The president rightly rebuked the GOP presidential contenders for "casualness" in regard to a potential war with Iran, says Susan Barnes-Gelt in the March round of Head On TV debates. No, replies John Andrews, Obama merely hopes to distract from his own failed policy on Tehran's nuclear aspirations. John on the right, Susan on the left, also go at it this month over Hickenlooper's leadership style, liberal antipathy to the automobile, a tourism tax giveaway, and the presidential race. Head On has been a daily feature on Colorado Public Television since 1997, with Centennial Institute sponsorship since 2009. Here are all five scripts for March:
1. NEARING WAR WITH IRAN?
Susan: "When I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I'm reminded of the costs involved in war. This is not a game. And there's nothing casual about it." That’s the President’s response to the recklessness of the GOP presidential wannabe’s urging war with Iran.
John: Steadily, steadily, the fanatical regime in Tehran moves closer to possessing the nuclear weapons with which it hopes to exterminate Israel and devastate America. Obama would rather scold the opposition party for sounding the alarm than forge an effective policy himself. He missed a chance to remove the regime years ago.
Susan: A nuclear holocaust is a zero sum game for Israel, Iran, the U.S. and the planet. Consider recent events in Afghanistan – a mentally deranged soldier killed kids, women, fathers – terminating any prospects of earning the trust of the people. The human cost of war is far too great.
John: I understand your feelings. But we don’t just need emotions, we need solutions. This weak, naïve, self-absorbed man who happens to be president is day by day increasing the risk of a big conflict by failing to confront and squeeze Iran in smaller ways. Israel must be protected. Obama must go.
2. HICK LEADS FROM BEHIND
John: Much like Barack Obama, John Hickenlooper is long on style and short on substance. Obama’s famous copout of “leading from behind” now has its Colorado counterpart in Hick’s statewide tour of townhall meetings, the TBD Project. He claims that stands for “To Be Determined.” I suspect it means “Taxed by Democrats.”
Susan: The person who thought up TBD as the brand for the Guv’s priority setting initiative, ought to be fired. Am I naïve to believe it’s the Governor’s role to set the state’s direction? Aren’t campaigns about taking the public’s temperature? TBD is a
Totally Bad Decision.
John: Hickenlooper’s townhall tour aims to manufacture a consensus for raising taxes, but people won’t buy it. Neither the governor nor the legislature is getting any traction at present. The alpha dogs in Colorado right now are activist judges – blowing up school finance, slapping down vouchers, and snarling at TABOR.
Susan: No the problem is the lack of leadership and stewardship of this great but fragile western state. Shame on the legislature for funding wealthy developers instead of education, transportation and infrastructure. Shame on us for electing people we like instead of leaders who might make a difference.
3. OBAMA IN TROUBLE
Susan: Can it get any worse for the GOP? Mitt Romney’s failure to condemn Rush Limbaugh calling Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a slut was beyond the pale. Romney’s response, “It’s not the language I would have used” later saying it wasn’t his business? Shame on you, Willard Mitt.
John: Coarse language from left and right is as old as politics. It’s deplorable, but totally irrelevant to who should be the next president. Obama’s numbers are falling. His energy policy has doubled gas prices. His health care takeover is hugely unpopular. Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, and Paul could all beat him.
Susan: John, no one’s approval ratings are lower than Willard Mitt’s. Even moderate Republicans – that endangered species – are looking for the not-Mitt option. It’s a long way to Tampa and this slugfest among wacked pundits and eager-to-please, candidates spells trouble for the R’s in November.
John: The one in trouble is Barack Obama. Presidents who don’t get the job done are shown the door. It’s the American way. Ask Jimmy Carter. They want a leader who is proud of America and believes in Americans as a free people. People have had it with Obama’s excuses and arrogance.
4. STOP THE TOURISM TAX GIVEAWAY
Susan: In 2009 Colorado Concern, a private business group, sponsored legislation creating a state sales tax subsidy, benefitting their members’ interest in building a NASCAR tract east of DIA - a victory of influence over intelligence. When the racetrack died, the giveaway should have been buried.
John: Aurora, Estes Park, Glendale, Pueblo, Douglas County, and Montrose County are pleading with a state board to subsidize tourism for two of them and not the other four. $50 million a year is the prize. Government playing favorites among competing localities and businesses this way is an awful idea.
Susan: Under any circumstance, the state has no business using tax increment financing to pay for assets that benefit a private developer and only a private developer.
Urban renewal tools are just that – mechanisms to revitalize obsolete, dilapidated urban property. Not a way to reduce risk for influentials and campaign contributors.
John: I hate to agree, Susan, but amen. For me as a Republican and you as a Democrat to unite against this tourism tax giveaway, both believing in integrity in government, illustrates how the two-party system can sometimes let the people down when powerful inside players rig the game. It’s a shame.
5. LESS RAIL, MORE BUSES
John: Liberals will tell you they don’t like the automobile. They object to the personal freedom it confers. Yet they also object to high gas prices. What a delicious contradiction. A related contradiction is the money liberals continue throwing at light rail despite its negligible ridership. Bus rapid transit is far superior.
Susan: Wow! John, after 8 years of jousting with me, you’re beginning to sound like a progressive! Of course, bus-rapid-transit is the most efficient way to build mass transit. Dedicated lanes, mixed-use transit stops and cool-looking buses are the logical answer for regions as spread out as ours.
John: Progressive? No, I’m a regressive. I’d like to run the movie back to 2004 and let people vote again on the tax hike we now is far too small to build out the Fastracks fantasy train that few commuters use. Going forward, though, let’s agree – less rail, more buses.
Susan: The real problem is the lack of civic and political direction guiding RTD staff and directors. Mass transit needs to be part of a regional land use transportation network, connecting people with places, jobs and one another. Absent a comprehensive approach, we’ve all missed the bus.
(Denver Post, Feb. 26) "An empty taxi drove up to 10 Downing Street,” joked Winston Churchill about the man who defeated him for prime minister in 1946, “and out of it stepped Clement Attlee.” Droll, but Attlee laughed last. Nothing succeeds like success.
Detractors who grumble that there is “no there, there” in John Hickenlooper’s remarkable political winning streak, have to admit the same thing about his long-running popularity as Mayor of Denver and now Governor of Colorado: voters just like the guy.
The latest indication of Hick’s undiminished moxie was an odd little news item the other day, in which Secretary of State Scott Gessler, a Republican, hinted at a 2014 gubernatorial bid – but only if Hickenlooper, the Democratic incumbent, were to decline a second term as did his predecessor, Bill Ritter. To which the Gov’s office replied, in substance, fat chance.
The upcoming TBD Project, 120 townhall meetings around the state with private funding of $1.2 million, shows again how Hickenlooper has raised amiable vagueness to an art form. He says TBD stands for “To Be Determined,” an open invitation for citizens to help set the state’s priorities – and bristles at the GOP gibe that it’s really code for “Taxed by Democrats.” The very idea!
Cruising toward halftime in his four-year term, the canny Hick is still not ready to roll out an agenda. No hurry, we’ll just travel the counties and see what folks scribble on our whiteboard. If Christo can take till 2015 to drape the river, the administration’s big push on education, transportation, corrections, and fiscal reform needn’t start yet either. Get reelected, then get serious.
On what record, you ask, would the governor campaign, given his underwhelming accomplishments to date? That’s the interesting thing about being Colorado’s chief executive. Constitutionally the position is so weak – the executive branch being split among four elected offices, the legislative branch having dominance on spending, and the voters controlling taxes and debt under TABOR – that an incumbent can win again just by managing the atmospherics and avoiding blunders.
It worked exactly this way for all of the successful governors in the state’s modern era (since terms went from two years to four in 1962). The Republican John Love and the Democrats Dick Lamm and Roy Romer each won three terms. Republican Bill Owens was easily reelected once and then term-limited. Democrat Bill Ritter, dogged by scandal and done after one, is the exception who proves the rule.
Don’t misunderstand: Love, Lamm, Romer, and Owens were all surehanded leaders and formidably skilled politicians. (Gov. Romer, of course, trounced me in our 1990 contest.) I’m merely saying that if you look for their monumental legacies or enduring policy victories, there weren’t many.
Romer did get DIA built, though Mayor Federico Pena’s name is on the approach road, and he passed the CSAP legislation, though education is little the better for it. Owens pushed T-REX to completion, though congestion persists, and he signed voucher legislation, though judges then annulled it. Lamm ran off the Winter Olympics – though before he became governor – and now we may host them anyway.
Governing our state or any other state simply doesn’t lend itself to transformative Obama-style grandiosity – which from my conservative viewpoint is a good thing. The Hippocratic caution in public policy, “First do no harm,” is hard enough to uphold. Deliver that and we’re grateful, would be the sentiment of most Americans in what is still a center-right nation.
Today’s superstar governors elsewhere – Chris Christie in New Jersey, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Bobby Jindal in Louisiana – became such by tackling Augean messes, not by peddling utopian dreams. Colorado, for all its problems, is in no such crisis, thank goodness. If the empty gimmickry of John “TBD” Hickenlooper has an upside, that’s it.