Europe, Rebooted

It’s not often when a major historical event in your lifetime, causes you to rethink everything you thought you knew, but one such event, for me, officially took place on January 1, 1993.   

That was the date when Czechoslovakia officially split into two countries which we now know as the Czech Republic and Slovakia.   I remember reading about how President Vaclav Havel expressed some remorse at his inability to hold his nation together but he accepted that it would be better just to split.  

It was significant for me, because here was an example of two groups of people who were grown-ups about their differences and resolved their otherwise irreconcilable viewpoints without any bloodshed.   Where previously my general opinion was that, when a separatist movement exists, unity was more important, even if outright hostility and maybe even a war was necessary to maintain it.   

My opinion shifted on January 1, 1993.  It became, with relatively minor tweaks in the more than two decades since, a general attitude that begins with asking why the separatists want to be separate.   Do they have the resources to be fully autonomous?   Which side has the more compelling argument?  Maintaining the status quo, or going their separate ways?

I’ve been thinking about the fate of Czechoslovakia in the aftermath of the “Brexit” vote a couple of days ago.   By all accounts, both the Czech Republic and Slovakia are thriving, and as far as I can tell, there is no resentment in either nation directed towards the other.   

It’s an interesting paradox: as the global economy and advances in technology have made international borders less vital (for the most part) than they were even a hundred years ago, there still persist a large number of people who seek to build up those borders even larger and prevent more people from crossing them.  Separatist movements around the world, large and small, are everywhere.   Some of the peoples who want to separate from their host nation have literally never had their own nation (Chechnya, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Kosovo all come to mind).

The issues that led to the UK voting to leave the European Union are complex and varied.   No single word or catchphrase can cut it, but I can understand the resentment.   People felt like the austerity measures, for example, imposed a burden on them that felt … too heavy. And from unelected officials, too.  

I confess that anyone in England who felt, for example, that they were constantly bailing out other countries (Greece and Spain, in particular), maybe they weren’t entirely wrong.   I live in a state that, as a whole, sends more money to the US federal government than gets back from the government in services.   If I were to feel a degree of resentment towards the states that get more services than they pay for (Alabama and Mississippi, for example), why shouldn’t the Brits feel the same way?

But that feeling only looks at one piece of a much larger, more complex puzzle.  Yes, I’m definitely saddened by the Brexit vote.   Those who supported it might feel a bit of short term relief but they will soon learn that rebuilding their economic infrastructure, and renegotiating the relevant treaties will not be as easy as they might think.   

And there is cause for hope.   Scotland and Ireland both overwhelmingly voted to stay in the EU.   Might they secede from the UK so that they don’t have to leave?   That’s a really strange paradox here.  

Very few mistakes are truly irreversible.  After all, we elected Barack Obama after eight years of George W Bush.  The United States Constitution — the paragon and the shining example fledgling democracies might look to as they try to establish themselves — is actually version 2.0 (even before we get to the 27 amendments that have changed or clarified things) of the layout of our government.   The Articles of Confederation were certainly a worthwhile first try but we rightly threw it out and started over.  

And if it takes a few years for England to realize the scope of the mistake, so be it.   Maybe there’s room for helping the Eurozone get even better too.  


Try not.  Do or do not.  There is no try.  

In 1928, Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover announced his intention to seek the presidency of the United States.  Once he secured the republican nomination, his campaign slogan was “a chicken in every pot, a car in every garage.”

His plan as president was to continue the economic policies of his two immediate predecessors, as the decade had up until that point, been quite prosperous.  

Unfortunately, the economy started to fall apart in September, 1929, a mere six months after he took the oath of office as president.  Then came Black Friday, October 29, when the stock market crashed.  The ensuing panic, coupled with economic downturns worldwide, snowballed into what we now know as the Great Depression.  

In looking back at the presidency of Herbert Hoover, it’s easy to blame him and him alone for allowing the depression to become what it was.   As I’ve already hinted, it was the culmination of a decade of economic policies that can be characterized, if we are being as charitable as possible, as shortsighted.  Additionally, prior recessions, depressions, and panics worked themselves out in time.  Had I been Hoover, I probably would have assumed the same would be true this time.  

Doing nothing, in the face of a crisis, never looks good.  Even if all evidence suggests that doing nothing is absolutely the right thing to do.  

But that was Hoover’s downfall.  His inaction was perceived as inability, and so it shouldn’t be a surprise that he lost his reelection bid in 1932 to former New York governor Franklin D Roosevelt.  
Roosevelt didn’t have a magic plan to get us out of the depression and he knew it.   He just knew that inaction simply wasn’t working so something else was needed.  He even admitted that he didn’t know which ideas would actually work (or for that matter, which ones would hold up to judicial scrutiny).  

And despite that uncertainty, voters not only elected him in 1932, but they re-elected him in each of the next three election cycles.   In the end, we needed a war to truly end what had become known as the Great Depression.  

I mention this anecdote because America has a gun problem.  It was laid bare last week in Orlando in the Pulse nightclub shooting but it’s so much more than high profile events like that.   Domestic violence, suicide, accidents.   Doing nothing really isn’t an option.  

I’m not pretending to have all of the answers.  Or even any of them.   The only thing I’m truly sure of, is that doing nothing is not the answer.  

It’s fair to say that we ought to at least start out with the recognition that we do have a problem.  Take an attitude that there’s no such thing as a bad idea to start with, poke holes in them all to measure their practicality, and the ones that still hold water, should be tried.  

If they don’t work, or if they’re not constitutional, scrap those ideas and try again.  

Then we can keep doing that until the problem is actually fixed.   
Just like the Great Depression.  

I Amend an Earlier Entry

Last August, I posted an entry where I hypothesized that the 2016 election would most closely resemble the 1988 election.   

While I stand by my reasoning at the time, new information — and the net result of the primaries — has caused me to rethink this position.  

Indeed, now that we know that in November, the matchup will be between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, a strong argument can be made that this year is completely without historical precedent.  Their respective ages alone can justify this argument.  

Every election cycle, we have famous people running for president.  But the degree of fame achieved by both candidates prior to their runs is a factor worth noting.  

If we factor out years where the incumbent president sought re-election, there are only two years that come even close: 1844 and 1908.   

In the former, the matchup was between James Polk and Henry Clay, both of whom had previously been speaker of the house.
In the latter, the matchup was between the departing president’s hand-picked successor (William Howard Taft) and William Jennings Bryan, one of the most famous ministers in the country and someone who had lost the presidency twice previously…

(Note that despite my previous statement about excluding incumbent presidents seeking re-election, I was still tempted to put 1892 in this list, since it was the only time in history that the matchup was between the sitting president and a former president…)

So I’m going to say 2016 will resemble one of those three years.   I recently observed that this will be the first time since 1908 that the outgoing president has campaigned on behalf of his party’s chosen successor.  

In 1908, William Howard Taft had previously served as Secretary of War and was an accomplished lawyer.   That sounds a little like Clinton.  William Jennings Bryan was a populist and, some would argue, a demagogue whose base included a lot of evangelical Christians.  That sounds a lot like Trump.  

It’s not a perfect comparison, I concede, but assuming both Clinton and Trump remain healthy and neither runs into legal troubles, it does look like 2016 will resemble 1908.   

Regardless of whether we want this to supersede my blog entry about the 1988 election, though, one thing is true about both the 1908 and 1988 elections: the party in the White House stayed in the White House.  

When you figure that many republicans are already looking to 2020, is that so unreasonable given everything else?

I’m Angry

President Obama has had to give way too many speeches of condolence and consolation during his presidency after a mass shooting somewhere in this country.  You can see it in his eyes and in his face that he hates doing it too.  

Not that I expect the presidency to be all fun and games but this is one aspect of the past eight years that has been happening far too often, especially in comparison with just about any of his non-wartime predecessors.   

I can see it now.  The “I told you so” attitude of NRA president Wayne LaPierre, who famously said that only a good guy with guns can stop a bad guy with guns. After all, the Pulse nightclub in Orlando has/had a “no guns” policy which left the victims defenseless as the shooting took place.  Right?

Wrong!   A properly enforced “no guns” policy would’ve stopped the shooter before he even went in.  Pretty much the moment LaPierre uttered that bit of lunacy, he immediately supplanted the argument that the founding fathers didn’t envision the kinds of weapons we have available to us today, as the most patently inane and ridiculous argument on either side of the gun debate.   

I’m angry that I even have to be writing this.  

The shooter was apparently a militant Muslim.  Fine.  I’d believe he was a member of any one of the more conservative branches of any of the three abrahamic religions since they all are quite capable of committing this gruesome act of terror.   Especially when given access to the weapons used.  Militant Islam is no different, in my mind, from militant Christianity (like the shooter in Colorado Springs who attacked a Planned Parenthood clinic) or from militant Judaism (like anyone who tries to demonize the Palestinians who want nothing more than to stop Israel from building settlements on the West Bank).

I’m angry that so much religion is used to foster hatred, distrust, and xenophobia.  

I have a message for all gun owners.   If you honestly think that the NRA represents your interests, you’ve been misled.   The NRA represents gun manufacturers.  If you care about responsible gun usage and ownership, you should recognize that the NRA is more interested in maximizing the profits of those who design and build your guns than anything you might do.   It’s a nice but vicious circle: make you afraid that the government is “coming for your guns” and then scare up more sales.   More sales means more people getting guns who shouldn’t have them.  More people having guns who shouldn’t have them, means more mass shootings.   More mass shootings means more opportunity to argue that the government wants to regulate your guns away.  And all throughout, stymie any attempt to pass meaningful gun legislation.  

I’m angry that one of the best potential starting points can’t work in the current environment.  

On paper, we all should absolutely favor legislation that prevents anyone on the “no fly list” from buying a gun.   After all, if we think a terrorist or extremist might want to hijack a plane, why should we let that same person buy a gun?  Can’t you argue that all mass shootings are acts of terror?  Of course, the reality is quite different because the “no fly list” itself is, at best, constitutionally questionable because it denies due process of law.  There is no mechanism for appealing your presence on the list even if the only reason why you’re there is because you share a name with someone on the list.  

I’m angry that I even have to be angry over this nonsense.   The victims don’t need our anger.   They need our compassion.  They need our support.  They need our love, more than ever.   

Then again, that’s what we all need.   And there’s far too little of it out there.   


It’s been more than 100 years…

President Obama isn’t afraid to go out and give speeches lambasting the presumptive Republican nominee for president in this year’s election, Donald Trump.  You can tell, then, that he’s eager for the Democratic Party to have a “presumptive” nominee so that he can campaign on her behalf, too, even if we don’t know yet who she’s going to be.  

But that makes for an interesting observation.   It might once have been more commonplace, but it has been a really long time since the last time a sitting president actually campaigned on behalf of the candidate chosen by his party to be his successor.  

And by that I mean the last time it happened was in the year 1908, when Teddy Roosevelt campaigned on behalf of William Howard Taft.   (For the purposes of this discussion we don’t need to get into the falling out between the two men as a result of Taft’s policies….)

Since then, there have been eight sitting presidents who were not seeking reelection on their own (four who were constrained by the 22nd amendment from running again and four who simply chose not to run again) and none of them campaigned on behalf of their successors.  

First up was Woodrow Wilson in 1920.  He probably would have (and could have) campaigned for James Cox but his health was failing so you can’t blame him for not wanting to deal with the stresses of the campaign trail.   

Then came “Silent Cal” Coolidge in 1928.   Like Wilson eight years earlier, he probably could have helped Herbert Hoover (who in hindsight didn’t need it) but he hated campaigning.   

Fast forward 24 years to 1952 when Truman chose not to seek another term.   He almost definitely perceived his own low poll numbers as being more of a harm than a benefit to Adlai Stevenson.   In hindsight, we can’t know if Truman would have helped or hurt.  

Which brings us to 1960, when popular outgoing President Eisenhower almost definitely could have helped Richard Nixon with his election chances.  Except that Ike hated Nixon and everyone knew it.  

And then there was 1968, the most recent time in American history when a president was eligible to seek reelection and chose not to.  LBJ may have been a lot of things but he wasn’t stupid and he knew that the mess that was Vietnam already doomed his own political ambitions so he wisely stayed out of the fray on behalf of Hubert Humphrey.   Humphrey would have lost regardless.   

Moving on to twenty years later, Ronald Reagan’s health pretty much precluded him from helping George H W Bush.   He was already our oldest president so we can’t really fault him for it.   Bush, like Hoover sixty years earlier, didn’t need the help anyway.   

One of the many what-if scenarios that Al Gore undoubtedly ought to have asked himself about the 2000 election, is whether he did the right thing by asking Bill Clinton not to campaign for him.   Gore must have seen the Clinton scandals (including the impeachment as more of a negative despite Clinton’s generally positive approval ratings…)  Of the eight elections I’m mentioning in this posting, I suspect this one is most likely to have made a difference if the president had campaigned for his successor.   

In 2008, George W Bush’s poll numbers were worse than Truman’s were in 1952, so he probably wouldn’t have helped John McCain anyway.   

So we have a basis for comparison between 2016 and 1908.   Let’s just see how much president Obama can help the democratic nominee, whoever she might be.