Tuesday, February 16, 2010


The first president I was both interested in and revolted by was Richard Nixon. In 1968,

as the Democrats were engaging in political civil war, Nixon won the election. He lied about

a secret plan to end the Vietnam war, secretly bombed Cambodia, opened the door to China,

started the Environmental Protection Agency, covered up criminal activity, proposed a national

health care plan, and started nuclear disarmament talks with the then Soviet Union. I reacted

by voting against Nixon and for McGovern. Later, I voted against Jimmy Carter and watched

Ronald Reagan push his agenda through a Democratically controlled Congress.

In 1982, I was working in Congress when Reagan rolled up the Speaker of the House,

Tip O'Neill, like an old carpet and got everything he wanted. O'Neill was replaced by a

succession of not-ready-for-prime-time players including Jim Wright (sunk by a scandal

involving a book he wrote), Tom Foley (defeated in his home district), and Richard Gephardt

(who undercut the Dems by making a secret deal about supporting the use of force in Iraq).

The same held for the Senate, where the Democrats were led for awhile by George Mitchell

(who proved to be fairly ineffective) and then by Tom Daschle (who also couldn't get re-elected)

and now by Harry Reid who faces an uphill battle just to retain his seat and can't even control

Joe Lieberman.

There's a pattern here. While Republicans had Reagan, Bush 41 and 43, Gingrich, DeLay,

and Lott, the Democrats were led by such a weak and flawed cast of characters that they

resembled the Mets trying to compete with the Yankees. After a disastrous eight years of

Bush, two wars, lies, and financial disasters, and with the weak leadership from Harry Reid,

the Democrats are left with no leaders to rally around. Why?

The election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts has Democrats scurrying out of harms way.

You would think Brown's election gave the Republicans 58 votes in the Senate, rather than

the 41 they have. Democrats act as if they lost their majorities and then some. President

Obama is still making nosies about bi-partisanship, while Republicans vow to continue their

practice of non-cooperation. Republicans vow to oppose the new jobs bill. They plan to fight

any new regulations or oversight of their friends on Wall Street. Right now they are sending

out fundraising letters to top Wall Street firms promising to protect them from the Dems.

They have sided with the health insurance industry to derail healthcare reform and will fight

Obama's plan to cut taxes for small businesses, increase exports, and reduce corporate taxes

(issues they supported in previous Congresses).

Brown's election appears to be the equivalent of a grenade being thrown into the middle

of the Democratic caucus. The Democrats seem to be scared of their own shadows. News

reports claim Obama is so spooked that he isn't even going to nominate a progressive to fill

the Supreme Court vacancy at the end of the current term, when Justice John Paul Stevens

is expected to retire. Everybody expects the bills on climate change and Wall Street re-

regulation to run into trouble.

And how about student loans? The New York Times reports Obama's proposal to end

the practice of private banks lending money to students who want to go to college is in trouble.

On the surface it sounds like a good thing, that banks are willing to make loans to college kids;

but there is no logical reason for private companies to be in the student loan business unless

you are a banker. It's a scam and has always been a scam against the taxpayer. Unbelievably,

the government guarantees to protect the profits these loans generate, so there is no risk and

the companies make hundreds of millions in profit. All losses are subsidized by you and me,

the taxpayers! How sweet can a deal get? Obama would have the government lending directly

to students. The hundreds of millions in profits the banks receive could be used for more

loans enabling more families to be able to send their children to college. This makes sense.

However, intense lobbying by the private companies appears to have stalled the bill as

Democrats continue to weaken at the knees when faced with opposition of any kind.

The one Democrat to buck this trend of spineless, ineffective, easily intimidated, and

skittish leadership is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She pushed Obama's entire legislative

agenda through the House; only to sit and watch it all die due to a case of White House and

Senate vapors. Even she couldn't stand all the heat from Republicans. She was steamrolled

by Bush 43 as Democrats in the House voted to continue to fund the Iraq and Afghanistan

wars, give immunity to telecom companies who illegally spied on their own customers at

the government's request, and passed a bank bailout for Wall Street without provisions to

assure accountability for where the money went or how it was spent while leaving Main Street

to fend for itself. I'm not Pelosi's biggest fan; but the Democrat's performance is getting


Democrats have huge majorities in both houses of Congress. According to the pundits,

Scott Brown's victory was a statement from Independents that they don't like gridlock in

Washington. Yet, in sending Brown to Washington, the Independents have guaranteed more

gridlock. Brown's victory showed how unpopular Obama is and how dispirited his supporters

are especially when they see him courting regressives while ignoring progressives. Yet,

Obama's personal popularity is still high as the people blame Republican obstructionism.

It's time to play for keeps. In the House, pass a jobs bill which will employ hundreds of

thousands of Americans now! WPA-style projects to rebuild roads and bridges and clean up

cities and national parks. Jobs to replace an aging power grid and jobs to rebuild schools in

low-income neighborhoods. Employ carpenters and plumbers, laborers and engineers; and

give Americans between the ages of 21-35 first crack at the jobs because they have the highest

unemployment figures. Pass a real regulatory bill to control Wall Street. Lower taxes for

small businesses and fund community banks who can lend to small businesses in their

community. Let the Republicans vote against all of that and dare Democrats to do so as well.

In the Senate, it is time to actually force someone to really filibuster...no more can a Senator

just threaten to filibuster. They actually have to take control of the Senate floor and hold it.

If they can't, the filibuster ends. Propose a jobs bill, Wall Street reform, more money for

student loans, money for small businesses and healthcare reform; and make the Republicans

filibuster every one of them. Republicans will have to sleep in the Capitol and the American

people can see that their real agenda is to oppose Obama and not to lead the nation out of

perilous economic times. It's time to call their bluff. Stand up for something. We've had

eight years of Clinton and now one year of Obama and Democrats still run like scared children

at the first sound of danger or disquiet. So Scott Brown won. Shove it down the Republicans

throats. Make them oppose real solutions and let's stand up for what is right and needed.

I have no idea how the party of Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Stennis, Russell,

Rayburn, Albright, Pell, Humphrey, and Teddy Kennedy is today run by Obama, Reid, Hoyer,

Stupak, Lincoln, Nelson, and Landrieu. Something has got to change. Someone has to stand

up and fight for progress. I don't have any nominees who leap to mind. Do you? What do you

think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to lionoftheleft@gmail.com

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Secretary of Defense Robert Gates sat in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee

and walked the committee through all the steps he would take to study the issue of gays in

the military and report back to them in one year with recommendations about ending the

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy which prohibits openly gay Americans from serving in the

military. It will take Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen, one

year to determine if gays should be allowed to openly serve their country. They will listen

to members of the military and their families. They will examine housing issues and the

effect openly gay soldiers would have on morale. Gates told the Senators the ultimate

decision is theirs to make and he will give them as much information as possible. Already,

those defenders of freedom and civil liberties, John McCain, Mitch McConnell, and Jim

DeMint, have expressed opposition to lifting the ban.

As I watched Gates, my mouth dropped and I turned up the volume to make sure I wasn't

misunderstanding him. It will take a year to decide if American citizens, many already in

the military, have the right to volunteer to serve their country. Gates and Obama need one

year to determine if a gay soldier will fight as honorably as a straight one. During this year,

Gates intends to go to military families and ask them how they feel about gays fighting in

Afghanistan and Iraq. At the end of that year, Gates will report on his findings and it will be

up to Congress to decide if gay Americans will be allowed to sacrifice their lives to protect

our freedom and security.

Imagine the then Secretary of War under President Truman announcing he will interview

white Southern soldiers and their families, to see how they feel about fighting alongside black

soldiers in integrated units. Can you imagine the Secretary asking white military families if

they want to live in the same housing as black soldiers and their families? At the end of that

year, what would Truman do with a report detailing how opposed the military and military

families are to integrating the troops? The President would receive a report laying out the

specific problem Southern and other whites would have if blacks and whites had equal access

and privileges. Opponents would repeat stories of how black soldiers can't fight, aren't smart,

won't take orders, and will try to rape white women. The report will be full of Bible verses

cited by good Christians about how God doesn't want the races to mix and how integration

would be against God's natural order. Still others will claim mixing the races will dilute

white culture and white role models.

What is Gates going to study? Who will Admiral Mullen listen to during this year long

investigation? What could soldiers or families or general officers tell them that could justify

continuing to expel qualified American citizens from military service because of their sexual

orientation? Considering probably 10% of the military personnel are gay and serve admirably

already, considering the fact gay Americans have sacrificed their lives to serve their country,

considering the vital talents we have lost by expelling gay soldiers who spoke Arab languages

and Iranian dialects and were experts on the Middle East, terrorism, and national security,

considering the blackmail possibilities rampant in an organization where being exposed as

gay could end a desired career; what do they need a year to accomplish?

President Truman did not go to Congress to integrate the military. He knew what was

right and by executive order he made it happen. Why doesn't President Obama do the same

thing? Are you as offended as I am by a Secretary of Defense who will actively seek prejudiced

and bigoted opinions to ascertain the wisdom of granting gay soldiers the same rights as

straight soldiers? What other types of opinions could he be seeking? There is no study or

report chronicling poor performance by units containing gay soldiers. Will the Secretary

find anyone in a leadership position who will go on the record with accusations of substandard

performance of gay soldiers? What Gates will hear is prejudice and bigotry and narrow

minded fundamentalism, none of which has anything to do with the performance of America's

armed services and everything to do with the lack of a backbone by both Gates and Obama.

Would Obama wait for a year to integrate the military if it was still segregated? Would

Obama seek out the opinion of white soldiers and their families as to whether integration

was a good idea? Why is prejudice acceptable for another year for gay Americans, but

outrageous and unacceptable for minority citizens? How do you keep a straight (pardon the

pun) face when explaining how injustice will continue for another year; and even then, Obama

won't act and will wait for Congress to decide?

There is no rational reason to prohibit gay Americans from serving their country. There

is no reason to wait a year to end an injustice which should have ended years ago. There is no

justification for kicking this can down the road except political expediency. It stinks!!!

Of all people, President Obama should be sensitive to the feelings of Americans who face

prejudice. Yet, his Secretary of Defense pleads for another year! A year to "study" and

"listen"? This is another disappointment. Obama is looking more and more like Clinton with

each passing day. This is a simple issue which doesn't require great political insight. The fact

is, most Americans see no reason to prohibit gays from volunteering to serve in the military

if they can do the job. What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please

send them to lionoftheleft@gmail.com

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Obama walked into the conference room to face 140 people who oppose him and hope he

fails. He stood in front of them for 85 minutes and fielded questions hostile in nature and

delivered with tinges of sarcasm. He had no notes and had to come across thoughtful and

reasonable while his opponents performed for their tea parties and constituents. He asked

for the session to be televised and for some inextricable reason, they agreed. When it was

over, President Obama upstaged, out-performed, and thoroughly embarrassed the entire

Republican House membership; and all were left with what was the realization that more

than the State of the Union address, this moment may have significantly rehabilitated his

image and harmed theirs.

President Obama went to Baltimore to face House Republicans at their annual retreat.

It as an attempt to reinforce his determination to seek bi-partisan support or at least to

demonstrate a willingness to listen. They could ask anything. He responded calmly and

even with some humor at times. The White House insisted the event be televised. That

request alone should have set off alarms for Republicans; but if it did they ignored them

at their own peril.

It resembled question time in the British Parliament when the Prime Minister stands

and fields questions requiring an alacrity and command of the issues rare in most American

politicians. It was different in that British question time allows questions from the Prime

Minister's supporters as well as his opponents. Obama faced hostile questions from beginning

to end. I ask you to imagine George W. Bush standing for 85 minutes taking questions from

House Democrats. There would be no television cameras.

Republicans were boxed in. While the President looked diplomatic and approachable,

Republicans could not afford to look accommodating or soft. While just by being there, the

President burnished his image as someone ready to reach across the aisle; Republicans came

across shrill and humorless. While Obama spoke of working together, finding common ground,

and solving problems; Republicans attacked and attacked out of fear of being accused of playing

too nice with the enemy.

The hypocrisy on the Republican side was breathtaking. Member after member accused

the President of not listening to them. He didn't take them seriously. He ignored their ideas.

They claimed to have solutions to the nation's ills; but were never given the chance to

implement them because the White House and Democratic leaders consigned their ideas to

the Congressional dustbin. If only Obama would look at their proposed legislation, the

country would be well on its way to reforming healthcare, changing energy policy, putting

people back to work, and restoring the nation's confidence. At some point, I hoped Obama

would remind his audience they ran Congress and the White House for six years. At no time

during that period did they introduce legislation to reform or expand healthcare. Their

energy policy was to drill in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge; and as for the economy, they passed

a $1.3 trillion tax cut for the rich, a $700 billion Medicare prescription drug bill, and started

two wars at a cost of well over $1 trillion. I wanted the President to ask them why none of

their ideas were ever passed and implemented. When they were in power, how is it these

issues were not resolved and solutions implemented? All of a sudden, with Democrats in

power, Republicans were now filled with ideas and solutions which Obama should listen to

and adopt. I don't know how they could ask some of the questions with straight faces.

One Republican asked the President why their budget proposal had been ignored and

rejected. He claimed their budget would lower the deficit, reduce the national debt, rein in

entitlement costs; and all of this without raising taxes. What he didn't say was their budget

was 48 pages long and did not contain a single number. It was as realistic as an Aesop fable

full of talking animals. Another Republican asked the President why he didn't consider any

of their ideas on healthcare reform. They had a plan to extend coverage, increase competition,

do away with restrictions on pre-existing conditions, and all of this again without the need

to raise taxes to pay for it. The President looked squarely at her and told her the proposal

actually had to work with real numbers scored by independent analysts and with the input

of doctors and nurses and other healthcare professionals. The President reminded her he

could promise to fix everything too; but the American people actually expected him to be

dealing in fact not fantasy. It is one thing to claim you can do something, but quite another

to prove it. Republicans have never submitted a healthcare reform proposal to be scored or

examined while accusing the President of ignoring them. The President went on to tell

Republicans that what they propose actually has to be true. Maybe you haven't been taken

seriously because you have never made a serious proposal. You have been more interested

in scoring political points. The truly defining moment came when a Republican member

asked the President why he was spending so much money and why his monthly deficit totals

were more than their annual deficit totals. The President called him out. Without a single

note, the President reminded the gathering that before he ever took office, he found an

$8 trillion national debt as a direct result of their actions. They passed two tax cuts for the

rich, started two wars, and passed the biggest Medicare benefit in decades, and didn't pay for

any of them. He observed that before he had been President for even one day, he faced an

economic meltdown of unprecedented proportions brought on while they were in power.

It was a spectacular rejoinder and left the audience speechless.

The President told the Republicans he wanted to work with them, but they were not free

to work with him. He reminded them about all the attacks they have made on him. He

reiterated their attacks ranging from accusing him of being some kind of Bolshevik socialist

who wants to destroy the nation's healthcare system and economy and also has weakened

the nation and isn't interested in fighting terrorism or protecting national security. He smiled

when he told the crowd, "...the American people don't know this is all politics. They actually

believe you." His point, and perhaps the most important observation he made, was that their

strategy to demonize him and his ideas has worked so well that their own constituents won't

let them work with the President even on areas where they might agree. After accusing

Obama of trying to destroy the country, how do they then explain not supporting him even

on ideas in which they have common ground? Their own comments have made it virtually

impossible for any bi-partisanship.

The President's performance presented a dramatic contrast between him and House

Republicans. He came across calm and reasoned with a command of the issues which was

impressive. They came across angry and snarky and more interested in winning political

points rather than engaging in an exchange of ideas. He looked like the President, while

they looked like petulant children. If the vote in Massachusetts was a rejection of gridlock,

the President projected an image of openness and flexibility; while Republicans continued

to look like the party of "no" with nothing of substance to offer.

I can make a very safe prediction. Never, ever, again will Republicans ever allow cameras

to record exchanges between them and the President. I kept imagining George W. Bush or

Ronald Reagan trying to pull off what President Obama did, but not even I have that vivid

a capability. Obama showed a truly Presidential command of issues and details. He shed

light on why there is gridlock. Republicans aren't interested in solving problems. They are

only interested in defeating him. Far more than the State of the Union, Obama helped to

rehabilitate his image while Republicans hurt theirs. It was an impressive performance on

his part and a monumental goof on theirs. What do you think? I welcome your comments

and rebuttals. Please send them to lionoftheleft@gmail.com


President Obama ignored his base in his first state of the union message. It was a speech

aimed at independent voters and intended to mollify the chorus of voices condemning

Washington for not doing more to get the economy moving and creating jobs.

The President threw some bones to those constituencies who formed the backbone of his

fundraising and organizing; but the meat of the speech appeared to be a reaction to what

happened in Massachusetts, when independent voters overwhelmingly voted Republican.

Obama's advisors wanted to stem the political bleeding and convince independents he heard

them and will put healthcare reform, energy policy reform, and financial reform on the back

burner to make way for jobs, jobs, jobs.

The strategy is to shore up political support and limit midterm election losses. The goal

is to win some legislative victories which members of Congress can tout at home and to create

jobs projects which can get the unemployment rate out of double digits. By ignoring his base,

Obama runs the risk of further disillusionment and dispiritedness among the most active of

his supporters in return for attracting independents.

Ironically, the President's speech proved his base was right; and his advisors, former

Clintonistas and Wall Street experts from Goldman-Sachs, et.al., were wrong. From the

beginning of his Presidency, progressive economists and commentators like Paul Krugman,

Joseph Stiglitz, the Progressive Caucus and others proclaimed the economic stimulus package

was too small. They wanted another stimulus aimed at job creation. The President's inner

circle rejected their advice and decided to expend huge political capital on healthcare reform

and hoping the economy would rebound. They were wrong. They advised the President that

the public would not support more spending for jobs and Main Street. They were wrong.

The President allowed the siren song of bi-partisanship to delay healthcare reform. He was

wrong. Despite repeated calls for WPA-type programs to immediately put thousands of

Americans to work, the Obama stimulus package was designed to phase in over a year or

two's time. They were wrong.

The President did present a number of proposals which are both doable and politically

savvy. He wants the biggest banks to pay a fee (tax) based on their profits, the money to go

to create jobs. He wants $30 billion of repaid TARP funds to go to community banks to be

lent to small businesses. Parents would get a $10,000 tax credit to help pay for their

children's college tuition, students who take out loans would not have to pay back more

than 10% of their income in any given year paying the loans back, and the debt would be

retired after twenty years. He promised to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and called for a

website where every member of Congress would have to list any earmarks (special requests

for money).

The highlight for me was Obama taking on the Supreme Court right in front of them.

He criticized their decision to allow corporations to spend unlimited sums on political

campaigns and claimed the decision did great harm to democracy. He called on Congress

to fix it. Supreme Court justices are generally insulated from criticism, particularly regressive

ones; and it was refreshing to see them called out in front of the American people.

The President's attempts to appeal to independents resulted in some terrible proposals

too. He suggested there might be a role to play for offshore oil drilling in his energy policy

and a place for new nuclear power plants. He mentioned "clean" coal which is a euphemism

invented by the coal companies and doesn't exist. At a time when no one has solved the

problem of what to do with spent nuclear fuel rods (where do you store them for the next

thousand years?); suggesting creating more nuclear plants and thus more waste seems foolish

at best and disastrous at worst. At a time when experts will tell you offshore drilling with

all the inherent negative environmental impacts which accompany such actions would barely

dent our energy needs, and at a time when coal and coal-fired energy plants are a large source

of global warming; it is troubling to see the President trolling for independent's votes with

these proposals.

Politically, the President left Republicans with some interesting choices. Will they side

with Wall Street and the big banks in opposing his fee (tax) on the biggest banks? After

bragging that the election in Massachusetts gives them the ability to stop any Democratic

legislation and claiming the results show voters approve of Republican tactics; they are now

forced to offer alternatives or take the heat for just being the party of "no". The only

alternatives Republicans can offer have been rejected by the American people in the past;

so they are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Can the Republicans afford to

oppose a new jobs bill? Can they afford the President and Democrats getting credit for

creating jobs, reducing unemployment, and improving the economy? How will Republicans

vote on taking tax breaks away from corporations who export jobs overseas?

The President promised to take all combat troops out of Iraq later this year; but offered

no specifics on Afghanistan. He still has not defined what a "win" would look like in

Afghanistan, nor did he address any sort of exit strategy.

Appealing to independents and ignoring your base is a dangerous political decision. If

Obama's base does not get revved up and willing to turn out for the midterm elections at a

time when Republican voters are energized, he could split the independent vote but still lose

big because of a downturn in Democratic voters. I am not sure you can tell me what an

independent stands for or believes. They are frightened by huge deficits, but want another

economic stimulus package or jobs bill which will drive up the deficit. Do they want action

in Washington and yet vote in Massachusetts to insure more gridlock? They say they want

deficit reduction but don't seem to care if healthcare is reformed; even though rising health

care costs add billions to the deficit. Obama ignores his base at his own peril and pursues

independents who seem to sway in whatever direction the political winds blow at any given


Overall, the speech had some good progressive elements and boxed in the President's

opponents leaving them with some interesting choices ahead. However, the Afghan war

will be his undoing if he is not careful, and the pursuit of independents could leave him with

a base unwilling to mount the next battle. If unemployment drops out of double digits, if

more Americans are back to work, if the President is in a battle with Wall Street and the

big banks and the Republicans, and if some form of healthcare reform were to pass, he would

be in a much better position come November 2010. If... What do you think? I welcome

your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to lionoftheleft@gmail.com