Greater Krueger National Park

Greater Krueger National Park
An image from a recent trip to South Africa. Clcik on the image for more on this trip.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Whose fault is it?

As I read the news and listen to the pundits I am struck by the fact that the contending politicians are not trying to convince anyone of the value of their proposed policies.  Instead, they are busy warning everyone within hearing of what will happen if their policies are not adopted.  Unfortunately, this includes conservatives as well as liberals.  At this point in time we are spending far too much time beating the drum about the danger of continuing our drunken spending spree and not enough time talking about what we would do instead.  President Obama is just as bad when he demands that Congress pass his jobs bill immediately without debate or the economy will continue to go down the drain.  This, of course, sets the stage for another year of bickering and maneuver leading up to the 2012 presidential election.

In part, I blame the public's short attention span for this state of affairs.  If our political figures are forced to communicate in sound bites, it is much easier to cast aspersions than to outline policies designed to deal with inordinately complex issues.  (Paul Ryan is something of an exception to this situation with his extensive writings about the budget and intense speaking tour, but then he is not running for office.)  I am also critical of the folks in the media who could do a much better job of talking to the specifics of the various issues.  Instead they pretty much limit themselves to championing or attacking the latest sound bite.  We pretty much understand that Social Security is in trouble, but are far less clear on what we should do about it.  We understand that health care is too expensive, but we don't have many concrete suggestions about the best way to bring down costs and extend coverage in the future.  We know that our national infrastructure is crumbling, but we can't agree on the best way to pay for the rebuild and repair.  Etc., etc., etc.

And then there is foreign relations about which we don't talk much at all except to agree that war is unpleasant, expensive, inconvenient, and dangerous.  If we are liberal in our thinking, George Bush's Iraqi adventure was the cause of all of our international problems.  If we are conservative, Mr. Obama's half-hearted involvement in Libya is the perfect proof that he is not ready for prime time.  For most of America, international affairs is a foreign subject about which we think little.  This ignorance is just as dangerous to our future as is our avoidance of the economic realities that face us at home.  There are even a few politicians who espouse various forms of isolationism as a solution to all of our problems - domestic and foreign.

We blame our politicians for the situation that we are in as a nation, but it is not their fault.  We elected them.  Granted they can surprise us after they get into office, but basically they are a manifestation of the mood of the country at the time that they are elected.  I might rail at the president's stupidity, but he is in reality nothing more than the personification of us - the American public.  If we want a better America we are going to have to do more than just whine about how the place is going to hell in a hand basket.  We are going to have to dig in and make it this country that we want it to be.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

New York's 9th Congressional District

Yesterday's election of Republican BobTurner to New York's 9th District congressional seat is a clear repudiation of President Obama - no matter how the New York Times and the White House try to spin it.  The single most important issue in the election was America's relationship with Israel, but other issues were obviously intertwined.  Former Mayor Ed Koch, a lifelong Democrat and a strong supporter of Israel, supported Turner over David Weprin and called for New Yorkers to send a message to President Obama about both his domestic and foreign policies.  As a Jew himself, Koch not only influenced the Jewish vote, but more importantly reflected the feelings of the electorate at large.

Conservatives should take heart that a heavily Democratic congressional district took this important step, but we should not be overly optimistic.  There is still a long road ahead to November 2012.  It is pretty clear that a lot of folks are fed up with this President's inept policies, but we have yet to clearly articulate the conservative alternative.  We are still at the stage where it is acceptable to explain Mr. Obama's stupidity, but we are rapidly approaching the point where folks will start demanding to know what specific things we would do to change things.  The Republican led House has passed a number of specific bills that are relevant to this debate, but they languish in the Senate where Harry Read refuses to let them come to a vote and the media ignores them as not being newsworthy.  The public knows little about them or the issues that they address.

This situation will continue until we settle on the specific candidate that we want to lead the Republican Party in the 2012 presidential election.  Before anybody can assume that mantle he or she has to convince conservatives that they are the best suited to the task of defeating Mr. Obama.  Liberals don't get their say until the general election.  In order to be selected as the conservative candidate a person has to prove his bonafides as a conservative.  This process frequently scares liberals who are watching from the sidelines and that fright frequently carries over into the general election where they vote against the Republican contender. 

One example of this is the current tentative discussion of Social Security reform.  Governor Rick Perry has called Social Security a ponzy scheme and Governor Mitt Romney has taken issue with that characterization.  In the weeks ahead, both men will be forced to expand on what they would do to fix the problems plaguing Social Security and that discussion will frighten a lot of American voters.  President Obama will likely continue to ignore Social Security in the hope that the Republican Party will scare enough voters that he can be re-elected.  The 2012 election will be a test of the American public's ability to come to grips with the real issues challenging our nation.  In a very real sense it is more about us - the electorate - than it is the candidates.

Monday, September 12, 2011

GOP Debate & Obama's Speech to Congress

The GOP presidential debate turned out to be about as I had expected. We did not get any new insight into real solutions offered by the various candidates, but we did get another view of how they handle themselves in limited debate. Rick Perry came across as forceful, Mitt Romney looked moderate, and everybody else continued to melt into the background. The President's speech to the Joint Session was also pretty much what we had expected with a call for a new stimulus bill, some temporary tax relief and a demand that Congress pass all of it or nothing. The pundits and the media are commenting on both events along party lines with the Wall Street Journal pointing out what is wrong with the President's economics and the New York Times taking shots at the GOP contenders.

This will continue for the next year as we gear up for the 2012 presidential election. The extreme left and right are set in their ways. They will not change. The key to winning the next election is, of course, the political center. My guess is that Perry will continue to play to the more conservative elements in the Republican Party in an effort to win the primary fight and Romney will continue to argue that his "more moderate" position makes him more electable in the general than Perry. Tim Pawlenty has made his choice - he supports Romney. I suspect that other conservative voices will begin picking sides as we draw closer and closer to the primary. At the same time, the President will, of course, be in full campaign mode and will do everything that he can to shape the forthcoming debate in Congress to reflect well on his re-election bid.

From my prospective, the good news is that both Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman are fading in the polls. As I have written before, I respect both ladies, but feel that they would be too divisive if elected president. The entire field of candidates is composed of very good people, but I am content to have it come down to Romney and Perry. I have a lot of very staunch conservative friends. My expectation is that they will favor Perry over Romney in the primary fight. Fortunately, there is enough time that we do not have to rush to judgment. In an ideal world I will be looking for a candidate that can reverse the disastrous course that we are on as a nation and simultaneously pull us together as a people. A very tall order that requires more than eloquence at the microphone.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Thank You Mr. Boehner

Wednesday evening, I expect to watch the debate among some of the contenders for the honor of being the Republican candidate for president.  It is a useful forum and I am glad that Mr. Boehner refused Mr. Obama's request for a speech to a Joint Session of Congress.  Awkward timing or political gamesmanship I know not, but I tend to suspect the later.  Either the president's staff is overly partisan or just incompetent, either way, the situation does not smell very good.  Had Mr. Boehner acquiesced, most of the media would have broadcast the President's speech and those of us trying to decide who to support in 2012 would have been denied this peek into the thoughts of the various candidates maneuvering to replace him.

Having said that, let me quickly go on to say that I do not expect to learn very much from the debate.  The problems that our country face are far too complex to be "discussed" intelligently in this type of forum.  What we will get when all is said and done is an insight into the way these people think on their feet and how adroit they are at producing politically sensitive sound bites.  The "winner" will represent an accomplished politician that was well prepared by his or her staff.  Personality will count for more than substantive analytical thought.  (Tim Pawlenty has already fallen by the way, a victim of the personality wars.)  According to the pundits, most viewers will be watching Rick Perry tonight to see how he holds up to the hopes that he has managed to generate among conservatives in recent months.

What we see Wednesday night will be important, but of even more importance will be how the media spins the debate.  One of the candidates will probably stumble and some other candidate will capitalize on his or her gaff with a clever rejoinder.  The press will spend more time on that exchange than on any of the substantive proposals that the various people present (if they present any).  The media coverage will influence the twittering electorate.  This will result in a change in the all important polls.  Someone will emerge with a higher rating than they had going into the debate and he or she will be seen to be "gathering steam."  As this process continues, we will eventually pick a candidate that some of us like and some of us do not.  As Mr. Obama has demonstrated, we won't really know much about the person that we elect until they get into office.  It's kind of like the famous Pelosi statement.  "We have to pass the law to find out what is in it."  In the case of our president, we have to elect him or her to find out who he or she really is.

I also look forward to hearing the President speak Thursday night and I am glad that he is not going to make me choose between NFL football and a speech to the Joint Session of Congress.  I confess that I am tired of Mr. Obama's  speeches and fear that, to my deep embarrassment, I might have chosen the Saints/Packer game over the speech (understanding, of course, that I could read the speech the next morning on the internet).  Like the political theater of the forthcoming Republican debate, I do not expect my president to say anything new.  I am deeply jaundiced by his oratory over the years.  Well crafted phraseology, superb meter, wonderful voice inflection, goals worthy of lofty ambition, and full of heartfelt promises that are demonstrably devoid of sincerity.