Friday, December 16, 2011

Mitt Romney Beats Barack Obama — If Republicans Are Smart

When it comes to former Governor Mitt Romney and his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, Republicans remind me of children who criticize their parents for the smallest flaw, missing the obvious bigger picture — parents make possible many benefits, starting with life. In Romney’s case, this, of course, refers to giving Republicans political life — getting back in the White House to get America back on track.

So, which Republican candidate has the best chance of beating Barack Obama?

That would be Romney.

He’s been beating Obama in the general election matchup polls [1] since April — he’s the only one. Even as Newt Gingrich surges in the Republican presidential primary polls, he lags in this key indicator [2]. Plus, as the recent USA Today/Gallup poll revealed, President Obama trails Mitt Romney in 12 swing states by 5 points (43% to 48%) among registered voters.

Why is this so?

It’s simple: Romney, with his business and government background, will do a better job than Obama on the economy — by a mile. And most Americans know it.

When “Believe in America, [3]” Romney’s first New Hampshire ad, came out November 21, the media narrowly focused on the “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose” line. (Never mind that it’s obvious Obama wasn’t saying that about himself.  But it does apply to Obama now — which, of course, was the whole point! ) In so doing, the media totally overlooked Romney’s passionate message about the economy. To wit:
  • “I’m going to do something to government. I call it the smaller, simpler, smarter approach to government — getting rid of programs, turning programs back to states and finally making government itself more efficient.”
  • “I’m going to get rid of Obamacare. It’s killing jobs and it’s keeping our kids from having the bright prospects they deserve.”
  • “We have a moral responsibility not to spend more than we take in.
  • “I’ll make sure that America is a job creating machine like it has been in the past.”
  • “It’s high time to bring those principles of fiscal responsibility to Washington, D.C.”
Inspiring stuff!  After I saw it, I thought: Imagine Mitt Romney under the hood of the U.S. economic machine, working to fix it come January 2013.  Next, imagine Barack Obama these last nearly three years looking under the hood, rolling his eyes, joking about what the heck he’s supposed to do, then slamming the hood down, wiping the oil off his hands, and saying, “That should do the trick.” Meanwhile, the machine continues to sputter. Now, who would you rather have fixing the U.S. economic machine?

Furthermore, Romney has a strong character, as the PARADE [4]cover story reminds us.

Now, if the Republican goal is to nominate the most conservative candidate possible, maybe Romney is not your man. But we did that in 1964 with Barry Goldwater. That didn’t turn out so well, did it?

Remember: The goal is booting Obama out of the White House, not aiding and abetting Obama, who, himself, is trying to knock Romney out of the race with numerous negative ads. Give Obama credit for one thing. He can read polls.

Republicans, if they’re smart, will do likewise — focusing on the bigger picture: amnesiac Obama, wrapping himself in landslide Teddy’s “SquareDeal” mantle, [5] belying his Carter-like record and sagging polls, juxtaposed with Romney’s genuine TR-like leadership aimed squarely at the middle class.

Mitt Romney is just the man our country needs these next four years as we traverse troubled waters — thanks to the mess Obama is leaving.

Posted By Mary Claire Kendall On December 15, 2011 @ 12:00 am In economy,Elections 2012,Politics,US News | 90 comments
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Copyright © 2011 Pajamas Media. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Journey to Liberty and Forgiveness

National Catholic Register

BY Mary Claire Kendall
Life's coincidences are amazing and sometimes eerie.

On 9/11/01, I ended up stranded in New York. It was one of my rare visits. 
I traveled to the city late on Sept. 10, staying until Sept. 14. I will never forget those days — e.g., late the next day, when the wind shifted, suddenly the putrid smell wafting up from Ground Zero enveloped the Midtown Manhattan condo where I was staying. 
Two months later, when I quickly organized a return visit, the only available hotel was near the intersection of the symbolically powerful Liberty and Broadway, at Ground Zero, the air still thick with sickening chemicals, as workers with masks continued the clean-up. 
During my November visit, that video of Osama bin Laden mimicking the planes crashing into the Twin Towers was released and aired incessantly.

  A makeshift memorial at the corner of Liberty & Broadway,
as close as one could get to Ground Zero, November 9, 2001.
Credit: Mary Claire Kendall 

Nearly 10 years later, while visiting the city again — a frequently canceled trip, months in planning — I awoke to news of bin Laden's demise. 
During that stay, Pope John Paul II was beatified on May 1 in St. Peter's Square as Navy Seals were making final preparations to helicopter into Abbottabad, Pakistan, 65 miles outside of Islamabad, to take out the terrorist mastermind. It was a grotesque, bloody scene we can only imagine. He had taken out the Twin Towers and with them more than 2,500 souls — a total of 2,998 on 9/11. Now he got his eye-for-eye, tooth-for-tooth just deserts.
At 10:30pm, when the Seals took off, it was 8pm in Rome, where faithful were praying before John Paul II's exhumed casket; in Washington, it was 2pm. White House officials huddled in "The War Room," whose 50th anniversary was May 13.
At the beatification ceremony for John Paul II, the French nun whose Parkinson's was cured through John Paul's intercession carried a silver reliquary holding a vial of the Pope's blood to the altar — the blood that flowed from John Paul II in that very square, nearly 30 years earlier, when Turkish hitman Mehmet Ali Agca gunned him down on May 13, 1981, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. 
It was only because the Pope had leaned over to bless a little girl's Our Lady of Fatima medal just as the would-be assassin pulled the trigger that the bullet narrowly missed his heart. 
Exactly a year later, the Pope made a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal to thank her for saving his life, bringing her a crown encased with jewels and his attacker's bullet. (Our Lady of Fatima is said to have told the three shepherd children she appeared to in Fatima in 1917, "There are no coincidences.")
Following the shooting, Pope John Paul II asked people "to pray for my brother [Agca] ... whom I have sincerely forgiven." In December 1983, he visited Agca in prison, meeting and speaking with him privately. The Pope also developed a rapport with Agca's family, meeting his mother in 1987 and his brother a decade later.
Although Agca had expressed disdain for John Paul II, mistakenly considering him "the incarnation of all that is capitalism," he too developed a warm friendship with the Pope and, in early February 2005, as the John Paul was dying, wrote to wish him well. 
Two years later, Agca wrote a letter saying he had renounced his Muslim faith and converted to Catholicism on May 13, 2007. "I would wish to return to Rome," he wrote, "to pray at the tomb of John Paul II to express my filial appreciation for his forgiveness."
At St. Patrick's Cathedral on May 1, 2011, Cardinal Edward Egan, archbishop emeritus of New York, emphasized the Pope's powerful example of forgiveness as the only path to peace. 
It's hard to think about forgiveness 10 years after 9/11. The events of that day are just too horrific. 
Yet out of that tragedy and brutal loss of life came a flowering of spirituality — of which forgiveness is the foundation. 
When I spoke with Father Peter Gnanashekar of Our Lady of Victory Church, which is close to Ground Zero, on Nov. 9, 2001, he reflected on this spiritual renewal, while recounting the events surrounding the terrorist attack.
On the morning of Sept. 11, at 8:47am, he said, "Time seemed to stand still."
While assisting at Mass, he heard a "big sound." Soon a man, covered in debris, rushed in to report the horrific news, followed by someone reporting a man covered in blood had dragged himself to the church seeking last rites. Father Andrew Cieszkowksi immediately administered the sacrament to this man, who had been struck by flying debris. He was Ground Zero's first visible victim. 
Others, going out to see the scene with their own eyes, came back in utter disbelief.
Spurred on by the mayhem, Father Peter recalled how everyone began to pray fervently "in front of the tabernacle and Blessed Mother's statue," and then, "spontaneously, to pray aloud." 
As the dust came pouring in, people started taking altar cloths to cover themselves, holding tight through the final 10:30am tower collapse. 
Then, as the debris in the church cleared, everyone — in a state of shock — began going to confession. Believing their demise was imminent, they asked Father Peter to hurry with the absolution. 
Every Wednesday since Sept. 11, Our Lady of Victory held an hour of prayer to help people cope with the grief and to provide mental and spiritual solace. The purpose, Father Peter said, was "to share, to heal, (and) to grow as we try to face this one with faith." 
This Sept. 11, let's continue "to face this one with faith." That such great suffering can bring that silver lining — enabling us to discern and embrace the wisdom of Pope John Paul II's central message of forgiveness — is a great consolation.
Mary Claire Kendall is a Washington-based journalist and screenwriter.

Copyright © 2011 Circle Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

For companion piece, "Journey to Liberty and Broadway," giving more details about the 2001  journey, see

Monday, September 5, 2011

Post Office Tipping Point: Romney to the Rescue?

By Mary Claire Kendall

Madonna of the Trail outside Bethesda Post Office, 
which was closed in 2012

The mess President Obama has gotten our nation into has reached a clearly definable tipping point: The United States Post Office will just disappear in December if something is not done and fast to put it on a solid financial footing.

The agency is so low on cash, reports the New York Times, that it can’t make a $5.5 billion payment due this month. It has never been so precipitously close to collapse.  (I knew something was radically wrong when I couldn’t find a mailbox in downtown DC to save myself!)

While Republican presidential candidate Governor Rick Perry of Texas subtly hints he will be “Superman” coming to America’s rescue, what we need, in this instance, is former Governor (and front runner) Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, “Turnaround Artist”—his skill documented in his book about how he rescued the Salt Lake City Olympics—to design a plan for saving the Post Office. 
Gary Cooper Commemorative Stamp
From the Legends of Hollywood series
Copyright: 2008 USPS. 

Romney could bring the kind of creativity and business savvy needed to breathe new life back into the Post Office that he brought to creating Staples while at Bain & Company, as one of the founding partners—where he took struggling businesses and turned them around.  Perhaps he could devise a public-private partnership that would streamline the service for greater efficiency and cost savings and maximize profits from its iconic stamp collection celebrating American life—famous writers, artists, scientists, stars, statesmen, educators, et alia.  For instance, the Post Office’s marketing tool of stamps featuring notable African Americans—a sterile list from 2004—is wholly inadequate, and properly conceived and executed could reap huge financial rewards.

Edward Hopper Commemorative Stamp
Copyright: USPS 2009. 

It’s just a question of applying good old American know-how in a focused, determined, effective way.

Such a gesture would touch the hearts of every American, who cherishes their community post offices—replete with memories from childhood, standing in line, securely clutching their mother's hand, into adulthood, hopefully clutching that job application—and would be a big boost to his presidential campaign.

It would also be worthy of that iconic Madonna of the Trail standing in front of the Post Office in Bethesda, Maryland—just outside of Washington, D.C.—representing resolute determination and steadfastness in the face of great odds—precisely what’s needed to meet this and every other daunting challenge facing America.

The Madonna is one of twelve monuments commissioned by the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution that dot the National Old Trails Road, extending from Maryland to California—roughly the trail the candidates will follow in 2012, a trail now littered with reminders of American decline under almost three years of Obama’s wanting “leadership.”  Also known as the Oceans-to-Oceans Highway, this 2,448 mile long highway began in New York City, traversed Baltimore and Bethesda, eventually wending its way through the southwest, along what became the famed Route 66 highway, and finally ending at the shores of the Pacific in California

All twelve monuments were dedicated in 1928, and now, 83 years later, are presiding over a crumbling America, of which the Post Office’s decline is a clear and startling example. 

The Post Office survived the telephone, the telegraph but may not survive the Internet and Obama, who ironically marshaled the power of the Internet to win—resulting, it seems clearer day by excruciating day, in America losing big. 

But, hope—and help you can believe in—is on the way in the form of competency, experience and heart such as Romney possesses.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Heck of a Job, Obama!

By Mary Claire Kendall

As we mark the 6th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, it's increasingly clear, the really big storm headed our way is economic... 

It's the lull before the storm—the perfect storm. No, not another Irene or, even worse, Katrina.

The really nasty storm that awaits us is economic.

As everyone focused on Irene, our growth rate for the second quarter weighed in at a paltry 1%—revised downward from the reported 1.3% at the end of July.

People crowd Wall Street after the Stock Market Crash of 1929.
Credit: The Authentic History Center, Michael Barnes.
The stock market’s gyrations—reminiscent of the volatility preceding “The Crash of 1929,” compared then to Coney Island’s “Cyclone” roller coaster—is reflecting fear over our seriously ill economy, still laden down with massive debt and corruption that favors “too big to fail” institutions, whose misdeeds during the 2008 financial meltdown have been rewarded with more favoritism at the little guy’s expense.

Before President Obama escaped to Martha’s Vineyard—instead of a more humble location where he could have listened to and felt Americans’ pain—the market was down 635 points, up 430 points, (then came S&P’s downgrade), down 520 points, up 423 points, and down 419 points—in just two weeks.

Obama’s plummeting polls, in turn, are reflecting dissatisfaction with his anemic response to the anemic economy.

But, now, we’re assured, he started developing that jobs plan on lush Martha’s Vineyard, which he’ll unveil early September. What about January 2009? Why not then, when it was job one? What? He needs golfing on Martha’s Vineyard to get creative? Thus, all we got was that boondoggle trillion dollar stimulus we were assured was needed to keep the unemployment rate, now 9.1%, below 8%?

Meanwhile, Americans are battening down the hatches to try to weather this perfect storm barreling our way from Europe, collapsing under the weight of its own dismal growth and debt-laden consequences, making growth less likely and the vicious cycle prefiguring global economic collapse—in the absence of leadership—more likely.

Leadership, you say? Yes, leadership! The absence of which Ruth Marcus was one of the first to broach six months ago in her “Obama’s Where’s Waldo Presidency?” piece, noting, “On the biggest issues, the president is often hard to find.”

Everyone was aghast. But, she was only stating the obvious. By now, it’s a steady drumbeat, with Mort Zuckerman recently writing about Obama’s “competency crisis” in the Wall Street Journal.

Admittedly, to some, the need for Obama leadership is still a foreign concept. As Jonathan Capehart mused on “Morning Joe”—also on Friday, August 26—what can the president do to create jobs?

It all calls to mind the Saturday Night Live spoof of the 2008 Hillary-Obama debates. Whereas she was treated to boxing gloves, Obama was asked, Are you comfortable and do you need another pillow?

It’s confounding that in the midst of incalculable suffering, given Obama’s apparent cluelessness over how to nurse the ailing economy back to health—the unemployment rate among 16-24 year-olds, April-July, alone, was 51.2%, highest since 1948, when that statistic began being calculated—that anyone would give Obama a mulligan.

Notwithstanding, I would say, no, Obama can do nothing to create jobs—unless he transforms himself and does what great presidents do, namely: inspire the nation with a driving dream; eliminate job-choking regulation; lower job-killing taxes; support community banks that lend money to small businesses that create most jobs, instead of big banks courtesy zero percent interest rates, that, the Fed just announced, will be maintained through 2013—the same community banks that, because they know how to make responsible mortgage loans, hold the key to cleaning up the mortgage mess; reform health care the smart way by putting patients first instead of bureaucrats—government and insurance—and getting the incentives right.

But, this would require, well greatness, and really and truly falling in love with America.

And, that might be too much for a president who only inspires coddling.

Postscript: On Friday, September 2, the Labor Department reported zero jobs were created in August—such a dismal number not seen since 1945!  

Monday, August 8, 2011

China Global Cyberattack?

by Mary Claire Kendall

William "Wild Bill" Donavan
on the cover of Life Magazine

Washington, DC, August 7, 2011The Department of Defense (DOD) is now treating cyberspace as an "operational domain."

As Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn explained on "Charlie Rose" last October, it's a whole new command—CYBERCON—focused on preparing for "emerging cyber threats." The new "Cyber Strategy," as Deputy Defense Secretary Lynn outlined, holds that:
...our posture in cyberspace must mirror the posture we assume to provide security for our nation overall. Namely, our first goal is to prevent war. We do this in part by preparing for it...
This presupposes we have an enemy threatening us with cyber warfare.

Is China a purveyor of such threats?

It's hard to know. But, the recent McAfee report released in conjunction with the Black Hat and Defcon conferences in Las Vegas at which security experts and hackers meet to discuss the growing threat of cyber intrusions, should give pause to those tasked with defending our nation against such attacks.

The 14-page report all but accuses China of launching a five-year hacking operation aimed at a diverse array of over 70 organizations—including the US government, particularly its national security apparatus; UN Secretariat in Geneva; and US Olympic Committee—using malicious software from a single computer server to troll for sensitive data, as reported in The Daily Telegraph.

If true—a big if—China is not so much a "strategic competitor," in former President George W. Bush's words, as an "unscrupulous competitor," as Dmitri Alperovitch, McAfee vice president for threat research, described the perpetrator of this massive hacking scheme—robbing us of "economic advantage and national secrets."

"This," he added, "is the biggest transfer of wealth in terms of intellectual property in history."

Others say, not so fast. It's easy to mask cyber crimes in someone else's guise. However, the fact that USOC was hacked before the 2008 Olympic Games China hosted, heightens suspicion.

In the days when Reagan officials were referring to the Soviet Union as "the evil empire," China was considered "the threat," along the lines discussed in The China Threat by national security journalist Bill Gertz.

The worry then was that China's espionage was siphoning off nuclear secrets.

Upping the ante, Rear Admiral David L. Philman recently called China "a smart and learning enemy" in a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. However we describe it—and whoever the source—the end game is to try and deal America a fatal blow.

We may be closer than we realize.

As Gertz reported vis-à-vis Kevin Freeman's 2009 unclassified report, Economic Warfare: Risks and Responses: "Chinese military officials publicly have suggested using economic warfare against the U.S.," which principally involves cyber attacks to take advantage of our economic vulnerabilities."  

"The new battle space," says Freeman, "is the economy. We spend hundreds of billions of dollars on weapons systems each year. But a relatively small amount of money focused against our financial markets through leveraged derivatives or cyber efforts can result in trillions of dollars in losses. And, the perpetrators can remain undiscovered."

Freeman believes a coordinated plan of attack is currently underway.

As this author wrote on April 29, in "America's Fiscal High Noon":
Right now, it's 1941 all over again… We're just months away from another Pearl Harbor — potentially — and all we hear from President Barack Obama and company, as Governor Haley Barbour (R-MS) puts it, is "happy talk." ...According to... Freeman, what's referred to as "Bear Raid II" — phase III of an economic terrorist attack against the United States — is poised to fatally hit the U.S. Treasury and the U.S. dollar, causing the collapse of America's economy.
With DOD on the case, working synergistically with General David H. Petraeus, new Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), replacing Leon Panetta, new DOD Secretary—we have a fighting chance of avoiding such a calamity.

But, it will take a well-coordinated effort involving many more entities, perhaps akin to that William "Wild Bill" Donovan, Major General, US Army (Ret.) undertook at FDR's request, prior to Pearl Harbor, as Coordinator of Information, starting in July 1941—COI, morphing into the Office of Strategic Services, which later became the CIA—to mount the kind of effort needed to head cyber attacks off at the pass, and at their source—whatever that might be.

Originally published in AND Magazine on August 6, 2011.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

What, Compromise?: As Speaker John Boehner Said, "It can Be Done!"

By Mary Claire Kendall

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)
Credit: Associated Press

There was a time, way back in 1995, when Congress actually cared about balancing its budget.

Remember the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget Act?

It's what gave President Bill Clinton bragging rights to a surplus by the end of his term. That and President George H.W. "read my lips, no new taxes" Bush's tax increase, which paved the way to Clinton's growing economy and balanced budgets.

But, President Barack Obama doesn't have such a rich political inheritance. The missing "H" in his predecessor's name made all the difference in the world to Obama's success.

And, one thing Congress can do is read polls, especially the polls showing that since Obama's "Eat Your Peas" press conference on June 29, he's tanked in voter approval.

Having offered no real solutions or leadership, instead preferring to scold Congress—and sic the American public on Congressional switchboard operators—the President has basically painted himself into a corner, with a bowl of peas to eat all by himself.

As Frank Newport of Gallup reported this week:
    President Obama is in a somewhat more perilous situation now, based on his job approval ratings, than was President Clinton in late 1995, when Clinton faced off against Gingrich over similar budget issues. Clinton's job approval rating was above 50% during most of the shutdown, and continued at that level from February 1996 through the November election, which he won. Obama's job approval ratings in recent weeks have been significantly lower.

Look for further erosion in his polls given anemic economic growth the Commerce Department reported on July 29: the second quarter's 1.3% GDP growth, much less than expected; the first quarter revised down from 1.9% to .4%.

Of course, the Tea Party Caucus may yet revive Obama's sinking fortunes instead of the economy. Apparently the wisdom Republican leaders hoped The Town would impart, is still sinking in, namely: "… this not f#%*ing around thing is about to go both ways."

Is Washington a great place, or what?

But, presuming, in James Carville's words, the Tea Party Caucus finally "takes the white flag"—and House passage early Friday night of the Boehner plan is a hopeful sign—Obama will then perform one function: signing or vetoing the bill raising the debt ceiling.

Now, for the actual "solution":

Congress is apparently coalescing around some semblance of the plans offered by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), with a dash of McConnell and G-6 Plans—seasoned legislators' practical genius—added in for good measure, i.e., to help the measures pass!

The Boehner plan seems very reasonable—raising the debt ceiling by $900 billion until February 2012 for $917 billion in CBO-certified cuts; instituting budget caps to guard against budget creep; while, just like Reid's plan, a "committee" of six Democrat and six Republican Members of Congress sort out the other roughly $2 trillion in cuts and revenue increases, derived from a reformed tax code oriented toward job-creation. 

Remember The Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget Act?

Even the Missouri Compromise needed a committee to achieve its success!

Boehner is basically saying, let's come back in six months and see how the patient is doing. Maybe Uncle Sam's meds will need to be adjusted, but at least he'll be on the right track. Reid prefers raising the debt limit in one fell swoop by $2.5 trillion, for $2.4 trillion in CBO-certified cuts, lasting through the 2012 election.

The real sweetener will be achieved by focusing on "where the jobs are"—since job creation is what will ultimately dig us out of the hole.

Boehner argues jobs come predominantly from the private sector and excessive taxes kill jobs, which Reid apparently agrees with given his "no taxes" plan. As Boehner said in his concise remarks to the nation on Monday, July 25:

   These are difficult times… Millions are looking for work, have been for some time, and the spending binge going on in Washington is a big part of the reason why. Before I served in Congress, I ran a small business in Ohio. I was amazed at how different Washington, DC operated than every business in America. Where most American businesses make the hard choices to pay their bills and live within their means, in Washington more spending and more debt is business as usual. I've got news for Washington—those days are over.

Obama's "fair" and "balanced" approach, on the other hand, emphasizes government "investments" to help Americans get jobs, not create them.

Boehner's plan—what's "doable," in his opinion—is Reid's plan, but in two steps, lest the time-honored tradition of "Washington gimmicks" and "phony accounting" be allowed to overtake this mad dash to cobble together, at the 11th hour, a bill just to get the debt ceiling raised—conveniently through the 2012 election.

The six-month check up would focus sharply on what's at stake in the 2012 election—whether government should pick winners and losers; or give us the freedom to chart our own economic course—America's foundational principle.

The Tea Party's request, in the spirit of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings, that a balanced budget amendment be added to the bill, would help advance the latter vision.

But, most of all it's time for action and achieving what's possible—not the ideal.

As Speaker Boehner said in his remarks on the Floor of the U.S. House of Representatives Friday before the vote on his bill, quoting President Ronald Reagan (quoting Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle), "IT CAN BE DONE!"

Published for the first time on American Politics and Policy, Wednesday, September 28, 2011.

Originally published in AND Magazine on Saturday, July 30, 2011.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Compromise: The "Genius" of America

By Mary Claire Kendall

Given the perspective of time, it's crystal clear that to compromise you need a partner who is dealing in good faith. Unfortunately President Obama continues to play games, today trotting out a Rose Garden tax increase, knowing it’s DOA, which actually makes Grover Norquist’s position, referenced herein, seem more reasonable and strategically wise.  As then Governor Ronald Reagan told Johnny Carson in 1975, when asked about how he would balance the federal budget, the same way you protect your virtue – by learning how to say “no.”  But, as Reagan also said, politics is the “art of the possible.”    
                                       - Mary Claire Kendall, September 19, 2011

Sketch of Bull Run battle by "Mr. Davenport." 

Washington, DC, July 21, 2011 – Echoing loudly, on this, the 150th anniversary of the First Battle of Bull Run—the Civil War’s first real battle—is a powerful lesson.

As Shelby Foote reflected in Ken Burns’ The Civil War, this “enormous catastrophe” erupted “because we failed to do the thing we really have a genius for, which is compromise.”

“Americans,” he continued in that soothing Mississippi drawl of his, “like to think of themselves as uncompromising. Our true genius is for compromise. Our whole government’s founded on it and it failed.”

Compromise founded our nation; wrote our Constitution; and defused the simmering conflict over slavery’s expansion, between pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions, every thirty years since George Washington's first inauguration—in 1790, 1820 and 1850.

The Missouri Compromise of 1820 prohibited slavery in the former Louisiana Territory north of the parallel 36°30’ north except within the boundaries of Missouri (proposed state). Prior to this agreement, the House of Representatives had steadfastly eschewed compromise. But, then a conference committee was appointed, paving the way to the solution.

Only when North and South factional leaders refused to budge off their ideological positions did their struggle boil over into Civil War.

Some Things Never Change.

Of course, the North had a point—as does Grover Norquist and Republican politicians he holds in check. Slavery was wrong and had to be eliminated. And, taxes to pay for excess spending are wrong, so excess spending must be eliminated. But, then so did the South—as does House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and her fellow progressives. While not a perfect analogy, the South was intent on maintaining states’ rights to run their affairs without federal interference. And, entitlements, bankrupting our country, must continue—without reality’s interference—no matter how much they shackle our future.

States’ rights is what motivated General Robert E. Lee, who owned no slaves himself, to accept command of the Confederate Army, instead of President Abraham Lincoln’s offer to command the Union Army. When faced with that decision, siding with Virginia, “my country,” as he called his beloved state, was his only choice.

Of course, it didn’t need to come to that.

And, neither does it today, figuratively-speaking, except for one troubling fact—the same troubling fact that existed in 1865: The political center—where compromise lives—is barely breathing.

As in 1861, today two great factions have commandeered the debate on the national stage and are talking past each other.

Civil War erupted "because we failed to do the thing we really have a genius for, which is compromise."   - Shelby Foote

The Tea Party, claiming a large stake in the Republican Party, given their House of Representative wins in the 2010 elections, insists cuts alone—no new taxes—must close the $2.5 trillion budget gap through roughly November 7, 2012, that, by an amazing coincidence, gets President Barack Obama past the next election.

The Progressives, who hold great sway over the Democratic Party, insist revenue increases, beyond closing loopholes for corporate jets, and cuts to Defense—definitely not entitlements or other favored social programs—solve the problem.

What a mess!

Fortunately, there are signs of compromise, including the “Gang of Six” plan for $4 trillion in cuts paired with revenue increases in a 4:1 ratio, albeit, there’s no way this plan can be “scored” in time; as well as “The McConnell Plan,” linked to doable cuts identified in the Biden talks.

But, will the entrenched factions budge? That's the $2.5 trillion question.

Ironically, like the Tea Partiers of today, Washingtonians who went out to watch the First Battle of Bull Run on a Sunday afternoon 150 years ago, in Manassas, near the muddy “Bull Run” stream, 30 miles south of Washington, thought it would be great fun. A regular tea party!

They brought their picnic baskets to watch the battle, thinking the Army of the Potomac would whip 'em, thus settling once and for all the decades-old conflict, making the federal government’s role in arbitrating slavery's future pre-eminent.  Instead they witnessed in horror as casualties mounted during the five-hour battle in which General Irvin McDowell’s 28,000-strong Army of the Potomac fought General Pierre Gustave Toutant (PGT) Beauregard's 33,000-strong Confederate States Army.

When all was said and done, 2,900 Northerners and 2,000 Southerners, respectively, were killed, wounded, captured, or missing. Hardly a tea party!

Thus, as we mark today’s anniversary, best to heed warnings regarding the August 2 deadline to raise the debt ceiling, which if disregarded, could result in the largest, fastest tax increase in American history, through steep interest rate hikes.

At which point, Grover, I would watch out for flying pies.

Published for the first time on American Politics and Policy, Wednesday, September 19, 2011.

Originally published in AND Magazine.

"Where Are The Jobs?"

By Mary Claire Kendall

Unemployed men queued outside a Depression soup kitchen opened in Chicago
by Al Capone, in an effort to clean up his public image.  The storefront sign
 reads: "Free Soup, Coffee and Doughnuts for the Unemployed."   
February 1931. 306-NT-165.319c. (american_cities_129.jpg
Credit: Unknown. Source: American Archives.

This column, originally published on July 16, is as relevant as ever.  The situation continues to deteriorate, with "zero" jobs reported in August, a number not seen since 1945; while Obama is still talking about infrastructure projects and job-creation tax credits as the road to recovery. Now packaged as "The American Jobs Act,"  he announced it to great fanfare at a Joint Session of Congress on September 8. Unfortunately, as employers, Americans at large, Republicans and even Democrats, are signaling, his vague plan, costing $447 billion - paid for by small-business-choking tax hikes - fails to revive the private sector's job creating engine. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, has a detailed plan, released September 6, which focuses squarely on the private sector's central role in creating jobs. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), likewise, spoke to Obama's government-as-prime-mover myopia in remarks to the Economic Club of Washington today. "The president's proposals," he said, "are a poor substitute for the pro-growth policies that are needed to remove barriers to job creation in America."  

Washington, DC, July 16, 2011“Where are the jobs?,” House Speaker John Boehner tweeted in the recent “twitter town hall” hosted by President Barack Obama.

It's a fair question.

Two days later, the government reported the unemployment rate edged up to 9.2% in June, from 9.1%, while “real unemployment” was 16.2%. Just 18,000 jobs were added to the U.S. economy—far less than expected, dashing hopes of a fast rebound.

As George Will recently wrote, “Is this the best we can do?”

Obama, in typical fashion, answered Boehner by blaming Republicans—this time for not supporting big “infrastructure and public works programs” to create jobs, the need for which he reiterated in Rose Garden remarks following the dismal jobs report.

Of course, no one argues against the need for repair and construction of roads, railways, bridges, tunnels, sewers, etc.

But, clearly we can do better at reversing the downward trajectory in which over 40 million Americans don’t have a job (14.1 million) or sufficient employment (over 26 million), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—as housing gets weaker, Case Shiller Index recently confirming a double dip in prices.

Long line snaking around building for jobs fair in Atlanta in August 2011.
Credit: Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal & Constitution, via Associated Press.

The first order of business would be to realize that, in Calvin Coolidge’s famous words, “The business of America is business.”

Or, to put it in modern parlance, “It's the private sector, stupid!”

But, the overriding fact is Obama believes government, not the private sector, should be the main jobs engine and solution to the interlocking housing crisis. This, in spite of the fact that the private sector is generating what growth there is. The payroll processing firm ADP reported that 157,000 jobs were created in the private sector in June—still a long way to go before closing the yawning 40,000,000 jobs gap.

Admittedly, some of Obama’s rhetoric is starting to give the nod to the private sector:

“Government,” he said in last weekend’s radio address, “has to start living within its means, just like families do. We have to cut the spending we can't afford so we can put the economy on sounder footing, and give our businesses the confidence they need to grow and create jobs.”

Unfortunately for him and the rest of the country, it’s a little late; besides which, such rhetoric turns off his liberal base.

It’s an unenviable position to be in.

As Karl Rove summed it up in “Why Obama Is Likely to Lose in 2012”: “…he faces four serious threats. The economy is very weak and unlikely to experience a robust recovery by Election Day. Key voter groups have soured on him. He's defending unpopular policies. And he's made bad strategic decisions.”

A line outside the State Temporary Relief Administration in New York City
 on November 24, 1933.  Credit: Associated Press.
During the Great Depression, national unemployment rate reached 25 percent, 
13 million people were unemployed and 100,000 businesses failed.  
Now the effective unemployment rate is approaching 20% 
and some 40 million have insufficient or no employment.
Like Herbert Hoover, heedless of the Great Depression’s economic reality, Obama, until recently, was telling Americans prosperity is just around the corner; albeit now he’s signaling we've got a long way to go before we turn that corner. Indeed we do. As Martin Feldstein, Harvard Economics Professor, Chairman of President Ronald Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers and former President of National Bureau for Economic Research, recently wrote, the economy’s near-term outlook is “weak at best.” Yet, “fundamental policy changes will probably have to wait until after the presidential and congressional elections in November 2012.”

Ironically, Hoover could not see his way clearly to supporting direct cash assistance to starving, jobless Americans, when there was none; whereas, Obama cannot see his way clearly to unleashing definitively private sector job-creating energies, when there's an abundance—even though it would stimulate a tax revenue gusher to melt the debt and fund his cherished infrastructure projects.

One of the only small businesses in America
not burdened by the heavy hand of Washington regulation, 

albeit  Montgomery County, MD could be more biz-friendly.
Hoover was resoundingly defeated in 1932—one of 10 incumbents, out of 31, who have lost re-election since our nation's founding.

Obama is on track to become #11.

His only hope, it seems—absent a miracle—is that Republicans, like Democrats in 2008, will nominate someone who is charismatic and inexperienced. Unfortunately for him, however, the Obama “experiment,” as Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney calls it, has inoculated even Republican primary voters against that possibility, as a recent Iowa poll demonstrated.

Voters clearly want out of this Great Recession.

"The line of 4,000 hopefuls stretched from a fifth-floor hotel ballroom
 to the cold street below, snaking around the block."
 New York Daily News,  March 6, 2009Credit: Watts/News.
 How many of these folks are still unemployed or underemployed,  
or, discouraged,  have simply dropped out of the labor market, their  
99 week unemployment benefits  having long ago run out?

"The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for unemployment 
benefits earlier this month jumped to a 26-year high.  And by the looks 
of these lines at job fairs  across the country, who knows when it will  get better."   
 New York Daily News,  March 6, 2009,  Credits: Sullivan/Getty.  
Of course, as we now know from the perspective of almost three years
 under Obama's leadership,  it's not gotten better, it's gotten worse - much worse.

Published for the first time on American Politics and Policy, Wednesday, September 15, 2011.

Hooverville, 1932.  Credit: Unknown.

Originally published in AND Magazine, 7/16/11.