Monthly Archives: July 2010

Thune: A Presidential Prospect to Watch


Reprinted from the

I ran into Congressman Jimmy Duncan in the hall of the Capitol and we had a little chat.

Duncan is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet, a savvy politician who is completely honest and to the untrained eye, just an awe-shucks, country lawyer type of person.

Duncan has taken some tough votes in his career.  He votes against pretty much all spending bills and he voted against the Iraq War, votes that in hindsight look pretty smart.  He is an old-time conservative, but he isn’t one to beat his own chest or pontificate too much.

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The Red Flag of Partisanship


Reprinted from

            Last November, as members of the House of Representatives considered the health care reform bill, President Obama made a dramatic trip to Capitol Hill. After closing down sixteen blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue, a half-mile long White House motorcade whisked the presidential entourage past cheering tourists to meet with the House Democratic Caucus.

            Despite the drama, these trips rarely occur if the outcome is unknown.  No sense aggravating a bunch of taxi drivers if you’re not going to win.

            When he arrived before the roaring group of lawmakers, the president oozed transformational hyperbole.  Even lowly House members could “make history” by passing the measure, the president apparently told his audience, according to news accounts.

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Obama and Legislative Power


Reprinted from

The news media hailed President Obama’s victory on the Wall Street reform bill signed into law earlier this week as another example of his legislative prowess.

When it comes to congressional arm-twisting, New York Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg, like others, extolled him as a modern day LBJ.

 “If passage of the financial regulatory overhaul on Thursday proves anything about President Obama it is this,” Stolberg wrote.  “He knows how to push big bills through a balky Congress.”

Writing in the Christian Science Monitor last week, Linda Feldman shared the sentiment: “Passage of financial regulatory reform signals another landmark legislative victory for President Obama, following the Recovery Act and health-care reform.”

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Small Business Engine Stalled


Reprinted in part from

            “I don’t know what to do anymore.”

            In the 20 years I’ve known him, Jeff has never uttered words like that about the wholesale-distributor business he built from scratch over the past 25 years in Maryland, D.C. and Delaware. He’s had ups and downs like every small business, but he’s always seemed to know instinctively what to do, either to sustain existing business, or, in good times, expand into new areas and new brands.

            We were talking about the frustrations of small business, his and others like it all across the country, that can’t hire, invest and expand because there is so much uncertainty about what the future holds.

            Jeff ticked off just a few of his concerns: health care mandates; new and higher taxes and fees; the cost to the consumer of new financial services regulations; new workplace rules, and new rules and regulations that may come from environment and energy reform. The list goes on.

            There is always uncertainty in times of recession, but this time it’s different.  The uncertainty is rooted in politics as well as economics.

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This Election Won’t Be the Last


Republicans—for good reasons—are pretty giddy about the prospects for Election Day.  Unless unemployment suddenly drops, there is just no precedent in American history for the election to result in anything other than a massive victory for Republicans.  The mainstream media can rant all they want about the Tea Party and the party of ‘no’, but it will not change a thing in my opinion.

But , in addition to the issues of the economy, massive spending, and ObamaCare, another issue is emerging as salient and defining.  I am talking about immigration.  Depsite, our election-year euphoria, my fear is that we Republicans are failing to fully grasp and understand the power of a defining moment in American politics, a failure that could have long-term implications that are not good for our Party.

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Thomas’ Revenge


Reprinted from

Bill Thomas loved schemes. The former California congressman, who chaired the House Ways and Means Committee from 2001 to 2006, practiced the arcane art of parliamentary procedure like a wizard, concocting potions that turned his political opponents into hapless frogs.

Thomas sometimes even kept the details of his grandiose plans a secret from allies. He once pulled Majority Leader Dick Armey aside on the House floor and whispered that he had a new idea about how to pass a controversial piece of legislation. 

“Great,” Armey said. “What is it?” 

“I can’t tell you,” Thomas said with a twinkle in his eye. “But you’ll love it.” 

Thomas understood Congress’s dark side. His lengthy House tenure—28 years​—convinced him that there is a gene in congressional DNA that leads lawmakers to kick the can down the road rather than make tough choices.

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Biden No Jack on Message


Reprinted from:

Sometimes, I just want to strangle Ronald McDonald.

From approximately 2 in the afternoon yesterday until about 8 o’clock yesterday night, my four-year old son had one message and one message only.  He wanted to go to Old McDonald.

Old McDonald – as he likes to call the place where you get the Big Mac – serves Happy Meals, and apparently, the Happy Meal is the only thing that makes my son happy these days.

So, for every fifteen minutes, at various pitches and voice levels, my son requested that we go to Old McDonald’s and get a Happy Meal.

On one level, the discourse between my son and me was extraordinarily frustrating.  I knew that he wasn’t going to get a Happy Meal yesterday, and he knew he wasn’t going to get a Happy Meal yesterday, but that didn’t stop him from requesting it on a fairly regular basis.

But on the other level, the message discipline that came from little Jack was very impressive.  He stuck to his message, no matter how ineffective it turned out to be.

Little Jack reminds me a bit of Joe Biden.

Now, let’s not kid ourselves.  When it comes to message discipline, Joe Biden is no Jack Feehery.  Biden is usually on some crazy tangent somewhere, whether he is talking about Anna Chapman (probably my favorite Biden line ever), the President’s over-reliance on the teleprompter (a close second place), or whatever else comes through his transom.

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Heed the Call


 What follows will be considered nothing less than heresy by other children of the ’60s (who are now IN our 60s), but the irony is too perfect to ignore.

  • The poet laureate of our generation was a guy named Robert Allen Zimmerman, better known to some as Bob Dylan.
  • Of all the poems he set to music, one of my favorites was “The Times They are a’Changin'” which was a plea to “mothers and fathers,” “writers and critics,” and “Congressman, Senators” to (in the latter group) “please heed the call.”
  • Ok. You remember the song and, if you are of a certain age, you will now walk around for the rest of the day with the tune bouncing off synapses unused for the nearly five decades since you might have listened to someone playing it on their Martin nylon string guitar sitting on the floor of the TKE house at Marietta College, Marietta, Ohio 45750.
  • Or, some variant on that theme.

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Lincoln or Kagan on Our Rights



Reprinted from

Abraham Lincoln: “I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence.” Lincoln address in Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Feb. 22, 1861:

“That sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gave liberty … to the people of this country … Now, my friends, can this country be saved upon that basis? … if this country cannot be saved without giving up that principle, I was about to say I would rather be assassinated on this spot than surrender it.”

Lincoln’s inaugural address of March 4, 1861: “The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured and the faith of all the then thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution was ‘to form a more perfect Union.’ ”

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McChrystal Story Still Untold


 The flash from the explosion–and implosion–of General Stanley McChrystal has faded and his story is already old news.  Lindsay Lohan, Mel Gibson and Rod Blagojevich are back in the headlines. 

 That’s too bad.   If there is any good to come of the McChrystal tragedy, if we as a society are to learn from the experience, then we need to sift through the rubble again and see if we can’t find out more about the right and the wrong,  who did what to whom, why it happened and how, and what has changed or will change as a result.  It’s important. 

 General McChrystal, as you will recall, was the U.S. commander in Afghanistan brought down by a story in Rolling Stone Magazine. McChrystal and his aides were quoted as speaking derogatorily and crudely of the civilian chain of command from Washington to Kabul.

 The story caused serious direct and collateral damage.  The coverage for a brief time was thorough, but there is a lot more for serious journalists to cover. 

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Leveling A Legislative Majority


Reprinted from the Weekly Standard

If legislation were dirt, Democrats would have piled up a mountain of it over the past 18 months, digging themselves in a deep political hole in the process.

The House that Nancy (Pelosi) built continues to ramrod new policies through the legislative process, hoping the bustle will salve America’s sour mood. Senate Democrats move a little more slowly due to different institutional rules, yet their hearts are in the same place: the more legislative production the better.

That’s what legislators do, after all.  New laws are like seed corn, intended to grow public support.

But it’s not working.   The congressional majority keeps passing initiatives they say respond to the public’s desire for “change.” Yet the combination of current liberal initiatives and uncertainty about future policies now seriously hampers economic growth and business risk-taking. It’s also taking a toll on congressional standing with voters.

Gallup reinforced this point last week, reporting Congress’s job approval rate hovering near an all time low of 20 percent.

Perceived liberalism in the lawmaking process may also impact Americans’ ideological self-identification.  Gallup issued a separate study recently, demonstrating a significant rise in the number of Americans describing themselves as conservatives since the 2008 election.

Near record numbers now also say that the Democratic Party is “too liberal.”

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No Union Label Here


 Reprinted from The Atlantic

 Shakedown? You wanna talk about a real shakedown?

What? You didn’t think Al Capone was around any more? Let me tell you about the SEIU.

Merriam-Webster defines a shakedown as extortion. To “extort” is to obtain one’s money or property by force or intimidation. Herewith, a personal story which (I apologize) requires a bit of context.

After leaving Congress, I was invited to teach at Harvard. At Harvard, one’s ability to teach is gauged by fellow faculty members and administrators (who judged me to have done well enough that I was appointed and reappointed , eventually staying far longer — eleven years — than almost any other non-tenured “practitioner” in the Kennedy School’s history). And by the students (who voted to name me the most outstanding teacher in the school). Then I was invited to teach at Princeton and again did so successfully. I also taught, as a visiting professor, at Georgetown. All in all, more than 15 years of teaching at not-so-shabby places.

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