Friday, February 15, 2008

Can a Regular American Win the White House?

There is one truth this year that I believe people of all parties and political opinion can agree upon – there is no one candidate in the race for President, which perfectly embodies the ideals of what the job needs. One candidate is too vague in his policies, another is too strident in hers, still another attacks the base of the party whose icon he claims to hold as his mentor, and yet another pretends his record supports his promises, even though the actual facts work against his claims. It is no surprise, that even as both major parties stress the need for high turnout in the elections, both parties are risking a significant ‘stay-home’ protest from disillusioned voters. And almost no one is really comfortable with the remaining selection of candidates.

I think I know part, at least, of what went wrong. It’s not just the Democrats or the Republicans and the judges they would appoint, or how they would handle National Security, or Taxes or Immigration, or so on. Those issues are important, in some cases vitally so, yet on both sides of the aisle we see a lot of discontent, even with the leading candidates saying all the “right” things. So, I would suggest that there is something more, something that has not been considered to any great degree. And that ‘something’ I would offer, is that the one big problem the average voter has with any and all of the crop of Presidential candidates, is that none of them has much at all in common with us.

Look at the brief resumes of the major candidates:

Barack Obama – Parents above-average income, went to private school (Punahou Academy). Worked 2 years after college (Political Science major) at a white-collar corporation job, then became community activist in Chicago. Harvard Law School, so he’s a lawyer. Practiced Civil Rights law, elected as State Senator, lost run for Congress in 2000, won U.S. Senate seat in 2004. Wrote three books as Senator, got the book deals on the basis of his public image. Personal wealth about $1.3 million.

Hillary Clinton – Parents wealthy, went to Wellesley and Yale (Political Science, Law). Attorney with Rose Law Firm, staff of Nixon Impeachment committee, First Lady of Arkansas 1979-81, 1983-92, First Lady of White House 1993-2000, won U.S. Senate seat in 2000. Wrote four books as First lady, got the book deals on the basis of her public image. Personal wealth about $34.9 million.

John McCain – Son of Admiral John Sydney McCain (CINCPAC), graduated U.S. Naval Academy (1958) and National War College (1974). Shot down 1967 over North Vietnam, famous for resisting torture and building morale among fellow POWs. Suffered six years before release to U.S. Elected U.S. Representative 1982, won U.S. Senate seat in 1986. Famous for putting his personal goals first. Wote four books as Senator, got the book deals on the basis of his public image. Personal wealth around $2.5 million.

Mike Huckabee – Blue-collar parents, degree in Religion from Ouchita Baptist University, Masters in Theology from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Church Pastor, then head of Baptist State Convention of Arkansas. Elected Lt. Governor of Arkansas 1993-6, Governor 1996-2007. Wrote five books as Governor, got the book deals on the basis of his public image. Personal wealth around $0.9 million.

As usual, the Democrats as a group turn out to be the rich elitists. Sure, Mitt Romney had a pile of money, but he was the only really rich Republican, while the high-profile Democrats include John Edwards ($31 million), Al Gore ($120 million), and Ted Kennedy ($300 million). What I do see in common, however, is a long period of government work. Pretty much all the major candidates have been in positions of federal employment in high-status posts for more than a decade, except for Obama, whose political activism in Chicago serves the same purpose. That is, every one of these people has been trained and taught to believe that government is the solution.

Every one.

Yes, every so often we get a George W. Bush, who generally understands that government needs to answer to the people, and in some rare cases we get a Ronald Reagan, who understands that government is the problem far more often than it is the solution. But we also know that in the main, a career politician loses sight of what most Americans believe, hope, and work for. I note that in their cases, the political experience was supplemented by a life outside politics. And if you look at the more disappointing nominees from elections in the past generation, it is usually the more “experienced” candidate who fails to ignite excitement; Kerry 2004, McCain 2000, Dole 1996, Mondale 1984, and so on. This year, even though he misjudged the timing and could not get his campaign funding going, Fred Thompson still generated a lot of buzz, and in fact many Republicans would reconsider their opposition to McCain, if Thompson were tabbed the VP nominee. The reasons are simple, but important: Thompson spoke as a clear, no-nonsense Conservative, and he also resonated as one of the regular people. If Fred had started his campaign back in 2007 when people first started pushing him to run, he’d have built up enough momentum and campaign resources to blow away the competition. This was partly due to Thompson’s own charisma and plain speaking, but also to the fact that Thompson has a life outside politics, and has earned a few paychecks that did not come from the public trough.

That would seem to say that a candidate could win the White House, regardless of party, if he or she came from a life outside politics, who could address the political needs of the nation without sounding like he or she would become part of that machine. I think that’s part of what’s going on with Obama; he is completely out-to-lunch in his plans, but he is so obviously not part of the Clinton Political Machine that his inexperience works to his advantage. That’s a problem for McCain, then. The man exudes experience, but it’s not exactly the ‘wise patient sage’ kind. John McCain exudes the ‘I know better than you, so shaddup’ kind of experience, and aside from political disagreements, a lot of Republicans rightly worry about how that appearance will affect voters in the General Election.

You might reasonably wonder why experience could be a liability for a Presidential candidate. After all, in every other election the incumbent is known to hold a commanding advantage in every aspect, unless some scandal or drastic change in his image comes to light. But this is because of the nature of the job. Congressmen, and especially Senators, want someone who knows all about their many rules and procedures; a first-term Representative has no clout in D.C. and spends more than a year just finding out how everything works. Also, the machine in Congress is well-established, and is one of the few truly bipartisan traditions honored by both Republicans and Democrats – the veterans get the choice slots and favors. The White House is much, much different, however. A President knows he will serve one or two terms, but that’s it. He knows as well, however, that from his first day he has tremendous power and influence as President, even if his margin of victory was thin or contentious. Most Presidents start to leave their mark early on – they know what they were elected to do, what they want to accomplish, and from the start they chase those goals. It has long been noted that most two-term Presidents get most of their signal accomplishments done in their first term, and often early in that term, to boot. This is because people usually want different things from a new President, and the new President has at least a limited mandate to set that course. Experience in the job is not all that big a deal for a President.

So, what about the executive experience a President is said to need? Certainly, executive experience is important, but it still has to be properly used. Jimmy Carter had executive experience as a Governor before he became President, but he was a complete failure as a Federal Chief Executive. On the flip side, John Kennedy had far less experience in government than his successor Lyndon Johnson, but Kennedy was far more successful in his work; his three years stand to Kennedy’s credit far more than Johnson’s five years do for him, even with all his Senate experience. I would go so far as to point out that Reagan, GWB, and Harry Truman all cut their executive teeth on real-world situations long before they ever did so in political office. The ideal President, therefore, would be a candidate qualified through a proper grounding in Constitutional ideals and a decent knowledge of American History, but with little to no exposure to the surreal political establishment.

Sadly, it appears that it is too late for a regular-guy candidate to show up and save the 2008 Presidential Election, but I wonder if the Blogosphere might be useful in seeking such a candidate for 2012? There are thousands of bloggers who know qualified leaders, whose proven excellence qualifies them for attention to the needs of the nation. It wouldn’t be the first time that people discovered someone better than their party’s nominee after they had locked in the wrong guy, but it could make the difference in where the political parties, and the nation, are taking the rest of us.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Presumed Villian and an Inquisition

I do not like Roger Clemens. The guy strikes me as arrogant and full of himself, a selfish person whose first instinct is a mix of narcissism and greed. That is one reason I feel so odd defending him from the slime and slander being heaped by the media and now the Congress of the United States.

To read the newspapers and listen to the radio and television, Roger is apparently a cheat who is lying about using steroids and HGH to keep his edge as a pitcher. If true, that would be a pretty bad thing, I agree, and I cannot absolutely say that Roger did not use steroids or HGH, despite his repeated denials. But the present situation can not be properly described as a search for the truth, nearly so much as it is an obvious railroading of Clemens, simply because he is a big target.

Let’s run the timeline, but keep it simple. Clemens is a long-time veteran of Major League Baseball, starting with his selection by the Boston Red Sox in 1983. Clemens reached the majors in 1984, and won his first Cy Young award in 1986. In 1991, Clemens became (at the time) Baseball’s highest paid player. Clemens won his 200th game in 1997, and claimed his 3,000th strikeout in 1998. On May 22, 1999, Clemens set an AL record with his 18th consecutive victory (spanning two seasons). In 2001, Clemens won 20 or more games for the 5th time. He claimed his 300th victory in 2003. After that, Clemens came to the Astros and was instrumental in helping them go to their first-ever World Series. Clemens’ 1.87 ERA in 2005 was the lowest in the league, and that year he claimed his 4,500th strikeout. In 2007, Clemens claimed his 350th win, this time back with the Yankees.

The first allegations of steroid use by Clemens were made by Jose Canseco, which were followed by incorrect citations that an affadavit by Jason Grimsley implicated Clemens, a claim later proven false by the same judge whose court originally took the affadavit. That affadavit, however, led to charges against former Yankees trainer Brian McNamee. McNamee found himself in a lot of trouble, and soon after made claims against Clemens, for reasons which he claimed involved telling the truth, but which could more reasonably be explained by hopes that producing a bigger fish would reduce his prison sentence. Certainly, the fact that McNamee has lied to authorities before on numerous occasions should caution anyone from taking him at his word.

The Mitchell Report, Congress’ attempt to feel good about itself by ignoring the big problems so it can obsess with things that in no way affect the National Defense, Economy, or Public Welfare, mentioned Clemens 82 times. All of the citations, however, were hearsay or unsupported allegations. Deciding it needed to waste even more taxpayer money and time, Congress held hearings on MLB Steroid use and “invited” Clemens to appear and to testify under oath. This is roughly equivalent to the tender mercies of the Inquisition, which also “invited” defendants to appear before tribunals and unaccountable prosecutors. The last week has been filled with the exploits of men abandoning – yet again – their duties as public servants in order to pursue some personal vendetta or crusade. With one notable exception, however, the siege against Clemens has not changed anything about the known facts: The accusers have made charges, which Clemens denies. The accusers also have a clear motive to lie, but the media has clearly lined up against Clemens, assuming his guilt.

The exception is a creepy but significant piece; McNamee claims to have kept used syringes, bottles, and even bloody gauze which he claims prove Clemens was injected with steroids or HGH. In truth, the impetus of that physical evidence almost certainly cannot be used to prove Clemens’ guilt, but it can be used to prove McNamee is lying. First off, just how does McNamee explain keeping that stuff since 2000 and 2001, as he claims? There is, as Rusty Hardin (Clemen’s lawyer) only one immediate and obvious answer – that McNamee planned to blackmail, perhaps even frame, Roger Clemens. We know from McNamee’s own testimony to police that he had no moral problems with selling and injecting steroids … until he got caught.

Here’s McNamee’s problem: The physical evidence may or may not contain Clemen’s DNA, but even if it does, that does not rule out the strong possibility that McNamee could have tampered with the evidence – he held it for years for what definitely appears to be a hostile motive and bias against Clemens; the normal ‘chain of evidence’ rules would make it inadmissable in any court. But that evidence will far more likely be inconclusive, and may even prove McNamee a bald liar, if there should be DNA other than Clemens’ on the syringes, gauze, or bottles. To me, this looks like McNamee tried too hard to prove how clever he was, and this may well trip him up.

But I am concerned about the whole thing. Clemens may or may not have taken steroids, but the problem I have is how this was handled. Clemens has done a lot of stupid things in his career, but he never failed a drug test, he has never admitted using illegal substances, and no credible witness has ever testified seeing Clemens use illegal substances. Like it or not, there is no evidence that Roger Clemens used steroids or HGH. Yet the prevailing consensus is that he should be presumed guilty, that his career is “tainted”, that he might deserve to be denied the Hall of Fame, not because of what he is known to have done, but because of what he is rumored to have done.

A rumor. No proof, no presumption of innocence until admission or irrefutable evidence, just a whisper campaign started by men known to have broken the law, men who have admitted that they lied and cheated, and perpetuated by men too petty to make sure of the facts (geez, nothing learned from the Duke Lacrosse rape case, huh guys?), men who thought it was better to get a hot story running on a scandal, even if it was a pernicious lie, than to consider the damage such a rumor could cause an innocent man. After all, think about Roger Clemens’ situation for just a moment, and ask yourself, if he’s innocent, if he never used steroids or HGH, how does he prove it? It’s supposed to be a man is presumed innocent, because if he is guilty of something, the accusation can be proven, but even the most innocent man cannot prove a negative. No history of drug use, no admissions in his past, no evidence to speak of or credible unbiased witnesses, and yet the majority believe he is guilty, just because of a rumor. Why don’t people see why that is wrong?

This brings me to Congress. I alluded to the fact that whether or not baseball players have been taking steroids has pretty much zilch to do with the job Congress is supposed to be doing. I am unaware of any Al Qaeda plot involving doping up our pro athletes. Social Security is not imperiled if professional athletes have been using performance-enhancing drugs (PED). That bridge in Minnesota last year did not collapse because a jock stuck himself with a needle. When you get right down to it, Congress has no business sticking its nose in this.

Which reminds me, Congress is always going on about separation of powers, which basically is a rant about how they resent the President doing his job, using powers they wish they could grab for themselves. The hypocrisy of this is apparent as soon as we see someone being sworn in to testify to a Congressional “investigation”. These yahoos sure do like acting like judges, especially since they don’t have to follow the nominal courtroom standards – nothing like “inviting” someone to come speak to Congress, then treating them like a criminal and doing your worst to make them look guilty just for defending themselves from rumors and innuendo, especially if they dare to bring an attorney. “Contempt of Congress” can get you sent to jail, but from what I can see, for any reasonable person familiar with the Constitution and the behavior of these overpaid louts, “Contempt of Congress” merely describes the normal opinion a man of conscience should have of that group of liars and theieves.

Is Roger Clemens guilty of using steroids, HGH, or some other PED? I frankly don’t know, but as much as I dislike the man, I will take his word as sufficient to presume innocence unless and until a court proves otherwise; I will not condone or support a craven liar like McNamee just because the ratings are good for the story. I also find it easy and obvious to conclude that every Congressman involved in this “investigation” is guilty of fraud and malfeasance, as indeed is the natural state of any Congressman.

Monday, February 11, 2008

My Dog for President

In discussions surrounding the strong odds that John McCain will claim the Republican nomination for President, more than a few people have assumed that because I have not trashed his reputation and questioned his patriotism, that I am a supporter of McCain for President.

That assumption is not correct.

Texas will hold its Primary on March 4, 2008. At this time, I am not sure for whom I will be voting, much less whether I am ready to actively campaign for anyone still on the ticket. For the record, my present Top 10 ranking of candidates for my vote for President of the United States would be as follows:

1. Condoleezza Rice (most qualified, but refused to run)
2. Fred Thompson (speaks well, but refused to take the race seriously)
3. Jeb Bush (competent, articulate, conservative, but no one wants 3 Bushes in 4 Administrations)
4. My wife (qualified and eminently sensible, but she won’t run)
5. Me (no worse than any of the front-runners on any count)
6. My primary dog, Bingo (the cutest and smartest Collie since Lassie)
7. My back-up dog, Cody (Black Lab, is loyal, beautiful, and a talented comedian to boot)
8. Dick Cheney (the effect on Democrats alone would be worth the vote)
9. Ronald Reagan (if you’re going to send a message, noting that a dead conservative is better than a fake one should be clear)
10. Bruce Willis (probably the toughest real Republican still active)

Having said that, I am willing to consider voting for John McCain or Mike Huckabee, provided one of them can earn my vote. While I am not one of those screaming extremists who would pretend that a Democrat in the White House is anything but a catastrophe and a direct threat to the ideals of America, neither do I forget the offenses of McCain and Huckabee, offenses not to my sensibility but to my common sense.

John McCain will not get my vote if his main claim is that he is the most ‘electable’ candidate. That was the Democrats’ strategy in 2004, to select a buffoon because they thought he would perform well in the General Election. It also occurs to me that John McCain supported John Kerry many times in 2004, a troubling behavior in a purported Republican, let alone a self-proclaimed Conservative. You need to explain why you chose the wrong side in 2004, Senator McCain.

John McCain needs to explain why he felt a hand-picked group in a back room should make decisions on judicial appointments, rather than let the Senate do its job. John McCain needs to explain, clearly, what justices he would nominate to the Supreme Court, and on what merits. And he needs to apologize, in public to Pickering, Estrada, Owens, and the others he trashed in the name of expediency and political advantage. John McCain needs to apologize for and fully repudiate McCain-Feingold. These are the starting points, not trivial details. I and other Conservatives have a right to demand bonafides from McCain, while he had no right to demand anything just because he enjoys the delegate lead right now.

As for Mike Huckabee, he too must answer questions. I am a fundamentalist Christian, which sometimes makes it difficult to speak to people of other beliefs. Too often self-proclaimed leaders of my faith engage in unchristian behavior, even in the name of their religion, and in so doing attack peace and respect rather than build on love for their fellow man. I would ask Huckabee to explain why he brought up his religion in such a self-serving way; it diminishes his credibility and my sense of his integrity, rather than increasing it. I would ask Huckabee to explain why, I he wants to be the Republican nominee, he insulted and attacked the Republican President’s foreign policy and the War in Iraq, especially when Huckabee’s demonstrated lack of comprehension in that area is so dismal. I want Huckabee to explain hwo he would sell the Fair Tax to Congress, and what he will do when they kill the bill on arrival. I want Huckabee to explain his tax hikes as Governor; raising the sales tax in 1996, supporting an Internet sales tax in 2001, and raising taxes on nursing home patients in 2001. How does this make him a ‘conservative’? The Cato Institute does not grade Huckabee a conservative, so where are his credentials? We Conservatives are outraged by spending; it’s one of the few areas where I disagree with President Bush. But Huckabee’s record as Governor included a 65% increase in state spending. How does that make him qualified to write the Federal budget? As Governor, Huckabee supported a higher minimum wage, and demanded ‘price-gouging’ investigations of oil companies. Huckabee’s credentials are in serious doubt, and I for one expect better answers from him if he wants my vote.

I had not previously mentioned Ron Paul. It is difficult to address just how far from rational his positions are, without giving them far more attention than they deserve. In short, however, his views on National Security show he is more in line with Michael Moore than Bill Roggio, his sense of the War in Iraq shows he is more in tune with Alec Baldwin than General Petraeus, and his views on the Economy show he is far more aligned with Karl Marx than Milton Friedman. At best, Congressman Ron Paul is sadly uneducated and misguided. At worst, he is dangerously unbalanced.

I said in earlier posts, that I think people should be aware of the likely consequences of their actions. I realize that even if I vote for McCain or Huckabee this fall, they may lose if I do not also actively campaign for them, that an unenthused vote may be of little value. Then again, I have also said clearly, that a candidate bears the weight of his campaign’s success or failure, that no one owes their vote to anyone. And as far as the Primary goes, right now writing in a vote for my dog looks like my most rational course. Mr. McCain and Mr. Huckabee are welcome, of course, to make a better case than they have so far.