VP picks really do matter

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John Nance Garner once famously described the vice presidency of the United States using language that has become legendary.

He said — and I’ll use his actual verbiage here — that the vice presidency “isn’t worth a bucket of warm piss.”

The prickly Texan wasn’t called “Cactus Jack” for nothing.

Well, the office has become something a bit more significant since the time Cactus Jack served with  Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Which brings us to the present day.

Republican nominee Donald J. Trump picked Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to run with him this fall. Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton selected Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia to run with her.

Both men are good picks, given the constituencies to which they appeal. My hope, though, is that the office they seek becomes worth the effort they both plan to expend to attain it.

I guess the modern vice presidency can be defined by the role that Walter Mondale assumed when he became VP during the Carter administration. It’s become an office of actual substance. Mondale showed that a vice president can serve as a key adviser to the president who selects him.

George H.W. Bush’s relationship with Ronald Reagan wasn’t particularly close. Dan Quayle brought youthful enthusiasm to the administration led by Bush. Al Gore and Bill Clinton worked closely together for eight years. Dick Cheney and George W. Bush had an extraordinarily close relationship. And Joe Biden and Barack Obama’s tenure has produced a close personal and professional relationship.

Has the office become worth more than a certain bodily fluid?

Absolutely!

Does it matter, though, in the selection of the next president? More than likely … no.

But anyone who’s “a heartbeat away from the presidency” needs to be taken seriously.

Only now, Kaine opposes TPP

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This is an element of this vice-presidential selection process I find distasteful.

Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia has been a strong supporter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal favored by President Obama and others within the Democratic Party.

Now, though, Kaine is about to perform a 180-degree switcheroo and will oppose the TPP as a sop to Democratic Party progressives who might be unhappy with Hillary Clinton’s selection of Kaine as her running mate.

So, which is it, Sen. Kaine? Are you for the deal or against it … on principle?

What changed in the TPP treaty that caused him to turn himself inside out?

Oh, nothing! Politics got in the way.

http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/288971-kaine-will-come-out-against-tpp-report

Politicians do this kind of so-called “pivot” all the time. My favorite example has been George H.W. Bush flipping from pro-choice on abortion to pro-life the instant he agreed to run in 1980 with Ronald Reagan.

Kaine is about to become another politician who seems willing to demonstrate that principle — on many issues — matters less than political expediency.

Welcome to the circus, Sen. Kaine

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Hillary Rodham Clinton laid down an important marker just before announcing her vice-presidential pick.

The Democratic presidential candidate said the person she would select first and foremost needed to be able to step into the presidency immediately if something would prevent her from continuing in the office.

Fine. Fair enough, Mme. Secretary.

Then she selected U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia.

Did politics have anything at all to do with the selection?

Let’s see. Clinton had several other names on her short list. They included Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Sherrod Brown of Ohio. All of them would fit that qualification. Oh, except for this: They all come from states governed by Republicans, which means that the GOP governor would fill their Senate seats with Republicans, thus putting in jeopardy the Democrats’ hopes of reclaiming the Senate majority.

Virginia’s governor is a Democrat, good Clinton friend Terry McAuliffe. He poses no such dilemma for the Democrats if they win the election this fall.

There were others as well: Labor Secretary Tom Perez, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, retired Admiral James Stavridis.

Indeed, Republican nominee Donald J. Trump surely needed someone to run with him who is capable of becoming president. He turned to Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate. Pence clearly fills the presidential qualification need for the GOP, given his executive and legislative government experience.

Clinton and Kaine are going to make their first joint appearance today in Miami. Kaine, incidentally, is fluent in Spanish; gosh, do you think he’ll get to say a few words — in Spanish — to his south Florida audience that might include something like, “We won’t build a wall to keep others out!”?

So, the tickets are set. Democrats are getting ready to convene their four-day event in Philadelphia.

Compared to what transpired at the GOP convention in Cleveland, the nominating event coming up is going to look utterly boring.

But in this case — if you’re a dedicated Democrat — boring will be a good thing.

David Duke enters Senate contest

Former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard and former neo-Nazi David Duke, who is running for governor in Louisiana, is shown, Oct. 25, 1991. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

David Duke occupies a unique place in contemporary political culture.

He’s a fringe candidate for public office who somehow seems to garner publicity he doesn’t deserve.

So … here goes.

The former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard is going to run for a U.S. Senate seat from Louisiana. He’s been on people’s political radar for a long time, dating back to when he served in the Louisiana state legislature. I remember covering his unsuccessful campaign for governor back in the early 1990s.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2016/07/22/former-kkk-leader-david-duke-citing-trump-announces-senate-bid/

But here’s the kicker: He has emerged as a strong backer of Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump, who he says is speaking to the very issues that Duke has raised for years.

Duke is a champion of what he calls “European rights,” which is code for white people’s rights … as if white folks have been denied any rights since the founding of the republic.

As for his Klan affiliation, well, I have no compelling need to revisit the Klan’s bloody and disgraceful history. You know what it means.

Let’s remember too that Trump was remarkably slow to disavow Duke’s “endorsement” of his candidacy earlier this year. Trump said something about not knowing anything about white supremacist groups and didn’t even know who David Duke is — which likely makes him the only human being in America who is ignorant of Duke’s history.

To this very day, Trump has yet to issue anything close to a condemnation of the Ku Klux Klan, or its membership — be they current or former.

Will the ex-Klansman make it to the U.S. Senate? Well, he’s one of several candidates running for the seat that’s being vacated by Republican David Vitter.

My guess is that Duke won’t make the cut.

But he’ll continue to have people talking about him.

All lives matter, including black lives

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Pastor Mark Burns did that thing this week that makes me crazy.

He stood before the Republican National Convention delegates and hollered at the top of his lungs that “all lives matter!” as if to suggest that the Black Lives Matter movement means that only black lives deserve to be protected.

Burns, an African-American clergyman — and no doubt a dedicated Republican — brought the house down with his spirited rant.

But he did what so many anti-Black Lives Matter individuals and groups do: He demonized the movement’s message, which isn’t nearly as it’s being characterized by its critics.

The notion that black lives matter doesn’t preclude anyone else. The intent of the movement — which became known after the deaths of young black men who were killed by white police officers — is merely to suggest that the lives of African-Americans count right along with everyone else.

Have some of those Black Lives Matter protestors gotten out of hand in their demonstrations against the cops? Sure they have, the massacre of those five Dallas police officers being the most egregious example. They also have been condemned by politicians of all stripes and all affiliations — and that includes the president of the United States, Barack Obama.

Burns cried out Thursday night on the GOP convention’s last day: “The only colors that matter are the colors of the red, white, and blue!”

Fair enough. But how about ending the demonization of a movement whose message has been distorted beyond recognition?

‘Gun cops’ are nowhere to be seen

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I am hurtling toward my 70th year on this Earth and for most of that time I’ve been fairly politically attuned to the various debates of the time.

One debate that seems to have outlasted many of the others has been about guns.

Gun violence breaks out and we hear the squeals of gloom and doom from the gun lobby that politicians are going to call on the cops to break down our doors and confiscate all our weapons. Those nasty pols simply hate the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and they’re going to do away with it. They’re going to steal our civil liberties and deny us the right to “keep and bear arms.”

Such nonsense came flying out of the mouth last night of Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump. The Democrats’ nominee, Hillary Rodham Clinton, wants to do away with the Second Amendment, he said, and by gosh-and-by-darn, he won’t let that happen.

The pro-gun-rights lobby has been saying the same thing about President Obama. They said it about the first President Clinton, and about President Carter, President Johnson and President Kennedy.

What do all these pols have in common? They’re all Democrats, the gun-hating, squishy liberal political party that wants to disarm Americans and leave us vulnerable to a government takeover of all our rights.

If any of that were true, wouldn’t any one of those aforementioned individuals have done so already?

Of course not!

They can’t. Congress won’t allow it. The gun lobby — which has sunk its teeth deeply into lawmakers’ necks — won’t allow it. The Constitution won’t allow it.

Yet the fear-mongering continues — as it did from the podium on the final night Wednesday at the Republican National Convention.

I do believe there are ways to regulate firearms a bit more tightly while remaining faithful to the Second Amendment. The merchants of fear, though — now led by Donald Trump — won’t allow it.

‘I, alone’ will cure the nation’s ills

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Two words stood out for me after I heard Donald J. Trump accept the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.

They comprise six letters, all told.

“I, alone” will repair the things that are afflicting the nation.

There. He said it. He’s is The Man. He will do it all by himself.

Trump will make Americans safe from international terrorists; he will restore “law and order” to our communities; he will toss out the Affordable Care Act and create a new health insurance system; he will renegotiate “great” trade deals; he will bring jobs back to the country; he will build a wall that keeps illegal immigrants out.

Well, government happens to be a partnership. At least that’s how the framers built it. They created a legislative branch to write the laws, an executive branch to administer them and a judicial branch to ensure that they do not violate the U.S. Constitution.

As has been said many times: A president proposes, but Congress disposes.

Trump, though, sees it differently. He’s going to grab the government by the throat and throttle it long enough to accomplish all that he intends to do.

However, he’s got a tiny concern with which he needs to deal. It’s the 535 men and women — many of whom have egos as large as Trump’s — who comprise the two legislative houses perched atop Capitol Hill.

Trump got the convention crowd fired up. He gave a pretty good speech. He was disciplined and “on message.” I give him props for that.

One, however, heard only a smidgen of humility and that occurred in the very first line of his speech when he accepted the party’s nomination for president.

He’ll hit the trail now. He’ll take his message — whatever it is — to the battleground states. Trump will seek to persuade voters that, by golly, since he’s built that business of his all by himself that “I, alone” will be able to repair the damage done to the country.

Which brings me, briefly, to this final point.

The country he and his surrogates described during the past four days does not resemble in any way the country I’ve seen emerge from the fiscal meltdown it suffered eight years ago.

The nation’s military isn’t “decimated.” The economy is recovering; yes, it could be a stronger, more vibrant recovery, but then again, it’s never reached perfect economic pitch. Crime has gone down, not up — and there’s plenty of data to back that up.

I get that political conventions are intended to put the other party in the worst possible negative light. Republicans did a great job of it this week, even though they distorted the truth beyond all recognition.

Their nominee completed the distortion by declaring that “I, alone” am able to do all these things to “make American great again.”

Now … bring on the Democrats.

Cruz gets pounded … by Texas delegates!

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So help me, I think I need an intervention.

I’m about to stand up for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

Cruz spoke last night to the Republican National Convention. The so-called “smart money” had been put down by those who were certain he would endorse GOP nominee Donald J. Trump.

Cruz didn’t go there. He didn’t go anywhere near there. He stood before the convention crowd and encouraged them to “vote your conscience.”

A lot of delegates took that to mean “vote for anyone other than our nominee.” They started booing. Loudly.

This morning, Sen. Cruz stood before the Texas convention delegation and defended himself against his fellow Texans.

https://www.texastribune.org/2016/07/21/cruzs-failure-to-endorse-trump-upsets-voters-video/

I totally support Cruz’s decision to decline to endorse Trump.

Sen. Cruz has good reason. The nominee “defamed” Cruz’s father by implying that Daddy Cruz might have been complicit in the assassination of President Kennedy. Rafael Cruz supposedly had spoken to Lee Harvey Oswald before JFK was shot to death. Therefore, the innuendo was planted.

Trump also released a tweet showing Heidi Cruz, the former GOP candidate’s wife, in an unflattering picture.

Cruz said this morning that Trump had defamed his father and maligned his wife.

How in the world does a candidate toss all that aside and then endorse a candidate for the presidency of the United States?

I am not privy to Cruz’s ulterior motive. There’s been much chatter today about how is now planning to run for president again in 2020, presuming that Trump loses the election this fall.

In the context of the current convention climate and the current nominee, I believe Ted Cruz did what he felt he had to do.

Sure, he’s going to take plenty of flak from other Republicans.

He’s not, though, the “sore loser” others have called him. I prefer to think of him as a loving husband and son.

Clinton might announce VP pick very soon … or later

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One of the more fascinating theories being kicked around about the timing of Hillary Clinton’s vice-presidential selection announcement deals with the outcome of the Republican National Convention.

If the GOP finishes the convention tonight on a downer, the theory goes, Clinton is going to wait a day or two before making her big announcement.

If it finishes on a high note, if Donald J. Trump hits it out of the arena tonight when he makes his presidential nomination acceptance speech, Clinton well might be set to announce her selection Friday morning.

She might even leak it out over Twitter, say, around midnight.

My own gut tells me that she’s made up her mind, that she’s notified all the candidates she “vetted” for the VP post and that she has worked out a pending appearance with whomever she has selected.

Whether announces her selection early — or later — well might depend on the way the Republicans conclude their convention.

I’m all ears.

What has happened to the Grand Old Party?

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I miss Jacob Javits, Everett Dirksen, Nelson Rockefeller, Charles Percy, Mark Hatfield, Howard Baker and even Ronald Reagan.

I miss the old-guard Republicans who used to see their political opponents as “adversaries” and not “enemies.”

These are the guys who used to work with Lyndon Johnson, George McGovern, Ted Kennedy, Sam Rayburn and other Democrats to seek a way forward for the nation.

These days we hear talk of doing away with the “enemy.” It’s all over the air and in print coming out of the Republican National Convention, which concludes tonight in Cleveland.

Where did this “enemy” talk come from?

I cannot answer that with great precision, although I do remember a quote attributed to the former speaker of the House, Newton Leroy Gingrich, who led a GOP “revolution” back in 1994.

It was Newt who spoke to his minions of the need to characterize Democrats as “the enemy of normal Americans.”

Let that sink in for a moment.

There. Now let’s ponder whether the “enemy” characterization has worked well for the nation.

A New Hampshire delegate to the GOP convention has said Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton should be “shot for treason.”

Yes. Shot! The Secret Service is examining whether this fellow presents a clear and present danger to a leading American politician. Clinton hasn’t been charged with a crime, let along convicted of one. That doesn’t matter to this fellow.

Yes, we’ve gotten more than a bit testy these days.

To think that this once-great political party, where politicians used to take pride in their ability to work with the other side, has devolved to this point.

Is the other side innocent of this kind of division? No. They, too, have their share of loudmouthed demagogues. But in the halls of Congress, which is controlled by Republicans, we see the majority party using language that seeks to drive a wedge between men and women on both sides of the aisle.

It’s all coming to bear this week in Cleveland and the Grand Old Party sends its nominee off to campaign against Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.

I’m usually not one to harken back to the old days. I wouldn’t want to be a teenager ever again.

In this instance, though, I am left to wish for a return — in the words of another grand old-school Republican, George H.W. Bush — to a “kinder, gentler” time.

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