Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Way back in March of 2014, I posted on who I thought nominee-presumptive Hillary Clinton’s best running mates might be.  Here we are more than 18 months later, exactly one year away from the presidential election, and maybe 8 or 9 months away from Hillary having to make this decision for herself.  As a recap, back then I suggested:

  1. Mark Warner (former senator from and governor of Virginia)
  2. Evan Bayh (former senator from and governor of Indiana)
  3. Julian Castro (mayor of San Antonio)
  4. Brian Schweitzer (former governor of Montana)
  5. Martin Heinrich (senator from New Mexico)
  6. Tim Kaine (former senator from and governor of Virginia)
  7. Michael Bennet (senator from Colorado)
  8. John Lynch (former governor of New Hampshire)
  9. Sherrod Brown (senator from Ohio)
  10. Tim Roemer (former congressman from Indiana)

What a difference 18 months can make in the world of politics.  Some choices were weak ones to begin with (Roemer, Lynch).  Some prospects have compromised their chances in some way (Schweitzer gave a truly bizarre interview where he implied that Eric Cantor was gay.)  And some new figures have emerged on the scene.

Here are a few considerations that altered my thinking between now and then:

  • The unexpected grassroots momentum of Bernie Sanders.  I knew Hillary would face some competition for the nomination, but I was genuinely surprised at how robust Sanders’ campaign turned out to be.  The hashtag-generating, email-circulating, borderline-trollish behavior of the “Berniebro” notwithstanding, Sanders has successfully pushed Clinton to the left, and demonstrated that democratic socialism was no longer a fringe belief system, but a viable perspective that deserves a seat at the table.  In terms of the veepstakes, that means Clinton cannot pick a “Blue Dog” Democrat as her husband once did with Al Gore.
  • The disastrous 2014 and 2015 elections.  They wiped out the party nationally, particularly in places that might not vote for Democrats on a presidential level, but remained viable on a state or local level.  West Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas- dirt poor states which had high numbers of registered Democrats as recently as 2008- just keep getting redder and redder.  This should focus Hillary’s meta-strategy on not just winning but creating a strong ticket nationally, one that can replenish the bench.  Her party will, 10 years from now, need congressmen and state assemblymen, and state attorneys general in 2016 if it wishes to offer compelling candidates in the future.
  • Sit down for this one, ’cause imma blow your mind.  I think it is possible that Hillary might pick a female running mate.  That’s right.  If we pick apart her aforementioned problem about seeming too safe, too much of a known quantity, unable to really inspire people, the prospect of the first all-female ticket on a major party would shatter that preconception.  Some people might think that America isn’t ready for that, or some nonsense.  Since women gained the right to vote nationally, there have been…let’s see here…24 presidential elections, and with two major parties, that’s 48 presidential tickets.  46 of them have been all male.  2 of them had one woman in the less prestigious vice-presidential spot.  There are now dozens of qualified female candidates, more than ever before in American history.  Don’t give me any of this nonsense about America being “ready” for an all-female ticket.
  • Secretary of State Clinton also has to navigate the directions her opponents have gone.  The sideshow that the Republican nomination has become, where at one point the leading three candidates had never held elective office before, means that the Democrats have to not just generate excitement but run on professionalism and competence.  Anecdotally, I remember an old co-worker of my dad’s who hated liberals, but just felt he had to vote for Obama in 2008 because of Sarah Palin’s manifest incompetence and birdbath-deep knowledge of the issues.  That kind of “better the devil you know” thinking can actually help wrack up not only wins but majorities. Even if someone saner like Rubio or Bush is nominated, Clinton’s ticket has to accentuate the “do you really what to put these guys in charge?” mentality.  So, there are no true “Hail Marys,” no generals, no career businessmen, and nobody who is a novice to the art of governing.
  • If at all possible, insofar as Hillary is looking for senators, she will probably prefer those who serve in states with Democratic governors, and thus will be replaced- at least temporarily- with Democrats.
  • Other than that, the basic calculus is in place: avoid oldsters and avoid north-easterners.
  1.  Sherrod Brown: Brown has made a career for himself as a scrappy populist with disheveled hair, traits that should recommend himself to Bernie fans.  Although Brown recently endorsed Hillary, picking him telegraphs to the Bernie Bro that their concerns have been heeded, and views such as theirs will have a voice in a Clinton pt. II administration.  As a known opponent of monied interests and having a strong blue-collar background, he has the anti-establishment chops that Hillary may need to generate extra enthusiasm.  Running for re-election in 2012, Brown ran significantly ahead of Obama in Ohio, which may very well recommend him as a avenue to win the mother of all swing states.  The only real drawback is that John Kasich (who is himself a strong vice-presidential contender for the Republicans) would get to pick his successor.
  2.  Michael Bennet: As disastrous news swept the Democratic party from nearly all corners on Election Night, 2014, John Hickenlooper’s narrow re-election as governor of Colorado made me think: “this is great for Michael Bennet.”  Although Bennet is running for re-election in 2016, if he is somehow picked and somehow wins both the presidential race and his Senate race, a Democratic governor would choose his replacement.  Anyway, Bennet is young, from an important swing state, and has a key trait that assisted the Clinton-Gore ’96 campaign: soccer moms.  That is, Bennet’s stock in trade is in education, having once been the Denver Superintendent of Schools.  Michael Bennet is a figure made to appeal to suburbanites who might favor Republicans on fiscal issues, but are appalled by the global warming denialism and conspiratorial mindset.
  3.  Mark Warner: A Warner vice-presidency will stick a sock into the mouth of those who argue that Democrats are bad for business.  The former cellular executive proves that left-leaning politics and financial success don’t contradict, and his experience as a governor and senator of a major swing state complete what looks like a great resume on paper.  His story could provide a compelling counter-narrative if someone like Bush or Rubio picks someone like Carly Fiorina as a running mate.  On the other hand, Warner dropped the ball a bit as the keynote speaker at the 2008 DNC, and ended up having a surprising glass jaw in his re-election in 2014.  He was expected to win handily even in a terrible year for Democrats, and ended up prevailing by less than a percentage point.  To be sure, 2014 had terrible turnout, but it has turned Warner into something less than the surefire winner he was a short time ago.
  4.  Amy Klobuchar: She’s won two commanding victories in a state Republicans want to win badly.  She consistently receives stellar approval ratings in an age of widespread dislike of government.  And she now has a book out, The Senator Next Door, that has been very well received, and is viewed in some quarters as a clarion call for humbler, more responsive government officials.  She’s made remarkably few enemies and is part of the refreshing culture of teamwork that thrives among women in the Senate.  And senators from Minnesota have made some great vice presidents in the past, as Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale would agree.   Ironically, if a man was the presidential candidate, Klobuchar would be an odds-on favorite to join the ticket, but she won’t get the nod if Clinton dismisses out of hand the idea of a female running mate.
  5.  Gary Locke: Making his first appearance on my veepstakes list is Gary Locke, a man with a splendid resume who accentuates competence.  He won’t take any swing states off the map for Hillary, but has proven himself capable many times over as governor of Washington, Secretary of Commerce, and most recently as Ambassador to China.  His apparent dutifulness and even dullness show sparks of life, such as when he allowed Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng to seek refuge at the American embassy in Beijing, and flying economy class on his flights.  He would also make history as the first Asian-American on a major party ticket.
  6. Julian Castro: If you want a new face that can change the political calculus, this one is it.  He was mayor of San Antonio, he gave the keynote address at the 2012 convention, and is currently getting some federal experience as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.  He has youth, he has charisma to burn, and now has both executive and federal experience.  Moreover, he could be a long-term investment on making Texas and Arizona, with large numbers of Hispanic youths, purple states down the line, although this may not happen in the 2016 election.  The only problem- and his reason for dropping since the last ranking- is my realization that the San Antonio mayoralty is somewhat symbolic, and involves relatively little day-to-day governing.  In other words, Castro’s readiness to serve as president may come into question–but we’ll see how he does at HUD.
  7. Tammy Baldwin: Talk about a slam dunk for winning leftist enthusiasm.  Baldwin, the junior senator from Wisconsin, is one of the more progressive members of the Senate, where she will have served for four years as of 2016, after several years in the House beforehand.  She would also be the first LGBTQ person on a presidential ticket (well, openly anyway, depending on your conclusions about James Buchanan.)  If you want to make cynical young people in cities care enough to vote, this would be a strong pick.  And having an opponent of same-sex marriage- a near-certainty no matter who the Republicans pick- have to look Baldwin in the eye during the vice-presidential debate could make for some compelling television.  Although Baldwin’s ascendency to the vice-presidency would mean the onerous Scott Walker appointing her replacement, perhaps Hillary will think the risks are worth the rewards, and that Baldwin’s seat won’t determine control of the Senate.
  8. Ron Kind: If we are looking at Wisconsin anyway, let’s turn to the House.  Kind has consistently won in the blue-collarish, mostly rural 3rd district of Wisconsin covering LaCross and Eau Claire- the kind of wavering Democratic voters Hillary must be eager to shore up.  His work as a football player and an ally of William Proxmire, the senator from Wisconsin who famously gave out Golden Fleece Awards for excessive government spending, could make him an appealing candidate.  And he still has more experience in Congress than fellow Wisconsinite Paul Ryan had in 2012.
  9. Evan Bayh: All right, fine.  Bayh breaks most of the rules I set out, including no dorky-looking Blue Dogs and the obvious rule against two dynasties on one ticket.  But it is hard to find fault with his talent for winning landslide elections in a red state; even Bill Clinton said that one day he looked forward to voting for Bayh on a presidential ticket.  And the poor guy has had his heart broken by Gore, Kerry, AND Obama, according to some accounts the second-or-third choice each time.  He lacks charisma, but if you are Hillary, a flair for avoiding controversy and unwanted attention is probably more desirable.  Nevertheless, this will not excite the grassroots; Bayh went directly to the Fox News Analyst circuit after retiring from the Senate in 2010, and his wife is a corporate lobbyist.  Still, for heartland wholesomeness, Bayh is hard to beat, and since he isn’t a senator anymore, you don’t have to risk forfeiting a seat.  (His father, Birch Bayh, is also one of my heroes, and is the only surviving senator who voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act.)
  10. Jack Reed: Another guy who violates my rules: he is relatively old (almost 70) and is from New England.  What makes Reed different is his military service: the man was a West Point cadet, and has reportedly been asked to serve as Secretary of Defense for the last two vacancies and may have been on Obama’s shortlist for the vice-presidency at one point.  Reed is a no-nonsense, constituency-oriented man who would make mincemeat out of a careless Republican opponent in the vice-presidential debate.

And Tim Kaine, Martin Heinrich, and Jeff Merkley just narrowly miss out.  What do you think?  Am I off my rocker, or have I forgotten someone important?  Let me know in the comments below- and I hope to do another one of these for the Republican nominee— once we have a better idea who that nominee is!


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It has been a long time since I have tackled the 2016 election, and I do so with a certain degree of reluctance.  Talking about modern politics in public is something I don’t do very easily unless I am with a very small, very trusted group of friends, usually of similar temperament.  Sometimes, contemporary political situations made me very anxious, trigger my recurring problem of nervous tics, cost me sleep, or compel me to become more withdrawn and avoid social situations where talk of the election might come up.  I am a historian of politics and religion who hates talking about politics and religion.  It’s a paradox, but that’s my life.

So it is with this reluctance and hesitance that I find myself in a rare situation: not knowing which candidate to support.  I know which ones I won’t be supporting.  I won’t be supporting any of the Republicans, for example.  If their party still had leaders of character and perception like Mark Hatfield or Charles Percy I’d give it some careful consideration, but that ship sailed a long time ago.  And I know which Democrats I won’t be supporting.  Jim Webb has devolved from a cagey Iraq War dissident to an angry misogynist defending the honor of the Confederate flag.  No thank you.  Martin O’Malley inaugurated some solid reforms in Maryland, including necessary gun-control measures, but Baltimore’s slow smoldering into a racially charged pressure cooker, and O’Malley’s inability to detect that this was even a problem during his eight years as governor, disqualify him from serious consideration.  Lincoln Chafee?  I like him a lot, and his memoir Against the Tide was one of my favorite senatorial autobiographies, but let’s get real.

This leaves us with two candidates who are running, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and one who ~might~ run, Joe Biden.  As I consider my choices, I find myself weighing a complex mixture of qualifications, temperament, character, chance of success, and the long-term consequences their candidacy might have on the fortunes of American progressivism.

Every online test I’ve taken that shows which candidate you are most in agreement with generated one consistent result: my views on the issues are closest to Bernie Sanders.  We share a similar long-term hope for the United States: we want to see it become a social democratic state more aligned with the Scandinavian countries.  We both interpret the major problem of the last generation or so of American life is a massive maldistribution of wealth in favor of higher earners, and a deterioration of the average American’s spending power and social safety net.  He envisions an America where health care, education, and a clean environment are rights, rather than carefully hoarded privileges.  So do I.

In many respects, he reminds me of George McGovern (that’s a good thing, by the way), a man I have spent nearly 10 years studying.  Like McGovern, he is seen as far too left-wing, even for rank-and-file Democrats, with a fierce antiwar streak, and a finger-pointing, no-holds-barred approach that reminds one of an Old Testament prophet haranguing a wayward people.  Their supporters share plenty of similarities, too.  Both had a strong contingent of mobilized grassroots supporters using innovative new methods to reach voters, but are distrusted by party leadership.  And each of them faced an establishment nominee-in-waiting: McGovern had Ed Muskie, Sanders has Clinton.

You might think all of this would mean Sanders is a slam-dunk choice for me, but he isn’t.  One lesson I learned from McGovern is that someone can have the same position as yourself on every major issue and still not be the best candidate.  As much as I admire McGovern’s visceral hatred of the Vietnam War and the carnage it caused, I am not yet completely convinced he would have made a very good president.  Performing this challenging job successfully requires more than avowing the correct position.  George had virtually no executive ability; he refused to deal with administrative details during the two years he was in charge of the Food for Peace program in the Kennedy presidency, and in his retirement, he managed a Connecticut hotel so poorly that it folded in a couple of years.  McGovern couldn’t run anything with visible competence. While his passion and his advocacy and his moral vision made him an exceptional senator, I doubt very much that he would have been an effective president.  If I could change one presidential outcome of the 20th century, I’d probably take Hubert Humphrey in 1968 or Walter Mondale in 1984– both are less purely progressive, but both were significantly better managers who could have shepherded their agenda through a skeptical Congress.  Frankly, I am not convinced how well Bernie Sanders would do once he had to stop campaigning and start governing.  Watching President Obama these last seven years reminded me that executive experience is not unimportant, and Sanders hasn’t run anything more than the city of Burlington, a small and in many ways deeply idiosyncratic city that might be called the Wasilla of the northeast.  And, of course, like McGovern, he would start the general election as the heavy underdog; and all the vision in the world can’t help if you are unable to win.  It might be best for Sanders to remain the “conscience of the Senate” and advocate from that office, rather than the presidency.

So what about Hillary, then?  In 2008, I watched every debate from both major parties, and while I started out quite anti-Hillary, she slowly wore me down.  Her performances at almost every debate were careful, insightful, and knowledgable.  She was clearly competent, and while she stayed in the race long after it stopped being possible for her to win, she was ultimately gracious in defeat, and gave an outstanding convention speech for Obama.  She might also be the most broadly qualified candidate in recent memory.  She gained a knowledge of how the White House works as the most politically engaged First Lady in American history.  Although I considered her a carpetbagger when she became my senator in 2001, Hillary did a surprisingly great job, spending plenty of time doing constituent outreach, even in hostile Fulton and Hamilton counties.  And finally, she has the foreign relations chops from 4 years as Secretary of State, brokering the opening-up of Myanmar, facilitating trade agreements, and working as a roving ambassador for women’s and children’s rights.

The rap against Hillary has always been in her persona, and how she carries herself.  She often comes across as shrill, imperious, and calculating in a country that generally wants warmer, affable candidates with a self-depricating sense of humor and a natural flair with the common touch.  She’ll never have her husband’s charisma, but she does have a focus  and an internal discipline that always eluded the first President Clinton.  And of course, there is the ongoing, unfolding email scandal.  In the grand scheme of things, I am not convinced that this is much more than a cooked-up faux scandal.  It’s the kind of thing where you have to be told it’s a scandal in order to perceive it as such.  Let’s be honest, how many of us would have thought before all this broke that it would be that troubling for a cabinet member to receive and send emails on her own terms?  If you are a Republican and someone told you Condi Rice used a private email server under analogous circumstances, would you have been that upset?  Given the rules that existed at the time, the private email server issue was, at worst, an injudicious choice out of step with the Obama administration’s “best practices” policies.  But there is not very much that I find unethical, and certainly nothing illegal, about it.  Here’s the thing: you can’t serve in politics without making mistakes, even big mistakes.  But you learn from them; you cannot be an effective leader without them.  What scares me is that the latest polls show Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina collectively polling about 54% of the Republican vote.  To put this differently, over half of Republicans’ first choice for president has never served in a political office before.  Yikes.

But maybe my biggest reason for looking more closely at Clinton comes from a spiritual and ethical place, as strange as this might see at first.  In my own spirituality, I am a proud, social-gospel progressive Christian.  I see the gospels as not only pointing the way toward greater communion with God, but also a greater sense of interpersonal responsibility toward each other.  The Christ I encounter in the New Testament said not a single word about abortion or same-sex marriage or illegal immigration, but weighed in heavily against the larger social sins of poverty, neglect, and hunger.  As she told one crowd recently, “”I have always cherished the Methodist Church because it gave us the great gift of personal salvation but also the great obligation of social gospel…and I took that very seriously and have tried, tried to be guided in my own life ever since as an advocate for children and families, for women and men around the world who are oppressed and persecuted, denied their human rights and human dignity.” Sanders, while Jewish in background, is in some ways the most secular presidential candidate in living memory.  As much as Sanders is upset about plutocratic politics in the U.S., it comes almost wholly from economic determinism and class politics, divorced from any real ethical or spiritual concern.

However, Clinton is also decidedly hawkish.  She voted to authorize the Iraq War, which Sanders opposed from the very beginning.  While supportive of the recent accords with Iran, her language is decidedly more bellicose than President Obama’s.   I cherish peace and abhor unnecessary war.  But I remember that even McGovern voted for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that inaugurated the Vietnam War.  Again, people make mistakes, the question is what they take away from them, and how it transforms them.

Finally, we arrive at the man who waits in the wings, Joe Biden.  I actually supported Joe Biden during his run for the Democratic nomination in 2008.  If you go back to my college newspaper archives, you might even find a guest editorial I wrote called “Don’t You Be Shy Then: Vote for Joe Biden.”   During the Democratic debates during that primary season, Biden was always the most collected, the most knowledgable, and self-controlled candidate in a way that belied his reputation for gaffes.  It’s actually comical to look back and watch every other candidate say “I agree with what Joe said,” and “Joe has the right idea.”  But then-Senator Biden didn’t win.  With little cash and coming from a small state, he just couldn’t match the expensive, high-octane campaigns run by Clinton and Obama.

Since then, Biden has continued to impress me.  While he still does foolish things like put his arm around dignitaries’ wives in public, I think he exceeded most peoples’ expectations.  And given his G.O.P. opponents, Biden’s foot-in-mouth disease is much less of a liability.  Biden’s gaffes tend to unintentionally show respect for people.  When he said, “you can’t walk into a 7-11 without an Indian guy running the place,” it was an inartful way of showing the work-ethic and entrepreneurship of the South Asian community in America.  Compare that to mean-spirited and patently dishonest comments by Trump about Mexico sending rapists over the border, or Jeb Bush talking about anchor babies as “frankly more related to Asian people.”  He’s been an excellent vice-president; in fact, I think he was one of the three best in American history, alongside Walter Mondale and, believe it or not, Eisenhower-era Nixon.  Biden has enjoyed a warm and collaborative relationship with Congress where Obama’s has been distance, cold and combative.  Even moreso, he has decades of experience that we dismiss at our peril: 36 years as a senator (including time as the chair of the Foreign Relations committee) and eight as vice-president.

More than that, Biden has an ideal temperament for the office.  He is a reluctant candidate right now: ambitious, but not craving power.  In a Lincolnesque way, his life is defined by working through tragedy, via the loss of his wife and daughter as a young senator-elect, and the recent loss of his son.  While Hillary comes across as distant from everyday Americans’ concerns (having not, for example, driven her own car in decades), Biden is still very much the working-class Irish guy who commuted home to Delaware on Amtrak.  He communicates in a way that ordinary Americans resonate with, and his University of Delaware/Syracuse University education is a refreshing change from the obnoxious Ivy League dominance enjoyed by the upper echelons of American power for decades.  While President Biden would be 74 on Inauguration Day, 2017, the oldest ever sworn into office, I have been, in the last few years, constantly gobsmacked at the amazing things older people can do.  I am reminded of my dear friend Neil, who taught marketing classes in Singapore and even visited North Korea (!) in his early 80s with more stamina and vigor than I had at 30.  With a clean bill of health, there is nothing to suggest Biden couldn’t serve as ably as anyone.

Moreover, Biden can help the Democrats with their single biggest electoral problem: the hemorrhaging of working-class white voters from their ranks.  As a scrappy Scranton kid who still speaks that language and still understands that perspective, Biden could stem the tide with that demographic while continuing to improve strong performances with female, Hispanic, and Asian-American voters that will be the bedrock of any successful Democratic coalition.  I’ve seen cases where my brother walked by while I watched Biden on Meet the Press and say something like, “that’s the first time I’ve seen a politician explain that in a way that makes sense.”

All this is to say: I’m still of a divided mind, especially if Joe Biden gets in the race.  With that in mind, I hope that any reader will reconsider if they think the two major parties are just the same: they’re not.  One party has candidates that stand for an increase in the minimum wage, an acceptance of global warming, greater college affordability, and a robust health care system that doesn’t leave the poorest and the sickest behind.  The other does not.  So, if you are cynical toward the political system as it stands today, you’ve every right to feel that way, but I hope that your cynicism drives you toward a greater engagement and a greater motivation to get involved personally in facilitating a change and demanding a government responsive to your needs, rather than withdrawing in disgust.  While I have trouble choosing between canny but surprisingly spiritual Clinton, the social democratic ethos of Sanders, and the authentic, affable, and overqualified everyman of Biden, I look forward to making a sound decision that I can stand behind in the months ahead.

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Oh, 2016- we just can’t quit you.  At least now, we can refer to things like the 2016 Olympics and the 2016 presidential elections as occurrences taking place next year.  We are still a year away from the first primary elections, and as they currently stand, they are  likely to be more interesting on the Republican side of the equation.  While Hillary Clinton’s path to the nomination won’t be quite the coronation many expect, I believe her chances of being the Democrats’ choice are very, very good.  With the Republicans?  Things are a bit up in the air.  I think there are maybe a solid seven people who could conceivably be nominated as things stand now: Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Mitt Romney, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, John Kasich, and Marco Rubio.  Out of the seven, Bush seems like the front-runner.  Nearly every candidate has severe drawbacks, from low name recognition, to poisonous civil rights stances, to Bridgegate, to losing the election last time.  And despite public wariness with putting a third Bush in the White House within thirty years, he is best poised to collect money from the important donors, avoid saying stupid shit, and wear down primary opponents by attrition.  Bush is probably the most likely to survive the grueling modern Republican dilemma of needing to be conservative enough for the bloodthirsty primary voting crowd, while not scaring off the general voting public.

When I wrote up my top ten running mates for Hillary, there were some guidelines to which I adhered.  I thought her ticket would be poorly balanced by a woman, a Northeasterner, and another person north of 60.  For Jeb, there are a couple of disqualifiers as well.  First- no scions.  If your daddy was a well known political figure, you’re out.  Second- no other Floridians; it is bad balance and still a bit constitutionally dubious.  Sorry Marco.  And…that’s about it!  He may or may not pick a woman, and Florida is such a weird state that just about anywhere else in the country offers regional balance.  Even the South.  (Fun fact- if nominated, Jeb Bush would be the first person on a Republican ticket to be both born in the South and an officeholder from the South.)  As a consequence, all kinds of races, ages, philosophies, and geographic regions are present here.  Being from a swing state is definitely a bonus, but by no means required.  I also think it unlikely that he will pick an opponent from the Republican primaries, at least partly because all of the main candidates are poor temperamental fits for one another, with the exception of Kasich.

I included very few GOP hardliners, though, and for this reason.  I think part of the reason John McCain and Mitt Romney lost their elections came from picking a running mate that scared the electorate in some way, either Palin’s dopey and inartful revival of the Culture Wars, or Paul Ryan’s plan to privatize Medicare, which almost certainly cost the Romney campaign the state of Florida.  So, while many of these figures are conservative by any fair definition, many are not bitter-enders or hardliners.  No amount of Tea Party enthusiasm or base-rallying can make up for scaring independent voters who aren’t in the bag yet.

As a hardcore 31-year-old McGovernite, I will probably not vote for a ticket with any of these people on it.  Just the same, here are my best objective guesses for Jeb Bush’s most suitable running mates.

1.  Cathy McMorris Rodgers: Very few people are talking about the veepstakes yet, but when they do, it will be interesting to see if Rodgers’ name comes up as a possibility.  Rodgers is the congresswoman from the state of Washington’s Spokane-centered fifth district.  Presently, she is the chair of the Republican House Conference, the only woman in a Republican congressional leadership that is notoriously white and male.  She will not help Jeb win the Evergreen State, but her work on the presidential ticket could help considerably in other ways.  Rodgers has been reasonably successful at parrying the charges of a Republican war on women, both in the office she holds and in the language she uses.  Since Barack Obama won partly on a massive “gender gap”, that isn’t insignificant.  Rodgers also offers poise, reliability, and message discipline.  She’s a good solider willing to do what it takes for her party to prevail, and won’t go rogue to advance her own career.  That’s exactly what every nominee wants to see in a running mate.

2.  John Kasich: Because of its reputation as a swing state among swing states, being the governor of Ohio seems to automatically warrant some chatter about becoming vice-president.  Kasich narrowly beat the incumbent, Ted Strickland, in 2010.  In supposedly the closest swing state in the country, Kasich overcame some dreadful first-term poll-numbers, reinvented himself as a thoughtful, conscientious pragmatist, and was re-elected overwhelmingly, with over 60% of the vote.  And Kasich has some real accomplishments to run on: Ohio’s recovery has outpaced the rest of the country, an especially impressive feat in a state that is the buckle of the Rust Belt.  He can help reframe the Republicans’ rhetoric about poverty, a toxic leftover from the Reagan years.  “I’m concerned about the fact that there seems to be a war on the poor,” he once said.  “That if you’re poor, you are somehow shiftless and lazy.”  Quite a turnaround from Mitt Romney’s comments about the 47%, no?  So far, it’s just wind; few of Kasich’s policies have demonstrably helped the poor, but the rhetoric will raise eyebrows.  The Republicans’ path to 270 electoral votes will be extremely difficult without Ohio this year.  In fact, the Republican Party has never once won the presidency without carrying Ohio in its 160 years of existence.   A Bush-Kasich ticket might put the two most lucrative swing states off the table for Democrats.

3.  Kelly Ayotte: No doubt about it, New Hampshire is the friendliest territory for Republicans in New England, the bluest region of the country.  In this atmosphere, Ayotte has thrived, serving a strong tenure as the state’s attorney general and easily winning election to the Senate in 2010.  Since then, Ayotte has confidently staked out center-right territory.  She is not on the Cruz cruise, but one would be foolish to confuse her with New England moderates Susan Collins or Olympia Snowe.  Ayotte is a hawkish foreign policy and armed services specialist, and her work with McCain and Graham on immigration nicely complement Jeb’s own views.  While Congress at large has floundered these last four years, the women of the Senate have earned a reputation for listening to one another and moving ideas forward, and Ayotte could bring these accomplishments to the table.  And, of course, she comes from a legitimate swing state, one that Obama carried by only 5 points in 2012.  One hiccup: Ayotte is up for re-election to the Senate in 2016.  People have run for lesser offices while running for the vice-presidency before: Lieberman for his Senate seat in 2000, Biden for his Senate seat in 2008, Ryan for his congressional seat in 2012.  But it is an unfortunate complication.

4.  Brian Sandoval:  Sandoval is the governor of Nevada, recently re-elected in a clean landslide.  In many ways, Sandoval is the perfect candidate.  He is Hispanic, he is just the right age at 51, and he can bring Nevada’s 6 electoral votes back into play for the GOP.  More impressive than these factors is his solid record of accomplishment; he is widely considered one of the best governors in the United States.  Under his governorship, the unemployment rate has gone from a worst-in-the-nation 14% to a much better 8% and falling.  He has also mindfully avoided staking out ideological points: he has accepted the Medicare expansion, and his record on abortion- not so much pro-choice as a more libertarian pro-autonomy stance- can help win over independents.  He has instituted an intriguing education reform, all with a Democratic state legislature, that now includes merit pay.  However, one significant drawback is that a Bush-Sandoval team has no meaningful foreign policy experience.  That will matter if it comes to governing, but with such a toxicly anti-Washington electorate, will this even matter?  Also- I wonder whether Sandoval even wants it.  I think it is an even-money bet that Mark Warner would have been Barack Obama’s running mate in 2008 if he didn’t commit to running for the Senate.  Sandoval has the same choice- run for Harry Reid’s extremely vulnerable Senate seat in 2016, or hold off for the vice-presidency?

5.  Susanna Martinez:  Martinez, the governor of New Mexico, is often mentioned as the kind of person who might be the Republican vice presidential choice in 2016.  Her biography seems like a panacea for the demographic sinkhole the Republican party is wandering into: a relatively young Hispanic woman governing an important state.  She and the state legislature have turned the state’s deficit into a surplus, all without raising taxes.  New Mexico is just barely winnable for Republicans in the general election in the best of circumstances.  George W. Bush won it in 2004, and lost it by a whisker in 2000.  Obama carried New Mexico by more than ten points in both elections, and it seems to have gone from a genuine swing state to a fairly deep shade of blue.  If Republicans want New Mexico’s five electoral votes, Martinez is probably their only realistic chance of getting them.  For all of this, I still wonder whether Martinez is a better candidate on paper than she would be in real life.  She is alleged to be sharp-tongued and acerbic, qualities that, unfairly, will not redound to the benefit of a female candidate.  In a way, she is similar to Chris Christie:  mouthy former prosecutors who govern a blue state, alternately working well with opposition leaders and butting heads with them over principle.  One further consideration: Sandoval or Martinez would mean a Republican ticket with two Catholics, a gobsmacking development for a party with historic ties to country-club Protestantism.

6.  Mike Pence:  Here’s the dilemma each presidential nominee faces when choosing a running mate: a governor will give you executive leadership and usually bipartisan credentials.  But being in Congress, while less popular, provides crucial experience in foreign policy and how Washington works.  Mike Pence, an influential Indiana congressman and presently the Hoosiers’ governor, could give you both.  He hasn’t racked up an especially right-leaning record in Indiana, partly because his predecessor, Mitch Daniels, already slashed the budget and enacted right-to-work legislation, the first state in the Rust Belt to do so.  Where do you go from there?  He has strong support in institutional conservatism, both Koch Brothers fiscal conservatism and “values voters.”  In terms of communication, his talk radio pedigree will help galvanize the ditto-heads (he has been called “Rush Limbaugh on decaf.”) Pence’s team has called him a “process of elimination candidate” for the presidency, but Pence’s faithful partisanship could make him a strong contender for the second spot on the ticket as well.  This is especially so if circumstances force Jeb to move right, rather than left, such as a contentious primary battle with a more conservative challenger.

7.  John Hoeven:  The Great Recession hit many of us hard.  For all of its severity, North Dakota weathered the recession better than any other state, a situation that makes for some fine talking points.  While the nation as a whole nearly had double-digit unemployment during the depth of the recession, North Dakota’s never approached 5%.  Nowadays, it hovers between 2-3%.   This could spell good news for John Hoeven, two-and-a-half term governor and first-term senator from the Peace Garden State.  If the Keystone pipeline becomes a major issue during the 2016 election, Hoeven could give a great deal of credence to the “drill, baby, drill” crowd, citing North Dakota’s economic miracle.  Indeed, the lucrative Bakken oil fields have created a multitude of high-paying jobs, which in turn have bolstered the state’s service sector as well.  This is, of course, a bubble, and like all bubbles it will burst.  For now, though, the numbers are looking fine.  A conservative who won’t scare independents off, Hoeven’s ten years of executive experience, six years in the Senate, and impressive Ron Swanson mustache will brush aside any questions that he isn’t ready.  Besides, he continues the weird trend of running mates who have represented only a small area- either one solitary congressional district or a three-electoral-vote state: Palin (Alaska), Biden (Delaware), Cheney (Wyoming), Paul Ryan (Wisconsin’s fightin’ first), Jack Kemp (New York’s fightin’ 38th), and Geraldine Ferraro (New York’s fightin’ 9th) and even George H. W. Bush (Texas’s fightin’ 7th). Seriously- isn’t that strange?  Since 1984, only four running mates (Al Gore, Joe Lieberman, Dan Quayle, and John Edwards) directly represented more than perhaps a million people.

8.  Tom Cotton:  In 2014, the race between Congressman Tom Cotton and incumbent Mark Pryor Cotton for the Senate seat from Arkansas was expected to be a dramatic nail-biter.  Instead, Cotton bulldozed over Pryor, scion of that ~other~ Arkansas political dynasty, by seventeen points- a margin similar to Democrat Blanche Lambert Lincoln’s defeat in 2010 for Arkansas’s other Senate seat.  Cotton, a 6’5″ Iraq war veteran with two Ivy League degrees also presents a compelling personal narrative, and would protect Jeb Bush from discontent from the Republican Party’s increasingly conservative base.  The man oozes the conservative definition of patriotism, even campaigning for his Senate seat in a camouflage-colored bus.    In a way, he hearkens to an earlier time when an Ivy League education and military service often went hand in hand (a worldview that John Kerry, a man Cotton might view as an enemy, encapsulated.)   Called a “conservative superstar” by The Atlantic, Astonishingly, you’d have a GOP ticket susceptible to charges of being “too cerebral” (a criticism that was never an issue with George W. or Sarah Palin on the ballot.)  This doesn’t work in it’s favor- Cotton is also a hard-edged ideological conservative- more than anyone else on this list actually- and his devotion to Heritage Foundation dogma has lead him to take academic, but still troubling, stances.  As the Atlantic article notes, “Cotton also was the only Arkansan to vote for a budget drafted by the Republican Study Committee that would slash spending, voucherize Medicare, and raise the eligibility age for Social Security to 70.” Elsewhere, his on record saying that the Founders were wise to limit democracy.  Including in Senate races like the one Cotton prevailed in just a few months ago.

9.  Todd Platts: Chances are, you probably have never heard of Congressman Platts.  He is now a judge on the York County Court of Common Pleas.  That may seem like a resume that’s not exactly vice-presidential, but for twelve years, he represented a congressional district in south-central Pennsylvania.  He left in 2013, wanting to spend more time with his family (and this appears to be genuine; I know everybody else says it for other reasons, but with Platts, this is probably true) and because he supports term limits.  Platts stands out for his everyman appeal.  He commuted three and a half hours most days Congress was in session to help give his family a steadier life in PA.  Consistently, Platts has stood for good governance over ideological conservatism, a stance which is typified by his love of films like “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”  Like many Republicans, he voted for war in Iraq and in favor of offshore drilling, but also took less popular stands within his own party, favoring McCain-Feingold campaign reform and voting to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  When he left Congress, a Democrat colleague told him “I just want to thank you for your friendship and your leadership. You have approached issues with judicious analysis. You have avoided strident headlines. You’ve avoided bitter partisanship, and I think you are a model that many could learn from.”  In all, he is a Main Street Republican (that is, a relative moderate), which may or may not be what Jeb needs.  That means forfeiting tea party zeal in an attempt to win over middle American voters in a tough election against a formidable opponent.  Now, I don’t actually think Todd Russell Platts is the ninth most likely Republican running mate.  But someone like him might be just the shot in the arm Jeb needs.  The buzz from picking this relatively humble and unassuming man currently serving as judge on a low-level court and tapping him for the vice presidency has a kind of Cincinnatus feel, and could be an unexpected game-changer.

10.  Rob Portman:  I originally had Condi Rice listed as #10 before crossing her off.  Too tied to the George W. Bush administration, and despite her calm, her intelligence, and her foreign policy credentials, it is just too big a risk to run with someone who has never once run for political office before.    Instead, what about Ohio senator Rob Portman?  Here’s why.  You get economic heft; Portman was the head of the Office of Management and Budget during the Bush 43 administration, and was part of the ill-fated supercommittee that attempted, without success, to resolve a budget impasse a few years ago.  You also have debating chops; Portman is routinely chosen to play the Democrat when Republican candidates prepare for debate.  He is credited with being able to anticipate and articulate Democratic talking points well, while eerily channeling Obama, Edwards and other figures.   But Rob Portman offers two other strong advantages.  Firstly, he is, like Kasich, a popular figure in all-important Ohio.  Secondly, he became one of the first GOP senators to endorse same-sex marriage, on account of his son, who identifies as gay.  Same sex marriage is a losing battle for the GOP, and the possibility of a Supreme Court decision making it legal across the country makes hardline opposition even more untenable, especially as it continues to poll ever more favorably.  Portman offers you a way out- and it is virtually the only issue where he departs from conservative orthodoxy.  Even better, you get to frame his departure as one of family values- what is more honorable than sticking up for your son at the expense of the party line?   On the other hand, you get some baggage as well- being George W. Bush’s OMB guy may not communicate economic prowess, given that this team was dumb enough to cut taxes during a protracted and expensive war.  Portman is also a poor choice if populism becomes an issue, and if Hillary picks a barnburner like fellow Ohio senator Sherrod Brown, he could be in real trouble.  Like #3 and #7 on my list, Portman will be placed in the awkward position of running for a Senate re-election and the vice-presidency at the same time.

Five honorable mentions: former Secretary of State Condi Rice, South Dakota senator Jon Thune, former Puerto Rican governor Luis Fortuno, San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer, and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty.

What do you think?  Did I miss anyone?

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bigtrumanCategory: Flawed Great

Term in Office: 33rd president, 1945-1953

Political Party: Democratic

Home State: Missouri

When Harry Truman left office in 1953, he was grievously unpopular.  His party had lost control of both houses of Congress and the presidency, he had tanked to almost historic lows in the polls.  He was, in reputation and in pocketbook, “dead broke,” to use the phrase of a modern-day presidential aspirant.  Towards the end, his administration was beset by scandals and petty graft, and an atmosphere that projected neither control or competence.  Today, he is one of the consensus picks for a good-bordering-on-great president; conservative and liberal alike easily find a bevy of accomplishments that make them wild about Harry.  When presidents have dismal approval ratings, they now point to Harry Truman as evidence that history will vindicate them in the end.  When they are down in the polls, they never fail to point to 1948: Truman pulled a last-minute triumph over the all-but-certain victor, Thomas Dewey.  What happened?  Why has a president who seemed less than successful at the time routinely placed among the near-greats?

If any American benefitted from Watergate, it was surely Truman.  Truman died within weeks of the Watergate story becoming national news, and it soon became very easy to contrast Nixon’s double-dealing and subterfuge with the public memory of Truman’s plain-spokenness, and “buck stops here” philosophy.  Chicago even had a top twenty hit lamenting the lack of Trumanesque leadership in the mid-70s.  Between James Whitmore’s excellent portrayal of Truman in a one-man stage show, and David McCollough’s prize-winning biography, there is no shortage of praise for Truman in the entertainment and literary worlds.  Today, we generally see Harry Truman as a successful president, his virtues tied to sharp, incisive decision-making and good, sound judgment.  He validates so much of the American mythology: you don’t have to be rich, or charismatic, or well-educated to be a good president.  At its worst, a Truman mythos suggests that facts be damned, public opinion be damned, scholarly assessment be damned, decisiveness, fortitude, and rugged honesty will win in the end.  This understanding of history could not possibly be more wrong or more dangerous.

Either way, Truman’s near-greatness seems the closest historians come to consensus; all but the most callous libertarian places him somewhere in the top ten.  What’s my take on him?  It’s sort of like looking over your high school friend’s Geometry homework, agreeing with the answer they came up with, but being puzzled by the process that got them there.

I am most critical of Truman where others praise him most highly- foreign policy, and most impressed by him in an area where he is often considered less successful- domestic affairs.

Context matters.  When we assess Truman, it needs to be said that he probably assumed the presidency in the most difficult circumstances of any president.  When he was added to the presidential ticket in 1944, Truman was a one-and-a-half term senator from Missouri, with a reputation for rooting out waste in military operations.  The Roosevelt-Truman ticket won, but mere weeks into Harry’s vice-presidency, FDR was dead.  Worse, Truman had never really been made privy to the operations of government, so he came into office wholly unaware of major strategic elements of the war, including the Manhattan Project.  The result was a certain discontinuity between the two men, despite a number of administration holdovers and a common liberalism shared between them.  Truman hated the Soviet Union in a visceral way his predecessor Roosevelt never did (he said, off the record, during WWII that the best possible outcome would be the Soviets and the Nazis shooting each other to death.)

When I look at presidents, I look at many factors, including social justice.  That’s not always the end-all, remember: Carter has a great social justice score, but was such a poor administrator and leader that he was still (slightly) below average in my ranking.  Truman deserves a great deal of credit for the broad aims of the Fair Deal.  He aggressively pursued many good ideas that could have transformed America: universal health insurance, legislation guaranteeing full employment, more public works, and assistance to small businesses to help the economy transition to peacetime.  Many of them didn’t happen or were watered down, blocked by a coalition of Republicans and conservative Southern Democrats.  But the point is, contrary to, say, Obama and Clinton initiatives, which started with “compromise” as an opening bid and went downhill from there, Truman’s administration aimed high and aimed ambitiously.   And for what its worth, I’m very glad we had him in the presidency during the “Do Nothing” 80th Congress, a reactionary House and Senate elected in the 1946 off-year election.  When you consider the awful bills they passed over Truman’s veto (especially Taft-Hartley), I shudder to think what they would have done with, say, Robert Taft at the helm.

Truman also attempted to enact these measures in the most racially egalitarian manner plausible.  Franklin Roosevelt danced an elegant quadrille with the Southern senators from his party who held the fate of his legislative program in their hands.  As a result, almost no New Deal program was without embarrassing provisions that blocked most black Americans from enjoying its benefits.  We’ll talk about this more when FDR’s turn comes up, but FDR was very often lukewarm on extending the blessings of the New Deal to everyone equally, viewing civil rights as more of Eleanor’s purview.  As for Truman, his civil rights record, certainly, is perhaps the third best of any president, coming after only Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson.  As David McCollough notes, this was in spite of his upbringing in the ‘border state’ of Missouri: “He did not favor social equality for blacks and he said so.  But he wanted fairness, equality before the law.”  And he pursued that ideal vigorously.  He addressed the NAACP in Washington and gave the strongest presidential speech in favor of civil rights since Ulysses Grant.  He used his power as commander-in-chief to desegregate the military, a huge substantive and symbolic victory.  And he established a commission that would ensure fair employment practices by the federal government.  It bears mentioning that he did so at great peril to his own career— actions such as these led American Voldemort (more conventionally called “Strom Thurmond”) to bolt from the Democrats to form an openly racist third party in 1948.

So far, so good.  Here’s the problem for me— I am more skeptical about Truman’s handling of the Cold War.  Many historians believe that, on the eve of Hiroshima, the Japanese government was trying to send subtle, face-saving signals that it was willing to surrender (a practice that is sometimes called “stomach art”), but Truman and his administration were unable to decipher their intentions.  In the same way, the Truman administration failed to understand the cultural reasoning behind Soviet activity in the months immediately following the war, premised on the repeated history of invasion and ruinous conflict through the West.  This isn’t to excuse the manifold human rights violations that took place under the Soviet Union— I just wonder whether the Cold War was the best way to engage with this problem.  Truman accepted, wholesale, the ideas of George Kennan in the world of diplomacy and Reinhold Niebuhr in the world of theology that the Soviet Union had always, and would always, see the USA as the enemy, and was an enemy that had to be contained. It is worth wondering, even if you ultimately disagree, whether the Cold War, which cost immeasurable lives and diverted billions of dollars that could have been spent more constructively elsewhere.  The logic of the Cold War would also compel us to take sides with truly vile and anti-democratic regimes (Battista, the Shah of Iran, Pinochet, Diem, the Contras) simply because they opposed the USSR.  Worse, on the domestic end, Cold War era bills like the McCarran Internal Security Act (passed over Truman’s veto) eroded civil liberties at home, emboldened McCarthyism (a far greater danger to the American project than the USSR would ever be), and led to an unwieldy and ultimately unjust ‘shadow government’ under the FBI.  Truman’s instincts were so anti-Soviet that it is a worthwhile thought experiment to ponder how international relations would have gone if FDR had been at the helm to serve out that fourth term.

Even so, it needs to be said that Truman’s approach was substantively better than Eisenhower’s.  If it was Truman’s policy to give arms to legitimate governments trying to stay in power (Greece, Turkey), Eisenhower often armed insurgents in such a way that they toppled democratically elected governments he did not like, as I discussed in his write-up.  Generally, Truman was a good neighbor to Latin America, and respected the sovereignty of other nations imperfectly, but certainly more than most twentieth-century presidents.

One element that I’ve always found strange is how we’ve given Harry a pass for some puzzlingly sub-standard Supreme Court nominations.  Most are rated “Below average” by law scholars (who love evaluating Supreme Court justices almost as much as historians love evaluating presidents.)  They were, for the most part dim bulbs who were mostly picked for their personal relationship to Truman over their fitness for the job.  My favorite story in all this is how, upon hearing that a vacancy on the court had opened up, ex-senator Sherman Minton took the first flight he could get to Washington, arranged a meeting with his old colleague and friend, and ultimately got Truman to nominate him.  FDR appointed several of the best justices of all time— Black, Frankfurter, Jackson, Douglas.  Eisenhower had William Brennan and Earl Warren, two bright stars in the jurisprudential firmament.  Truman’s picks weren’t terrible or anything; three of them contributed to the unanimous Brown vs. Board decision, if nothing else.  But they lacked the weightiness and gravitas of their contemporaries during one of the most important eras of the Supreme Court’s development.

So, I’ll defer to the consensus that Harry Truman was a successful, even in some ways visionary, president, even though I also feel as though I’ve backed myself into a corner and have to put him at #5, which feels a bit too high.  Nevertheless, he dealt with the messy implications left over from the war and the depression, and he spent his terms solving extent problems rather than making new ones.  By way of a sacrilegious metaphor: FDR was the liberal Jesus, a charismatic figurehead with the right lineage, full of pithy aphorisms, apparent miracles, and a first-rate set of disciples. Moreover, in the same way that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet whose vision was only supposed to apply to a world that he didn’t expect to last long, FDR’s liberalism was designed merely as a stop-gap measure for the Depression, not as a permanent modus operandi.  Truman was the liberal St. Paul- cranky, divisive, not a natural leader, but stubborn and persistent.  Paul had to establish a permanent, functional Church in a way Jesus didn’t have to.  He had to contend with internecine factions, heresies, arguments about what Christianity was and wasn’t.  In an analogous way, Truman had to establish what liberalism stood for on a more permanent and institutional level; he had to build something that would last and sustain itself in an unstable world, and despite a number of hiccups along the way, it did last.  He had to define the project as something viable, humane, and robust, protecting it from the loopiness of Henry Wallace and others like him, and the gentile cruelty of the Dixiecrats.  It makes me wonder whether people like myself ought to give Truman the same kind of plaudits conservatives are so eager to bestow upon Reagan.  He turned liberalism from “a way out of Depression and war” and into “a mechanism through which a better, more equal society might be achieved.”  To make a less blasphemous comparison, I am also reminded of Uncle Scrooge in Carl Barks’ Disney comics legendarium.  The rich cartoon duck would often tell his nephew Donald and his grandnephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie that he succeeded in life by being “smarter than the smarties and tougher than the toughies.”

As a final thought, I worry sometimes that the modern Democratic Party is playing it too safe, that they believe the near-term history is on autopilot, that demographics (more single people, more openly gay people, many more racial minorities, more atheists) will translate into permanent success.  Inevitability is the fool’s bedfellow.  One should consider Truman, who achieved success by sharp planning, a strong moral compass, and a willingness to be decisive and stand for something, even if one makes enemies along the way.  Truman was a winner, and he won with black, southern, mountain western, and most striking of all, blue-collar, rural, and small-town votes.  The road to success runs, I think, not through FDR or Clinton or Obama, but Harry S Truman.

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Official_White_House_portrait_of_William_McKinleyCategory:  Petty Imperialist

Term in Office: 25th president, 1897-1901

Political Party: Republican

Home State: Ohio

William McKinley was the president who ushered the United States into the 20th century, and appropriately so.  In some respects, McKinley was utterly, hopelessly Victorian, especially in his political views, personal mannerisms, and his private life.  But in his approach to the office, McKinley inaugurated an invigorated and modernized presidency.  On a more ominous note, McKinley ushered in an uncomfortable era in United States history, one of overt imperialism.  Much U.S. activity that took place before the Spanish-American War can be characterized as backdoor imperialism, but the Spanish-American conflict with a weakened European power, and its direct-to-video sequel, the Philippine War, turned the United States into Nova Roma, a new imperial republic.

One thing that stands out, even today, is McKinley’s exemplary character.  We have talked about presidential deportment and we will again.  This was, after all, one characteristic that kept Clinton at a lower-than-average #19 on my list.  I cannot think of any one, George Washington not excepted, who did a better job behaving as the president ought to than McKinley.  Without fail, the same set of personal remembrances come back at us: a warm man who could nonetheless identity fools and scoundrels.  He was an exemplary husband to his invalid wife.  McKinley was well-mannered and stately, but also sincere and personal, a rare combination.  He loved meeting ordinary Americans, even if his “front porch campaign” for the presidency kept him at his Ohio residence during the campaign season.  I think having a president you would want your children to emulate matters, and at least as decorum and behavior goes, I do not think you could find a better exemplar than McKinley.

William McKinley is also not recognized for his role in modernizing many aspects of the presidency.  Lewis Gould has shed more useful light on the McKinley years than any historian alive.  His Modern American Presidency stresses the institutional innovations McKinley inaugurated, with an assist from his secretary, George Cortelyou.  Cortelyou’s portfolio soon expanded to becoming McKinley’s liaison to the press.  For the first time, the executive branch worried about messaging, provided space and time for the president to talk with reporters on and off the record, and made the office one very concerned with public relations.  Earlier generations of presidents would have dismissed these maneuvers as rank demagoguery.  McKinley saw it as an opportunity to enhance the ability of his office to persuade.

So, McKinley’s personal qualities work in his favor, as does his approach to the presidency.  Conspicuously, we have not yet talked about what McKinley actually did as president.  And this is where the McKinley presidency kind of falls apart.   While often seen as a blindly pro-business dupe under Mark Hanna’s Svengali-like control, this is not quite the whole story.  He had, in 1899, commissioned a long-term study on monopolies, and was awaiting the results at the time of his death.  It is possible that, had he lived, he might have overseen a more mild version of the mild reforms his predecessors Roosevelt and Taft put into action.  This is tepid praise.  McKinley was a rather standard-issue, business-friendly, labor-hostile “sound money man.”  When we look at the problems that T. Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson addressed: labor laws, environmental protection, monopoly, food safety– aren’t these problems that McKinley left unresolved?

But the true elephant in the room is acquisitional war: first with Spain, and then with the Philippines.  It is well known today that the explosion of the Maine was more likely a mechanical failure and not, as alleged at the time, a sneak attack by Spain.  Nevertheless, any investigations conducted were short-lived and fraught with foregone conclusions.

Instead, the voices of war won out.  Part of the problem was that the question of Cuba and eventually the Philippines was often depicted in very gendered terms– the Caribbean islands depicted as virtuous virgins defiled by a swarthy Spain, and casting the U.S. as the righteous, square-jawed man that defends her honor.  Indeed, McKinley’s very masculinity was called into question while he debated the decision for war.  “McKinley” taunted his eventual successor Theodore Roosevelt, “has as much backbone as a chocolate eclair.”    War skeptics like Massachusetts senator George Hoar were portrayed as nagging matrons in bonnets, and in this manner, the “Antis,” as in the anti-war men, became “aunties.”  To a Victorian like McKinley, whose understanding of gender roles was so calcified, these barbs stung at him, clawed at him.  Go look at the political cartoons from this era; in nearly any one of them, Cuba begs for rescue, and the Philippines begs for civilization.  In his own mind, he must have justified the decision for war as a Christian act of defense for the weak.  The reality would become very different.


When we think of the Spanish-American War, we think of a “splendid little war”, the absurdly jingoist “Message to Garcia” and Teddy Roosevelt posing triumphantly on San Juan Hill.  What isn’t remembered is the raw level of devastation Cuba underwent during the conflict.  Houses destroyed, livestock slaughtered, 90% of the cattle gone, sugar mills and bridges burned, and 200 people each day dying from the squalid conditions in Santiago alone.  McKinley tried his best to alleviate some of the suffering with medical and infrastructure aid, but the damage was done.  Reagan would say in later years, “My opponents say I want to take us back to the days of McKinley.  Well, what’s wrong with that?  Under McKinley, we freed Cuba.”  We may have aided Cuba’s nascent independence movement, but we vanquished the island itself in the process, and inaugurated a period of Cuban rule by less-than-democratic toadies like Battista.  Come meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Walter Lafeber was correct when he said in The New Empire over fifty years ago that there was nothing accidental or absent-minded about the United States’ acquisition of the Philippines; they were vital in getting toeholds on the Asian markets.  Go back to John Tyler, go back to William Seward, go back to Alfred Mahan, and you will invariably observe thrusts forward toward Asia, the economic and military and philosophical and territorial groundwork for expansion being laid.  McKinley didn’t start that fire (although his predecessor Cleveland did a fine job of holding it off), and cannot fully be blamed for a force that was in some respects out of his control.  Honor, American visions of greatness, and the desire to spread liberty are powerful things, and it would have taken an exceptionally wise figure to resist them.

Nevertheless, he was at the helm during one of America’s least justifiable wars.  When the war moved to the Pacific theatre, the United States inherited an anti-colonial struggle in the Philippines from Spain.  Here, an ugly chapter in U.S. history needs to be aired out.  To pacify the region, a number of tactics used included concentration camps designed to separate guerrillas from civilians, and even, at times, the wholesale massacre of entire villages when battalions could not distinguish friend from foe.  Wikipedia lists the number of Philippine civilians who died directly or indirectly because of the conflict at between 200,000 and 1.5 million, a pretty wide swath, but the total number will never be known.  The lack of a body count echoes our collective amnesia about the Philippines; this is a war that we just don’t remember or talk about.  Small wonder we repeated many of the same mistakes in Southeast Asia sixty years later.

Still, how much of this is McKinley’s fault?  Much of the really bad stuff happened in an ad hoc fashion, as a panicked response to a guerrilla attack, or at the direction of generals improvising their own orders.  McKinley never meant for slaughter and chains, and any atrocities almost certainly took place without his knowing.  Chances are, any G.O.P. president would have made the same decisions McKinley had made.  Replace McKinley with, I don’t know, Matthew Quay or Levi Morton or something, and you still get a war.  But is this not why we have presidents?  Does not a truly great leader challenge groupthink, puncture bad arguments, and weigh the evidence carefully and conscientiously?  Lots of sensible voices were opposed to imperialism in the Philippines, ranking from Grover Cleveland to Andrew Carnegie to Mark Twain to Samuel Gompers to W.E.B. DuBois.  Not everyone opposed it for the right reasons–some feared foreign competition to American labor, while others did not want to entertain the possibility of a majority non-white state entering the union one day, but still- there was a perfectly cogent antiwar faction in the country, and this included some in his own party.  McKinley’s good heart, good manners and honest patriotism were not enough to steer clear of a war that was victorious in the short run, but marked a newer, bolder, and more aggressive chapter in American foreign policy.

As we have seen, McKinley was not, on a symbolic level, the last of the anonymous 19th century presidents.  Rather, he was the first of the new, dynamic 20th century presidents, eager to use modern technology to enhance the power, prestige, and persuasion of the chief executive.  In some respects, McKinley is an admirable man, and it is not difficult at all to see why the nation was so distraught when he was killed in 1901 by an anarchist.  (This sad event was, unfortunately, the chief contribution that my grad school city, Buffalo, has made to American politics.)  Nevertheless, when it mattered, McKinley made a bad, disastrous call, and forfeited any claim to wisdom in joining what was almost certainly an American war of aggression against weaker opponents.  Alas, this trait, too, signified that McKinley was the first of the twentieth-century presidents.  His acquiescence in the face of war and his indifference to reform makes him a substantively below average president.

*I never cited the book directly, but I need to give a special shoutout to Kristin Hoganson, Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars.

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kennedy-01Category: Stonewalled Visionaries

Term in Office: 35th president, 1961-1963

Political Party: Democratic

Home State: Massachusetts

When we discussed Zachary Taylor, we dwelt on how difficult it was to talk about historical figures wrapped up in counterfactuals and might-have-beens.  That problem increases exponentially with someone like John Kennedy, especially since the 50th anniversary of his untimely death put him back in the national conversation.  Kennedy has, in the intervening years, become a symbol for everything the 1960s should have been, but weren’t.  If you are a hawk, you probably admire Kennedy’s ability to stand up to the Soviets.  If you are a dove, perhaps you admire the nuclear arms limitations he reached.  If you are an idealist, you may look back fondly at Food for Peace or Peace Corps.  If you are a small-government conservative, maybe you harbor a certain love of Kennedy; his “ask not what your country can do for you” can certainly read as an indictment of post-Kennedy liberalism, and he did sign into law some significant tax cuts, especially for top earners.  (See Ira Stoll’s JFK, Conservative for a glimpse of this semi-plausible, but ultimately wrongheaded, argument.)  Indeed, in one of the worst movies ever made, An American Carol, in which a Michael Moore doppleganger undergoes a Scrooge-like conversion to Fox News-style patriotism, Kennedy is portrayed as the quintessential American president.  Whoever you are, chances are you can make a case for Kennedy as a top-ten president that fits your own peculiar set of ideological blinders.

I’d like to make this case: John Kennedy was surely an above-average president, and showed a remarkable ability to learn on the fly and recover from mistakes, a talent only the very best presidents demonstrate.  The maladroit handling of the Bay of Pigs disaster was followed by a public apology and a skillful resolution to the Cuban Missile Crisis further down the road, where Kennedy sought advice, but came to his own conclusions: a quarantine that avoided outright nuclear war that simultaneously gave the USSR a way to save face while backing down.  I’ll talk about this more when I compare Kennedy to my #13 choice, but his decision-making on that day ranks among the best examples of a president handling an emergency.  Kennedy’s biggest problem is one that should be familiar to those who follow the news today: a road-blocking Congress.  To explore this, let’s look at his background a bit.

Frankly, Kennedy wasn’t quite ready to be president; he hadn’t quite worked for it.  It wasn’t, as his detractors said in 1960, youth or inexperience, as such.  By the time he was elected, he had held high office for 12 years.  When you think about it, that total beats out Reagan (8 years), Carter (4 years), George W. Bush (6 years), Barack Obama (4 years), Truman (10 years) and is only 2 years less than alleged elder statesman Richard Nixon had in 1968, if you add his time in Congress and as vice-president together.  So, no, the 12 years part is fine; if anything it is above average.  Rather, it was Kennedy’s Potemkin resume: he went to Harvard, his grades were okay, but not stellar, and yet somehow his senior thesis got published.  With the help of a publicist, his almost court-martialable neglect in the Navy was spun to make him a war hero.  With custom-drawn boundaries, he easily won a House seat.  With even more help from ghostwriters, Profiles in Courage, a book largely ghostwritten for him, became a Pulitzer Prize-winner.   With an endless supply of charm and money, and an ability to flaunt rules and restrictions that got in the way, JFK skated from triumph to triumph, but with little real accomplishment to show for it.  In the same way, he simply outspent everyone to win the 1960 Democratic nomination over more qualified figures like Lyndon Johnson, Adlai Stevenson, Stu Symington, and Hubert Humphrey.  For all the talk of anti-Catholic bigotry in the 1960 election, it was far more of a blessing than a curse; he cruised to office with 80% of the Roman Catholic vote.

Wait a minute, though– why am I being so critical of a guy who is still #14 on my list of presidents?  That’s still a great outcome and reflective of a strong presidency.  In the same way that Reagan’s greatest contributions to the presidency were oratorical and leaden with symbolism, the same could be said of Kennedy.  He wins lots of points for vision.  If we look to our leaders for inspiration, Kennedy is one of the greatest of American presidents, and it is small wonder that almost everyone from that era, including committed Republicans, remembers him fondly.  He taught us to look to the heavens and put a man on the moon.  He masterfully used television for press conferences and taking his messages directly to the American people, earning a spot on my Mount Rushmore of Great Communicators.*  After the drab styles of Truman and Eisenhower, he made it cool to be smart and witty again.  On lots of important but ephemeral levels, he is a great president: making Americans proud of their country, enhancing the country’s standing abroad, and so on.  The problem is this: where are the accomplishments?  They are there, but are they really so numerous and so earth-shattering that he belongs in the top 10?  I say “no”, and here’s why:

I put Kennedy in the category of stonewalled visionary.  The dirty little secret of the Kennedy presidency, especially when you compare him to Ike or LBJ is his poor relationship with Congress.  Lots of great JFK ideas never achieved the traction to get off the ground.  The Democrats’ platform in 1960 called for immigration reform (the chauvinist rules from the 1920s were still in place), full employment, greater equality for women, and an Economic Bill of Rights.  JFK just could not find a way to get it through Congress.  The Democrats had majorities in both houses, but too many committee chairs were grizzled old Dixiecrats who wanted no part of these reforms, and Kennedy just couldn’t find the right ways to cajole them.  Some of these were hopeless causes with the Dixie caucus, but not all; I have to think that if JFK had done his job better as a senator, he would have found a way.

Speaking of Congress, let’s look at civil rights for a little while.  Kennedy’s first major judicial appointee was William Howard Cox, a deeply segregationist friend of Mississippi senator James Eastland, who did a great deal of harm from the bench for years.  And yet, counterbalancing this, he put Thurgood Marshall on the Federal Court of Appeals, the first African-American so designated.  This ambivalence shows how we tend to view Kennedy as a crucial part of the civil rights narrative, but he wasn’t, really.  We remember two things about Kennedy and civil rights: a phone call to Martin Luther King (ballsy, considering how he needed the South to win, but largely symbolic), and his federalizing the National Guard to integrate Ole Miss was done primarily a “law and order” tactic designed to put a recalcitrant governor in his place.  Kennedy’s inability to strongarm or threaten the South, or get large numbers of Republicans on board, meant that meaningful civil rights reform was not going to happen during his administration.  Robert Dallek was right when he said, “the president’s words did little to advance the cause of civil rights or ease the tensions that were erupting into sporadic violence.”  When it came to civil rights legislation, Kennedy was far more useful as a martyr than a shepherd.

While many on his national security team did ruinous things during his and Lyndon Johnson’s administrations, lots of JFK appointees were very, very, very good; he had one of the strongest cabinets in American history.  Stu Udall was a far-thinking conservationist hero and is my pick for the best Secretary of the Interior ever.  Arthur Goldberg deftly handled strike negotiations and battled employment discrimination as Secretary of Labor.  While RFK as Attorney General understandably rubbed people the wrong way as an act of nepotism, he was brilliant in his office; one of my colleagues at UB wrote a dissertation on his singular role in stopping organized crime.  When you consider others who played important roles– George McGovern as Food for Peace guy, Adlai Stevenson as UN ambassador, Chester Bowles as Ambassador to India, George Ball as Undersecretary of State.  Sarge Shriver in charge of Peace Corps, Arthur Schlesinger as, well, the guy writing stuff down, you have a pretty talented group on your hands.

This eye for talent could also be a double-edged sword.  David Halberstam wrote of the sad irony that it was “the best and the brightest” minds that got the country into southeast Asia fighting an unpopular war to prop up an unpopular regime.  Robert Dean makes a similar case in his groundbreaking book Imperial Brotherhood: Gender and the Making of Cold War Foreign Policy.  A culturally elite and hyper-masculine cult of of Cold Warriors, all educated at the best prep schools and ivy-league universities, were inculcated with an interventionist worldview, premised on strength and power, and not nebulous idealism.  These were smart, rational men who nonetheless presided over a stupid, illogical and often cruel foreign policy that ultimately led to the Vietnam War.  One of the less appealing elements of the Kennedy administration is its overbearing hubris.  He constantly worked to undermine world leaders opposed to American aims or insufficiently committed  to or competent in fighting the Cold War.  He gave the greenlight to ousting Diem in South Vietnam, although he did not intend for him to get killed.  He misused the CIA for a variety of attempts to get Fidel Castro out of power, including the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, none of which succeeded.  These cloak and dagger operations, born of Kennedy’s background and possibly his love of Ian Fleming novels, furthered the tensions of the Cold War. Not for a minute do I believe Oliver Stone’s ridiculous argument that Kennedy was on the verge of dialing back the Vietnam War on the eve of his assassination.

One also has to account, to a certain extent, for private life as well, because when you are president, nothing remains private for very long.  Kennedy’s long list of shady associates and illicit love affairs with movie stars or mob mistresses, or even, in his youth, German collaborators becomes a major, major problem.  In the Cold War era, this was much more than merely being an unfaithful husband; it was a genuine national security risk that made the most powerful man in the world susceptible to blackmail. Kennedy is extraordinarily lucky he was president in the early 1960s where complicity with the press could be achieved– can you imagine a Kennedy administration with an active Drudge Report?  Had he lived, he would have presided over an era where that trust eroded terribly.  It is likely that Kennedy would have faced a massive public falling out, and may have had to resign, if his dalliances became public knowledge.

One still wonders: when Dion sings about “Brother John” in his lachrymose hit “Abraham, Martin and John” and how he “freed a lot of people,” it is difficult to see just who he is talking about.  John Kennedy’s record might not live up to John Kennedy’s legend.  But then again, perhaps nobody’s record could do that.  Despite some missteps, maybe Kennedy was, as Thurston Clark argues in JFK’s Last Hundred Days, one the verge of becoming a great president, transformed by Diem’s shocking death and his infant son’s tragically short life into become a more conscientious husband, and a sharper skeptic of the chilling calculus of the Cold War.  We’ll never know, but the record we do have of JFK’s 1,000 days in office suggests great vision, but a limited record of accomplishment.  His record shows glimpses of vibrant, once-in-a-generation creativity– Food for Peace and the Peace Corps were gobsmacking brilliant ways of engaging the world without firing a single bullet.  He inspired countless people to enter public service as a noble profession.  It may be, after all is said and done, that the image and the reality cannot be untangled.  Kennedy remains something of a generational mirror, and we see darkly through him, into our hopes and aspirations for one of America’s most turbulent decades.

* McKinley, FDR, Kennedy, and Reagan.  McKinley for pioneering the press conference, FDR for radio, and Kennedy and Reagan for television.

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It is embarrassing, is it not, to look one’s Singaporean students in the eye and say to them: “if my government chooses to default on its loans in a couple days, plunging the entire world into a recession, I want you to know I am very, very sorry.”

Fortunately, a solution was arrived at, at very nearly the last minute.  And- hey- why am I using the passive voice here?  While the deal bears the names of majority and minority leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, much of the heavy lifting was done in high heels and pearl necklaces.  It was a bipartisan group, led by women, that made the arrangements to pass an extension of the debt ceiling and reopen the U.S. government after a fortnight’s hiatus- led by Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, Amy Klobuchar, and Kelly Ayotte.  My friends over at the evangelical leftist magazine Sojourners (love their politics, adore their founder Jim Wallis, not too fond of their theology), have praised their action.  So has Time magazine.

Watching the women of the Senate actually get stuff done made me wonder– what if there were 100 women in the U.S. Senate, instead of just 20?  If this seems ridiculous to you, remember that from 1973 to 1978, there was not a lone, solitary woman in the entire upper chamber.  Well, and from the early days of the Constitution until the 1940s, with some exceptions for the odd senatorial widow appointed to finish her fallen husband’s term.  The point is, if the country functioned with an all-male Senate, an all-female Senate, given their recent record of accomplishment, bi-partisanship, and respect for one another, couldn’t possibly be worse, and would likely be a great deal better.

Accordingly, I did some research for an All-female Senate based on active public figures today.  Female senators who retired (Snowe, Hutchison) are not eligible, but senators who were defeated for re-election (Dole, Lambert-Lincoln, etc.) are.  When possible, I have noted the senator’s current or past office.  I also attempted, as best I could, to emulate the state’s political preferences.  A senator from either party was viable from a swing state, but red states will, of course, tend to elect Republicans, and blue states Democrats, with some rare exceptions.  Wendy Davis, for example, caught the nation’s attention, but there is just no way that Texas voters will send her to Washington D.C.

I.  New England States:

  1. Susan Collins (R- Maine): current senator
  2. Chellie Pingree (D- Maine): congresswoman
  3. Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire)- current senator
  4. Kelly Ayotte (R- New Hampshire)- current senator
  5. Elizabeth Warren (D- Massachusetts)- current senator
  6. Martha Coakley (D- Massachusetts)- MA attorney general
  7. Deborah Markowitz (D- Vermont)- secretary of state of VT
  8. Gaye Symington (D- Vermont)- former speaker of VT house
  9. Claudine Schneider (R- Rhode Island)- former congresswoman
  10. Gina Raimondo (D- Rhode Island)- state treasurer

II. Mid-Atlantic States:

  1. Rosa DeLauro (D- Connecticut)- congresswoman
  2. M. Jodi Rell (R- Connecticut)- former governor
  3. Kirsten Gillibrand (D- New York)- current senator
  4. Christine Quinn (D- New York)- speaker of nyc council
  5. Christine Todd Whitman (R- New Jersey)- former governor
  6. Dawn Zimmer (D- New Jersey)- mayor of Hoboken
  7. Mauree Gingrich (R- Pennsylvania)- state house of reps.
  8. Allyson Schwartz (D- Pennsylvania)- congresswoman
  9. Ruth Ann Miner (D- Delaware)- former governor
  10. Valerie Longhurst (D- Delaware)- majority leader of DE house

III.  Border South:

  1. Barbara Mikulski (D- Maryland)- current senator
  2. Donna Edwards (D- Maryland)- congresswoman
  3. Molly Joseph Ward (D- Virginia)- former mayor of Hampton
  4. Jody Wagner (D- Virginia)- former state treasurer
  5. Shelly Moore Capito (W-West Virginia)- congresswoman
  6. Natalie Tennant (D- West Virginia)- secretary of state of WV
  7. Kay Hagan (D- North Carolina)- current senator
  8. Elizabeth Dole (R- North Carolina)- former senator and cabinet official
  9. Pam Bondi (R- Florida)- FL attorney general
  10. Alex Sink (D- Florida)- Chief Financial Officer of FL

IV.  Deep South:

  1. Nikki Haley (R- South Carolina)- governor
  2. Deb Sofield (R- South Carolina)- Liberty Fellow and motivational speaker
  3. Michelle Nunn (D- Georgia)- CEO of Points of Light
  4. Karen Handel (R- Georgia)- former GA Secretary of State
  5. Martha Roby (R- Alabama)- congresswoman
  6. Kay Ivey (R- Alabama)- Lt. Governor of AL
  7. Lynn Fitch (R- Mississippi)- State Treasurer
  8. Amy Tuck (R- Mississippi)- Former Lt. Governor
  9. Mary Landrieu (D- Louisiana)- current senator
  10. Hazel Beard (R- Louisiana)- former mayor of Shreveport

V.  Ozarks, Appalachia, and Cumberland:

  1. Blanche Lambert Lincoln (D- Arkansas)- former senator
  2. Donna Hutchinson (R- Arkansas)- member of AR house
  3. Claire McCaskill (D- Missouri)- current senator
  4. Sarah Steelman (R- Missouri)- former state treasurer
  5. Marsha Blackburn (R- Tennessee)- congresswoman
  6. Janice Holder (R- Tennessee)- Former chief justice, TN
  7. Alison Grimes (D- Kentucky)- KY Secretary of State
  8. Elaine Chao (R- Kentucky)- former Secretary of Labor
  9. Betty Montgomery (R- Ohio)- former OH Attorney General
  10. Mary Taylor (R- Ohio)- Lt. Governor

VI.  Great Lakes

  1. Jackie Walorski (R- Indiana)- Congresswoman
  2. Susan Brooks (R- Indiana)- Congresswoman
  3. Cheryle Robinson Jackson (D- Illinois)- Chicago Urban League
  4. Lisa Madigan (D- Illinois)- IL Attorney General
  5. Debbie Stabenow (D- Michigan)- current senator
  6. Gretchen Whitmer (D- Michigan)- minority leader, MI Senate
  7. Tammy Baldwin (D- Wisconsin)- current senator
  8. Susan Bauman (D- Wisconsin)- former mayor of Madison
  9. Amy Klobuchar (D- Minnesota)- current senator
  10. Michelle Bachmann (R- Minnesota)- congresswoman

VII.  Prairie States:

  1. Patty Judge (D- Iowa)- former Lt. Governor
  2. Kim Reynolds (R- Iowa)- Lt. Governor
  3. Heidi Heitkamp (D- North Dakota)- current senator
  4. Mary M. Maring (R- North Dakota)- state supreme court
  5. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D- South Dakota)- former congresswoman
  6. Kristi Noem (R- South Dakota)- congresswoman
  7. Deb Fischer (R- Nebraska)- current senator
  8. Jean Stothert (R- Nebraska)- mayor of Omaha
  9. Kathleen Sebelius (D- Kansas)- former governor
  10. Lynn Jenkins (R- Kansas)- congresswoman

VIII.  Southwest:

  1. Mary Fallin (R- Oklahoma)- governor
  2. Dana Murphy (R- Oklahoma)- OK Corporation Commissioner
  3. Kay Granger (R- Texas)- former congresswoman
  4. Shelley Sekula-Gibbs (R- Texas)- former congresswoman
  5. Susanna Martinez (R- New Mexico)- governor
  6. Diane Denish (D- New Mexico)- former Lt. Governor
  7. Janet Napolitano (D- Arizona)- former governor and Homeland Security Sec.
  8. Jan Brewer (R- Arizona)- governor
  9. Shelley Berkeley (D- Nevada)- former congresswoman
  10. Jan Laverty Jones (D- Nevada)- former mayor of Las Vegas

IX.  Mountain West:

  1. Judy Martz (R- Montana)- former governor
  2. Linda McColluch (D- Montana)- MT secretary of state
  3. Patti Anne Lodge (R- Idaho)- state senator
  4. Cathy Silak (R- Idaho)- former state supreme court justice
  5. Diana DeGette (D- Colorado)- congresswoman
  6. Pat Schroeder (D- Colorado)- former congresswoman
  7. Mia Love (R- Utah)- mayor of Saratoga Springs
  8. Deidre Henderson (R- Utah)- state senator
  9. Cynthia Lummis (R- Wyoming)- congresswoman
  10. Barbara Cubin (R- Wyoming)- former congresswoman

X.  Pacific States:

  1. Maria Cantwell (D- Washington)- current senator
  2. Patty Murray (D- Washington)- current senator
  3. Suzanne Bonamici (D- Oregon)- congresswoman
  4. Tina Kotek (D- Oregon)- speaker of the OR house
  5. Barbara Boxer (D- California)- current senator
  6. Dianne Feinstein (D- California)- current senator
  7. Lisa Murkowski (R- Alaska)- current senator
  8. Sarah Palin (R- Alaska)- former governor
  9. Mazie Hirono (D- Hawaii)- current senator
  10. Colleen Hanabusa (D- Hawaii)- congresswoman

A couple concluding thoughts:  some states were quite easy- and a few and two female senators already.  By the way, did you notice that 6 out of 10 senators from the Pacific area are already women?  and 4 out of 10 in New England?   But some states were absurdly difficult to find two women in high political office: Virginia, Vermont, Iowa, New Jersey, Utah, and especially Idaho were atrocious.  Get it together guys.

Also, the partisan divide in the Senate would be 53 Democrats to 47 Republicans– one notch more Republican than the current Senate, and a surprising result given the Democrats’ advantage with female voters, the much vaunted “gender gap.”

Isn’t this a better Senate, though?  Although I had to include a few people in the category John McCain has called “Wacko birds”, there are some great voices from all over the spectrum in this Senate, and amazingly few showboaters and ideologues.

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