America: The Headless Horseman

October 31, 2014

- If the polls are right, President Barack Obama’s second midterm election losses will be a record in modern history.

Recent two term presidents and net losses in the House of Representatives during midterm elections

Dwight Eisenhower   66

Ronald Reagan  31

Bill Clinton  49

George W. Bush  22

Barack Obama is expected to lose between 68-75

 

Recent two term presidents and net losses in the Senate during midterm elections

Dwight Eisenhower  13

Ronald Reagan   7

Bill Clinton  8

George W. Bush  5

Barack Obama is expected to lose between   11-16

 

- The first midterm election setback for Obama was predictable.  It happened to Eisenhower, Reagan, Bush, Clinton.

- The difference is that most presidents respond to the setback and do better while this second rebuke for Obama is likely to result in unprecedented midterm rejection for a president.

-  In recent history every President who got spanked at midterm was stunned and chastised by the loss and immediately responded to the desires of the people and steered the government back to center.  This was true of conservative leaders like Reagan and liberal leaders like Clinton.  In both cases they sacrificed their own personal and partisan agenda to unite and lead the nation. All the people.

- What makes this moment in history different is that President Obama is ignoring these election setbacks.  He is essentially ignoring the wishes of the American people and using his remaining time in office to cater even more to his shrinking base.

- Everyone is talking about this lack of leadership.  On Ebola, for example, on corruption in the IRS, on incompetence in Veterans Affairs.  America is like the headless horsemen.  But nowhere is this lack of leadership more demoralizing than in its failure to be president of all the people.  To unite the country. It is as if the president only cares about his own.  No one else.

- There may be a very good explanation for this.  This president may not have an emotional need to be loved by the whole country.  Maybe it’s reciprocal. He may see no reason to unite them.  And unlike other presidents, Barack Obama may see a role for himself in the world beyond America, a post presidential international role.  So he may be appealing to specific power groups and constituents beyond this country.


Will Hillary’ granddaughter be a game changer?

September 29, 2014

Will Hillary Clinton’s new granddaughter be a political plus or minus? Will she make us feel kinder toward Hillary, a sometimes choleric personality, or will she remind us that the Clinton’s have been around too long and are corrupted by the process?  Or does it really matter?

Here’s my historical rule of thumb.  Grandkids are usually bad for male leaders and good for female leaders.  The American electorate, anyway, clearly likes their men young and vigorous like John  F. Kennedy and Theodore Roosevelt.   And worldwide, older women have been more successful in politics than younger women.  Maggie Thatcher comes to mind.  So too does Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, who was revered for her wisdom.   She was actually called “the grandmother of the Jewish nation.”

John F. Kennedy was portrayed as youthful and “vigorous,” his failing health hidden from view.  FDR’s polio was carefully shielded by an adoring press who traded access to the boss for serving as his personal public relations team.

When Ronald Reagan’s grandchildren were photographed with the president building a snowman in the Rose Garden, Reagan’s media savvy staffer, Michael Deaver, had a fit.  The grandchildren were never to be seen.  Even the children were kept at bay, when possible.  The Reagan children, products of different marriages were a reminder that the president had been divorced and the grandchildren were reminders that he was old.  Even today, while most Americans can name the Reagan children, not very many can name the grandchildren who were kept from view.

In fact, many recent presidents were grandfathers with grandchildren roaming the halls of the White House.  George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Dwight Eisenhower and FDR all had grandchildren living, at various times, in the White House.

Eisenhower’s grandson, David, lived in the White House with his mother and father, John and Barbara Eisenhower.  The latter, the president’s daughter in law, served as Eisenhower’s hostess on road trips in place of the First Lady.  Mamie Eisenhower had a fear of flying.

Meanwhile, in the Eisenhower White House, grandson David played with the Vice President’s daughter, Julie Nixon.  Years later they were married on the eve of the Nixon presidency, thus at least one president’s grandchild helped elect an American president.

The very first president, George Washington, married the widow, Martha Custis and when her children died, they raised the grandchildren as their own.  George and Martha lived with them in the president’s mansion while George served as the nation’s head of state.

America’s love affair with young, vigorous presidents may be a reaction to our European, monarchial roots.   European cultures have sometimes revered their aging political leaders as if they were Kings or Queen s.  French President Charles de Gaulle served until age 79.  British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill was finally voted out of power at age 81. Otto von Bismarck served as German Chancellor until age 75.  German leader, Paul Hindenburg, served as president until age 86 and in more recent years, Conrad Adenauer served until age 87.

Young female leaders have a more challenging time.  When a younger, First Lady, Hillary Clinton tried to organize the White House push for healthcare, critics said she came off as pushy and presumptuous.  When Republican presidential candidate, Michelle Bachman, an Evangelical Christian, won the Ames, Iowa Cavalcade Straw Poll in 2011 and had a clear path to winning the Iowa Caucus, Southern Baptists leaders rejected the idea of a women candidate and pushed for Texas Governor Rick Perry, also an evangelical Christian, to get into the race.  It was a disaster.  Both candidates failed.

When GOP nominee, John McCain picked Alaska governor, Sarah Palin as his running mate, critics labeled her screechy and shallow.  Her biggest critics were other women.

The gold standard for modern women political leaders is the late, former, Prime Minister of Great Britain, Margaret Thatcher.  The story is that she was given voice lessons to help her lower her voice from a shrill housewife to the calm, sagacious leader that is known to history.

Likewise, one can see the changes in Hillary Clinton’s demeanor.  She has morphed from what critics described as the mean-spirited, know-it-all supervisor of the driver’s license bureau into a more wise and caring leader.  It is very likely that a granddaughter will only speed up that transformation.  If Hillary Clinton is elected president and her political advisers trump the Clinton family penchant for personal privacy, Charlotte Clinton Mezvinsky, born September 26, 2014, to Marc and Chelsea Mezvinsky, may just be the most visible presidential grandchild we have seen in a long time.


When presidents go on vacation

August 16, 2014

Having written about presidents and worked for presidents I can tell you that there are some misconceptions about presidential vacations.  Some things happen like the rest of us.  Some things don’t.

First there is the idea that the president is the boss and can take off when he wants.  Actually, he is at the mercy of other people just as we all are.  For example, he must co-ordinate with the legislative calendar on Capitol Hill.  If he is not in Washington to help lobby his own bills in congress both his legislation and his presidency will suffer.

Likewise, the timing and planning behind visits from foreign Heads of State are calculated well in advance.  If the president cancels a visit in favor of a sudden vacation with the kids to Disney World he can ruin a relationship or trigger an international crisis.  And if the president insists on taking a scheduled vacation when the rest of the world is falling apart he risks a political uproar.

In 1983, when the Soviets shot down a civilian Korean Airlines, Reagan cut short his time at the ranch in California and flew back to the Oval Office to address the nation.

Some people get upset if the president isn’t in the Oval Office with his sleeves rolled up.  But actually the work of a president is making decisions and that process does not stop, not for Eisenhower on the Golf Course, Kennedy at the beach, or Obama on a bicycle.

Woodrow Wilson, who had been the president of Princeton University, and brought an academic mindset to Oval Office decision making, was scandalized by the pace.  He told his wife and daughters that he didn’t have time to think, that he couldn’t even take a walk before making a decision.

The Oval Office was only built in 1909, which means that most presidents never worked there at all.  And today’s West Wing Oval Office was built in 1934 by President Franklin Roosevelt.  Many presidents, such as Richard Nixon, only used it for ceremonial purposes.  He did his real work in a more expansive office in the Old Executive Office Building which is adjacent to the White House mansion.

Some presidents, like George W. Bush, were not paper shufflers.  They got much of their work done through conversations and that could take place anywhere. The staff had to turn it all into paper. When presidents travel their communications network travels with them, as well as a miniature White House staff.

You will hear a lot of people talk about how Air Force One has ushered in a new era of the traveling president.  Not really. American presidents began extensive travel with trains.  At their peak presidential trains crisscrossed the continent and were a virtual traveling White House.  At one time each cabinet member had his own available train.

Presidents have always been criticized for taking time off, beginning with George Washington who often visited Mt. Vernon.  President Obama recently took a lot of hits for taking a vacation in the midst of world crisis but former presidents of both political parties won’t criticize one of their own for getting some rest. “I don’t agree with your politics,” Richard Nixon said to John F. Kennedy, after the latter won the 1960 election, “But I will never criticize you for taking a vacation.”

Perhaps the biggest misconception about presidents is how well informed they are, and how their morning intelligence briefing keeps them in the loop, even while on vacation.

It depends on the president, of course, but almost all of them become isolated in office.  It is the nature of power.  A memo sent to the president is stamped “The President Has Seen” and becomes an official document of government that will one day be seen by the world.  And so staffers who once told their boss everything are reluctant to send information that others will one day see and judge out of context.

While it’s true that because of their security briefings presidents have information that the rest of us don’t have, even on vacation, the fact is that we sometimes have information that they don’t have!  It is a story as old as the Emperor’s Clothes and it is strikingly seen in George W. Bush’s slow response to Hurricane Katrina and the unfolding tragedy in New Orleans. While the whole nation watched as mothers and children were trapped in 90 degree heat on rooftops without water, food or toilets, and an obvious major health crisis was in the making, the president was at his ranch and not to be disturbed. It was a costly mistake.

Having worked on senior staff at the White House I was often astounded and surprised at what the president knew and what he didn’t know.  There just isn’t time for anyone to know everything.


Is Obama too big too fail? Why is he acting so strangely?

July 26, 2014

President Barack Obama’s shameless fundraising tours in the midst of a world in chaos have brought immediate comparisons to Ronald Reagan.   Led by his erstwhile advisers, such as Michael Deaver, who understood imagery, Reagan would have been back in the Oval Office, looking presidential and sounding like the statesman he was.  Reagan would likely have brought his government together, State Department, NSA, Pentegon, CIA and taken an assessment of how it could all impact on American economy and lives.  He would likely have given a national address, reassuring the nation and signalling the world how we expect civilized people to act.

On the surface, Obama’s actions are incomprehensible.  There is no explanation.  Obama appears transcendent, not responsible for his own administration and uncaring about the world around him.

It has been the Obama style from the beginning. The economic crisis was the fault of the previous administration.  When his own stimulus program could not produce one of the one million jobs he promised, it was replaced with more of the same and  blame on congress for failing to immediately enact more of what wasn’t working.

The president declared that he had no responsibility for the IRS which was blatantly being used for political purposes, he had nothing to do with the failed Healthcare website and nothing to do with the Veteran’s Administration which was corrupt on his watch. Whatever happened to Harry Truman and his Oval Office motto, “the buck stops here?”

It was not just that the president was not in charge of anything, or seemed to know anything, or should be blamed for anything, it was also when we found out differently he didn’t apologize.  When we learned, for example, that the $678 million , no bid, Healthcare website was awarded to Michelle Obama’s buddy from Princeton, the White House ignored it all.  When a news agency asked about it they were charged with racism.  When the president’s hand picked political lieutenant at the IRS claimed she had lost her emails the president defended her.

Sometimes, these juxtapositions can get downright comical.  Recently, General Motors was fined millions of dollars by the Justice Department for faulty ignition issues when, in fact, at that time, the company was owned and being run by the U.S. government.  Should the Justice Department fine itself?  When Obama ran for re-election he bragged about saving the auto industry?  But he has no responsibility for the company he bought.   The President is too big to fail.

On closer examination, Obama’s recent actions make sense.  He is angling for his post presidential role.  He will either be the Secretary General of the United Nations or else he will be some NGO equivalent.  Thus, he spent the week campaigning for the Democrat Party and ultimately Hillary Clinton whom he will need as an ally if he is to realize his ambition.  Nor would he want to poke the Russians more than necessary.

And the Federal Aviation Administration’s sudden cancellation of all flights to Tel Aviv?  At a cost to Israel of millions of dollars?  At first we were told that the president didn’t get involved in such things.  And given the fact that the president isn’t responsible for the economy, the IRS, his own Healthcare namesake and the Veterans Administration, to name a few departments, then one could almost believe it.    What does he do with all that free time?  But if he is now on track for his post presidency then it makes perfect sense.  The U.N. votes solidly against Israel, with only American on her side.  Obama will need to have some more of these anti-Israel moments to shore up his support from the African and Arab nations who dominate the the U.N. and will dictate the reach of any international role.

There was an awkward scene on CNN last week.  Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg snapped at Wolf Blitzer.  The CNN reporter had asked if the FAA decision represented policy.  Given Obama’s anti Israel record it was a reasonable question.  And it had just been raised by a U.S. Senator.  A testy Bloomberg was outraged at Wolf Blitzer for daring to ask such a thing.  It was another shameful moment.  Bloomberg has taken a lot of heat for his slavish support of Obama, in spite of his record toward Israel.

The irony was that Bloomberg’s very appearance was proof of the politics of the policy. If Tel Aviv was safe, and Bloomberg could fly there, then why was it ordered closed to all American airlines?  And if it wasn’t safe, why was it opened up again after the American people reacted to the FAA’ decision with outrage?

Oh, by the way, as someone who once worked in the White House, I can tell you that no one at the FAA would make such an unprecedented and politically charged decision without the okay of the president of the United States.  Sorry.

It all points to this very likely scenario.  We will have Barrack Obama on the world stage for a very, very long time to come.

 

Below was a controversial “what would Reagan do” moment during the Egyptian crisis and the Arab spring.  On this segment, several years ago, I voiced a lonely position that turned out to be prophetic.


It’s the end of America as we know it

July 2, 2014

Happy Fourth of July. It’s the end of America as we know it.  And by the way, its the end of baseball, motherhood and apple pie as well.  Baseball has morphed from a game of statistics into a reality show with players always in search of a better and less detectable steroid.  And don’t get me going on apple pie.  Which usually isn’t.  We are edging closer to Soylent Green every day.

The changes for motherhood and women and race are major advances in civilization but the rest is a mixed bag.

What is becoming of America  should give us pause.  We are in what I call a “post Constitutional drift” and it worries me that we so easily, without debate, are confidently moving away from our foundations.

There have been two provocations for this. The first was the attack on 9-11.  President George W. Bush seized unprecedented power for the executive branch of government.

The second has been our Great Recession.  The last time we had the Great Depression it sparked the rise of Hitler and Stalin and World War Two.  You cannot have that much wealth taken from that many people without sociopolitical repercussions.  But it also gave the world FDR and Churchill.  As a student of history I wondered what cataclysmic changes our Great Recession would birth.   And lo and behold, the biggest change was us.  President Barack Obama seized on economic events to assert government involvement on a breathtaking scale. Even former socialist countries in Europe were aghast.  Welfare was increased to the masses while corporate welfare was even more lavish.  The result?  The rich got richer and the poor got poorer at an astounding rate.

In Bush we had our moment of nationalism, in Obama, socialism.  Unless we can recapture the ideals of our American Constitution quickly we are destined to experience our own American version of National Socialism.

We wage preemptive wars, torture our captives and monitor our own citizens on a massive scale.  Our government agencies are accountable to no one and openly defy, even lie to Congress.  Consider this, only a few years ago a president could not get a wire tap without a judge.  Now he can kill you.

In 1946 we joined an international tribunal which indicted Nazi war criminals.  One of the four counts was defined as “war of aggression.”  Our prosecutor, Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, made an eloquent case against what is now American policy, the immorality of a so-called “preemptive war.”

Jackson’s opening statement at Nuremberg should be required reading for television pundits.  He pointed to the June 30, 1934 Blood Purge as the turning point in German justice.  Without formal charges or a trial Hitler ordered the execution of Nazi Brown shirts, (terrorists) who were suspected of planning a counter revolution.  “In this hour I was responsible for the fate of the German people,” Hitler later reported to the Reichstag and the nation, “And thereby I became the Supreme judge.”  The decision was applauded in Germany as a move back toward moderation but Jackson asserts that it was this abandonment of Germany’s own constitution that began its descent into lawlessness.

Barack Obama’s decision to kill American citizen, Anwar al-Awaki, is instructive.  Al-Awaki was a one man Islamic propaganda machine.  His online sermons of hatred inspired terrorism.  In Nuremberg, only one top Nazi propagandist was in the docket.  He was Hans Fritzsche, a popular Nazi radio voice.  But as repugnant as his words had been, the American, Soviet, British and French judges acquitted him.  How can you hang a  man for free speech no matter how repugnant?

Months after the al-Awaki death, his sixteen year old son, an American citizen born in Denver, Colorado, with no ties to radical Islam, went to Yemen in search of his father’s body.  He was likewise killed by an American drone.  We call it a mistake.

Throughout our history we have condemned torture.  The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments.”  Our motion pictures and culture have shown the barbarism of our enemies.  The Japanese and the Germans tortured, so did the North Koreans and later the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese.  Who can forget Michael Cimino’s gut wrenching scenes from Deer Hunter?

Now, in the new post constitutional America, we too, torture.  For legal purposes we do “a little sidestep” in the tradition of Charles Durning in The Last Little Whore House in Texas.  We torture outside the United States and thus our Justice Department contends we are not violating the Constitution.

It isn’t too late. There are about fifty men and women in this country who run the television industry.  They are far more powerful than members of the Federal Reserve, or elected officials, such as members of congress.  They and their television companies have the power to open up a debate on all of this.  If not, we are in the process of losing the great American experiment without even a chance to say goodbye.  It’s the end of America as we know it.

 


Hands on Diplomacy: the foreign policy failure of America

May 14, 2014

American presidents can’t keep their hands off of other heads of state.  It has become embarrassing.  They touch their shoulders, their backs and hold their arms as they guide them to places to stand or sit.  It is as if their guests were little children or blind men who need the assistance of the almighty American president-father.  Kings, Queens or common dictators?  It doesn’t matter.   Our presidents manhandle them all, especially  the women.

Not since George H.W. Bush have we had a president who has enough foreign policy experience to know what most American tourists have learned from their own world travels, namely, that you should not touch other people without permission.  In some countries of Asia and Africa it is considered unsanitary and dirty, the ultimate offense.  You respect the body of the other person.  Shaking hands, a western habit, has only been recently accepted and even it is an offense to many of the masses. One can see the awkwardness in the faces of our visiting heads of state.   Except in rare political instances, such as Queen Elizabeth’s encounter with Michelle Obama, they don’t touch back.  They don’t say, “Thank you for helping me find my spot for the photo op, I was lost and couldn’t read my name on the floor of the stage.”  Or, “Say, thanks Mr. President, for the assist in getting into my chair.  Although I am younger than you I was afraid I was going to take a tumble.”

One can see when they are the host in their own country and our president is the guest, they are not hugging or manhandling him.  He isn’t required to kiss on both cheeks in France.  He is allowed to stand tall, with dignity, not inches but feet away from the French president.  The ushers, doormen and military aides in many foreign capitals (including  France) actually still wear white gloves.

My guess is that there are diplomats and analysts in the U.S. State Department who are horrified by this presidential behavior and have written eloquent, respectful memorandum, tediously explaining the toilet habits of masses of people from different cultures, offering excellent explanations for why and how these traditions have evolved.  And why no matter how close they feel to their leader counterpart, it is often an offense to the people to see their nation’s leader pawed over.   If so, such memorandum never made it past the White House sycophants who cannot stop telling the president-emperor how wonderful he looks in those clothes of his.

The fact is, the emperor is naked.  America’s ignorant presidents from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to Barack Obama make us look patronizing, rude and condescending.  Their obsessive manhandling of foreign leaders and their small gestures of touch and feel, meant to endear, have had their part to play in the collapse of America’s foreign policy.  It is not what the actions themselves have done as much as the contempt they express toward other nations and their cultures.  If an American president is so isolated that he can’t get this obvious memo from Foggy Bottom, then what else is he missing?  What other, more outrageous and idiotic mistakes are being made?  No wonder America has moved from a country that is hated to a country that is now ridiculed in jokes around the world.

In years past I have despised the soft on communism apparatchiks at the State Department.  Now, I admit that we need them to assert themselves.  Someone needs to blow the whistle.  American is losing its public relations battle worldwide out of ignorance and arrogance.  We can see it on television.  Yes, this touchy-feely tendency is only a symptom but it shows that the corruption is complete.  Even our recent secretaries of state have been too cowed by the all powerful American celebrity president.  Somebody needs to speak up.

George H.W. Bush, experienced as a diplomat and ambassador, a former head of the CIA, was America’s last respectable foreign policy president.  He accomplished something that history had never seen.  He united the world behind the effort to enforce the Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.  Yes, he didn’t finish off Saddam Hussein but that was part of the price for world unity and Saddam was clearly kept in check.  Today, having finished off Saddam Hussein and seeing the death of tens of thousands, Iraq has turned into an Islamic nation.  Christians who trace their  heritage back to the apostle Thomas have been tortured, murdered and burned out.   Being Gay or even looking gay has become a death sentence in Baghdad.  Al Qaeda now operates freely in Iraq. And the American economy, suffering from a $2 trillion war that was off the books, has fallen into its second worst depression in history.

Critics are now berating President Barack Obama for backing down from world leadership.  Maybe we should leave him alone.


Presidents and their mothers

May 11, 2014

“All I am or ever hope to be I owe to my angel mother, God bless her.”

- Abraham Lincoln

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to confirm that most of America’s presidents are “mama’s boys.”

It must make Sigmund Freud smile for one of his most enduring discoveries was how the perceived favorite child of a mother is empowered for life.  Consider the overwhelming evidence that mothers play a key role.  Many recent presidents were literally named after their mothers but none of their many siblings.

Ronald Wilson Reagan named after his mother Nelle Wilson.

Richard Milhous Nixon named after his mother Hannah Nixon.

Lyndon Baines Johnson named after his mother Rebecca Baines.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy named after his mother Rose Fitzgerald.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt named after his mother Sarah Delano.

Woodrow Wilson named after his mother Janet Woodrow.

And on and on it goes back into history. Rutherford Birchard Hayes named after his mother Sophia Birchard.  Of course it is not a perfect formula or Marvin Pierce Bush would have been elected president, not his older brother, George W. Bush, but it is common enough to defy any odds.

“You are a Delano,” FDR’s mother, Sarah Delano used to tell him, “not a Roosevelt.”

“I was a mama’s boy,” said Woodrow Wilson, “no question about it, but the best of womanhood came to me through those apron strings.”

“God bless my mother,” Abraham Lincoln supposedly said to his law partner William Herndon,” all I am or ever hope to be I owe to my angel mother.”

Keep in mind, the above famous quote, attributed to Lincoln’s law partner, may never have really been uttered.  Yes, it is featured prominently in almost every biography of Lincoln and appears in the first pages of Pulitzer Prize Award winning books but recent research shows that  the time and place named by Herndon  just couldn’t have happened and so, now even the quote is suspect.  But there is no denying that Lincoln loved his mother and perhaps, even more, his stepmother, who gave him the gift of books.

When I wrote The Raising of President I blind copied some of the above information to five psychologists, asking them to each give me their opinion.  I was especially intrigued why so many of the children who were namesakes of their mother went on to become presidents.

All five answered back with the same conclusion. When the mother took that infant to her breast she felt a special bond with the child who would bare her name for life and the infant could feel it.

I am only a layman who doesn’t pretend to understand such things but if it is true, if a baby can “feel” favoritism then just imagine the power and the impact for good or bad a mother, or a father’s words have on their children?   I was reminded of the experiments conducted by the Royal Horticultural Society.  If the human voice can empower a plant, then it must surely cause powerful reactions for good or bad on a human being.

There is a very predictable family formula for strong leaders, good and bad.  They have an attachment to the mother and an absent father.  Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedung all fit the pattern as neatly as Washington and Jefferson.

Andrew Jackson’s father died before the future president was even born.  His mother died when he was 14 years old.   Even when alive, she was often gone .  As a nurse she tended the wounded during the Revolutionary War.

When Andrew Jackson died as an old man, many years later, his body was full of bullets, including one lodged near his heart and too dangerous to remove.  They were the result of a life of action, including duels and wars.  It was as if he wanted to be worthy, the equal of those Revolutionary War soldiers who took his mother away from him as a boy.

In a sense, Andrew Jackson’s life was one long  journey back into the arms of his mother.

Start reading The Raising of a President right now on Kindle.  Order it for your mother.


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