For NJ: Nothing Finer When Compared to Carolina

By Richard A. Lee

First it was New York, where bickering lawmakers have been unable to decide who is in charge of the State Senate. Now it’s South Carolina doing its part to make New Jersey look good in comparison to the other 49 states.

For this we can thank South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford whose whereabouts were a mystery for a few days. According to news reports:

  • Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer, who is second in command, did not know where Sanford was, and she was not put in charge of the state during his absence.
  • The governor’s wife Jenny and their four children did not hear from him for several days, even on Father’s Day.
  • Calls placed to Sanford’s cell phone went straight to voice mail, and he did not respond to text messages.
  • The State Law Enforcement Division, which provides security for the governor, was unable to reach Sanford.
  • Several days after the governor disappeared from public view, his spokesperson, Joel Sawyer, said he had not spoken with Sanford nor was he aware of any other staff member who had. Sawyer did note that the governor told his staff where he was going planned to check in, but said little else about his whereabouts.

The mystery surrounding the governor came to an end on Wednesday when he returned to work and announced that he had been in Argentina and had been having an affair with a woman from the South American country. Earlier in the week, Sanford’s staff had told reporters that he was been hiking on the Appalachian Trail.

We’ve had our share of well-known missing persons in New Jersey – from former State Senator and Assemblyman David Friedland who faked his death and vanished in 1985 after his conviction on racketeering charges, to Atlantic City Mayor Bob Levy who was missing for nearly two weeks in 2007 in the aftermath of allegations about false claims in his military records.

But to the best of my knowledge, New Jersey has never had a governor go AWOL – not that some haven’t tried to escape the public spotlight from time to time.

Governor Whitman apparently was quite good at the practice, according to a lengthy Star-Ledger profile published during her 1997 re-election campaign. The story recounts tales of the governor climbing out of a window in her office, donning a wig and hat to sneak past State Troopers, and even dropping down into the moat and climbing over a stone wall to escape to a local pub during a national governors’ conference.

Living under a microscope cannot be fun, so it is no wonder that public figures relish their rare opportunities to enjoy the type of privacy that is afforded to the general public. President Obama recently said that’s one of the reasons he takes pleasure in playing golf. For six hours, he gets to feel normal, the president told Harry Smith on CBS’ Early Show. “There are a whole bunch of Secret Service guys, but they’re sort of in the woods,” he said. “It feels as if you you’re out of the container, and actually – I realize now – as close as you’re going to get to being outside of this place.”

Obama’s point is well taken. Everyone, including presidents, needs a break every now and then.  And every public figure also has a personal life and the issues that come with it. But presidents, governors, mayors and other elected officials also have obligations to the people they serve – and that means taking proper steps and following proper procedures. We shouldn’t stand for anything less in New Jersey – and neither should the citizens of South Carolina or any other state in the union.

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A New York State of Mind Could Impact NJ

By Richard A. Lee

When I worked in the Governor’s Office, one of the strategies we employed during difficult budgetary times was to show that things were even worse in other parts of the country.

One year, I authored an op-ed article pointing out that Arkansas was eliminating scholarships to state colleges, Arizona was closing parks, Maine was raising its gas tax, and Kansas was doubling franchise fees for companies conducting business in the state.

On paper, demonstrating that the grass is not always greener on the other side sounded like a good strategy. But in practice, its impact was minimal. No matter what draconian actions were being taken elsewhere, New Jerseyans were not about to forget about taxes and fees, cutbacks in programs and services, and the use of one-shot revenue sources to balance the budget.

But things could be different this year thanks to our neighbors to the north.

In case you haven’t been following the adventures of the New York State Senate over the past week or so, lawmakers in the Empire State have engaged in a bizarre series of activities that make politics in New Jersey look good by comparison. As former New York mayor Edward Koch told The New York Times. “I believe it’s not only disgraceful, but it makes New York look like a banana republic.”

Democrats held a 32-30 majority in the New York Senate until June 8 when two of their members joined with the 30 Republicans to form a new majority. But before the new majority could vote to elect one of its members to lead the Senate, Democrats abruptly adjourned the session. Republicans then argued that the session was not properly adjourned and proceeded to elect a new Senate President and Majority Leader. Meanwhile, Democrats maintained that the vote was illegal and that they still held the leadership posts.

The new Republican-led coalition attempted to conduct business, but was unable to do so because the bills that required action had been locked in a desk by Democratic lawmakers.  In addition, Democrats asked Governor David Paterson to change the locks on the Senate chamber (a request that was denied), and one of the Democratic Senators who had joined with the Republicans to form the new majority returned to the Democratic caucus, creating a 31-31 deadlock among the 62 members in the upper House.

So why might this situation be a more effective tool for New Jersey strategists than the drastic fiscal steps that other states were taking several years ago?

To paraphrase Dorothy: it’s because this isn’t Kansas anymore. It’s one thing to run off a list of tax hikes and funding cuts from unfamiliar states that many New Jerseyans may never visit, let alone take the time to scrutinize their budgets. It’s much different when the action is taking place closer to home. Not only do we share a border with New York, we also share a media market. With all respect to the news organizations and journalists in our state, the truth is large numbers of New Jerseyans obtain their news from New York television, which has given extensive coverage to the battle over leadership of the New York Senate – as have New York newspapers and radio, which also have sizeable audiences in the Garden State.

All of this creates an opportunity for Governor Jon Corzine and the Democratic majority in the New Jersey Legislature as they put the finishing touches on this year’s state budget. Given the current fiscal climate, the budget may not offer much in the way of good news, but it will look much better in the context of what is transpiring in New York State. New Jersey Democrats can rightfully argue that – even if citizens are unhappy with components of the budget – at least they made tough decisions and managed to enact a budget on time, in difficult economic times, and without the bedlam taking place in our neighboring state, where legislators cannot even agree on who is in charge.

Of course, New Jersey Republicans can just as easily point to 2006 when Democrats were unable to come to agreement on the budget before the June 30 Constitutional deadline, leading to a shutdown of state government. But that was three years ago, and people’s memories are short – even shorter when the images of the chaos in New York are being emblazoned in their minds by the New York-based media organization from which many of our residents obtain their news and information.

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Judicial Empathy

BY: MICHAEL P. RICCARDS

With the resignation of the hermit-like justice from New Hampshire, David Souter, the president must nominate a replacement to the Supreme Court. A former law professor at the University of Chicago, President Obama has mentioned that the next justice must have some empathy for the condition of average people. Immediately the hard core right denounced the president, for to them empathy is a code word for liberalism. I never thought that empathy was a vice in judges, for it shows that the law exists for a well regulated society, but people do not exist totally for the law. But the right wing blogosphere and FOX network have already begun criticizing the president’s nominees even though he has not nominated anyone.

I guess to them empathy means pro-choice, anti-torture, and pro-employees in labor disputes. It is better to be pro-government, pro Wal-Mart, pro-oil companies. That is what the law is—an instrument to protect the wealthy and powerful interests in society. I am not sure that empathy, or fellow feeling, is a virtue that only liberals can embrace. What about Adam Smith (in his “Theory of Moral Sentiments”), Edmund Burke, and Abraham Lincoln? They were conservatives who wrote and spoke to the decent feelings in all of us. But the angry right is now on a tear about Obama; they just can’t get the American people to hate the new president, even though they try to link him up with socialism and other horrors. Recently, one conservative congressman from Texas, Joe Barton, denounced college football since it does not have a championship bowl like NCAA basketball. It is obviously communistic he said –to the wonderment of the athletic administrators. I have known a lot of jock college administrators in my career, and I can vouch that I never heard them once quote Karl Marx. In any case, this is obviously a matter for the high courts to adjudicate. That is why the right choice for the Supremes is so important.

It is funny that when the Republican judges have nominated right wing ideologies to the high court in the last twenty years, they rarely made much of a fuss over getting true scholars of the law in place. They have promoted conservatives, even right winger disciples of Ayn Rand whose opinions are frightening in their implications. Yet they insist that they are committed to the original interpretation of the Constitution, as written by the Founding Fathers in 1787. In their opinions they really do not seem to know what the Fathers said, or how they too were often ambiguous deliberately in their wording to get that document pass thirteen states’ scrutiny. They do not realize that the Founders were revolutionaries who expected that the Constitution would, in Washington’s words, last a generation if they were lucky. It is only because we have chosen to fit its noble principles in with changing realities that we still revere it. And some of the very clauses that the hard right hates—due process, equal protection, freedom of religion and speech, freedom of assembly, the sanctity of habeas corpus—has been denied by its advocates and upheld by the courts, both liberal and conservative members alike.

Emphatic judges are weak crybabies in robes, liberals who do not respect law and order—or so the stereotype goes. They are from ethnic quotas, not true scholars of the law. They make law and do not interpret it, like the Court’s recent discovery of an absolute right to bear arms—a right not a part of American life before last year! No empathy there.

The problem with the Supreme Court is that we have a life time tenure guarantee, in a court that should have a limited non-reappointable term. Ten years is quite enough for Supreme and lower court judges, but that is not what is in the Constitution.

We need people who can adapt to the times, who respect our rights, and who do not place the high court above the very people it should protect. I guess that is empathy.

Bill of Attainder

BY: MICHAEL P. RICCARDS

The behavior of AIG has mobilized the country in general against the bailouts and against the excesses of capitalism. In the fourth quarter of 2008, that company lost more money than any corporation in US history. And that hemorrhaging has led to government acquisition of 80% of the AI complex. It seems no longer is greed good, as the taxpayers have to pick up the tab for such neglect. As wags have put it, in the USA we have socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor. The wealthy want the rewards of the system without the risks.

To add to the populist anger is the announcement of multi-million dollar bonuses. Not since the Katrina catastrophe has public attention so focused on one issue. Obama Administration spokesmen cannot quite figure out when they learned of the AIG bonuses. Congressional leaders, such as Senator Christopher Dodd and Representative Barney Frank have run away from any responsibility for the language of the bailout they so strongly supported. To cover up their roles in that bonus goof, Congress people have introduced legislation to tax heavily the bonuses, in a sense to roll them back. If we cannot get them to refund the bonuses, the government will tax them and some state Attorney Generals are threatening to make public the names of bonus recipients as a form of intimidation. They would repeal in a sense those bonuses after the fact.

AIG has become the epitome of all that is wrong on Wall Street, and they are taking a beating in the court of public opinion. When the New York Times printed a self serving op ed piece by an AIG vice president who had resigned in protest of the recent criticisms, the newspaper found that public letters and emails were 10 to 1 negative against him. Such criticism of AIG is well deserved. That is fine, that is politics. If one takes public money, one loses flexibility and independence. But the legal threats to go after the bonus recipients are very troubling developments, and we should think twice about how we are moving to that level. Surely we should have inserted language in any bailout to protect the taxpayer from such an offensive salary enhancement at a time of high unemployment and government deficits.

However, we have already seen how the Bush Administration has violated the most precious of our constitutional rights—the writ of habeas corpus. The approach of singling out by legislation one person or a discernible small group is a violation of another constitutional right – the prohibition of bills of attainder. The American Founding Fathers hated the British monarchy’s use of bills or writs of attainder. It is a highly arbitrary action by powerful governments that avoid due process—another constitutional guarantee. It is very dangerous to use the awesome powers of the government to single out people for penalties.

To pass a bill (essentially a bill of attainder) interfering in the Terri Schiavo case in Florida was wrong, and done to garner fundamentalist support and advocated by conservative Republicans and an opportunistic President Bush. It was morally wrong and politically corrupt. To use the legislative process to take away from AIG executives bonuses is unconstitutional. It is fine to be angry with the abuses of Wall Street and the excesses of capitalist speculation. We may hate taxpayer bailouts of AIG, but if we follow the liberal Democrats in Congress we will surely lose our historic liberties. In the end, we will regret our intellectual laziness in allowing our righteous anger to overcome our prudence as a free people.

Ranking British Prime Ministers

BY: MICHAEL P. RICCARDS

We frequently rank American presidents, but we forget that the British also rank their prime ministers, at least the modern ones. We can expect heavy emphasis to be placed on the achievement of war leaders (Churchill and David Lloyd George), but there also exists a large amount of respect for Clement Attlee, one of the founders of the contemporary welfare state in Britain. There are, though, some interesting variations.
The Mori/University of Leeds survey of 258 academics on 20th century British history and politics ranked them as:
Rank Prime Minister Years in Office
1. Clement Atlee (Labor) 1945-1951
2. Winston Churchill (Conservative) 1940-1945,
1951-1955
3. David Lloyd George (Liberal) 1916-1922
4. Margaret Thatcher (Conservative) 1979-1990
5. Harold Macmillan (Conservative) 1957-1963
6. Tony Blair (Labor) 1997-2007
7. Herbert Asquith (Liberal) 1908-1916
8. Stanley Baldwin (Conservative) 1923-1929,
1935-1937
9. Harold Wilson (Labor) 1964-1970,
1974-1976
10. Lord Salisbury (Conservative) 1895-1902
11. Henry Campbell-Bannerman (Liberal) 1905-1908
12. James Callaghan (Labor) 1976-1979
13. Edward Heath (Conservative) 1970-1974
14. Ramsay MacDonald (Labor) 1924, 1929-1935
15. John Major (Conservative) 1990-1997
16. Andrew Bonar Law (Conservative) 1922-1923
17. Neville Chamberlain (Conservative) 1937-1940
18. Arthur Balfour (Conservative) 1902-1905
19. Alec Douglas-Home (Conservative) 1063-1964
20. Anthony Eden (Conservative) 1955-1957

Then there is the BBC Radio 4 Poll of 20 prominent historians and politicians.
1. Churchill (Conservative)
2. Lloyd George (Liberal)
3. Attlee (Labor)
4. Asquith (Liberal)
5. Thatcher (Conservative)
6. Macmillan (Conservative)
7. Salisbury (Conservative)
8. Baldwin (Conservative)
9. Campbell-Bannerman (Liberal)
10. Wilson (Labor)
11. Heath (Conservative)
12. Callaghan (Labor)
13. Bonar Law (Conservative)
14. MacDonald (Labor)
15. Douglas-Home (Conservative)
16. Balfour (Conservative)
17. Major (Conservative)
18. Chamberlain (Conservative)
19. Eden (Conservative)

These polls, of course, do not embrace the great prime ministers of the 18th and 19 centuries: William Pitt the Younger, Robert Peel, William Gladstone, and Benjamin Disraeli, just to take some of the most significant. But it is still interesting to see what leadership attributes our Anglo-Saxon cousins favor.

The Making of the Presidency, 2008

BY: MICHAEL P. RICCARDS

How Barack Obama Won: A State-by-State Guide to the Historic 2008 Presidential Election
By Chuck Todd and Sheldon Gawiser, 272 pgs, Vintage, 2009. $10.36

The presidential election of 2008 was in many ways historic—if not transformational—in nature. The first surprise was the decision that Senator Barrack Obama of Illinois would challenge front runner Senator Hillary Clinton of New York. She was, by all polls and in the view of all talking heads, the front runner in the Democratic Party. She gave no real opening speech while Obama actually gave a speech in February 2007 from the steps of the Old State Capitol in Springfield Illinois, acknowledging the memory of Abraham Lincoln. He struck a theme that would prove to be one of the most salient in the public mind—change.

The Democrat debates let the candidates drown on, but Clinton, in an unfortunate exchange, bounced back and forth on an opportunistic answer on a New York state proposal to give drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants. Obama was mediocre in the give and take of debates, but nonetheless in giving a set speech he was superb and he electrified the Iowa Jefferson-Jackson dinner in November 2007 in front of 10,000 party activities. When Obama overwhelmingly carried white Iowa, he suddenly became very viable which forced African-American politicians who had jumped on board with Hillary to re-think their positions. Black voters were loyal but unenthusiastic in their support of the Democrats. Obama began to convey a sense of optimism and enthusiasm, the only candidate who raised people’s attention span. As much as the Clintons hated to admit it, the liberal media, as a group, favored Obama—much to the anger of feminist leaders and columnists who thought they had their own history in the making.

It is easy to make light of Oprah Winfred with her daily sympathies, but she was an important factor in getting Obama known in the heavily black South Carolina. She visibly approved of him and gave him credibility with some middle-aged female voters. Unfortunately Bill Clinton’s dismissive attitude toward Obama—the how dare Obama run against his heir apparent and long suffering wife—came off sour. Clinton was a friend of the African American peoples. Why were they pushing them away? He was dissing Obama. The key to Obama’s success in South Carolina was really though the enormous commitment to television advertising. In Florida and Michigan where he did not in effect campaign and thus did not use TV, Obama ran a very distant second to Hillary.

But as Obama looked more and more viable, the Clintons began to have money troubles to the extent that she had to put in millions of their own money. Also the Clintons with all their talented staff did not pay attention to caucus states or to the peculiar mathematics of how the Democratic Party allocated its convention delegates. For example, Clinton carried New Jersey by a significant margin but in the end netted fewer delegates that Obama got in Idaho. The Republicans, however, believed in a winner take all system; the Democrats had this confusing proportional representation arrangement to please its pressure groups. In the important states of Ohio and Texas, Clinton won both states, but she netted only a dozen delegates after all.

As the primary campaign dragged on, Obama became a better campaigner, equal to the experienced Mrs. Clinton. On the Republican side of the house, the party stumbled from one candidate to another. The religious fundamentalists recalled the old social issues, but they were not as successful as before. Oddly, the dividing issue for other nominations was the dislocating war in Iraq. In the 2006 bi-elections, the public clearly turned away from the war, and Don Rumsfeld was soon gone—but so was the Republican control of the Congress. Obama ran on the left on the war, placing himself as more of a critic than Clinton or Joe Biden of Delaware.

The same happened in the Republican Party. Senator John McCain of Arizona was clearer and more persistent on the need to continue, if not enhance, the war effort. But ironically, as the final campaign began, the war receded in our horizon which was perhaps due to the Pentagon’s siege strategy. Other issues soon took our attention.

The quiet issue was of course color. In an America with its troubled history of race relations, would Americans elect an African American to its highest office? White Americans seemed to have grown wary of affirmative action, poverty programs, racial presences, and the legacy of the reformist 1960s. But Obama addressed race by not dealing with it. Eventually, through the rantings of his old pastor, Obama was finally forced to face the issue of race the way John Kennedy faced the issue of religion in 1960: in front of the Houston ministers.

About 7% of the white votes said that race might be a problem, but also considerations of race encouraged black and Hispanic voters to register and vote. In November, Obama carried 95% of the black vote and 62% of the Hispanic vote. Whites went for Mc Cain, 55-43, but Obama still received a higher percentage than did Senator John Kerry four years before

Thus, while race may have been a bit of a drag for Obama, McCain may have faced an equal problem with age. At 72, he would have been the oldest man elected to the presidency. Obama won two thirds of the 18-29 year old vote; 52% of age 30-44; 50% of age 45-54; and 45% of those over 65. The age issue was accentuated by McCain’s choice for vice president—Governor Sarah Palin, an attractive and politically ignorant naïf meant to please the right wing of the party. Polls showed that she did generate enthusiasm among the party faithful, but serious doubts were raised about her ability to take over for McCain if need be. The age issue came front and center.

What McCain did was to magnify his own greatest liability. Instead of talking about his heroic history, his domestic fight over federal excesses, and his support of the federal funding of elections, he played to his weakness.

In a normal race, it is doubtful if the Republicans could get a third term in the White House. But this was not a normal election. Obama seemed to stall in the summer. It was of course the collapse of the economy that seemed to underscore the Bush failings, and the lack of Republican alternatives. Obama’s election was to a large extent a triumph of the Democrats in the suburbs, once healthy territory for the GOP. New Jersey is seen as a precursor of that trend. It has gone Democrat with 51% of the Jersey independent voter. Todd and Gawiser have concluded that “the GOP’s Suburban Collapse Began here.” As in this fairly affluent, heavily multicultural state, the GOP will have difficulties as the nation gets more ethnically diverse.

Abraham Lincoln in Life and in History

BY: MICHAEL P. RICCARDS

On February 12, 2009, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln will be marked by the nation. Lincoln is by mostly all accounts considered the greatest of our presidents, having led the United States through the Civil War and begun the process of the emancipation of the slaves.

Through most of his political life though, he believed in a limited executive, a view characteristic of the Whig party of Henry Clay. Clay was his boyhood hero, not Andrew Jackson, and Lincoln once acknowledged that he was in all things a Whig. He accumulated a total of four formal months of education, yet he wrote some of the most elegant prose in the English language. He grew up reading the King James Version of the Bible and Shakespeare, not bad role models for 19th century stylists. He was acutely aware of his educational deficiencies and insisted that his eldest child, Robert, go to Harvard College. When he read a book he totally absorbed it — reading it aloud so he could see and hear it at the same time.

Lincoln was truly born poor, a boy who hated manual labor, who rarely got along with his father, but he lived in a world of dreams and history. He was deeply influenced by the Founding Fathers, especially George Washington, and in one of his earliest speeches he lamented that they seemed to have gotten all the nation’s glory, and left little for future generations. He obviously was personally very wrong.

Once in the White House he reminded an Ohio regiment that the mere fact that he was president showed that it was possible that one of their boys could be president someday. He knew that he was the American dream come true — the very exemplar of virtuous ambition rewarded.

From the earliest years of his manhood, he was extensively involved in politics in Illinois, serving with distinction in the state legislature and was known for pork barrel politics, the Whig preference for internal improvements. Finally he received a chance to go to Congress and he gladly took the honor. But there he opposed President James K. Polk and the Mexican war, and suffered public disapproval back home. The successes of the Americans in the war led to vast tracks of land in the Southwest being opened up to slavery. The Mexican war was the father of the Civil War in a very real way.

Lincoln was unable to advance very much after that, losing election after election. He was still a Whig, but the Whig party was unsuccessful in trying to expand its base, and it was the new Republican Party that garnered the energy and interest of people. Reluctantly he became a Republican, saying goodbye to the party of Clay.

As is frequently said, Lincoln was no abolitionist, but one must not forget that he consistently stood for no expansion of slavery into the new territories — a position that the South could not accept. He ran on that plank, administered his government at first on that caveat, but then realized what General Ulysses Grant said at the start of the Civil War — the dynamics of the conflict would end in total abolition.

An inexperienced Present Lincoln bounced from one general to another, until he became even more and more the true commander in chief. He proposed strategies, raised up armies and resources, and pursued a modest foreign policy so as not to take away Union energies from the war. Doris Kearns Goodwin has praised Lincoln for assembling at first a team of rivals to head up his administrative departments. She forgets that one cabinet secretary was initially disloyal to the president, another was removed for corruption, and several others were barely competent. If that was a team, and Lincoln’s approach is being recommended to President Obama, then perhaps one should review that recommendation.

Using those same powers as commander in chief, Lincoln began the emancipation process. He freed the slaves in rebel territories (where he did not have power initially), but then he pushed Congress for the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution which ended slavery. He truly gave the nation a new birth of freedom.

In the end, he redefined the Union of Washington and Jefferson, and his two great state papers — the Second Inaugural Address and his Gettysburg — made America a very different republic. Instead of being a collection of states, it was a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men were equal. It was a slave nation made purer by the blood of martyrs, black and white, who fought for that new Union.

And so on his anniversary, the nation he so loved can take a moment to render its due to its greatest president and also to a promise that he made on behalf of generations not yet born.