Sunday, August 9, 2015

I didn't know Rev. Clementa Pinckney. I wish I had. He must have been a remarkable human being. He was a politician as well as a preacher. Those who actually knew him
seem greatly moved by his untimely demise. Those who  did not, not as much.
      It is clear that he was the main inspiration for the South Carolina Legislature to vote to remove the Confederate flag from in front of the Statehouse. He served there in the State Senate, and was apparently revered by all, from both sides of the aisle. Those in Congress who did not know him  did not ennoble themselves recently when they voted to keep the Confederate flag as a symbol in National parks and historic sites. They are attempting to lift back up what South Carolinians voted to take down. South Carolina for once is leading the way , but many of their Republican southern colleagues still haven't gotten the memo. 
     What is clear here is that when you can personalize the notion of oppression, it is much easier to oppose it. The importance of the message coming out of Charleston is that hate can't win,  grace is triumphant, and love , tolerance, and dialogue is the true answer for this country if we ever hope to return to being one nation, under God , and indivisibile, .
     . The tipping point in South Carolina was the tearful speech by State Rep. Jenny Hoyne, a Republican and descendant of Jefferson Davis ( Confederate President)  , who said it was time to take down this public symbol of hatred. It was a symbol of division,  not unity. 
     The lowering of that flag, which required a two thirds vote of the State Legislature , is a significant event. It only came about as a result of the actions of the victims of the church massacre in Charlestown, who responded to that tragedy with grace, charity , dignity and forgiveness, not hate and vituperation. The tragedy of the Emmanuel nine has given birth to a new spirit of cooperation and tolerance, in a way that hate never could.

     But, removal of the State flag is only symbolic. It is the hearts and minds of the supporters of that symbol that still need to be embraced by grace, hope, love and change. We saw how swiftly the walls of opposition to same sex marriage eroded when the debate was put in the context of being free to love who you love, and assuring equality for all under the law. In the same context, when the symbols of hate and repression are seen for what they are,  and not apologized for or papered over by justification of respect for history, real progress is possible. As Governor Nicky Haley said on signing the bill to lower the flag, reversing her original position on the matter, "
  ""We can continue to move forward in a country in a way that unifies people and that shows what real love looks like. That's what I want people to get out of this," she told Matt Lauer of NBC's today show.

"I don't want this to go away quickly. I want people to remember what today feels like and know that anything is possible with us."
My sentiments exactly, Governor.

Dead Right or Dead Wrong?

Dead Wrong? Or Dead right?

Wrong. Dead wrong. What part of wrong don't you understand? That is the message the American electorate needs to deliver to former VP Dick Cheney and his ilk, who were wrong in their assumptions of Iraqi nuclear development, wrong in their assessment of the costs associated with invading Iraq, and wrong in their assertion that taking out Sadam Hussein was a giant step forward for a stable and peaceful Middle East. Cheney et al were dead wrong then, and they are dead wrong now, in their opposition to the proposed Iranian nuke deal.

     If the Bush administration had not badly blundered, first in it 's decision to invade Iraq , and secondly in disbanding the Iraqi army post Sadam ( which set the stage for the rise of ISIS) , the Iranian influence in the area would have been held in check.   The Shia leaders who control Iran, and now much of Iraq as well,  would not be presenting us with such formidable challenges to peace.

    Actions have consequences. Bad actions have bad consequences. 6000 dead American heroes, and tens of thousands more maimed and injured with serious health challenges for the rest of their lives are ample evidence of that fact.

     We have experienced the result of bad policy, bad actions, and bad consequences by dead wrong political leaders who not only have not learned any lessons from their dead wrong doings, but are leading the charge of the less than right brigades to continue doing  dumb things which will redound to our national detriment. That goes for  the near term as well as the long run. How much wronger can you get?

    The doom and gloom crowd claims President Obama is dangerously naive and derelict in failing to use American military power to wright all wrongs . The problem is that it is they who are wrong and naive in their assumptions about the ability of military might to solve all the world's ills.

     Our military Is enormously potent and pre-eminent, but it cannot solve the centuries old rivalry between Sunni and Shia Muslims . It cannot
bring together the Turks and the Kurds , and it cannot guarantee peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It can,  however, protect and defend our homeland, and when used to intervene selectively on behalf of our allies and friends, be an enormous force for good in the world.

      It is not a universal panacea, but it can be effectively employed when selectively employed . Dead wrong politicians continuing to advocate for dead wrong policies, can only bring about deadly consequences. Our recent history, if nothing else , is a testament to that fact.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


Tolerance is a virtue, generally speaking. Tolerance of hatred, oppression  and intolerance is not.
     That is why it is important for civilized society to affirm religious freedom on the one hand and condemn religious zealotry on the other. Especially when that zealotry is expressed in " Jihadist" like terms.
   There can be no room for the suppression of young Pakistani girls like......, who sought only to become educated. Barbaric beheadings belong to a long bygone era, and whether the challenge is ISIS or Islamic extremism generally, such insanity must be condemned and supressed itself.
    We need also to remember that ,  In the immortal words of Martina McBride, " Love's the only house big enough to hold all the pain in the world". Ghandi knew that. Hitler did not. Consider the difference in their legacies. One left a country finally independent of colonial rule, and building for the future, while the other left millions dead and a continent in shambles.
      That is what happens when hate triumphs over love. So it is important to be resolute in resisting hatred, and to listen to the better angels of our nature. Standing up to intolerance which is based on negativity is the only way the human spirit will endure and potentially triumph.
    Despair in the face of intolerance is not the answer. Love is, however, and when we can summon from within the strength to love our enemies, without tolerating their extremes, we will have advanced the cause of human civilization in an enormous way. Keeping our heart lights on in the face of the daunting darkness that surrounds is is a noble goal. Jesus Christ was no dummy.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Mario M. Cuomo

Mario M. Cuomo

    Giants are generally larger than life. They walk among the clouds and leave huge footprints in their wake. That's why they are called Giants.
      By any objective standard, we can count Mario Cuomo of New York as one of them. He was a giant. A true political giant , and the premiere political polemicist of our time. His rhetoric could set our hearts throbbing and our spirits soaring . He was unparalleled in the pursuit of political piety and profundity, and he could simultaneously appeal to our collective conscience and urge us on to nobler goals . He was an eloquent orator who appealed constantly to the higher angels of our nature, and he set a very high bar for ethical probity in governance .
    Mario Cuomo was a superb example of all that is best in our political system, and a man of deep and true conviction who could compromise when need be on matters of governance, but never compromise the fundamental principles on which
he built his successful legal and governmental career.
    I first met Mario Cuomo in 1974 in Niagara Falls, at the Democratic State convention, where he was campaigning for Lt. Governor.
We spoke in his small hospitality suite for about 20 minutes, and I was duly impressed. He was trying to parlay his success at mediating an ethnic housing dispute in Queens into the pursuit of higher office. He won the nomination to be Hugh Carey's running mate. He lost the primary to Upstate State Senator Mary Ann Krupsak , but became Gov. Carey's Secretary of State, and used that position to travel the state and build support, and four years later, became Hugh Carey's running mate for a second term. In 1982, I supported his run for Governor in the primary against NYC Mayor Ed Koch, and held a fund raiser for him at our large home in Oswego. I can still picture him speaking from the staircase to over 100 enthusiastic supporters. He went on to win the primary and the election, and two more elections after that. He even recorded a commercial for me when I ran for Mayor of Oswego. Our paths would cross many times over the years, and I always had the utmost respect for him.
   The last lengthy conversation I had with him was several years ago, over the need for a constitutional convention for NYS, a move he enthusiastically supported. He also talked at length and with great pride about his sons Andrew and Christopher, and their accomplishments. He was as proud a father as he was a Governor. He would invariably end most of his speeches with the NYS motto, one word, Excelsior ! Onward and upward. That word is a fitting. epitaph for his life and many achievements. Excelsior, Mario M. Cuomo. Excelsior!

John T. Sullivan Jr.

Sent from my iPhone

Friday, November 7, 2014

Leaders lead

 Elections  have consequences. , and
there are lessons to be learned.

         On issues of great national or local importance, tentative, hesitant and hedge your bets leadership does not cut it with the vast majority of American voters. Certainty, and leadership with a definitive thrust will trump  wishy washy , Mamby pamby,  maybe this,  maybe that,  leadership every time.
    In a crisis, Americans do not want our leaders leading from behind, from the sidelines, or the middle. They are unforgiving about a leader who gives a muddled message about our intentions and the future.
   If you have ever attended a political rally, you understand that equivocation is unacceptable as a motivator. Woe unto a politician who speaks at a rally and urges his or her supporters to go "sideways" or to stand pat. Haranguing the crowd with cries of forward works much better. Even "let's go backward" can be appealing to certain elements, but "let's just cogitate and dawdle" just doesn't cut it.
     This is the secret of NJ Governor Chris Christie's popularity. Love him or hate him, at least you understand what he's saying. Imagine if he had said to his heckler the other day, instead of "sit down and shut up", "please reduce the volume of your heckling and just squat" so others can see and hear me! What? How can you rally to a nuanced and muddled message. At a rally things have to be black or white, never gray. Gray is for the classroom, not the bully pulpit.
    This is a lesson our President, for whatever reason, refuses to learn . It is also why his poll numbers are so low , and why his opponents prevailed in the midterm elections. It didn't have to be that way.
     When Harry Truman was running to be elected President in his own right in 1948, he railed and rallied against the "Do nothing REPUBLICAN Congress". Not just "Congress". President Obama needs to full throatedly throttle his Republican opposition, and show he can stand up to the bullies, and he must do so in a clear and unequivocal way, lest his Presidency tumble further and forever downward toward the dustbin of history.
     Leadership matters . Americans are craving it, and the President's party is suffering not because it does not have issues and beliefs that resound with the people, but because it has a leader with a muddled message and whose bully pulpit microphone  is in need of a new battery. In the immortal words of ET, the President desperately needs to phone home, turn on his heart light, and lead, not follow. The question remains whether the Professor can get out of the President's way to achieve that objective. The next two years will define his destiny.

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. )