Tag Archives: Michael Johnson

Mother’s Day Recollections at 100


Marge would have been 100 years old this year, in August. We were never sure whether she was born on August 1 or 2, but after a century it really doesn’t matter.

I loved my Mom and each passing Mother’s Day, I learn just how much.

Marguerite Ellen Brown was reared and went to school in Sioux Falls, SD, born there in 1921 to Earl and Veronica Adams-Brown. Earl and Veronica brought her up in a strict Catholic household during the depression with four younger brothers. It was a tough male-dominated environment.

All of the siblings served in World War II, except the youngest, Uncle Jack. Howard was a Navy pilot in the Pacific theater. Earl joined the Army and served in General Douglas MacArthur’s elite honor guard. My sister’s granddaughter Isabella found in her research that brother Richard Leo (Dick) lied about his age and joined the Army in 1942 at the age of 16. Continue reading

Are We Better Than This? Prove It. Deal With It.


“John’s voice will always come as a whisper over our shoulder: ‘We are better than this; America is better than this.’” — Eulogy for the late Senator John McCain at funeral services in the National Cathedral by former President George W. Bush

John McCain wasn’t alone wanting our politics to be better than this. It would do all of us some good to keep his memory alive more than a couple of weeks, despite what’s going on around us.

We know what ‘this’ is. It only took a few days for McCain’s legacy to turn to dust, replaced with more anger, distrust, dishonesty, hyperventilation, vulgarity, and incivility, and that, exclusive of President Donald Trump’s behavior.

The “this” has continued the erosion of American institutions and the abandonment of American values. I believe the vast majority of Americans agreed with McCain and are fed up with “this.” McCain preached the politics of inclusion and the personal behavior of courage and civility. He didn’t always succeed in putting them into practice, but they were among the values he considered critical to the survival of our grand experiment in self-governance.

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Trump Hysteria and A Little History


“The election of this man as President filled him with ‘smoldering dread.’ He believed that the worst said about this man was all too true. He had not only lied but had been caught in that lie, and the great majority of voters didn’t care.”

President Donald Trump? No. It is an excerpt from a new book describing how Henry Clay felt about the election of President Andrew Jackson, 190 years ago. The book by David and Jeanne Heidler is a vivid look back at the life of one of America’s greatest political figures.

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One Day to Celebrate the Constitution…Or Not


We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Preamble to the Constitution, adopted  September 17, 1787

Last Saturday the nation celebrated the signing of the US Constitution at Independence Hall in Philadelphia 229 years ago.

There were parades and fireworks, great speeches and events all across the country.

Actually, there weren’t. The anniversary went by mostly unnoticed, unlike that for the Declaration of Independence, last July 4.

In fairness what is Constitution and Citizenship Day is a relatively new observance, dating back to 2004 and legislation sponsored by the late West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, although there have been observances of citizenship dating back nearly 100 years. Continue reading

Fiscal Cliff Tragedy/Comedy Part II


“Do you ever get the feeling that the whole world is a tuxedo and you are a pair of brown shoes?”

That was comedian George Gobel’s quip after he was upstaged during  a 1969 Johnny Carson Show by the unscheduled appearances of Dean Martin and Bob Hope.

Forty years later the whole country is a tuxedo and Washington is a pair of brown shoes–out of step, out of fashion, out of vogue and out of touch with the realities of governing the country. Continue reading

Edwards Beats Drum for Reform: A Review


Mickey Edwards has always marched to a different drummer. He was a Republican Member of Congress, who didn’t quite fit in with the new breed of neoconservatives that came to dominate the Republican Party in the 1990s. He marched in the same parade as they did. But he sometimes had to do one of those skip steps to keep in sync with his fellow marchers. He instinctively could not conform.

So it comes as no surprise that Edwards, in his latest book, The Parties Versus The People, argues that we rethink the whole concept of party politics and the influence it has over American government. But Edwards is no longer marching to a different drummer. He is a drummer.

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An Essay: Incivility Not A Problem; A Crisis


People are not sure what to call it—excessive partisanship, bad behavior, negativism, gridlock, polarization, stridency, intolerance, ideological extremes.

It is collectively, incivility and it is, arguably, worse now than it has been in American history.

Something must be done about it.

Pundits such as the Washington Post’s George Will and the Washington Examiner’s  Michael Barone have argued otherwise.  Barone, for example, recently bemoaned the bemoaners of what he called ‘hyperpartisanship’ in American politics, suggesting that the problem is not as bad as it may seem and attempts to rectify it in the past have just made matters worse.

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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.

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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

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 newgopforum.com 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.

Burns on Civility Worth Trip to NPC


The weeks and months following the September 11, 2001 attacks were extraordinary, filled with anger, revenge, heartbreak, sadness, patriotism, national unity and spiritualism. We were America again, all for one and one for all. That was the good that rose from the ashes of tragedy. Survey researchers said we had changed forever.

It wasn’t just the high degree of patriotism, but the spirit of civility and common cause that permeated both political thinking and behavior. President Bush threw his arm around a retired firefighter when he visited the twin towers site, reflecting how strongly Americans felt about working together and uniting against a common enemy. There were pledges and promises to keep that spirit alive, to work together and treat each other better.  It was even evident in Congress.

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FAA: Another Public Embarrassment




 Do you ever get into a discussion and get so bogged down in specifics, you forget what the central argument was about in the first place?

 It happens around the dinner table, but unfortunately it is occurring more often in our public dialogue on critical policy issues, making debate less civil and solutions more difficult to reach.

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Debt Ceiling Debacle Embarrassing



A friend who runs a small business told me recently he’s going to make some really tough decisions next week to cut expenses.  Those decisions are going to hurt good people.

I am familiar with people who have started new businesses that are now teetering on the brink of collapse. 

Businesses, big and small, in the housing industry are hurting because of consumer angst about buying or selling.

I know a couple afraid of losing so much of their retirement savings that they won’t be able to slow down when they’d planned.  I talk to young people every week who can’t find jobs and have nowhere to turn.

There are millions like them across America who don’t know where the next paycheck is coming from or how they will support their children or how they will avoid being dependent upon their children in old age.  They are feeling the anxiety of not knowing, the fear of failure, that agony of defeat.  They are real people with real families in real communities, struggling every day because of the uncertainty over the American economy.  They are consumers who won’t spend and manufacturers who won’t produce and bankers who won’t lend because of doubt.

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Congress:History is Calling, Please Answer


In the spring of 1981 Office of Management and Budget Director David Stockman sat for weeks at a long table in room H-228 of the Capitol, his beady eyes peering over stacks of thick, black 3-ring binders containing the detail on most every federal program.

Stockman was holding over budget negotiations with his former colleagues in the House of Representatives. His mission was to cut spending, cut taxes, increase defense, and help his President, Ronald Reagan, usher in a new era of smaller, limited government, entrepreneurial innovation, individual freedom, and global prestige.

Piece of cake.

Few if any at the table, maybe with the exception of Jack Kemp, knew they were making history at the time. But they were, in the same way congressional leaders did for Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and Roosevelt’s New Deal and McKinley’s and Teddy Roosevelt’s regimes of political and regulatory reforms.

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A World of Weepers


Hanging in a hallway where I see it every day is a frame containing a picture of my eldest daughter and me on her wedding day.  Below it in the frame is a handkerchief with an inscription:

“For your tears on the day you give me away
October 28, 2007
With Love, Jessie.”

Jessie knew I would cry at her wedding and I did.  I teared up a half a dozen times before and during the wedding, and unleashed a gusher when I tried to offer the invocation  at dinner.  I couldn’t finish it.
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Litmus Test for Committee Chairmen?


 Reprinted from The Hill.

The Washington Examiner on Nov. 8th, joined the lobbying campaign to prevent Michigan Congressman Fred Upton from becoming the new Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. 
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A Reading from Eden Prairie

By Michael S. Johnson

 Getting out of Washington, talking to people who are not consumed by politics, and reading local newspapers that either have a different slant on politics or no slant at all, well, is refreshing.

 Today, I’m perusing the Minneapolis Star-Tribune in a sun-drenched room in Eden Prairie that offers a panoramic view of tall trees, mostly maple and oak, and autumn leaves turning colors about two weeks ahead of their brethren along the Potomac.  The sun is so bright, it shines right through the leaves, giving them a translucent glow. But I digress.

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Colbert, Comity and Congress


What were they thinking?

The Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration last month turned an official hearing on a serious issue—migrant farm labor—into a 3-ring circus starring comedian Stephen Colbert.  Colbert didn’t even testify, he performed a comedy routine as a character from his television show, mocking farm workers, immigrants and the U.S. Congress. 

The Colbert comedy performance left absolutely no doubt why the American people are disgusted with Congress and some of those who serve there.

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Letter to President on Taxing the Rich



          I sent a letter to the President, obviously not for his benefit, but mine, on his repetitive rhetoric about taxing the rich, partly inspired by a letter someone sent me some months ago.  This isn’t my exact letter.  I edited and updated a bit, but it’s the thought that counts.

Dear Mr. President:

           I listened pretty intently to your speech in Cleveland, and I’ve heard you say over and over again you are not going to back down from taxing the wealthy.  It seems to be one of the central themes of your Administration: There are victims and villains in America, the lines between them are clearly drawn and you are dedicated to protecting the victims and punishing the villains, among them, the rich. 

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Journalists’ Tell-All Books A Troubling Trend


Every author wants to be popular enough to make a living from their efforts.  But more and more journalists are cutting financial deals and skirting their own professional code of ethics to get on the best seller lists.

The reigning king of  journalist bookdom is the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward.  But this year, according to Reliable Sources columnist Howard Kurtz there is a stampede of journalists headed toward the publishers’ doors.

Many of the top names in national political journalism writing for fun and profit include Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter, NBC’s Chuck Todd, and MSNBC’s Richard Wolffe; the Post’s David Maraniss; the New York Times’ Jodi Kantor and New Yorker writers David Remnick and Ryan Lizza, according to Kurtz.   Time Magazine’s Mark Halperin and New York Magazine’s John Heilemann just published their moneymaker called Game Change and they have already signed a multi-million contract for a 2012 tome, according to Kurtz.

Most of the books have five common traits:
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