This past Monday, a group of eight senators, four Democrat and four Republican, announced a legislative plan to address the eleven million illegal immigrants who currently reside within the United States. Not only is the makeup of those making the announcement bipartisan, but the ideas within the proposal are as well. The legislation would create a path to citizenship for those who are already within the United States while making significant increases to border security. The following day, President Obama essentially endorsed the Senate proposal. Achieving true immigration reform is something that is politically beneficial to both parties, as it’s an issue that Democrats have sought to address for some time and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the GOP’s disastrous support among Latinos is a recipe for defeat on a national level, something Senator John McCain admitted.
Senator McCain’s public admission of their dire electoral situation highlights the feeling among establishment Republicans who see the writing on the wall that says that unless they do something to address the 3-to-1 advantage Democrats have with Latinos, they are going to be in trouble in future elections. Despite this reality, the base and the non-elected, de-facto representatives of the Republican base are not so pleased with this idea.
Less than a month after being re-elected to the House of Representatives for the seventh time in West Virginia’s second congressional district, Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito (R) announced that she plans to run for the United States Senate seat currently held by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D). Senator Rockefeller was first elected to the United States Senate in 1984 and has been re-elected with relative ease since then.
West Virginia spent much of the twentieth century being a stronghold for Democrats. In the seventeen Presidential elections from 1932 to 1996, West Virginia only voted for the Republican candidate three times. The last time a Republican was elected to the United States Senate for a full term in the state was when they elected W. Chapman Revercomb in 1942. Of the six elected positions in the executive branch, five of them are Democrats. Senator Joe Manchin was also recently elected to a full term with more than 60% of the vote.
But things have changed in West Virginia over time.
In his 1978 State of the Union address, President Jimmy Carter said “Government cannot solve our problems, it can’t set our goals. It cannot define our vision. Government cannot eliminate poverty or provide a bountiful economy or reduce inflation or save our cities or cure illiteracy or provide energy. And government cannot mandate goodness.” In 1996, just months before signing a bill into law that dramatically changed how the government helps the poor, President Bill Clinton stated “The era of big government is over.” By reading those quotes, you’d think they would’ve come from Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, not two of the three most recent Democratic Presidents. It’s felt like many of our recent Democratic Presidents have had to run away from being Democrats in order to be politically viable.
This changed Monday morning, when President Obama, in his second inaugural address, made the strongest and most vocal defense of liberalism and expansive government action since President Lyndon Johnson and his Great Society initiative. In his speech, he made a passionate defense of government “entitlement” programs, saying “the commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.” He devoted an entire paragraph of his speech to climate change, a topic that many have felt is politically unviable for some time. He alluded to his initiative to curb gun violence. By all accounts, this is the most progressive speech of his Presidency.
Much of President Obama’s speech hinges on references to our nation’s history. One of the most prominent connections between this President and another one of our past Presidents comes through their historical allusions.
It’s a phrase LBJ lived by. It’s not an analogy or a metaphor or anything tricky. It’s straightforward: If you want to be powerful, you go where the power is. It’s one reasoning why LBJ ultimately accepted Kennedy’s request to be the vice president on the Democratic ticket.
In my last post, I gave a rather glowing praise of LBJ, but never has a president been either completely good or completely bad. To provide a more critical eye to LBJ, I’ll post some snippets I’ve learned about him from reading The Passage of Power. I’m between a fourth and a third of the way through the book, so I might do this a couple more times, but I do highly recommend the novel. It’s a very good read about, aside from maybe Nixon, America’s most complicated president in modern history.
- Johnson loved power, almost to a dangerous level. There’s a reason why Kennedy – smartly, as I now see it – never enlisted Johnson, though the most skillful politician of his time, for assistance in legislative matters. Johnson would have used any such opportunity to run the whole show, creating the impression that the President was following the lead of his Vice President. Additionally, right after his inauguration as Vice President, Johnson tried to expand the office’s power through two ways: First through the Senate, by trying to become the caucus leader of Senate Democrats, and secondly through the Kennedy administration, by trying to convince Kennedy that he should have an office next to his in the White House, and being able to review national security documents to advise the president. He also liked to flaunt his power whenever he had it. Once while he was Senate Majority Leader, Johnson kicked Humphrey very hard in the shin on the Senate floor for failing to carry out an order of his fast enough.
- LBJ was a manipulative man. When he wanted something, he would use any means to get it, even if it meant toying with people’s emotions. After his ways to expand the officers of the vice president failed, Johnson would hardly talk at all in staff meetings Kennedy invited him to. Eventually he started to genuinely feel horrible and useless, for a while he faked it. In these meetings he would look very grim, his long face sunk with despair. No matter how he was really feeling, he rarely answered questions that weren’t more than one syllable replies. He would also have to be asked to repeat his answers because he was often very quiet. This “feel sorry for me” method never worked on Kennedy, who was more annoyed with Johnson’s attitude than anything.
- Johnson had mistresses, like Congresswoman Helen Douglas.
- During the Cuban Missile Crises, Johnson, while not completely on the side of the warhawks during the ExComm meetings, thought Kennedy was being too weak in his dealing with the Russians, and at one point advocated bombing the missiles being built in Cuba. Most of the time, Johnson just complained about how Kennedy was handling the situation while offering no advice of his own. After reading the section about the Cuban Missile Crisis, I’m now *very* glad Kennedy was president. He, along with his brother, was one of the few people in the oval office arguing for a more pragmatic approach, and give Khrushchev to back down. He stuck to his guns. What would Johnson have done in that situation? Or Nixon? I’m a little apprehensive to think about it.
Pictured above: President Johnson signs, as Martin Luther King Jr. watches him, the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Today is MLK Jr. Day, and as we all know, Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. This movement culminated in the passage of two of America’s most important pieces of legislation: the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Today’s also the day that Obama gave his second and final inaugural address. Most of those who watched the speech agree that it was one of, if not the most, progressive speech Obama ever gave. In it he espoused equality for pay among men and women, the freedom to marry whomever we love despite our lover’s gender, how voting should be the easiest thing to do in the world, and that we need – we absolutely must – tackle climate change. That’s not everything he mentioned, but what was clear in Obama’s speech was that an activist government is better than a government that doesn’t do anything. How government action doesn’t make us less free, it makes us more free, because the more risk we bear together and as a nation, the more risk we can take as individuals and succeed.
So let’s go back about fifty years, to a clear demonstration of the kind of activist and good government Obama was talking about, and realize how America is now better off.
While many political nerds will spend the day glued to their televisions watching the day’s proceedings unfold, many are wondering just what will be the defining issues of this second term. Historians are quick to note that second term Presidents are known to attempt for an overreach in power and many also face scandals of various sorts. Eisenhower saw his party get beaten pretty badly during his second term. Clinton saw an impeachment scandal. George W. Bush botched a disaster response and presided over the greatest economic calamity in nearly a century. Though despite this, Albert R. Hunt of the New York Times writes that President Obama is very much aware of these events and the other types of issues that second-termers face. To me, this is just another piece of evidence that President Obama wants to be remembered as more than the first African American President; he wants the first African American Presidency to be a good one in the history books.
The question that many observers are asking is; what can we expect from a second Obama Administration?
(Start scene of non-erotic political fan fiction.)
It was 11 pm. The dead heat of the night consumed the air. Cheri Honkala paced nervously back and forth across the room. Dozens of hurried aides worked diligently around her. They answered phone calls, popped tums, and occasionally stole a glance at the disheveled Honkala. These twenty something youngsters might witness history but they had to keep their mind busy, or get crushed by the wrath of the Honk, a nickname first given to Honkala by her defeated opponents. During the madness a white haired lady occupied the organic cotton couch near the fluorescent HD TV. She sipped an organic home brew of green tea as she flipped channels between NPR and C-SPAN. At the same time her eyes gazed at an Al Jazeera stream on her MacBook while she gripped her iPhone, as to not miss any important text vibrations. Yet through this haze of electronic acrobatics, the lady gave off an aura of tranquility. It annoyed the Honk.
(I don’t know if they really call her the Honk.)
“Stein why are you so calm!” Honkala bellowed at her running mate.
The petite woman offered her some tea. “Please Cheri, call me by my first name.”
Honkala sighed, “Jill I don’t want your damn tea. How can you be so calm during this dead heat? It’s literally a virtual dead heat!”
Jill nodded and sipped some tea. “Right you are my friend. It is a dead heat.”
Over the last few years there has been a lot of talk about reforming the current Filibuster rules in the United States Senate. Every time it comes up however nothing seems to come of it. Many who fight to reform the Filibuster feel like Charlie Brown trying to kick that football. There’s a belief that it will finally happen and everyone’s hopeful. Then all of a sudden we’re all flat on our backs, looking up at the sky trying to figure out where it all went wrong.
What many of those who want Filibuster reform want to see is a return to the Talking Filibuster. There are those who would like to see the number of votes needed to complete a cloture motion reduced, but a very strong argument can be made for the return of the Talking Filibuster.
Historically the Filibuster has consisted of a Senator, or group thereof, delaying the vote on a bill by standing up and refusing to yield the floor. They would give speeches; force the bill in its entirety to be read, amendments and all; read from cookbooks, magazines and even novels. That is until modern times. Currently the threat of a Filibuster is enough to stop progress on a bill in virtually any stage of the process.
It is important to note that the Filibuster appears nowhere in the U.S. Constitution. The idea of the Filibuster came into being in 1806 and was an entirely theoretical option until its first use in 1837. The cloture vote, which the Senate can take to end a filibuster, did not even exist until 1917. Originally it took two-thirds of all present Senators to successfully complete a cloture vote and end the filibuster, over time it was reduced to the three-fifths number we have today.