Monday, February 21, 2011

Insults, Bruised Feelings, and the ICC

So, I have gotten feedback that some of the Ehrlich Administration alumni who attended the ICC kickoff event today are unhappy that they did not receive due credit from their Democratic hosts for getting the highway built.

Former MDOT Secretary Bob Flanagan was the GOP’s point man for the event. I’m told that he was invited by the O’Malley Administration, and told he could invite others from Team Ehrlich as well. He reached out to former Chief of Staff David Marks, Deputy Secretary Trent Kittleman, and Secretary of State Mary Kane. Apparently, when they arrived, they had to scout out their own seating, as places had not been reserved for them.

As for former Governor Ehrlich himself, he did in fact attend at the invitation of Bob Flanagan. He arrived in his black Chevy Suburban with body man Greg Massoni, former Baltimore County campaign Field Director Joe Sliwka, and two younger aides. Personally I think the whole entourage thing is getting a little old, but that’s neither here nor there.

When the program started, Governor O’Malley, Lieutenant Governor Brown, and the other Democratic speakers kept their credit and their praise in the family, so to speak. There was no shout out to Ehrlich or his team. In effect, Ehrlich was treated as a sort of a Duke of Windsor figure shuffling among disapproving members of the ruling class. Like the late Duke, whose abdication roiled the British monarchy just as Ehrlich's election did the state's Democratic political establishment, Ehrlich's presence at an official event is occasionally tolerated because his absence would have been only slightly more uncomfortable.

I think this is all sad and unfortunate. Still, I cannot seem to get as worked up about it as the attendee with whom I spoke.

First, all of this was eminently predictable. Of course the Democratic establishment wants to claim credit for the project. Of course Team O’Malley does not want to share credit with the man against whom they ran and won two contentious campaigns. Could they have afforded to show more magnanimity? Certainly. But expecting them to in light of the history seems a little naïve.

Second, why should anyone care what happened at an obscure press conference few Marylanders will ever hear about or remember? The reason the ICC was built is because Bob Ehrlich prioritized it, and received valuable support and assistance from President George W. Bush, County Executive Doug Duncan, Secretary Flanagan, and others. The O’Malley Administration completed the work started by their predecessors. But I believe people in Montgomery County and elsewhere know the prime mover was Bob Ehrlich.

This kind of thing is not unprecedented in Maryland politics. I remember when Parris Glendening announced the Browns/Ravens were coming to Maryland, thanks to a deal Governor Schaefer crafted. When Glendening failed to invite Schaefer to the announcement, Schaefer showed up anyway and stood quietly with the fans. People got the message.

The ICC was the single most consequential development coming out of Maryland’s brief experiment with two party government. Governor Ehrlich and his team deserve the lion’s share of credit. I hope they get it. But, it is silly for them to stand around blithely waiting for the Democrats to give it to them.

Reagan's Forgotten Moment of Courage

A poll released over the weekend in time for Presidents Day found that most Americans consider Ronald Reagan the country’s greatest president. The poll showed Reagan drawing strong support among both Republicans and Independents, outpolling the second most popular president – Abraham Lincoln – by five points (Bill Clinton, with 13 percent, came in third). This is the third time Reagan came in on top in this annual Gallup poll.

In all fairness, it is hard for me to imagine Abraham Lincoln not topping any list of America’s greatest presidents. Still, President Reagan remains the first, and the best, president for whom I ever personally voted. He certainly left his mark on the political landscape more indelibly than any other president who served during the past 50 years.

Over the weekend I re-watched PBS’s documentary about Reagan.  It made me nostalgic – and a little depressed as well. Compared to Reagan and all his natural gifts as a communicator and a leader, all of the Republican politicos cited as future presidential candidates seem to come up short. Reagan defeated an incumbent president, and then went on to trounce a former vice president in a 49 state landslide. He may have made his successes seem easy, but they weren’t. Every president who has served since Reagan has, at different times during his tenure, has had more success dividing rather than unifying the American people.

Reagan’s personal courage – known primarily because of the way he responded to the assassination attempt that nearly killed him – is a constant theme in every book I have ever read about him. But for me, one lesser-known incident really speaks to the measure of the man.

It occurred April 14, 1992, more than three years after Reagan left the White House and about two-and-a-half years before he disclosed his Alzheimer’s diagnosis to the American people. Reagan was living the life of breezy recreation many presidents choose when they leave the White House.  He played golf, visited his newly-opened presidential library, rode horses at his Santa Barbara ranch, and picked up the occasional award.

On this day, President Reagan had traveled to Las Vegas to pick up an award from the National Association of Broadcasters. The president was onstage delivering his acceptance speech when a maniac approached the podium, grabbed the glass trophy, and smashed it on the floor. Eighty-one-year-old Reagan looked up at the man, his expression reflecting surprise and a little anger, but no fear. The man then shoved Reagan as he reached for the microphone.

It took about ten seconds for the first Secret Service agent to arrive and subdue the intruder, as gasps emerged from the audience. As the man was dragged off, other agents moved Reagan protectively to the other side of the stage. After things had died down, Reagan returned to center stage, bent over and tried to salvage what was left of the shattered award.  An uncomfortable silence filled the auditorium.

Reagan retook the podium and resumed the speech where he had left off. When he finished the prepared text, the president looked up at the audience and said, "I think I'm going to go out and see who that guy is." He then tugged at his jacket sleeves as if he were spoiling for a fight, flashed the old smile, and waved.

The audience went crazy.

I remember watching the news report on CNN the day it happened, but have never seen this very scary incident referenced in any subsequent Reagan biography or documentary. But when I think of Reagan the man, this incident invariably comes to mind, because it illustrated the qualities that made Reagan great: strength, resolve, grace, and courage.

In researching this blog entry, I found this New York Times story regarding this incident. I was unable to find any video of the incident itself. If you happen to find it, please email me or post it as a comment here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Care For Some Whine With Your Cheese, Harford Dems?

I’m still chuckling over the plight of Harford County Democrats, who have gotten themselves shut out of the local councilmanic redistricting process because they failed to follow rules they originally wrote themselves.

To recap, the county’s charter – approved by a Democratic Harford County Council when the Democrats were still the county’s majority party - requires a political party to pass a 15 percent electoral threshold before they can receive guaranteed representation on the decennial redistricting panel. The Democrats, who did not run candidates in three of the county’s six council districts or for the council presidency, failed to reach that threshold. Consequently, the Harford County Council, by a partisan 5-2 vote, appointed only Republicans to the panel which will draw the new lines using U. S. Census data.

I’d be hard pressed to improve on the excellent op-ed The Sun’s Andy Green wrote on this particular matter. But, I’d like to make a few observations about the excuses Harford Democrats have been throwing around.

You’ve heard of the five stages of grief, right? Well, the comments coming from senior Harford County Democrats seem to hint at a “three stages of screwing up” process.

The first stage: Blame others. "Republicans here are so tea-partied up that they think they don't even have to include us," The Sun quotes Harford Democratic chairman Wendy Sawyer as saying. "This originally was a clear attempt to keep fringe parties from participating in redistricting. To suggest that we are a fringe party is outrageous."

If you’re not a fringe party, then act like it. In other words, field candidates for public office. Had Harford Democrats left no local race uncontested, then they would not be in the predicament they now find themselves.

The second stage: Profess ignorance. "Nobody realized the consequences of not fielding candidates," Chairman Wendy explained. "If we had, we would have challenged the charter as it is written at that time."

As the chair of the local Democratic Party, Sawyer has an obligation to her partisans to know and communicate the rules. There really isn’t anything else to say besides that.

The third stage: Make threats. The Harford County Democratic Central Committee – with backing from the Maryland Democratic Party – is threatening legal action, in effect to challenge the legality of the charter written and passed by its own partisans.

I guess the silly season never really ends in Maryland politics.

Of all the quotes I read relative to this matter, my favorite came from Harford Democratic activist (and rejected redistricting panel nominee) George Harrison, who concluded this episode is all about "the arrogance of power."

Arrogance, indeed.

Statewide, Democrats in Maryland still enjoy a super-advantage over Republicans. Perhaps even Democrats in majority Republican localities believe that they can fail to obey their own rules and still come out on top by whining, histrionics, and threats.

For their sake, I hope Harford Democrats jettison the hapless Chairman Wendy in favor of someone more competent. And, I hope that majority Republicans set an example by guaranteeing a fair outcome for all Harford residents once the redistricting process ends.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Tale of Two Presidents, HBO Style

Presidents Day isn’t until next Monday, but so far this year, two important milestones have given the American Presidency a fair amount of attention: the fiftieth anniversary of JFK’s inauguration, and the centennial of Ronald Reagan’s birth.

JFK and Reagan are political icons revered by different constituencies. Still, I have always seen more similarities than differences between them.

Both were pragmatic. Both were cold warriors. Both were exceptional communicators. Both believed in the power of tax cuts to stimulate economic growth. Both were proud Irishmen. Both had legendary hair.

Being a fan of presidential history, I was therefore pleased that HBO decided to run programs focusing on each man’s presidency. Unfortunately, however, the programming decision to air each documentary hints at the ideological bias of HBO executives.

The Kennedy program – “JFK: A President to Remember” – consisted almost exclusively of archival footage dating back to the Camelot years, with Alec Baldwin providing occasional narration. Content-wise there was nothing I had not heard or seen before, but it was a good, nostalgic retelling of the highlights of Kennedy’s ample achievements and legacy.

The Reagan documentary, however, was quite a different matter.

Directed by liberal filmmaker Eugene Jarecki, “Reagan” debuted on HBO fresh from the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. It is an obvious and somewhat clumsy attempt at revisionist history aiming to present Reagan as a well-meaning if naïve and ultimately damaging figure in American history. A few Reagan loyalists (including James A. Baker, Martin Anderson, and George Schultz) are interviewed throughout the documentary, but the dialogue is dominated by obscure liberal economists and academics critical of Reagan. Anchoring “Reagan” is commentary by Ron Reagan – Reagan’s son and (arguably) his most strident critic.

I am not one of those types who routinely whines against liberal bias. For example, I am a tremendous fan of PBS’s “The Presidents” series. Though the Reagan biography PBS produced a few years ago was clearly not scripted by conservatives, I regarded it as a fair, even-handed, appropriately critical retelling of the Reagan tale.What sets “Reagan” apart is the manner in which it seems to distort historical facts to serve the filmmaker’s agenda. Here are a few examples:
  • The film mentions the well-known fact that Reagan, while president of the Screen Actors Guild, was an informant for the FBI. “What does this tell you about Ronald Reagan,” asks one of the film’s talking liberal heads, “when in 18 months he goes from being a Hollywood liberal to informing on his colleagues?” Well, as Reagan biographers Edmund Morris and Lou Cannon establish in their own biographies, after years of being a New Dealer, Reagan’s tenure as SAG president alerted him to the pervasive nature of Communist influence in Hollywood. He wasn’t snitching on his colleagues for the sake of doing so. He saw a threat he was previously unaware of, and was genuinely alarmed by it. 
  • “Reagan” asserts that, except for Nancy, the president “had no friends.” Reagan’s inscrutability is a common theme in many biographies written about him. But, to say he had no friends is hyperbole. Actor William Holden was Reagan’s best friend in Hollywood, even serving as his best man at his wedding to Nancy. Judge William P. Clark, as Edmund Morris writes, spent hours with Reagan at his ranch, working the property together and engaging in numerous cowboy pursuits. 
  • Reagan is described as becoming a “salesman” for GE when his movie career ended. But Willy Loman, he wasn't. Rather, Reagan was the company’s national spokesman, and honed his political stumping skills visiting GE factories across the country. Also alleged is that GE's then-CEO had a major Svengali-like influence over Reagan's political thinking, in effect completing Reagan's transformation from a one-time New Deal liberal into a corporate pawn.  Agree with Reagan or not, all evidence I have seen or read indicates that he came to his political views completely on his own. 
  • In one of the most bizarre moments of “Reagan,” footage of one of the network’s commercial breakaways during coverage of the 1981 inauguration was included. “The Reagan Inauguration,” it intoned, “brought to you by…” with the sponsors read by the network spokesman. I guess this was a crude attempt to buttress the point that Reagan was merely a “salesman” pitching a product. Every presidential inauguration broadcast on network TV before or since presumably ran for free, not requiring commercial interruption (sarcasm intended). 
  • Regarding the end of the Iranian hostage crisis, one of the anonymous talking heads asserts that Reagan “had nothing to do with it,” and that Jimmy Carter negotiated the deal. Never before have I heard anyone – including Reagan – claim that Carter did not deserve credit for ending the hostage crisis during the final days of his presidency. The pundit also claimed that the unearned credit Reagan got for it helped launch his presidency on a positive trajectory. Perhaps, but replacing a failed president who left office with a 34 percent approval rating might have had something to do with that, too.  
  • One of the documentary’s resident pundits is filmed driving around economically depressed areas of Dixon, Illinois – Reagan’s home town – to find evidence of the “real impact” of Reagan’s policies. So, does that mean that the bad economy we’ve been experiencing since 2008 is secretly Reagan’s fault, and not attributable to what President Obama called, “the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression”? And, if that’s the case, is George W. Bush off the hook? 
  • One of the pundits said that Reagan’s firing of the striking air traffic controllers in 1981 was purely to “send a signal” to organized labor. After warning them to resume their posts, Reagan fired the controllers for one reason and one reason only: Their strike was against the law. Tellingly, the term “illegal” is not used once when the strike is discussed during the documentary. 

At one point, the younger Reagan says of his father, "(he) was both smarter and better than people on the left think he was, and less the giant than many on the right think he was." This is a fair and reasonable critique and, for me, the highwater point of "Reagan."

The low point of “Reagan” involved an interview with a retired career military veteran (the interview takes place in a cemetery, as if to imply that Reagan was more militaristic than he actually was). This veteran explains that he strongly supported Reagan in 1980 because of the perception that America’s military had become weak. By the time Reagan left office, he had become disillusioned. He then points nostalgically to another president, who he credits for telling the truth in one of his Oval Office addresses. The president in question: Jimmy Carter. The address: The so-called “Malaise Speech,” still remembered as one of the worst presidential addresses in American history.

At that point, I changed the channel.

I am not the kind of person who only wants to hear from people with whom I agree. But, the disparity in tone between the Kennedy and Reagan documentaries bothered me. Why didn’t the Kennedy piece reference the RFK-supervised plots to kill Castro, or the assassination of South Korean president Ngo Dinh Diem, or the bugging of Martin Luther King, Jr. approved by Bobby Kennedy, or the Judy Campbell/Ellen Rometsch scandals?

The answer to that question is that they had no place in a program meant to highlight a president’s achievements on an important historic anniversary.

Both JFK and Ronald Reagan were great, consequential presidents. Neither deserves extreme hagiographic or revisionist treatment. Hopefully HBO will strive for greater balance in the future.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Hirings and Firings in Howard County

Apparently there is scandal a-brewin’ in and around Howard County government.

I received a copy of a complaint submitted to the Howard County Ethics Commission in January by a recently hired/fired employee of a local business group. A longtime GOP activist, she alleges that she was summarily fired from her job because of pressure imposed upon her bosses by the county’s ruling Democratic establishment.  

In her correspondence to the Commission, the woman states that she ultimately beat out a rival candidate supported by a Howard County Councilman to land a government relations position. This drew phone protests from the Democratic councilman, who accused the woman of being “‘out front’ of several republican (sic) initiatives,” and an even more senior local official. This prompted the woman’s new bosses to canvass members of the county’s legislative delegation for their opinions – something which presumably could have been done before the woman was actually hired. These conversations drew more partisan-based complaints. Consequently, the woman was informed after only five days on the job that she “could not be effective” and should therefore resign.

In her complaint, the woman accuses County officials of using their “Privilege of Office” to interfere with her ability to land private sector employment. “Elected officials have an obligation to the citizens they represent to abstain from improperly using their influence as elected officials to affect employment,” she states.

Let me think. Using someone’s reputed political activities as an alleged reason to fire them from a job. Where have I heard that before?

I hope the local media will be as diligent in investigating this latest allegation as they were in reporting never substantiated complaints that the Ehrlich Administration did it to Democrats years ago.

As for me, I agreed not to use the name of the complainant in this blog. However, I do have a copy of the complaint letter, which I am willing to share with members of the traditional press who want to write about it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Will Houses Be Dropping From The Sky In Baltimore County?

Several people sent me copies of the following email sent out by Patrick Hussey, a member of the “Baltimore County Campaign for Liberty.” The Campaign is upset about the Baltimore County Council’s plans to increase the number of speed cameras operating across Baltimore County.

I concur with the Campaign’s ire – speed cameras are an obnoxious form of gotcha governance, as well as a scheme to boost revenue for county government.

What I don’t get, however, are the tactics this group has been employing to achieve its ends. First, they cajole and threaten Councilmen Todd Huff and David Marks, their most natural allies on the Council. Then, they resort to the kind of name-calling that earns you permanent enemies.

That said, if Councilwomen Almond and Bevins are “witches,” would that make Sam Moxley the Wizard – you know, the guy who toils in obscurity behind a little curtain, with few people actually knowing what he does?

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Patrick Hussey <hussey_patrick@yahoo.com>
Date: Thu, Feb 3, 2011 at 11:04 AM
Subject: Was that Cathy Bevins on a Broomstick? Door-to-Door Against Speed Cameras!
To: Patrick Hussey <hussey_patrick@yahoo.com>

Dear Friends,

When I was campaigning against Cathy Bevins in her home precinct (precinct 15-6, near Oliver Beach Elementary School) the other day, I heard her cackle as she whipped out her broomstick and flew off to a County Council Meeting. That's why we've named her "The Wicked Witch of the East." We've got 9 activists going door-to-door to punish the Wicked Witch of the East for her misdeeds on the County Council, knowing that she has sponsored a very, very bad bill designed to kill our Essential Liberty with the swift stroke of her pen. We'll hit thousands of homes the next few days in her District. She knows she's the most vulnerable member of the County Council, since she only won by about 500 votes. We will do everything we can to peel her off this bad bill. There's only one problem.

You see, the Wicked Witch of the West is also flying around on her broomstick terrorizing District 2, and your Little Dog too. Her name is Vicki Almond, and I hear she's quite a nut! Without your help, this vote on Speed Cameras may very well go down 4-3. Would you like to help crack that nut Almond? So far, we only have one activist in Almond's District covering Woodholme Elementary School, precinct 3-14. Would you like help distribute literature in Almond's District and turn her constituents against her? We've got maps and opposition literature ready to go, as much as you and your teams of Freedom Fighters can handle. Please respond to this email if you'd like to fight for freedom alongside us.

For Liberty,
Patrick Hussey
Baltimore County Campaign for Liberty