Archive for the 'Politics' Category

Bush 41: Pragmatic, civil and stately

The year was 1988. The setting was Mrs. Walton’s sixth grade Social Studies class. The conflict was a debate between a long-forgotten Dukakis / Bentsen supporter and me, the class’ Bush / Quayle surrogate.

As an eleven-year-old, I followed the 1988 presidential campaign like a hawk, clipping newspaper stories and creating my own election scrapbook.

My grandfather drove me in his roller skate of a Mazda 323 to the local Republican headquarters. There, I stocked up on Bush / Quayle yard signs, buttons and bumper stickers.

I was ready for the big debate.

My suburban middle Tennessee county was sufficiently conservative, so I would really need to flop not to win.

In addition to my policy points, I had my jokes lined up. This was sixth grade, after all. Not everyone followed politics as closely as I, much to my surprise.

“What does an old car sound like when it can’t get going?” I asked. “Dukakis, Dukakis, Dukakis.”

George Herbert Walker Bush rode to victory that year on the back of his predecessor’s legacy, his wife’s wit and his vice president’s good looks.

During his time in office, he served the nation with strength, resisting both an Iraqi dictator and a ballooning government. Bush was rightly concerned about federal overspending, especially with an overseas war pending.

In a 1990 budget deal with a Democrat-controlled Congress, Bush agreed to raise certain tax rates which contradicted his “read my lips, no new taxes” pledge from 1988.

Ironically, the deal reduced government spending significantly and instituted a pay-as-you-go (“PAYGO”) rule requiring new spending or tax cuts be offset by spending cuts or tax increases.

It created the framework for a balanced budget in 1997 and several budget surpluses in the years that followed.

Robert Reischauer, director of the Congressional Budget Office at the time, called the 1990 budget “the foundation upon which the surpluses of the 1998 to 2001 period were built.”

Bush’s willingness to compromise in order to make some progress arguably cost him his job in 1992 when a silver-tongued southern governor made him pay for breaking his tax pledge.

A remarkable quality of our 41st president was that he did not hold a grudge. He supported his successor and even partnered with him on charitable missions in their years out of office.

While Bush took his surprise 1992 election defeat quite personally, he quickly rose above the fray, leaving a handwritten letter in the Oval Office for the newly inaugurated President Bill Clinton.

“You will be our President when you read this note,” he said, “I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.”

That, friends, is class and grace and perspective like we’ve never needed more.

Bush moved on with his life… to Astros games and skydiving and watching his children and grandchildren reach the highest levels not of power, but of service.

Scripture says you will know a man by his fruit. Regardless of your political agreement with 41 and his offspring, you cannot argue their high moral character.

Our nation lost an honorable man Friday. We should follow in his civil and stately footsteps.

 

Kevin Thompson writes regularly for The Boerne Star. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

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What Reagan might say about the caravan

Outgoing leaders often save their best for last. In quiet reflection on their years of service, they concretize what matters most in their final addresses to those they led.

The superfluous, the peripheral and the minor take a backseat. What the leaders really believe comes forth.

President George Washington’s farewell address in 1796, with its warnings against political parties, is one example. President Ronald Reagan’s final address in 1989 is another.

Reagan knew when to stand up to bullies and when to let down his guard. Reagan challenged heavy taxes, big government, and communism. He also disarmed his political opponents with wit and respect.

At the conclusion of his farewell address to America, Reagan spent several minutes clarifying a concept to which he had long referred: pilgrim John Winthrop’s description of the Massachusetts Bay Colony as “a city upon a hill.”

“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it,” Reagan said.

“In my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity.

“And if there had to be city walls,” Reagan continued, “the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.”

Reagan concluded that America is “still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”

Today, a caravan of central Americans waits at our southern border. Having travelled thousands of miles, many on foot, these sojourners clearly had “the will and the heart to get here,” as Reagan said.

Many of the caravaners started in Honduras, a country marked by poverty and crime. My sense is a vast majority of these people have good intentions. They are not criminals looking for easy prey. Evil doesn’t flee from evil.

They’re coming for opportunity, for freedom, for the best America has to offer. If they could have come with proper papers through an efficient, legal and understandable pathway, they would have.

Three years before his final address, Reagan had signed an immigration reform law that legalized more than 3 million undocumented immigrants who were living in the United States. He was likely thinking of these people as he put flesh on his vision of America in his farewell message.

He may have also been thinking about economics. He knew vibrant economies need expanding workforces. They need substantial labor to expand infrastructure, make manufacturing competitive and keep services affordable.

If the Gipper were alive today, I think he would say, “Welcome the pilgrims. America can effectively incorporate them into its democracy and into its economy. It has many times over for more than two centuries.”

And if Reagan were to give us a one liner about immigration, I think it would be this:

“Don’t just talk about the walls. Talk about the doors.”

Better political mapping will mediate the extremes

Only slightly more than a third of registered voters will vote in today’s mid-term elections. Even in a presidential year, almost half of legal voters forego their constitutional right.

Recently, a political direct mail piece sat on my kitchen table. My son asked me if I was going to vote for the man on the card. I said yes, but that I really didn’t like him that much.

My son struggled to understand. “Why don’t you just vote for someone else?” The short answer is because I don’t care for the principles of his opponent. The long answer is because our system is broken.

As voters, we are less engaged because we are less consequential than ever before. It’s a fact of life: Where you are less needed, you are less present. Star players show up for every game. Benchwarmers come when they can.

Roughly 80% of Congressmen have nothing to fear on Election Day. Their districts are so convincingly one-sided that the chance of an upset is miniscule. They are, for lack of a better term, shoe-ins. No wonder some stink.

What’s more, seventy some-odd Congressmen are unopposed this fall. Assuming they can scrape themselves off the mattress and find their name on the list, they will win. Their constituents are literally unnecessary. So their constituents are disengaged.

Hope can be defined as having options. When people have few or no promising candidate options, they have no hope in the political system.

We live in a time of political extremes. On one hand, most elections are non-competitive exercises in equivocation. On the other hand, Washington, DC, is hyper-competitive and polarizing. Stalemate and stagnation, gridlock and grandstanding are ubiquitous.

Officeholders from “safe” districts cause the impasses. Think about it: If your home district rewards you for purity and not progress, you have little motivation to solve problems. In fact, it behooves you to leave them wanting for job security’s sake. After all, where will you find another job that pays $174,000 a year to maintain the status quo?

Non-competitive districts are the fruit of two things: one, the tendency of like-minded people to settle near one another; and two, political gerrymandering. No human can stop the former. I have an idea for the latter: block political mapping.

It’s pretty basic and quite achievable in the age geographic information systems. No matter how unique a state’s outline may be, you start on the state line in the most northeastern point of the state. You then start drawing a line to the southwest.

At whatever point the line becomes the diagonal of a rectangle that encapsulates the number of citizens a particular political district is required to have, you stop. That is District 1.

Repeat the process until the state (or county, city, etc.) is divided into equally populated, right-angled rectangles. Only the districts along an irregular border such as a river will not be exact rectangles. But they will still be drawn by a non-partisan computer.

Block mapping will bring more competitive races, and rarely does competition fail to increase quality of life. More competitive elections will force parties and philosophies to put their best, least smelly feet forward. “Good enough” candidates will no longer be good enough to win.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

When ambition becomes ambiguous

Doris Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals” profiles the political brilliance of Abraham Lincoln. In the book she references a French aristocrat who visited a burgeoning America in 1831.

Alexis de Tocqueville was sent on a royal mission to examine America’s prisons. But after touring the United States for two years, he published a broader work in 1835 entitled “Democracy in America.” Its insights are timeless and its warnings are timely.

As Goodwin notes, Tocqueville captures the spirit of the age in which Lincoln and his contemporaries rose to leadership. As children of the American experiment, these men recognized the experiment’s distinction from European aristocracy and its value for social mobility.

Tocqueville writes:

“When both the privileges and the disqualifications of class have been abolished and men have shattered the bonds which once held them immobile, the idea of progress comes naturally into each man’s mind.

“Ambition becomes a universal feeling… Every American is eaten up with a longing to rise.”

Lurching forward 175 years: Is ambition a universal feeling in America today? Does every American have a longing to rise?

A handful of factors makes me think not.

First, the post-modern culture ridicules ambition. Take the latest McDonald’s commercial in which a high school freshman scans extra-curricular options: debate team, math team, chess team and then this innovation: “The Chill Out with a McCafe Iced Coffee Team.”

Two less-than-eager team members lure recruits by leaning coolly back in their chairs and sipping on sugary, caffeinated bevs.

Second, the consumer culture levies high finance costs. Consumer lusts leverage future income and limit financial flexibility. Committing tomorrow’s money today makes the present look brighter than the future. It’s tough to see the way up when one is paying the minimum $86 payment on a $8,000 credit card balance.

Third, government benefits neutralize ambition. When taxing authorities provide more and more goods and services, people get complacent. When basics are met apart from a person’s hard work and determination, it zaps his/her drive to ascend. Poor decisions then beget poor decisions.

Fourth, government regulation postpones or eliminates the rewards of ambition. When a business owner has to spend more time complying with laws and regs, the payoff of risk-taking makes less sense. Heavy government intrusion squelches the drivers of growth and mobility, namely, entrepreneurship and innovation.

Fifth, relational inadequacies are growing. In Lincoln’s day, young people served as apprentices and proteges. They built the trust of older generations. They needed these connections in order to survive and they wanted them in order to advance.

Today, TV, movies, video games and Internet browsing often interrupt relationship-building. They can diminish ambition. Very little of modern media is productive or creative. Most is consumptive and reactive.

Not everyone is made to be an entrepreneur. However, everyone is made to create in some way. Media consumption crowds out creativity, and, without creativity, there is no ambition.

Elsewhere in “Democracy in America,” Tocqueville warns against a democracy of unambitious citizens.

In their ignorance and materialism, they are susceptible to a despotic government that “does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them, and directs them; it rarely forces one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one’s acting; it does not destroy, it prevents things from being born.”

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star. Follow him online at www.kwt.info.

An attorney we should hire

Dan Branch

It’s not every year that you get to vote for someone you know well in a statewide election. In the interest of making the most of a rare opportunity, I want to tell you about my good friend Dan Branch.

Some people really love politics and some people really love governing. Few people love both politics and governing. The politicians who end up doing something stupid in office? They’re usually those who love the challenge of getting elected but who get bored with the minutia of governing.

Dan Branch loves good politics but not at the expense of good governance. Good politics made him representative of one of the most influential parts of Texas (Downtown and Park Cities Dallas). Good governance has kept him there for more than a decade.

Good politics made him a state budget writer in his very first term in the Legislature. Good governance made him push to reform the state’s public school finance system – changes that provided relief to Robin Hood districts.

Good politics made him chairman of the Higher Education Committee in the Texas House of Representatives. Good governance led him to institute a matching grant program in order to spark more Tier One research institutions in Texas.

Branch’s politics and governing stem from his legal training and sharp business mind. After finishing SMU Law School, he worked a few years for a big law firm in New York City before returning to Texas to start his own small firm.

He has represented large and small businesses alike and has negotiated many complex real estate transactions. He arguably has a more extensive and well-rounded legal background then either of his two Republican primary opponents. But that’s not the main reason I’m voting for him.

I am voting for him because I have seen behind-the-scenes the caliber of the man he is. The way he treats his his wife and their five children, the way he treats a random constituent on a street.

If you schedule a meeting with him he may very well be a few minutes late because he has given his undivided attention to whomever has just crossed his path.

Branch is as conservative as you or I, though he may not show up on the far right propaganda. This is probably because votes are easily misconstrued in the Legislature.

Branch is a pragmatist who understands that when the people hand a political party the reins of government, they expect results not finger-pointing.

Results are why he will show up in the endorsements of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, the Texas Municipal Police Association, the Texas Association of Business and the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, among others.

I know him well because I served on his staff during his early days in the Legislature. Though I worked for him, he routinely outworked me, often staying up late to absorb more information that would later lead to better decisions.

So my calculus is fairly simple: Sharp mind plus high integrity plus strong work ethic equals a really solid candidate for Texas Attorney General in the March 4th Republican primary. Early voting started today. Read more on Dan at http://www.danbranch.com.

Follow Kevin Thompson at www.kwt.info.

Late Night with Ted Cruz

“People describe you as arrogant, aggressive and abrasive.”

That’s how Jay Leno began his Tonight Show interview recently with Texas’ junior U.S. Senator Ted Cruz.

I looked back at how Leno opened his last late-night interview with President Obama on August 7 of this year.

“Happy birthday, Mr. President!”

The president described his party with long-time friends, the golf and basketball they played. Keeping the sports theme, Leno lofted softball questions on embassy safety and international travel warnings.

By contrast, Cruz had to dig himself out of a hole he hadn’t dug. “I’m just trying to do my job,” Cruz began. “To have a chance to stand up and fight to try to turn this country around, I feel incredibly privileged.”

In backhanded fashion, Leno complimented Cruz on having principle only to question whether it keeps him from compromising.

Cruz quoted Reagan: ‘What do you do if they offer you half a loaf? You take it and go back and ask for more.’”

Predicting Reagan would join the conversation, Leno was ready: “I don’t think Reagan could get in the Tea Party today.”

Cruz was ready, too. He offered the amateur political commentator a history of Reagan’s rise.

“Reagan challenged an incumbent Republican president in the 1976 primary. He led a grassroots revolution during a time of economic stagnation when the policies of Jimmy Carter weren’t working. We face similar circumstances today.”

Citing low Congressional approval, Leno suggested Americans are sick of political brinkmanship. Cruz didn’t disagree but called the real divide between entrenched politicians and the American people, not between Democrats and Republicans.

Leno: “You’re set in your ways. Are you not an entrenched politician, Senator?”

Cruz: “What I’m entrenched about is fighting for 26 million Texans who tell me what they care about is jobs and economic growth. What we have in Washington is career politicians who want more spending and taxes and regulation.”

Cruz continued, “The rich do great with big government. Big business does great with big government. The people who get hurt are the small businesses and workers.”

Leno claimed to “get that” and tried another hot box. “If your priority is jobs, why so much focus on social issues?”

Cruz didn’t take the bait. He said his focus has stayed on jobs and economic growth, particularly Obamacare, “the #1 job killer.”

When Cruz brought up people’s cancelled insurance policies, Leno tried to balance the scales: “You don’t want Obamacare but 25% of your state doesn’t have health insurance so Obamacare would help them, wouldn’t it?”

Cruz answered, cleverly, not pompously, “Not if it costs them their jobs.”

When Leno pushed on gay marriage, Cruz said marriage should be between a man and a woman but supported each state’s right to decide.

Throughout, Cruz calmly turned Leno’s biases into bases for sound argument. Even under bright Hollywood lights, Cruz seemed like the same guy I dined with in a Texas hill country vistro a few years ago.

Texans are fortunate to have an intelligent, articulate and passionate politician representing them on the east – and left – coasts.

Kevin Thompson is an opinion columnist in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.


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