Uncategorized

The Glamour Of It

I have spent a lot of years getting on and off airplanes. I’m not in the million mile category to be sure, but the airlines – generally – like my business because I have a few hundred thousand miles of air travel under my seat. I’m what the guidebooks call “a seasoned traveler.” And as a seasoned traveler, I’m growing more and more nostalgic for the days when boarding an airplane was an adventure in upscale travel as opposed to a claustrophobic endurance match. My several hundred thousand miles have taught me a few things.

I learned long ago, for example, to never check a piece of luggage. Why risk it? And, with reductions in staffing for airlines and at most airports, it takes for ever to retrieve an article from the gentle apparatus that carries your roller bag from plane to passenger. Like I said, why risk it? If you want to only carry on, however, you have to be on your toes. Overhead bin space goes fast in the era of airlines charging for checked luggage. You had best find a way to get into an early boarding group or face trying to stuff you bag into an overhead that is already filed with shopping bags, fly rods, coats, car seats and the occasional violin or frighteningly large stuffed animal owned by the little girl crying uncontrollably across the aisle from where you were hoping to read a good book and take a nap.

As for seats, I’m an aisle guy. You do have to get up a few times during a long flight to allow the passenger(s) sitting next to you get out for the bathroom, but the aisle is still the way to go. (Do be careful of the person – at least one on every flight – who slings a backpack over his shoulder that is large enough to outfit an entire Everett expedition. These folks are typically oblivious of that fact that their backpack is swinging wildly from side to side as they struggle to the back of the plane, bringing concussion-inducing blows to aisle seat sitters. You’ve been warned.)

Security lines increasingly demand a strategy, as well. Avoid at all cost the person who obviously has not flown in the post-9-11 era. You can spot them. They’re drinking out of a Big Gulp cup and cleaning their nails with a pocket knife. “What,” they’ll say, “I can’t take this through security? When did that happen?”

I particularly love the members of the traveling public who wait for 15 minutes in a long line without any preparation for what happens when it’s their turn to enter the metal detector. These are the folks who suddenly realize as they approach the check point with 80 people behind them that they have their entire coin collection in their inside coat pocket.  Or they belatedly discover that those pesky “liquids, not to exceed three ounces” are carefully and securely packed in the bottom of a bag filled with enough corn chips to put Tostido’s out of business. “They must be in here somewhere? When did this happen?” I recently observed a woman with the largest bottle of hair conditioner I have ever seen arguing about whether “this tiny little thing” violated the three ounce rule. That bottle not only violated the rule, it was enough conditioner to supply perfectly conditioned hair to most of the western hemisphere for a year.

In the old days air travel had a certain glamour. The plates were china and the little tablecloths were, well there were little tablecloths in the ancient and glamorous days of air travel. People actually dressed well to board an airplane. Those days are gone. Flip flops and tank tops are the norm these days. If you are lucky you might spot a guy in a jacket and tie or a woman in a nice pant suit on your flight, but more likely you’ll see ball caps turned backward, baggy cargo shorts and tee shirts that were new when Jimmy Carter was in the White House. As David Sedaris once wrote in a side-splittingly funny New Yorker piece, many air travelers today look like they came directly to the boarding gate after washing shoe polish off a pig.

Not completely sure that the United States faces an obesity crisis – you obviously haven’t been in an airplane recently. As more and more airlines utilize smaller, regional jets – CJ’s they’re called in the business for the Canadian origin of their birth – the seats get smaller and smaller and the aisles narrower and narrower. At the same time the passengers get bigger and bigger. It used to be a rare event to see a particularly large person request a “seat belt extender,” but such requests, in my informal surveys, are more and more common. The CJ’s present problems for normal sized passengers, too. I sat next to a fellow on a recent flight who, while not out of shape or overweight was just a big guy. I lost the quiet, but intense 90 minute fight for a small piece of the arm rest. The bruises are healing nicely.

Some political commentators claim that the real economic and social divide in our society is between those Americans in the “top 1%” who control such a significant portion of the nation’s wealth and, well, the rest of us. I’m in sympathy with the argument, but I’m here to tell you the economic and social divide is even greater between business class and coach. Once in a while my miles get me “up front” in the rarefied air of First Class. It’s the difference between a Lexus and Yugo. Hot and cold running drinks, real and mostly edible food, leg room and a flight attendant who isn’t just moonlighting from her regular job as a private prison guard.

The glamour of business travel, the glamour of any travel other than riding “up front” on an international flight, is lamentably a thing of the past. As gone as when Rick puts Ilsa on that plane leaving Casablanca for Lisbon. Remember how glamorous Ingrid Bergman looked in those closing scenes from the great movie? Paul Henreid was dashing in suit, tie and fedora. Those folks were dressed for serious travel. They were going someplace.

But come to think of it in Casablanca Ilsa Lund and Victor Laszio were just fleeing the Nazis, not doing something really stressful like washing shoe polish off of a pig.

 

Baucus, U.S. Senate, Uncategorized

The Last Great Senate

When then-Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker was at the zenith of his political power and influence in Washington it was said that if his Senate colleagues were charged with secretly selecting a president they would have chosen Baker. He was that respected on both sides of the political aisle.

Baker was a moderate Republican when the GOP had such a thing and his influence on the Senate and American politics from the 1960’s to the 1990’s was significant. He was both minority and majority leader, could have been on the Supreme Court had he wanted the appointment and after the Senate served as Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff and later as ambassador to Japan.

A fine recent book on the Senate during Baker’s hay day makes the case that the senator from Tennessee was one of the century’s great legislators and led “the Republicans at a time when, for some members of his caucus, compromise was beginning to be a dirty word.”

The book , The Last Great Senate, is Ira Shapiro’s first-hand history of the Senate in the 1970’s before the pivotal election of 1980 – the election of Ronald Reagan and the defeat of many Senate liberals – ushered in a new era in American and senatorial politics. Shapiro, a staffer to several Senate Democrats in this period, nonetheless makes Baker one of the heroes of his book by recalling his essential role in the Watergate hearings, as well as Baker’s support for the Panama Canal treaties and his generous and non-partisan backing of Jimmy Carter during the Iran hostage crisis.

Shapiro makes a compelling case that the rapid increase in partisanship in the Senate after 1980 – the year Senate lions like Idaho’s Frank Church, Washington’s Warren Magnuson and South Dakota’s George McGovern lost – continues to this day.

There are many reasons why “the world’s greatest delibrative body” has become a place where compromise rarely exists and where partisan showmanship reigns nearly every day. Shapiro sums it up this way: “It is more difficult to be a senator today than it was in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The increasingly vitriolic political culture, fueled by a twenty-four-hour news cycle, the endless pressure to raise money, the proliferation of lobbyists and demanding organized interests are all well known, and they take a toll. But all those factors make it more essential that our country has a Senate of men and women who bring wisdom, judgment, experience, and independence to their work, along with an understanding that the Senate must be able to take collective action in the national interest.”

Pick out a roster of the Senate in the 1970’s and read the names – Republicans like Dole of Kansas, Hatfield of Oregon, Goldwater of Arizona and McClure of Idaho and Democrats like Jackson of Washington, Mansfield of Montana, Bayh of Indiana and Hart of Michigan – and recall that the United States Senate used to work.

As the Washington Post noted in its favorable review of Shapiro’s book, “Senators are politicians with the most monumental political ambitions, and they operate in a political environment that reflects how much the country has changed — in some ways, not for the better. The fault is not in the Senate but in the country itself.”

Indeed. James Madison’s view of the Senate as described in Federalist 62 would be a body defined by “senatorial trust” requiring a “great extent of information and stability of character.” I suspect most members of the Senate today chafe at the characterization that they live in a world of political dysfunction, but perhaps they do precisely because voters seem barely willing to tolerate the need for Senators, from both parties, to embrace “senatorial trust” and work together, really work together, to address, and occasionally solve, big national problems.

 

Uncategorized

Second Terms

Second terms are difficult.

Woodrow Wilson won the narrowest of re-elections in 1916 on a promise that he “kept us out of war” and promptly got the country into World War I. Grant’s second term was a mess of scandal and mismanagement that has forever tarnished his reputation. Reagan had Iran-Contra, Clinton had Monica and, in what was really his second term, Truman had Korea.

One of the great cautionary tales of the American presidency was Franklin Roosevelt’s second term. After winning a stunning landslide re-election, FDR squandered his massive goodwill with an audacious plan to expand the Supreme Court. Rebuffed on that hubristic notion, Roosevelt doubled down and attempted to “purge” fellow Democrats who the president thought too conservative. Every one of them survived and after 1937 Roosevelt never again commanded a working majority in the Congress for his domestic agenda. Had Roosevelt’s presidency ended after two terms, and had he been denied a chance to lead the nation during World War II, we might remember him today as a president who badly overreached in his second term and failed miserably.

Second terms are difficult. The very attributes that make a president feel comfortable in his second act are the ones that all too often get them in trouble – too much confidence, too much insulation from the rest of the world, a since of pride (hubris?) that the re-elected president has succeeded and his foes have not. Pride does goeth before a fall. Second terms are also marked by exhaustion, by staff members who get to thinking more about themselves than the job or the boss and by an almost inevitable running out of steam.

Barack Obama’s full-throated defense of political liberalism in his second inaugural address will be celebrated by many who have wondered if the cerebral college professor and community organizer is really committed to the progressive agenda. Wonder no more. However, great political speeches – and his will, I predict, go down in history as a great inaugural speech – require great political implementation if the ideas they embody are to be more than historical footnotes.

The real challenge for the president in his second term, more than avoiding scandal and overreach, is how he will apply the grease of political action to the sticky gears of political Washington. Since everyone has an opinion: here is a modest, yet attainable second term agenda for a president who has already past the rest of being transformative.

In a Nixon-goes-to-China way, Obama has a unique opportunity to be the American president who crafts a comprehensive reform of the big three entitlement programs – Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security – in a way that secures the essential national safety net for at least a generation. Talk about a legacy. Obama, because he truly believes in these programs, can be the transformative guy who makes them work far into the future. He’ll need to offend some of his friends, but what’s the presidency for anyway? Obama can stitch together a grand bargain – budget reductions, entitlement reforms, revenue, the whole ball of wax – if he wants, but he’ll need to bargain and trade. The question is whether he’s willing and able to go big and try to secure a truly historic deal.

On climate change, the president can merely order the EPA to aggressively regulate greenhouse gases and avoid a huge and eventually pointless fight with Congress and the energy industry. At the same time, the president can get his new Secretary of State working harder on meaningful international agreements. Obama also needs a sharp, politically effective EPA Administrator. How about bringing former New Jersey Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman to EPA?

The country is already moving in the direction Obama stressed in the human and civil rights portions of his speech yesterday. Younger Americans, those under 35 say, don’t need to be convinced that the country’s civil rights agenda should be expanded more broadly to include gays. As Martin Luther King, Jr. (and others) have famously said, and Obama clearly knows, “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” Obama stands on the right side of history here and those who oppose him will find the country steadily moving away from them. He merely needs to continue to give voice and direction to the movement.

By the same token, given enough presidential attention, the country will move, perhaps not fast enough for some of us, but move nonetheless, on guns. Obama can influence this debate, as he already has, by focusing on the moral dimension of the country’s culture of violence. He is again on the right side of history.

On immigration reform Obama needs a Republican ally. The element of surprise in politics is badly underrated. Obama could surprise, and advance his own agenda, by offering to work directly with, say Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, to fix one issue that most sensible Republicans now know is going to continue to keep them from winning national elections. Obama has absolutely nothing to lose by reaching out to scared Republicans on this issue. He’s got them right where he wants them.

Part of the historic difficulty with a second term is that something unexpected always turns up. FDR had to move the country from isolation to international engagement as World War II began. Truman had to fire Douglas MacArthur. Nixon had to confront the White House taping system. Andrew Jackson had to confront the nullification crisis. And like most presidents in a second term, Thomas Jefferson was often pre-occupied with foreign affairs.

One reason, I suspect, that so many of his political opponents dislike Barack Obama so much is that they know, deep down, that he is indeed a transformational figure; one of those once-in-a-generation figures who changes politics and public understanding in lasting ways. Perhaps he is even, as some suggest, the Reagan of the left for the 21st Century. In any event, his place in history is secure as the first African-American elected not once, but twice to the highest office in the land. But the difficult second term will determine much more – whether he was merely the first or whether he’ll be among the great.

 

Andrus Center, Baseball, Uncategorized

Grace and Grit

You have to admit there is a certain rich irony in the sad fact that two of baseball’s all-time greats – Stan Musial and Earl Weaver – died the same weekend that the sports and popular culture world is still trying to process the misdeeds, misdirection and misfires of Lance Armstrong and Manti T’eo.

Stan the Man, maybe the most talented nice guy to ever lace up a pair of spikes, and The Duke of Earl, one of the most competitive and successful managers in the history of the game, could not have been more different from one another or less like those who will forever be remembered for Oprah’s confessional and the bizarre cloak of hoax that a great university has thrown around it’s star linebacker. The two old Hall of Famers go out like the pros they were, individual, real guys remembered by fans and opponents for their accomplishments not their embellishments. 

Musial, the quiet, funny competitor who labored his entire career largely out of the media glare in St. Louis, has never gotten his due as among a handful of the game’s greats. Stan died as he lived, respected, even revered, as a good and decent fellow. Weaver, the profane, pint-sized dirt kicker who once said he hoped to be remembered as “a sore loser” will be remembered for more than that and not because he was perfect. He wasn’t, but he was the real deal.

“Despite his salty, inventively profane diatribes,” the Washington Post wrote in a swell tribute, “Mr. Weaver considered himself a practicing Christian. Nonetheless, Pat Kelly, on Orioles outfielder who later became an evangelist, once asked Mr. Weaver why he didn’t join players at chapel meetings.

“Don’t you want to walk with the Lord?”Kelly reportedly asked.

“I’d rather walk with the bases loaded,” Mr. Weaver replied.

Weaver will be remembered for his umpire baiting – he was thrown out of two games before the first pitch was thrown – and his priceless one-liners. If you can stand the language, check out a classic Earl tirade on YouTube. He tells the umpire who tosses him, “You’re here for only one reason – to ___ us!”

The Earl of Baltimore once said when one of the Oriole’s truly fine pitchers Mike Cuellar lost his stuff, “I gave Cuellar more chances than my first wife.” Like Musial, Weaver was a winner in the old fashioned way with hard work, commitment and fierce determination.

Musial’s statistics speak for themselves. In 22 years in the majors, Musial failed to hit .300 just four times. In 1949, he came within one home run of leading the National League in hits, doubles, triples – and homers. Next to his accomplishments on the field what comes through in George Vecsey’s fine 2011 unauthorized biography of Musial is what a completely decent guy he was.

In 1952 and 1956 Musial had supported the Republican moderate Dwight Eisenhower for president, but in 1960 he went all in for John F. Kennedy. The two elegant guys met on a street corner in Milwaukee in the fall of 1959. Kennedy reportedly said, “They tell me you’re too old to play ball and I’m too young to be president, but maybe we can fool them.” They did. JFK went to the White House, Stan the Man to the Hall of Fame. You might say they both won on the first ballot.

Musial went on a week-long, eight state barnstorming tour for Kennedy at the very end of the very tight 1960 campaign. It must have been as good a campaign swing as there ever was. Actress Angie Dickinson, novelist James Michener, future Supreme Court Justice Byron (Whizzer) White and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. joined Ethel and Joan Kennedy and the Cardinal slugger on the trip to rally support for JFK in generally tough country for Democrats – Nebraska, Colorado, Utah and Idaho included.

Dickinson remembered getting booed and having things thrown at her in the red states of 1960, but also that Musial was “always funny…the life of the party…such a dear guy.”

In Vescey’s book, Michener remembers the group’s stop at a Boise country club – it must have been Hillcrest – “where the well-turned-out ‘bridge-playing’ women would not even acknowledge the Democratic celebrities.”

Writing in the New York Times, Vescey reminds us that during the era of the late DiMaggio and Williams, the early Mays and Aaron, Stan Musial was voted by LIFE magazine as the greatest player of the post-war period.

“Lukasz Musial, a Polish immigrant who worked in the zinc mills, was never comfortable in this new land,” Vescey said, “but his son, sweet and athletic, found mentors, men who taught him how to dress and shake hands and look people in the eye. He wanted to have a good life. In later years, he wore suits and ties and read The Wall Street Journal in his office at Stan & Biggie’s Restaurant. Musial wanted to be a businessman, not a figurehead.

“He knew the cuts of meat the way he knew the repertory of Robin Roberts (10 homers) [Don] Newcombe (11) and Warren Spahn (17, the most.) Those pitchers loved him, by the way.”

The Duke of Earl and Stan the Man. Just when you think it’s no longer possible to look up to anyone in sports, when the current crop disappoints and frustrates time and again, you have to pause and say – they weren’t all that way. Even the pitchers will miss Stan and the umps will tip their caps to Earl.

 

Schweitzer, Uncategorized

Dick Eardley

Richard Eardley, 1928-2012

Dick Eardley took an unusual path to the Mayor’s Office in Boise. Before he became Boise’s longest serving mayor, Eardley was, as he would have said, “a newsman,” who presided over the newsroom at KBOI when Walter Cronkite was the network’s gold standard, when the film was 16 mm and a “live shot” was when your opened the garage doors in the studio and wheeled a gigantic camera outside for a weather segment.

Eardley, who died earlier this week, was also a business-like, no nonsense mayor who I had the pleasure of knowing and covering from 1975 until 1985. He was just as serious about the news. A big story in those days might well have been a school board meeting or a public hearing at City Hall, the kind of news that rarely gets covered anywhere today, particularly on television. When I first began working at KBOI (then KBCI) in 1975, we had, for example, a reporter assigned to the education beat and a budget to send him to State Board of Education meetings around the state. That was a legacy of Dick Eardley’s time.

Under his watch, and with a talented City Council helping, Boise committed to neighborhood preservation, expanded the Greenbelt, built a new city hall and struggled mightily to redevelop downtown. The community’s vision was to make downtown a regional shopping destination by preventing the kind of flight to the suburbs that have damaged so many downtowns. The marketplace, through a series of master developers, never warmed to the downtown-as-shopping-center idea, which, in many ways, bedeviled Mayor Eardley. His vision was correct, in my view, the execution may have left something to be desired. But, if you like BoDo, the area south of Front in Boise, you have a sense of the kind of downtown Eardley wanted to build.

Not surprisingly, Eardley understood better than most politicians the job of the media. He was always available. I would often just show up at his office and he’d have time to talk. He was candid, even blunt, and considering all the less-than-fully-informed stories I filed from City Hall, I never remember that he complained about my inadequacy as a local political reporter. A photographer friend once captured an image of the completely at ease with himself mayor, leaning against the front of his desk and smiling. He inscribed the photo to me with a line that I loved at the time and still do. “To a newsman’s newsman,” he wrote.

Dick Eardley was a class act, a good mayor and when this once young reporter needed a role model, he provided the model. Boise is a better place for his time covering and making news.

 

Mansfield, Uncategorized

All Politics

Stranger Than Fiction

Turns out Donald Trump’s checkered past is almost as interesting as his current foray into Republican presidential politics.

Trump has given a lot more money in political contributions to Democrats than Republicans, made a big contribution to Rahm Emmanuel’s Chicago mayoral campaign and volunteered to the Obama White House that he was just the guy to run the clean-up in the Gulf of Mexcio after the BP oil spill. Trump continues his daily media tour and, like moths to a flame, the cable shows and the mainstream media can’t get enough of it. Reminds me of the car wreck that you know you should avoid, but you can’t help yourself.

Meanwhile, Nate Silver, the number crunching polling guru at the New York Times, has an interesting analysis of polling on the “birther” question even as the White House produces the long-sought document.

Sounds as though the Queen of England, and perhaps the future King, subscribe to the old political maxim “don’t get mad, get even.” The last two British prime ministers – Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – aren’t on the invite list for the event of the decade in Britain – the Royal Wedding. 

The Telegaph calls it a “snub of historic proportions.” Apparently, Her Majesty never developed a liking for the last two Labour PM’s and harbors a distaste for Blair’s wife. She never curtsied. And William has never forgiven Blair for his grandstanding at the time of his mother’s death. Get even time – royally.

My other favorite political story of the day is the continuing post mortum on Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour’s decision not to enter the GOP presidential field. Granting Barbour’s immense network of contacts, his fundraising ability, his political experience, etc., I could never see him winning either the nomination or the presidency.

Still, his fling with the idea has cast a light on what it takes to run. Barbour called it a “ten year commitment” to the exclusion of virtually all else. One needs a lot of passion, ego and ambition to embark on that journey.

Barbour now has time on his hands, Trump’s birther issue is gone in a flash – maybe they can fill in for Blair and Brown on Friday. Just a thought.

 

                                                           

Marketing, Martin Luther King, Uncategorized

Recall

Throwing Them Out Isn’t Easy

The guy in the photo is Lynn J. Frazier. He was the first public official in the country removed from office by recall. It happened in 1921 in North Dakota.

Frazier had been elected governor three different times on the Non-Partisan League ticket, but his radical brand of progressive politics eventually got him crosswise with the state’s voters. Ironically, he advocated that the recall provision be added to the state constitution and almost immediately it was used against him.

The recall of a governor has happened only one other time. Gray Davis suffered Lynn Frazier’s fate in California in 2003. All this by way of saying, recalling an elected official, as has now been proposed in Idaho (and in Wisconsin), isn’t easy.

The Idahoans who say they want to recall State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna have a big hill to climb. First, they need to collect just north of 158,000 valid signatures (meaning they probably need to gather thousands more) and have only two and a half months to get the job done. That is a lot of standing around in Walmart parking lots and PTA meetings and it will require hundreds if not thousands of volunteers. Such efforts normally dictate paid signature gathering, but if this effort is, as it seems to be, truly grassroots, then the money won’t be readily available to finance the signature production.

Still, the group has a Facebook page up with (as of late yesterday) more than 4,000 friends and they has generated a good deal of media attention. Meanwhile, the Idaho State Journal reports that an American Falls high school senior has launched a “Stand with Luna” website to support the state superintendent.

Other than a handful of local election officials, Idahoans have been reluctant to resort to the recall. Two Idaho Falls state legislators were recalled in 1971. Efforts to recall two Boise legislators are also underway, resembling in some respects the widespread legislative recall efforts underway in Wisconsin.

A fellow often referred to at the time as “a St. Maries dog catcher” mounted a recall effort against Sen. Frank Church in 1967 until it dawned on everyone that there is no provision in the U.S. Constitution to recall federal officials. The dog catcher – he had some links to the John Birch Society – and his recall quickly faded away.

Nationally only 13 legislators, including the two in Idaho, have been recalled since 1913. Seven of the 13 recalls took place in Oregon and California.

The most obvious thing about these numbers, as Milwaukee Journal Sentinel political writer Craig Gilbert points out, “is how seldom the recall has been used successfully. Only 18 states give their citizens the power to remove their state legislators by recall, and in only five has it actually happened.  No one knows how many recalls have been attempted, but only 20 have succeeded in gathering enough valid signatures to force a recall election, and only 13 have succeeded in removing a legislator from office.”

Like I said, it’s a big hill to climb and it should be. As a general rule we have elections to get rid of politicians who fall out of favor. Still, as Gilbert notes, recalls tend to form around a not particularly partisan issue and tend to draw energy from the right of the political spectrum. Of the 13 recalled state legislators, 9 have been Republicans and some of them were recalled because they fell out of favor with their own party.

Essentially that’s what happened to Davis in California in 2003. Davis became enormously unpopular due to the state’s terrible fiscal condition and an energy crisis. The long-time Democrat, governor of an  overwhelmingly blue state, saw his approval numbers go deeply in the ditch with constituents across the board, including Democrats. Enter the Governator.

Successful recalls seem to require a cause and passion, or perhaps anger. Interestingly the very conservative Americans for Limited Government is touting expansion of the recall as a way to get at politicians who aren’t tough enough on spending, an issue that increasingly cuts across all political demographics.

Considering that Luna won re-election last November with just over 60% of the vote – more than 268,000 total votes – the cause he represents – his package of education reform bills – will have to be extremely unpopular for the recall to get real legs. To date, I know of no public polling on how Luna’s education policies are playing with Idaho voters, but  public comments in the media, on newspaper websites and in legislative hearings seem to trend pretty strongly against. Across the state local school boards are scrambling to implement changes, consider more layoffs and four day school weeks and deal with another year of declining budgets.

But it’s an open question as to whether this all adds up to the type of cause that typically drives a recall and whether the passion is deep enough to propel a grassroots signature campaign that results in an election. Having said that, education has often been a mobilizing issue in Idaho. Many voters may not care much about the big policy debates in Boise during a long legislative session, but they do care about the local schoolhouse and they have opinions about whether the students they most care about are getting the right kind of education.

Bottom line: the Luna recall will have to catch fire very fast and burn very hot to have a chance to succeed.

As a curious footnote to recall history, North Dakota’s booted Gov. Lynn Frazier wasn’t out of office for long. About a year after being recalled, Frazier ran for the U.S. Senate and won. He served in the Senate for 18 years until losing a Republican primary in 1940. Further proof, perhaps, that recalls are fueled by the passions of the moment and passion can cool quickly.

Marketing, Uncategorized

Pass/Fail

Tough Session Draws Tough Reviews

Idaho Democrats have called the just completed legislative session “the worst in memory.” Republicans, who overwhelmingly dominate in Idaho, say just a minute, it wasn’t all that bad.

Idaho’s editorial pages are weighing in with generally very tough judgements about a session that stripped collective bargaining rights for teachers, “reformed” education to move policy strongly in the direction of more on-line learning, fewer classroom teachers, “pay for performance” and less money.

The Idaho Press-Tribune in Nampa gave letter grades ranging from three A’s to two F’s and one D. Grading on the curve, the IPT comes down with an overall “B,” while praising lawmakers for meeting their Constitutional obligation to balance the budget and for cutting education spending by only $50 million.

The Twin Falls Times-News compares this year’s session to Gov. Len Jordan’s first session in 1951 when the newly elected Jordan called for, among other things, the closure of state colleges in Lewiston and Albion. The paper says that ’51 session has long been viewed as one of the worst with long-standing consequences, but then suggests the just ended session may have been worse.

“The first session of the 61st Legislature adjourned Thursday with a state bitterly divided over Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna’s education reform proposal,” the paper’s Sunday editorial said. “Lawmakers slashed state support for Medicaid by $35 million, public school funding by $47 million and higher education dollars by $8 million.

“Legislators passed a bill restricting abortion that’s probably unconstitutional, changed the Republican primary so that only party faithful may be able to vote, authorized the governor to declare a “wolf emergency,” made dairies’ nutrient management plans trade secrets, and rewrote Idaho’s Right to Farm law so broadly that it might limit counties’ ability to regulate the expansion of slaughterhouses, potato-processing operations and cheese factories.”

The Idaho Statesman’s Sunday edit was headlined “Difficult and Damaging” and concludes that history may not judge the 88 day session very kindly.

“A session to be proud of? Not even close,” the Statesman said.

Marty Trillhaase, writing on the Lewiston Tribune’s editorial page Sunday, said: “The men and women who sat out the winter under the Capitol dome have delivered a government that is radically different: Lawmakers become lawgivers — Time was, if lawmakers wanted to pass a sales tax or shift schools from local to state support, they asked you. They coaxed you. They won your support. And they took their time.

“Today’s lawgivers descend from Mount Heyburn and inform the rest of us how life is going to be.”

Meanwhile, a referendum effort has been launched to take State School Superintendent Tom Luna’s reforms to the voters and backers of a recall Luna campaign say they are ready to gather signatures.

A couple of weeks, as astute political observers say, is a life-time in politics. The heartburn over this session my fade fast, as fast as these newspaper editorials hit the recycle bin or line the bird cage. But, then again, if those who felt they got the short end of a long stick from this year’s legislature can keep the image alive that has been almost universally depicted by the editorial writers then this session may have lasting political, as well as policy implications.

Stay tuned.

Uncategorized

Dewey Defeats Truman

trumanObama’s Model – Not 1994, but 1948

November 2nd will be long remembered for “the shellacking,” as Barack Obama put it, that he and Democrats took in the mid-term elections. It was a near historic rout often compared to the thumping Bill Clinton and Democrats took in 1994. But the election Obama ought to be studying for clues to his comeback in two years time is not ’94, but Harry Truman’s spectacular return from political death on another November 2nd in 1948.

Like Obama after last week’s election, Truman seemed like a dead man walking after the 1946 mid-terms. Republicans captured both houses of Congress, gaining 55 seats in the House and a dozen in the Senate, including the election of very conservative Republicans like Joseph McCarthy in Wisconsin, Zales Ecton in Montana and Henry Dworshak in Idaho. No question, 1946 was a banner year for the GOP. The big Republican win came with, and in part as a result of, Truman’s popularity being in the ditch. By election time, the President’s approval rating had slumped to 32%.

As Truman’s best biographer David McCullough has written: “According to one of the latest Washington jokes in the autumn of 1946, Truman was late for a Cabinet meeting because he woke up stiff in the joints from trying to put his foot in his mouth.”

Another line held that “to err is Truman.”

The Democratic defeat was so massive in 1946 and Truman’s role in bringing it about so obvious, that first -term Arkansas Sen. J. William Fulbright actually suggested that Truman, with no vice president to replace him, should resign the presidency after appointing respected Republican Sen. Arthur Vandenberg Secretary of State. Vandenberg would then become President and would be able to avoid what Fulbright saw as the fearsome prospect of divided government presided over by a hugely unpopular chief executive. Truman responded by forever referring to Fulbright as “Halfbright” and instead he came out fighting.

The seeds of Obama’s resurrection from the shellacking of the 2010 mid-terms may reside in Truman’s response 64 years ago. Truman doubled down on the Republicans, challenged them to enact their plans; plans strikingly similar to today – spending reductions, dismantling various social programs and opposition to national health care reform. No one – except Harry Truman – thought he could win in 1948, but he did and convincingly. Truman delighted in the fact that the very conservative Chicago Tribune got the election outcome wrong in its famous headline – Dewey Defeats Truman.

As Frank Rich noted in the New York Times Sunday, Obama can make a virtue, if he will, of the obvious and soon to grow splits in Republican ranks. In other words, he needs to shift the focus from his agenda to the new Republican agenda.

If the darlings of the Tea Party – Michelle Bachmann and Jim DeMint – really want, as Bachmann says, “to wean the country off Social Security and Medicare,” perhaps Obama should challenge them to bring forth the legislation. John Boehner and Mitch McConnell say they want to repeal the health care legislation and the President should welcome the discussion as the best chance he’ll have to reframe the national debate to make the case, in personal terms, that he has yet to make for the controversial legislation.

Obama needs to get out a Glenn Beck-style blackboard in the Roosevelt Room and explain how the GOP wants to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans by borrowing the money from China in order to keep putting the cash in Donald Trump’s or Michael Bloomberg’s pockets.

Every Tea Partier and Congressional Republican, and most Democrats, want to cut spending. OK, where and when do we start? The first qualifier when the talk turns to spending cuts is usually to take defense, homeland security and entitlements off the budget chopping block. That leaves about 15 cents of every dollar the federal government spends eligible for cuts. Obama should ask, where do we start? Student loans? The National Parks? Maybe raising the retirement age to 70 or eliminating the Department of Education? Maybe we ditch the new generation of littoral fighting ships the Navy desperately wants. That would save a cool $8 billion. Let’s really have the debate.

In his re-election in 1948 after his disastrous shellacking two years earlier, Harry Truman called the GOP bluff. As he suspected, the Republican’s ability to enact their program was much more limited than their ability to criticize Truman’s performance. Specifics and a lack of performance by the GOP eventually won out over hyperbole.

There is at least one other reason why Barack Obama should engage the new crowd in Congress directly on their ideas: the country desperately needs an adult conversation about priorities, spending, the deficit, the defense budget and entitlements. What better time to have it?

For two years, Obama’s operated his presidency in an often detached and dispassionate way. His White House seems to be all tactics, no overarching vision. Unless he provides that vision – and one way he can begin is to aggressively engage the Michelle Bachmann’s, Jim DeMint’s and Rand Paul’s of the new Congress – he will be a one-term president and, even worse, the great and serious debate the country needs about its priorities will disintegrate into a black swamp of politics as usual played out in dueling soundbites on Fox and MSNBC.

In David McCullough’s Truman, the superb Pulitzer Prize-winning story of the fighter from Missouri, the chapter on the 1948 election concludes with the analysis of Clark Clifford, Truman’s chief aide and strategist during that historic election.

“He was a good politician,” Clifford said of Truman, “a sensible politician…But that wasn’t why he was elected President…it was the remarkable courage in the man – his refusal to be discouraged, his willingness to go through the suffering of that campaign, the fatigue, the will to fight every step of the way, the will to win…

“It wasn’t Harry Truman the politician who won, it was Harry Truman the man.”

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70 Years Ago…

DunkirkTheir Finest Hour

Seven decades ago, western civilization teetered on the brink on a sandy spit of land in the French coast at a little town called Dunkirk.

Over the last few days of May and the first few days of June 1940, 340,000 British troops and thousands more French were evacuated from northern France in what was at the same time a remarkable save and a stunning defeat. Dunkirk, that is all that need be said, to conjure up the image of England literally standing alone against what appeared to be the total superiority of the Nazi war machine. The 70th anniversary of the Miracle of Dunkirk is being remembered in England this weekend.

One veteran who was taken off that bloody beach all those long years ago told the Guardian that the memory is “on my mind all day every day.”

It is hard to make great history – or great speeches – from abject defeat, but when England and the world needed it most, that most remarkable Englishman, Winston Churchill, rose to the occasion. His “finest hour” speech still stands as a superb historical document and as close as any politician can ever come to turning political rhetoric into lasting literature.

The last three paragraphs of the speech Churchill delivered in the House of Commons on June 18, 1940 begin:

“What (French) General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us.”

Churchill did many remarkable things with his speech after the Dunkirk disaster, not least being that he leveled with his country about its almost unbelievably dire circumstances. We take it for granted today that Britain would survive, that the United States would enter the war, that Hitler would be defeated. It wasn’t so clear in that long ago spring.

Read Winston’s words and put yourself in that place 70 years ago:

“Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.”

Churchill later said that the British people had displayed the heart of a lion in standing up to Hitler. He had the honor to supply, as he said, “the roar.”

“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.'”

We celebrate Memorial Day weekend with cookouts, baseball games, a few hours in the garden perhaps, and, I hope, with a few moments of pause to remember. Western civilization did hang in the balance 70 years ago.

It is history worth knowing and appreciating. Happy Memorial Day.

Footnote: There is a remarkable new wartime biography of Churchill – Winston’s War – by the acclaimed British World War II historian Max Hastings. It’s a terrific book. Hastings shows Churchill to be all that he was – brilliant, petulant, difficult, charming, a cigar smoking, champagne swilling leader and orator of the first order.