July 2008


Having by coincidence (the appearance of several Op-eds raising questions about Barack Obama) rather than plan devoted a couple of postings to several serious concerns I have with Senator Obama, I welcome the opportunity to balance things with a discussion of John McCain.

That I am writing this today is again in large part the result of coincidence — the appearance of the David Ignatius piece McCain’s True Voice on John McCain in today’s Washington Post, which is too good not to reference.  It also gives me the opportunity to begin my critique of John McCain and his candidacy. 

I’ll begin by saying that I have always admired John McCain’s maverick streak.  As a Senator he has been willing, at times, to buck special interests and make hard and seemingly unpopular (within the Republican Party) decisions when he felt it was in the national interest.  Although not always correct decisions in my opinion, they were important nonetheless in his willingness to try to do what he apparently perceived to be the right thing to do.  Having said that, I have at times felt that he was sometimes playing the role of maverick more than being a true maverick.  The fundamental point is that a John McCain brand developed in which a key component was his willingness to be a maverick and to strike out against conventional wisdom in favor of solutions in the national interest.  That brand had enormous value and was the reason he has historically been so popular among political independents.  It was in large part why he ran so successfully, for a while, against President Bush in the 2000 Republican primaries.

So in 2000, while I had my doubts about the genuineness of the maverick streak, I nonetheless bought into it and would have supported him in the District of Columbia, where I live, in the 2000 primary had he still been in the race by the time of the primary.  I remember attending a campaign rally in Alexandria, Virginia that spring and I was definitely ready to sign on.  As concerned George Bush, while I respected his father greatly (and proudly served in his administration) I had grave doubts about the son and what he really stood for.  Deciding on John McCain was therefore very easy. 

Bringing things to date, I supported Senator McCain in the Republican primary campaign this year.  I sent him money numerous times at critical points.  I did this not because I was enamored of him – I wasn’t for the reasons set forth below – but because all of the other options were terrible.  I could not abide Mitt Romney as the nominee and I thought Rudy Giuliani did not have the character to be President.  Of greatest concern to me about John McCain, then and now, is that he has been willing to do whatever he’s needed to do to secure the Republican nomination.  That has lessened his appeal to me greatly.  It has also badly damaged the John McCain brand.  It is the reason I turned down, on principle, the opportunity to run as a McCain delegate from the District of Columbia this spring.

In any other year I would have said that if either of the parties nominated someone from the center of the spectrum instead of from the extreme of the party that that party would coast its way to victory in November.  It is one reason I believe that George Bush won in 2000 against Al Gore, although by the narrowest of margins — American thought he was more centrist than he turned out to be.  By 2004 America knew that George Bush was a true blue conservative but given the alternative of a true blue liberal in John Kerry, it opted again by the narrowest of margins for the incumbent.  It was, in essence, an almost predictable 50/50 vote by the country.

So in this year why is John McCain, a relative centrist, not coasting his way to victory against a true blue liberal in the form of Barack Obama?  In my opinion, it is first and foremost because in winning the Republican nomination John McCain has badly tarnished his brand and brought into question for all political independents his maverick and centrist credentials.  We have lost our faith in him.  Second, we have in Barack Obama a highly skilled orator and campaigner who is promising us change America so desperately wants after 8 years of the doom and gloom of Bush and Cheney.

Of greatest to concern to me with John McCain, of which I’ll discuss in much more detail in a subsequent posting, is his stand on judicial appointments — favoring the appointment of “strict constructionists” to the bench.  These words are apparently mandatory for all candidates seeking the support of conservative Republicans and John McCain clearly felt he had to utter them, often and with passion, to secure the nomination.  It is, however, in my opinion folly.  Probably more than anything else this position has weakened the McCain brand and therefore his candidacy.

So while there remains much for me to admire about John McCain, including much of his energy and environmental policy, there are chinks in the armor.  Let me close by quoting David Ignatius from the above referenced and linked Op-ed: 

What’s damaging the McCain campaign now, I suspect, is that this fiercely independent man is trying to please other people – especially a Republican leadership that doesn’t really trust him.  He should give that up and be the person whose voice shines through the pages of his life story.

  Yes.

 

Today’s Washington Post has two good pieces documenting political hubris.  One of the subjects, Senator Stevens, is at the end of a long career while the other, Senator Obama, is undoubtedly just at the beginning.  But both pieces, Michael Crowley’s Steven’s Payback Moment and Dana Milbank’s President Obama Continues Hasty Victory Tour are worth reading. 

 

The piece on Obama adds to the factors that are giving me pause about the man.  If he is demonstrating such hubris now, what will he be like as President?  I shudder to think about it.  For me, before I am going to be comfortable enough with Obama to vote for him for President, I am going to have to see a lot more humility.  Ronald Reagan’s a good model here.  While always dead certain of his positions he never lost the common touch – a trait that helped endear him to much of America.  Obama needs to show us that common touch as well. 

The Washington Post’s Op-ed page provided an abundance of worthwhile reading today with its excellent collection of pieces.  Although I offer comment on only two (this posting and the last), I consider them all valuable reads.

Richard Cohen’s piece, Obama the Unknown, points out issues that I, too, have with Senator Obama that weigh against me voting for him in November.  I, like Mr. Cohen, am troubled with his sparse record of accomplishment and with his unwillingness thoughout the primary campaign to take tough positions (aka “doing the right thing”) rather than pandering to liberal consitutencies.  Although there is little doubt that the Senator is now trying to position himself as a centrist, espousing more rational and justifiable positions (except on energy), that, too, is little comfort.  I commented to my partner the other day that I’m going to market a bumper sticker that says “Obama – all the credibility of Mitt Romney, and more”.  That is indeed frightening. 

It would be comforting to know that Mr. Obama actually stands for something and would have the courage to do the right thing.  To date, we haven’t seen that Obama and it looks like if we elect him as our next President we would be taking a very big risk indeed.  

Although it is a releatively rare for me to agree with a Eugene Robinson Op-ed in the Washington Post, I am delighted to be able to do so today.  His piece, A Torture Paper Trail, is excellent and a must read.  The piece could not more accurately express my views on the subject and I am grateful to him for so eloquently making the case against the acceptability of any form of torture.  The reason that this blog is named “What Should Be” is that I possess a strong view that there is an America, and indeed world, that “should be”.  What should be is an America that does not condone torture and stands as model to the rest of the world.  President Bush squandered a very precious resource when he allowed torture to take place.  Let us indeed learn the full story of what happened so that America, in the words of Mr. Robinson “will be able to confidently promise, to ourselves and to a world that looks to this country for moral leadership: Never again.”   

Please excuse the delay in posting additional articles to the site.  Until the last day or so, the site hasn’t really been positioned such than anyone could find it.  I hope that’s on its way to resolution and postings no longer amount to conversations with myself. 

 

As I write this, Obama is back from his overseas trip and reports vary as to amount of “bounce” the trip has given him the polls.  Charlie Cook suggests in his “Off to the Races” column in today’s CongressDaily that the bump has been significant with Obama’s lead over McCain increasing to 8 points from 2 (with a margin of error of 2 points).  He ponders whether it’s a temporary bounce or a “threshold breach”.  There’s no question that it’s been a difficult week for Senator McCain, struggling to stay in the news. 

 

I promise in my welcoming remarks to this site that at least for the next few months the focus of this blog would largely be on the election and the issue of energy.  In large part I anticipate that the blog, with the help of commenting readers, will constitute my process of deciding whom I will vote for in November.  Energy will factor heavily in my decision given that I view it as a key and underappreciated issue that affects almost everything else, from foreign policy to the economy.  If energy were the only issue for me, in light of the policy positions of the two candidates announced to date, I would vote for McCain hands down.  He is, in my opinion, the only one of the two espousing a position that approaches the rational – something that policy must be if it has a hope of achieving a desired outcome.  However, energy is not the only factor.

 

I have spent much of the last year writing a book.  The process of writing has helped me to pull my thoughts together about politics in America.  As I indicate in the Welcome remarks, the 21 years I’ve lived and worked in Washington have left me very concerned about the country’s ability to plot a rational course from where we are most issues – lost – to where we need to go.

 

Two points I make in the book are relevant to what I want to communicate today, specifically why energy will not be the only issue that decides my vote for President on Election Day, as important as the issue is.    

 

First, is my observation that America is in a deep funk, reminiscent of the funk of 1980 that resulted in Ronald Reagan being elected President.  Deeply disillusioned by the Presidency of George Bush, America needs someone who can inspire (offer the country hope again) and lead it in a new direction – most assuredly away from a most unsatisfactory status quo.  In 1980 that unsatisfactory status quo was represented by President Jimmy Carter.  While a most decent and well-intentioned man, he did not inspire the country and seemed incapable of leading it out of the mire.  Ronald Reagan, although arguably from an extreme of the Republican Party, offered America hope in spades.  We bought it, and, ultimately, he delivered.  (I voted for him in 1980, albeit with deep reservations.) 

  

Second, we are living in an era of highly polarized politics.  We, the voters, must decide between candidates who have had to appease a highly partisan base to get their party’s nomination.  While the highly partisan base is undoubtedly more or less pleased with the outcome, a significant percentage of the electorate – ultimately those who will decide the election – are left less than fully satisfied with the choice.  I include myself in this group.  I have been deeply offended by the all-too-obvious political pandering of the two major party candidates to key special interests and constituencies of the parties, the broader public interest be damned.  I believe that most of us in this group, a group whose votes will ultimately decide the election, will make our choice based on which candidate, and set of issues that candidate espouses, offends us the least given our ever evolving set of policy and other priorities.

 

What do these two factors mean for me today?  They mean that my November decision is still very much in play.  Although disappointed in a system that has given us politicians who seem to stand solidly for nothing other than the desire to be elected President, I make some observations.  Although Barak Obama’s voting record and record of pandering to the liberal constituencies of the Democratic Party have lead me to conclude that he is a true liberal on the relative far end of the American mainstream political spectrum, he is a candidate who has demonstrated a powerful ability to inspire with a message of hope and opportunity.  Similar to Ronald Reagan who emerged from the ranks of conservatives at the other relative far end of the American mainstream political spectrum, Obama also possesses ala Reagan both the message of hope and the rhetorical skills to pull off a significant victory, and eventually rally all of America if elected President.  (Reagan won by 10 percentage points in an electoral landslide.)   That doesn’t appear to be happening – not yet at least.  It’s also not out of the question, although doubtful, that John McCain may yet offer the country some inspiration of his own, at least enough to take some of power away from Obama’s change message.  One also cannot forget that McCain, unlike Jimmy Carter, is not the incumbent, as much as the Democrats would like to paint him as the ideological twin of George Bush.  The point of this is that Obama’s message of change and extraordinary communication skills are significant assets that sorely tempt me to take a chance on him.  Will I?  That’s to be determined.  What is clear is that I long very badly for a President that will be able to leave office as did Ronald Reagan with an America that not only respects itself again but is respected in the world.  John McCain might well be able to do that as well, but I don’t get the same sense of it as I do with Obama.  Electing an African-American as President would also be a very important step for America, yet another reason to take a chance and vote for Obama. 

 

Having enunciated all of this, suffice it to say that it’s going to be a difficult choice for me.  What is clear is that unless the Obama message of hope trumps everything else, what will ultimately decide this election is how the various issues and factors line up on Election Day for the majority of us in the center of the spectrum — those of us who are not particularly enthralled with either candidate or either candidate’s positions.  For me the decision will likely be one based upon a balancing of positions and issues that yields the candidate I can settle for, with reservation and hesitation, rather than the one I can unreservedly support in full confidence that I’m making the right choice. 

Welcome to whatshouldbe.com.

For 20 years I’ve lived and worked in our nation’s capital.  I’ve had the opportunity to experience Washington, DC from a number of professional perspectives, about which you can read more in the About link in this website.  I’ve been given a bird’s eye view of just how poorly our political system is working for us these days.  What I’ve observed is a system that, putting it generously, isn’t firing on all of its cylinders.   I call it broken, fixable I believe, but definitely broken.

What should be?  How about a political system that actually works by addressing the myriad of serious issues that face the country.   It’s not happening now.  How about a system that isn’t so polarized and partisan that little that’s worthwhile ever gets done.  How about a system where all of us, leadership and citizen alike, realize the complexity of the issues we face and eschew the simple, embrace the complex, and commit to navigating from an accurate roadmap, i.e., getting the facts straight before we advocate solutions.

As you might guess I’ve concluded we are very far from what should be.  This year’s Presidential campaign appears to offer little choice of something different, talk of change from the campaigns notwithstanding.  In the  months of  campaigning we’ve already endured we’ve witnessed, in all of the contenders, pandering to special interests and the ideological purists of the parties (apparently necessary to get a major party nomination today) that leaves most of America, and the “right thing”, completely disregarded.

At least initially, much of what will be contained in this blog — what I will write about and will post via links to the writings of others — will concern the 2008 general election campaign and, in particular, energy policy.   Having spent my career working in the energy arena I understand energy.  However, it is patently clear that most of the American public, including all too many of its elected officials, simply don’t understand energy.  I would call it a willful ignorance.  Energy myths, or fictions, abound (including the myth of “Big Oil”).  Additionally, few Americans have any concept of just how central energy is to almost all of the major issues that face our country.  It is my firmly held belief that if we don’t get energy policy right, we’re not going to get much else right in the coming years – running the gamut from defense and foreign policy to the economy and the environment.  It’s all about energy, or very close to it.   I note that the imperative of dealing with climate change, and I do regard it as an imperative, will involve energy policy.  Without a comprehensive energy policy, well conceived and executed, we cannot hope to address climate policy.  Again, it’s all about energy. 

I describe myself politically as a “centrist”, meaning that I am ideologically neither left nor right.  I despise the simplistic ideology of both the far left and right and I regard the political center as being the place where it is possible to craft solutions in the public interest non-ideologically.  While some may regard any given “solution” as left or right ideologically, ideology isn’t my concern, rather it is rational, fact-based public policy in the national interest.  I also want to make clear that I’m not advocating a “center” where wish washy “split the baby” compromise takes place.  No, the center I’m envisioning is the place where real and non-ideologically driven solutions can be crafted.  What are the chances of this occurring?  It’s possible but probably not in today’s environment.  Something’s going to have to shake things up.   I’m inclined to think it will take either an “independent” President, which apparently isn’t going to happen in the 2008 election, or a significant influx of independents elected into Congress, again something that doesn’t appear likely in 2008.  Until then, I suspect it will be business as usual – a battle by political partisans for power.  Amassing power for the party so the party can work for solutions ideologically attuned to the party’s base.  In such an environment, outcomes in the broad public interest are unlikely.

I am also highly skeptical of “bipartisanship”.   I believe bipartisanship won’t work as it is, by definition, the product of partisans (even retired ones who make their living lobbying), who, while remaining highly partisan, attempt to negotiate solutions that balance the partisan’s conflicting goals of not harming his party with advancing outcomes in national interest.   Good luck.    

What should be, in my humble opinion, is total commitment to doing the right thing – that which is best for our country and, ultimately, the world.  This blog will, I hope, constitute an argument for America to rethink how we elect our leaders and formulate public policy.   We need to make “doing the right thing” the core driver of our process of developing public policy.   

I want to hear from you.  All comments will be posted.  The best will be singled out and discussed.  I’d like this site to start a movement of like-thinkers who can join together to start a revolution of sorts – a revolution that gets the system back on the tracks and headed to a place where the country’s political system is actually producing results in the public interest.  I have little hope that either of the major party Presidential candidates in 2008 can take us there. 

Please join me.  Register on the site, post comments, email me at kbliss@whatshouldbe.com.

In this follow on to last week’s op-ed on Mr. Obama, The Ever Malleable Mr. Obama (see link below), Charles Krauthammer in his Washington Post op-ed A Man of Seasonal Principles raises new concerns about Barak Obama and what he really stands for.  While I welcome a more rational approach to Iraq from the candidate, I have no confidence in its sincerity.

For those contemplating a trip to Peru, particularly Machu Pichu, or for those interested in the Inca Empire, the book The Last Days of the Incas by Kim MacQuarrie is a must read.  It is a gripping tale of the Inca Empire and its conquest by Spain.  It is now out in paperback and I heartily recommend it.    

In this article from Sunday’s New York Times, author Floyd Norris shows us how gasoline, while at record prices, still represents a smaller percentage of personal budgets than it did during the recessions of the early 1980s.  So while the economy suffers through the consequences of high gasoline prices, let’s be cognizant that the world isn’t ending and we’ve lived through similar times before.  Let’s also not forget that it is high gasoline prices that will force us to conserve precious energy resources and move us closer to the “renewables” future we are all apparently longing for.

Here’s an Op-Ed I think has it dead wrong on a number of fronts.  It reminds me of why I became a Republican and not a Democrat when I first registered to vote in 1972.  Beginning for me in 1968 with the Democratic Party driving Lyndon Johnson from office (thanks to the strength of the party’s pacifist wing) and culminating with the nomination of George McGovern for President in 1972, I was left with a Democratic Party with which I could no longer identify.  While I no longer feel very Republican these days — the ideological right has all but driven me from Republican Party — I don’t think I’ll ever be able to trust most Democrats on foriegn policy.  That pacifist wing of the party still holds too much sway.  In this Washington Post Op-Ed, author Peter Beinart is apparently telling us that Barak Obama has nothing to fear by appeasing the left and going “soft” on terrorism.  I don’t agree.  He has plenty to fear from such a strategy.  I also disagree with the author’s apparent supposition that one can’t remain strong against terrorism and also “articulate a vision based on the principles of global cooperation and human dignity that animated Woodrow Wilson and Frankling Roosevelt.”  Pacifist Democrats don’t hold the monopoly on global cooperation and human dignity.

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