Archive for June, 2011

Still on the hunt

In December I said that all I wanted for Christmas was a Republican presidential candidate I can get excited about. Another former governor has entered the race, but I’m still on the hunt.

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman announced his candidacy Tuesday. He could have been running for President Obama’s press secretary. He spoke of civility and President Obama’s patriotism.

I’m all for getting along. I teach it to my kids daily. But I’m also for differentiating, for creating distinctions. More civility is not the answer for us Republicans. We can’t get any more civil than John McCain in 2008, and that didn’t go so well. How much exponentially worse off are we now than then?

I appreciate Mr. Huntsman’s life of service, his commitment to a rather large family, his recognition of the need for fiscal reform.

But I want to hear my party’s nominee more squarely name the problem. I want him or her to speak clearly about the free market violations that led to and followed the financial crisis. The government interventions that did more harm than good.

For example, the government-endorsed giving of home loans to people who couldn’t understand them, much less afford them. The bailing out of those who borrowed and lent too much. The billion dollar “shovel ready” stimulus that was supposed to put people back to work but didn’t.

Even the language “shovel ready” indicates the economic cluelessness of the current administration. George Mason University professor Russell Roberts wrote this week about economist Milton Friedman’s visit to an Asian canal construction project.

He noticed no heavy machinery at work and was told that using shovels instead of bulldozers created more jobs. “Then why not use spoons?” the legendary free marketeer asked.

I want to see someone take on President Obama like Ronald Reagan took on Jimmy Carter. Reagan was friendly and in good spirits but he was passionate and direct. He was unafraid to call a spade a spade or an economic failure an economic failure.

In the 1980 speech that Governor Huntsman attempted to mimic Tuesday in New Jersey, Reagan described accurately the depressed state of affairs in America:

“Let it show on the record that when the American people cried out for economic help, Jimmy Carter took refuge behind a dictionary. Well, if it’s a definition he wants, I’ll give him one. A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.”

In Barack Obama, we have Jimmy Carter’s aloofness combined with Bill Ayers’ liberal activism. It’s a dangerous concoction that has done eight years of damage in two and a half miserable years. We need someone who can communicate this fact with equal parts grace and truth. From what I can tell, Mr. Huntsman has more grace than truth.

Kevin Thompson is a former chief of staff in the Texas House of Representatives and is currently Vice President of Texas Heritage Bank. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

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Founding Fathers’ Day

Liberals sometimes scoff at the way conservatives esteem the architects of our nation.

What’s the big deal, they wonder, about a bunch of WASPs in wigs and knickers? How could a collection of 18th century enlightenment thinkers craft a governing framework that suffices for our complex, contemporary society?

True, the fathers of our nation could not have fully imagined our world today and the amenities in it. But they could see a lot because they had seen a lot. They were people of vision, born to people of vision.

While most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were native to one of the thirteen colonies, their near relatives had ventured from the Old World.

Either the framers themselves or their immediate ancestors were pioneers who pictured a preferable place to live, work, worship and raise families. Their minds were not limited to what had existed before. As a result, they crafted a republic at a time when monarchs ruled the day.

Our founding fathers were men of courage. The Declaration signers knew they might pay for their actions with property, limb or life. Yet they cowered not from the possible consequences. They unequivocally challenged the most powerful force on the face of the earth with little more than the rightness of their cause.

Despite their underdog status, they were thoughtful, or, to use a trendy politico term, serious. They were students of Bacon and Locke, Descartes and Voltaire. More than half of the Constitution’s signers had college degrees. Virtually all were leaders in law, business, government or agriculture.

These realities did not prevent them from recognizing the value of all classes of citizens. They established the House of Representatives and courts of law in recognition of such value. Their checks and limitations on government’s role in people’s lives are imitated the world over to this day. Their forethought was historic, their wisdom epic.

Utopians and egotists they were not, however. They provided freedom, not full provision. They knew it was impossible to give both.

Their system protects us from our government. It protects us from each other. It does not attempt to protect us from ourselves.

Can we improve upon the framework they built? Yes, and we have, when we have expanded liberty. We haven’t when we have expanded government beyond what was intended and beyond what can be sustained.

Reagan reinforced this truth in his farewell address: “Man is not free unless government is limited. There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts.”

Our founding fathers left big shoes and long shadows. Secretary of State Daniel Webster understood the unique nature of their accomplishments. In 1825, he offered perspective for the generations that followed them.

“We can win no laurels in a war for independence. Earlier and worthier hands have gathered them all. Nor are there places for us … [as] the founders of states. Our fathers have filled them. But there remains to us a great duty of defense and preservation.”

And to us, as well.

 

Kevin Thompson is a former chief of staff in the Texas House of Representatives and is now vice president of Texas Heritage Bank. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info

Alphabet soup

It’s one thing for our federal government to sound like alphabet soup: EPA, FDA, SEC, FAA, IRS, CBO, etc. It’s another thing for it to act like alphabet soup.

President Obama promised in January to completely review the organization of the government. At that point, he questioned why salmon in freshwater was overseen by the Interior Department and by the Commerce Department in saltwater.

Interesting question, but we have bigger fish to fry.

Within the last week, I heard from two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who bemoaned the state of two large and consequential federal agencies. The impact of the agencies’ incompetency can be felt in terms of dollars, jobs and even lives.

The first entrepreneur was Henry Nothhaft, CEO of Tessera Technologies and author of the recently released Great Again: Revitalizing America’s Entrepreneurial Leadership.

His company deals heavily with the U.S. Patent Office. Prior to 2002, he could get a patent application answer in twelve to eighteen months. Today, it takes three to four years. Korea grants them in under a year.

Fault should not be laid solely at the feet of patent office bureaucrats. Surprise, surprise, Congress is also to blame.

The patent office is the only self-sustaining agency of the federal government. Patent application fees completely fund its activities. According to Nothhaft, in recent years Congress has siphoned off $1 billion to go to other budget areas. As a result, patent office performance has plummeted and companies can’t get the investor funding necessary to take innovations to market.

Nothhaft also rightly critiques the Sarbanes-Oxley (Sarb-Ox) accounting reform legislation from 2002. In order to prevent future Enrons and Worldcoms, Congress slapped one size fits all regulation on all businesses including 15-20 person startups. The legislation disproportionately affects smaller innovators who will never cause a financial system meltdown.

Pre-Sarb-Ox, nearly two hundred venture capital-backed initial public offerings (IPOs) occurred every year. In 2009, there were twelve.

The second entrepreneur commercializes medical technology and bio-science solutions. Richard Ferrari, managing director of De Novo Ventures, lamented the “regulatory creep” of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Ferrari drove home (no pun intended) his point at a reception for InCube Labs, a San Jose-based incubator that has opened shop in San Antonio.

He claimed that it is so difficult to get a product approved by the FDA that medical device and drug companies are doing clinical trials and initial roll-outs in Europe rather than in the U.S. That means more jobs overseas and fewer at home. In the venture capital world, time is money. To be competitive, U.S. companies need an FDA that is committed to both safety and speed.

Let Mr. Obama’s reforms begin here. Bureaucratic, governmental red tape is not the American way. It’s just not in our DNA.

 
Kevin Thompson is vice president at Texas Heritage Bank and a political columnist for The Boerne Star. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

Granules for Graduates

It is that time of year when young people walk across stages to exchange adolescence for adulthood. It could actually be that easy, if they would but listen to and act upon the wisdom of commencement speakers and newspaper columnists!

Alas, notwithstanding the youthful propensity to learn the hard way, my (unsolicited) two cents, on politics and beyond, for the Class of 2011:

Do an internship in a local, state or federal government office. You’ll answer phones and stamp envelopes but you’ll get to see how collective decisions get made and how you can influence the process in the future.

Volunteer for a real campaign (and, sorry, sorority pledge director doesn’t count). Student leadership roles are popular, but they’re not as useful and long-term meaningful as experience in a real-world operation.

Figure out where your passion and public policy intersect. Ask your professors or company leaders. Government touches every area of life. You should know who makes the decisions for how it touches yours.

Don’t be afraid to specialize. Some degrees are so broad that you can “do anything with them.” In actuality, they are so general that you can’t do anything with them. Specializing opens, not closes, doors. Just like boundaries for kids increase their creativity, the more targeted your endeavors, the more opportunity will come from them.

Technology has shortened communication gaps. Texting and Facebook messaging are easy and fun, but consequential business will always get done through voice to voice and face to face relationships. Practice those communication skills if you want to rise above the masses. And don’t text and drive.

Run every social interaction through the rubric of “How will this situation help me lead a healthy family one day?” I hear often, “I married the wrong person,” and think to myself, “No, you were the wrong person.” Don’t expect to give yourself physically to a slew of partners and get a committed, satisfying marriage in return.

We live in a fame-happy culture. There is an ever-present temptation to concern yourself with what other people think of you. On this topic, author and all around wise guy Mark Twain offered a helpful epiphany:

“When I was 20, I cared a lot about what people thought of me. When I turned 30, I no longer cared what they thought. When I reached 40, I realized that people weren’t thinking about me to begin with.”

You were born into a situation that you did not choose. For better or worse, things happened to you and around you that you did not control. You are not responsible for what happened to you as a child. You are responsible for how you respond as an adult.

It will help to believe that you have a Heavenly Father who created you and cares deeply for you. Israel’s illustrious King David believed as much. His words from Psalm 62: “One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving.”

Strength and love. May these your aspirations be.

Kevin Thompson is a political columnist for The Boerne Star. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.


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