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January 2021

Assessing the Democratic Party Agenda

    Donald Trump brought his own agenda to the White House. Much of it was not the agenda of the Establishment Republican Party. While Republicans attained majorities in the House and Senate in 2016, many were not committed to a Trump agenda. Many of his Cabinet appointments received scant Democratic support; many did not even retain his support. He had no experience in Washington. It took time - in the face of the Mueller investigation, Pelosi's impeachment mania, and a hostile press - to flesh out the policy implications of Make America Great Again.  Honest historians will marvel at how much he got done. 

    The Biden administration is the polar opposite. With no leader emerging to challenge Independent Bernie Sanders in the first few primaries, the Democratic Establishment, led by Jim Clyburn, decided that Joe would be the face of the Party. He stayed out of sight and avoided policy positions.  With plenty of veterans from the Obama administration, studies from a bevy of think tanks, and a coterie of special interest groups, the policy positions were staked out.  But in the Covid election against Donald Trump a blank slate was the winning strategy. It should come as no surprise that the Democratic Establishment was ready to present their wish list - some of which can be done by fiat, some of which require legislation, and some of which will die a quiet death. Don't look for Biden to deviate from the Democratic establishment on anything. 

    It did not take long for the guardrails to be established in the Senate. 

        - With Rand Paul's motion to table any impeachment proceedings, it was demonstrated that at least 45 Republicans will close ranks. Republican Senators Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Pat Toomey, Lisa Murkowski, and  Ben Sasse favored impeachment, but will stay loyal on most other issues, particularly if Trump is not directly engaged.  Any impeachment proceedings are simply political theater. 

        - With Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema supporting a filibuster rule (commiting to not vote for cloture), Mitch McConnell agreed to go forward with an agreement on Senate operating procedures and committee assignments for the next two years. Essentially, if Republicans object, 60 votes are required to move most legislation or appointments forward. The big exception to the 60 vote requirement is "Reconciliation" - a complicated process by which House-originated changes to taxes, spending, and debt limits (but no other matters) can be accepted by the Senate with a simple majority. That leaves plenty of room for financial danger, but policy decisions will require a measure of national consensus. 

    Elections have consequences, and the long Democratic agenda being rolled out in executive orders, expedited studies, and policy pronouncements contains much that Republicans and conservatives believe will be damaging to America. Others may differ, but this writer considers the following to be the most concerning: 

    1. Fiscal constraint. US national debt of $27 trillion sits at 130% of Gross Domestic Product, up from 35% in 1980, the administration seeks to add trillions more, and both Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen are committed to printing money to goose the economy - for years.  In the broadest sense, the Baby Boomers - in fairness, Trump included - are borrowing from our grandchildren to pay for today's pleasures while China seeks to dethrone us from global leadership.  

    2. Domestic order. There are many troubling cross-currents which invite federal government intervention: the January 6, assault on the capitol; the ongoing occupation of Seattle and Portland by lawless mobs; the "defund the police" movement; the restriction of free speech by the liberal tech billionaires who control much of the public discourse. A cooling off period is needed. Democrats will address half of the equation. 

    3. The Middle East. The "temporary" embargo on military sales to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates is a watch out that the Left does not accept the Saudi-led coalition against Iran which Trump put together, or perhaps the recognition of Israel by its neighbors without including the Palestinians.  As part of a renewed Iran nuclear deal, Biden may be willing to throw in the winning hand which Trump left him.  

    4. Energy. The Democrats are committed to eliminating the US global advantage of being the world's largest energy producer with the hundreds of thousands of jobs that represents and the low cost in transportation, manufacturing, and heating. The Paris climate agreement is symbolic; the Keystone XL Pipeline was predictable; the freezes on new leases in Alaska and  federal land could have been anticipated. Elections have consequences. 

    5. Immigration. The Democrats have moved hard to the left from the days of the Obama administration when the border detention facilities were built, and millions of illegal migrants were deported. Amid porous borders and Honduran caravans, the Congressional fight will be about the legalization of the 11 million (potentially Democratic voting) illegal immigrants currently here. 

    6. Education.  The teachers unions and liberal ideologues are set to have a field day in areas which are almost entirely regulatory rather than legislative: charter schools; common national standards; gender equity; and the rewriting of American history to ensure that our children and grandchildren understand our racist essence and the evils of capitalism. 

    Appropriate Republican responses will be topics for other days, but the common theme is to recognize that the policy agenda of Trump and Republicans was different from that of the Democratic establishment, that the 75 million people knew what they were doing when they voted for Trump, and that continued support of that agenda is essential for the country. 

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bill bowen - 1/28/21

    


Unity: From Vision to Strategy to Action

    Good speech. Well delivered. Apparently heartfelt. America wishes President Joe Biden well in his vision of unity. We need it. 

    So, what might a strategy to achieve unity look like?  It is certainly understandable to bask in the political victory for a day or two, but Biden doesn't have a lot of time before the forces against unity across the political spectrum re-establish their footing. Some thoughts. 

    1. The biggest divide is between the Democratic majority and the Trump wing of the Republican Party.  As symbolized by the assault on the Capital, there has not been such a divide in our lifetimes. Justice and reconciliation require separating the deeds of the Capital perpetrators from the Republicans who challenged the election through legal and non-violent processes.  The perps have scant support among the vast majority who cherish our democratic process; the tens of millions who questioned the election are at issue. Two suggestions:

    - The second impeachment of President Trump by a Democratic House which has been focused on his removal for four years provides an opportunity for President Biden to demonstrate leadership, and to take a stand for unity by actively opposing Senate consideration.  He has the added rationale and benefit that the Senate should be fully occupied ratifying his nominees and addressing legislation necessary for his agends.  A decision to instead give the irate Left their pound of flesh would be an opportunity missed - and resented. 

    - A small bipartisan commission should address the major complaints about the November election. Facts are facts. His election needs be legitimized and shortcomings (which did not come close to determining the outcome of the election) need to be corrected.  Most would trust the word of someone like Chuck Grassley on the Republican side.  

   2. The Trump administration did accomplish a lot - as evidenced in the list published by the White House this month. Most of the hundreds of items reflect the political differences between the parties or are puffery, but there are many which should be supported by both parties and which can serve as the basis for Biden administration policies: rapid vaccine development; criminal justice reform; progress in reducing the opiod epidemic; lowered prescription drug costs; extension of broadband in rural America; reform of the Veterans Administration; the US-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement; the obliteration of ISIS; recognition of Israel by its neighbors; engagement with China on trade abuses, Hong Kong, and the Uighurs.  It is too much to expect Biden to support  any Trump accomplishments in controlling illegal immigration, deregulation, tax policy, climate change, or  civil rights, or to acknowledge the strength of the economy pre-Covid,  but where there can be common ground a shout out to Trump's successes would be a welcome change. 

   3.  President Biden will need Republican support in Congress, particularly if he is willing to stand up to the left wing of the Democratic party.  The acknowledgements at the beginning of his inaugural speech - Chief Justice Roberts; Vice President Harris; Speaker Pelosi; Senate leaders Schumer and McConnell, and Vice President Pence, but not House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy - reflect either a snub for McCarthy's support of challenges to Electoral College votes, a deferrence to Pelosi in the House, or an oversight. Given the superb orchestration of the entire event, the latter explanation is unlikely.  Much discussion has been directed at the 50-50 Senate where 60 votes are needed for most legislation, but the House with 221  Democrats, 211 Republicans, and 3 vacancies isn't chopped liver either.  And there is a reasonable chance that in 2023 the Democratic president will be faced by a Republican House led by McCarthy. And, and... McCarthy is uniquely positioned in the Republican party to serve as a bridge. 

  4. Many conservatives are jaded, and view a unity vision as little more than a campaign slogan and a request for the Right to join in Democratic policies.  It certainly is that for many on the Left who think that the price for return to polite society for Trump voters is an admission of Original Sin, but for the moment we should give the president a chance to be better than that.   We will know within weeks whether Joe Biden intends to move from a unity vision to strategy to action.  

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    One final thought for this week of momentous transitions: Trump's orgy of pardons and commutations as he left office represents a salute to the swamp. Sure, some were relatively low level people who received unreasonable sentences for drug charges, but the theme is politically connected felons who were convicted after fair trials for moral turpitude offenses. It should not be enough to draw a parellel to Bill Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich or Barack Obama's pardon of Chelsea Manning.  Trump supporters who responded to the "Drain the Swamp" applause line deserved better. 

bill bowen - 1/21/21 

    


Surveying the Battlefield

      As Nancy Pelosi, the New York Times editorial board, and the legions of anti-Trump pundits roam the battlefield looking for wounded survivors to butcher, a moment of reflection and a few forecasts are in order. 

    On the positive side: 

        - We remain a center-right country. A strong majority oppose "defunding the police".  A strong majority oppose late term abortion.  A strong majority see budget constraints  as a larger problem than climate change, racism, or terrorism, at least conceptually. A strong majority understand the success of capitalism and the failures of socialism. 

        - Despite losing the White House, the House, and the Senate, Republicans gained House seats, lost only a net 3 of the 23 Senate seats that they defended, and remain dominant in governorships and state legislatures.  Prospects look good for 2022. 

        - The federal courts have been populated with three Supreme Court justices and 226 federal  judges who see it as their job to apply the constitution and laws as written.  

    On the negative side:

    - For a time it will be fashionable to extend the guilt for Trump's behavior since the election to his supporters in government and to the 74 million who voted for him.  Liberals are circulating lists of celebrities, businesses, and politicians who have supported the president and are thus to be banned from polite society. The divide in the country has been magnified - with sanctimonious glee. 

    - The people who got us into the mess in the Middle East and thought that appeasement would bring "peace in our time" with Iran are back in a position to repeat their errors. 

    - Federal budget deficits are escalating by trillions of dollars; it will eventually take a trauma of inflation for our grandchildren to recover from the profligacy of the Baby Boomers and Generation X. 

     And the forecasts:

    1. The twin crises of the pandemic and Trump's attempts to subvert the election will be used to change the playing field for future elections. At present, Republicans have several structural advantages - a tilt in the Electoral College; two Senators from each state; the exclusion of the 600,000 permanent residents of Washington DC and the 3.8 million residents of Puerto Rico and other territories from the federal electorate - with the partial offset that the Census, which allocates House seats among the states, includes illegal immigrants, thus giving extra seats to California and others. The DC Statehood Bill ,which passed the House and died in the Senate in 2019, will be a priority for Biden's core constituency, giving the Democrats 2 Senate and 1 House seats.  Puerto Rico may follow.   

    2. Election reform will be a cause for both sides - for Pelosi, to institutionalize mail-in voting with mass mailings and vote harvesting; and for Republicans, to establish proper safeguards. Both will favor a larger federal government role in federal elections. 

    3. There will be a crisis in "law and order" within the next few years, as the "defund the police" movement plays out, shifting resources away from "community policing", and toward social services agencies. Perhaps more important, and less publicized, is the George Soros funded effort over the past five years to elect uber-liberal major city district attorneys who oppose holding poor criminals for bail, oppose capital punishment, and will not enforce drug and "quality of life" laws such as urinating in public. Los Angeles; San Francisco; Seattle; Portland; Denver; Chicago; Baltimore; Philadelphia; Houston; Fairfax County, Virginia. The approach of the Biden administration, presumably with a significant role for Vice President and former California Attorney General Kamala Harris,  will soon be evidenced as the 94 regional Federal Prosecutors, as is  custom, tender their resignations to be replaced by properly oriented and Senate approved successors. 

    4. The political context of social media will be transformed. Some disparate data points for thinking about the future - the decision by Amazon, Google, and Apple to destroy conservative competitor Parler is a stark notice that a few liberal tech billionaires control much of the national conversation; Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has called the banning of Trump's account necessary, but "a dangerous precedent"; a walkie-talkie type platform called Zello used by right wing militias was used by some for coordinating the Capitol assault; the tilt of big tech toward Biden and the Democrats will soften the pending anti-trust legislation. 

    In the meantime, for Trump voters the best advice is to keep your head down in conversations with family and friends.  We are due for a few more weeks of the media being consumed by impeachment, erasing the history of the administration's accomplishments, potential legal liabilities for the Trump family, conjecture about his future role in the Republican Party, and conjecture about him starting a competitor to Twitter.   Before baseball sesason we will be able to see how many in the media have the skills and inclination to return to objective reporting.    

 

bill bowen - 1.14.21 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

       

 


The Assault on Democracy

    Generations of students of American history - nay, of world history - will know of Donald Trump's refusal to accept the outcome of the 2020 presidential election - first by a blizzard of lawsuits in the various states, then by efforts to have Congress overturn the count in the Electoral College, then by inspiring an assault on the capital.  The cornerstone of the republic, since George Washington warned of factionalism and foreign entanglements as he voluntarily left office 1797, has been the willingness of legislators, governors, and presidents to leave office when their time has come. And Donald Trump's time has come. 

    Some somber observations:

        1. History is still unfolding, and the two weeks until the January  20 innauguration of Joe Biden cannot pass fast enough.  A letter signed by the 10 living former Secretaries of Defense warned that "Efforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory."  Without any specific accusations, the bipartisan former military leaders were unnerved by the firing of Secretary of Defense Mike Esper on November 9, former General Mike Flynn's conjecture about declaring martial law to re-run the election in battleground states, President Trump's request that the Georgia Secretary of State "find" the 12,000 votes necessary to overturn that election, and a report of a suggestion in December to split the National Security Agency and Cyber Command (perhaps to better manage communications.) 

    2. There is some legitimacy to the underlying legal argument about the elections in several states, most particularly Pennsylvania.  The central point is that Article II of the Constitution provides to the state legislatures the authority to establish voting procedures. Driven by the difficulty of voting during the coronavirus pandemic - with an overlay of partisan advantage to Democrats - several state and federal judges, Secretaries of State, and election commissions adopted procedures which extended the receipt time for absentee ballots, and in some cases loosened requirements for signatures, photo IDs, and chain of custody for absentee ballots. In violation of the Supreme Court's Purcell principle, many of these changes were made much too close to the November 6 election. But, we have a Supreme Court, we are a nation based on laws, and it is not the place of the Congress or the Vice President to overturn the vote of the people as reflected in the Electoral College.  

    3. Of much less importance than the damage to the nations institutions and international standing, is the damage to the Trump legacy. It is likely that with record low unemployment, rising real wages, an ending of US engagement in wars in the Middle East, and a policy of finally challenging China's economic policies Trump would have cruised to reelection were it not for the pandemic. While there is room for criticism for his lack of leadership on masks and social distancing, and failures of the federal healthcare bureaucracy, the good of the first three years would have been enough to claim a dominant position in the Republican Party even if he were defeated.

    4. Individual Republican politicians will have cemented their positions in the party based on their actions over the past month, and particularly since the first of the year. The post-President Trump party was already looking toward an engagement between the working class populist wing and the upper class former Establishment wing with the hope that a reconciliation could lead to continued success at the state level and a regaining of power at the national level.  Ambitious contenders for the Trump mantle such as Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, who encouraged those marching on the Capitol, will be eclipsed in favor of more thoughtful conservatives such as Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas who have called for the President to accept defeat.  Ted Cruz is down; Marco Rubio is up. 

    5. There is space for "I told you so; how could you have supported him? " from the Democrats, the liberal media, and well intended Never Trumpers. (A personal note: in 2016 I supported Marco Rubio, then John Kasich to prevent Trump from being the nominee. On ethical terms Hillary Clinton was no better, perhaps worse for having lived in the swamp. Particularly prior to the pandemic I have supported Trump as he delivered peace and prosperity,  with a focus on  the working class.)  What will be of consequence is Joe Biden's reaction. The urgency of forging reconciliation has become much greater, but with the Great American Public having looked into the abyss, he will have much broader support for policies which are targeted at the broad center over the objections of the Left or the Right.  

    6. The Center held. 

bill bowen - 1/7/21