Mark Curtis's blog

The Sunday Political Brunch June 22, 2014

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(New York, New York) – The “Brunch” is on the road this weekend in New York City for a Yankees game and some political observations. While in the Big Apple I listened to what has become one of my favorite radio program, “The John Batchelor Show.” Batchelor broadcasts from WABC Radio, but is syndicated nationwide, www.johnbatchelorshow.com. While I don’t always agree with his viewpoint, his show is extremely well-researched, analytical, scholarly and spontaneous. This week he talked about the pitfalls and potholes of second-term Presidents, so I thought I would expound.

“Four More Years?” – Between Benghazi, the IRS mess and now the controversy of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s release in the Taliban trade, the second term of President Obama is a lot rockier than the first. Bachelor pondered this week – and I paraphrase - “Why do Presidents get credit for what happens in their first term, but blamed for everything that happens in their second term?” Sometimes – as we’ll see – some Presidential troubles are self-made, while others happen from largely external forces. In Obama’s case, the Bergdahl case is in many ways self-made, while the IRS scandal may truly have started by rogue agents outside of the purview of the White House (which then failed to reign the scandal in fast enough). We’ll see.

“Bush II” – The Presidency of George W. Bush was largely bifurcated by the “Second-term Curse,” if you want to call it that. Bush II had wide public support after 9-11, and the initial incursion into Iraq. But the lack of discovery of weapons of mass destruction eventually turned the public tide against the war, by his second term. The mistake may be largely due to poor intelligence – gathered in his, and previous administrations - and it certainly was influenced by a cagey Saddam Hussein, who did have and use WMD in previous years – where he disposed of it, no one is certain. Again, lots of external forces. On the other hand, the botched federal handling of Hurricane Katrina was largely a self-made mistake, (as was the equally botched handling, by local and state leaders in New Orleans and Louisiana).

“Lady With the Blue Dress On” – Bill Clinton’s Presidency has some parallels to the others. He struggled his first two years, and then found his sea legs. The fact that a Democratic President joined with a Republican-led Congress and passed a balanced federal budget for the first time in decades remains a remarkable accomplishment. On the other hand, the Monica Lewinski scandal and impeachment in his second term, was largely a creature of Clinton’s own creation. Yes, Republicans may have overreached beyond what the public supported, but Clinton’s own actions are what started it all.

“Bush I” – Yes I know, George H.W. Bush didn’t serve a second term. But if you divide his administration in half, you’ll get my drift. The economic expansion from the Reagan years was still a benefit, but it was beginning to slow. Then, the U.S. went to war with Iraq, after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Bush cobbled together the widest international consensus, and bipartisan support at home since World War II. Victorious in war, his popularity was even higher then President Reagan’s. But then recession hit and the economy faltered even more and Bush was voted out. It just goes to show how politics remains a, “What have you done for me lately?” business.

“The Gipper, Nixon and LBJ!” – As we go further back into history, I don’t need to belabor the point. Ronald Reagan’s first term was marked by surging economic boom, and expansion, and the rebuilding of U.S. military might. His second term became mired in Iran-Contra. President Nixon’s first term may be best remembered by opening diplomacy with Russia and China; his second (and unfinished) term, sunk by Watergate (again a case of a self-inflicted mess that was entirely preventable). President Johnson, in truth, should get a lot more (or at least equal) credit with the Kennedy’s for making Civil Rights legislation happen in his partial first term; but the expansion of the unpopular Vietnam War in his second term ended any hope for reelection.

“What All This Means” – I wonder if the two-term Presidency limit is a curse. It seems the earnestness of wanting to do the right thing the first term, is supplanted by the arrogance of the second term. So often politicians – and this happens at the state and local level, too – take the second term election as a mandate, or a public blessing, “to do what ever we want.” It’s almost as if they believe the second term gives them carte blanche to do as they wish, when of course it does not. I think term-limits also create a sense of false urgency, to get certain things done because, “it’s our last chance, and time is running out.” Second (and final) terms also put more pressure to focus on legacy, rather than legislation. As they near the exits, too many politicians are asking the question: “How will I be remembered?” rather than, “Have I done anything worth remembering?” It’s an important distinction!

What are your thoughts? Just click the comment buttons at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2014, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Selfie!

“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- June 15, 2014

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(Providence, Rhode Island) – Wow, what a wild, wacky week! While nothing stands out as the top story, a whole hodgepodge of things happened in the world of politics this week. It was more like a smorgasbord than a mere “brunch,’ so let’s chew on all of it this Sunday as we salute all our dads by saying, “Happy Father’s Day!”

“Bush 41@90!” – We’ve had a lot of ex-Presidents, but no one quite like our 41st President George H.W. Bush. He turned 90 this week – and is wheelchair-bound – but that didn’t stop him from skydiving once again. Bush was 80 when he first checked parachuting off his bucket list, but he keeps doing it, and celebrated the 10th anniversary of his initial plunge by doing it again. At his peak if office, Bush had even higher approval ratings than his predecessor Ronald Reagan. He and wife Barbara remain an enduring part of our political landscape. Happy Father’s Day Mr. President!

“Clipping Coupons?” – Maybe the oddest of the odd events in politics this past week came when Hillary Clinton said, “We came out of the White House not only dead broke but in debt,” during an ABC News interview. The interview gave the impression of, “We known how average, struggling working folks have it.” It rang hollow and Mrs. Clinton had to backtrack later in the week. Yes, the Clinton’s had huge legal bills from the Whitewater and Lewinsky scandals, but they were hardly at the soup kitchen. On the day they left office she had a $160,000 U.S. Senate salary and he had a $150,000 Presidential pension and a free home. This issue will resurface in 2016 campaign ads against her.

“What Just Hit Me, a Freight Train?” – Perhaps the only politician more tone deaf this week than Hillary Clinton, was House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. He was defeated by 11 points in a Virginia GOP Congressional primary by the unknown Dave Brat. Cantor had a $5 million dollar campaign war chest, while the Tea Party’s Brat had about $100,000. How could a campaign be so clueless? Surely some internal polling must have said Brat would at least be competitive. But that’s the problem of self-serving internal campaign polls. Pollsters often deliver the news you want to hear, rather than the news you need to know. The Cantor campaign was probably awash in “group think” and denial. That’s not a formula for victory

“Tea Party, Party? – A lot of national pundits and political operatives (who all missed the Cantor race on their radars, too), were out beating their chests this week, talking about the impending demise of the Republican Party, and the Tea Party overthrow. One headline even read, “Republican Party Apocalypse!” Really? Then how come Tea Party candidates were soundly defeated in Tennessee, South Carolina and Texas, by mainstream GOP incumbents? Yes, there are pockets of Tea Party strength in this country, and they hold an influential block in Congress. But what happened to Eric Cantor will be the exception, not the rule, in campaign 2014. It’s an anomaly. But at the same time, Republicans may still be looking at a winning a slim, one-vote majority in the Senate. Caution: overconfidence going into an election is not wise.

“Back the Future” – Iraq surged from nowhere on the political radar, to front-page, banner headlines this week. Al-Qaeda backed militants overran the second largest city of Mosul, and are threatening Baghdad. The U.S. backed government may fall. There is little, if any, support for sending U.S. ground troops back into battle. But watch for drone attacks or limited air strikes. The Obama administration is in a tough spot. It can’t ignore the crisis, but it can’t take it over either, especially in the wake of the Bow Bergdahl v. Taliban trade that drove so much of public opinion against the White House. President Obama rallied public support by ordering the successful strike against Osama bin Laden. He probably needs to make an equally powerful statement now, but can he? And it’s not just about military policy, there is also an election November. As I always say, every public policy decision has a political equation to it as well.

“The Dog Ate My Homework!” – The revelation that embattled IRS chief Lois Lerner claims that two-and-a-half years of her emails “disappeared” because of a computer crash just stretches the limit of believability. That fact that the FBI can deep-scan almost any computer hard drive and resurrect “lost” emails in a forensic investigation is proof that no one should stop looking. The harassment of millions of Americans in unwarranted audits is government acting beyond the limits of its authority. Lerner wins this year’s “Rosemary Woods Award!” hands down. You recall Woods was the infamous White House secretary who said she accidentally erased that famed 18 minute gap on President Nixon’s secret Oval Office tape recordings. You just can’t make this stuff up!

What are your thoughts on any and all of these subjects? Just click the comment button at 222.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2014, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: ABC News

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