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.

The Supposed “Party Of National Security”, The GOP, Is Endangering Our National Security

As kids we all played the blame game.  You remember when your mom would come in and see water all over the bathroom floor you would blame your kid brother (who was nowhere near the bathroom).  The fact that the lie was incredibly transparent didn’t prevent you from trying to make it work. Naturally, as we all got older we realized the folly of such transparent efforts at casting the blame on someone else.At least now, as adults, if we try to deflect blame we do it with greater sophistication and finesse. We make the assumption that the people we are dealing with are smart, aware and perceptive. However, the GOP has not learned that lesson. They really believe that we haven’t advanced beyond our attempts at childish deflection. But now the game they are playing is deadly serious. They are playing games with our national security.

splashing

Majority Leader McConnell and his band of tricksters have added a defunding rider to the bill that funds the Department of Homeland Security while stalling the President’s immigration Executive Order.  When brought to a vote yesterday Democrats showed uncharacteristic cohesion and prevented it from being approved.  In the mind of the GOP, by voting their disapproval the Democrats voted against funding Homeland Security, so it is a no win for the Democrats.  Either they vote to defund immigration or Homeland Security.  Since the Department of Homeland security will run out of money by the end of February, the GOP thinks they have the Democrats in a bind.  It is this kind of cynical behavior, that is dependent on public ignorance and apathy, that will succeed only if we are stupid.  They want to be able to cast blame on the Democrats if Homeland Security runs out of funds.  That’s like saying your kid brother is responsible for the water on the bathroom floor.  If we let them get away with this narrative and cave, we are stupid.

There can be no doubt that the next 20 months will be contentious as the new crop of Presidential candidates try to establish and differentiate themselves.  While it is doubtful that the GOP nominee will come from the Senate, it clear that Congress as a whole will play an important supporting role in the campaign.  Therefore each vote will be viewed in that larger context.  It is critically vital that the Democrats remain united and call the GOP out when they create a false “Catch 22″.  In this instance it is particularly ironic that the party of national security is jeopardizing our national security by its shortsighted actions.  Furthermore, it is interesting to note that the all important border patrols responsible for keeping illegal Immigrants out are paid through the budget of the Department of Homeland Security.  Therefore, the “anti-immigrant party” is about to make it easier for illegal immigrants to come into America.  It does seem that these actions are inconsistent, irrational and not well thought through.  It is, in fact, the kind of behavior I would expect from a child who is not expected to be mature enough to appreciate all of the ramifications of his behavior.  However, the frightening reality is that this is the behavior of United States Senators elected to serve the best interests of our nation.

As I noted a couple of weeks ago after the State of the Union Address, the President is again showing the strength and commitment we saw in 2008.  He has the GOP back on its heels trying to figure out how to respond to this unexpected development.  For the sake of the nation, it is vital that he and the Democrats remain strong and unequivocal on their vision of tomorrow.

Have Boehner And Netanyahu Forgotten The Lessons We Learned In Kindergarten?

Part of growing up is learning basic life lessons.  For example, when I was a little boy and wanted a toy airplane in the worst way I asked my dad for it.  When he said I had a birthday coming up and should wait to see what gifts that brought me, I asked my mom for it.  She responded in the exact same way.  However, when they found out that I had asked each of them separately for it they both told me that my behavior was wrong and that they could guarantee that my birthday would not be brining me that toy airplane.  No doubt each of you can relate to this experience.  We learn at an early age that we should not try to play our parents off against each other.  We also learn at an early age that we need to treat our best friends with care and not take them for granted.  Sometimes that means going out of our way in order to maintain that friendship. In the international political arena ignoring these important rules can have major consequences.  Yet Mr. Boehner and Mr. Netanyahu both seem to have forgotten the lessons they learned in kindergarten.   Their behavior is rude, boorish, counter-productive and unbecoming of the positions of trust and leadership that they hold.

B and N

Mr. Netanyahu’s actions are crassly political and diplomatically reprehensible. His acceptance of Mr. Boehner’s invitation has broken long accepted protocols. Boehner, through his irresponsible invitation, has entered an area long understood to be the purview of the Executive Branch.  To do so without consultation with the White House or the State Department is a break in protocol that is both breathtaking and extremely dangerous.  It potentially gives license to other international leaders to attempt to play one parent off of the other when seeking support or assistance.  Mr. Boehner’s behavior is as crassly political and irresponsible as that of Mr. Netanyahu.  Both have received strong criticism from throughout the political spectrum in their respective countries.  Thus, the big question  before us is how to deal with these recalcitrant children who have forgotten what they learned in kindergarten.

There are many conversations within the ranks of the Democratic caucus about how to deal with Mr. Netanyahu’s appearance before a joint session of congress.  There are those who are calling for a Democratic boycott of the speech.  Others are calling for a walkout immediately after he is introduced.  And yet others fear any such action will be an insult to the American Jewish Community and its strong support of Israel.  There is also the hope within the ranks of both the Republican party and the Democratic party that the speech will simply be cancelled and any need for action or a response will simply be averted.

As an American Jew, a Democrat and a life-long supporter of Israel I feel the need to provide my response.  I feel that Mr. Netanyahu has not only been destructive to the US/Israeli relationship through his ill-advised actions and behavior, but in addition he has  been an impediment in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.  I understand the many security challenges confronted by Israel.  I have been there many times and have walked along the borders and appreciate the danger of proximity.  I understand that many in the Arab world have behaved in a manner that makes trust very difficult.  I certainly understand the existential danger posed by an Iranian nuclear capability.  My many trips and conversations have made me a realist.  But to play one parent off against the other is counter-productive, self-defeating and a dangerous image to present to the world.  It is time for Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Boehner to grow up and remember those lessons learned long ago.  The potential for peace and security depend on it.

Welcome Back President Obama

If you are fortunate you’ve had individuals in your life that have inspired and motivated you.  It may have been a teacher, a religious leader or a parent.  But whichever it was, he or she was someone who shared a vision with you; someone who helped you see your place in the future and helped you understand the steps you needed to take to achieve your place in that future.  If a nation is fortunate, it has on rare occasion, been lead by an individual who has the capacity to share his or her vision and inspire actions.  Most importantly, these actions are based on the values, sometimes long-forgotten, that are the threads of the fabric on which the nation was created.  Reminding the nation of those values and motivating its citizens to act is the challenge and the sign of true leadership.  Mr. Obama was that inspirational leader in 2008 and after being absent for too long, returned last night as he presented his State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress.

Statre of the Union

“…I want this chamber, this city, to reflect the truth—that for all of our blind spots and shortcomings, we are a people with the strength and generosity of spirit to bridge divides, to unite in common effort, and help our neighbors, whether down the street or on the other side of the world.”  

“I want our actions to tell every child, in every neighborhood: your life matters, and we are as committed to improving your life chances as we are for our own kids”.

With these words President Obama challenged the members of Congress and those voices of influence around the nation to rise above the petty and self-serving actions that have for too long characterized our political environment.  He is asking that despite honest differences, that they work together and develop solutions that are the result of compromise.  We have lived too long in a nation of political fundamentalism, where any deviation or compromise is viewed as heresy.  It is a nation  in which the attainment of political power has been viewed as an end in itself rather than the starting point from which the people can be served.  With his words last night, Mr Obama reminded us that our strength is that we are a nation rich in diversity.   If we are to uphold the vision of our Forefathers we will see this as a strength and not a point of contention.

However, the optics last night were very telling.  While the President was reaching out and trying to motivate us to come together and build a better life for all Americans, Mr. Boehner sat stone-faced along with his Republican colleagues signaling their disinterest in this goal.   The five GOP responses following Mr. Obama’s address voiced little interest in working together with the President.  Instead they fell back on their old rhetoric committing to dismantle The Affordable Care Act, and basically ignored the economic recovery calling for remedies that are irrelevant.  They again accused Obama of coming up with pie-in-the-sky programs with no way of paying for them even as he specifically suggested paying for them through tax reform.  In short, they made it clear that they had no interest in working with the President to find compromises.  Their focus seems to be instead on undoing anything positive that he has achieved.  It is a party of factions that is looking toward 2016 for the ultimate remedy.

The last two years of the Obama Presidency will provide us with the opportunity to work with him to achieve the vision he shared with us last night.   To do so we must be active, vocal and most importantly make sure that all who share that vision vote in 2016.  The most important lessons of the 2012 election are first Democratic candidates must hold true to their values and second, Democrats must vote.  It is clear that the Republican vision is in great contrast to the Democratic vision.  The Republicans will fight to the end to maintain the policies that have made the rich richer and have held everyone else down. If you share the vision presented by President Obama you must do everything you can to insure a Democratic victory in 2016.