Sense from Seattle

Common sense thoughts on life and current affairs by a Seattle area sexagenarian, drawing on personal experience, years of learning as a counselor to thousands of families and an innate passion for informed knowledge, to uniquely express sensible, thoughtful, honest and independent views.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

More Presidential History

Chris provided a link to an excellent article on the worst Presidents in US history, with George W. Bush a definite candidate to make the list, possibly as the all time loser. Reading the article rekindled my interest in where our Presidents come from and what elective history they have.

For the last 30 years, starting with Jimmy Carter and excepting Bush the First, the Presidents have come from Governorships. The current Bush and Ronald Reagan never held any public office except Governor and President. Before their election as Governor, Carter had been a State Senator and Bill Clinton a State Attorney General. Reagan was 4 for 4 in elections, twice winning both Governor and President. The current Bush has the same record, but he also lost a race for the House in 1978, leaving him 4 for 5, with an asterisk for the 2000 election when his brother put him on steroids in Florida. Losing the Presidency in 1980 made Carter 3 for 4 in elections. Clinton ran for office 10 times, losing only his 1980 run for governor, leaving him at 9 for 10. Bush the First was a mediocre 5 for 8, winning election to the House and VP twice each and the Presidency once, but losing the Senate twice and the Presidency once - he was not a natural campaigner.

The four Presidents from 1960-1980 were all electoral winners. JFK and LBJ both went the same route, House to Senate to President, with LBJ making an additional stop as VP, and neither man was ever defeated in an election, Johnson winning 10 and Kennedy 7. Nixon followed the same course as LBJ, being VP twice. He had 2 losses in 9 elections, losing the Presidency in 1960 and then the California Governor's race two years later, after which he famously, and incorrectly, told the media they would not "have Nixon to kick around any more". Like Reagan, Nixon sat out of office a few years before being elected Presidentin 1968. Gerald Ford was an aberration, the only man to become President without ever having been elected either President or Vice President. Ford’s loss of the 1976 Presidential election was his only defeat after 12 wins to the House. No person has ever gone from the House to the Presidency, but Ford came close. After his short appointment from the House to VP when Agnew resigned in disgrace, Ford became President when Nixon resigned in disgrace. The Nixon-Agnew ticket holds an unbeatable record for resignations in disgrace.

Ford and LBJ are two of the 9 Presidents who rose from VP to President without election, 8 by death of the President and Ford by resignation. The record of these 9 men on seeking re-election is mixed: LBJ, Harry Truman, Calvin Coolidge and Teddy Roosevelt all won re-election; Millard Fillmore and Teddy Roosevelt ran unsuccessfully as third party candidates after several years out of office; Chester Arthur, Andrew Johnson, Fillmore and John Tyler could not secure the re-nomination by their party; Ford was the only one to go down in re-election defeat. A few years after narrowly defeating impeachment, Andrew Johnson was elected to the US Senate. Chester Arthur also has the distinction, along with William Harrison , of being the only Presidents who ran in just one election in their life, Arthur being elected VP in 1880 and Harrison President in 1840. Harrison died after one month in office.

The 2-0 record of Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s marks the last time a war hero General was elected President. Ulysses Grant was 2-0 after the War of the Rebellion [aka Civil War]. “One month” Harrison was a General, as was Andrew Jackson, who was 2 for 3 in Presidential elections, and “pater noster” George Washington led off with a 2-0 record. Colin Powell might have had a chance to resume this tradition in 2000, and to set a new one as the first African-American President, but I suspect we may never see another General President and it will be along time before we see an African-American one. Nevertheless, Generalship may be the most likely route for an African-American to the Presidency.

Going back before the 1950s, we have Truman following the Senate to VP course and Franklin Roosevelt the Governorship route. Then we come to a unique President, Herbert Hoover. Hoover, whose only runs for office were his two tries for the Presidency, is the only person, other than a General, to be elected President without any prior electoral history. Though he had an excellent record of achievement before being elected, he was a failure as President, and I doubt any President in the future will be elected without having held prior elective office.

Three other early 20th Century Presidents, Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt and William McKinley, came to the Presidency via Governorships. Harding was the only other President of that era who came through the Senate. William Taft, hand picked as his successor by Teddy Roosevelt in 1908, was the only President whose prior electoral experience was limited to election to the local judiciary. He lost his Presidential re-election bid, making him 1-1 if we exclude his local judicial victory, but he later became Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, making him the only person in history to hold those two high offices.

Benjamin Harrison also lost half his elections, as Governor and President, while winning the senate and the Presidency each once. Grover Cleveland went from Governor to President but was 2-1 in Precedential elections, losing the middle one. James Garfield took the House to Senate to Presidency route, amassing an 11-0 record, only to end up assassinated. Rutherford Hayes went from House to Governor to President.

Abe Lincoln was 7-2 in elections and only won one Federal election, to the House in 1846, before being elected President in 1860. He lost his one bid for the Senate, his last election contest before running for President. But his performance in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates in that Senatorial contest brought him national prominence and positioned him to win the next Presidential nomination for the fledgling Republican Party.

The 10th President, James Polk, was the first person to reach the Presidency from a governorship. Others before him took the Senatorial route after it became apparent that a Senate seat held more prestige than one in the House. Initially the House was thought more prestigious, and two Presidents, James Madison and John Quincy Adams went to the Presidency from the position of Secretary of State, after service in the House. Adams had prior Senate service but then served in the House, where the power was at that time, both before and after his Presidency.

Our second President, John Adams, may actually have the worst electoral record of all the Presidents, if you consider the fact that in those days the elected VP was the number two finisher in the Presidential race. Adams was elected President only 1 time in 4 tries.

The most likely course to the Presidency today is through a Governorship. A Senate seat may secure a nomination, but not likely an election win. An extremely popular General could have a remote chance, but a House member, Judge or person never elected to office has no chance.

Listing the Presidents by their electoral record shows election victories are not necessarily indicators of enduring respect, nor are defeats measures of lasting shame.

Presidents who never lost an election for office:
Reagan (4-0)
Lyndon Johnson (10-0)
Kennedy (7-0)
Eisenhower (2-0)
Truman (4-0)
Coolidge (6-0)
Wilson (3-0)
Arthur (1-0)
Garfield (11-0)
Andrew Johnson (12-0)
Buchanan (4-0)
Pierce (5-0)
Polk (10-0)
Tyler (6-0)
William Harrison (1-0)
Monroe (6-0)
Madison (6-0)
Washington (2-0)

Presidents with one electoral defeat:
GW Bush (4-1)
Clinton (9-1)
Carter (3-1)
Ford (12-1)
FD Roosevelt (7-1)
Hoover (1-1)
Harding (4-1)
Taft (2-1)
McKinley (6-1)
Cleveland (5-1)
Hayes (5-1)
Jackson (2-1)
JQ Adams (10-1)

Presidents with more than one electoral defeat:
GHW Bush (5-3)
Nixon (7-2)
T Roosevelt (4-2)
B Harrison (2-2)
Lincoln (7-2)
Fillmore (3-2)
Van Buren (5-2)
J Adams (1-3)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Fearing China

During my school years and on into my adulthood, we were told China was to be feared as a communist power intent on taking over the world. First the fear was that Chinese soldiers would pour out of China in numbers too overwhelming to comprehend. Our nuclear weapons seemed the only way to compensate for their superior troop numbers. Then they got nuclear weapons.

Korea never became the Chinese gateway to the world. The Vietnamese had no intention of allowing China to pass through their country. Himalayan nations to the north of China were stomped, but that gateway only led to the USSR, which was fine with us.

Then during the Nixon years, tensions were eased by, of all things, ping pong. An international match was arranged in China, and the US ping pong players opened our gateway to Communist China.

As China has developed into an oddball hybrid of the marketplace and communism, American fears about China have turned from military to economic. As our government continues under the control of the corporate management mentality, China is seen as a competitor for profits and as a competitor for diminishing oil stocks. Our liberals and progressives see China as undermining our labor standards, violating human rights of its political dissenters and oppressing its northern neighbors.

As GW Bush reads the eyes of Chinese President Hu, most Americans will now discount his opinion of what he sees, remembering his misread of Pootie Poot’s Russian eyes. There is much worthwhile to negotiate with China. Too bad the Bush administration is fronting for America, but hopefully that will soon be changing, for the better.

President Hu is visiting this country for four days. He is spending the first two in my neighborhood, checking in on Starbuck’s, Boeing and Microsoft, and dining at the home of Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, who lives just up the Lake from me. Alright, he lives on the lakeshore and I live 10 minutes from the lakeshore, but I could be there for dinner in 20 minutes. Wouldn’t that dinner conversation be something, between the richest man in the world and the leader of the most populous communist nation? What do you suppose they will discuss?

I expect Bill will prompt jet lag to kick in as he begins to tell about his vision of all the wonders the future holds in integrated, diverse nano-technology for a Microsoft enabled global hegemony. What if I was there? What would I have to say? What if you were invited; what would you say or ask?

I would like to ask Bill a question, but I wonder if he would be capable of honestly considering it. The question is, “How do you think the world in general, and the world of computers in particular, would be different today if you had never been born?"

But I would rather spend my face time with Hu. Bill has had more than enough chance to expound through the years, but Hu is virtually unknown to me. I would be interested in hearing his analysis of the current situation, in China and worldwide, and his vision of a realistically achievable better world. A NY Times article [registration required] said Hu confided recently that four problems are consuming all his time and energy: political corruption; unrest among displaced farmers; a widening wealth gap; and severe pollution. Sounds like a forthright list to me, and one with which Americans should identify. I would tell Hu he might as well discuss these problems with me, because when he meets with George Bush, he will quickly learn Bush does not comprehend the existence and significance of such problems.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

What’s the Problem?

Do you agree with the statement that life is a problem, or does that sound like blaming life for personal failures? A frequent tactic in quarrels is to blame the other person, “YOU”RE the problem!” In our public discourse, there is an implication that problems are bad, but the reality is that problems are neither bad nor good - they just are.

The word “problem” comes from the Greek and means to “put forward”, as to propose a question. “Question” comes from the Latin and means a seeking or quest. Questions have “answers”, a word which comes from the Swedish and means to swear or affirm. Problems have “solutions”, which comes from the Latin for loosen, as to free up that which was put forward. We are dealing here with a rather diverse etymology, showing us the universality of people choosing a quest for the affirming freedom that comes from problem solving.

Politicians should be problem solvers, but dishonest politicians sometimes use problems for political gain, being more interested in casting blame for the existence of the problem on their political opponent than in seeking a solution. These deceivers frequently use the practice of “framing”, to distort a legitimate problem into sounding like a different one which they can use to better political advantage. Sometimes they even invent a problem when one does not actually exist, in order to blame the fictitious problem on their opponents. This tactic also serves to divert attention from legitimate problems that their opponents sincerely are interested in solving but that the deceivers don’t want solved. The current masters of these forms of deception are overwhelmingly members of the Republican Party.

Even if all politicians were sincerely interested in solving the legitimate problems we face, they would have to overcome the legacy of deception. The real issues would have to be separated from the bogus, false frames replaced with truer ones and the larger systemic problems recognized and addressed. If the politicians won’t do this, we can do it ourselves. Here are some of what I see as honestly framed systemic problems facing America [and some of their current surface manifestations], with links to a progressively oriented web site for each issue.

• What is the proper degree of constitutional restraint on the interjection of religious views into governmental activity? [Gay marriage, abortion, creationism].

• What is the proper definition of and balance between civil liberties and national security and how might it vary depending on legitimately perceived security threats? [Patriot Act, domestic spying, prisoner torture, deceptive leaks to the media].

• How do we complete the task of integrating African Americans fully into American life and healing our racial wounds? [Black disenfranchisement and disproportionate poverty, Katrina non-response and New Orleans neglect].

• What is the proper balance between environmental protection and business economic protection? [Global warming, fuel consumption, pollution and ecological concerns].

• How important is it that we have effective access to diverse and independent media? [Concentration of media ownership, control of the Internet and Public Broadcasting].

• What is the proper process and the best criteria for selecting Federal Judges? [Independent judiciary and judicial confirmations].

• What should the long range immigration policy be for America? [Border security, undocumented aliens, criteria for immigrant selection].

• How should we balance the interests of labor and management? [Labor protection laws, corporate rights and responsibilities, taxation].

• What should our long term role and goals be in international relations? [UN, globalization, humanitarian efforts, nation building, forceful intervention].

Our right and responsibility as citizens is to inform ourselves about the problems and questions America faces and to consider the solutions and answers. While fighting through the political flak and disassembling the phoney framing, we should always keep in mind the fundamental underlying problems. In evaluating candidates for office, we should look for those who have a long range vision similar to ours regarding the problems America faces and the solutions we believe are best for our country.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Prayer and Politics

Another study of the effect of prayer on medical recovery was released last week. Some people question whether prayer can be studied scientifically, because it involves the supernatural. But prayer also involves natural processes of mind-body connection. This recent study looked at whether patients recovered better from surgery if they were being prayed for by other people and whether it made a difference if the patients knew for sure others were praying for them. The study did not show the prayers had any beneficial effect on recovery.

Other studies have shown that people pray mostly for themselves, and less often for others. Religious experience is very personal but also has communal aspects. Those who believe in a soul or continuing spirit usually believe in individual responsibility for what happens to that soul or spirit after death. Many people offer prayers of intercession for other souls and spirits, typically for relatives or others with whom they identify or for whom they feel affinity.

I have lots of personal experience with prayer. Thirteen years of Catholic education exposed me to a vast arsenal of prayers, including many in Latin. Memorization was definitely required, even if understanding lagged. I prayed for my personal safety and freedom from hurt and sometimes tried to make prayer deals with the deity. Sometimes we prayed for the poor souls in purgatory or the poor “pagan babies” overseas. My most heartfelt prayers were offered after going to confession and then to the altar rail to say the assigned number of Hail Marys and Our Fathers. There I would linger and reflect on what I had done wrong and who I had hurt and how I had hurt Jesus, and I would let Him know how bad I felt about doing wrong and how honestly I intended to try to do better.

In my late twenties, no longer a practicing Catholic, while traveling in Europe I made a visit to Lourdes. The Lourdes Grotto was familiar to me because the Church of my youth, Immaculate Conception, had a side altar that was a Lourdes replica, including photographs of the hanging crutches left behind by those cured at Lourdes. I visited the museum at Lourdes, which included documentary evidence of the cures, but the cynical lawyer side of me was not impressed. What did impress me was a nurse from Ireland who told me that she spent her annual vacations helping with the “malades”at Lourdes because it inspired her. Her inspiration came not from anyone being cured, but from the change she observed in the patients who came to Lourdes solely focused on being cured, but who then began to know and be concerned about other patients and then they started praying for the cure of the others. The miracle of Lourdes to this nurse was that by transforming their prayers to concern for others, her patients were making life better for themselves.

The Catholic mass now includes community prayers for specific members of the Church community and for needs of the broader community. But sometimes the community is not broad enough. I remember going to a prayer service just before the start of the Gulf War and hearing prayers for our troops and their families, but no prayers for the Iraqi troops and their families or even for the Iraqi people. When I used to say bedtime prayers with my children I encouraged us to end our list of prayer beneficiaries with the all-encompassing “and everyone everywhere”.

As a former attorney, I also have about forty years of professional prayer experience. Lawyers end legal pleadings with a “prayer for relief”, which literally says the petitioner “prays for” a list of desires, all for the benefit of the petitioner and usually at the expense of the other party. Petitions by guardians and trustees might be considered as prayers of intercession on behalf of others, but most legal prayers would not be inspiring to the Irish nurse at Lourdes.

There is a politics of prayer. Republicans, Conservatives and Libertarians pray for themselves and for anyone else similarly situated. They seek relief from whatever they find personally oppressive, most notably payment of taxes and submission to governmental regulation. Democrats and Progressives pray for intercession on behalf of the less fortunate. They seek help to lift the downtrodden, through the use of taxes and governmental regulation as needed. Since praying for others makes the person praying healthier and happier, Democrats should be better off in that regard. Democrats can even pray for Republicans - that they will see the error of their way and be converted.