Throughout history many politicians and elected officials have dealt with being baited by their adversaries and the media in very different ways. Some have allowed them to dominate their mindset and hold them back on what they were trying to accomplish, while others have kept their head down and remained cool. Some have empowered them through unnecessary or unthoughtful responses and lost their temper, while others have taken the high ground, stayed away from petty tit-for-tat and remained focused. Those that have seen the bigger picture, kept their head about them and invoked a sense of humor in the right instances have always ended up in a stronger position.
President Andrew Jackson — seventh President of the United States
One such individual who did not deal with being baited by his adversaries very well was President Andrew Jackson.
Andrew Jackson married Rachel Donelson Robards, believing she had obtained a divorce from her prior husband, Lewis Robards. However, the divorce had never been finalized, thus making the marriage invalid and bigamous. The two ended up getting remarried after Robards divorce was finalized. The controversy surrounding the marriage tormented Jackson. It consumed him and he let his anger and the attacks on his wife get to him. Charles Dickinson published a statement in the Nashville Review in 1806 in which he called Andrew Jackson a worthless scoundrel and a coward. Andrew Jackson took the bait written in the local paper and challenged Dickinson via a written challenge to a duel. Jackson ended up killing Dickinson, but a bullet struck Jackson very close to his heart and it couldn’t be removed. Not only did Jackson almost die because of this decision, historic accounts show that Andrew Jackson’s reputation suffered an extreme hit because of the duel with Dickinson. Jackson let his passion and his frustrations over the hype around thesituation get to him. A take-no-prisoners response approach backfired on Jackson.
Jackson continued to let the better of his emotions and animosity get to him, even when dealing with his Vice President, John Calhoun. Mrs. Calhoun and many other prominent officers wives treated Peggy Eaton, the wife of his Secretary of War, poorly socially, which irritated Jackson. The President let his feelings towards his own earlier baiting with his wife take over. This just led to more problems with Vice President Calhoun. However, this individual bitterness was a key origin of Jackson’s dislike of Calhoun. This exacerbated all the political and policy differences they had at the time.
President Barack Obama — 44th President of the United States
In more recent political times, Barack Obama, has responded to being baited in different ways. We saw one way during the entire birth certificate controversy back and forth. The political noise became so loud that President Obama held a press conference on April 27, 2011 at the White House to make a statement on the release of a full detailed version of his birth certificate. The president stated he watched for over two and half years with bemusement and was puzzled with the degree at which the noise kept on going. After almost everyone with knowledge from Hawaii and the mainstream news media confirmed Obama was born in the United States, the president still had to stand at a podium, speak on the issue and post his full birth certificate on the Internet.
Read the rest of… Jason Grill: How Three Presidents Reacted to Adversity & the Media
Last month, Rep. Michele Bachmann announced her decision not to seek a fifth term amid an array of ethics charges, one of which is an allegation that she secretly paid Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson for his support during her abortive presidential bid. According to NBC, Bachmann’s former chief of staff, Andy Parrish, swore in an affidavit to the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee that Bachmann “knew of and approved” a scheme to funnel $7,500 per month to Sorenson through an allied consulting firm in exchange for his backing, despite Iowa Senate ethics rules barring lawmakers from receiving presidential campaign payments. In his affidavit, Parrish called Bachmann an “outstanding public servant,” suggesting he had no axe to grind. Sorenson flatly denies any violation of ethics rules, and says he received money only to cover expenses. While gleeful liberals and dismayed Tea Partiers have mostly overlooked the charge in the wake of her announcement, it may be an important harbinger of future election cycles.
To understand why, you have to start with turn-of-the-century urban machine politics. Early get-out-the-vote (GOTV) systems relied on money changing hands through employment: Party bosses, generally divided by ethnicity, rounded up votes from ethnic neighborhoods in exchange for control over the abundant patronage positions available in rapidly-growing cities. At first the practice was confined to European immigrant populations, but African American voters were gradually included. In Chicago, for instance, blacks were gradually incorporated into the machine by powerbrokers like the late Rep. William Dawson, and were offered municipal positions like the one held by Fraser Robinson III, a pump worker at the city’s water plant (and Michelle Obama’s father).
Many American cities have a storied tradition of machine politics. But in recent decades, party electioneering has evolved into arrangements whereby candidates and parties pay people small amounts of cash in exchange for GOTV efforts like canvassing. When I represented an inner-city St. Louis state Senate district, I was often approached by operatives proposing such arrangements. That’s not strictly illegal, but it creates a lot of untraceable campaign cash, and it’s vulnerable to corruption. (Although I declined, I did run afoul of federal campaign-finance law during my 2004 U.S. House race: I approved coordination between two aides and an outside party who created a flier about my opponent’s legislative attendance record. I then lied when asked about it, earning me eight months in federal prison for obstruction of justice.) I know people who have disbursed several hundred thousand dollars on Election Day. In some cases, the process is blunter, not to mention illegal: Low-level operatives simply distribute cash in even smaller increments to individual voters.
In St. Louis, local powerbrokers often steered “street money” through a trusted ally or relative — and, according to scuttlebutt, siphoned off a chunk for themselves. Sometimes a powerbroker will even dole out money to low-level party functionaries himself. In 2004, John Kerry reportedly dropped hundreds of thousands on the street in Philadelphia alone, though ultimately the Republicans’ all-volunteer ground game was widely seen as superior — and Kerry lost.
Read the rest of… Jeff Smith: ‘Walking-Around Money’ — How Machine Politics Works in America Today
By Jonathan Miller, on Wed Jun 12, 2013 at 2:11 PM ET
Welcome to Episode Two of The Recovering Politician’s CRISIS TV, a weekly roundtable discussion of the highest profile national scandals, with expert analysis from those who’ve served in the arena and suffered through crises themselves.
SPOILER ALERT: Be prepared to laugh — these former pols tend not to take themselves too seriously.
CRISIS TV is hosted by The RP, former Kentucky State Treasurer Jonathan Miller.
This week’s guests include:
Rod Jetton, former Speaker of the House, state of Missouri
Jason Grill, former State Representative from Kansas City
Josh Bowen, Nationally renowned and published personal trainer
Click here to order
This week’s topic — Baseball and Performance Enhancing Drugs
The panelists discuss the nature of the scandal, what Major League Baseball and accused players such as Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriquez have done wrong, how they could have handled the crisis more effectively, and what advice they would share with the players and owners.
The panelists discuss the lessons they learned from their own crises, detailed in the book they co-authored, The Recovering Politician’s Twelve Step Program to Survive Crisis. Click here to order.
I follow up my observations about the challenges conservative reformers face with some thoughts about how those issues are playing out in the debate over Common Core educational standards. Stanley Kurtz’s observations on the subject in National Review Online are a pretty fair articulation of the right’s grassroots based activism against the Core. To be sure, he gets lost in his share of rabbit holes—raising the Fifth Amendment-taking IRS bureaucrat Lois Lerner as a bogeyman is about as irrelevant as Arnie Duncan’s comparing opposition to the Core to worrying about black helicopters; and Kurtz’s specter of liberals imposing “fuzzy math” sounds loopy because it is—but he highlights the dilemma rank and file Republican politicians are running into. And his claims raise an important question right of center Republicans ought to be stressing over: is education reform about to become the next subject that Republicans are about to cede to the left?
To be sure, the Core is not the most inspiring kind of fight. Liberals who spent the last decade waging trench war against national accountability standards are playing a hypocritical game by suggesting that resistance to Washington driven reform is now the province of Luddites and primitives. There is no question that curriculum content is being artificially elevated to the point that it is drowning out elements that are far more decisive to student achievement, like the deteriorating quality of entry level teachers, the impediments against parents transferring their kids out of under-performing schools, and the institutional protections that make replacing inept teachers all but impossible in many districts. It is also far from clear that state by state variations in the Core’s focus of math and science teaching are as substantial as some advocates suggest.
But Kurtz and some of the Core’s sharpest critics go too far in their suggestion that education should not even be on the table as a national agenda item, and it’s worth remembering that they hardly represent the only conservative vision on educational policy. In fact, for most of the last decade, the right’s critique of No Child Left Behind was not that it overstepped some constitutional line but that the law wasn’t aggressive enough about incentivizing ideas like vouchers or charter schools. True, a number of conservatives questioned the heavy handedness of the Race to the Top fund; but for much of the first Obama term, the case was made with equal force that it imposed too weak rather than too strong a set of rewards for tenure reform or merit based pay for teachers.
As sanguine as Kurtz is about the decision-making processes of local school boards and state legislatures, the local and state level have been venues where teacher unions have typically been far more effective than reformers in driving their cause. It’s an illusion that a locally driven debate is necessarily one that favors the interests of parents or accountability, and conservatives who think so should be discomfited by the ease with which the teacher unions mimic arguments about local control in their efforts to thwart the most rigorous goals within Race to the Top.
Until recently, the political right also seemed to enjoy a rough consensus that the values that underlay the effort to prod states and districts toward more demanding standards on education were conservative in nature. As much as today’s conservative libertarians denigrate George W. Bush’s forays into rewriting education law at the national level, those efforts deserve to be appreciated as a campaign to inject market driven notions of performance and results into education rather than some weak kneed effort to pander or out-promise Democrats.
To be sure, there are very few conservatives who don’t have a palpable suspicion of the federal government using the leverage of funding to compel states to do much of anything. And it’s not a revolutionary insight that reforms are most politically palatable on the right if they are linked to language and values that ordinary Republicans will embrace. Given those realities, Republican governors who are shortchanging populist initiatives like overhauling tenure and parental choice will probably find that they haven’t stored up enough capital with their base to take on fights like the Core.
Read the rest of… Artur Davis: Conservatives and the Fight Over the Common Core
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There was nobody happier than I was when term limits ended my official position in 2008. I was tired of feeling responsible for all the problems that needed to be fixed in our state. I was also tired of getting beaten up in the press and having my enemies constantly trying to take me out. As a private citizen, I thought I would be able to be behind the scenes, work on my friends’ campaigns and not be in the crosshairs each and every day.
Unfortunately, my marriage was in bad shape by that time; and even though I was out of office, things continued to get worse. In early 2009, we separated; and by October, we were divorced. I tried to tell everyone it was a good thing for me; but inside, it really messed me up. After all, we had been married almost 20 years and had raised three wonderful kids.
I was a 42-year-old successful divorced man, whose personal life was not turning out like he planned it. My dad was a Baptist preacher, and the best parents in the world had given me a perfect childhood. I was a family values conservative Republican who was not supposed to have these types of problems. I won’t go into details, but my life was not reflecting the teaching my parents had taught me, nor was I being the example I wanted my kids to see.
I don’t know if you believe in God or not, but I do! In December of 2009, God finally had enough of my hypocritical ways and got my attention. After spending the night with a lady I had reconnected with on Facebook, I was charged with felony assault. The press, along with my enemies, had a heyday. I immediately shut down my consulting business. Soon after that, I was notified that I was a target of a federal grand jury investigation surrounding my handling of a bill in the 2005 legislative session.
Needless to say, I started 2010 with no job, very few friends and lots of time on my hands. As bad as my troubles were at the time, looking back now, I’m thankful for them. Life passes by so quickly, and very few of us get the chance to sit down and contemplate what is important. My troubles gave me a chance to analyze my weaknesses. With my pride stripped away, I was able to honestly evaluate my past actions. I saw how foolish I had been to put my family on the back burner. I learned how bitterness towards my enemies made me a bitter person toward everyone around me. The hardest thing for me to admit was that I wasn’t the same friendly and caring guy who had gone to Jefferson City in 2000.
Most of my friends say, “Rod you were not that bad, you handled it well. You were polite and treated everyone with respect. We liked you then, and we like you now.” I’m very thankful for those friends and their friendship, but I know the prideful thoughts I was thinking, and I know I should have handled things better.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m thankful for all the successes I was a part of. I’m also grateful for all the kind people I met along the way who helped and encouraged me. But I wish I would have worked less and stayed home more; been more forgiving and not gotten bitter at my opponents; been less prideful, less judgmental and more understanding. Plus, I wished I had lived the personal life I believed, instead of being such a hypocrite. Of course, I can’t change the past. I can only look to the future and focus on learning from my mistakes.
Life is wonderful for me now. Each morning, I wake up and thank God for the day. I spend more time with my family and stay connected with my friends. I have a lovely new wife, a great job and a contentment I never knew in my first 42 years of life. I was never convicted in the assault case, and the grand jury suspended their investigation into the ethics allegation and never charged me with a crime. I have slowly begun gaining back the respect I lost from my bad choices, and I am even back in politics.
Let’s face it. Sooner or later we are all going to make a mistake; we are all going to do something stupid that we regret.
Sometimes these mistakes go unnoticed and don’t cause us much trouble publicly. But for those in the limelight, their mistakes are written about, analyzed and discussed in the public square.
It happens to celebrities, business leaders and athletes; but it also happens to parents, kids and everyday people. Anyone who has made a mistake that becomes public has a problem; and how you deal with it will either make it a bigger problem or put it in the rear view mirror.
Just in case you’re thinking, “It can’t happen to me!” think about this: Powerful politicians, corporate leaders, pro athletes and Hollywood stars all have opponents, enemies and even subordinates who believe it is in their best interest to help promote problems for them. The more powerful or well known you are, the more likely it is that others are looking harder to find the mistakes you make. Additionally, the press desperately needs scandals to generate readers/viewers, and most reporters dream each day about breaking the story that takes someone down.
Click here to read the rest of Michael Steele’s extraordinary chapter by purchasing The Recovering Politician’s Twelve Step Program to Survive Crisis for only 99 cents this week only.
By Carte Goodwin, on Mon Jun 10, 2013 at 8:15 AM ET
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Some times crisis can be borne of tremendous good news – a chance of a lifetime; or put another way, when the dog finally catches the car. As one of my political heroes, President John F. Kennedy, once noted, “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity.”
I’m living testament to that principle. A childhood dream almost literally was dumped in my lap. It was an extraordinary opportunity. But it came with considerable responsibilities and posed some serious challenges.
And I learned a powerful lesson for all forms of crisis management: Keep your head and sense of humor when all around you are losing theirs.
* * *
In July 2010, I was a 36-year-old attorney, recently returned to private practice after an incredible four-year stint as General Counsel to West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin. Then, West Virginians were saddened to learn of the passing of Senator Robert C. Byrd – one of the true lions of the Senate and West Virginia’s most beloved public servant.
Governor Manchin had a strong interest in serving in the Senate (and ultimately, he would run for and win the seat); but as a man who believed in the sacred rites of our democracy, he did not want to appoint himself to the vacancy: He’d let the voters decide if they wanted to give him the honor of federal office.
But he also recognized that the people of West Virginia needed representation during the four months before a special election could be held. And much to my incredible honor, Governor Manchin appointed me to serve as West Virginia’s junior U.S. Senator.
Senator Byrd cast quite a long shadow, and it was daunting to contemplate being appointed to fill the seat previously occupied by the longest serving legislative member in the history of the United States. I could not begin to replace Senator Byrd or ever hope to fill his enormous shoes, but what I could do was emulate his work ethic and commitment to West Virginia – which is precisely what I strove to do during my four months in Washington, a town ruled by Congress, Blackberries and Members-only elevators; and a place where fame (and infamy) can come and go in a matter of hours.
(Side note: Years before, former Oklahoma standout and Chicago Bulls forward Stacey King saw limited action in an NBA game, hitting a single free throw. That same night, his teammate Michael Jordan poured in 69 points. Afterwards, King joked that he would always remember that game as the night that he and Jordan “combined for 70 points.” Similarly, rather that describing my term as “four months,” I usually characterize it by saying that Senator Byrd and I combined to serve over 52 years in the United States Senate.)
Within days of my arrival, men and women I had studied in law school were introducing themselves to me, welcoming me as one of their own, then asking for my vote in the same sentence. And I wasn’t alone; I was immediately put at the helm of a full Senate staff – many of whom had served for decades under Senator Byrd. I was given a personal secretary and press secretary – no longer would I be the one answering the phone in my own office. However, I declined the offer of a personal driver and walked myself to work.
In fact, as the august body’s youngest member – and one who had never stood before the voters – I found it especially important to strongly resist all temptation to allow any of the unusual attention get to my head. Maintaining humility was critical, but also approaching the extraordinary opportunity with a healthy sense of humor would be a necessary prerequisite.
Click here to read the rest of Carte Goodwin’s extraordinary chapter by purchasing The Recovering Politician’s Twelve Step Program to Survive Crisis for only 99 cents this week only.
By Jonathan Miller, on Sat Jun 8, 2013 at 12:36 PM ET
I was greeted this morning by a letter to the editor in my hometown paper, the Lexington Herald-Leader that repeated a variety of bizarre conspiracy theories (including the one where Bush and Cheney ordered the 9/11 attacks) and ended with this highly offensive line:
A continuation of 5,700-plus years of Jews buying their host country’s leadership in the name of a non-existing God of Abraham.
There’s no one who feels more strongly about the sacred nature of our First Amendment rights. I support anyone’s freedom to spew hateful, bigoted trash like this.
But there is no obligation on the part of the Lexington Herald-Leader to publish such offensiveness. Indeed, with all of the letters I imagine that fill their in boxes every day, I would imagine that they wouldn’t have room for such an blatant anti-Semitic rant.
I’m hopeful that we will hear an explanation or an apology soon from the paper’s leadership.
One pundit I admire, Ross Douthat, and another I admire and count as a friend, Reihan Salam, have waded into the debate over whether reform conservatism amounts to a coherent ideological vanguard, or is only a loose blanket for a set of sensibilities about what the political right should start to sound like. I lean more toward the latter, which is Salam’s take, for a variety of reasons: the splintering of conservative reformers over immigration; their imprecision on the bullet points of the healthcare fight (are they bothered by the “cadillac tax” for high quality insurance plans, or is it the one thing they like about Obamacare); the lack of a defense in conservative intellectual circles for Senator Pat Toomey’s bravery on guns; the fact that the class of reformers is made of columnists and bloggers and not congressmen and presidential aspirants all undercut the idea of even a sort of unified front. But what Salam calls a “tendency” still reminds me of what Democratic reformers were doing 20 years ago. And if history repeated itself, it wouldn’t be a bad thing.
First, the history: for all of the varnished memories of exactly how Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council reframed their party, it was no masterpiece of cohesion around policies or specific goals. To be sure, Clintonian reformers were virtually all free traders and advocates of tougher teacher standards and charter schools. To a person, they thought that welfare was too easy to obtain and even easier to depend upon, which distinguished them from 20 years of liberal rhetoric.
But these were relatively small sized pieces of the conversation at the time. On a much larger array of issues, Democratic reformers were all over the map. Some were ardent social liberals, who even then touted gay rights, others were notably sympathetic to the pro life movement and uncomfortable that liberalism verged on being libertarian. Some were anti-affirmative action, just as many thought anti-quota talk made them sound like mini Pat Moynihans (a Democrat, but a liberal scourge for years for his advice that the subject of racial injustice could use a dose of “benign neglect”). Some thought it a priority to readjust Reagan era tax rates to take a bigger chunk from the wealthy, others were self-consciously pro-business (the DLC’s bills were always heavily footed by industry lobbyists) and promoters of corporate rate cuts. One camp embraced comprehensive healthcare reform, another feared it was too costly and smacked of sixtyish redistribution.
There was, in other words, a consensus on a few second tier agenda items, disarray on the hottest subjects in politics, mixed with a strategic instinct about making Democratic political language more middle class friendly, deemphasizing identity based appeals, and there was a fondness for the word “community” without a lot of common ground on what that meant.
Yet, for all of the ambiguity, Democratic reformers in the gap years between Reagan and Clinton mattered a great deal. They introduced thematic arguments that were foreign to the liberal activists who had controlled the Democratic nominating process since 1972: notions like personal obligation, mutual responsibility and the concept that a downsized government could more efficiently promote progressive values, and that all of these principles were not code words for survival of the fittest. And by driving these arguments, DLC style Democrats showed a side of their party that was more attractive to blue collars and suburbanites than the interest group beholden, socially permissive brand of their intra-party rivals.
It strikes me that today’s right of center reformers are doing something similarly abstract, but potentially just as vital. The reform crowd is injecting into the conservative value stream the ideas that (1) middle class insecurity and stagnant wages are a genuine threat to the national wellbeing, a concept that explicitly rejects the assessment that over-regulation is the only source of trouble; that (2) public policy can and should promote economic upward mobility, although through market oriented means, which diverges from the Tea Party wing’s constitutionalism, and its single-minded desire to whittle government down to no domestic agenda other than protecting economic liberty; and that (3) there is such a thing as entrenched inequality, especially in areas like education and access to healthcare, and that the interest in social cohesion gives conservatives stakes in carving out opportunity based solutions.
If I had my druthers, I would push that reform mindset further than some of my cohorts on the center right would. I line up with the majority of Republicans who believe expanded background checks for buying firearms don’t shatter the rights of any law abiding citizen. I think the “Cadillac plan” tax in Obamacare is as lousy a policy as the individual mandate and is far more likely to break the backs of middle income workers. I am much more dubious than many conservatives that a First Amendment that was designed in a century where campaign contributions barely existed is a spigot for unfettered campaign dollars by businesses or individuals. I would rather see an immigration approach that got tougher in tangible ways, like making illegal entry a felony and making an illegal immigrant’s failure to declare and register a deportable offense, but still provided some form of legal gateway for the undocumented, to either the overly complex bill working its way through the Senate or to an enforcement only approach. And I would trust states to resolve the debate over defining marriage, which separates me from some reform conservatives who would embrace a right of same sex marriage as another extension of limited government.
But even the more slimmed down principles I describe earlier are a way of taking on the political and rhetorical landscape that has dominated the Republican Party of late and articulating a different path. That’s not much of a policy synthesis, per se; as Reihan Salam puts it, it is well short of a movement. But it is, I suspect, as essential as what the center left’s reformers did a generation ago. If only this right-leaning reform impulse is set to have as good a run as its Democratic predecessor.
By John Y. Brown III, on Wed May 29, 2013 at 12:00 PM ET
It’s important not only to be grateful to be born the way we are but also to be grateful we were born when we were.
If I had been born early in human civilization —for example, during the Hunter-Gatherer era—I would have struggled to fit in.
When asked which group I was in, hunter or gatherer, I would have been faced with the harsh reality that I wasn’t good at either. And I would have aske…d if there was a third option available. Maybe for consultants?
But the Hunter-Gatherer-Consultant era just doesn’t have an authentic ring to it.
I guess I should be grateful to have been born when I was. When there are more than just those two job options. It would have been painful for me each day to have been the last one in my group picked for either the hunter or gatherer team. Like playing in a 4-on-4 pick-up basketball and you are the 8th guy and only one under six feet tall who didn’t play basketball in high school or college. That awful exasperated final pick (forced on the team stuck with you)….and hearing the captain mutter “Oh, man. Not him” as he realized after the seventh player was selected that only left you.
I would have had to deal with that kind of humiliation daily during the Hunter-Gatherer era. And this was the period in human civilization after fire had been discovered but before the discovery of affective mood disorder medications, talk therapy, or support groups. And satire. And obviously before outsourcing.
Life really would have lousy for me and probably included a lot of passive-aggressiveness toward my group coupled with a lot of difficult to explain acting out. And no one knowing at that time about intervention processes– and just writing off my bad behavior and attitude to not being good at hunting and gathering.
And no Facebook or other social media outlets to vent about my sense of alienation and being misunderstood.
What a bizarre culture to try to survive in.
I may come up short in many areas of my life, but when it comes to the period in human civilization (era-wise) for me to be born, I nailed it.