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Picture the scene: President Obama introduces Bill Clinton at a White House press briefing. Clinton, not the least rattled, takes the podium. Obama channels Pat Nixon while adoringly looking on from nearby. For Clinton, Christmas has come early. This scenario tops his fondest fantasies.

Sounds odd and it was. But this is what took place Friday afternoon in the White House.

President Barack Obama announced Clinton’s support of a brokered tax deal with Republicans, hands off to Clinton, watches briefly, and leaves. That’s right, he leaves saying he’s keeping the First Lady waiting and must go to a party.

Is this strange or what? I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve never heard of anything like it. If President Obama was concerned about his fading political clout before, he better be now. It was a show of emasculated leadership.

Too strong, you say? Imagine Hilary Clinton as President. Really, it may yet happen. Then imagine her inviting Bill Clinton to share a White House press briefing. Never happen in a million years.

Imagine George H. W. Bush bringing in Ronald Reagan, or for that matter, despite his enduring respect for his father, imagine George W. Bush, 43, sharing a White House policy lectern with 41. We don’t have pictures of these historic events because they never happened.

Accounts of the run-up to this political misstep suggest it all came together unplanned in a matter of minutes during Bill Clinton’s visit with the President to discuss tax politics. It looked unplanned. If I were President Obama I’d fire whatever political advisors let this happen. Or maybe they were caught off-guard when the President stepped into this ill-advised photo opp himself? Whatever.

In an effort to make the President appear to be in charge it made him look weak. Standing nearby? A No-No. Leaving for a party? Gotta run so as not to keep the First Lady waiting? To borrow a phrase from ESPN’s football coverage, “Come on, Man.”

I’m not a rabid anti-Obama man. I don’t appreciate much of his politics, but I respect the office and I respect him in the office. I admire how he relates to his wife and children, and I like his careful thinking style. Since as President of the United Sates he is “my President,” unlike Rush Limbaugh, I root for him.

I appreciate the fact the President’s job is one of the most difficult leadership roles in the world. But this was too much. It was like throwing an interception. It’s tough enough to do well, to win. It’s tougher when you make unforced errors.

How could he have gained Bill Clinton’s support without leaving him alone with the White House press corp? He could have invited the former president for a discussion, then let Bill Clinton talk to the press on the White House lawn on the way out, just like every other politician.

All in all, it was not a good day for President Obama. For Bill Clinton, if he didn’t believe in deja vu, he does now. This was bad political theater that will come back to haunt President Obama in his next campaign.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

The Republican Party euphoria following the comeuppance it gave the Democrat Party in last week’s national elections is understandable. Everyone likes to win and winning big is even more fun.

But a week later, wiser, cooler, more far-seeing heads should prevail. Yet there’s little evidence this is taking place and only minimal evidence it might.

Both Republicans and Democrats need only return to 1994 for worthwhile lessons of what to do and not to do in the wake of lopsided partisan victory versus the party of the incumbent President. That was the year of Newt Gingrich’s “Revolution.”

The problem was, while the Revolution seemed to some like a great leap forward for the republic it soon deteriorated into partisan pugnaciousness. A few months later, President Clinton got the upper hand over Gingrich and the Republicans in the infamous government shutdown showdown. Worse, even though President Clinton later nearly lost his presidency in the Monica Lewinsky scandal and subsequent impeachment, Republican leaders fared little better because of their own inordinate number of ethics and sex scandals.

Republicans need to learn from the foibles of Gingrich era partisanship. Democrats need to learn from the foibles of Clinton era hubris. Partisanship and hubris, it seems, too often go hand in hand and get the better of politicians, personally and politically. John Boehner and Barack Obama take note.

It’s a bit much to quote oneself, but I’ll risk it here because it fits so well. At the beginning of the Gingrich era in a column published January 8, 1995 in the “Grand Rapids Press” I said:

“Newly elected Republicans will make a major mistake if they think that Americans became tired of Democrats. They did not. Americans became tired of political tribalism masquerading as congressional law making. They became tired of business as usual. Americans want statesmanship. The jury is out on whether the Republicans have the character to provide it.”

I think the same is true today. I’m glad for gains by conservatives more than I’m glad for Republican gains. But either way, I’m not ready to celebrate just because more people with my view of government seem to have control of the teeter totter. I wish them well and I hope they have the character the moment calls for. I’m looking for leaders capable of statesmanship.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

I just voted via absentee ballot in my home state of Michigan, a state that’s behind the times with no early voting privilege available. This should change.

I’ll be in Cyprus on Election Day, yet I could not vote early, at least not easily. I had to drive to the local township clerk’s office, secure an absentee ballot by affirming that I’d be out of the community the entire Election Day, and vote on a ballot to be submitted by 8:00 pm November 2.

Now some could argue what’s the difference? I got to vote, and if an early voting option had been available I’d have simply followed a different path to the same end. Fair enough. But there’s still certain criteria under which one must qualify to be allowed an absentee ballot. Fortunately I fit the out-of-community item. But what if I simply wanted to vote early for a variety of other legitimate but not approved reasons? Then I’d have been disenfranchised.

Some 32 states and the District of Columbia permit early voting, generally 10 to 14 days prior to an election. “No excuse” absentee voting is offered in 30 states.

The first absentee ballots were made available to Civil War soldiers in 1864. State approval of “no excuse” absentee voting and early voting options has grown steadily in the past twenty years.

Early voting is convenient—typically no long lines. It’s generally quicker. The electorate likes it: 15% voted early in the 2000 election, 20% in 2004, and about 25% in 2006. In the 2008 presidential election, about one-third of all votes cast were submitted via some non-traditional voting format, i.e. something other than standing in a line on Election Day in order to cast a ballot.

Some people argue early voting results in partisan bias. When it was first tried, maybe, in that only certain kinds of voters tended to participate. Now, though, as early voting has become more common, a more diverse cross-section of the public vote early. No clear partisan advantage can be consistently demonstrated.

Some argue early voting increases state election costs, and people argue on both sides of the encourages/discourages turnout debate. Yet states have found ways to keep costs contained and turnout results tend to follow known electoral patterns regardless of when people vote.

There clearly is, though, one downside of voting early. Thankfully it’s rare, but it’s still possible. It’s not a disadvantage for local, state, or federal governments necessarily, but it could be a bummer for the one who voted early.

What if you vote, say, 12 days before the election and something untoward develops in the campaign on the last day or two before Election Day? What if this development significantly changed your attitude toward the candidate for whom you voted? What if you now wished you’d voted differently, but your vote’s already been counted?

In 2000, just four days before the national presidential election, a DUI story broke about then-Governor and candidate George W. Bush. This story changed some peoples’ minds about Mr. Bush. How many is difficult to determine, and he did, after a few months and a court case, win the election anyway. But it nearly sank his campaign.

Still, as long as voter fraud can be prevented, and it has been thus far, states should adopt an early voting option. If the point is to get people to take their democratic responsibilities and privileges seriously and to vote, why not make it as easy for them as possible?

Early voting seems to be an option whose time has come. I vote for adoption of early voting in the State of Michigan.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s motorcycle accident this week was serious and unfortunate. The youngest quarterback ever to lead his team to a Super Bowl victory required fairly extensive facial surgery, and I wish him the very best toward a quick and full recovery.

Whether or not Ben’s head injuries could have been avoided if he had worn a helmet cannot be definitively answered. But we can speak from patterns and experience. Helmets are required in 20 states and the District of Columbia. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, states that have repealed such laws have counted significant increases in injuries, deaths, and medical costs. The same organization tells us that the fatality rate per million miles traveled by automobile is 1.23. For motorcycles its 38.93. Motorcyclists are always at greater exposure and greater risk.

On June 7, 2006, the Michigan State Legislature repealed Michigan’s 37 year old mandatory motorcycle helmet law. Only a veto from Governor Jennifer Granholm will stop the newly endorsed bill from becoming law. The old law required a helmet for all riders whereas the new law would allow those over 21 years to make a choice.

A 2004 study by the Michigan State Police contends a repeal of the current law would result in 22 additional fatalities next year, along with 742 additional injuries and $140 million in added economic costs to Michigan citizens.

I’m both a political conservative and a parent of two sons who ride motorcycles. The conservative in me is sensitive to arguments that government should not function as “Big Brother,” telling adults what they must wear when they ride motorcycles. But the father in me doesn’t buy it. The “Big Brother” argument could be applied to virtually every traffic law on the books, but we maintain them because our collective need for public safety outweighs our concern for minimal intervention in individual rights to do whatever one chooses.

To me the motorcycle helmet law simply makes common sense. I must part company with some of my conservative friends and say that I hope the Governor vetoes the Michigan State Legislature’s bill.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

Ethics, like the lack thereof, is not a matter of partisanship or ideology.  Both Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, have at times, "had their day in court."

The first president for whom I ever voted, a conservative to moderate Republican, later became the first president to resign from office.  Richard Nixon's Watergate arrogance brought down his presidency, along with a host of many too-loyal staff members around him.  Years later, moderate to liberal Democrat Bill Clinton's Lewinsky arrogance resulted in only the second impeachment in the history of the country.  In Canada, it appears that the Liberal Party will be tossed out of the national leadership it has held for 13 years.  Canadian pundits are predicting a victory for the ascendant Conservative Party.  Meanwhile, in the United States, many conservatives are under more pressure than liberals for untoward entanglements with corrupt, influence-buying lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Ken Mehlman, the Republican National Committee chairman said this during a party conference this weekend, "The public trust is more important than party.  Which is why the first solution to the problem is rooting out those who have done wrong, without regard to party or ideology."  He's right, of course, even if it is in his party's interests for him to say it. 

The lesson of these stories is that all political parties, all ideologies, all points of view, all charismatic individual spokesmen or women, no matter the person's demographic characteristics or place of origin, must live under the rule of law and must be held accountable to a moral standard outside themselves and their vested interests.  No political party is or should be "the" Christian party, even if at a given point in history that party's platform seems to best align with biblical principles and the ethics that spring from them.  In politics, as in life, things change.  So the process of critique and evaluation must always continue.

One of the reasons we still honor the lives, memories, and achievements of this nation's founding generation of leaders is that so many (not all) of them based their political expressions and contributions on well grounded understanding of at least natural law if not also the moral will of God.  Men like George Washington, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison--in spite of their own human weaknesses--understood human nature and established the new nation accordingly.  They were men with profound political passions, but they attempted to govern those passions with a code of personal and political morality that reached beyond themselves and the issues of the moment.

America seems sorely lacking in these kind of statesmen or stateswomen today.  Motivated more by power, personality, and partisanship than by principle, American politicians don't say or do much that lasts.  I'm more conservative than moderate or liberal, and I vote Republican more often than Democrat, but I reserve the right to think independently.  I wish more American political leaders would surprise us all and do the same.  We'd all be better off.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

American culture is in danger of losing one of its most cherished democratic principles, the ability to disagree with another person’s ideas. Tolerance and “sensitivity” toward others are now considered more important than cogent debates on the merits of the issue at hand.

Watch any public debate and you will see how quickly the focus of the debate shifts from ideas to people. It’s gotten to the point on some occasions that what masquerades as a debate is little more than a mini-civil war of the groups involved

Postmodern culture transposes discussions of ideas into commentaries about people’s ethnic or racial heritage. Blacks only trust other Blacks, regardless of the nature of the discussion. Whites don’t really believe Blacks or Arabs or Jews, unless and until other Whites make similar statements. Worse, when one person disagrees with another he or she is in danger of being labeled a despiser of the other person’s racial or ethnic heritage.

If I say that I do not agree with a speaker’s religious views I am in danger of being called intolerant, a bigot, insensitive, even a racist. For example, if I say that I am a Christian and, thus, I am not a Muslim, I mean that I disagree with Islamic beliefs about God, the world, the person of Christ, and a number of other theological viewpoints.

I disagree with their religious ideas. I am not attacking people. I do not hate or even necessarily dislike any given Muslim individual or Muslims in general. I certainly do not advocate any harm toward them, nor do I want to curtail their religious freedom.

If I say I am against casino expansion, someone plays the race card and says I am anti-Indian. Yet I am not against Native Americans having or enjoying economic opportunity any more than any other Americans. I just don’t think gambling operations are the answer.

Of course I am not suggesting a person’s demographic characteristics or heritage are unimportant. I’m saying that, typically, one’s race, gender, nationality, or ethnicity has nothing to do with the merits of his or her point of view.

Nowhere in Scripture does it say that our human ecology is irrelevant. In fact, it says God determines the times and places of our lives (Acts 17:26). But the Word also says our speech should be characterized by “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

American culture will be better served to remember and revive its democratic heritage, which aligned more closely with Scripture than public discourse today. We need to focus upon what is said more than who said it.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.