Saturday, November 24, 2012

GOP: A New Direction

As members of the Republican Party reflect on their losses at the polls November 6, they should do so with complete honesty and a commitment to play a constructive role in effective governance.  Their first step should be to get their house in order.  

The Republican Party under Reince Priebus was a failure.  His leadership during this past election was characterized by distortion and deception.  His incessant reliance on talking points and mean-spirited attacks did not elevate the debate nor inspire his troops.  Not only did he miscalculate how Mitt Romney would do Election Day, Romney failed to carry Priebus's home state of Wisconsin.    

Supporters credit him with cutting the RNC's debt in half, and increasing the party's donor base.  Priebus sent an email to committee members notifying them he intends to run again in January, but barely mentioned Romney's defeat and the loss of Senate seats.  Instead, he praised the RNC's get out the vote effort, even though Romney received fewer votes than Senator John McCain did four years earlier.

Preibus has not owned up to his role in voter suppression, an effort that backfired.  This tactic was based on the old axiom that if the voter turnout is large the Democrats win.  There were also allegations of voter registration fraud involving Strategic Allied Consulting, a firm the RNC retained for $1.3 million before being forced to terminate the contract.  At the time, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said, "It's not hard to connect the dots here -- each of these cases is directly connected to Chair Reince Priebus, who as Chair of the RNC hired the firm headed by Nathan Sproul, a longtime Republican consultant with a known history of alleged voter registration fraud."  

Senate Republicans should replace their leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.  He has consistently put partisan politics ahead of working on a bipartisan basis with President Barack Obama.  Prior to the 2010-midterm elections, Senator McConnell famously threw down the gauntlet.   In an interview with the National Journal, the senator said, "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."  If Congress actually accomplished something, he reasoned, it would make the president look good.

Republicans became the party of roadblocks.  Republicans have had effective control of the Senate since the beginning of President Obama's first term.  While they did not have a majority in the Senate, they had enough seats to keep Democrats from getting the required 60 votes needed to end a filibuster.   And under Senator McConnell's leadership Republicans shattered all previous records for using filibusters.  According to the Washington Post's Ezra Klein, "There were more filibusters between 2009 and 2010 than there were in the 1950's, 1960's and 1970's combined."  In the election earlier this month Republicans lost seats to the Democrats, although not enough to end a filibuster by that party.

A mandate is in the eye of the beholder.  Democrats say the election gave the president a mandate, especially for raising taxes on the rich, while Republicans disagree.  No matter, Americans voted for a divided government, where Democrats control the White House and the Senate, and Republicans control the House of Representatives.  It was as if the voters were saying, "Alright guys, enough with the gridlock, get back in there and get something done."  

Meanwhile, government is on the edge of a fiscal cliff, which Congress created.  If no action is taken by the end of the year automatic spending reductions will kick in and all of the Bush tax cuts will expire.  That will mean the tax bill for the average household will increase by several thousand dollars, which will snuff out America's already anemic economic recovery.   

So the second thing Republicans should do is to take the high ground in the debate on the impending fiscal crisis.  They should agree to the president's proposal to increase taxes on the wealthy, while putting in place some tax reforms.  Republicans should show they are willing to compromise for the good of the country.  To do otherwise would garner blame for a Republican party that is already flat on its back from a staggering defeat on election day.  

It is time for the Republican Party to end its failed era of obstructionism.  Elections do have consequences.     

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Closing Bell: 5/10

On May 11, 2010, I helped ring the closing bell of the New York Stock Exchange, as the Executive Vice Chairman of the Mental Health Association.  Now, more than two years later, I am posting a link to the video on You Tube.  If you don't already know, I am the good looking guy on the right!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Stop Whining, Republicans

President Barack Obama handily won a second term largely because he ran a superior campaign. Republicans expected a late Reagan-esque surge to propel Mitt Romney to victory. This made Tuesday's defeat an even more crushing blow.

As Romney was conceding defeat, already indignant Republicans were pointing fingers and assessing blame. They were intensely angry, overwrought, and consumed with personal animus for the president. Highly paid Republican consultants cried foul. After all, consultants must protect their reputation and future income.

Republican strategist Mary Matalin blew a fuse and personally attacked President Obama in an article for the conservative National Review. "What happened? A political narcissistic sociopath leveraged fear and ignorance with a campaign marked by mendacity and malice rather than a mandate for resurgence and reform," Matalin wrote. "Instead of using his high office to articulate a vision for our future, Obama used it as a vehicle for character assassination, replete with unrelenting and destructive distortion, derision, and division."

Her hate and bitterness toward the president oozed through every word. To call him a sociopath is to call him a person whose behavior is, "often criminal, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience." Outrageous.

Perhaps Matalin suffers from a case of Romnesia because the Republican primary was filled with negative and personal attacks on Romney. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich even called the governor a "liar" on CBS. All the Obama campaign had to do was repeat the attacks on Romney from fellow Republican candidates earlier in the year.

For Instance, last year Texas Gov. Rick Perry told the National Journal, "There is something inherently wrong when getting rich off failure and sticking it to someone else is how you do your business, and I happen to think that's indefensible." Gingrich told Mediate last December, "If Governor Romney would like to give back all the money he's earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over his years, then I would be glad to then listen to him." And last March Rick Santorum told CBS This Morning, "He doesn't have a core... He's been on both sides of almost every single issue in the past 10 years."

But when it comes to mendacity, Gov. Mitt Romney set the standard. Apart from the constant flip-flopping on issues, Romney regularly leveled dishonest attacks against the president throughout the campaign. The worst lie, which probably cost him a win in Ohio, was the false ad about Jeep moving its operations to China.

Matalin's vituperation was not the least of the GOP blowback to President Obama's reelection. Donald Trump's Twitter response was emphatic: "We can't let this happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty... Let's fight like hell and stop this great and disgusting injustice! The world is laughing at us." The aging rocker Ted Nugent tweeted, "Pimps whores & welfare brats & their soulless supporters hav (sic) a president to destroy America... Goodluk (sic) America u just voted for economic & spiritual suicide. Soulless fools."

Tuesday's biggest loser, Republican strategist Karl Rove, who spent $365 million of donor money trying to defeat the president, had the best excuse. He actually accused the Democratic and African American president of interfering with the election. "He succeeded by suppressing the vote, by saying to people, 'you may not like who I am, and I know you can't bring yourself to vote for me, but I'm going to paint this other guy as simply a rich guy who only cares about himself," Rove told Fox News Thursday.

But the most disturbing reaction to the president's reelection may have come from Peter Morrison, the Hardin County Texas Republican Party Treasurer. "We must contest every single inch of ground and delay the baby-murdering, tax-raising socialists at every opportunity," he wrote on his Facebook site. "But in due time, the maggots will have eaten every morsel of flesh off of the rotting corpse of the Republic, and therein lies our opportunity." That "opportunity" is secession, "Why should Vermont and Texas live under the same government? Let each go her own way in peace."

Everybody hates to lose. Yes, the Republican party went though a brutally divisive primary that nominated Mitt Romney. Yes, Romney was gaining momentum, while President Obama remained vulnerable because of a weak economic recovery. But somewhere along the line Republicans lost touch with reality. Their expectations blew way out of proportion. And suddenly their balloon popped on election night.

President Obama's resounding victory has exposed a core problem within the Republican Party: It is filled with anger and hatred brought on by an identity crisis. Republican leaders will be meeting over the next few weeks and months to determine what went wrong this election and what can be done to fix the problem.

Perhaps a great first step would be to stop the whining and the ridiculous personal attacks. Tantrums and snit fits will not win over any converts. Nobody likes a sore loser.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Be Bold Mr. President

The din of Democracy, which ebbs and flows according to election cycles, has calmed as most Americans now focus on their normal lives. They had witnessed a historic amount of campaign spending, about $6 billion, more than one million political ads, and seemingly endless news coverage. After all the shouting was over, and the ballots were counted, the political balance of power did not change in Washington.

Yet one could conclude that the 2012 presidential election had two outcomes. President Obama was given a second chance to fix entitlements, tax policy, the economy, deficits and immigration. The American people empowered the president to stand up to the extremes of both parties, if necessary, to come up with reasonable and balanced solutions to these daunting problems. The Tea Party wing of the Republican Party was knocked back on its heels.  So it is time for the president to be bold and use an "all hands on deck" approach in order to galvanize Congressional support around solutions. The president should also be transparent with the American people, in effect, "crowdsource" ideas, and include them in the process.

President Obama has a small window in which to act before the midterm campaign begins. He should first start building momentum by working out a balanced solution to the so-called fiscal cliff. Congress must have a budget agreement by the end of the year or the Bush tax reductions will expire and deep cuts will be made to the defense budget. It is time for a grand bargain, a compromise, that includes budget cuts AND some revenues.

Meanwhile, for Republicans, it is mourning in America. The party of Lincoln failed to recognize that the country is a melting pot with diverse voices and evolving needs. Instead, the GOP is hanging on to a Norman Rockwell vision of America.  Republican members of Congress have been unwilling to budge on tax increases for the wealthy because they fear of losing the Tea Party's support.

Now Republicans have a chance to show all Americans that they are willing to compromise.  Reaching an agreement on the fiscal cliff will be an important first step for them to reach out to all segments of the population. Republican House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday, "I think the members understand that the fiscal cliff... is unacceptable."  And earlier this week he said, "The issue here is the president wants revenue. I'm willing to put revenue on the table."  But the speaker will not agree to rate hikes for high-income earners, rather just closing loopholes and eliminating deductions.  The Democrats don't agree with his approach.

If the president and Congress do not make a deal on the fiscal cliff by the end of the year, the U.S. economy will likely spiral into another recession. With so much at stake, the stock market has been sharply lower out of concern for what Washington will do. A solution requires compromise from both parties, and compromise will send a strong message to all Americans that both parties agree their country comes first.

One final note, President Obama received 9 million fewer votes than he did in 2008, while Mitt Romney received about 2 million fewer votes than Senator John McCain did when President Obama defeated him. It is likely they were turned off by the negative campaigns waged by both candidates, their misleading claims, and the sheer magnitude of the political advertising.

Among the losers this election year were billionaires David and Charles Koch, and Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate. They spent millions of dollars trying to defeat the president and failed.

Perhaps the biggest loser was Fox News contributor and GOP strategist Karl Rove.  His political groups, American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS, spent about $325 million of other people's money trying to elect Romney and other Republicans to office with little success. He also had an embarrassing meltdown on television when Fox News called Ohio for the president.

Rove was unapologetic about his dismal campaign results, explaining in a conference call to donors Thursday, according to one press report, that the Republican losses would have been bigger without him. No doubt his financial supporters believe him.

And no doubt Rove is laughing all the way to the bank.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Who Can You Trust?

With fewer than 100 hours remaining before the election, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been visiting swing states selling his 5-point plan to fix the economy and promising "real change on day one." Meanwhile, a desperate Romney campaign has been flooding the airwaves with false advertising in an effort to squeeze out a last minute victory.

No Republican in modern time has won the presidency without carrying Ohio. President Barack Obama has been able to maintain a lead in the polls despite heavy campaigning by his opposition. This is in part due to the fact that the president's bailout of the American auto industry saved thousands of jobs in the Buckeye state. Romney opposed the bailout, instead calling for Detroit to go bankrupt.

But now Romney's supporters have gone to the airwaves in key Ohio cities with a patently false ad. "Under President Obama, GM cut 15,000 American jobs, but they are planning to double the number of cars built in China, which means 15,000 more jobs for China. And now comes word that Chrysler plans to start making Jeeps in, you guessed it, China." Both Chrysler and GM immediately took the unprecedented step of harshly refuting the ad. Nonetheless, the Romney campaign is still airing it in Ohio and Michigan. 

The presidential election will be close in Florida, where the rapidly growing Hispanic population is likely to determine the outcome. So the Romney campaign has gone to the Spanish language airwaves with this outrageous spot featuring Venezuela's President and tyrant Hugo Chavez:

NARRATOR: Who supports Barack Obama?
CHAVEZ: "If I were American, I'd vote for Obama."
NARRATOR: Raúl Castro's daughter, Mariela Castro, would vote for Obama.
CASTRO: "I would vote for President Obama."
NARRATOR: And to top it off, Obama's Environmental Protection Agency sent emails for Hispanic Heritage month with a photo of Che Guevara.
CHAVEZ: "If Obama were from Barlovento (a Venezuelan town), he'd vote for Chávez."
ROMNEY: I'm Mitt Romney, and I approve this message.

The Romney campaign needs the overwhelming support of white voters in order to win the election. So the campaign is still running an ad that falsely claims, "If you want to know President Obama's second term agenda, look at his first: (he) gutted the work requirement for welfare." In fact, the president gave those governors who requested it more flexibility on welfare in exchange for higher targets for reducing their state's welfare rolls. (Romney had made such a request when he was a governor.) 

In an effort to get attention away from the GOP plan to voucherize Medicare, Governor Romney has time and again claimed the president has cut Medicare by $760 billion to "pay for Obamacare." Once again the Republican candidate is lying. The president's Medicare reductions target providers not individuals, and some of the funds are being reinvested into programs that benefit seniors. Never mind that Representative Paul Ryan, Romney's running mate, supported the exact same amount of Medicare reductions. 

Even Romney surrogates are misleading voters in order to help their candidate. Romney is on record, and on tape, promising that he will overturn Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that currently governs abortions. In a last ditch effort to close Romney's gender gap, surrogate and former Senator Norm Coleman, said in Ohio of Roe v. Wade, "It's not going to be reversed." What is Coleman's rational? "President Bush was president eight years, Roe v. Wade wasn't reversed. He had two Supreme Court picks, Roe v. Wade wasn't reversed." But, wait, that's not what Romney said!

Of course, Romney is a flip flopper who will say whatever it takes to win over an audience. Like at a Florida fat cat fundraiser earlier this year, when he said that, "47 percent of the people who will vote for the president...believe they are victims and government has a responsibility to take care of them?" When he found out the "47 percent" includes senior citizens, members of the military, veterans and millions of other hard working Americans, he changed his tune. "In this case I said something that's just completely wrong," he told Fox News. But does he really think he was wrong?

Romney claims to have been a bipartisan governor who succeeded in Massachusetts. If Romney was so successful as governor, why is President Obama currently leading him in three recent statewide polls by an average of about 25 percent? If Romney was so bipartisan, why did he have a separate elevator designated for his use in the state capitol in order to avoid Democrats? No wonder he was only a one-term governor.

Candidate Romney's 5-point economic recovery plan includes few specifics. One key point is a 20 percent personal income tax cut, which he says will be offset by ending some deductions and closing loopholes that he will not specify. That's $5 trillion in tax cuts over 10 years. Romney says he doesn't want to give up any negotiating power with Congress by naming what deductions he intends to eliminate. Or does he have a conflict of interest? After all, he has released only 2 years of his own personal tax returns, despite the outcry from members of both parties. Romney has also failed to explain how he created a $100 million trust fund for his sons, $10's of millions more than the IRS allows someone to legally set aside. 

It is comforting to know you can trust someone, even if you disagree with some of their ideas. One earns trust by being honest, truthful and consistent. There is only one candidate who has been trustworthy throughout this campaign. And then there is the other candidate, who once said, "I'm not familiar precisely with exactly what I said, but I stand by what I said. Whatever it was."