Friday, August 31, 2012

Is Richard Nixon Chris Christie's Muse?

So, I was on the road during the past few days. As a result, I caught the GOP convention festivities from Tampa in sparing snippets.

I listened to Ann Romney and Chris Christie’s speeches on the radio, and watched Paul Ryan’s remarks Wednesday night. Last night I listened to Clint Eastwood’s “angry old man” routine and Marco Rubio’s eloquent remarks en route from the airport, and got home just in time to watch Romney’s speech at my favorite neighborhood hangout (thanks, Red Star, for indulging my GOP ways for an evening).

So, now that I’m back I’m going to catch up on what I missed. I have a few general impressions about the convention based on what I saw, but I would like to withhold comment until I’ve seen the rest.

Still, there was one thing I noticed in one of the speeches that no other political writer or observer has, to my knowledge, yet mentioned.

As I listened to Chris Christie’s speech, the following line sounded vaguely familiar.

“There's only one thing missing now. Leadership. It takes leadership that you don't get from reading a poll. You see, Mr. President - real leaders don't follow polls. Real leaders change polls.”

When I got home last night, I pulled the source where I thought I’d originally read it, and confirmed my suspicions.

It seems that Christie borrowed the sentiment, if not the exact line itself, from another famous New Jersey resident: Richard M. Nixon.

Nixon, a New Jerseyan, you’re asking? Well, yes, actually.

When he left the White House in August 1974, Nixon famously retreated to his home in San Clemente, California for a period of self-imposed exile. Citing a desire to be back in the middle of intellectual life on the east coast, the Nixons later relocated back to New York City (where they had lived in the 1960s) and later to suburban New Jersey.

Nixon was living in the Garden State when he wrote the following:

“The candidate who slavishly follows the polls may get elected, but he will not be a great leader or even a good one. The task of the leader is not to follow the polls, but to make the polls and the people follow him.” ~ In The Arena, p. 265

So, what’s going on here? Is Christie’s speechwriter a Nixonphile like me, or is this just an example of different, like-minded people independently finding their way to the same basic idea?

Anyway, this rhetorical intersection reinforces my belief that anyone who wants to understand everything about American politics – the good as well as the bad – needs to study the careers of two people: Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson.

Once you have, you can honestly say that – when it comes to the current crop of politicos – you’ve heard it all before. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

"Romney's Last, Best Hope"

As some of you may know, I have a column in the Frederick News Post that runs every other month or so. Here is my most recent piece, which discusses the role that the upcoming GOP convention may play in Governor Romney’s future prospects.

When you put your opinions and your byline out there, you better have a thick skin. Some people who disagree with you will take potshots at you personally (e. g. calling me a “moron,” as someone does in the comments section following my piece) or cruelly dismiss your views and abilities as inferior (such as one person did via email).

But, it’s all part of the game, I suppose. 

I have been known to take a few shots at people whose actions, judgment, and/or character I question. I need to accept being held to the same standard.

However, I did want to respond directly to one of the people who left a comment at the end of the column, because I thought he raised a reasonable point that required answering.

Someone named “Steve” made the following observation:

“Again, the pace of this column does not track events of the day. A blogger should know you need to be on top of TODAYS news/topics, or at least have some NEW perspective. Did this get edited a week ago? Move along, nothing to see here... EVERYONE else is talking Veep. --Steve.”

OK, fair point. My column about the convention debuted just after Romney announced his VEEP pick, which certainly seemed out of step with breaking events.

I thought about doing a VEEP piece, but was deterred from doing so for one very logical reason

Had I chosen the VEEP-stakes as a topic, I could have taken two potential approaches: either I could have argued as to what qualities Romney should look for in a running mate, or I could have argued in favor of one of the frequently mentioned candidates.

Neither assignment is enviable when you've only got 500 words to play with, but I digress.

Anyway, as my column was due the Friday before it ran on Monday, I was left with the possibility that – had Romney announced his pick during the intervening weekend, which he did – whatever I wrote would be superseded and rendered obsolete by events.

So, I decided to write about a topic which – unlike the VEEP-stakes, which was the subject of intense speculation even before Romney announced Ryan was his choice – few people seemed to be discussing: the GOP convention coming up in Tampa in a few weeks. 

I thought the time was right to remind people of this event and the important role conventions can play. And, because I am a former convention staffer (Philadelphia, 2000), I have a special interest in and perspective of that topic.

So what do I think of the Ryan pick? 

Well, I was pulling for Ohio Senator Rob Portman, because I figured that he might help Romney in a state crucial to his chances. Upon learning of Ryan’s selection, I was skeptical for two reasons.

First, the last two sitting House members who ran for vice president – Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and William Miller in 1964 – went down in flames along with their respective presidential nominees. You have to go all the way back to John Nance Garner in 1932 to find someone who successfully leapt from the House to the vice presidency.

(However, it's appropriate to point out that Ferraro and Miller were obscure, back bench House members, whereas Ryan - the sitting Budget Committee chairman - is a member of the House leadership, as was Speaker Garner.)

Second, Rep. Ryan’s activism on budget issues leaves him prone to the kind of demagoguery we have already seen coming out of the Democrats, especially with respect to Medicare.

Still, it’s a bold pick, and Ryan projects as a strong, articulate, effective campaigner. In short, he’s as charismatic as Sarah Palin with the added bonus of having actual intellectual substance.

One thing’s for sure…I can’t wait to see Ryan demolish Joe “Y’all will be in chains” Biden in the vice presidential debates. That may justify the pick all by itself.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Obama: Dusting Off the Past

So, I’m trying to wrap my head around Democrats’ decision to make their nominating convention in Charlotte an ode to the party’s past rather than a statement about the future.

In July, it was announced that Bill Clinton will be putting Obama’s name into nomination during the third night of the convention. As far as I know, having a former president do that for a current president is unprecedented in American history.

Because the first night of the convention corresponds with Labor Day, the Democrats must now shoehorn four days’ worth of speeches into three, in effect making Clinton the party’s de facto keynote speaker.

Last night we learned that the Dems paid a second visit to their political graveyard, resurrecting Jimmy Carter for a prime-time (by remote rather than in-person) speech as well.

It’s certainly not unusual for former presidents to speak at conventions. Clinton spoke at the 2008 convention, and Ronald Reagan delivered one of the finest speeches of his career in support of George H. W. Bush’s doomed reelection bid during the GOP’s infamous convention in Houston in 1992.

But what’s happening this year seems a little different. Rather than adding their voices to a broad partisan chorus, it appears as if each of these former presidents is trying to prop up a shaky incumbent.

Look, Bill Clinton is a rock star, and he certainly knows how to give a speech. But inviting him to speak may backfire.

First, voters may decide that Obama’s record - high unemployment, stagnant economic growth, mounting debt, a polarizing health care law, and a weakening of welfare reform - compares unfavorably with Clinton’s: A booming economy, a balanced budget, cooperation with a GOP Congress, and popular legislative wins such as welfare reform.

Standing in front of a nationally televised audience, one can only imagine what this spotlight-hugging former president may say about a successor for whom he has, at different times, expressed support, criticism, and indifference.

As for picking Jimmy Carter, that makes no sense at all.

Some Republicans have been trying to equate Obama with the malaise man of the 1970s. Putting him front and center seems to make this job easier.

Further, President Carter also has a tendency to veer off script, and his controversial stances on certain foreign policy issues – especially as pertains to Israel and the Palestinian question – have diminished his credibility and his relevance as an opinion leader in some quarters.

It also makes him a potential liability with a key constituency - Jewish voters – with whom Obama already has problems.

If Obama wanted to make former Democratic presidents a presence in his re-nominating convention, he could have chosen better than either Clinton or Carter, thanks to the rise of holographic performing.

Tupac Shakur and Elvis Presley both returned to the stage thanks to this new technology.  
Wouldn’t you like to watch Roosevelt deliver a ringing "endorsement" of Obama in his distinctive stentorian tone?

Or, wouldn’t it be cool to watch JFK shake hands with the man his daughter Caroline called, “a president like my father?”

How about Harry Truman exhorting Obama to “Give ‘Em Hell” from beyond the grave?

Anyway, I hope I’ve made my point.

Conventions should be about the nominee’s record – especially if that nominee is the incumbent president – and vision for the future.

Hiding behind one’s predecessors – let alone one judged by the voters and history to have been a failure – is the sign of a president who lacks the record or the confidence to stand on his own.  

To quote Bill Clinton’s campaign theme: “Yesterday’s gone.” In politics, tomorrow always matters most. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Martin O'Malley's Props to Anthony Brown

Two tipsters simultaneously forwarded to me the following email from Governor Martin O’Malley in praise of Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown.

As I read through this, I’m struggling to determine what the purpose of it is.

Is it to demonstrate definitively that Brown is O’Malley’s designated favorite/successor for the 2014 nomination? Perhaps, but the wording seems deliberately vague. Case in point: “I urge Anthony to continue his public service and pursue the greatest possible level of public responsibility.” Encouraging someone to run does not equate to an affirmative endorsement.

Or, is Team O’Malley responding to an ask from the Lieutenant Governor as warmly yet diplomatically as possible?

Another question: Why is O'Malley doing this now?

I’ll leave it to you to figure all that out. This is the text of the email as I received it.


From: Martin O'Malley <>
Date: Mon, Aug 6, 2012 at 1:58 PM
Subject: Anthony Brown

Dear Friend,

I consider myself fortunate for a number of reasons: the privilege to
serve the people of Maryland, the ability to make a real difference in
the lives of families, and the opportunity to move our great State
forward through difficult economic times.

I am also fortunate that I have had a true partner in governing from
the day I took office – your Lieutenant Governor, and my friend,
Anthony Brown. Anthony is an outstanding public servant, and I have
seen first-hand the results we’ve achieved becaused (sic) of Anthony’s
leadership on efforts to create jobs, improve healthcare, and make
college more affordable for more families.

No matter what lies ahead for Anthony in public service, I know that I
will be with him 100 percent, because I believe that our State, our
communities, and all Marylanders will benefit greatly with Anthony
bringing people together to work for our shared priorities.

As Lieutenant Governor, Anthony has pushed hard to get our economic
initiatives passed to protect our investments in education and job
creation. He is nationally recognized for his leadership on behalf of
our veterans, and he has developed groundbreaking new laws to protect
victims of domestic violence.

The challenges facing Maryland have not been easy, and our progress
would not have been possible without Anthony’s leadership and
determination. Together, we’ve made the largest investment in our
State’s history in public education, and Maryland’s public schools
have been ranked number one in the nation four years in a row.
Together, we have been able to maintain Maryland’s Triple A bond
rating. And together, we’ve been able to recover 65 percent of jobs
lost during the Great Recession and keep our unemployment rate more
than 15 percent below the national average.

Throughout all of these challenges, Anthony has been by my side every
step of the way. He has taken the lead on some of the most difficult
measures our administration has pursued, from expanding and improving
the delivery of health care and eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse in
Medicaid, to strengthening Maryland laws protecting neglected
children, to taking guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. He has
leveraged legislative experience, consensus-building skills, and
intelligence to pass many of our most critical priorities.

We have to work hard to make sure this progress continues well into
the future, and that our State continues to move forward. For these
reasons and more, I urge Anthony to continue his public service and
pursue the greatest possible level of public responsibility. He has
been my partner day in and day out, and he understands what needs to
be done to make sure our state moves forward, not back.

After nearly six years of working together, I know that Anthony
understands better than anyone how our government works, and more
importantly, how to ensure it works best to improve the lives of our
citizens. More than any other public official, Anthony Brown has my
complete trust in his ability to serve the best interests of Maryland.

Over the coming months, I will be working hard to make sure Maryland
benefits from Anthony’s continued leadership and that the progress we
have made together continues well into the future. I hope you will
join me in supporting Anthony in his commitment to build on the
progress we’ve made in the years to come.


Martin O’Malley

P.S. Please take the time to visit to learn more
about Anthony’s story, his family, his military service, and the hard
work he’s doing every day to move Maryland forward.