Saturday, August 29, 2009

 

"A Full And Complete Life"

In the days approaching Saturday's funeral mass for Sen. Ted Kennedy, there was much discussion as to how much actual politics would be in evidence. In particular, there was the question as to how much contemporary politics would intrude -- and whether President Obama's eulogy in particular would touch upon today's raging health care debate.

In the end, the contemporary was put aside in favor of values and lessons more enduring. And while politics made up a fair portion of the funeral service, it was a genuflection towards a certain kind of politics.

It's only appropriate considering who was being remembered: After all, even as a memorial service is, by definition, a personal event. when the departed is arguably the most significant legislator of his time and towering patriarch of the nation's preeminent political family, how could politics be completely ignored? Coming through in the words this day was a very strong message: Politics can be lived with both a lower-case and a capital "P." Ted Kennedy was a practicioner and participant of the capital-P sort of politics: One had to be to get elected and often to survive the rough and tumble of the ongoing electoral and legislative process.

But it was in lower-case "P" politics that Kennedy became a master. The two forms are inextricably linked. But the small-P variety is that which requires the soft-touch, the ability to see beyond partisanship, beyond one's own personal principles and into a broader humanity that can help accomplish things -- help make over 300 pieces of legislation become law. That was evident and most strongly emphasized in several eulogies tonight. Perhaps it was the saddest responsibility that fell to Kennedy -- to be so often the Official Eulogizer of the Kennedy Clan -- that forced him to embrace skills appropriate to master the small-P politics. Indeed, President Obama seemed to link those two aspects of Kennedy's life:

This spirit of resilience and good humor would see Ted Kennedy through more pain and tragedy than most of us will ever know. He lost two siblings by the age of sixteen. He saw two more taken violently from the country that loved them. He said goodbye to his beloved sister, Eunice, in the final days of his own life. He narrowly survived a plane crash, watched two children struggle with cancer, buried three nephews, and experienced personal failings and setbacks in the most public way possible.

It is a string of events that would have broken a lesser man. And it would have been easy for Teddy to let himself become bitter and hardened; to surrender to self-pity and regret; to retreat from public life and live out his years in peaceful quiet. No one would have blamed him for that.
But that was not Ted Kennedy. As he told us, "(I)ndividual faults and frailties are no excuse to give in — and no exemption from the common obligation to give of ourselves."

Obamat noted that that sentiment arose from Kennedy's rising from an earlier time:

He was a product of an age when the joy and nobility of politics prevented differences of party and philosophy from becoming barriers to cooperation and mutual respect — a time when adversaries still saw each other as patriots.
And that's how Ted Kennedy became the greatest legislator of our time. He did it by hewing to principle, but also by seeking compromise and common cause — not through dealmaking and horse-trading alone, but through friendship, and kindness, and humor.

Again, hard work was certainlly necessary to get legislation passed, but it was a sense of humanity and a common touch that ultimately got deals made. Standing there as the emissary from the American people thanking a public servant for his years of service, Obama shared a lesson on life at a person's death.

It was the perfect complement to the stirring, tear-inducing eulogy given by Teddy Kennedy Jr., who stepped into his father's big shoes as the Family Eulogizer. His younger brother, Patrick, is the one who went into the "family business," but he's the one who clearly produced an address that reflected the family's potent mix of personal remembrance, salute to public service and a mixture of wit and sentiment that verged on poetry.

He introduced himself as "Teddy Kennedy, Jr. -- a name I share with my son, a name I shared with my father. Although it hasn’t been easy at times to live with this name, I’ve never been more proud of it than I am today."

He shared a tear-inducing anecdote (indeed, he broke down as he told it) of when he was gettiing used to having to walk with an artificial leg after he lost his real one to cancer: "My father taught me that even our most profound losses are survivable, and that is — it is what we do with that loss, our ability to transform it into a positive event, that is one of my father’s greatest lessons." Again, that was the same message Obama gave -- perseverance through pain and loss brings great accomplishment. It enables one to live what Teddy Jr. called "a full and complete life."

In that regard, even as the late senator's politics were saluted by Kennedy Jr. (calling his father, "a proud member of the Democratic Party") and Obama ("the soul of the Democratic Party"), the themes of this funeral ended up being being remarkably non-partisan. They were lessons for all Americans -- faith, hard work, familial bonds, the attentiveness of a father and loving patriarch, a man of principle warmly respected and loved even by those with whom he could disagree.

These life lessons were gifts that Ted Kennedy gave his family as father, uncle, grandfather and general patriarch (a role thrust upon him at the age of 36) and they were gifts that the Kennedy family gave to their country over the better part of a century. And the nation got to hear those lessons one final time foday.

But, being a political family, the Kennedys smartly did not let the issue of health-care -- or Ted's passion for it -- go overlooked. As part of the Catholic Mass' intercessions of the faithful, the offerings were presented by quoting or paraphrasing many of Kennedy's own statements over the years. Coming out of the mouths of one of the youngest Kennedys, Max Allen, his daughter Kara's son, were these words:. "For what my grandpa called the cause of his life, as he said so often, in every part of this land, that every American will have decent quality health care, as a fundamental right, and not a privilege, we pray to the Lord."

It was a nice way of recognizing both the "cause of [Kennedy's] life," but also his "life's work" -- politics big and small -- in a muted, respectable manner.

The question for the Democratic Party -- especially President Obama upon whom Ted Kennedy did his best to pass on the Kennedy torch -- is whether the small-P politics which the Senate lion mastered can be absorbed by a new generation.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

 

Bill Gets Off (No, Not That Bill!)

It seems like forever ago, but New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was President Obama's first choice to be commerce secretary. After being nominated in December, he abruptly withdrew a month later when news broke that the there was a federal probe into charges of pay-to-play involving New Mexico officials and companies bidding on state contracts.

Richardson said that he did nothing wrong, but thought it appropriate to take his name out of consideration rather than prove a distraction (Obama then went on to pick Republican Sen. Judd Gregg for the post; he accepted then withdrew when he realized he was, well, a Republican; third time was the charm with the selection of the currently-serving Gary Locke).

Well, now, all of a sudden, comes word that -- POOF! -- Richardson and his staff are in the clear! No one in his office will be facing any indictments. Conveniently enough, this was announced while the governor happens to be on a trade mission to Cuba -- so he's unavailable for comment.

What makes the news even more mysterious is that it was not a case that the convened grand jury chose not to return any charges. No, rather:

The decision not to pursue indictments was made by top Justice Department officials, according to a person familiar with the investigation, who asked not to be identified because federal officials had not disclosed results of the probe.

"It's over. There's nothing. It was killed in Washington," the person told The Associated Press.

Now, there's an interesting use of language -- "top Justice Department officials." That specifically points to political-appointee types -- not career "civil servant" prosecutors -- who chose to "kill" the investigation. Hmmm...

So, the appointees of a Democratic president -- perhaps including the attorney general himself -- chose not to go forward with the prosecution of a Democratic governor and/or his staff. Double "hmmm..."

In the past, such apparent conflicts of interest would create the circumstances for an independent counsel. Of course, both parties allowed the IC law to expire after the perceived excesses of people like Lawrence Walsh (who pursued Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush over Iran-contra) and Ken Starr (who investigated Bill Clinton from Whitewater to Monica Lewinsky).

It goes without saying that, had Richardson taken the Department of Commerce job, it would have been impossible for the Justice Department to just drop the investigation without every political reporter in Washington swooping in like vultures to ask questions. But, with Richardson traveling, the summer doldrums sitting in -- and all political media looking askance at Hyannisport and Boston -- the timing is perfect.

Once everyone starts noticing exactly what happened this week, will the peculiar "Richardson Exoneration" trigger new calls for some sort of outside investigator that would be free of political influence?

Stay tuned.

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Democratic Rush to Judgment Proves Correct

From the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's website in March:
Today Rush Limbaugh yet again crossed the line saying: by the time the debate on President Obama's health care plan is over, "it'll be called the Ted Kennedy Memorial Health Care bill.” It is outrageous to demonize a patriotic Senator who has spent his life fighting so that every person has the opportunity to live the American dream.

Tell Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele to denounce Rush Limbaugh once and for all.
Now, from Senator Robert Byrd (quote from Ben Smith at the Politico):
I had hoped and prayed that this day would never come. My heart and soul weeps at the lost of my best friend in the Senate, my beloved friend, Ted Kennedy.

...In his honor and as a tribute to his commitment to his ideals, let us stop the shouting and name calling and have a civilized debate on health care reform which I hope, when legislation has been signed into law, will bear his name for his commitment to insuring the health of every American.
Shame on Senator Byrd! How dare he "demonize a patriotic Senator"!

Tell Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean to denounce Senator Robert Byrd once and for all.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

 

"The Speech"

In a summer where the initials have needed to have been used a remarkably frequent amount of time, once again they are employed to say, R.I.P., Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.



His 1980 Democratic National Convention speech was not my earliest political memory. That would have been Nixon campaign commercials and then subsequent Watergate hearings a couple of years later.

However, Kennedy's convention address was the first such political speech that I remember watching and hearing and saying to myself, "Wow! That's amazing stuff." I had followed the campaign. As a kid in high school, my default political temperament at the time was liberal. I had There was little affection for Jimmy Carter. I may not have known that being a journalst would be in my future, but I instinctively knew a good story when one was occurring.

Ted Kennedy challenging the sitting president was a great story. And it turned out to be an exciting year -- even if made somewhat anti-climactic from early on when Kennedy stammered and floundered during an early interview with Roger Mudd. However, as winter rolled into the spring, Kennedy found his groove. He rattled off a number of late primary victories -- inclucing New York's (where I was living).

It wasn't enough. Carter had a significant lead in delegates. Kennedy's only hope was that his late showing and Carter's weakness in the polls against Ronald Reagan might be enough to inspire the convention to allow pledged delegates to "vote their conscience" -- and flip away from the incumbent.

Kennedy's people, however, lost a floor fight on those rules. When he came to he podium that night in New York City, he knew that there would be no way he would rest the nomination away from Carter. And with that, he then gave one of the greatest convention speeches ever. There's some speculation that much of it was constructed as an acceptance speech and then re-drafted when he lost the rules fight.

But, in truth, it doesn't read that way. There is a rhythm and tone throughout that is one of acceptance and reflection. It comes across as very clear that he likely knew the night before what the result floor battle would be -- and decided then that his speech would be an affirmation of the liberal ideals that his family and party had fought for his whole life.

Conservatism might be ascendant in the embodiment of Ronald Reagan, but Kennedy was not going to bow down before it. There is an integrity within that spirit. And the passion behind it comes through so vividly within the speech which is quite partisan -- against both Reagan and the GOP -- but delivered in a manner much less harsh than is heard in political rhetoric these days.

In any event, there is much to criticize Ted Kennedy on both personal and policy grounds. But, truthfully, rarely a week goes by when those words from 1980 don't float into my mind: "For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."

They are words that inspire, not just the politically-minded, but also the budding speechwriter, even as they break a cardinal rule of rhetoric -- the rule of three. Kennedy's speech concluded with a quartet -- "work," "cause," "hope," "dream." The speech couldn't have worked any other way. He sold it in a way that no one else could. This was his shining moment. (And speechwriter Bob Shrum's too.)

Again, R.I.P. Edward M. Kennedy, 1932-2009.

The rest of the speech: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

My further thoughts on Sen. Kennedy.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

 

Ben there, done that

Now that President Obama has announced the renewal of Ben Bernanke's Federal Reserve Chairmanship, I have to ask, WHY?

I don't approve of the Keynesian methods Bernanke uses to run the economy, which were a major factor in our current economic problems. But even IF you buy into his methods, there is one undeniable fact: Bernanke is a criminal.

Bernanke, along with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, used their authority to blackmail Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis into buying Merrill Lynch. There is no law or government regulation that justifies government officials threatening to fire CEO's if they don't buy companies, yet we happily overlook the crime because Bernanke supposedly did a good job running the economy during this crisis. What crime did Bernanke have to commit before we would sit up and take notice? Since when did the Federal Reserve Chairman become immune to criminal prosecution?

Bernanke should be sitting in a jail cell instead of running the Federal Reserve. But under our current "Chicago way" government, misuse of your authority is perfectly acceptable.

In addition to the simple corruption, there is also the stupidity factor. With so many "too big to fail" companies receiving government bailouts, why would we want the country's largest bank to become even BIGGER? So not only is Bernanke corrupt, he is a moron. And we WANT him running the Federal Reserve?

Still don't believe me? Then feel free to explain why a labor leader is qualified to run New York's Federal Reserve? From the
Wall Street Journal:
The Federal Reserve chose a labor leader to succeed a former Goldman Sachs executive as the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of New York's private-sector board of directors.

Denis Hughes, president of the New York state branch of the AFL-CIO, had been serving as acting chairman of the New York Fed board since May, when Stephen Friedman stepped down from the position.

If you look at the New York Federal Reserve's website, there is NOTHING in Denis Hughes's biography that makes him qualified to run a bank, let alone help make economic decisions for this country.

But a labor leader makes perfect sense for any powerful position under the "Chicago way" rules. Just as a thug like Ben Bernanke makes perfect sense for an Obama administration that is intent on expanding the power and reach of government. Even if they have to twist a few arms to do it.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

 

No, Dave, It's Not Because You're Black...

The unpopularity thing you mentioned in a Friday interview???

It's because you're blind!

No, wait, that's not it either. It's because you're stupid, disorganized and politically inept.

It's because you said that New York's budget crisis shouldn't be solved by raising taxes -- like a millionaire tax, except as a last resort.

And that spending had to be controlled.

Then you passed a budget that included a huge tax hike: The so-called "millionaire" tax actually covered increased taxes on people making as little as $200,000.

And the total budget was $10 billion more than the previous year.

Oh, and you completely screwed up the senate replacement of Hillary Clinton -- humiliating the one member of the Kennedy family that least deserved it, Caroline.

The state Senate chaos that occurred partly because you helped create a power vacuum also contributed.

Admitting -- over the course of your first week in office -- that you slept around on your wife and snorted cocaine probably didn't help either.

Not only is Paterson's statement generally foolish, it's particularly stupid in terms of Democratic Party politics: A recent Quinnipiac poll showed Paterson's likely rival for the nomination last year, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, beating Paterson 4-1 and 2-1 among African American voters.

Far from being a statement that attemptes to intimidate either the media or other Democrats into getting behind him, this racial flap looks like one more Paterson tactic that has backfired in a major way.

Not surprisingly, the White House came down on Paterson like a ton of bricks. After Obama's own racial misstep last month int the Henry Louis Gates/Joe Crowley episode, the White House wants nothing to do with this insane line of argument from Paterson.

And Deval Patrick hardly appreciated being mentioned either.

The circumstances for all three men are quite different: For one, Paterson became governor upon the resignation of his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer. New York residents never had the opportunity to take the measure of the man, when he was running for lieutenant governor. It's not surprising that they would turn on him so quickly. Literally no one voted for Paterson for governor in 2006. Patrick's numbers have collapsed, but its only partly due to the economy -- even as he did raise over a $1 billion in new taxes, to tackle the latest budget deficit. But even before that, Patrick got off on f the wrong foot by extravagantly redecorating his and his First Lady's offices -- on the public dime.

And the president's poll numbers have dropped as a direct result of the political capital he's bled on the health care plan. (The Gates-Crowley "stupid" flap was an added unforced error.)

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