Steve Coon Blog

Who should be America’s next president?

caricature-of-steve3 2Who should be America’s next president? We have more than 530 official candidatesso far and there will be others before the campaign season gets into full swing.

Most of these hopefuls stand no chance of appearing on the ballots in all 50 states let alone being elected. After eliminating 500 wannabees that leaves us with a crowded field of relatively well-known names.

But how many of the candidates most-mentioned by the news media are actually qualified?

Up to the task

The presidency of the United States is one of the most challenging jobs in the world. Too many aspirants presume they have what it takes in terms of intelligence, skill, temperament, strength and wisdom to lead this republic. Frankly, their undeserved hubris in an insult to the greatness of our republic.

Recent occupants of the White House, likewise, often have failed the test of leadership. So why should we believe the current contenders are any better?

Demands of the job

The president presides over a cabinet of 22 agencies and individuals. The 15 principal departments are Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs and the Attorney General.

A successful president should be an effective administrator with adequate knowledge about each of these 15 departments. Administrative experience and departmental knowledge comes from experience leading either public or private sector enterprises, choosing the right people for departmental responsibilities and delegating authority to those appointees.

Without prior executive experience, the next president will have to learn on the job. America has too many pressing problems to be in the hands of a novice to domestic and international affairs. We have witnessed more than once the misfortunes of inadequate leadership in the Oval Office.

Grading the contestants

Who among the most prominent candidates has the requisite background to be president of the United States? Let’s look at the official Democratic hopefuls in alphabetical order.

New Jersey Senator  Corey Booker  was mayor of Newark for seven years and has been in the U.S. Senate for six. Does his limited time as mayor of an East Coast city persuade us that he’s prepared to move into the Oval Office? His strident performance during the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings of Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh raises questions about his temperament. Compared with other candidates I’m skeptical of his qualifications.

The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, 36-year-old Pete Buttigieg has reached the minimum age of 35 to be American’s chief executive. And he is one of the few current candidates with military experience. That’s a plus. But has he reached a level of maturity, experience and wisdom in other areas to lead the greatest nation on earth? His youth concerns me.

If elected, Juan Castro would be America’s Latino president. He is a former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama as well as mayor of San Antonio, Texas for five years. His ethnicity is a potential attraction for Latino voters and his experience as a U.S. cabinet member is noteworthy. But he is relatively unknown among a crowded field of better-known contestants. We’ll see what mark he can make during the long campaign season.

John Delaney founded three companies before he was elected to the House of Representatives from Maryland. On paper his business acumen looks good. But members of the lower chamber of Congress have a poor history as presidential candidates. And Delaney has generated little excitement or media coverage since his announcement nearly 18 months ago. It’s difficult to see that changing anytime soon.

Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard has served in the military, on the Honolulu City Council and is former aide to Senator Daniel Akaka. She probably is campaigning either for a cabinet appointment or some other executive post with the next president. She herself has no realistic chance to prevail in the 2020 primaries.

Two-term New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is another candidate with limited experience. She has had a varied legal career but nothing in her background gives confidence that she can be an effective president. Furthermore, she has stumbled coming out of the starting blocks when asked to reconcile her past conservative views as a member of the House vs. her liberal stance in the Senate. Should we consider her change of mind as uncertainty or flexibility? It matters neither way. Barring some major surprise, she will not be the Democratic nominee.

California Senator Kamala Harris has generated the most excitement among progressive democrats and liberal news media. Her mixed Asian, black and Native American racial identity makes her an attractive candidate with potential broad ethnic and minority appeal. She was California Attorney General before her election to the U.S. Senate two years ago and drew national attention during the Senate Judiciary Committee nomination hearings for Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh. But will her charisma translate into effective presidential decisions and actions?  Our most recent travels down that path were disappointing.

The Midwest has a candidate from Minnesota—a state with a rich history of fielding strong presidential contenders. Amy Klobuchar, in her third Senate term, is the latest politician from her state to make the run. But her administrative credentials do not appear strong. Despite her calm demeanor during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings and her interesting presidential announcement outside during a cold, snowy day in the Twin Cities, the question is how can she emerge from the crowded field. Yes, she has grit. But is she presidential?

In 2016, Vermont’s Independent Senator Bernie Sanders challenged eventual Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. His outspoken promotion of socialism attracted a large following of young Americans tired of the usual bromides of professional politicians. Can he perform the same magic in 2020? Probably not.   The presidential arena is filled with younger progressives ready to snatch his socialist credentials and positions. At 77 Sanders is too old and his bid should be sidelined.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has been considered a serious presidential possibility for several years. A former Harvard University professor, she is considered a leading progressive voice in the Democratic Party. But she brings no apparent administrative experience to her campaign and her misstep claiming Native American heritage has dogged her campaign to date. Her response to questions about her ethnic background backfired and demonstrated her tendency to rise to the bait when confronted with the often personal attacks she will face during the campaign. We already have a president with such a weakness. Warren enjoys name recognition but is light on necessary credentials to lead America.

Among those who also considered potential candidates is Joe Biden. The onetime Delaware Senator has decades of congressional experience and served eight years as Barack Obama’s Vice President. His extensive knowledge of the inner workings in both Congress and the White House makes him far and away the most qualified of those prominently and frequently cited as potential candidates.

Although he has yet to declare his intentions, he has made no secret of his interest in the job. He would be a moderate voice among democrats. However, age and a Democratic shift toward progressive policies and presidential aspirants may eclipse any hopes that he will carry the party’s banner in 2020.

To date it’s disappointing to view the presidential contenders and see virtually no one with a strong executive background. No one with extensive military or diplomatic knowledge. Too few with proven legislative records of promoting bold and sometimes controversial yet necessary policy initiatives.

We are two years away from the start of the next presidential term. I hope someone emerges from either the Democrats or Republicans who can get America moving in the right direction again.

Someone who has run a private-sector enterprise successfully for a minimum of five years and served at least two-terms as a state governor with a proven record of accomplishment.

I’m still waiting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We need more persons of color everywhere

caricature-of-steve3 2I’ve written about this before and as I watch the Super Bowl today I think about it again.

Why doesn’t corporate and institutional America look like the players representing today’s Super Bowl competitors?  Seventy percent of National Football Players (NFL) are black and that is true of the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots.

The statistics are similar for the National Basketball Association (NBA).

The explanation is equally simple and sad

Many young poor blacks and Latinos don’t see faces like theirs among America’s professional, educational, and government elite. Instead they see persons like them excelling as athletes.

Professional athletics are acceptable professions, of course. But when–as a young person–you see most of your race or ethnicity in these activities and too few in other fields, it’s not surprising that you accept a world of limited opportunities.

Furthermore, too many colleges recruit young athletes for their teams but provide very little academic support. The college graduation rate of young black male student-athletes compared with their fellow classmates is disgracefully low.

This is wrong

We need more persons of color like Astronaut Leland Melvin among America’s institutional leaders. The son of black educators in Virginia. Melvin’s inspiring Ted TALK should remind us and especially today’s young people of the many paths open to all regardless of color, race, religion or sexual orientation. Our universities need to do a better job of encouraging all young people to excel academically and give realistic counseling on career opportunities.

I will enjoy today’s Super Bowl contest between two good NFL teams and marvel at the gifted athletes who will star in the game.

But at the end of the contest tonight, I’ll think of role models like Leland Melvin and ask how many NFL players might have chosen his journey if given the chance?  Especially those who dreamed of athletic glory but never made the cut and never received their degree.

Tom Brokaw was correct. He was also wrong.

caricature-of-steve3 2Former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw sparked controversy Sunday when he said on NBC’s Meet the Press that Latinos should be more assimilated into American society rather than remain codified within their own communities.

Let’s begin with why Brokaw is right

No immigrants will truly be assimilated and comfortable in America without a command of English and understanding of United States culture. And every immigrant family wants that for their children.

I write children because the older parents are the more difficult it will be for them to speak English. The older the immigrants, the more they will be attracted to spending time with others of their nationality or those who speak the same language.

That’s because they are limited in how freely they can interact with English-only speaking citizens and the type of work they can do. They retain many of their linguistic and cultural ties and—not surprisingly—willingly isolate themselves from their host country.

It’s true for us, too, for the identical reasons.

American ex-patriots living abroad where English is not the official language usually form U.S. communities and social groups with fellow compatriots. They spend time with other Americans–often more frequently than with citizens of their adopted country. They all share the same language, grew up with common cultural values and have a common history.

What Brokaw got wrong

Immigrant children assimilate more quickly than their parents. Yes, they speak the language of their elders at home but learn English easily playing with other children in their neighborhoods and at school.

Scores of studies document how these bi-lingual family flow easily from one culture to another—one at home; the other outside.

These children most likely will choose friends and mates from both within and without their own nationality. And they are just as likely to speak only English to their own children. They will have more and better job opportunities.

By the third generation, these grandchildren of the original immigrants will speak little if any of the first generation language. Their cultural ties and loyalties decline and they will think of themselves first as Americans and only secondarily as children or grandchildren of immigrants. They will be among American’s leaders in business, government and education.

We all are immigrants

If we look at our own family histories, we know this is true.

Tom Brokaw was correct when he spoke to the importance of Latino assimilation. He failed to realize, however, that is already happening to second and third generation Hispanics. Just as it happened for all of us.

We need younger leadership

Steve BlogShould age be a factor when evaluating the qualifications of our next U.S. president? The question arises because of speculation that former Vice President Joe Biden—at age 76—is considering a run for the White House in 2020.

Age certainly will be raised if Biden decides to seek the presidency. Does he have the energy to meet the demands of the Oval Office? Does he have the wisdom to lead America in negotiations with world leaders about the increasingly complicated world of the global community? Is he sensitive to the changing domestic challenges that include not only jobs, health, education and infrastructure but also the cultural environment including identity politics? Or can we assume that his decades of public service—as laudable as some would argue—are likely to be tainted by sclerotic thinking and a fondness for traditional proposals unsuited to today’s changing times?

I generally oppose older persons holding elective office. Part of my objection is philosophical; part is recognition of my own declining energy as I age. I have argued elsewhere that elected public servants should have term limits and voters should deny their reelection after a decade in office. Congress, especially, is occupied by scores of members  who have long outlived their usefulness.

Supreme Court justices have lifetime appointments. They are not elected. Although intellectually challenging, their physical demands are minimal. Unlike the president, the justices are not required to react to multiple challenges or unexpected crises. The justices can work and live in relative isolation—free from the pressures that would tax any individual, especially an elderly person.

However, the president needs physical stamina, mental agility, wisdom, administrative and legislative experience, and cultural sensitivity. These are qualifications honed over decades. Any presidential candidate should possess all of these traits if she or he is to be successful. Some recent presidents have shown physical vigor. But their inexperience with both administrative and legislative demands proved to be deficits that resulted in poor decisions and ineffective tenures.

Joe Biden can and should continue to be a valuable source of wisdom and counsel for future elected officials including the next occupant of the White House. But Biden should not seek the presidency. That job should go to a younger qualified candidate.

The New Congress: “One Nation under God…and Muhammad”

Everyone seems to have expert analysis of last Tuesday’s midterm elections. But these interpretations are really just personal opinions. Only the numbers are reliable.

As expected, the Democrats captured the House of Representatives; the Senate remains in Republican hands.

More interesting are those who were elected. Winners include 23 women in the Senate and 101 in the House. These include two Native Americans and two Muslims. And much is being made of how many Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer (LGBTQ) individuals were elected nationwide.

Is this significant? Perhaps but only to limited degree. The usual perception is that women tend to focus more on education, child care, reproductive rights and health than men. I think that is true and it should mean that in the next Congress there will be more sensitivity to and debate about these issues. But concern and discussion don’t guarantee more legislation.

NEW VOICES

I also doubt that Congress will quickly pass more bills promoting Native American, Muslim and LGBTQ interests.   In fact, what would such an agenda look like?

Will Native American representatives call for revised school curricula to include greater depiction in history classes of America’s indigenous populations? Or will they advocate for more money invested in improving health care and jobs on native lands?

Will Muslims in Congress demand that the Pledge of Allegiance in schools include the phrase, “one nation under God and Muhammad,…?” Or more importantly will they introduce bills requiring equal recognition of and more money for religious organizations?

What is the LBGTQ agenda? And end to all male-female bathrooms? A minimum percentage of LBGTQ employees required of all businesses that apply for federal monies?

I expect the new faces and voices in Congress will mean a broader more realistic examination and discussion of national challenges affecting the diverse segments of America. This should happen soon after the House and Senate convene next January.   But actual substantive results from these new voices will take much longer.

The confirmation process of Brett Kavanaugh was disgraceful

The U.S. Senate confirmation of Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh has been a shameful moment in America’s history.

Screen Shot 2018-10-06 at 2.27.57 PMThe hatred, bigotry, histrionics, lies and character assassination raised during the process are ugly graffiti on the portrait of the United States that we present as a shining example for the world to see and to which many nations aspire.

Unfortunately, the patina of the framework of the American Constitution has been damaged by persons intent or destruction rather than elevation. These misguided souls were mesmerized by Pied Pipers whose sole purpose was to thwart Donald Trump whom they consider an illegitimate president because he lost the popular vote in 2016 but prevailed in the Electoral College.

PROCESS

 I repeat that I was upset with the Senate Republican leadership when they refused to hold judiciary hearings on the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court (SCOTUS). President Obama fulfilled his constitutional obligation to nominate a candidate for the vacant seat on the high bench. But the Senate Republicans violated their constitutional mandate to schedule hearings. GOP claims that a lame duck president should not name an associate justice was both wrong and unethical. The GOP deserves criticism for that unscrupulous ploy.

But the current opposition by Senate Democrats and liberal activists is equally shameful. Trump opponents decided and acted early to sabotage the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh. Some pundits claim the orchestrated lies were fear that Kavanaugh would give SCOTUS an unstoppable conservative majority intent on reversing Roe vs. Wade.

More important to liberals, however, was a desperate attempt to obfuscate the truth and delay a Senate vote until after the November midterm election when Democrats hope to take control of the upper chamber.

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee were willing to sacrifice Dr. Christine Blasey Ford for the party’s selfish agenda. They were willing to assassinate the character of Judge Kavanaugh for the same purpose.

Even when the minority party leveraged an agreement from the majority to request an FBI investigation into the allegations of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh, the Democrats then claimed that very investigation was a white wash because the agency found no evidence of the accusations.

Delay, delay, delay.

CONCLUSION

 This process has been an outrageous display of duplicitous assertions designed solely to thwart President Trump from appointing his second conservative jurist to the Supreme Court.

I have no doubt that Merrick Garland was eminently qualified and deserved a serious and timely hearing about his judicial record.   The refusal to do so by the Senate Republican leadership is disgraceful moment in the history of our republic.

Equally, disgraceful was the Democrats campaign to mischaracterize Kavanaugh’s personal and professional history.

A careful, dispassionate review of his judicial rulings shows that he is a thoughtful, sincere jurist. His decisions clearly demonstrate a wide range of fair conclusions that would satisfy both conservatives and liberals alike.

Most important to many liberals, Judge Kavanaugh will not threaten women’s reproductive rights. He has affirmed that Roe vs. Wade is established law. His Catholic values will not color his examination of abortion cases that come before the Supreme Court or influence his decisions.

Brett Kavanaugh now is an associate justice of the Supreme Court—the high tribunal once again has its full complement of nine justices. And, yes, the majority of justices are considered conservatives.

But history shows that many SCOTUS rulings have given comfort to liberals. The affirmation by the court that the controversial Affordable Care Act—Obamacare—is the law stands as most recent evidence of the court’s strict, impartial allegiance to the Constitution.

Of more concern, however, is whether this nation can regain its historic commitment to respectful, civic debate on this nation’s critical challenges? Are we as citizens and as a republic capable of sincere willingness to weigh the intellectual merits of competing views to reach the best decisions for America? Or are we so ideologically divided, so entrenched in partisan bitterness, so emotionally polarized that we are neither willing nor able to recognize legitimate, sincere differences?

We are at a critical crossroad and I fear that our national leadership is incapable of reversing direction and returning to the correct path.

I should have hope that next month’s midterm elections give us an opportunity to reject the dysfunctional political leadership in Congress. But our national anger and hatred may run too deep for Americans to cleanse Capitol Hill of incompetent, unwilling politicians. I will vote for change but am not optimistic that my fellow Americans will do the same.

Our Founding Fathers would surely weep.

Caricature of SteveSome pundits worry that our current level of virulent political attacks and reputational assassination unleashed by rabid ideologues threaten our very democracy.

I don’t believe that.

But certainly the American republic is traversing a rocky patch in 2018. One that challenges our nation’s civil resolve and questions whether we can rescue dispassionate, intelligent debate from the clutches of maniacal hate groups and individuals intent on destroying the foundations of free discussion and exchanges our forefathers struggle to defend.

The despicable spectacle of the Judge Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court (SCOTUS) nomination hearings is embarrassing proof of the latter.

Any intelligent person–not allied with the lunatic fringe of contemporary society–recognizes that Judge Kavanaugh is eminently qualified to be the next SCOTUS associate justice.

But intelligence has been supplanted in America this century by bitter emotional partisan diatribes devoid of meritorious content and replaced by moronic delaying tactics designed to derail worthwhile candidates for either appointed or elective office.

Yes, the decision by the Republican-controlled Senate to deny Judge Merrick Garland a confirmation hearing when nominated by President Obama was despicable. It was an inexcusable abuse of power based on a disingenuous rationale that was only a diaphanous excuse to avoid possible confirmation of a liberal justice.

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was complicit in this shameless moment and deserves condemnation.

Equally despicable are the phony efforts by California Senator Diane Feinstein and her liberal colleagues on the same committee this year to thwart a fair hearing and scrutiny of Judge Kavanaugh.   The last minute questionable allegations revealed by Feinstein and her liberal colleagues is simply character assassination by anti-Trump activists pretending to be public servants.

Case in point is Christine Blasey, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University, who has accused Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct at a party when the two were adolescents.

Democrats who hate President Trump want to delay the Senate Judiciary Committee vote on Judge Kavanagh until Blasey’s accusations are fully investigated. Their opposition is another desperate stalling tactic to postpone a confirmation vote by the full Republican-controlled Senate before the Supreme Court’s fall session that begins October 6.

Judiciary Committee Chair Grassley has scheduled public testimony for next Monday to hear both Professor Blasey and Judge Kavanaugh. But now Blasey says she won’t testify until the FBI investigates her claims—despite the fact that the bureau already has completed its background probe of Kavanaugh and, according to its website, does not investigate sexual crimes unless they pose a national threat or are linked to serial rapists. Professor Blasey’s claim fails this test.

My first reaction to the anonymous allegation was disbelief. When the identify of the accuser was revealed I tended to believe her. But now that Blasely refuses to face Kavanaugh and the American people before the lights and camera of a public judiciary committee hearing next Monday, I doubt her story.

Instead I now believe she is a stooge by the anti-Trump cabal intent on resorting to any tactic no matter how disgusting to sabotage the appointment of a presumed conservative justice to the Supreme Court.

Republicans, Democrats, conservatives and liberals all have acted shameless in both the case of Merrick Garland and now in the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh.

They have demonstrated their willingness to disregard almost all standards of ethics, honesty, civility and decency to achieve victory.

I think America will survive this moment. But future citizens should recognize this as a sad chapter in the nation’s history. A time when our elected leaders in the Senate and anti-Trump activists abandoned their commitment to a better America in exchange for selfish individual victories.

Our Founding Fathers surely would weep to witness this betrayal.