Thursday, July 8, 2010

RIP Robert Byrd, Michael Steele Said What?, Obama the Divider, Will the Economy Recover?

Remembering a Complex, Brilliant and Not Always So Good Man
The passing of a significant political figure affords those of us who have observed his public life to reflect on its meaning, to reflect on his accomplishments and to draw lessons from his life.

Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia was a complicated man. In a Senate career that spanned over five decades, he saw wars, the civil rights movements and Presidents as diverse as John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and Barack Obama.

First, the things that I will always remember favorably about Robert Byrd. Byrd had an incredible understanding of history, probably the best of any politician in the last hundred years. He schooled others on the rules and traditions of the Senate, both the arcane and the constitutionally important. He understood the importance of the balance of power between the legislative and the executive branches and fought unapologetically against politicians of both parties who would sway power away from the legislature. He was a brilliant orator, delivering the kind of verbally rich speeches from the floor of the Senate that were powerful, colorful and never, ever, spoke down to the listener. Byrd loved his home state of West Virginia and fought as hard as any man alive to ensure that the poor people in the rural mountains were taken care of by the federal government.

But Byrd was not all good. He was a former KKK member. He was one of the strongest opponents in the Senate of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He later repented, but continued to appear completely insensitive to race, supporting such organizations as the United Daughters of the Confederacy for special treatment by the government. Simply put, on probably the most important issue of his lifetime, Byrd got it completely wrong when it mattered the most. And for that, I struggle to forgive him.

The "help" that Byrd sought for the state of West Virginia also unapologetically seemed to involve government spending so lavish that near-empty West Virginia highways now often have more lanes than clogged city interstates. West Virginia's gain was too often America's loss.

I respect the intellect of Robert Byrd. I commend his service. But I struggle to respect the sum of his record.

Michael Steele Is Crazy
Okay, I'm late to the party, but let me join the now very-large bandwagon....Michael Steele needs to be fired as the head of the Republican Party. I defended him when he took on Rush Limbaugh (and still contend he was right.) I supported him when he took on Harry Reid for Reid's fundamentally racist remarks (he is still right about the double-standard.) I rolled my eyes when he talked about making the GOP more hip-hop, but it didn't seem like a fatal offense. I started to worry when it became clear that the RNC had misappropriated donor funds on a field trip to a lesbian bondage club and Steele was AWOL on accountability. But his latest scandal reveals a fundamental lack of basic knowledge about such a well-known issue that he cannot effectively serve the Republican party.

His quote, for anyone who has not been paying attention the past week is as follows:
“The [General] McChrystal incident, to me, was very comical. I think it’s a reflection of the frustration that a lot of our military leaders has with this Administration and their prosecution of the war in Afghanistan. Keep in mind again, federal candidates, this was a war of Obama’s choosing. This was not something that the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in. It was one of those areas of the total board of foreign policy that was at least that we would be in the background sort of shaping the changes that were necessary in Afghanistan as opposed to directly engaging troops. But it was the President who was trying to be cute by half by flipping a script demonizing Iraq, while saying the battle really should in Afghanistan. Well, if he is such a student of history, has he not understood that you know that’s the one thing you don’t do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan? Alright, because everyone who has tried over a thousand years of history has failed, and there are reasons for that."

Wow. Where to start.

A. This was a war of Obama's choosing?
Does Michael Steele honestly think that it was Barack Obama that put us into Afghanistan? Was he asleep for the almost 7 years prior to Obama even taking office that we were engaged in this war? Obama was early in his State Senate career (yes, State Senate, not US Senate) when this war started.

Is he not aware that the US Congress approved the war with a near unanimous vote (1 Democrat voted "no") in 2001?

B. Stanley McChrystal mocked Obama because we are in Afghanistan? And this is funny to you?
Yeah, it's always humorous when a military commander becomes insubordinate to civilian command. And I'm sure that whole incident had a lot to do with Obama's "choosing" to "go into" Afghanistan while he was in the Illinois State Senate.

C. We should be engaged in a land war in Afghanistan?
This sounds like a Bernie Sanders talking point, not something that should come from a member of the GOP. Are there ANY Republicans besides Steele and Ron Paul that really don't think we should have gone to Afghanistan at all after 9/11? Was Steele out there trying to impeach Bush...oh wait, he wouldn't have done that because apparently we didn't go in until Obama took office.

To their credit, key Republican foreign policy leaders, including Senators Lindsay Graham (SC) and John McCain (AZ) have, for the second time in the past few weeks, gotten it right and condemned Steele's remarks.

Is Michael Steele ignorant, stupid, crazy or just not really a Republican?

Your guess is as good as mine. But he needs to go. He is a cancer on the GOP.

Obama the Divider
When you can't even get an unemployment benefits extension through Congress and you are resorting to fiery anti-GOP rhetoric on the campaign trail to sell your policies, it's a sure sign that you have failed miserably at your pledge to work in a bipartisan fashion and change the way Washington works.

Reagan worked with a Democratic congress for 8 years (well, 8 in the House, 6 in the Senate.) George H-W. Bush had all sorts of bipartisan deals. Clinton famously struck a deal on welfare reform. Heck, even George W. Bush worked with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy on No Child Left Behind.

Obama has not a single piece of major legislation in his first two years that could truly be called bipartisan. Sure, the GOP shares the blame. But Obama was the one that gave the famous Red State / Blue State speech. That speech, which catapulted him to the national scene in 2004, is increasingly looking like a fraud.

Jobs Down, Doom and Gloom, But Don't Despair
If you have read this blog for the past two years, you are probably starting to think I am either uninformed about the economy or just an overly optimistic person who can't see the storm clouds moving in.

Sure, the jobs numbers looked bad last month. But losing 125,000 jobs when 200,000 temporary census jobs go away is a heck of a lot better than when we were bleeding 600,000 jobs a year.

The economy is still recovering. As I've analyzed before, the recovery will be agonizingly slow for those still unemployed (you can refer to some of my earlier posts to see projects that it may be until 2012 or 2013 that we see a "normal" rate of unemployment again.) But productivity has boomed in this recession, innovation is still strong in the United States and big companies are making money and on solid financial footing again (AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac being obvious exceptions.)

The U.S. economy is not headed down the drain, it is headed for a decade of growth. It's just tough to see that forrest through the trees of an unemployment line.

Happy belated 4th of July, everyone. The United States of America, 234 years young and now, as much as or more than ever, the greatest nation on the planet.

Next time...back to my favorite subject...the latest political polls.

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