Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Videoblogging the Fifth District GOP Convention

You've already had a chance to look at the photographs from Saturday's convention of Republicans from Virginia's Fifth Congressional District. Those who follow hyperlinks will have seen Shaun Kenney's summary of the day's events.

Now here is an opportunity to see the speeches that you missed, from the candidates for public office to the candidates for party office.

Up first, Attorney General (and Aspiring Governor) Bob McDonnell, who asked to speak earlier than scheduled so he could drive to Norfolk, where his sister had just had a baby:



Next, in two parts, former Governor Jim Gilmore makes his case for being the next U.S. Senator from Virginia:





Bob McDonnell's 2009 running mate, Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, came next:



Another candidate for re-election, U.S. Representative Virgil Goode, promised not to be politically correct -- and he delivered on his promise:




Another 2009 candidate, state Senator Ken Cuccinelli of Fairfax County, laid out the reasons why he should be the Republican choice for the next Attorney General of Virginia:



Two candidates for the chairmanship of the Republican Party of Virginia followed Senator Cuccinelli. First came former Lieutenant Governor John Hager, who is running for re-election:



Delegate Jeff Frederick (R-Prince William County) was next:



After all the VIPs finished up, the real work of the district convention began. The first item of business was the election of a new GOP district chairmen. There were two candidates, Tim Boyer of Campbell County and Tucker Watkins of Halifax County. Boyer spoke first:



Next, Keith Drake of Albemarle County introduced and nominated Tucker Watkins. Following a break for lunch, the results of the election were announced:



Tucker won the election for district chair. After the results were announced, Tim Boyer and most of his supporters left the auditorium, leaving the remaining convention delegates to select a candidate for presidential elector and delegates and alternates to the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

James J. Unger

Upon opening my copy of The Washington Post this morning, I was saddened to learn of the passing of James J. Unger, who was debate coach at Georgetown University during my high school and college years.

The Post's obituary begins:

James John Unger, a highly successful debate coach at Georgetown and American universities who also was a past director of the National Forensics Institute and an innovative argument theorist, died April 3 at his home in the District. He was 66.

The cause of death is pending, said Leigh Fields of the D.C. medical examiner's office.

Mr. Unger was a national champion debater at Boston College, from which he graduated in 1964, and coached debaters while at Harvard Law School, where he received a degree in 1967. The next year, he became Georgetown's coach. His teams were ranked first in the national coaches' poll five times.

In a 1970s poll of leading intercollegiate coaches and debaters, he was named Outstanding Debate Coach and Outstanding Debate Judge of the decade.

"He had a steel-trap mind, and he taught you strategies that guaranteed steel-trap success," said Thomas M. Rollins, a lawyer and former Georgetown debater.

Rollins understates the case. Although he was of slight physical stature and was nicknamed "The Duck" in reference to his anatine visage, Unger's intellect made him an intimidating presence, especially among the high school students who attended the Georgetown Forensics Institute each summer. He was treated with godlike deference by many of the younger debaters.

The Post article continues:

Instantly recognizable on the Georgetown campus thanks to his usual three-piece suit, bow tie and walking cane, Mr. Unger was, in Rollins's words, "relentless in pushing an argument and in testing any position that you took."

Some people considered him difficult because of that relentlessness -- in debate and elsewhere -- but Rollins said he found him to be "an incredibly kind and generous guy." He recalled that Mr. Unger once bought him a plane ticket home to Houston so he could try to patch up a fractured romance.

Unger also could wield a wicked sense of humor. Here's an example.

When I was coaching at the Georgetown debate institute in 1982, I took seriously the notion that the institute itself was for teaching and honing skills. During the tournament that ended each session of the institute, I would, after judging a round of debate, give a brief oral critique of the debaters and their performance, explaining why I voted as I did.

After the preliminary rounds were over, all of the debaters, coaches, and judges gathered in the lobby of the Walsh Building on Georgetown's East Campus, so that we could find out which teams had made it to the elimination rounds. Mr. Unger would announce the teams and the judging panels for each round.

As we were milling about, one of the other coaches, Bill Foutz -- who had been a champion debater at Harvard -- rushed up to me with an agitated look on his face. He grabbed me by the collar and pushed me against the wall, saying, "If you give another third affirmative rebuttal to make one of my teams lose, you'll be sorry."

I was caught by surprise and tried to laugh it off, though in truth I was frightened as hell. (Just to explain to lay readers: There are two negative and two affirmative rebuttals in a debate round. A "third affirmative rebuttal" is when a judge expresses his own arguments against the negative in an effort to justify voting for the affirmative team.) By this time a crowd had gathered around us and we were the sole focus of attention.

Moments later, Mr. Unger entered the room and began his announcements for the octofinal rounds.

After naming two teams and a room for a debate, he continued: "The judging panel will be Mr. Foutz" -- murmurs in the crowd -- "Mr. Sincere" -- the crowd began to go oooh! -- "and Mr. Glass. Obviously, Mr. Glass will chair the panel." Everyone -- except, perhaps, for me and Bill Foutz -- laughed.

When we got to the classroom where the debate would be held, Bill and I sat on opposite sides of the room, with David Glass (who was, I think, then at the Bronx High School of Science) sat between us as a DMZ. The round had a few more spectators than usual. Fortunately, the three of us agreed on the outcome, and we all voted the same way. A few minutes after the match ended, Bill Foutz apologized to me for his outburst and everything was calm again. Sometimes debaters and debate coaches get caught up in the anxiety and intensity of competition, and this was one of those moments.

Another example of Unger's wry humor requires some background.

The high school debate topic the previous year (1981-82) was "Resolved: That the federal government should establish minimum educational standards for elementary and secondary schools in the United States." I came up with the idea, based upon research I was doing in the real world -- if the world of Washington think tanks can be described as "real" -- that we should write a case about civil defense education in elementary and secondary schools.

The problem with this idea was that there was little, if any, information available about civil defense education. (There was some material from the 1960s, but nothing recent and little that was usable by debaters.) But I was convinced this could be a winning case.

So I asked Professor Unger, "What do you do when something is topical but so obscure that there is nothing written about it that you can use as evidence for inherency?" He replied that there was not much to do in that situation, other than to intensify your research and find the evidence you need.

My solution: since I had already had one article published on the topic of civil defense -- appearing in the Washington Star on October 10, 1980, months after I submitted it and based on research I did during the summer 1980 forensics institute -- and had subsequently become an officer in the American Civil Defense Association, I could just write another one, with a focus on education, that could be used as evidence to support our case.

And that's what I did. I submitted the article to several newspapers, and it was published in the New York Tribune (a sister newspaper to The Washington Times), just days before the institute tournament. We inserted the appropriate quotations into the case (not citing me by name), held others in reserve for second affirmative and rebuttals, and moved forward.

The case was relatively successful, with two of my teams making it into the elimination rounds. After the last round that one of the teams lost, they told me that my qualifications as a source had become an issue in the debate. The judge from that round added: "Your boys defended you valiantly, but they lost on other issues."

This is a long tale meant to be background of something that happened a couple of years later. As it was told to me, late one night while preparing for a tournament, members of the Georgetown debate team had hit a brick wall, unable to find the evidence they needed to complete a brief they were working on. Professor Unger popped up and said, "Well, why don't we just pull a Rick Sincere?" -- meaning, why not write an article and get it published in a reputable newspaper or journal? I don't think they ever followed through on that suggestion, but just the idea that my name became associated with a new debate tactic was enough to warm my ego.

The Post also notes, almost in passing:
Mr. Unger also was a wily and tenacious tennis player.
Indeed, during the summer and in good weather during the rest of the year, one could find Jim Unger on the tennis courts that once lay between New South Hall and Lauinger Library. (Those courts have been replaced by Village A, an apartment complex for Georgetown students and faculty.) Here is a brief film clip of Mr. Unger playing doubles on a cloudy day with his tennis partner, James M. Copeland, who was then debate coach at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee.

video


Copeland and Unger were more than tennis partners. For several years, they collaborated on a book, published annually, called Second Thoughts, with the subtitle of each edition referring to that year's interscholastic debate topic. The book contained chapters on debate theory and the topics themselves, but most interesting were the transcripts of debate rounds (usually from one or more of the summer debate institutes) with interstitial comments from the co-authors. They analyzed and critiqued the debate style, the arguments, and the evidence in as thorough a fashion as one could imagine.

(The edition of Second Thoughts published in 1974 was important in my own life, because it was my first encounter with the publishing world. Mr. Copeland assigned me the job of typing up his notes on a form provided by the publisher. [This was long before word processing on computers was even a dream for regular folks.] Not only did I improve my typing skills, but I learned about the requirements for typesetting and I was able to absorb the argument and discussion that would not be available to other readers for months to come.)

It's no wonder that, when presidential debates were revived after a 16-year hiatus in 1976, that Copeland and Unger were chosen by the Associated Press to be judges for the debates between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford and between Bob Dole and Walter Mondale.

The Post obituary refers to this stage of Professor Unger's career:
Mr. Unger served as a debate consultant to NBC and ABC and to the Associated Press and United Press International.

In a 1992 debate, he gave high marks to the studio audience. "The people are the winners," he said. "The quality of the ordinary folks asking relevant questions is superior to the politicians trying to answer them."

Four years later, he credited Republican Robert J. Dole with raising the ethics issue in his presidential election debate with Democrat Bill Clinton but faulted the former Kansas senator for not following through. Mr. Unger said that Dole resorted to "shorthand rhetoric" and "catchy phrases" without explaining their importance.

In a 2000 vice presidential debate between Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, then a Democrat, and Dick Cheney (R), Mr. Unger declared Cheney the winner in a close contest because he came across "as a person and as a professional."
The Post ends by saying that there "are no immediate survivors," but this is only true in a narrow, technical sense. Professor Unger leaves thousands of survivors in the form of students he taught and faculty he hired, many of whom have had extraordinarily successful careers in the public and private sectors (I could list several dozen law professors alone, not to mention prominent attorneys, physicians, engineers, and politicians).

A number of these survivors -- friends, colleagues, students -- have been posting memories on a site called eDebate. A comment attributed to Bill Smelko said, in part:
For many of us who debated in the mid-late 1960’s and 1970’s, Jim Unger was an imposing intellectual giant whose love of competitive success was exceeded only by his capacity to grow debate as an activity, and encourage in student competitors an abiding love of and for the activity. Many of today’s finest coaches and teachers at the High School and College levels can trace their roots directly to Professor Unger and/or the Georgetown Institute of the early-late 1970’s.

The number of debaters who Professor Unger helped on their way to law school and graduate programs includes former debaters from not just Georgetown, but also from a variety of colleges and universities across the country. I was very lucky to have met Jim, been judged by him often, known him as a mentor and also to have been his friend. I last saw Jim during a visit to the GDS Tournament a couple years ago and even then, as his health was deteriorating, my visit with him was memorable for me because of his unfailing sense of humor and ever present memory of great times past and of the great people who he called friends.
One of these friends, Dr. Arthur Kyriazis of Philadelphia, posted some of his own memories at a eDebate. This one stood out for me:
Were it not for Georgetown Debate Institute, and Prof. Unger, I would never have improved at debate, and without improving at debate, I would never have gotten into Harvard, and without Harvard, my whole life would have been different. Consequently, it's fair to say that Georgetown and Unger opened the first set of doors that set me on the path that led me to Harvard, to law school and later to success in life.
Elsewhere on the same site, in a post dated April 4 (a day after Unger's death but weeks before it was reported in the Washington Post), Laurence Tribe wrote:
For most of us during the crucial decade and a half starting in the mid-1970s - the decade in which many of us came of age or settled into our lifetime careers - Jimmy Unger WAS debate, debate as high art, debate as ritual, debate as relentless analysis, debate as bloodless battle. He lived it, breathed it, epitomized it, enjoyed it, perfected it, practiced it, and made it a permanent part of our lives. For all of that, and for the inestimable wit and twinkling wisdom that Jimmy exuded for so many years, we will all owe him a huge and permanent debt. May his memory live forever in and through those of us who cared about him and who were lucky enough to be his friends.
The outpouring of memories on eDebate is amazing. John Bredehoft (who was Bill Foutz's debate partner at Harvard, and who attended the Georgetown Institute the same two years that I did, during high school) adds:
For those of us who entered the debate community in the 1970s (my debating years extending from 1972 through 1980), Jim Unger was at first a remote overarching presence, then a valued and respected colleague. He was unexpectedly witty, occasionally sardonic, but never cruel or intentionally disheartening. We admired his brilliance and his intellectual honesty (while at the same time, as high school students at the Georgetown summer institute, conspiring to evade his parietal
rules). My life as it is today would be unthinkable without having debated; my debate experience would have been unthinkably different, unthinkably inferior, without Jim Unger's enthusiasm. I did not know him as well as many but I am saddened beyond words by his passing.
David Glass (whom I mentioned above) has a lengthy post explaining why Unger was so important in the development of academic debate, both theory and practice. (The split between "hypothesis testing" and "policy making" as debate paradigms may be too much to explore here, now, but I recommend Glass's analysis to those with deeper interests.) He concludes:
As a person, Unger was quite idiosyncratic. Some people loved him; others could not abide him. I always found him to be incisive, independent of mind, and unexpectedly hilarious. I still remember this small incident during the elimination rounds of a high school tournament that he was running. In those days a large audience watched the final round (people stayed for it, and the audience was filled for this particular final). Most of the students found him to be rather intimidating, but when he asked this one kid to call the coin before this round, the kid said "headsies". Everyone looked at Unger expecting him to cringe or something. But Unger just walked over to the coin, looked up at the kid and called out "tailsies"… cracking up the audience… I guess it is just surprising when you find out that a supposed giant is a normal person…. He was always there for me…. when a play I wrote was produced, he was in the audience; when I needed some advice on career alternatives, he was there. I did not debate for him, but I felt as though I was one of his students. He was a good mentor, and a true friend.
It has been more than 20 years since I last encountered Professor Unger. That would have been when I judged a few rounds at the National Debate Institute at American University -- as it turns out, the last time I was engaged in the debate world in any formal way at all. Still, learning about the death of James J. Unger makes me feel sad. The culture of high school and college debate is diminished by his departure.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Photoblogging the Fifth District GOP Convention

The first of eleven 2008 congressional district conventions for Virginia Republicans was held today on the campus of Hampden-Sydney College in Farmville. There were 227 delegates from around the Fifth Congressional District, which is the largest such district, in geographic terms, in the state, with Farmville (in Prince Edward County) about as close to the center as any community.

Besides the delegates from each of the counties and cities in the Fifth CD, there were a number of special guests, including U.S. Senate candidate (and former Governor) Jim Gilmore; former Lieutenant Governor (and current state party chairman, seeking reelection) John Hager; current Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, a candidate for reelection in 2009; current Attorney General Bob McDonnell, a candidate for governor in 2009; state Senator (and 2009 Attorney General candidate) Ken Cuccinelli; and Delegate Jeff Frederick (also a candidate for RPV chairman at next month's state convention), among other dignitaries and party activists.

Shaun Kenney has already provided an excellent summary of the early proceedings of the convention, so I will forgo writing much more. Tomorrow, however, I will be posting video of some of the speeches at the convention. For now, here are some photographs of the delegates and others, along with some of the pleasant scenery of the HSC campus.


David Brown, a convention delegate from Charlottesville, with state Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-Fairfax)



Convention delegates from Albemarle County and Charlottesville, l-r: David Brown, Jack Faw, Bill Ways, and Charlottesville unit chairman Buddy Weber



RPV Chairman John Hager chats with former Governor Jim Gilmore



Buddy Weber and Jim Gilmore



U.S. Representative Virgil Goode (R-VA5) confers with U.S. Senate candidate Jim Gilmore



Delegate Jeff Frederick (R-Prince William) with convention delegate William McKaskill of Albemarle County



Jefferson Literary and Debating Society members David Brown and Jim Gilmore



Legislative allies: State Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-Fairfax County) and Delegate Jeff Frederick (R-Prince William County)



Once and future Fifth District GOP Chairman Tucker Watkins makes some notes before speaking to the convention



Delegates gather for pizza on the lawn in front of the Johns Auditorium on HSC's campus



More pizza, more delegates



Congressman Virgil Goode and constituent David Brown



A historical marker near the convention site



One of Hampden-Sydney's distinctive buildings; don't ask me which one

Friday, April 25, 2008

Why I Support Tucker Watkins in the Fifth District

It's rare that I use this space to endorse candidates for political party offices (or even for elective public offices), but I think it is appropriate for me to add my voice to the many who are supporting Tucker Watkins in his bid to regain his post as chairman of Virginia's Fifth Congressional District Republican Committee.

Tucker is one of those remarkable individuals who possesses both depth and breadth of political knowledge. From his years of traveling throughout the district -- which is the largest, geographically, in the state -- he knows virtually all of the political players, both Republican and Democrat, whether behind the scenes or center-stage. What's more, he has a tremendous understanding of the economic, demographic, and social scene in the district and all of Southside Virginia. He has a mind that is at once analytical and synthetic, able to piece together bits of evidence into a coherent whole and apply what he learns in a practical manner.

After one of the Sorensen Institute's bloggers' summits a few years ago, Jon Henke and I stood outside a Charlottesville restaurant for about two or three hours, listening to Tucker talk about Virginia politics. As day turned into night, it became impossible to pull myself away from the conversation. As I wrote back then:

The conference also provided me with my first chance, in nearly six years of living in Charlottesville, to speak at length with Tucker Watkins, the GOP's Fifth Congressional District Chairman and Senator George Allen's eyes and ears in Southside Virginia. So far as I know, Tucker was the only non-blogging political operative at the conference, and his presence there showed once again what an astute political activist he is.

In a long post-conference conversation with me and Jon Henke on the porch of the Guadalajara restaurant at Greenbrier and Seminole Trail north of Charlottesville, Tucker offered a tour d'horizon of Virginia politics, and Jon and I engaged him on the 2008 presidential contest as well. I was impressed by Tucker's sophisticated take on Virginia's electorate, the key issues that will decide various races this year and next, and his breadth of knowledge of both national and state politics.

Senator Allen is lucky to have him on staff, and Tucker's long record of success in transforming the Fifth District from a predominantly Democratic to a largely Republican (or at least competitive) territory speaks for itself.
Tucker does have an opponent in this year's race for district chairman, and it would be a shame to let someone with less experience, knowledge, and wisdom take the post. That would constitute a real setback to the progress made in the past decade.

I am happy to offer my support to Tucker Watkins, and I will be glad to vote for him tomorrow at the Fifth District GOP Convention at Hampden-Sydney College.

Cato Awards Friedman Prize to Venezuelan Student

The Cato Institute has announced that this year's winner of the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty is a 23-year-old student activist from Venezuela, Yon Goicoechea.

Cato's news release follows, in English and in Spanish.

Venezuelan Student Movement Leader Awarded
$500,000 Milton Friedman Liberty Prize

Washington, D.C. –The Cato Institute has announced that Yon Goicoechea, leader of the pro-democracy student movement in Venezuela that successfully prevented President Hugo Chávez’s regime from seizing broad dictatorial powers in December 2007, has been awarded the 2008 Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty.

A 23-year-old law student, Mr. Goicoechea plays a pivotal role in organizing and voicing opposition to the erosion of human and civil rights in his country. In his commitment to a modern Venezuela, Goicoechea emphasizes tolerance and the human right to seek prosperity.

Venezuela’s student movement emerged in May of 2007 in response to a government-ordered shutdown of the nation’s oldest private television station, RCTV. In the face of ongoing death threats and continual intimidation due to his prominent and vocal leadership, Mr. Goicoechea has been indispensible in organizing massive, peaceful student protest marches that have captured the world’s attention.

By December of 2007, the student movement was credited with defeating a proposed constitutional reform that would have concentrated unprecedented political and economic power in the hands of the government.

“Yon Goicoechea is making an extraordinary contribution to liberty,” said Edward Crane, President of the Cato Institute. “We hope the Friedman Prize will help further his non-violent advocacy for basic freedoms in an increasingly militaristic and anti-democratic Venezuela.”

Renowned Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa remarked, “Freedom and complacency are incompatible and this is what we are seeing now in countries like Venezuela where freedom is disappearing little by little, and this has produced a very healthy and idealistic reaction among young people. I think Yon Goicoechea is a symbol of this democratic reaction when freedom is threatened.”

Established in 2002 and presented every two years, the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty is the leading international award for significant contributions to advancing individual liberty. The Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman passed away in November of 2006.

The Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty's Biennial Dinner and award presentation will be held at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City on May 15, 2008.

Yon Goicoechea is a fifth year law student at Universidad Católica Andrés Bello. He was chosen to receive the award from a public, worldwide nomination process. The members of the 2008 International Selection Committee are:

  • Kakha Bendukidze – Head of the Chancellery, Republic of Georgia
  • Edward H. Crane – President, Cato Institute
  • Francisco Gil Díaz – Former Minister of Finance, Mexico
  • Rose D. Friedman – Co-Founder, Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation for School Choice
  • Karen Horn – Director, Berlin Office, Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft (Germany)
  • Charles G. Koch – Chairman and CEO, Koch Industries Inc.
  • Andrew Mwenda – Research Fellow, Advocates Coalition for Development (Uganda)
  • Mary Anastasia O’Grady – Member, Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal
  • Fareed Zakaria – Editor, Newsweek International


24 de abril de 2008
Líder estudiantil venezolano recibe Premio Milton Friedman por la Libertad

Yon Goicoechea gana premio de $500.000 en efectivo

Washington, DC — El Cato Institute ha anunciado que Yon Goicoechea, líder del movimiento estudiantil venezolano que derrotó la reforma constitucional que le habría otorgado al presidente Hugo Chávez amplios poderes dictatoriales, es el ganador del Premio Milton Friedman por la Libertad 2008.

Goicoechea, un estudiante de 23 años, juega un papel decisivo en la oposición a la erosión de los derechos humanos y civiles en su país. En su compromiso por una Venezuela moderna, Goicoechea enfatiza la tolerancia y el derecho de las personas a aspirar a la prosperidad.

El Movimiento Estudiantil de Venezuela nació en mayo del 2007 en respuesta a la clausura gubernamental de la estación de televisión privada más antigua del país, RCTV. Enfrentando amenazas de muerte e intimidación continua por su destacado liderazgo, Goicochea jugó un papel decisivo en la organización de marchas pacíficas de protesta que capturaron la atención mundial.

En diciembre del 2007, el Movimiento Estudiantil es reconocido por la derrota de una propuesta de reforma constitucional que habría concentrado en las manos del gobierno un poder político y económico sin precedentes.

“Yon Goicoechea realiza una contribución extraordinaria por la libertad,” dice Edward Crane, presidente del Cato Institute. “Esperamos que el Premio Friedman le ayude a continuar su campaña no violenta por las libertades básicas en una Venezuela cada vez más militarista y menos democrática”.

El célebre novelista peruano Mario Vargas Llosa declaró: “La libertad y la indiferencia son incompatibles y eso es lo que estamos viendo en países como Venezuela donde la libertad está desapareciendo poco a poco, y eso ha producido una reacción idealista muy sana entre la gente joven. Pienso que Yon Goicoechea es un símbolo de esta reacción democrática cuando la libertad está siendo amenazada”.

Establecido en el 2002 y otorgado cada dos años, el Premio Milton Friedman por la Libertad es el premio internacional más destacado por contribuciones significativas al avance de la libertad individual. Milton Friedman, premio Nóbel en economía, falleció en noviembre del 2006.

La cena bienal del Premio Milton Friedman por la Libertad y la presentación del premio se realizará en el Hotel Waldorf-Astoria de la Ciudad de Nueva York el 15 de mayo del 2008.

Yon Goicoechea es un estudiante de Derecho en la Universidad Católica Andrés Bello. Fue escogido para recibir el premio a través de un proceso mundial de nominación. Los miembros del Comité de Selección Internacional son los siguientes:

  • Kakha Bendukidze – Jefe de Gabinete, República de Georgia
  • Edward H. Crane – Presidente, Cato Institute
  • Francisco Gil Díaz – Ex Ministro de Hacienda, México
  • Rose D. Friedman – Cofundadora, Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation for School Choice
  • Karen Horn – Directora, Oficina Berlín, Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft (Alemania)
  • Charles G. Koch – Presidente y CEO, Koch Industries, Inc.
  • Andrew Mwenda – Académico de Investigación, Advocates Coalition for Development (Uganda)
  • Mary Anastasia O’Grady – Miembro del Consejo Editorial, The Wall Street Journal
  • Fareed Zakaria – Editor, Newsweek International

Acerca del Cato Institute

El Cato Institute fue fundado en 1977 como una fundación sin fines de lucro para la investigación de políticas públicas, y su sede se encuentra en Washington, D.C. El Instituto busca ampliar los parámetros de la discusión de políticas públicas para promover alrededor del mundo alternativas que sean consistentes con los principios de libertad individual, gobierno limitado, mercados libres y paz.

The Deficiencies of Planning

The Charlottesville Tomorrow blog has posted a 52-minute video of Reason Foundation policy analyst's speech to the Free Enterprise Forum on April 17. Besides Staley's opening remarks, there are questions from WCHV radio host Joe Thomas, Chamber of Commerce executive director Tim Hulbert, and others, followed by answers by the guest speaker.

At the beginning of the speech -- which is generally aimed at disabusing his listeners of the notion that planning is more effective than free markets, but with a respect for the political realities of what local authorities have to do when faced with changing circumstances -- Staley praises the Charlottesville Tomorrow web site for its comprehensive information on development and growth issues. He said he learned as much from visiting the web site as he could have learned spending a week in the Charlottesville-Albemarle area, and suggests that Charlottesville Tomorrow is nearly unique in the sort of resources it provides.

As summarized by Brian Wheeler and Sean Tubbs, who recorded the proceedings, Staley made five major points in his address:

* All local politics is conservative and resistant to change
* Change is inevitable
* Most planning tools are inadequate for addressing the demands of the market
* Comprehensive plans in particular are ineffective and inadequate for guiding community decisions about growth
* Markets work best if they are allowed to move freely
Staley did not limit his remarks to topics unique to Charlottesville, or of his own hometown near Dayton, Ohio (where he served on the local planning board). His observations have universal application, which is ironic because one of his key points is that, based on gatherable statistics alone, it is not possible to generalize about the effects of planning, since each locality has unique political, demographic, and economic circumstances.

I wish I had been present at the Free Enterprise Forum's luncheon where Staley spoke, since his speech and the Q&A that followed were interesting and informative. I'll have to remember to keep an eye on the FEF's web site for future events.

Luckily, Charlottesville Tomorrow was there with camera and microphone, producing this video:




Sam Staley is the co-author of Smarter Growth: Market-based Strategies for Land-use Planning in the 21st Century and of The Road More Traveled: Why the Congestion Crisis Matters More Than You Think and What We Can Do About It, as well as author of Drug Policy and the Decline of American Cities.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

WaPo Journos Discuss News Biz, Election

The Washington Post reported on Wednesday, in a modest add-on in Howard Kurtz's Style section media column, that Susan Glasser, who has been assistant managing editor for national news, has been kicked upstairs. Kurtz wrote:

Susan Glasser, who directed The Washington Post's campaign coverage as assistant managing editor for national news, said yesterday she is leaving that job to work on a project for Post Co. Chief Executive Donald Graham.

Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. decided to remove Glasser after a high-level committee of editors concluded that her aggressive management style had led to a serious decline in staff morale. The timing, in the middle of the campaign, was unusual.

Meanwhile, Washingtonian magazine's blog reports that Glasser's husband, political reporter Peter Baker, may be leaving, too:
It is unclear whether Glasser, 39, will remain at the Post. It has been rumored that her husband, Peter Baker, who currently covers the White House for the Post, might be moving to the New York Times.
Early in March, I had an opportunity to see both Glasser and Baker speak at the annual meeting of the Virginia Electoral Board Association. They had been invited by VEBA president Maggi Luca, who knew Baker from his days as a reporter in the Post's Fairfax County bureau.

I had my video camera handy and recorded the whole presentation. Much of the discussion focused on the upcoming Democratic primaries in Texas and Ohio and whether Hillary Rodham Clinton would be able to survive them to go on to contest Pennsylvania. (We know how that turned out.)

One of the most interesting things said was by Baker, during some comments about how the Internet is affecting journalism. He said that the person who determines the most important story in the Washington Post is not Len Downie or any other editor on the Post's staff who might decide what goes on the front page, but rather Matt Drudge. He gave, as an example, an article he wrote that had been placed deep into the paper's A-section, but because Drudge linked to it, it had something like 250,000 hits -- or more than ten times as many hits as the front-page stories in the Post that day received.

I apologize for the poor video quality. The meeting room in the Homestead was lit quite dimly, and I was sitting near the back of the room (in an effort to be courteously unobtrusive).

By the way, when Maggi makes the claim in her introduction that Peter Baker was the first reporter to move from the Washington Times to the Washington Post, she is incorrect; that person was, in fact, Malcolm Gladwell, who later became a staff writer the New Yorker, and the best-selling author of The Tipping Point and Blink. (I knew Gladwell when we both worked at the Ethics and Public Policy Center; he left EPPC to work at the Times and it was big news when he was hired away from the upstart by the Post.)

For his part, Baker makes a historical error himself, when in Part II he claims that you have to "go all the way back to Monroe" -- 180 years -- before you can find the same political party holding the White House three terms in a row, except for Reagan-Bush. Even granting that FDR doesn't count because he was the same person who served four terms in row, what about Grant, Hayes, Garfield/Arthur? That's four terms in a row from 1869 through 1885. And then there was McKinley, Roosevelt, and Taft (1897-1913); that was followed by the Wilson interregnum and then Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover (1921-1933).

In Part III, Glasser talks about how the Internet "explodes" our notions about how elections should be run -- not only in how journalists report campaigns, but in how candidates raise money, and in how voters will turn out on Election Day. (She mentions how countries like Estonia already permit voting through the Internet, and how this may be the edge of a trend that will reach us eventually.)

In Part VI, Baker says the Democratic party would be "ripped apart" if the superdelegates end up handing the nomination to Hillary Clinton while Barack Obama wins the most states, the popular vote, and the most elected delegates. Letting the superdelegates exercise their discretion, he suggests, is "too divisive an alternative."

Also in Part VI, Glasser notes how these are "tough times" for the newspaper business, with the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and the Washington Post all offering buy-outs to their employees, in an effort to cut costs and improve profitability. By mentioning the "democratization of information" and the "power of collective thinking," she invites her husband's comment about the inordinate influence of Matt Drudge. Glasser says that "Google News is by far the producer of news on the Internet ... they have built a sophisticated and super-secret algorithm" for aggregating news, which undermines the value of the local morning newspaper. (Baker's remark about the Drudge Report comes in Part VII, at 03:08.)

Part I:



Part II:



Part III:



Part IV:



Part V:



Part VI:



Part VII:



This presentation by the husband-and-wife, reporter-and-editor team of Peter Baker and Susan Glasser was entertaining and informative, even provocative. Although this event took place almost two months ago, much of the material they present is still relevant (even within the context of the primary election campaign, and especially with regard to the changing nature of the news business).

Who Says Reading Doesn't Pay Off?

This afternoon I was listening to Coy Barefoot's drive-time program on WINA-AM, "Charlottesville ... Right Now." He and guest Hawes Spencer were chatting with news reporter (and walking Wikipedia) Chris Callahan about various popular culture items, such as when The Brady Bunch TV series ran on ABC, what celebrities attended George Washington High School in Alexandria (Jim Morrison of The Doors, John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, and Mama Cass Elliott, to name three), and the debut of Saturday Night Live on NBC. (Then known as "NBC's Saturday Night," to distinguish itself from an ABC program, featuring the Bay City Rollers and hosted by Howard Cosell, called "Saturday Night Live," the original name also follows the NBC nomenclature that included "Today," "Tonight," and "Tomorrow.")

Chris noted that SNL had its premiere on October 11, 1975, and then posed this trivia question to listeners: What famous couple were married on the same day that Saturday Night's first episode aired?

As it happens, a couple of weeks ago I was reading Carl Bernstein's fascinating biography of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, A Woman in Charge, and I remembered the passage about Hillary's wedding to Bill, in October 1975. It was a modest, backyard ceremony, rather hurriedly put together. (Hillary's mother was aghast to find out, a couple of days before the wedding, that Hillary had not bothered to get herself a wedding gown.)

It wasn't much of a leap, even without checking, to guess that the "famous couple" Chris had in mind was the most famous power couple of our times.

So I called the station and said, "I know who was married on October 11, 1975." When I got on the air, Coy asked what the answer was and I said, "If I'm not mistaken, it was Bill and Hillary Clinton." Coy rang his bell and then Chris said there was not necessarily a connection, since the Clintons chose the date of their wedding without regard to the debut of Saturday Night Live. I noted that, since the wedding was in the afternoon, they could have watched the TV show later in the evening. Hawes quipped that the two of them probably had a deep conversation about health care policy after the wedding, and I added, "You might think you're joking, but you're not." The Clintons were as wonkish in their early days as they are now.

Then came the prize: Coy asked me if I would like a lunch for two at Michie Tavern, and of course I said yes. I'll be picking up my gift certificate from the station sometime soon.

There may not be such a thing as a free lunch, but having a head for trivia makes it as close to free as economically possible.

The thing is, if I had not read Carl Bernstein's book recently, I wouldn't have had a clue as to the answer to Chris Callahan's trivia question. Not only is reading fundamental, it pays off, too.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Travelers' Carnival

Another blog carnival -- this one the "Carnival of Cities" -- picked up one of my personal favorite recent posts to feature this week: my videoblog showcasing Hurley, Wisconsin, and Ironwood, Michigan. (That post included a peek at the Iron County Historical Museum and a conversation with innkeeper Gene Cisewski, as well as a visit to the Upper Peninsula's Hiawatha statue.)

The Carnival of Cities covers the whole world, in categories like "Cities in Europe," "Cities in Australasia," and "Cities in the Americas." It turns out that Hurley is one of two U.S. cities featured in the current carnival. Under the heading of "Cities in the Americas," host-blog Family Travel lists the following:

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada paulmct presents Tickets Please - Or Else posted at Bloggin’ Off, saying, “There’s a lot to like about Vancouver, but…” Don’t tase me, bro!

Trinidad, Cuba Matthew Hamilton describes this dilapidated colonial jewel near Cuba’s Caribbean coast, posted at his blog Furgo Y Agua - Travels In Latin America.

Hurley, Wisconsin, USA Rick Sincere gives an interesting peek into Hurley’s history and includes video from his visit to Hurley on his blog Rick Sincere News and Thoughts, saying, “Hurley, Wisconsin, is a small city (population less than 2,000) but it and its 'twin city' of Ironwood, Michigan, are nonetheless legally designated as cities.”

St. Louis, Missouri, USA As the host, I thought I’d throw in a Family Travel blog post featuring the storied Gateway Arch, on the Mississippi river in downtown St. Louis.

Next week's Carnival of Cities will be hosted at Roaming Tales on April 30, followed by the Jeffersoniad's Leslie Carbone on May 7.

The Missing Link

Charles Kaiser might be a well-known and award-winning historian, but as a journalist, he's strictly an amateur -- and that's being kind.

Kaiser is the "author" of a feature article in Out Magazine that purports to be about gay Republicans in Washington. The 2,831-word article, as others have already noted, analyzes the presence of gay Republicans on Capitol Hill and in the Executive Branch without a single new quotation from an actual gay Republican.

The best one can say about Kaiser's article is that it is a clip-job nearly worthy of a high-school social-studies term paper. Kaiser does quote previously-published articles by journalists who think enough of their subject to seek them out and ask them what they think. (Oddly, Kaiser seems to have a great deal of respect for Washington Post reporter Jose Antonio Vargas, who has done his homework and pursues shoe-leather journalism the old-fashioned way. But why bother doing that when Google is available?)

While Kaiser relies entirely on secondary sources for his quotations from Republicans, Kaiser does take the time to get soundbites from Democratic sources, such as Representative Barney Frank. He quotes Frank as saying:

“Locke says that one of the major arguments for, in effect, representative government is, if the people who make the laws are not subject to the laws, they will make bad laws with impunity,” Frank says. “That was a very important principle in the document that was the single most important influence on our Constitution. A basic principle of free government is that rulers must be subject to the laws they make.”
But then, without citation, Kaiser goes on to say about this:
Practically all Republicans -- and quite a few Democrats -- disagree with Frank about this...
Certainly there are quite a few politicians, from every party except the Libertarians, who would disagree that lawmakers should be subject to the laws they make -- even though this has been a major feature of Anglo-Saxon constitutional theory since Magna Carta. (John Locke merely explicated the point; he didn't come up with it on his own.)

Yet to assert (without a bit of proof, even a quotation from a hostile source) that "practically all Republicans" disagree with the notion ignores the centerpiece of the "Contract with America" that was partially responsible for the election of a Republican majority in Congress in 1994, after 40 years of Democratic impunity that culminated in the House post office/banking scandal. Here's what that Contract said, in part:

This year's election offers the chance, after four decades of one-party control, to bring to the House a new majority that will transform the way Congress works. That historic change would be the end of government that is too big, too intrusive, and too easy with the public's money. It can be the beginning of a Congress that respects the values and shares the faith of the American family.

Like Lincoln, our first Republican president, we intend to act "with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right." To restore accountability to Congress. To end its cycle of scandal and disgrace. To make us all proud again of the way free people govern themselves.

On the first day of the 104th Congress, the new Republican majority will immediately pass the following major reforms, aimed at restoring the faith and trust of the American people in their government:

  • FIRST, require all laws that apply to the rest of the country also apply equally to the Congress;...
The Contract with America was signed by all but a few of the Republican candidates for the House of Representatives in 1994. (I recall that there were two or three incumbents who refused to sign on.) That "first principle" was therefore given the assent of the vast majority of GOP congressional candidates that year; that the Contract still remains on web site of the U.S. House of Representatives suggests that it continues to carry some weight with the minority party.

There are legitimate areas of disagreement between Democrats and Republicans. (There are even legitimate areas of disagreement among factions within those two parties.) Clear and civil discussion of the issues is necessary to the maintenance of a free and democratic republic. Kaiser's article in Out fails to point toward those areas of disagreement that separate gay Democrats from gay Republicans. He makes no effort to understand why some gay men and lesbians may choose to be conservative or Republican activists. To him, it's a greater mystery than transubstantiation and therefore he need not explore it.

If, like Kaiser and others cited in his article, you are still mystified as to why there might be gay Republicans in Washington or any other part of the country, take a look at the principles of the Contract with America and other published Republican documents. Read Barry Goldwater's The Conscience of a Conservative. Listen to Ronald Reagan's speech, "A Time for Choosing."

That not all Republicans today live up to the ideals of Reagan or Goldwater is no reason to abandon the party, any more than the fact that not every one of today's Democrats live up to the ideals of Thomas Jefferson or the record of Grover Cleveland.

Charles Kaiser's effort at "journalism," meanwhile, fails to live up to any standards at all. He, and Out Magazine, should be embarrassed that this jumble of notecards ever connected ink to paper.


Catholic Carnival Points Here

The 169th edition of the Catholic Carnival, hosted by We Belong to the Lord ("Domini Sumus") celebrates Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Washington and New York (with many photographs) and points to my retrospective piece on the 1979 Papal Mass on the Mall during Pope John Paul II's first pontifical trip to the United States, which included a digitized reproduction of the Mass program.

This was the third time that this blog has been recognized by the Catholic Carnival. Earlier, Catholic Carnival 122, hosted at Living Catholicism, pointed toward "Jesus, the Pope, and a Rabbi."

And before that, a now-defunct blog called Profound Gratitude (you'll get a 404 if you click on that link), hosting Catholic Carnival 114, noted my post on Pope Benedict XVI's economic thoughts.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tax Freedom Day, 2008

Last July 11, I wrote about Cost of Government Day, designated by Americans for Tax Reform as the day that the average American can begin keeping his earnings for himself and his family rather than turn it over to the government in the form of taxation or regulatory costs.

ATR started marking Cost of Government Day in response to Tax Freedom Day, which has long been noted by the Tax Foundation as the point at which individuals begin to earn money for themselves after having earned all the money they turn over to federal, state, and local governments in the form of taxation. Americans for Tax Reform thought this was telling only part of the story, hence Cost of Government Day.

This year the nationwide Tax Freedom Day is April 23, although the date varies from state to state, depending on the tax burden each state government imposes on its citizens.

Financial analyst David John Marotta writes a weekly column for the Charlottesville Daily Progress, which unfortunately has never appeared on the newspaper's web site -- even with the recent redesign of DailyProgress.com.

Fortunately, however, Marotta posts his columns on his own firm's web site, Marotta Asset Management, Inc. That is where I found his article about Tax Freedom Day 2008 after earlier reading it in Monday's Daily Progress.

Marotta explains:

This year we celebrate Tax Freedom Day on Wednesday, April 23. That's the day we stop working for the government and start working for ourselves. For average workers, all of our earnings for the first 113 days of the year go to pay federal, state and local taxes. Starting April 24, we are free--at last--to take care of our own family's needs.

The nonpartisan Tax Foundation based in Washington, D.C., measures the tax burden on Americans every year. According to its 2008 report, published in March, this year's federal Tax Freedom Day comes seven days later than it did in 2003.
He uncovers some interesting statistics, too, such as this:
On average, taxes take nearly 31% of a worker's gross income: 20% for federal taxes and 11% for state and local taxes. For every eight-hour day, 2 hours and 28 minutes of our labor is spent paying taxes. Without taxes, you could leave your job at 2:32 p.m.

Only since 1992 have Americans paid more for government programs than we spend on food, clothing and medical care combined. For the amount of money we pay in taxes, the federal government could provide universal health coverage and feed and clothe us as well.
And this:
The top 1% now pays 34% of the taxes in the United States. Do you know how to join the top 1% of taxpayers? Just sell a house in California. The top half of taxpayers pays almost 96% of the income taxes, meaning the bottom half pay just 4%. These two statistics have increased despite all the complaints that tax cuts favor the rich.
He also notes that, despite the boasts of government officials to the contrary, Virginia's tax burden is high and growing:
At the state level, Tax Freedom Day varies depending on location. California has moved up from the 7th to the 4th highest level of state taxes with its Tax Freedom Day now delayed until April 30. Virginia has risen from 17th to 12th in the race for the highest state tax rate, even though its liberation day arrives on April 25, only two days later than the national average.

The Virginia tax rate continues to climb higher each year, despite claims of no new personal taxes because of both bracket creep and the significant increase in state business taxes. This situation reflects a national trend. Business tax receipts have risen sharply over the past two years.
Marotta also offers a clear explanation of the Laffer Curve, which demonstrates why higher tax rates produce lower tax revenues:
Economist Arthur Laffer recognized that the law of diminishing returns applies to tax rates as well. According to Laffer, at a certain point, increased taxation actually yields the collection of fewer tax dollars. As we near a 100% tax rate, we approach driving commerce into the ground and collecting no taxes.

Many economists believe we are still beyond the point of diminishing returns. In other words, tax cuts would actually result in increased economic growth and more taxes being collected.

Presidents Kennedy and Reagan understood the Laffer curve well. In 1964 Kennedy reduced the top marginal tax rate from 91% to 70% and, to many people's surprise, tax revenues increased. Seventeen years later, the Reagan tax cuts reduced the top marginal rate from 70% to 50%. Again, revenues soared. Between 1980 and 1997, the share of federal income taxes paid by the top 1% rose from 19% to 33%. The share of taxes paid by the top 25% increased from 73% to 82%.
He might have also noted how the much-derided Bush taxes had the same effect. Economist Jerry Bowyer noted in April 2004, three years after the first round of Bush administration tax cuts and one year after the second round:

President Bush’s most recent tax cut proves that tax rates were, in fact, too high. This is demonstrated through the simple fact that the first half of fiscal year 2004 is showing higher tax revenues than the same period for fiscal year 2003. Between October 2003 and March 2004 (the first half of FY 2004), tax receipts were at more than $850 billion, which is $25.3 billion higher than receipts for the year-ago period.

This means that federal tax receipts went up rather than down after the Bush tax cuts of 2003. America has just passed the midpoint of fiscal 2003 and so far the data seems to be confirming the supply-side model. The Bush boom is big enough that it has already affected the budget.

If only those revenues had not been funneled into a multi-trillion dollar war. Then we'd really be riding high.

Marotta concludes his article with a quotation from John F. Kennedy that is as apt today as it was nearly 50 years ago:
Low taxes should not be a political issue that divides us. Every American should agree with the goal of keeping taxes as low as possible. In 2011 all of the federal tax cuts enacted since 2001 are scheduled to expire. If this happens, Tax Freedom Day will move an entire week later. In the words of John F. Kennedy, "An economy hampered by restrictive tax rates will never produce enough revenues to balance our budget--just as it will never produce enough jobs or profits."
How late will Tax Freedom Day be in 2010 or 2011 if Barack Obama or Hillary Rodham Clinton is elected president? Don't take a bet that says it will be earlier than April 23.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

What Are They Reading? And Why?


I was listening to The Joey Reynolds Show (which has reruns broadcast on WINA-AM in Charlottesville early Sunday mornings) and heard an interview with one of the authors of Baseball's Greatest Hit: The Story of Take Me Out to the Ball Game. The interview intrigued me, so I went to look up the book on Amazon.com, where this description can be found:

The authorized tie-in book to the 100th anniversary of this beloved song. "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" is the third most frequently sung song in America, after "Happy Birthday" and "The Star-Spangled Banner," and you'd be hard-pressed to find an American who doesn't know the words. With the release of this special edition, full-color, hardcover book, the complete story of the song is presented, taking us on a fascinating journey into how "Ball Game" has come to take a unique place in our cultural landscape. With images of historical newspaper clippings, baseball cards, sheet music, movie stills, ballplayers at the mic, and of course, Harry Caray leading the crowd at Wrigley, Baseball's Greatest Hit also comes packaged with a CD of rare and classic recordings, including performances by Dr. John, Arturo Sandoval, George Winston, Harry Caray and many more. Features an introduction by baseball commissioner Bud Selig and a foreword by Carly Simon. Baseball's Greatest Hit is a gorgeous celebration, not only of a song, but of baseball, music, pop culture, and the creative ways that Americans have always taken popular music and made it their own. And as the book traces the song's evolution over the last 100 years, it also traces the evolution of American culture - from the early days of Tin Pan Alley and sheet music pluggers; through the early role of women as baseball players and fans; through movie musicals, baseball's expansion west, rock and roll, and modern ballparks; right up to the present-day when in July 2007 more than 50 Hall of Famers came together to sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" in Cooperstown.

On the radio, the author, Robert Thompson, pointed out that neither the composer nor the lyricist of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" attended a baseball game until long after they wrote the song. That, in itself, is intriguing (as I said).

But talk about something really provocative! Look at what turned up when I added the book to my Amazon wish list:



In case you can't read the screen shot (click to embiggen), it says

Customers who bought Baseball's Greatest Hit: The Story of Take Me Out to the Ball Game also bought:

The Last Lecture
by Randy Pausch (Author), Jeffrey Zaslow (Author)
Price: $12.07

We Would Have Played for Nothing: Baseball Stars of the 1950s and 1960s Talk About the Game They Loved (Baseball Oral History Poject)
by Fay Vincent (Author)
Price: $16.50

The Bush Tragedy
by Jacob Weisberg (Author)
Price: $17.16

Now, I can understand why people who add a book about "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" to their wish lists might also be interested in Fay Vincent's book -- the one in the middle -- but what is the connection of baseball to a book by a dying scientist and to another book that is a critical biography of George W. Bush?

The most erudite commentator on America's national pastime, George F. Will, might be the only person who could scrutinize and explain this mystery.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Sununu, Weicker, and Wilder Appear at UVA

"Sununu, Weicker, and Wilder" might sound like the name of a new law firm. Instead, the three are former governors: John Sununu (R-N.H.), Lowell Weicker (Ind.-Conn.), and L. Douglas Wilder (D-Virginia). The trio appeared at the University of Virginia on April 16 in a panel discussion sponsored by the Center for Politics, under the title "The Presidency Reconsidered: should we change how we nominate and elect our chief executives?” According to the news release distributed before the event:

Each of the 21st Century's presidential elections has seen many constitutional issues come to the forefront of public consciousness. Some have suggested that the process of being nominated by the parties is in need of review. Should we attempt to alter this process by establishing regional primaries or some other system, or are we better served leaving the process to the discretion of each individual state? What is the role of the superdelegates, and does this process work as it was intended? Should anything be done to prioritize the outcome of the popular vote in the nomination process and/or the general election? Are there changes that might help build greater confidence in our system of elections for more Americans? Should we continue to disallow non-native born citizens from running for president? These topics and more will be debated at The Presidency Reconsidered.
I attended the event, invited in my capacity as a blogger, but also as a correspondent for The Metro Herald in Alexandria. I was there with video camera in hand, which makes it possible for me to transcribe the entire recording (a daunting task, which I did not attempt in toto) and thus permits me to use quotations that can be checked for accuracy rather than rely on scribbled notes.

I have already posted the entire 75-minute event to YouTube, and the video segments appear below. I also prepared an article for submission to The Metro Herald, which (with slight variations for the blog format) follows:
Governors Discuss Presidential Politics at the University of Virginia
Rick Sincere
Special to The Metro Herald

(Charlottesville, April 16) --- Three former governors – one Democrat, one Republican, and one independent – spoke at a forum sponsored by the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville on April 16, addressing the question, “Should we change how we nominate and elect our chief executive?”

Moderated by UVA professor and political pundit Larry Sabato, the forum was attended by more than 450 people, who came to hear former White House chief of staff John Sununu (who earlier was Republican governor of New Hampshire), former Republican Senator Lowell Weicker (who later was an independent governor of Connecticut), and current Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder (who served as Democratic governor of Virginia from 1989 to 1993). Weicker and Wilder were also briefly presidential candidates themselves, in 1980 and 1992, respectively.

To initiate the discussion, Sabato asked the three panelists to predict who will be the Democratic presidential nominee and who will win the general election.

Sununu replied: “Frankly, I don’t care who wins the Democratic nomination, and I think the Democrats are going to be very surprised that this is not a Democratic year, that they have created a sufficient level of chaos that, I think, John McCain will be the next president.”

Speaking as a Democrat, Wilder said, “Barack Obama will be the nominee of the party and I will say that that if he were not the nominee of the party, John McCain would not win anyway.” He admonished, however, that “the malaise that we see spilling over in so many ways, is such that [the general election] is for the Democrats to lose.” Still, he concluded, “the nominating contest is pretty much over. I will not be one to say that it should end now … but I think that Barack Obama will be eventually proclaimed the nominee of the Democratic party.”

To break the tie, Weicker offered a pithy answer: “Barack Obama, Barack Obama.”

With that preliminary question out of the way, Sabato moved into the central question of the evening: Is the presidential nominating process broken and, if so, how can it be fixed?

Governor Sununu gave a lengthy but cohesive response, which focused on his own experience – and admitted bias – as the former New Hampshire chief executive and presidential campaign activist.

“I think people don’t understand that the nominating process,” Sununu said, “the primary process really should demand of our citizens an equal commitment to the election process as the general election.”

New Hampshire, he said, is different from the rest of the country in that it has a 400-member state legislature, and most taxes are imposed (and raised) at the local level, “so that every board of selectman, every school board, is one that can affect your pocketbook.” Moreover, New Hampshire has elections every two years, which means that “every two years, three or four thousand people are elected.” That, in turn, means that “six or eight thousand [people] run – there’s a winner and a loser.” Consequently, he noted, in a state of a million residents “it means that, over a lifetime, virtually you, your spouse, or one of your neighbors has run for office.” Responding to audience chuckles, Sununu emphasized: “That’s not an exaggeration; people tithe their time in the volunteer offices of the community. It is tremendously involving. That’s why people love their politics.”

This level of involvement in local politics affects how New Hampshire voters approach the presidential primary elections. The primary process in that state, Sununu said, “isn’t just … going to cast your vote on election day. It is a commitment by the citizens to be part of the process. They attend the coffees and the events not only of their own candidate but of the opposition, and sometimes they change their minds in the process.”

During the 2008 election, Sununu pointed out proudly, “over 75 percent of the New Hampshire electorate turned out for the primary. That’s commitment.”

In contrast, other states seeking to improve their position in the process by moving their primaries to an earlier date are missing the point of why New Hampshire has become so important in the process.

“I look at other states scrambling to change the date and [saying] ‘oh, we want to be early,” Sununu said. “But you look at the returns that most of them get – 10, 12, 13 percent – they don’t understand that it’s more than just changing the date.”

He added that he is “very partial to New Hampshire, but I suggest to you that if you want to replace New Hampshire, you ought to replace it with at least an equivalent state – someplace in which a candidate can come in without too much money and begin to get some political traction on the national scene, someone who can talk face-to-face with citizens who have serious questions and who will communicate the concerns that they have.” In other words, “replace it with a state where you are going to get a real turnout and you are reflecting the commitment of citizens to the process.”

Sununu did acknowledge that “Iowa has a very similar process. They have the caucus process that takes place earlier. But let me remind you: Iowa picks corn, New Hampshire picks presidents.”

With regard to the rest of the process, Sununu pointed to this year’s elongated Democratic primary season and suggested, with Pennsylvania and other states still to vote and have an impact on the final decision, “maybe it’s good to be last.”

“The point is,” Sununu said, “people have to understand that every component in the process is significant. Sometimes you clean out the chaff early, sometimes you clean out the second layer in the next round of primaries, sometimes you are there for sorting out between the last two.”

In terms of changing things, Sununu ended his response by saying that “the best way to handle it is to modify some of the crazy rules that one of the parties adopted, but don’t make dramatic changes. Let the struggle go on, let the states think that they have expectations of being very influential and change their dates for a while, and they will discover that an orderly process is best for everyone and I think you’ll see people sort down to a calendar that makes some sense. It doesn’t mean it will happen in the next cycle, but I suspect that within one or two cycles, sanity will return to the system.”

Taking his turn to answer the question, Governor Weicker had one succinct point to make. Noting that he had supported the move away from “brokered conventions” toward a more participatory primary process, he questioned the effect of the change.

“What’s been the effect?,” he asked, replying without a pause: “Absolutely obscene quantities of money spent on this process. So I have to question whether this has been a good thing.” He expressed some hope that “ ‘there might be some middle ground between the brokered convention and the primary,” but he was unsure about what form it might take. “Rather than throwing it open as it is now, you have got to do away with the hundreds of millions being spent on the process.” Part of this problem, he said, “is because the time period is so long. I would hope the middle ground can be found [and] that we alter the present system, because money is destroying the process.” (Weicker would return to this theme later in the discussion.)

Wilder began with an anecdote about his own experience as a Democratic presidential candidate. He said that the biggest ovation he ever received at a joint session of the General Assembly was when he began his State of the Commonwealth address by saying he was “no longer a candidate” for his party’s nomination. Throwing up his arms and smiling, he imitated the General Assembly members: “Hurray!”

That brief experience in the field, however, gave him some material to reflect upon. “I learned a great deal by going to Iowa and going to New Hampshire,” he said and, agreeing with Governor Sununu, added: “There has to be a commitment.”

Following up on Sununu’s comments, Wilder said: “I will say this about the people in New Hampshire, as well as Iowa: they are attuned to the issues. You go to those states, you’re going to have to talk to them not one time, not two times, nor seven times. They’re going to say, ‘when are you coming back to see me?’ After six times, ‘when are you coming to my house? When are we going to have coffee? When are we going to have a real sit-down discussion? I want to learn more about you.’” That measure of interest, he said, is “being lost around the country, in terms of that direct relationship with the candidates.”

Agreeing with Governor Weicker, Wilder also decried the influence of money in politics. “The unfortunate thing is,” he said, “when you have these early, front-loaded primaries, the media follows, and once the media follows, the money follows the media. It’s very difficult for a candidate to get any traction at all if the media’s not there.”

As a result, he continued, “It is obscene the amount of money that is being spent. You can’t imagine: running for office today, even at local levels, costs a ton of money … millions and millions of dollars.” In any campaign, he said, “You’ve got to have somebody for everything. You’ve got to have advance people … you’ve got to have position papers, you’ve got to have stylists, you’ve got to have people who tell you what you think and what you say and who you are.”

Wilder added ruefully: “By the time you go to measure it all, you see that politics is now a business, with very little about representing the will of the people, very little about what the [Founders] had in mind when they started to say we’re going to elect the president.” He concluded, therefore, that “something desperately has to change.”

Before this first round of questioning ended, Governor Sununu asked the moderator for a chance to respond to some of what had been said by his fellow panelists.

He noted that he agreed “150 percent with Governor Weicker and Governor Wilder on the impact of money in politics. It is something I don’t think any of us like.”

He added, however, that “having said that, I think all of the recent efforts to try to fix it have only made it worse,” explaining: “It is one of these constitutional rights -- a First Amendment right -- that people try and build all kinds of legal fences around, and [they] don’t realize that whatever they do, under the Constitution, people are going to have the right to do something else with their money and participate in the process.”

Sununu presented an alternative: “I just hope we stop focusing on trying to write laws that deal with the money issue, and create an attitude in America and an understanding in America about what really ought to be heard from candidates and trying to make our decisions independent of that.”

He concluded: “I know it is almost impossible for that wish to come true, but I can tell you this: It is more impossible for the wish that a piece of legislation will change the participation of money in politics. That is real,” he said, and “if we spend all our time looking at that we’re not going to be looking at other things that could make an impact on the quality of the electoral process.”

Governor Weicker then clarified his stance on how best to change the role of money in politics. He explained that he had recently joined the American Civil Liberties Union in challenging a Connecticut law that provides public campaign financing for candidates running for the state legislature in that state.

He joined the challenge because of the adverse impact on third-party and independent candidates under the new law. Weicker explained:

“The new law creates public financing, which goes very liberally to either the Republican or the Democratic candidate. If you happen to be an independent, you have to jump through all sorts of hoops to get any of that public financing. You’ve got to get an enormous amount of signatures, somewhere around one hundred to two hundred thousand signatures to even be eligible.”

Continuing, Weicker said, “before you start writing any laws as to how to fix politics in the United States, if we would allow competition in politics as we insist on having in our economics, believe me, you’ll clean up a lot of the mess. But right now you’ve got a duopoly between the Republicans and Democrats, and the independents are being excluded.”

In his own state, Weicker concluded, the legislature responded to people’s desire for campaign finance reform with a law that “was tilted in one direction, to legislate Republicans and Democrats into permanency.”

This thoughtful set of responses to Professor Sabato’s first substantive question lasted only about 15 minutes, with another hour to go in the discussion. Other questions addressed whether regional primaries would be an improvement over the current system; whether primaries are superior to caucuses; whether the parties – especially the Democrats – should continue or eliminate the “Superdelegates”; the role of the Electoral College and whether it is still relevant today; plus there were a variety of questions posed by members of the audience, including several high school and college students in attendance.

Those interested in seeing the entire panel discussion featuring John Sununu, Lowell, Weicker, and Doug Wilder can view it below.


Part I:



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Part X:



UVA Today, an internal publication of the University, also has a report on this Center for Politics event.