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?