Tin Foil Hats and Paper Money

November 16, 2007

Tonight’s little “get together”  at UNLV was the 347th 2008 Democratic Presidential debate, I think. I did not attend. I decided that I didn’t need to even watch on television because there were pressing things on my schedule for the evening – The cat gets very angry if I don’t play the game where I flash the reflection from my wristwatch on the living room wall and move it up and down so that she can try to grab it. I’m sure you understand.

According to my inside sources, who read the coverage on AOL, it was a bit contentious and  focused on the “big three”. Since I’m from New England, that phrase has a distinct meaning and I couldn’t figure out why Presidential contenders would be talking about Pierce, Garnett and Allen. I guess that I’m slow like that.

Joe Biden spoke, for the first time, 15 minutes into the tri-match between Obama, Edwards, and the “Clinton of the moment”.  All that and he’s a credible candidate, unlike Mike Gravel; who didn’t get to speak at all. Actually, security wouldn’t have let him in if he had a ticket for the grandstands. The reasoning: He doesn’t have a million bucks in his bank account. It has nothing to do with the fact that he’s one step away from throwing on the tin foil hat so that the aliens don’t hear his thoughts.

I can speak to this from personal experience. Credibility, in these political times, has become increasingly about how much cash you have in the bank. Money, as they say, is the mother’s milk of politics and you have no credibility without it. This phenomena is why the citizenry has no connection with their system. Ned Lamont can throw millions from his personal accounts into his campaign’s accounts and he has instant credibility, before he even opens his mouth,  yet the local dry cleaner struggles to pay his employees, his insurance, and his rent and can’t even contemplate becoming part of the process. It’s wrong and it is bringing down our form of government.

Make no mistake about it. Gravel was shut out because he’s wacky. Truth be told, I enjoy his participation. The excuse, though, was the money and every time we let the insiders use the money as a marker for credibility, whether excusory or not, we all lose. The media has anointed the “big three” and the media stands to gain by their raising and spending money. See, the dirty little secret is that the very entity that bestows credibility, also benefits from high dollar expenditure. The number one expense of any campaign is bought media: commercials, ads, etc.. Networks do not benefit from Mike Gravel because he does not buy time. Hillary does.

The second dirty little secret is that, although negative advertising brings down voter turnout, the media loves it. Why encourage candidates to buy a 1000 point media package in order to broadcast a positive issue ad when you could cover the negatives and force them into buying 1000 point negative ad about their opponent… who will then buy 1000 points of rebuttle time and add 1000 points of their own counter negative piece? The buy amounts go up exponentially and the only ones benefiting are the TV execs.

Its time to stop giving Network Presidents what they want and time to start giving the people what they want. Voters, overwhelmingly, want to hear the positive plans that a candidate has. They want to know that there are better days ahead and that the candidate who garners their vote, in the end,  has a roadmap to get us there. They don’t want to hear about the other guy’s misdeeds in college. They want to hear candidates speak to them. It’s just more entertaining if one of the candidates is wearing a tin foil hat.

JPS

Civility…? Where…?

November 15, 2007

Today web news sites have been abuzz with reports of the happenings at a John McCain town hall meeting. It seems that the Senator from Arizona was asked “How do we beat the bitch?”, in apparent reference to Hillary Clinton: the only female in the race. While I am not above a fair amount of critical sarcasm, I do believe that the question goes way beyond; not because of the language but because of the attitude behind it.

It used to be that politics was about opinions and ideas and, when the debate ceased and the votes were tallied, the combatants would light a cigar, pour a drink, and catch up on each other’s family lives. Since negative campaigns and he said/she said disagreement has ruled the day, however, those moments have become endangered species. It is hard to come back from such personal attacks.

I ran as a Republican. I am proud to be a Republican. I am happy that Patrick Kennedy, my opponent in 2006, is proud to be a Democrat. While we disagree on some fundamental issues and have divergent beliefs about just how our nation can reach its potential, I do not believe for a second that he is a terrible human being because he does not agree with me and I certainly never got the indication that he dislikes me because I choose to run with the loyal opposition. Further, I refuse to accept that he loves trees more than he loves this nation and hope that he understands that my moral compass places people before country clubs. Unfortunately we are out of the mainstream in this day and age.

Some will criticize me, without doubt, for saying something nice about a Democrat. He may even take some heat because I have said something nice about him. It is the way of 21st century politics: “Democrats good… Republicans bad”. “No… Democrats bad… Republicans good”. Reality is that, just as our parents taught us when we were young, there is good and bad everywhere. We need to unlearn the rest of it.

Hear me Rhode Island: All Republicans don’t eat puppies. All Democrats are not good. Union bosses don’t always represent the interest of their rank and file and not all conservatives want to get rid of unions all together. Take away the Party line and listen to what your candidates have to say. You may be very surprised.

I was once told by a member of the general public that the best Republican strategy in the Ocean State might be to run all of our candidates in Democratic primaries. That way, the theory went, the voters would have to check out the candidates’ positions and not blindly follow their learned reaction. I’m not sure that it would do anything other than move people towards the incumbents or the candidates with better name recognition but it’s a novel idea. At least we could all sit down together afterwards and let go of some of the hate.

I had a conversation with Bill Lynch and Tim Grillo, from the Democratic Party, last week, after an event at Providence College, and covered this very same subject. I have respect for them and their beliefs. I hope that they have the same for me and mine.  Mr. Lynch and I agreed that some of the worst hate comes from intraParty factions. I guess that will be the new frontier. Before that happens , though, we need to take it back towards civility.

Don’t get me wrong. We will never get the disagreement out of politics. Truth be told, I enjoy the disagreement. It means that the process is still vital. We need to focus that disagreement on the ideas and issues, however. This nation will never move forward with its elected officials paralyzed by preconceived notions and shouting rude epithets from the rostrum. We move forward with the free and open debate of ideas and a citizenry that feels connected to their representatives.

It would be a bit of “back to the future” but, if we ever do manage to abandon the schoolyard stuff and get back to civility, I pledge that I will be the first to offer the olive branch to my opponent and light the cigars. I promise that I won’t order the puppy sandwich.

JPS

‘Aint They Cute

Thanks to Andrew Morse and Ian Donnis, who have written about my new presence here in the blogosphere, I’ve had quite a few “hits”. I’ve also come to realize why they call them hits. I’ve become addicted to the little graph that tracks them and I want… No… I need… more and more every day. The problem that I am struggling with is the question of how to do that. How do I keep you all entertained and informed and interested enough that you choose to come back every day? I’ll burn out if I try to write something profound with every post.

I’ve made the commitment to myself that I will put SOMETHING up each night before I leave the office. I’ve also decided that it won’t all be about politics. All work and no play will make Jon a dull boy and, since I’m contributing to www.politicalderby.com as well, that could all add up to a heap of dull. Blogging is supposed to be fun… right?

My first solution will be to veer off the path and cover the “life” part of “Politics and Life in Rhode Island” once in a while.  The other thing that I promise you is that you will get to follow my learning process here. What that means is that, occasionally, I’ll talk about sports and restaurants and tasty beverages and cigars and sometimes I’ll let you in on the frustrations and victories that befall me in my blogging education. Today I’m on the latter.

Much to my surprise, my meerkat picture appeared when I responded to my first comment. Apparently it doesn’t display with my posts, just with my comments. Frustrating still, but a victory none-the less. In the liabilities column, I tried to link to a Youtube video on Veterans Day and couldn’t get it right. I wanted the video embedded. All I could get was the link, despite the fact that Youtube hands the code to you.  Though I’m a bit technologically challenged, we’ll get this down eventually.

In the meantime I’ve given you my meerkat picture in full size so that you know what you’re looking at when I comment. From now on, in order to see the cute little critters, you’ll have to comment. Remember that I’m the politician who believes that the process is about you, the voters. I’m here to listen to your comments and to learn. Let me know what you think. Let me know how you feel. Let me know how to embed a Youtube video in my blog.

Most of all, keep that graph going up and keep those hits coming. I gotta have ’em. More and more every day.

 JPS

The Other White Meat

November 13, 2007

I’ve been thinking a bit more about my experience at the WW II Monument dedication and the idea of self serving politicians. Although they were on display in abundance at Sunday’s ceremony, we certainly don’t have a monopoly on the animal here in the Ocean State. According to a report by John Stossel, ABC’s resident Libertarian, the Lincoln Monument was established 50 years after Honest Abe’s fateful visit to Ford’s Theatre and George Washington’s monument was not built until 89 years after his passing. The “King of Pork”, West Virginia’s Senior Senator Robert Byrd, has over 30 buildings named after him as well as a bridge and telescope. That doesn’t include the myriad statues.

In Rhode Island, living politicians have self aggrandized in, admittedly, smaller ways. Senator Reed was displayed in the Journal, recently, standing next to the USS Jack Reed; CRMC’s latest addition to their fleet. While on the campaign trail in ’06 I learned that Thundermist Healthcare Center had named a building in Woonsocket after Congressman Patrick Kennedy. I was told by one voter that, although she “didn’t like Kennedy “, she “had to vote for him”. The reason for the misplaced loyalty cited:  She takes her kids to get their healthcare at Thundermist and didn’t want the Congressman to “take back his building” if he were deposed.

Now, let’s face it. The reality is that these “living memorials” come to those who dine at the pork trough. It is no coincidence that all of the aforementioned philanthropists are members of either the Senate or House Appropriations Committees, who “donate” taxpayer dollars. In a truthful world, the boat would be named the “USS Taxpayers” and the building would be more rightly named the “Citizens of Rhode Island Building”.  “Aprops”, to use the inside the beltway vernacular, is the uber-powerful committee that decides where to dole the pork. It makes the RI “rub and tug” that Matt Allen and Dan Yorke speak about on WPRO pale by comparison and it is most definitely a tool to keep incumbents in their seats. Rhode Island is known worldwide because of our penchant for it. “Family Guy”, a cartoon based in fictional Quahog, RI, has a student population that attends “Buddy Cianci Junior High School”. Coincidence? I think not.

I have a proposal. I’ll buy dinner at the new Fleming’s Steak House for the first member of our General Assembly to submit a bill that puts a moratorium on naming buildings after seated politicians. I’m not even asking that it be against living politicians… just the ones who are still in office. I’ll even write the bill. All you have to do is introduce it. A recent attempt in South Carolina by State Legislator Dan Greenberg to enact the “Edifice Complex Prevention Bill” was shot down soundly in Committee. Pols like their naming rights.

Recently, in Cumberland, I spoke at a hearing in favor of naming a new gym after Steve Gordon, longtime Cumberland High School gym teacher and wrestling coach. Steve and I were rivals for a short time while I coached at Bishop Hendricken and the competition between us was fierce. That said, if the measure of a man is the number of lives that he touches here on earth, Steve Gordon has no equal in his hometown. He is a truly dedicated educator who has helped numerous students achieve their potential in life. Despite that fact, there was opposition to the proposal, such that Coach Gordon eventually removed his name from consideration. I have no idea why there was opposition nor do I know who eventually had their name plastered to the side of the building. If you take the time to look around Cumberland, however, you will come across a number of buildings named after politicians who “came with the cash”.

So RI Legislators, let’s put an end to dinner at the “pork trough”. There just may be a steak dinner in it for you. If not… there’s always a meal in the cafeteria at “Buddy Cianci” Junior High.

JPS

The Ocean State dedicated the long overdue World War II Memorial today following a short parade, which began at the State House and ended at the Memorial site on South Main Street. It was a beautiful day to honor those who have served our nation with both valor and dedication and, though I have never served (or, perhaps, because I’ve never served), I thought it an obligation to attend the ceremony.

Many Rhode Islanders know the story of how funding has been lagging behind for a memorial to those who gave their lives in the second “war to end all wars” but lack of support for the project was not on the minds of those in attendance. The crowd was large, very much behind our troops, and appreciative of the vets who were there. The energy in the park and the stunning monument made me proud to be a Rhode Islander. I wish that I could say the same of the dedication ceremony itself.

I found myself reflecting on my belief that, had I been elected to Congress in 2006, I would not have joined the politicians on the rostrum. There is nothing partisan about my statement. Republicans and Democrats seemed equally eager to take the microphone and pander to the crowd of veterans and supporters. They were all equally mistaken that this was a day about them. I understand that this is the way that things are done. I understand that it is “the way we’ve always done it”, but enough is enough.

Had I been a sitting Congressman, I would have given up my seat behind the podium to someone who served during World War II and, instead of speaking to the folks in the crowd, I would have listened. I would have asked that the vet who took my seat  go to the microphone and tell the crowd a story about what the “greatest generation” faced as they stormed the beaches  at Normandy, as they fought in the Argonne, and as they flew missions over Midway. It was not a day to pander. It was a day to honor.

It was important to get this memorial up and for that, on behalf of the Ocean State, I thank Joseph Corrente and my friend Reggie Centracchio, who initiated the idea and Chaired the efforts respectively. I thank the donors who made things happen and I thank the contractors, many of whom donated their precious time. Mostly I thank the veterans of WW II, themselves. and that is who this day should have been about. Their numbers diminish by approximately 1000 per day nationwide and that is why, in the end, I chose not to stay until the end of the ceremony. You see, we have less and less opportunity every day to hear the stories; to learn the lessons. This was an opportunity to listen. I would have liked to have listened.

JPS