Stories of Note


The Washington Post this morning analyzed the results of new Washington Post/ABC News Poll in a story entitled In poll, many still skeptical of GOP.  The story was authored by Dan Balz and Jon Cohen.

I cite the poll and story this morning in part as they are generally supportive of some of the statements made in my recent posting Nonsense from the Left.  The results are generally supportive of my contention that the 2010 election was a vote against the party in power and that Republicans would be unwise to regard the vote as a broad mandate for their conservative agenda.  The poll would also suggest that voters expect Republicans to compromise.

The poll was conducted since the President’s compromise with Republicans on taxes.  It shows little erosion of President Obama’s support among Liberal Democrats (now at 87%) and it shows the electorate apparently still trusts Obama more than it trusts Congressional Republicans on his/their ability to handle the main problems the nation faces (43%-38%).  At 43% President Obama also comes in higher than George Bush in 2006 (31%) and Bill Clinton in 1994 (34%) following similar mid-term electoral defeats.

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 meetup.com/no labels for more information.

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

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.

In a story today in the Daily Caller, Alex Pappis reports on a conversation he had with Matt Kibbe, a key operative in the FreedomWorks organization that was an important supporter of tea party candidates in 2010.  Needless to say tea party conservatives aren’t very pleased with the apparent write-in victory of Lisa Murkowski in Alaska.  Here’s an excerpt from the Daily Caller story:

If Murkowski wins, Kibbe suggested that Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, and the Republican leadership should find a way to punish her, perhaps through committee assignments, “for splitting the team in half” and running as an independent. Her decision to run as an independent is a dangerous precedent, Kibbe suggested, that could lead to Democratic victories in the future.

“If he doesn’t do that,” Kibbe said, “it strikes me that he’s sending a signal to Tea Partiers in 2012 that if they don’t like the results in the primaries, they might as well just run as an independent or Tea Party candidate.”

Kibbe often makes the argument that “it doesn’t make any sense to go third party because third party loses,” [sic] and the more practical way for Tea Party activists to get involved is through a “take over” of the GOP.

Let me respond to each paragraph above in turn:

1.  Great.  Punish Senator Murkowski and push her more firmly into the independent camp.  I’d like that — it’s where she needs to be anyway and it will just make it easier for her.  Also, since when have true-blue conservatives cared whether Democrats win elections when the Republican candidate is an infidel (moderate Republican).  This is exemplified by the apparently prevalent conservative belief that “we are better off electing a Democrat than a Republican such as Mike Castle as Senator from Delaware”.

2.  Great.  Please do that.  I would be delighted should hard-line conservatives leave the GOP and run as independents.  Such a move would allow the Republican Party to abandon the right and move into the “center-right” space that happens to be where most of the American electorate sits.  I could see a long string of wins for such a Republican Party at all levels of government.

3.  I have to first do a little interpolating on this paragraph.  I presume the sentiment being expressed by Mr. Kibbe is that since third parties usually lose, it is better for tea party conservatives to take over the Republican Party.  This is nothing new.  It is certainly what I’ve observed conservatives to have been doing for decades (1976 insurrection against moderate Gerald Ford by Reagan Republicans was my first exposure to this strategy).  I’d go so far to say the battle for the GOP is over.  The hard-line conservatives have won.  Independents need to either form a third party comprised of independents and center-right “moderate” Republicans or be willing to run as independents a la Lisa Murkowski in Alaska.  While it is clear that while write-in campaigns can prevail, it would make much more sense for centrist independents to found independent parties in their states so as to give centrist voters a choice between the left and the right.

So Mr. Kibbe, make up your mind.  Personally, I hope you all choose Option #2.  I would love to have my Republican Party back and so I think would most of the country.

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.

There is a must-read story that can be found in yesterday’s New York Times by Jim Rutenberg and Jeff Zeleny entitled Democrats Outrun by a 2-Year G.O.P. Comeback Plan.  It is truly frightening.  It describes nothing short of a scorched-earth political strategy on the part of Republicans to retake the House.  It amounts to a take-no-prisoners approach that if practiced fully by both political parties removes any possibility of compromise and therefore passage of legislation that addresses any of the country’s myriad of critical needs.  Here’s an excerpt, describing two power point slides contained in a presentation to House Republicans in January 2009:

“If the goal of the majority is to govern, what is the purpose of the minority?” one slide asked.

“The purpose of the minority,” came the answer, “is to become the majority.”

If both parties adopt this strategy, what this “winning is everything” strategy means is that there will be no room for governing, unless and until one party wins by significant enough margins to govern as would a majority party under a parliamentary system.  In the U.S. this would mean that a single party would have to win either (1) the Presidency, House and Senate with filibuster-proof margins in the Senate; or (2) the House and Senate with veto-proof margins.  Otherwise in the U.S., the result will be permanent gridlock and a complete inability to do the country’s business.  It apparently means waiting until until one party consolidates enough power to do it entirely its own way.

And it seems the Republicans are well on their way to planning this as well.  As reported by Peter Baker on November 2, 2010, in a story in the New York Times entitled In Republican Victories, The Tide Turns Starkly, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is quoted as saying last week that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”  We thus have a clear enunciation that the priority of the Republican minority in the U.S. Senate will not be passing legislation critically needed by this country, but rather defeating President Obama and achieving a victory that will enable Republicans to enact policy objectives without compromise.

It is hard to imagine that Democratic Party strategy in the next two years won’t mirror the obviously successful strategy of their duopolistic counterpart.  Although it has long been my observation that there there is little incentive for a minority party to compromise, the stakes have now been raised to a new level.  Where this ends is anyone’s guess as the U.S. electorate has shown a great propensity over the years to divide their government, rarely trusting one party with total control as in a parliamentary system.  For the U.S. this means serious political crisis for the foreseeable future.

It is a reason I am rapidly concluding that “we the people” need to begin thinking of ways to end the duopoly.  More on this in future postings.

There was a very informative article by Jon Cohen and Dan Balz in yesterday’s Washington Post entitled Beyond the tea party: What Americans really think of government.  The article dissects and discusses a new study by the Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University.  My takeaways from the story are several.  First, that there is a vast gap in the perceptions of Liberal Democrats and Conservative Republicans toward the role of government.  A graphic that I found interesting in this regard from the story is one comparing the views of various groups (Liberal Democrats to Tea Party strong supporters) toward Government Services and whether they favored “Fewer services/lower taxes” or “More services/higher taxes”.

What’s revealed in the graphic is a pretty sharp partisan split.  That’s too bad for America, especially as the two parties appear to listen more ardently to their respective fringes.  Those of us in the middle who want significant, but limited, government aren’t represented well by either party in today’s America.  It is all or nothing.

A second takeaway from the story is the survey’s revelation that Americans give their government a relatively low report card.  The story discusses this in much more detail.

Finally, I was interested but not surprised to learn that Americans really don’t understand the complexity of issues facing this country, for instance toward balancing the federal budget.  Here’s an excerpt from the article:

One challenge for policymakers is that half the country thinks the federal government can balance its budget by simply cutting wasteful spending. In fact, eliminating waste in the budget would do very little to bring down the size of the deficit. Nearly as many say they think some useful programs will have to go to bring the deficit under control, but the number saying so has slipped since the mid-1990s.

The bottom line is Americans really don’t understand the scale of the problem, suggesting that politicians need to start explaining the problem to the public rather than simply pointing their partisan fingers at the other party.

As one who believes strongly in the need for a viable third party in this country to challenge the existing two party duopoly, I note that the article also observed that “just over half” of survey respondents said that “government in Washington [would] work better” if electoral laws were eased “to make it easier for third parties to compete with Democrats and Republicans.”

For those interested, Dan Balz also penned another piece in Sunday‘s Washington Post based on the above-referenced survey.  For those wanting to read more, it is entitled Tea Party fuels GOP midterm enthusiasm, action.

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.

I had seen stories over the weekend about the death of Norman Borlaug and hadn’t paid them much attention.  Last night, however, I had occasion to watch watch a profile of his life and work in a segment on the Lehrer News Hour.  So later in the night when I found myself browsing the New York Times on my iPhone, the consequence of finding myself awake in the middle night with lingering effects of a cold/flue over the weekend, I decided to read his obituary.  Impressive as it was, the full impact of his life didn’t really hit me, however, until I read a paragraph toward the end of the obit.  It is contained in the September 13, 2009, New York Times obituary entitled Norman Borlaug, Plant Scientist Who Fought Famine, Dies at 95:

“By Mr. Toenniessen’s calculation, about half the world’s population goes to bed every night after consuming grain descended from one of the high-yield varieties developed by Dr. Borlaug and his colleagues of the Green Revolution.”

Wow, talk about a life having an impact on the world.  This is clearly a man who’s life made a difference.  This is a true hero.  I hope there’s a lesson here that our lives can matter in the world;  that we can all make a difference.  We must but care enough to try.

Over the summer I have become increasingly convinced of the importance of supporting locally grown food.  Almost all of the vegetables, and even meat, that I have purchased this summer have come from local farms.  I am convinced that it is healthier and it’s clearly more energy efficient.  (Why should I be eating broccoli from California in the summer on the east coast?)  As concerns the meats I purchase, I am also convinced that the animals are much better cared for and lead much better lives (no feedlots or cramped living conditions).  There is a story today in the New York Times on local farming in New York State.  The article is entitled A Party for Local Farming and Locally Grown Food.

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