Category Archives: political news

James Mattis enters hall of glory with resignation letter

James Mattis doesn’t seem like someone intent on self-glorification.

The secretary of defense appears to be motivated by love of country, devotion to public service and to living by the code instilled in the Marine Corps from which he retired as a four-star general.

However, his letter of resignation has emerged as an instant iconic message that might stand as a defining epitaph — perhaps the defining epitaph — for the presidency of Donald J. Trump.

The closest recent example I can find that resembles the tone Mattis uses in his resignation letter comes from the late Cyrus Vance, who in 1980 resigned as secretary of state to protest President Carter’s decision to launch the ill-fated mission to rescue the American hostages who were held in Iran.

He calls out the president for his lack of understanding of the importance of our alliances, for his failure to understand the consequences of presidential actions or pronouncements. He scolds the president for his failure to be “resolute” in his relations with our nation’s traditional adversaries, such as Russia and China.

He ended the letter without salutation. Simply signing it “James N. Mattis.”

Read the letter here.

Its message should sadden — and frighten — every American who shares his concerns about the presidency and the man who occupies this exalted office.

Elections always have consequences

I have long understood and appreciated the consequences that elections bring to those in public service.

It’s an accepted part of the electoral process. If the individual you want doesn’t get elected to any office, you then must face the prospect of the other individual doing something with which you likely will disagree.

It happened certainly in 2016 with the election as president of Donald J. Trump. He won the Electoral College as prescribed by the Constitution, but more of us cast ballots for his major foe than for the winner. Still, we are paying the consequences of the previous presidential election.

Well, here we are. Two years later and the president finds himself facing his own consequential electoral result in the wake of the congressional midterm election. The House of Representatives, half of the legislative branch of government, is about to flip from Republican to Democratic control; the gavel-passing occurs on Jan. 3 when Nancy Pelosi ascends to the speakership. Committee chairs will get their respective gavels, too.

Get ready, therefore, for hearings. Get ready for lots of questions that House Republicans so far have been  unwilling to ask of the president of their own political party.

The president appears to be in trouble. His GOP “allies,” and I use that term guardedly, have been reticent in seeking the truth behind the many questions that swirl around the president. They aren’t “friends” with Trump as much as they are frightened by him. He has bullied them into remaining silent.

The president won’t be able to play that hand with Democrats who are in charge of the lower chamber of Congress. Thus, it remains increasingly problematic for the president to do something foolhardy, such as fire the special counsel who is examining those questions concerning the alleged “collusion” between the president’s campaign and Russian government agents who interfered in our electoral process.

Yes, indeed. Elections have serious consequences. We are likely to witness them play out in real time . . . very soon.

No need to lock him up . . . at least not yet?

Michael Flynn went before the judge today and got a snootful from the jurist who holds the man’s future in his hands.

The former Donald Trump national security adviser, though, was spared a prison sentence from U.S. District Judge Emmitt Sullivan until after Flynn is finished cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the alleged Russia collusion matter during the 2016 presidential election.

To be totally candid, I don’t really care whether Flynn serves time in prison for the felony crimes to which he has pleaded guilty. Mueller is asking the judge to spare Flynn prison time because of the extensive cooperation he has given the probe into allegations of collusion, conspiracy and perhaps other matters relating to the Trump campaign — if not the presidency itself.

Sullivan reminded Flynn this morning that he is under no obligation to follow Mueller’s recommendation and scolded the retired Army lieutenant general for being an “unregistered agent” for a foreign power while serving as national security adviser. Sullivan told Flynn that “arguably you sold your country out.” The hearing reportedly was contentious as Sullivan — who was appointed to the federal bench by President Clinton — gave Flynn the holy what-for in connection to his admitted involvement with the Russian government.

Mueller is going to get more information from Flynn as he seeks to conclude his investigation. I hope the end arrives sooner rather than later.

As for Flynn — who once led Republican National Convention cheers to “lock up!” Hillary Clinton for using her personal email server while she was secretary of state — all I want from him at this point is full cooperation with Mueller and his team of legal eagles.

Something tells me Flynn has more beans to spill regarding Trump’s campaign and whether the president himself committed illegal acts on his way to being elected to the nation’s highest office.

Time of My Life, Part 5: Conventions bring serious tasks

Every now and then journalists get to see the most serious tasks imaginable in a totally new context, especially when you’re thrust into a front-row seat.

I had a couple of those experiences while working for the Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise. I want to share them with you briefly here.

In 1988 and again in 1992 I was privileged to attend two Republican National Committee presidential nominating conventions. Beaumont lies between two major cities — New Orleans to the east and Houston to the west. The GOP nominated Vice President George H.W. Bush as president in 1988 in New Orleans; then the party nominated him again for re-election in 1992 in Houston.

I got to witness all of the hubbub, the whoopin’ and hollerin’ up close both times.

The 1988 convention placed me behind the speaker’s podium inside the Superdome in New Orleans, where I witnessed President Reagan deliver a stirring speech to the faithful crowd. After the president finished his speech — and as the crowd cheered the Gipper — he and his wife, Nancy, turned and walked off the stage and so help me as God is my witness, he looked straight at me as we made eye contact. I have to say that was quite a thrill.

I worked in the same media room with some fine reporters and columnists. One of them is Chris Matthews, who at both conventions was a “mere” columnist for the San Francisco Examiner, which was owned by the same Hearst Corporation that owns the Beaumont Enterprise. I got to know Matthews, I like to say, “before he became ‘Chris Matthews,'” the current star of prime-time cable TV coverage on MSBNC. He and I enjoyed a cup of coffee at the Houston convention, chatted for a few minutes. He wouldn’t remember it, but it happened.

The 1992 gathering in the Houston Astrodome was notable as well for a couple of speeches. Conservative firebrand Pat Buchanan sought to wrest the GOP nomination from President Bush and delivered the frightening speech in which he implored the delegates to “take our country back” from some nefarious evil forces Buchanan thought had hijacked the nation. I also got to hear former President Reagan bring down the house when he mentioned the Democrats’ nominee, Bill Clinton, who Reagan said fancied himself to be another Thomas Jefferson. He responded, “Let me tell you, governor. I knew Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson was a friend of mine, and governor, you’re no Thomas Jefferson.”

The former president’s timing was picture perfect, owing to his well-known skill as a film and TV actor.

The biggest takeaway from both conventions was the sight of serious men and women doing the most serious work imaginable — nominating candidates for president and vice president of the United States — while wearing goofy elephant hats, with vests festooned with buttons and labels and generally carrying on like children at a birthday party.

I simply had to suspend my disbelief as I watched these individuals performing this most serious of tasks.

Yes, it was representative democracy in its raw form. It was a joy to watch and to cover it for the newspaper that employed me.

Corker might vote for a Democrat? Big . . . deal!

Lame-duck U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., says he “might vote” for a Democrat for president in 2020.

To which I say: Big . . . bleeping . . . deal!

Does it really matter one bit what a U.S. senator might do when he gets a chance in a couple of years to vote — in private! — for the candidate of his choice?

No it doesn’t.

I grow weary of hearing from these politicians who believe that expressing their voting preferences in public somehow gives their ballot-casting some added significance, some gravitas.

Corker is a fine man. He announced about a year ago that he wouldn’t run for re-election to the Senate from Tennessee. That’s when he grew a pair of ’em and started speaking out against the president of his own party. If only he had been as stern prior to his becoming a lame duck. But . . . whatever.

Now he says he might vote for a Democrat.

The founders made sure we could vote in private for a reason. It was to protect citizens against recrimination, coercion and pressure. Sure, I occasionally reveal my own voting preferences on this blog. I also know that it doesn’t mean anything to damn near anyone because readers of this blog have their minds made up already; I just choose to use this forum to vent.

So, to Sen. Corker I only want to add, feel free to vote for whomever you choose, sir. You are entitled to write in The Man in the Moon if that’s your choice. You’re under no obligation to tell us about it.

Indeed, I care about that as much as I care about knowing you might cast your ballot for a Democrat next time around.

Term limits for congressional leaders? Why not?

I dislike the idea of term limits for members of Congress.

However, the idea of imposing such limits on congressional leaders is another matter. To that end, the next speaker of the House of Representatives is on to something constructive.

Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the House Democratic caucus, has agreed to serve only two terms as speaker once she takes the gavel in January. She is set to favor a vote among congressional Democrats to impose similar limits on committee chairs, following the lead set by their Republican colleagues.

Pelosi getting push back

I like the notion of imposing those limits on leadership, despite my aversion to mandatory limits on the number of terms House members can serve on Capitol Hill. I have said all along that we already have limits on terms; they occur in the House every two years and every six years for senators. The 2018 midterm election demonstrated quite vividly the power of the electorate to give incumbents the boot.

Congressional leaders, though, aren’t necessarily beholden to the voters for the power they obtain in the halls of Congress. They are beholden to their fellow lawmakers.

Why not enact mandatory regular changes in committee chairmanships — as well as the speaker of the House?

It’s a good call from the new speaker.

The 2020 horse race has begun

Candidates say they dislike it. So do journalists who cover these events.

But bet on it! The 2020 presidential campaign/horse race has commenced. The media are all over themselves in covering who’s up and who’s down in the upcoming Democratic Party presidential primary campaign.

MoveOn.org, the left-leaning political action group, now has Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke narrowly ahead in the race to become the Democrats’ next presidential nominee. Former Vice President Joe Biden is right behind him.

Beto’s fans are no doubt going nuts. Fine. Let ’em whoop and holler!

I find this kind of coverage annoying in the extreme. Why?

For starters, Beto O’Rourke’s poll standing doesn’t mean a damn thing. It won’t matter at the end of this week, let alone next week. It could change overnight. These polls are as fluid as running water.

The 2016 Republican primary campaign revealed the same kind of shallowness of the media coverage of these issues. The media become fixated on the “horse race” element, not the issues on which the candidates are running.

So it is shaping up for the 2020 Democratic primary campaign.

Beto is up this week. Last week it was Joe Biden. Sen. Kamala Harris might emerge as next week’s media favorite. Then there’s former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who has formed an exploratory committee to assess whether he wants to run for president in 2020.

The media are going to be all over this horse race matter.

I tend to tune this stuff out fairly quickly once the coverage begins. The media — the very people who say they detest this sort of political coverage — are forcing me to close my ears early.

Yes, there is a church-state ‘separation’

A former colleague of mine used to insist that because the United States Constitution doesn’t contain the phrase “separation of church and state” that the concept somehow is not relevant.

Well, I would remind him that the First Amendment about a prohibition against writing laws that establish a state religion implies the separation graphically.

Enter the new man nominated to become the U.S. attorney general, William Barr. He has declared his skepticism about the “secular” state the founders created in the late 18th century. He wants to invoke “God’s law” when enforcing the laws of the land.

I am going to presume he means the laws of the Christian God. But what about the laws of all the other gods that Americans worship? The Islamic god, the Jewish god, the Hindu god, the Buddhist god, the Shinto god? Do they matter? Of course they do! Or at least they should.

Except the founders created a Constitution that say there should be no law passed “with respect” to a particular religion. It stipulates there should be “no religious test” for anyone seeking public office.

The words “Christian,” “Christianity” or “Jesus Christ” are not mentioned in the Constitution. Nor does it mention “Jewish” or “Muslim” or “Buddhist” or “Hindu.”

So, to the AG-designate, I merely want to urge him to stick to enforcing the laws of the land, as enacted by Congress, signed by the president and affirmed by the courts.

How’s this for religious bigotry?

To think that Texas’s third-largest county is home to a cabal of religious bigots who want to oust a local Republican Party vice chairman because — get ready for it — he’s a Muslim!

Ye gads, this story disgusts me.

At issue is the faith practiced by Shahid Shafi, a Southlake trauma surgeon. He ran twice for the Southlake City Council and was elected on his second try. He was informed by friends that as a Muslim, he would have difficulty being elected to any office in Texas in this post 9/11 era.

That didn’t dissuade him. So he ran and won eventually.

Now he’s vice chair of the Tarrant County GOP. But wait! He barely had taken office when a local Republican raised a phony alarm. A precinct chairwoman, Dorrie O’Brien, urged the county’s GOP chair, Darl Easton, to pull Shafi out of the vice chair’s office.

The bigot said, without any evidence, that Shafi believes in Sharia law and that he’s a closet terrorist.

Good grief!

I feel the need to remind everyone yet again that the U.S. Constitution is unambiguous about this point: There shall be “no religious test” applied for anyone seeking elected office in the United States of America. It’s written in Article VI, Clause 3 of the nation’s founding government document. Yep, that includes city council member and political party leadership.

The bigoted move has drawn immediate condemnation from some high-profile Republicans, such as Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush and lame-duck Texas House Speaker Joe Straus. The Texas GOP Executive Committee has approved a resolution endorsing religious freedom in a move to stop the xenophobia that might erupt if the Tarrant County removal motion is allowed to proceed.

Here is how the Texas Tribune reports it

Yes, this story sickens me. It should sicken anyone who has an understanding of what the Constitution says about religion in politics.

Then there’s the issue of innuendo and unfounded accusation, which has become one of the dubious trademarks of the nation’s top Republican, Donald Trump.

Disgusting.

Trump needs to find better speechwriters

I feel the need to cut Donald John Trump a little bit of slack, so bear with me.

He gets pilloried for the speeches he delivers. Why? Because they don’t sound sincere. He reads them while seeming to squirm while he recites someone else’s words.

Now, for the slack.

Every president has a staff of speechwriters. Writing a speech for a politician is the trickiest of rhetorical businesses. The guts of a speechwriter’s task lies in his or her ability to write words as if they are originated by the individual who speaks them. 

As the nation pays tribute to the late President George H.W. Bush, we are recalling some of the words he spoke to the nation that elected him to lead it. Much of that high-minded rhetoric he delivered came from speechwriters. I think of one in particular, Peggy Noonan, who’s now a Wall Street Journal columnist. Noonan is one of the premier wordsmiths around. She writes golden prose in her column — and she delivered the goods while writing for President Reagan and then President Bush.

David Gerson is another notable speechwriter. He now writes for the Washington Post, but he once wrote speeches for President George W. Bush. Gerson managed to maintain W’s essential character while penning remarks he would deliver in the wake of 9/11.

Some presidents are compulsive editors. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were known to edit the daylights out of speech drafts. President Obama’s speeches often comprised soaring rhetoric. Do you think the president wrote every word? Of course not! He, too, had a speechwriting team at his disposal.

Back to Trump.

Where the current president seems to fall short in the delivery of his prepared remarks is that whoever pens those words for him do not capture the personality of the man. One can see and hear the difference the instant Trump veers from the prepared text and launches into one of his off-the-rails riffs.

It’s been said that Trump did little to prepare for the presidency after he was elected and during the transition to the day he took the oath of office.

The president keeps seeking to assure us he surrounded himself “with the best people” and that he knows the “best words.” I do not believe he has done the former and he certainly doesn’t qualify as an extemporaneous orator.