Saturday, October 28, 2006

What this is all about

As this experience winds down for Teri and I (with the outcome still to be decided), I've been at it long enough to share my answers to the two most common questions I've been asked. Neither has anything to do with the important issues this nation faces. The first question is, "Why did you do this"? The second is, "Do you really think you have a chance of winning"?

Let's start with the first question.

Doug Wright asked me the "why did you do this?" question on the air in October. The answer was only partly joking: "If you can name a good psychiatrist, maybe between the two of us we can discover the answer to that". I have never done anything this difficult. I am a shy person at heart, and the type of activities we've been involved in - calling people begging for money, canvassing (To my new friend Julie Rose; I hated tracting just as much as you did), going on radio and television to debate ideas with a remarkably knowledgeable and articulate Congressman - these are not the type of activities I would choose for light recreation. In addition to the time and financial commitment, the stress level is something no one can understand unless they've experienced it.

Why, indeed.

I guess it boils down to my love of teaching - when the subject matter is one I'm passionate about. When I claim that "most Utahns are Democrats but just don't know it yet", I'm not talking about the caricature of us that exists even among ourselves. The average Utahn is not a Sean Hannity-worshipping, liberal hating, supply-side ideologue that believes Republican litany like they believe in the Scriptures. No, the average Utahn is a father or mother with kids, soccer games, piano and dance lessons, bills to be paid, and volunteer responsibilities that keeps them pretty busy. They are good citizens and believe in America. Most of them vote. But the propaganda out there is so deafening that it's hard for them to get past the stereotypes of what Utah Democrats are.

So many of these good, honest people go into the voting booth thinking that a vote for a Democrat is a vote for baby killers, loose morals, the destruction of marriage, the abandoning of America to terrorists, and a general outbreak of Iron Poor Blood. It takes a great deal of time and effort to break through this propaganda, and many of these good citizens don't have much time. Someone needs to speak the truth, even if it can be barely heard amid the cacophony of the Right. As difficult as this adventure has been, it's been an honor to speak for the many wonderful Utah Democrats I've been privileged to meet the last year.

That takes me to the answer to the second question: Do you have a chance of winning? The answer to that is easy. Even though it's a week until the election, I can say with certainty: I've already won.

When my new (and future lifelong) friend Wayne Holland asked me to do this, the request was specific. He asked me to be one of your messengers. I have worked my hardest to do that. Subsequent events have shown that we have succeeded far beyond my wildest dreams. We have dozens of stories of people who have read our humble little booklet and have responded with enthusiasm. The responses vary, but the general tone has been: Wow. No one has ever explained it this way before. That's really me. I'm going to vote for Democrats this year.

From a more personal note, it has been very humbling for me, the new guy in the party, to have so many of you, who have endured campaign season after campaign season with only the occasional electoral success, express your heartfelt friendship and appreciation for my humble efforts. You are the true heroes. I'm amazed at your continued optimism and enthusiasm. I'm amazed at your work ethic. You are some of Utah's most patriotic citizens. The phrase "you're a Great American" makes me gag when I hear it on KSL between 1 and 4 pm on weekdays, but the phrase applies to the wonderful rank and file Democrats I've had the privilege to meet the last nine months. Thanks so much for your kindness and friendship.

So in the final analysis, what is it that makes us all Democrats? The "15 Democrats Rule" is still true; if you have 15 Democrats in a room, you'll have 15 different opinions on any subject. Maybe the best litmus test is the following quote from Garrison Keillor:

"You don't encourage invention and ambition by giving a quarter-million dollar tax cut to a $15 million a year man. Give the bus driver's bright child a chance to get a great education. That's an investment."

If your focus is on the bus driver's child and not on the tax cut, you're a Democrat.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Is the deficit going down?

One statistic Republicans are touting these days is the FY 2006 deficit of 248 billion dollars - down from 318 billion in FY 2005. President Bush is claiming his promise to cut the deficit in half has been reached three years early. Here's proof, say the Republicans, that their fuzzy math really works, that you can spend like drunken sailors while giving huge tax cuts to the wealthy, and somehow the budget will magically balance itself.

Is this really true?

First, we need to look closer at this $248 billion number. During the same period, the national debt increased from $7.9 trillion to $8.5 trillion. This is an increase of around $600 billion - a record increase, not an decrease. Confused? Shouldn't the FY2006 deficit equal the increase in the national debt? There's an easy answer to this quandry. The fact is the $248 billion number is bogus. It leaves out significant portions of the debt that the nation incurred last year. It's a statistic only Washington politicians or Enron accountants could love.

Congressman Bishop, in several of our debates, has said that the Republican leadership is more fiscally responsible than the Blue Dog Democrats. Congressman Jim Cooper, a respected conservative Democrat from Tennessee, has some authority on settling this question. He's one of a handful of members of Congress who supported every one of Congressman Jeff Flake's anti-pork amendments, and was responsible for the mass distribution of the 2005 Financial Report of the United States, an official White House annual report prepared by the Treasury Department (which the White House doesn't want you to read).

Congressman Cooper has suggested a neat test on how committed a politician is to real fiscal sanity. If your local politician frequently uses the bogus $248 billion number in speeches, he's in favor of the status quo, and wants to hide the true magnitude of the problem from the American people. If they talk about the actual increase in the national debt, (or even better, the accrual accounting numbers from the above mentioned Financial Report, which show an even worse picture), then they favor real change and are trying to tell Americans the truth.

Congressman Bishop and President Bush are bragging about the $248 billion number. If you look on the Blue Dog website, you'll see the National Debt Clock, which tracks the national debt - rather than the bogus statistic.

The fact is that President Bush, Congressman Bishop and the Republican leadership are trying to hide the truth from the American people for political gain. It's the height of irresponsibility to not tell the truth about something as critical as America's looming fiscal crisis.

After listing the frightening facts about the true nature of our unfunded obligations, including the fact that the nation's top auditor, Comptroller General David M. Walker, couldn't even offer an opinion on the state of the nation's finances because the Government's books are so messed up, Congressman Cooper wrote the following:

"Economists politely call many of these trends 'unsustainable'. I call them the road to ruin. And this information is not a partisan attack; this comes from an official document of the U.S. Government issued by the Bush Administration itself."

So tell me again, Congressman Bishop: Who are the real fiscal conservatives?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

How is the economy treating the middle class?

I was preparing to do a blog about the economic status of the middle class this week. The intent was to show how the benefits of economic growth the last six years have not helped anyone below millionaire status. But, lo and behold, Lou Dobbs did it for me. I can't say it any better than he does, so I'm including a link to his October 4th commentary for your convenience.

We'll talk to you next week!


Lou Dobbs: Are you a casualty of the class war?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

How to bring the troops home from Iraq

Like most Americans, I’ve been thinking a lot about the conflict in Iraq. Like you, I’ve been listening to the politicians in Washington, and I keep hearing things like “we lied our way into Iraq”, “cut and run”, “appeasers”, “Defeatocrats” etc. The main goal seems to be to find the most over-the-top adjectives to demonize the other side.

Meanwhile, the sacred blood of our heroes in uniform continues to spill into the sand of an alien desert, in a conflict that appears to get worse every week.

Have we no shame? Partisanship is bad enough when it concerns the economy or immigration, but when our soldiers continue to die while we sit and argue, we are treading on treacherous moral ground.

America is sick of the partisan sniping. Our leaders need to summon the courage to admit their individual mistakes and forgive the mistakes of others. We need a non-partisan, American plan to conclude this conflict and get our sons and daughters out of that hostile land, rather than wrangling over whose narrowly focused partisan idea is best. If I were President Bush, here’s how I’d do it.

First, Donald Rumsfeld has got to go. Even supporters of the war have lost faith in him. Most importantly, our troops have lost faith in him. Even a cursory study of the history of the war demonstrates that the breathtaking hubris and incompetence of our civilian military leadership to be the cause of this conflict turning into a quagmire. Rumsfeld has not served his President well. More importantly, he has shown himself to be too stubborn to be trusted with the task of charting a new direction. He has systematically ignored the advice of his military commanders and wise, experienced leaders such as Anthony Zinni, Colin Powell and Brent Scowcroft.

I would replace Rumsfeld with the one man who is universally admired and trusted by leaders across the political spectrum and around the world: General Colin Powell. No one has more knowledge than he about fighting in that part of the world. Events have shown his insights to be the correct ones.

Next, Powell must be given complete, unhindered freedom to accomplish the following task: gather a team of America’s most skilled leaders, together with leaders of Iraq and our allies, and after a complete and non-partisan examination of the facts and options, create a plan to bring the Iraq War to a conclusion.

The most important members of this team would be the military officers in Iraq who have proven ability and demonstrated success, such as Army General David Petraeus and Marine General James Mattis. Congressional experts in military affairs from both sides of the aisle must be given equal seats at the table. And we need wise, senior statesmen like Brent Scowcroft and Madeleine Albright involved. Every success and failure must be studied frankly and without rancor. Once all the data is understood, and given the skills of the team members, I’m confident the best solution will be self-evident, with just the details to work out. And it must happen fast – we can’t afford to wait for months for this team to do their job.

President Bush is the only one who could make this happen. It would take a great deal of courage on his part, because he would have to finally admit that our current policy is a dead end. However, great leaders take responsibility for their actions, and they have the humility to change course when events require it. President Reagan demonstrated such leadership and courage during the Iran-Contra affair. What if the Founding Fathers who were sent by their respective states to fix the Articles of Confederation had insisted on “staying the course”? If these men had not courageously recognized that a completely new direction was required to save the nation, our sacred Constitution would have never been written.

It remains to be seen if our President has the same qualities of leadership and courage.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

What kind of leader does Utah need?

I’ve talked quite a bit on my position on the issues. However, maybe a more important consideration for our citizens in choosing a representative is the leadership style of the candidate. Maybe I can demonstrate this best by talking about a few current members of Congress, from both sides of the aisle, whose leadership style I admire and will try to emulate.

One of my favorite members of the House is Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona. By all accounts, Rep. Flake is a respected, likable guy. But it’s his integrity and commitment to principle over party that is most impressive. Rep. Flake is considered one of the most libertarian and principled members of the House. As a small number of Republicans who often join Ron Paul in voting “no” on bills supported by most of his party, he has earned the “RINO” (Republican In Name Only) label from partisan Republicans – but is strongly supported by true conservatives for his stand on the issues.

Rep. Flake voted against No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, and the Homeland Security Act, all against the wishes of party leaders. He originally supported the Patriot Act and the Iraq War, but has become an opponent of both, including voting against further appropriations. He has been a leader in calling for improvement in House ethics in the wake of the Tom DeLay scandals, and courageously co-authored a letter with Rep. Charlie Bass of New Hampshire calling for DeLay to step down – while Congressman Bishop was voting to relax House ethics rules to allow him to stay. He has also been a leader in fighting his party’s huge addiction to pork. The Club for Growth publishes the “Flake Anti-Pork Scorecard” which shows the voting record of all 435 house members on anti-pork amendments he sponsors during each Congress. Several Blue Dog Democrats scored a perfect 19 on this scorecard; Jim Matheson got a 14, Rob Bishop an 8, and Chris Cannon a 6. My favorite quote from Jeff Flake is, “Republicans don’t even pretend to be fiscally conservative anymore”.

Flake’s style guarantees he will never be considered for leadership positions in the House, but he is proof positive that a principled maverick can have a huge amount of influence. He is one of the most respected and quoted members of the Republican caucus. There are obviously many issues where he and I disagree, but when I campaign on reaching across the aisle to find innovative solutions to problems, Jeff Flake is one of the people I have in mind. One of my ambitions is to get a perfect score on the Flake Anti-Pork Scorecard while I’m in Congress.

The nature of the Democratic Party ensures more independent thinkers among its House caucus. The Blue Dog Coalition is by definition made up of mavericks. This respect for diversity of opinion is one of the reasons I became a Democrat. One particularly remarkable Congressman is conservative Democrat Ike Skelton of Missouri. You may not recognize Skelton’s name, but he figures prominently in the run-up to the Iraq War. History shows that Skelton was one of the few members of Congress that was asking the Department of Defense hard questions during this period. Skelton, with his long experience on the House Armed Services Committee, pretty much predicted everything bad that has happened since. It’s too bad Rumsfeld didn’t listen to him.

One Senator I admire is Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. I like Sen. Graham’s gracious, Southern gentleman style. One of the memories I have of him is his exchange with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales last year during Senate hearings into the Administration’s wiretapping practices. Sen. Graham stated from the beginning that the practice violated the FISA laws, and during this testimony, he suggested Gonzales work with Congress in modifying the law to serve the interests of national security but still maintain the Constitutional-mandated role of the courts in overseeing this type of activity. Sen. Graham pleaded with Gonzales, throwing out all sorts of suggestions for changes and improvements, but Gonzales’ answers basically consisted of “Nope, nope, nope”. In his soft-spoken style, Lindsey Graham dishes out criticism or praise equally to everyone, regardless of political affiliation.

The common vein here is a tendency to put principles over party, to think for oneself, to respect and work with anyone with a good idea, and to courageously stand for what you think is right regardless of the consequences. That’s the only way I know how to act. As a non-politician, I have no training in partisan party shenanigans or shading the truth; I wouldn’t even know how to go about it.

When I told my father I was running for Congress, his reaction was somewhat surprising. He gave me that stern look that I know so well, and said, “Steve, I’m proud of you. You are a good man with unquestioned integrity. I’m afraid that dabbling in politics will turn you into someone I won’t respect. If you’re going to do this, you’d better not let that happen.”

Don’t worry, Dad. I won’t.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

A Letter To Senator Bennett

Dear Senator Bennett,

Last Wednesday, I received a call from Andy Howell from the Standard Examiner. He wondered if he could get my comment on a statement from you: that the Utah Democratic Party is the “anti-Mormon” party.

In the subsequent article in the paper, Andy wrote that I was “surprised” by your comments. Surprised is accurate – and I would add, very disappointed. I’ve respected you through the years, and really thought you were above resorting to the old “you can’t be a good Mormon and a Democrat” charge. I guess it just goes to show how hubris born of too much unchallenged power can even affect nice guys like you.

But as I thought about it, I realized your confusion probably results from the fact that you don’t spend much time around your non-Republican constituents. I might be able to help you there. As a recently converted Democrat and first time candidate, I’ve traveled all around Northern Utah meeting large numbers of Utah Democrats for the first time. I thought you’d be interested in learning about the Utah Democrats I’ve run into.

One group I’ve grown close to is the Tooele County Democrats. There are some great folk out there. One typical example is County Sheriff Frank Park and his pretty wife Randi. (Frank groused to me good naturedly that Randi had distributed more copies of my booklet than she had of his campaign pamphlet.) The first night at the Tooele County Fair, Randi and I had an interesting conversation – not about politics, but about her seven-year tenure as ward Primary president. I pumped her for some pointers on how her bishop had talked her into staying that long; I figured the information might be useful.

Of course, one can’t mention Tooele County Democrats without a reference to that radical, blame-America-first liberal, Representative Jim Gowans. (I hope the sarcasm wasn’t too subtle for you, Senator.) It was quite the experience to stand next to this respected rancher and citizen-legislator at a booth in Stansbury Park recently and see the great respect the people out there have towards him.

I’ve also become great friends with Jan and Art Douglas, who live in Howell, up in Box Elder County. Art reminds me a lot of my grandfather (except, of course, Grandpa Olsen was a whole lot taller). He’s a throwback to those great Roosevelt Democrat farmers like my grandpa, who would never vote for a Republican because they didn’t stand up for the little guy. I spent about an hour with Art outside the auction barn at the Box Elder County Fair while he introduced me to people that walked by – and he knew everybody! It was pretty amazing. Of course, you know Art – he’s related his discussion with you where you were quite flippant towards his concerns about the state of the American family farm. And of course, there’s former Representative Eli Anderson, who’s running for County Commission – a good ol’ Utah boy if there ever was one. It was a sad day for rural Northern Utah when they lost that last remaining “D” in the Legislature.

Down in Davis County are some great folk, including Richard Watson, the county chair and Legislative candidate who popularized the “LDS Democrat” baseball cap, and my dear friend Rob Miller, State Party Vice-Chair and County Commission candidate, with whom I’ve had some very spiritual Gospel discussions.

Let’s not forget my home here in Weber County. I was privileged to have Bishop Neil Hansen and Bishop Scott Jenkins (otherwise known as Rep. Hansen (D) and Sen. Jenkins (R)) accept invitations to speak in our ward’s sacrament meeting the last Sunday in July. The two men obviously had a lot of respect for each other, and the ward members are still commenting on what a wonderful message each of these great men presented. And of course, there’s that sweet former school teacher, Lou Shirtliff. Lou and I had an interesting discussion recently about her letter writing campaign to KSL Radio, where she has repeatedly asked them a simple question: How can you guys carry the loving words of the Prophet twice a year, and then pollute the airwaves with the hateful propaganda of Sean Hannity during the week? A Quixotic quest, to be sure, but I respect her for fighting for what’s right.

I also need to mention former Senator Ed Allen, a gracious, kindly Ogden physician with a long history of Church leadership whose eyes flash in anger these days when he talks about what the Republicans are doing to his country.

I could go on, but you get the drift. I think you would not be nearly so judgmental about Utah Democrats if you actually ever spent time around any. True, some of our more liberal brethren and sisters tend to be more vocal and are in the media a little more (reference that “big tent” thing that you said we didn’t practice). But to call the rank-and-file folk I’ve met the last six months “anti-Mormon” is the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard. And by the way, I’ve never seen anyone more respectful toward the Church and its leaders and members than our current State Chair, Wayne Holland, who by the way, was elected by a majority of us Democrats.

Don’t think I’m offended. I’m sure rank and file Utah Democrats aren’t either; after all, they’re used to this kind of thing every election season from you guys. But I do think you owe the First Presidency an apology for your comments, which were very disrespectful to the Church.

So just what is it about the statements, “the Church does not endorse any political party or candidate” or “all major political parties contain values consistent with the Gospel” that is unclear to you?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Who do you trust on the war on terror?

I had the opportunity to meet with the Standard Examiner’s editorial board on August 25th, and that resulted in a nice little write up in the paper the next day. Reporter Scott Schwebke did a pretty good job with the difficult task of condensing a forty minute conversation into a few columns in the newspaper. There was one significant error, however. Although I supported President Bush in getting tough with Saddam, sufficient to get the UN inspectors back in, I did not and do not feel sending the troops was a good idea. Here’s why.

The question in wartime that is always most crucial is understanding of the enemy’s objective. In this case, that fundamental question is: What was bin Laden’s objective in launching the 9/11 attacks? And no, the correct answer is not, “because he hates us and our way of life”. Thinking our enemy is stupid is a dangerous error we cannot afford, and only an idiot would launch something of that magnitude only to express hatred. Al-Qaeda had a strategic objective. To understand what that might be you have to understand their long term goals. Osama bin Laden’s long term objective is to establish an Islamic theocracy in the Middle East. To accomplish this goal, they have a few key strategies.

First, it is accurate to portray bin Laden as a fascist. Like all fascists, an important key to gaining power is to create a scapegoat, a people who the target population can be convinced to hate and blame for all their problems. Then the fascist can come in and “save” the population from the “bad guys”. It’s clear that bin Laden intends the scapegoats to be America and Israel.

Second, al-Qaeda’s long term objective requires the overthrow of the secular governments in the Middle East. This is a crucial point. Osama bin Laden hates America only through association; his real enemies have always been Saddam Hussein, the Saudi royal family, the king of Jordan, President Mubarak of Egypt etc. This is why it has always been patently ridiculous to suggest that Saddam was in league with al-Qaeda. The two are mortal enemies. It would be suicide for either to help the other.

Finally, bin Laden seeks to create chaos and instability in the Middle East. These ingredients are crucial to revolutionaries.

These facts clarify bin Laden’s strategic objective for 9/11. Although it was a huge gamble that the brutal nature of the attacks would galvanize the world to seek out and destroy his organization, bin Laden was counting on America reacting in a way that would do the opposite; galvanize hatred towards America in the Islamic world, creating an environment where the secular governments of the Middle East could be overthrown and his vision of a modern Islamic empire based on the model of the Taliban could be brought to pass.

With this understanding, it’s very clear why bin Laden must have offered up a fervent prayer of thanksgiving to Allah for his munificence when the Republicans sent the troops into Iraq. To al-Qaeda, our actions would have been seen as a miracle. Not only did the Iraq War fan the flames of intense hatred toward America in the Islamic world that bin Laden’s plan so desperately relies on, it also took out one of his worst enemies, caused America to divert crucial resources away from the war on al-Qaeda, seriously wounded the world coalition that will be required to bring international terrorists like bin Laden to justice, and created tremendous instability in the region.

This is an uncomfortable theory; that the Iraq War actually played into Osama bin Laden’s hands and has strengthened his cause. It would be much more comforting to believe Orrin Hatch’s story: that the Iraq War has dealt a mortal blow to the terrorists and that all we have to do to keep safe is prevent those pesky Democrats from taking over.

Facts are often uncomfortable, however. Ron Suskind reported in his book, The One Percent Solution, that the release of bin Laden’s video tape just before the 2004 election was deemed by CIA officials to be an attempt by al-Qaeda to aid Republican re-election. And an al-Qaeda Web site published a cyberbook just before the Iraq invasion entitled The Future of Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula After the Fall of Bagdad that claimed an American invasion of Iraq would be the best possible outcome for al Qaeda, stoking extremism throughout the Muslim world and involving America in a radicalizing quagmire. Bin Laden is a homicidal maniac, but he is not stupid. President Bush is the perfect scapegoat for him, and the actions of the Republican party, especially the Iraq invasion, were exactly what he had been hoping for.

Unlike many Democrats, I don’t think it is useful or accurate to portray Republicans as mean-spirited liars. I think they honestly believed that taking out Saddam was in America’s best interest. The problem here is with the “resolute” thing the Republicans love to brag about. The simple truth is that they were so convinced that removing Saddam was the right thing to do, their minds refused to assimilate or consider evidence to the contrary. Because of this, we came to a fork in the road, took the wrong turn, and have traveled an agonizingly long distance down that road.

Where does this leave us? In the words of Paul Waldman, “If you think the Iraq War has made us safer, then you don’t understand terrorism, you don’t understand al-Qaeda, you don’t understand what has happened over the last five years – and you can’t be trusted with America’s security.”