Wednesday, April 25, 2012

How Mitt Romney can win the Presidency

It's all but a formality now.  Willard Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee for the Presidency.  The race to November 6th starts in earnest now and we will see two distinctively different men vying for the job of leading the United States for the next four years.  I'm not a Romney supporter, and my vote will go to President Obama in November, but I think it is worth discussing how Mr. Romney can win in November.  The upcoming Presidential election will be important in many respects.  No, we don't see a historical event in the making. That campaign was the last one, where two new candidates both from the United States Senate competed for the Oval Office.  One, a war hero with a dramatic if not incredibly cynical choice for Vice President, and the other, a young charismatic freshman senator who became the first African American to be elected.   This election will not be about historical beginnings, rather it will be about competence and continuity.  That serves the challenger well this go-round. 

Mr. Romney's speech last night after his sweep of 5 Republican primaries was probably his best of the campaign so far.  His handlers are doing the right thing in my view of making this a referendum on the President.   Gone was the blustering red meat and ridiculous assertions that Barack Obama was taking us down a socialist path and no mention whatsoever of social issues such as contraception or religion.  Instead, he focused on the economy, and I think that is the winning message for Mitt Romney.   Romney has a long way to go, but it is early and his campaign has a chance to rectify some of the blunders and miss-steps he and the Republicans have made during the primary season. 

I believe there are four critical factors the Romney campaign must consider if they are going to defeat the President this November.   Each must be dealt with effectively and must above everything else, show competence in execution and a movement towards the center of the electorate.

Factor 1.  Romney must stay on the economic message.  He has consistently described the last four years as a failure of Obama's economic policies.  He has consistently said the President doesn't understand the economy and that he, with his business acumen is the right guy to get our economic engine going and lead us to the promised land.  He's countered data showing economic recovery with what I believe is a good response: The economy would have been even better had President Obama not futzed with it...  OK, these are good talking points and he should keep going with them.  The problem Mr. Romney has in this space is twofold.  One is his record.  Yes, he became a successful businessman during his career at Bain Capital.  He, as we have all been told "saved the Olympics" from organizational and economic troubles.  He was a governor.   The issue with his record is that once his record is highlighted, as it was to a small degree in the primary campaign, he doesn't come off too well.  A set of very weak Republican challengers tied Mr. Romney up in knots by characterizing him as uncaring and unfeeling technocrat who didn't care about the by-products of his actions, many of which resulted in business closings and people losing their jobs.  When governor of Massachusetts, his record on job production looks remarkably like the President's.  Coming into office in 2003, Massachusetts was sitting at 49th place in terms of job growth.  By 2007, the state had improved to 36th.  Not great, but not bad.  There's not much difference in terms of policies that Romney implemented and what the President has done since coming into office. So, essentially, that's a push in terms of governance record.  The other big comparison is in legislative achievement.  The singular legislative achievement for both Romney and the President has been health care legislation.   Indeed, the two candidates get much closer in this comparison than any other issue.  The two plans are essentially the same, and by rights, Romney can declare himself as the architect of the President's Affordable Care Act.  This was a stick that Gingrich, Santorum, and everyone else on the list of Republican candidates beat him senselessly with.   The question on Mr. Romney's governance record is will it cause some fall-out of the base?  Does he keep all the of the red-meat, Tea Party acolytes he pandered to during the campaign?  If so, then he has a chance of broadening his base by pulling some independents who might be much more moderate than the base, but are still disenchanted with the President.  If not, it spells trouble. If he cannot hold his base and get them out to vote, then his chances for supplanting the President diminish quickly.

The other issue about his record is his Private Sector record.  To be sure, Mr. Romney has been a successful businessman.  However,  his success is not of the "Henry Ford or Bill Gates or Steven Jobs" model, it is of the Michael Milken, Carl Icahn and George Soros model.  Mr. Romney comes off to 50 somethings like me as Snidely Whiplash and Gordon Gecko, to younger people as Mr. Burns from The Simpsons".  One person I know once described Romney as the "Guy who looks like the guy who just laid you off, and now he's asking for your vote to lead the country telling you he will make everything right".  If this perception of Romney cannot be countered, and I think to many people that Romney must win over fall right into the category of those middle class people who were laid off, it becomes a very tough sell for him to win. 

Can he overcome his perceived issues here to beat the President? Yes, he can, but he has to come forward with a vision that is more than "an updated version of the George W. Bush economic plan", as his plan was recently described by a member of the RNC.  Reading his "plan" on his web-site for economic recovery leaves one fairly cold to the idea that if implemented the benefits he describes will redound to the middle class.  This is another critical gap he must overcome, and describe in concise and clear terms how his plan helps the  middle class recover jobs, improve their economic standing and lessens their economic stress, and fundamentally how it differs from the President's plans.

Romney is a classical Technocrat, one who is considered a good manager, and that has been a consistent mantra of Republicans for years in that we need good management in the Oval Office.  This is a strength of his and he should continue to use it.  By articulating a clear vision for economic improvement and describing how he will lead in contrast with the President he can use this to great advantage during the campaign.

Factor 2 - Repairing the damage done by the Republicans with the women in this country.  Mr. Romney  has consistently stumbled with this issue, and it could be a mortal injury to the Republicans that they cannot recover from.  If they are to have any credible chance with women voters, Mr. Romney must show he is in touch with women's issues.  He's recently gotten a gift from the Democrats with Hillary Rosen's unfortunate comments about Ann Romney.  However, that gaffe aside, Romney and the GOP are in an abysmal place with women.  The "gender gap' between Obama and Romney is huge and if Romney cannot close that gap by November, he will lose.  To be successful in repairing the damage done, Mr. Romney must continue to focus on economic issues that affect women.  This however will not be enough.  He must find a way to connect with women in a way that he has not been able to do so far.  It must be a personal connection, and not through a surrogate like his wife or Governor Nikki Haley, one of his supporters.   Romney has to show he understands what women are going through and have a Bill Clinton moment where he can convey a sense of "I feel your pain" like Clinton did.  If he cannot overcome the damage done to women by the GOP he will lose.  If he can, and he is successful with his economic message, he'll have a good chance to become the 45th President of the United States.

Factor 3 - Another major voting bloc that the Republicans have damaged is the Hispanic vote.  People who are Hispanic, while not a homogeneous group, are definitely interested in immigration reform.  Romney has to date shown poorly in his plans to deal with this issue.  Romney would do well to come out in favor of legislation like the "Dream Act".  It would cost him little in the base (the true-believers in this space are a small contingent of voters that would never go over to Obama anyway) and possibly pull a large percentage of the Hispanic vote in his direction.  For Republicans, he needs to get about 40% of that voting bloc and he's polling in the high-teens right now.  This is dangerous territory because Romney is much farther away from the Hispanic community than George W. Bush was, and his views on immigration are very vague with respect to what he would actually support as President.

Factor 4 - Foreign Policy is the final of the four factors that I believe Romney must deal with effectively in order to unseat the President.  He will have a very difficult time contesting the President's decisions militarily and in the fight on terrorism as Mr. Obama has done very well in this regard.  The area of Foreign Policy Mr. Romney needs to focus on goes back to his core strengths: The economy.  Europe is having serious economic issues with countries like Greece, Spain and Portugal all having significant problems to the point it is dragging the Euro down and causing the EU to drive rather draconian austerity measures into these troubled economies in order to stave off another recession or worse.  Romney could do well in this space as he has a fairly good understanding of capital management and how to "turn-around" troubled organizations (e.g. Olympics, Domino's Pizza, etc.).   This is a potential strong card for Romney to play as the economic distress in Europe is not going away anytime soon and it could reach our shores damaging and slowing our fragile recovery.    If Romney can come up with some credible views and perspective on how to deal with Foreign government's economic relationship with our country that would play well with the electorate.  To date, he's stumbled in this area as well which is surprising.  His commentary on China has drawn significant criticism from his own party. Jon Hunstman, a former opponent and now endorser of Romney called candidate's statements toward China "unfortunate".   As far as the military aspect of our Foreign policy is concerned, Mr. Romney has not developed a coherent message on Afghanistan or Syria.  He has probably not said much on this subject at the behest of his advisers and while, right now, that may be smart, Foreign Policy always comes up in a Presidential election and Mr. Romney needs a sound view on what to do with our troops. 

So there you have it.  My view of what Mr. Romney needs to do to win the election.  I think, assuming we have no major change in the economy (good or bad), no major event that threatens our security, and basically in November, things look pretty much like they do today, it will be a very, very tight race.   The President is a very capable and formidable campaigner, and Mr. Romney is not.  Mr. Romney would do well not to try and "campaign" like Obama or Clinton or Reagan, but more like Eisenhower.  To be sure, Eisenhower was a war hero and Romney is not, but Ike was not a great campaigner, but his leadership skills came across and convinced the country he was the man for the job and a better choice than the hapless Adlai Stevenson, interestingly enough another politician from Illinois.

Romney is no Ike to be sure and Stevenson was no Obama, so the analogy may not be fair.  However, if Romney is to win, it must be on his chops as a leader.  Because as a politician, he's pretty bad.

Tell me what you think,



Thursday, April 05, 2012

April 4th

This article was prompted by Bill Holmes' excellent remembrance of his experiences on the day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4th, 1968. Bill's article can be found over at The View Point.  Dr. King was and is a hero of mine.  He was a fierce believer in justice for everyone, and led a non-violent movement that changed this country forever by calling on the nation to cast away old prejudices and "judge people by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin".  So on that April 4th, a long, long time ago, a national hero to many was lost.

If you'll forgive the personal nature of this article I wanted to tell you about another hero of mine, perhaps my biggest hero, who also passed away on April 4th.     April 4th, 2004 was the day my Father died after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer.  My Dad died the way he lived, with a quiet dignity and a selflessness that exemplified his life.  A few days before he died, while he was fairly lucid and could still talk to us in a coherent manner, Dad woke up from a nap and saw my brother Bob and I sitting beside his bed.  He smiled and after struggling to sit up motioned for my brother and I to sit beside him on the bed.  Weak and in pain, he raised his arms up around both of us and pulled us close together.  He couldn't talk, but he patted us both on the shoulder as if to say "It's going to be o.k.".    "It's going to be o.k." That was a phrase he used time and again throughout my life when some ill or mishap had befallen me.  He was always the guy that I could turn to no matter what the issue was and would provide some comfort if I was hurt,or wisdom to help me solve a problem. 

Sam Cobble Sherrard (known by everyone as "S.C") was born on July 30, 1924 in Rusk, Texas.  Rusk is a small town in east Texas about 130 miles south east of Dallas.  My Dad was the 3rd of four children born to Sam Calvin and Rosa Lee Sherrard.  My grandfather was a sharecropper.   A sharecropper for those who haven't heard that term is a tenant farmer, or one that rents a parcel of land from a landowner, farms it and shares the proceeds of the sale of the crops that the farmer produces.   My grandfather was, like many people during that time a very poor laborer with little formal education.  He stopped going to school after completing the 3rd grade in order to work with his family on their farm.  As such, my grandfather didn't have a high opinion of education and going to school was essentially foreign to him. 

A significant event occured when my Dad was nine years old and he was working in the fields with his brothers and his mom picking cotton.  At that time (1930's) people didn't use Combines or other machinery to pick cotton, they did it by hand, as had been the practice for hundreds of years.  You picked cotton along a row of plants until you filled up a sack, threw the sack on the truck, then started another bag.  As they went down the rows, a truck slowly followed beside them on a land berm bordering the field and the road.  My Dad had finished a bag and had taken it over to the truck.  Standing beside the truck, the berm collapsed and the truck fell over with the wooden panel on the bed of the truck striking my Dad and pinning him underneath.  The accident had broken his hip, his leg and crushed part of his spine.

Dad's recovery was long and painful.  Bedridden for the majority of a year, his doctor starting bringing him books to read during his convalescence.  The doctor treating him brought my Dad histories, biographies, dime-novels from the "old-west", and many, many other books that ignited a passion for reading that lasted his entire life.   After my Dad healed up, he wasn't physically able to stay in the fields working so my grandfather relented to my grandmother's entreaties to let my Dad continue to go to school.  That single event is pretty much responsible for my Dad completing high school.  He is the only one of his brothers who did.  The others left school at various points in their lives and became ranchers, mechanics, carpenters, etc. but my Dad stayed and graduated in 1943.

Six months after graduating, my Dad was on a troop transport ship heading to the Pacific.  He had been drafted into the Army and like millions of men before him headed off to World War II.   My Dad was a rifleman in an infantry squad and eventually wound up as part of the occupation force in Japan after their surrender. 

After returning home, Dad decided not to go to college.  It wasn't a matter of money, he had the GI bill that would have paid for his education and oh, how he would have loved college.  Part of the early mythology that I heard from his uncles was that he came back and found his mom and dad in fairly dire financial straits and went to work to help support them, so he gave up going to college. While it was true that his parents needed help, I was to find out much later in my life after a conversation with him that he didn't go to college because he was afraid.  Now,  when he told me this, I was dumbfounded. I thought no way my Dad was afraid to go to college.  Turns out, my Dad had trouble writing, and was also afraid of speaking in public.  This terrified him to the point that he felt he'd be left behind as the people he had met in the Army who had gone to college were eloquent, both in speaking publicly and in their writing.  So, he decided to go to work instead.  After mustering out of the army in 1947, he went to work in a grocery store with the Safeway food chain.  He found himself quickly being promoted to store manager and decided this was the business he would make his career.

Fast forward to 1956, and my Dad married my Mom, Lena Barnes.  She was living in Waco at the time as my Dad was.  They married and bought a small house in Waco.  My Mom's father had died in 1948 and she had been working and taking care of her little sister and her mother who had been struck by arthritis so bad in her 30's that she was confined to a wheel chair for the rest of her life.   Dad and Mom worked in Waco for another few years and then in 1958 moved to Dallas as my Dad had been transferred to a store off of I-30 and Samuell Boulevard.   They bought a house in 1959 in Mesquite, Texas and in 1959, yours truly arrived.  4 years later, in October of 1963 my brother Robert was born and the family settled into the home that my Mom still lives in today.

Life in the 1960's and early 1970's was very hard.  Grocery store managers don't make much money. There was no health insurance, and my Mom's mother was living with us and not doing well.  My Dad's back was a constant problem for him and he would wind up having 4 back surgeries from the late 1960s through the 1980's.  My Dad and Mom managed to keep my brother, me and my grandmother well fed, clothed and we (my brother and I) were fairly clueless about their financial situation.  We did what boys did.  We played ball, went to school, went to church, got into trouble, the usual stuff.  The one fundamental theme however that was consistently harped upon in our house was the importance of education.  My Dad was always reading and demanded that my brother and I do the same.  We'd have impromptu book reports, history quizzes, and political discussions at the dinner table on Sundays.  I can hardly remember a time growing up where my Dad and I were not discussing some book he had just read, or talking about some historical event that had occurred.  There was little discussion of my brother and I not going to college.  It was an absolute given that both of us would continue our educations.   The day I brought my diploma home after graduating, he took it from my hands and went straight over to his brothers' houses to show them the document as I was the first in our family to graduate from college. 

Also during this time (1960s and 1970s), my parents were opening their home to foster children.  This got started when I was about 2 years old.  My Dad went to work one morning very early (about 4:30) to meet the grocery truck for the week's deliveries.  He found a young teenager asleep on the loading dock.  After waking him up, taking him inside and giving him some coffee (Dad's favorite drink), he found out the kid was a runaway, and had some how hitch-hiked all the way down from Michigan.  The kid, named Jerry Tucker was about 16 at the time.  My Dad brought the kid home where he stayed with us for a couple of years before enlisting in the military.  This started a pattern where we saw several kids come and stay with us for the summer.  We had probably 20 kids of various ages that were residences of the Buckner Children's Home, an orphanage in East Dallas spend time with us over the years.   My parents had signed up to be "host-parents" for kids during the summer.  This was "normal" at our house, there were people staying with us all the time and as my brother and I were later to discover, the people that were staying with us were usually broke.  Many of the folks "visiting" were people who at one time or another worked for my Dad.  If they were broke, he'd see they get a little money, or food, or if they didn't have a place to live, they visited with us for a while until they got on their feet.   I never saw my Dad turn away someone who needed help.  Sometimes it was just getting the person something to eat, sometimes it was taking someone to the doctor.  He would always tell me, "If you have the capacity to help, then help".    

My Dad and I became very good friends after I had become an adult, got married and had kids of my own.  I would often call him up after a bad day at work or after having a problem with one my kids and he would listen to me patiently while I ranted and then tell me "It's going to be o.k." 

Because of this man's quiet courage, his belief in hard work, his belief that "your word is your bond", and his example of service to others, my brother and I were given a head start on life that many aren't fortunate enough to have received.  He is indeed my hero and I strive every day to be like him.  I fall short often, but it is a goal worth pursuing.

"It's going to be o.k.".... I miss hearing that phrase from him.  I miss him.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Exhausted, Angry and Sorrowful

I've waited for some time before deciding to write a post about the Trayvon Martin killing.  Emotions have run hard in me on this case.  Upon first hearing of the story, I became angry.  I'm angry because I don't understand how this type of thing can happen in this country in 2012.  I'm angry because a teenager is dead. I'm angry because a self-appointed vigilante shot and killed this young man after being told by the 911 dispatcher that he didn't need to follow Trayvon Martin ignored this and went ahead anyway and the result was tragedy.  I'm also angry because the news media has taken this up and of course done what they usually do which is try and make something else out of this terrible event.  Depending upon which paper or blog or web site one reads, the story is tilted towards trying to find blame for the event.  Some have decided that George Zimmerman is to blame, other have attempted to portray Trayvon Martin as the person responsible for the outcome.  Still others are attempting to make this about race.  I'm very angry that all of this noise about the case doesn't change the fact that a teenage kid is dead and will not grow up to have a job, have an education, get married, have kids, go on vacation, have a hobby, have grand kids, and get old.  I'm angry that George Zimmerman's life is inexorably altered and not for the good.  A young kid is dead at his hand.  He will carry this with him the rest of his life.  The rest of his days, he will be known as "The vigilante who killed a teen-age kid".  I'm angry that we live in a culture where it is necessary to have legislatures pass laws that identify justifiable reasons why it is o.k. to kill other people.  I'm angry, and yet I'm also anguished by the fact that this type of thing keeps happening. I 'm anguished by the fact that we have yet one more example of violence in this country and it doesn't seem that it will ever stop.

Some people are attempting to make this a race issue.  I don't know if it is or not. I don't know Mr. Zimmerman, and don't know what is in his heart and in his brain and what his motivation was for pursuing Trayvon Martin.  It really doesn't matter except that if it was about race, if it was Mr. Zimmerman becoming suspicious of Trayvon because he didn't look like he "belonged" where he was and the principal reason for that assumption was the color of his skin, then it simply goes to show we have still a long way to go in our society.

We have to find away out of the cycle of violence that seems to be pervasive and endemic across our society.  We have to find a way to come together and get to a point of compassion versus suspicion. We have to find a way to stop the idea that killing is an acceptable outcome in this country.  It's not a race issue, it's not a political issue, it is a issue of our collective humanity and if we are to progress, we must get to a point where we do not tolerate any longer the collective attitude that violence is a reasonable answer to our problems.

My thoughts are with Trayvon Martin's parents.  The absolute worse thing in my view any one can experience is the loss of their child.  No one should have to suffer through that.  I hope they can find peace.

My thoughts are with Mr. Zimmerman and his family.  He, by his action has irrevocably changed his life and ended the life of another human.  While the circumstances on the event are still being argued and we have an obligation to hear the facts of the case before determining whether Mr. Zimmerman's actions were justified, the simple fact of the matter is that a young, teenage boy is dead and Mr. Zimmerman was responsible.  He will have to deal with that forever.

We need to have a national conversation on the topic of violence.  We know that violence is a reality and will continue to be so. We must however find a way to minimize it as much as possible.  I know many who are following this case are aligning themselves with one camp or another in an attempt to find someone to blame.  Blaming doesn't help. It doesn't bring this kid back to life. It doesn't make Mr. Zimmerman's life any better, and it doesn't stop the probability that next week, next month, next year, we'll see more and more stories where acts of violence have irrevocably destroyed the lives of others in our community.   What is there to do?  How can we continue to progress our humanity forward and reduce the amount of violence in our society?  All of this must be discussed over and over again as we look for answers. 

I'm exhausted with the violence. I'm exhausted with reading about the tragedies like the Martin case.  I'm exhausted with reading the attempts of people with an agenda to make this about something other than one person killing another person.  I'm tired but cannot stop thinking about what can we do to avoid this in the future.   We have to keep talking about it.

Tell me what you think.


The Polls are Closed, Romney wins the Nomination

Well,  according to our snap polls,  Mitt Romney will win the GOP nomination and will be the Republican Candidate for President of the United States and will face President Obama in the election this November.  Our poll, answered by a whopping 6 people indicated a preference for Governor Romney with 4 votes, and Ron Paul and Rick Santorum each gaining 1 vote from our respondents.    So while the sample size is woefully small (come on folks!), it seems to track with the national view that Romney is now the "inevitable" candidate to face the President.   The other candidate in the poll, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich didn't receive a vote at all which also maps to the national polls that his candidacy is effectively over.

Our other snap poll, "Who Do You Watch To Keep Up With The Nomination Race?" also had 6 respondents with Fox News and CNN each receiving 1 vote, while MSNBC, and "Network News (e.g. ABC, NBC, CBS, other) gaining 2 votes each.

Stay tuned to our site for more snap polls as we get closer to the general election in November.