06/19/2009 - 7:00 a.m. CDT -- by Mark Shields
All things being equal (which, as we all know, they never are), President Obama would rather, we are told, that the U.S. Senate pass 85 percent of his proposed health care reform with the backing of 70 senators than pass 100 percent of his plan with just 51 or 52 votes.
In preferring that major health care reform win Senate support of a super-majority, Obama echoes Thomas Jefferson, who wrote, "Great innovation should not be forced on slender majorities." It is an old legislative maxim that the more legislators, from both parties, there are who support a controversial policy change, the more people there are who have a stake in that public policy being successfully accepted by the voters at large.
The historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 -- which guaranteed the right, previously denied African-Americans in many states, to use restaurants, theaters, hotels, motels, parks and public places -- was passed by the U.S. Senate on June 10 after senators had debated, since March, ...
06/11/2009 - 11:00 p.m. CDT -- by Mark Shields
Over more than half a century of superb work, David Broder has earned the title of dean of American political reporters. So I pay attention when David Broder writes, as he did, on the eve of the last presidential campaign:
"In the years since I first met him in 1974, I have learned to take Newt Gingrich seriously. He has many character flaws, and his language is often exaggerated and imprudent. But if there is any politician of the current generation who has earned the label 'visionary,' it is probably the Georgia Republican and former speaker of the House."
To me, Newt Gingrich has instead always been the living, breathing example of what the great novelist Walker Percy warned against:
"Do not be the kind of person who gets all A's and flunks ordinary living." If Heraclitus was right that "character is destiny," then the presidential plans of Newt Gingrich -- brimming with bold, new ideas about harnessing medical technology and dinosaurs and space colonies (hon...
06/05/2009 - 5:08 p.m. CDT -- by Mark Shields
Whenever you get fed up listening to some gasbag run on and on about how everybody in Congress is a faker or a hypocrite or both, tell the gasbag to call me so I can introduce him to Rep. Walter Jones, the North Carolina Republican now serving his eighth term.
"These are the very best America produces" ... "the quiet heroes whose priceless sacrifices we treasure" ... and how "we stand in awe of their patriotism," etc., etc., etc.
The big problem is that, with rare exception, senators and congressmen do not know personally anybody in the enlisted ranks of the U.S. military. Sure, they have visited them here and overseas and, no doubt, been sincerely impressed by the commitment and the professionalism of the men and women in uniform.
But you have to understan...
05/14/2009 - 11:00 p.m. CDT -- by Mark Shields
In 1988, when then-Republican Vice President George H.W. Bush defeated Massachusetts Democratic Gov. Michael Dukakis to win the White House, voters under the age of 30 were Bush's strongest voting cohort in the electorate. Bush that year was the beneficiary of Ronald Reagan's eight years, during which the Gipper appealed to and enlisted the nation's youngest voters into the GOP.
Now listen as Pew Research's respected Andrew Kohut compares those results from 20 years ago to those of November 2008.
If Ronald Reagan succeeded, and he did, in making young voters the most reliably Republican age group at the polls, then George W. Bush drove young vot...
05/07/2009 - 11:00 p.m. CDT -- by Mark Shields
In my line of work you hear a lot of politicians -- many whose private conduct fails to match their public posturing -- declaim about their unyielding commitment to "family values." Then you cover Jack Kemp.
Don't get me wrong. I am not here to canonize Jack Kemp. I am sure he, like all of us, was imperfect. But as one who has been convinced over a lifetime of campaigns that a politician's personal integrity counts for a lot more than his public ideology, I want to tell you a story about Jack Kemp, the former Republican congressman, cabinet officer and vice presidential nominee, who died too soon last week at age 73.
Here it is. In his campaign for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination, undoubtedly his best chance to win the White House, Jack paid more than lip service to family values. Much to the frequent consternation of his campaign staff, he was more devoted parent than determined candidate.
On all but two fall weekends before the crucial Iowa and New Ha...
04/24/2009 - 3:56 p.m. CDT -- by Mark Shields
In the blizzard of words and polls analyzing President Obama's "First 100 Days" in office, one number in the latest USA Today-Gallup poll caught my attention.
When asked what was "the best thing" the new president had done, the No. 1 answer given was improving the United States' image in the world.
It is true. The November election of Obama, an African-American without family fortune or connections, reaffirmed convincingly both the openness and the political equality of American democracy.
Like most human beings, Americans would rather be liked than disliked, and over the last eight years a lot more people around the globe have disliked, rather than liked, the United States, its attitude and its policies. Probably nothing has made others think less and Americans feel worse about the United States than the evidence that the U.S. government had authorized "cruel, inhumane and degrading" treatment of captured enemy combatants in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and elsewhere...
04/11/2009 - 8:47 a.m. CDT -- by Mark Shields
More members of Congress today, by a large margin, have more college and graduate degrees than members did 20 years ago. The current members are generally more media savvy and more socially polished than their often rough-edged predecessors. But what they lack -- and what the earlier guys had a lot more of -- is backbone.
You want proof? Let's begin with the assault rifle, the one modeled after the military weapon and built to fire hundreds of rounds of ammunition in a matter of seconds. This assault weapon was the firearm of choice in mass murders just in the last month of four police officers in Oakland, three Pittsburgh police officers, 13 civilians in Binghamton, N.Y., and 10 more in Alabama.
What is the response from official Washington? Solemn expressions of concern and promises of prayers for the families and the communities drowned out by the National Rifle Association's mantra that "guns don't kill people" -- peanuts do.
Washington and the leadership of...
04/04/2009 - 7:01 a.m. CDT -- by Mark Shields
Alan Ginsburg, a historian friend of mine, pointed out that it's been some time now since we have heard one of the most previously oft-repeated Republican applause lines -- the candidate's or officeholder's solemn pledge "to run government like a business."
The reasons are obvious why this cliche has disappeared. The villains in American politics have in a single generation gone from "welfare queens in designer jeans" to "corporate welfare kings in chauffered limos," from the public spotlight on "the deserving poor" to public outrage against "the undeserving rich."
You won't hear many GOP politicians today quoting Republican presidents who urged, "Less government in business and more business in government" (Warren Harding), or asserted that "the business of America is business" (Calvin Coolidge).
The inconsistencies of the business world and its partisan apologists have been monumental. When profits were sky-high, corporate chiefs and the office-seekers whom th...
03/27/2009 - 9:30 a.m. CDT -- by Mark Shields
I like to believe that identifying with and backing the underdog, any underdog, is deep in our American DNA. You will almost always find us on the side of the night-school student competing against the heir to a family fortune. We cheer for the girl who was told she wasn't good enough, or strong enough, or, worse, pretty enough. You will find Americans rooting for the every fearless David against any fearsome Goliath.
By this standard, Jim Bellows, who died this month at 86, was the classic American. A runt of a kid who became a World War II Navy aviator before graduating from Kenyon College, Bellows went to work for the Columbus (Georgia) Ledger in 1947. Over the next 34 years, Jim Bellows made the newspapers he worked for better and an unforgettable impression on every journalist whose work he edited.
Don't take my word for it. Here is what one of the 20th century's very best political reporters, Jack W. Germond, wrote: "The best years I ever had in the newspaper bus...
03/06/2009 - 7:52 p.m. CDT -- by Mark Shields
The crew of the Jan. 15 US Airways Flight 1549 -- Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger III, first officer Jeffrey Skiles, and flight attendants Doreen Walsh, Sheila Dail and Donna Dent -- deserve all the public praise they have received, and more, for their incredibly cool and heroically courageous leadership and actions in saving all 155 lives on board while "landing" their Airbus 320 on New York's Hudson River.
But as Sullenberger nobly and accurately emphasizes: There were countless other heroes that cold January day in addition to the admirable US Airways quintet. To listen to the three-and-a-half minutes of tapes released by the Federal Aviation Administration is to hear, for the first time, the composed know-how of Patrick Harten, a 10-year veteran air traffic controller. Under unimaginable pressure, Sullenberger, Harten and a number of other air traffic controllers (whose names I do not know) comprise the very definition of professionalism.
Even before the aircraf...