April 2009


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.

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 have very few complaints about our President and the job he’s been doing.  To date, Mr. Obama, while perhaps overreaching at times, has managed to hit the political sweet spot more often than not.  He is, by and large, managing to do the right thing.  His high polling numbers reflect this.  Where he has completely missed the boat, however, is energy policy.  What he is proposing for the country will simply not work.  What the Obama administration has proposed is fantasy, dangerous fantasy.  My critique here is not to declare opposition but to advocate in favor of a course correction.  What’s been proposed is good, indeed, admirable, but it is not sufficient to accomplish the administration’s stated goals.

A couple of recent Op-eds are useful in helping to explain why what Obama is proposing will not work as represented.  The first appeared last week in the Washington Post.  Authored by James Schlesinger and Robert L. Hirsch, it is entitled Getting Real on Wind and Solar.  The second was in this morning’s Washington Post.  It is Robert J. Samuelson’s Selling The Green Economy

As I’ve said many times before on this blog, what the country needs to do, in addition to that which has been advocated by Mr. Obama in incentivizing and encouraging the development of new and clean energy technologies, is to recognize the inevitability of fossil fuels in our economy for the next two decades.  This is cold, hard reality.  Given this reality, the focus needs to be producing more oil and particularly cleaner burning natural gas, here on the North American continent.  For U.S. energy policy to finally succeed the country must face down the twin enemies of overseas imports of oil (this because our transportation sector is so heavily dependent on oil – 96%) and carbon emissions.  Increasing domestic production of both oil and natural gas, while not meeting the second goal–decreasing carbon emissions–, is our only viable alternative if we are to succeed with goal number one — decreasing foreign imports.  It will be through our climate change policy that we reduce emissions either through implementation of a cap and trade system or a carbon tax.  This will be what reduces our use of fossil fuels.  In the meantime, moving more energy production onshore in North America not only increases domestic energy security, it gives our economy a gigantic boost in the form of dollars circulating in America instead of being shipped abroad.  We can no longer afford the money drain.

Environmental groups and their followers need to lose the certainty that supporting domestic production, offshore and onshore, is yielding to the enemy.  It isn’t.  It is facing the fact that the country can no longer afford foreign imports, which is and has been for years the default when domestic production is stymied.  Instead, we need to bring the production home and focus on reducing carbon emissions through enactment of workable climate change legislation.  It can work.  We simply need to make it national policy. 

In a column last week in the Washington Post, Michael Gerson introduces readers to Andrew Newberg, an expert on the neurological basis of religion.  Newberg and co-author Mark Robert Waldman have written a book entitled How God Changes Your Brain.  It sounds like a fascinating book.  The Gerson column is entitled A Searcher With Faith in Mind

Since I’ve not read the book, yet, most of what I write below comes from the Gerson column.  Here’s an excerpt:

Using brain imaging studies of Franciscan nuns and Buddhist practitioners, and Sikhs and Sufis — along with everyday people new to meditation — Newberg asserts that traditional spiritual practices such as prayer and breath control can alter the neural connections of the brain, leading to “long-lasting states of unity, peacefulness and love.” He assures the mystically challenged (such as myself) that these neural networks begin to develop quickly — a matter of weeks in meditation, not decades on a Tibetan mountaintop. And though meditation does not require a belief in God, strong religious belief amplifies its effect on the brain and enhances “social awareness and empathy while subduing destructive feelings and emotions.”

Also very revealing is Newberg’s conclusion that that there are neurological differences between those who contemplate a loving God and those who contemplate a wrathful God.  The former strengthens the part of the brain associated with empathy and reason while the latter strengthens that part associated with aggression and fear.  This seems highly significant. 

According to Gerson, the book “predicts ‘an epiphany that can improve the inner quality of your life.  For most Americans, that is what spirituality is about.’  But if this is what spirituality is all about, it isn’t about very much.”  My own reaction is that Mr. Gerson is probably limited by his predisposition to particular religious faith.  My evolving religious views have been strongly influenced by writers such as Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle.  I suspect that what Newberg is talking about is finding that connection to that which is eternal in all of us.  If accessed by enough of us, this is indeed of great significance and could be profoundly world altering.

Gerson closes his column by pointing out that Newberg’s experience showing that the human “brain is drawn naturally toward artificial certainties” leaves Newberg “skeptical about the capacity of the human mind to accurately perceive ‘universal or ultimate truth’.  Yet Newberg remains a seeker, a searcher for that truth, as we all should be.  Connecting to the eternal alters us for the better and would seem to remove the need to categorize or decant religious experience into doctrine or “certainty”.  Whatever it is, it just is.   

Have Barack Obama’s initial forays onto the world stage communicated to the world weakness or merely restrained strength?  Personally, I am concerned.  Reports last week indicated that French President Sarkozy in casual conversations following the G20 summit expressed the opinion that President Obama was weak.  Obama’s recent visit to Latin America did nothing to dispel that image.  When treated rudely by foreign leaders such as Hugo Chavez and Daniel Ortega, he did nothing.  Perceived weakness on the international stage is always dangerous, but it is especially dangerous when that perception may encourage foreign states to explicitly test a new President’s mettle. 

There are three pieces, all appearing recently in the Washington Post that address this issue in one way or another.  They are Jackson Diehl’s A World of Trouble for Obama, Eugene Robinson’s When Slapped, Slap Back, and Dan Balz’s Obama’s Gripping Style Overseas.

The Jackson Diehl piece raises especially troubling concerns given that there are no shortage of nations which have reasons to exploit perceived presidential weakness.  The Dan Balz piece as well questions whether Obama’s style projects strength or weakness.  While changes from the arrogant approach of President Bush have been welcomed by most, including this writer, the question is being asked whether Obama is going too far in the opposite direction.  The Eugene Robinson piece is also noteworthy.  Eugene Robinson, it was announced yesterday, is the recipient of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for commentary.  His selection was apparently due to his commentary about Barack Obama on the 2008 campaign trail.  He knows Barack Obama and is certainly no critic.  Yet he is concerned.  Here is an excerpt from the cited column:

Chávez, Ortega and a few others, however, made a show of being rude. A flash of presidential anger from Obama would have been in order.

… Obama was right to show respect for the leaders of neighboring countries big and small at the Summit of the Americas. Those who were not gracious enough to show respect for him deserved to be given — metaphorically, of course, and in the spirit of hemispheric cooperation — the back of the presidential hand.

I would rather Obama exert a little more toughness now rather than when diplomatically or militarily tested by our enemies.  I fear that the President’s initial international forays and the weak image that he’s projected to date now make the test only a matter of time.   Unless the President can change that image and quickly, he’s going to have to be very tough when tested.  Far better to have projected more toughness in the beginning that having to do so in a crisis.  

Discovering our unique talents and putting them to work for the benefit of ourselves and the world is one of the greatest challenges each of us faces in life.  It most often takes a lot of swimming upstream to first find the talent within ourselves and then find a place for that talent in the world.  The Susan Boyle story is illustrative of this.  Susan clearly had a talent that she and a few people in her village recognized, but finding application for that talent in the greater world proved very difficult.  Through persistence and risk taking, however, Susan got her break.

The Susan Boyle story reminded me of something I’d I read recently in the book Strength Finders 2.0, a book which I recommend highly to those searching for their own unique talents.  The following is an excerpt from the book (Page 29):

Mark Twain once described a man who died and met Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates.  Knowing that Saint peter was very wise, the man asked a question that he had wondered about throughout his life.

He said, “Saint Peter, I have been interested in military history for many years.  Who was the greatest general of all time?”

Saint Peter quickly responded, “Oh that’s a simple question.  It’s that man over there.”

“You must be mistaken,” responded the man, now very perplexed.  “I knew that man on earth, and he was a common laborer.”

“That’s right my friend,” assured Saint Peter.  “He would have been the greatest general of all time, if he had been a general.”

There are many obstacles to finding our true talents.  How many of us are so locked into earning a living that we’ve left our true talents undiscovered or not applied for the greater good of mankind?  Let Susan Boyle show us that there is hope for all of us and for the world in maximizing its resource of human talent. 

Yesterday I was introduced, via a Facebook friend, to Susan Boyle of Blackburn, Scotland.  My introduction was via a YouTube videoof her performance in the British television show called Britain’s Got Talent.  It was reminiscent of the performance of Paul Potts from the same show two years ago.  Paul Pott’s performance can be found here.  (Embedding is not allowed or I’d have embedded both videos here).

What’s interesting about both performances is that we are presented visually with an image of someone who we expect to fail, probably because they are not pretty and look like an everyman.  When they soar, so do our spirits as we watch them.  We realize, I think, that we could likewise possess a hidden talent that would allow us to soar as well.  For the moment we can soar vicariously.  And so we do.

And so let me introduce you to Susan Boyle of Scotland singing “I Dreamed a Dream”.  

For more on the story, there’s a Washington Post piece today entitled The Scot Heard Round the World.  I’m particularly interested in the Susan Boyle story since her stated hometown is, as she explains in the video, a group of villages that include Bathgate, Scotland.  Bathgate is the birthplace of my maternal grandfather who no doubt dreamed a dream when he left Scotland for Canada in the early 1900s.  I like to think I and the rest of his progeny are continuing to live his dream.       

I don’t always agree with the New York Times’ Paul Krugman, as regular readers of this blog will know, but I must say there was little in his column yesterday about the Republican Party with which I could find much to disagree.  The piece is entitled Tea Parties Forever.  What is this thing about tea parties anyway?  It seems completely nuts to me.

Here are some of Krugman’s observations (in quotes) with which I’m in complete agreement interspersed with my own observations: 

“Today’s GOP is, after all, very much a minority party.”  Indeed it is, and getting smaller all of the time.  As crazy as they are, Republicans “could still return to power if the Democrats stumble.”  All too true.  A reason for Obama to moderate and not give them the fuel that will need to power an electoral victory.  “[E]verything that critics mock about these [tea] parties has long been standard practice within the Republican Party.”  True enough.  As indicated above, I don’t get the Republican preoccupation with taxes.  I haven’t for a decade or two.  “Then there are the claims made at some recent tea-party events that Mr. Obama wasn’t born in America… Crazy stuff.”  Yes, indeed.  “For now, the Obama administration gains a substantial advantage from the fact that it has no credible opposition, especially on economic policy, where the Republicans seem particularly clueless.”  It is a huge advantage to have no credible opposition to call you on your misstatements and misrepresentations.  Instead, we have a party that is beyond clueless, which makes even greater misstatements and misrepresentations.  Instead of offering genuinely believable, cogent and economically supportable policy alternatives, they advocate complete nonsense. 

No, this is not a Republican Party with which I can identify.  For the time being I’ve given up even trying to steer it back on course.   It’s hopeless.  The only thing that’s going to work is for the party to lose a few election cycles, maybe the next five.  Let’s just hope circumstances don’t allow them a premature win.  The country can’t afford this present Republican Party in charge again.     

There was a good opinion piece in the Washington Post on Sunday about the failure of the U.S. supply-side approach to fighting the drug “war” in this country.  It’s entitled We Tried A War Like This Once Before.  The author is Mike Gray, the chairman of Common Sense for Drug Policy.

On a personal level, I have become convinced that we have little choice but to try something new.  Our country’s efforts to stop of the flow of drugs coming into the country have been a total failure.  Recent events in Mexico have made this all the more clear.  Interdiction and eradication do not work.  Not only are the bad guys winning, they are becoming a threat to our national security.  Something new must be attempted.

What is that something?  My conclusion is that any workable solution must shift focus from the supply side to the demand side of the equation, for as long as demand exists, supply will find a way.  While not at all supportive of marijuana use, let alone of more serious drugs, I no longer think that criminalization, at least of marijuana, is workable.  It is a policy failure and this situation is not likely to change.

While details as to how the country goes about “legalizing” marijuana must be worked out, it’s clear we must begin the process.  There is no other way.  Mike Gray is right.  Prohibition didn’t work and neither does this.  The time is to begin this process is now.

I apologize for taking a 10-day break but I needed desperately to clear some cobwebs.  While on my sabbatical I gave a lot of thought to the continued viability of this blog.  One clear conclusion is that tilting at windmills has limited utility.  It also doesn’t pay the bills.

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.

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