Migrants and Hyannis, 1962

September 20, 2022

I am sure most of you have heard the old saying “What goes around, comes around.” Well this old bit of wisdom certainly applies to the “political stunt” of Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis flying in 50 undocumented Venezuelans to Martha’s Vineyard, 60 years after a similar “transfer” directed at Massachusetts was carried out by heartless politicians.

In 1962 during the Kennedy administration hardened segregationists cooked up a plan to get back at “those Northern liberals” who were supporting the Civil Rights Movement and the freedom riders in the South. Bus loads of African Americans from states like Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia were transported to Hyannis, Massachusetts with the false promise that the President would greet them and provide them with housing and employment. Sound familiar?

The scheme quickly and quietly ended as many of the African Americans realized that this reverse freedom ride, as it came to be called,was phony. Many returned to the South to endure discrimination and intimidation, but some stayed and started a new but difficult life in a strange yet free environment .Those that stayed were often helped by the citizenry to find housing and employment.

Governors DeSantis and Abbott of Texas have promised to continue the flights and bus rides to liberal cities and states and are being hailed by their supporters for taking illegal immigration to the Democrats. There are likely illegalities perpetrated by the Governors from kidnapping to fraud to human trafficking but those issues are for the police and courts to decide. DeSantis and Abbott could be in trouble for these political stunts.

What these human transfers out of Southern states point to is the desperate need for comprehensive immigration reform. The last real legislation related to immigration was in 1986 – the Simpson-Mizzoli Act- which among a range of bipartisan agreements gave amnesty to 2.7 million illegal immigrants. Since 1986 there has been little progress on immigration reform. A compromise bill in the early 2000s made it through the Senate but died in the House. Obama’s Dreamer’s legislation allowing those children brought here illegally by their parents to stay is still in the courts and of course there is Trumps wall, which is nowhere near completion and opposed by Biden.

Sadly, at a time when there is scant bipartisanship, there is little hope for both Democrats and Republicans sitting down and ironing out immigration reform. Such legislation might include a pathway to citizenship, temporary work permits for the undocumented, faster asylum proceedings and perhaps an orderly and non-political sharing of the burden of thousands of the undocumented with other states. No political stunts, just rational and fair-minded reform. Right now, however, the Republicans are only interested in firing up their base, while the Democrats just complain about not being notified that the migrants were arriving on their doorstep.

There is no doubt that immigration is a mess and new legislation needs to be developed to bring some order to the mess. Unfortunately, this country hasn’t learned much from the reverse freedom rides of 1962. We seem to be on an endless circle of stunts.

Queen Elizabeth

September 14, 2022

Nicole Machiavelli, the Italian political strategist, is perhaps best remembered for his discussion of the most effective way to lead – by fear or by love. Machiavelli chose fear as the best way to lead. Fortunately for Great Britain Queen Elizabeth chose love rather than fear.

There are countless pictures and stories of the Queen smiling, laughing, greeting people warmly and being a wonderful mother and grandmother. Now granted as Queen, Elizabeth held a largely ceremonial position in the hierarchy of national power but her national role was critically important as a unifier, living symbol of past and present greatness, and perhaps most importantly as the source of what is often called political culture- the primary means through which key national values and beliefs are advanced. To say that Elizabeth was the embodiment of “Englishness” would be spot on.

There is now a real concern in Great Britain that with the passing of Elizabeth, all the love that she represented as a leader will be diminished. It is much too early to pass judgment on King Charles, but already there is talk of renewed troubles in Northern Ireland, the collapse of the Commonwealth trade and development relationship and most seriously the end of the monarchy. Polls confirm that the British people are devastated by the death of their beloved Queen and concerned about how her passing will end the “Englishness” that she represented.

Many in our country have been saddened by the death of Elizabeth and will likely be glued to their televisions during the state funeral on Monday. Americans often make fun of British royalty and all the palace intrigue, but never Elizabeth. She was viewed as the embodiment of stable leadership, impressive tradition and of course love for a strong woman who held the monarchy together during personal and political crises. Great Britain will never be the same.

All That’s Left is Fear

September 1, 2022

Recent public opinion polling suggests that the Republicans may have difficulty winning control of the Senate and may even fail to take the House of Representatives; both goals that just a few months ago seemed a certainty. Now public opinion polls have in recent years been shown to be weak on the prediction side, but even seasoned Republicans quietly admit that voters have begun to turn on the GOP and the Democrats could pull off an upset. It seems that a combination of rejection of extreme policy rhetoric and a growing level of frustration with The Donald have turned off an growing percentage of the electorate.

So what do the Republicans do in response? They fall back on what seemed to work with Americans in the past- plain and simple fear. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina predicts violence in the streets if Trump is indicted; Senator Marco Rubio of Florida warns voters that 87,000 new IRS agents will form a Biden army to take peoples’ money away; and ol’ Ted Cruz of Texas keeps harping at the invasion of migrants who will destroy America- white America. Throw in Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson’s and Arkansas Tom Cotton’s predictions of an liberal-inspired crime wave and the fear quotient is off the charts.

There is scant evidence of real policy prescriptions among Republicans to deal with real problems like inflation, shortages, mortgage rates, and climate disasters, only fear. Fear has worked with the Trump cult, but there are fewer and fewer new members willing to drink the Kool-Aid that the ex-President is handing out. The Trump cult is no longer an election threat, witness the loss in Alaska of Sarah Palin and the upset of a Trumper in a New York contest. It seems that Americans are beginning to get tired with all this phony election denying and bizarre rants of Trump.

Of course fear can remain a powerful election strategy, especially if the Democrats don’t respond with an antidote. So far reaction to the Dobbs decision on abortion, the climate and health bill, the law to respond to the needs of injured veterans and the student loan reductions have put the fearmongers on the defensive. But fear has always worked for the Republicans and it could again. The only way to stop it is by doing something to address what is needed to improve our country. The fearmongers can’t deal with an active Democratic president and an effective Democratic Congress.

In these next few months we will see if the American people have had enough of fear and fear mongering along with a dangerous ex-President who uses fear as political oxygen. If fear does win out, we are in deep trouble.

Charlie Baker- Good and Faithful Servant

August 15, 2022

My wife and I had the pleasure of attending an event at the JFK Museum in Hyannis. Governor Charlie Baker received the Founders Community Leadership Award from the Museum Board. In many respects the award gave Governor Baker an opportunity to talk about his leadership values and his approach to governing.

The Governor spent his time praising the citizens of Massachusetts for their dedicated and selfless service during the pandemic. His speech never used phrases about “what I did” to develop and implement public health and safety policy; it was all about how neighbors helped neighbors whether at food banks, testing sites or vaccination clinics. As Baker said, Massachusetts overcame the pandemic because of community spirit and cooperation. It was clear that the Governor viewed leadership as working with the citizenry and not standing in front of the cameras taking credit for successes against Covid.

The Governor also talked about the lessons he learned about partisan policy making. He reminded those in the room that he valued the views of those from his political opponents and agreed that good ideas can come from interacting positively with “the other side.” As he said, a leader can learn much from those who hold differing views.

As I listened to Governor Baker and his wise words of what leadership is about I was reminded of Saint Matthew’s gospel message in which he talks about the “good and faithful servant.” Servant leadership is about working with others, advocating for the common good, and not making personal gain and ego rewards the purpose of holding high office.

Certainly during eight years in office Governor Baker faced many challenges and some policy downsides – the disappointing rollout of the testing process, failures at the Office of Childrens’ Services, the State Police overtime scandal and of course the T. But throughout these challenges Baker was always a steady manager, a calm voice of competence and most of all a humble servant of the people.

As Matthew says in the gospel, Governor Baker was indeed an example of a “good and faithful servant.” We in Massachusetts have been fortunate to have Charlie Baker in the corner office. He has reminded us that governing is about “we” and that working with those who are critics is the best way to make good policy.

As the Governor accepted the award – a beautiful lighthouse made from materials at the Kennedy compound- he teared up a bit, which further proved that leadership is also about heart and humility. My wife and I left the event thankful for the eight years of Charlie Baker managing the affairs of our state. We have been so fortunate.

First Ladies

August 6, 2022

It took me awhile but I finally got around to watching Showtimes excellent series, The First Ladies. Viola Davis as Michelle Obama, Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford and Gillian Anderson as Elenor Roosevelt turn in remarkable performances as they each show that First Ladies need not be shrinking violets who just stand behind their man and do little but smile to the cameras.

Each of these First Ladies is shown as strong-willed, politically astute and most of all not afraid to express their concerns and policy positions to their husbands. Viola Davis’ Michelle Obama keeps reminding Barack that he must take a stand against racism, gun violence and economic injustice despite what political fallout may occur. She is supportive of her husband but is fearless in stating her views. Barack listens patiently and despite some arguments grudgingly recognizes that she is right. As the first African American woman to be First Lady Michelle Obama showed the country that she possessed political savvy, undisputed intelligence and nerves of steel.

Michelle Pfeiffer’s Betty Ford is presented as a reluctant participant in the politics of the White House and a woman with serious addiction problems. But gradually Betty charts an independent course as she fights for the Equal Rights Amendment, health care ( mammograms to detect breast cancer), and a strong voice for American women. She clashes regularly with Ford aides Don Rumsfeld and Dick Chaney and shows little patience or fear of their constant badgering. Eventually her addiction catches up with her, but in Betty Ford tradition she fights back openly to the American people and takes the lead in what would become The Betty Ford Center for drug rehabilitation. Perhaps no First Lady was so open with her struggles as Betty Ford.

Finally, Eleanor Roosevelt played by Gillian Anderson is an example of a First Lady facing the infidelity of her husband with grace and a steely determination to make a difference in national policy. Eleanor was unrelenting in using her position to assist Americans impacted by the Great Depression and racial injustice. Eleanor is shown constantly pressing her husband to do the right thing, despite political restraints. The segment on Eleanor also shows her lesbian relationship with a journalist that is often glossed over. After watching Eleanor Roosevelt as First Lady it is clear that she could and should have been president.

First Ladies are often presented by the press and historians as “social and familial partners” of the President but the Showtime series shows these three women as “political and policy partners” who often influenced the direction taken by their husbands. At this time in our governmental history where we have yet to be led by a women, Michelle Obama, Betty Ford and Eleanor Roosevelt are certainly role models for those women who today may seek the highest office in the land.

The Joys of a Cape Cod Vacation

July 25, 2022

Our family, all twelve of us, headed for a Cape Cod vacation in the beautiful town of Chatham. We rented two houses in kind of a poor man’s Kennedy compound. For grandkids the week on the Cape is a can’t be missed tradition with swimming, boogie boarding, visits to the candy store and fish pier, and of course plenty of ice cream. Add a night watching the Chatham Anglers baseball game and the band concert by the famous Chatham band and we hit all the buttons of Americana.

There were also some surprises. On our morning walks my wife and I met up with two people who told us stories of the Cape and Chatham from the present and the past. One gentleman told us how erosion over the past years had rendered the site of the Monomoy wildlife reserve off limits and permanently closed. We had always included the Monomoy site on past visits but no more as rising waters took forty feet of sand and walkways out to sea. This was a stark reminder that climate change can have devastating impacts on shorelines and the joys that the shorelines provide tourists seeking the beauty of nature.

Then there was the chance meeting of the niece of one of the US Coast Guard men who was part of the greatest rescue operation in the history of this often under appreciated sea worthy institution. The year was 1952 and an oil tanker, the Pendleton, split in two and began to sink. The Coast Guard at Chatham Light sent out a crew of four men to rescue 32 survivors. Braving high seas, raging winds and torrential rains the crew headed out to the Pendleton. Somehow the tiny Coast Guard boat got to the ship and brought on board 32 men and headed back with no lights, no compass and no radio with only their experience and the grace of God to guide them.

The niece brought her son to Chatham Light to help him see the tiny prop of the Coast Guard boat and a picture of the brave crew, including his great uncle who along with the other brave men received the highest award from the Coast Guard. At the 50th anniversary of the rescue the Coast Guard attempted to recreate the Pendleton heroism but were unable to see how 32 survivors and 4 Coast Guard men were able to make it back to Chatham. Clearly a higher power was guiding them. A few years ago Disney made a movie of the rescue called the Finest Hours. It is worth watching.

What a vacation to remember. A few sugar highs from the candy and a couple of pounds from the ice cream and beers at the legendary Squire but a wonderful family time, and no sharks. Here’s a toast to a vacation tradition and of course to old Cape Cod.

Rock Politics

July 11, 2022

Driving around last week I happened to turn on a classic rock station to help me navigate the traffic. But as I listened to the songs my political juices kicked in and I began to link the songs to our current governmental malaise. So to show you how song titles and lyrics can easily describe where we are as a nation, let’s go to my playlist.

Starting with Joe Biden, some appropriate song titles might be U2’s “With or Without You” or The Rolling Stones “You Can’t Always Get What you Want”(but if you try real hard you just might get what you need). And finally in the Biden playlist how about Rod Stewart’s “Some Guys Have All the Luck.” Or Not.

Then there is Donald Trump. Let’s start with the Stones classic “ Start Me Up” Followed by “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” To finish on the former president there is Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On”.

Watching the House January 6th hearings I thought of Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure”, and also U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and to complete the songs for the Committee there is Rod Stewart’s “Reason to Believe.”

Always the optimist my playlist for the American Republic and the future of democracy I thought Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” would be perfect or perhaps Queen’s “We are the Champions” But because we are in such a muck how about the J. Geil’s Band “Musta Got Lost.”

I am sure you can improve on this list but keep in mind that song titles and lyrics are not just about love,dreams, and sex, they help us see the political world and political leaders in a new and appropriate light.

Rock On!

The Invisible Republican Inflation Plan

June 23, 2022

I could have easily missed the Republican prescription for dealing with runaway inflation. There is so much going on in Washington and the world that I could have easily overlooked what the Republicans are proposing to get out of this inflation mess.

But then I did a bit of exploring on the Internet and both conservative and Trump-based sites and to my surprise I found no specific proposals on stopping or at least reducing the cost of living explosion. It seems that the only concern of Republicans is to take the House back from the Democrats and perhaps the Senate as well. With these goals accomplished there are quite clear promises to follow a “revenge” program that gets back at all those liberals who dared to challenge the Big Lie and embarrass their guy Donald Trump.

The Republicans are skillful in using their media sites to bash Biden for failing to do anything about inflation, but angry shout outs about Democratic failures on inflation is not alternative policy, just partisan complaining. The Republicans are expert complainers, not problem solvers.

Certainly Biden is at least culpable when it comes to inflation. The American Rescue Plan pumped over a trillion dollars into the economy, thus spiking demand, the failure to recognize that prices were bound to go up after the pandemic settled down was a critical policy error, and regular promises about ending inflation with minor tweaks of the economy such as opening up the strategic oil reserve and now the proposal to pause the federal gas tax are just for show.

But the Republicans basically have no public policies to counteract Biden’s inflation; they just want to regain power by bashing Biden, and it is likely to work. The eternal truth about American politics is that pocketbook issues drive voters at election time. But if the American people are looking for the Republicans to solve the inflation mess they will be sadly mistaken. Republicans only want to end the work of anti- Trump committees, push critics of Trump out of key legislative positions, threaten dedicated public servants and pass legislation on fringe issues that have nothing to do with the cost of gas or food.

Maybe Biden will catch a break on inflation before the mid term election, but likely not enough to turn away a Republican victory march. No sense in feeling sorry for Biden or say he has faced an avalanche of bad luck. He waited too long to respond to inflation, he spent too much time on huge FDR-like programs and he failed to develop a communication strategy where he talked to the American people about what he has tried to do to save our economy and why electing Republicans will be a complete disaster.

So get ready for the do nothing Republicans and their revenge tour, and in the words of the actress Betty Davis prepare for a bumpy ride, a very expensive bumpy ride.

They Hijacked the American Flag

June 16, 2022

One of the saddest and most distressing results of the MAGA movement is that the American flag has been used by the supporters of Trump as a symbol justifying their attack on the values, beliefs and traditions that have been the foundations of our democracy for centuries. The Stars and Stripes in the hands of Trump fascists has been transformed to represent the twisted philosophy of authoritarian control, unlawful attacks on elections and a cult of personality that places a president and his allies above the law.

To see Trump supporters embracing the flag while they attacked the Capitol or proudly carrying hate signs with the red, white and blue at rallies is visible proof that a symbol which most of us hold dear has been hijacked by the anti-democratic crowd. To the men and women who died in wars from the days of the American revolution, the flag always stood for a special country formed in liberty and law and dedicated to the principles of honesty, decency, and equality, not hatred, illegality and crazy conspiracy.

And yet not a day goes by without the flag being used to question the results of a fair election or to utter vulgarities at a legitimate president. It is painful to see the flag being used as a symbol of patriotism by those who would tear down our constitutional system in order to keep their guy in power. What a warped sense of what it means to be an American and to love your country. America is special because no one is above the law and election results are sacred. The flag is more than just a symbol, it is a reflection of all we believe and hold dear; it is not just a piece of cloth to be used to lie, cheat, defame and destroy.

When the flag is raised or passes by in a parade we hold our hands to our heart or salute because we live in an exceptional country – the land of the free and the home of the brave. We do not live in a country where we salute a disgraced president or invade a center of democracy or use the flag to deny the vote of the majority. The flag is what we cherish about this great country and should never be the symbol of a corrupt vision of an unAmerican future.

Is This the Beginning of the End?

June 8, 2022

There is a growing conversation in our country about the signs of national decline. For some it was the January 6th attack on the Capitol; for others it is never-ending gun violence, while for many it is growing gap between the wealthy and the poor. The list goes on to include public corruption, media disinformation, congressional gridlock, voter suppression and the chipping away of individual rights. Not encouraging signs of our future.

But real signs of decline are found in the human heart and the values of community. A nation begins to spiral downward into the abyss when too many of its people don’t care about the personal circumstances of others or worse yet shrug when evil crosses their path. We are now living in a time of anger and apathy, a potent brew that feeds decline. We are angry because our selfish needs are not attainable or incomplete, while we sit by idly watching sports or Tik Tok as social cohesion crumbles.

The cartoon character Pogo had it so right when he said, “ I have seen the enemy and it is us.” National decline comes to fruition when too many of us just accept the world as it is rather than trying to do something, no matter how small, about the evil and injustice in our midst. Being angry about life’s setbacks or apathetic about the plight of others does little to stop national decline, these selfish attitudes only speed the decline.

It would be wonderful to live in a time when we follow the motto of “ Don’t Worry Be Happy” or stop shrugging off evil and live a life where we get off the couch or the laptop and “Just Do It”. There is no doubt that we are in a national decline with far few signs of community spirit or loving heart. There are still brave Americans who take an interest in the world around them and then do something to make life better. Their numbers are in decline as too many would just find it easier to stay angry and accept evil and injustice.

The signs of hope and national renewal are decreasing but it’s not because of guns or lies or inequality. It is because we have somehow forgotten how to love each other and how to live together in peace. Sadly, Pogo was right- we are the enemy and the source of our national decline.