Obama doesn’t have to go to Nancy Reagan’s funeral, but I wish he would

Vice Presidents are supposed to be U.S. Government’s designated funeral attendee. There’s no reason President Obama should feel obligated spend his time there. The demands that he drop everything to pay respects to Nancy Reagan, and before that Justice Antonin Scalia, are shrill and senseless. They delegitimize the numerous valid criticisms of the President.

With all that said, don’t you wish he had gone?

After winning the 2008 campaign with soaring rhetoric of ushering in a new era of cooperation in Washington, Obama promptly reminded Congressional Republicans, “I won” when they expressed concern over his policies. His reelection was far from a rousing national endorsement; his campaign’s groundbreaking GOTV efforts squeezed every ounce of support from an electorate with mixed feelings.

This is the current President, but it could just as easily have been our former President. The left despised George W. Bush just as the right despises Obama, and W similarly squeaked through a close reelection relying on base voters. The man who claimed he was “a uniter, not a divider” saw a more fractured Washington in his rear view mirror when he left office than the one he had found eight years prior.

It adds up to 16 years of acidic national politics, and the choices for 2016 don’t appear likely to end the cycle.

With his days in the White House slipping into history, a warm gesture by the President to the other side would offer some glimpse of the idealistic young Senator we got to know in 2008 – and, perhaps, bandage some of the wounds. Scalia was beloved by thinking conservatives; Reagan was the First Lady to the man who, as more time passes, may prove to be the last pinnacle of post-World War II Republican Party success. Showing up at these funerals would have symbolized more than condolences; it would clearly tell the other side, “Hey, nothing personal and no hard feelings.” President Obama probably didn’t understand the significance of these two figures to his opponents across the aisle; otherwise he might have rethought his schedule.

(From a calculating, partisan perspective, it would also give the digital cheerleaders and opinion leaders within his base some motivation. “Look how magnanimous our Dear Leader is,” they could crow on Twitter.)

With eight years of sins on his record and almost two decades of political acrimony as a backdrop, surely these overtures would be rejected by some and ignored by still more. That doesn’t make them any less right. Eight years later, it would be nice for the President to go the extra mile and stand up for real change – especially because he doesn’t have to.

How the GOP could heart Huckabee


(Image from the NY Daily News) Ken Huckaby injures Derek Jeter with a knee to the shoulder on Opening Day, 2003. Though this play had no material effect on the Yankees' 2003 season or Jeter's career and Huckaby is no relation to Mike Huckabee, the world needs to remember that this happened.

In 2008, Republican Presidential candidates climbed all over one another to compare themselves to Ronald Reagan.  It’s a sorry speech to give when the best case you have to convince voters is to try to reduce a dead President (even a great one) to a buzzword.  But if Mike Huckabee does find a way to the Republican nomination (and Politico reports the polls look good for him) he would at least be able to draw a comparison between himself and Reagan on their respective political paths.


During his oh-so-close 1976 primary challenge to former President Gerald Ford, Reagan was clearly identified in the mold of Barry Goldwater’s limited government, libertarian-themed brand of conservatism.  His 1980 path to victory was made possible by heavy inroads to southern social conservatives – then called the “Moral Majority” and today categorized as “values voters” – and convincing them to abandon favorite son Jimmy Carter.  Huckabee’s second-place showing in 2008 came from conservatives uneasy about supporting John McCain (or socially liberal Rudy Giuliani or Mormon Mitt Romney).

After being the voice of social conservatives in 2008, Huckabee’s path to the nomination in 2012 will mean courting the small-government voices – who, like the values voters from 1976-1980, have become more organized and vocal through the tea party movement.

From a policy perspective, that may not be hard for Huckabee.  Other candidates (as Politico notes) supported TARP while Huckabee opposed it, and his chief rival Romney has the albatross of his Massachusetts health care plan.

Easy right?  Not so fast.  For as much hype as the tea party received, the Club for Growth flexed some pretty big muscles in the 2010 thanks to their small-government, anti-establishment message taking a strong foothold among grassroots activists – and the Club is no friend to Huckabee.  While the Club as an organization probably couldn’t make or break a Huckabee candidacy, garnering support among Club supporters will be critical if Huckabee wants to have a legitimate comparison between himself and the Great Communicator.

Politics, policy, and the President’s speech

Criticism of the President’s speech last night ranged from the lack of specific policy asks to the aggressive tone he took in describing what BP would be forced to do.  But those elements are what made the speech a short term winner – and possibly the only viable course of action.

Though it breaks a personal moratorium on referencing Ronald Reagan, the purpose of this speech should have been similar to the 1986 speech after the Challenger disaster.  That speech sought to restore confidence in American ingenuity, which had just taken a very dazzling and public hit.

Obama’s speech had a similar goal – channel and focus people’s emotions.  In his case, he wanted to empathize with Gulf residents and all Americans who will feel the environmental brunt of a company’s mistake.  The policy ideas he put forward are window dressing for the bigger message – he feels your pain, and he’s going to inflict some of it on BP through a relief fund that the oil company will fund but not direct.   (Something that would have been a good idea for BP to set up in the first place.)

Could he come out of this swinging and missing?  Could BP challenge the seizure of their assets in court – and, conceivably, win?  Perhaps, but after waiting 57 days to make this statement, it’s the best message the President has.

Plus, if BP weasels out of the bill some how, the President will still have a chance to make them the bad guy.  Just because a James Bond villain jumps in an escape pod and eludes capture doesn’t make Bond’s effort any less heroic.  It just means that Obama will have to find new and creative ways to hold BP accountable – something like tax credits for owners of local BP gas stations  owners who want to change  their affiliation.

It may not be good policy, but it’s good politics.  As the old saying goes, when you see a mob coming with pitchforks and torches, either grab a torch and join the crowd or start running in another direction.

The Contract with America ain’t walkin’ through that door

Washington, D.C. is concluding a week under a blanket of snow with a promise of a new Contract With America… sort of.  Under the headline, “Conservative Manifesto coming soon,” Politico reports that leaders of the inside-the-beltway Conservarati are drafting a “mission statement for the right.”

There are two problems with this.  Just as Republican presidential candidates fell all over themselves to quote Ronald Reagan in last year’s primaries, Republicans hopeful that 2010 is the next 1994 are looking to resurrect the Contract with America.

There are two problems with this.

First, establishment conservatives are not the most appropriate voices for an anti-establishment message – and if anything is clear about the electorate, it’s the anti-establishment sentiment.

Second, and more important, the original contract was a political platform, a promise to voters that, if elected, Republicans would follow a certain policy course.  It was not a statement of principles, but a set of specific policy goals.  From tea party groups to conservative organizations, the institutions creating these new Contracts are asking for something from government.

The best “Contract with America 2.0” I’ve seen was written by Matt Lewis, who actually thought through policy ideas and has proposed laws which would roll back free speech restrictions, promote personal retirement savings, and promote national security.  But forward-thinking policies should not find themselves listed under a recycled term.

The Contract with America was a great idea in 1994.  Sixteen years later, conservatives should be looking forward to the next big thing – not the last.

Jin-ed up?

Without mentioning him once, Governor Bobby Jindal went a long way toward recapturing the formula for Republican success which Ronald Reagan first captured nearly three decades ago.

Despite widespread criticism – even among Republican voices – his response to the unofficial State of the Union address last night struck the right tone for the GOP moving forward.

Unlike the gaggle of 2008 GOP hopefuls who felt they could excite their base by bandying about buzzwords like “conservative” and limited government,” Jindal illustrated the conservative view of government with stories. He recounted his commiseration with a local (Democrat) sheriff when federal bureaucrats stood in the way of Katrina rescue efforts. He talked about stimulating Louisiana’s economy by cutting taxes and promoting business. He talked about reforming education to empower people.

(Incidentally, in one of the poignant lines of his speech, Jindal even took back Katrina – the issue that served as an illustration for Democrats’ accusations that George W. Bush had lost touch with America. Jindal turned it around: “Today in Washington, some of us are promising that government will rescue us from the economic storms… those of us who lived through Katrina — we have our doubts.”)

Most importantly, Gov. Bobby Jindal talked more about what he was for than what he was against. The running theme of his speech was a line he got from his Dad: “Americans can do anything.”

And in that optimistic wisdom is the conservative message. We oppose bigger government not only because it doesn’t work, but because it imposes restrictions that take away the ability for Americans to use their own ingenuity and creativity to solve problems – a formula that has worked for 233 years and counting.

It isn’t enough to say it – voters need to see it. Which is why Governors like Bobby Jindal are still the best torch-bearers for a renewed GOP brand. And while the detractors on the right – who were likely looking for their own version of a “conservative Obama” pan his speech, they must remember that one person will not resurrect the party.

Bobby Jindal is a piece of a much bigger puzzle. For the Republican party to establish consistent electoral victories, they need to paint a picture of a positive party with answers – and like a puzzle, creating that picture requires multiple parts.

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We Are Republican

This is a video that is a long time coming. It sets a nice tone for Republicans over the next few years, translating exactly how Republican ideas work for people like me. That element – the answer to the question “how does this affect me” – has been missing from the GOP, arguably since the Katrina disaster.

I could do without the references to Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater, though – like Bird, McHale, and Parrish, they aren’t walking through that door.

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Advise and Consent

I recently started reading Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent. (If you haven’t read it, you might have to resort to your local library or a used bookstore to find a copy – I believe it’s out of print.) The novel revolves around a controversial Cold War-era Presidential nomination under consideration by the Senate.

Washington, D.C. is a much different town today than it was 50 years when the book was written. Our government has changed, too – if Allen Drury was writing Advise and Consent in 2008, the basic plot may be the same but the characters and their interactions would take on a completely new look.

I’m about 300 pages into the book, and there have only been a handful of mentions of Senate staff. The central characters are officeholders – Senators, the Vice President, the President, the Secretary of State nominee, and others. In today’s bureaucratized Washington, D.C. the staff members would surely have a major role to play. In fact, they might arguably be more important than the Senators in pushing forward the machinations of government.

The other striking anachronism is the heavy cloud of the Cold War that hangs over Drury’s Capitol. In considering the nominee for Secretary of State, the Senators in the novel express differing views on handling the Soviet Union. The most vocal Senator adamantly insists on making concessions during negotiations with the Russians, claiming he would rather “crawl to Moscow than perish under a bomb.” Nearly twenty years after Ronald Reagan won the Cold War, such defeatism is almost unfathomable.

By the way, Drury also takes shots at the media and academia for sympathizing with the left. So apparently some things haven’t changed.