I read with interest your memorial pieces on Nelson Mandela.
There were various metaphors and comparisons to angels, to Martin Luther King and Gandhi, but little discussion of the reality of this complex political figure who was on USA’s terrorist watch list until 2008! Don’t get me wrong, I’m am a great admirer of Mr. Mandela and in fact the international plea for his release from prison was the start of my very long career as an Amnesty International Urgent Action writer.
But let’s not forget that Mr Mandela’s incarceration was lengthened due to his unwillingness to renounce violence as a means for gaining his people’s emancipation, and his unwillingness to denounce those committed to this cause who felt violence was indeed their only recourse.
As a pacifist I feel conflicted with this stand as indeed non-violent resistance yielded no result for this cause and it would seem they were right that the Afrikaner minority and international community only noticed their actions when they turned violent and when the rightful rulers of South Africa governed from behind the bars at Robben Island.
I think it was Homer who pled “Paint me with all my warts!”. I feel we do not honour Mr Mandela’s memory by glossing over his warts, and the gravity, the reality of his life and work.
Was John F. Kennedy the last honest politician?
Yes, that’s an intentionally provocative framing of the question, but given recent events, the idea warrants a deeper examination.
In stumping for the health care reform bill that bears his name, President Obama promised dozens of audiences (37 in all in the past four years) that “if you like your plan, you can keep it.” But he knew that over half of those who had purchased insurance on the individual market would lose their plans during implementation of his health care reform bill, and his administration assumed that, given the typical churn in the individual market, people would not notice the difference.
House Speaker John Boehner told two undocumented teenage girls that he’s “trying to find some way” to pass a comprehensive immigration bill. Yet, with a sufficient number of Republicans having publicly declared their support for such a bill, everyone in the Capitol knows that the votes are there to pass it if Boehner would simply agree to bring it to the floor despite it lacking the support of a majority of Republican legislators.
And Toronto Mayor Rob Ford recently claimed that he was prepared to admit smoking crack cocaine well before his ultimate admission; it’s just that reporters were asking him the wrong question.
Surely two of our nation’s most powerful leaders would be aghast at their inclusion in a category with the buffoonish Rob Ford. But there is a common thread: a lack of public candor by leaders who feared that transparency would damage them politically. Faced with similar challenges 50 years ago, our nation’s young president could not have responded more differently.
President Kennedy’s stunning candor following the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco seems quaint now that spinning, exaggerating, parsing words, and shading truths have become accepted parts of our nation’s political dialogue. But when leaders make mistakes, be they in the public or private sector, anything less than complete candor can empower rivals, the press, or, worst of all, law enforcement, to seize on a false statement, turning a speed bump into a full-blown scandal. As President Nixon taught us, the cover-up is almost always worse than the crime; it is a lesson I learned all too well.
There are many memorable photographs of former President Bill Clinton, but perhaps the most memorable is the one of a 16 year-old Clinton representing Arkansas at Boys Nation, beaming while shaking President Kennedy’s hand. Kennedy, of course, was Clinton’s role model. But there was one area in which, at a critical moment, Clinton departed from Kennedy’s playbook: crisis management.
The Bay of Pigs debacle was an unsuccessful 1961 invasion of Cuba by a CIA-trained paramilitary group who hoped to overthrow Castro’s government, which routed them in three days. The media clamored for Kennedy to address the events, which he did with clarity and candor. First, he acknowledged the United States’ role in the coup, and admitted the coup’s failure: “The news has grown worse instead of better.” Kennedy confessed surprise and disappointment in the outcome, showing a vulnerability rare among leaders as he described “useful lessons” from the “sobering episode.” He pledged to “re-examine and reorient our forces of all kinds.” Last, he fully he accepted responsibility.
There’s an old saying that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan . . . further statements, detailed discussions, are not to conceal responsibility because I’m the responsible officer of the Government.
He did not blame the CIA for insufficient planning, or blame his national security team for offering poor information or guidance, or blame anyone for anything at all.
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Jeff Smith: What John F. Kennedy’s Legacy Teaches Us About The Value Of Candor
Great piece in today’s Newsweek by Pema Levy. Here’s an excerpt.
When the rollout of President Obama’s health care law turned disastrous, Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican leader in the Senate, might be excused for suspecting divine intervention. Fighting for his political life — and the Senate seat he has held for 28 years — against Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, currently Kentucky’s secretary of state, the embattled McConnell set to work using Obamacare to attack his opposition.
“Anything short of full repeal leaves us with this monstrosity,” McConnell said at a press conference in Kentucky last week. “The question you should be asking [Grimes] is, are you for or against getting rid of it?”
McConnell is one of many Republicans hoping to win in red states next year by campaigning against the troubled health care law. But it may not be the killer issue he hopes it is: In Kentucky, of all places, Obamacare is going remarkably well.
“Most people don’t sign up for something until the deadline,” said Jonathan Miller, a Democrat and former Kentucky state treasurer. “If that is true in Kentucky, then the positive success the program’s been having is only the tip of the iceberg.”
For the success of its affordable health care campaign, Kentuckians can thank second-term Democratic Governor Steve Beshear, whose ambitious plans have been thwarted by Republicans in the state legislature. With one in six Kentuckians uninsured, Beshear saw health care reform as the place he could make his mark. He bypassed the legislature to become the only southern state to expand Medicaid and implement a state-run insurance exchange. Then he set about making sure the law worked.
“He’s a lame duck and he’s term-limited,” said Republican Trey Grayson, a former Kentucky secretary of state. “This could be his legacy.”
Beshear, who tried unsuccessfully to unseat McConnell in 1996, may be helping Grimes as well as the uninsured. “Kentucky’s exchange has been a model of success for the nation,” said Rep. John Yarmuth, the lone Democrat in Kentucky’s congressional delegation. “As more Kentuckians receive coverage, opponents’ attacks of the law will ring hollow.”
“I think that ultimately this could really backfire on McConnell,” said Miller. “The fact that he’s using so much time and energy to tie her to [Obamacare] could ultimately be a waste of resources.”
McConnell’s situation mirrors a predicament that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney faced during his failed 2012 presidential bid, when the central message of his campaign — a flailing “Obama economy” — began to conflict with improving economic forecasts. As unemployment dropped in key swing states like Ohio and Florida, Republican state governors began to tout economic progress, undermining Romney’s argument that the president didn’t know how to fix the economy. Romney’s message was further eroded when unemployment fell below 8 percent – a symbolically important number – just one month before the election.
“It’s a little jarring when you see a governor talk about how great [Obamacare] is and a senator talking about how terrible it is,” Grayson said.
Still, Grayson, who campaigned against the Affordable Care Act during a 2010 Senate bid in Kentucky (he lost to Senator Rand Paul) believes McConnell is right to go after Obamacare now, presenting himself as a stalwart opponent to an unpopular law. Also facing a primary challenger from the right, McConnell seems to have little wiggle room on the issue. And since neither Obama nor Obamacare is popular in Kentucky – a state that backed Romney by 23 points over the president last year – strategists see McConnell’s attempt to tie Grimes to the two as the right tactic.
McConnell will try nationalize the race, tying Grimes to Obama and the reputation of the health care law nationally, Miller said. For Grimes to win, “this has to be about Kentucky versus D.C., and she can use Obamacare as a way to say, ‘Things are better in Kentucky than in D.C. and I want to take that Kentucky attitude to D.C., against the guy that is the ultimate symbol of what’s wrong with D.C.’ I think that’s where she has a very potent message.”
Click here for the full piece.
Ben White, Matt Zeitlin and Tim Carney are our guests this week.
With guest host: New School Professor and former Missouri Senator Jeff Smith
Show produced by Katherine Caperton.
Original Air Date: October 5, 2013 on SiriusXM “POTUS” Channel 124.
Listen to the show by clicking here.
Show also available for download on Apple iTunes by clicking here
Hi – I’m Jeff Smith, public policy professor at The New School in New York City, sitting in for Josh this week – a week full of political intrigue. Between Senator Ted Cruz’s theatrics, the government shutdown, the Obamacare rollout, and the looming debt ceiling, there’s a lot to talk about – and the standoff also raises intriguing questions about party alignment. This week we hosted three reporters who’ve been in the thick of it, Politico’s Ben White, Buzzfeed’s Matt Zeitlin, and the Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney.
* * *
Few political science concepts have been as heatedly debated in academia (and in journalism, to a lesser degree) as the term “realignment.” Some scholars argue that party realignments happen in a single election; others say they take decades. Some define realignment as a durable shift in the voting behavior of certain groups, while others stress elite-level policy shifts. During realignments, a “rare, massive, and enduring shift of the electoral equilibrium” occurs, and while some suggest that realignment occurs through mobilization of new groupsor generational replacement, others stress actual partisan conversion in the electorate. Whatever the cause, the shift profoundly alters party coalitions and the relative strength of various factions within them.
Alignments typically occur when the dominant issue cleavage in a political system is disturbed by a new set of issues leading to widespread public demand for action. Given a two-dimensional issue space – imagine economic issues on one axis and cultural issues on the other – the minority party will naturally attempt to shift the focus of political debate to issues which will help it divide the other party’s coalition and attract more voters – which is what Republicans are attempting to do by focusing on Obamacare, which unites Republicans but splits Democrats from Democratic-leaning independents. Repeated iterations of such attempts by political parties may gradually produce a rotational movement of party realignment over time in a two-dimensional space. Such rotation helps explain why the 2000 electoral map was almost the mirror image of the 1896 map: it wasn’t that electorates in Nebraska and Manhattan traded their world-views and economic interests over decades; it was that in many respects, the two parties traded places. A realignment, then, comprises two elements: 1) a newly dominant issue cleavage and 2) a transformation not of political preferences generally but of the way that people holding those preferences align by party.
And so, although this week’s show mostly focuses on the shutdown and debt limit default, we also raise broader questions about how these battles may affect party alignment. For instance, does Wall Street’s alignment with the president against the Tea Party portend a broader switch of allegiances to a pro-business Democratic party under the banner of Wall Street-backed Hillary Clinton versus a populist Ted Cruz or Fed-auditing Rand Paul? Or might the emergence of a Clinton candidacy buoyed by Wall Street bundlers inspire a Warren-esque anti-financier insurgency that attracts elements sympathetic to both Occupy and anti-bailout libertarians – particularly if Wall Street-backed Chris Christie is the Republican standard-bearer?
This week, Polioptics fans get to hear three whip-smart young journalists –Politico’s Ben White, Buzzfeed’s Matt Zeitlin, and the Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney – delve into all of this and more. Matt and Ben explain the shutdown’s economic impact and the financial implications of default – globally, and locally – with an eye towards possible shifts in party alignment that might result from Washington’s current battles. And Tim takes a deep dive into the future of the Republican Party – and the conservative movement more broadly. Three unique perspectives not just on today’s news, but on tomorrow’s…and perhaps next year’s as well.
Recovering politician, and former Missouri State Representative Jason Grill, talked about the government shutdown, on The Mitch Albom Show.
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Click here to learn more about (and invest in) Jason’s latest venture, Sock 101.
On KCRW’s “To the Point”:
Climate Change and the ‘War on Coal’
Power plants are by far the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the US, and now the Obama EPA has issued regulations that Democrats in some regions are calling the first battle in a “war against coal.” It could be extended and bitter. The President wants to get around Congress, with other countries looking for US leadership in reducing greenhouse emissions. We hear about national and international politics as climate scientists are about to release their latest findings.
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A few takeaways from Bill de Blasio’s apparent victory in New York’s Democratic mayoral primary:
(1) If the New York Times’ insider account of his strategy is accurate (and not just post victory spin by consultants) de Blasio deserves a substantial amount of strategic credit for running against the grain of initial polling as well as conventional wisdom. Six months ago, the best empirical and anecdotal evidence was that New Yorkers were generally contented with the city’s direction, and preferred a successor that offered a continuation of Michael Bloomberg’s policy tilt, albeit in a less autocratic, more compassionate style. It turns out that had de Blasio heeded that mindset rather than challenging it, his candidacy would likely have suffered from the thematic muddle that damaged Christine Quinn’s and Bill Thompson’s efforts.
That is no small nod to de Blasio, given that most campaigns become prisoners of their own data and the temptation to craft a message broad enough to leave virtually every sector of the electorate (and the universe of endorsers) in play. And in making a bold play for a silent, but disgruntled majority, de Blasio enabled himself to benefit from an emergent shallowness in Bloomberg’s popularity: once the voice of opposition to Bloomberg became an unabashed liberal (and the ad featuring that candidate’s polished, appealing son) as opposed to Fox-loving critics of soda bans and the National Rifle Association, the mayor’s approval ratings bled, and his putative heir, Quinn, collapsed. (for a similarly adept Republican example of tossing conventional wisdom aside, see Bobby Jindal’s 2003 race for Governor of Louisiana, when an obscure, thirty-something Indian policy wonk opted to run on a comprehensive ethics platform when polls described the state’s tepid economy and the wounded petroleum industry as the major voter concerns. Jindal lost in 03, but his 48 percent showing tagged him as a fresh figure who became the presumptive favorite four years later.
(2) Bill Thompson’s inability to mobilize the African American vote, which had he dominated it, would have put him and de Blasio in a dead heat, is even more surprising than it seems on first glance. Unlike, say, my own 2010 race as a right of center Democrat, Thompson’s campaign was a conventionally liberal affair that, post primary rationalizations aside, actually spent considerable energy and advertising on assailing New York’s stop and frisk laws. To be sure, there was a lawyerly, nuanced bent to the substance of Thompson’s arguments—more thorough supervision versus an outright repeal—but it is unlikely that Thompson’s increasingly personal and forceful denunciations of the controversial tactic did not register on the city’s African American electorate. Nor did Thompson, by the way, reap much benefit from his support from one of New York’s influential and minority dominated teacher unions.
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Artur Davis: The Tale of New York
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RP John Y. Brown, III appeared on “Louisville AM Radio,” with local media titan Rick Redding, to discuss his new book “Musings from the Middle.”
Click here for the podcast.
The conventional wisdom in the political class is that Tea Party-inspired primary challenges of recent years have had decidedly mixed success. Sure, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Mike Lee have beaten sitting senators and establishment-anointed candidates, changing the issue terrain and nature of debate in the Senate. But most Tea Party candidates imploded.
That view largely misses the point. Interest groups seeking more influence within their party should think more like class-action trial lawyers: While it would be great to beat the company, the real reason to fight is not to win a 43-cent check for every plaintiff but to change corporate behavior in a lasting way.
Seen this way, even widely mocked far-right challengers have had lasting impact. Although Senate nominees Christine O’Donnell (Delaware), Sharron Angle (Nevada), and Richard Mourdock (Indiana) lost, their primary wins over establishment candidates terrified some other senators, causing them to move right. Witness the pandering of Senate Republican leaders Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn since 2010 to their home-state counterparts Paul and Cruz. Even very marginal primary losers like Arizona’s J.D. Hayworth had an impact, temporarily moving John McCain to the right on key issues like immigration. (McCain, who appears unlikely to seek reelection in 2016, has since shifted back.)
When tough votes arise, many Republican senators can’t help but consider ex-Senators Dick Lugar of Indiana and Robert Bennett of Utah — both unceremoniously booted in primaries — which usually leads to appeasement of the Tea Party. That’s the nature of politics. As congressional scholar Gary Jacobson has documented, politicians run scared, altering their behavior in anticipation of future challenges. That’s why it is helpful, but not necessary, for interest groups seeking power within a party to get a scalp.
Economic progressives are now clamoring for a Federal Reserve chair more progressive than Larry Summers. But they should’ve thought of that last year and, for instance, challenged incumbent Delaware Senator Tom Carper, who consistently votes with Republicans on banking and finance issues. They could have attempted to nationalize the race as conservative interests groups such as the Club for Growth did for Lee, Mourdock, Cruz, and others. They could have tried to capitalize on the residual energy of the Occupy movement to energize liberals angry at the Clinton-ushered takeover of the Democratic Party by Wall Street which has proven relatively durable even in the wake of the finance-induced Great Collapse.
There are many reasons Carper should have been a progressive target — from the obvious policy ones (Carper is the Senate Democrat who votes furthest to the right of his constituency) to logistical (a tiny state where grassroots activism can trump money) and media (close to the Beltway and so easily covered) advantages. And again, winning isn’t necessary: Primary challenges to incumbents can help change policy before the fact — despite ultimately losing, Netroots darling Bill Halter’s Arkansas primary in 2010 made Senator Blanche Lincoln stronger on Dodd-Frank.
And if progressives had found a credible candidate, it likely would not have been a fool’s errand — Elizabeth Warren demonstrated the national grassroots thirst for a populist Democrat last cycle, and locally, a political nobody fresh out of law school named Bryan Townsend ran a longshot primary in Delaware last year and upset the entrenched state Senate president, suggesting at least some Delaware Democrats are willing to buck party orthodoxy.
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Jeff Smith: Do Liberals Deserve Larry Summers as Fed Chair?