Congratulations, Mr. President, And Good Luck

President Obama was re-elected last night, narrowly beating Mitt Romney.  I congratulate the President on his victory and wish him success.  In my experience, a successful President usually means we have a successful America.

Democrats kept control of the U.S. Senate, while Republicans kept control of the House of Representatives.  In short, the United States is in for more divided government.  After two consecutive “wave” elections, the message of this election seems to be to maintain the status quo.

Divided government is not necessarily a bad thing.  The Constitution, with its complex system of checks and balances, contemplates divided government, where one man or the passions expressed in one election can’t fully control the direction of the nation.  Our system — wisely, I think — contemplates compromise and collaboration to accomplish legislative goals.  Our problem lately is that we haven’t had meaningful compromise, or perhaps even meaningful attempts at compromise, from the President or the two Houses of Congress.  Perhaps that unwillingness to compromise was due to the rapidly shifting views of the electorate and the looming presence of the 2012 election, but with that election now one day behind us that rationale no longer exists.

With more divided government a reality, President Obama and the congressional leaders of both parties need to figure out how to compromise, because only through compromise will we be able to address the huge problems confronting our nation.  We all know what those problems are:  the “fiscal cliff” of self-imposed cuts and tax increases that will take effect in less than two months, trillion-dollar deficits that extend into the foreseeable future, adding to a dangerous amount of national debt, and entitlement programs that are on the road to bankruptcy unless reforms are instituted.  All of these issues, and others, have reached the point of criticality.

We can no longer afford drift and inaction in the face of these challenges.  It is time for President Obama and Congress to grapple with these issues and to reach the kinds of rational compromises that people of good will, but different political viewpoints, can find acceptable.  It will be a big task that requires leadership, bipartisanship, and a recognition that the needs of the country must take priority over momentary political advantage.

When I left our house at 5 a.m. today for the morning walk with Penny and Kasey, I noticed that some of our neighbors of both parties who had put candidate signs in their yards had removed them already.  They recognize that the election is over and it is time to move on with our lives.  We need some of that same attitude at both ends of Pennsylvanian Avenue.

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What If They Gave A Debate And Nobody Cared?

With all of the focus on the Buckeye State in the presidential election, we Ohioans can be excused for forgetting that we will be voting on many races on November 6.  For example, we’ll be deciding whether to retain incumbent Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown or elect Republican Josh Mandel instead.

Normally a Senate race is a big deal, but this year I’m not hearing anyone talk about the Brown-Mandel contest — and I work in an office where many people, from both parties, are very interested in politics.  The candidates have had three debates, but only one was broadcast on TV and I don’t know anyone who watched it.  I’m sure that all of the debates were fully covered in the daily newspapers, but Kish and I don’t subscribe to a daily newspaper any longer, and I haven’t seen any coverage of the debates when I’ve visited state news websites.  As a result, I assume that not much happened — no gaffes, no knee-buckling zingers, and probably not much of in the way of any kind of news.

I think that means lots of people will be voting on Election Day without much information.  If Ohioans know anything about the race, they know that Sherrod Brown backed the GM-Chrysler bailout.  Brown mentions that whenever he can; if he could walk around carrying a large flashing billboard advertising that fact, I think he would.  Mandel, on the other hand, is a relative newcomer to politics who presents himself as a fiscal conservative tax-cutter; if most Ohioans know anything about him, it is that he served in the military post-9/11.  The campaign ads haven’t done much to address the information deficit, either.

An electorate with ADD is going to be unpredictable, and therefore the polls — which indicate that Brown is ahead by anywhere from one to nine points — probably don’t mean much.  People will get into the voting booth and make a decision, and name and party affiliation will likely tell the tale.  Fortunately for the incumbent, Brown has always been a magical name in Ohio politics.  If Mandel is going to win, he’d better hope that Mitt Romney wins and has very long coattails.

Many Questions To Be Answered, Publically And Quickly (IV)

I’m glad to see reports that Senate Democrats are joining their Republican colleagues in asking the Obama Administration to answer questions about what happened in Libya that led to the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

As the story from The Hill linked above shows, the Obama Administration’s story about the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi remains vague and unfocused; today Administration aptly described the Administration position as “evolving.”   The Administration seems to have backed away from its initial position that the attack was the result of unplanned demonstrations about a YouTube video, and has begun to use words like terrorism and even, apparently, al Qaeda to describe the attack.  It’s long past time that full disclosure should be made, including communications between Ambassador Stevens and the U.S. State Department about security and terrorism issues in Libya and planning related to security at U.S. installations.

As the participation of Senate Democrats indicates, what happened in Benghazi is not a partisan political issue.  Instead, it is a national security issue, a sovereignty issue, and also an issue of fairness to American diplomatic personnel across the world.  We need to ensure that our people are adequately protected and that our government is reacting prudently and appropriately to threats and warnings.  As far as I am concerned, meaningful congressional hearings into the disastrous Benghazi incident cannot begin soon enough.

Sherrod And Josh

This November Ohioans will be electing a U.S. Senator.  We’ll be choosing between incumbent Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and Republican Josh Mandel.

Sherrod Brown is a prototype Democrat.  He is a forceful advocate for  labor unions, and strongly supported the government bailout of GM and Chrysler — but ardently opposes bailouts of banks and touts an “end too big to fail” petition that seeks to break up the big banks.  Brown has a decidedly liberal voting record and is a reliable supporter of President Obama’s legislative agenda.  He’s been a figure on the Ohio political scene for years and he possesses the magical Brown name, which has given Ohio politicians a leg up on their opponents since the dawn of time.

Josh Mandel, in contrast, is a relative newcomer.  He’s 34, but looks younger.  Mandel is a former Marine who served two tours in Iraq, is a strong proponent of cutting federal spending and balancing the federal budget, and is the darling of many conservative pundits.  He was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives in 2006 and currently serves as the state’s Treasurer — although he’s criticized for not doing much in that position while focusing on running for the Senate.

It’s an election that will present some sharp contrasts of liberal versus conservative and experience versus youth.  With Republicans trying to regain control of the Senate, the race has attracted enormous attention and buckets of money from outside the state, which means we’re already seeing lots of negative ads about both candidates.  The early polls show Brown in the lead.

The Brown-Mandel match-up is another instance in which Ohio — as is so often the case — may be a bellwether state.  Come Election Night, the results of this contest should tell us a lot about the direction in which the country is heading.

Citizens United Is Not My Top Priority

I’m on Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown’s email list.  Lately, his emails have focused on the Disclose Act, legislation being pushed by Senate Democrats that would require non-profit groups to disclose the identity of their donors.

The bill is a response of sorts to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which struck down limits on independent spending by corporations and unions.  Senator Brown’s most recent email, sent Saturday afternoon, says that such special interest money is having a “distorting effect” on elections and that the “flood” of money is “is threatening to wash away the voice of America’s middle class.”  (Of course, because we don’t know the identity of the donors to these groups, we obviously don’t know for sure whether those donors are members of the middle class or not.)  Not surprisingly, Senator Brown views all of this through the lens of his own experience; if you read his emails, they all discuss, in great detail, how much groups opposing his reelection are spending on that race.

What’s of interest to me is not the merits of Citizens United, or the merits of campaign finance reform generally.  Instead, I find it curious that the Senate seems capable of debating and acting on issues like the DISCLOSE Act, but not on the issues that are of real import to Americans given our current predicament — like passing a budget, or dealing with our debt problems, or figuring out how to get our economy out of the doldrums in which it has been mired for four years.

Why is the DISCLOSE Act more worthy of the attention of the Senate than legislation that addresses our ongoing economic problems?  Because political spending affects Senators, of course, and therefore legislation that addresses political spending must necessarily be their top priority.  It’s a good example of how the interests of Senators vary from the interests of their constituents.  If you asked Americans — middle class or otherwise — what topics the Senate should be focused on these days, how far down the priority list do you think you would need to go before your reached Citizens United and campaign finance reform?

Drip, Drip, Drip

Any public relations professional worth her salt will tell you: when you are dealing with an unfavorable news story — one that you know is going to have a negative impact — the best approach is to get ahead of the story, get all of the information out, and at least avoid the possibility that the story becomes a running, multi-day issue.  Lance the boil, drain the pus, and move on.

Elizabeth Warren’s campaign must not employ a public relations person.  If it does, she isn’t very good at her job — because the story of Warren’s alleged Cherokee ancestry has become a never-ending story in Warren’s campaign for election to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts.  Every day, seemingly, there is some new revelation that puts Warren on the defensive, interferes with her intended “message,” and distracts from the issues she thinks are important.

On Wednesday, for example, Warren acknowledged for the first time that two law schools that identified her as Native American did so because she identified herself as such, based on her understanding of “family lore.”  Her admission is just the latest in a series of statements about the issue — some of which arguably are inconsistent — that have just encouraged the press to dig ever deeper into the history of Warren’s employment, whether she identified herself as Native American, and whether there is any proof of actual Cherokee ancestry in her family tree.

I don’t think a candidate’s race, or self-reported minority status, has anything to do with fitness to serve as a U.S. Senator.  On the other hand, I think a candidate’s truthfulness, credibility, and ability to deal with a crisis are relevant — and Warren seems to be falling short in all of those categories.  The Native American story has  dominated the headlines for a month now, and for that Warren has only herself to blame.  Her statements and partial disclosures have a whiff of embarrassed shiftiness about them that have made a minor issue into a major one and, at the same time, made her look evasive and inept.  Although her race shouldn’t affect a voter’s decision about her, her apparent inability to give a satisfactory explanation of her actions reasonably could.

Firing The Lugar

In our neighboring state to the west, Indiana voters have decided that Senator Richard Lugar has served long enough.  The networks are calling his primary race and have concluded that he will lose to fellow Republican Richard Mourdock.

I don’t blame Indiana voters for giving the 80-year-old Lugar the boot.  He has served in the Senate for 36 years — six terms in all — which means he has been in the Senate since Jimmy Carter was President and I was in college.  Can anyone identify any great legislative accomplishments or extraordinary statesmanlike achievements by Lugar during that 36-year period?  I’d say he has served long enough.

I’m not sure that term limits are the answer, but I see no value in having legislators serve in Congress for more than a third of a century.  They inevitably focus more on what people are saying in Washington, D.C. than what their constituents are saying back home.  In Lugar’s case, he hadn’t even lived in Indiana since 1977.  How could he possibly reflect the views and values of Indiana voters under such circumstances?

Lugar’s loss my just be another sign of a strong anti-incumbent mood in the heartland this election year.  American voters seem to be fed up with career politicians who have sat ineffectively by while the country has moved off on the wrong track.  When that happens, the logical recourse is to throw the bums out.