A Supreme Mess?

Hold on to your seat because it’s about to get a bit bumpy! The Supreme Court dropped its decision in Arizona v. United States; and while this was not the decision everyone’s been waiting for, it cut through the political ether with the precision of a fine surgical instrument.

In what can only be described as a “split decision”, the high court overturned three parts of Arizona’s anti-illegal immigration law, while sustaining the controversial “show me your papers” provision. To be certain, most of the political junkies in town had a field day analyzing, deciphering and outright proselytizing about who won, who lost and the full impact of what the Supreme Court had wrought.

Keep in mind this political drama was being shaped long before the Supreme took up the matter. In 2008, then candidate Obama boldly promised “a path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants. But four years later, that pathway appears overgrown from the weeds of inaction and record deportations. Of course, there was the president’s recent political decision to stop the deportation of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children and allow them to obtain work permits. Hispanics sang the president’s praises, Republicans cried foul but as for comprehensive immigration reform…still waiting.

So it should come as no surprise that at some point a border state governor like Arizona’s Jan Brewer would conclude the federal government is not serious nor politically equipped to deal with the situation along her border and decide to cut through the weeds and clear a path—at least for her state.

Enter the Supreme Court.

Much to its chagrin, more and more the court’s decisions are viewed through a political lens. Consequently, deciding a case on constitutional principles has become a dicey proposition for the court. Witness the reaction and the continued vilification by the political left to the Citizen’s United decision. But the president’s sophisticated bullying of the Supreme Court notwithstanding, the court’s decision in Arizona was not designed to fix our immigration mess or to placate one side or the other, but rather to assert the primacy of federal law (the court found Arizona’s immigration statute could not preempt federal law on ID requirements, warrantless arrests, and criminalizing work) and to affirm a state’s “ability to assist the federal government in enforcement activities” even to the point of “pass[ing] laws…to clarify their roles.”

Of course, just when you thought it couldn’t get any messier for the administration, the court will render its decision on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act by week’s end.

That’s when the fun will really begin.

Everything Is Just ‘Fine,’ President Obama?

Have you ever had one of those moments when, the second you finish answering a question, you realize, “Oh, crap, I’m going to pay for that one”? I have. The tough part, particularly in a hypercharged political environment, is cleaning it up (or, as we like to say in Washington, “walking back your remarks”) before your words take on a life of their own.

Lessons from My Father

To the dads and soon to be dads: Let’s admit it—Father’s Day is one of those “holidays” that even dads are laid back about. In fact, as a young man, I never thought much about actually being a father; well at least to the extent that I was planning to become a priest.  So, as my step-dad moved from moment to moment in my life, it did not occur to me that he was planting little seeds of information, inspiration and wisdom that I would one day come to rely on in raising my two sons.

What I have discovered for many dads is those moments we have with our children seem to come and go faster and faster leaving little time or room to fully appreciate that our “little one” is becoming a “young adult”—that is, until you tell her she’s not going out dressed like that; or you demand that your son shave that “mess” off his face.

It’s true at times it may have seemed as if your dad was trying to plan things for you; he really wasn’t. O.k. he was (it’s in our nature), but it’s only because as Shakespeare once observed, “it is a wise father that knows his own child.”

Very often it’s hard to appreciate that our journey from infancy to adulthood was as scary for our parents as it was for us. And for many dads, whose role in the home has become the butt of sitcom humor or stereotyped to the point of irrelevancy,that journey remains one of great joy, anticipation, and trepidation because despite the knocks he takes (and sometimes inflicts on himself) he still wants to protect you; and, ultimately to help you become you. It is, for a dad a part of the process of letting go.

But what every father knows more than anything else is that being a “dad’ is not about the biological link to a child or about asserting authority over that child or even being a friend, but rather about raising your child to respect and to love him or herself and others. It is about the kind of person that child will be some day.

However, dads can still be a little unorthodox at times.

For example, your dad will spend the first two years of your life teaching you to walk and talk and the next sixteen years telling you to sit down and shut up.

Or in the way your dad makes a point. I’m reminded of the dad who tells of the time his progeny came home from school with a report card on which the highest grade was a c-. So, he signed his son’s report card with an “x.” And when his son asked him why he did that he explained because with grades like those he didn’t want his teachers to think he was being raised by people who could actually read and write.

And of course, every dad knows the quickest way to get your child’s attention is to say “no!” (I still haven’t figured out why that doesn’t work on my wife)

I guess sometimes a little unorthodoxy is a good thing particularly as the world around us pushes conflicting and dangerous signals on matters of morals and responsibilities. With my own sons I find myself recalling how my dad helped me define what it means to be a strong, faithful and conscientious person in the face of such challenges.

So, to the fathers who care more than they sometimes show, who are at times absent, even when they are there we appreciate your fears and your joys for us because we know how hard it is for you to let go.

I know one day my boys will leave for places far from home—too soon for their mother and not soon enough for me. But I also know they will have been well prepared to confront the world that awaits them because a father’s love, lessons, faith, and traditions have been passed on to them as they were passed on to me.

And so it will be for you when your child comes to you for the answer to some of life’s most complex problems, you will, at that moment think back to your childhood and those pearls of wisdom passed on to you by your father and know instinctively the only possible answer you can give is the one your father gave you: “I don’t know, go ask your mother.”

Happy Father’s Day!!

The Lessons of an Election

By now you’ve had your fill of the Spanking in Wisconsin (not quite the “The Thrilla in Manila”—but close), as Republicans crowed about what the re-election of Governor Scott Walker really meant and labor leaders, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Shultz and more Obama campaign surrogates than one could count did their level best to spin themselves into believing what the defeat of Mayor Tom Barrett didn’t mean.

To be sure, the election had something for everyone: vindication for Republicans as labor suffered a thoroughly humiliating rebuke for their overreaching; affirmation for Gov. Walker as his margin of victory (53%-46%) surprised even the best of pundits; a breath of optimism for Democrat’s as the they took control of the State Senate; and, expectation of things to come (or at least hoped for) for Barack Obamaas he beat Mitt Romneyin exit polling (51%-44%).

But despite the highs and lows of Tuesday’s results, there were also a few lessons to be learned.

Let’s start with Lesson One: never underestimate what the people think about you or your issue.While 52% of Wisconsin voters said they support unions, over a third of union households supported the Other Guy. On the question of collective bargaining, 50% of the voters indicated they supported the changes to state law that limits collective bargaining for government workers (wasn’t that what this fight was about in first place?!). For many voters the recall effort was just a bad idea as 60% said they should only be used for official misconduct.

Lesson Two: It may not be the money after all. Yes, Gov. Walker raised only $30 million while Mayor Barrett raised $7 million with outside sources (affectionately known as Super PACS) contributed the remainder of the $63 million. They lament about Super PACs and the influence of money in politics generally, and Wisconsin in particular, belie the fact that close to 90% of the voters on election said they had made up their minds long before the ad wars had begun. In short, all of those big bucks from faceless donors did very little to move the vote one way or the other on Election Day. So much for that.

Lesson Three: Don’t let the bright lights of victory blind you. There is no doubt Gov. Walker’s victory lifted the GOP like no other race since New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (‘09) and Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (‘10) won their respective races. The energy and excitement on election night was contagious—almost intoxicating. But, Wisconsin was just skirmish in the larger war for the direction of our nation’s economy. Bold predictions of a GOP sweep of the State Senate seats—coming off of the decisive win of the Governor early on election night—were short-lived as the GOP saw its hold on the Wisconsin Senate slip through its fingers. Moreover, even bolder predictions about what Gov. Walker’s victory means for the presidential election this fall must not distract Republicans in Wisconsin or elsewhere around the country from the real and difficult opportunity to defeat President Obama (recent polls have Obama and Romney tied 43% – 43%). There is something to be said for not getting too cocky—even in politics. Mr. Romney must still define himself, what his leadership will mean to the Country and how his vision of the future embraces the freedoms and opportunities that have come to define the American Dream.

Lesson Four: Don’t let the glare of defeat blind you, either. Speaking of cocky, the Obama team has to be reeling as they watched their labor buddies get clocked by the Walker-GOP right cross. From dollars raised and spent to the even more important, organization and boots on the ground, the vaunted labor election machine appeared to slam into GOP wall. Certainly, voter turnout for both the Walker and Barrett campaigns was at presidential levels, but on election night it became clear some of the voters who were turned out for Barrett had something else in mind (See Lesson One).

The President needn’t hang his head too low, however, as the voters did offer a bit of a silver lining. In the exit polling head-to-head matchup against Mitt Romney, the president posted a 7 point lead in Wisconsin. But even in a state the president won in 2008, the weight of a still anemic economy, poor job growth and the foreboding sense that the future doesn’t look any better than today, will shrink that lead to nothing before the Brats gets cold.

What this means for Romney and Obama is neither one of them can count out nor count on a volatile electorate to win. It appears both campaigns will actually have to work for our votes this November.

Which brings me to the final lesson: Making a candidate actually work for our vote is a very good thing indeed.

Politically Incorrect: Honesty

Politics is fun. Writing about it; talking about it; even fussing about it is an exhilarating exercise. Passions swell, tempers rise and people demonstrate a genuine interest in what it all means. But sometimes, it can be all-consuming, frustrating and painful to watch to the point we lose sight of what’s most important.

Take the case of Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, NJ. In what I would describe as an honest moment, he made the case for this presidential race to be about something other than “nauseating” negative ads, lies and distortions of the candidate’s records. But within two hours of leaving the set of Meet the Press the politics ensued.  As they say: one man’s truth is another man’s gaffe. So, there was Mayor Booker cutting a video-ostensibly to “clarify” his earlier remarks which the political intelligentsia had construed to be either wonderful if you were a republican or heresy if you were a democrat. And over the next four days story after story played out the political drama, each one focusing more on Booker “going rogue” than on what was most important: the nature of our politics is undermining the country and the way we engage in political discourse has become “nauseating”.

Everyone was so busy trying to defend their right or left flank that few noticed the shift away from truth. What I found personally disappointing was the political pressure brought to bear on Mayor Booker to the point he was almost doing backflips to affirm he really does support Barack Obama and his reelection. Like that wasn’t obvious. But it wasn’t enough. Mr. Booker had to go on the offensive against Mitt Romney later stating that the former governor had not been “forthright” in his leadership of Bain Capital. The Mayor insists the RNC made him do it when they launched their “I Stand by Corey Booker” campaign, but I suspect it was more like the Obama campaign that convinced His Honor to do the honorable thing: politics as usual.

Like all political dustups, this too shall pass, but I feel this one may leave an indelible stain on the body politic. Truth is treated as a mere gaffe, political handlers come in with a quick script and the right words to help “set the record straight” and good men like Corey Booker are forced back on script. Too bad.