Monthly Archives: January 2012

Maryland First Lady Fouls Out


Did you read about the wife of the conservative Republican governor who spoke before a traditional marriage group and said that only “cowards” had prevented the state legislature from passing a law to guarantee the preservation of traditional marriage?  Surely, you saw the editorial denouncing her for interfering in such a sensitive subject.  You remember the outrage that the first lady, a sitting judge, had refused to set aside her personal point of view, rendering her unsuited to dispense “blind justice.”

You don’t remember any of this?  No wonder.  It never actually happened.  You know what did happen?  The wife of the liberal governor of Maryland, Catherine O’Malley spoke before what the Washington Post called “a national conference of gay-rights advocates.”  What did Mrs. O’Malley have to say?  In addressing the failure of the Maryland legislature to pass a law allowing for gay marriage, she “blamed the demise in the General Assembly on ‘some cowards that prevented it from passing.”  With the predictable outrage in response to her statement, Mrs. O’Malley has subsequently issued the predictable apology. Continue reading

State of the Union: Truth or Dare?


In the 1981 classic movie, Absence of Malice, lead character Michael Gallagher tells reporter Meghan Carter that everything she wrote about him was accurate, but none of it was true.

I thought of that line as I watched the State of the Union speech January 24.  Everything the President said that night was accurate, but much of it wasn’t true.

That conundrum is among the principle reasons why governing has become so difficult and why Washington is so dysfunctional.

In order for opposing sides to negotiate their way to consensus, they must first agree on their facts.  They can have differing opinions on the meaning and import of those facts, but they have to get their facts straight first. Every parent knows you can’t resolve a dispute between two children until you know how it started and who id what to whom. You’ve heard it many times at the outset of political deliberation:  Let’s first determine on what we can agree before addressing that on which we differ. Continue reading

Data Privacy and Going Nuts

Reprinted from Loose Change at

The SOPA and PIPA legislation was inevitable. I’ve been doing a broken-record whine on digital privacy for years and it’s finally coming to roost inside the Beltway. Although the current legislation attempts to block piracy, coming legislation will address today’s open market on personal data collection. I find the opposition to this legislation laughable, particularly because the big boys, not the digital purists who are wringing their hands over lack of full access to everything, have a lot to lose once their own piracy of personal data hits the docket.
Facebook, Google, Twitter—and literally anyone who thinks they can gather information about you and sell it to someone else—are in for a rude awakening as more personal financial records are hacked at companies like Zappos, e-Bay, and Amazon. No one is safe in the current environment, not the least of which naïve consumers like you and me, who don’t see what’s going on behind the “you can make money without doing evil” curtains of Google, FB, and the rest of data-crazy Silicon Valley. Continue reading

America Needs to Go For a Long Run

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The Long Run was one of the best albums ever produced, and I was thinking about the title song on Tuesday.

I have long believed that our federal government is far too focused on short-term thinking, and our policies are not built for the long run. And I think that most voters get that fact, which it is one of the reasons they are so frustrated with our national politicians.

Probably the best part of the President’s State of the Union speech came when he used the word “durable” to describe his vision of the American economy.

Of course, it was all bullshit, because the President has been the king of the temporary fix, but the sentiment is exactly right. Our economy needs to be built for the long run.

What does that mean? Continue reading

State of the Union: Did you know?

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One of the big things about the State of the Union address is talking about which Cabinet Secretary has been sent to an undisclosed location in case the Capitol Building goes up in a cloud of neutrons and there is no one left to run the government.

Last night that honor went to the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack who was a former Governor of Iowa.

According to the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, after the Vice President, Speaker of the House, and President Pro Tempore of the Senate, the order of succession to the Presidency is: Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Labor, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Secretary of Transportation, Secretary of Energy, Secretary of Education, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Secretary of Homeland Security.

Which are more-or-less in the order the Cabinet Department was created. Continue reading

Coverage Collapsing Into Mediocrity, Absurdity


NBC’s Brian Williams Monday night focused almost half of the Florida presidential debate, not on substantive issues but on negative ads and who is saying what to whom and what they’re saying back. It was more than 32 minutes into the debate before he posed a question on a real issue–Iran.

The headlines the next day were predictable.  “Mitt Romney Smacks Newt Gingrich”, Romney Accuses Gingrich of ‘influence-peddling’,” Romney Unleashes Attack…”, Front-runners Go Toe to Toe…”

For anyone interested in learning where the candidates stand on issues that affect their lives, this debate was the wrong place on the TV channel.  They would have been better informed watching the Home Shopping Network.

Continue reading

Florida Debate Download

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If only these debates were important, or moved votes, or caused some changes in the race, I might not mind that they come about every 18 hours.

You know what happened in South Carolina: In five days, including two debates, the race turned upside down and what appeared to have been a easy, if surprising, win for Mitt Romney turned into a huge, if surprising win, for Newt Gingrich.

The moderator of this debate was NBC’s Brian Williams. I am prepared to institute a law that says no one may moderate a political debate whose name is not Brian Williams or Wolf Blitzer.

Unlike the audiences in South Carolina which sounded like they were watching a World Wrestling Federation steel-cage death match; the audience last night was mostly silent, allowing the candidates to answer the questions and not vie against each other for the best applause line.

Continue reading

Joe Paterno’s Sad End


I was listening with half an ear to cable news Monday when I heard a correspondent reporting from the Penn State campus on the death of legendary coach Joe Paterno.  She said people didn’t think he died of cancer.  They think he died of a broken heart.

I can believe that. My dad used to tell me shortly before he died that you know when you are through living, and it is time to go.

From what I have read, Joe Paterno’s life, outside his family, was Penn State and the people of State College, PA. They were family, too.  He gave them all he had: sthe majority of his time on earth; his talent (he could have gone to the pros but stayed there and won over 400 games, 24 bowl games and two national championships) large sums of money (news accounts put his donations to the school north of $4.1 million. Most of all, though, he gave them his heart. Continue reading

The Importance of Being Ironic

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I was wrong.

I wrote a blog post a couple of years ago where I made the claim that Stephen Colbert is not funny.

My friend Gayle Osterberg said I was wrong and she was right.

Colbert is funny. But these days, he is not only funny. He is funny and his humor is dead on when it comes to the political process.

Instead of criticizing the ridiculous state of our campaign finance laws head on, Mr. Colbert would rather show how ridiculous the laws are by participating directly in them.

By first announcing that he was starting a Super Pac and then by handing off the Super Pac to his good friend Jon Stewart, and then announcing that he was starting a exploratory committee because he was thinking about running for President, Stephen Colbert showed how incredibly silly our campaign laws are. Continue reading

Nothing New Under the Sun

Reprinted from Loose Change at

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9

When Groupon first burst on the scene, it was easy to get caught up in the excitement of what appeared to be the iTunes of couponing, the Facebook of discount seekers, and the Google of where to get a good deal. As copycat technologies started popping up, Groupon gained even more steam as the dominant icon in its field.

Aside from losing ground recently among investment banks and retailers, Groupon really was and is nothing new to the great retail universe. Consumers have been clipping coupons and rifling through the Sunday newspaper circulars for 100 years or more. Groupon offered an alternative platform that was no different from the myriad of coupon platforms that have existed for decades, i.e., direct mail, in-store, and newspapers. A recent lunch with the publisher of a daily newspaper indicated that the daily’s circular business has been their single strongest revenue source in spite of Groupon’s presence, but then, it always has been. Continue reading

From Iran to Advertising: What’s Real?

Reprinted from Loose Change at

I had lunch the other day with a very successful investor and entrepreneur. He came to the United States from Iran as a young teenager. The extreme dichotomy that is Iran is fascinating to say the least—a huge country of well-educated people who, when given the chance to emigrate to the U.S., succeed disproportionately to the population, much like our friends who emigrate from India.

And yet Persians live in a medieval world, governed by strict Shiite theists who employ fear, suppression, and violence to manage both domestic and international relations. So, which is the real Iran? A wild-eyed, blustering Muslim theocracy, or a country of contemporary people living their lives in spite of—and hopefully out of harm’s way of—the unstable demagogues who control power? Continue reading

California Bulls Leave The Stadium

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When I first started on Capitol Hill (23 years ago…man, I am getting old), I was not terribly sophisticated in the world of politics. For example, I couldn’t quite come to grips that one of the most powerful men in the House of Representatives had the same last name as a famous comedian who spent every Labor Day raising money for disabled kids.

Jerry Lewis, at that time, was Chairman of the House Republican Conference and, along with Mickey Edwards and Tom DeLay, a rival of new House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich.

Even back then, Lewis was old-school. A former insurance salesman, Lewis understood politics from the street-level. He wasn’t a particularly brilliant theoretician, but he was a great practical politician who got into the game to help his constituents. Continue reading

Club’s Bad Investments

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The Club for Growth fancies itself a savvy investor in a better, more pro-business Congress.

With a Board of Directors stacked with Wall Street millionaires, the organization was founded in 1999 by now-Wall Street Journal editorialist Stephen Moore. It quickly made a name for itself by running advertisements against Republican politicians who didn’t adhere closely enough to the organization’s philosophical beliefs.

These days, Chris Chocola, an independently wealthy former congressman, leads the Club for Growth. Chocola lost his reelection bid in 2006 to Joe Donnelly, a moderate Indiana Democrat who has since easily carried the seat in two subsequent elections.

You would think Chocola would learn from his own experience that picking the most conservative candidate doesn’t always work, but since taking the helm of the Club, he has only doubled down on a strategy that makes it harder for Republicans to keep their majority in the House and take the majority back in the Senate. Continue reading

Myrtle Beach Debate: Post Game

Reprinted from and

When political professionals get together to discuss things like ads, campaign tactics, and debates they know the only thing that matters in the end is: “Did it move votes?”

That’s the question I was asking myself as I watched the five-man Fox debate last night from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: Did it move votes?

Let’s look at the individual candidates. Continue reading

Obama Presidency Sum of Its Parts


The Obama Presidency is a wonder to watch.  Barack Obama is making changes, which taken together—the sum of their parts—are transforming government and politics in disturbing ways it will take years and maybe decades to reverse.

His presidency is the triangulation of three distinct characteristics of politics and government.

First, the Obama Presidency is an Imperial Presidency, accumulating and concentrating power in the Executive like few Presidents have done before.

Second, it is a campaign Presidency, intensely focused on winning a second term, at the expense of public policy and cooperation with Congress.

Finally, it is an Administration, a collection of Cabinet departments and federal agencies which he is using to move the government and the country in a starkly different direction than in any time certainly since Reagan, and maybe Roosevelt.

The Imperial Presidency, historically, is a label applied to administrations that have taken unilateral military actions or engaged in aggressive foreign policies: James K. Polk’s intervention in Mexico; Theodore Roosevelt’s internationalism; and in more modern times, Lyndon Johnson’s expansion of our role in Vietnam or Ronald Reagan’s aid to Contra rebels in Nicaragua. Continue reading

Obama’s America

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This is the first of an occasional series of what I am calling “Obama’s America.”

While the political elite are focused on the Republican primary fight, the rest of America is focused on looking for (or keeping) a job; hoping the kids are actually learning something at school; despairing over, while staring at, their evaporating retirement accounts; and wondering, while they watch geniuses like me verbally spar with other geniuses on cable talk shows who, if anyone is actually watching the store.

I started thinking about this while contemplating the Was-Bain-Capital-The-Bane-Of-The-American-Economy action in South Carolina. Mitt Romney is a big boy and has a good campaign. They opened the door to the attacks by Newt Gingrich by attacking Gingrich in Iowa. Continue reading

Shining City on the Hill

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Twenty-three years ago today, Ronald Reagan gave his exit address where he spoke eloquently about John Winthrop’s famed “Shining City Upon a Hill.” I only know this because I was listening to Tim Farley’s most excellent summation of this day in history on the POTUS station on XM/Sirius satellite radio, and I heard the audio of Reagan’s address.

In many ways, the Reagan address was kind of hokey.

He imagined the city upon a hill as a “tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace.”

Why does it have to be windswept? Chicago, for example, is windswept, or at least, it is pretty darn windy. Is Chicago the shining city on the Hill? Before he got to the windswept part though, he talked of a new nationalism, and he warned that most Americans didn’t know enough about their history. Continue reading

Obama’s Real Re-election Problem

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The Chicago Sun-Times Lynn Sweet picked out an interesting morsel in Jodi Cantor’s book about the Obama family:

“When Michelle Obama worked in Mayor Daley’s City Hall in the early 1990s, she was “distressed” by how a small group of “white Irish Catholic” families — the Daleys, the Hynes and the Madigans — “locked up” power in Illinois.

She particularly resented the way power in Illinois was locked up generation after generation by a small group of families, all white Irish Catholic — the Daleys in Chicago, the Hynes and Madigans statewide.”

Obama White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, one of those hated white Irish Catholics, resigned the same weekend that the book’s juiciest tidbits leaked out.

It is probably all just a coincidence, but sometimes coincidences reveal bigger truths.

And the bigger truth is that Bill Daley left the White House because he lost to Valerie Jarrett and to the President’s wife in the battle for the philosophical direction of the Obama White House. Continue reading

New Hampshire & the Concept of Winning

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Let’s review the concept of winning: Winning, in our culture, means coming in first. You don’t win by coming in second or fifth. You win by coming in first.

Mitt Romney kicked butt last night in New Hampshire with (as of this writing) a 15 percentage point win over Ron Paul. As of 10 PM last night, Romney had received about 38 percent of the votes. Was it 50 percent? No. But the next closest guy had 23. And the next closest guy to him had 17.

And remember the continuing mantra: Romney has a ceiling of 25 percent of support.

To quote Rick Perry: Oops.

That, in spite of a couple of pretty dramatic stumbles in the run-up to voting day and a determined assault on the part of most of the popular press in an attempt to turn this into real news, i.e. Gov. Romney was going to be unpleasantly surprised on election day. Continue reading

Giving Thanks For Tony Blankley


“At a time when Americans increasingly fear we are declining and doubt the efficacy of our form of government; at a time when the Chinese are prancing around the world bragging that their model of authoritarian state capitalism is superior to American democratic, private property based capitalism; in this dreary, confused, uninspired autumn 2011—our words “we the people” and “the pursuit of happiness” crackle through the centuries to yet touch the hearts and minds of our jaded, world-weary European cousins.

“Our founding words and ideas are ever young. They are imperishable. And we should not wander from our faith in them. On America’s Thanksgiving Day 2011, we should be thankful for what our founding fathers created and bequeathed to us and to the world. And we should be strengthened to fight for the more complete application of those ideas in the election year that follows this week’s prayerful Thanksgiving celebration.”

Tony Blankley wrote those words just seven weeks before he succumbed to stomach cancer. He died Saturday at 63.

That beautiful Thanksgiving Day message is part of a rich legacy of conservative intellectualism, which he communicated with a wealth of knowledge, historical context, persuasive artistry, and a rare gift for the language.

Tony was born in Britain, but he was a bold and unabashedly proud citizen of his adopted America. He understood her more than most natives. He was like a master fisherman who becomes one with every bend, every current, every seasonal change and every creature inhabiting his favorite mountain trout stream. Tony was one with America. He was a natural, instinctive believer in her primacy and her promise.

Tony was a staunch, historically grounded, intellectually inspired, global view conservative. But he was pragmatic and at times unpredictable.

He seemed troubled by the intransigence and partisan gridlock that was bringing American government to its knees and making governance impossible. He was concerned about the crises we faced and our inability to resolve them.

As the new 112th Congress convened, he sensed the potential for trouble between an Obama White House and a Republican-controlled House of Representatives. He wrote of the dangers of political timidity and the potentially grave consequences of brinkmanship.

Given the choice between trying to govern from the perch of a House majority, or waiting it out until the next election in hopes of winning the White House, Tony chose the former, back in January.

“A principled fight for our prosperity and our children’s future,” he wrote, “must not be delayed another two years, nor should we fear failing to effectively explain our objectives to the broad public.”

Years from now, he mused, if historians were to look back on a crippled American economy, many causes would be noted, but “the central indictment for the catastrophe that ended American prosperity and world dominance will be justly laid at the feet of those Washington politicians who continued to play for short-term partisan advantage, even as the economic earth was beginning to move under their feet.”

As he did in many of his columns, Tony provided historical perspective that gave context and rationality to problems and circumstances misconstrued by other commentators who did not share his insight. While it was and is politically popular to lambast Washington for the failures of government, he saw it, correctly so, as the inevitable result of a deeply and fairly evenly divided national populace that for decades has struggled over whether to resist or embrace what he called “a Europeanized, post-constitutional American economy, government and culture.”

He concluded as well, that in the absence of a public mandate, a divided people needed unifying leadership, visionary leaders who could transform public discord into workable public policy; transforming the will of the majority, even if a bare majority, into something real, and then communicating the wisdom and right of that transformation to the rest of the population.

Tony was a regular participant in a very informal breakfast club of graying communications professionals who met occasionally to commiserate and talk about such weighty issues, mostly with a focus on the long-term solutions (the website is an outgrowth of the group). I took a lot of notes when Tony spoke. He always had something worthwhile to impart. What I admired most about him, though, was how well he listened and how often he asked questions rather than offer an opinion.

Tony Blankley was an actor, a writer and author, a thinker, a strategist, and a great flack, all accented with sometimes blinding sartorial splendor. He was an incredible talent. But he was never intimidating or pompous. He made you feel welcome and comfortable in his presence. He was always good humored, in a British sort of way. He was genuine and genteel, a true gentleman. He had great character and intellect. In short, he was a class act in a town that doesn’t produce many.

The breakfast group is getting together in a few weeks. We will miss him.

Editor’s Note: Mike Johnson is a former journalist, who worked on the Ford White House staff and served as press secretary and chief of staff to House Republican Leader Bob Michel, prior to entering the private sector. He is co-author of a book, Surviving Congress, a guide for congressional staff. He is currently a principal with the OB-C Group.