Mike Kueber's Blog

May 17, 2011

Immigration potpourri

Governor Brewer takes on the Suns

There is an interesting email circulating on the internet, supposedly from Arizona’s governor Jan Brewer.  In the email, she takes to task the owner of the Phoenix Suns, Robert Sarver, for his opposition to Arizona’s effort to remove illegal immigrants from the state.  The email makes the following analogy:

  • What if the owners of the Suns discovered that hordes of people were sneaking into games without paying? What if they had a good idea who the gate-crashers are, but the ushers and security personnel were not allowed to ask these folks to produce their ticket stubs, thus non-paying attendees couldn’t be ejected.  Furthermore, what if Suns’ ownership was expected to provide those who sneaked in with complimentary eats and drink? And what if, on those days when a gate-crasher became ill or injured, the Suns had to provide free medical care and shelter?”

Indigent healthcare

The Texas Tribune reported today that the Texas House passed a bill that allows a county to consider a sponsor’s income when sponsored immigrants ask for indigent health care.  Although Democrats are arguing that the bill reflects the anti-immigrant fever that is running through the country, my reaction was surprise that this was not already the law.  A sponsored immigrant is one who is admitted to America after an affidavit of support is submitted by a sponsoring U.S. citizen, promising that sponsor agree to language that the alien “will not become a public charge in the United States.”  Of course, the sponsor’s income should be considered when determining if a legal immigrant is entitled to indigent healthcare.

Incidentally, the local FOX affiliate had a story last night about CareLink, which is San Antonio’s program for providing healthcare to indigents outside of an emergency room.  This is an incredibly accessible program (any family residing in Bexar County that earns less than 300% of the federal poverty guidelines is eligible), and its director bragged to FOX News that Bexar County was the best place in Texas if you were poor and uninsured.  I’m not sure that is the kind of thing we want to be #1 in, especially since most taxpayers don’t consider 300% of the poverty guideline to be poor.

Senators Kyl and Durbin

Senators Durbin and Kyl are not only their party’s #2 person in the Senate, but also two of the leading forces behind the immigration issue in America – Kyl represents the ground-zero state of Arizona and Durbin recently re-filed the Dream Act, which was defeated in the Senate last year.  This week they appeared together on “Fox News Sunday” and staked out their traditional positions – i.e., Durbin wanted a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and Kyl claimed that he wouldn’t even consider such a path until our porous south border was closed.  To explain his position, Kyl used the analogy of a plumber who must first stop the leak before deciding how to clean up the mess.  At the end of the interview, Durbin asked to have a meeting with Kyl to discuss the possibility of appropriating vastly increased resources toward fences and border-patrol personnel in return for a path to citizenship.  

My impression is that Kyl is not interested in changing the status quo.  His colleague John McCain tried that a few years ago and it almost cost him his presidential nomination and, later, his job.  It’s just another example of dysfunctional government.

May 5, 2011

Osama’s head shot

One of the reasons that I voted for Barack Obama was that during the campaign he acted coolly and dispassionately, unlike his opponent John McCain.  When the American financial system was approaching a meltdown, McCain lurched from recommending a campaign shutdown to a D.C. summit to a gas-tax vacation while Obama stuck to his campaign and let Bush-43 run the country.

Since his election, however, Obama has disappointed me because he and the Pelosi-Reid Congress took America further to the left than it wanted to go during their two-year reign.  But his action today in deciding to withhold photos of the Osama head shot is an example of why I voted for him.  Although his explanation reveals him not as polished or articulate as Bush-43 (notice the three consecutive “you knows”), he gets to the heart of the matter: 

  • It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence, as a propaganda tool. You know, that’s not who we are. You know, we don’t trot out this stuff as trophies. You know, the fact of the matter is this was somebody who was deserving of the justice that he received.”

Yes, the tabloid crowd in America will ask for tabloid fodder, but the American government should not be complicit in this untoward and unseemly activity.  That is not what we do. 

For a too-fawning description on Obama’s leadership mojo, see Maureen Dowd’s most recent column.    She calls Obama “Cool Hand Barack” and compares his Saturday appearance at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner to Michael Corleone’s appearance at a baptism while several “hits” on his rivals were being carried out.

Maureen also points out that one on Obama’s advisers “described the president as the un-John Wayne ushering a reviled and chastened America away from the head of the global table. The unnamed adviser described the Obama doctrine on display in Libya as ‘leading from behind,’ which sounds rather pathetic.”  I agree with Maureen that such advisors are not helpful when they make gratuitous slights about the Duke.

Maureen’s reference to John Wayne came from an article in The New Yorker written by Ryan Lizza.  The following is the concluding paragraph in the interesting article titled, “The Consequentialist”: 

  • “Nonetheless, Obama may be moving toward something resembling a doctrine. One of his advisers described the President’s actions in Libya as ‘leading from behind.’  That’s not a slogan designed for signs at the 2012 Democratic Convention, but it does accurately describe the balance that Obama now seems to be finding. It’s a different definition of leadership than America is known for, and it comes from two unspoken beliefs: that the relative power of the U.S. is declining, as rivals like China rise, and that the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world. Pursuing our interests and spreading our ideals thus requires stealth and modesty as well as military strength. ‘It’s so at odds with the John Wayne expectation for what America is in the world,’ the adviser said.  ‘But it’s necessary for shepherding us through this phase.’”

Charles Krauthammer discussed Lizza’s article in a recent column:

To be precise, leading from behind is a style, not a doctrine. Doctrines involve ideas, but since there are no discernible ones that make sense of Obama’s foreign policy — Lizza’s painstaking two-year chronicle shows it to be as ad hoc, erratic, and confused as it appears — this will have to do

And it surely is an accurate description, from President Obama’s shocking passivity during Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution to his dithering on Libya — acting at the very last moment, then handing off to a bickering coalition, yielding the current bloody stalemate. It’s been a foreign policy of hesitation, delay, and indecision, marked by plaintive appeals to the (fictional) “international community” to do what only America can.

But underlying that style, assures this Obama adviser, there really are ideas. Indeed, “two unspoken beliefs,” explains Lizza. “That the relative power of the U.S. is declining, as rivals like China rise, and that the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world.”

Amazing.  This is why Obama is deliberately diminishing American presence, standing, and leadership in the world?

April 4, 2011

Campaign-finance reform and bundling

The federal campaign-finance law attempts to reduce the political influence of fat cats by limiting contributions to $2,300.  But fat cats and politicians have figured a way around that.  As reported in an article in USA Today, fat cats are allowed to “bundle” contributions from family, friends, and business associates, and thereby get credit from a politician for hundreds of thousands of dollars of contributions.  According to the article, John McCain had 530 bundlers in 2008, and Barack Obama has already asked 450 of his previous bundlers to pony up $350,000 by the end of 2011.  I believe George W. Bush was the politician who pioneered this method of fundraising.  In 2000, he had 212 so-called pioneers, each of whom collected at least $100,000 for him.

Bundling is so obviously against the spirit of the campaign-finance law that I am shocked that voters turn a blind eye to it.  I suspect that too many voters don’t care enough about fat-cat influence through bundling, just like they don’t care about fat-cat influence through PAC contributions.  That’s a bad/sad thing.

Reform legislation could mitigate the problem with bundling by prohibiting contributors from giving money directly to candidates.  Instead, contributors would send money to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), and then the FEC would forward it to the candidates without any identifying information.  By reducing the influence of campaign contributions, this process would inevitably reduce the amount of money flowing into campaigns.  And we can all agree that less expensive campaigns would be a good thing.

March 19, 2011

Sunday book review #20 – Decisions Points by George W. Bush

Last December, I suggested that there was so much interesting material in Decision Points that I would break my review into three parts, with the first part reviewing the five pre-9/11 chapters and the second and third parts on the chapters dealing with post-9/11 foreign policy and post-9/11 domestic policy.   After reviewing the first part of Decision Points, I was detoured by a series of books that became available at the SA Public Library.  One of those library books, Because It Is Wrong, critiqued Bush’s post-9/11 handling of surveillance and interrogation issues, which are precisely the issues that Bush discusses in Chapter Six of Decision Points – War Footing.  I review both Because It is Wrong and the War Footing chapter in a subsequent blog entry.   

After reading the library books, as well as a few others that squeezed ahead of it in my reading queue, I finally returned this week to Decision Points and found the remaining chapters to be even better than the early chapters.  The War Footing chapter is followed by separate chapters on Afghanistan and Iraq. 

Chapter Seven is titled “Afghanistan.”  Shortly after 9/11, Bush was briefed on three options for dealing with al Qaeda in Afghanistan – (1) cruise missile strikes, (2) cruise missiles and manned-bomber attacks, and (3) missiles, bombers, and boots on the ground against al Qaeda and the Taliban.  During the briefings, some advisors suggested dealing with Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction at the same time.  Ultimately, Bush decided on option #3 (America would not be, as bin Laden suggested, “paper tigers who would run in less than 24 hours”), but he declined to take action against Iraq – “We would fight the war on terror on the offense, and the first battleground would be Afghanistan….  Unless I received definitive evidence typing Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 plot, I would work to resolve the Iraq problem diplomatically.”

In his 2000 campaign, Bush had said, “I would be very careful about using our troops as nation builders.”  Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and 9/11 changed his opinion.  But America was not prepared for nation-building, and Bush concedes that helping the Afghan people to build a functioning democracy has been more daunting that he anticipated.  He is confident, however, that we will ultimately succeed, especially since President Obama has apparently shares the same objective.

Chapter Eight, titled “Iraq,” describes the drawn-out process of going to war against Iraq.  Bush details (a) the evidence of weapons of mass destruction and (b) the diplomatic efforts to avoid war.  When those efforts failed, General Tommy Franks started war-planning.  He had been impressed by the ability of the military to destroy the Taliban and close al Qaeda camps without using a lot of troops.  The key to this so-called “light footprint” was that America was not viewed as invaders or occupies, and General Franks decided to apply the same strategy in Iraq.  Secretary of State Colin Powell suggested to General Franks that he would be better served applying the so-called Powell Doctrine (deploying massive, decisive force), but Franks chose not to adopt it and Bush decided to defer to his military advisors.  The Iraq chapter ends in 2004 after the successful invasion, but the story of the war will be picked up in a later chapter titled, “Surge.”

In Chapter Nine, titled “Leading,” Bush describes his leadership style.  He describes how he worked with Ted Kennedy to pass the No Child Left Behind law and how a variety of compromises resulted in the flawed Medicare prescription-drug benefit.  But he laments his inability to reform Social Security and immigration laws.  In hindsight, he wishes he had attempted immigration reform early in his second term instead of going first for Social Security reform because the former had more bipartisan support.

Incidentally, I was happy to learn that Bush’s five-part proposed immigration reform was very similar to the proposal on which I ran for Congress: (1) hardened border security, (2) temporary-worker program, (3) enhanced enforcement with employers, (4) improved assimilation by requiring immigrants to learn English, and (5) a path to citizenship for long-term, working residents.

Also incidentally, Bush closed the Leading chapter by urging that Congressional districts be drawn by nonpartisan panels instead of legislatures.  He reasoned that legislatures tend to draw polarized districts, which result in polarized politicians, which result in dysfunctional government.  Although this is an excellent argument, talk is cheap – I don’t remember Bush speaking up on this issue when he was in a position to do something about it.

Chapter Ten is titled “Katrina,” which was the costliest national disaster in America’s history.  Bush does not do a lot of finger pointing (he never mentions the poor performance of the citizenry) and takes responsibility for government letting down its citizens – “Serious mistakes came at all levels, from the failure to order a timely evacuation of New Orleans to the disintegration of local security forces to the dreadful communications and coordination.  As the leader of the federal government, I should have recognized the deficiencies sooner and intervened faster.  I prided myself on my ability to make crisp and effective decisions.  Yet in the days after Katrina, that didn’t happen.  The problem was not that I made the wrong decisions.  It was that I took too long to decide.”  

Bush gives a detailed discussion of four important events:

  1. He pushed hard for Mayor Nagin to order a mandatory evacuation of the city.  The order came less than 24 hours before Katrina landed.
  2. His decision against visiting New Orleans shortly after the flood was correct because he would have interfered with the rescue efforts, but he should have landed in Baton Rouge to meet with the governor and show his concern.
  3. He pushed hard for Governor Blanco to authorize the federal government to take charge of security in New Orleans, but she never agreed.  Eventually, Bush sent in federal troops and General Honore, but because of Blanco’s resistance they had no law-enforcement authority.  Yet they succeeded in bringing order to the city.  “Had I known he could be so effective without the authority I assumed he needed, I would have cut off the legal debate and sent troops in without law enforcement powers several days earlier.”
  4. Although he had encouraged FEMA’s Mike Brown with, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” he eventually replaced Brown because Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff said Brown had frozen under pressure and became insubordinate.

Chapter Eleven, titled “Lazarus Effect,” describes Bush’s fight to secure funding for fighting HIV/AIDS in Africa.  Although Bush’s efforts are commendable, there really wasn’t a lot of opposition to overcome.  Getting Congress to spend money does not require superhuman efforts.

Chapter Twelve, titled “Surge,” brings us back to the war in Iraq.  By 2006, sectarian violence had caused the Iraq situation to deteriorate.  Even Republican whip Mitch McConnell was lobbying Bush to bring the troops home.  After the Democrats took control of both houses of Congress, new Speaker Pelosi declared, “The American people have spoken….  We must begin the responsible redeployment of our troops outside of Iraq.”  But Bush remained committed to prevailing in Iraq, and eventually he concluded that the “light footprint” strategy espoused by Rumsfeld and Generals Casey and Abizaid was the problem.  In its stead, he adopted a “surge” strategy developed by National Security Advisor Steve Hadley and General Petraeus.  At the close of one preliminary meeting with General Petraeus, Bush used the gambling expression that America was “doubling down,” and Petraeus one-upped him by responding that “we were all in.”  

Opposition to the surge was immense, with notable exceptions like Senators McCain, Graham, and Lieberman.  The House passed a nonbinding resolution disapproving the surge.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared, “The war is lost, the surge is not accomplishing anything.”  According to Bush, this declaration “was one of the most irresponsible acts I witnessed in my eight years in Washington.”  I agree that, for a leader in Congress, Reid’s statement was contemptible.        

Eventually, the surge succeeded, and it is enabling President Obama to conduct an orderly withdrawal.

Chapter Thirteen, titled “Freedom Agenda,” describes Bush’s efforts to implement the fourth prong of the Bush Doctrine throughout the world.  For those of you, like Sarah Palin, who aren’t familiar with the Bush Doctrine, it means:

  1. Make no distinction between terrorists and nations that harbor them.  We will hold both to account.
  2. Take the fight against terrorists to the enemy overseas before they can attack us at home.
  3. Confront threats before they fully materialize.
  4. Advance liberty and hope as an alternative to the enemy’s ideology of repression and fear.

The Freedom Agenda was implemented in several ways:

  • Supporting fledgling democracies in the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, Georgia, and the Ukraine.
  • Encouraging dissidents and democratic reformers in repressive regimes like Iran, Syria, North Korea, and Venezuela.
  • Advocate for freedom while maintaining strategic relations with nations like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Russia, and China.

Bush says that in addition to Iraq and Afghanistan, he placed much focus on the Middle East because “the great tide of freedom that swept much of the world during the second half of the twentieth century had largely bypassed one region: the Middle East.”

After describing successes in his Freedom Agenda, Bush concedes disappointment with Russia, Egypt, and Venezuela – “Still, given what I’d hoped Putin and I could accomplish in moving past the Cold War, Russia stands out as a disappointment in the freedom agenda.  Russia was not the only one.  I was hopeful that Egypt would be a leader for freedom and reform in the Arab world, just as it had been a leader for peace under Anwar Sadat a generation before.  Unfortunately, after a promising presidential election in 2005 that included opposition candidates, the government cracked down during the legislative elections later that year, jailing dissidents and bloggers who advocated a democratic alternative.  Venezuela also slid back from democracy.”

Chapter Fourteen, titled “Financial Crisis,” is the last chapter.  Bush said that Bernanke and Paulson, two of his best appointments, warned him that the crisis could be as bad as the Great Depression.  Bush’s great response – “If we’re really looking at another Great Depression, you can be damn sure I’m going to be Roosevelt, not Hoover.”  His actions reflected that sentiment – he bailed out the banks, AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and two auto manufacturers.

Also in this chapter, Bush responded to a couple of common criticisms relating to his role in causing the financial crisis:

  1. He failed to ask Americans to sacrifice while we were fighting two wars.  Bush counters that this wasn’t like World War Two where we had to convert to a war-based economy.  “I’ve always believed that the critics who alleged I wasn’t asking people to sacrifice were really complaining that I hadn’t raised taxes….  I am convinced that raising taxes after the devastation of 9/11 would have hurt our economy.”
  2. He squandered the massive surplus that he inherited.  “Much of the surplus was an illusion, based on the mistaken assumption that the 1990s boom would continue.  Once the recession and 9/11 hit, there was little surplus left.

Decision Points concludes with a short Epilogue, in which Bush reveals complete serenity about his presidency.  He believes that the central challenge of his presidency was to keep America safe and that mission was accomplished.  He “pursued his convictions without wavering, but changed course when necessary…trusted individuals to make choices in their lives… used America’s influence to advance freedom.”

I remember back in the 80s when I would defend Reagan against those who thought he was a dunce or a Neanderthal.  In my mind, Reagan was a national asset, and that’s how I’ve felt about George W. Bush.  After reading Decision Points, I believe that America was fortunate to have him as president from 2001-2009.

February 28, 2011

Sunday book review #16 – Dirty Sexy Politics by Meghan McCain

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 4:34 am
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No, the title of this book isn’t what attracted me to it.  Rather, it was seeing Meghan interviewed three times on the Imus in the Morning talk show.  As Imus observed more than once, Meghan is bright, interesting, and personable.  That same person comes through in this book.  It’s been a long time since I have read a book so easily readable.

The title of this book has virtually nothing to do with the book; rather it was merely a slick artifice designed to buy some attention and sell some books.  Apparently the title was derived from a Barry Goldwater quote – “Sex and politics are a lot alike.  You don’t have to be good at them to enjoy them.”

The book chronicles Meghan’s time spent with her dad’s 2008 presidential campaign, which Meghan joined right after graduating from Coumbia in NYC.  The book starts with Meghan worrying that her dad was going to pick Mitt Romney for his running mate.  She had been rooting for the selection of family friend Joe Lieberman and was worried about how her free-spirited personality and liberal use of the f-bomb would mesh with the straight-laced Mormon family.  She quickly learned, however, that meshing with the Mormons would have been easy compared to dealing with the prima donna Palin.

Although Meghan comes across as frank and critical, she isn’t catty.  She is struck by Palin’s beauty and charisma, and likes how Palin stands up to bad-guy Steve Schmidt, the Nazi-like campaign manager.  But Meghan also admits being a bit resentful that Palin attracts so much publicity and seems to have her own agenda.

Regarding Meghan’s role in the campaign, she acknowledges that there was a conflict between (a) the way she was raised (to be independent and to speak her mind freely) and (b) the proper way to conduct herself during a campaign (to be a wallflower).  If she had been more mature at the time, she might have been able to recognize and deal with this conflict instead of continually fighting to be herself.  But being herself caused the campaign managers eventually to decide that she was more trouble than she was worth, and they reassigned her from the main campaign to a secondary campaign that traveled by bus to low-visibility events. 

In addition to attending the low-visibility events, Meghan published a campaign blog with the help of two assistants – a photographer and a videographer.  Eventually, it received more than 10,000 hits a day.  Although that number sounds astronomical to me, she says that it is dwarfed by other popular political blogs.     

Reading this book is like spending some time with a refreshing person.  But is also gives an interesting perspective on the 2008 presidential campaign.  Don’t expect to read anything complicated (Reaganesque) about her relationship with her parents.  She obviously thinks they walk on water.  Her loyalty to her dad is such that she has never forgiven George W. Bush for the dirty tactics that earned him a primary victory over her dad in the 2000 South Carolina primary.  And this loyalty seems to have caused her to be mildly negative about Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, as well as Laura and Jena Bush.

I detected one significant inconsistency in Meghan’s stated philosophy.  She started the book by saying that she joined the campaign when it was broke, and they took her on board only if she paid her own way – “To bankroll myself and the blog, I used the money that my grandfather had left me, even if, by the end, I had spent every dime.  It was a better education than graduate school and more worthwhile to me than opening a boutique.”  Then she ended the book by noting – “I had been raised to speak my mind freely and be independent.  If there was one thing that my dad wanted for me – and all of his kids – it was to be strong, think for ourselves, and support ourselves.  We were never supposed to rely on government or family money or a trust fund to take care of us.  We were supposed to work, make a life for ourselves, and find a way to make things better around us.”  This is one case where consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.     

Meghan concludes by taking the Republican Party to task for abandoning the conservative principles of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan.  She thinks the party should expand its tent by welcoming social liberals like her.  I agree.

February 6, 2011

Sunday book review #12 – The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

In the past few weeks, I’ve blogged quite a bit about Barack Obama, especially on the subject of American exceptionalism.  As those postings reveal, I’ve grown disenchanted with Obama since voting for him in 2008.  

Obama earned my vote in 2008 because of his steadiness in reacting to the financial meltdown and his post-partisan demeanor, as compared to McCain’s unsteadiness in dealing with the meltdown and his selection of Palin for VP.  Since 2008, however, Obama has sacrificed his post-partisan demeanor to achieve a big-government agenda, most particularly ObamaCare. 

Obama’s policy shift is not difficult to understand.  According to an article in the latest issue of Time magazine, Obama dreams of joining the pantheon of America’s six transformational presidents – Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Roosevelt-1, Roosevelt-2, and Reagan – who were catalysts who challenged the orthodoxy of their time.  Whereas Reagan persuaded Americans that government was the problem, Obama wants to persuade Americans that government can be a big part of the solution.   

A liberal friend of mine suggested that before I jump to conclusions about Obama’s overarching objectives, I might benefit from reading his book – The Audacity of Hope.  In fact, she was dismayed that I hadn’t already read it.  The following is what I learned from the book:

Obama wrote The Audacity of Hope in the small window of time between winning election to the U.S. Senate and beginning his run for president.  Say what you want about him, the guy does not lack energy or ambition.  He wrote his first book – Dreams from My Father – shortly after finishing law school, while working as a lawyer and law professor.  Four years later, he successfully runs for the Illinois State Senate and formally begins his life as a professional politician. 

In the Prologue of The Audacity of Hope, Obama stakes out his post-partisan position – i.e., that shared ideals and common values of Americans are more significant than the disagreements that politicians and the media amplify. 

Chapter One is titled, “Republicans and Democrats.”  It elaborates on the disservice done by those who polarize Americans, especially Karl Rove and Tom DeLay.  Although Obama admired Reagan’s connection with Americans, Obama disparages Reagan for “his John Wayne, Father Knows Best pose, his policy by anecdote, and his gratuitous assaults on the poor.”  (Where I come from, it’s not a good idea to disparage the Duke.)  Obama understands Democrats who want “to match the Republican right in stridency and hardball tactics,” but he suggests there was a post-partisan majority waiting to be lead:

  • I imagine they are waiting for a politics with the maturity to balance idealism and realism, to distinguish between what can and cannot be compromised, to admit the possibility that the other side might sometimes have a point….  They are there, waiting for Republicans and Democrats to catch up with them.”

Chapter Two is titled, “Values.”  Not surprisingly, Obama posits that “Democrats are wrong to run away from a debate about values.”  His starting point with values is Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.  After giving props to American individualism as a bedrock value, Obama qualifies that by saying, “Our individualism has always been bound by a set of communal values, the glue upon which every healthy society depends….  In every society (and in every individual), these twin strands – the individualistic and the communal, autonomy and solidarity – are in tension.”  Obama correctly notes that finding the right balance between our conflicting values is difficult, but then provides an excellent description of why he is a Democrat:

  • “That is one of the things that makes me a Democrat, I suppose – this idea that our communal values, our sense of mutual responsibility and social solidarity, should express themselves not just in the church or the mosque or the synagogue; not just on the blocks where we live, in the places where we work, or within our families; but also through our government.  Like many conservatives, I believe in the power of culture to determine both individual success and social cohesion, and I believe we ignore cultural factors at our peril.  But I also believe that our government can play a role in shaping that culture for the better – or for the worse.”

Chapter Three is titled, “Our Constitution.”  Obama taught constitutional law, part-time, at the University of Chicago for ten years after graduating from Harvard.  Suffice to say he doesn’t believe in construing the document as it was written.  Rather, he prefers to read it as a “living document” to be interpreted by nine wise Supreme Court justices, although he acknowledges that many conservatives view the courts as “the last bastion of pro-abortion, pro-affirmative-action, pro-homosexual, pro-criminal, pro-regulation, anti-liberal elitism.” 

Chapter Four is titled, “Politics.”  As an amateur politician, I found this chapter most interesting.  Obama’s first point is that politics is humbling in the same way that I have heard Jerry Jones and Red McCombs describe sports – i.e., unlike business, in sports there is only one winner and everyone else is exposed as a loser.  Obama’s experience at losing occurred when he took on Bobby Rush for a congressional seat and lost by more than 30%.  His description of the situation rings true:

  • I’m not suggesting that politicians are unique in suffering such disappointments.  It’s that unlike most people, who have the luxury of licking their wounds privately, the politician’s loss is on public display….  They’re the sorts of feelings that most people haven’t experienced since high school… – the kinds of feelings that most adults wisely organize their lives to avoid.”

Aside from the pain of loss, Obama says, “Most of the other sins of politics are derivatives of this larger sin – the need to win, but also the need not to lose.”  According to Obama, “without money, and the television ads that consume all that money, you are pretty much guaranteed to lose.”  When he decided to run for the U.S. Senate, his media consultant David Axelrod told him that they would need $500k a week for a 4-week TV-ad campaign in Chicago and another $250k a week for the downstate ad campaign.  To accomplish this financial need, Obama cold-called Democratic donors for several hours each day for three months, and this resulted in a mere $250k. 

Then:

  • For whatever reason, at some point my campaign began to generate that mysterious, elusive quality of momentum, of buzz; it became fashionable among wealthy donors to promote my cause, and small donors around the state began sending me checks through the Internet at a pace we had never anticipated.”

Although Obama doesn’t explain where the groundswell came from, he does note eight pages later in this chapter that his relations with the media were exceptional:

  • A disclaimer here: For a three-year span, from the time that I first announced my candidacy for the Senate to the end of my first year at a senator, I was the beneficiary of unusually – and at time undeservedly – positive press coverage.  No doubt some of this had to do with my status as an underdog in my Senate primary, as well as the novelty as a black candidate with an exotic background.”

You have to give the guy credit for acknowledging that he received undeservedly positive coverage, but what does that say about the “impartial” media?  Also, Illinois already had a black senator (Carol Moseley Braun), although she didn’t grow up in “exotic” Hawaii or Indonesia.

I also give Obama credit for acknowledging in this chapter that the access that campaign contributors buy results in favorable treatment, either because the contributors are better able to articulate and justify their positions or because the candidate spends so much time with fat cats – “Still, I know that as a consequence of my fund-raising I became more like the wealthy donors I met.”

You may recall that during Obama’s presidential campaign, his intellectual connection with some San Francisco donors led to a comment about common folks “clinging to their guns and religion.”  This chapter contains an eerily similar reference when Obama described his donor base, although it does not drip with condescension like his SF talk:

  • Most were adamantly prochoice and antigun and were vaguely suspicious of deep religious sentiment.  And although my own worldview and theirs corresponded in many ways – I had gone to the same schools, after all, read the same books, and worried about my kids in many of the same ways – I found myself avoiding certain topics during conversations with them, papering over possible differences, anticipating their expectations.  On core issues I was candid; I had no problem telling well-heeled supporters that the tax cuts they received from George Bush should be reversed.  Whenever I could, I would try to share with them some of the perspective I was hearing from other portions of the electorate; the legitimate role of faith in politics, say, or the deep cultural meaning of guns in rural parts of the state.”

Special interests are the next biggest corrupter in politics.  According to Obama, they have outsized influence because “organized people can be just as important as cash, particularly in the low-turnout primaries that, in the world of gerrymandered political map and divided electorates, are often the most significant race a candidate faces.”  Well said.     

Obama concludes this chapter by describing the critical role played by TV (free and paid) and how negative ads can distort a reasonable statement into an incendiary sound bite that outweighs a history of sound thinking.  He notes that because of circumstances he had never been subjected to a negative ad, but failed to explain what those circumstances were.

Chapter Five is titled, “Opportunity.”  This chapter is Obama’s economic vision for America.  Although he sees the American economy as based on the free market, he also sees three important roles to be played by government – (1) providing infrastructure (including education, science & technology, and energy independence), (2) regulating the market, and (3) “Finally – and most controversially – government has helped structure the social compact between business and the American worker.”  I couldn’t agree more – i.e., the first two are no-brainers and the last one is controversial. 

Obama doesn’t believe in the Ownership Society; he prefers the welfare state with social insurance:

  • That’s the basic idea behind the Ownership Society: If we free employers of any obligations to their workers and dismantle what’s left of New Deal, government-run social insurance programs, then the magic of the marketplace will take care of the rest.  If the guiding philosophy behind the traditional system of social insurance can be described as ‘We’re all in it together,’ the philosophy behind the Ownership Society seems to be ‘You’re on your own.’….  In other words, the Ownership Society doesn’t even try to spread the risks and rewards of the new economy among all Americans.  Instead, it simply magnifies the uneven risks and rewards of today’s winner-take-all economy….  It’s not who we are as a people.”

I’m not so sure about that.  When Obama emphasizes the communal nature of Americans, I wonder where he learned that.  It’s almost utopian and is not the economy that I am familiar with.

One issue where Obama is completely out of step with America is unionization.  He thinks the playing field needs to be leveled between organized labor and employers.  One of his recommendations – “Employers should have to recognize a union if a majority of employees sign authorization cards choosing the union to represent them.”  That may sound benign, but is it highly misleading.  The alternative is to have the employees decide by secret ballot.  I would love to hear Obama make an argument against a secret ballot because I have never heard one that makes sense.

Obama concludes this chapter on economics by describing a visit with the sage from Omaha – Warren Buffett.  During that visit, Buffett provided an interesting analogy in support of an estate tax.  He suggested that giving wealth to heirs without any taxation is like selecting the 2020 Olympic team by picking the children of the winners at the 2000 games.

Chapter Five is titled, “Faith.”  Obama was not brought up to be religious.  His parents were apparently atheists, although he claims his mother was a highly spiritual person who viewed religion through the eyes of an anthropologist.  His grandparents had been brought up as Christians, but had abandoned the religion.  When Obama was searching for religion, he was attracted to black churches because they were concerned not only with personal salvation, but also with social justice. 

Obama’s take on faith is that the Democrats need to understand that religion in America is not dying out and that the party must realize that religion informs that policies and conduct of successful politicians.  His political formulation – “What our deliberative, pluralistic democracy does demand is that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values.  It requires that their proposals must be subject to argument and amenable to reason.”  Well said.

Chapter Six is titled, “Race.”  Obama had surprisingly few insights regarding race in America.  He acknowledges the progress made since Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, but warns that America still has a long way to go.  As proof of this distance, he notes that blacks make only 75% and Hispanics make only 71%  as much money as whites – “How do we close this persistent gap – and how much of a role government should play in achieving that goal – remains one of the central controversies of American politics.”  At a minimum, civil rights deserve more vigorous enforcement, and affirmative action can be helpful, if properly structured.  Obama does not give a full-throated defense of affirmative action, but instead focuses on government action that would help all poor – “And what would help minority workers are the same things that would help white workers: the opportunity to earn a living wage, the education and training that lead to such jobs, labor and tax laws that restore balance to the distribution of the nation’s wealth, and health-care, child care, and retirement systems that working people can count on.”

Did you notice Obama’s comment about restoring balance to the distribution of the nation’s wealth?  He went on to claim that black income rose to record highs under Bill Clinton because “government took a few modest steps – like the Earned Income Tax Credit – to spread the wealth around.”  Sounds like his comment to Joe the Plumber about “spreading the wealth around” was not a slip of the tongue.

Obama concluded the Race chapter by describing two insoluble problems – (1) inner-city poor, and (2) illegal immigrants.  About illegal immigrants, he admits:

  • And if I’m honest with myself, I must admit that I’m not entirely immune to such nativist sentiments.  When I see Mexican flags waved at proimmigration demonstrations, I sometimes feel a flush of patriotic resentment.  When I’m forced to use a translator to communicate with the guy fixing my car, I feel a certain frustration.”

Chapter Eight is titled, “The World Beyond our Borders.”  This chapter consists of Obama’s description of America’s foreign policy since the days of Washington.  Not surprisingly, he took a shot at manifest destiny – “the conviction that such expansion was preordained, part of God’s plan to extend what Andrew Jackson called ‘the area of freedom’ across the continent.  Of course, manifest destiny also meant bloody and violent conquest – of Native American tribes forcibly removed from their lands and of the Mexican army defending its territory.  It was a conquest that, like slavery, contradicted America’s founding principles and tended to be justified in explicitly racists terms, a conquest that American mythology has always had difficulty fully absorbing but that other countries recognized for what it was – an exercise in raw power.

I don’t know where Obama learned his American history, but it sounds like he learned it in Indonesia or while being home-schooled by his mom.  Texians earned their independence by defeating an invading army from Mexico.  Several years later, Texas sought and achieved annexation by the United States, and this annexation caused a war with Mexico over a boundary dispute.  In no way was this a “bloody and violent conquest… of the Mexican army defending its territory.”  And in no way is manifest destiny a racist evil comparable to slavery.  The frontier was waiting to be developed, and Native America and Mexico were not up to the task.

Regarding America’s current foreign policy, Obama reasonably argues against isolationism and in favor of our unilateral right to defend ourself (such as going after Al Qaeda and the Taliban).  But:

  • Once we get beyond matters of self-defense, though, I’m convinced that it will almost always be in our strategic interest to act multilaterally rather than unilaterally when we use force around the world.”

Chapter Nine is titled, “Family.”  In this chapter, Obama describes the difficulty in raising kids when both parents have to work.  And he admits that he has been sheltered from much of those difficulties because of his resources (money, his wife, and his mother-in-law).

Epilogue.  The Epilogue consists primarily of Obama telling the story of his keynote speech at the Kerry convention, but I couldn’t figure out the purpose of the story.  He closed the book by quoting Benjamin Franklin explaining to his mother why he devoted so much of his life to public service – “I would rather have it said, He lived usefully, than, He died rich.” 

That explains Obama – he wants to make America better. 

In reading The Audacity of Hope, I am reminded of why I voted for Obama in 2008.  He is a fine person and a capable politician.  But I think America would be better served by a president who leans more toward expanding free enterprise and less toward expanding the welfare state.  Government has a role to create opportunity, but I think it diminishes opportunity when it seeks to “spread the wealth around.”

January 10, 2011

Campaign financing – two more bones to pick

Because there can be no doubt that money in politics affords undue influence to those willing to give money to politicians, I am a supporter of campaign-finance reform, especially public financing.  Ironically, one of the people most associated with campaign-finance reform – John McCain – is one of the people I have a bone to pick with:

John McCain

John McCain ran for president in 2008, and prior to the general election he agreed with Barack Obama to conduct their general-election campaigns with public financing and the concomitant limits.  Barack Obama, however, after realizing how easy he could significantly out-raise McCain with private financing, reneged on that agreement and decided to run his campaign with much more expensive private financing. 

After losing the presidential election, McCain was faced with a quasi-competitive senatorial race from talk-show host, ultra-conservative J.D. Hayworth.  Because I had given money to McCain presidential race (although I eventually voted for Obama), I was on the receiving end of countless, never-ending requests from McCain for money “to combat the distortions of his record by my opponent.”  Obviously, I had no interest in giving money to McCain to claim that he was more conservative than his opponent.  Besides, I subscribe to the philosophy of a young Barack Obama that a well-known, long-term legislator should be able to run on his record and should not need to wage an expensive public-relations campaign.

Eventually, after spending $20 million in the primary, McCain prevailed against Hayworth by 56%-32%, but that didn’t stop his requests for money.  During his lopsided race against Democrat Rodney Glassman, McCain continued to implore me to send money to ensure his vital election.  In November, the result was another lopsided victory for McCain, 59%-35%. 

You can imagine my shock when I heard recently that John McCain had more than $7 million left in the bank following his election.  That means he was begging for money, ostensibly for urgent needs, while he was actually socking the money away for future use.  If I had given him money for his senatorial race, I would be incensed.  Even though I didn’t give him money for his senatorial race, I think his incessant requests were fraudulent. 

Candidate mortgages

The principal opponent in my congressional race was Quico Canseco, a wealthy banker/lawyer/developer who loaned himself over a half a million dollars in a 2008 congressional-primary race.  Undeterred by a convincing defeat by Lyle Larson, Canseco ran again in 2010.  This time, because Lyle Larson lowered his sights to the Texas House, Canseco won the Republican primary and then, as a part of the Republican landslide of 2010, won the general election against Ciro Rodriquez.  In achieving the 2010 victories, Canseco loaned his campaign another half million dollars.  

Shortly after his election victory, Canseco traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend a fundraiser to begin eliminating his campaign debt.  Among those he collected money from were Goldman Sachs ($5,000), American Association of Anesthesiologists ($5,000), Conoco ($3,000), General Electric ($1,000), and U.S. Oncology ($1,000). 

Obviously, these companies were not giving Quico money to help him secure an election that he had already won.  Rather they were paying for access to Quico in the future.  But contributions towards debt-elimination are even more egregious than purchases of access.  Instead of providing money for a candidate to use in future campaigns, this money may go indirectly to the politician’s bank account (repaying his personal loan).  Candidates who lose their races will obviously never be able to pay off their loans (e.g., Hilary Clinton) while candidates who win their races (e.g., Quico Canseco and Julian Castro) will be able to sell their power and influence to pay off their loans to themselves.  

The solution to this mess is simple.  There should be a law that all loans to a campaign must be paid before the election.  If the loan is not repaid prior to the election, the candidate should be prohibited from collecting on the loan. 

A rich candidate may have the right to try to buy an election, but that candidate should not have the ability to pay for a campaign by giving a mortgage on his future votes.

November 13, 2010

I am an impure Republican

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 10:52 pm
Tags: , , , ,

When I started my congressional campaign last year, one of the first things I did was to study the positions taken by my principal opponent, Quico Canseco.  After a review of Quico’s website, I concluded that he was wrong on immigration reform, taxes, and the separation of church and state.  To publicize these differences, I designed a comprehensive campaign brochure that specifically highlighted them. 

Because I was a political neophyte, I didn’t realize that my idealistic positions were out of favor with the people who were planning to vote in the Republican primary.  They didn’t want a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, increased taxes to Kbalance the budget, or a separation of church and state, and I soon discovered that uncomfortable fact as I handed out my brochure door-to-door.  Even my most conservative friend Kevin Brown, who listens to talk radio every day, said I sounded more like a Democrat than a Republican.

My response to Kevin was that I am, and always have been a Republican (my first vote was Nixon-72) because Republicans believe in free enterprise, whereas Democrats believe in government.  It’s a simple as that.  America has a two-party system, and you shouldn’t expect all Republicans to agree on all policy issues – such as immigration, abortion, social security, and taxes.  I argued that the Republican Party should welcome divergent views on the various issue so long as there was a bedrock belief in free enterprise and limited government.

But I had to admit to Kevin that I was not a pure Republican and had sinned in the past – i.e., I have not always voted Republican.  Four years ago, I voted against Republican Rick Perry for Texas governor because I didn’t like his negative campaigning and his milking of special interests.  I also voted for Democrat Ron Kirk for the U.S. Senate because I had gone to law school with Ron and thought he was a high-quality guy.  In 1992, I voted for Independent Ross Perot for President because I thought Bush-41 had been taken over by country-club Republicans.

My greatest lapse, however, was my vote for Obama in 2008.  Although I loved McCain (and sent him a rare campaign contribution), I was severely disappointed by his unsteady campaigning (gas-tax moratorium, suspended campaign to solve financial crisis) and his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate.  By way of contrast, Obama’s campaign had been rock solid, including his rejection of a gas-tax moratorium and his selection of Joe Biden as his running mate.  The tipping point, if there was one, in my decision to vote for Obama was the fact that the Left in American had become so frustrated and cynical about government that giving them power seemed like the only way to get them back onboard with the rest of us.  Reminds me of that old saying that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. 

Actually, there was no single tipping point in my decision to vote Obama.  I literally couldn’t make up my mind, and I remember switching my vote at least three times while in the voting booth at UTSA. 

During my congressional campaign, I didn’t advertise my Obama vote, and I was glad that no one asked.  But I did criticize Quico Canseco for belonging to a group that was committed to defeating the Obama agenda – i.e., Patriotic Resistance and ResistNet.com.  In my opinion, Obama’s agenda deserved some deference from the 23rd Congressional District congressman because Obama had carried the district with 53% of the vote. 

I don’t regret my Obama vote.  I’m glad America gave him a chance to bring us together.  I don’t know what the Republican equivalent of a Yellow Dog Democrat is, but I’m glad that I’m not one.

October 1, 2010

Game Change – a book review

Voracious readers often read several books at the same time, but not me.  I have never been voracious.  Several days ago, however, I had a strong urge to read three books that were on my reading table:

  • Game Change, a play-by-play account of the 2008 presidential election;
  • The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand’s precursor to Atlas Shrugged; and
  • Conservative Victory, Sean Hannity’s prescription for defeating the Obama agenda.

Because I couldn’t pick which book to read first, I started with all three and would occasionally switch from one to the other to the other.  That lasted only for a short time because the Hannity book simply wasn’t as interesting.  Then I went back and forth from Game Change and The Fountainhead for about 250 pages each.  At that point, although The Fountainhead remained absorbing, I couldn’t set Game Change aside.  As a political junkie, I love reading about the backroom political process more than I enjoy the substantive issues of government, and Game Change is as good as it gets in describing the process.

Game Change reminds me of a book that I read as a kid, The Making of a President, 1960 by Teddy White.  The White book described the 1960 presidential contest between Nixon and Kennedy.  Game Change, which was written by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, describes the 2008 presidential campaign.  In the Authors’ Note, Heilemann and Halperin concede that Game Change would not be the definitive book on the 2008 election because they lacked distance and perspective, but their claimed objective was to occupy that useful place between history and journalism.  Based on over 300 interviews with virtually all of the players, the authors have clearly achieved their objective.

As a conservative partisan, I have only one complaint about the book – namely, it focuses on the Democratic primaries (and caucuses) and gives short shrift to the Republican primaries.  Game Change starts with the Democratic primaries and doesn’t get to the Republican primaries until Page 271 in a 436-page book.  The Authors’ Note explains that the focus was on Obama, Clinton, Edwards, and McCain (and their spouses) because, in the authors’ opinion, those were the only candidates with a reasonable chance of winning.  Serious Republican contenders Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Rudy Giuliani were relegated to the also-ran category that included one-and-done Democrats like Dodd, Biden, and Richardson. 

Aside from the short shrift given to the Republican primaries, I think the authors played it straight.  Their portrayals of Obama, Clinton, and McCain are so balanced that I have no idea who the authors voted for.  Furthermore, I think that reading this book would change very few votes.  McCain voters would not be less likely or more likely to vote for him, and the same would apply to Obama and Clinton voters.  (The one exception would be John and Elizabeth Edwards.  No one reading this book would ever vote for John Edwards; nor would anyone buy a book written by Elizabeth Edwards.)  But the book certainly changes a reader’s depth of understanding.  After reading this book, I know so much more about the candidates (and their spouses).  

What do I know now that I didn’t know then?

  • John McCain, who was a bad student at Annapolis, is a reckless person who makes decisions based on his gut, whereas Obama and Clinton, who were excellent students, continually demanded comprehensive information and then made decisions based on their evaluation of all the information. 
  • McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate was an example of risky, gut-based behavior.  For several weeks, McCain was planning to pick qualified, liberal senator Joe Lieberman, but that pick was derailed shortly before the planned announcement.  With only a week to select a replacement, McCain reacted by selecting Palin, and because Palin hadn’t even been on his short-list, she received only a five-day vetting.  When the chief vetter concluded that Palin was, “high risk, high reward,” McCain responded that the vetter shouldn’t have phrased it that way because McCain always loved to gamble.
  • Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton have a close relationship.  Although the book does not discuss whether this couple has a loving relationship, it is clear that the Clintons are political partners who work closely together and have a strong emotional connection.
  • The mainstream press has a gentlemen’s agreement to ignore the sex lives of presidential candidates and their spouses.  Apparently there was strong evidence that John and Cindy McCain had been having extramarital affairs for years, with John living in D.C. and Cindy living in Arizona.  And the press was fully aware of John Edwards’ infidelity for months before The National Inquirer broke the story.  I think Americans have a right to know this stuff, and the press is failing to fulfill its constitutional responsibility.
  • Many people involved in the campaigns knew that John Edwards was, at best, an extremely weak potential president, and, at worst, a complete fraud.  Inexplicably, the mainstream media refused to play a role in bringing Edwards down (did they think this would make them more unpopular?), with the result that Edwards was free to attempt to make a post-Iowa deal with Obama for Edwards to be either Vice-President or Attorney General.    
  • The book suggests that Elizabeth Edwards is a complete fraud, too, but I am reserving judgment because I saw her interviewed on Larry King a couple of months ago and she seemed to be very sympathetic.  In fact, I remember her specifically challenging things that were written in this book.  I wish I could watch that King interview again now after reading the book.
  • The Camelot/Kennedy characterization for Obama is correct – i.e., he is a smart, hard-working politician like John Kennedy who waxes poetic to win the romantics and the media, but who practices politics with cold calculation and an iron fist.
  • Obama is not a religious person.  Instead he turned to religion as part of his push for social justice.  Thus, Reverend Wright was not a spiritual mentor, but rather a political bedfellow.  Wright’s liberation theology was acceptable to Obama until he needed to go more mainstream.  Jettisoning Wright was no big deal for Obama, especially since Michelle never like the guy who baptized their children.   
  • The media’s favorable treatment of Obama incensed both Clinton and McCain, but there was nothing they could do about it.
  • Clinton and McClain like and respected each other and would have loved to run against each other.
  • Raising money is perceived as crucial to running a viable campaign.  While McCain and Clinton abhorred having to solicit and struggled with it, Obama was naturally gifted and handled it as just another part of campaigning.  Part of this distinction is due to Obama mania, which made money flow almost effortlessly into Obama’s coffers, whereas Clinton and McCain had to earn their money the old-fashioned way – i.e., selling a piece of themselves to donors.
  • Clinton took her full-term Senate pledge seriously; Obama did not.

The authors loved using big words, many of which I had never encountered before.  While reading the book, I often wasn’t near a dictionary and had to move on without knowing what the authors meant.  One word that I saw multiple times was “cipher.”  Various people characterized Obama or Edwards to be ciphers.  I eventually looked up the word and discovered it meant “lightweight.”  I wonder why the authors didn’t use the word “lightweight.”  I would be surprised if the person making the characterization actually used the term “cipher.” 

Early in this review, I suggested that reading Game Change was unlikely to change many votes.  Did it change mine?  No, I voted for Obama and would do so again.  My rationale was that McCain behaved erratically during the campaign, not only by picking Palin, but also by proposing a gas-tax moratorium and suspending his campaign to address the financial crisis, but then doing nothing to address it.  By way of contrast, Obama was steady and analytical.  Obama is like a calculating athlete who works hard to put himself in the best position to succeed, whereas McCain doesn’t put a lot of stock into preparation and instead excels at playing the game.  McCain has been able to succeed in life because of his common sense, good judgment, and the force of his personality. 

I think McCain could have been a very effective president at a different time, but America wanted more change than McCain could deliver.  After eight years of Bush-43, the American Left had become so cynical that no Republican could bring us together as a country.  We had to give the Left a chance to rule.  That’s how America works – the 2nd-string quarterback is always the most popular player on the team; the savior who can change everything.  Well, Obama and the Left are having their chance, and this will be followed by Ronald Reagan’s quintessential question to America – are you better off than you were four years ago?  The jury is still out on that, but I expect a prompt return to America’s center of gravity – the center-right.