Tuesday, July 15, 2008

President Bush Past the Expiration Date

It was bad enough when, under the pretext of snuffing out weapons of mass destruction, President George W. Bush thrust the United States into a war in Iraq that now appears virtually intractable.

It became worse when, with no plan beyond the site of the air carrier deck, Mr. Bush declared "mission accomplished" when the mission clearly was nowhere near accomplished, no matter how inadequately the Bush Administration had set forth a mission statement.

It became worse yet when the Administration, the Administration that, upon taking control of the White House, announced that "the grownups" were in charge, outed an active CIA operative over a petty squabble with the operative's spouse.

Yes, as far back as 2003, the United States' predicament with the current occupant of the White House was dire. But Mr. Bush's Tuesday press conference--his first since April as he attempts to stay out of the news and out of the minds and hearts of voters--sent a signal to all Americans that the days of 2002 were indeed heady compared to the days of 2008. And, more significantly, the press conference serves as exhibit A as to why the United States ought to amend the U.S. Constitution to allow for mid-term removal of Presidents.

Lame duck presidents are something up with which Americans have had to put since the passage of the twenty-second Amendment to the Constitution in 1951. That Amendment stipulates that "No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice." The twenty-second Amendment was passed in response to the four-term presidency of FDR, who was so riddled with complications from polio that he was barely able to finish out a third term, let alone make much of a go of his fourth term.

Though the twenty-second Amendment clearly was an attempt to rid the U.S. system of an echo of a monarchical system, it had the unfortunate lasting detriment of imposing upon the U.S. electorate what has come charitably to be known as the "lame duck" presidency for any President elected to a second term. This has been particularly true of second-term Presidents in a divided system.

Since the passage of the twenty-second Amendment, five U.S. Presidents have been elected to a second term after serving one full term. Of the five, four finished their second term, with all four facing a congress controlled by the opposing party in their final term in office.

Until George W. Bush stepped back into the White House for a second term, a case could be made that, despite factors working against them, all three previous "lame duck" Presidents at least managed some progress, with Eisenhower, facing Soviet aggression and inheriting a military-industrial complex that he failed to conquer, arguably having the least amount of success.

Despite Eisenhower's difficulties, the former WWII General nevertheless stands, along with Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, as among the most popular Presidents in U.S. history at the time of leaving office. Unfortunately, for reasons that history will support, the current Bush President cannot and will not be able to make the same statement.

Poor policy and lack of forthrightness with the American public notwithstanding, Mr. Bush's second-term offers a vivid portrayal of why the U.S. system requires amending. For not only is Mr. Bush the principal behind numerous failed policies of action and inaction, he is also now challenging what is plain for all to see. Such stubbornness has made any traction on the myriad difficult issues facing the United States virtually impossible. Mr. Bush's Tuesday press conference, merely belies such intractability.

Attempting to allay public concerns about what appears to be a quickly degenerating U.S. economic condition, Bush began by recounting a tale that may or may not actually have occurred. ""I happened to witness a bank run in Midland, Texas, one time," Bush told reporters. "I'll never forget the guy standing in the bank lobby, saying, 'Your deposits are good. We got you insured. You don't have to worry about it if you got less than $100,000 in the bank.' The problem was, people didn't hear."

That statement typifies the daftness that appears to run rampant in the current White House. Taking Mr. Bush's own story at his word leaves us with no useful parable. Regardless of whether people heard what the Midland banker was saying, the bank's accounts were insured by the FDIC for accounts up to (rather than less than, as Mr. Bush suggested) $100,000. For the vast majority of Americans, that is the concern.

Clearly, Mr. Bush's concern rests with the proprietors of the bank who brought the bank close enough to the precipice of ruin to induce a run. The bank's failures are apparently lost on Mr. Bush, however, as he laments the downfall of Indymac rather than the significant inconvenience to Indymac's customers and the loss of savings for those with greater than $100,000 invested with Indymac who receive assurances from Indymac just three days prior to the bank's failure that the bank was in good shape.

Also lost on Mr. Bush is what his current proposal to bail out Fannie May and Freddie Mac entails. Mr. Bush contends that the floating of sweetheart Federal Reserve Loans to the two mortgage houses and the federal government's purchase of substantial stock interest in Fannie May and Freddie Mac do not constitute a government bailout of the lenders as both would remain "publicly held" entities. That's not even double-speak, it's simply obtuse.

Mr. Bush cannot call the Government's measures a "bail-out," of course, because, in the Republican lexicon, bail-outs are what Democrats provide. Republicans, meanwhile, let the chaff fall from the wheat--or so we are led to believe.

After more inane comments, Bush took to the stump to chide Democrats for their partisanship, blaming nearly all of the country's current problems on Democrats and accepting none of the blame at his doorstep or at the doorstep of the Republican Party that has controlled the federal government for six of the past eight years.

For a President that once took a shine to President Harry Truman's pronouncement that the buck stops with the President, this President clearly is more talk than action. And that, along with Mr. Bush's virtual inability to garner support or momentum for any meaningful program, calls for a change in command. Unfortunately, the current system requires us to languish under what is surely the lamest of lame ducks in the modern U.S. presidency.

Next: Is Hillary Still Stumping?

Move Over Mr. Carter

Whatever benefit Senator John McCain garnered from Senator Barack Obama's recent missteps, he almost certainly has lost in recent days--and then some. Despite an opening to show the U.S. electorate that his experience on a wide range of issues is what better qualifies him rather than Mr. Obama to serve as President, Mr. McCain continues to beat the tired drum of war while ignoring mounting domestic issues.

On Tuesday, Mr. McCain once again sounded the war cry, declaring "I know how to win wars. And if I'm elected president, I will turn around the war in Afghanistan, just as we have turned around the war in Iraq, with a comprehensive strategy for victory."

Mr. McCain's statements came in the wake of the FDIC's takeover of Indymac, revelations that the federal government is offering a bail-out of mortgage lenders Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae which, combined, hold nearly three trillion dollars worth of U.S. mortgages, continuing erosion of consumer confidence, and testimony by Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, that the U.S. economy faces more trying times over the next year, with inflationary pressures and negligible growth portending ominously for consumers and investors, alike.

While Mr. McCain forges ahead with his campaing philosophy of painting all issues in the cloak of national security and foreign policy, there seems to be no remedy in the McCain platform for dealing with domestic issues. From inflated commodities prices to high energy prices that will not even meet out their greatest burden until the chilling days of winter, Mr. McCain's singular response is that he is most equipped to win wars.

The difficulty for Mr. McCain, of course, is that, while he once stood as a dependable moderate in the Senate, often defying instructions from a belligerent Bush Administration, he now has asserted himself squarely into the Bush camp on both foreign and domestic policy. Like George W. Bush, Mr. McCain has championed the extension of Mr. Bush's tax cuts and off-shore drilling while crusading not only for the current policy in Iraq but for an even greater influx of U.S. troops into the region. None of these measures, however, stand as paramount to most Americans as they might have just six months ago when gas prices were raging wildly upward, government revenues were not in rapid decline, and more thoughtful voices had yet to suggest that the time was nigh for a more international solution to the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As the 2008 election draws ever near, with four of the United States' top mortgage lenders teetering on the brink of collapse, the stock market in a nine-month tailspin, an ethanol policy that is choking consumers, and Iraq not even making front-page news, Mr. McCain is not only in peril of losing whatever claim to being the more prepared President he might once have held, he is fully in danger of becoming the most irrelevant candidate for presidential office since Jimmy Carter lost to Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Up Next: Time for Some British Flavor in American Politics.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Opening The Door

In his latest gambit to garner more of the electorate, U.S. Senator and presumptive democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, has made what might well prove to be a fatal election error. Making a pitch to solidify the southern black vote and perhaps add some Christian conservatives to his base, Mr. Obama has decided to make faith a cornerstone of his campaign.

The issue has been addressed here before, but, what's new is that nothing is new--at least not anything positive for Mr. Obama.

In fact, at this point, the only true positive to come out of Mr. Obama's faith-based campaigning has been to the advantage of Senator and presumptive republican presidential nominee, John McCain.

Prior to calling for greater faith-based initiatives should he attain the oval office, Mr. Obama was regarded as a religious person from a left-wing Church. Now, he is regarded as a religious opportunist by his long-time detractors and as a traitor by some long-time supporters.

The differing views on Mr. Obama's call for increased faith-based initiatives are not surprising--at least not to those outside of camp Obama. Those Democrats who find salvation outside of religious institutions view Mr. Obama's pronouncement with broad skepticism, recalling similar programs by Presidents Reagan, Bush and Bush and how those programs were used to gloss over problems that such programs are ill-equipped to address. For these Democrats, what is disconcerting is not so much that Mr. Obama values faith and organized religion, but that he possibly values both at a cost to more pressing concerns, such as how to deal with faltering banks, a weak economy, looming international issues, and the war in Iraq.

Like these democratic skeptics of Mr. Obama's call for increased funding for faith-based initiatives, conservatives who favor faith-based initiatives as a stepping stone to breaking down the vestiges of the wall separating church and state--at least in so far as that wall pertains soley to Judeo-Christian faiths--have little more than contempt for Mr. Obama. In Mr. Obama's faith-based platform, Christian conservatives see a Democrat attempting nothing more than to connive otherwise Republican voters.

It's a lose-lose proposition for Mr. Obama, yet he continues to play the game--and without even the prospect of being able to claim that he is doing what is right as the entire matter is fraught with subjectivity.

Worse yet for Mr. Obama is that his pandering undoubtedly has improved Christian conservatives' views of Mr. McCain. Long viewed with suspicion for bucking orthodoxy and refusing to participate in the right-wing's assault on Americans' religious sensibilities, Christian conservatives no doubt now consider Mr. McCain a solid ally--if for no other reason than that he has never wavered in his position on religion, except, perhaps, to drift modestly toward the right on religious wedge issues such as abortion and stem cell research.

If Mr. Obama loses the 2008 presidential election, he may well have his determination to court the religious right to blame. And, in an election that will be tighter than most now are predicting, it is not difficult to imagine such a scenario playing out.

Up Next: More Surrogating.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

While the Electorate Slept

At the outset of the Republican and Democratic primaries in 2007, it seemed as though things could not get any worse for the American electorate. Stuck with a lame duck President who had shown no inclination or ability to resolve the United States' most pressing problems, Americans turned away from George W. Bush in droves, driving the woeful President's approval ratings to levels not seen since Harry S Truman found himself battling recession, the Soviets, and his own missteps in Korea. It seemed only Jimmy Carter had reason to beam. But the Democrats at least had reason to hope.

As 2007 gave way to 2008 and Senators John McCain and Barack Obama closed in on their Parties' respective presidential nominations, there even seemed to be some promise that, for the first time in many election years, Americans would benefit from a campaign between two candidates more interested in core issues than in political rhetoric.

Mr. McCain took the first shot at dashing those hopes with the introduction onto the scene of political surrogate and top adviser Charlie Black. Mr. Black's comments that the Republicans would have benefited in 2008 by another terrorist attack and that Mr. McCain, in particular, would be the beneficiary of such an attack, were a not so subtle attempt to keep Americans thinking that a Democratic President would curl up in the fetal position if confronted by terrorist threats--never mind that Republicans continue to borrow their tough talk talking points from the likes of notable Democratic Presidents Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy, all the while glossing over equally famous though more notorious statements by Mrs. Bush and Bush, and entirely ignoring any Republican President--including Ronald Reagan.

Some commentators have suggested that Mr. Obama got his quid pro quo by way of former Hillary Clinton supporter, retired General Wesley Clark. Appearing on Face the Nation, Clark fielded questions from host Bob Schieffer (interview). In response to Mr. Schieffer's insinuation that Mr. McCain has presidential qualifications due to his experience as a fighter pilot in Viet Nam, Mr. Clark replied that he did not think that piloting a fighter plane and getting shot down bore Presidential credentials.

Mr. Schieffer, apparently suprised at a turn away from the anticipated script, could only muster up a feeble "Really?" in response--quite an embarrassing display for such a seasoned newscaster.

Mr. McCain's supporters, as well as reporters bent on showing that they have no preferences in this campaign--nor, apparently, any concern over truly pressing issues that seem to be going unaddressed at this point in the campaign--lambasted Clark for questioning Mr. McCain's military experience (criticism of Mr. Clark).

Mr. Clark's critics missed the point of Mr. Clark's comments, of course, either intentionally or dim-wittedly (see, e.g., CNN's continuing embarrassment). The point, as Mr. Clark made abundantly clear earlier in the interview, was not that Mr. McCain did not have presidential credentials to which he could point. Nor was the point that Mr. McCain did not face hardships in Viet Nam. Instead, the point was that Mr. McCain's experiences in Viet Nam do not, as Mr. McCain continues to suggest, necessarily qualify him to be the President of the United States.

The problem for Mr. McCain--the one that Mr. Clark hit on and that Mr. Schieffer was too slow to pick up on--is that Mr. McCain has become a one-trick-pony. And he has done so by choice.

Unwilling to venture into areas that will lead Americans to probe his true merits for being President, Mr. McCain has elected to cloak himself in his war experiences as the beginning and end of his qualifying experiences to serve as the President of the United States. As the campaign season progresses, that simply will not do. Even swift-boat Republicans understand that much.

Mr. Clark's comments were right on point. So too, however, were Mr. Obama's, when the presumptive Democratic nominee for President implicitly disavowed Mr. Clark's comments and praised Mr. McCain's perserverance as a P.O.W., commitment to the United States, and service as a respected U.S. Senator. Mr. Clark's comments were correct and accurate, but they were not words that Mr. Obama could endorse in the sound-bite form that they had become.

While Mr. Obama was distancing himself from Mr. Clark's comments on Mr. McCain, the electorate once again was being steered--by the candidates as well as by leading news outlets--to focus on the rhetoric rather than each candidate's as yet murky platforms. That's the kind of poor reporting that has cost the United States at least eight years of sound leadership.

And if that were not cause enough for anxiousness among the electorate, other recent developments ought to be. With Mr. Obama making faith-based issues the core of his early platform and Mr. McCain committed to spending nearly one-sixth of a bloated budget on the war in Iraq, it might be difficult for anyone to vote for either candidate in a year in which both candidates appear eminently more qualified than the man who they plan to replace.

Up Next: If You Think It's Butter. . .