Andrus, Andrus Center, Baseball, Civil Rights, FDR, Film, Television

Jim Crow’s Playmates

One of the best things about the new film about baseball great Jackie Robinson is actor Harrison Ford’s portrayal of baseball executive Branch Rickey, the man who found the guts in 1945 to sign Robinson to a minor league contract with the Montreal Royals and then in the 1947 season, against all odds, brought the first African-American player to the major leagues.

By all accounts Mr. Rickey, as everyone called him, wasn’t much of a ballplayer himself. He only played in the majors for four seasons, had a career batting average of .239 and hit only three home runs. Granted it was the “dead ball” era, but those numbers don’t get you to Cooperstown.

Rickey got to the Hall of Fame on the strength of his success as a baseball manager and executive. He had a hand in three great and enduring innovations – the establishment of the farm system to identify and nurture talent, breaking the color line with the signing of No. 42 and late in his life helping start the Continental League, a proposed third major league that failed to get off the grass, but nevertheless ushered in expansion of baseball to new markets.

The great sportswriter Jim Murray said Rickey “could recognize a great player from the window of a moving train” and the great man’s nickname, “The Mahatma,” was recognition of his pioneering ways and the deep Christian faith that he wore on his sleeve. One contemporary said when Rickey met you for the first time he wanted to know everything about you, then set out to change you.

In the wake of seeing the Robinson movie – it’s a must for any baseball or history buff – I read a splendid piece by another great sportswriter Red Smith. Writing in 1948, the year after Robinson broke the Jim Crow barriers around baseball, Smith was reporting – and not with any surprise – about how little support Rickey had received from the other leaders of the national past time.

“A curious sort of hullabaloo has been aroused by Branch Rickey’s disclosure that when he went into the ring against Jim Crow, he found fifteen major league club owners working in Jim’s corner,” Smith wrote. “It is strange that the news should stir excitement, for surely it couldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone.” Those other owners – Red Smith called them “Jim Crow’s playmates” – were worried about alienating fans, suffering public abuse or hurting their investments. Most likely all three. Questions of morality often get snagged on the sharp edges of commerce. Morality wins, as it did in 1947, when a big man – make that two big men – act with a sense of righteousness and with history on their side.

It’s hard, I think, perhaps even impossible, for anyone born after the awful era of Jim Crow to grasp the degree to which economic, political and cultural forces were aligned to keep black Americans from jobs, health care, public services, the ballot box and the sense of decency that goes with simply being respected. It was a shameful, nasty and profoundly disturbing period of American history. One reason for young people to see the Robinson film, in addition to the well-told heroic story, is to get a taste of the appalling racism that Robinson and so many other Americans of color deal with every hour of every day.

A spectacular new book by Columbia University historian Ira Katznelson expands on the political implications of the Jim Crow era, and yes the implications still echo today, by exploring in detail the Faustian bargain Franklin Roosevelt entered into in order to push his New Deal agenda through a southern dominated Democratic Congress in the 1930’s. The Robinson story fits squarely in the history lesson Katznelson tells so well.

As Kevin Boyle wrote in reviewing Fear Itself in the New York Times, “[FDR’s] calculation was simple enough. Thanks to the disfranchisement of blacks and the reign of terror that accompanied it, the South had become solidly Democratic by the beginning of the 20th century, the Deep South exclusively so. One-party rule translated into outsize power on Capitol Hill: when Roosevelt took office, Southerners held almost half the Democrats’ Congressional seats and many of the key committee chairmanships. So whatever Roosevelt wanted to put into law had to have Southern approval. And he wouldn’t get it if he dared to challenge the region’s racial order.”

Franklin Roosevelt, Katznelson argues, made a “rotten compromise” with the southern politicians of his own party who dominated Congress in exchange for being able to govern effectively in a time of depression, war and deep and persistent fear. While FDR didn’t challenge a segregated culture, ironically the New Deal served to both prolong Jim Crow and made its demise inevitable. FDR’s “rotten compromise” fails as a profile in courage, but the Hudson River valley aristocrat who fancied himself a Georgia farmer eventually made so many changes in the way we use and view government that his New Deal made Harry Truman and eventually Lyndon Johnson possible.

In the same way that Branch Rickey, The Mahatma of baseball, saw a wrong and tried to right it, first Truman and later Johnson, fully understanding the political consequences, abandoned the old Democratic Party of Jim Crow and ushered in the civil rights era; an era of unending struggles, that still dominates politics and culture today.

Every time I read or hear about another effort to make voting more difficult for minorities in America or hear a politician suggest that “American exceptionalism” makes it clear we don’t have to worry about race and class in this “post-racial” time in our history, I’ll remember Jackie Robinson’s one-time Brooklyn Dodger teammate from Alabama Dixie Walker. Walker, a fine ballplayer and a career .306 hitter who lead the league in hitting in 1944, also led the push back against Robinson playing with the Dodgers. Walker demanded to be traded and drew up an anti-Robinson petition that he and other Dodger players were determined to present to club president Branch Rickey.

Dixie Walker’s career dried up after 1947. Rickey traded him to the lowly Pirates and he retired in 1948, but would come back to coach in the majors often working  without issue with black ballplayers. In his 2002 book The Era, the great writer Roger Kahn quoted Walker as saying: “I organized that petition in 1947, not because I had anything against Robinson personally or against Negroes generally. I had a wholesale business in Birmingham and people told me I’d lose my business if I played ball with a black man.”

Fear is a great motivator. History has a tendency to reward people who push back against it. Rickey and Robinson are in the Hall of Fame. Truman’s stock at a great president continues to rise. Johnson’s place as the president who sacrificed his party’s once invincible regional base in the south in exchange for civil rights legislation is secure. Dixie Walker told Roger Kahn the anti-Robinson petition was the “stupidest thing he had ever done,” and he regretted it for the rest of his days.

Dixie Walker was by all accounts a devoted family man who, as Harvey Araton wrote in 2010, was “without much formal education, [but] he was curious and informed. Representing N.L. players, he helped devise the major leagues’ first pension plan, suggesting its revenue be generated from All-Star Game proceeds.” None of that has helped erase the stigma of what Dixie Walker did when driven by his own fear during the season of 1947.

Time may heal wounds, but reputations are much harder to repair. The playwright said it:  “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.” Fear itself stands in the way of so much.

 

American Presidents, Andrus, Andrus Center, Biden, Coolidge, Eisenhower, FDR, Garfield, Grand Canyon, Idaho Statehouse, Lincoln, Public Relations, Stimulus, Super Bowl

The Presidents

Every president, well almost every president, eventually gets his reappraisal. It seems to be the season for Calvin Coolidge to get his revisionist treatment. The 30th president, well known for his clipped Yankee voice and a penchant for never using two words when one would do, does deserve some chops for agreeing to be photographed – the only president to do so, I believe – wearing a Sioux headdress.

Ol’ Silent Cal came to the Black Hills of South Dakota to vacation in the summer of 1927 and the magnanimous native people who considered the Hills sacred ground made the Great White Father an honorary Chief. The president fished in what later became Grace Coolidge Creek in South Dakota’s Custer State Park – the Sioux were not as gracious to the park’s namesake – and a fire lookout is still in use at the top of 6,000 foot Mt. Coolidge in the park. The Coolidge summer White House issued the president’s famous “I do not chose to run in 1928” statement to the assembled press corps a few miles up the road from the state park in Rapid City.

But all that is just presidential trivia as now comes conservative writer and historian Amity Shlaes to attempt to rehabilitate the diminished reputation of Silent Cal. Shaels’ earlier work The Forgotten Man is a conservative favorite for its re-telling of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal; policies that in Shlaes’ revisionist hands helped prolong the Depression and made villains of the captains of Wall Street who, she contends, deserved better treatment at the bar of history.

Shlaes’ new book, predictably perhaps, is winning praise from The Wall Street Journal – “The Coolidge years represent the country’s most distilled experiment in supply-side economics—and the doctrine’s most conspicuous success” – and near scorn from others like Jacob Heilbrunn who writes in the New York Times – “Conservatives may be intent on excavating a hero, but Coolidge is no model for the present. He is a bleak omen from the past.”

As long as we debate fiscal and economic policy we’ll have Coolidge to praise or kick around. The best, most even handed assessment of Coolidge is contained in the slim volume by David Greenberg in the great American Presidents Series. Greenberg assesses Coolidge as a president caught in the transition from the Victorian Age to the modern. “Coolidge deployed twentieth-century methods to promote nineteenth-century values – and used nineteenth-century values to sooth the apprehension caused by twentieth-century dislocations. Straddling the two eras, he spoke for a nation in flux.”

Two facts are important to putting Coolidge in context: he took office (following the death of the popular Warren Harding in 1923) in the wake of the American experience in World War I, which left many citizens deeply distrustful of government as well as the country’s role in the world.  Coolidge left office on the eve of the Great Depression. A nation in flux, indeed.

To celebrate President’s Day we also have new books, of course, on Lincoln, as well as the weirdly fascinating political and personal relationship between Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. There is also a fascinating new book on the relationship among former presidents – The Presidents Club. David Frum writing at The Daily Beast wades in today with a piece on three presidents who make have been great had they had more time – Zachery Taylor, James Garfield and Gerald Ford. Three good choices in my view.

Even William Howard Taft generally remembered for only two things – being the chubbiest president and being the only former president to serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme court is getting his new day in the sun. The sun will be along the base paths at the Washington National’s park where the new Will Taft mascot will join Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt for between inning races. Talk about revisionism. At 300 pounds Taft never ran for anything but an office.

One enduring truth is that every president is shaped by his times. (One day, I hope, we can say “their” times.) And over time we assess and reassess the response to the times. Reappraisal is good and necessary. A robust discussion of whether Calvin Coolidge’s economic policies were a triumph of capitalism or a disaster that helped usher in the Great Depression is not only valuable as a history lesson, but essential to understanding our own times and the members of what truly is the most exclusive club in the world – The American Presidency.

By the way, The Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University will convene a major conference on “The State of the Presidency” on February 28, 2013 in Boise. The day-long event is open to the public, but you must register and can do so online. Hope to see you there.

 

2012 Election, American Presidents, Andrus, FDR, Minnick, Obama

Themes That Repeat

When Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for re-election in 1936 the American economy was in very tough shape. Unemployment was over 16%, farm prices were awful and American big business, staggered to its knees by the Wall Street crash of 1929, was recovering, but still limping badly.

Yet, amid the dismal economic news, Roosevelt had succeeded in his first term in passing tough new banking regulations, massive public works projects like Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River in Washington State were employing thousands and Congress had endorsed something called Social Security. FDR ran for re-election 76 years ago with a decidedly mixed record. He could tout major legislative accomplishments, but lots of Americans were hurting badly. Given the awful state of the economy and voter penchant for throwing out the incumbent when the economy stinks, the conventional political wisdom would hold that Roosevelt should have lost re-election. Obviously he didn’t.

Roosevelt scored one of the greatest political triumphs in U.S. history in 1936 when he crushed the Republican ticket by winning more than 500 electoral votes and failing to carry only two states. FDR’s campaign manager quipped, “So goes Maine, so goes Vermont” – the only states the Landon-Knox ticket carried. The president’s historic landslide also pulled dozens of congressional candidates along and the House and Senate were overwhelmingly Democratic.

If the broad outlines of the United States in ’36 exhibit a more than passing resemblance to the country this year then I believe you’re identifying some of the “themes” in American politics that have an endlessly fascinating way of repeating themselves. This is a subject I’ll be exploring this week during a public talk at Boise’s Main Public Library. The Wednesday, September 12th event is free and open to all. I hope you might consider coming out for a dose of politics and history. My talk is entitled: FDR and Obama: The Difficulty of Winning a Second Term.

But, back to themes. Social Security, broadly debated and badly mishandled in 1936 by FDR’s Republican opponent, Kansas Gov. Alfred E. Landon, is clearly a recurring theme in our politics. Social Security’s sister programs, Medicare and Medicaid, keep coming round again and again and are once more in the middle of the current presidential campaign. The GOP political talking point that a left-of-center Democrat – like Roosevelt or Barack Obama this year – is pushing the country to socialism is an argument as old as the New Deal. FDR’s critics went even farther with one saying the 1936 election was a contest between “Washington and Moscow.”

The evil excesses of big business or the heavy hand of regulation thwarting business is a steady theme in our politics, as is the role of the U.S. Supreme Court. The nastiness of race and religion are also recurring themes and each played a role in 1936 and each does today.

Roosevelt used the power of his anti-big business argument, his personal likability and his amazing communication skills to win re-election in 1936. Faced with many of the same issues and armed with many similar skills, will Obama be able to pull off what Roosevelt accomplished in remarkably similar conditions three quarters of a century ago? I hope you’ll join me Wednesday for a lively discussion of how the themes of our political history run smack into the current campaign.

 

 

Andrus, Baseball, FDR, Politics, September 11, Vice Presidents

When Conventions Mattered

William Gibbs McAdoo – that’s him in profile – is mostly forgotten to history today, but back in the day when delegates to national political conventions actually made decisions about the candidates for president and vice president, McAdoo was a political kingmaker.

By 1932 McAdoo had assembled a remarkable political resume. He married well – Woodrow Wilson’s daughter – and served as his father-in-law’s Treasury Secretary. He was also chairman of the then brand new Federal Reserve Board, managed the national rail system during World War I and was twice a serious candidate for president. In 1924 McAdoo came within an eyelash of winning the Democratic nomination before losing out when the convention turned to a compromise candidate after struggling through 103 – you read it right – 103 contentious ballots. That still qualifies as the longest convention in American political history. One wag quipped that New York had invited the Democratic delegates to visit The Big Apple, not to move there permanently. The convention lasted 17 long, long days.

McAdoo was mounting a political return in 1932 just in time to put him in position to be a kingmaker.  McAdoo was both a candidate for the U.S. Senate from California and the political leader of the large California delegation to that year’s Democratic National Convention in Chicago. In a word – McAdoo had influence and he used it.

The convention that eventually nominated Franklin D. Roosevelt was the last Democratic convention that required a two-thirds vote to nominate a standard bearer. That 103 ballot marathon in 1924 became a disaster for the party, but southern Democrats insisted on retaining the super majority requirement in order to maintain an out-sized role in the national party. As a general rule, if southern Democrats stayed together on a candidate they could usually name the man who would lead the ticket, or at least influence the shape of the national campaign.

William McAdoo knew all this in detail. He was born in Georgia and enjoyed substantial support among southern politicians, in part, because of two issues – booze and race. McAdoo was a dry – he favored prohibition – and his not so skillful navigation of the explosive issue of the Ku Klux Klan – he refused to condemn the Klan out of fear of losing southern support – was a major factor in his losing the 1924 nomination.

FDR, then the governor of New York, entered his party’s 1932 convention as the favorite for the nomination, but he hardly had the necessary votes locked up. His advisers actually contemplated an attempt to change the convention rules to require only a simple majority to nominate a candidate, but when word leaked out of what was being considered and howls of protest ensued, Roosevelt ordered his managers to back off. He would have to find the votes of two-thirds of the delegates to win.

Consider for a moment what the political drama must have been like in Chicago in late June 1932 and contrast that drama – and all its consequences – with the tepid, heavily stage managed GOP convention that groans on in Tampa this week and the similar Democratic event that will take place in Charlotte all too soon. The nation was gripped by a Great Depression in 1932, President Herbert Hoover was growing more unpopular by the day and the Democratic nomination seemed to virtually ensure the election of the man who would be lucky enough to claim it.

On the first ballot in Chicago nine different candidates received votes. Roosevelt led the pack and tallied 666 votes, a number far short of what he needed to secure the nomination. Facing a toough fight, FDR was able to add only 11 more votes on the second ballot, while a variety of favorite sons and two more serious candidates – Speaker of the House John Nance Garner of Texas and former Democratic presidential candidate and New York Gov. Al Smith – divided up more than 400 other votes.

On the third ballot Roosevelt polled just five additional votes and his managers were profoundly concerned that his momentum toward the nomination had stalled. If his vote totals began to actually decline on additional ballots, they worried, the convention might be stampeded to another candidate. Smith, for example, once FDR’s mentor, was determined not to give up the fight believing that he was entitled to one more run at the White House. Smith’s vote totals – he got 201 votes on the first ballot – remained rock solid through the third ballot and he must have felt that if he could hang on long enough the convention would turn to him again as it had done in 1928.

However it was Garner, a conservative southerner, who became the key to FDR’s nomination. Garner had the support, not surprisingly, of his own Texas delegation, but also enjoyed the support of newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst and William Gibbs McAdoo. It’s not clear that a smoke-filled room or bourbon was involved – Garner was a habitual cigar smoker and enjoyed a drink – but a deal was done and McAdoo helped broker the agreement. On the fourth ballot, it was agreed, the California and Texas delegations would switch support to Roosevelt and the stampede would be on for other delegates to join the bandwagon. Garner didn’t exactly hanker after the number two spot on the ticket, but as a loyal party man he agreed to accept the vice presidential nomination. Does anyone ever really turn down the vice presidency?

FDR secured the Democratic nomination on the fourth ballot – Al Smith still polled nearly 200 votes – and for the first time in history the nominee traveled by airplane to Chicago to accept the prize in person. The rest is history. Roosevelt went on to win a smashing election victory in November against Hoover.

William Gibbs McAdoo won his own election victory in November and served a single term in the U.S. Senate. His real legacy might be that he knew just when to cut a political deal; a deal that helped change history at a time when party conventions really mattered. McAdoo died in 1941 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetary. His tombstone notes his service as Treasury Secretary and in the Senate. It could honestly also call him a presidential kingmaker.

 

2012 Election, Andrus, FDR, John Kennedy, Johnson, Minnick, Religion, September 11, Vice Presidents

The Veep

As the analysis continues around Mitt Romney’s selection of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate a little history may inform how, generally speaking, unimportant the Number Two’s are to the eventual success of a national ticket.

For sure Ryan brings youth, partisan excitement, strong conservative credentials and a certain policy wonk attractiveness to the GOP ticket, not to mention the potential to put dependably blue Wisconsin into play in November. Still, to believe that a relatively unknown member of the House of Representatives really could help the ticket requires a major break with what history tells us about the running mate.

Only twice in the 20th Century – 1932 and 1960 – did running mates really make an electoral difference. In 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt needed to give the second spot on the Democratic ticket to House Speaker John Nance Garner of Texas in order to secure his party’s nomination. In those long ago days, Democratic convention rules required a two-third vote of the delegates to bestow the party’s blessing on any candidate. FDR flirted with trying to change the controversial rule that had forced the Democrats to a marathon 103 ballots in 1924, but even the popular Governor of New York had to ultimately admit that he would have to find some way to command a super majority in order to secure the nomination.

Garner, a tough-talking, bourbon-drinking, cigar-smoking southerner, was a favorite of the party’s more conservative wing and had the backing of, among others, newspaper magnate and would-be kingmaker William Randolph Hearst. Garner also controlled a large block of convention votes from his own state, as well as from California. Facing a convention deadlock, FDR and Garner did what politicians used to do – they made a deal. Garner knew that he couldn’t get the nomination for himself, but could potentially deny it to Roosevelt. A dark horse alternative could have happened at the Democratic convention in 1932 and think for a moment how that would have changed history.

Cactus Jack, a the Speaker was called, threw his block of votes behind the more liberal FDR in exchange for the vice presidential nomination. The Boston-Austin axis was created and the powerful ticket – a New York patrician and a Texas populist – coasted to victory over the humbled Herbert Hoover. A vice presidential decision made a big difference in 1932.

Another unlikely pairing, a northeastern patrician and a wily pol from the Texas Hill Country, came together to win the 1960 election. John F. Kennedy was afraid he might lose Texas to Republican Richard Nixon, since Dwight Eisenhower had carried the state in the two previous elections, so he overruled his brother and campaign manager, Bobby Kennedy, and gave the Number Two spot to the Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson. Arguably, Johnson not only helped the Democratic ticket carry his home state, but also helped ensure narrow Kennedy margins in a number of other southern states. Another vice presidential candidate made a big difference in 1960.

But, that’s it.

It’s difficult to find many other examples in our history – maybe 1864 when Lincoln created a national unity ticket with Democrat Andrew Johnson – where the second place on the ticket helped contribute to victory. More often vice presidential candidates have created problems rather than victories. Think of Sarah Palin four years ago or Sen. Thomas Eagleton, who was dumped from the Democratic ticket in 1972. And, more often than not I would argue, a vice presidential decision is made for personal rather than strategic reasons. It is, after all, the rarest of rare chances when one politician can completely remake another.

Harry Truman picked the older Alben Barkley, the Senate Democratic leader in 1948, because Barkley was loyal, Truman liked him and it seemed to be Barkley’s turn. There is evidence to support the contention that Nixon selected the virtually unknown Maryland Gov. Spiro Agnew in 1968 because Agnew was sure not to upstage the presidential candidate. When FDR abandoned Garner in 1940 – the eight-year vice president publicly disagreed with Roosevelt’s quest for a third term – Roosevelt insisted on the wonkish, not particularly popular Henry Wallace as his running mate. (Henry Wallace is the answer to a great political trivia question: Who went from being Secretary of Agriculture to the Vice Presidency?) If anything, Wallace hurt the Democratic ticket in 1940 and FDR in turn dumped the Iowan from the 1944 ticket in favor of Truman. The GOP candidate in 1940, Wendell Willkie, gave the Number Two spot to Sen. Charles L. McNary of Oregon, primarily because McNary was well-liked in Washington and had the political experience that the businessman Willkie lacked.

So, Paul Ryan may – or may not – turn out to be an inspired choice as Mitt Romney’s running mate, but if he actually helps the ticket to victory in November he’ll be running in the face of much political history. A safer political bet would be that a relative unknown Congressman from a Midwest state with a long paper trail of controversial votes and policy positions will prove to be a drag on the ticket. There is little precedent to support the idea that a vice presidential candidate is the “game changer” that the pundits have been discussing since last weekend.

 

American Presidents, Andrus, Baseball, Biden, Britain, FDR, Lincoln, Obama, Politics, Reagan, Reapportionment, Truman

Action This Day

The (Almost) Case for Unilateral Action

In September 1940, just in front of the election that would make Franklin Roosevelt the first and only third-term president, FDR engineered an audacious deal with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

In exchange for gifting 50 aging, World War I vintage U.S. destroyers to the besieged British, Churchill granted the American president 99 year leases on a number of military bases in the Western Hemisphere. The destroyers for bases deal was loudly condemned by FDR’s critics who called it a raw presidential power play. As critics correctly pointed out, Roosevelt acted on his own motion, going behind the back of Congress to cut his deal with Churchill. History has for the most part vindicated FDR’s power play and many historians think the U.S. actually got the better of the deal.

The 1940 action by Roosevelt may be one of the greatest examples of a president acting unilaterally, but our history is replete with similar examples of presidential action on a unilateral basis. One of Theodore Roosevelt’s gutsy unilateral moves as he was nearing the end of his term created millions of acres of forest preserves – today’s National Forests – and protected the Grand Canyon. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was an act of presidential leadership that is almost universally praised today, but at the time the Great Emancipator cut Congress out of the loop and acted alone.

Now come criticism of Barack Obama’s unilateral action to order the end of deportations for certain young people who might otherwise be sent packing for being in the country illegally even as they have gone on to get an education, or work in order to become contributing members of our society. Critics charge the president acted for the most transparent political reasons or that he acted unconstitutionally or that he has now made legislative action on immigration more difficult. That last charge seems a particularly hard sell given the inability of Congress to act at all regarding immigration, but the real beef with Obama is that he acted alone.

Jimmy Carter used presidential action to protect the environmental crown jewels of Alaska, an action that ultimately forced Congress to get off the dime on that issue. Harry Truman informed Congress, but did not seek its approval regarding his 1948 decision to desegregate the U.S. military.

Of course all presidents overreach, but most do so by acting unilaterally in the foreign policy field, and that a place were unilateral action is often decidedly more problematic, at least in my view. It may turn out that Obama’s immigration action will be successfully challenged in a court of law or the court of public opinion, but don’t bet on it. I’m struck by how often in our history when a president has taken a big, bold step on an issue were Congress can’t or won’t act that the bold step has been vindicated by history.

The American people have always tended to reward action over inaction. Ronald Reagan’s unilateral decision to fire striking air traffic controllers near the beginning of his presidency in 1981 is a good example. Now celebrated, by conservatives at least, as a sterling example of a president acting decisively in the public interest, the decision was enormously contentious at the time it was made. Now its mostly seen as an effective use of unilateral action by a strong president.

The early polling seems to show that Obama’s recent “dream act-like” action on immigration is widely accepted by the American public. The lesson for the current occupant of the Oval Office, a politician who has displayed little skill in getting Congress to act on many issues, might be that a little unilateral action on important issues is not only good politics, but good government.

George W. Bush got this much right about the power of the presidency: the Chief Executive can be, when he wants to be, the decider on many things. The great Churchill frequently demanded “action this day” in his memos to subordinates. The great wartime leader knew that power not used isn’t worth much; but action properly applied is indeed real power.

 

 

2012 Election, American Presidents, Andrus, FDR, Minnick, Obama, Pete Seeger, Romney

Stumbles

Obama: Not Doing Fine

Skillful politicians, it is often said, make their own luck. They have – or develop – the instincts to act, speak or hold their tongue at the right moment. The best of the best use language and symbols to connect over and over again with their constituents, or at least with most of them.

Politics is many things: policy, determination, intelligence and timing, including being able to read the other side and know how and when to push back from the clinch and land an effective counter punch. Politics is handling adversity, taking a punch and bouncing back. Politics is also performance and performance is the ability to convey a story, a story that connects both intellectually and emotionally.

Last week was the week when, I suspect, Barack Obama went from a presumptive favorite to be re-elected in November to, at best, an even bet. To say that the Obama campaign has a bad week is to say the Queen had a nice little party recently. It remains to be seen whether it was the defining week of this campaign that seems to last forever.

Obama’s no good, horrible, very bad week began with jobless numbers that showed a modest increase in unemployment and ended with the president, looking more petulant that presidential, making one of the worst rhetorical stumbles he’s made since the 2008 campaign. In between those two black Fridays came news that Republicans substantially outperformed Democrats in fundraising in the most recent reporting period.

If a gaffe in politics is defined as a politician speaking the truth, then Mitt Romney’s “I like firing people” and Obama’s “the private sector is doing fine” probably are gaffes. I’m guessing both men meant exactly what they said. Romney’s private equity experience, by its very nature, involved a lot of layoffs and Obama, in real danger of losing re-election due to a struggling economy, must be chaffing when he sees that corporate profits are screaming along and the wealthiest among us truly are “doing fine.”

The Romney camp is no doubt rejoicing that Obama’s well-oiled political machine seems to be seizing up. The president’s mighty oratorical skills don’t seem to have quite the magic they once did and unforced errors, the bane of soccer players and politicians, seem to descend on the Obama campaign like a host of locusts.

Strip away all the obvious political problems the president is dealing with; the persistently sluggish economy, congressional Republicans who refuse to deal with dramatically serious issues like the coming fiscal cliff of auto pilot budget cuts and tax increases and a euro crisis that seems to worsen by the day. All of those problems, serious as they are, might be minimized, particularly in a race against a lackluster campaigner like Romney, if Obama could begin to tell a coherent story about his first term and what a second term might look like. So far he hasn’t and as a result a stumble like the private sector is doing “just fine” sucks the air out of his efforts.

The two presidential campaigns that most resemble 2012 were Franklin Roosevelt’s race in 1936 during the Great Depression – unemployment was more than 16% on Election Day – and Jimmy Carter’s contest with Ronald Reagan in 1980. Carter’s campaign stumbled under the weight of the Arab oil boycott, high inflation and the kidnapping of U.S. hostages by Iranian militants.

Roosevelt won despite his economic challenges. Carter didn’t. The reason, I think, was Roosevelt’s ability (and Carter’s inability) to weave a coherent story about what the country had been through and what could happen in the future. Roosevelt also understood the importance in politics of selecting your enemy. In 1936, FDR defined his real opponents as the conservative, big business leaders of the country who resisted his New Deal reforms. He called them “economic royalists.”

If you wonder whether history has a tendency to repeat itself, read the words Roosevelt used when he accepted his party’s nomination for a second term in 1936.

“These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America,” Roosevelt said. “What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power. In vain they seek to hide behind the flag and the Constitution. In their blindness they forget what the flag and the Constitution stand for. Now, as always, they stand for democracy, not tyranny; for freedom, not subjection; and against a dictatorship by mob rule and the over-privileged alike.”

Talk about class warfare. Roosevelt defined his opponents as opponents of freedom and the Constitution and as “over-privileged.” Obama, on the other hand, has been unable to shake the accusation that he is attempting to fundamentally alter the American system. Roosevelt was fundamentally reshaping that system and he made the effort the centerpiece of his campaign for re-election.

Near the end of his acceptance speech in 1936, Roosevelt uttered some of the most riveting words you could hope to hear from the podium of a political convention.

“Governments can err, presidents do make mistakes,” he said, “but the immortal Dante tells us that Divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted on different scales.

“Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.

“There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.”

Roosevelt went on to win 46 of the then-48 states, even as millions of Americans remained out of work. He won, in small part, because of a lackluster opponent – Kansas Gov. Alfred Landon – but more so because he summoned a hurting nation to join him in realizing a bright, new day. The current incumbent in the White House has dealt with many of the same issues Roosevelt confronted in the 1930’s. If he is to be re-elected he’ll need to tap into the mysterious cycle of human events and call forth for Americans a new meeting with destiny.

In short, Obama needs to tell a compelling, aspirational story about the future and why the country will be better off with him in charge. If he can’t – he’s looking more like Carter than FDR. Re-elections are always a referendum on the incumbent – what he’s done and what he says he will do. That was certainly the case in 1936 and 1980.

If the president continues to run his 2012 re-election campaign based on getting the better of Romney with an ever changing soundbite of the day, rather than explaining from where he has brought the country and where he plans to take it, he’ll lose in November.

 

Andrus, Baseball, Christie, Economy, FDR, Pete Seeger, Politics, Romney

House of Morgan

Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Manage

A little over one hundred years ago J. Pierpont Morgan ran much of the world’s business from an elegant office at 23 Wall Street in New York. The investment and commercial banking operations that J.P. oversaw financed railroads, mining, energy, steel and insurance companies. Morgan was big, so big that when the U.S. economy was on the verge of tanking in 1907, Morgan put a wad of money on the table and saved the day.

In the days before “too big to fail” became part of the national dialogue, the House of Morgan literally was too big and too powerful to fail. Morgan was the banker to the robber barons of the Gilded Age and as such earned the scorn of many a progressive politician. By the early 1930’s, with the old man, J.Pierpont dead since 1913, the House of Morgan finally got its comeuppance. The Glass-Steagall Act, also known as The Banking Act of 1933, passed the Congress, was signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt and the big banks, particularly The House of Morgan, had to separate investment and commercial banking. Glass-Steagall was a clear cut response to The Great Depression and the widespread belief that reckless speculation by some bankers had played a contributing role in the international economic crisis that began in 1929.

It’s worth noting that the Glass in Glass-Steagall was Sen. Carter Glass of Virginia one of the old-style southern conservative Democrats who dominated Congress during much of the New Deal period. Glass, a newspaper editor by profession, served in the U.S. House of Representatives, helped write the Federal Reserve Act and then served as Treasury Secretary under Woodrow Wilson. Franklin Roosevelt wanted the tough, no nonsense, very conservative Sen. Glass to come back to the Treasury in 1933, but Glass preferred to stay in the Senate and devote his attention to improving banking regulation and modernizing the Fed. In short, Carter Glass was an expert legislator in these areas who applied decades of experience to sorting out how the federal government – and this guy was no big government liberal – ought to regulate banking.

American banking was governed by Glass-Steagall until 1999 when the Clinton Administration led the charge to eliminate the last visage of the New Deal-era regulation that separated traditional banking activity – loans, credit cards, deposits – from the substantially more speculative and riskier investment banking that centers on underwriting securities. Then-Treasury Sec. Lawrence Summers called the elimination of the 1930’s law an “update” of old rules, which would create a banking system for the 21st Century. Just how is that “update” working out so far you’d be smart to ask.

Enter Jamie Dimon the man who now presides over the 21st Century firm that J.P. Morgan invented in the 19th Century. Dimon, whose bank lost at least $2 billion recently by speculating in what are not incorrectly called financial “bets,” will testify before the Senate Banking Committee on June 7th to provide, as chairman Sen. Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota) said, “a better understanding of this massive trading loss so we can take the implications into account as we continue to conduct our robust oversight over the full implementation of Wall Street reform.”

Sounds like Congress is finally set to get to the bottom of all this risk taking by Wall Street banks, but wait, don’t bet the house payment just yet.

So far Dimon’s explanation for the big losses his firm suffered has been what we might call the “we were stupid” defense. This from the guy universally regarded as the smartest operator on The Street. Dimon has called the trading – bets more precisely – on extraordinarily complex corporate-bond derivatives – hope Sen. Johnson knows what those are – a “terrible, egregious mistake” and he’s humbly admitted JPMorgan Chase has “egg on our face.”

Dimon is displaying excellent crisis management skills by admitting the obvious, his bank screwed up, but he is also the guy who has repeatedly condemned the Wall Street reforms contained in the Dodd-Frank legislation. That legislation, passed in the wake of the most recent economic collapse, stopped well short of re-imposing the kind of controls that once existed with Glass-Steagall, but Dodd-Frank nevertheless earns the widespread scorn of most Wall Streeters as well as conservative politicians beginning with Mitt Romney. Romney has condemned the JPMorgan risk taking, but also says he’ll work to repeal Dodd-Frank.

Here’s a guess – call it a policy bet – the Dimon appearance before the Senate committee will involve a great many speeches both chastising big bankers and federal regulators, but nothing much will change. Dimon will gracefully sidestep any real responsibility for the betting errors, in part, because everyone knows that even the smartest guy on Wall Street can’t possibly keep track of all the esoteric trading his minions are engaged in across the globe. Many commentators will again bemoan the reckless greed that drives the kind of speculation JPMorgan and its competitors engage in but, when all is said and done, legislators will not be able to tighten the regulatory screws on the excesses of Dimon’s firm and other banking houses, because they too have placed a bet. The Congress – both parties – are gambling that continuing to woo the campaign financial largess of Wall Street, while not engaging in real regulatory reform won’t continue to imperil the American economy. I hope they win the bet, but I wouldn’t put money on it.

Two things to know from the messy details of this new Gilded Age: vast amounts of money is being made by what can only be called the wildest, most uncontrolled speculation since J.P. Morgan reigned on Wall Street and, through all the months of anguish and pain that followed the financial meltdown in 2008, not a single Wall Street player has had to face the legal, let alone the moral, consequences of the kind of reckless behavior that Jamie Dimon says put egg on his face.

The New York Times reports that the fellow who made a bundle while JPMorgan was losing a bundle is Boaz Weinstein, an aggressive hedge fund manager – he made $90 million last year – who was smart enough and gutsy enough to understand that JPMorgan’s “egregious mistake” was another gambler’s opportunity. The Times says of Weinstein: “In the hedge fund game, a business in which ruthlessness is prized and money is the ultimate measure, Mr. Weinstein is what is known as a “monster” — an aggressive trader with a preternatural appetite for risk and a take-no-prisoners style. He is a chess master, as well as a high-roller on the velvet-topped tables of Las Vegas. He has been banned from the Bellagio for counting cards.”

If you believe modern capitalism is a zero-sum game where someone wins and someone loses, little of value is produced, few jobs are created, and vast amounts of money are at stake for a handful of gamblers, then the capitalism of Dimon-Weinstein is just what the regulator ordered. If, on the other hand, if you believe in what I’ll call old fashion capitalism where money is borrowed and invested in real enterprises that employ people and make things, then you might think that Washington, D.C., with its unwillingness to confront Wall Street gambling, is continuing to whistle past the next economic meltdown graveyard.

How else to explain that no one – not a person – has suffered even mild public rebuke, let alone jail time, for the series of decisions in housing and finance that brought much of the American middle class to its knees in 2008 and since. Not only has no one been held accountable, fundamentally – as the JPMorgan bets confirm – nothing has changed with the big banks. In fact, as David Rohde explained recently in The Atlantic, “The country’s biggest banks are getting bigger.”

“Five U.S. banks – JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs – held $8.5 trillion in assets at the end of 2011,” writes Rohde, “equal to 56 percent of the country’s economy, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Five years earlier, before the financial crisis, the biggest banks’ holdings amounted to 43 percent of U.S. output. Today, they are roughly twice as large as they were a decade ago relative to the economy.”

Using World Bank numbers, JPMorgan Chase’s market capitalization is greater than the GDP of 130 of the world’s countries, including New Zealand, Iraq and Vietnam. Given such size and scope, it’s little wonder the big banks behave like sovereign nations.

So, the biggest get bigger and ensure their position as “too big to fail” and even alleged smart guys like Jamie Dimon admit that banks too big to fail are, by definition, too big to manage. The big winners in this modern capitalism are guys like Boaz Weinstein who is a good enough gambler to get himself banned from Las Vegas, a place that really knows how to manage risk, but is, as the Times article says, “practically a featured attraction on Wall Street. [Weinstein] attends galas and charity events, and is sought out to speak at big events. Pictures of him clasping a drink at last night’s party appear with regularity on business Web sites.”

By comparison old J.P. seems like a genuine piker.

 

2012 Election, Andrus, Boise, Egan, Idaho Politics, Minnick

Old Lessons

Where’s the Puppy?

Harry Truman famously said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” I’ll offer the Johnson Corollary to Truman’s great one liner: “in politics, it is almost always your friends who cause you trouble.”

Most every politician I have known has a very good idea from which direction the partisan opposition will attack. It’s the onslaught from friends that is harder to anticipate and even more difficult to combat.

From Idaho to Indiana today, the Republican Party is in full revolt against itself and the soldiers in this war of the friends – faintly moderate Republicans battling really, really conservative Republicans – are in full battle gear.

The most recent purge of the “moderates” claimed its latest victim yesterday when 36-year Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar lost by 20 points in a GOP primary. Lugar, 80-years old, and portrayed as a squishy bipartisan moderate, was retired by the same type of voter who will next week take the Idaho GOP in an ever more rightward direction.

Lugar’s loss, like every losing campaign, turned on many factors. First, he may well have succumbed to the fatal illness that eventually catches many politicians; the voters just got sick of him. But, it’s also undeniable that The Club for Growth and other very conservative groups targeted the one-time chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee for being one of the few in the Senate, on either side, willing to cross the aisle and work a deal. Lugar had the partisan misfortune of working with the president on arms issues and actually voting for two Obama Supreme Court appointees. Not good when your friends think such behavior is the political equivalent of sitting down for dinner with the Taliban.

In a remarkable statement released last night, Lugar neatly summed up what he – and more and more Republicans – are facing right now.

 “Partisans at both ends of the political spectrum are dominating the political debate in our country,” Lugar said. “And partisan groups, including outside groups that spent millions against me in this race, are determined to see that this continues. They have worked to make it as difficult as possible for a legislator of either party to hold independent views or engage in constructive compromise. If that attitude prevails in American politics, our government will remain mired in the dysfunction we have witnessed during the last several years.”

Closer to home, some Idaho Republicans are spending freely in an effort to shift their party further right. The combination of the new “closed” GOP primary, well-funded PAC’s targeting slightly more moderate incumbents and old intraparty feuds guarantee that Republicans, who have been almost completely successful over the last two decades in Idaho, will be deeply divided after the May 15th primary among the mere conservatives and the ultras. The headline in The Idaho Statesman today said it all: “Idaho House Leaders Attempt Fratricide”

Reporter Dan Popkey details the efforts by senior Republican leaders to target their own in primaries, prompting the state’s chief election officer, Secretary of State Ben Ysura, to observe: “This is groundbreaking, the open split in the leadership and money being spent against one of their own.”

Of course, Republicans have no lock on this type of “kill your friends” behavior. To disastrous effect, Franklin Roosevelt tried to “purge” conservatives from the Democratic Party in 1938. FDR, a generally brilliant political analyst, misread the country and created divisions within his party that lasted a generation. And, of course, Ted Kennedy helped contribute to Jimmy Carter’s defeat in 1980 with an ill-considered primary challenge against an incumbent president. Lyndon Johnson’s blood feud with Bobby Kennedy – the two most prominent Democrats in the country hated each other – is well-documented in Robert Caro’s new biography of LBJ.

Perhaps the truly remarkable feature of many of these intraparty feuds – fratricide is a good word for it – is that they happen at precisely the moment when a party has the most to gain by throwing up the biggest possible tent.

In 1938, Roosevelt had huge majorities in both houses of Congress. After his failed purge, he never passed another significant piece of domestic legislation. In 1980, national Democrats faced an energized effort, new at the time at least on such a scale, to target a number of their incumbents with independent expenditure campaigns. At the very moment the party needed unity rather than warfare, it opted for warfare and lost – big. Can you say President Reagan?

National Republicans in 2012 have an historic opportunity during a time of economic distress to turn out a weak incumbent, consolidate their hold on the House and capture the Senate. Lugar’s demise in Indiana, at the least, make that last objective more difficult, since a centrist Democrat in Hoosierlandwill now likely have an easier time witha Tea Party type than he would have had with Lugar.

In Idaho, you have to wonder if all this intraparty battling among Republicans is causing them to flirt dangerously with mucking up their own decades-long success. History may have a lesson on point. In 1966, conservatives in the Idaho GOP purged three-term incumbent Republican Gov. Robert E. Smylie on grounds that he was too moderate and had grown too big for the britches of his blue suits. Smylie’s replacement as governor was very conservative and a favorite of the Goldwater wing of the GOP.

Four years later, a 39-year old lumberjack from Orofino, Cecil D. Andrus, beat the very conservative and not terribly capable Gov. Don Samuelson. That 1970 election set off a 24-year run where Democrats never moved out of the Idaho Governor’s Office.

As that ol’ lumberjack is fond of saying, “don’t say anything bad about ol’ Don Samuelson. If there hadn’t been a Don Samuelson there would never have been a Cecil Andrus.”

Purges can have some of the most unintended consequences.

 

2012 Election, American Presidents, Andrus, Boise, Minnick, Obama, Pete Seeger, Romney

Gender Chasm

Mad Men Attitudes and 21st Century Politics

By every measure it seems clear that Ann Romney has the smarts, style and personal qualities to be a very popular and successful First Lady. But as good a surrogate as she can be for husband Mitt, it will be her husband’s name and not hers on the November ballot, which simply means she can help his campaign not carry it.

Ann Romney’s notable attempts to “humanize” her husband and at the same time close the Romney and Republican Party gender chasm may help at the margins, but most likely not enough to erase one of the two really serious demographic challenges confronting the almost certain GOP nominee. The candidate and his party must engage in that heavy lifting.

Let’s start with the obvious: if you need a conscious strategy to “humanize” a real person, you have a real problem. Last week the Romney campaign rolled out an online video of the genuinely appealing Ann reminiscing about raising her five sons, as well as Mitt who she said was often the “sixth son.” The video was a not very well disguised effort to address some of the important political news of the week, President Obama’s lead over Romney in new a poll conducted in key swing states. That nearly double digit lead is now in place largely thanks to Romney’s collapsing support among women.

To borrow a popular culture reference, this situation is a little like running the completely buttoned down 1960’s ad executive Don Draper from television’s popular period piece Mad Men for president in 2012. Handsome, out of touch Don just wouldn’t make it as a 2012 candidate and, while Romney may not have Draper’s various addiction problems, he acts like a guy from the 60’s who will never open up and will certainly never get in touch with his feminine side. Romney seems most of the time like a man transported through time to a place far, far away. He’s a 1960’s man in a 21st Century campaign. You can’t humanize that.

In last week’s USA Today/Gallup Poll of swing states, President Obama led Romney 51-42 among registered voters, and remember this research was conducted in places like Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Iowa were our national elections are decided.

“The biggest change from previous polls,” USA Today reported, “came among women under 50. In mid-February, just under half of those voters supported Obama. Now more than six in 10 do while Romney’s support among them has dropped by 14 points, to 30%. The president leads him 2-1 in this group.”

[Romney’s other potentially fatal demographic flaw is with Hispanic voters, but that’s a column for another day.]

From Rush Limbaugh to state legislatures, the Republican brand with women is tarnished, perhaps irrevocably in this election cycle. Frank Rich, writing in New York Magazine, dates the pivotal moment of the GOP collapse among women to what seemed at the time to be a completely off-the-wall question during a GOP debate early this year in New Hampshire. You may remember that George Stephanopoulos of ABC News asked Romney if he shared his opponent Rick Santorum’s view that “states have the right to ban contraception.”

Romney ridiculed the question, the audience booed George and most of us chalked it up to Stephanopoulos getting too little sleep because of his early morning TV duties.

But, as Rich notes, Santorum’s birth control views just made him “an advance man for a rancorous national brawl about to ambush an unsuspecting America that thought women’s access to birth control had been resolved by the ­Supreme Court almost a half century ago.”

Meanwhile in state legislatures from Virginia to Idaho, anti-abortion themed legislation requiring women to undergo an ultrasound procedure as part of the visit to a physician prior to being able to access abortion services immediately became a potent symbol for what Democrats have begun to call “a war on women.” Whether its a war of not, the backlash over the ultrasound proposals was immediate and stunning in its intensity. After passing mandatory ultrasound legislation in the Idaho State Senate, legislative Republicans in the even more conservative Idaho House of Representatives heard from their constituents – their female Republican constituents – and suddenly discovered that the best place for the ultrasound legislation was in the bottom of a committee chairman’s desk drawer.

From personal experience I can attest to the fact that last time Idaho had a high-profile debate about abortion that carried with it national overtones – that was 1990 when then-Gov. Cecil D. Andrus vetoed legislation that was not only harshly anti-female, but would have sent the state into years of litigation – the incumbent governor’s re-election was secured when he stood solidly against nationally-inspired legislation that was properly seen by women – and many men – as draconian. Conservative women flocked to Andrus, I’m convince not just because of his courageous veto, but because he displayed both toughness and compassion. In other words, the issue was a test of character. Andrus passed the test and voters – women included – could warmly relate to such attributes, which explains why Romney and the GOP are hurting with women.

Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, you may remember, lost her party’s nomination in 2010 to a Tea Party-backed opponent. She then mounted an nearly unprecedented write-in campaign in the general election that returned her to the Senate. Murkowski is what passes for a moderate in the national GOP these days and comments she made last week in her state place a stark frame around the problem Romney must fix if he hopes to win the White House in November.

“I think what you’re sensing is a fear, a concern that women feel threatened, that a long settled issue might not be settled,” Murkowski said on a radio talk show in Homer, Alaska last week. As the Homer News reported, “[Murkowski] cited things like conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh’s remarks about a female Georgetown University law student, which Murkowski called ‘offensive, horribly offensive.'”

“To have those kind of slurs against a woman … you had candidates who want to be our president not say, ‘That’s wrong. That’s offensive.’ They did not condemn the rhetoric,” Murkowski said.

The paper continued, “From her perspective as a Republican, Murkowski said she can’t understand why some in her party have raised reproductive rights as an issue.”

“It makes no sense to make this attack on women,” she said. “If you don’t feel this is an attack, you need to go home and talk to your wife and your daughters.”

So, while national unemployment numbers released last week should be confirming the GOP’s laser-like focus on the economy as the on issue that really threatens the White House incumbent, the campaign narrative for a solid week has been “war on women” and his party’s and Romney’s gender gap.

Here, I think, is the larger context for November: I tend to buy President Obama’s assertion last week that women simply don’t vote as some monolithic block that is up for grabs for a skillful candidate who appeals to the magic mix of “women’s issues.”

When it comes to politics, women are discerning voters – period. What the toxic issues mix has done to Romney and the GOP is to provide for many women – and men – a lens through which it’s possible to get a definitive glimpse of “the unzipped” Mitt, as wife Ann might say. Had Romney even a little finesse in handling these gender bending issues – think of his stumbling answer to whether Augusta National ought to allow women members or his tepid reaction to Limbaugh’s sexist bashing of an outspoken female law student – he could send all voters, particularly women, a message that he gets real life beyond his private equity experience and Ann’s two Cadillacs.

Still, rather that providing the cause of the gender chasm, the “women’s issues” mix really provides a footnote for reference on Romney’s real problem with discerning voters – they just aren’t into him. As conservative columnist Kathleen Parker wrote recently, “It is entirely possible that women simply aren’t that into Mitt. He’s just not their kind of guy. Health care, taxes, budgets, debt ceilings, capacity utilization, Chinese currency: so important. But at the end of the day — does he have “it”?

Parker goes on to say, “His wife says he does, but then she knows the unzipped Mitt. The question for American women is, do they really want to go there?”

In politics, of course, issues do matter, but discerning voters can sift the issues for what really matters; indications of character and connection. They may not want the candidates unzipped, but most voters do want to support candidates with whom they are comfortable, with whom they can – here’s that magic political word – connect.

Women are sending a pretty simple message: If there is no connection, there will be no Romney election.