Changing Hearts and Minds through Weakness

Leadership a foreign concept

Leadership – a foreign concept

Have to give President Barack H. Obama credit.  He has changed my mind on the prospects of taking action against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria in the face of alleged – and all but certain – use of chemical weapons against opposition forces and civilians.

My nut is not an easy nut to crack.  I have long-held the personal belief that the United States held a special place in the community of nations.  It’s a place – to my own thinking and values – where a World Superpower belongs.  It’s the role that goes beyond the kind of standard-setting usually the purview of the United Nations.  It’s the role of enforcing those standards of common decency when it comes to the bitter realities of armed conflict.

A lot of Americans will categorize this simplistically as the role of World Cop.  Many disagree with me on this premise, that our country should be involved in events overseas that appear to have little or no direct impact on U.S. interests.

Those sentiments are well-founded and reflect the commonly held belief that American military personnel and U.S. treasure should be risked only in those situations linked to National Security in almost all cases.  So maybe my viewpoint is quite firmly in the minority.

Yet it is a role that in my mind comes with being a World Leader and Superpower.  It is a role we have filled many times in the past in various regions of the world in varying degrees of participation.

images-1I am not fond of unilateral U.S. action.  I do not favor the use of American boots-on-the-ground, especially in a situation like Syria.  What I look for is an American-led process of Consensus Building; the development of a common sense and purpose amongst our primary allies, major world powers, and those countries in closest proximity to the danger and most likely to be affected by any widening of a regional conflict.

My view is of the United States as The Point Man on the diplomatic front and The Muscle when it comes to the military response for which we hold a decided advantage (i.e. technological, hardware, delivery systems, weaponry).  When it comes to boots on the ground, the only enforcement situation where this should apply – in my humble opinion – is as part of a multi-national approach to a controllable environment (e.g. Bosnia; Clinton 1999) or where an immediate U.S. response would be sufficiently overwhelming (e.g. Grenada; Reagan 1983).

Now when it comes to Syria, President Obama has sufficiently altered the course of my thinking in a situation where a struggling regime gassed an overmatched military uprising and a defenseless civilian population …

… for all the wrong reasons.

Introducing the Freedom Muffin!

Introducing the Freedom Muffin!

Suddenly, under his mislaid concept of “leadership”, the U.S. looks timid, indecisive, and unfocused.  American efforts to build an International Coalition of the Willing was shot in the foot by its biggest allie (Great Britain) before it even got rolling.  (WIll we have to rename the English muffin?)

The Office of the President – long The Decider when it comes to the use of U.S. military power in short, direct, and sometimes personal (Libya, Muammar Gaddafi, 1986) responses to violations of international norms – appears confused by Britain’s rejection and unsure as to what to do next.

Instead the country’s Decider punted the issue – just as British Prime Minister David Cameron did – to the Legislator.  From my perspective, this has the look of a President hoping someone will get him off the fish-hook he firmly set in his own mouth.  When you use terms like “red line”, you had better have a plan of action with several iterations to account for unexpected developments like your Biggest International Allie getting cold feet.

The alternative, fall-back strategy?  Apparently there wasn’t one.  Which leads one to the obvious question … Who was doing the Leading?  Right now, it looks like Cameron and the Brits.

Where's Margaret Thatcher when you need her?

Where’s Margaret Thatcher when you need her?

So now Syria mocks us.

To fill the role of International Leader, you must be convinced of your Righteousness; firm in your ability to Lead, even if it means you must lead without your closest friends and allies at your side; and when all else fails, you must be prepared for bold action if necessary and if supported by the facts.

These are the kind of considerations President Obama should have kept in mind before speaking of “red lines” in August 2012.  Obviously he and his National Security team didn’t.

And this is what ultimately changed my mind.

If you can not be a strong, prepared, flexible leader, you have no business  drawing lines; making promises; and scheduling attacks when you do not have the backbone for the toughest decisions … actually sending Americans to clean up the World’s ugliest messes.

God help the Syrian people …

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My case for Mitt Romney

As the most anticipated Election Day in years approaches, it’s time to make my last pitch for Mitt Romney in what has been a loooooong, LOUD, and contentious process.  At least fellow Pennsylvanians – on both sides of The Great Divide – can give thanks for one small advantage; we don’t live in Ohio, where the Political Saturation Level is reaching the Please-Just-End-This-Madness stage.

I hold no illusions that this will change any minds, let alone sway the end result one way or the other.  But if it helps anyone to firm up their position in support of Change in The Oval Office, it will be well worth the effort.

My approach will mirror that which I suspect most voters will consider when it comes time to decide which man will lead the country over the next four years:

  • Are We better off today than We were four years ago?
  • Has the President performed as well as We expected, and prioritized as he should have since taking office in January 2009?
  • Does Mitt Romney offer Us the Vision and Leadership that would make a significant improvement in Our lives?

Déjà vu all over again … Are You better off today than you were in 2009?

Jimmy “Malaise in a Cardigan” Carter

Who has been confident in what the Economy has had to offer in the past four years?  Yes, President Obama was dealt a crappy economy when he came into office, as was Jimmy Carter, as was Ronald Reagan.  And yes, that comparison was deliberate!  It’s been four years – almost; and what have we seen?  Forty-three months of unemployment over 8%, with the real unemployment rate – which includes those who have lost all Confidence in finding employment – estimated to be as high as 11%!  (The recent down-tick in unemployment from 8.1% to 7.8% was most likely the result of seasonal holiday, part-time job offerings.)

Priorities has been President Obama’s problem when it comes to improving the Economic picture.   At a time when bailouts were needed to keep banks from failing and automakers from going belly up, when the Democrats held an eight-month stranglehold on Legislative decision-making, the focus of the Obama Administration was not on the Economy.  Instead their focus was on an age-old Liberal bugaboo, finding a way to steer the American system – including its economic engine – towards Socialized Medicine.  (That’s not to claim that this is what the Affordable Care Act accomplishes at this point.  The ACA is simply the first step in the process.  A simple Google search including the words “Obama socialized medicine” will give you plenty of information that proves the point.)

All their political capital was expended in that single decision to make Obamacare the over-riding priority of those heady days of Democrat dominance over Washington, D.C.!  The Economy?  Not so much …

So what it that instills Confidence in Mitt Romney?  SUCCESS!

Confidence is the most powerful word one can use when describing the psyche of a successful Economy.  Confidence breeds investment.  Confidence encourages Business – both Big and Small – to plan bigger, to expand, and to hire more workers in the expectation of Opportunity and Success.  Confidence encourages those, who have stopped looking for work, to get back out into the job market.  Confidence drives the Economy.

For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over Mitt Romney’s taxes, his wealth, his reign at Bain Capital, there is a very large, very common thread … He was Successful!  He was successful at Bain Capital where 80% of the companies Bain worked with increased revenues, and investors that included pension plans, college funds, and charitable organizations realized positive returns on their investments.  Check out the stories of Bain Capital and Staples or The Sports Authority or Bright Horizons (a leader in employer-provided child-care) or Physio Control (developer/manufacturer of critical care medical devices).  The list goes on and on and on …

Mitt Romney saved the 2002 Olympics

Romney was Successful when he left Bain in 1999 to save a debt-ridden, scandal scarred 2002 Olympics.  He was Successful when he was elected Governor of Massachusetts’ and worked across  the aisle to fix the State’s budget shortfall and continue Massachusetts inroads to improving Education.  Ask yourself the question, what has President Obama ever turned around that didn’t require a massive infusion of TAXPAYER money?

So you have to wonder why is Mitt Romney and his Success such a target of the Obama campaign?  Wealth is not what preys on the Middle Class.  If Confidence drives the Economy, investment – which comes from excess wealth – feeds the Economic engine.

Economic stagnation is what kills all classes of society.  It kills jobs; kills nest eggs; kills buying power; and it kills prospects of greater opportunity for EVERYONE!  Wealth is what feeds the country’s Economic Engine.  Wealth creates investment, expansion, spending and – most importantly right now – JOBS!  When the Economy is cooking properly, ALL CLASSES of society benefit!

That is the definition of a Confident Economy!

The Lion of Ozbama

Political Courage is a short commodity.  It requires Leadership in the face of difficult decisions.  It requires the Vision to tackle National priorities when Populist ideals are competing for attention.  It requires the Will to stand tall on the Beliefs you hold, and damn the political consequences.  Political Courage is something that has been lacking in the Obama White House.

Consider the following:

  • When the Economy needed Action and Leadership to jumpstart growth; to expand Opportunities; to get people back to work President Obama took to the backseat, as House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid drove a legislative bulldozer towards a single-payer healthcare that did NOTHING to reign in the costs of medical care.  Actions taken to sustain long-term Economic Growth: NONE
  • When it came to implementation of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama ensured that it’s most dramatic and costly provisions would not take effect until AFTER the 2012 election.  They will not go into effect until 2014!  Actions taken to promote sustained growth in Employment: NONE
  • In an era that almost BEGS for the deficit-slashing approach of former President Bill Clinton, the U.S. of A. must absorb the “gift” of deficits that increased from $10 trillion to $16 trillion; 13 million disadvantaged added to the food stamps rolls; and little in Hope that the credit card spending will Change!
  • During a National Debate on the question of Gay Marriage, everyone KNEW where President Obama would eventually come down on the subject.  But as weeks turned into months and acrimony built, nothing was heard from The White House.  Why?  Because President Obama knew his position – during an election year – would cause him problems with those of his own Political Base with devout religious beliefs.  If it hadn’t been for VP Joe “Shoot from the Hip” Biden, President Obama would still be in the proverbial closet!
  • When President Obama did “come out of the closet”, it was not until the night before a fund-raiser in Hollywood – a region full of campaign cash and most decisively in favor of expanding gay rights – on the tennis courts of actor George Clooney!  And that’s when the Lion finally found “courage”!!
  • LATE BREAKING NEWS:  Des Moines Register blasts President Obama for not allowing his presentation – in an attempt to win their Editorial Board’s endorsement – from being released publicly to the voters of Iowa. an extremely close swing state!  If President Obama only had Courage in his convictions!

As you can tell, I’m not a big fan of President Obama; and certainly I believe his priorities have not been where they should be, especially when it comes to the Economy!

And what does Mitt Romney offer us?

Throughout the debate cycle, Mitt Romney has effectively cast off every wild dispersion the Democrats have attempted to heap on him.  He proved he has the temperament and Vision to be a successful President.  He has provided his framework for digging the Economy out its hole; for re-energizing the Job Market; and for reducing the choking debt that will eventually kill the U.S. Economy if not turned around.

The Right Man for right now!

Romney’s plan for tax cuts across all but the highest tax brackets, combined with reductions in tax deductions is a sound solution that involves little pain.  By reducing taxes, the Economy will be reinvigorated with Confidence that will encourage Investment and expansion.  A more robust Economy will generate additional business, more jobs and a greater demand for manufactured goods and construction materials.  This higher level of business activity begets greater tax revenue across a much broader segment of the Market, even as tax rates are lowered!  The result will be an off-set of those tax reductions, lower debt aided by cuts to expenses, and fewer claims for welfare subsistence as the result of increased employment levels.

It’s a simple, logical approach that will put people back to work while increasing tax revenues that can be used to pay down the deficits.

This election will be about the Economy.  It must be because our continually escalating debt has become the BIGGEST threat to our National Security.  Between being over-leveraged in debt to the Chinese and the enormous stress the costs of servicing that debt (i.e. interest paid), the debt threatens to choke our country’s ability to provide essential social services; maintain a fully equipped, technologically advanced military; and protect the future of our children.

Regardless of what you believe about how we got into this Economic morass, you must recognize the fact that not only has the last four years yielded little – if any – progress, President Obama’s policies and misplaced priorities have only worsened the situation.

Now is the time to make a change and put a man in charge who KNOWS how to reverse a desperate situation before it’s too late!

Vote for a return to Prosperity!  Vote for Mitt Romney!

On this date 30 years ago …

… President Ronald Reagan was shot by John Warnock Hinckley, Jr. as he emerged from the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C.  Reagan had been at the hotel to address an AFL-CIO conference.

As with many such attempts, the perpetrator was six doughnuts short of a dozen mentally.  Hinckley had an acute obsession for Jodie Foster of all things.  His attempt to kill The President was an equally unusual effort to impress Foster.  The assassination attempt closely paralleled the storyline of the movie Taxi Driver, where the character Travis Bickle (Played by Robert DeNiro) plots to assassinate a presidential candidate.

Oddly enough, the Bickle character was based in part on Arthur Bremer, who shot presidential candidate George Wallace in 1972.

Unlike many such events where people can instantly recall where they were when it happens, I have been trying all day to recall where I was and what I was doing that day. 

In theory I would have been at my new federal job that afternoon, having been hired the previous April.  But for some reason the recesses of my oft stilted memory give me flashes of being home, watching the events unfold shortly after they had occurred. 

I’m guessing my murky recollections are at least partly accurate.  Why I might have been home that day, I have no idea.  Sick day perhaps … But I was such a dedicated employee, it’s hard to accept. 

OK … Maybe not that hard to accept.

Part of the problem might have been that I was hardly a fan at all of President Reagan at the time.  As mentioned elsewhere here, I had severe issues with the then new President that had me a bit verklempt at times.  But as some pundits theorize, the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan may have kick-started the country’s – and my own – eventual love affair with the 40th President.

But let’s take a look at those other individuals whose lives and careers where greatly affected by Hinckley’s actions.

Secret Service Agent-in-Charge Jerry Parr was famously credited for dumping the President into his awaiting limo; recognizing Reagan’s injuries; and re-directing the White House-bound driver to George Washington University Hospital.  This despite missing Reagan’s injury at first and getting a verbal drubbing from the shocked and hurting President, who thought Parr had broken presidential ribs when he landed on the Chief Executive in the limo.

But the real heroes in the protection detail that day were Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy and D.C. patrolman Thomas Delahanty.  The D.C. officer was struck in the back when he turned to protect the President.  Agent McCarthy took a bullet to the abdomen as he bravely put his body between the shooter and Reagan’s only method of egress.  Both men were fortunate in that they recovered from their wounds.

It is interesting to see McCarthy standing large and tall as the shooting starts, while military members of the White House detail can be seen hitting the ground.  This illustrates the difference in training between the military, counseled to make themselves small targets when the lead starts flying, and that of Secret Service Agents, instructed to stand in front of a bullet to protect their charges. 

Not nearly so lucky was Reagan Press Secretary James Brady, who was struck in the head and never recovered entirely from his wounds.  He would spend years in a wheelchair, but eventually recovered most of his speech function and mobility.  Brady’s experience led him and his wife to found the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.  And the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act was named in his honor.

It is also interesting to compare the modern-day threats to U.S. Presidents as compared to the simpler days when Chief Executives – up to the time of Harry Truman – were generally free to walk the streets of Washington (or New York or Philadelphia).  When Truman barely avoided a run-in with Puerto Rican nationalists, the days of carefree presidential outings ended.   

From the sad days that followed the assassination of John F. Kennedy,  I’ve seen way too many such attempts.  And maybe that’s why I’m not too quick in recalling the specifics of this one. 

Rest easy, Mr. Reagan.

Belated Happy Birthday, Mr. Reagan!

To commemorate Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday this past Sunday, it seems appropriate to devote a blog entry to his significance for me, given the effect his two-term presidency had on my political views. 

An American Hero

For much of my post-college years I proved to be much more liberal in my political and social views than many of my life-long friends.  I can recall – with general fondness – the abuse I used to take at the hand of life-long friends during discussions that tended to spring up when young working-class guys get together over beers or maybe a card game.  Looking back at it now, it seems odd that so many of them held such conservative views, when all of us grew up in a blue-collar, urban environment that would normally be viewed as traditionally more liberal than conservative.    

But I learned to live with it. 

Then Jimmy Carter was elected President.  When Carter made his “crises of confidence” speech, which later morphed in the country’s “malaise”, I had enough of his weak – bordering on whiny – presidential leadership.  There had been an intolerable lack of presidential leadership in this country, as was clearly the case with Lyndon Johnson (Vietnam), Richard Nixon (Watergate) and Gerald Ford (being Gerald Ford).  Carter seemed like the latest in an undistinguished line of presidents.

Ronald Reagan was not what I was looking for in 1980.  I can remember watching Reagan in a televised debate, and quickly turning it off because my impression of him was one of a guy clearly in over his head.  I must have missed a helluva comeback performance, because Reagan went on to beat the stuffing out of Carter in November.  I’ve always wondered what chances Reagan would have had if there had been a stronger incumbent than Carter in The Oval Office.

In the end, I think I actually sat out the 1980 presidential election.

But what I learned in those early Reagan years was that he was the consummate manager.  He knew how to pull in the most qualified people to execute his strategies, then he got out-of-the-way and let them do their jobs.  Mr. Reagan eventually proved to demonstrate values, policies and initiatives that I came to appreciate. 

His administration’s efforts to build a 600 ship navy placed unmanageable pressure on the Soviet military and economy.  It was just one more factor adding cracks to the facade of the soon-to-fail Soviet bloc.  Reagan’s foreign policy initiatives included added emphasis on reducing the nuclear arsenals of both the USA and USSR in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty that laid the framework for the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) treaty.  In fact, Reagan became such a popular icon in the Soviet Union that Mikhail Gorbachev asked Reagan to give a speech on free-market philosophy at Moscow State University.

But what struck me most was the way Reagan restored a sense of strength and leadership in The Oval Office.  Reagan’s performance, whether one agrees with his pragmatic approach to governance and belief in American exceptionalism (the shining city on the hill),  turned the attitude of country around from the aimlessness of the Carter years. 

By the end of Reagan’s first term I was a convert, not only to the Reagan philosophy but to more conservative views on social and economic matters.  I voted for Reagan in his re-election campaign against Walter Mondale.  And by the end of his presidency in 1988, I viewed Ronald Reagan as an American hero.

The above is one of my favorite pictures of Reagan.  I had it taped on my desk at work for years; and on more than one occasion it was suggested that the picture was disrespectful.  When confronted with this observation, I would explain that the picture was a favorite because it portrayed a side of Reagan no other President in recent memory would allow to peek through.  (When asked why he allowed himself this lapse in presidential decorum, the President simply said he had always wanted to do that to the press.) 

Ronald Reagan was unafraid to appear human, even self-deprecating.  I loved the picture because it showed President Reagan as a human being who cared more for that “shining city on the hill” than he did for the pretense of invulnerability.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President!

We miss you!