When the politically courageous and socially forward looking Governor of Maryland, Marvin Mandel, a man who was personally responsible for saving countless lives, turned out to be a thief, it broke my heart. He remains a hero of mine. He stood almost alone against powerful interest groups in the mid-1970s and established the first Shock Trauma unit in the nation. Doctors opposed him for it. So did hospitals, insurance companies, ambulance owners, and pretty much the entire state legislature. He stood tall and won.
The documentation of lives saved grew so persuasive, and the number grew so large, the independent stand became popular in retrospect. It is hard to remember just how controversial and risky his defiance of the medical establishment was. Shock Trauma became the front line in countless communities across the nation, using Maryland as the model. It was one of many instances in which he took political risks in the public interest.
He was a gifted and public spirited idealist who, if I had my way, still would reside in prison. He was pardoned by President Ronald Reagan after a few years.
Bribery was hidden in a labyrinth of complicated maneuverings. Seemingly unrelated gifts went through intermediaries: Donations to those who expressed appreciation in gifts to third parties who relayed their generosity in payment of lawyers fees owed by the Governor as he divorced his wife; Impromptu gifts by those separated by degrees of benefit, seemingly impetuous bouts of friendship; clothes bought; jewelry given. It became a gift laundering enterprise, oiled to smoothness by longstanding relationships. Who could object to gifts exchanged by old friends?
The bending of official rules was equally convoluted. In one case, a bill favoring an old crony was publicly vetoed by the Governor, who then quietly lobbied the legislature to override his veto. Subordinates were ordered to override bidding procedures for no easily discernible reason, awarding contracts to distant participants in the matrix. Relationships are more complex than simple quid pro quo. But there was a lot of quid and even more quo. Eventually the feds unraveled it and Marvin went to a cell for a time.
Duke Cunningham is a contrast in some ways to my old hero. Combat-ace-turned-Congressional-crook Duke Cunningham could have been honored for the rest of his life for valor in battle. They made movies about him. His adroitness at corruption did not begin to approach that of Mandel. Cunningham was flamboyant and clumsy, flashing his corruption with apparent pride. The gifts included a Rolls-Royce and a yacht.
When he finally confessed, his regret certainly seemed sincere. He looked to me to be constantly on the verge of tears as he stammered his shame. "I broke the law, concealed my conduct and disgraced my high office."
It seemed so bizarre when, last week, as he finally spoke from prison, he took it all back. At least some of the bribes were only "gifts between longtime friends." Why would this broken man hold himself up to even more ridicule by such transparently false statements?
Well... it turns out that one of those convicted with him in the whole scandal is trying to get his case reopened. Contractor Brent Wilkes is appealing his conviction. Duke Cunningham is exposing himself to a new round of laughter to help him out. There doesn't seem to be any benefit to Cunningham. This really does look like a gift "between longtime friends."
You know, she was my governor for two years, for just about two years there, and I don't think that she enjoyed governing.
I don't think she liked to get down into the policy.
- - Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), November 15, 2010
In retrospect, John F Kennedy is remembered as a very tough negotiator, possibly because he saved the world from nuclear annihilation during the Cuban missile crisis. Dana Perino, whose solemn responsibilities included interpreting the Bush administration for the press, told the world that she had no idea that life had nearly ended in 1962, until her husband educated her on the missiles of October. She still represents the best and the brightest of contemporary conservative thought on the Fox network.
Our current President seems to follow a similarly successful hard nosed formula. The Obama administration has been turning those attributes that enrage conservatives into an international American security advantage. Popular support for America has increased and hatred toward us has reduced. This has translated into more valid information going to US intelligence agencies about terrorist threats. The increase in terrorist leaders killed or captured has been stunning. al Qaeda is weakened, and with luck, bin Laden may one day be captured or killed.
Obama is similar to Kennedy in another respect. The contrast between the Kennedy reality and the way he was painted by Republicans is striking. I recall a political cartoon from younger days. John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev were pictured at opposite ends of a wide field. "Let's meet halfway," says the Kennedy figure. Khrushchev answers, "Okay. You first." Kennedy walks to the center of the gap. "Now you," says Kennedy. Khrushchev strolls halfway to Kennedy's new position, stopping about one fourth into the gap. "Your turn again."
In reality, no administration would take that approach to international negotiations. Kennedy's intelligent toughness seems matched by Obama's. Each seems to put the right people in place, people who seem worthy of trust: performance being the measure. Except on domestic policy.
Republicans seem to have a mystical effect on those Obama has around him. On one bold effort after another, Democrats tell Republicans what they want. Republicans make demands. Democrats comply, and Republicans make new demands. This last has to do with future deficit reduction. Obama says temporary tax cuts to the middle class should be extended. Bush cuts to the very top brackets should be allowed to expire.
David Axelrod recently offered his own tough talk. Axelrod publicly warns Republicans that they had darn well better cooperate this time or the administration will be forced to resort to giving them most of what they want. This before negotiations have started. And so we weep again.
The administration will settle for extending both what Obama wants, tax cuts for ordinary Americans, and what Republicans want, tax slashing for the extremely wealthy, all on a temporary basis. Surely this will be preferable to letting the public see a very open fight between those who want to help ordinary folks and those whose sole aim to to help the very wealthy. "We have to deal with the world as we find it," says Axelrod. "The world of what it takes to get this done." Oh my.
Republicans have responded predictably. "Your turn again." Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Axelrod has nothing to do with foreign policy.
Only the conservatives is willing to hurt a myriad of people to further their political objectives for power. They are among the list of slimiest species on this kind of planet.
- - Comment from Danielle Lang
I have to agree with you, Danielle. The republicans are a slimy species: sapiens, I believe. As I am sure you would agree, though, not all sapiens on this type of planet are pure evil (just most of them). Other planets, of course, perhaps planets of a different type, may have species that would rival the sapien in its quest for sin (and by sapien, I mean conservative).
I know some conservatives who believe that taxes should be kept low and should be equal rather than progressive and that laws of God should be more prominent in our lives, and that people should be rewarded for maintaining self-sufficient lives where possible. That is mostly their concerns. Idiots!
I support progressive taxes and believe that to be taxed equally the tax burden must be equally felt. I believe God is a myth, even though I grant you that evil is proven through the existence of conservatives. I do not believe that everyone, or even most people, can be self-sufficient and it is narrow-minded to try to squeeze all of humanity into a mold we define as we look into ourselves.
I believe that without government, none of this would exist and chaos would rule. If we have a governing body, then I want it to create a piece of the world where everyone survives, regardless of the contribution they are capable of making or how they make it. Sapiens call that socialism. It is not, as I also believe in the American dream and the right of American citizens to pursue it. A compassionate government and the American dream can co-exist.
I am nothing like the sapiens, who while running their narrow minds at full capacity, disagree with everything I just said. How depraved they are! Flat taxes, God, each sapien working to make his own way. I know I should not judge all sapiens by the tax / God / Work ethics of a few, but it is hard not to when deep in my heart I know all conservatives are trash.
I am not one of these sapien bastards. Greed-filled, barbaric demons! I think it is possible some of them are so corrupt that they do not even realize what an evil mess they are. As a wiser, more human human than the others, sometimes I feel like a man without a species, like the liberal Neanderthal must have felt when he kept bumping into the more conservative Cro-Magnon everywhere, as his world shrank and modern humans were born; but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am glad I am not a sapien.
One more thing, Danielle: I am not going to sign this, as I would have to admit I wrote it then.
We have to believe in free will. We've got no choice.
- - Isaac Bashevis Singer, author, June 21, 1982
Conservative James Wigderson is annoyed about perpetual increases in local taxes. James has a full schedule. You can see how he might miss the connection with Republican obstruction of aid to municipalities as part of stimulating the economy. James is an excellent writer. Connecting the dots: not so much.
Slant Right's John Houk takes a rest from his own seething fury toward Islam for Veteran's day, posting a wonderful tribute to Veterans by a radical Islamophobe. Sigh. They don't let it rest, even for vets.
- Teeluck of MadMike post a NOH8 video against bullying without mentioning the brief appearance of John McCain's wife Cindy as she opposes her husband's anti-gay position. See if you can spot her.
It's kind of like blogger's inheritance, or maybe writer's blog. I will quote Steve Benen quoting Kevin Drum after Drum disapprovingly quotes Democrats. Here's retiring Governor Phil Bredesen (D-TN), in part:
There doesn't seem to be anybody in the White House who's got any idea what it's like to lie awake at night worried about money and worried about things slipping away. They're all intellectually smart. They've got their numbers. But they don't feel any of it, and I think people sense that.
Honest, to God, stuff like this just makes me want to scream. Why do Democrats panic so badly whenever they lose an election? Why run to the nearest reporter to spout idiocies about Obama not feeling middle class pain or not being an extrovert like Bill Clinton? Bill Clinton! For chrissake, I like and defend the guy, but he was an extrovert who felt people's pain and he lost 54 seats in the 1994 midterm. No one cared if he felt their pain. Likewise, no one cares if Obama feels their pain. They want jobs, not pursed lips and moist eyes.
Steve Benen goes a little further, contrasting the Democratic hand wringing with the strong, stalwart Republican approach. He offers examples. Republicans were clobbered in 1998 when they talked about impeaching President Clinton. They went ahead anyway. In 2006 Republicans lost the midterms, largely over Iraq, and escalated anyway. In 2008, Republicans lost way huge and changed nothing in their approach. They then lost 5 special elections the next year and still changed nothing. So Republicans refuse to engage in self-examination when they lose elections. Benen's conclusion about Democrats: "...their handling of adversity leaves much to be desired."
The notion that President Obama should have expressed more feeling toward those on the ragged edge is not a silly idea. It has been an aside. We're doing major things, but of course, we should do better. We've passed a wonderful health care bill which, by the way, will also help the economy. Economists say things are improving, but of course people are still hurting. Moist eyes? A bit of outrage might have helped. In shirtsleeves, surrounded by working people, pounding the podium, demanding action. He is on our side. What is wrong with expressing it forcefully at every opportunity?
The Republican Party won big time this year. Drum is right to point out that the economy dictated that. Benen is right to point out the election results "were bad, but could have been worse". Would either one like to acknowledge that Republican inflexibility and Democratic hand wringing in the past, exaggerated though it always is, were largely what kept election results from the worse that could have been?
It was 1964 in the Cow Palace arena of San Francisco. It was hot, but the crowd was enthusiastic. Nelson Rockefeller had been booed. A last desperate move by moderates to nominate Pennsylvania's Governor Bill Scranton had been beaten back. And finally, the hero of the moment, Barry Goldwater took center stage, and emphatically pulled the plug.
I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!
Oh my. Americans do hate extremism. Politicians call each other extremists all the time. There is reason for it. Usually such charges just bounce away, but if they stick ... well ... voters don't much care for it. LBJ's campaign against Goldwater was tough as nails. "If I hadn't known Goldwater," said Goldwater, "I'd have voted against the S.O.B. myself." But it wasn't the campaign that sank him. It was the extremist label.
Centrism, on the other hand, tends to be popular. A centrist is stable, thoughtful, considering all points of view. Moderation in all things means self-control. It's the American way.
When the stimulus bill came up, Senate centrists were mostly Democrats, although one or two Republicans at a time floated in and out. The economy needed help. But the deficit was a worry. It wasn't fair for government to spend like crazy when ordinary Americans were squeezed.
"So many Americans are tightening their belts, trying to get through these difficult times," said Evan Bayh on Fox News, "I think it's important for Washington and the federal government to show solidarity and do the same, to give up some of our projects to show that we can tighten our belts."
Ben Nelson demanded government follow a good example. "When times are tough in Nebraska, our families tighten their belts, spend less, cut down on things we can do without and don’t run up our credit cards."
Congressional blue dogs followed suit. They were for a stimulus package, but a moderate stimulus package. They helped Republican Susan Collins strip out nearly 900 billion dollars for swine flu prevention. Another $110 billion was trimmed that would have gone to keep teachers, police officers, first responders on the job. Each triumph was followed by another victory.
Economists argued for a massive stimulus package that would revive the economy, only then followed by deficit reduction. Prime the pump, then conserve. But moderates went for the popular. And it was popular. Blue dog Democrats calculated that their wise policies and even wiser politics would earn them more influence after the elections. What was not as popular were the results. Unemployment was kept from skyrocketing, but wasn't brought much lower. 28 blue dogs were reelected to the House. 26 will be no more.
But they have left their mark of moderation, of centrism, on the stimulus. The recovery became balanced, reasonable, tempered, moderate, mild, slight, tepid, weak, almost invisible to ordinary voters. No extremism there.
From time to time, though, even those who plan ahead and make prudent saving decisions may face a household emergency that requires them to seek a loan or use a credit line to help them through a rough period. When that happens, they know they must tighten their belt and make sacrifices to make those payments and eliminate their debt. If the working families of Arkansas must do this, why shouldn't their government do the same?
- - Blanche L. Lincoln, future past Senator, (D-AR), March 27, 2009
The old joke has a young New Yorker, touring the South, absentmindedly picking up speed as he goes along. For a long time, especially in rural areas, little towns relied on sudden changes in speed limits and half hidden traffic signs for village income. The young man roars by a police officer who takes off after him. Taken from his revere by the siren, the chagrined young man pulls over. The police officer strolls casually to the driver's side and watches the driver roll down his window. "Boy," he says, "I've been waiting all day just for you." The nervous New Yorker quickly blurts out, "Officer, I got here just as quick as I could." The startled officer laughs and lets him go.
The Keith Olbermann saga reminded me of that story. It ended as abruptly as it began. He was suspended last Friday for his minor contributions to three candidates for Congress. Well... they were minor by big star standards. If I had made political contributions totaling $7200, the one I love would have um ... reacted. Emphatically.
MSNBC values journalistic integrity, and Olbermann had interviewed one of the three, Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) shortly before the contribution. Olbermann was asked about one of the contributions by Politico, and told them, apparently with no hesitation, about all three.
Defenders of Olbermann were quick to point out the injustice of selective enforcement. Conservative Joe Scarborough, also of MSNBC, had made contributions to Republicans. Television personalities on sister network CNBC had as well. The contrast with FoxNews could not have been more stark. Not only do Fox people contribute routinely to conservatives, the network employs barely unofficial candidates who run for office between show times. They participate in political events, sometimes sponsoring them. The parent company itself contributes huge amounts to Republicans.
Michael Kinsey points out the obvious. Olbermann is not of a breed that carefully disguises a point of view. He was hired because he is a liberal. Then he was suspended because he is a liberal. Makes no sense.
Except for The Rule. The Rule at MSNBC is that political contributions must be okayed in advance by the brass. Fox has no such rule, thus avoiding a laughfest every time the television is turned on. CNBC has no such rule. Scarborough obeyed the rule, having gotten permission.
I'm for obeying rules. It irritated me decades ago when Baltimore weatherman Marty Bass was arrested by a police officer posing as a prostitute. He allegedly tried to run her down after she identified herself. Bass later insisted, improbably, that he was conducting an undercover investigation, although his television employer did not know about it. Deep cover, so to speak. His media influence got him off. Marty Bass, undercover weatherman.
Olbermann points out that he had no knowledge of The Rule. He was quite open about the contribution. No sneaking around. He offered to take any action the MSNBC brass wanted: explain what happened in public or on his show or not at all. He got suspended indefinitely. The indefinite was made definite after the weekend. He apologized last night for the drama.
My view? If The Rule would have applied to others, it should have applied to him. I believe him when he says he didn't know about The Rule. It wasn't fair that the traffic sign was hidden. He was caught in a speed trap. He paid a small fine and they let him go. I like Keith Olbermann. A lot. Now he's back and all's right with the world.
You should know that I mistakenly violated an inconsistently applied rule — which I previously knew nothing about — that pertains to the process by which such political contributions are approved by NBC. Certainly this mistake merited a form of public acknowledgment and/or internal warning, and an on-air discussion about the merits of limitations on such campaign contributions by all employees of news organizations. Instead, after my representative was assured that no suspension was contemplated, I was suspended without a hearing, and learned of that suspension through the media.
- - Keith Olbermann, November 8, 2010
This from a Tea Party mass email just before the election:
There are a lot of liberals who need to be retired this year, but there are few I can think of more deserving than Keith Ellison. Ellison is one of the most radical members of congress. He has a ZERO rating from the American Conservative Union.
If I was a conservative, that would probably be all I would need. The American Conservative Union is not one of these shadow groups; here today, gone an hour after the polls close. They've been around a while. Sometimes their timing has been a little embarrassing. Like when they urged Republicans to run against privacy violations motivated by former President Clinton's anti-terrorism hysteria - like tracking money laundering by terrorist groups. That article was by David Keene, who chairs the ACU, exactly 4 months before the 9/11 attacks. But hey, was he supposed to be clairvoyant?
The fellow who scored exactly zero in the conservative rankings has got to be pretty far to the left, doesn't he? He was against invading Iraq. So he's an appeaser. He opposed President Bush's surge strategy. So he doesn't support the troops. He introduced a bill to keep credit card companies from increasing rates without warning if you paid them on time but were late on other bills. So he's against the free market. He co-sponsored a motion to investigate Dick Cheney for breaking the law. So he's a political radical.
It's no surprise he criticized the Bush administration on other issues. The Gonzales testimony on politicizing the Department of Justice, the blown cover of CIA operative Valarie Plame, the subsequent commutation for Scooter Libby after the obstruction conviction.
The Tea Party had one special argument against Ellison. It wasn't his liberal record. It had nothing to do with Iraq or war in general. Nothing about Cheney, or criticisms of President Bush. In fact, the main thing wasn't even that he is a Democrat. Here is the special reason that, among liberals who need to be retired, there are few more deserving than Keith Ellison:
He is the only Muslim member of congress. He supports the Counsel for American Islamic Relations, HAMAS and has helped congress send millions of tax to terrorists in Gaza.
Yup. The main reason was he is a Muslim. By the way, the way he "helped congress send millions of tax(es) to terrorists in Gaza" was voting for sanitation, food, and medicine through the USAID program in Gaza.
It's hard to know the degree to which the election results were influenced by anti-Muslim campaigning. Ellison's winning total was less than 4 times that of his Republican opponent. Perhaps he would have won by even more if he worshiped God more acceptably.