Month: February 2010

His Words… Mr. Bayh & Mr. Woods

Somehow I got on Evan Bayh’s email blast list.

This arrived in my inbox today, a week after he announced he would not seek a third term:


Why I’m Leaving The Senate

By EVAN BAYH

BASEBALL may be our national pastime, but the age-old tradition of taking a swing at Congress is a sport with even deeper historical roots in the American experience. Since the founding of our country, citizens from Ben Franklin to David Letterman have made fun of their elected officials. Milton Berle famously joked: “You can lead a man to Congress, but you can’t make him think.” These days, though, the institutional inertia gripping Congress is no laughing matter.

Challenges of historic import threaten America’s future. Action on the deficit, economy, energy, health care and much more is imperative, yet our legislative institutions fail to act. Congress must be reformed.

There are many causes for the dysfunction: strident partisanship, unyielding ideology, a corrosive system of campaign financing, gerrymandering of House districts, endless filibusters, holds on executive appointees in the Senate, dwindling social interaction between senators of opposing parties and a caucus system that promotes party unity at the expense of bipartisan consensus.

Many good people serve in Congress. They are patriotic, hard-working and devoted to the public good as they see it, but the institutional and cultural impediments to change frustrate the intentions of these well-meaning people as rarely before. It was not always thus.

While romanticizing the Senate of yore would be a mistake, it was certainly better in my father’s time. My father, Birch Bayh, represented Indiana in the Senate from 1963 to 1981. A progressive, he nonetheless enjoyed many friendships with moderate Republicans and Southern Democrats.

One incident from his career vividly demonstrates how times have changed. In 1968, when my father was running for re-election, Everett Dirksen, the Republican leader, approached him on the Senate floor, put his arm around my dad’s shoulder, and asked what he could do to help. This is unimaginable today.

When I was a boy, members of Congress from both parties, along with their families, would routinely visit our home for dinner or the holidays. This type of social interaction hardly ever happens today and we are the poorer for it. It is much harder to demonize someone when you know his family or have visited his home. Today, members routinely campaign against each other, raise donations against each other and force votes on trivial amendments written solely to provide fodder for the next negative attack ad. It’s difficult to work with members actively plotting your demise.

Any improvement must begin by changing the personal chemistry among senators. More interaction in a non-adversarial atmosphere would help.

I’m beginning my 12th year in the Senate and only twice have all the senators gathered for something other than purely ceremonial occasions. The first was during my initial week in office. President Bill Clinton had been impeached and the Senate had to conduct his trial. This hadn’t happened since 1868, and there were no rules in place for conducting the proceedings.

All of us gathered in the Old Senate Chamber. For several hours we debated how to proceed. Finally, Ted Kennedy and Phil Gramm, ideological opposites, were given the task of forging a compromise. They did, and it was unanimously ratified.

The second occasion was just days after Sept. 11. Every senator who could make it to Washington gathered in the Senate dining room to discuss the American response. The nation had been attacked. The building in which we sat had been among the targets, and only the heroism of the passengers prevented the plane from reaching its destination. We had to respond to protect the country. There were no Republicans or Democrats in the room that day, just Americans. The spirit of patriotism and togetherness was palpable. That atmosphere prevailed for only two or three weeks before politics once again intervened.

It shouldn’t take a constitutional crisis or an attack on the nation to create honest dialogue in the Senate. Let’s start with a simple proposal: why not have a monthly lunch of all 100 senators? Every week, the parties already meet for a caucus lunch. Democrats gather in one room, Republicans in another, and no bipartisan interaction takes place. With a monthly lunch of all senators, we could pick a topic and have each side make a brief presentation followed by questions and answers. Listening to one another, absent the posturing and public talking points, could only promote greater understanding, which is necessary to real progress.

Perhaps from this starting point, we can move onto more intractable problems, like the current campaign finance system that has such a corrosive effect on Congress. In the Senate, raising in small increments the $10 million to $20 million a competitive race requires takes huge amounts of time that could otherwise be spent talking with constituents, legislating or becoming well-versed on public policy. In my father’s time there was a saying: “A senator legislates for four years and campaigns for two.” Because of the incessant need to raise campaign cash, we now have perpetual campaigns. If fund-raising is constantly on members’ minds, it’s difficult for policy compromise to trump political calculation.

The recent Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, allowing corporations and unions to spend freely on ads explicitly supporting or opposing political candidates, will worsen matters. The threat of unlimited amounts of negative advertising from special interest groups will only make members more beholden to their natural constituencies and more afraid of violating party orthodoxies.

I can easily imagine vulnerable members approaching a corporation or union for support and being told: “We’d love to support you, but we have a rule. We only support candidates who are with us at least 90 percent of the time. Here is our questionnaire with our top 10 concerns. Fill it out.” Millions of campaign dollars now ride on the member’s response. The cause of good government is not served.

What to do? While fundamental campaign finance reform may ultimately require a constitutional amendment, there are less drastic steps we can take to curb the distorting influence of money in politics.
Congress should consider ways to lessen the impact of the Citizens United decision through legislation to enhance disclosure requirements, require corporate donors to appear in the political ads they finance and prohibit government contractors or bailout beneficiaries from spending money on political campaigns.

Congress and state legislators should also consider incentives, including public matching funds for smaller contributions, to expand democratic participation and increase the influence of small donors relative to corporations and other special interests.

In addition, the Senate should reform a practice increasingly abused by both parties, the filibuster. Historically, the filibuster was employed to ensure that momentous issues receive a full and fair hearing. Instead, it has come to serve the exact opposite purpose — to prevent the Senate from even conducting routine business.

Last fall, the Senate had to overcome two successive filibusters to pass a bill to provide millions of Americans with extended unemployment insurance. There was no opposition to the bill; it passed on a 98-0 vote. But some senators saw political advantage in drawing out debate, thus preventing the Senate from addressing other pressing matters.

Admittedly, I have participated in filibusters. If not abused, the filibuster can foster consensus-building. The minority has a right to voice legitimate concerns, but it must not employ this tactic to prevent progress on everything at a critical juncture for our country. We need to reduce the power of the minority to frustrate progress while still affording them some say.

Filibusters have proliferated because under current rules just one or two determined senators can stop the Senate from functioning. Today, the mere threat of a filibuster is enough to stop a vote; senators are rarely asked to pull all-nighters like Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

For this reason, filibusters should require 35 senators to sign a public petition and make a commitment to continually debate an issue in reality, not just in theory. Those who obstruct the Senate should pay a price in public notoriety and physical exhaustion. That would lead to a significant decline in frivolous filibusters.

Filibusters should also be limited to no more than one for any piece of legislation. Currently, the decision to begin debate on a bill can be filibustered, followed by another filibuster on each amendment, followed by yet another filibuster before a final vote. This leads to multiple legislative delays and effectively grinds the Senate to a halt.

What’s more, the number of votes needed to overcome a filibuster should be reduced to 55 from 60. During my father’s era, filibusters were commonly used to block civil rights legislation and, in 1975, the requisite number of votes was reduced to 60 from 67. The challenges facing the country today are so substantial that further delay imperils the Republic and warrants another reduction in the supermajority requirement.

Of course, the genesis of a good portion of the gridlock in Congress does not reside in Congress itself. Ultimate reform will require each of us, as voters and Americans, to take a long look in the mirror, because in many ways, our representatives in Washington reflect the people who have sent them there.

The most ideologically devoted elements in both parties must accept that not every compromise is a sign of betrayal or an indication of moral lassitude. When too many of our citizens take an all-or-nothing approach, we should not be surprised when nothing is the result.

Our most strident partisans must learn to occasionally sacrifice short-term tactical political advantage for the sake of the nation. Otherwise, Congress will remain stuck in an endless cycle of recrimination and revenge.
The minority seeks to frustrate the majority, and when the majority is displaced it returns the favor. Power is constantly sought through the use of means which render its effective use, once acquired, impossible.

What is required from members of Congress and the public alike is a new spirit of devotion to the national welfare beyond party or self-interest. In a time of national peril, with our problems compounding, we must remember that more unites us as Americans than divides us.

Meeting America’s profound challenges and reforming Congress will not be easy. Old habits die hard. Special interests are entrenched. Still, my optimism as I serve out the remainder of my final term in the Senate is undiminished. With the right reforms, members of Congress can once again embody our best selves and our highest aspirations.

In my final 11 months, I will advocate for the reforms that will help Congress function as it once did, so that our generation can do what Americans have always done: convey to our children, and our children’s children, an America that is stronger, more prosperous, more decent and more just.

Evan Bayh is the Senator and two-term Democratic Governor from Indiana.

So, the question to those of use who are usually skeptical of all the political posturing that goes on, is, what’s he really up to?

And do we believe the people we vote for?  Or is it a game we play?

Friday Tiger Woods made a public statement about his life and future and the reaction was split three ways:

  1. Women who believed he was sincere.
  2. Men who felt he was still full of it.
  3. Those who didn’t care, and are irritated that the news media keeps it in our face.

I urge you to take the time to try and discover what you value, what you care about, read about how our government is supposed to function, and then do some research on the candidates that you have the right and responsibility to vote for.

The Coolest President?

It’s been awhile since I’ve added anything to this blog.  Basically, there has been an awful lot going on in the political world and my own world too.

But basically, it’s still more of the same.  Pass the buck, hidden agenda’s, saving face, name-calling, and double-talking.  The natives are restless, probably due to the 24 hour a day cable news channels that need something to fill their shows when there isn’t an earthquake or dead celebrity scandal.

History will tell us what really happened during this time of our lives.  We are too close right now to see the big picture.

However if we could travel ahead 100 years, we would have a better understanding of all of this around us.

In the meantime, take a trip backwards about 100 years and read what I found yesterday on WizBangBlog.com :

Eight REAL Reasons Why Theodore Roosevelt Is the Coolest President Ever

Posted by Michael Avitablile

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Published: January 14, 2010 – 5:40 PM

One of my favorite Presidents, Theodore Roosevelt has also been the coolest for the last 100 years. Here now are the eight reasons why good ol’ Teddy was the coolest of them all.

8. Out on hunting in 1901, Roosevelt killed a cougar. But not in a generic, “normal” way of killing a mountain lion. No, Teddy made sure to kill the cougar by killing it with only a knife. In the future, cougars would die by looking at T.R. and having terror-related heart attacks.

7. He grew up an asthmatic, in a time when asthma was a debilitating affliction. He was sickly and weak…then he grew up to become a professional boxer and all-around iron-pumping, hard-as-nails tough guy.

6. Out hunting with friends, he saved the life of a bear that they had tied to a tree, saying that it was too easy and therefore unsportsmanlike. Now tell me, how many people do you know who go out hunting bears, and DON’T kill them because it’s just too damn easy?

5. He led the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American war. He led the attack; you know, out in front where it’s really easy to be shot a thousand times by the enemy.

4. Point blank: his awesome mustache.

3. Roosevelt was the youngest man ever to serve as President. Not the youngest elected, mind you, but the youngest to hold the position. The person who was weak and sickly ascended to the highest office in the world before anyone in history.

2. Running for President in 1912, Roosevelt led the most successful Third-Party campaign in history. As a Bull Moose, T.R. ran against William Howard Taft (who refused to step aside for Roosevelt to let him run as a Republican) and Woodrow Wilson (D). In the end Wilson would win because of the split vote between Taft and Roosevelt, but Teddy did earn eleven times the electoral votes Taft did. No wonder everyone only remembers Taft for getting stuck in that bathtub.

1. This reason is particularly awesome, so I must warn you that your head may explode from the awesome-ness. While campaigning in 1912, Roosevelt stopped in Milwaukee to spread his word. Getting ready to give a speech, a man named John Schrank approached Teddy and shot him in the chest. He was quickly apprehended. But what’s a flesh wound to Theodore Roosevelt? Minutes later, T.R. went on stage, announced he had been shot, and GAVE THE SPEECH, which was 3,800+ words. Hell, it’s tough for me to make a presentation if I burn my tongue.

Read the comments on the blog by clicking here.

What Do We Want?

Common Answers include:

  1. World Peace
  2. Enough Money
  3. Food, clothing, shelter
  4. A better life for their kids
  5. Free Internet
  6. A meaningful job or work
  7. Not to feel lonely
  8. A sense of security
  9. Lose Weight
  10. Enough Sleep

This list is not meant to be scientific or universal.  It’s just some of the most common answers that I have found while looking for the answer in this country of ours.

Let’s see how many of these are possible and what the government role should be.

1. World Peace.  Not possible.  We have to create “pockets of peace”.  We can start in our own families and spread from there.  Do you want the government involved in your family to keep the peace?

2. Enough Money. How much is enough?  Isn’t that an individual decision?  Or should everyone have $200,000 in the bank?  This unfortunately is an area that our government has been messing with for a long time, the re-distribution of wealth, which gets more and more complex and unfair with each new law and rule.

3. Food, Clothing & Shelter.  See #2 above.

4. A better life for our kids. Nice idea but history has also demonstrated that if this happens, within a couple of generations, the grand-kids or great-grand-kids will lose the family fortune.  That’s because they didn’t have to put in the work, it was handed to them, and the principles and values that created the better life are not inherited.

5. Free Internet.  If you have a laptop, there are enough places that offer free wi-fi and the government was not involved.

6. Meaningful Job or Work. What will make each of us feel fulfilled? It’s not a government job.  It’s not necessarily a hourly wage job.  I recall 8 years ago when I worked as a Thermoformer Operator for a couple of years and when I realized that one of the main benefits of the job was all the time off, I knew I should look for something else.

7. Not to feel lonely.  If you know how the government can help this want, let me know!

8. A Sense of Security. Now, we are getting somewhere. Maybe. All depends on what you want your security to look like.  If you want to feel safe in your home, then you place some trust in the police and your neighbors, or maybe in the locks on your front door.  Security from foreign attacks? We have a government that is supposed to be on top of this.  Except, they have asked us for our help too.

9. Lose Weight.  This is largely (pun intended) an individual choice.  Unless you are sick or starving.

10. Enough Sleep. Yeah, sleep.  Now that I don’t have little ones running around or getting up in the middle of the night, I can sleep as much as I need to.  Either go to bed earlier, or wake up later. I don’t see how the government can help on this one either.

So there you have it. 10 things that most people in this country want.  Did I miss anything that is more important?