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Posts Tagged ‘Ronald Reagan’



Know Nothings and the Death of Political Compromise

Monday, February 28th, 2011

President Ronald Reagan often compared leaders of the Soviet Union to the movie producers against whom he once bargained as president of the Screen Actors Guild. That early experience, Reagan told serial biographer Lou Cannon, was where he “learned to negotiate.”

“The purpose of a negotiation,” Reagan added, “is to get an agreement.”

What a quaint notion.

The conversation, related by Cannon during a forum sponsored by UC Santa Barbara’s American Presidency Project last week, illuminates a fundamental difference in the Manichaeistic politics of millennial conservative leaders, who endlessly exalted the former president during recent celebrations of his centennial, and the real-life record of Reagan himself.

From his days as California’s governor, when he backed what was then the largest tax increase in state history as part of a bipartisan budget agreement, to the world-changing agreements on nuclear arms reduction he forged with Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan managed to maintain his commitment to his  conservative principles while finding ways to cut acceptable deals with Democrats in the Legislature and the Congress.

His approach contrasts with the current crop of ideologues, from Washington to Wisconsin and Sacramento, who sneer at the concept of compromise and dismiss the idea of negotiation, the twin foundations of governance that have long made representative democracy work.

“While Reagan tried to stuff everything he heard or read into the view of the world he had brought with him to Washington, he appreciated the value of compromise and negotiation,” Cannon wrote in “President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime,” his seminal biography.

“And on nearly all issues, Reagan was simultaneously an ideologue and a pragmatist. He complained to aides that true believers on the Republican right…preferred to ‘go off the cliff with all flags flying,’ rather than take half a loaf and come back for more, as Reagan believed liberals had been doing since the days of the New Deal.”

The Wisconsin con: Compare this attitude to that of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who’s become an instant hero to the mossback crowd with his political jihad against the right of public employees to engage in collective bargaining. In a taped conversation with a person he believed to be his right-wing patron David Koch (who was actually an alternative newspaper editor who punked the governor and his staff), Walker offered a candid look at his crude and autocratic theory idea of governing.

At one point, for example, he expressed contempt for the moderate Democratic leader of the Wisconsin senate, who has reached out to Walker in an attempt to settle the partisan deadlock over unions, saying the senator is “pretty reasonable, but he’s not one of us…He’s just trying to get something done. . . .He’s just a pragmatist.” Perish the thought.

“I don’t budge,” Walker then told the liberal journalist posing as Koch; he added, in what he believed was a private conversation, that while he might publicly pretend to be open to compromise discussions with Democrats, he would do so only as a way to con them: “I’m not negotiating,” he said.

A Capitol caucus of sheep: These rabid sentiments echo in Sacramento, where 30 Republican legislators last week announced a so-called “Taxpayers Caucus.” At a time when even Republican-tilted business organizations in the state back Jerry Brown’s deficit plan to allow voters to decide whether to extend $12 billion in temporary higher taxes and fees, membership in this Know Nothing caucus requires a blood oath to obstruct all bids to put the measure on the ballot.

It is instructive that the leader of this cadre is right-wing senator Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark.

Running in one of the few competitive districts in the state, Strickland in 2008 defeated Hannah Beth Jackson, an extremely liberal former Assembly member, by exactly 857 votes out of more 415,000 cast; rather than moderating his personal ideology to reflect the broad range of views held by his constituents, however, Landslide Tony chooses to grovel at the feet of Grover Norquist, the Washington-based anti-government extremist who threatens with retribution any Republican who votes to put Brown’s tax plan before voters.

While Strickland and his reckless brethren try to gussy up their stance as a matter of conservative principle, it rests instead on a set of intellectually dishonest and purely partisan canards and deceits.

Decrying Brown’s budget plan, GOP legislators refuse to put forth one of their own, placing partisan gamesmanship ahead of governance in the full knowledge that attaching numbers and detail to their worn-out rhetoric would prove the absurdity of their call for an all-cuts budget.

Rejecting reality, the poseurs pretend that the $85 billion budget is filled with vast amounts of wasteful discretionary spending, knowing that the state’s money overwhelmingly goes to K-12 schools, higher education and health programs, expenditures that enjoy widespread public support and which they lack the courage to openly and specifically oppose.

Putting ideology over rational debate, they fear California’s voters, mindful that an election testing the popularity of their no-taxes-ever policies may  reveal the emptiness of their politics. Chronicler John Diaz offers a trenchant summary of their puerility:

The governor, who relishes intellectual interchange, confronted Republicans last week in a highly unusual appearance before a budget conference committee. As is often the case with Brown, he mixed humor and in-your-face persuasion in searching for common ground with his adversaries.

“Pledges are interesting, they make good theater,” Brown told legislators. “But the fact is we have to have a plan, we need a solution, and for those who say they don’t want to vote, then why are you here?”

Good question: Why are they here, collecting their nearly six-figure salaries plus per diem, if they consider the state’s predicament the other party’s problem and none of their concern?

The great exception, again: In a recent national poll, the Pew Research Center reported results that at first glance seem to give an edge to kneejerk hardliners. By 49-42%, the findings showed, Americans favor “political leaders who stick to their position without compromise” over those “who make compromises with someone they disagree with.”

But in this matter, as in many others, California goes its own way, as gauged by a Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California poll taken during last fall’s campaign for governor. As we reported then, the survey:

…offers a glimmer of hope for California, finding that voters by a 2-1 margin say they’d prefer a governor “who can work effectively with others across party lines” to one who “is single-minded and will fight for what he or she thinks is correct.”

Democrats, moderates and liberals are most in favor of a governor who works with the opposition, but even Republicans and conservatives would rather have a governor who can work effectively across party lines.

The problem in Sacramento, however, has not been finding a governor who will work across party lines; the problem is finding enough legislators who will work with the governor.

How Brown is like Reagan: At a time when Brown is offering to compromise with Republicans on big issues they purport to care about, from pension reform to business regulation and a state spending cap, it defies common sense for the GOP to turn away from Reagan-style negotiated agreements. Cannon again:

Reagan did not fit the neat ideological stereotype that was presented in alternative forms by movement conservatives and liberal activists…

“He liked to see the people around him work towards an acceptable compromise, said White House cabinet secretary Craig Fuller. “Both words are important. Acceptable in a sense that it met his criteria, narrow as they might be. Compromise in that nobody got exactly what they wanted, but nobody lost.”

Like Reagan, Brown is at heart a traditionalist, embracing the old-school belief that politics is the art of the possible, fueled by negotiations in the service of finding agreement. That is why Brown keeps expecting Republicans to want to negotiate for things they want in exchange for things he wants. But the vast majority of the GOP minority doesn’t want to negotiate, because they don’t want an agreement.

Brown’s focused and patient efforts to craft a budget deal belie the  decades-old rap on him as too heedless and flaky for the painstakingly hard work of governing. He can only hope, however, that amid all the posing, grandstanding and strutting in the Republican caucus, there are at least a couple of grown-ups with the backbone to stand up and help him do the job.

Recommended reading:

Timesman Frank Rich offers a national perspective on the rejection of compromise and negotiation.

Dana Milbank of the Washpost looks more deeply at the Khaddafi-like views of Scott Walker. 

Dan Morain has an excellent take on the goofball Taxpayers Caucus.

Steve Harmon exposes the urban legend of Republicans being politically destroyed for backing tax increases.

Q: Will Jerry’s Mea Culpa Hose Down Bill? A: Yes

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Update 1:15 pm: In a statement to the LA Times, Bill Clinton today endorsed Jerry Brown for governor saying he and Brown had patched up their differences from the 1992 presidential race and that Meg Whitman’s using his attack on Brown is misleading.

“I strongly support Jerry Brown for governor because I believe he was a fine mayor of Oakland, he’s been a very good attorney general, and he would be an excellent governor at a time when California needs his creativity and fiscal prudence,” Clinton said in a statement to the Times. If Clinton mentioned what he thought of Brown’s previous two terms as governor, it was not reported.

“Clinton agreed that the [Whitman] ad was misleading, and said his claim was based on an erroneous report,” the Times reported. And they quoted Clinton further saying: “Moreover, the tough campaign we fought 18 years ago is not relevant to the choice facing Californians today. Jerry and I put that behind us a long time ago.”

Clinton also endorsed Gavin Newsom for lieutenant governor “because of his strong support for Hillary in the 2008 primary season and because of his impressive record of innovation and accomplishment.”

Later on Tuesday, Brown issued the following statement:

“I am deeply honored to have been endorsed by former President Bill Clinton, who, after his accomplishment-rich presidency, continues to demonstrate his commitment to bettering our state, our nation, and our world, each and every day.”

For the record, the headline on this piece, before we saw the Times posting (congrats to Seema Meta who had it up online at 12:27 pm) read: “Will Jerry’s Mea Culpa Be Enough to Hose Down Bill?”

Our report as originally posted:

Calbuzz hears that right up to the moment on Sunday when Jerry Brown lost his marbles and his self control and went negative on Bill Clinton Krusty was really, really, really close to a deal for the  popular former president to do something very helpful for Brown’s campaign for governor.

Despite the bad blood between these two monumental egos, Clinton apparently had been persuaded – likely with assists from California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton and San Francisco Mayor and Lite Gov candidate Gavin Newsom – that defeating Meg Whitman and electing Democrats should be Clinton’s priority.

Even if it meant helping Brown, whose self-important primary challenge was a relentless thorn in Clinton’s  side during the 1992 presidential campaign; the memorable primary battle between the two resurfaced last week, when Team Whitman made Clinton the start of a new ad using an 18-year-old presidential debate clip where Bill says Jerry is a taxer and a liar — based on a CNN report which the original author now admits was wrong.

But something about Clinton seems to turn Brown into a raving lunatic and so on Sunday, in a couple of cheap, throwaway lines, he insulted Clinton as a liar and dredged up the Monica Lewinsky affair by quipping:  “I did not have taxes with this state.” How stupid is that? Anyway – That’s our job!

It’s also worth noting that the Calbuzz archive will prove that we had already warned him that everything is on the record in the 21st Century which he, in his digital dotage, seemed to have forgotten, or maybe never knew.

Recognizing that Brown had stepped in a pile of his own…making, his campaign called a quickie  press conference on Monday to try to clean up the mess. “Bill Clinton was an excellent president. It was wrong for me to joke about an incident from many years ago, and I’m sorry . . . I’ve made my share of mistakes, and my inappropriate joke about President Clinton is one of them. But from me you’ll always get the truth.”*

Whether his mea maxima culpa will be enough to assuage Clinton, we can’t predict. Better, we thought, Brown should have flown to New York, put on a blue dress, assumed the penitential position and . . . begged Clinton for forgiveness.

Brown’s people say he called Clinton and got as far as the senior staffer they’ve been talking to about Clinton’s participation in the California campaign.  Apparently, Brown doesn’t have the juice to get a call through to Clinton himself.  How sad is that? Still, Brown’s peeps say, plans for Clinton to campaign in California (for  Barbara Boxer, for Brown, for the ticket or all of the above, we don’t know) are still a go.

If Clinton does  lift a finger to help Brown it will be because he is, despite everything, a hard-nosed political pragmatist who, for a lot of reasons, doesn’t want a billionaire female Republican governor of California hovering over national politics for the next eight years. (Can you say President Hillary Clinton? Reapportionment? Meet the Press? )

And because he wants to help Boxer, a longtime ally whose daughter Nicole was married to Hillary’s brother Tony Rodham from 1994-2000. Also, Clinton would want to help Newsom, who was a prominent supporter of Hillary’s in the 2008 presidential campaign.

Meanwhile, Team Whitman — gloating over the great reviews their ad is getting –  ignores the fact that Brooks Jackson, the former CNN reporter on whom Clinton was relying when he made his charge against Brown, has since acknowledged he was wrong. Instead, they’re clinging to Jackson’s argument that his report was essentially “valid.”

“As I said then, rising taxes in Brown’s early years helped bring about a tax revolt. It came in the form of Proposition 13” Jackson wrote. But in this context, that’s misleading. Those “rising taxes” were the result of inflation in the housing market – not Brown’s tax policies. By trying now to make it look like his original report had merit, Jackson has given Whitman an excuse to perpetuate her lie.

Yes, Brown vehemently opposed Proposition 13 – as did eMeg campaign chairman Pete Wilson and most other people in public office. And once it was passed, he implemented it with relish and allowed state spending to increase, spending down a big surplus, to make up for billions in funding lost by cities, counties and schools.

Despite that, Brown’s spending as governor – adjusted for inflation and population, as economists do when comparing dollars in and out over time – were actually lower than his predecessor, Ronald Reagan. The Associated Press has a story detailing that fact.

As if any of these facts matter.

*Inquiring Jesuits want to know: Brown’s comments about Clinton on Sunday – and his effort on Monday to wave them off as a joke – got us thinking about Michael Kinsley’s famous formulation that “a ‘gaffe’ is the opposite of a lie – it’s when a politician tells the truth.”

Putting aside the Lewinsky portion of Brown’s bonehead remarks, it seems to us that the more serious part of his statement on Sunday came when he said, “I mean Clinton’s a nice guy, but who ever said he always told the truth?”  Those words call into question the former president’s fundamental honesty.

Brown never directly addressed that comment during his damage control press conference, when he apologized only for his “inappropriate joke.”

Instead, Brown simply concluded by saying, “But from me you’ll always get the truth.”

Which raises the question: Was Brown “always” telling the truth on Sunday, when he said that Clinton had problems telling the truth? Or was that just a gaffe?

Thin Brown Line Between eMeg and the White House

Monday, June 7th, 2010

In the middle of a press scrum at the Republican state convention on March 12, Meg Whitman laughed out loud at a radio news reporter who asked her about her national political ambitions:

Ms. Whitman, would you commit to serving a full four-year term if you’re elected governor? There’s been talk of you as a national political figure.

Let’s just take it one step at a time. We haven’t even won the Republican primary yet.

With that small matter about to be dispensed with Tuesday, it’s high time to re-open the speculation about the 2016 Whitman for President campaign (for the record, she said she would “sure, absolutely”  finish one four-year term for governor) and break down the real from the surreal about that not-very-far-fetched scenario.

Barring a Lazarus-sized political miracle, Whitman will finally put Steve Poizner’s miserable campaign out of its misery tomorrow, promptly putting herself at the center of the nation’s political media conversation, where her high horsepower spin machine has already proved adept at stroking and feeding acolytes among the pundit class:

Meg Whitman is the most interesting person in American politics and, potentially, a formidable Republican leader at the national level…Like Ronald Reagan, she’s a well-known star from another field–the corporate world in Whitman’s case–who has entered California politics at the top and now intends to leapfrog an entire generation of ambitious political strivers…

But let’s assume Whitman is elected. She’d be governor of the biggest state, a brainy, conservative, accomplished woman at the top of the Republican ladder with precisely the experience that Sarah Palin lacks…When Reagan was elected governor in 1966, the speculation about national office–president, vice president–erupted instantly. If Whitman is elected in 2010, it will erupt again.

That conservative bloviator Fred Barnes wrote that over a year ago, at a time when eMeg had barely begun spending the $75-or-so million she’s since dug out of the sofa cushions to put her face in front of every Californian with a TV set four or five times a week, is a measure of how much thrill-up-the-leg excitement lies in store for us once she actually captures the damn nomination.

eMeg is about to go national in a big way and if Barnes is a bit, um, over-smitten in comparing her to the Gipper, he is most correct that being elected governor of California gives you automatic entry to the presidential speculation sweepstakes.

Think about it: the one question that’s never remotely been answered about her obsessive spending spree to buy the governorship is: Why the hell would she want the lousy job?  (And don’t tell us it’s because she had an epiphany and — barf — realized she “won’t let California fail”)

Put another way, why else has Meg Whitman “invested” –- that’s the word she invariably uses when she’s asked about her obscene campaign spending — more than $71 million of her own fortune to capture the Republican nomination for governor? And why is she prepared to spend at least as much in the general election?

Answer: Because she wants to be president of the United States .

How does Calbuzz know this? Because it’s the first of our Three Rules of Politics*: They all want to be president of the United States .

But only a few of them wind up in positions where it’s actually possible. And if eMeg can defeat Attorney General Jerry Brown in November, she would be perfectly poised, at age 60,  to run for president in 2016.

(Of course, there are a few wrinkles in the scenario. Mitt Romney, her 63-year old business and political mentor, has already moved into California as a base for his expected 2012 bid for president.  Having eMeg ensconced in Sacramento clearly wouldn’t hurt Mutt’s chances, and the narrative of the dynamic duo fighting bravely to turn California from blue to red would be catnip for the Fred Barneses of the world. It makes no sense for Meg, however, to even think about playing second fiddle on a Romney ticket, when she could bide her time and go after the big prize herself.)

Which means: It’s entirely possible that California Attorney General Jerry Brown is the only thing standing between Meg Whitman and the White House.

This is not a comforting thought, especially since we have no experience on which to predict the standard quantum limit  effect of $150 million in campaign spending by a candidate for governor.

Normally, one would expect that Whitman would have a hard time winning back the moderates, independents, women and Latinos she has alienated by taking knuckle-dragging, uber-nasty arch-conservative positions in the primary in order to win the hearts and minds of the GOP.

But we don’t know whether, by spending untold sums on campaign propaganda, Whitman will be able to obliterate the collective memory voters might otherwise have of her lurch to the right. Expect November Meg to look nothing like June Meg. She’ll be bright, sunny and inclusive, not the snarling, slashing attack machine she’s been in the primary.

So what’s Jerry Brown’s challenge? To win the independents –  20% of the electorate, compared to 45% Democrat and 31% Republican. And how can he and his independent allies do that? By:

1) Reminding voters about Goldman Sachs and eMeg’s special, elite deals and her failure even to be a voter, much less a problem solver for California.

2) Reminding voters of her flip-floppy positions on choice and offshore oil drilling, her assault on environmental regulation (especially AB 32) and her anti-Mexican-immigrant stand on border security.

3) Explaining how differently he would address spending and taxes, fairness and justice, public employees and education. His curbside, man-on-the-street populism versus her protect-the-rich, attack-the-worker program.

He won’t have $75 million so he’d better have some damn effective allies and he’d better generate some enthusiasm.

And thank you for that.

*The other two rules: The conventional wisdom is always wrong and; Nobody knows anything.

Fred Barnes Smitten: Conservative Writer Lionizes eMeg

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

emegcoverIt takes veteran Beltway journalist and Fox News bloviator Fred Barnes only three sentences of his hot-on-the-web, 3,500-word profile of Meg Whitman in the conservative Weekly Standard to compare her to Ronald Reagan.

Then he gets really complimentary.

The Barnes cover piece, titled “eMeg: eBay Republican Meg Whitman bids to save California” (to his credit, he sorta credits Calbuzz for our coinage of our favorite nickname for Her Megness), not only portrays her as a strong front-runner for the GOP nomination, but also casts her as the vessel of all true Reagan virtues, from an unstinting belief in free markets to an easy way with people.

The piece concludes by launching a Meg-for-President boomlet:

But let’s assume Whitman is elected. She’d be governor of the biggest state, a brainy, conservative, accomplished woman at the top of the Republican ladder with precisely the experience that Sarah Palin lacks. That she’s a social moderate may be worrisome to conservatives. She’s pro-choice on abortion but voted for Proposition 8 last year, which barred gay marriage. When Reagan was elected governor in 1966, the speculation about national office–president, vice president–erupted instantly. If Whitman is elected in 2010, it will erupt again.”

Hold on there Fred, she may have have three conversations with you, but she’s still gotta make it past her first Calbuzz interview! In the meantime, Calbuzzers, check it out.

5 Questions: How California’s Financial Flack Makes Sense of the Mess

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

Harold Dean Palmer, known in the political universe as “H.D.”, serves as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s chief spokesman on budget and fiscal issues as Deputy Director for External Affairs at the California Department of Finance. A former spokesman for U.S. Senators S.I. Hayakawa and John Seymour of California and Jim McClure of Idaho, he worked for Gov. Pete Wilson and state senate GOP Leader Jim Brulte before joining Schwarzenegger’s team in 2003.

Calbuzz: Lacking a PhD from the London School of Economics, describe the process you go through to understand the deep-in-the-weeds stuff, and then to translate it into English.

H.D. Palmer: At the start, it was total immersion — into the deep end without water wings. I had the good fortune to start at Finance at a point between the governor’s January budget and his revised budget in May, so the staff in each unit had the time to give me full briefings, in mind-numbing detail, on all of the programs in their respective areas, and then tolerated every rudimentary, basic and/or dumb question I had after that (and still have to this day).

I’m lucky because Finance has some of the smartest and hardest-working men and women in show business who know their stuff cold. My job is to work with the information I get from them, de-jargonize and de-acronym it in some cases, and then try to put it into basic terms that readers, listeners and viewers can understand to explain how and why the governor is putting forward all of the various proposals in his budget. When there’s an analogy that captures the issue in basic terms, I try to go with it. For example:

DISCUSSION AND CONSIDERATION REGARDING THE IMPACT OF CASH MANAGEMENT REQUIREMENTS ON APPROVAL OF AB 55 LOANS, INCLUDING POSSIBLE REDUCTIONS OR FREEZING DISBURSEMENTS FOR OUTSTANDING, RENEWED, OR NEW LOANS

Translation to human-speak: We had to shut off the spigot for infrastructure funding and we can’t turn it all the way back on yet.

CB: Who gives the best spin — your heroes among political spokespersons?

HDP: The two guys who I’ve always considered professional lodestars were Otto Bos — Pete Wilson’s long-time communications genius and aide-de-camp — and Marlin Fitzwater, President Reagan’s last and President Bush 1′s only press secretary. Both guys were total pros who understood the importance of being a truthful and trustworthy advocate for their bosses. And they understood that to be successful you have to be an honest broker between two institutions that often work at cross-purposes: their bosses and their clients, the press corps. Both of them definitely found the sweet spot. By doing that, both guys richly earned the respect of both their bosses and reporters. They also, I think, embodied some sage advice that I got when I first started out: take your job seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously.

CB: Who are the best and worst reporters in the state to deal with?

HDP: Me naming a “best reporter” would the professional equivalent of Michael Corleone kissing Fredo in the Havana nightclub in Godfather II. Next thing you know, that reporter’s in a fishing dingy on Lake Tahoe reciting Hail Marys. I respect the ones I do consider the “best” not to put them through that kind of public hazing. Come to think of it, though, there were these two guys who used to write politics for the Chronicle and the Mercury News who were real pains in the . . .

CB: If he was being really candid, how would your boss characterize the overall depth and accuracy of the state media’s reporting on budget issues?

HDP: I think he shares my view that reporters are trying to explain not only the mechanics of something that’s so complicated and has so many moving parts as the state budget, but also the political dynamics that overlay it. The challenge is that with the current economics of the media industry (see the word “abattoir”* in your Webster’s for further definition), we’re likely going to have a dwindling pool of reporters who have a lot of experience and familiarity with the beat. Which is why I have always offered (and continue to offer) reporters coming onto the beat the same kind of into-the-deep-end briefings from our staff that I got when I started.

CB: How many press calls do you field in a day? What’s the most you received and what was the issue? (OK, that makes six questions)

HDP: Usually 10-15 a day. And given everything regarding the budget and public finance of late, it’s like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates — you never know what you’re gonna get. The Guinness Book record, though, had to be this February when the budget was passed at dawn. We went over to the governor’s office to brief him later in the morning for a noon press availability, then for a session in his office after that was done. I’d been out of my office for about an hour, and the red message light was on when I returned. I hit the button and robo-voice said: “You have 22 unheard voice mail messages.” And they kept right on coming while I was taking down the voice mails and returning them. It was the media-relations version of trying to walk up a “down” escalator.

*Editors’ note: abattoir [ab-a-twahr] = slaughterhouse (we had to look it up too)