Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Governors Front and Center in Race for President

Rightfully so, the nation for the last two weeks has been engrossed in several dialogues—on race, on marriage equality, on Pope Francis and his encyclical on global warming and its impact, particularly on the disadvantaged, on foreign trade agreements, on negotiations with Iran and its nuclear capabilities, on the threat posed by ISIS. Important issues, issues that have overshadowed another debate, one that is especially pertinent to Republicans.

There’s a not so silent argument going on among presidential hopefuls and their respective supporters debating whether anyone hoping to attain the highest office in the land needs prior executive experience. Otherwise, as those who favor gubernatorial or business experience often admonish, the country might wind up with another “community organizer” running America. Those without a governorship or a CEO title on their CV suggest that time served in the (once) greatest deliberative body in the world, the U.S. Senate, gives them the cred to lead the nation forward.

If recent history can be a guide, the debate would wind up as a teiku, what the Talmud describes as a stalemate in deliberations that will only be adjudicated when the prophet Elijah returns to Earth to herald the beginning of the messianic era. 

Let’s consider the history of the presidency going back 50 years:

Lyndon Johnson never ran a state government but as president was a masterful manipulator of Congress, a byproduct of his long tenure as a senator from Texas. If not for his failure to control our deepening involvement in Vietnam and the domestic turmoil it engendered, he would rank among our most progressive presidents. 

Richard Nixon had scant congressional and senate experience, but he was vice president for eight years, albeit never really close to the decision making of president Dwight D. Eisenhower. Watergate, and Nixon’s expansion of the war in Southeast Asia, cloud much of what we think of him. Yet he did have domestic and foreign policy triumphs, including opening relations with communist China, creating the Environmental Protection Agency, and ending the military draft. He was not liked, but he was effective.

After a long career as a congressman and a short time as vice president, Gerald Ford presided over a depressed economy battered by high inflation. He’s remembered for one signature executive decision—the pardoning of Richard Nixon.

Four of the next six presidents (Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) served as governors. It’s hard to separate one’s political leanings from an assessment of each of their terms of office. 

Carter oversaw the Camp David Accords but was viewed as an ineffectual leader by most onlookers. 

Reagan was an undisputed great communicator. Conservatives loved him (even though he raised taxes 11 times). He forged an aggressive anti-Soviet Union stance. But his foreign policy was stained by the Iran-Contra scandal. He championed supply-side economics, another tainted legacy that rewarded the rich at the expense of the middle and lower classes. 

Putting aside the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Clinton posted an impressive list of accomplishments, among them the longest economic expansion in the nation’s history with ancillary growth in jobs and home ownership.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A legacy of misguided foreign and domestic responses to 9/11 by George W. Bush. Bush squandered the budget surplus he inherited from Clinton. The wars and his failure to avert the Great Recession left the nation mired in debt.

His father, George Bush I, arguably, had the most impressive resume of any president of the last 50 years. His four years in office reached its peak in the formation of a wide ranging coalition against Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. But his failure to connect with the public, coupled with conservative anger at his raising taxes despite vowing not to, and the third party candidacy of Ross Perot, thwarted his second term bid.

Barack Obama, arguably, had the least impressive resume before entering the Oval Office. Despite Republican militancy from Day One of his administration, Obama’s legacy includes passage of the Affordable Care Act extending health coverage to millions as well as overseeing the economic recovery. 

So what are we to make of it all? Reagan and Clinton are revered by their respective parties, loathed by the opposition. Bush II and Carter are disdained by both parties.

Johnson-Nixon are symbols of failed expectations muffling great accomplishments. Ford and Bush the Elder are afterthoughts, no more thought of than Franklin Pierce or Chester Arthur.

Obama alternately frustrates and excites Democrats. He is  demonized by Republicans.

Looking further back in history our greatest president— Abraham Lincoln—revealed little public success prior to his election. He served but two years in Congress, six years in the Illinois state house. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on the other hand, and his cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, served as governor of New York, among their other appointed and elected positions. 

George Washington was a general; before that a member of the House of Burgesses in Virginia. Woodrow Wilson was governor of New Jersey. Thomas Jefferson was Washington’s secretary of state then vice president under John Adams. But being secretary of state and vice president didn’t help Martin van Buren rise to greatness as a president.

The aforementioned undistinguished Pierce was a congressman and senator. James Polk and Calvin Coolidge were governors. Warren Harding was a senator.

So there you have (most of) it.  Being a governor is no ticket to success as president. Nor is a legislative background. It is a hung jury on the value of a military career. Washington—a plus. Mixed reviews for Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant and Eisenhower (though Ike is gaining esteem of late).

With so many governors seeking the presidency(by my count there are 8 from the GOP, along with two Democrats, among the 20 or so hopefuls), we are bound to hear lots of talk about their being used to making executive decisions and working across the aisle to forge a united way forward. 

Just keep in mind that history is no guide. It all depends on the man and woman behind the talk.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Great Day for a Wedding

Friday was a momentous day. The U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage throughout the United States. And, months before—timed to coincide with the eleventh anniversary of their first meeting and the tenth anniversary of their moving in together—my cousin Rick and his partner Frank decided to exchange vows on the shore of Long Beach, NY.

I had always wanted to attend a gay wedding. But Rick and Frank’s betrothal was just like so many Jewish or Italian weddings I had been to before. His and His sides at the ceremony. Okay, that was different from the His and Her routine, but the love emanating from both sides of the aisle was palpable. 

Lots of good food. A big band thumping out loud, very loud, music. Lots of couples dancing (though, in truth, not too many of the 230 or so guests were gay). If you didn’t know the couple was gay you wouldn’t have been able to distinguish this wedding from any other held across America. 

And isn’t that the point. Two people in love celebrated that state of mind and heart with their friends and family as witnesses and celebrants. Their families and friends accepted their marriage as the natural fulfillment of their love and devotion to each other. 

Now, at least on the federal level, our government had accepted it, as well. It will take more time for parts of our country to attain the correct level of acceptance. I am hopeful that time will come.

Friday, June 19, 2015

A Response to the Biases Within All of Us

Within all of us biases lurk. Mine tend to be a favorable slant toward most things Jewish and/or progressive, two positions not always in concert with each other. 

My biases and their counter biases—I’m against religious extremism and intolerance and conservative political dogma, along with other issues—are deeply rooted, though not to the depth that I would violate a moral code that should reside within all of us, though apparently not to be found inside Dylann Storm Roof, the allegedly admitted killer of nine blacks studying the Bible in a Charleston, SC, church Wednesday evening.

The mind has difficulty expressing revulsion toward Roof’s actions. It was horrific, tragic, racist, an act of domestic terrorism. It was not insanity, at least in the clinical sense, though anyone who thinks what transpired in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church can be rationally explained or justified needs to have his or her head examined. 

I’ve often cited Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert for their takes on the comic absurdities inherent in national and world news. I miss Colbert’s nightly takes and didn’t latch onto his replacement in the 11:30 pm Comedy Central slot, Larry Wilmore. But Thursday night (or in my case, repeats aired Friday) provided must-see TV as Stewart and Wilmore provided textbook examples of how media stars should react to events that demand comment. If you haven’t seen these telecasts, use the accompanying links, the first one for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the second for The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. They express far more eloquently than anything I could the anger, the frustration, the anguish, the distress, grief, and heartache being felt across America, particularly among people of color:

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Equal Time, Arresting Walks, Front Lines

Before we embark on today’s missive an aside:

Do you think Republican presidential hopefuls will demand equal media time for all the TV and radio mentions of the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York? After all, as showman George M. Cohan observed some 100 years ago, “I don’t care what you say about me, as long as you say something about me, and as long as you spell my name right,” Hillary Clinton is enjoying daily impressions of her surname since two convicted killers escaped from the Donnemora, NY, facility. Moreover, if Mad Men taught the public anything it is that repeated mentions of a product’s name (in this case a presidential candidate) helps secure consumer acceptance.

Just wondering …

And while we are on the subject of incarceration, do you know the difference between prison and jail? Prison is where you go for any sentence exceeding one year and a day. Less than that and you’re confined to jail where you also sojourn pending your trial. Just thought you’d like to know. (And there’s no difference between prison and a penitentiary.)

I thought Gilda and I lived in a rather ordinary, common suburban neighborhood, if you accept the argument that a neighborhood encompasses your walking surroundings even if you cross the border into another community, as we do living just two blocks from Scarsdale. My fantasy world has been shattered two times.

Twice in the last six months or so police have arrested the residents of homes we frequently walk by in the evening (both are in Scarsdale, I hasten to say). The first arrest was of a woman allegedly running a marijuana mill in Queens. She was renting a rather stately, newly constructed home off of Saxon Woods Road just inside the Scarsdale line. Last week a Manhattan doctor and his office manager wife were arrested for allegedly running a “pill mill,” selling about $77 million worth of black market oxycodone prescriptions over a six year period. In their unremarkable second home along Black Birch Road in Scarsdale (they also have residences in Hawaii and Florida and are building a house in The Philippines), police found $600,000 in cash. One of the more fascinating aspects of the doctor and his wife’s story is their age. He is 77, she 79. 

Who knew drug dealing was a senior citizen activity? I always thought as you age you wind up taking, not dispensing, drugs. 

And now a word from our sponsor, so to speak. Our second ConEd bill since we went solar arrived. For May it came to $19.78. Last year it was $231.49. After paying the monthly $92.97 fee to SolarCity, we saved $118.74 for the month. Two months’ savings: $210.09, and some 2,000 ConEd kilowatt hours. 


Front lines everywhere: Recently, President Obama said the 450 support troops he is sending back to Iraq won’t proactively engage the enemy. They will not be on the front lines. 

If the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us anything it is that the “front lines” of today’s conflicts are fluid. They can be anywhere. Anywhere the enemy is, which is everywhere. Everywhere U.S. troops are. 

So let’s not pretend our soldiers will be shielded from harm. Our enemies have amply and repeatedly demonstrated—going back to Vietnam to Lebanon to the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen—that non traditional combat foes can strike even the most fortified and presumed secure locations, inflicting dozens, even hundreds, of casualties.