Tuesday, June 15, 2010


In May, 2010, three members of Congress were beaten in their bids for re-election within their own Party elections - a Republican Senator from Utah, a Democratic Congressman from West Virginia, and a Republican-turned-Democrat in Pennsylvania. Among them, they served 76 years in Congress (their fathers served another 42); and they all had one thing in common: They were members of an Appropriations Committee. It is also noteworthy (and shocking to some) that House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-MI) suddenly decided to retire from Congress after a career of 41 years, rather than face the energetic campaign of a young Republican in his district.

In his recent article ("The Gathering Revolt Against Government Spending") in the EXAMINER, political analyst Michael Barone reminds us that on Capitol Hill, there is an old saying that there are three parties in Washington - Democrats, Republicans, and appropriators. However, Barone also takes note of these recent developments and concludes that "pork is not kosher" in this election year.

Barone correctly states that we have been told for many years that American voters are "ideologically conservative" and "operationally liberal" . . . another way of saying that they tend to oppose government spending in the abstract but tend to favor spending on particular programs. Anyone who has had any experience with county government knows this to be true. In my home county in Mississippi, we have not one but two paid lobbyists (one Democrat and one Republican), whose job it is, in part, to arrange face time with the members of our congressional delegation for county officials in search of funds to finance the latest road projects, water and sewer treatment facilities, etc.

In years past, Vice-President Walter Mondale once stated on a campaign trip to Mississippi that the State's two powerful Senators (Eastland and Stennis) were very even-handed in their efforts to control the flow of federal dollars to proposed worthwhile capital improvement projects across the nation. Mondale joked that their formula for dispensing federal funds was simple: one-half for Mississippi and one-half for the rest of the country.

Spending by the federal government on local projects began in a big way during the Great Depression and has thrived ever since. As stated by Barone, past rebellions against fiscal policies have concentrated on taxes rather than spending - such as the California tax revolt in the 1970s that led to Ronald Reagan's popular tax cuts after he became President. However, spending cuts did not follow under Reagan as he led the effort to dramatically increase the defense budget to confront the Soviet military buildup. Likewise, Bill Clinton's tax increases led to a Republican takeover and tax cuts at both the federal and state level. However, spending boomed under George W. Bush in the aftermath of 9/11.

Unlike previous rebellions against fiscal policies, the fiscal revolt in 2010 appears to be focused on the spending policies of the Obama Democrats. Barone says that what we are observing is "a spontaneous rush of previously inactive citizens into political activity . . . in response to the vast increases in federal spending that began with the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in the fall of 2008; and accelerated with the Obama Democrats' stimulus package, budget and health care bills." It is a fact that federal spending is rising from about 21 percent to 25 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), which is high in historic terms.

The defeat of the three appropriators from both parties and the retirement of Congressman Obey is sending us a message this election year. Will Republicans come forward with a bold plan to roll back government spending? Barone tells us that "the natural instinct of politicians is to avoid anything bold." He points out that the conservatives in the recent British elections were faced with similar issues, but they were skittish about proposing spending cuts. The result was the conservatives in Britain fell short of the absolute majority they expected in their May 6 elections.

In the 2010 congressional elections, where Republicans likewise have high hopes, the issue may be whether Republicans will come up with a bold specific plan to roll back the spending of the Obama Democrats. I believe the voters are looking for such a plan, and Republicans need to supply it.

POST NOTE: I note with sadness the passing of Emett Barfield, a great man of faith and a deep religious thinker, who served as the pastor over the years of such diverse figures as William Winter and Clark Reed. I only came to know Emett well during his later years, but, like so many others, I am grateful that our paths crossed. R.I.P.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Three years ago, I received an invitation from the Office of the President to attend a Memorial Day breakfast at the White House, just before the formal ceremonies that would later take place that day with President Bush speaking at Arlington National Cemetery and placing a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The invitation stated that I could bring a guest, and I asked my son to go with me. Both of us had attended college on U.S. Army ROTC scholarships and spent time in the military. My wife and I had been to the White House before on a number of occasions, but this invitation seemed special - and it was.

As the appointed day drew near, we flew to Washington and checked into our hotel the night before, near the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. The next morning, we got up early to make sure that we would not be late. Then, in eager anticipation, we walked on a beautiful sunny day to the White House, passing by the famous Willard Hotel where many Presidents had visited and stayed overnight, including Abraham Lincoln. We also passed by the Office of the U.S. Treasury.

When we arrived at the east gate to the White House, we took our places in line to go through security, and I saw one familiar face - the Republican National Committeeman from California, who I knew to have a military background. Suddenly, I realized why I had been invited to this marvelous occasion - because, like my friend from California, I was a member of the Republican National Committee who also had served in the military. How honored I felt on that morning to be an American and to be, with my son, among the special few to be invited to the White House and to formally honor those who had made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve freedom in our county.

Once inside the White House, we passed by easily recognizable famous paintings of former Presidents and First Ladies; and the Marine Band, in dress uniform, was softly playing patriotic music. In the State Dining Room, we enjoyed making our selection for a light breakfast, laid out before us, cafeteria-style, by the White House chef. Then we enjoyed meeting Americans from all over this great land who were there to honor the fallen. Those attending included the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of Defense and many high ranking Admirals, Generals, elected officials, as well as a number of enlisted personnel.

We thoroughly enjoyed the privilege of meeting and visiting with several Congressional Medal of Honor recipients who proudly displayed their medals. Every one of those Medal of Honor recipients which we met, to a man, were soft-spoken, unassuming, and thoroughly authentic American heroes who symbolized what is great about America. We also met, there in the White House under the portraits of George and Martha Washington, a number of invitees dressed in motorcycle outfits; and we learned that they were the members of the famous motorcycle organization that attend funerals of our fallen soldiers across America. When necessary, with their motorcycles, they drown out the dissident voices of those who attend military funerals with the intent of making publicized statements of protest against a war that the United States is involved in.

The morning was complete when my son and I had our pictures taken with George and Laura Bush. Later, the President made a stirring address at Arlington in defense of liberty and the debt all Americans owe to their fallen soldiers. We, along with those that attended the breakfast, were filled with pride at the accomplishments of our defenders; and we were filled with the resolve that we indeed must remain steadfast in our defense of liberty, both at home and abroad.

I read that President Obama failed to attend the Memorial Day ceremony this year at Arlington National Cemetery; and he chose instead to go to Chicago, Illinois, to spend time with friends and family. He did mark the Memorial Holiday with remarks at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, located about an hour outside Chicago.

It is my hope that, in the future and throughout his presidency, the President will chose to once again attend the Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington, a place of tremendous symbolism. Erick Erickson of CNN stated that "going to Arlington to lay a wreath at the tomb of the unknowns has . . . everything to do with . . . showing some basic respect to the men and women, alive and dead, who have actually kept us free." I agree, particularly during wartime.

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