Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Let's face it. President Obama has been ukered by his opponents after they hoisted him by his own petard when he accepted, with inappropriate hubris, the renaming of the affordable care act as Obamacare. I believe someone once said, "pride goeth before the fall!" Someone else ( Dutch political philosopher Soren Kierkegaard) also said '" if you label me you can dismiss me".



    Once he accepted the label, his opponents were able to focus the opposition to everything the President stands for by centering on  his signature achievement, health care reform.



     It matters not that the idea of mandating universal purchasing of health insurance plans was a Republican one. Obama actually took a chapter out of Mitt Romney's Massachusetts play book and implemented the idea on a national scale, much to his complete discredit by his unrelenting Republican opposition which decries anything and everything associated with this President . As my father used to say, “When you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas”.



     The Republicans  have adopted as their motivational mantra the need to repeal Obamacare. They claim it is responsible for sluggish job growth, excessive national debt, and almost everything else including tooth decay. This is now in addition to their original cries of "socialized medicine" and "death panels".  The problem is the sheer unending incessance of their anti Obamacare chants have blurred the ability of the average voter to focus on the positive accomplishments of this same President. That is a shame, but it is Barack Obama's shame because of his  own unwillingness and/or reluctance to fight back. In his world,  facts matter,  and rationality prevails. Unfortunately,  in the world outside of  Harvard Law review circles, repetitive ridiculizing is more potent than  professorial probity.



     Let's face it. The last time a US President was as vilified and de -legitimized as Barack Obama was nearly seventy years ago, when Harry Truman couldn't catch a break with the Republicans,  even if he bought them all winning lottery tickets. Then again, governmentally sponsored lotteries didn't exist back then. We actually funded the national government through a system called the Progressive income tax, which forced the well to do to pay their fair share of the bill. Sadly, that system too has fallen on such hard times, and become prey to so many loopholes that people are even crying out for a "fairer" flat tax.



     The only solution to regain his lost footing and to get back into the game is for Barack Obama to sprinkle himself with the fairy dust of a Harry Truman persona, and "Give 'em hell", not hieroglyphic histrionics.



     Former Vice President Dick Cheney recently opined on the Fox News Channel that President Obama in proposing cutbacks in the post cold war military budget was not driven by world circumstances as much as by budget considerations. “He’d much rather spend the money on food stamps than he would on a strong military or support for our troops”, said Cheney.  That type of delusional diatribe must not go unanswered.  Barack Obama , should call a press conference, and call out Cheney directly on his duplicity and demagoguery.  He should demand an apology , and hold Cheney’s record up for examination at the same time.  There comes a time when you just can’t take it lying down anymore, and that time has long since arrived.  Would that Obama would show some sense of indignation, and/or downright anger and antipathy toward his less than civil critics.  They continue to label him and dismiss him, and should no longer do so with impunity.



     He needs a strong defense, as well as  a good offense, politically speaking, both of which seem to be lacking as a result of his ponderous temperament. Long boring factual dissertations simply do not cut it in this facts be damned Fox News saturated world of pious platitudes, pungent sarcasm and pontificating punditry. Obama needs to sharpen his rhetoric and his elbows if he is to get back in the game and make a real difference. The other option is to keep sliding into the dustbin of history and to leave a lackluster legacy in place of the luminescence that might have been. Here's hoping the President will saddle up and ride out the rest of his term with the roughridering bravado of Teddy Roosevelt and the common man,  common sense courage of Harry Truman. It's worth a try.

Friday, February 21, 2014

(  Spoiler warning...some readers will consider this article simply sour grapes. Maybe so, but it is still important to say some things that need to be said.)



     Once upon a time, in a land not too far away, there lived a system for selecting candidates for higher public office which required that a certain amount of dues be paid before candidates could advance through the chairs, like in the Elk's club.



Alas, that system no more. It has apparently gone the way of the horse and buggy. It is an anachronism in a new political world where fame and fortune count more than experience, guts and gusto. It's really all about the money. That is sad.



     It wasn't always this way.. But today, it's about celebrity and cash, not experience and judgement. No wonder our legislative process has become gridlocked. It becomes a clash of colossal egos rather than a contest of principle, balanced by compromise and cooperation.



     As a case in point, take the recent selection process used by the Democrats to fill a seat being surprisingly vacated by three term Congressman Bill Owens. of Plattsburgh.   I believe it was former Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn who said , of the Kennedy crowd's penchant for selecting the "best and the brightest", "It would be nice if even one of them had run for Sheriff once” .    





North Country Democratic chairs, suffering from a thin bench of political candidates ready to move up the line, settled on a film maker and Phish songwriter who runs a health food store in Brooklyn and was not even registered to vote from his upstate " home" until the weekend before his selection as the candidate. He was chosen  in a closed door process that took place in a remote Adirondack Mountain location on a snowy February day. Oh transparency! Where are you when we need you the most?



     These days, the minimum entrance fee for anyone to be considered as a candidate by the Democratic Congressional campaign committee is $200,000 cash on hand. The ability to raise upwards of several million dollars for the race is also a plus.
   
     If you are unable to be a self funder like 26 year old millionaire Sean Eldridge who is challenging incumbent R Chris Gibson in NY's 19th district, you are required to make calls on a constant basis to surpass that $200,000 threshold level.  It was so daunting a task for Omaha City Council President Dan Festersen, that faced with a choice of making fundraising calls or attending his daughter's spelling bee. He
chose the spelling bee, and dropped his bid for Congress with its onerous dialing for dollars requirement. The days of Mr. Smith goes to Washington are long gone.

     According to the “Vital Statistics on Congress” ( a joint study of the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute), the cost of a winning campaign for congress has increased 344% since 1986, while the cost of a Senate seat has only increased 62% during the same time frame.  Part of this is due to the fact that the congressional districts are so gerrymandered, that there are fewer and fewer swing seats to contest, driving the cost up for each, since it is majority control of the Congress that hangs in the balance.  Out of the 465 seats in Congress, less than 100 can be considered possible swing districts or “toss ups”, which is what the NY 21st district is now considered.  It is all about the money.  That conclusion is inescapable.

     Money is the ticket to "higher office" these days. Not experience. Not seasoned judgment hewn by years of involvement in the local and state governmental process, It's all about money and/or celebrity, and money comes first.



     It doesn't take a genius to figure out why this is a broken system. It is also a process that can be more easily controlled by those who have a vested interest in perpetuating a system which works to their advantage.



     When Hillary Clinton was thinking of running for the Senate in New York, and she asked me as a former party chair what I thought, I told her that , while I meant no disrespect,she was a Chicago native , transplanted to Arkansas, and later Washington, who knew little about Upstate New York. I said to her then,

“Mrs. Clinton, when you can tell me the difference between Oswego, Owego, Otsego and Otego, then you should run". Six months later I saw her at an event in Watertown, and she approached me and said, " Oswego is in Oswego County. Owego is in Tioga County. Otsego is in Otsego County, and Otego is in Otsego County as well !" I replied, " Go for it"! She did, and her whirlwind getting to know you upstate tour was a resounding success. As they say, the rest is history.



Perhaps Aaron Woolf, the newly minted Congressional candidate for Northern New York will take a chapter out of Hillary Clinton's political play book, and learn all about where Croghan bologna comes from, what squeaky cheese curds come from which  hamlet, and the difference between Carthage, Copenhagen and Constableville.   When and if he does, he might make a fine candidate after all, but there is much homework yet to be done , and many more miles for him to go before North Country Democrats can sleep easy about their leaders’ choice to run for Congress. Hope springs eternal in the human breast.



(The author is a former Mayor of Oswego and Co-chair of the State Democratic Party who flirted with the idea of becoming a candidate for the seat himself, before rejecting the possibility. )

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sullivan will not run in NY 21

     Democratic chairs will gather tomorrow in Long Lake, NY to interview , behind closed doors, potential candidates for Congress, and then make an endorsement. This is what happened in 2009, except , since it was a special election, the decision of the chairs, which was greatly influenced by the DCCC and the White House, was final, as there was no opportunity for a primary. This time around it is different, as there can be a primary, and so selecting a candidate behind closed doors seems to me to be too insular a procedure, without openness and an opportunity for rank and file Democrats and other political activists to either be heard or to participate . Why not an open,  District wide convention? That would spark media interest, and keep the manipulative forces at bay.  There is still time to do that. They should let the sunlight in. It can be a powerful disinfectant.
    A closed door top down selection process  is the wrong way to go about candidate selection, and consequently, I have chosen not to participate in that process.

     Our political and electoral system is broken. It is badly in need of repair. Without significant and fundamental reform, we are left with but an illusion of democracy which our forefathers would hardly recognize.
     For me, the question has been , should I work to fix it? Is it fixable? And if so, how best do I go about it... From the inside out, or outside in? Could I succeed in getting elected to Congress with my integrity intact, or would I  have to so prostitute my principles to achieve success in the electoral process that I would myself become part of the problem I have been seeking a solution for? If you are not The Lord of the manor, you are lorded over by the special interests. It is they who control the political process, and too often, the outcome.That is a sad, but true commentary on our system.
     After three weeks of travel, deliberation  and discussion with friends, family, and supporters,  it is my conclusion that any real effort to reform the system on my part, should be directed from the outside in, and consequently, I will not seek the Democratic nomination for the 21st Congressional District.

    For several years, I have owned the domain name "Gethemoneyoutofpolitics.com  I think the time has come to launch that website and work toward promoting that goal, instead of becoming so caught up in the process of raising money myself to seek elective office, that I could lose sight of that very goal.
     So I will continue to write, to speak, to teach, and to advocate governmental reform ,  unencumbered by the burden of being  a candidate for public office myself. I thank those who expressed offers of support and encouragement for my potential candidacy, and I would encourage their continued involvement in supporting a progressive populist to replace outgoing Congressman Bill Owens.
    In so doing,  I would encourage our local Democratic leaders to open up the process instead  of shrouding it in secrecy and closing  the doors to public participation and scrutiny. That would be an important step in the right direction. Barring that,
to quote Yogi Berra. It seems to me that this is "déjà vu all over again" .

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Prequel to the SOTU

     We are stuck. We can't move forward when half of the national legislature is cheering for the failure of the President, and refuses to budge  on virtually anything. In order to move forward, raise the minimum wage, get meaningful immigration reform, and achieve a whole host of other things, we have to clean house, literally. Voters have to vote for a Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate, or else we are doomed to be in the doldrums for the next two years.
   If the Democrats can get a majority in both houses, and move forward with some of the President's agenda, they can be measured by the degree of their success in 2016, and if they haven't succeeded we can throw the bums out, and elect new leadership. But divided government right now isn't working . As one commentator said, " You can't shake hands with someone who has a  closed fist.
     Divided government only works when there is the possibility of compromise, on both sides. When that doesn't work, then it is time to adjust the system, and adopt a more parliamentarian type of government where one party gets to set the agenda., and is then held accountable for it, as in European parliamentary democracies. There is always the No confidence vote if the agenda of the party in control doesn't work.
     But in the US, despite the Dow Jones average doubling from 8.000 to 15,000 from when Obama took office, no one is willing to give him credit for it, and his legislative initiatives are being held hostage by the Koch brothers and their murky alliances and sphere of influence which has poisoned our body politic with tons of money and shadow think tank input which encourages continued gridlock.
     The agenda of the monied oligarchy is to keep their power and ability to dominate the national agenda and maintain a social fabric which is to their liking.
Citizens United lets them do that, by completely corrupting the political process to the point that money is the only
 criteria for congressional eligibility. Bar none. Frankly, that is more than disturbing. It is lamentable beyond comprehension, because all we are left with is the illusion of democracy and a government dominated, owned, lock stock and barrel by the  monied interests that keep a solid grip on the commonweal, and erode the opportunity for the common citizen to advance his economic circumstances.
     The debate over increasing the minimum wage is a case in point. There are those who just philosophically disagree with the concept of a minimum wage. That political fight was fought and decided decades ago. And if we have a minimum wage , and we have had.one  for over 50 years, it should be just that... a minimum (translated living ) wage. It needs to be adjusted from time to time to have relevance. It needs to be fixed, as do so many other things for which government bears a responsibility.  Paralysis in the face of problems is no virtue. Compromise in the face of adversity is no vice. We need to rearrange the political chessboard if we are to succeed at all.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering 1963

Nov 15, 1963, was a bright , sunny, beautiful day in New York City. The weather was much like another bright sunny day in New York several decades later ( September 11th, 2001),  Back then, I was a high school senior attending a National CYO Convention in NYC at the Hilton Hotel. At about 12:15, a bunch of us were returning from
The NBC studios in Rockefeller Center where we watched 'The Price is Right" and as we neared the Hilton on Sixth Avenue there was a hubbub of police activity, and someone shouted that the President was here to make a surprise visit to the CYO Convention. He was speaking earlier that day at the Americana Hotel ( now the NY Sheraton) a few blocks away, at the AFL-CIO Convention.
    We hurried up onto the crowded escalator to get up to the Hilton ballroom which was wall to wall teenagers, and we pushed our way into the ballroom. Nancy Sereno actually got up on my shoulders so she could see what was happening as I forged ahead through the packed crowd, when we heard an announcer say "Boys and Girls, the President of the United States...! " You can imagine the roar of the crowd, and then, out stepped John F. Kennedy who said " My uh, my uh, fellow CYO ers!" Absolute pandemonium and cheers erupted at that moment of solidarity. The president was one of us!. I don't remember anything else he said after that, and actually , we hustled out of the ballroom and hustled back down the escalators to catch a glimpse of Kennedy's motorcade, which , I had read in the news, was stopping for stop lights ( a controversial move at the time).
     We moved out onto the curb at the corner of 54th St. and Sixth avenue, and in a few minutes, I looked about ten feet away, and there was a black Cadillac vehicle heading east on 54th St., stopped, waiting for the light to change, and there in the backseat passenger side, with the window down, sat John F. Kennedy. I froze at first, then called out, "Mr. President!" He looked at me and smiled, and extended his hand out the window to shake hands, as I ran over toward the limo. At that moment, the light changed, and the limo pulled away, and I  was inches away from touching his hand. But it was not to be. Nevertheless, that moment is forever etched in my memory,, in a kind of slow motion, freeze frame way.
    It was a moment in time I shall never forget. It was sealed even more firmly into my memory banks by what happened, exactly one week later, to the hour, in Dallas Texas, on a bright sunny day, November 22nd, 1963. 

     Fast forward one week....I will never forget that first of the season pep rally at Oswego Catholic High, 50 years ago, when Father Yennock asked us all to stand and sing the Star-Spangled Banner together in the middle of the pep rally, which we all knew was weird, and his announcement after that, that the President had been shot in Dallas, and had died. Our collective grief was unbearable as we wandered out of St. Francis Hall in a daze. Our lives were never again the same. Nothing has ever been the same since, and nothing ever will.






Sent from my iPhone


Friday, October 4, 2013

   I learned long ago that in politics, while it is tempting  to vanquish your enemies, sometimes a little twig from an olive branch can work wonders, and provide a face saving way for your foes to retreat, so you can both  then move forward.  

     Obama  could agree to postpone the penalty on individuals for non enrollment for one year, to work out some of the kinks that may be coming apparent in implementation of the law. He already granted corporations a one year hiatus for the same reason. He should do this not because republicans have shut down the government, but because it is the right thing to do, and couple that with a vote on the debt ceiling limit, and call it a day. Hold Boehner to his pledge to avoid default, and kill two birds with one stone, and then move on to solving other problems, like immigration and infrastructure development. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


Standing up to the wrong bully

  For several years, I have argued with my college age students about the real causes of our prolonged involvement in Iraq. We have discussed the term “hubris” ad naseum.  Weapons of mass destruction, deception, oil, mission accomplished,  and salesmanship have also entered into the dialogue.  One example that I have used to make my point to them is citing the film “Steel Magnolias”, and Sally Fields reaction on the death of her daughter, played by Julia Roberts.

     In a famous scene shot at the cemetery where her daughter had just  been interred, Sally Fields, sobbing, keeps repeating “Why..Why..Why.  I am so angry, I am just so angry, I just want to punch someone”, says Sally Fields.  At that point, Olympia Dukakis grabs Shirley MacLaine, the character who portrays Ouisa Boudreaux , a curmudgeonly older lady for whom everyone has contempt at one point or another, and says “Here, hit Ouisa!”  At that point Sally Fields says, “Hit Quisa?”  and her sobbing changes to gales of laughter, and she is surrounded by her beauty parlor friends who laugh with her at the sheer ridiculousness of the suggestion.

   My point is that in 2003, George Bush made the choice to hit Quisa.  He couldn’t find Osama Bin Laden, and he wanted to punch someone, so he made the case against the usual suspect, nasty mustachioed dictator Saddam Hussein, who had nothing to do with 9/11, but was nonetheless made responsible in the eyes of the American public by an incessant sales job that he possessed weapons of mass destruction, and that he was somehow behind 9/11, neither of which assertion was true.  Ten years later, after billions of our tax dollars were spent to make the middle east safer for democracy, it is deja vu all over again, and we are no further ahead of the ethnic and religious and tribal conflicts that plague the area than we were ten years ago.  But we sure hit Ouisa, and we did so with shock and awe.  And it was all for naught.

     Now, our peace loving President is making the case for war again, and blaming a new Bogeyman, Syrian President Bashir Assad.  He is finally choosing to stand up and fight the bully.  The problem is, number one,  its the wrong bully.  Assad is Ouisa in wolf’s clothing.  The real bully is the Soviet Union whose intransigence and support of this Syrian sheep
has brought the world to the edge of a much broader conflict, and the charge is being led by the President who is so fed up with all the people who have been bullying him, including the right wingers in the Republican Congress,  that he has chosen to stand and fight, and says he won’t back down.  Problem two, Congress is a bully, but if you think by browbeating its members into submission, and shaming them for inaction is going to change their vote in the face of enormous public opposition to another war, you must have been born at night, and last night at that.  

    Choosing when to act, and who to blame, and who to stand up to is a critical test of any leader. Drawing red lines in the sand, politically and diplomatically is a risky business.  Red lines drawn in the sand tend to shift, and lines drawn on political battlements have ways of morphing and moving as well.    President Obama, by choosing the current path, is risking his entire Presidency in a reckless way that doesn’t have to happen.  There are diplomatic alternatives that have yet to be tried.  

     

We understand your frustration Mr. President.  We understand you are tired of the constant “sniping” by Congress.  We understand and share your revulsion at the sight of children gasping for breath and foaming at the mouth.  It was worse than Sandy Hook elementary, and although you have tried, you haven’t been able to change the laws that would prevent another Sandy Hook either. We understand why you want to “Hit Ouisa”. But, to choose Syria as your Rubicon River. ..to throw down the gauntlet and say, the “Die is cast” on this issue, is the wrong choice, at the wrong time, and for the wrong reasons.  And it will not end well, Mr. President.  Finding an alternative is yet preferable to taking the action you have proposed.  Eating crow at the White House is a better choice than escalating a conflict that will go much father than the Rubicon river, once you cross that barrier.  
     
Fortunately, Mr. Obama seems to be the recipient of a last minute Hail Mary pass from
the Russians. He should take the ball, run into the end zone and spike it. Period.