No Glee To Be Had In Booing Of Speaker Robin Vos

No one can take any glee over the booing that Wisconsin Speaker Robin Vos received this weekend during the Republican State Party Convention. While it can be easily framed into a partisan moment where the extreme excesses of Donald Trump’s base were on full display, it is the larger concern about our precarious democracy that matters far more.

It was a most unusual scene to have occurred at a gathering of a political party. The State Assembly leader was booed by convention-goers which made for a gripping moment on newscasts statewide.

What was most troubling, however, was that Vos did not wander off the page of Republican orthodoxy so to receive such a reaction. He did not suggest raising any tax or offering more regulatory control. He did not backtrack from school vouchers or hint at gun control measures.

No, Vos instead simply and plainly told the crowd there’s no pathway to decertifying the 2020 presidential election.

“We have no ability to decertify the election and go back, We need to focus on moving forward.”

And cue the loud boos that filled the convention floor.

It was so raucous that State Party Chairman Paul Farrow had to then inform the delegates to “let him talk” and “be respectful.”

After that display from the conservative crowd, it calls into question exactly who should be surveyed in our state about the need for freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Maybe the UW System should not be first in line as a whipping boy about First Amendment rights.

While Vos did not deserve to be booed for stating a fact, he does need to own his share of the blame for stirring the pot of unreasoned anger in our state about the 2020 election. His use of former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman to investigate that election has prolonged and needlessly exacerbated the Trump base of the party into continuing to think something nefarious occurred. In fact, as every examination of our state’s balloting proved, nothing illegal or sinister took place.

As evidenced from this weekend’s GOP convention no good comes when partisan attempts are used to strike at our political and electoral institutions. But over and over, across the nation, as The New York Times reported above the fold in their Sunday edition the partisan attacks on truth are far too often the new norm in state legislative races.

At least 357 sitting Republican legislators in closely contested battleground states have used the power of their office to discredit or try to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. The tally accounts for 44 percent of the Republican legislators in the nine states where the presidential race was most narrowly decided. In each of those states, the election was conducted without any evidence of widespread fraud, leaving election officials from both parties in agreement on the victory of Joseph Biden Jr.

Election and democracy experts say they see the rise of anti-democratic impulses in statehouses as a clear, new threat to the health of American democracy. State legislatures hold a unique position in the country’s democratic apparatus, wielding a constitutionally mandated power to set the “times, places and manner of holding elections.” Cheered on by Mr. Trump as he eyes another run for the White House in 2024, many state legislators have shown they see that power as license to exert greater control over the outcome of elections.

It undermines our democracy by playing to the ones who will use factless arguments to then spearhead spurious and dangerous reactions that strike at the heart of our political institutions.

After all that grim reality it would seem, then, for there to be no way this post could stay on theme but still somehow look upwards. And more oddly still, by using Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as the winds to lift our sails. But the following shows not only why we can have faith in reclaiming our democracy, but a lesson that McConnell can impart to Vos.

This weekend the Wall Street Journal reported McConnell’s pleasure over the fact the isolationist wing of the Republican Party was able to be reined in when the Ukraine aid package was put together and passed into law. He said that it was a personal victory for him.

Said McConnell: “I am interested in diminishing the number of my members who believe that America somehow can exist alone in the world.”

He added: “I think the fact that only 11, in the end, ended up voting against the package was an indication of success in convincing a larger number of our members that no matter what was being said by some on the outside that those views were simply incorrect.”

McConnell is most correct about international aid, and on the substance about the Wisconsin election not having been ‘stolen’ Vos is equally correct. What then is required from Vos going forward to combat the most unreasoned in his party, is what McConnell expertly administered in Congress to pass an aid package.


And so it goes.

Humorous Writing Is Only Way To Take Trump White House Seriously

Each week I look to the wit and style of Maureen Dowd to put in context the absurd world in which we live.  This past week there was more than the usual level of crazy headlines as the Republican National Convention tried to tell us our ears and eyes over the past four years were wrong.  Donald Trump, they wish us to think, is just a diverse-loving guy who thinks women are not just sex-objects and Blacks, not just sports figures.

So it is important to turn to Dowd for the words and wisdom from the sober and sane element of the nation.  It only took readers to get to the third paragraph to know drinking coffee and reading her column at the same time would lead to changing shirts……true story here at my Madison home with the following phrase.

The night was so Borgia…

Yes, there she was, daddy’s little girl, on her imaginary escalator. The pungent aroma of the S.N.L. Ivanka perfume, “Complicit,” wafted across the lawn on the balmy night. All the dynamics that make Donald Trump’s administration, and the way he runs the country, so chaotic — the backbiting, the warring factions, the grifting, the neglect, the power grabs — were echoed in the family portrait on display this past week.

The most dramatic tableau Thursday night was not the president’s somniferous speech, but Ivanka’s scorching moment with the Day-Glo-garbed Melania.

The entire piece is simply delightful.



Night Four Of Republican National Convention 2020: Featuring Richard Nixon

For the Republican National Convention this year I am featuring a Republican each day from the pages of history who acted in exactly the reverse of Donald Trump.

Monday I  focused on the need for character and shone a light on Gerald Ford.  On Tuesday Abraham Lincoln was featured with an eye on leadership and empathy.  Wednesday I wrote about the need for strong international alliances highlighted by Dwight Eisenhower.  Today I present a trait that any president must possess if wishing to be not only an informed leader but a well-rounded person.  Richard Nixon proves my point.

It was Marcus Tullius Cicero who wrote, “A room without books is like a body without a soul.”


If there is one overarching quality that Donald Trump lacks it is a stunning dearth of curiosity about what he does not know and a total lack of interest in reading.  The absence of both has created what we see and hear on a daily basis from this White House.  The facts about Trump’s disdain for reading have been well-sourced and reported. 

“He didn’t process information in any conventional sense,” Wolff writes. “He didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semi-­literate.”

Wolff quotes economic adviser Gary Cohn writing in an email: “It’s worse than you can imagine … Trump won’t read anything—not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers, nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored.”

While Trump and his allies, as well as some mainstream journalists, have attacked the accuracy of Wolff’s book, Trump’s allergy to reading is among the most fully corroborated assertions Fire and Fury makes.

Ahead of the election, the editors of this magazine wrote that the Republican candidate “appears not to read.” Before the inauguration, Trump told Axios, “I like bullets or I like as little as possible. I don’t need, you know, 200-page reports on something that can be handled on a page. That I can tell you.” In February, The New York Times reported that National Security Council members had been instructed to keep policy papers to a single page and include lots of graphics and maps.

Meanwhile, Richard Nixon was a highly cerebral and mentally cultivated man. Reading and learning were central to his life from an early age. In February 1972 Nixon spoke to the press about the upcoming history-breaking trip to Mainland China.

In mentioning Andre Malraux, I do not want to reflect on many of the other experts-and there are many experts in this field of China–whose books have been brought to my attention. I do not want to indicate I have read them all but I have been exposed to a great number. I asked him to come because there was an interesting coincidence.

In 1969, when I met with President de Gaulle in Paris, Mr. Malraux at that time was the Minister of Culture in the de Gaulle Cabinet. We had a discussion prior to the dinner on the subject of China generally, and I was particularly impressed with his analysis of the leaders. His book, at least the one I have read—he’s written many–but his book, the one I particularly refer to was his “Anti-Memoirs.” I would commend it to you not only for what it tells about China and its leaders, but also about France, its problems, and the whole World War II and post-World War II era.

But here it is essential to do an enormous amount of homework just to come up to the starting line. I don’t want to say that after having read as much as I have, and as much as I will be reading between now and the time we arrive, that I will be an expert, but at least I will be familiar with the men that we will be meeting and the problems that may be discussed.

We must never again allow anyone to sit in the Oval Office who does not have the desire to be a better person through the printed page.




Night Three Of Republican National Convention 2020: Featuring Dwight Eisenhower

This week during the Republican National Convention I will feature a Republican each day from the pages of history who acted in exactly the reverse of Donald Trump.  There is no way I can sit and listen to the creative lies being broadcast at the convention this year.  It is the first convention from either party I will have missed watching since starting in 1976.

Monday I  focused on the need for character and shone a light on Gerald Ford.  On Tuesday Abraham Lincoln was featured with an eye on leadership and empathy.    Today the need for strong international alliances is the topic highlighted by Dwight Eisenhower.


In the 1950s President Dwight Eisenhower worked to strengthen our allies and at the same time encourage nonaligned governments to step closer to the democratic models of leadership.  And we know that there were times when Ike used tough language when he viewed actions of NATO not to be aligned with his own world-view.   But the president also made it known that he was not pulling the rug from under the alliance.

He stated about Europe in 1954, “the obligations which the United States has assumed under the [North Atlantic] Treaty will be honored.”

Over succeeding administrations, there have been periods of dust-ups and questions about financing the defense pact.  But they were dealt with by diplomatic means, with an understanding of the history that underpins the international partnership.

There have been many troubling and deeply concerning statements from Donald Trump about NATO during his term in office.  His bombastic and headline-grabbing trip to Europe sent huge ripples across the governments of our allies.  There was no upside to Trump calling our defense allies freeloaders.  Or scorn them as in some way having taken advantage of American taxpayers. While there have always been discussions about the monies and roles of the alliance there has also been, from each prior administration of both parties, a deep foundation of understanding that our common values, shared interests, and mutual security guarantees were more vital than petty matters.

Trump likes petty matters, however, and therefore sought to undermine the historical niceties that have bound our nations together.  Meanwhile, what Eisenhower knew and practiced, and also what the others who sat in the Oval Office well understood, is that being president often means issues need to be managed.  The grand fix or perfect design for reshaping the topic at hand is not always plausible or desirable, given what the outcome might be.  Therefore maturity, reason, historical understanding, and a softer-touch are often called for when leading.

Ike had those qualifications in abundance.  But in 2020 we see what happens when they are totally absent.


Republican National Convention 2020: Featuring Gerald Ford


I have been a national convention watcher since a teenager in 1976.  For the past 44 years, and with untold hours of coverage, this politico has thoroughly enjoyed both the Republican and Democratic conventions.  Until tonight.

While I spent a lot of time watching and listening to the Democratic National  Convention last week I will have to follow up the morning after with the newspapers regarding the Republican National Convention.  It is one thing to hear the news on a daily basis from this White House, but it would be another thing to have the bombast, and fabrications embellished for a convention performance.  No one needs to endure that.

Today I wrote a note to relatives about the necessity of our leaders having a decent character.  When I hit the send button I knew precisely how I would cover the GOP convention for Caffeinated Politics this year.  Each night of the convention I will feature a Republican from the pages of history who acted in exactly the reverse of Donald Trump. 

Tonight President Gerald Ford is the man I showcase and the topic is character. His story is one that should resonate in every home regardless of the demographics of any kind.

In 1995 Robert Wilson edited a series of lectures from notables about various Presidents of the United States.  The book was titled Character Above All.  I bought it and also the series of live lectures which accompanied the text.   The lecture and chapter on Gerald Ford is the vaccine for the infection our nation faces from Trump.

Ford had a close relationship with his stepfather, despite learning at age 13 that he was not his biological father. When he was 17, Ford had a chance meeting with Leslie King in a Grand Rapids restaurant, his biological father who by then had money, a nice car, and fine clothes. King had learned his son was a starring high school football player, but knowing his entire life that King had beat and punched his mother, Gerald wanted nothing to do with him.  No money or nice clothes could move the teenager from his foundation of decency.

Here is that portion of the events from the book which will always be a part of my collection.




It is worth noting I grew up in the era of Gerald Ford–who was sworn into the Oval Office when I was still in grade school and who constantly exemplified candor, humor, graciousness, and yes, let me say it again decency–to the time now when a low-educated and buffoonish personality resides in the White House.

Gerald Ford is recalled for standing up to his lout of a father and turning away money for the honor of taking his stepdad’s name. Meanwhile, Donald Trump mocked a disabled reporter and admits to sexual predatory ways.

Character matters.

(Tomorrow another reminder from the pages of history as the GOP Convention continues.)

Here is a photo of  Gerald and his wife Betty—they remained united in marriage to each other.  Another sign of character.


Watch MSNBC Chris Matthews And Pat Buchanan: Has The Press Been Fair To Sarah Palin?

As much as I love politics, I also love to discuss the way the media reports a story that deals with our elected officials, and campaigns for public office.    And there is plenty of media dissecting to do with the latest seven days, and the way the Republican National Convention was conducted, and then covered by the press.  I for one want to know more about those who wish to be elected.  Some feel that any questioning of the basically unknown Ms. Palin, for instance, is off limits, and as such, there is a reason to review what the press’ main job is in this nation.

Chris Matthews and Pat Buchanan tangled on this issue on MSNBC,  The video here is worthy of your time.  (BTW I hated the outdoor set that MSNBC had for both poltical conventions.  Here is a clue….the action is going on INSIDE the convention hall!)

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Roger Simon Warms My Heart: “We Have Asked Pathetic Questions Like: Who Is Sarah Palin? What Is Her Record? Where Does She Stand On The Issues? And Is She Qualified To Be A Heartbeat Away From The Presidency?”

Politico is the site that draws folks like me there several times a day for updates and breaking headlines.  The piece there today that made me laugh and clap, and draw James into the office to see what was the cause for my outburst is printed, in part, below.  Roger Simon tells it like it is at this time when the GOP is beating up the press, as reporters fight for our democracy.

On behalf of the elite media, I would like to say we are very sorry.Sarah Palin? What is her record? Where does she stand on the issues? And is she is qualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency?John McCain know her before he selected her? How well did his campaign vet her? And was she his first choice?

We have asked questions this week that we should never have asked.

We have asked pathetic questions like: Who is

We have asked mean questions like: How well did

Bad questions. Bad media. Bad.

It is not our job to ask questions. Or it shouldn’t be. To hear from the pols at the Republican National Convention this week, our job is to endorse and support the decisions of the pols.

But where did we go wrong with Sarah Palin? Let me count the ways:

First, we should have stuck to the warm, human interest stuff like how she likes mooseburgers and hit an important free throw at her high school basketball tournament even though she had a stress fracture.

Second, we should have stuck to the press release stuff like how she opposed the Bridge to Nowhere (after she supported it).

Third, we should never have strayed into the other stuff. Like when The Washington Post recently wrote: “Palin is under investigation by a bipartisan state legislative body. … Palin had promised to cooperate with the legislative inquiry, but this week she hired a lawyer to fight to move the case to the jurisdiction of the state personnel board, which Palin appoints.”

Why go there? What trees does that plant?

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Reporters Correct To Discover More About National Politicians

My readers know of my long-time love affair with hard-edged journalists who work to ferret out the truth, and damn the consequences.  They are my heroes.  Every time the messenger brings news that makes some feel uncomfortable there is an attempt to portray the journalist or news operation as the evil one.  Once again we are witnessing that old playbook being used as the GOP tries to paint the media as being either overly aggressive, or mean-spirited, in the attempt to try and better understand the entire story as to why Governor Sarah Pilan became the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate.  In addition there are numerous issues and puzzles about the life of this woman that requires answers.  This all strikes to the heart of John McCain’s judgment, and to the fitness of office of Ms. Palin.  But instead of recognizing the vital role that journalist play in our democracy, the Republicans have unleashed their usual nasty remarks about the real people that keep America free, that being the journalists and reporters.

Tonight the ever readable and highly charged Joe Klein responded to the lack of understanding from the GOP convention, and like-minded saps.

There is a tendency in the media to kick ourselves, cringe and withdraw, when we are criticized. But I hope my colleagues stand strong in this case: it is important for the public to know that Palin raised taxes as governor, supported the Bridge to Nowhere before she opposed it, pursued pork-barrel projects as mayor, tried to ban books at the local library and thinks the war in Iraq is “a task from God.” The attempts by the McCain campaign to bully us into not reporting such things are not only stupidly aggressive, but unprofessional in the extreme.

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