Closing Out 2018 With Hope

He was slender and slight of build.  Wrestling with childhood memories that would darken his mood for a lifetime.  Rushing always to make a name for himself.  A writer of volcanic ferocity.  An autodidact.  He was an immigrant.  Strong evidence he was in love at one time with a man.  We know him as nothing short of being the father of our national government.

If George Washington was the father of our country, and James Madison the father of the Constitution, then it is also true that Alexander Hamilton was the most important founding father in the creation of our strong central government.

After another year of shocking news and dispiriting politics from Washington (and Madison) this blog is taking a hopeful turn in this final post for 2018.  And the reason for my hope comes from the pages of a book.   Books, after all, are where many find their solace following the chaos and bombast that pours from the headlines, day after day.

For decades Hamilton has been my favorite founder.   The reasons are many and over time they change in degree–such as now when his immigrant status underscores the folly of tarring those from another place as having no value to America.  For the past weeks the tome that is Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton has been a daily conversation in this home.  Famed historian Joseph Ellis said in an interview that his research and writings, which dig deep into the founding fathers, makes it seem that the men and their families are so ‘alive’ they might as well be living next door.  That is how Chernow made it feel with his book which was published in 2004.  Why I only read it this year says more about the number of books ‘on my pile’ than the subject or the writer.   I honestly can not say enough about either one.

It was the tone of our politics and the elevation of stupidity on the national stage that put me on a three foot stepladder so to reach up on our bookshelves and pull Hamilton down this fall. I needed a tonic for our times.  Hamilton was then what we so need now.

Hamilton was the most voluminous writer of those who put this nation on the map.  While one wishes for even more of his inner personal feelings and reflections to have been offered–it is his massive outpourings about government that places him at the intellectual top among the founders.  He was among the very first to know and advocate that the Articles of Confederation be scrapped and a whole new strong national government established.  He traveled to Philadelphia to help make a country!

He grasped from the outset the need for a strong executive, deep concern about populism and passions, need for an independent judiciary, need for taxation, commerce, and trade.  He was not only well suited for the times he lived but I argue very important for the institutional foundation that still guides our nation. Not only does the workings of the Treasury Department still beat with the rhythm given to it by Hamilton, but the Coast Guard serves centuries after he created it.  When you read a news story about the New York Post know that, it too, was founded by Hamilton.

Too often in our times those who are smart are termed elitist.  If they come from somewhere else (Hamilton from the British West Indies) they are undermined and not valued.  If they provoke others into thinking outside the box (what can be more a test of that than forming a constitutional Republic?) they are called unpatriotic or some childlike epithets.  If they promote strong effective government they are termed in other demeaning ways.

What we so lack in national leadership now was so much in evidence when Madison, Jefferson, Adams, and Hamilton were allowed to use their creative power.  By looking backwards with books it blunts some of the current mess we now find ourselves.  By looking at Hamilton it reminds us that nothing is impossible.  No person should be viewed as not part of the national fabric.  It is due to such diverse and unique people that has made our story so inspiring on the international stage.

It is that reminder that ends the 2018 blogging year.

With each book that is finished means another one will be opened.  Following up on the Hamilton theme of desiring a strong Supreme Court comes the new book by Richard Brookhiser about John Marshall: The Man Who Made The Supreme Court.  Marshall was also a huge admirer of Hamilton.   That will be my first historical book for the opening days of 2019.

And that is when I will be back at this desk after the Holidays.

Until then Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

As Nation Prepares For Republican Government Shutdown

At this moment, Senate Minority Leader Schumer and incoming Speaker Pelosi have no incentive at all to negotiate with Republicans.

Zero incentive.

Schumer and Pelosi were in agreement with Senate Majority Leader McConnell that they needed to pass a short-term spending bill until Feb. 8.  So now, it’s incumbent upon Republicans — who decided to abandon that plan — to figure out how to keep government open, or reopen it when it’s closed.  More than 800,000 federal workers will be facing furloughs or forced to work without pay if a resolution is not reached before funding expires at midnight Friday.

This is yet one more temper tantrum by Trump trying to get his border wall.  He might as well ask for a pink horse.

In another example of not telling the truth Trump sought to pin blame on Democrats for a potential shutdown even though he said last week that he would proudly own one if lawmakers did not provide at least $5 billion toward his marquee campaign promise.

And talking of the number of false claims he has made…… they add up to a total of 7,546 claims through Dec. 20, the 700th day of his term in office, according to The Fact Checker’s database that analyzes, categorizes and tracks every suspect statement uttered by Trump.

Needless to remind Americans but the self-generated chaos in Washington has caused part of the turmoil on Wall Street.  The Dow Jones dropped nearly 500 points on Thursday.  And over 400 points on Friday.  Don’t even get me started on the S&P…

Process Matters–Syria Troop Pullout Another Example Of What Happens When Ground Rule Tossed Aside

More than any other issue or cause on this blog, the matter of process stands front and center, time and again, as being central to the operation of government.   I stress it over and over.

From the antics of my local neighborhood association, to the pure lunacy of the Donald Trump White House, there is no escaping that process matters.  When process gets undermined there is a mess to pick up.  Be it in relation to how matters come for a vote with the Marquette Neighborhood Association, or the lack of consultation in a formalized way prior to a major announcement about  troop withdrawals, there are clear consequences.  Whether it is the MNA president or the U.S. president it is not pretty when process is tossed aside for expediency.

Today Secretary of Defense Mattis resigned due to the undermining of the process that should have been used when it came time to address American troops in Syria.

What is shocking to me is that Trump did not coordinate the decision with his senior advisors.  If you follow international events in the daily newspapers then it is clear the likes of National Security Advisor John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Secretary of State Jim Mattis all had issued statements recently declaring that the United States would stay in Syria to counter Iran.  It also goes without saying that there were other worthy political goals that made such a policy continuance all the more logical.

What happens when a process is so overtly attacked is that our allies now have even less reason to trust the advisors who speak for Trump, and even more importantly, for America.   Think about how our key allies like France and the Brits feel.  They too have troops in Syria–predicated on the fact America had their back.  Our allies were not told of the troop pullout!!

I get it that most Trump supporters have no deep care or understanding but such totally absurd, reckless, and dangerous moves such this one allows for allies to be reluctant to take on new risks in partnership with America.   That is bad news for international order.  Internationalists find that unacceptable.

With the adherence of an established process we could have at least shown respect for allies and pushed for promises from Turkey, and concessions from Iran.  All we have now is egg on our face, allies who are angry, and a future that is more cloudy than when we started the week.

Last Mature Man Has Left Trump White House

I am shaken by the resignation of General Mattis. For what it means to our country, for the message it sends to our troops, and for the indication of what his view is of the commander-in-chief.

— House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), quoted by The Hill.

The letter of resignation form Mattis is an astonishing rebuke of Trump.

Key quotes:

“While the U.S. remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies.”

“Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours.”

“My view on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion on these issues.”


Collision Course!

After watching too much Fox News Donald Trump is willing to send the nation where the rank-and file Republican does not want to head. Nancy Pelosi comes out looking stronger by the minute. This is a massive political blunder as the nation will view this–correctly–as a GOP shutdown.

House Republicans passed a stop-gap spending bill that delivers $5 billion for Donald Trump’s border wall, setting up a standoff with the Senate that significantly raises the likelihood of a government shutdown this weekend.

There is now a choice: Enough Republicans get on board with Democrats to pass the stopgap, or keep the government shut down until Jan. 3, when Democrats in control will be able to open it up.

Tin-Ear politics from the GOP!

Border Wall Funding Never Got Off The Ground

This is good news—and it you have been reading along over past days as was predicted.

It was announced that Senate leaders have a stopgap funding deal to avert a federal government shutdown.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced this morning that a short-term bill to fund the government through February 8th will be introduced later today in a deal that would avert a partial government shutdown over the Christmas holiday.

The resolution will not include $5 billion for the border wall that Trump had said was necessary for his approval. The White House, without saying it would support a stopgap measure, has insisted in recent days that Congress must pass something before the government’s operating authority expires on Friday. Now the confrontation over the wall may be postponed until the next Congress, when Democrats will control the House.

And so it goes.  The racist wall idea that is.

Goes, bye, bye.

What You Could Get Paid To Construct A Crossword Puzzle

I always thought the hard part of the NYT’s crossword puzzle was on my end.  Never doing one in ink, and simply forgoing Sunday’s as it was more mental heft than I could muster.  But now I read what makes for an even harder part of the puzzle—and feel the pay increase is warranted for the those who create it.

The New York Times crossword puzzle is giving its constructors a raise next year. Puzzle editor Will Shortz announced that the rates for a weekday puzzle would increase from $300 to $500, and for a Sunday (which are bigger) from $1,000 to $1,500. Constructors earn even more once they’ve published 10 puzzles in the paper — $750 and $2,250, respectively.

If you think the job is easy and it would be no problem to get a puzzle accepted by the paper, well, think again.

The competition is fierce. We get 10 or more submissions for every one that we accept.

Fond Memory Of Bill Kraus, Dead At 92

It would be wrong not to take time to pay tribute on this blog to one of the ‘old-school’ types which once was the bedrock of Wisconsin politics.  This past weekend Bill Kraus, a legendary–and that is not too strong of a word to use–Republican strategist died in Madison at the age of 92.

For a number of years he lived on my block on the Madison isthmus and would walk with his wife past our home.  It was because of his stature as one who tried to make government work, offered ways to bridge political divides, and was a treasure house of stories that when it was possible to strike up a conversation I made the effort.  We have very few living reminders of how our political culture once was in this state.  Perhaps no one characterized that better than Kraus.

So when I heard of his passing I was sad.  Sad for him and his family, of course.

But I am equally sad for the loss of civility and common sense when it comes to our state’s politics.  I will offer just one quick story, and Kraus’ reaction to it, for all that needs to be pointed out about how we once acted in this state, and where we are presently. 

In 1987 Governor Thompson was first inaugurated to his office.  For whatever reason, and perhaps just out of the blue as we would have said back home, he decided, while walking down the corridors of the statehouse, to just enter some legislative offices and say hello.  One of the longest serving statehouse employees, Geneva Rode, was working in the office with me.  He took her hand in his like one might at a family reunion.  It was laughs and smiles all around.  I had started working in the Capitol the day he took the oath of office and was quite impressed with his warmth and spur of the moment visit.  There was the sense we all were working for the people of Wisconsin under the statehouse dome.

I told that story one day to Kruas as we talked on the sidewalk and it was his smile and the look in his eyes that said as much as his words.  His face revealed that this was how politics should look and feel.  Thompson, a Republican, and our office filled with Democrats.  Kraus talked of Thompson having a keen mind for names and tidbits about people from across the state.  And as for the friendly connection in the office with smiles, handshakes, and a quick hello, Kraus said one gets so much more done in politics with a smile on your face.

That is how I will remember Bill Kraus.  I would hope that sage advice from him would guide our politics again.