The real question: Will common sense be invited to hang around?
James A. Baker, III, recently chatted up the brass, editorial writers, and others at the Houston Chronicle, offering something exotic, even foreign, to the Clever Ones at that newspaper: common sense. And the Clever Ones, believe it or not, were enraptured.
Good for them.
Mr. Baker's great public gifts are his good judgment (about, well, almost everything: politics, government, economics, international relations), his astonishing ability to get things done, and simple human decency.
He is a rare man, and few who meet him come away without understanding how rare he is. Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and Nancy Reagan certainly did. But they were late to the party. George H.W. Bush, no slouch at judgment, action, and decency himself, hooked up with Mr. Baker in the late 1950s. Their friendship and political partnership made America a better place.
The editorial that recounts Mr. Baker's visit to the Chronicle mentions three points by Mr. Baker.
[What's on his mind these days?] National politics, of course, where the long-time insider worries about growing dysfunction that he ties to a redistricting process designed to entrench extreme partisans in both major parties while leaving centrists at the margin.
This has made camaraderie among the federal city's power-brokers [read power brokers] a thing of the past. The warm after-hours relations once enjoyed by his boss, President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, the quintessential Boston Democrat (burnished by good whiskey and even finer Irish storytelling), are unheard of in today's Washington. Evidently, weeks can go by without a word [read word's] passing between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican. That's a loss for all of us.
Mr. Baker is right about redistricting. Computers give political engineers power to design districts that belong to one party or the other. That means most representatives are elected by partisan party primaries, not bipartisan general elections.
The editorialist misses one important thing, however. The Chronicle favors a pernicious forms of redistricting mischief: race-based Gerrymandering. The newspaper believes safe districts should be carved out for all races and ethnic groups other than descendants of Europeans. This federally enforced racial Gerrymandering is how we get great centrists like Sheila Jackson Lee.
Thanks to the laws of arithmetic, this approach also means, necessarily, that the remaining districts will be whiter, more conservative, and more partisan than they might otherwise have been in a race-neutral redistricting system.
Another reason the Chronicle is an unreliable guide to civility is that the newspaper supports the most uncivil president in modern presidential history, Barack Hussein Obama.
Months can go by without a word's passing between the president and Mr. Boehner? Whose fault is that? Whose fault is it that the Senate minority leader was never invited to the White House, not one time, until August 2010? In the rigidly hierarchical eco-system known as Washington, D.C., whose job is to summon and whose job is it to be summoned?
Mr. Baker's second point:
But what really keeps this former Treasury secretary awake at night is what he bluntly calls "the debt bomb" -- the $15 trillion and counting federal debt that would grow to $16 trillion-plus under President Obama's proposed budget.
You can't be strong militarily or diplomatically if you aren't strong economically, Baker told the Chronicle audience . . . .
Perhaps the most memorable line of the noon-hour session was spoken on the debt/deficit topic: "If we didn't have the de facto reserve currency of the world, we'd be Greece," Baker said.
Amen and amen.
I know the Chronicle has recently grown uneasy about the national debt, but the newspaper's hands are equally unclean here. The Chronicle endorsed Mr. Obama, then uncritically cheered every one of the president's proposals to bankrupt America -- the stimulus bill, Obamacare, auto bailouts, cash-for-clunkers, everything.
Not only that: The Chronicle also regularly chastizes Texas for being behind California, New York, Illinois and other Chronicle-approved states on the road to becoming Greece.
The nation's fiscal and economic hangover has filled the editorialists with a vague unease, but not enough to support anything specific to reduce spending, except an end to the ethanol subsidy. The best the Chronicle can muster: The debt and deficit are serious problems; let's think seriously about doing something about them.
How about this: Cut spending. Now.
Mr. Baker's third point in the Chronicle's telling was about energy.
"You have to recognize that we'll be relying on oil and gas for many years to come," he says. Shale gas will figure prominently, as well as oil reserves such as the Bakken formation in the upper Midwest. President Obama's decision to pull back from approval of construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline . . . is a "disaster," in Baker's view.
"We need an 'all' policy on energy," Baker says. "The biggest thing we could do is build more nuclear power plants."
And yet again, amen.
To its credit, the Chronicle supported Keystone XL. But it has yet to chastize the president who made the disastrous decision, except in the mildest terms.
Mr. Baker served up a hearty and nutritious helping of good Houston and Texas-style common sense, which is to say wisdom. All that was missing at this potluck lunch was a side dish of self-awareness and a dessert of crow from the Chronicle itself.
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(Editorial, "Visiting with James A. Baker III," Houston Chronicle, February 18, 2012)
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When I write about Mr. Baker, I am subject to the righteous claim that I have a conflict of interest. What it is doesn't matter. Distrust me if you wish. I declare, however, that my admiration for this man-who-should-have-been-president is sincere.