Sunday, November 21, 2010

I Despair but Hope that America Is Able To Renew and Reinvent Herself

I still love politics but I’m growing frustrated at what I see. Last night I posted a brief comment on Facebook that the Obama administration increasingly brings to my mind the name of the original Saturday Night Live cast, the Not Ready for Prime-Time Players, and that Sarah Palin reminds me of Senator Hruska's comment about Supreme Court nominee Carlswell that there are mediocre judges, people and lawyers and that they deserve some representation as well.

I've become bored with the utterances of our political leaders and completely turned off by the self-righteousness and sanctimoniousness of cable news’ talking heads. While I, because of my background as a political scientist, appreciate more than most that politics in a democracy requires compromise, I am frustrated by the incredible gridlock that has become a constant feature of our polity.

I am also frustrated by what I consider the myopia of many American voters. How voters, particularly independents not emotionally attached to a particular party, could conclude that the nation will be better off by returning Republicans to power is truly beyond my comprehension. I understand that exit polling suggests that voters were mainly expressing frustration with the economy and voting against the incumbents, rather than embracing Republican Party principles or candidates. Nonetheless, voters should have been able to discern what has been going on since the economy tanked under President Bush and who is more likely to lead the country back to prosperity or at least an improved economy.

The Republicans proved completely obstructionist during the last Congress and, despite their claims that they offered alternative policies, I don't recall any that had detail and substance. When they are asked point blank to specifically identify government programs that they will cut in order to fulfill the promises they continue to make, they duck and cover. In fact, it was Obama who stuck his neck out (in a way I do not entirely support given my own age) by implementing curbs in Medicare in the healthcare reform law he sought. As I understand it, the law eliminates Medicare Advantage and, over time, makes other substantial cuts in Medicare coverage. The Republicans, never fans of Social Security or Medicare, hypocritically sought to present themselves as the saviors of those programs while calling for enormous budget cuts and privatization of some of these safety net programs.

But I'm not enamored of President Obama. His professorial style is simply not appealing. Indeed it is off-putting. Is he only capable of communicating fluidly and with emotion when he has a prepared text and a teleprompter in front of him? It appears so. He doesn’t seem capable of connecting with people on an emotional level and a president needs to do so to mobilize support and move a nation. Obama truly is at risk of being a one term president. If the economy noticeably picks up in the next year and a half he may be spared that fate but who can tell. If the economy remains incredibly sluggish with high unemployment and gridlock in Washington, he may well lose.

Yet, who would be a viable Republican presidential candidate? That's scary. Barbour of Mississippi? I sure hope not. What a catastrophe. Pawlenty? A waffler.. Romney? A flipflopper of the worst kind. Gingrich? A joke and at this point a threat to democracy. Palin? More than a joke, a disaster. Huckabee? Not my cup of tea but he seems more level headed than most if not all of the other would be Republican candidates..

I frankly applaud the President, and the Congress, for their legislative accomplishments. The stimulus; healthcare reform; banking reform; student loan reform; credit card reform. These were major achievements despite critics’ attacks. But Obama, Pelosi and the others took their eyes off the ball. Carville’s “it’s the economy, stupid” is sage political advice for all time. I understand that Obama may have reasoned that his best and perhaps only chance of passing significant healthcare reform to bring 30 million uninsured Americans in from the cold was soon after his election and the election of strong Democratic majorities in both Houses. But when expectations of a quick economic recovery proved wrong and unemployment continued to rise, Obama and the Democrats should have returned their attention and their message to the economy and made that the central focus of their activities. It isn’t clear that anything the Democrats could have done, particularly in the face of consistent Republican opposition, would have measurably improved the pace of an economic recovery, but focusing more on that problem, showing greater emotion and empathy toward Americans’ plight, and considering alternative economic measures would have been the wise and prudent course.

Obama might even have been able to do so without abandoning healthcare reform had he stepped forward and taken the lead in explaining the proposed healthcare legislation to the American people. Instead, as he had done with the stimulus bill, he remained relatively aloof and let the Congress fight over the contours of the bill and that was a disaster. Tentative efforts by Democrats to explain the healthcare reform bill and other initiatives to the people last summer in town hall meetings proved inept when Tea Party adherents and others were able to shout down the Democrats and turn the meetings against the Democrats. It was a complete disaster and much of the blame is attributable to the President. I further blame the President for not focusing more clearly on his legislative record during the November campaign. It again appeared that the President and his aides lacked focus and failed to refine a message that could communicate the Democrats’ accomplishments with clarity and conviction to the voters.

Having said all that, the political party in control of the White House almost invariably loses seats in the Congress in off year elections. And with an ailing economy voters are even more likely to vote against the incumbent party. In this instance, the Democrats were the controlling incumbents in both Houses of Congress and the White House. This time the loss was huge, however, and will make it extremely hard for the President and Democrats to accomplish much legislatively before the 2012 elections.

I no longer watch the Sunday morning political interview programs – Meet the Press, This Week or Fox News Sunday. I find myself alienated from most cable news. I despair that America is slipping in its stature, as Asia awakens in this 21st century. We must indeed reinvent ourselves, not by returning to the practices of the early 20th century when America emerged as an industrial power but at a considerable price in terms of monopolies, sweatshops and other exploitations of labor, exclusionary immigration policies, and rampant racism, but by reasserting our inventiveness, creativity, market economy, commitment to higher education, balanced with fair social and economic policies designed to foster personal responsibility, individual freedom, a living wage, healthcare for all, and equal justice and opportunity for all Americans, not just a privileged few. It isn't clear we will succeed. It definitely requires belt tightening but also a willingness by all sides to find common ground.

I recognize that my Republican and conservative friends will claim that the Democrats are the party out of the mainstream, taxing and spending the Republic into bankruptcy, and pursuing a socialist tinged program. But I respectfully disagree. We are not a country of small farmers living long distances from one another or even a country of small towns and villages. We are a fully integrated society economically, and even increasingly integrated in a global economy. While I respect the role of the states in our federal system and the benefits of experimenting with new ideas in individual states, we will not thrive if we deny the need for consistent national policies in areas that once were the province of states, be that education, safety net practices, healthcare or other issues.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Thank you, Liu Xiaobo

Thank God, but above all, thank the men and women who have the guts (i.e., the courage, nerve, fortitude, moxie, audacity) to risk their lives, freedoms, and liberties to pursue and fight for fundamental principles of liberty, justice, equality, freedom and other profound truths and values by standing up to governments, organizations and other individuals who by power, repression and force deny some or all of these fundamental truths, values and rights to individuals or groups deserving of and entitled to them.

The latest hero is Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese writer, literary critic and intellectual, who stepped forward as a political activist in pursuit of greater political and individual freedom in China after the Tiananmen Square demonstrations and military crackdown in 1989 and has put his own freedom and enjoyment of life’s simple pleasures at risk ever since. Congratulations to him for being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

For me what is fascinating and uplifting is that Liu Xiaobo has been willing to sacrifice his own liberty in pursuit of such worthy goals. Many others have done so before him, most as followers and some as leaders, but most of us on this Earth don’t take such risks (or, for some, take such risks in pursuit of unworthy goals, and, yes, I get to determine at least for myself which goals are worthy and which are not). Most of us, even when we don’t accept things as they are, lack the courage to take these kinds of risks to stand up to authority and struggle against the prevailing order. We may criticize those in power, vote where we can to replace them, perhaps contribute in small ways in opposition, but we don’t put our own freedom, liberty or pursuit of our own pleasure and happiness, however circumscribed they may be in our particular society, at significant risk.

To those that have done so, and to those doing so currently, thank you. You are, indeed, my heroes.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

On Judicial Review and the Role of the Executive and Legislature in Interpreting the Constitution

This morning, George Skelton, noted political columnist and author of "Capitol Journal" in the Los Angeles Times, wrote a column titled "Brown and Schwarzenegger don't have to defend Prop. 8 — but they should." Skelton voted against Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California, but believes that the courts should decide its constitutionality. It is possible, although probably unlikely, that if neither the Governor nor Attorney General represents the majority of voters who supported Proposition 8 in the courts, then no one will have standing to defend that position and the courts will not address the merits. Hence, Skelton's view that the Governor or Attorney General should defend Proposition 8 in the courts so that the democratic process is preserved.

Skelton's column may be found at,0,6981919.column?page=1&track=rss.

I respectfully disagree with Skelton's premise, I think he has made debatable assumptions about the court's power of judicial review and mistakenly dismissed the role of the executive and legislature in interpreting the Constitution, and I therefore wrote him the following email:

Dear George,

I was a bit surprised by your column in today’s (Aug 26, 2010) Los Angeles Times that Brown and Schwarzenegger should defend Proposition 8 in the courts so that the courts have the opportunity to exercise judicial review.

My surprise is that you so casually accept, indeed proclaim, that judicial review is central to American democracy. You wrote: “Voters and legislatures sometimes pass laws that are unconstitutional. Courts were created, in part, to weed out those flawed acts.”

According to whom, George?

Not according to many of our most notable Founding Fathers. But, yes, according to Chief Justice John Marshall in his perhaps most famous Supreme Court decision, Marbury v. Madison.

Given your considerable knowledge, and I say that with the utmost respect, I am confident you are familiar with the history of judicial review, including the strong criticisms of any such concept by Thomas Jefferson, among others. The power of judicial review is not expressly found in the U.S. Constitution and the argument for it, that the Constitution is but another law (the Supreme Law) that courts are to naturally “interpret,” is highly questionable. Indeed, many devoted democrats (with a small “d”) have considered it a very undemocratic institution that robs the legislature of its rightful place. They hold that courts should indeed interpret laws but that the Supreme Law of the Land is not simply another statute but, rather, the founding political document that separates power among the three branches and does not give the Supreme Court the last word.

Also questionable is that the American President and Congress or, in the case of states, Governors and Legislatures, are without power and legitimacy to decide themselves whether a particular statute or other governmental action crosses the line and violates the Constitution. I know you concede that Brown and Schwarzenegger may decide not to defend Proposition 8 without violating the law, but the premise of your article is that this is in no way their appropriate role, only the courts may act to interpret the laws and the Constitution (federal or state). While extreme hypotheticals are not always “fair game,” were the people of California to outlaw marriage across ethnic or racial lines, would you take the same position, that the Governor and/or Attorney General should defend such an amendment in the courts? What of Proposition 14 from the 1960’s, nullifying the Rumford Fair Housing Act, which was held unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court and affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court? According to Wikipedia (to be sure not always a reliable source), Governor Pat Brown supported the challenge to its constitutionality. Was that the wrong thing for him to have done, in your view?

It is true that judicial review has become part of the American political system and that criticisms of it which occasionally emerged in the 19th century have all but disappeared, except when hypocritical conservatives argue against what they call judicial activism or loose constructionism, all the while applauding judicial activism when engaged in by their own. But that doesn’t mean we should overlook the serious questions about judicial review that have been raised from the outset and its implications both for our democracy and the concept of separation of powers.

I’m not personally against the concept of judicial review perhaps because I grew up in the shadow of the Warren court with its use of judicial review to protect the individual and the minority against the potential (or actual) tyranny of the majority. But had I grown up in the era of Dred Scott or the conservative court of the early 20th century that ruled many state police power statutes unconstitutional, my view might be very different!

As always I appreciate your reflections even when I disagree with them. Thanks for your thoughtful commentaries. I also know that you’re a busy man who likely receives numerous emails so, if you made it to the end of this email, I thank you very much!!

Donald A. Newman

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Am I Asking For Too Much?

What really annoys me about all the talk about the mosque near Ground Zero is the amount of attention, energy, emotion and derision this issue has generated. For heaven’s sake – unemployment remains around 10%, natural calamities such as earthquakes, landslides, forest fires and the like are happening all over this Earth, Pakistan is becoming a very dangerous nation-state (not that it hasn’t been for decades), the war in Afghanistan is going poorly because Afghanistan is Afghanistan, America seems incapable of truly controlling its borders, keeping illegal immigrants out and inducing employers only to hire individually lawfully in this country, America’s hegemony is on the wane, and here we’re in another cat fight, dog fight or firefight, whatever you wish to call it, over the building of a mosque as part of a cultural center in lower Manhattan close to Ground Zero.

Yes, I remain a Democrat and from where I sit this looks like another attempt by the opposition, call them Republicans, conservatives, Tea Party members or the like, to turn attention away from these real issues and focus on a so-called hot-button issue, something that isn’t that significant but gets peoples’ juices flowing. And, yes, because critics are appealing to emotions, Democratic politicians have also felt the heat and run for political cover.

This is not a situation akin to Nazis wanting to march in Skokie, Illinois, when Voltaire’s words were applicable: I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it. I’m sorry but no one has proffered evidence that those wanting to build the mosque and the cultural center are radical or fundamentalist Moslems bent on undermining the American way of life. Were there such evidence, or if it surfaces going forward, my view would be different. Would we so quickly condemn other groups in American society — Irish, Jews, Italians, Mormons, Greeks, Puerto Ricans — were they to step forward with a project to be built close to a horrific scene of murder, mayhem or other notoriety committed by individuals belonging to any of those groups but condemned by the group even had the misdeeds been done in the name of the group? Probably not.

I used to love politics even with all its contentiousness. But it truly has become a blood sport. Our last three presidents, Clinton, Bush and Obama, have hardly settled into office before their very legitimacy has been called into question. With Clinton it had to do with his draft status, smoking pot, then Whitewater and Lewinsky. With Bush it started with his election but then turned to Iraq and his Vice President. With Obama it started with race, morphed into his place of birth, and now touches everything he does, says or doesn’t do or say.

Instead of truly grappling with the American economy in order to keep it strong and vibrant in the face of stiff competition from China and the rest of Asia, solving the illegal immigration problem through resolute action, addressing healthcare and the needs of all Americans, being honest and serious about global warming, creating a realistic energy policy that weans America from fossil fuels, we spend our time on petty issues, personal attacks, and the like, and by “we” I not only mean our political leaders, such as they are, but the rest of us as well.

I am not preaching for false unity. There is not only room for healthy debate, there is a necessity for it. How do we seek “to grow” the economy (a phrase I detest for its grammar or syntax)? Would we have been far worse off without the stimulus or has mounting federal debt undermined economic recovery, and where do we go from here? How do we effectuate a successful immigrant policy? Should corporations be able to contribute to political campaigns as if they were individuals with First Amendment rights? Does the constitutional right to bear arms prevent localities from limiting the spread of handguns? Is Afghanistan a war America simply cannot win and does that mean a return of the Taliban and suppression of women?

We need partisan debate on these and other issues, but with civility, mutual respect, and an intent by all to try to reach solutions, usually through compromise. Is that asking for too much?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

On Obama and the Mosque near Ground Zero

What choices did President Barack Obama have with respect to the proposal to build a mosque as part of a cultural center very close to Ground Zero?

As I see it, his choices were the following:

1. Continue to remain silent on the entire issue.

2. Endorse the proposal to build the mosque.

3. Speak out in favor of the right to build a mosque where permitted by law but make clear that he was not taking any position on whether this mosque should be built where proposed.

4. Speak out in favor of the right to build a mosque where permitted by law but indicate that it was unfortunate that advocates sought to build it so close to Ground Zero, hallowed ground, and discourage them from doing so.

5. Condemn the project.

I’m sure there were other choices, or permutations and combinations on the five above, that I have overlooked.

It appears that President Obama sought to follow the third option, speaking out forcefully for religious freedom while at the same time not endorsing the specific proposal to build a mosque very close to Ground Zero. But, whether to avoid appearing overly equivocal or because of the nature of the dinner where he made his statement (a dinner breaking the fast during Ramadan), he did not clearly state that he was endorsing the right to build where permitted by law but distancing himself from the specific proposal to build so close to Ground Zero.

On Friday, at the dinner breaking the fast, Obama stated: ““As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.”

Today in Florida, the President sought to “clarify” his remarks, by stating: ““I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about.”

I think President Obama took a slight step back today and was not merely repeating what he had said on Friday. At the dinner, he began by noting the sensitivities surrounding the rebuilding of lower Manhattan, the trauma of 9/11, and he specifically acknowledged that the pain and suffering of those who had lost loved ones on 9/11 was unimaginable. He then said, “But let me be clear,” and then spoke of his belief as a citizen and as president, as noted above. Had he intended on Friday night only to have asserted the right of Moslems to freely exercise their religious freedom in America and to build anywhere permitted by law but at the same time to make clear that he was not endorsing this project and perhaps even discouraging it, he surely would have chosen a different way to say it. By the same token, I do not believe that he was intending to endorse the project in his remarks at the Ramadan dinner.

Having said that, I don’t know that there was any easy way out here. TIME magazine, in commenting on Obama’s initial statement, noted that he had previously taken a strong stand on telling Americans what they needed to hear rather than telling them what they wanted to hear. TIME then noted in an update, referring to Obama’s remarks today in Florida, that perhaps he was backtracking and retreating from telling Americans what they need to hear.

I applaud President Obama, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for taking the positions they have on this mosque project. Would they have preferred that the issue had never arisen? Sure. As would the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, which twisted and turned to come out against the project. I too would have preferred that the issue not have arisen. But it did and the evidence does not seem to support any notion that those who have advanced this project are anti-American Moslems intent upon harming the country. Given the circumstances, I believe that the President and the Mayor have taken the right positions. I even think that forty years from now, as cultural, religious and ethnic diversity in America continues to increase, whether some like it or not, the presence of that mosque and cultural center may be positive evidence of this nation’s strength through its diversity. E pluribus unum.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

On Rekindling Old Friendships Through the Internet, AOL and Facebook

I no longer recall the specifics, but years ago when I first traveled to Long Beach, California from Princeton, New Jersey for a job interview, I took time afterwards to visit UCLA. I thought I would look up a graduate student there who had done graduate work with me at Brooklyn College a number of years before. He had gone on to UCLA at the same time I had gone on to Princeton. He was someone I had considered a friend. As fate would have it, he was out of the country doing field research and we didn’t connect.

Subsequently, I ran into him, I believe at someone else’s wedding, and I expressed great pleasure and excitement at having caught up with him again. He was distant and rather cold in his response and he proceeded to tell me, not in a hostile way but more matter-of-factly, that while we had known each other at graduate school and had hung out a bit, we were not really friends and that he felt no reciprocal warmth or pleasure at seeing me again.

I’ve never forgotten that incident no doubt in part because I was hurt but even more so because of what it potentially said about old friendships, or the memories of old friendships, and whether or not they truly survive, other than in one’s memory.

The internet in general and AOL and now Facebook in particular have given me and many others the opportunity to rediscover old friends, colleagues and classmates. Coming across them, whether by chance or by affirmatively searching for them, is often accompanied by a rush of old memories, as well as feelings of delight and elation, wrapped, as most old memories are, in nostalgia. And nostalgia is the great distorter. In most instances we remember the good and either forget the bad or diminish its significance. To be sure, some memories reflect just the opposite, but I have found that to be the exception and not the rule.

But when we reach out to these old friends or they reach out to us, we may discover that we cannot put Humpty Dumpty back together again, if it ever truly was as wonderful as our memory suggests. Often, within short order, areas of conflict between us reappear, the way conflict among siblings often resurfaces within about fifteen minutes to two hours of a family reunion.

I’m not trying to discourage efforts to renew old acquaintanceships. I am reconnecting with old friends weekly through the World Wide Web and enjoying it. Nor am I convinced that rekindling old friendships won’t work or is destined to result in bad feelings and failure. But, I do want to warn that we shouldn’t necessarily expect ecstasy or nirvana, that we should be aware of the distorting effects of nostalgia, and that perhaps it is wise to proceed with modest expectations that may be exceeded rather than lofty ones that may prove illusory.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Some Advice for President Obama

According to some reports, President Obama intends to accept some responsibility in his State of the Union address, but not blame, for not delivering more quickly on his promises of change. His aides, and perhaps he, feel that the problem has been one of communication rather than content.

Well, I don’t agree. I think a major problem has been the President’s leadership style. Instead of stepping up to the plate and leading he has stepped back and let Congress hammer out important legislation. In my judgment this has been catastropic. First, the President took this approach with the stimulus package. More recently he took the same approach with healthcare reform. As a result, many Americans remain confused not only about President Obama’s objectives but about what Congress has wrought.

And this leadership style is apparently something Obama believes in. He outlined it during the Democratic primaries when he spoke favorably of Ronald Reagan as a transformative president. He didn’t embrace Reagan’s policies but he spoke very favorably about Reagan’s leadership style – staying above the fray and letting others work out the find details. I’m not at all sure this worked for Reagan but in any case I think it has failed miserably for Obama.

On content, I think Obama needs to talk candidly to the American people about the economy. I think he should explain, not condescendingly but nonetheless directly, that he feels it was necessary to “bail out” the banks. He should acknowledge that it wasn’t and still isn’t popular but that he had to do it to keep the economy from sinking even more than it has. He should make clear, however, that bailing them out was the beginning and not the end, and that he intends to get back from them every penny given them and more and to regulate them so that the American economy is not held hostage in the future by failing private institutions.

But the President also needs to acknowledge to the American people that he did not do enough to support Main Street while he was rescuing Wall Street and to make clear how he intends to energize Main Street now, help reduce the high unemployment rate and provide some support for almost destitute State treasuries. He should admit that the stimulus bill was not as effective as it should have been, not only in releasing far more of it into the economy at an earlier period in time but in better selecting the economic sectors for which money was earmarked so that job creation could have been speeded up.

Many claim that the election of a Republican Senator in Massachusetts shows the defection of independents from Obama because he has been too radical, grown the deficit far too much, and pressed a healthcare reform that left many confused over its content and more concerned with the economy than healthcare. Others, particularly liberal Democrats, claim that disaffection with Obama is attributable to his not being radical enough, capitulating to Republicans and conservative Democrats, and not moving forward aggressively on his own agenda, including healthcare reform.

I lean more toward the former explanation than the latter. I myself found the healthcare reform debate alienating. I was and remain annoyed that the President disappeared from sight and I find even now he talks in generalities and campaign rhetoric rather than being more specific and clearer. As I approach Medicare I am admittedly concerned about cuts to the program. But Obama’s healthcare reform will cut funds from Medicare, or at least curtail growth. Yet, I have not seen a straightforward acknowledgment of this and an explanation as to why I should not be concerned. I’m in favor of many of the components of the Democratic approaches, such as eliminating the exclusion for pre-existing conditions, making insurance more portable, increasing competition and having some alternative to the insurance industry for those who cannot find affordable insurance in the private sector. But I still don’t understand how the House or Senate versions will accomplish all these things without possibly damaging Medicare and increasing costs for those who currently have insurance.

And I think Obama dropped the ball by allowing the healthcare debate not only to drift because he provided no leadership, but to crowd out his and Democratic party concern with the terrible economy. While unemployment continued to rise and State governments such as California continued to wallow in debt and caution that state programs would be eliminated, Obama and the Democrats remained fixed on healthcare. That has been a mistake.

I want President Obama to succeed. Because he is so much younger than I, I don’t have the sense of confidence in him that I had in some Democratic (and a few Republican) presidents who were older than I when in office. But that’s not because he is less talented. That’s because I am older and, if not wiser, at least not as willing to simply trust political and other leaders. I think he continues to learn on the job, but that has been the case for all presidents, even those who had longer political resumes than his before becoming president. I do wish he would show more passion in his speeches; not the rhetoric read from a teleprompter that he displayed during his campaign and not angry outbursts at bankers or insurance executives, but, rather, his heartfelt human emotions and feelings. He tends to come across as cold and efficient. I appreciate that he is able to properly and effectively use the English language, unlike his predecessor, but I want him to show more genuine warmth and feeling, which I believe he has within him.

I remain an Obama supporter, not only because I like him, respect his intellect, and share many of his views, but as well because the Republicans scare me. I grew up in New York where the Republican party held key positions but it was a moderate party, of Nelson Rockefeller and Jacob Javits. Although I disagreed with him profoundly on the role of government in the economy, I could stomach Barry Goldwater because he had libertarian views on many issues. Today the Republican party is dominated by those who may still favor less government involvement in the economy but who, paradoxically, favor more government involvement in the bedroom and elsewhere in people's private lives. As well, they have become shrill, particularly in trying to undermine the President on totally ridiculous grounds, such as claiming he wasn’t born in the United States or supports terrorism or is otherwise completely out of the mainstream. I have become more of a moderate in my political views than in the past but these tendencies among Republicans alarm me.

I hope President Obama, starting with tonight’s State of the Union address, is able to restore confidence in his leadership among those, including me, who have lost some of it.