and it is on their real estate that the we’re proposing to build.

What concerns me the most about Obama’s proposals is the relative lack of thought and preparation that is behind them.  He has produced all of this in just one month!  Echoing what David Brooks observes in his column in the New York Times today (The Uncertain Trumpet) Obama is merely laying out a conceptual framework for the future but he is leaving it to others to work out the details.  That’s dangerous when the others are Congressional leadership dominated by Nancy Pelosi Democrats.  I am concerned that facts (rationality) will play too small a role and leftist ideology to large a role as laws are passed and programs are initiated to build on the Obama conceptual framework.  Likening policy to a road map, it needs to be based upon reality in order to deliver us to the desired destination.  If based on fantasy, it is unlikely to lead us to where we want to go.  Reality and rationality must trump shallow and overly-idealistic ideology.  

I will keep returning to energy as an example as, substantively, I know it best.  On energy, the budget is very “command and control” and sets about picking winners and losers.  One loser appears to be all things “oil and gas”.  A first glimpse at Obama’s energy budget reveals that he proposes elimination of almost every incentive for domestic oil and natural gas production on the books.  It also appears to eliminate all oil and natural gas research and development.  This is not wise when the American economy is dependent upon foreign oil to fuel an economy that will not even under the most optimistic scenarios be able to wean itself from oil for transportation for decades.  Complex issues require complex solutions.  It doesn’t appear we’re going to get them from Obama.  He’s too busy painting colorful conceptual murals of the America he envisions and leaving it to others to try to turn that fantasy into reality.

In Obama’s defense, I suspect most of the “oil and gas” policy outlined in the budget proposal yesterday was the less the process of an Obama policy process than it was the creation of green eye shade types at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) who’ve fought oil and natural gas for years.  Apparently President Reagan’s first budget did almost the same thing.  

For today, at least, that is going to be the extent of my criticism of President Obama.  As I’ve indicated, I believe the country needs change.  Of that I have no doubt.  But this much change so fast concerns me enormously.  It risks losing rationality in the process and without that in the mix, we will have nothing to show except enormously expanded American debt.  Let me now recommend some of the better and/or most informative pieces that I encountered this morning in my journey through today’s Washington Post and New York Times. 

I think the best sources of basic information this morning on the President’s budget proposal are the “analysis” pieces that can be found in both the Post and the Times.  The Post’s piece by Dan Balz is entitled Ambitious Blueprint a Big Risk The President is Willing to Take.  The Times’ “news analysis” piece is by John Harwood and is entitled Political Skills Put to the Test.  On the opinion front, representing left, right and center, I recommend three: Climate of Change by Paul Krugman; The Obamaist Manifesto by Charles Krauthammer; and the David Brooks column referenced and linked above.

As I indicated above, I am going to withhold criticism and give Obama a chance.  There will be plenty of time to oppose, if that is what is ultimately called for, as the conceptual frameworks become blueprints become law.  

In a Facebook discussion the other day, someone replied to a comment I’d made with a statement that included the following sentence.  “Liberals are, let’s face it, nicer people.”  The writer was explaining why liberals (Democrats) would make an attempt at bipartisanship now that they’re in power when Republicans never did when they had power.  It’s represents something that I’ve observed for years. 

I live in Washington, DC, which is quite a liberal place.  It’s got to rank up there with Santa Monica and Berkeley in its high ratio of liberals to conservatives.  Most of my friends are far more liberal than I.  And for years, especially when the Republicans were in control of the White House and both Houses of Congress, I heard lots about how much more dastardly Republicans were than Democrats.  While I’ll give you that Newt Gingrich as speaker got this whole era of incivility going, he merely started what has become standard operating procedure for the party in power.  No one party is all saint or all sinner.  Both play a pretty mean and incivil game these days.  It is what the parties perceive as being necessary in order to both win elections and advance their partisan agenda.  I find it disgusting and an indication that the “two-party” system no longer works.  It desperately needs to be shaken up.

Supporting my view that both parties play the same game when in power was a story in yesterday’s Politico entitled Partisan complaints come with an echo.  While the story made its basic point well, it also seemed to suggest that Democrats have been a little nicer, the story citing instances where Republicans pushed legislation through the system without minority party participation.  One example given was an energy bill in the fall of 2003.  What it doesn’t mention was that two years later a much more far reaching energy bill, the Energy Policy Act of 2005, was passed with strong bipartisan support.  In the latter bill, the committees, minority and majority, worked to produce legislation that could and did garner widespread support.  That the second energy bill was far more expansive and useful to the country speaks to its bipartisan nature.  Bills that bypass the system and are dominated by one party are going to be much more limited in what they can accomplish.

Our system will work best when there is a clear set of rules that both parties perceive to be fair and that are respected by both parties.  A process that is perceived to be fair allows for a congeniality that makes it much harder for the minority to oppose for the sake of opposition.  On the other hand, when one party attempts to shut the other party out of the game, as was largely the case when the House put together its recent stimulus package, the opposition is likely to be much more united and vocal.  President Obama has been right in trying to reach out to Republicans.  Even if ultimately rejected in this instance, he came out better in the eyes of America than did those who opposed him.  Meanwhile the U.S. House of Representatives, and both parties, came out looking bad once again in the eyes of America.  I’ve said before and I believe that President Obama’s biggest mistake with the stimulus was yielding too much control to Nancy Pelosi’s House of Representatives.  It was incapable of doing what needed to be done here, for a number of reasons.  In the future the White House has to take a much more active lead and try to keep the House under relative control.  It will be the only way that the post-partisan dream can remain alive and ultimately deliver needed legislation in the national interest.  Otherwise it will be business as usual which virtually everyone acknowledges is broken.  And no, I do not believe liberals are nicer people.  It just seems that way to liberals. 

What could and should have been an opportunity to bring our political leadership together to reach consensus on a plan to extricate the country from a severe economic crisis has turned into a living, breathing example of why our political system is broken.  Coming as it has in the first weeks of his presidency, Obama has been handicapped in his ability to control the situation.  It has, however, been a first and big misstep, one from which I doubt if he’ll fully recover.  By this I mean the change that Obama promised to bring to the country will be much less than it could have been.  We will see change, of course, in substance (liberal vs. conservative), temperament (considered vs. rash), and style (warm vs. haughty) but we will not see the sweeping promise of a post-partisan America.  Obama’s biggest mistake was in letting Nancy Pelosi’s House of Representatives, hotbed of liberalistas that it is, take the first crack at the stimulus bill.  That set the stage for disaster and ‘close to disaster’, if not outright disaster, is what we appear to have achieved.  Liberal Democrats are screaming about Conservative Republicans and vice versa.  Bipartisanship, unless you can call three Senators bipartisan, is dead on arrival.  So much for post-partisan America.

This did not have to be.  For one, the President’s Day deadline was artificial, and all but assured a half-baked and un thought-out stimulus package.  I see no point in really following this story any more.  The damage has been done, primarily to the prospect of doing business in a profoundly new way in Washington.  As for the stimulus bill, it will either help cushion the free fall the country’s economy is in or it won’t.  If it does help, things will still be bad enough to enable Republicans to claim it was a huge waste of money (campaign issue 2010).  If it fails, the Democrats can blame the Republicans in not letting them pass a bigger package.  It will be no-win for the American public and I fear it could be the issue that helps propel an unreformed Republican Party back into power, at least in the House and Senate, although this will probably take until 2012.  This is all a nightmare from my centrist perspective.

I was going to talk about some other stimulus ideas, such as the novel gift card idea, or critique Paul Krogman’s blast at “The Destructive Center” but what is the point.  Novel ideas aren’t welcome and liberal ideologues like Krogman, as their conservative ideological brethren, will keep blasting away at all who don’t share their ideololgical worldview.  It’s very disappointing.  Welcome to American Politics, 2009 Edition. 

The Senate has begun it’s process of fixing the deeply flawed stimulus bill passed last week by the House of Representatives.  Consensus seems to be growing that the House bill is a dog and must be recast to have both a stronger shot at stimulating the economy and garnering significant bipartisan support.

In a meeting with a number of Democratic lawmakers yesterday, President Obama apparently “took a blunt tone with the lawmakers, urging them to drop whatever needs to be cut from the bill to gain bipartian support and to pass Congress soon”,  so reports the Washington Post in a story today entitled Obama is Upbeat On Stimulus Plan

ABC News’ The Note also reports this morning that it will be centrists in the Senate who will ultimately decide the content and fate of the stimulus bill.  Here’s an excerpt:

Team Obama lost the early battle to define the bill — which has become a pork-stuffed monstrosity, instead of economic salvation wrapped in legislation.

That’s where Senate centrists come in. The loose coalition of lawmakers that are scrubbing the measure with an eye on offering joint amendments — being led by Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine — are quickly becoming the group to watch.

They have the votes to exert their will, and that means sorting out spin from reality (or at least their take on it) on a measure that’s easy to hate for its scope, and maybe easier to mock for its specifics.

I am always happy when I see centrists exerting their potentially considerable influence.  I know that when they do, ideology and partisan fervor will take a back seat to pragmatic policy-making.  This is what has needed to happen since Pelosi and her crew got the first cut at the bill. 

The slower Senate process is also allowing for greater scrutiny and thought to be given to particular provisions of the House bill.  As I argued last week, this is too important a bill to rush.  While we should slow this process down even further if we’re to avoid all of the boondoggles, fortunately this additional scrutiny and thought is showing us at least some of the flaws.  One such flaw, in my opinion, concerns the House bill’s mandate that billions of dollars be spent to expand broadband internet service to rural and otherwise under-served America.  While important, we need to make certain that any such program is done right.  This is discussed in an excellent article in the New York Times today entitled Internet Money In Fiscal Plan: Wise or Waste?  Here’s an excerpt:

But experts warn that the rural broadband effort could just as easily become a $9 billion cyberbridge to nowhere, representing the worst kind of mistakes that lawmakers could make in rushing to approve one of the largest spending bills in history without considering unintended results.

“The first rule of technology investment is you spend time understanding the end user, what they need and the conditions under which they will use the technology,” said Craig Settles, an industry analyst and consultant who has studied broadband applications in rural and urban areas. “If you don’t do this well, you end up throwing millions or, in this case, potentially billions down a rat hole. You will spend money for things that people don’t need or can’t use.”

Dozens of programs included in the stimulus measure could entail a similarly complicated cost-benefit analysis. But with Congress and the White House intent on adopting the economic recovery package by the end of next week, taxpayers are unlikely to find out whether these programs are great investments or a total waste — or something in between — until long after the money is out the door.     

Let me close by linking to another advocate of slowing this stimulus train down a bit, again to make sure we get the most bang for the extraordinarily large bucks.   He is Richard Cohen of the Washington Post in his column today entitled $100 Billion and No Change Back.  He points out that the funds heading to the Department of Education are going with no “reform” strings attached and he argues that we are losing an incredible opportunity to make a difference.  Slowing the train down can give us the time to do it right.  I agree with him completely.

So, let’s hope that the slower train that is the United States Senate slows down even further and allows more input that makes this bill as good as we can get it before it goes to the President’s desk for signature.  Getting a bill in the middle of February is less important that getting it right.  A few more weeks is not going to matter if we can do a much better job.

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