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Saturday, September 23, 2017
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  • FORT WAYNE – One of my favorite expressions is that while history may not repeat itself, often it rhymes. Hurricane Harvey is not Hurricane Katrina. The scale of costly damage may, however, exceed it. Depending upon where hurricanes come ashore, and obviously the category level based upon wind, the impacts vary wildly. Also, as any watcher of weather knows, generally the warnings far exceed the actual impacts. Generally. For most of my life, not to seem unsympathetic, my interest in hurricanes was mostly related to Notre Dame pummeling the University of Miami. Where I grew up we worried about tornados and rivers flooding, and if we were going to get a snow day. Water in northeast Indiana provides us with some of America’s best soil for agriculture and most of the natural lakes of Indiana. Some rivers run to Lake Erie, some to Lake Michigan, and the Wabash River system heads to the Mississippi River and out to sea at New Orleans.  Different Army Corps of Engineers divisions work with our region, and, if you are in office for 16 years, you learn to know them all. After 9/11, New Orleans also came of particular interest because of potential terrorism, both because of its importance to the oil/petrochemical interests and because of its port, the gateway to the entire Mississippi River Valley.
  • FORT WAYNE – “It’s not what you know but who you know.”  While researching the history of Tammany Hall and its relationship with professional baseball, I came across an interesting little book titled, “Ethnicity and Machine Politics,” by Jerome Krase and Charles LaCerra. It is a history of how the Madison Club dominated Brooklyn politics from 1905 to 1978. In the 1970s, club member Emmanuel “Manny” Cellar was the senior member of Congress.  Other Madison Club members included then-New York Gov. Hugh Carey, New York City Mayor Abe Beame, New York State Controller Arthur Levitt, and Speaker of the State Assembly Stanley Steingut. It was a small, but very powerful, political club reminiscent of the Tammany Club across the East River. One insight in particular jumped off the page, turning the original quote with which I started this column on its head. “It is not who you know but rather, who knows you.” Power and influence is signified not by your name-dropping, but whether people in charge know you by name.
  • FORT WAYNE – President Trump’s completion of his four-year term may depend upon two things: The Republicans maintaining control of Congress, and being on good terms with fellow Republicans. Recently, those things aren’t going so well. Certainly no Democrats are going to bail him out. He can divide his supporters but there are no signs of adding any new ones. Some discussion of the history of impeachments provides insight about the arguments that continue to unfold. A few things are very clear. No vice president that survived a presidential impeachment went on to win a presidential election. Vice Presidents Andrew Johnson, Gerald Ford, and Al Gore never won at the national level post-impeachment. It isn’t impossible that Vice President Pence could win nationally should President Trump be impeached, but he would be an American original. It is also clear that Trump threats of retribution at critics will have no impact on his potential of being impeached. If the Democrats win control of Congress, threats against them will only strengthen them among their base.
  • FORT WAYNE – As kids, my sister Nancy and I sorted returnable pop bottles at our family’s general store for 35 cents a day. It may not seem like much, but I could purchase a box of baseball card packs for about $1.75, which is where my money went. My parents tried to lure me away from baseball obsession by offering to pay half of any non-fiction, non-sports books I purchased. Early business acumen led me toward history and political books. But our family was in the furniture business, not politics or baseball. So my dad decided to pay me a dollar for each motivational record I’d listen to.  Things like “Acres of Diamonds” and “Think and Grow Rich.” The real money bomb was an entire album of KISS talks: “Keep It Simple Stupid.” The U.S. Navy originated the phrase to stress that simplicity should be the goal in design and unnecessary complexity should be avoided. My dad had been a naval officer so obviously was attracted to the idea. Me, not so much. My good friend Steve Largent used to joke that if you asked Souder what time it was, he told you how they built the watch.
  • FORT WAYNE - Another special congressional election. Another Republican victory. More pained analysis from liberal commentators and Democrat analysts. What in the world is wrong with the stupid voters: don’t they understand that President Trump and the congressional Republicans are about to destroy the entire world?  If not by next week, at least don’t bank on being able to celebrate Labor Day. The initial “lessons learned” analysis of Karen Handel’s 5.2% victory by the national figures who don’t wish the Republicans well is very encouraging to conservatives and Republicans. The lessons the liberal Democrats have learned is, apparently, nothing whatsoever. 1) They wanted to reduce expectations, to stop taking victory laps before the people voted. But in the 6th CD of Georgia that was difficult. Money wasn’t the question. It was the most expensive congressional race in American history. Familiarity and name identification for the Democrat candidate was not the problem. So much for the money excuse. 2) Turnout wasn’t the problem. Special elections usually are low turnout affairs. Not this one. Furthermore, early voting occurred in extraordinary numbers. The Democrats were disappointed with the narrow margin among early voters for their candidate. They were supposed to have a huge enthusiasm edge. Whoops.

  • FORT WAYNE – In 1998, our accompanying Navy doctor and I skipped out on our CODEL’s evening dinner and bowling alley excursion in St. Petersburg, Russia, so we could explore the area around our hotel. We had spent several days in Moscow in scheduled meetings with the Russian Duma, as well as other government leaders there. We ventured out a hotel side entrance and quickly realized that it wasn’t like the reasonably well-lit thoroughfare. There were lots of crowded homes, with men sitting or standing on the stoops underneath an occasional dim streetlight. Furthermore, it was snowing. Meeting with the family of a local Duma member, Galina Starovoitova, who had been gunned down on her doorstep because of her government criticisms just weeks before, had enhanced our self-preservation concerns. We agreed to a hasty retreat. It seemed far too much like a scene out of “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  In fact, looking at a map the next day, we were but a few steps from Dostoyevsky’s former house. Which explains why it felt like a scene out of his book. Over the years not only did I return to Russia, but had several delegations of Russian leaders visit northeastern Indiana and had meetings with various Russian groups in Washington. While Russian history, like the novels produced by its legendary writers, is dense and complicated, it nevertheless is fascinating. However, like other hopeful glimpses of freedom in nations with totalitarian histories, one can easily mistake temporary openings for substantive change.
  • FORT WAYNE – Every day we get lectured by the media and Trump critics that he is not “draining the swamp” as promised.  In fact, he is expanding it. The key is how one defines the swamp. To liberals, the swamp is a place that looks like Okefenokee. Stagnant water, with partially submerged trees dominated by clinging Spanish moss. To them, the smooth flow of government is stagnated by business interests. Their lobbyists strangle the trees, feeding off a corrupt system. This is the core view of Bernie Elizabeth Warren. Libertarian conservatives would prefer D.C. reverted back to its days of original swampland. To them, the “swamp” means all the buildings of intrusive government workers that have now expanded the swamp of big government out to the surrounding beltway and beyond. But what did the swamp mean to the Trump core? The 25% to 35% of Republican primary voters which enabled him to have the largest faction over and over again? He reached 50% only as Republican voters opposed to him were faced with fewer choices and found him preferable to, say, Ted Cruz. In other words, the Trump political operation was not built upon a majority but a plurality that grew as the choices narrowed. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS – In “Conscience of a Conservative,” Barry Goldwater famously wrote: “My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them.” The context of that line was freedom.  “I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom.” Which was then followed by the famous line. When one re-reads this, last week in Washington becomes more clear. Well, not really, but the health care bill failure in the House does. The House Freedom Caucus was advocating the Goldwater position. Until the Republican Party figures out how to adapt as Reagan did, we are likely to fail in passing major new legislation. The Goldwater/Conscience of a Conservative tradition is one of the stumbling blocks. Some fundamental history is critical. Goldwater didn’t write the book. Brent Bozell, William F. Buckley’s brother-in-law, did. Goldwater might have read it and likely would have agreed with much of it. The book was meant to capture what he might have written had he been a writer, but more importantly, the Goldwater that the burgeoning conservative movement dreamed he would be.  It is not 1964 anymore. We aren’t going to repeal TVA, Social Security or Medicare. Adaptations maybe, but total repeal doesn’t work after things get settled in. Goldwater lost.
  • FORT WAYNE – It seems a good time to review the key points of the Donald Trump’s “Art of the Deal.”  At the start it is important to be clear: The Republican bill is TrumpCare just as much as the current law is ObamaCare. President Obama did not draft the health care named after him. Hillary Clinton was its mother from her days as First Lady. The Democrat House wrote it and the President signed off. Because he was the President, it became ObamaCare. What goes for one side also goes for the other. They aren’t trying to replace PelosiCare. Thursday night President Trump, after making his best offer to recalcitrant conservatives who want to gut the law, he demanded that the House vote Friday. If the alternative doesn’t pass, he’s ready to let ObamaCare remain the law and move on to other issues. It is not totally out of character for him. Another of his books (“The America We Deserve”) which was written as he considered running for President in 2000, he made his views on health care clear: “We must have universal health care … I’m a conservative on most issues but a liberal on this one. We should not hear so many stories of families ruined by healthcare expenses.” 
  • FORT WAYNE – As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump promised change, just as his predecessor Barack Obama had done. People generally want someone to blame for their problems, and we all choose different targets. I, for example, prefer to blame liberals. “Draining the swamp” in a non-Washington context has historically meant the draining of swamps to control mosquito populations to combat malaria. Ronald Reagan is often credited with using the term in the political way to refer to the concentration of power in Washington, thus combining the historical swampy conditions of the governmental area of original Washington and likening the overuse of power to malaria. But he was not the first to do so.  Winfield Gaylord, a Milwaukee socialist politician, wrote in 1903: “Socialists are not satisfied with killing a few of the mosquitoes which come from the capitalist swamp, they want to drain the swamp.”  Fellow socialist, journalist and politician Victor Berger of Milwaukee wrote in his Berger’s Broadsides (1912): “We should have to drain the swamp – change the capitalist system – if we want to get rid of those mosquitoes.” Hoosier socialist Eugene Debs credits Berger, the first Socialist member of Congress, with recruiting him to socialism.  Neither Reagan nor our current president meant draining the nation of capitalism. The problem with such aggressive attacks on the “establishment” is that the slope to the “swamp” becoming the institutions of our nation – a republic, capitalism – is very slippery.
  • FORT WAYNE – Earlier this week, I went to the license bureau. Back when mastodons roamed our state, (before Mitch Daniels became governor) it was a miserable experience. Generally, now I do it on-line and even on a crowded Tuesday morning it is about like a grocery store on a Saturday.  When Mitch took over the state government with radical plans to run it like a business, he quickly became “Ditch Mitch.” His popularity dropped to incredibly low levels. The Democrats perceived a bright political future that could recapture Indiana, going back to making it great again. Gov. Daniels brought in people not trained to go slow. They thought “tactful” meant taking people who resisted change and using tacks to pin them on the wall. After suffering through nasty publicity which impacted his strategy somewhere between zero and zero percent, he emerged after eight years as “Saint Mitch.”  When Mike Pence became governor, he was in a difficult position.
  • FORT WAYNE – Winning an election is one thing; winning political legitimacy is another. The current debate about crowd sizes, popular versus electoral vote, and fake news all revolve another equally salient point: Elections in America are anchored on Election Day results but that is just the start of a continual battle for “political legitimacy.”  This process will continue during an entire administration, but the first stages are the most important in establishing basic legitimacy: Election Day and debate about the results, transition, and inauguration and the first 100 days. When Trump raised doubts as to whether he’d accept the election results, the media went apoplectic and the Democrats mocked him. Trump won, and then many on the left refused to accept the results, challenging them way past any legitimate concerns about fraud. Fair observers realized that this unwillingness to accept the election totals was a fundamental challenge of the integrity of the voting process.
        
  • FORT WAYNE – When I proposed to Diane back in 1974, I told her that life with me would not be boring. That it was not. (I also said I wouldn’t run for political office but I failed in a few other things as well.) When Mitch Daniels first discussed with me that he was going to run for governor, I raised some political concerns about his big city slicker and corporate background. His response was that he was going to “out small town me.” You know, he said, I come from a small town too. I asked how big. He said something over 10,000 people. I snorted, “That’s a big city.” Of course, Mitch (the populist first name), went RV’ing to every burg in the state, lost all his suits and ties, and even used populist green as his color as opposed to the ubiquitous Republican red, white and blue. I was impressed. My hometown of Grabill had under 500 residents and couldn’t grow much because it was surrounded by Old Order Amish farms (not the liberal Amish with a top on their buggy).  A friend unfairly described the church I grew up in as being founded by a group of men who gathered together, made a list of everything fun in life, wrote “NO” across the top, and then said “now we have the foundation for our church.” When Mitch Daniels was elected governor, Indiana government was rather antiquated.  License bureau jokes have disappeared from our lexicons.
  • FORT WAYNE – When emptying out the basement of my Mom’s house after she died, we found a partially rotted chest of items meant to help our family survive a Russian nuclear attack.  It was from the 1960s, a period when all sides took Russia seriously. In 1983 President Ronald Reagan had the temerity to call the Soviet Union the “evil empire.”  Liberals back then were upset that Reagan had such hostile views. In fact, Democrats and liberals in general were rather Trumpian about Russia. They wanted closer trade ties, more exchanges, and closer cooperation with Russia, not saber-rattling opposition. Current liberal protestations have the “I’m shocked, shocked” resonance of the scene in Casablanca. Democrat electors requesting CIA briefings illustrate precisely why the people in Trump orbit have discredited the CIA.  Democrats have turned it into a branch of the DNC. Do Democrats who blame alleged Russian email leaks for Hillary Clinton’s defeat realize how ridiculous they sound? Hillary Clinton, in spite of warnings, set up an email server to get around the official system. She not only exposed her political emails but also classified material to being hacked. Then, while under subpoena to turn her e-mails over to Congress, she brazenly destroyed thousands of them. The Clinton campaign and its supporters have no ethical standing to complain. Zero.
  • FORT WAYNE – A generation ago, as the recently elected chairman of the Indiana College Republican Federation, I was included in a small birthday celebration in the lieutenant governor’s office for the incumbent Richard Folz. I recall Folz, possibly puffing a cigar, talking in glowing terms about how much he missed looking out on the beautiful Ohio River. Our family vacations consisted of going to north into the land of the sky-blue waters, so I hadn’t really considered brown water as being that attractive before, which is why it stuck in my memory. Then there was Seth Denbo. That year I spent a fair amount of time around him for a kid from northern Indiana. Being around him was like living in the books I read about political bosses.  As the Republican southern boss in Indiana, Denbo was there for Folz’s birthday lunch.  I’m not actually certain who told me to read “Plunkitt of Tammany Hall: A Series of Very Plain Talks on Very Practical Politics,” but I prefer to think it was Denbo. Regardless of who did, Denbo and the others took the time to explain to me, the newcomer, the importance of the spoils system and rewarding friends in politics.
  • FORT WAYNE – Many were predicting that when Donald Trump lost, he would form his own television network.  Instead he won, and has taken over all the networks and all other media as well.  He is a marketing machine. 1.) Trump is terrific at promoting his brand. That is what he’s always done.  Members of the media have incredible angst over whether or not their constant coverage of him led to his victory.  Yet they know that Trump has an intuitive ability to sense how to insert himself into every hot story.  In old-fashioned media lingo, he sells newspapers. Trump is financially helping them at a time when media needs all the help they can get. Thus the angst. 2.) Trump uses his skill tactically, not just randomly. When there is a bad story about his personal life, or finances, he tweets some greatly exaggerated statement and media leaps at the bait.  For example, the New York Times did a story on his financial conflicts but Trump tweeted the allegation that millions of illegal voters had deprived him of a popular vote victory.  His supporters jumped to his defense, critics poured out scorn and outrage, which buried the more substantive story.
        
  • FORT WAYNE – Every election results in individual and categorical winners and losers that impact the longer-term future of politics. Here are a few of my selections. Indiana winner: The Pence/Coats establishment. It directed the quasi-slating of the victorious state ticket: Todd Young for Senate, in part by moving Eric Holcomb out and into position to become governor; Suzanne Crouch as lieutenant governor; Curtis Hill as attorney general; and Jennifer McCormick as superintendent of education. In political years, especially by Indiana standards, they are “fresh faces” ready to ready to rejuvenate the brand.  Indiana loser: An exhausted Democrat re-tread brand. Evan Bayh is one of the most decent men to represent our state, but coming back after clearly moving to Washington and becoming Big Bucks Bayh was a huge mistake, and his biggest mistake was trying to deny those changes. John Gregg had a detailed list of what he wanted to accomplish, and is generally considered “affable” when not nuking his opponents. The problem is that Gregg’s solutions, and Bayh’s, were the same liberal re-tread ideas that Hoosiers had passed up long ago.
  • CORPUS CHRISTI, Tex. – It is hard to say which is the bigger shock: Todd Young’s large lead over Bayh or Eric Holcomb being in a tie with John Gregg. This WTHR/Howey Politics Indiana poll released on Friday will certainly have national reverberations. Essentially it suggests that while Young needs to not take his pedal off the floor, pushing until the end, that the Democrats will not capture this Senate seat. As the polling trend had been suggesting, they should have focused in other states. Essentially Republicans have closed ranks in Indiana, just as they appear to be nationally. The national fault line has fairly evenly divided the country.  Donald Trump is admired by only a fraction of the GOP but the same holds true for Hillary Clinton within the Democrats. In fact, her enthusiasts among Democrats may be less than Trump’s within the Republicans, though those who dislike her within the Dems may be fewer nationally. In Indiana, the anti-Clinton sentiment is much more intense than the national anti-Clinton sentiment. Not only is this state more socially conservative but more anti-international trade (e.g. NAFTA), pro-coal and pro-gun. None of which helps Clinton. She has neither the charm or hope that President Obama offered, and he did not openly promote international trade as Bill Clinton had done. Furthermore, talk radio has been pounding on the Clintons for 20 years.  
        
  • FORT WAYNE – It was around 2 a.m. on a cold January night in Washington. Looking down at the White House from our room at the Hays-Adams Hotel, the lights were dim outside but it had a glow coming from the lights within. I was about to go live, worldwide, on BBC’s morning news show. The evening before, President William Jefferson Clinton had delivered his annual State of the Union address to Congress. “These are good times for America” he had told us. His message, however, had been overshadowed by the press conference the day before in which he famously said: “I have not had sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”  The producer explained that many of the newer democracies around the world, mentioning Russia in particular, watched the BBC shows to explain what was happening in U.S. politics because they found American news made too many assumptions about what they understood. Most listeners had no clue who other legislators were. So keep it simple. So as I prepared to go live worldwide, I thought I was ready because I had already done this many times on their major shows. Like always, there was some chitchat first with the news producer in London. The focus was on Clinton’s speech and briefly on whether the Monica mess would impact his ability to govern. But I was not ready for the first question. Que music. Host comes on. Introduces who I am and then asks something like this: “Why are Americans so moralistic that you get all upset when a president drops his pants in the White House? Why should he have to apologize?”
  • FORT WAYNE – The second WTHR/Howey Politics Indiana Poll provides additional good news to every television station as well as other Indiana media, because if you think you’ve seen a lot of candidate ads for senate and governor, wait until you see what is coming. Congressman Todd Young has come from far behind to, at worst, within 1% of the early assumed winner, former governor and senator Evan Bayh. The race that may decide who controls the United States Senate is essentially tied. Former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg holds a two-point edge over Lt. Gov. Holcomb, but that means that they also are basically tied in the race that will determine which direction our state will head. Even the presidential race has tightened a bit, and there are some signs that while Donald Trump and his running mate, Gov. Mike Pence, are still likely to defeat Hillary Clinton here, the race could tighten even further. 
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  • Pence presses Donnelly on tax reform as McCain scuttles health bill
    "We will make America safe again. We will make America prosperous again. And to borrow a phrase, we will make America great again." - Vice President Mike Pence, appearing in Anderson to push President Trump’s tax reform plan. Pence made a pitch to Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, who attended the speech, saying, "Senator Joe Donnelly we need your help." Pence’s appearance came as U.S. Sen. John McCain announced he will vote against the Graham/Cassidy health care bill, saying, “I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal. I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried.” Pence had been lobbying Senate Republicans to support the plan, which is now opposed by McCain and Sen. Rand Paul, with Sen. Susan Collins likely to vote against the measure.
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  • Mike and Hillary
    We’ve watched 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton make the rounds on her new book: “What Happened.” The reaction has been cringes from Democrats hoping to move on, a set-the-record mentality from some journalistic quarters, and taunts from Republicans. Vice President Pence has the best line of all, with this tweet Thursday morning: “The first book that has the question and the answer on the cover.” Good line, Mike, er … Mr. Vice President. It harkens back to those studio days near the Speedway and a retreat to Claude & Annies. - Brian A. Howey, publisher
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