Archive for September, 2013

Let’s Not Clone Betsy Johnson

Posted in Uncategorized on September 24, 2013 by thebluebros

Should our federal laws use the word “lunatic?” Congress decided last December that we probably should not use that word, and in an effort to reduce the stigmatization of the mentally ill, Congress voted to remove the word “lunatic” from all federal laws. Well…when I say Congress, I mean every voting member of Congress except for Louie Gohmert (R-TX)—often recognized as the dumbest member of Congress. Mr. Gohmert was the lone member of Congress who thought we should continue to use the word. Not to be outdone, in 2004, Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), was the only person in the U.S. House of Representatives to vote against a resolution to honor the 40th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. To be fair to Rep. Gohmert, he did not join Congress until 2005 so never had the opportunity to vote against an honoring of the Civil Rights Act.

To most people, the votes by Congressman Gohmert and Paul are shameful, embarrassing, and inexplicable. To many in the media, however, who are obsessed with the phenomenon of voting against one’s own party, these loons are to be lauded and cheered for their courage and independence.

For those of us in Oregon, we deal with this obsession with annoying regularity because we have only one statewide paper—The Oregonian—and it adores “bipartisanship” and “breaking with party lines.” Whether those breaks represent a vote for good public policy is a far secondary consideration.

The Oregonian recently showcased its bizarre fetish for bipartisanship with its editorial entitled, “Oregon Needs More Betsy Johnsons.” For those of you not familiar with Betsy Johnson, she represents Oregon’s northwest coast in the state senate (Astoria, Seaside, Tillamook). Most people who encounter Ms. Johnson would not likely be blown away by her. She is not a fiery public speaker. Few would describe her as overly charismatic. She isn’t what you would call a policy wonk. At 62 years of age, she isn’t exactly an up-and-comer. I have spoken to lobbyists who, off the record, will tell me she is not intellectually curious, and her votes seem to vary more based on her mood that day rather than the specific policy before her. And in her more than 10 years in the Oregon legislature, I can recall no piece of legislation she has ever spearheaded. My efforts to educate myself on Ms. Johnson’s accomplishments were met with a series of dead ends. Even Ms. Johnson’s legislative website and campaign website are devoid of even one mention of a legislative accomplishment attained in her 13 years in the Oregon legislature.

Some readers at this time may be asking, “Why then does The Oregonian think we need more Betsy Johnsons?” The reason The Oregonian likes Ms. Johnson so is that she has a knack for poking her fellow Democrats in the eye. This was most evident this past legislative session when Secretary of State Kate Brown proposed a law that would automatically register to vote any person who obtained a drivers’ license. No person would be required to vote, but each driver would be automatically registered to vote should they choose to vote at some later time. This seemed like a law that had something appealing for all political stripes. Liberals could tout easier access to voting, and conservatives could crow about streamlining of government and elimination of bureaucratic waste.

The bill passed the Oregon House, but died in the senate 15-15. Democrats held a 16-14 edge in the Senate, but Ms. Johnson joined the 14 Republicans to kill the bill. The reason for Ms. Johnson’s opposition was difficult to discern. The only explanation obtained from her was via a flippant statement she made that we “ask so little of citizenship.” Apparently state governments need to find ways to make it harder to be a citizen…or something.

We should have a full and vocal debate on the merits of this bill (or lack thereof). There may be reasons why it is important to require people to register to vote instead of doing it automatically. My understanding is that technology has rendered the original reasons for requiring a separate voter-registration process obsolete, but perhaps there are good reasons to keep this antiquated process in place. Making people earn their citizenship, however, is not a good reason. Howard Dean was so upset by Ms. Johnson’s antics that he went to Twitter to encourage Democrats in Oregon to primary her.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this is that The Oregonian stated in its puff-piece praising Ms. Johnson, that it actually supported the bill that Ms. Johnson killed! The Oregonian was apparently willing to overlook the fact that she killed good policy because good policy is not as important to The Oregonian as getting to watch a politician poke its own party in the eye. Talk about form over substance.

Besty Pic Not the Cure to What Ails Us

Ms. Johnson has strayed from her party when it needed her vote to pass stronger environmental regulation. She was also the lone Democrat back in 2012 who joined Republicans in amending an otherwise very positive bill designed to streamline Oregon’s Medicare Program so that the bill would include a dreadful tort reform provision.

Politicians who are willing to buck their party’s leadership can be a very good thing, but I say that with two very important caveats that The Oregonian (and many others) fail to apply. First, and most important, bucking your party’s leadership is not admirable if it means opposing good legislation (e.g., see Louie Gohmert and Ron Paul’s votes above). Second, bucking your party’s leadership is not always motivated by a desire to do the right thing. For example, in 2009, Joe Lieberman opposed the public option for reasons even he must have known were silly, and then opposed the optional Medicare buy-in even though it was his own idea. Sometimes people buck their party because they are bought and sold by a particular interest group, or they have an axe to grind, or they are just an attention-seeking narcissist (by the way, I think all three apply to Lieberman). In these instances, bucking one’s party leadership warrants nothing but scorn.

Betsy Johnson may be a great person (I have never met her). But the record indicates she is, to be kind, a fairly mediocre legislator. To think that we need more representatives like her for the sole reason that she is willing to vote against her party a whopping 10% of the time (heavy on the snark) regardless of all other considerations is indefensible. Let’s instead choose people who are intelligent, hard-working, support good policy, and can point to a few legislative accomplishments. If these legislators’ vigilant attempts accidentally lead them to engage in a bipartisan manner, such bipartisanship may deserve an interesting side note, but nothing more.



Eat Your Red Meat

Posted in Uncategorized on September 20, 2013 by thebluebros

I try to avoid writing on topics that are overly populist (i.e. ideas that are so obviously appealing to virtually everyone). Don’t get me wrong. I like a populist message as much as the next person, probably more in fact, but there’s a fine line between appealing to the public with a man-of-the-people kind of idea and simply throwing red meat to the masses.

But today I am delivering that red meat, a populist message that is completely unrealistic, silly, impossible, pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking. I am advocating for a revocation of the government healthcare currently provided to every House Republican.

See if you can fathom the cajones it takes for Congressional Republicans to offer the following idea: While we and our families enjoy first-rate government-provided healthcare that is funded by American tax payers, we vehemently oppose the government using tax dollars to help provide healthcare to you and your families. To prevent you from having the same benefits that we have, we will go so far as to shut down the U.S. government and indefinitely put hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work. Who’s with us?!

I don’t mind people advocating for self-reliance and making a case against government programs. Nor do I mind people benefitting from government programs. But nothing grinds my gears more than people who do both.

When I worked for the VA I regularly came into contact with patients who railed against Americans who depend on the government for financial assistance, while those people doing the complaining simultaneously collected disability checks, had free government healthcare, attended VA-sponsored events, and took advantage of a multitude of other government-funded goodies.

What Congressional Republicans are doing is even worse. They have spun the issue of Obamacare until it’s no longer recognizable, and they have actually convinced millions of Americans that getting healthcare is bad for them. But these Republicans keep forgetting to explain why they continue to have and use their government-provided healthcare coverage.

In the end, it’s all a big charade. Congressional Republicans know that a government shutdown won’t stop Obamacare from being enacted. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) concluded in a memorandum earlier this summer that a funding lapse related to a government shutdown would not affect Obamacare. The governmental entities required to operate Obamacare would remain in operation through a government shutdown, much the same way Americans would continue to collect Social Security checks and Medicare/Medicaid benefits. I hope that Congressional Republicans aren’t so clueless as to really believe that a government shutdown means the entire government actually shuts down. But I wouldn’t put it past them.

So if Obamacare is happening no matter what, what’s the motivation for Congressional Republicans? Answer: To delegitimize the President; to put a stain on his single-greatest legislative achievement; and to fire up the conservative base in hopes that they turn out in droves on Election Day. Country First, indeed.

So here’s my completely unrealistic solution: Revoke the government-provided healthcare enjoyed by Congressional Republicans. Once they learn what it’s like to not have healthcare for themselves or their families, then they can talk to the rest of us about the importance of defunding Obamacare.

– Nathan

Obama Reveals There is Something Worse Than Being a Passionless Wimp

Posted in Uncategorized on September 11, 2013 by thebluebros

I have long had two complaints about President Obama: (1) He is not a liberal; and (2) He is not a fighter. Without devoting too much time to the first, I will simply say most reasonable people can probably understand President Obama is a moderate—as evidenced by the policies he pursues (e.g., his signature accomplishment has been to enact a Republican healthcare plan from the early 1990s); the advisors he chooses (e.g., Tim Geitner, Larry Summers, Jason Furman, Bob Gates, Chuck Hagel, John Brennan); and the potential advisors he conspicuously does not choose (e.g., Paul Volker, Howard Dean, Paul Krugman, Robert Reich).

The larger complaint I have against President Obama is his unwillingness or inability to fight (I have previously linked to the very good New York Times editorial written by Bob Herbert in which he refers to it as Obama’s “chronic unwillingness to fight”). For 4 ½ years, we have watched President Obama propose good ideas, but quickly fold up like a cheap card table at the first sign of opposition. For a liberal like myself who has fought tirelessly to get Democrats (including Obama) elected, it is heartbreaking. 

When liberals push back, they are hit hard by Obama apologists who explain why it was acceptable for Obama not to fight. The excuse is typically some variation of “There was no way Obama was going to get Congress to go along. He isn’t going to squander political capital on some quixotic endeavor.” While I vehemently disagree with this philosophy and believe that you never know what can be accomplished until you put the full force of the executive branch’s bully pulpit behind it, I accept that this is who Obama is. He is king of a town that, as Mark Leibovich points out in his new book, rewards cowardice more than any other characteristic.

But something happened on the way to Obama’s trip to the Wimp Hall of Fame: Syria.

Syria has demonstrated that Obama has courage and the tenacity to fight. Putting aside for a moment the rightness or wrongness of attacking Syria, there can be little question that Obama has fought hard to go into Syria and that this fight was a courageous one.

President Obama’s staff have shared with the media that they were caught off-guard by Obama’s Syria fervor, and that this push for action in Syria very much came from Obama himself. Further, polls show that by a 20-point margin, Americans do not want the United States to go into Syria. Moreover, it appears the war resolution that Obama has been pushing hard in Congress has no better than a 50% shot of passing the Senate, and barring an cataclysmic event, is doomed in the House.

Despite the world being against this; Congress being against this; and the American people being against this, President Obama is taking the fight to the world, Congress, and the American people. Such a fight against a unified opposition strongly indicates the person making that fight is driven by deep personal convictions.

Not only is Obama fighting, he is fighting hard. How hard he is fighting it is nothing short of miraculous. Let’s examine this for a moment. Obama’s Syria fight began on August 30, 2013 and has not let up. I present the following timeline to summarize just a smattering of Obama’s efforts to win support of his proposed attack on Syria:

  • Friday, August 30, 2013: President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry give coordinated speeches imploring the world and Americans to support a strike against Syria. The same day, U.S. intelligence officials release previously classified information regarding Syria’s gassing of its own people in order to win favor with skeptics.
  • Saturday, August 31, 2013: Vice-President Biden joins President Obama in the Rose Garden for a press conference to push for action in Syria.
  • Sunday, September 1, 2013: The White House sends its surrogates, including Secretary of State John Kerry, to hit the Sunday talk shows.
  • Monday, September 2, 2013: President Obama spends his Labor Day working the phones lobbying Congressional Republicans to support his Syria resolution.
  • Tuesday, September 3, 2013: President Obama’s personal lobbying efforts pay off. He wins the support of Speaker Boehner. The White House sends its Secretaries of State and Defense to testify before Congress.
  • Wednesday, September 4, 2013: While in Sweden, President Obama opts to take questions about Syria. The White House issues a press release congratulating the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for passing its Syria resolution.
  • Thursday, September 5, 2013: During a meeting with Japan’s Prime Minister, President Obama provides remarks to the press stressing the need for a response to Syria.
  • Friday, September 6, 2013: President Obama gives a press-conference at the G-20 summit to discuss Syria. The White House issues a press release that provides a joint statement with other nations condemning Syria’s use of chemical weapons. Three days later, the White reissues what is essentially the same press release.
  • Saturday, September 7, 2013: President Obama gives his weekly radio address; it focuses almost entirely on Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with the EU ministers in an effort to sway them to support action in Syria.
  • Sunday, September 8, 2013: White House Chief of Staff, Denis McDonogh, makes the Sunday morning talk-show rounds in an effort to win over support from the still-skeptical public and Congress.
  • Monday, September 9, 2013: President Obama engages in what The Christian Science Monitor calls a “full court political press rarely seen in Washington.” President Obama gives six TV interviews on all major networks and cable news channels. Secretary of State Kerry barnstorms around the country to garner support while Vice-President Biden stays in D.C. to call members of Congress to gin up support. The White House even pulls former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and former CIA director David Petraeus out of retirement to advocate on behalf of action in Syria. Yahoo calls this Obama’s “all-out push” and characterizes his media efforts as a “blitz.” The White House also issues a press release listing all of the nations that support action in Syria.
  • Tuesday, September 10, 2013: Vice-President Biden spends the morning meeting with House Republicans to try and persuade them to support Obama’s Syria resolution. In the evening, President Obama gives a prime-time, nationally televised address to the nation from the White house to discuss action in Syria.

Look at this! It is an all-out assault on our sensory inputs. A day hasn’t passed in the last two weeks where President Obama and his surrogates have not aggressively attempted to gin up support for attacking Syria. Every tool of the executive branch is being utilized: press conferences; lobbying of Congress by the president and vice-president; radio addresses; television interviews; speeches to foreign leaders; hitting all the morning talk shows; sending out surrogates to speak to anyone who will listen; issuing of press releases; and the biggest tool of all—the address to the nation from the Oval Office. This is what it looks like to fight for something you believe in. Whether it will work remains to be seen, but Obama’s devotion to this issue cannot be questioned…and that is what stings.

This leaves liberals with a very troubling quandary. We were wrong when we said Obama lacked the ability and passion to fight. Over the last two weeks, he has demonstrated that he has plenty of passion and knows how to fight hard. It’s just not directed to any of the things liberals (or most of America) care about.

What does it say about a president who can’t be bothered to meaningfully regulate Wall Street, fund Head Start, protect the environment, stop Republican governors from decimating unions, or fight for a real jobs bill, but stakes every resource he has to the wildly unpopular goal of bombing a small country that poses no danger to us or our allies? What it tells me is that I was wrong about President Obama. He is not a disinterested coward. Obama does have it in him to take bold positions and fight hard. Unfortunately, now that I see what gets Obama’s juices flowing, I find myself longing for the passionless wimp.

     – Dylan