Friday, September 13, 2013

Chafee's Last Out

I have to admit that I dig Mariano Rivera. Aside from being the greatest closer of all time – and there is no close second – his giant smile tells me that he loves the game and is grateful to have had the opportunity to play for as long as he has. He announced his retirement earlier this year and has spent the season meeting fans in every ballpark and thanking the people who have made his time in the Majors so enjoyable. He’s been at the top of the game spanning three decades and yet he knew when it was time to go. With two blown saves just over the weekend, it’s clear that his “stuff” isn’t what it used to be.

As Governor Chafee contemplated the next sixteen months, perhaps he had the same realization – his best years in politics are behind him. His relationship with Rhode Island voters and his ability to lead the state is clearly not what he hoped it would be. Since his election in 2010, in published polls he has never done better than the 36% that allowed him to squeak into the governor’s office in the first place and there was no path to victory in 2014. While he blamed Rhode Islanders’ “irrational negativity,” for his poor standing I can’t be the only one who thinks that his “I’m right and the rest of you are wrong” attitude contributed to voters’ scorn. He calls it “principled leadership,” but some of us hear “if you don’t agree with me, you are stupid.”

Aside from polls, Governor Chafee does not have to hear what Rhode Islanders are thinking, but he has heard from their representatives in the General Assembly.  Rhode Island’s constitution has made the governor’s office a weak one and governors during the past twenty years have all realized at one point or another that they will get nothing done unless they work closely with the General Assembly and respect their place in the legislative process. Governor Chafee has ignored the General Assembly’s role repeatedly by issuing executive orders on hot button issues ranging from E-Verify to health insurance. Worst of all, after an emotional 2011 special session on pension reform where legislators took a really tough vote, Chafee is doing his best to undermine and unravel the pension reform law – which he has heralded as an accomplishment of his administration.

I was recently asked who benefits most from Chafee’s departure from the 2014 governor’s race and I said “the Rhode Island voter.” This is not a slam against Chafee – the simple truth is that the tone of the race will be much different. Rather than re-living the gaffes of this administration, all the candidates will have the opportunity to lay out their competing visions for Rhode Island. If one the expected candidates – Block, Fung, Raimondo and Taveras – win, we are going to have a governor under the age of 50 for the first time since John Chafee won in 1963 and are likely to have a “first” with an Asian, woman or Latino winner.

As someone who falls in the middle of the political spectrum, I always described myself as a “John Chafee Democrat” and I am grateful to the Chafee family for their service to our state. However, I will not be sad to see the Chafee administration end any more than I’ll miss hearing “Enter Sandman” and watching Mariano Rivera mow down Red Sox hitters with his cutter. They do have one thing in common – they knew when it was time to go.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

How Soon We Forget

I may have to take a break from talking baseball. As the calendar turns to September, the Red Sox are playing really well and opening up a lead in the pennant race. As a lifelong Red sox fan this means one thing: the implosion is near. Key injuries, bad calls, hideous base running, fights in the clubhouse – that’s the September baseball I know and fear. For the next month I’ll breathe into a bag, watch the game only in a reflection and never ever say the word “clinch.”  Call me crazy but I can’t forget the gruesome disappointments of the past.

As I brace myself for September baseball, I’ll admit that I’m also a bit tense about the prospect of the U.S. getting involved in Syria.  A decade ago we went into Iraq without the backing of our allies and the UN because we feared that Saddam Hussein was armed to the teeth with chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and was connected to Al-Qaeda.  We knew he had the capability for all of these WMDs not because we were psychic, but because we had looked the other way when he used these weapons on Iranians. Still, our intelligence about his then-current stockpile was faulty and we spent nearly ten years fighting a war that many Americans believe was a mistake.

Today we have a similar set of circumstances – the Syrian government may or may not have used chemical weapons on its own people. Hideous. Terrifying. Criminal. Is the evidence complete and incontrovertible?  Apparently not since the UN and the British government have both declined to support a military action. And yet the Obama administration presses ahead – with a hubris that seems to come with the china at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  Today the administration is insisting that they do not need the approval of Congress to move ahead. Haven’t we been here before?  “Go it alone” doesn’t work on the world stage and it’s not going to work for President Obama either. Dragging the U.S. into war in another country that many can’t find on a map will flip congressional districts like pancakes in 2014 and could rearrange the Senate as well. More importantly, it could irreparably alter our standing with the rest of the world.

I recently spent some time in England and had the opportunity to go to the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms in London. It was fascinating to be in the brain center of the British war effort and to see how they lived and worked during this terrifying time in their history.  As an American it was touching to understand the appreciation the British people felt – and feel – for our ‘greatest generation.”  It was a humbling experience and a good reminder that our worldview is ours alone. Perhaps we would all be better served if the United States sat on the bench this time and gave someone else a chance to swing for the fences.  Sometimes remembering the gruesome disappointments of the past is the best way to avoid them in the future.