Bob Schwartz

Tag: U.S. Senate

Mississippi’s Existential Election

Mississippi Tourism Guide

The Republican primary runoff today between long-time U.S. Senator Thad Cochran and insurgent Tea Party candidate Chris McDaniel is a story of pragmatism clashing with political philosophy.

My love and appreciation of Mississippi is unbounded. My frustration at how it is misunderstood, mischaracterized, and disrespected is constant. But my sense of realism means saying this: Mississippi would not have survived and thrived as it has without generations of powerful U.S. Senators making sure that federal defense projects and other spending were directed its way. Mississippi is one of those states that receives much more in federal spending than it gives in taxes.

And that’s just fine. I have affection for the many states I’ve lived in, and recognize the distinctive value of each. Like a parent, I may not want to say that any of them is more or less deserving. Yet given a hard choice, I would choose to help Mississippi more than the others.

No doubt the anti-government, anti-earmarking tide is rising, and the Tea Party and Chris McDaniel are rising with it. But Thad Cochran, whose problems include his age and his supposed “liberalism”, has had to be pretty plain in pointing out that if re-elected, his seniority means that he will still be in a position to bring home the bacon for Mississippi. Maybe not as much as in years past, but still more than someone who is philosophically opposed to such spending, and who in any case would end up being one of the most junior Senators in the country.

And therein is the irony. If McDaniel wins the nomination, and if he wins the Senate seat, he can’t possibly serve the interests of his state by forcing it to go “cold turkey” without federal funds, as the Tea Party wants. Mississippi is wonderful and irreplaceable, and if there was any justice in the game of economic geography, it would be high on all the important rankings, rather than languishing at lower levels. It has been, and for the moment remains, a state in need.

There is no shame in that. If shame there is, it is in politicians who want to claim that Mississippi should just sink or swim because that’s what some abstract philosophy dictates. It may also be a shame that when push comes to shove, those same politicians may end up being hypocrites and opportunists. If and when they take office, they will face the existential question. Survival trumps philosophy, and in the case of Mississippi, it should.

Teach-in and Dope in the Senate

Yesterday some Senators, mostly Democrats, held an all-night “talkathon” on the Senate floor about climate change. It wasn’t any kind of filibuster, because there wasn’t any particular piece of legislation involved.

Back in the 1960s, this might have been called a teach-in, which was just this sort of session during which change-minded people would learn about the radical issues of the day. Except those people were more likely to be professors and students (or “outside agitators”), and it was more likely to take place in a college administration building than the U.S. Senate.

Two occasional hallmarks of extended teach-ins were sex and drugs. We don’t dare speculate whether any U.S. Senators were having sex during this “talkathon,” but we might just wonder if anybody snuck out to the cloakroom for a quick hit.

In the delightful and trenchant Amazon political comedy Alpha House, one of the four Republican U.S. Senators living in the eponymous D.C. house is seen relieving the tension of running for reelection by bonging it in the bathroom. (The much more serious and dangerous Netflix political series House of Cards also shows the ambitious Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, sharing joints with his Lady Macbeth of a wife. Sex of all varieties too.)

Back to the climate change teach-in. Even if no substances were involved in the event, what are the odds that any of those participants occasionally indulge, or that any of the rest of the Senate does? As a variant on the old speaker’s trick of imagining your audience without clothes, maybe it would be easier to watch the U.S. Senate if we as citizens just imagined our favorite or least favorite Senators sitting in those iconic smoke-filled rooms passing the pipe. Dope in the Senate. That would explain so much.

The Other Poverty: The Poverty of Ideas

The other poverty is the poverty of ideas.

Let us ask each of our leaders and politicians for just one relatively new and interesting idea to solve a pressing problem. Just one. It doesn’t have to be an idea that has won substantial support or that has achieved broad consensus. In fact it can’t be that. Instead it should be something that is just a little bit out there, the kind that might elicit a “you must be kidding” or “that will never pass” or “that will never work.”

What we mostly have is problem solving that borders on archival monomania, the single idea with ancient lineage that fits a particular purpose or ideology—but has not really demonstrated an ability to solve particular problems.

This morning Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada explained why he is one of the few Republicans supporting an extension of unemployment benefits. In the course of the interview, he said that the biggest problem was jobs. He then ticked off the number one conservative solution—tax reform—but when he got to the second idea, it came out sounding like “something else” without a single detail. That’s because leaders and politicians on both sides of the aisle are stumped, which they admittedly should be by the unique and unprecedented economic moment we are living through.

During the 2012 presidential campaign, Newt Gingrich was roundly derided for his suggestion that we mine the Moon and colonize Mars. There are plenty of reasons that Newt wasn’t and isn’t a good choice for President, but that isn’t one of them. Sure it’s a bit science fictionish, but then so is practically all of the current tech that is one of the only bright spots in the global economy. Can you imagine a U.S. Senator in the 1950s coming to the floor of the Senate brandishing a copy of that weekend’s Sunday funnies, pointing to Dick Tracy and saying “That wrist radio, gentlemen, is where we should be heading.”? China and India are racing to the Moon, and it is not for the view.

Politics and political leadership are inherently conservative, in the sense that maintaining the institution and its support seems to demand modest, slow, incremental change—if any change at all. That’s where party lines and sticking to scripts come from. An intolerance for innovation and fringe philosophy go with that. We shouldn’t be asking parties or politicians to give up core principles and precepts. But if we actually want to solve problems, and not just hear tired old nostrums that won’t do any good, then we have to make a safe place for innovation, one where thinkers who happen to be in office are not committing political suicide by offering something interesting and maybe even eccentric. Because until we ask our politicians to enrich us with new ideas and not empty platitudes and happy talk, more of us will be unhappy with increasingly empty pockets.

How Much Is That in Harvard Years?: Why Ted Cruz Thinks He Is Leader of the Senate

Ted Cruz - Double Harvard
One of the puzzles of the current political situation is how a U.S. Senator with less than a year in Congress believes he is the leader of his party—if not of the nation.

One theory is that Ted Cruz was born in Canada, and therefore doesn’t completely understand the American political system. But that would make him more reasonable, conciliatory and polite, so that has been rejected.

Another possibility is that the sudden disappearance of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has left a vacuum that the party is scrambling to fill. In the chaos of the relentless search for the Kentucky Senator, Sen. Cruz has leapt into the breach.

The best explanation is a bit esoteric, but if you attended one of the “major” Ivy League colleges, as Ted Cruz did, you should have no trouble following. (Note: This writer, as a graduate of what Ted Cruz considers a “lesser” Ivy, is still struggling with the theory. Hopefully there is a Harvard, Princeton or Yale grad out there to help.)

Just as there are “dog years,” there are also, at least in the mind of Ted Cruz, “Harvard Years.” The exact numbers aren’t clear, but on a one-for-one basis, this means that the seven years he spent at Harvard (College and Law School) is the equivalent of seven years in Congress. If it is two-for-one, he has been there for fourteen years. And if it is a canine calculus, Ted Cruz has been in Congress for 49 years! That is a near record achievement that should put complaints of his inexperience to rest, though other concerns won’t go away so easily.

Note: The Ivy League colleges are famous (at least among their attendees) for their mottos. These are in Latin, because at the time the schools were founded, Latin was the lingua franca of the intelligentsia. (And yes, of course, Ted Cruz probably speaks Latin, along with French and Spanish.)  For all his Haravardian pride, he should pay closer attention to the motto of his alma mater: Veritas (truth).

Even closer to home for Ted Cruz, if he would deign to consider the motto of one of those lesser Ivies, is this: Leges Sine Moribus Vanae—laws without morals are in vain.

Barbara Jordan v. Ted Cruz

Barbara Jordan - Ted Cruz
Regular readers of this blog know about the late Representative Barbara Jordan, one of the great speakers in modern American history, and one of the most distinguished members of Congress in her generation. We have seen few like her in recent years—because there have been few like her at all.

She shares one thing and one thing only with Ted Cruz: both represented Texas citizens in Congress. Besides that, they might as well be from different planets—politically, morally, intellectually, rhetorically, in just about any category you can name.

Barbara Jordan was born and raised in a black district of Houston. To say that she transcended any challenges she faced is saying nothing: her talents and compassion took her to the height of American political respect and significance. Ted Cruz was born in Canada, an apparent embarrassment for him, given that he has renounced his Canadian citizenship. He was raised somewhere, though there is no way to tell that he is “from” Texas other than the designation on his office. He has probably visited Houston, though it doesn’t seem his kind of place.

While at Harvard Law School, Ted Cruz reportedly refused to study with students who did not have undergraduate degrees from Harvard, Princeton or Yale. Even the “minor” Ivy League schools like Penn or Columbia weren’t good enough. Barbara Jordan attended Texas Southern University and then Boston University Law School. Well below minor status. However, she was a national champion debater at Texas Southern, where she beat Yale and Brown, and tied Harvard. And, presumably, would beat Ted Cruz in debate too.

Barbara Jordan was a model of intelligent political pragmatism, toughness tempered by compassion. She believed that character was paramount. Her rhetoric, rated in the range of FDR, JFK and MLK, could be uplifting or withering. She never spoke for twenty-one hours straight because she never had to. But if she had, it might be mesmerizing, start to finish. Ted Cruz is the model of something.

A Senate filled with one hundred Barbara Jordans would not be to everyone’s ideological taste, but no one would worry that they were being hoodwinked or being used as part of someone’s ambitious scheme, or that the country was in existential peril. The nation would be better for it. A Senate filled with one hundred Ted Cruzes is something else—perhaps a sign that beyond just shutting down the government, we should just close the doors on the American enterprise entirely.

We miss you Barbara. And we need you.

Ted Cruz and Joe McCarthy

Ted Cruz - Joe McCarthy
For a while now, virulent anti-Obamaism has looked a lot like the anti-Communist vendetta of McCarthyism in the 1950s. Barack Obama is in fact the scary culmination of the fear that swept the nation fifty years ago. Not only are there Communist infiltrators in government offices; the White House itself is in the hands of a godless liberty-taker—or so it seems to millions.

U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy from Wisconsin did not invent this brand of hate and paranoia. He just perfected it through a combination of extreme showboating, angry rhetoric and, most of all, fear. Nothing could be worse than to be branded an enemy of the state (in McCarthyist terms), which might lead to a loss of a citizen’s reputation, job and career or, more to the point, to a politician’s losing office.

This week, Ted Cruz’s attempt to hog the American stage with his fauxbuster (media are still working on a term for a filibuster that isn’t one) has had a notable effect on some of his Republican Congressional colleagues. Since the 2010 elections, and certainly in the 2012 presidential campaign, there has been a reluctance to publicly break ranks and call an ambitious, self-absorbed blowhard that (e.g., Donald Trump) or a fool a fool (take your pick). In recent days, a few Republican Senators have stopped holding back, realizing that as much as they agree in their opposition to Obama policies, this is not a constructive way to proceed, governmentally or politically. Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, a loyal Republican and unassailable conservative, said that it appears that to Cruz and others of that ilk, he is just not conservative enough.

This is the Ted Cruz/Joe McCarthy strategy: if you are not with me, you are against America. To torture a quote from King Louis XIV, “America c’est moi.” (I am America). And if you are not for my definition of America, you are an enemy of the state—even if you purport to be a Republican, even if you are a Senator with many more years than my nine months in the Senate. And if you are an enemy of the state, I and my millions of like-minded Americans will destroy you. That is my mission.

Joe McCarthy’s brief demagogic career ended in ignominy (and ill health from his alcoholism). He went from holding center stage to banishment when more and more of his colleagues and the media stood up to his bullying. It wasn’t that anti-Communism went away; it remained a force for years to come and, as pointed out, lives still even in the post-Cold War era. It was that serious people put up with over-ambitious clowns as long as a common agenda is advanced, but at some point even the threat of losing office takes second place to what’s good for America.

In the end, McCarthyism lost to Americanism. Let’s hope that Cruzism suffers the same fate.

Steve Lonegan: I Personally Like Being a Guy

Steve Lonegan
I’m strictly a male male
And my future I hope will be
In the home of a lovely female
Who’ll enjoy being a girl having a guy like me.
Apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein, I Enjoy Being a Girl

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.
Abraham Lincoln

Newark mayor Cory Booker is running for the U.S. Senate seat from New Jersey, left empty by the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg in June. Booker’s Republican opponent in the October16 election is Steve Lonegan.

Booker is unmarried, does not talk about his sexuality, though he has made reference to girlfriends past. He is, along with many politicians and Americans, a supporter of marriage equality. There has been discussion and innuendo that Booker may be gay, something he has not directly addressed.

Enter candidate Lonegan, who is twenty points down in the polls, and very unlikely to win, whatever he throws at Booker. Without comment, here are some of the remarks made by Lonegan in an interview with Newsmax.

Maybe one comment: Lonegan’s “I personally like being a guy” is one of the stranger things said in the midst of political discourse. And that is saying something.

“It’s kind of weird. As a guy, I personally like being a guy. I don’t know if you saw the stories last year. They’ve been out for quite a bit about how he likes to go out at 3 o’clock in the morning for a manicure and a pedicure…Maybe that helps to get him the gay vote, by acting ambiguous. That I can’t address. All I know is I don’t like going out in the middle of the night, or any time of the day, for a manicure and pedicure. It was described as his peculiar fetish, is how it was described. I have a more peculiar fetish. I like a good Scotch and a cigar. That’s my fetish, but we’ll just compare the two.”

A final comment: Steve Lonegan, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And then again…

Obama Must Renounce His Hawaiian Citizenship

Ted Cruz Birth Certificate

Now that we’ve (mostly) agreed that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, there’s one final step: he must renounce his Hawaiian citizenship to legitimately serve as President of the United States.

That’s actually not right. Hawaii was a state when Obama was born there, and before that, it was an American territory (remember Pearl Harbor?).

But it is a splashy way to introduce the latest chapter in the story of Ted Cruz as possible presidential candidate.

Ted Cruz, U.S. Senator from Texas, was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada to an American mother. The question of whether he is qualified to be President arises from Article Two, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution, which restricts the presidency to “natural born Citizen[s]”. Even though there has been a colloquial understanding that this means “born in the U.S.A.”, the point has never been litigated, and there is a growing sense that it simply means born American, rather than naturalized.

There is no dispute that Cruz was an American citizen at birth, being born of an American citizen, even if abroad. But after he released his birth certificate this weekend (see above), to answer speculation that he might not be qualified, a new wrinkle has cropped up. As indisputably as he is an American citizen, it now appears that he is—at this very moment—also a Canadian citizen. A number of experts on Canadian law are making it clear that when you are born in Canada, citizenship is automatic. You can renounce it later on if you choose, as some do. But right now, Cruz is both an American and Canadian citizen, able to vote in Canadian elections and even run for office there. (Note how weirdly complicated this would have been had he been born there before 1947, when his birth would have made him both an American citizen and a British subject: God Save the Queen.)

It isn’t clear whether Cruz has long known he was also a Canadian citizen, whether he secretly participates in Canadian ceremonies, whether he privately exhibits the legendary Canadian civility and sensibility, whether his support of the XL Pipeline was specially motivated, whether his plan to bring the U.S. government to a halt is meant to make his Canadian homeland look better by comparison, whether he still has feelings for Her Royal Highness, given that he is a citizen of the Commonwealth, if not the United Kingdom.

There is a political issue here, though one that Cruz might be able to turn to his advantage. He might be able to continue his Senate role as a dual citizen (at least it’s Canada, not Russia), but the presidency is another matter. If he does choose to renounce, he could do it on an ideological basis, pointing out how the socialist leanings of his homeland to the north have left it far behind the achievements of free market America, and how, unless America is careful, it will end up exactly like Canada—the land he chose to leave at the age of four, precisely because he knew that America was the true land of freedom and opportunity. Not to mention a whole lot warmer, particularly in Texas.

Forget the Senators, Love the Mayors

Mayor Annise Parker

If you are one of those angered and ashamed of members of the U.S. Senate today, you are not alone.

Forty-six U.S. Senators voted against the Manchin Amendment to the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013. This amendment to the gun violence bill was crafted by Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania) to be the mildest, least objectionable expansion of background checks conceivable. They tried.

The amendment was rejected. The vote was 54 Yeas to 46 Nays, less than the 60 votes needed under the Senate rules. All the other amendments attempting to enhance regulation also failed.

Three Republicans voted for the amendment, including Toomey, Susan Collins of Maine and John McCain of Arizona. McCain deserves special mention. From the year 2000 on, including the 2008 Presidential election, his “maverick” and “straight talk” credentials have been an on-again, off-again affair. At least for this amendment (though he did not support any other regulation), he took a stand.

Here are the Senators who voted against any expansion of background checks, no matter how small:

Alexander (R-TN)
Ayotte (R-NH)
Barrasso (R-WY)
Baucus (D-MT)
Begich (D-AK)
Blunt (R-MO)
Boozman (R-AR)
Burr (R-NC)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Coats (R-IN)
Coburn (R-OK)
Cochran (R-MS)
Corker (R-TN)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Crapo (R-ID)
Cruz (R-TX)
Enzi (R-WY)
Fischer (R-NE)
Flake (R-AZ)
Graham (R-SC)
Grassley (R-IA)
Hatch (R-UT)
Heitkamp (D-ND)
Heller (R-NV)
Hoeven (R-ND)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Isakson (R-GA)
Johanns (R-NE)
Johnson (R-WI)
Lee (R-UT)
McConnell (R-KY)
Moran (R-KS)
Murkowski (R-AK)
Paul (R-KY)
Portman (R-OH)
Pryor (D-AR)
Reid (D-NV)
Risch (R-ID)
Roberts (R-KS)
Rubio (R-FL)
Scott (R-SC)
Sessions (R-AL)
Shelby (R-AL)
Thune (R-SD)
Vitter (R-LA)
Wicker (R-MS)

For a change, we have a post-partisan moment, where some Democrats and Republicans can agree on something: the status quo of guns in America is just fine.

Forget the Senators. Whether they believe it or not, a political steamroller is on its way that, no matter how they calculate home state interests or expect the NRA to protect them, will flatten them like Wile E. Coyote in a Roadrunner cartoon. Too wily by half.

Let’s talk about mayors, the politicians who can’t distance themselves from the harsh realities of American life, politicians who, unlike others, have to actually work for a living and try, as best they can, to do a little something to make things better.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns is a coalition of over 900 mayors from big cities and small towns across the country:

As mayors, our highest responsibility is to enforce the law and to protect the people we serve. One of the most difficult challenges we face in meeting this responsibility is preventing criminals from illegally obtaining guns and using them. The issue of illegal guns is not conservative or liberal; it is an issue of law and order — and life or death.…

[W]hat binds us together is a determination to fight crime, and a belief that we can do more to stop criminals from getting guns while also protecting the rights of citizens to freely own them.  We have seen how the polarizing rhetoric of gun politics on all sides only obscures the tragic reality we see every day on our streets: violent criminals with easy access to illegal guns.

Above is a photo of Mayor Annise Parker of Houston. She is shown as a representative mayor against illegal guns because Houston is also the home of Senator Ted Cruz, one of the most vocal opponents of any gun legislation.

Maybe what we need to do is replace these Senators at the next available opportunity with almost any of these mayors. These mayors aren’t all angels, but they don’t have time to be blowhards or ideological purists. They know how to get the job done, know what it is to tackle difficult issues, and know what it’s like to do the dirty work of cleaning up messes—and most of all figuring out how to avoid some of those messes in the first place. They could do better, in part because nobody could do worse.

Gun Violence Legislation

HenQ: Why is there a picture of a chicken on this post about gun violence legislation?

A: Because a small number of U.S. Senators have decided that the best way to approach the very important issue of legislation to curb gun violence in America is to block a vote on any legislation.

Q: Why is this text so big?

A: Because there have been previous posts about gun violence and about political courage, and after saying the same thing multiple times, it can be therapeutic, if not any more effective, to say the same thing louder. Also, if any of those Senators are not wearing their glasses, they will still be able to see the chicken and read this message about the historic lack of political courage. (Idea borrowed from John Hancock.)

Q: Isn’t this childish and unbecoming adult and reasoned debate?

A: Which? The use of a chicken post? Or the failure of well-paid and trusted public servants to stand up and do their job?