Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Campaign Financing

This commentary is being written before the results of the 2009 elections are known. Therefore the opinions expressed are not predicated on either elation or disappointment with the election outcomes. Rather I am concerned and amazed by the hypocrisy that surrounds our campaign financing process and the so-called reforms which have supposedly cleaned up that process.

Last year you may remember Barack Obama's willingness to advocate campaign spending limits until it came time to actually live by campaign spending limits. The McCain campaign took the Federal financing and lived under the limits it imposed. The Obama campaign, after promising to abide by the same restrictions, decided to refuse public financing and instead raise and spend unlimited amounts on the presidential general election. The result was that McCain struggled to match both the organization and advertising resources that were available to Obama and was heavily outspent. Not only was the disparity of resources a factor in McCain's defeat, but the Obama team had the audacity to claim that their refusal to live under the spending ceilings imposed by participation in the Federal program had struck a blow for future public financing. Huh?

That pattern of liberals claiming to support campaign finance reform and then refusing to participate when real campaigns get underway repeats itself again in this year's elections. Take Jon Corzine's gubernatorial campaign in New Jersey, please. The state supposedly has a restriction of $11.5 million for spending on statewide elections. Corzine's Republican opponent has lived by the ceiling. Corzine, however, exploited a loophole created by a long-standing U.S. Supreme Court decision that permits a rich individual to spend as much of his own money as he wants on politicking regardless of the limits. Corzine used his own fortune to spend upwards of $30 million largely on negative advertising aimed at his Republican opponent. There's nothing illegal in what he has done, but it's moral grounding is highly debatable. And again we have a situation where the intent of the rules doesn't matter. And the result is that those who live by the rules are disadvantaged by the rules.

The reason this is so egregious is that liberals have had such a holier than thou attitude about campaign reform. They have passed laws that have placed more and more restrictions on what can be done and even said in political campaigns. And then they have a record of exploiting the laws they pass by utilizing loopholes, illegality and litigation. Voter fraud has been rampant despite their new laws. The courts too often have become the deciders of election outcomes. And it is all because the win at any price is a clear liberal mantra for liberal campaigns.

The way we now finance politics is disturbing and dysfunctional. All of the reforms of the past have really deformed the system. Today both parties seek out wealthy candidates who can self finance their campaigns. The result is that there is a greater reliance on wealth in politics than ever before. That reliance in turn creates government structures, particularly legislative bodies, that are increasingly the province of the rich. The shameful pattern of liberals creating an exploitable campaign financing system and calling it reform is one of the underlying reasons for the inability of politicians to really work on the issues of concern for the American people. The elections of 2009, no matter what the outcome, will be a confirmation the the system is broken and needs to be fixed.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Walk the Walk

Nobel Prize

There is no doubt that President Obama is adept at talking the talk. His rhetorical flourishes were a key component of his winning the Presidency. His talk of change and of hope inspired many who were not necessarily enamored of the policies he advocated, but were willing to give him a chance to implement the future of which he spoke. The problem is that implementation demands walking the walk not just talking the talk.

You would not know that real success in implementation is required of leaders if you examined the pretense upon which the Nobel Prize committee awarded their high honor to President Obama. What they cited was his rhetoric, not his accomplishments. And in so doing, they both embarrassed the President and depreciated their own prestigious award. Walking the walk is demanded not only of leaders, but of those whose obligation is to maintain the integrity of the true purpose of their cause.

Copenhagen

President Obama seemed to be walking the walk of one of his campaign themes by issuing an executive order that demanded Federal agencies reduce their carbon footprint substantially by the end of the next decade. But at the very same time he was issuing that order, he personally flew two 747 jet planes to Copenhagen to participate in the choosing of the 2016 Olympic site, one aircraft for him and the other for the First Lady. So in reality the executive order talked the talk while he was personally unwilling to walk the walk.

Transperancy

There has been a lot of talk by the Obama Administration about their transperancy. They have proclaimed their willingness to allow the public clear insight into the decision-making processes. That is, they are willing to talk about transperancy, but the practice of permitting transperancy is more problematic. The recent example of failing to walk the walk is the criticism leveled by White House spokesmen at our military commander in Afganistan when he actually described in detail the problems facing us in that war and the reasoning behind his recommendations. That speech did not fit the President's political and tactical timing and there was an immediate call for General McChrystal to stay inside the chain of command with his candid remarks. As reasonable as that suggestion is, it does not suggest transperancy. Governing is hard, and transperancy is much more difficult to practice than to talk about in a political campaign.

Lobbyists

During his campaign for the Presidency, Mr. Obama promised increased integrity and targeted Washington lobbyists as the source of many of problems in the Nation's Capitol. It was a popular theme because lobbying has long been characterized in unsavory terms even though it is the embodiment of one of the most important parts of the Bill of Rights -- the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. Nevertheless, the Obama Administration actually has a person whose job it is to harass lobbyists. Now that would appear to be walking the walk on a campaign promise except that it is undermining his promise of integrity in government.

In recent times the lobby profession has been cleaning up its act. One the the main ways of doing this was to require lobbyists to register and reveal in those registrations what they are lobbying for and about. And the presumption had grown to go ahead and register even when you didn't meet the real requirements for registration as a way of assuring disclosure. As a result of the Obama Administration actions against lobbyists, many of those who previously registered are now deregistering because they do not really meet the requirements. So what the Obama Administration really has accomplished is less disclosure and less openness. That kind of outcome hardly is a expansion of government integrity. Talking the talk is easier than walking the walk.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Short Takes

Lobby Reform Obama Style
The Obama Administration announced that they are going to appoint the head of the Maryland Motor Truck Association to lead the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. FMCSA is by most accounts a troubled organization, so having someone head it who might actually know something about the industry is a good idea. But the head of the Maryland Motor Truck Association means you are a lobbyist, the despised class in the Obama White House. In fact, at the very same time they were announcing this appointment, they were also informing the press of a new anti-lobbyist initiative by the Administration to keep lobbyists off of Federal advisory panels where they might also have the necessary knowledge to actually provide good advice. Strange, very strange.

Cokes and Charmin
Two issues are big with nanny state advocates these days. They are attacking soft drinks and plush toilet paper. One has to guess that when the public gets wind of the fact that the liberals want to take away their Cokes and Charmin the tea parties will look like high school proms compared to the anger that will take to the streets on these subjects. And how does the left explain these anti personal choice campaigns? The Director of San Francisco's Department of Public Health said it this way about big new taxes on soft drinks, "It makes sense for the government to help people to make the right choices..." Funny, some of us still think that the proper role of government is to protect the people's right to make choices for themselves. It's called freedom.

Polls and Pelosi
It is hard to figure why Speaker Nancy Pelosi has decided to abandon her party's moderates on health care reform. Clearly the moderates do not want to accept all the the government run aspects to health care that Speaker Pelosi and her liberal allies feel are essential. That makes them a pain inside the caucus, but they are also the votes that make the caucus a majority. So why would you risk their seats but telling them that their views are irrelevant? Perhaps because the polling done by the Democratic Party is showing the same things as national polls and those conducted by Republicans. The Democrats are in real jeopardy of losing significant numbers of congressional seats in 2010. Independents are abandoning them. The generic vote for Congress has moved steadily toward the GOP. The country no longer agrees with liberal policies on most of the big issues facing us. So perhaps the Speaker has decided to risk her moderate seats to do what she really wants to do and that is to create a health care reform agenda that assures a government run health care system within the foreseeable future. Does she have the votes? It will depend on how many moderates they can buy off with promises of earmarks, campaign contributions and goodies for their districts.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Smoot-Hawley Redux

The decision by President Obama to impose tariffs on Chinese tire imports is a huge economic mistake. At a time when the United States should be looking to increase its international markets, the new round of tariffs threatens to decimate those markets and bring retaliatory actions against numerous U.S. products. At a time when our unemployment rate stands at nearly 10 percent, this President's policy threatens thousands more with joblessness as our international markets collapse.

This kind of short-sighted decision has historic precedent. In 1930 the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act was enacted that raised U.S. tariffs supposedly to protect American jobs. The passage of the new law came after the stock market collapse of 1929, but also during a period when the economy seemed to be marginally recovering. The result was disastrous. World trade collapsed and the American economy collapsed with it.

You don't have to take my word for the calamity wrought by Smoot-Hawley. The U.S. Department of State says it this way: "The Smoot-Hawley Tariff was more a consequence of the onset of the Great Depression than an initial cause. But while the tariff might not have caused the Depression, it certainly did not make it any better. It provoked a storm of foreign retaliatory measures and came to stand as a symbol of the "beggar-thy-neighbor" policies (policies designed to improve one's own lot at the expense of that of others) of the 1930s. Such policies contributed to drastic decline in international trade."

The Chinese tire decision appears to be history repeating itself. There are a few signs on the present horizon that economic recovery will slowly manifest itself. But the waters are perilous where the slightest mistake can have major consequences. Imposing a tariff on the nation that holds much of the international debt that the United States has obligated is not a wise choice of options. The Chinese already have announced retaliatory actions that are sure to cost American jobs. If this kind of economic warfare between two of the world's economic giants spins out of control, we have a big problem and so does the whole international community. And history suggests that just such an outcome is possible.

The additional problem is that the Obama decision is a part of a pattern of nascent protectionism. The Chinese tire policy will not be viewed in a vacuum, but will be seen in light of the Administration's refusal to back three free trade agreements which already have been negotiated. Those agreements are with three important allies, Korea, Columbia and Panama. Particularly in the case of Columbia, the protectionist stance of the Administration is undermining a relationship with a country that is directly threatened by an avowed enemy of the United States, Hugo Chavez. So, not only has the Obama White House embarked on policies that have appearance of protectionism, those policies are already having economic and national security ramifications.

The question becomes why? Why would an Administration in the throes of joblessness, deficits, debt and instability risk a tariff policy that has shown itself in similar historic circumstances to be destructive. The answer is that the only debt that counts is that which this Administration owes to the nation's labor unions. Many of the unions are unwilling to do what it takes to compete internationally, so they are content to resort to protectionism. This Administration is their policy tool and the consequences could be significant.

Smoot-Hawley was a national and international economic disaster. Those who do not appreciate history are condemned to repeat it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dishonesty in Campaigning

One of the themes in Barack Obama's campaign last year that connected with conservative voters was his criticism of the Bush deficits. Many Americans had come to believe with some justification that spending in the Bush Administration was out of control. The fact that President Bush had inherited a balanced budget and by the end of his term had accumulated hundreds of billions of dollars in deficits was of great concern to citizens who believe that fiscal responsibility is an important national goal.

So, when candidate Barack Obama appealed to the American sense of responsible budgeting, that appeal had impact. In fact, millions of voters abandoned the Republican presidential ticket in the midst of last year's financial collapse on that issue alone.

Nine months later, many of those same voters have come to the conclusion that President Obama has not fulfilled the promise of his campaign rhetoric. More deficit has been accumulated in just one year than the deficits created in all the years of the Bush presidency. And interestingly, much of the Bush deficit record was accumulated in the last two years of his Administration after the Democrats took control of Capitol Hill. In fact, when the Republicans were defeated in 2006, in large part because of their record of irresponsible spending, the deficit at that time was actually slightly less than the one they inherited twelve years earlier.

This is to say there is a running theme in modern American politics of people being worried about debt and deficit, voting for candidates who seem to share their concerns and then being disappointed when those candidates, once elected, fail to follow through on restoring fiscal sanity.

President Obama's present difficulties can be traced to his fiscal broken promises. The health care debate contains many hot-button issues, but at its foundation is a general belief that it represents one more big government spending program that we cannot afford. No matter how much the Administration tries to spin health care reform as a cost savings measure, their assurances are not credible. Americans are smarter than that. They know the potential for massive new spending when they see it.

The same scenario fits the difficulties the President faces in passing his energy/environment program. The Administration wants the country to buy the idea that we face a major climate crisis that must be solved without regard to price. But, they say, we will establish a market-based system that will assure that the costs are evenly spread. Again, the believability factor is missing. What the public sees is the $8 billions per year in new government bureaucracy that will be required to administer this program. And they suspect that the costs they will pay will not be equally distributed when they see deals being cut in Washington to help some at the expense of others. It is just another costly government boondoggle.

All of the fiscal concerns came to a head this week when the Administration announced that the deficits going forward will be massive and growing. Now the hundreds and hundreds of billions spent on stimulus packages, supplemental budgets, pork barrel projects and so much more was brought into perspective. We are in deep financial trouble. Debt and deficits are growing. Our creditors worldwide are becoming nervous and may demand interest rate hikes to protect their investments. Hyperinflation is a potential problem.

These are not George Bush's problems. They are President Obama's problems. He can no longer point fingers at someone else as his way of connecting with the public on their fiscal concerns. He is in charge. The real substance behind his slide downward in the polls is that government is too big and spends too much and he wants to grow government bigger and spend even more. That's not what the public thought they heard him say last year and now they have come to believe the campaign rhetoric was purposely dishonest.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Town Meetings

During the twenty years I spent in Congress, I always found town meetings to be a very useful way to communicate with constituents and to hear their concerns. Some of those meetings were difficult. People showed up who did not agree with me and we had an exchange over our differences. Sometimes the press reports focused on some small controversy in the meeting rather than the big issues that were discussed. Sometimes I ended up refereeing some local battle that had no Federal involvement, but was important enough for citizens to use my town meeting as a forum.

The way I conducted those sessions was as an open discussion. I went with no agenda. I did not use the meeting to talk about the issues important to me. My intent was to listen to what was on the minds of my constituents. So I began each meeting by saying I would make no speech but rather was throwing the ball to them. Any question or comment they wanted to make was a legitimate topic. And that open discussion would go on for an hour and a half.

Clearly there are Members of Congress who do not wish to engage in that kind of dialogue. The complaints of Democrats who have found less than friendly audiences back home on August recess are fascinating. They want to use the town meetings to regurgitate the canned information on health care reform and cap and trade programs provided them by their leadership. What they are finding is informed citizens who are not interested in canned propaganda, but rather are more interested in getting answers to serious questions. And when the response they get from their Congressman or Congresswoman is unresponsive, they become upset.

So how has the Democratic Party establishment reacted to the challenge to Obama policies that Democratic Representatives are finding back home? They are claiming that the questions and the anger are not real. It's all a setup, they say. The Republicans and right wing extremists are behind it. Senator Barbara Boxer of California was even quoted as saying that these concerned constituents are a part of a plot to destroy the President. In fact, the White House, itself, has gone so far as to try to stifle free speech by asking their supporters to report citizens who are spreading "disinformation."

The Democratic charges come at a time where the President is holding town meetings, himself, trying to win support for his health care proposal. The difference is that the President's town hall sessions consist of carefully screened participants and the questions asked are akin to the canned propaganda that the Congressmen want to use in their districts. No wonder the Democrats believe that everyone agrees with them because most of the people they let into the halls to speak with the President do agree with them. They wouldn't be there if they didn't.

But polling data says something quite different. The country is very much divided on the questions of health care and energy policies. And, if anything, the polls indicate that a majority of Americans, in some cases a significant majority of Americans, disagree with the President and the Democrats on Capitol Hill. It is those majorities that are showing up at congressional town meetings and making their voices heard.

Instead of comparing concerned Americans to "mob rule" or trying to stifle free speech, the Democrats should listen. Listening instead of talking is hard for Members of Congress, but it is essential if you want to hear the real America speaking.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Monday, May 4, 2009

Failed Policies?

Reserving the right to object, President Obama's contention at last week's press conference that Republican economic alternatives do not deserve consideration because they represent a failed economic policy and strategy is just not credible. The fact that he gets away saying it is a testiment to the lack of real examination of his claims. When one looks at the reality of the numbers, not made up numbers, but the statistics generated by the Federal Government itself, there are simply no hard facts to support the failure of Republican economic performance nor the success of Democratic policies. The numbers tell the story.

To understand the difference between economic success and failure, you have to go back a decade and a half. Republicans took control of the Congress in 1995 after forty straight years of Democratic Party control of the U.S. House of Representatives and for all but a handful of those years, control of the U.S. Senate. Moreover, when the GOP assumed congressional power, the Democrats had two years of presidential leadership as well. In other words, their economic philosophy had been ascendent for four decades and in the early 1990s was in total control.

So where did the economy stand after all that time? The unemployment rate in January, 1995 was 5.6 percent. The growth of the national economy measured by GDP was nominally at 3.6 percent and really measured at 1.11 percent. The federal budget deficit stood at $164 billion. And the Dow Jones Industrial Average started the year at 3838.48.

Republicans promised change. Literally they were ridiculed for proposing to balance the budget,and the tax cuts they proposed to spur economic growth were called fiscally irresponsible.

So measured by the same criteria, did Republican policies succeed or fail. Five years later in January, 2001, the unemployment rate had dropped to 4.2 percent but the emerging recession brought on by the dotcom collapse had also dropped real GDP growth to -0.49 percent and nominal growth to 2.73 percent. On the other hand, the budget had a $128.2 billion surplus and the Dow Jones Industrials had nearly tripled to 10788. All of this represented a mixed record, but hardly a failed one.

The major change in 2001 was the advent of the Bush Presidency. Now Republicans were fully in charge, so their performance could be assessed more fully. They remained in charge until January, 2007 when the Democrats again took control of the Congress.

In January, 2007, the numbers are instructive. The unemployment rate was 4.6 percent, up slightly from 2001, but still considerably below the rate inherited by the Republicans in 1995. GDP growth was a real 0.05 percent and a nominal 6.88 percent, almost a doubling of the nominal growth rate over the twelve span of GOP power. The budget deficit was at $161 billion, something for which the voters had punished Republicans in the previous year's elections. But that deficit number was still slightly below the 1995 number. And, the Dow Jones Industrials had increased to 12474.53. Again, it was a mixed record. The Republican spending spree on earmarks and pork, coupled with their ethical lapses had undermined their effectiveness. But the numbers for the economy were still growth numbers.

When the Democrats reassumed control of Congress in 2007, they immediately began to talk about tax increases and greater regulatory activity. It was clear that they hoped to abandon tax cuts previously enacted and planned more government intervention in the marketplace. The results, by the numbers, were staggering. Just two years later, in January, 2009, the unemployment rate was at 7.2 percent and rising. Real economic growth had decreased to -6.3 percent and nominal growth was down to -5.8 percent. The budget deficit had grown to at least $455 billion and was projected to go to $1.2 trillion. The Dow Jones Industrials had shed 30 percent of their value and were down to 8116.03.

President Obama and other Democrats want to blame this precipitous deterioration of the economy on President Bush and Republican economic theory. The problem for them is that GOP policies were working until the Democrats reassumed congressional power, not working perfectly by any means, but working. The Democrat's tax, borrow and spend policies proved disastrous. And the disaster has been compounded by total Democratic control of the Washington levers of power.

Today, the economic downturn continues unabated. Using the most recent official number compiled in March, 2009, the situation has continued to deteriorate. Unemployment is up. The March figure was 8.5 percent and it has gone higher since that. GDP continues to sink. The real growth figure for the 1st Quarter of 2009 was -6.1 percent and the nominal growth number stood at -3.5 percent. The first half Fiscal Year 2009 deficit projection was $953 billion and if the President's proposals are enacted the annual deficit will go to $1.8 trillion, a one year deficit figure that exceeds all the deficits of the Bush Administrtion combined. And the Dow Jones Industrials after falling to below 7000 have recovered to 8188.51.

So, Mr. President, whose policies are really the failure? Maybe listening to some Republican alternatives would not only be an act of true bipartisanship, but might actually get the country back to policies that work. What we are doing now and have been doing for more than two years is certainly not the answer.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

They Think We're Stupid

When the Obama cabinet meets today, the President plans to ask them to find $100 million in government efficiency savings. That's a lot of money. Everyone in America knows that $100 million is a huge sum. Except it's not when you are dealing with the Federal Government. In the Federal budget scheme of things it is table sweepings, I'm afraid. In a nearly $4 trillion budget, $100 million disappears pretty fast.

If you are a $50,000 a year family and you were to economize in the same proportion that the President is suggesting, you would need to find $1.50 sometime this year that you did not spend. In other words, the amount being saved in this latest Presidential initiative is the equivalent of one large McDonald's soft drink to the average middle class family.

But it gets even worse. The President is not asking his cabinet to cut real spending. He is asking them to find cuts off the baseline, meaning that they cannot spend money that they wanted to spend, but really haven't spent yet. So, this is like the family saying, "At sometime this year we planned to buy a soft drink. We'll fore go that one soft drink in an effort to economize." Do you think your banker would buy that as a good faith exercise?

But you see, the White House thinks we're stupid. If they parade out a cabinet meeting and talk about cutting Federal spending, they think we will not know the difference between the trillions they are spending and the $100 million they are going to "save". When you say $100 million, it actually can sound to most people like more than $4 trillion. That's because the only numbers we can really comprehend are 100 and 4. Millions, billions, and trillions are unfathomable concepts for nearly everyone.

So, the White House is countering the Tea Parties that asked for less spending, less taxes and less debt with a phony public relations gimmick that will do next to nothing but will provide a speech point on the teleprompter for weeks to come. Listen for the speech line that says that the Obama Administration is clamping down on spending and in its first few weeks forced the departments of government to find $100 million in budget cuts. It will be true, sort of, but will be meaningless in the whole reality of President Obama's program of massive Federal intervention into the economy accompanied by massive new debt and deficit.

But the White House is counting on each of us. They're counting on us to be too stupid to notice the difference between $100 million of savings in projected spending and $1.7 trillion in real deficits this year.

Monday, April 13, 2009

An Opportunity Agenda

When our forefathers confronted revolutionary times, they created a system of governance that began with individuals rights and responsibilities. They structured government around individual worth and dignity. They distrusted the easy use of power and designed systems to assure appropriate checks and balances.

In our revolutionary times, the concepts that inspired our forefathers are still valid. What makes conservatives different from liberals is our belief in fundamental, long held principles as opposed to change to meet every new circumstance. But conservative principles have to be applied to modern problems in ways that assure political appeal. And so the first part of a vision for 21st Century conservative thought should be the creation of an opportunity agenda.

Opportunity agendas are not new. The poetry of the Declaration of Independence calls describes opportunity as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is that kind of broad agenda that can guide us today.

Opportunity can be an economic philosophy. Individuals empowered by the information tools of this era can accomplish remarkable things. They have more data at their fingertips than ever before in human history. That knowledge base can lead them to discoveries that create wealth, tangible and intangible. But creativity is stiffled by regulation, taxation and litigation. So fundamental to economic growth is a reliance on individual performance without burdening the individual with structural
impediments that reduce his or her ability to perform.

But economic opportunity also must be encouraged with strategies that prepare the individual to compete. Good education is a prerequisite. The present education system is failing us. It was designed for an economy which no longer exists. It prepared students to work on assembly lines or in large integrated bureaucracies. The idea of individual empowerment is lost in such an environment and the lowest common denominator rather than excellence becomes the norm. Witness what has happened in our urban schools to get an idea of the problem we have. But we could structure education differently with individual achievement and excellence as its goal.

Education in the 21st Century should stress individualized instruction and lifetime learning. Individualized instruction would be aided by the same information tools that will be instrumental in productive work in each person's future. But most important those tools would permit education to become exciting by channeling the educational programs to fit each student's personal interest. The boy who loves baseball or the girl who loves outer space could both be acccomodated with learning programs inside the same classroom. And the teacher, instead of being a communicator of information, would become a manager of information and would use the discoveries of each of the students to benefit the entire class. A very different environment than what we have now.

Add to individualized instruction, lifetime learning. Because no one can be expected to work his or her entire life in the same job during this century, we must establish a basis for constant relearning and development of new skills. The community education infrastructures should be used twenty-four/seven for all ages inside the community. Not only will such an education pattern improve community vitality, but it will make the financing mechanisms for education far more acceptable.

While opportunity is very much economic in its orientation, opportunity also extends to social and cultural issues. Respect for life, respect for individual differences, the exercise of individual responsibility, and the willingness to engage in civic activities meant to improve the broader community are also pieces of an opportunity agenda and strategy.

Opportunity is a way for conservatives to engage the entire electorate. Opportunity is nonpartisan and non-ideological. It does not seek to centralize power, but rather to disperse power. It requires educational reform. It guarantees the ability to succeed, but does not assure an outcome recognizing instead that risk is an ingredient of reward. These are all items of broad national appeal, but also items where we diverge substantially from liberal thinking. And therein lies our opportunity.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Interesting Times

Reserving the right to object, I think we fail to recognize the level of challenge we face in the outset of the 21st Century. We live in interesting times and we must be willing to look at new ways of addressing the challenges before us if we are to continue to lead. There are lessons from the past that can be valued, but the solutions of the past are likely inadequate to the future.

The reason for our dilemma is that revolution is sweeping away old theories and calculations. It has been at least two centuries since we have seen the kind of seismic change now underway. Two centuries ago we completely altered the theories of governance, ushered in a new economic presumption, wrestled with the advent of new technologies and saw significant cultural changes.

So it is today. Revolutions are occuring simultaneously in politics, economics, technology and culture. The politics of individual empowerment is making bureaucratic decision-making obsolete. The twin economic towers of information based value where intangibles compete with tangibles and the globalization of the economy makes competitors anywhere in world relevant mean that we can no longer use industrial age data and performance as our benchmarks. New technologies from computers to nano scaled material hold great promise but also create new problems. And cultural change brought on by mass immigration, religious intolerance and educational dysfunction are both worldwide and individual community questions.

Dealing with the Four Revolutions requires four leadership characteristics. Leaders must start with a vision that recognizes the full scope of the revolutionary climate. They must then design strategies that implement that vision. Only after a strategy has been developed can they successfully design the projects that allow the strategy to succeed. And the tactics required to implement the projects are the final piece of successful leadership.

The problem we see in government now is a focus on projects and tactics rather than grounding those things in a true strategy based on a real vision. The result is drift and dysfunction now matter who the leaders are. And when your whole program is basically tactical, the bitterness of the political battles becomes even more intense because the fights are at the narrowest points.

Therefore, if we think about the 21st Century there would seem to be four concepts around which to organize a vision and begin to address the reality of our challenges. The four vision concepts are opportunity, security, innovation and integrity. Each of the four must be seen in its broadest interpretation and it is that broad definition of each that I will discuss in future columns.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

World War

General Robert Kehler, head of the U.S. Air Force Space Command, is one of the brightest and most engaging of our national leaders. Under his command is a unit devoted to cybersecurity, a relatively new mission at the Space Command's headquarters. He tells the airmen in that unit, "When you log on each day, you are entering a battlefield." The fact is that the battlefield they are on is a part of a global war which is fought 24/7 and where the adversary is constantly changing and often difficult to find and define. So the airmen Kehler leads are truly engaged in a world war everyday, a war that does not make headlines, but one that may be definitional of the challenges posed by the new economy and the new technology of the 21st Century.

The challenges of new economic circumstances fueled by new technological advances are the world in which this year's budget battle in Washington is taking place. And what is amazing is how little the proposed public policies tied to the budget proposals really recognize the changed world in which we live.

Much of the present economic crisis stems from the reality of revolutionary change. The American people have a sense of that reality in their own lives which is why the change theme played so powerfully in the 2008 election season. There was a gut instinct reflected that life was being altered substantially, but public policy was not.

As usual, the people were ahead of the politicians in their common sense analysis. Things have changed big time. We are at war that we cannot see. Our 300 year tradition of information flow being anchored by newspapers is struggling. Jobs we thought of as permanent are being eliminated, replaced by new "gold collar" jobs that demand new forms of preparation in new educational settings. Health care is being transformed by technological advances while being strangled in a blizzard of paperwork created by growing bureaucracies. The dream of suburban living is being replaced by regenrefication of our cities. The economy has gone global and with it the ability to make purely national decisions about economic matters. And the list can go on and on. Yet public policy seems oblivious to the stunning nature of the change around us and the comphrensive way in which people's everyday lives are affected.

The case can be and should be made that the worldwide economic crisis is a predictable outcome of the magnitude of the revolutions sweeping the globe. The transformation from an industrial economy to an intellectual economy was going to shake out at some point. A century ago when the agricultural economy was giving way to the industrial economy we experienced a similar catharsis. Social upheaval took place, banks failed, jobs were eliminated and transformed and the end result was the rural based economy replaced by an urban based one. So, too, today we are seeing the opening stages of a similar transformation and the global recession will result in the deadwood of the past being eliminated.

The question is whether the political decisions that get made will recognize the new realities. Politicians are too often behind the curve of transformational change because the chief demands they face come from those who want to be protected from the consequences of the changing landscape. The future has few political advocates while the past and present have long-standing relationships that help them make their case. So Democrats in the midst of a recessionary climate harken back to the New Deal as the model for their solutions. The Republicans cling to the Reagan Revolution as their policy foundation. Yet neither model is really adaptive to the present and coming 21st Century challenges. And thus the budget proposals put forth on Capitol Hill in Washington tend to be a collection of old ideas wrapped in new numbers but with little potential for real change.

What would real change look like? It would emphasize the empowerment of individual citizens who now have the technologically sophisticated means to make their own decisions in their own ways. It would put emphasis on helping people find ways to affirmatively act for the common good in community based programs and policies. It would recognize that government organized to meet the needs of a bureaucratized, industrial economy is disfunctional in a society where individuals often know more than policymakers. It would see the need to assure security of the citizenry from international threats, but also see the security issues as individual (as in privacy matters) and local (as in protection from predators and criminals). It would see the need for fundamental educational reform based on two primary concepts, individualized instruction and lifelong learning. It would make it's major investments in innovation. It would demand integrity from all who seek to lead in every economic and political sector. And, above all, it would recognize that the greatest form of justice is in creating the opportunity for everyone to succeed without trying to use the levers of power to guarantee that success.

General Kehler's airmen have some understanding that the nature of warfare and the battlefields on which the war is fought have changed. The political establishment has talked a lot about change, but has failed to propose solutions that really constitute change. The solutions suggested by everyone have the look of a collection of long sought special interest proposals lacking relevance to the future. We need something better.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Right to Object

In the United States House of Representatives, much of what takes place does not require a vote. That fact may surprise people who believe the House votes on everything imaginable. But in reality much of the work of legislating involves the use of a procedure called unanimous consent.

Unanimous consent requests constitute a considerable part of the congressional activity. They are used for everything from routine procedural matters to passage of legislative proposals. The procedure involves one Member of Congress asking unanimous consent that something be done. "Madam Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that I be permitted to address the House for one minute." Or, "Madam Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that H.R. 1234 be considered as read and approved by the House." And the Speaker's response is, "Without objection, so ordered." Neat. Clean. Very efficient. Unanimous consent is a good way to get things done quickly in what is normally a pretty contentious atmosphere.

But, any other Member of Congress can stop unanimous consent dead in it's tracks. All that Representative has to say is, "I object." The Speaker then says, "Objection is heard" and whatever was being asked is rejected. So, for the most part, unanimous consent requests are only used for matters considered noncontroversial.

But, there is another reaction that a Member can use to ask questions about the proposed action or legislative proposal. He or she can say, "Reserving the right to object" and then begin to ask questions about the request. If satisfied by the responses, the questioner can say, "I withdraw my reservation" and the matter moves forward. Or if unhappy with the response, the questioner can then register the objection stopping the action.

Years ago, I was the designated "floor manager" for the Republican Party when we were in the minority. My job was to be on the Floor of the House and keep track of what the majority Democrats were doing. In those days and very often now, the minority party had and has little say in what transpires on the House Floor and even little knowledge about what is taking place. So often I would use my right to object as a way of seeking information. I got a reputation for detailed parliamentary skills by knowing how to say, "Reserving the right to object." I would then proceed to ask questions about many things, sometimes even including the proposed unanimous consent request.

What I found back then was that reserving the right to object allowed me to debate the important issues of that day. It is in that spirit that I am introducing this blog. So much of what is happening in this nation and around the world deserves serious debate. From time to time we need to ask some questions and get some real answers before proceeding. We are in a complex world dealing with complicated matters. We are in the midst of economic, political, cultural and technological revolutions that will shape this century. Yet our institutions, public and private, seem incapable of understanding the nature of the change around them. And to often they have become such highly sophisticated bureaucracies that they are impervious to the questions being asked by those living with that change. And for that reason, more and more people are unwilling to give those institutions their trust or their consent. They are in many ways reserving the right to object.

Here I hope to give voice to some of the questions and perhaps even suggest that there are some answers. And I will look forward to the debate that ensues.