Tag Archives: president obama

The Complex Dance of Foreign Affairs

It’s been many years since I sat in Professor Jim McCormick’s political science classes at Iowa State. It’s been years since I’ve sat in Professor Burns Weston’s classes on international law at the University of Iowa.

But I haven’t forgotten their observations about foreign affairs. The performance of US foreign affairs is a complex dance between the President and Congress. The Constitution divides authority, and for good reason. Our Founders wanted the will of the people to be weighed (Congress), but also wanted a strong leader for times of international crisis (President).

This week gave me a reminder of how complex that dance can be, and how sometimes either party to this routine can make errant steps.

First, there’s a wealth of observations this week about President Obama’s handling of the chemical weapons attacks in Syria. A couple of my favorites are here and here. At first the President wanted to go it alone, then resorted to briefing and requesting congressional authorization for a use of force, and now is hoping for an international diplomatic solution. Whatever the outcome will be in the coming days and weeks, he’s run the gamut on this one. Time will tell if it’s been a good decision making process or a poor one. I will just posit that this process has been noticed by other world leaders, and they will act differently toward the US in the future.

On to my congressional observations. This week we saw Congressmen King (R-IA) and Gohmert (R-TX) accompany Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) to Egypt. My first thought was that I had missed the last 10 months, and that Michelle Bachmann had indeed been elected President. I searched in vain for an objective link to a story about the visit. I will just post the YouTube link here, and you can watch for yourself.

In case you don’t watch it, the Cliff Notes version is this: Congresswoman Bachmann thanks the military junta leaders for overthrowing an elected government and for cracking down on the “evil common enemy of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

I think their appearance was probably not the best dance step I’ve seen from these Members of Congress. If you’ve been following the news lately, the military government of Egypt hasn’t exactly been the shining star of democracy, openness, or tact. Clearing demonstrators out with live bullets and killing several hundred, suicide bombings and political retributions may not be the things these Members want to stand up and support.

But they aren’t the first Members of Congress to go wading in deep international waters, and they likely won’t be the last. As soon as I saw the media and left wing backlash to their appearance, I remembered this great instance in congressional foreign policy making:

Kerry Harkin Ortega

Yes, that’s current Secretary of State John Kerry, then a US Senator, alongside Iowa’s own Tom Harkin, meeting with Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua in 1985. This trip, as has been reported on widely, was proxy foreign affairs being waged with a foreign leader waging a proxy war with the US. Ortega is the once and current leader of Nicaragua. He was closely aligned with Russia, Venezuela, and now Iran. Ortega has maintained a pretty healthy anti-American stance over the years. His record on human rights, property rights, and personal property have been abysmal, to say the least. I’m not sure either Senator Harkin or Secretary of State Kerry wants to stand up in defense of that, either.

My personal opinion, for what it matters? I like strong, clear minded Executives leading our foreign affairs. When he, and someday she, makes a misstep on foreign affairs, the American people will hopefully hold him/her accountable.

I also respect circumspect Members of Congress who follow international affairs closely and work in concert with the Executive to advance our national security. And when they make mistakes and overstep their boundaries, I also hope the voters in their districts hold them accountable.

Yes, I know I’ll be disappointed. As with the debacle of Benghazi, I have been and will be disappointed in accountability.

But a guy has to hold on to some shred of idealism, right?


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A Tea Party with the Wizard of Oz

In the classic film The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s diminutive dog Toto pulls back the curtain in the Emerald City to reveal the Wizard is nothing but a grand illusion. The Wizard uses smoke, mirrors and high tech equipment to appear larger than life, all knowing and omnipresent.

Some members of the Tea Party, and the final few members of the media who haven’t completely abdicated their media credentials, must feel like Toto this week with the disclosure of the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS. Indeed this has been a bad week for the Administration, with the Benghazi attack and AP phone tapping issues coming to the fore. But nothing resonates as quickly or as viscerally with the American public as revelations that the IRS is crawling up the pant legs of Americans like a horde of fire ants.

We know from Watergate lore that President Nixon used the IRS to target groups on the left. What we may not remember is that Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and even Bill Clinton also used the IRS to target groups they deemed in opposition to their agenda. Remember the “vast right wing conspiracy?” There seems to be a pretty consistent theme that has developed over the last 70 or so years: an expanding federal government uses its investigative and tax powers to quash dissent.

A lot of my liberal friends chide me for the “divisive” and “uncooperative” nature of the Tea Party and its “horrible” influence on the country’s politics. They have been oddly silent this week. I’m wondering how they’d feel if the horde of IRS fire ants were crawling up the pant leg of their favorite charity, non-governmental agency or liberal public policy organization.

The revelations of this week will also have a direct impact on one (potentially the only) signature piece of legislation the President has ever passed, the Affordable Health Care Act. To “enforce” the new law, the IRS is slated to add almost 2,000 new employees. There are almost 50 “major” changes to the IRS Code to implement the new law. The IRS Inspector General calls those changes “the largest set of tax law changes the IRS has had to implement in more than 20 years.”

What could be more troubling? The IRS is establishing a sophisticated databases to “monitor compliance” with the AHCA. Working in concert with federal departments (Social Security, Justice, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services) and state governments, the IRS is establishing the “Federal Data Services Hub” to verify identity, residency, employment, income, criminal history and enrollment in entitlement programs.

Please, someone go fetch Toto. I’ll put the water on. Looks like we’ll need more tea.

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Real Problems at the Root of Fake Scenario

The movie “Janeane from Des Moines” has created a lot of headlines recently. Everyone from the New York Times to Iowa’s home-grown newspaper, The Des Moines Register, has mentioned the issues brought up in this mockumentary.

With our state’s “first in the nation” status, Iowans have the coveted role of meeting political candidates in-person, asking them tough questions and sharing our vision with the rest of the country. We welcomed these candidates into our homes, we introduced them to our friends and we established a bond with them that goes well beyond Election Day. We put our trust and hopes in these candidates to lead us, to make our country a better place to live and work.

One only has to look back over the past few months, with the almost unprecedented presence of President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Biden, Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan to see the impact Iowa can have on any given national election. Just last night in his final campaign stop for the 2012 election, President Obama praised Iowa voters for their intellect, their passion and their commitment to the process, Regardless of your political party, those were compliments that should make all Iowans quite proud.

We know the candidates aren’t perfect — they are human after all. But, we do rely on them to have some responses and solutions to the problems weighing voters down. So, when we saw first-hand evidence that candidates struggled with how to respond to voters’ very personal appeals for help, it really shook our beliefs in the people and in the system.

That’s why “Janeane from Des Moines” has really created waves. It pointed out those flaws, and it made those of us working to improve the political process feel like dupes, unable to help. These are real problems our family, our friends, our neighbors, our fellow citizens are facing. We should have been able to provide voters with more than just a campaign’s taglines or talking points.

When I met “Janeane from Des Moines,” I didn’t know it was a fake scenario. I was truly upset at this woman’s obvious distress in not being able to get the answers she so desperately needed. Even after realizing it was a set-up, I was still sympathetic to the issues the actress and the film bring up. Voters in this election cycle — like so many others before it — have real problems they want solved, and it is in the hands of our elected officials to help them.

That said, I have to admit the movie, and my unsuspecting role in it, did bother me. My real beef with Janeane’s (or should I say Jane Edith’s) stunt is this: In Iowa, we depended on the interaction with the candidates to be relevant as an early test ground. It was our opportunity to listen to what they have to say and measure their characters. We took this role very seriously, and so did the candidates. If future candidates come to think Iowa voters are part of some stunt for a movie, or conspiracy to trap them in situations that make them look bad — not real people with real problems — they may choose to stop taking questions and possibly even feel like they can’t be honest with us.

To let this happen would completely undercut the entire premise of Iowa and our status of first in the nation. The lesson learned from this situation is this: It is the voters’ job to be just as honest and as forthcoming as we expect our political candidates and elected officials to be. In return, candidates and elected officials need to continue to do a better job of relating to voters’ problems and give them more than just a campaign-approved sound bite in response.


Filed under Media Bias, Public Affaris, Reputation Management

The ‘Unforgiven’ Eastwood Electrifies Americans, Offends Media

A while back, I wrote a post about Clint Eastwood’s “Halftime in America” advertisement, which ran during the Super Bowl. I thought it was brilliant, catching the exact sentiment of America.

Last night, I watched the same icon in his appearance at the Republican National Convention. It was unscripted. He did not use the TelePrompTer as every other speaker did.

He was allotted five minutes, yet took a full twelve to conduct a faux interview with President Obama. The President was represented by an empty chair, which seemed to electrify the audience in Tampa.

Unfortunately, he also electrified a vitriolic media corps. Today his appearance is being attacked by some in the media (who often show a clear bias in favor of President Obama and more liberal causes).

It doesn’t surprise me that he’s being attacked by these outlets. His offense, in their eyes, is that he appeared at the Republican National Convention at all. Had he made the same appearance at the Democrat’s convention next week, and done the same “interview” of an absent Governor Romney, he would have been hailed as a bold genius.

But the wisdom of Clint Eastwood is this: In his “Halftime in America” advertisement he captured the essence of America, one of hopeful pride, deep strength and resilience. Last night, he did the same in an unscripted, unedited moment. He noted that the fact 23 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed is a national disgrace, one that makes him cry. And that none of us, not even the President, has done enough to help our fellow Americans.

One specific passage in his remarks will resonate deeply with the millions of Americans who watched him last night (allow me to paraphrase):

As Americans, we own this country. It belongs to each and every one of us.

Politicians, and those we elect, are our employees. Not the other way around.

When they don’t do a good job, or don’t do their job at all, we need to let them go and hire a replacement.

Those in elected office (regardless of party) and those in the biased media know the simple power of those truisms. That sentiment is exactly what America feels right now.

In “The Unforgiven,” a retired gunslinger named William Munny comes out of retirement for one last job. Last night, Clint Eastwood did one last job. The biased media knows he was effective, and that’s why today they’re trying to undercut him with such harsh criticism. I’m sure it couldn’t matter less to Clint Eastwood. And it couldn’t matter less to the tens of millions of people whose thoughts he succinctly put into words.

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