Mike Kueber's Blog

April 23, 2012

Nikki Haley’s husband and John Wayne

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 4:57 pm
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A couple of weeks ago, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley was making the rounds on TV promoting her new book called Can’t Is Not an Option.  During an interview on Imus in the Morning, she dodged his question about the allegations of her extra-marital affairs by simply stating that scurrilous stories like that are unfortunately a part of political life in America.  Although Imus could have easily pressed her on the subject, and made her dodging more obvious, he accepted her answer and moved on because that is his style.

Later in the interview, while discussing her husband Michael, Haley stated that he was a captain in the Army National Guard and that he wore his uniform to work every day.  Boy, was she proud of him.

Call me cynical, but her odd phrasing about wearing uniform to work every day immediately sent warning flags to my journalistic, bullshit-detecting instincts.  It reminded me of the other Republican wunderkind Marco Rubio saying that he was the child of Cuban exiles.  When caught on this canard, Rubio refused to apologize and instead doubled down and rationalized. 

A little bit of research on Michael Haley soon revealed that Nikki Haley was carefully not lying about her husband wearing a uniform to work every day, just as Bill Clinton was arguably not lying when he said he did not have sex with Monica Lewinsky.  But just as Clinton was trying to mislead people, so is Nikki Haley. 

Michael Haley is an officer in the Army National Guard, but that is a weekend warrior slot.  His full-time job is as a “federal technician” with the South Carolina National Guard.  The weird thing about a federal technician is that they are civilian employees who must also be weekend warriors.  Furthermore, they are instructed to wear their weekend-warrior uniform to work during the week even though they are civilian employees.

An acquaintance of mine in the National Guard in San Antonio told me that the state of Texas also utilizes federal technicians, but she couldn’t explain what the economic rationale for the position is.  She noted that, “They are GS government employees, but are required to be members of the National Guard as a condition of their employment.  They do wear the uniform, but get paid on a civilian pay scale.  Personally I dislike the program, since they wear the uniform but sometimes lack the discipline and commitment expected from a soldier. They can only work certain hours and must get paid overtime if they work extra.  They more closely resemble a union type of employee.”

My complaint with Nikki Haley’s claim is that she is embellishing her husband’s status for her political advantage; just as Marco Rubio is embellishing his parents’ status as Cuban refugees.  Is it asking too much to expect politicians to display some humility and be self-effacing?

As Ronald Reagan once said when describing how he keeps his moral compass pointing straight north, “When I’m unsure what to do, I ask myself, ‘What would John Wayne do?’”  Nikki and Marco should give that some thought.

June 28, 2011

Great presidents and continuing legal education

During the annual meeting of the State Bar of Texas, I had the good fortune of hearing presidential historian Douglas Brinkley give a talk on great presidents in America’s history.  I’m not sure how his talk qualified as continuing legal education for lawyers, but the state bar has almost unlimited power on that issue and it is very unlikely that anyone will complain.

Brinkley is a famous historian who is often interviewed on national news programs because he has the ability to present information in an interesting way, and his talk to at the annual meeting didn’t disappoint.  The talk was informal, and I suspect Brinkley could give it in his sleep.  His principal insights were:

  1. Although the talk was about presidents, Brinkley started with a non-president – Charles Thompson – who was a relatively unknown politician who did yeomen’s work in forming our union, but then was shut-out of a role in the newly-formed United States because he was too progressive for his time – i.e., he favored the emancipation of slaves and the liberation of women.
  2. George Washington’s signal achievement was to give up power after two terms.
  3. Thomas Jefferson saw that the Mississippi River was the spine of America and that religion has no place in a democracy.
  4. James Polk was successful because he established clear objectives (resolving the border issues with Mexico and Canada) and knew that wars of choice must be ended quickly.
  5. Lincoln’s challenges make the challenges faced by any other president seem highly manageable.
  6. Teddy Roosevelt created and led the conservation movement even though the public wasn’t demanding it.
  7. Franklin Roosevelt created the feeling that the federal government could solve all our problems.
  8. Harry Truman was horribly unpopular because he was too direct in trying to achieve his objectives, but his stock in history has skyrocketed.
  9. Dwight Eisenhower was an under-rated president who showed that America could be fiscally conservative and still do great things – e.g., NASA, interstate highways, and St. Lawrence Seaway.
  10. John Kennedy implemented things that worked (Peace Corp and SEALS/Green Beret), whereas his successor Lyndon Johnson spent too much money on things that didn’t work.
  11. Gerald Ford did a great job of extricating America from two problems – Nixon and Vietnam.
  12. Jimmy Carter brought morality to Washington.
  13. Ronald Reagan went with his gut and told Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”
  14. Bill Clinton was relatively successful, but never did anything big and will always be remembered for the sex scandal.
  15. George H.W. Bush will be upgraded by historians because of his brilliant handling of foreign policy.
  16. Barack Obama is disposed to placate, not lead.  He acts like the only adult in the room, but doesn’t lead.  His greatest accomplishment will be getting elected.

Brinkley skipped over Bush-43, but someone during the Q&A asked if it was likely that Bush-43 would be upgraded by historians.  Brinkley did not think so because Bush-43 would be forever stained by the economic collapse at the end of his second term.  It’s ironic that Bush’s economic collapse not only resulted in the historic election of Barack Obama, but also may have fated Obama to the ignominy of a one-term presidency.

In my opinion, Brinkley skipping Bush-43 was bad enough, but skipping Richard Nixon, too, is unforgivable, especially when he found time to mention Jimmy Carter.  I will keep that in mind when reading Brinkley in the future.

April 25, 2011

Hawks

Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent posted an interesting entry today about “deficit hawks.”  According to Sargent, the term has been unfairly appropriated by the Republican Right, even though the Right is often more interested in drying up all streams of government revenue than it is in eliminating the deficit. 

This deficit-hawking started with Ronald Reagan in the late 70s, when he argued for lowering taxes, balancing the budget, and rebuilding America’s defenses.  When pressed to prioritize these conflicting values, Reagan said there was no conflict.  This prompted a moderate Republican opponent (Bush-41) to coin the term “voodoo economics.”

I think blogger Sargent makes a good point.  If you claim to be a deficit hawk, that should mean that reducing or eliminating the deficit is so important to you that you are willing to sacrifice other values – such as your opposition to raising taxes – in order to address the deficit problem.  If you aren’t willing to raise taxes to reduce the deficit, then you are more accurately described as a believer in smaller government or an adversary of big government.  Paul Ryan is a believer in smaller government, not a deficit hawk.  By contrast, the Gang of Six senators are deficit hawks.

Sometimes I think the anti-war liberals are still resentful of being labeled doves during the Vietnam War, as opposed to the pro-war conservatives being labeled hawks.  Most alpha Americans think doves are a little squishy.  NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd has tried for years to get back at the hawks by name-calling those who didn’t serve in Vietnam – she particularly enjoys calling VP Dick Cheney a chickenhawk.  (Although that term is considered an epithet, the NY Times is apparently OK with its usage by columnists.)  I wonder, however, if Dowd has taken this labeling to its logical conclusion – i.e., under his classification, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are chickendoves.  Don’t think they’d like that appellation.

April 23, 2011

Let’s hear it for the boys

Filed under: Business,Culture,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 4:30 pm
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Last week, when I blogged about the new movie Atlas Shrugged, I noted that the villains were government bureaucrats and failing capitalists – the so-called “looters.”  Then yesterday, I saw a TV story reporting that, despite women purchasing 50% of all movie tickets in 2010, there was a dearth of women characters in the movies.  Instead of claiming blatant discrimination, the report suggested that the “content developers” were predominantly male and they naturally developed movies from their perspective.

What’s the connection between these two stories?  They both speak to the issue of diversity.  As everyone knows, diversity is an American political objective because (a) it is more fair and equitable, and (b) a diverse group will out-perform and out-produce a homogeneous group every time.  That’s a win-win proposition for America. 

Unfortunately, the facts do not support this political theory.  You will find robust diversity programs permeating every government bureaucracy and most failing capitalistic enterprises.  But two of the least diverse industries in America – movies and technology – are dominated by men, yet they consistently develop products that the people of the world are eager to buy.  America may have a huge trade deficit, but not in movies and technology.

As Ronald Reagan warned, there is a tendency to tax anything that moves; if it keeps moving, they regulate it; and finally if it stops moving, they subsidize it.   Let’s hope the looters keep their grubby hands of these crown jewels of America.

April 15, 2011

Grover Norquist, the chief cleric of sharia tax law

The budget battle in Washington is getting ugly, and some of the ugliest language is coming from an internecine fight within the Republican Party.  Many Republicans, especially those in the Senate, are pragmatists who have been wandering forlornly in a desert for years and they now sense a unique opportunity to make significant progress toward eliminating America’s burgeoning deficit.  By contrast, many of the Republicans in the House are newly elected and they believe they have a mandate to take no prisoners while they slay the budget-busting liberals. 

As reported in the Washington Post, anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist has pocketed pledges from 41 Senators and 237 House members that they will not vote for any tax increase.    The face of the pragmatists is conservative/pragmatic Oklahoma senator Tom Coburn, who signed off on the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction plan.  Based on Norquist’s uncompromising stance, Coburn’s spokeman called Norquist the chief cleric of sharia tax law.  That is witty.

Grover Norquist founded Americans for Tax Reform in 1985 at the behest of Ronald Reagan and remains its president.  Its primary objective is to reduce the percentage of GDP consumed by the federal government, or in his own colorful phrasing – “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”  He is married to a Kuwaiti Muslim and he opposed the conservative fight against the Muslim mosque in Manhattan.  That makes me think that the comment from Coburn’s spokeman might have been more mean than witty. 

The problem with Norquist is that, while his objective of reducing government is subjective, his “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” is not.  It reads:

I, _______________, pledge to the taxpayers of the _____ district of the state of__________, and to the American people that I will:

ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and

TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.

The pledge essentially precludes a signator from compromising with the Democrats to achieve an effective compromise.  In hindsight, signing the pledge seems ill-considered, but the pledge wasn’t signed by statesmen, it was signed by politicians trying to get elected.  Coburn signed it.

Although the pledge remains politically powerful, I think history has shown that its rationale is flawed.  Back in the 80s, Reagan argued that the only way to reduce the size of the federal government was to starve it by cutting taxes and keeping them low.  Without revenue, he thought, fiscal sanity would prevent Congress from growing its expenditures.  We all know what actually happened.  Twenty-five years later, the federal government is staring into a deep abyss of debt, having mortgaged much of our future.  Surely, that is not what Reagan wanted.  Surely, we can’t continue playing this game of chicken in which the least responsible party prevails.

Norquist apparently wants the game of chicken to go on.  On Thursday he said that the only significant tax measure that is currently feasible is a so-called repatriation holiday that would allow multinationals to bring their offshore profits to the U.S.  With respect to any other progress:  

  • A lot of good tax changes are going to require a different president and a different Senate.”

That’s not the kind of talk I want to hear from Republicans.  Politicians like that may not get an endorsement by the people in 2012.  More importantly, this ticking time-bomb of a debt needs to be addressed now. 

Git r dun, Coburn.

March 10, 2011

John Wayne bends over and takes one for the team

One of my favorite movies is In Harm’s Way, a WWII Navy movie starring John Wayne and Patricia Neal.  The Duke, my all-time favorite actor, has a reputation for always playing the classical American hero and refusing to play a significantly flawed person.  His role as Captain Torrey in “In Harm’s Way” is typical – he is brave, smart, decisive, honorable, and humble. 

An early scene in the movie, however, has always troubled me.  It involves Captain Torrey being called on the Navy carpet and being demoted for making a battlefield decision that was brave, smart, decisive, and honorable.  Because of the Internet, I was able to find a transcription of the script, which reads as follows:

  • Captain Torrey, the admiral will see you now.
  • Thank you.
  • Please sit down, Captain.
  • Thank you, sir.
  • I wasn’t aware you’d been hurt.
  • A simple fracture, sir. It won’t interfere with my duties.
  • You have a remarkable record, Captain Torrey.
  • Thank you, sir.
  • Save your thanks. I’m relieving you of your command pending a court of inquiry.
  • I don’t understand.
  • You weren’t zigzagging when you took the torpedo.
  • I was stretching my fuel, sir.
  • If you didn’t have enough fuel, why didn’t you turn back?
  • My mission was to engage an enemy of greatly superior strength.  I could only take that one way: My group was expendable.
  • I doubt a court of inquiry will accept that.  You’re caught in the vacuum between a peacetime Navy and a wartime Navy.  Soon they’ll make admirals out of captains with your guts.  Now, they’re reacting to Pearl Harbor and punishment is order of the dayYou don’t have to abide by what a court of inquiry decides.  You can ask for a general court martial, get a couple of lawyers and fight it.
  • I wouldn’t care to do that, sir.
  • Why not?
  • Second-generation Navy, Admiral.
  • I see.  I don’t plan to ask for a court martial either, and I’ve lost a fleet.  I expect we’ll both take what they give us and trust it’ll be a useful job.
  • Yes, sir.
  • Good luck.
  • Good luck to you, sir.

I can understand the potshot taken at lawyers and litigation, but the Duke would normally stand up for what he believed was right and force the mealy-mouthed peacetime Navy to do what it does.  For some reason, the Duke felt it wasn’t honorable to challenge this institution that he loved (the Navy) even if the Navy was doing him wrong. 

Of course, there is that old saying, “My country, right or wrong.”   The actual phrase, as first uttered in 1816 by Navy Captain Stephen Decatur, was: “Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong.”  That old saying doesn’t say anything about challenging an institution; it merely says that you will defend it against outsiders.

Although I have often been critical of co-workers who lack institutional loyalty to their employer, I am equally critical of those who are apologists for any action taken by their favored institution.  I describe them as people who check their integrity at the door. 

As a child of the 60s, I think it is important to respectfully challenge the direction of an institution despite your personally loyalty.  An institution thrives when it is moving in the right direction, but course adjustments are continually needed, and criticism helps identify needed adjustments.      

Elizabeth Taylor testified to Congress that John Wayne “gave the whole world the image of what an American should be.”  I agree.  And Ronald Reagan once said that whenever he was having trouble making a decision, he would ask himself, “What would John Wayne do?”  I generally agree with that type of decision-making.  But I disagree with the Duke in In Harm’s Way.  Employees who meekly accept unfair punishment from an employer aren’t doing any favors.

February 18, 2011

Unions and public employees

Union membership in America has been declining for decades, especially in the private sector.  Currently only 7.3 percent of all private-sector employees are union members, while 37.6 percent of all government workers are unionized.  Fifty-one percent of all union members are government workers.

Perhaps the most significant unionizing event in my lifetime occurred in 1981, when the air-traffic controllers went on illegal strike against the federal government to secure higher wages and a 32-hour workweek.  Reagan fired the strikers and successfully replaced them.

Public-employee unions are in the news again because many state governments on the verge of bankruptcy are trying to trim their employees’ generous pensions and health benefits.  Most of the news is coming from Republican-dominated states, but even Democratic governors in New York and California are looking at similar cuts.

The state that is receiving the most attention is Wisconsin because its governor is seeking not only a reduction in health benefits, but also the elimination of collective bargaining.    I don’t think collective bargaining is appropriate for public employees.  They are not working for a private employer who might be motivated to take advantage of unequal bargaining leverage.  Rather they are working for the public. 

The danger with public-employee unions engaged in collective bargaining is that they will obtain excessive influence over elected officials through robust election activities – not just votings, but also electioneering and, most dangerous, campaign contributions.  San Antonio fell victim to this danger during Henry Cisneros’s reign, when he and his Council gave generous pension and health benefits to the union-represented police and fire employees.  That generosity did significant damage to San Antonio’s fiscal strength, but we have recovered, and our current Council is not so profligate.

Unfortunately, there is no structural protection against governmental profligacy.  Our only protection is to elect representatives who will stand up for the voters best interests.  Wisconsin, Ohio, and New Jersey voters seem to have done that.  They elected their governors on a platform of reining in profligate spending on public-employee benefits, and they are doing what they were elected to do.   

As should have been expected, President Obama has come down forcefully on the side of the union.  His entire political career has him on the side of unions, especially public-employee unions.  This is a no-brainer for him – instead of cutting benefits, he would raise taxes.  All while he preaches productivity and competitiveness.

February 16, 2011

Bob Herbert re-evaluates Ronald Reagan

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 5:38 am
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According to NYTimes’ Bob Herbert, Americans should cease lionizing Ronald Reagan.    Although Herbert concedes that Reagan did some commendable things:

  • But when all is said and done, it is the economic revolution that gained steam during the Reagan years and is still squeezing the life out of the middle class and the poor that is Reagan’s most significant legacy. A phony version of that legacy is relentlessly promoted by right-wingers who shamelessly pursue the interests of the very rich while invoking the Reagan brand to give the impression that they are in fact the champions of ordinary people.”

To support his thesis, Herbert cites Reagan’s erratic son, Ron, Jr.:

  • Reagan’s son, Ron, says in the film that he believes his father ‘was vulnerable to the idea that poor people were somehow poor because it was their fault.’ A clip is then shown of Ronald Reagan referring to, ‘The homeless who are homeless, you might say, by choice.’”

That is probably a good explanation of conservative vs. liberal policies.  As a conservative in America, I think most people are responsible for their poverty or homelessness or crime.  I don’t think America is responsible.  Although I accept that (a) people born into rough or difficult situations are more likely to end up poor, homeless, or in crime and (b) America should do more to afford opportunity to help the disadvantaged, I think we have to treat people as responsible for their situation.  Herbert and Ron, Jr. seem to think that is wacko, right-wing thinking.

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 18, 2011

Reagan had Alzheimer’s while president?

Filed under: History,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 3:33 am
Tags: , , , ,

In case you missed it, the week’s Parade magazine included an excerpt from a new book – My Father at 100 – by President Reagan’s youngest son, Ron.  In the excerpt, Ron provides both circumstantial and direct evidence that Reagan was afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease while president of the U.S.  The only caveat is that the direct evidence is currently unsupported hearsay.

According to Ron, the circumstantial evidence is the following:

  • “Three years into his first term, I felt the first shivers of concern that something beyond mellowing was affecting my father [when I started winning arguments at the dinner table].  ‘He told me that you make him feel stupid,’ my mother once shared, to my alarm.”
  • “Watching the first debate with 1984 Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale, I began to experience the nausea of a bad dream coming true….  My heart sank as he floundered his was through his responses.”

 The direct evidence occurred in 1989, six months after Reagan had left office, when he was thrown off a horse and was treated at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota:

  • “Surgeons opening his skull to relieve pressure on the brain emerged from the operating room with the news that they detected probable signs of Alzheimer’s disease.  Further tests conducted the following year confirmed those suspicions.”

Based on the timing of this discovery (only six-months post-presidency), Ron suggests that, “The question, then, of whether my father suffered from the beginning stages of the disease while still in office more or less answers itself.”  Ron also opines that his father would have resigned if he had learned about the Alzheimer’s while he was still president.

The problem with the direct evidence is that no one has yet confirmed it.  Ron’s half-brother Michael says the claim is a lie designed to sell books.  According to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, “this subject has been well-documented over the years by both President Reagan’s personal physicians, physicians who treated him after the diagnosis, as well as those who worked closely with him daily.  All are consistent in their view that signs of Alzheimer’s did not appear until well after President Reagan left the White House.

I remember being embarrassed for Reagan during his first Mondale debate.  Later, I remember Reagan stumbling to find an answer until Nancy whispered it from behind.  Although there may be only a fine line between mentally slowing down and the early onset of Alzheimer’s, this story eventually will be resolved because Ron’s allegation of brain surgery at the Mayo Clinic can be either proved or disproved. 

Ron is a liberal atheist and his half-brother Michael is a conservative Christian.  Who is telling the truth?

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