Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The GOP Peloton

President Barack Obama has recently seen an up tick in his approval rating, even among Republicans. Meanwhile, the field of 2012 Republican challengers is slowly taking shape after many fits and starts.

Now that Donald Trump and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee are barely in the rearview mirror, more potential candidates are thinking about jumping into the race. Next month Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann, a Tea Party favorite, will announce her intentions in her hometown of Waterloo, Iowa. She told an Iowa public television interviewer, "I've had that calling and that tugging on my heart that this is the right thing to do and because it's such a momentous decision, not only for myself, my husband and our 28 children, it is a momentous decision." With God behind her she will certainly be formidable in the Iowa Republican Caucuses.

Not wanting to be left out, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is riding a bus dubbed "One Nation" on a family vacation of historic American sites in the northeast. Palin attracts plenty of attention wherever she goes, including from the shame-stream media. While she is coy about her presidential intentions, she has no organization to speak of. She remains a highly paid commentator on Fox News and takes in large speaking fees. All this makes it unlikely she will run but does a lot for her earning power and gives her a voice in the party.

Polls show that former Minnesota Governor Tom Pawlenty and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum are failing to get traction. Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman has been exploring his chances at a run. But Huntsman's Mormon religion, the fact he served President Obama as U.S. Ambassador to China and his relative unknown status will be major obstacles. Meanwhile, Texas Governor Rick Perry (Secede from the Union) and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (9/11) lurk just over the horizon.

So the GOP field promises to get crowded. And one candidate is making a big move to break out of the peloton. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is now trying to win over conservative Republicans. In an interview aired on NBC's Today Show Romney said of President Obama, "He has been one of the most ineffective presidents, at the job at hand, that I have ever seen." He gave the president an "F" for his term saying, "The number one issue he faced walking in the door was an economy in fast decline." He continued, "He didn't cause that, but he made things worse."

These comments would play well with conservatives except, as usual with Romney, there are some contradictions. The president's landmark heath care reform legislation was based on Romney's Massachusetts's health care legislation. And after opposing the president's auto company bailout, Romney claimed credit for the idea when Chrysler paid most of its taxpayer loan early. A Romney spokesperson claimed, "If they had done it earlier, as Mitt Romney had suggested, the taxpayers would have saved a lot of money."

Romney might be better served to simply say that, because of his extensive business experience, he will do a better job turning the U.S. economy around. Instead, he comes off as a desperate man trying to curry favor with his party's powerful right wing. His lack of clarity and consistency is certain to dog him--even if he is wearing blue jeans and no tie wherever he campaigns.

With little more than a year to go before Republicans select a candidate to take on President Obama in the 2012 presidential election, it is still unclear who will emerge from the peloton. And, unless there is another economic downturn, it is even more uncertain whether any of these candidates can unify their deeply divided party and attract crucial independent voters.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Life With Meaning

This past week has been one of reflection for me. The deaths of two journalists and the finale of a media superstar has given me much to ponder.

Tom McEneny was an award-winning editor for CBS News. He died over the weekend of a heart attack at 57. I first worked with him in the 1980's at CBS News. He was an outstanding and dedicated professional who loved life and joined CBS to see the world. His worked appeared on all CBS News broadcasts.

Recently, he landed a job on 60 Minutes. This past Sunday he worked feverishly to finish a piece for that night's broadcast. While cleaning up he felt severe pain. He left his edit room and walked two blocks to a nearby hospital. Emergency room workers report he had no pulse when he arrived. Soon after he was pronounced dead. He leaves behind a wonderful and loving wife and two marvelous grown boys. Tom, thank you for all the memories.

Wednesday morning CNBC viewers learned of the sudden death of anchor and journalist Mark Haines. Mark was an important figure in the US financial industry. He was a pioneer in business news reporting on television. He was a fixture on CNBC for 22 years and the soul of that organization.

Mark was a steady and enlightened voice in the complex and sometimes chaotic world of finance. He was an invaluable link between Wall Street and Main Street. He reported on bull markets and financial calamity with a calming insight and irreverence. When his death was announced shortly before the market opened Wednesday the floor fell silent. He will be missed.

Oprah Winfrey was born in Mississippi to a life that seem to have little promise. Twenty-five years ago this most unlikely of television superstars launched a talk show that would go on to change the television industry.

Her final show was filled with reflections and meaning for all her viewers. Describing her set as "the world's biggest classroom" she delivered a powerful message. "You are responsible for the energy you create for yourself, and the energy you bring to others," she said. "Don't wait for somebody else to save you, to complete you, to fix you."

"Each one of you has your own platform," she continued, "My greatest wish is for all of you...is that you carry (on) whatever you are supposed to be doing and don't waste any more time."

Tom, Mark and Oprah lived by those words.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Politics and Polenta

Despite its Congressional victories in the 2010-midterm elections six months ago, the Republican Party finds itself steeped in chaos. But it is far too early to declare Democrats winners in 2012.

For sure, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty's entry into the Republican presidential sweepstakes will do little to garner interest in their field at this stage of the contest. Pawlenty is the polenta on a GOP candidate menu that so far is uninspiring and bland. The Republican nomination has failed to attract the better-known candidates, such as former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Governor Mississippi Haley Barbour and Donald Trump. And over the weekend Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels said he would not run, which disappointed many in the party leadership.

All of this has caused great angst among the Republican Party hierarchy, in part because it opens the door for Representative and Tea-Party favorite Michele Bachmann. The feisty and diminutive former tax attorney was born in Waterloo, Iowa, and now represents Minnesota's 6TH Congressional district. She is against taxes, government bailouts, President Obama's health care law and even incandescent light bulbs.

Bachmann is a fiery speaker who has a fiercely loyal following, even though she is gaff prone. For instance, she said the Revolutionary War began in Concorde, New Hampshire, rather than Lexington and Concorde, Massachusetts. But Rep. Bachmann enjoys strong support among Christians and she would have home court advantage in the Iowa Caucuses.

While whacky Newt Gingrich appears to have self-destructed, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin could also decide to run for president; although it appears she likes making a ton of money speaking. Nonetheless, influential Republicans are so concerned that they keep raising the names of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie or former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, though they both have repeatedly declined the invitation.

Even though Republicans now control the House of Representatives, they are deeply divided between their more moderate elements and the Tea Party wing. This has made life most uncomfortable for their lachrymose leader, Speaker John Boehner. Many Tea Party members have said they will vote against raising the country's debt limit even though such a move would have cataclysmic consequences globally and on every American.

These extreme conservatives are also holding the Speaker's feet to the fire on budget compromises with the White House. And, with Congressional Republicans marching in lockstep behind Representative Paul Ryan's radical budget plan that would change the way Medicare and Medicaid work, they have given President Obama strong campaign issue. House Republican members have now been feeling the heat from their constituents, and none of the declared GOP presidential candidates has fully embraced the Ryan plan. In fact, candidate Gingrich called it "right-wing social engineering," before he tried to back off the comment.

But today's political atmosphere is super charged, the rhetoric is polarized and there is an enormous level of distrust. Given the fact that today's news cycle is down to 142 bytes, one ambiguity, one perceived mistake or one major news event can turn the election on its head and be exploited for short-term gains.

So when the president says, "The border of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed to swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states," it's like a stink bomb went off. Never mind that this has been the talked about solution for decades, and President George Bush said something similar four years ago. Republican candidates heaped criticism on the president, most forgetting to mention the phrase "mutually agreed to swaps," in an effort to undermine his strong support from the Jewish community (i.e. Florida).

Never mind that just three weeks ago President Barack Obama was being heralded nationally for his daring and "gutsy decision" to green light a covert operation that killed Osama Bin Laden. With one bold act the president countered criticisms that he lacked leadership and national security credentials. Wait, not so fast! The afterlife for success is a nano second, and a large percentage of Republicans still think President Obama is a Muslim.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are on track to wind down as per schedule, and U.S. military involvement in Libya is limited. Yes there is some encouraging economic news and the government bailout of the auto companies has helped to right the industry. But unemployment seems stuck at 9% while gas prices remain high. Home foreclosures continue at a record pace and huge federal deficits threaten to unleash inflation on all Americans.

Nonetheless, one would think that President Obama will glide to victory in eighteen months. But between now and November 2012 Republicans will continue to aggressively make President Barack Obama the issue. And if the economy falters and unemployment remains the same, the GOP will win in 2012 and polenta will be on the menu everyday!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama bin Laden

With one bold and swift act America's pent up frustration was converted into joyous cries of U.S.A.! U.S.A! Citizens took to the streets, many enthusiastically waving an American flag, as they revelled and danced. From sea to shining sea Americans felt enormous pride for their country and their brave soldiers. This moment was a long time in coming.

Thousands poured onto Pennsylvania Avenue to celebrate in front of the White House. They were a melting pot of citizens, young, old, and from all races, creeds and cultures. Two hundred miles away crowds gathered under the neon lights of Broadway to exalt a group of brave fire fighters sitting atop their truck parked nearby.

Crowds sang the Star Spangled Banner at Ground Zero, the very place where the Twin Towers stood ten years ago as an iconic symbol of freedom and democracy. When they were attacked all of America shuddered in pain. The death toll was even more staggering than the horrific images of the Towers' collapse and destruction.

The number of fire fighters and paramedics killed here was 343. Twenty-three New York City policemen died. Thirty-seven Port Authority officers were killed. More than 2,000 employees working for sixty companies perished at the site.

In about four months a 9/11 memorial will open to tourists at the partially completed World Trade Center site. It will include a fountain with an endless stream of water that will cascade into two massive voids where the Twin Towers once stood.

On Monday New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg made remarks at the site and spoke for all New Yorkers. "Osama bin Laden is dead, and New York City's spirit has never been stronger." Bloomberg said. "The construction you see here is a rebuke to all of those who seek to destroy our freedoms and liberties. Nothing will ever return our loved ones - but we are rebuilding from the ashes and the tears a monument to the American spirit. New York's way is ever forward, ever skyward."

In Shanksville, Pennsylvania, people came to visit a makeshift memorial marking the place where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed nearly ten years ago. Heroic passengers had stopped hijackers from crashing the plane into the U.S. Capitol. Today visitors brought flowers, flags and other patriotic symbols. Here too a permanent memorial is being erected in memory of the forty innocent victims. "It cannot ease our pain, or bring back our loved ones," said a family member of bin Laden's killing.

At the Pentagon, visitors quietly observed the site where fifty-nine airline passengers and 125 military personnel were killed when hijackers crashed an American Airlines jetliner into the building. Just a few paces away on another Pentagon corridor military planners had successfully planned and executed their revenge.

On September 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda ruthlessly stuck a blow against America. In the decade that followed he indiscriminately killed thousands of Muslims and other peace loving people throughout the world. Sadly, his death will not bring an end to terrorism.

In announcing bin Laden's death, President Barack Obama said, "Today we are reminded that as a nation there is nothing we can't do." We are also reminded that for those who treasure and defend freedom and liberty, justice will prevail.