Thursday, September 27, 2012

Seize the Moment

Mitt Romney is clearly going through a trial by fire with his daily decline in the polls and the endless barrage of negative media observations and increasing criticisms from his own party.  The mantle of “loser” is slowly being placed on his head and in politics a loser is barely a footnote in history.

But lost in all the haste of media analysis is one simple truth and that is that we learn more in defeat than in victory.  This is not meant as an endorsement of the former but rather a recognition that in times of stress we have the opportunity to reach into ourselves and do that which we instinctively know to be right.

In this case, Romney, more than anyone, knows he sacrificed a large part of his integrity in order to be the nominee.  But now the very people he catered to are pulling away in direct proportion to his drop in the polls. Even his wife is lashing out in frustration.

However, Romney holds the ultimate power lever if he is willing to use it:  “to thine own self be true”.

This advice from Shakespeare has incredible potency.  Every great President from Washington on allowed their inner self to define their governance.  Certainly, they had their moments of pandering but they never allowed that to define them.  They had an instinct for doing that which is right and the courage to carry it out.  That is why we celebrate them as leaders.

Romney would be well advised to seize the moment and stand tall.  Set aside a day for a major speech and once and for all put an end to this “birther” campaign which is a cancer on the Republican brand.  Forthrightly,  paint a picture of an America that recognizes all shades of people united by a common sense of decency and community.  Declare without hesitation that competitive politics is about challenging ideas and not the ugliness of bigotry.

Americans, regardless of party affiliation, expect both parties and their candidates to fully uphold the fundamental principles of human rights that are a basis for a democratic society.  We are committed to “one nation under God” and we fully embrace the aspirations and services of all and self-appointed voices of suspicion and divisiveness have no place in American politics.

Leadership endures when it embraces all of us and radiates with optimism and confidence.  It is an inclusive vision for tomorrow.

For Mitt Romney, his leadership is now being tested.  Will he…

Friday, September 21, 2012

Michele Bachmann…. A Lady in Decline

Michele Bachmann’s recent assaults against the Muslims and again suggesting that President Obama is sympathetic to Islamic extremism reminds me of the desperation of Senator Joseph McCarthy in his declining months.

Like McCarthy, Bachmann was once at the center of the new Republican Right with her attacks on the President’s loyalty and questioning his commitment to standing up against the “enemy.”  Both McCarthy and Bachmann were able to define their Presidential targets as “sympathizers” and “appeasers”.

And, like McCarthy, she has found herself in decline and outside her party’s power structure.

The early Iowa primary campaign was her high water mark.  While lashing out against the patriotism of Obama, she was proclaiming the virtues of her Iowa upbringing and pledging her undying loyalty to our neighbors south of us.

But more recently, she was relegated to a minor role outside the Republican National Convention in Tampa and her pronouncements are now carried closer to the obituary section of the newspaper than page one.

What has happened to Bachmann is common with the McCarthy types – they rise quickly as they step loudly and carelessly on the reputations of innocent people and they fall just as rapidly in accordance with the public’s insistence on truth and decency.  Rising Republican criticism has clearly hastened her downturn.

But the Bachman story deserves to be more than a brief historical footnote.  For over a decade, she has attempted to define patriotism and conservatism while cloaking it under her interpretation of the Bible.  Clearly, she has maintained that a Higher Power supports her actions.

First of all, on the religious front, Jesus preached love, acceptance, compassion, forgiveness and humility; not self-interest, war, suspicion, and self-righteousness.  Religious chest thumping has no place in American politics.

As to her conservatism, she sat on the Minnesota Senate Tax Committee as well as on the Subcommittee overseeing property taxes from 2001-2002 and later served as Assistant Minority Leader.  During her stint, we started to see the sharp increases in property taxes as the state began its course of massive borrowings of one-time monies, accounting shifts, reducing local government aids and generally moving more of the financial burden from state to local governments.  The results were astounding:  during Bachmann’s six years in the legislature, property taxes rose by over $1.7 billion.  For the purpose of comparison, they rose some $514 million for the prior six years.  That is more than a tripling in the increase.

Further, the state commenced lurching from deficit to deficit. 

In June of 2003, Moody’s downgraded Minnesota’s credit rating citing such risky financial practices as “fund draw downs, transfers, and tax and payment shifts.”  Sadly, this is what happens when short-term politics replaces courage and substance.

As a member of Congress, she rolled up a stunning record of absences.  For instance, from July 2011 to October 2011, she missed more than 50 percent of the recorded votes in the U.S. House of Representatives.  In the following quarter, from October 2011 to January 2012, her absenteeism hit over 90 percent. 

Yet, she collected full pay and full benefits including federal healthcare which she condemns as socialism when made available to all Americans.

As leader of the Tea Party caucus in the House, she has continuously railed against out-of-control federal spending.  One would think Bachmann would lead the battle against excess spending such as the Congressional franking privilege.  This allows members of Congress to send beautiful multi-color brochures to all their constituents letting them know about the magnificence of their performance.  This costs taxpayers untold millions but is a marvelous campaign tool since these expenditures are not treated as campaign related.  It is truly a frightening example of waste, fraud, and abuse.  Sadly, Bachmann has been a user and not a conservative reformer.

It is not surprising that this daughter of Iowa and absentee Representative is in decline and now operates outside the sphere of this new Republican power structure.  She is regarded as an embarrassment and in politics that is an unforgiveable liability.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Yes….It Does Take a Village

When we pull back from the current political debate, it tends to revolve around the same conflicts that were present during the founding of our nation; namely the rights of the individual versus the defined role of society as represented by government.  Loosely speaking, Republicans or conservatives have been more in the former camp while Democrats or liberals tend to lean toward a more involved government role.

This is a healthy and necessary debate but only when there is more truth than exaggeration and a willingness to concede that there are serious flaws in both approaches when they go to their extremes.  Our system of governance, along with economic realities, do well when there is a balance and fare poorly when there is an extreme.

Sadly, today, we are witnessing too much extreme on the right and too much indifference to economic realities on the left.

Successful administrations, Republican and Democrat, understood the vital role of balance.  The hallmark administrations on the Republican side would probably include Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.  All understood the vital role of protecting and encouraging the success of the individual.  However, they did not hesitate to use extraordinary governmental powers to preserve the union, harness excessive capitalism, enforce federal court mandates of desegregation against the perceived rights of states, and crush non-conforming unions.

But, in more human terms, they were all by nature and political bent inclined towards seeing America not as an endless array of individual silos but rather as a beautiful patch work of communities where people worked together for the common good.   In essence, they understood the human role of government in helping others.

All post-world War II Republican Presidents were heavily influenced by the values of the Greatest Generation.  They fully endorsed the notion of “we” when it came towards celebrating and committing financial resources to finance education, human services, the transportation infrastructure, and even using taxpayer funds to help businesses startup and grow.  They were not into the drawing of arbitrary lines but rather governing with a sense of pragmatism.  And while they may have decried regulations and bureaucracies they tended to use the regulatory powers of government and, surprisingly, expanded government.

But my central point here is that they avoided extremes, sought balance, and were protective of both individual rights and societal responsibility.  In one way or other they would agree that it takes a village to raise a child.

From my vantage point, this new Republican Party now controlled by the Tea Party lacks the historical heritage to fully appreciate the role of community.  All too often, they are like the ego-laden athlete who pounds his chest in a moment of self-glorification when he scores a touchdown.  Yes, he may be the hero of the moment but how dare he be unmindful of the contributions of his teammates, the coaching staff and the entire support system that allowed him to score.

When Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, he declared:  “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”  Why did he not instead shout “look at me, I did it"?

Coming out of the Bronx in New York City, I was blessed with a full scholarship to the Choate School in Connecticut.  It was, without question, the most transformative experience of my life.  Totally unprepared academically, the faculty through a process of tough love gave me the opportunity to catch up provided I was willing to put in the extra work.  It was a wonderful tradeoff.

But my most lasting memories were daily chapel where the Headmaster would deliver sermonetts that stressed values designed to build a sense of community.  Years before, John F. Kennedy sat in the same pews and heard the Headmaster of that time advise students “Ask not what Choate can do for you.  Ask what you can do for Choate.”  Obviously, Kennedy was touched by those words.

But the simple fact is that all of us have been touched and helped in a meaningful way by others; parents, teachers, friends, religious leaders, colleagues, and yes, even institutions including business and government.  We believe in the helping hand.

I truly hope this new Republican Party gets out of the Ayn Rand syndrome and begins to recognize the role of balance and the strength of community.

Gopher Football - Reason for Optimism?

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