The “Clown Car” Is On The Road – First Stop Liberty University

Welcome to the official start of the 2016 Presidential Campaign. The “Clown Car” is the best way to describe the incredible collection of demagogues, extremists and ignoramuses that appear to be staking out their positions for the 2016 Republican nomination, however Ted Cruz was the first to make it official. He made his announcement this morning in a speech before a packed house of students at the very conservative Liberty University,founded in 1971 by evangelist Jerry Falwell.  Certainly nothing he said was surprising.  His message, heard many times before,was one of anti-establishment conservatism that took not only the Obama Administration to task, but the Republican establishment as well.  In doing so he continued to separate himself both from the Beltway and his own party. However,if anyone thinks that his candidacy should be taken lightly,they had better think again. Cruz may ride in a “clown car”, but his intent, his message and his campaign are deadly serious and potentially deadly dangerous.

Evil Cruz

We sometimes make the mistake of listening to someone like Cruz and writing them off as extremist crackpots.  They say things that we believe are so extreme that we can’t imagine anyone taking them seriously.  It appears to us that his words are spoken just to create a reaction, but they lack both substance and believability.  We know that his statements are often based on erroneous facts and on numbers that simply don’t add up.  His actions, often taken alone, appear as if he is simply grandstanding just to get into the spotlight. We can’t imagine that anyone could possibly listen to him and view him as a viable candidate for the Presidency of  the United States.  However, are we making the dangerous mistake of writing him off just because we believe he belongs in the “clown car”?

No doubt, Cruz has many challenges ahead of him, first and foremost fundraising. He needs to raise an enormous amount of money just to compete in the primaries.  Will he find enough supporters willing to put their fortunes behind this “true believer”?  He wouldn’t be the first candidate to start off with a bang and fizzle early on because of lack of funds.  If he should be able to sustain himself for the duration of the primary season, he will have to pull a high enough percentage of the votes in the primaries to be invited to participate in the debates.  Right now he is polling only 4%, too low to earn an invitation.  However, if he succeeds and participates in the debates, be aware that all bets are off.

Cruz is a talented orator with the ability to dominate the stage and set the tone.  He will not hesitate to say things that will place his opponents in a rhetorical box and squeeze them into submission.  He will force his opponents into taking positions that they would rather avoid articulating.  He will not hesitate to flamboyantly break the rules and dare the moderator to shut him down.  In fact, he would love nothing more.  His goal will be to become the lead story coming out of each debate, and he knows exactly how to achieve that.  When you are a demagogue and a true believer, all rules are made by the people who are trying to keep you, the purveyor of truth, down.  If you have to break those rules to get that truth out, then so be it.

I have no doubt that I will enjoy the spectacle presented by the debates and the speeches and absurd statements made by Cruz and the other candidates.  No doubt Cruz and others will pull all of the candidates further and further to the right, making their positions unpalatable to the general electorate.  It will be easy to laugh them off as wholly unworthy of becoming the GOP candidate for the Presidency of the United States.  Yet one of them will.  If 2012 has taught us nothing else, it has to have taught us that we can laugh if we want, but we had better not forget to vote.  While the spectacle will be fun and amusing, the game is deadly serious.  Let’s make sure that we win.

Though Victorious The Right Is Dead Wrong On Israel

The result of yesterday’s Israeli election is extremely disturbing to me personally, but more importantly, potentially devastating to the US – Israeli relationship, Israel’s position in the world and American efforts to negotiate a successful end to Iran’s nuclear weapons program.  The end result of the election gave Netanyahu a commanding lead of 30 seats in the Knesset, and a viable pathway to the 61 seats necessary to control the government.  Most troubling are the choices that he made to achieve this electoral victory.  He chose fear over hope, isolation over cooperation and xenophobia over integration.  His warning that the “Arabs were voting in droves” and that he would not allow a Palestinian State while he was in office spoke volumes and frankly made me cringe.  Let me be clear, while Netanyahu claims to speak for the Jewish people around the world, he does not speak for me nor most Jews that I am in contact with.  In fact, despite the election results, he does not even speak for a majority of Israelis.  However, due to a complex parliamentary system of government he will be the face and voice of Israel at least until the next election.

While the White House has been very clear about its unhappiness with the election results, the GOP has been swooning in pure joy.  What is very evident is the common thread that runs through the American and Israeli right wing.  Of course we saw this played out before of our eyes when Netanyahu came to speak to Congress a couple of weeks ago.  However, that was only the first thrust at this Administration’s heart. The next will come when after more than 25 years of bipartisan support for a “two-state solution” to the Israel-Palestinian conflict the GOP turns towards support for Netanyahu’s “not on my watch” proclamation.  There is no doubt that the right wing GOP will support Netanyahu’s position and the prospects for any peace settlement in for the foreseeable future will fade in a puff of right-wing extremist smoke.

isolated Israel

By positioning itself this way Israel opens itself up to an endless round of accusations and actions taken by both individual nations and world institutions.  Israel has always been able to depend on the US to buffer and protect them when these actions take place.  However, the poisonous relationship between the Obama Administration and Netanyahu places all of that in jeopardy.  There is no doubt in my mind that the US will continue to stand beside Israel when it comes to security issues, however when it comes to the world of international politics, Israel may find itself hanging alone.  While the boisterous blowhards of the Republican-controlled Congress may yell and even demand diplomatic support, they cannot implement it.  That is the role of the Executive branch.  Netanyahu’s actions will marginalize and isolate Israel on the world stage.  It will get very lonely.   Netanyahu can only hope for a Republican Presidential victory in 2016.

The negotiations with Iran regarding its nuclear program has reached a very sensitive stage.  It is a moment when perceived national strength and resolve are of great importance when working toward a positive resolution.  The ill-conceived and naive letter sent by the 47 Republican Senators in combination with the rousing response to the Netanyahu speech before Congress places these talks in jeopardy.  Now that Netanyahu can claim electoral victory and therefore support for his fearmongering the future is cloudier than ever.  The only thing that is clear is the fact that there is a significant group both in Congress and Israel that see war as the only viable solution to this threat.  To them, it makes no difference that an almost unanimous sense from those military and security experts who have been asked feel that there is no military solution to this problem .  But, those who gave us Iraq, including the vocal encouragement of Netanyahu, would like to bring us another chapter in what will surely be seen as the most egregious foreign policy decision ever made by this country besides the invasion of Iraq.

While my support for Israel’s right to exist as a free and secure nation will never diminish, I am dismayed at the path being advocated by its current leader.  Just as I have been at odds with decisions taken by my own government, I am at odds with the path taken by Israel.  As I have worked to change the path taken by America, I will work to change the path currently being taken by Israel.

When GOP Arrogance Turns to Irresponsibility

There are times when I simply find it necessary to react to an event that is so incredible that it screams at me to write.  This is one of those times.  As you must be aware, 47 United States Senators of the Republican majority took it upon themselves to write a letter to the Iranian leadership warning that any agreement with the United States under this President would be vulnerable to Senate modification or  rejection as well as modification or rejection by a future President.  Their obvious intent is to destroy any chance of an agreement on the future of the Iranian nuclear program. It is hard to select which part of this action I find most objectionable. I was appalled at the invitation by Speaker Boehner to Prime Minister Netanyahu to speak before a joint session of Congress without the concurrence of the White House.  But that action pales in comparison to this letter sent by 47 Republican Senators.

It is clear to anyone who has studied basic junior high school civics that foreign policy is within the purview of the Executive Branch.  This is why the State Department was created, and why the Secretary of State is part of the President’s cabinet.  The Logan act of 1799, most recently amended in 1994, forbids any unauthorized private citizen from negotiating with a foreign government. This action is considered a felony and punishable by up to three years in prison. It is simply unheard of for a Senator, without clearance from the White House, to communicate with the leaders of a foreign country.  Their behavior is not only illegal and reprehensible, it is damaging to the institution of the Presidency and this President in particular. It exhibits a complete lack of respect for this President in the international arena, an act that is incredibly irresponsible and dangerous. There is no possible excuse or explanation for this behavior that is acceptable.

Shame On GOP

The body of the letter itself is incredibly patronizing in its assumption that the Iranian leadership is not aware of the way in which our government works or the contents of our Constitution.  The authors of the letter not only diminish our President, but insult the very leaders they are trying influence.  However, they have underestimated both our President and the Iranian leadership.  Our President has reacted with humor and irony to this affront.  He said that it is interesting that the extreme right-wing of the GOP has seen fit to attempt to create an alliance with the extreme right-wing of the Iranian leadership.  This just a week after the visible alliance they created with the right-wing of the Israeli leadership.  The desire for war makes strange bedfellows.  However, the Iranian Foreign Minister in his response to the letter from the 47 Senators saw fit to school them in the way of international law and the operation of the American system.  He was clear in his statement that he feels that this letter is of no importance and that the negotiations will continue.  He further stated that should an agreement be reached, international law will dictate the manner in which this law is applied and maintained.

The behavior of the GOP on both the Senate and House sides is simply unacceptable.  They are turning our system of government on its head and destroying accepted procedures, processes and protocols that have been in place for centuries.  We cannot sit on our sofas and simply shake our heads.  That is what we have done as they encroach on voting rights in 36 states. That is what they are expecting.  They are changing the nature of our country one move and one state at a time.  They have proven that they are incapable of governing and that they do not respect our Constitution.  They are not only an embarrassment, they are a danger to our Union.

Netanyahu And Boehner: A Study In Arrogance

I have been privileged to witness many historic events over the years.  In most cases these were moments of pride and national exhilaration.  However, in some instances the events were tragic and were reminders that we still had a great deal of work to do on the road to fulfilling our national destiny.  Even when it seemed that the very fabric of who we are was being stretched to the limit, we showed resilience and cohesion and on all but one occasion this nation remained whole and united.  Certainly, from the outside looking in, while we had our disagreements, we were a strong and united nation.  However, a recent event endangers this perception. Never in our history has a branch of our government conspired with a foreign leader to impose its will on our foreign policy.  After all, that would be incredibly arrogant on the part of all parties involved.  Yet as noted by Jon Perrfollow in the Daily Kos on March 1, 2015 …”Prime Minister Netanyahu is coming at the invitation of one political party to sabotage the foreign policy of the sitting president of the United States”. It is, additionally, a break in the decades-old tradition of bipartisanship in our relationship and policy towards Israel.  The hubris and arrogance required to make this decision in the absence of White House concurrence by both Boehner and Netanyahu are breathtaking and remarkably destructive.

Now I, an American Jew and lifelong supporter of Israel, certainly appreciate the existential threat faced by the Jewish State.  I have been on every border and traveled throughout this tiny country, the size of New Jersey, many times. Though arrogance may be a necessary posture for survival among your enemies, it is a recipe for failure among your friends.  While John Boehner was foolhardy in issuing the invitation to Netanyahu, the Prime Minister was foolish in accepting it.  They have both behaved in a manner not befitting a head of state or a Speaker of the House.  They have both played raw politics in an arena that requires diplomacy, patience and intelligence.  Despite the platitudes that come out of their mouths, they have shown themselves to be self-serving politicians first, and national and international leaders second.

Boehner and Netanyahu

As Netanyahu spoke before the joint session of congress, we all listened to a well constructed speech effectively outlining the threat faced by his nation.  It is a fact that an Iranian nuclear capacity would impose an existential threat to Israel.  There is no disagreement on this point.  However, from there he rejected the American negotiating posture in a manner that felt as if he saw the need to provide a tutorial on proper negotiating tactics.  This from a man who has been nothing but an incumbrance to peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians.  He questioned the President’s judgement in the approach being taken in the negotiations.  This from a man who strongly advised Bush to invade Iraq on the expectation that it would be good for the Middle East. Finally, he provided no solution or guidance other than to reject the current negotiations.  All the while his Republican hosts were cheering him and giving him standing ovations.  This from the group that gave us the Iraq war and has obstructed every legislative initiative taken by this administration to the point of shutting down the government.  Both Netanyahu’s and Boehner’s track record of success is a sad commentary on their leadership.

I, along with most Americans, am deeply concerned about the possibility of an Iranian nuclear capability.  However, it is clear that a military solution, though blindly advocated by the neocons, is not viable.  Therefore the only solution is to negotiate an agreement that will provide us with access, control and information to enable us to impact on this development.  The GOP and their right-wing partner, Netanyahu, have once again ignored precedent, protocol and common sense to blunder into areas outside their expertise.  The President made his position clear long ago.  He will not allow Iran to attain nuclear capability as long as he is President.  I take him at his word.

The GOP Is Finding That It’s Harder Than It Looks

I remember as a kid I used to watch my dad drive and think, that doesn’t look so hard.  After all, I was pretty good at driving the bumper cars at the amusement park, and how much different could this be?  I also remember the first time my dad let me behind the wheel on a Sunday morning in a deserted shopping mall parking lot and said, “drive”.  I suddenly realized that it’s a lot harder than it looks.  As we get older we realize that things look a lot different from the outside looking in than when we suddenly find ourselves on the inside.  We have all known people who talk a good game, but never seem to achieve success when given the opportunity.  As we get older we either gain the humility that affords us the caution to go slowly, take advice and stay focused, or the hubris that affords us nothing but self-centered reactive behavior.  Leadership by definition must be proactive not reactive.  Yet the so-called GOP leadership of the House and Senate have been playing a game of reactive catchup ever since their term began.  They are confronting deep internal conflicts and are having great difficulty developing a coherent and consistent approach to governance.  They actually had greater success as the “party of no” than they are having as the party in charge.

plunging GOP

I believe that part of the difficulty the GOP is having is the result of an interesting paradox.  While we have more opportunity for communication than ever in the history of the world, many choose to communicate at an incredibly narrow bandwidth, receiving and providing only a limited perspective and information. This is particularly true of the GOP.  It is interesting that they often accuse the Democrats of listening only to voices “within the beltway”, while they, in fact, have narrowed their sources of information to a very few skewed outlets. Successful leaders seek information from many sources, even from those with whom they disagree, as they seek to develop viable solutions and responses to issues.  The fact that the GOP has marked as irrelevant, biased and invalid all information that doesn’t come from their echo chamber, makes their decision-making very difficult.  It is for this reason that they often seem out of touch with the prevailing attitudes and opinions of the nation.

An additional impediment to their ability to effectively assume the mantel of leadership is their need to be reactive. They so disdain the President that they spend all of their time reacting to him rather than providing their own solutions. The President, aware of this pattern, has challenged the GOP to lead.  He has challenged them to provide their own solutions on immigration, pay equity, marriage equality, gun control, tax reform and a host of other issues confronting the country.  Instead, what do they choose to do?  Rather than doing the hard work required of leaders, they create tension between the US and one of our closest allies by inviting Netanyahu without the President’s knowledge or agreement, to speak before a joint session of Congress. They have not only failed to lead on the important issues of the day, they have shown themselves to be completely irresponsible in the manner in which they have clumsily inserted themselves into an area usually reserved for the Executive Branch.

While they have often complained about the lack of communication between the President and congressional leadership, it is interesting to note that during this critical period, the two leaders, Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell, have not met or spoken to one another in two weeks.  Not only are they not receiving unbiased and objective information, they are not even working with one another.

Thus far, the GOP has shown itself to lack the skill, judgement, maturity or humility to lead, let alone govern. They were much better at saying “no” than they are at providing answers and solutions to the problems and issues of the day.  I frankly don’t expect it to change as the 2016 circus moves into full campaign mode.  The internal conflicts and bizarre opinions will be out there for us all to see.  It is clear that neither their last President, not their current leadership, has given us any reason to believe that they are capable of governance.  It is harder than it looks.

Is Congress Really A Co-Equal Partner?

When I was a kid I remember my dad saying, “this family is not a democracy, the best you can hope for is a benevolent dictatorship”.  He said it with a smile but my brothers and I got the message.  We could participate in the discussion and voice our opinion, but in the final analysis my parents called the shots. We didn’t always agree, but they did control some key points of leverage, i.e. food, shelter, allowance, that made disagreement potentially more costly than it was worth.  The fact is that we were not equal partners in the enterprise called “the family”.  However, when our Forefathers wrote the American Constitution, they did, in fact, create three co-equal branches of government to protect us from even a “benevolent dictatorship”.  They did so with the very real expectation that there would be a constructive tension between the branches, resulting in truly representative and equitable governance.  However for this grand and brilliant scheme to succeed, each branch must play its prescribed role.  If one branch in our system of government fails to function properly, the entire system is thrown out of equilibrium and that carefully conceived balance of power is placed in jeopardy.  As in any system, when a void is created, it is necessary for that void to be filled to place the system back into equilibrium.  And so, as congress has created a void, we hear loud and angry complaints as other branches move to fill it.  The Republicans, while purporting to be dedicated to our democratic way of life, are in fact using every tool at their disposal to subvert the very system in place to protect us.

It is clear that the Constitution expects the Congress to legislate.  Yet this Congress has done everything but legislate.  They have attempted to prevent already passed legislation from taking effect.  They have used every parliamentary tool at their disposal to prevent legislation from getting to the floor for a vote.  They have investigated false scandals leading to no conclusion and even less action.  They have accused both the Executive and the Judicial branches of overstepping their bounds.  Yet, as I noted, when a void is created in the system, it will seek to right itself one way or another.  Not only has the congress failed to fulfill its basic obligations, it has served as an obstruction to the smooth operation of government.  It has gone so far as to cause the shutdown of all but our government’s vital services.  In short, the Congress, rather than being a co-equal positive force in the governance of the United States, has been a destructive impediment to legislative progress.

Congress

Anyone who has followed my blog over the past three-and-a-half years is well aware of the legislative sink hole the GOP has created.  To name just a few of the key issues still awaiting action: gun control, immigration, tax reform, equal pay, minimum wage, and marriage equality.  What is most troubling is the fact that their inaction does not represent the desires or opinions of the nation.  It is clear that the GOP has become the servant of the few with narrow self-serving interests.  Instead of aspiring to raise us to new and greater heights of equality and understanding, they seek to find the lowest common denominator of ignorance and hate.

There has been much said and written about the so-called “imperial presidency”.  However, as long as the Congress refuses to accept its role as defined by the Constitution, they can only blame themselves for an Executive Branch that has assumed greater and greater power.  By doing so they endanger our democracy and our future.  It is time for Congress to assume its rightful place as a co-equal branch of government.  If the current membership won’t, we must elect others in 2016 who have the courage to act on behalf of the entire country, rather than the narrow and selfish needs of the few. The future of our democracy depends on it.

The ISIS Dilemma

We are faced with decisions about how to react and how much force to put behind our actions everyday. As parents we want our reactions to be appropriate and constructive. We don’t want to be just inappropriately punitive. As employers we want to be balanced and make sure that we are getting the best out of our employees while giving them the freedom to do their best. Maintaining this equilibrium in our families and in our workplace requires thoughtful attention. In both cases setting limits that are clear and understood is the key to maintaining that equilibrium.  However, for this to work, all parties have to agree to common goals and adhere to a common values system. If, in fact, goals and values are at significant variance, actions and statements will be misinterpreted and solutions will be almost impossible to find.  For example, while European leaders tried in every which way to resolve issues with Hitler, his goals and values were at odds with theirs and his actions made that clear.  Europe was forced, however reluctantly, to try to defend itself against the German onslaught. At the same time, America, watching from a distance, avoided entry into the battle until forced.  While drawing close analogies between the Nazis and ISIS might be a stretch, comparing the dilemma confronted by America then and now is not so unreasonable.

As America watched Germany create alliances with Japan and Italy to march across Europe and the Pacific it was war-weary and economically fragile.  Today, our proximity to active participation in war is far closer.  The impact of our recent wars is still being felt throughout our nation as we recover from the worst economic disaster experienced by our country since the Great Depression.  We, as a nation, are ready to focus on our own needs and our own desires and leave the world to deal with its own problems.   Certainly, we do not want to send American troops back into “harms way” on the other side of the world to fight someone else’s war.  The problem is that our conscience and our sensitivities are pinched each time an act of barbarity is performed by ISIS.  This is particularly true when the victim of that violence is an American.  What is even more troubling is that they seem to be working off of a completely different set of values than ours.  We find it unimaginable that human beings can do these things to other human beings. Not only do they perform these heinous acts, but they publicize them with pride.  We needn’t ask how far will they go, they’ve illustrated that their barbarity has no limits.  Our dilemma is that we can’t plead ignorance.  They make sure that we know exactly what they are doing.

soldiers at war

The incredible advancement in our ability to communicate and share information around the world is both a blessing and a curse.  During  World War II we could claim ignorance of the atrocities performed by the Nazis.  Today, the atrocities performed by ISIS are in our face.  We don’t have the luxury of claiming we are not aware of them.  But as then, over 75 years ago, today we are faced with the complex decision regarding what we should do about it.  Can we sit by and allow this vicious group go on unabated as they try to fulfill their dream of a modern-day Islamic Caliphate?  Yet, can we in good conscience ask our young men and women to again fight in a foreign land when those who are closest to the terror have yet to move against ISIS?  It is true that Jordan and the UAE are now actively flying bombing raids.  It is also true that the Kurds have bravely led the fight on the ground.  But what of the rest of the Islamic world?

Once again America, the only super power left in the world, finds itself facing a difficult and complex choice.  What does American leadership mean in this instance?  What will history say of our decision?  This is the dilemma that America confronts in the face of the ferocity that is ISIS.