Accountability: Michael Steele at Benedictine University

“When the people fear the government there is tyranny, when the government fears the people there is liberty.” Thus began Michael Steele, quoting Thomas Jefferson, in his address at Benedictine University Wednesday night. I was fortunate to have the former head of the RNC and current analyst on MSNBC speaking a mere twenty minutes from my home. As I sat there among a cross-section of students and the general public, I got that instinctive chill that Founding Father quotes always give me when spoken by Republicans. I thought to myself, “uh oh, here we go again with a speech that compares Barack Obama to King George III”. Of course, this was not the Michael Steele I had come to admire from his appearances on MSNBC and to my great relief his address did not go in the Obama-as-tyrant direction.

Steele did say, however, that he sensed a fear among Americans as he traveled the country, a fear borne mostly of economic uncertainty. He commented that people want to work for their own dreams, not for others and that no one wakes up in the morning saying “I think I’d like to be poor today”.  Although it has been stated by both candidates and might be considered hyperbole by some, I agree with Steele when he says this election is about no less than what kind of country we want to be:

  • Redistribution of wealth vs ownership of wealth
  • Public sector vs private sector
  • Big government vs limited government

This is when Steele broached what I would say was the overarching theme of his talk, accountability. He finds that neither campaign is specifically tackling these alternative visions of what our country will be. Neither party is comfortable with accountability. Each prefers to play the blame game or kick the can down the road. Steele shared a prescription for better accountability. He said that when politicians get elected they should treat their term as the only chance they will get to effect change. This is contrary to the current mode of running for your next term as soon as you win the current election. Steele recounted his time as Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, a position that was a long shot victory in the traditionally Democratic state. His attitude was that his good fortune at being elected made it imperative that he treat the term as potentially his only term and get stuff done. It is almost reminiscent of Martin Luther King’s “fierce urgency of now.”

Staying on this theme of accountability, Steele reminded the audience that George W. Bush increased federal spending by 41% in his eight years without apology and Barack Obama has followed suit by accelerating this spending. Hand in hand with the spending was lots of borrowing and the bank note will come due someday. Steele expressed some frustration with both political conventions, suggesting that the lesson learned from the GOP convention is you don’t give Clint Eastwood a spotlight on the evening of the nominee’s acceptance speech. He was equally unimpressed with the Democratic convention which he implied pandered to Hispanics by promoting Julian Castro as the Democratic answer to Marco Rubio.

Steele offered two political lessons that he lives by:

  1. You can’t do it all at once but you have to start. He has zero tolerance for folks who say “we can’t do it because it’s never been done that way.”
  2. You can’t please everyone but you can piss everyone off at the same time. If this happens remember lesson 1.

Of course, as a liberal, I would contend that “Obamacare” is a fine example of Steele’s lessons. It is a start and it certainly pissed off just about everyone.

In closing his prepared remarks, Steele returned to accountability one last time, this time audience accountability. He reminded us of the gravity of this election and that the direction of this country will be decided by our vote. If we don’t vote, we cannot complain.

Q&A

I took note of a few audience questions, including one from your’s truly. I’ll paraphrase the questions and Michael’s answers.

Q. What are your thoughts on the new voter id laws and do you believe they disenfranchise potential voters?

A. Steele opined that voter fraud is real, citing cases of votes being found in trunks of cars. He said that the primary problem with the voter id “clean up” efforts is poor communication and poor implementation demonstrated by the huge push-back the laws are getting. Having politicians explicitly tie the laws to Romney’s election only made matters worse, a clear reference to Mike Turzai of Pennsylvania. Registration of valid voters should be made as easy as possible. His bottom line was “If they take the vote away then you are not free.” (It is worth noting that votes being found in the trunks of cars is not solved by the current voter id laws. A good follow-up question for Mr. Steele would have been, is there any evidence of an identification problem at the polls and if so, what is the incidence of it?)

Q. Your thoughts on government spending?

A. Steele rejected the guns or butter paradigm saying that we can come up with the appropriate spending priorities that don’t neglect military or non-military issues. However it cannot be done without a budget. He lauded Paul Ryan for at least putting something on the table (see political lesson #1 from his prepared remarks) and he scolded Senate Majority Lead Harry Reid for failing to produce a budget for several years.

Q. What about a third party?

A. Steele said that the powers that be within both the Democratic and Republican parties have made it next to impossible for an independent candidate to succeed on a national scale. The focus needs to be on third party candidates at the local and state level.

Q. I asked Steele about Romney’s recently revealed remarks about the 47% of the electorate who are not worthy of his time. I asked whether this fueled the already bad reputation of Romney as out of touch, and the reputation of the Republican Party in general.

A. Steele said that it is very valid to question the degree of dependence fostered by a too-powerful federal government. However he acknowledged that 47% cited by Romney cast the net a bit too wide, even including some Republicans. “We compete for every vote. I do not want to see this party marginalized,” said Steele. He suggested that Romney is not getting the best advice from his campaign team.

As the night drew to a close, I pondered how different a night it would have been had the speaker been Reince Priebus, the current RNC Chairman. As far as I am concerned Priebus exemplifies what is wrong with the current GOP. He is divisive, confrontational, tactless and comes across as an Obama-hater. Michael Steele in person, confirmed my impression of him on the political shows. Steele demonstrates humor, class and a positive agenda for our future. If anyone could seduce me to “change sides”, it would be Steele. Sadly, I get the impression that his party has left him behind. His victory in architecting the massive Republican wins of 2010 turned out to be a triumph of quantity over quality. Even Steele thought aloud to the crowd Wednesday night, talking to the Congressional class of 2010, “what have you done for us lately?”

While I felt that the lack of appreciation he gets from his own party still stings, I am impressed by his refusal “to go away”. It is ironic that the uber-liberal MSNBC is providing a forum for one of the saner voices in conservative politics. And true to his sensible political style, Steele welcomes the forum and takes full advantage of it.

At the risk of being labeled a “suck-up” I prefaced my question to the Chairman by saying he should have his own show on MSNBC. If the President of MSNBC, Phil Griffin happens to read this … the ball is in your court Sir.

Respectfully,
Rutherford

Photo credit: R. Lawson

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The Night of the SOTU: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

OK, I lied. Tuesday night’s State of the Union spectacle ranged from the not so sublime to the not as ridiculous as we might have expected. Unfortunately every time Barack Obama speaks the expectations are sky-high. Many hoped for soaring rhetoric that would give a worried nation the security of knowing we have a plan to get us out of this economic slump.  The rhetoric was hardly soaring and the plan was vague at best. Even liberal pundits who avoid criticism of Obama at all costs could not avoid the seeming contradiction of a five-year freeze in discretionary spending coupled with a 1960’s space-race like initiative to increase our global competitiveness. How do we improve our education and technology without investment? How do we invest with a freeze in discretionary spending? MSNBC commentator Lawrence O’Donnell called it a mathematical puzzle with no solution. The other assertion made by the President that was awfully hard to swallow was that any bill with earmarks would be vetoed by him. Senate Leader Harry Reid has already gone on the record calling this notion absurd. I suppose the only highlight from the speech was Obama’s reasonable suggestion that health care reform had room for improvement and that should be pursued. Repeal of course, is not the answer.

Sometimes the annual mandatory drudgery of the State of the Union is at least enlivened by the sports arena atmosphere on the House floor. When Obama says a great lib talking point, the Democrats rise from the seats and cheer. The Republicans sit on their hands. Every once in a while everyone rises. But not this year. This year the ghost of the very much alive but badly wounded Gabby Giffords cast a pall on the whole affair. In a show of “civility” many Republicans and Democrats agreed to sit together, tossing out the unwritten convention of segregated seating. At first, I loved the idea. It meant that each Congressman would have to decide when to clap based on the merits of the speech and not on “peer pressure”. But the bottom line was this reduced the number of standing ovations and applause breaks. At one point, when Obama made a fish joke about Washington bureaucracy, it reminded me of Bill Maher waiting for applause after a stinker joke. I actually liked Obama’s joke but it still went over awkwardly.

After Obama gave us lukewarm confidence in the year ahead, Republican Representative Paul Ryan came along with the GOP response and warned us we’re going to hell in a hand-basket. Do not ever let this man staff a suicide hotline. I will say however, that his performance beat the crap out of Bobby Jindal two years ago and what’s his name last year. One commentator today said the job of the GOP response is to “do no harm” and Ryan achieved that. He sounded reasoned and competent even if you disagree with his politics.

The rank and file GOPhers would love to have left it at that but someone whispered into the echo chamber that is Michele Bachmann’s head, that she should deliver her own State of the Union response geared toward the Tea Party. And so, streamed live on the Tea Party Express web site was Michele Bachmann. Having just said a day or so earlier that our Founding Fathers worked tirelessly until slavery was abolished (I kid you not), one should have expected Bachmann to be totally ridiculous Tuesday night. Well, she was only slightly ridiculous. She came with props, most notably charts telling us what we already knew about spending over the past few years. She joined Ryan’s chorus of how ineffective Obama supposedly was over the past two years. She might have gotten through her completely unnecessary oration clean as a whistle were it not for two things.

First, CNN decided Bachmann’s speech was worth covering live. So, using a Fox camera feed (OMG … CNN in bed with Fox just days after Olbermann leaves MSNBC … be afraid, be very afraid) CNN showed us Bachmann delivering her speech … wait for it … to the Tea Party camera somewhere off stage right. The result was that most of us wondered what imaginary friend Michele was talking to for the entire speech. It was one of the more bizarre errors in optics ever to be witnessed, and indeed toppled the record holder, Mr. Bobby Jindal and his odd look of two years ago.

But the kicker for me on the content side was the way Bachmann concluded the speech, citing the soldiers at Iwo Jima (which she could not pronounce) and somehow suggesting that Japanese tyranny which we defeated in the 1940’s was equivalent to Washington tyranny today. So of course she was calling for us to defeat this tyranny once again. Fortunately, she stopped short of explicitly requesting second amendment remedies.

After sitting through Tuesday night’s display, I longed for the days from Thomas Jefferson through William Howard Taft, when Presidents literally mailed it in. No public speech and no need for opposing rebuttal. Let’s face it, every year the night pretty much amounts to the President setting unachievable goals and the opposition calling him a liar.

Well at least this year, no one actually yelled “you lie” from the floor.

Respectfully,
Rutherford

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Two From the Asylum and Another Obama Misstep

The past week produced some doozies from the GOP asylum.

An Idea No One Could Possibly Bawk, Bawk, Bawk At

First we get Nevada Senatorial hopeful Sue Lowden who suggests that bartering for your medical services is a good alternative to the current health care legislation. Heck, according to her it used to work fine. You went to your doctor and if you couldn’t afford to pay him, you offered him a chicken. When this brain-dead fool was offered the chance to explain her way out of such insanity, she stuck to her guns. In a world where Sarah Palin is viewed by some as a domestic and foreign policy expert, we can expect just about anything. So I strongly recommend, before Sue gets elected and the chicken plan becomes law that you visit the Medical Chicken Calculator just so you know how much chicken to buy before you get sick. An appendectomy for example will cost you 1,019 chickens.

I actually have an idea that Harry Reid can counter with. If I’m not mistaken, Reid grew up in a house of prostitution. Now can any of you think of an interesting barter system that ties into the world’s oldest profession? I sure can!

May I See Your Papers?

Lunacy must be contagious since Nevada’s southeast neighbor, Arizona had a touch of whacked out legislation this past week. Everyone knew that the Arizona legislature had passed a bill allowing police to demand evidence of legal immigrant status from folks they pulled over. Few thought Governor Jan Brewer would be crazy enough to sign it but sign it she did. The new law is ripe for abuse as few blond light-skinned folks are going to be asked to prove they are here legally. From my travels on other blogs, I’ve seen the case made that we already have laws requiring immigrants to carry with them at all times proof of their legal right to be here (I guess, green card, etc.). It has also been stated that cops can already arrest you if you refuse to provide identification when asked. These points are made in defense of the law. Here is where I am lost.

If it is already the law that legal immigrants should carry a form of proof of “legality” and it is already the law that everyone must produce id when asked by a policeman, then why on Earth do we need the Arizona legislation? Other than create a public relations nightmare for Arizona, what value does this new law add? By signing this easily misunderstood redundant legislation into law, Jan Brewer has bought her state a world of hurt. Since the law suits have already started and the Justice Department is already on alert, Jan better hurry up and jump to the chase. Get those un-American folks lined up and tattoo numbers on their arms while you’ve got the legislative momentum going for you!

Obama Did Not Read My Last Post

Well okay, I didn’t really expect the POTUS to be reading the Rutherford Lawson Blog but I sure wish he did. This time he tripped so badly that Rush Limbaugh actually had a good point. Yes, you will hear this from me only once so listen carefully … Rush Limbaugh was right (sort of).

Obama still does not understand that remarks addressed at a niche audience get heard by everyone. In a video aimed at DNC donors and OFA members, Obama urged that we get out the vote for “young people, African-Americans, Latinos and women”. Watch for yourself at the 1:58 mark.

My immediate reaction was “oh no he didn’t!” Whether intentionally or not, Obama implied that the older white male vote was either unimportant to him or a lost cause. The simple truth is without a decent portion of elder white males, Obama would not be President today (this is true of EVERY President). So after I caught my breath, I hoped against all hope that no one else would notice this. Alas, the blowhard loved by Conservatives everywhere, Rush Limbaugh, heard Obama loud and clear and worked it for all it was worth.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I think Rush Limbaugh is one of the worst things to happen to broadcast media. However, in this case, Rush raises a reasonable question. (Sorry Ed Schultz.) I’ve got a news flash for our President. Barack, white people matter. They have valid concerns just like minorities do. If you continue to make them feel ignored or marginalized, you will not only ruin any chance for a positive Democratic outcome in 2010, you will end up a one term President.

Respectfully,
Rutherford

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