S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Does traveling from the nation's heartland broaden a leader's outlook?

People growing up in America's heartland states can vary widely between being political conservatives or progressives. As it turns out, I am a "progressive" and have a broader outlook on issues. As a child I traveled several times back and forth between Wyoming, my home state - and Texas, my adopted state. Neither state has a reputation for being as progressive as people on the East or West coasts, but I should not over-generalize.
Living in the heartland usually means spending a good deal of time "getting from here to there." All such travel should be a broadening experience. But that does not necessarily follow with a number of heartland politicians with whom I remain fascinated, men who have already, or will influence the course of history.

Minnesota produced Senators Paul Wellstone and Walter Mondale. These two were elected by Minnesotans who often reject "rugged individualism" in favor of a deep sense of obligation to the community. Senator Wellstone epitomized this value. Very progressive, he died tragically in an airplane crash several years ago. Senator Fritz Mondale, also a progressive, became President Carter's vice-president. Many of us watched C-SPAN this weekend as the former president and vice-president were reunited at an interesting and important conference in Athens, Georgia. Online Athens carried the conference story, from which I quote:
Carter spoke to several hundred people in the . . . Georgia Center for Continuing Education and a national television audience in a Sunday morning wrap-up of a conference that brought Carter, former Vice President Walter Mondale and other key members of the administration to Athens.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and some distinguished adversaries also participated in the UGA-sponsored conference, including former Sen. Howard Baker, a Tennessee Republican who also was chief of staff for former President Ronald Reagan.
Wyoming was the home state of Vice-President Dick Cheney, as well as my own birthplace. Former Vice-President Walter Mondale had some strong words at the conference about the current Veep's distorted outlook. Columnist John Nichols of "The Online Beat" at The Nation headlined his current post this way: "Cheney Has Stepped Way Over the Line." I quote from it:
Mondale says there are limits to what a Vice President can and should do. And it should mean a lot that Mondale is arguing forcefully that Dick Cheney has exceeded those limits with results that are as practically dangerous as they are politically troubling.
"I think that Cheney has stepped way over the line," Mondale, who during his tenure as Carter's Vice President served as a senior adviser to the President and a prominent spokesman for Administration policies, explained Friday in an aggressive critique of the current Vice President during the opening session of a three-day University of Georgia conference on Carter's presidency.
"I think Cheney's been at the center of cooking up farcical estimates of national risks, weapons of mass destruction and the 9/11 connection to Iraq," Mondale continued in his Friday morning address, which focused on one of the most serious complaints aboit Cheney's tenure in the Bush White House: the penchant of the Vice President and his aides to pressure federal agencies, particularly the Central Intelligence Agency, to produce reports that reflect Cheney's biases rather than reality.
. . . Cheney got the reports he wanted. And President Bush, who meets daily with his Vice President and has made it clear that he defers to Cheney on a host of foreign and domestic policy matters, incorporated Cheney-certified theories and schemes into his public statements early in 2003.
. . . The current President has not been as deliberate or as muscular as Carter and other occupants of the Oval Office were in defining the role of the Vice President. Rather, Bush has accepted Cheney's ill-thought interventions, just as the chief executive has stood by the man many refer to as his "co-president."
Wyoming and (OCP) Bush's Texas are unlikely sources of royalty. The "imperial presidency" view of the current administration would have been more understandable had it originated from one of the U.S. (so-called by conservatives) "elitist" coasts. Sisyphus weighs in with this pertinent post titled - "Imperial Vice Presidency." To quote,
The Office of the Vice Presidency (OVP) is acting almost like a parallel executive branch with Cheney is filling a vacuum. The appearance is he has a puppet master-to-puppet working relationship with Bush.
Wyoming is a large state with very few people, actually fewer that the Texas city in which I now live. None of us can claim to be royal, least of all our current vice-president. Both of "my" states are geographically broad in scope and in topography, i.e., it takes a long time to get from here to there in either. Texas' political majority is conservative Republican, as is Wyoming's, though the latter is less so now. One of my favorite former senators is Alan K. Simpson (R-WY), a very smart, witty and relatively moderate former Senate Whip. Like many Wyoming U.S. legislative members, he is anything but parochial. Worldly, erudite and wise, the Senate is poorer for his retirement, though he recently served on the Iraq Study Group.
Likewise from the heartland is the current Republican senator Chuck Hagel from Wyoming's neighbor state, Nebraska. Another bright, tough and non-parochial leader, Hagel opposes the war in Iraq and thus, the Current administration. Check out what he said recently. From Think Progress comes the headline, "Hagel Says Cheney Criticism Is ‘Complete Nonsense’. Quoting from the post,
"Last weekend on Fox News Sunday, Vice President Dick Cheney claimed congressional opposition to the administration’s escalation plan undermines the troops. Cheney said “you cannot run a war by committee,” and whatever Congress does “would not affect the president’s ability to carry out his policy.”
Today, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) said it “is complete nonsense to say we’re undercutting the support of the troops.” Hagel, a Vietnam veteran, said that as a soldier in 1968, he “would have welcomed the Congress of the United States to pay a little attention as to what was going on.”
Our current president (OCP) George W. Bush is from Midland, Texas. Though located in the center of our nation, west Texas is seen as in the Southwest, not the heartland. It is definitely more conservative than our neighboring states to the north. And tragically, there have been more lives lost from the military in Texas than any other state. Currently I am looking for hopeful clues regarding the war in Iraq for the remaining two years of the Bush administration. OCP says we need to trust him on this. Note this current headline regarding tomorrow night's State of the Union speech to Congress and the American people: "Bush: Iraq war plan will prove its worth" in a USA Today interview with our current president. (My post's title is linked to exerpts from the full interview: "Pondering legacy is left to others").
Written by David Jackson, the interview is quoted as follows:
President Bush can't guarantee that all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by the end of his presidency because "we don't set timetables," and said the war on terrorism will remain a "long struggle" for his successors, he told USA TODAY in an interview.
Bush believes Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki can clamp down on sectarian violence, and he warned Iran not to aid Iraqi insurgents. Bush's comments came in a wide-ranging chat Friday to preview his State of the Union speech, in which he'll argue "what happens in Iraq matters to your security here at home."
. . . "The best way to convince them that this makes sense is to implement it and show them that it works," Bush said in the 27-minute Oval Office interview.
Texas was the home state of President Lyndon B. Johnson, who left office because of the war in Vietnam. I was at home in Texas at the time taking care of four toddlers. I traveled very little at that time. Definitely not a conservative, Johnson, unfortunately was unable to extricate the country from Southeast Asia. And now we are again mired down in a terrible overseas war. Here is a quote from the exerpts from the above USA Today interview by David Jackson. On the subject of the war, I quote from the Q & A section:

Q: Did you see The Washington Post historical forum on your legacy, because one of the historians, Eric Foner, called you the worst president ever.

A: No, I didn't see it.

Q: Is that something that bothers you?

A: My legacy will be written long after I'm president.

Q: I know you're a fan of history, though. Do you see yourself as a possible Truman?

A: I've got two years to be president. I guess people with idle time like yourself can think about this. I've got a job to do, and I'm going to do it.

Q: Have you read about Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam?

A: Yes.

Q: Do you draw any lessons from that?

A: Yes, win. Win, when you're in a battle for the security … if it has to do with the security of your country, you win.

Q: Are you worried about suffering LBJ's fate?

A: You can ask the legacy question 20 different ways. I've got a job to do as president. People are going to analyze my presidency for a long time. All you can do is do the best you can, make decisions based upon principles, and lead. And that's what I have done and will continue to do.

OCP and the VEEP have their narrowest outlooks, I believe, on the subject of constitutional guarantees of freedom for U.S. citizens. A recent story in the NYT on NSA domestic surveillance details the current status of the program, now operated under the FISA court. Here is what OCP has to say on that subject, again from USA Today interview exerpts:
Q: Do you see any changes in the (terrorist surveillance) program?

A: I'm not going to talk about the specifics of the program. You know it's a highly classified program, but I can say yesterday's ruling was very important for the security of this country. The program goes on, and it will make it easier for future presidents to accept the program.

Q: Can you say whether there's any change in the operation of the program?

A: I can say that this program has not been weakened.
Outlooks must balance for the country to survive. Fortunately good centrist Republicans like Simpson and Hagel, and good elder Democrats such as Carter and Mondale are speaking out in order to help right the ship of state again.

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