Tag Archives: US politics

US politics: Amidst the mud-slinging, a ray of hope

In the aftermath of the November 2000 US presidential election, I was off-work with a stress-related mental illness. In a good way, this meant I had plenty of time to read about the Bush/Gore hanging chads dispute. As a result, I discovered Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire. In the twenty years since then, hardly a day has gone by that I have not logged on to Political Wire – often several times a day.

It is a news aggregation website which is “light touch” – providing a miscellany of key political news and articles each day.

In the last few years, I have enrolled as a Political Wire member. The other day I saw a post advertising a webinar for members. I thought it would be fun to join it. This meant staying up until 1am last night! But it was a real treat. Amongst an audience of 900, there were such eminences as legendary pollster Charlie Cook and Obama adviser David Axelrod!

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What a peaceful transition of power should look like

I might have known that after I had written about Obama’s inauguration speech earlier, how I would fall down the rabbit hole of the Obama White House You Tube Channel.

I came across the unveilings of the official portraits of George W and Laura Bush. Now, I am not a fan of him or his presidency at all. It is, however, very difficult not to love Laura.

Despite all that, when you watch all the speeches from the Obamas and the Bushes, you pick up a real warmth between them.

There was not a lot of common ground between them when Obama took office, but he went to great pains to point out how helpful Bush had been to him, then and since, and how there was quite a rapport between all the living occupants of the Oval Office. It is enjoyable to watch.

I think back to 1992, when Bill Clinton won after a pretty fraught election campaign with not a lot of love on either side. The first President Bush was similarly helpful and graceful to his successor and they struck up an enduring friendship as a result.

Obviously, this is not going to happen this time round, but Donald Trump, as in so many other ways, is very much the aberration here.

We need to see more examples of people with totally opposing views can behave with grace towards one another without compromising their principles. We need to follow the example of our own Charles Kennedy, whose friendship with Labour spin doctor Alistair Campbell had been so important to both of them, as we found out after he died.  Charles had been subjected to the most appalling abuse for his opposition to the Iraq War, yet away from the heat, those two had a close personal friendship.

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A look back at Obama’s inauguration

As we prepare to welcome Joe Biden as US President a week on Wednesday, I thought it might be an idea to look back at previous inaugurations.

Let’s hope that we get to 20th January without any more of the scenes we saw this week. There may well be drama in Congress as the Democrats attempt a second impeachment, but the last thing anybody needs is more injury or loss of life.

I’m thinking back 12 years to Obama’s inaugural speech. I will never forget it. But that is partly because our hamster Puffball died during it, not just for its inspiring and hopeful qualities.

You can watch it, subtitled, here.

And read it here.

Then LDV co-editor Stephen Tall said that he came across as the “ultimate pragmatist CEO”:

Was this speech a mesmerising tour de force which will rank among his best? Not for me. But that’s not a bad thing at all, because what the speech did demonstrate was a sense of uncompromising purpose – and I’ll take that over highfalutin oratory from the most powerful leader in the world. For sure, there was the soaring promise:

The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

But what struck me more was the sense of the ultimate pragmatist CEO, impatient to fix what he sees as broken:

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works – whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account – to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day – because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

I was still learning to love him. Obviously I was delighted that he had been elected, but I have always been a Hillary fan. Somewhere there’s an alternate universe where we are now at the end of Obama’s first term as 45th President with her having been the 44th. That would have been a lot better.
Obama was just starting to inspire me. His inaugural speech certainly made me warm to him more as I wrote on my own blog.

Obama’s speech still had the idealism and the confidence that we have come to expect from him, but this was tempered with sobering realism and a call to all Americans to give of their best to deal with the unprecedented challenges ahead.

You could actually see George W Bush squirming as his legacy was laid bare in a few well chosen, but very frank words. “Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet”

There were two phrases that I thought were the signs of the new age. “We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” So it’s goodbye Guantanamo. The poisonous vernacular of the war on terror is replaced with “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” Well, I loved it.

And if this is true, then bring it on: “To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect.” I hope Israel was listening and will be made to think about the way it consumes the resources of the middle east. It would be good if clean waters flowed in Gaza.

Another theme of the speech was personal responsibility, and embracing your duties as a citizen to help the nation succeed. “For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.”

The two things I really loved most of all about the speech was the inclusion of non-believers in the list of value systems at one point and the addition of curiosity as one of the “values on which our success depends.” I like the willingness to abandon conventions as novel solutions are sought for challenges.

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Does unity require amnesty?

What will America do with Mr Trump when he ceases to be President? There will be those who believe that the relatively narrow margin of Biden’s victory means that America is still a bitterly divided country and that the healing process means that any question of prosecution would be a non-starter because it would ‘re-open the wounds”. Trumpism will not go away even in the unlikely event of the man himself disappearing into the sunset sometime in January. But national divisions are nothing like as simple as the binary choices of a two-horse race or a yes/no referendum.
Going against a majority view can be difficult for politicians but if it matters so much the voters have the option of sending them packing in due course. MPs who voted for the abolition of the death penalty were not, for the most part, punished by their constituents. We didn’t have council elections in the Mets in the May following the UK referendum but in 2018 many of us in the North were happy to be elected or re-elected in wards which voted heavily Leave, myself included. Because voters are human beings their political views can be more complex (sometimes contradictory) than we might like them to be.
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WATCH: The West Wing is coming back (briefly)

I am a massive fan of The West Wing. There are several episodes (The Midterms, for example) where I am almost word perfect. So you can imagine how excited I am that it’s very briefly returning in an HBO Max special on Thursday. It’s being done for When we all vote, an organisation chaired by Michelle Obama to:

increase participation in every election and close the race and age voting gap by changing the culture around voting, harnessing grassroots energy, and through strategic partnerships to reach every American.

The cast will reunite to perform the 2002 episode Hartsfield’s Landing. It’s the one where Josh and Donna try to make sure that there as many Bartlet votes as possible in a small village in New Hampshire that votes at midnight. I love it.

The trailer, published this week, gave me goosebumps. If you haven’t seen it, enjoy.

I’ve heard that a lot of fans have this week been rewatching the episodes at the end of Season 4 which involve the invocation of the 25th Amendment for reasons that I can’t imagine.

It comes at a time when Democrat House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has proposed legislation on the subject of the 25th Amendment, looking in more detail about when a President is unfit for office.

From the Guardian

The office of the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, announced a Friday press conference about the bill after she expressed concern that Trump, who is under treatment for coronavirus at the White House, is suffering a “disassociation from reality”.

The president has unleashed a barrage of erratic and self-contradictory tweets and declarations in recent days that have left staff scrambling and raised concerns over his stability.

In a zig-zagging interview on the Fox Business channel on Thursday, his first since being hospitalised, Trump, 74, boasted: “I’m back, because I am a perfect physical specimen and I’m extremely young. And so I’m lucky in that way.”

If Aaron Sorkin had put forward scripts for the West Wing which outlined what is going on now, he would have been laughed out of the tv studio.

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Daily View 2×2: 15 June 2020

2 big stories

The relaxation of the UK’s lockdown continues, albeit somewhat falteringly. Yes, you’ll probably be able to go into a pub soon, but your kids may not be back at school until September. And that’s partly because politicians are increasingly ignoring scientists, as Rishi Sunak quite openly acknowledged. He is, I think, right to do so – advisors advise, politicians decide. If only many of us had more faith in the quality of those politicians who form our current government…

Caution is probably the watchword though, as many, if not most, people are still uncomfortable with crowded places, and are …

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An Ostrich Prepares to Lash Out

Every week I do an hour long programme for American radio. The purpose is to try to explain what the rest of the world is thinking about America and what is happening in the world which should be of interest to Americans.

The format takes the form of a discussion between myself—an avowed liberal expat—and an old school friend, Lockwood Phillips, who is a staunch Trump supporter. Not surprisingly, the mix leads to some lively discussions. This week was especially so.

Actually, it was the off-air discourse that was at times off-colour and even more interesting was the exchange of emails …

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Daily View 2×2: 8 June 2020

2 big stories

Black Lives Matter. A simple statement that probably ought not to be necessary, but is. The demonstrations in our bigger towns and cities will have drawn most of the coverage, but the picture is from that well-known radical heartland of Bury St Edmunds, where a demonstration took place yesterday afternoon. Perhaps it is a sign of promise that, even in a community like this, where the non-white population is small, hundreds of people felt moved to express their anger at the injustice of a society which treats black people …

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Daily View 2×2: 5 June 2020

2 big stories

Yesterday, the New York Times published an opinion piece by the junior US Senator for Arkansas, Tom Cotton, which called upon President Trump to invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act to

employ the military “or any other means” in “cases of insurrection, or obstruction to the laws”

by way of an overwhelming show of force against protestors. Why is this important? Because Tom Cotton is a potential Republican nominee for the Presidency in the not that distant future.

It would be fair to say that there was a backlash, as the editorial page editor himself admitted.

There is a valid question to …

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Daily View 2×2: 3 April 2020

It’s Friday, it’s five to five half-past seven, and it’s time once again for…

2 big stories

Yesterday, Matt Hancock announced that he was writing off £13.4 billion worth of NHS debt – on the face of it a thoroughly good thing. Of course, you find yourself wondering how it could have repaid that debt anyway, and the problem of the legacy of PFI remains a shadow over the finances of our healthcare, but it will obviously help to ease the burden on day to day finances in our hospitals.

Ten million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits in the …

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Daily View 2×2: 30 March 2020

I’ve been looking back at Liberal Democrat Voice past over the weekend, and jolly interesting it has been too – the archives are a glimpse into a rather different political party and, indeed, a rather different Liberal Democrat Voice. As for us, we’re not the same people we used to be, indeed, the Editorial Team of ten years ago bears little resemblance to today’s lineup.

But something drew my eye, and so, in magpie style, I’m stealing it, or perhaps more generously, recycling it. The Daily View feature ran in 2009 and 2010, and was meant to be an early preview …

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The Democratic primary for New York Governor just got interesting

The collision of two of my favourite worlds will keep me well occupied until June 26th when the Democrats choose their candidate for New York Governor.  Yesterday, Cynthia Nixon, who played my favourite character in Sex and the City, Miranda Hobbes, announced her candidacy with a  very effective video.

The Democrats already hold the seat, of course. Andrew Cuomo seeks his third term and won in 2014 with 54% of the vote in the General Election. He is the obvious frontrunner to fight again for the Democrats with, at the moment, a fairly massive lead over all-comers. From the New York Times:

Ms. Nixon, 51, has never before run for elected office and has chosen a huge undertaking for her first bid: seeking to unseat a two-term incumbent (and son of a three-term governor) who is sitting atop more than $30 million in campaign cash. “Our leaders are letting us down,” she says in a video posted on Twitter, talking about the inequities in New York spliced between images of her walking on the streets of New York City and taking the subways. “Something has to change,” she says in the ad. “We want our government to work again, on health care, ending mass incarceration, fixing our broken subway. We are sick of politicians who care more about headlines and power than they do about us. It can’t just be business as usual anymore.”

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For Winchester 1997, read Virginia 2017

The mantra “EVERY VOTE COUNTS” is an article of faith for political activists everywhere. Liberal Democrats know this more than most, having won one election and lost one in the last twenty years by a margin of two votes (Winchester 1997 and North East Fife 2017).

Now, from the state of Virginia, comes another reminder that every conversation with an undecided voter can swing an election, in a very unusual outcome. On election night last November, Republican David Yancey ‘won’ a crucial state house seat by ten votes, just preventing Democrats from overturning a 32-seat Republican majority. However, his challenger, Shelly Simonds, filed for a recount.

Held in December, the recount appeared to have Simonds winning the seat by a single vote, 11,608 to 11,607. Great news for Virginia Democrats, who thought they would now split control 50-50 of Virginia’s 100-seat lower House of Delegates.

However, their initial euphoria was short-lived. Two days later, a three-judge panel threw out Simond’s one vote win, ruling a disputed ballot should count for Yancey, the Republican, and tying the race. (Veterans of disputed ballot arguments at recounts might want to look away now – here’s a copy of the disputed ballot in question, which shows a mark against both the Democrat and Republican candidates, but then also crosses out the Democrat candidate’s name).

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Book Review: The Residence: Inside the private world of the White House

The Residence cover

If you get a chance over the Summer, have a read of Kate Andersen Brower’s book detailing the history and lives of the people who look after the first families at the White House. Find out about their relationships with the various occupants of the biggest goldfish bowl on the planet.  From the Roosevelts to the Obamas, find out about the details of domestic life and the varying relationships between staff and residents.

It is a little biased towards the Republicans and if you know a lot about US politics, there are no new sensational revelations, but it is a fascinating read nonetheless. My emotions went from sympathy for the Clintons and Obamas to annoyance with Lyndon Johnson’s obsession with his shower.  You feel the shock and fear around the Kennedy assassination and 9/11. How does it feel when you realise that your workplace could be the next target – especially when you leave some of your colleagues behind.

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Lessons from history: What Bush and Reagan could teach some UK politicians about their attitude towards economic migration

Way back in 1980, as Ronald Reagan and George Bush were battling it out for the Republican nomination, they were asked whether the children of Mexicans working illegally in the US should be able to get educated. Their answer, posted on the Houston Chronicle’s Facebook page, might surprise you. Today’s politicians and tabloid editors might learn something.

Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush debate Mexican border security…

What would Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush say about immigration and securing the Mexican border today?Well, here's what they said about it in 1980 during a GOP debate in Houston.(Archival video from Getty Images)

Posted by Houston Chronicle on Tuesday, 5 January 2016

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South Bronx is just as important as Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall

South Bronx - Some rights reserved by Nathan CongletonIt is lovely to watch a US President taking the oath of office and not be scared. The feeling of dread I experienced in 1981 and 2001 when Reagan and the younger Bush took office was not pleasant. While Barack Obama has not been perfect, his heart is generally in the right place. His achievements in his first term are all the more remarkable when you consider that he faced a Congress full of some of the most right wing, conservative Republicans we’ve seen in our lifetimes whose sole aim was to thwart his every move.

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