Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Choo Choo And The Caboose

The Choo Choo And The Caboose

I wonder if anyone has read the 10th Amendment recently?  “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  You might call this the “In Charge” Amendment.

The Tenth is the favorite amendment of recalcitrant and ambitious Governors who have decided that, in the immortal words of Frank Hague, the late Mayor of Jersey City, “I am the Law.”  The Tenth is also beloved by special interests that chafe at Federal regulation when there are more sympathetic state regulators.  And the States Rights folks especially admire the Tenth when the President is of the opposite party.  The Tenth is, pure and simple, about who has power and what they can do with it.

This week, the Tenth is going to get a test, as the Supreme Court will consider it in relation to Arizona’s SB-1070, Arizona’s new immigration law.  Governor Jan Brewer and Sherriff Joe aren’t fans of Mr. Obama.  So when it comes to international relations between the United States and Mexico, Governor Brewer wants to be in charge.

Meanwhile, the other news out of Washington is that Congress has reconvened, with the same spirit of selflessness and cooperation it adjourned with.  And with Mitt’s nomination now virtually assured, he might have hoped to tack back to the middle.  Mitt lives to tack, but House Republicans have put the kibosh on that. “We’re not a cheerleading squad,” said Representative Jeff Landry, an outspoken freshman from Louisiana. “We’re the conductor. We’re supposed to drive the train.”  In Washington, freshman Representative Landry and his fellow “conductors” are in charge. 

As we continue our travels, we find that the Minnesota Vikings, whose storied history includes the mighty defensive line known as the Purple People Eaters, have been looking to munch on the taxpayers of the North Star State.  Unless the legislature coughs up a $975 Million dollar stadium to replace the abject slum they are forced to perform in, they may just be forced to “take their talents elsewhere.”   True, Minnesota just went through a state shutdown that involved gutting basic services in order to pay for tax breaks. But the Vikings have needs that far surpass schools, cops, sanitation, etc. so Minnesota either needs to pay up, or suffer the consequences.  I suppose that makes the Vikings in charge as well. 

Takes your breath away, doesn’t it?  Looming budget crisis, Afghanistan, Iran, deficits, unemployment, crumbling infrastructure, and instead of leadership, it’s become like blue light special time at the old Korvettes, except the merchandise is money, access, and power.   If it’s not nailed down, grab it and put it in your basket. If it is nailed down, pry it up off the floor and put it in your basket. 

Anyone out there daring to think big?  And, when I mean big, I’m not implying something like the Brinks Robbery, where you make off with the whole armored car?  Big, as in genuinely and realistically trying to plan for the nation’s long term economic needs and challenges?  Big, as in bargaining with the other side to achieve some consensus so the deal can stick long term?

It’s not coming from the GOP, where the leadership excels only in parliamentary tactics, robo-criticism of Mr. Obama, and a keen eye for personal advancement.  Come January of next year, the GOP plans to be in charge, so why bargain now when you can take what you want later?

And let’s not give Mr. Obama and the Democrats a free pass either. Where’s the vision?  Where’s the seriousness? Simpson-Bowles, imperfect as it is, would have been serious.  But, if the best thing they can bring to the table is the Buffett Rule, then they have run out of ideas as well.  Yes, we all know the GOP is dominated by people who want to turn the country into a theocratic, kleptocratic autocracy.  But for policy, Democrats, how about something more contemporary than a “Maude” rerun?

Tom Friedman of the New York Times just wrote a column suggesting Michael Bloomberg run as a third party candidate.  I’m for it.  I live in this great city, and, hypercritical (and Democratic) New Yorker that I am, I have to say for all Bloomberg’s many mistakes my city is safer and cleaner, the schools are better, parks and museums more beautiful and more accessible, the overall quality of life better than it was during the Administrations of his predecessors, both Republican and Democratic.

Bloomberg brings three things to the table that I see completely absent elsewhere. First, he doesn’t make a party game out of blasting the government-he accepts the fact that it has a role to play and tries to make it work.  Second, while Romney talks about being a businessman, Bloomberg is a businessman.  Romney was a moneyman and rearranger of assets.  Bloomberg is a builder-he put together an empire by assembling it piece-by-piece, adapting to market conditions, and taking different approaches to solve problems.  He is results oriented instead of hidebound to some sort of ideological purity-an approach we desperately need.  Finally, Bloomberg loves his city, and he wants to improve it-all of it, not just for the people who voted for him. That makes him a rarity among contemporary politicians. 

Run, Mike.  I don’t know if I would vote for you, but I’d love to see the debates-I’d love to see you get between the two candidates and demand they do better.  Right now, the Choo Choo always seems to be led for the benefit of the winners, and the Caboose is packed with everyone else.  How ironic would it be if Mike Bloomberg, multi-billionaire, ended up as the “Tenth Amendment” candidate-of the people, or, in Friedman’s words, “an unpaid lobbyist for the country — and for the next generation of Americans.”

Mike Bloomberg for Candidate?  Not the snappiest of slogans, but I think it can sing.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Mitt’s eHarmony Crisis And Other Chromosomal Issues

Mitt’s eHarmony Crisis And Other Chromosomal Issues

There is an interesting piece in the Washington Post by the conservative columnist Michael Gerson, “How Romney Can Solve His Woman Problem”.

A series of national and battleground state polls have shown that while men (and particularly white men) clearly prefer Romney, that advantage is swamped by President Obama’s even wider margin among women. 

Both men have been trotting out events to show their sensitivity to women’s issues.  Romney even has come up with a bizarre statistic to show that over 90% of the burden of the economic downturn has fallen exclusively on women -which is going to come a surprise to many people I know.  

These photo-ops, with the two men up on their respective podia, flanked by a phalanx of women, have the eerie asymmetry of a photo of Richard Nixon wearing a lei on a visit to Hawaii-while it appears to be real, you suspect photo-shopping.   

And, like many men (as my wife and daughter can surely attest to) both Romney and Obama seem to be not entirely surefooted when dealing with the opposite sex. 

Mitt is now in fugue, shuttling back and forth between sensitivity and manliness.  Off he went to the NRA to declare his unbending and eternal fealty to the rights of every man (and woman) to own a State militia’s worth of assault weapons.  Mitt has always been with them, he says. Never mind his record as Governor of Massachusetts, it was his evil twin Tim who snuck into the Statehouse and signed all those bills.  Tim, fortunately, has been confined to a pleasant place in the Berkshires where Lawrence Welk reruns play continuously in the background and everyone wears white. 

Mr. Obama, for his part, isn’t having the best of luck. First, there was the untimely and incredibly poorly chosen comments by Hilary Rosen, who is either a no-one looking for spare airtime, or the tightest of tight Obama advisors who has a double suite of offices in the White House and takes the first and last calls Mr. Obama makes every day (the Fox News version).  Mitt’s campaign has (thankfully) latched on to this, and ordered a huge quantity of commemorative t-shirts, to be airlifted to battleground states.

Then, the President’s South American Spring Break trip really has gone a little sour, with what might delicately be described as an excess of Y chromosomal behavior.  You do wonder where these folks parents are-I always tell my kids don’t do something that you don’t want a future employer to see on YouTube.  Naturally, Darrell Issa needed to launch an immediate (and completely non-partisan investigation) and all of Congress has been falling all over themselves in outrage over this atrociousness.  As an aside on the YouTube front, I’m a little surprised all these Members aren’t just a little more circumspect.  Not that any of them have at any time been willfully unfaithful to their (current) spouses but, as Newt himself said last year, patriotism can sometimes lead one to be so focused on the good of the nation that sacrifices have to be made at home.  Country first.

While I don’t think either Hilary or hijinks are going to quickly fade, it is worth going back to Gerson’s article, and why women still seem to be trending for Mr. Obama.  The GOP’s problem, he says,  “is the perception that it has become too ideological on many issues. Women and independent voters have seen a party enthusiastically confirming its most damaging stereotypes. The composite Republican candidate — reflecting the party’s ideological mean — has been harsh on immigration, confrontational on social issues, simplistic in condemning government and silent on the struggles of the poor. How many women would find this profile appealing on eHarmony?”

I've never been on eHarmony, but does this mean women are smarter than men, or simply more selective in whom they would date?  Again, and even putting aside the fun in Columbia, maybe women are smarter. Gerson suggests that a little sweet-talking might soothe the way; checkered tablecloth, candles, gypsy violin, and some compassionate conservatism (Gerson used to work for Dubya).  Mitt should show he cares, in perhaps a more personal way than a power-point presentation one would use at a private equity dog and pony show. 

Can Mitt do it?  Man up, but in an emotive and caring way?  Feed the base, but somehow tell women he values and adores them?  Reading Gerson, I found myself somehow reminded of Julian Fast’s book “Body Language” which devotes a fair amount of time on how to woo.  Fast talks about this off-Broadway sketch he went to where the actor and actress did nothing but read a list of 100 vegetables.  But all in French, and with all the Simone Signoret and Yves Montand Gauloise-puffing and passionate enunciating they could muster. 

I’m having a hard time keeping that vision in my head.  Yes, I know Mitt slummed it in Paris, but speaking French is so….Kerry-like.  And both Signoret and Montand were refused visas to enter the United States in the 50’s because of their left-leaning politics.  So, maybe that’s a poor model.  

Gerson can do better.  “There are plenty of sound conservative and free-market reforms that can be applied to improving the lives of the vulnerable.”  You would have to admit, those are powerful and even seductive words.   I wonder how you say "job-creator" in French. 


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Rick Retires And Newt Bounces A Check

Rick Retires And Newt Bounces A Check

Rick Santorum has officially “suspended” his campaign.  For the uninitiated, you “suspend” a campaign rather than have it humanely destroyed because a suspended campaign can still collect contributions, which may go towards paying off any campaign debt.  In a serendipitous coincidence, Tim Pawlenty also ended his campaign today, formally bringing an end to that cheerful chap’s 2012 Presidential hopes.  Yin meets yang.

Contrary to some expectations, the end of Rick’s campaign is not a harbinger of the Rapture or the beginning of a new era of rampant immorality.  Nor does it automatically signal that Mitt can accept Caesar’s wreath quite yet.  Ron Paul is still there, albeit unencumbered by too many delegates.  And Newt, brave Newt, soldiers on, like Napoleon’s troops retreating from the Russian Winter, their arms left in the snow, the fallen placed on carts, tattered clothing too thin against the cold, tramping endlessly, shivering and malnourished, but carrying with them the hope of glory.

Onwards he goes, through the fetid thicket of absurdly moderate Northeast states, hoping to hack his way to the fertile ground of the South and Southwest, and the fine conservative stock of the Great Plains.  But, this Jobian effort has one final moment of irony.  The very last primary, on June 26, is Utah. What exactly Newt thinks he’s going to accomplish in Utah remains to be seen, but right now he has some damage control to do.  It seems that the check for his filing fee has bounced, and if he doesn’t make good on it by April 20, he’s going to be bounced from the ballot as well.  According to Utah law (Code 76-6-505) it also turns out that if Newt fails to make the actual payment on the “dishonored” amount, it’s a Class A misdemeanor.  It does leave us wondering if there’s some sort of bench warrant that could be issued for him if he decides to campaign in the Beehive State. 

The fact is, the cupboard is pretty bare in Newt-land. The Utah check was all of $500.00.  The campaign owes roughly $4.5 million as of last report and the “unaligned” superpac funded by Mr. Adelson (of neighboring, sin-free Nevada) is drying up.   In response, Newt has issued statements akin to Jefferson Davis after the fall of Richmond “Relieved from the necessity of guarding cities and particular points, important but not vital to our defense…nothing is now needed to render our triumph certain but the exhibition of our own unquenchable resolve.”  In Newt’s case, the resolve is certainly unquenched, but the flesh appears to be a bit weak.

It is often true that in defeat, one is afforded a opportunity for the dignity and respect that was absent during the actual campaign.  So it is with Rick, who chose Gettysburg as the site of his farewell speech.  He wrapped himself in Lincoln; “What I tried to bring to the battle was what Abraham Lincoln brought to this battlefield back in 1863 on November 19th.”.    You might be surprised that a politician whose primary focus seemed to be installing a domestic theocracy could possibly envision himself as the heir to a man who literally gave his life in the cause of human dignity, but, as Lincoln himself said in his Second Inaugural, in relation to the South’s aspirations,  "let us judge not, lest we not be judged.”   At least Rick didn’t quote Gandhi.

Where do we go from here?  Santorum couldn’t quite bring himself to endorse Romney, as his wounds from being out spent, out organized, and out campaigned seemed quite fresh.  Notwithstanding that, his conservative supporters, particularly from the evangelical right (Ralph Reed, Richard Land, Tony Perkins) will push for a cabinet post for him. If that doesn’t work out, the consensus is that he will land in the soft and succoring and plush arms of Fox.

Still, there is a message in Santorum’s comparative success.  I was struck by a statement from Ralph Reed, “He got into the race with virtually no endorsements, very little money, and he was an asterisk in the polls….And he ends the race having won 11 states and over 3 million votes, which is the most since any insurgent conservative candidate since Reagan.”  It reminded me of Varinia’s line at the end of 1960’s “Spartacus”.  "He was a man who began all alone. Yet on the day he died, thousands would gladly have died in his place."

Santorum’s journey, from a failed politician to subsequent mini-deification akin to the slave who rose to challenge corrupt and pagan Rome, is an important one.  In the marketplace of political influence, there are a lot of vendors out there,  but only some that can deliver a real wallop.  When you couple the unlimited spending by superpacs such as Karl Rove’s Crossroads with the fervor of the true believers, you merge turnout with overwhelming economic muscle.

The real question is what price Romney will have to pay for the foot soldiers when the conventional wisdom is that he needs to move to the center.   It turns out, it may not have to be much of a price at all. Courtesy of Christian Heinze, writing in “The Hill”, this morning’s rumor is Huckabee for Veep.  Mike is charming, he’s folksy, he’s well liked by women, and he’s just launched a new radio show, with Mitt as his first guest.

One might reasonably ask how Huckabee,  an ordained minister, could be pals with a man he once witheringly described as “having no soul”?  There’s nothing like the power of redemption, I suppose.  Or the redemptive power of power?


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Wrenching Reality Of Romney

The Wrenching Reality Of Romney

Three more primaries, and the grim and joyless march to a Romney nomination continues. 

There is bleakness about this, like an early Ingmar Bergman film.  In memory, it all seems in black in white, personalities splayed against a barren and forbidding landscape.  Soon the young Max Von Sydow will appear on the screen, ready to play chess with Death, hoping to distract the Grim Reaper long enough so that others may escape.

But no escape is really possible.  As in the old sword and sandal epics, slowly, one contestant after another is called, dispatched, and the pale corpses of the departed litter the road like ancients gladiators after a battle, stripped of their armor, left to the carrion-eaters and Fox talent recruiters.

When Wisconsin’s results rolled in, Romney was ebullient. While this was no smashing victory, he won a clear, albeit moderate (in a sternly conservative moderate way) plurality and scooped up the delegates.  This, coupled with wins in Maryland and Washington, gave him what appeared to be an almost insurmountable lead. One handicapper now says Romney has a 96.5% chance of getting the requisite number of delegates before the convention.  For all but the die-hards, it’s mathematically over.

But what of the others, those left behind?  Ron Paul remains missing, although he did take the bronze in Wisconsin and a second (of three) in Washington.  Ron has his ideas and his appeal, and raw numbers are less relevant, and he will soldier on honorably without interference. The tragedy of Ron Paul is that no one of influence cares about what he says, and they should.

Newt’s quixotic campaign continues, but black-hooded, pale-faced Death is beckoning.  No medalling in any of the primaries, and no prizes for Mr. Congeniality either. The bell has tolled for Newt, and although he may not care to listen, he runs the risk of being treated like an unsightly patch of eczema, annoying, but mostly ignored. 

Rick?  A harder nut.  He should have done better in Wisconsin, with the GOP electorate feverishly defending Scott Walker, the current Governor and patron saint of labor-hatred.  But Rick wasn’t nimble enough and Mitt out-flanked him, quickly moving to seize Walker’s clammy hand. And the establishment has begun to close ranks. Marco Rubio is now wearing a tailored Mitt T-shirt.  Former President George H.W. Bush has brought his top-siders, and Paul Ryan has ordered his VP special edition smoking jacket. 

What to do with Rick?  He is pinning his hopes on his Pennsylvania redoubt. But time isn’t on his side; Pennsylvania is three weeks away, and his support is eroding by the day.  Rick, autodidact brawler that he may be, is going to have to give in to the inevitable.  He knows it.  He’s mad, but he knows it.

The conservative columnist and author Peggy Noonan sometimes talks about “grace”.   The grace she experienced writing for Ronald Reagan and basking in his sunshiny personality, the grace she thought the older generation of Washington power brokers showed, fighting like cats and dogs when necessary, but also working things out.  Noonan presently indulges herself in a particular dislike for Mr. Obama, and a more than a little selective amnesia, but she’s correct. There’s no grace here right now, just an abiding sourness.

There is a price for all this finger pointing and scolding.  It has become the defining narrative of the primary campaign;  a lack of joy,  a lack of really big personalities talking substantively about big issues, a race to the bottom of a barrel of anger and accusations.  The GOP party pros know it. They worry they may squander an election against a definitely beatable President by fielding an unlikable candidate supporting an unpleasant platform.  So, the move to shove Rick and Newt aside isn’t just to focus all the big guns on Mr. Obama-it’s also self-protection-let’s stop talking about things that are so very unpopular with everyone but the base.   

Mr. Obama has been fighting back.  Yesterday, he took apart the Ryan Plan.  Earlier in the week, he (perhaps ill-advisedly) critiqued the Supreme Court.  Predictably, the GOP expressed shock and horror;  imagine, an elected official criticizing legislating from the bench-how very awful!

They might all take heed of Noonan.  In a column for the Wall Street Journal, she wrote “What will be needed this autumn is a new bipartisan forbearance, a kind of patriotic grace. This is a great deal to hope for. The president should ask for it, and show it…Would it help if the president were graceful, humble, and asked for help? Why, yes. Would it help if he credited those who opposed him with not only good motives but also actual wisdom? Yes. And if he tried it, it would make news…. And I don't see how anyone can think grace and generosity of spirit wouldn't help. They would. They always do in big debates.”

Timely, even timeless advice, don’t you think?  Patriotic grace and a bipartisan forbearance.  Words to live by. 

In case you are curious, she published that column September 1, 2007.  A lot of people must have been out of town that day.