Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Let's Focus on the Democratic Response

Mark Warner for president.

Enough bleeding-hearts. It's time for compitent, rational government leadership, and that's exactly what Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine called for (and won on in November). That's exactly why former Gov. Warner has a 70 percent approval rating in the red state, and it's exactly why he should be the nominee in the summer of '08.

No one watched it, but Kaine's speech was pretty compelling, and I think it has a message that will connect with the people Democrats need to win back -- middle Americans who are attracted to messages on social issues like gay marriage and abortion. Kaine did a great job of weaving his values into a call for an energetic government that does its job well and within its means. He called for government that provides its citizens value (as it sounds like Virginia's government does). And he managed to sound compelling (to a New York, Jewish, teacher's union liberal, mind you, so I may not speak for the voters I'm hoping he appeals to) despite a fairly uncompelling delivery and appearance. It didn't include Clinton-esque charisma or rhetorical appeal. It was a simple message that, as he said about 30 times, "America can do better."

We have a couple years to get through, but I'm throwing off my previous calls for a Feingold candidacy -- Warner '08.

State of the Union Fun

SotU Drinking Game: http://drinkinggame.us/

SotU Prediction Quiz: http://www.danahork.com/SOTU2006.htm

Curb the Funny, Please

Ahh... Last night's post from Mr. Polkuote reminds me that he will far out-shine Harry and I. So this is modest request in the pattern of a good friend of mine from my alma mater, George (Jason Alexander): Is there any way you can be morbidly unfunny to make Harry and I look better?

And here's something to whet everyone's appetite for this Tuesday -- tonight, I may well write my first post on education, tackling the juicy topic of accountability and testing. You may be surprised that I don't toe the United Federation of Teachers' line on this one.

It's My Party (And I'll Cry If I Want To)

Ah, there's really nothing like a brand new blog -- fresh and virginal and just waiting for the sort of incisive commentary and invigorating opinions that, well, frankly, you're most likely to find from the other two bloggers here. Some good stuff earlier this evening from them (although now that we've entered the political blogosphere, it seems Harry has decided to forgo total accuracy, but more on that later). There's really no way I'm going to hit that level of stentorian seriousness tonight -- maybe being the farthest from civilization of the trio has warped my gravity, or maybe it's the fact that I write formally to pay the bills -- but for our first night of existence I'd like to tackle an off-beat issue of some timeliness. Specifically, State of the Union viewing parties.

Earlier this evening, the thought was bandied about on a conference call that perhaps Harry, Jerry and I could give a live, minute-by-minute blog of the State of the Union. (Blog rookies we may be, but brilliant ideas have we by the bushel.) Sadly enough, the idea was shot down like a rabid German shepherd. Why? Harry, as he is wont, will be hosting a bit of a boozy gala in celebration of the annual oratory. (I guess the "S" stands for sloshed.) And if I had to make a guess, I would say that ol' Jerry will be watching it in a social setting as well. Will he be "partying" as well? Trust me: I could make his entire name an acronym of synonyms for "hammered" and it would underplay that lad's drinking habits. But as for me, I'll be watching the speech alone. Yes, that's right: I'll be forsaking that stereotypical political junkie celebration.

OK, fair disclosure: I live alone, in a confirmed bachelor environment. (Doubt me? I just ate a dinner of scrambled eggs and hot dogs.) The pittance of a social existence I currently maintain is not the issue -- at least not for this posting -- but it seems others agree with me that a SotU is best watched alone or not watched at all. A favorite of mine, Slate's John Dickerson, wrote a piece on the issue, in which he states my point very well. State of the Union parties "are attended by people who don't care what's happening on the television or people who care too much. Half the room talks while the other half tells them to be quiet," he writes. Indeed, hardly anything said in the State of the Union will be of any import. The ideas floated by GWB tomorrow night will either be rhetoric, plans long since created or something with little chance of full funding. I long for the days, as I'm sure most do, when such a speech could be used for an honest accounting of our nation's situation. It doesn't seem all that long ago when President Ford declared "I must say to you that the state of the Union is not good." Could you imagine that today? You'd be as lucky to listen to a speech from Bush without complete self-support as you would to read an entire book without the letter "E." (Oh, wait.) So, inevitably such gatherings will deteriorate between the factions of those who become bored of the verbal tripe and move to flirtation and debate and those who desperately cling to the desire to hear the whole thing. Nope, I won't be having that problem tomorrow night. I'll be sitting in my IKEA recliner in the soft tranquility of silence around me, as I watch the President set out his complete vision for the year. Or until I turn the damn thing off.

Besides, it all pales in importance to the Oscar noms announcement earlier in the day, anyway.

(Alright, as for Truman's slander of my former boss, Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) -- a man I agree with politically when I'm angry enough to do so -- and the incident one summer years ago. For the record, Pete called Rep. Scott McInnis (R-Colo.) a "fruitcake," not Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.). And because Truman has decided to quote my former employer out of context, I'm morally compelled to supply more information. Here's the full story: Ways and Means Democrats were pissed because Thomas ordered Capitol police to kick them out of a nearby library they had gone to discuss a bill they hadn't seen but had just received a verbal approval from the Republican majority. Republicans justified the police involvement by saying they felt physically "threatened" by then-71-years-old Stark's (who was left in the room to monitor the situation) responding to 50-years-old ex-cop McInnis saying "Go get your medication. You need to take your pills." Yes, Stark's profound response included calling McInnis a "wimp" and a "fruitcake" but as far as the cocksucker comment is concerned, Stark gorgeously told the press: "I'm certain that at some point in the last year I called Chairman Thomas a ' cocksucker,' but not last Friday."

Bottom line: Stark is a bad-ass, and won't take no guff from no one. And, for the record, Bill Thomas wept like a little girl during an apology on the House floor for the incident.)

Note to Gerald: Avoid Blanket Statments

In a blog entry this evening, Gerald Teach-Ford-America wrote, "Too bad we don't have any visionaries in the White House or on the Hill."

To that I say: Aaachuum! Watch out who you insult or this unimaginative Congressional Fellow may accidently leave NYC teachers out of the next permanent tax cut.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Values that Unite Us

As you will soon notice, James, Gerald and I have much to disagree about. Though we're all Democrats, we span the gauntlet, from Stark to Kerry to Lieberman. (For those quick to forget the political gossip of 2003, Fortney Stark is this man, the Congressman who called House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas a "fruit cake" and a "cocksucker." Rumor has it his wife is hot.) And though from time to time I entertain forbidden thoughts of crossing the aisle or starting the American chapter of Kadima, I have never seriously considered changing my registration.

So in the interest of moving Party debate forward, instead of left or right, I will regularly blog about the underlying Democratic values that keep Lieberman and Kucinich smiling.

I begin with an interesting debate on the Hill last week sponsored by the Truman National Security Project, a great organization you will hear a lot more about in the future. The event, put on for Congressional staffers, brought together Peter Beinart, editor of The New Republic and Michael Tomasky, editor of The American Prospect, for a discussion on a Democratic approach to national security. Though the two magazines occupy different points of the Party's ideological spectrum - The New Republic tends to promote a "Third Way"-style, moderate Democratic approach, while The American Prospect is basically mainstream Democrat - Tomasky and Beinart found few points of disagreement. Instead, both editors would regularly begin their answer to a question with "Yeah, I agree with _____ (insert "Pete-dawg" or "Mikey"), but let me add this..."

I will post more on their interesting discussion later, but let me close on a theme that you will also find popping up regularly in my posts: the values that unite liberal (as opposed to realist) approaches to foreign policies - in other words, the connection between liberal internationalists and neoconservatives. One very impressive foreign policy/defense legislative assistant for a distinguished, red-state Democratic senator asked the speakers if they could find anything positive about the Bush Administration's foreign policy. Though it's not surprising that Beinart would answer affirmatively, it was more of a shock that Mr. Tomasky affirmed Beinart's praise of Bush and then raised him one (Beinart would later agree to the second issue as well - UN reform). "I think the President deserves praise for putting democracy promotion at the center of his foreign policy agenda," Tomasky responded.

Harry S Truman Fellow wholeheartedly agrees.

Fumbling the Health Care Ball

Matt Bai has an interesting piece in this week's New York Times Magazine that highlights just how bad this country's health-care crisis has become and just how bankrupt we are of leadership on the issue (or on much of anything in Washington these days). President Bush is expected to unveil an unimpressive health care initiative in tomorrow night's State of the Union, and that fact, along with any number of others in the last year, makes it clear once again just how crucial the 2004 election was.

America is at a crossroads on a long list of huge issues (among the most pressing of which is health care), and this administration simply lacks the creativity to start solving it. According to several articles, Bush's proposals will be little more than retreads of the tax-credit, private-market answers the Republicans have been putting forth on numerous domestic issues for years. But as Bai points out, this problem is much bigger than these proposals will even come close to solving.

What we need is a leader who will turn this country's health care system upside down. We need a leader who will be willing to look at a much larger government role in the sector (as an article in this week's Week in Review reports, numerous CEOs would not object -- anything to take that huge cost off their balance sheets) while inserting some consumer accountability and rationality into the system.

My first visit to a doctor in New York City nicely illustrated what is wrong with the system. Without telling me his diagnosis, my doctor wrote me a prescription for a bronchitis antibiotic (America has a big problem with over-using health care, which drives up everyone's insurance costs). It didn't seem like he put much deep thought into the remedy. When I asked for a generic alternative, he retrieved a free sample from Pfizer from his office (free samples impede what should be non-biased medical advice -- there have been a number of articles over the last few years that revealed abuse by pharmaceutical companies through the free-sample system). I filled the prescription but ended up not using it and wound up recovering in a couple days. The prescription ended up being unnecessary.

What we need is a system in which the poor can get the health care they need, even if they work at a low-paying, benefit-free job, the middle-class are forced to be critical consumers, the upper-class help pay for it all and corporations are freed from the responsibility to provide health-care benefits, allowing them to more easily compete around the world (Swedish and Dutch companies are pretty happy with the deals they have). It can't be a statist solution of the past -- something like that will prevent any sort of critical thinking from consumers or their doctors. It must be a muscular hybrid of the two (check back when I get my masters, and I may have a more specific solution for you -- the problem will likely not be solved by then).

The government will need to step into the breach, which the Bush administration will clearly be unwilling to let it do. Too bad we don't have any visionaries in the White House or on the Hill. And I have no doubt what we'll hear tomorrow night will be the same old same old from that side of the aisle.