Wednesday, January 27, 2010

While My Head is Clear

I will try to soon share my pondering on the President's State of the Union speech, delivered earlier tonight. It's a little early to do so; I didn't see it and I haven't read the text I downloaded for later review.

That being the case, it's a certainty that I will hear critics of the President and his administration attack the speech and his efforts to reach out to the nation to offer assurances that this generation's nattering nabobs of negativism are self-serving, misguided political opportunists.

For a change of pace, I think I will try reading the criticism before familiarizing myself with the actual speech. Perhaps if I can put myself in the mindset of those who did not bother to watch the President or read the speech but who nonetheless will take cues from Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly and Beck when sharing their opinions about the substance of the State of the Union, I can begin to understand how it is that intellectual laziness and news by soundbites has so effectively undermined our democracy.

My last blog, written just prior to the first anniversary of the President's inauguration, generated a number of comments. I thank my readers for all of them. None made me feel as good as the decision by my son to post a link to the blog as his Facebook status, suggesting that his friends "
(c)heck this out if you're interested in some smart political commentary." Some of the comments that came in second to Phil's validation of his father disagreed with my observation that the President should be given time to accomplish his goals.

One of my readers, a good friend despite her conservative leanings, commented, "
Obama was an outstanding campaigner. The presidency is above his pay grade." Clearly, he was an outstanding campaigner. He won the presidency of the United States. I had a hell of a time just helping elect a couple of qualified candidates to the Independence city council in November.

However, the second part of my friend's comment is more telling. Characterizing the President's performance in relation to a pay grade is the kind of meaningless rhetoric passing for political discourse that I lamented in my last blog. Moreover, the statement, on its face, is untrue. This president is taking a pay cut working out of the Oval Office instead of pursuing his career as an author and public speaker. As has been the case since his graduation from Harvard Law School, he continues to trade a more financially rewarding career path for public service.

Of course, the issue is not really about the President's salary. My friend's comment was shorthand for "the President is incompetent." My friend chose not to back it up with specifics or suggestions on how things might have been handled better in response to the gauntlet I threw down in the blog. Rather, my friend made my point by regurgitating a catch phrase likely picked up from my friend's favorite "news" source, the FOX Network, which, if repeated often enough by like minded sheep in the Limbaugh pasture, becomes accepted as reality.

Another comment I found interesting was from another friend and former colleague who expressed disagreement with my chastisement of the Republicans. "I wish we could offer alternatives, but the Dems don't listen and don't allow anyone into their closed door meetings. There's something seriously not right about that. So I say: Term limits. They're all so disengaged from the American people. Repubs or dems, they've forsaken us all and need to go."

Again, I'm afraid the comment merely parrots empty political rhetoric. First, the Democrats went out of their way to listen and invite Republican participation at the outset of the President's administration. Once it became clear that the Republicans were adopting a strategy of opposing all Democratic initiatives as a political tool, the White House and the leadership in Congress were understandably reluctant to continue to be played for chumps.

Second, Democrats DO let some into their closed door meetings – other Democrats. That's the way the system works. The caucuses meet with their members in private. The Republicans do the same thing. The Vikings and Saints did the same thing last Sunday. Opposing teams were not invited into the huddle, even when the Vikings thought there was room for one more.

However, these closed caucus meetings are not the only meetings taking place and what's "seriously" wrong is Republican claims that they have been trying to work in a bi-partisan fashion. There was an election in November, 2008. The electorate sent a fairly strong message that the Republicans' policies of the previous 8 years were no longer acceptable to the majority of the voters. Accordingly, it is a serious misrepresentation of the facts to claim a willingness to engage in bi-partisanship if your efforts are limited to insisting that these same rejected policies be incorporated into new legislation.

Third, term limits are not appropriate in our day and age. I did some quick research and found an on-line article from 2006, 12 years after the 1994 Contract with America championed by Newt Gingerich and the Republicans running for office that year. Term limits were a cornerstone of the Contract with America. However, according to the blog I found (here), 25 Congressman and 5 Senators who had pledged in 1994 to retire after 12 years in office were running for re-election in 2006. My guess is that reality set in for these Republican contractors.

Speaking practically, few people worth having in office would trade private life for public office if they knew that, after devoting 8 to 12 years away from their career in the private sector, they would be forced to return and, at best, compete with folks 8-12 years their junior who are better informed about the needs and status of the employer. Rather than being able to excel at either career, both avenues would be short circuited. For example, my Congressman is a Republican who gave up a promising career as an executive at Target Corporation. How can anyone expect him to give up a lucrative future with Target in order to devote himself to public service if in a dozen years when he is in his mid-50's he is expected to return to the private workplace and try to continue a private sector career? Would those concerned about entrenchment have all the legislators become lobbyists at the end of their dirty dozen?

The solution is not term limits. The solution is reform of campaign finance so legislators, once elected, can exercise the independent judgment they campaigned on. More on that when I discuss the Supreme Court's recent evisceration of our democracy.

"Term limits", "pay grade", "exclusionary" are all expressions of passion but not of substance. Although their repetition provides the speakers solace in numbers with fellow ditto-heads, they offer no roadmap on how to create jobs, reform health care or bring peace to the world. As of now, I'm not buying any suggestions to the contrary. Perhaps after I take in the criticism of the State of the Union address before viewing it and without reading it I'll come to understand the crises we face as a result of electing Barack Obama to the presidency. Or perhaps I'll follow through with my commitment made in my last blog and call a fraud a fraud. Make a bet and stay tuned.

1 comment:

Irv Stern said...

Excellent approach. Respond before reading the State of the Union address. One additional thought on Term Limits. We already have Term Limits and that, obviously, is an election. Voters can eliminate the bad and keep the good. That,however, assumes an "informed elector"!