Thursday, April 28, 2011

Let’s Get This Show On The Road

Within a few weeks we’ll know officially most of the major candidates for president, A few may hold back for strategic reasons, but it’s time to begin the campaign in earnest and redirect the voters to the problems the nation faces (and what we might do to solve them).

In my view, there has been a bit too much “positioning” in the period leading up to the present by the various Republican hopefuls, and that’s a game in which the media and the political consultants hold sway. It has lead to distraction for distraction’s sake, and to poseurs claiming they are candidates for president of the United States. Positioning, or a preoccupation with the strategies of game-playing with issues, fills cable TV, assorted blogs, gossip columns and campaign strategist’s paychecks, but does not often inform voters about whom to vote for.

Let’s take social security reform as an example. There are only a few practical and worthy steps to take to make social security stable over the coming decades. Most political figures know what they are, and that eventually they will be applied to the problem. The game playing is somehow to gain advantage with certain voters by making it seem one’s opponent is for the unpopular solutions. One “unpopular” solution that will happen, sooner or later, is that the age at which a worker is eligible for payments will be extended from 65 to 70 or 72. This is inevitable, but a candidate might hope that if he or she can get an opponent or opponents to advocate this change, some voters will turn against him or her. Perhaps a few voters will be influenced by “scare” tactics on this issue, but most voters already understand that this kind of change is inevitable. I suggest key voters will be drawn to political candidates who are straight-forward about matters like this one, and do not play political games.

The evidence is that this is what the public wants more than anything else in these troubled economic times when traditional ideas and institutions have failed are understandable solutions that will work and are fair.

If a nascent presidential campaign became preoccupied by a birth certificate, it is because no one was really talking about the key issues on the voters’ minds. Of course, some issues are much less conclusive than social security reform, and a real debate is needed to clarify what can and should be done. But GOP candidates, it seems to me, risk becoming preoccupied with how narrow religious, ethnic and social issues will impact their chances in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Let me say here that, with this potential field of candidates, the nomination is not likely to be decided in the early primaries and caucuses, conventional wisdom and past campaigns notwithstanding. In 2012, it is likely to be late primary-to-late primary combat, with the victor being the contestant who establishes himself or herself as the person most likely to provide a credible alternative to the incumbent. In the Democratic race in 2008, Mrs. Clinton almost caught up to Mr. Obama as voters in the late primaries reassessed the candidates. In the Republican race in 2012, there may be more than two finalists after the First Four primary/caucuses, and if this is so, the race may be undecided until the end of the campaign season or even at the convention in Tampa.

Most of the serious Republican candidates are going to agree generally about the largest issues. No pro-choice Republican is going to be nominated, nor is anyone who advocates raising taxes or enlarging government. Even in foreign affairs, no GOP nominee will favor U.S. isolationism or abandoning our strongest allies (including Great Britain and Israel).

There are several talented, capable and nominatable candidates in this field, and the campaign, as I have been suggested for months, will soon narrow down to them.

The Iowa Straw Ballot in August will be here before long, and a series of debates among the candidates. It’s probably going to be a protracted political show this time, so let’s get this show on the road.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Who Will Control The U.S. Senate in 2013?

The 2012 national election is likely to be a threshold election. The 2010 election points to it, just as the 2006 election signaled what would happen in 2008. The Republicans now control the U.S. house by a large margin, and although anything can happen, the GOP advantage in redistricting, as well as the momentum from 2010, points to the election in 2012 likely resulting in that party keeping control.

Control of the U.S. senate is very much another story. Republicans made dramatic gains in 2010, narrowing the Democratic total from the “magic” number of 60 (including two independents who organized with them) to 53. Republicans might have won 1-2 more seats if they had better candidates, but as the results turned out, they would not have easily won control (4 more seats).

The same advantage the GOP had in 2010, that is, many more Democratic incumbents up for re-election than GOP incumbents, will be repeated in 2012. (23 Democratic-held seats vs. 10 Republican-held seats.) A very early assessment of these races indicates that Republicans could well take control of the senate. Of course, this will depend a great deal on the presidential race, the state of the economy, and the political mood across the country, but the GOP does not have to win the presidency to take control of the senate and keep control of the house.

Incumbent GOP Senator John Ensign of Nevada has announced he will resign his seat in a few days. His seat would be up in 2012, although Ensign had earlier announced he would not seek re-election. Nevada has become a “swing” state recently, and this news actually enhances the GOP’s prospects to hold the seat. The Republican governor will likely appoint Congressman Dean Heller, already the frontrunner for the GOP nomination in 2012, and this should greatly strengthen his chances to keep the seat.

Elsewhere, the pattern of Republican strength is evident. Of course, surprising events could change this, but patterns tend to continue in cycles.

States that favor GOP pick-ups (some are currently rated as toss-ups) include Nebraska (Democratic incumbent Ben Nelson), Missouri (Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill), Montana (Democratic incumbent Jon Teeter), Virginia (Democratic incumbent retiring), Florida (Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson), and probably New Mexico (Democratic incumbent retiring). The seat held by retiring Democratis Senator Kent Conrad already appears as a very possible pick-up for the GOP. In addition, incumbents Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown in Ohio and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin in West Virginia could face very serious challengers. (Manchin, incidentally, is the most conservative Democrat in the senate, and already votes with the GOP much of the time.) Finally, incumbent Democrats in Washington (Cantwell) and Stabenow (Michigan) are vulnerable if there is a GOP landslide. In Hawaii, the long-time Democratic incumbent (Akaka) is retiring, but if former GOP Governor Linda Lingle were to enter the race, this seat would be competitive. If aging (and lackluster) incumbent Senator Herbert Kohl of Wisconsin (he will be 77 in 2012) were to retire, that seat would be competitive. Democratic seats in New York (Gillibrand), Pennsylvania (Casey), New Jersey (Menendez), now rated safe for the Democrats, also might become vulnerable. Thus, if all its stars were to fall into place, the Republicans might come close to 60 seats.

But Republican have some vulnerabilities of their own. Incumbent Richard Lugar of Indiana faces a serious Tea Party challenge in his primary. A Democrat could win the seat of retiring incumbent John Kyl (Arizona), especially if Gabrielle Gifford recuperates sufficiently. An open seat in Texas, now held by the GOP, might become competitive, as might the seat recently won by Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts (who already often votes with the Democrats). Surprise GOP senate retirements might also change safe GOP seats to vulnerable.

Nevertheless, just a look at the numbers indicate that the best prospects of the Democrats are to prevent the Republicans of winning so many senate seats that they approach the 60 needed to prevent filibustering.

From the senatorial elections point of view, the 2012 elections will likely be less about the presidential election than about whether voters in the states still want to overturn Obamacare, and continue to favor the GOP agenda of lower spending, lower taxes and smaller government. The fulfillment of that agenda is currently thwarted by Democratic control of the White House and the senate. An economic recovery during the next 15-18 months obviously helps the Democrats. But if the feelings that marked the 2010 election are revived and intensify, and the Republican candidate for president is quite strong (and wins), then a new political threshold in American politics will be reached.

Either way, 2012 should be one for the books.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Why Are The Fringe Candidates Doing So Well Now?

Every presidential cycle creates its own chemistry and follows its own political dynamic.

The last cycle was marked by two major circumstances. First, there was no incumbent running, so the nominations of both parties were up for grabs. Second, this circumstance led to a very early beginning in the respective party nomination contests.

This cycle has the Democratic nomination likely to be won again by Barack Obama, now the incumbent president. (His popularity is low enough and vulnerable enough, and his left base is beginning to be upset enough, however, that it is possible (but unlikely) he might yet face a challenge from his left.)

Conditions in the nation continue uncertain, although many are citing recent economic statistics as proof that the long current recession is over. Yet unemployment remains very high, home sales and values remain depressed, and the price of gasoline has soared to almost $4 a gallon (with little in sight to reverse it). Furthermore, the international arena has become once again filled with unexpected volatile events, most of which do not seem to favor U.S. economic, military or diplomatic interests.

Of course, any of these can change relatively quickly, and the current mood of high risk, danger and vulnerability could be replaced with new optimism and more positive prospects. But even if they were thus replaced, there is less and less time available in the presidential campaign which will end only 18 months from now. Common sense indicates that an economic and political reversal in short order is unlikely because the U.S. continues to fail to provide alternatives for its oil supply (such as building more refineries, offshore drilling, developing new energy capacities from sources that can provide significant energy supplies (these do not include wind and solar power technologies now in fashion, but limited in what they can provide). After the recent Japanese experience, it is almost impossible to imagine the U.S. returning to the construction of significant new nuclear power plants, at least in the short term. While several economic markers have recently turned more positive, the public remains extremely cautious in many of its buying habits, and lacking a dramatic decline of unemployment to 5-6%, the economy will continue to recover slowly, if at all.

Thus, the Republican nomination means something in 2012. In fact, incumbents in recent years have not done so well in winning second terms, including Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush. Those who have won second terms (Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) campaigned for their second terms during more positive economic times.

Yet the late-starting 2012 Republican campaign has been marked by the rise of fringe candidates receiving extraordinarily high poll numbers when measured against the so-called “serious” and “major” candidates. These latter include Georg Romney, Mike Huckabee, Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels, Newt Gingrich and Haley Barbour. How do we explain this?

I suggest the timidity and caution (they would argue that it’s prudence) of the major candidates to formally enter the presidential race has made this inevitable. Hemming and hawing, teasing and testing, these candidates have been constrained by all the new rules for a formal presidential campaign and the uncertainty of the economy and world situation. Although Mitt Romney is a nominal frontrunner, and Mike Huckabee (who does well in may polls), are well-known and potentially formidable in 2012, there is no GOP candidate who has any likely “lock” on the nomination. One so-called “dark horse,” Tim Pawlenty has already risen from second tier to first, and should he decide to run, Mitch Daniels could do the same.
Mr. Romney, Mr. Huckabee and Mrs Palin are already well-known from the 2008 campaign but one or two of them may not run. Both Newt Gingrich and Haley Barbour, formidable figures already in their party, and, in Mr. Gingrich’s case, clearly very well-qualified for the presidency, have stumbled in their initial unofficial campaign efforts, as they and their colleagues are being quite careful what they say about each other and some of the controversial issues.

For the media and the general public, however, the campaign has already begun, and the both parties have powerful factions which want to hear what the candidates think about the controversial issues.

It was considered an absolute no-no for any GOP candidate to bring up the Obama “birther” issue, but a significant segment in the GOP base remains unsatisfied with the fact that, although a birth certificate in Hawaii allegedly exists, the president has not performed the simple act of making it public. Donald Trump, the New York real estate developer and TV celebrity, had nothing to lose by making this his issue. In fact, he shrewdly guessed that some voters would be grateful to him for it, even though it is really, at this point a non-issue and a diversion. Because of that, and his “impolitic” critiques of the other candidates and the Democrats, he has inevitably gained considerable media attention and, it goes without saying, temporary high numbers in the polls. As the GOP “establishment” denounces him as not a serious candidate, the public of course takes further interest in him.

While Congresswoman Michele Bachmann,, unlike Trump, is an elected official, her appeal to voters is primarily to “Tea Party” conservatives who emerged in the 2010 campaign, had an enormous impact on it, and remain a large if nebulous force in politics in 2011 and 2012. While her colleagues in Congress and fellow Republicans who are governors are making significant initial change in DC and many state capitals, their progress is slowed by the fact that Democrats still control the U.S. senate, the White House and many state legislatures. Thus provocative rhetoric seems more appealing than the apparent slow pace of actual change. Mrs. Bachmann, and to some degree Mrs. Palin, thus are turning on voters strictly with their rhetoric, as is Mr. Trump. None of them are actually doing much if anything to bring about the change voters still want.

The longer the “major” GOP candidates take to begin the formal hand-to- hand combat of the presidential campaign, the longer Mr. Trump and Mrs. Bachmann will capture the headlines and high poll numbers.

Mrs. Bachmann is a serious political figure, as her opponents in Minnesota have discovered in recent years, but her case for being elected president so far is very, very thin. Mr. Trump, an over-coiffed, boastful self-promoter is not, by any form of reasonable imagination, a serious political candidate. But he is, of course, laughing all the way to the bank, promoting his ego, his investments and his TV show.

In the short-term, these two figures, and any other GOP fringe candidates do not matter in the totality of the 2012 presidential campaign in that they are not going to be nominated. But they are having a secondary effect which could matter, that is, the longer they dominate the headlines and public attention, the more likely the Republican “brand” and the true conservative cause in 2012 is diminished.

That is why GOP strategists and candidates are likely to give Bachmann and Trump “the hook” sooner rather than later.

If they do not, it will be Barack Obama who will be laughing all the way to the voting booth.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

What Makes A Good President?

The relationship between a president of the United States and the voters is a very complicated one, and difficult to measure. Nearly everyone has their own theory about who the good presidents are, the bad ones, and the ordinary ones. Evaluations change from generation to generation. The office itself evolves notably over time, especially as the communications environment is altered by more and more technology. Even the A-list, the historically most favored list, of presidents is continually be subjected to revision, re-evaluation and re-inquiry.

George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are likely to remain as the most beloved and respected presidents, but there are ambitious scholars and politically-correct fanatics who even challenge them. After that, certainty is reduced. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan are often rated as superior presidents, but each of them has their critics. Ulysses Grant used to be rated very low, but recent scholarship indicates he may have been treated too harshly by Historians. And so on.

But this debate begs the question about what qualities make a good president. In fact, someone may not have the conventional qualities and yet turn out to be important. Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan come to mind in this category. And presidents with seemingly all the right qualities have turned out to be disappointing failures. Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter come to mind in this category.

I contend that because the nature of the presidency is changing so much, the qualities that make a good president also changes significantly.

The current president, Barack Obama, came into office with an unprecedented lack of experience and previous office holding. His advocates contended this did not matter because Obama was a “new politician” whose destiny was to bring change. Others will disagree, but I think his lack of background for the job has been an enormous impediment in his first term, and likely to keep him from a second one. It was also his “luck,” or lack of it, to become president at a time of huge crises in the U.S. economy and society, as well as in foreign affairs all over the world. Can his “on the job training” salvage his presidency? Perhaps, but so far we do not have much evidence that he has learned how the presidency works and how to solve our critical problems.

If the next president is not be the current incumbent, then what the qualities the nation needs to find in his successor?

I repeat: what will be needed in 2013-2017 will not what was needed in 1841-1845 or 1861-1865 or 1913-1917 or 1941-45 or 1981-1985.

I suggest that first of all the nation needs a man or woman who understands how economics and capitalism works. Not necessarily a scholar or an expert, but someone either with real business experience or management experience. Part of this also includes an ability to judge others, be they associates or foes, accurately, and to have the ability to manage the impacts of others.

Second, the nation needs a man or woman who knows about the world. Again, not necessarily an expert, but someone who has knowledge about world history, and the nature of other societies in the world, especially those which have military and economic power.

Third, the nation needs a man or woman who knows how to behave in the rarified air of international politics, someone who understands that international relations, be they economic or military, are equivalent to chess playing, and not to a game of checkers.

Fourth, the nation needs a man or woman who has not only basic communication skills, but extraordinary ones. A president is always speaking for and to the nation. A great inaugural speech isn’t enough. A president also has to choose exceptional persons to speak for him or her, and to create a positive understanding of administration policy.

Finally, the nation needs a man or woman whose character, leadership gifts and human compassion is as large as possible, so that he or she can meet the huge challenges of the next four years (with so much in danger to be found here and abroad). Presidents are not saints. Presidents always have large egos and great passions. Presidents make political mistakes. Presidents don’t always choose the best persons to advise them, or to act for them, But successful presidents get it right more often than not.

There is no perfect candidate for president in any campaign year, and 2012 is no different. None of the contenders likely to run in 2012 is without warts and shortcomings, But there is at least one, and probably two or three who do have what it takes, and hopefully, one of them will be chosen.

Insofar as the 2012 presidential campaign becomes fixated on extraneous qualities and extraneous issues, the outcome becomes more and more problematic, and the success in the next stage of our national life more in peril.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Rout of the Left

What began as a substantial political defeat in 2010 of President Obama’s so-called progressive program, including a rebuke by the voters of Obamacare legislation perpetrated by the duo of Pelosi and Reid in the Congress, is becoming a rout of the whole attempt to revive a left program in American politics.

President Obama does not need to read tea leaves to know what is happening, and is continuing to adapt at least some of his economic program to try to remain competitive for 2012. The far left, of course, will have none of this, and remains stubborn in its interpretation of the 2008 elections as a mandate for radical change in a neo-Marxian and European model.

It turns out that Speaker John Boehner is a fine political chess player who is transforming the popular will into direct (and, so far, successful) confrontations with the White House. Mr. Boehner has developed a near-perfect pitch in combining substance and public relations, and has put the Obama-Pelosi-Reid cabal decidedly on the defensive. In fact, by avoiding the government shutdown and winning $38 billion in spending cuts, the whole debate has been transformed in much the same manner that President Reagan changed the economic debate in the 1980’s.

Just as the far left is now attacking their own for this state of affairs, so, too, is the far right beginning to attack Speaker Boehner and his congressional colleagues as “sell outs.” If Mr. Boehner and congressional Republicans had failed to follow through on 2010 with a genuine beginning to lower spending, smaller government and no new taxes, I would have agreed. In fact, combined with the dramatic political/economic revolution begun by outstanding Republican governors in New Jersey, Virginia, Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio, the congressional leadership has bit the bullet and firmly begun the job that can only be finished by the election of 2012, and GOP victories in the U.S. and for the White House.

As my readers know, I have supported the Tea Party emergence in U. S. politics, and refused to join in the conventional criticism of them. I have supported Sarah Palin in her efforts to become a national figure (though not necessarily as the 2012 presidential candidate), and given her due for political acumen. I have also not attacked Michele Bachmann, as have so many on both the left and in the GOP, nor pooh-poohed her efforts to become a national figure. But I draw the line if they and other self-styled spokespersons attack Speaker Boehner as a “sell-out.” In my opinion, he is just the opposite, and he should be receiving the praise of conservatives for his leadership so far, a leadership which is setting up an historic conservative victory in 2012.

It’s simply a fact that conservatives cannot insist on full transformational change in the federal government until they win the White House, and control both houses of Congress. Nevertheless, Republican governors, legislatures and the GOP house leadership in Washington, DC have fulfilled the voters wishes, clearly stated in 2010, and begun that transformation of American politics.

Politics is not an art and business which functions in pure forms. The voters do not ever act unanimously. Public opinion is always divided. The greatest politicians understand how to navigate through the complexity of this. They have to be chess players. The far left and the far right want to play checkers. for them it’s double jumps, wipe outs, and all or nothing. Conservatives should thank their stars that Mr. Boehner, Mr. Cantor, Mr. Ryan, and Governors Christie, McDonnell, Daniels, Walker, and Kasich are their leaders. Their attention now should be to finding the right person to nominate for president, and to win back the all-important executive branch of government.

Self-promotional and heavy-handed back-biting does not befit a party seeking to transform the government.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Weekend Reading

One of the long-standing pleasures of the American culture I grew up with was the reading on Sunday of the heavy-to-hold New York Times. (It should be noted that its weight was achieved without any insert ads.) The Times had been the leading U.S. newspaper for many years because of the sweep of its reporting, especially of international news, and for the quality of its writing and editorial commentary. In my family, there was the added incentive of the crossword puzzle in the Sunday Times Magazine, an object of enormous conflict between my mother and myself over who would get to it first. I think my pattern of psychological interpersonal strategies may have been largely formed over this weekly interfamilial skirmish. In any event, it probably ruined a perfectly normal Oedipus complex.

That was in the the 1950’s and 1960’s. By the 1970’s, I was no longer at home and the price of the Sunday Times began to rise precipitously. Nontheless, I usually managed to find a copy and do the crossword puzzle. At the same time, my political bearings were shifting from the Roosevelt-Truman-Stevenson admirations of my youth — and of my parents. I first noticed a serious decline in the quality of the Times on its editorial pages where the observations became increasingly left wing, inaccurate and predictable. The Sunday edition remained a treasure, however, especially the magazine, the book review, the arts and travel sections. The Times even began to innovate beyond its old formality, publishing irreverent and often hilarious wedding notices notable for their pretension-shattering candor. And there always was the crossword puzzle, still the highpoint of difficulty, urbanity and verbal challenge.

After my college educations, and some international travel, I settled into a life of literary, and later journalistic, writing. I published a small newspaper in Minnesota for many years, and began writing freelance about politics and food for publications outside Minnesota. Thanks to supportive editors, mostly in Washington, DC, I began to be a regular op ed writer about national politics. My columns were widely distributed in major publications, although I did not appear in the New York Times. Meanwhile, the decline of this newspaper rapidly continued, and at some point in the late 1990’s or early 2000’s I realized that I no longer enjoyed reading most of it, nor did I want to write for it. Other publications drew my attention, particularly the Wall Street Journal (although it had limited international coverage, and very little cultural coverage). The decline of the Times had now severely infiltrated its Sunday edition, as fewer and fewer sections seemed worth reading. The Sunday price now rose precipitously. (It is currently $6.00 outside New York City.) At the same time, two other national newspapers began to publish weekend editions, and they were increasingly excellent, and much less editorially narrow and predictable than the Times. The Wall Street Journal began its Saturday-Sunday edition of WSJ Weekend in three regular sections and once-a-month magazine section. Its Review Section is simply superb, including book reviews, arts coverage, articles on culture, science, language, technology, commerce, humor, and art. The “Off Duty” section covers food and cooking, fashion, design, adventure, travel, and it has excellent columnists.

Financial Times, a British export, began to publish FT Weekend with three or four sections, including House & Home, and Life & Arts. The writing is first rate, the coverage is contemporary and inclusive. Its food cooking and dining writing is especially outstanding. It also includes in both the aforementioned sections, some delightful and incisiveweekly columnists. While not as thick as the Times, it is only $2.50, and much more interesting. Likewise, WSJ Weekend is only $2.00, and equally provocative and fascinating to read. I also read the Journal during the week. For my money, it provides the best daily editorial commentary in the U.S. today, and is increasing its national political and international coverage while still providing its incomparable business coverage.

But when I’m in a coffeehouse during the weekend, I must admit shuffling through the piles of Sunday papers and looking for the Sunday Times magazine. They recently abandoned some of their weekly columns on language and other interesting subjects (William Safire’s language column every week in the Sunday magazine was worth the whole price of the newspaper) and been replaced with a bunch of politically-correct themes. Nontheless, the crossword puzzle is still there, and on occasion, a formidable acrostic as well. It’s still the best crossword, and I still enjoy doing it, and the travel section remains interesting but I think the oversized, overpriced Sunday edition cannot hang only on those slender threads.

The Journal leans to the center-right, FT leans to the center-left, but both offer thoughtful, intelligent, provocative, well-written articles for the weekend reader to savor and digest. I wish I could say the same for the New York Times, but I cannot. I frankly don’t think it’s worth the paper it’s printed on. It no longer contains, dare I say, much of what’s fit to print.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Minnesota Impacts National Politics

As a middle-sized state, Minnesota sends only eight members to the U.S. House of Representatives. In fact, the state escaped losing one of those seats only by a few thousand persons counted in the recent 2010 census.

As sometimes happens, however, the state’s politicians seems to have an outsized importance in Washington, DC, and across the nation.

One noteworthy measure of this is that the state has two significant politicians in the running for the GOP nomination for president in 2012. (No other state has as many). One of them, recently retired Governor Tim Pawlenty, is already acknowledged to be one of the most serious contenders; and the other, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, has been gobbling up national attention as the “Tea Party:” candidate while she chalks up noticeable numbers in recent polls, and in fundraising cash in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But other members of the Minnesota congressional delegation, especially Republicans, are having impact on national public policy.

Most notable of these is the new dean of the state GOP delegation, Congressman John Kline of the 2nd District, a suburban and rural area to the north and east of the Twin Cities. Kline, a retired Marine colonel who carried the nuclear “football” for Presidents Carter and Reagan, has established himself as one of the heavy hitters in Washington. As the new chairman of the Education and Veterans Affairs house committee, he is the new power player dealing with the national education crisis. In a short time, he has already signaled that he will bring new ideas to the table, and be a force to be reckoned with. Kline brings a personal “likability” quality combined with strong intelligence and self-discipline, to the job, although it took him three tries to win the job in 2002. After the GOP lost the house in 2008, Mr. Kline continued to rise quickly in his caucus leadership, finally being named chair of the same committee previously led by the new speaker, John Boehner. With a personal integrity to match his “likability,” Kline is held in very high respect on both sides of the aisle, even as he maintains a solid conservative outlook on legislation (long before it became fashionable, he declared he would not promote earmarks in his district. Democrats thought he made a blunder, but in the next election found out otherwise).

Colin Peterson is the new dean of the Democratic (called the Democratic- Farmer-Labor Party or DFL) delegation from Minnesota, and although he is no longer chairman of the important agriculture committee, he is the ranking minority member with a conservative voting record (he was one of only two Democratic committee chairman who voted against Obamacare) Mr, Peterson represents what otherwise would be a GOP district and is likely to continue being one of the most conservative Democratic members in the U.S. house,
as well as maintaining some influence there.

Of course, Minnesota (like most of the other states) will now see some key changes in its congressional boundaries as a result of reapportionment. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann in the 6th District, may see one of the largest changes her district’s borders. Bachmann, a former tax attorney and mother of 17 (5 natural children, 12 adopted), is easily the most outlandish (though not necessarily the most controversial) Minnesota member of Congress. She early embraced the so-called “Tea Party” and has now become one of its most popular spokespersons as she crosses the nation in a purported campaign for president. (She is causing Mr. Pawlenty nightmares in Iowa.) Next year, however, she will almost certainly have to return to her congressional race, unless she decides to run for the U.S. senate seat now held by Amy Klobuchar.

Chip Cravaack came out of nowhere in 2010, and upset one of the “undefeatable senior Democrats in the house, 17-term Jiim Oberstar, then chairman of the powerful transportation committee. A solid conservative, Mr. Cravaack does represent a blue collar Democratic district, but redistricting is likely to help him. DFLers are already having trouble finding a home-grown opponent for him.

Senator Klobuchar, a first-term DFLer, has made a positive impression among her colleagues in the senate, where her party is still in the majority. She is expected to have a relatively easy re-election in 2012 because she quickly mastered the technique which marked the success of some of her predecessors in both parties, i.e., appearing to be more centrist than her voting record. She serves on the Judiciary committee, the Science and Transportation committee, among others. (A Klobuchar vs. Bachmann race in 2012 would be colorful spectacle nontheless.)

One of the least public members of the Minnesota delegation, Republican Erik Paulsen, is quietly building respect in the house, and like Bill Frenzel (who represented the district years before, might become a powerful behind-the-scenes member in Congress. Unfortunately, the DFL incumbents in districts 2 (southern Minnesota), 4 (St. Paul) and 5 (Minneapolis) have so far proved to be disappointments compared to their DFL predecessors. Tim Walz is no Tim Penny; Betty McCollum is no Bruce Vento; and Keith Ellison is no Martin Sabo. Nor is Mrs. Bachmann as significant as Vin Weber was.

Mr. Weber, incidentally, continues in private life to be a major player in the nation’s capital where he is a consultant. Mr. Weber was co-chair of John McCain’s 2000 presidential bid, principal policy adviser to Mitt Romney in 2008, and is expected to bring significant firepower to TIm Pawlenty’s 2012 campaign.

Finally, Tim Pawlenty has come from seemingly nowhere to be a major contender for the presidency in 2012. He was reportedly the other finalist for John McCain’s 2008 vice presidential choice. (Perhaps like John F. Kennedy’s failed 1956 bid to be Adlai Stevenson’s vice president, it was a stroke of luck. Kennnedy, if he had beaten Estes Kefauver in 1956, probably would not have been able to win his party’s nomination in 1960.) Losing vice presidential candidates are rarely heard from again (FDR was the rare exception).

It would be an historic irony if it were blue collar conservative Republican Pawlenty who succeeded where more liberal Minnesota historic figures Harold Stassen, Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale had failed.

What has changed about Minnesota’s national reputation in the post-World War II period through the 1980’s, personified by liberals Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale and Orville Freeman, is that its national influence is now primarily on the conservative side of the aisle. This could change again over time, but for now, it is Mr. Pawlenty, Mr. Kline and Mrs. Bachmann who generate headlines, controversies and stories across the nation.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Time To Walk The Walk In The U.S. Economy

This will not be a long post. It’s about simply doing what the voters were promised.

The 2010 national and state elections turned on economic anxieties, problems, and opportunities. It was not only the continued economic recession, chronic high unemployment, record deficits, but was also a national rejection of the recently-enacted Obamacare legislation which produced this vote. It was also a new broadly based concern about the cost of government and, in many states, the role of the public employment union contracts in pushing government costs and public pension liabilities way beyond what was acceptable.

After the 2010 elections, it was suggested by some cynics on both the left and the right that new members of Congress, new governors and new members of the state
legislatures would mostly revert to establishment form, and fail to enact the reforms they promised voters. Refreshingly, so far, we see many new conservative governors
following through with the legislatures they control.

In states where each party controls only one house, or the governorship or not, reform has understandably gone much more slowly. Nevertheless, many states require balanced budgets, and deadlines are approaching, even as stalemates persist.

In the U.S. congress, Democrats control the senate narrowly and the White House, while Republicans are in firm control in the house of representatives. A budget showdown approaches. A government shutdown looms. Remembering 1994-95, Republican leaders are wary of the latter. But much has changed in a decade and a half. Mr. Boehner has an historic responsibility at this moment. He understandably and rightfully wants to have some kind of agreement with the Democrats if possible. However, it may not be possible.

The voters were not unanimous. That doesn’t happen. Liberals are still liberal, and conservatives are still conservative. But 2010 brought out a massive shift in the
political center, including unaffiliated voters. They are almost always the decisive segment of the electorate, and they determine true mandates.

At another time, in other circumstances the mandate can and will be different. Today, however, the majority of Americans has spoken for cutting spending, reining in government, balanced budgets, and no new taxes. Many Americans do not share that view, and it is their right to do so, but the election indicated that more voters feel otherwise.

This is no moment for conservative leaders to hesitate or shrink from the reforms they promised. Outstanding governors and legislative leaders can work out the specific details in their own states, or they can face voter rejection in 2012 and beyond. As for the U.S Congress, the hard necessities of the times, and the perilous state of the national economy, means that Mr. Boehner and his colleagues have to insist on their program for recovery and reform.

It’s one of those curious moments in U.S. political history when traditional ambiguity is reduced to clarity of necessary action. Let the political chips fall where they may.