Thursday, February 26, 2009

John Kerry Has a Sense of Humor

Former 2004 presidential candidate and current Senator John Kerry (D-MA) actually does have a sense of humor and decent comedic timing, at least that's what a recent interview with Politico demonstrates. A certain teaching assistant of mine interned for the Senator and confirms that Kerry is witty and treats his people well. If this self-deprecating side of Kerry had come out during the 2004 election, it might have gotten him enough votes in Ohio to make him the 44th president of the United States.

Some selected goodies from Politico:

Q: What do you know now that you wish someone had told you 10 years ago? A: How to give shorter speeches.

Q: What is your favorite body part (on yourself) and why? A: My face has been compared to New Hampshire’s “Old Man in the Mountain” (before it fell), and I’ve been called Lurch from “The Addams Family,” so there’s not a lot to choose from, but I’d have to go with my better-than-Rod-Blagojevich hair.

p.s. the Senator is right--the Lurch resemblence is uncanny.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Presidential Question Time

In the United Kingdom, the prime minister is subject to weekly questions from Parliament. I have often watched those sessions on C-SPAN and marveled that the prime minister sits there and suffers such indignities--American presidents after all refuse to put themselves into such situations. George Washington began--and ended--the practice of going before Congress when he went to discuss the provisions of a treaty his administration had negotiated and vowed never again to return. Other than President Gerald Ford going to Capitol Hill to discuss his pardon of Richard Nixon, presidents, as far as I know, haven't opened themselves up to Congressional questioning.

Which is why yesterday's session was so remarkable. President Barack Obama hosted members of Congress in the White House and stood there for over 40 minutes answering their questions in a public forum. President Obama called on his vanquished opponent, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), for the first question. McCain obliged by complaining about cost overruns at DoD and the ballooning price tag for the fleet of helicopters scheduled to replace the current fleet of presidential helicopters known as Marine One when the president flies in them: "Just one area that I wanted to mention that I think consumed a lot of our conversation on procurement was the issue of cost overruns in the Defense Department. We all know how large the defense budget is. We all know that the cost overruns -- your helicopter is now going to cost as much as Air Force One. I don't think that there's any more graphic demonstration of how good ideas have cost taxpayers an enormous amount of money." To which the President responded: "The helicopter I have now seems perfectly adequate to me. (Laughter.) Of course, I've never had a helicopter before -- (laughter) -- maybe I've been deprived and I didn't know it. (Laughter.) But I think it is a -- it is a -- an example of the procurement process gone amuck. And we're going to have to fix it. Our hope is, is that you, Senator Levin, and others, can really take some leadership on this."

The fleet of presidential helicopters IS due for an upgrade--some of the helicopters in the current fleet are over 30 years old--but that is beside the point. The real point is that it is remarkable that this president is willing to publicly answer questions from members of the legislative branch. From both parties, not just his own. No questions pre-screened. And not just "friendly" members of the opposition. My gosh, his surly opponent from the presidential campaign, given first crack. Other critics such as House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) were given the chance to throw a ball at the dunk tank. It was a truly unique session and perhaps by the end of his presidency, we may not think of it as unique at all.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

C-SPAN's Presidential Rankings Version 2.0 Released

C-SPAN has released the second version of its ranking of American presidents. 64 historians, political scientists, and other professional observers of the presidency participated in the survey. The first version of the survey was released in 2000.

Some observations:

  • Lincoln, Washington, the Roosevelts, and Truman continue to occupy the top five positions in the rankings.
  • Thomas Jefferson holds steady at 7. As one of my former students emailed to me the other day regarding Jefferson's ranking: "What does a brother have to do to get some love for the writer of the Declaration of Independence?" How does Truman rank in the top 5 and Jeff can't squeeze in?
  • Ronald Reagan cracked the top ten.
  • George H.W. Bush is creeping up the rankings moving two spots to 18.
  • Bill Clinton moved up six spots since the 2000 survey to 15.
  • U.S. Grant had the steepest climb of any president from 33 to 23.
  • Grover Cleveland dropped four slots to 21, the steepest drop of any president, followed by Woodrow Wilson's drop of three slots to 9 and Jimmy Carter's three slot drop to 25.
  • George W. Bush begins his ranking at 36--not terribly surprising given his weak standing with the public upon exiting the White House. It will be interesting to see if he will enjoy a Trumanesque ride up the rankings or continue to lag near the bottom with the likes of Warren G. Harding, Andrew Johnson, and James Buchanan.
  • Speaking of Harding, Johnson, and Buchanan, they continue to compose the bottom three once again.
  • William Henry Harrison is ranked 39th. I'm not sure what he could have possibly done in is one month of office, most of it lying on his back dying from pneumonia, to justify any ranking.
  • Same goes for James Garfield ranked 28. Garfield was shot only four months into his first term and died from his wound two months later, not long enough to have any real impact on the country.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Risky Strategy

I had a feeling that the Republican strategy of playing hardball with the popular new president was not a wise one. I also had a feeling that President Obama's call for a port-partisan era was brilliant--nothing to lose and much to gain. Well the post-stimulus bill numbers are out and it looks like the president won this battle. According to a FOX News poll, 66% of Americans feel that President Obama has "sincerely tried to reach out to Republicans and be bipartisan" while 33% of Americans "have sincerely tried to be helpful to Barack Obama and be bipartisan in drafting the economic stimulus and spending plan." An AP-Gfk poll corroborates the findings: 62% of Americans feel President Obama is cooperating "about the right amount" with Republicans in Congress whereas 64% feel Republicans are not cooperating enough with the new president. In both polls, Obama is pulling in 60% plus in approval ratings.

In 1981, a number of Congressional Democrats, despite opposition from Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill (D-MA), helped President Reagan pass his first budget--a budget that was loaded with tax and spending cuts that were anathema to Democrats. The electoral landslide of 1980 showed Reagan had an electoral mandate to govern and take the country in a different direction. By having enough Democrats cross the aisle to vote for the Reagan budget, Democrats were able to avoid being viewed as obstructionist. The GOP of 2009 has decided to look to a different playbook and oppose the president from the very beginning. No honeymoon, no cooperation, not even one vote in the House. This is a risky strategy given the state of the American economy, the pain many Americans are feeling, and the declining numbers of Republican identifiers in the electorate and dwindling numbers in Congress.

Americans like bipartisanship, they don't like obstructionism. If Americans sense that the GOP is hell-bent on slapping away the new presidents extended hand of cooperation, that will spell doom for the Republican Party.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Trying to Spank the Blue Dog

Former Tennessee football star and NFL quarterback Heath Shuler, a second term congressman, criticized the Democratic leadership in both the House and Senate for a lack of bipartisanship regarding the stimulus bill negotiations. Shuler is a Blue Dog Democrat who represents a conservative district in rural western North Carolina and was one of a handful of Democrats who voted against the package in the House. Shuler was quoted as saying: "In order for us to get the confidence of America, it has to be done in a bipartisan way. We have to have everyone - Democrats and Republicans standing on the stage with the administration - saying 'We got something done that was efficient, stimulative and timely.'...I truly feel that's where maybe House leadership and Senate leadership have really failed."

In a truly sophomoric and pathetic attempt to respond to Shuler's criticism, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's spokesman Jim Manley criticized the Congressman for his observations about the stimulus package as well as his NFL record: "Let me get this straight - this is coming from a guy who threw more than twice as many interceptions than touchdowns?" Politico congressional gossip columnist Glenn Thrush piled on the Congressman: "In four years as an NFL QB -- three with the Redskins, one with the Saints -- Shuler threw 32 INTs while tallying only 15 TDs. Shuler was the third overall pick in the 1994 NFL draft and held out for a seven-year $19 million contract, but completed fewer than half his passes -- with a rock-bottom 54.3 lifetime passer rating. In 2008, ESPN rated him the 4th biggest draft bust in league history."

First, I'm guessing both these guys, Manley and Thrush, never played a team sport past first grade. Sure, maybe they dabbled in karate, or tried skate boarding, maybe belonged to chess club, but certainly never strapped the shoulder pads on, boiled and fit the mouth guard, and slapped on the helmet. I've got some news for you both: Shuler was a tremendously good quarterback for the Tennessee Volunteers, one of the powerhouses of college football. Where did you both play? True, his NFL career was short and painful--both literally and figuratively, but the dude still played in the bigs.

Second, if Democrats truly want to be a lasting majority party, you need people like Heath Shuler, as well as Zack Space and John Boccieri of Ohio, and others who have a centrist hue because that's why Dems have such heavy majorities in both houses and that's where the majority of America is--in the middle. Shuler, Space, and Boccieri all won tough contests in their districts because they were centrist Blue Dog Dems--their constituents expect them to buck their party leaders--especially when their party leaders are considerably left of center. Instead of trying to spank the blue dog, Democratic party leaders should include them in their strategy sessions. As for Shuler, Harry Reid may be seeing a lot more of him in the future--he is considering making a run for the Senate seat currently held by Republican Richard Burr.

Friday, February 6, 2009

NASCAR's Season of Angst Just Beginning

NASCAR's season begins tomorrow with the Budweiser Shootout but there's a decidedly different vibe this year--economic crisis and a sport feeling the crunch. NASCAR, with its reliance on corporate sponsorships and auto industry money and equipment, is perhaps more vulnerable to the economic crunch than any other major sport in the United States. An off season of layoffs, mergers, and test bans have left NASCAR employees and fans alike reeling as the green flag gets ready to drop in Daytona.

USA Today has a great rundown on the challenges facing NASCAR and a preview of some of the story lines that are emerging for 2009, including:

Sport is usually a way for people to unwind and distract themselves from their troubles. When a major sport like NASCAR is effected as much as it is by the economic situation in the country, we are all in trouble. Let us hope that the storyline in 2010 will revolve around the sport's and the economy's rebound.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Ohio Dems Poised to Duke it out Over Voino's Senate Seat

Well this is getting interesting. George Voinovich's announcement of his retirement last month has set off a flurry of activity as politicos maneuver to secure support in an effort to get the party nomination.

On the GOP side, Rob Portman looks to be taking a commanding lead as John Kasich and Kevin Coughlin are aiming for the governor's office.

On the Democratic side, things are heating up and are poised to turn nasty as some heavyweights are sticking their toes in the water and the Governor is choosing sides. Lt. Governor Lee Fisher, longtime rumored as interested in the Senate seat, looks like he is ready to make it official. It doesn't hurt that Governor Ted Strickland has all but endorsed him: "My commitment is to him first....I believe Lee would be the strongest candidate if he were to choose to run. I don't say that to disparage Jennifer. She would be a very strong and credible candidate."

Jennifer who? Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner of course. Though many want Brunner to run for reelection, successfully overseeing one historic election is probably enough. How can you top 2008? If Brunner jumps in, it will be a hard fought primary. Though Fisher has the Governor on his side, Brunner likely has Senator Sherrod Brown, her longtime mentor. She also has a Profiles in Courage award and the likely support of Emily's List and powerful women in the U.S. Senate.

Over the next several weeks, expect much more news on the topic. Of course, if Strickland becomes President Obama's choice as Secretary of Health and Human Services, Fisher becomes governor and Brunner has a clearer path. Of course if that happens, Representatives Tim Ryan, Zack Space, and Marcy Kaptur all might think more seriously about taking the plunge...

Monday, February 2, 2009

We Own You Now

I'm a little late to the party on this issue but I love Senator Claire McCaskill's proposal to limit CEO total compensation to $400,000, the same salary as the President of the United States. If her legislation passed, it would only apply to firms that have taken bailout money. On the Senate floor, the Missouri Democrat said: "Is that so unreasonable?....It’s eight times the median household income in the United States of America. … I don’t think that sounds like a bad deal.....They don’t get it...These people are idiots."

There has been some opposition to the proposal though. Former NYC Mayor and former presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani defended large bonuses: "If you somehow take that bonus out of the economy, it really will create unemployment....It means less spending in restaurants, less spending in department stores, so everything has an impact."

Yes, I can see how making a pauper's salary of only $400,00o would mean you could not eat out anymore. Gosh, all those CEOs and their families forced to eat ramen noodles every night. Sorry, this argument is just plain stupid and shows that Giuliani is just out of touch with the other 99% of Americans who make do on less than $400,000 a year.

Here's the deal. If you are a corporation that has taken taxpayer money, you need to play by the rules--written and unwritten. One big unwritten rule is that you DO NOT plan to take delivery of a $42 million corporate jet while taking $45 billion in taxpayer money like Citigroup had planned. You DO NOT accelerate $4 billion in bonuses to your rich executives and redecorate your office for $1.2 million while your company crumbles as Merrill Lynch's CEO did.

I hope I continue to hear outrage coming from our political leaders on the issue of corporate greed. I'd like to hear it come from both sides of the aisle. This is not an ideological issue. This is an issue of common sense and what is right. If the American taxpayer is helping bail these companies out, they need to have strict rules in place concerning our money. No golden parachutes, no ridiculous bonuses, no sky-high salary, no new corporate jets. If you are not happy running a large company on the same salary the president makes then leave and don't let the door hit you in the rear on the way out. For every CEO walking out the door, there would be a dozen waiting to take his or her place.

And make no mistake, the motto from our government should be: We Own You Now. You hold your hand out for taxpayer money, you forfeit your right to commit sins of corporate largess. Not anymore. Not in this day. Not in this economy. We own you.

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