Friday, April 22, 2011

Dinner With Friends

For the second time in my life I had dinner with a congressman. The first was in 2007 when Rep. Jay Inslee(D-WA-1) campaigned for Hillary Clinton during the Iowa Caucuses. Tonight I, and about 20 others, had dinner with Rep. Leonard Boswell(D-IA-3). Thanks to reapportionment, Rep. Boswell's 3rd district will now include Red Oak. To represent Red Oak and the rest of the 3rd district, Boswell will have to win a competitive race with Rep. Tom Latham(R-IA-4). The new 3rd district will run roughly from Des Moines south to the Missouri line, and from Des Moines west to the Nebraska line. Boswell is using these past few days to meet party activists in the southwest Iowa counties that he has never represented.

The big topic was the budget and what to do about the deficit. Boswell, as did every other Democrat, voted against the Republican budget plan that passed the house last week. As a fiscally conservative "Blue Dog," Boswell believes that the deficit issue must be addressed soon. However, he said that he did not want to do so at the expense of traditional Democratic social programs. What was interesting was that Boswell said one of his favored means of reducing the deficit was to begin pulling out of Afghanistan. If even a moderate Democrat like Boswell is entertaining the idea of leaving Afghanistan then there is chance that the war might soon draw to a close.

The rest of the evening passed with a question and answer period covering the basic issues. Boswell appeared fully supportive of alternative fuels and especially the algae fuel plant in Shenandoah. Former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack's campaign in Iowa's 4th district against Republican Steve King was a topic that arnared everyone's attention. Boswell all but confirmed Vilsac's plan and said that she just bought a house in Ames so that she can live in the district. A good turnout, and the graciousness of Rep. and Mrs. Boswell, made this one of the more encouraging evening to be a Democrat in southwest Iowa. The Backbencher is fully supportive of Rep. Boswell and the push for this part of Iowa to finally be represented by a Democrat.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

I Read that Book

Ron Chernow's biography of George Washington won this year's Pulitzer Prize for biography. I read Chernow's book and I throughly enjoyed it. There was much about Washington that I did not know, and for filling in a lot of details that I and I suspect many others did not know, Chernow provides a valuable service. However, I thought David and Jeanne Heidler's biography of Henry Clay was the better book.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

And They're Already So Good at Doing This

I don't get the obsession of many in Congress to address the deficit and ignore the economic collapse and high unemployment. However, if they were truly concerned about the deficit, and not using it as a pretext for policies that favor the well off at the expense of the middle and working classes, then the best thing Washington could do is absolutely nothing.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

On Deals; Budget and Otherwise

There was a certain inevitability of the President and Senate leadership accepting a deal that cuts nearly 40 billion from the budget. Once the President made the inane comparison between the federal budget and a family budget the die was cast, but it didn't have to be this way. If Obama wanted to he could have made the argument that we don't have a deficit problem because we just extended tax cuts that are skewed towards the richest and most well off in our society and we are not going to cut programs that serve the most in need. However, making that argument would not have allowed the President to appear as the grown-up dealmaker that he wants to be. Sure the Republicans got much more in cuts then they initially offered but at last the Obama image and brand were protected.

Oh, the "compromise" that bans the District of Columbia from using local funds on abortions for poor women is still more proof that the deal that is too odious for Democratic leaders to make has not yet been found.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Book Review

I spent a good part of the past three months immersed in the world of colonial and antebellum America. Christmas brought me Ron Chernow's biography of George Washington, David and Jeanne Heidler's biography of Henry Clay, and Joseph Ellis' Founding Brothers. All three were good reads and I would recommend any and all of them.

It is easy to lose sight of the fact that these historical figures were real people reacting to real events and while we know how the events worked out, the people involved didn't. These historical figured were capable great good, and tolerating and even advocating for serious wrongs.

The real strength of all three books is they place the lives and actions of these historical figures into a context. Everything they did or said was in response to certain realities. All 3 books put these historical figures back into the time in which the operated and it is much easier to see why they acted the why they did.

Certain historical realities dominate all three books and should influence how we look at the formative decades of American history. One is that there was no consensus on what the Constitution said and meant. Compromise and ambiguity were needed to write and ratify the constitution. and not everybody agreed with it. Somehow the constitution won the strong support of Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, James Madison, George Washington, and the reluctant support of Thomas Jefferson. Any document that can do that is by necessity full of vagueness and open to multiple interpretations. Even Hamilton and Madison, who helped pen the Federalist Papers, eventually split over the policies of the Washington administration.

It is also important to remember that slavery was always an issue and the spirit that guided the early days of the republic was to keep all discussion of slavery and abolition off the table. However, every issue was always understood in the light of slavery. This created a dynamic where discussion of the issue was viewed as a threat and as a result the U.S. twisted itself into knots over the one issue that dominated all others. The same contradiction, of course, applies to the personal views that individual founders had on slavery.

It is easy to view the founders as caricatures as noble patriots. Instead they were real people who lived in a specific time and place. All three books do a marvelous job of recapturing the the people, time, and place of the founding decades of the U.S.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Where do Backbenchers Come From?

The Backbencher has been quiet in the past few months. Among the many reason is that I am going to be a new father in about month and much of my life has centered around getting ready. Anyway, while the focus of the blog may change a little I hope to get back to some more blogging.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Backbencher of the Week

For the last Backbencher of the Week of 2010, we choose to recognize a Congressman who is soon to leave the House. Rep. Patrick Murphy(D-PA-8) lost his seat in last month's election but he has saved his best work for the lame duck session.

Murphy was the first Iraq War veteran to serve in Congress and he made the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell a top priority. Earlier this week , Congressman Murphy introduced the bill that repealed Don't Ask Don't Tell. The bill passed the House on Wednesday and yesterday the Senate voted to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell. President Obama will sign the repeal into law this week.

Even though they are too high profile to qualify as backbenchers, we recognize the work of Senate majority leader Harry Reid(D-NV) and Sen. Joe Lieberman(I-CN) who shepherded the bill through the Senate.

For serving the cause of justice to the very end of his term, we are proud to award this week's Backbencher of the Week to Rep. Patrick Murphy.