Pushing Past Partisanship

April 13, 2017 | George Nethercutt for the Inlander

This article first appeared here on the Inlander.

President Trump and Speaker Ryan need to reach across the aisle

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Many pundits are signaling the end of the Trump presidency and the Ryan speakership because the repeal and replacement of Obamacare legislation was pulled without a vote. They’re wrong. The Trump agenda will recover, and the Ryan speakership will remain. Those politically injured in the health care replacement efforts were the unyielding members of the Freedom Caucus, and the defeat was not good for America. President Trump and Speaker Ryan can affect future policy outcomes if they’ll be inclusive.

The Washington Post crowed that with the defeat of the bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, perhaps a new right and left have emerged that can defy the speaker, suggesting that legislators are unafraid of the president. If true, then citizens should be anxious about the future, in spite of Trump’s declaration that he intends to “drain the swamp.” Draining the swamp should be the least of Trump’s worries. Enacting American policies that restore confidence in political governance should be priority one.

Trump and Ryan should declare that the “Hastert Rule” has died. No longer should bills be approved only with a Republican majority. This may anger citizens on the self-righteous right, or members of the House Freedom Caucus, but it only perpetuates national division. Requiring fealty to Republican policies is demeaning to elected representatives. It perpetuates division and polarization.

I can only imagine the political pressure that House Democrats felt when it came time to vote on Obamacare in March 2010. I’m sure they heard, “If you don’t vote ‘Yes’ on Obamacare, you’ll destroy the president.” Obamacare passed with no Republican votes. If passed, its replacement would have only had Republican votes.

Many Republicans and Democrats left Congress when congressional leaders became overbearing, not letting the process and judgment of elected officials unfold naturally, as intended by the Founders. They didn’t intend that party leaders or the president’s plans would usurp the collective judgment of elected officials in the legislative process. The Constitution is silent about such matters.

Americans have gotten used to the domination of party politics in the legislative arena, thus perpetuating polarization. Instead of doing what’s right for America, Congress adopts policies that are good for the party in control, or the president who shares their party label.

Congress, the president and the press then dissect the dysfunction, instead of working on behalf of all Americans to make the United States better. It’s increasingly disturbing that members spend too many hours each week raising money for re-election efforts instead of toiling to make America better.

Instead of fighting among themselves, members of Congress should spend more time explaining their actions to the public they represent. Trump, who came to the presidency in an unconventional way, should embrace the unconventional by reaching out to Democrats, seeking to persuade them that his intentions are honorable. Former President Eisenhower, extremely popular in his day, invited members of Congress to breakfast at the White House each week, just to get to know them. President Trump and Speaker Ryan should do the same, in their respective offices — no matter how distasteful — with the hope that some of the natural partisanship that exists today would dissipate. Many Americans want the two political parties to work together. Here’s an opportunity for bipartisanship.

President Trump may soon realize that complaining about the past is a fool’s errand — he should focus on how to make America better in the future. Certainly, undoing prior executive orders enacted unilaterally by President Obama is justified. So is reining in federal spending, as more than a billion dollars now goes to pay interest on the national debt each day.

Trump’s focus on the excitement of space exploration has been underreported. Bringing America’s tax and foreign policy conditions under control will be a major accomplishment. So will resolving America’s immigration policies. Some of this will involve looking backward, but it should be approached with the future in mind — how to improve American lives.

With his approval rating hovering around 40 percent, Trump can restore American voter confidence by acting inclusively. His address to Congress was a good start — minimizing conflict and asserting an attitude of working together can bring national results — and possibly improved his approval among voters.

Trump appears to be serious about helping America. That’s why exhibiting actions that don’t further the seesaw of one-party rule can assuage the fears of all Americans. ♦

Listen to Gram Gram

March 9, 2017 | George Nethercutt for the Inlander

This article first appeared here on the Inlander.

President Trump needs to start delivering some solutions soon, or his supporters in Congress may abandon him.

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In the hilarious words of actor Steve Martin, as scam artist Freddy Benson in the movie Dirty Rotten Scoundrels: “As my Gram Gram [his grandmother] used to say, ‘It’s better to be truthful and good than to not!'”

It’s time for President Trump to follow Gram Gram’s advice.

Perhaps Donald Trump didn’t expect to be president. If not, that may explain why his administration is slow to form, despite his assertions to the contrary. He can rightly criticize Democrats for slow-walking his nominees, but they’re not totally at fault. The Trump administration, including its transition teams, hasn’t named essential government officials. White House offices are mostly empty. Critical government positions are unfilled. His first obligation is not his own reputation, but meeting the requirements of a ruling majority. He should not deny Cabinet officials the freedom to staff their agencies with like-minded subordinates.

President Trump may soon discover that such solid potential officials either won’t accept appointments or will avoid government service rather than manage Trump loyalists they don’t know. In the meantime, opposition mobilizes. Being “good” in this case means standing up a responsible administration to lead America forward.

If Donald Trump follows Gram Gram’s advice, it would be good if he could acknowledge the disruption in United States-Mexico relations resulting from his campaign rhetoric — that Mexico pay for the wall, along with the more extreme pronouncements of his immigration policy. Mexico remains a prominent U.S. trading partner. Press Secretary Sean Spicer recently declared that U.S.-Mexico relations are “great.” They aren’t.

Tensions with our southern neighbor were proven by the cool reception that secretaries Rex Tillerson and John Kelly recently received in Mexico. Trump should swallow some of his pride and acknowledge what most Americans realize — that most things in government aren’t as “great” as he pretends they are.

This kind of honesty would help defend against criticism. Progressive Democratic opponents will always criticize, but that doesn’t make their criticisms valid. In the public’s eyes, doing so makes them seem small and petty. How they’re opposing Trump is also not good, but they are gaining the upper hand.

Trump’s recent appearance before CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Committee, received much media attention, including interviews with White House insiders Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus, insisting that they’re good friends. Trying to reassure America is important, but Trump should recognize it’s not necessarily “us against them,” it’s “all for one and one for all.” It’s time for Trump to act presidential, as he did in his recent speech before Congress. His rants against the media and calls for conservatives-only support only divide America further. While they may satisfy Trump supporters, they repel all others.

CPAC participants don’t represent the majority of Americans. That’s why Trump’s “style” could pave the way for a Republican demise in 2018. Town Hall events showcasing protesters amid legitimate citizens objecting to health care developments, among other issues, signal real danger for Republicans — especially Trump Republicans. It may reflect less citizen support for the president’s many pronouncements and more support for traditional government, such as rapidly filling governmental positions with sensible public servants.

Trump is already starting to see objections to his “style” in the House and Senate, as members see danger in getting too close to his narrow pronouncements and developments. Some polls suggest that many Americans believe our country is on the “wrong track” under Trump. Disruptive Town Hall meetings — whether legitimately or not — are evidence thereof. Congressional Republicans should face their constituents in person to justify their policy positions, no matter how uncomfortable it may make them. They should not hide behind call-in Town Hall gatherings.

Being “truthful and good” also means meeting public expectations. Republicans have had years to formulate a replacement for Obamacare, yet they struggle to come up with a publicly acceptable alternative. Former Speaker John Boehner was probably truthful when he recently opined that repealing and replacing Obamacare is easier said than done. Given all the public promises made about health care, Republicans must now deliver. An unyielding public won’t stand for less. Health care is too important.

Trump’s border tax pronouncements are also quite complicated and could backfire on him. Congressional Republicans also have legitimate objections to some parts of his tax policy. And immigration reform will take legislative finesse. His criticisms of “establishment” elected officials in his inaugural address may have spoken to those who elected him, but they may haunt him now that he most needs “establishment” support from Congress.

Freddy Benson, as brilliantly portrayed by Steve Martin, was a charlatan. America cannot afford to have one in the White House. ♦

Stick With The Picks

February 9, 2017 | George Nethercutt for the Inlander

This article first appeared here on the Inlander.

Even though national politics are a full-contact sport, rules of good sportsmanship must still apply.

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When President Trump announced Judge Neil Gorsuch as his nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy, he justified for many who either reluctantly supported or didn’t vote for him that he was, in fact, the better choice for president. Judge Gorsuch is a superb choice for the highest court in our nation. Senate Democrats should accept the Gorsuch pick rather than be political poor sports. A poor sport is commonly defined as “someone unnecessarily emotional after being defeated in a contest, thereby exhibiting unacceptable behavior.” Senate Democrats’ intended obstruction of President Trump’s nominee just because he’s a Trump pick is unfounded and threatens to cause an uprising against such obstruction.

Politics involves choices. Presidential choices frame public opinion. Trump chose improperly when he secretly announced his policy for vetting refugees. He’s paid a price for making the announcement alone, without proper “cover” of Cabinet officials, members of Congress and a more fulsome explanation of his policy pronouncement. Springing the announcement on Americans resulted in massive protests and public outcry. Next time, Trump should be more politically careful, realizing that any announcement he makes will likely draw criticism from those who yearned for a Hillary Clinton presidency. National politics is a contact sport.

But the Gorsuch nomination, by all accounts, is a good one. While conservative in his outlook, Judge Gorsuch is a reasonable scholar with impeccable credentials. The two justices nominated by President Obama were scholarly, but were more liberal in their outlook, and were largely unopposed by Republicans. Traditionally, presidents are able to choose nominees to fill Supreme Court vacancies, and Trump’s choice justified his election to many.

When Senate Democrats, representing the loyal minority opposition, raise false or manufactured criticisms of Judge Gorsuch, they’re acting like poor sports, frustrated that Trump won the election. Those Democratic senators opposing Gorsuch may pay a public price in the 2018 elections, especially senators who represent states that Trump won in 2016. Judge Gorsuch should receive 100 Senate votes for confirmation. Democratic senators should raise their support for a like-minded candidate to replace one of the older liberal justices on the Court upon retirement and hold their fire on Judge Gorsuch. Doing otherwise, or objecting to his nomination on purely political grounds, is a fool’s errand. Democrats lack the votes to stop his nomination anyway.

President Trump is also entitled to have as Cabinet members those he chooses, unless they’re obviously unqualified. He’s the president and is entitled to his own team. So far, Democrats have raised specious arguments against the Trump nominees, with the possible exception of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, Republican senators in opposition, object less on substance and more on politics, as both senators have received pressure from teachers unions that oppose DeVos, or perhaps also because both senators want to show their independence on at least one Trump nominee. Alaska supported Trump, but Maine supported Clinton.

That doesn’t mean, however, that DeVos failed the confirmation test. The margin with Republican votes was narrower without Collins and Murkowski. But in the end, 50 Republican senators voted for DeVos’ confirmation, and Vice President Mike Pence broke the tie, as allowed under Article 1, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution: “The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.” Presidents should be able to have their Cabinet selections confirmed, and accordingly be held accountable for such choices.

The same is true for any political choice a president makes. In the case of President Trump, his opponents have every right to criticize actions with which they disagree philosophically. The choices he’ll make as president subject him to such criticism. But elected officials raise their right hand and swear on their oath of office to “preserve and protect the Constitution” and have an implied duty to conform their actions to what’s best for the United States.

The Cabinet choices and Trump’s choice of Judge Gorsuch are good for America and represent fights the Democrats should avoid. Senate Democrats should swallow hard and withdraw their objections to current Cabinet choices and Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, and fight their philosophical fight another day, when it might mean something. After all, Trump won the electoral vote and therefore the presidency, and objections by Democrats won’t change the outcome.

Poor sportsmanship in politics is as bad as poor sportsmanship in any other field of endeavor. It causes public heads to shake in disgust.

Trump’s To-Do List

January 12, 2017 | George Nethercutt for the Inlander

This article first appeared here on the Inlander.

America will be watching how Donald Trump delivers on the promises he made during the campaign.

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There are at least 14 benchmarks to look for after Donald Trump becomes America’s 45th president; they’ll define his presidency and determine how long Republicans remain as a congressional majority. They are:

  1. Will the United States stem the tide of illegal immigration, including passing federal legislation for comprehensive reform?
  2. Will the wall between Mexico and the U.S. be built?
  3. Will tax relief become law?
  4. Will Obamacare be repealed and replaced?
  5. Will the United States’ balance of trade improve?
  6. Will America’s job picture improve?
  7. Will infrastructure projects be completed before 2020?
  8. Will America’s debt ceiling be increased?
  9. Will America’s federal debt and deficit be reduced?
  10. Will the pay of American workers be increased?
  11. Will progressives and the American left gain strength or be satisfied to only criticize Trump?
  12. Will the size of federal agencies and programs be reduced?
  13. Into what world conflicts will President Trump involve the United States?
  14. Will President Trump tweet something offensive enough to turn public opinion against him?

Perhaps the most important consideration for Trump and other Americans is whether the United States gets into international skirmishes that put American military personnel at risk, including the threat of terrorism or military incidents that could sour the public on presidential or congressional leadership. Americans love peace, but they’re also patriotic, wanting America to be successful internationally.

“Make America Great Again” was more than a clever political slogan. It reflects the American point of view for our country that touches all 14 of the items listed above. Positively delivering on the list WILL make America great again — passing comprehensive immigration legislation, reducing illegal immigration through construction of a wall or other means and creating private sector jobs using Trump’s business expertise, perhaps through completion of infrastructure projects or made possible through favorable business tax treatment, robust free enterprise and a balance of trade improvement.

Congress may have no alternative but to soon raise America’s debt ceiling, but that doesn’t mean our leaders should abandon reducing America’s massive debt and annual deficits. Trump spoke often of America’s $20 trillion debt and the scourge of such indebtedness. Trump and Congress can and should tout the debt’s reduction, if it occurs, especially if interest rates rise and negatively impact the massive interest payments America must pay. Of course, if the debt ceiling doesn’t increase, taxpayers will face the prospect of a distasteful government shutdown. Paying down the national debt will be good for taxpayers.

Millions of wage-earning workers elected Trump and kept Congress in Republican hands. They’ll be watching for policies that make their economic lives better. So will America’s minorities, who have largely been abandoned or taken for granted by Democrats eager for their vote. Republicans can mollify independent and Democratic skeptics if Trump and the party can reduce America’s balance of trade, consolidate duplicative federal programs that waste taxpayer funds or reduce the federal government’s intrusion into taxpayers’ daily lives.

One of Trump’s greatest challenges is personal. He’ll have to generate greater trustworthiness by mending fences with his detractors. He’ll also be tested early by world leaders and political opponents determined to shake his resolve to change America for the better. Hopefully he won’t revert to form, lashing out at opponents as he did in the Republican primaries, because it’s a certainty that Clinton loyalists, Sanders/Warren devotees, the national press, progressives and other Clinton supporters will criticize Trump directly and frequently, hoping he’ll overreact and tweet indiscriminately or offensively.

The test will now come as to whether his actions in office will be true to his campaign rhetoric and the statements that got him elected. He’s fudged a bit on the existence of climate change and building a “traditional” wall as understood by his supporters. As for “crushing ISIS,” that may be easier said than done. The world awaits the outcome of other policy statements, and many will be watching, like the Veterans Administration staffer I met in December who said he’d “wait and see” how President Trump handles the cleaning up of that agency.

This past October, at the Washington Policy Center Dinner in Spokane, retired General Jim Mattis, soon to be Defense Secretary, and popular columnist/television celebrity Charles Krauthammer both spoke about the 2016 elections, affirming that great challenges await Trump.

The Trump presidency poses many opportunities, along with challenges. We can only hope that his term is successful for our country and that much of the list above is accomplished.

My Dinner With Fidel

December 8, 2016 | George Nethercutt for the Inlander

This article first appeared here on the Inlander.

Looking back nearly 20 years, when three Americans sat down with the Western Hemisphere’s most notorious communist.

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The recent death of the oppressive Fidel Castro may end an era — one of brutality, restriction of freedom and anti-Americanism. America should now adopt policies that will encourage freedom in Cuba.

United States-Cuba relations have been rocky since 1959, the year of Castro’s ascension to power in his small Caribbean nation, then with a population of nearly 7 million. When I dined with him in Havana nearly 20 years ago, having sponsored a law opening Cuba to American products, Fidel was aged but not feeble, still a revolutionary at heart, expecting his guests to marvel at his stamina and intellectual recall. He probably took an afternoon nap in order to appear vigorous from 9:30 pm until dinner ended at 2:15 am.

I was there after Eastern Washington pea farmers brought it to my attention that Canadians could sell peas to Cuba, but they could not. Working within existing American policy, we were there to explore getting more of our products to the Cuban people.

Though I imagined that Castro understood English, he spoke only through a female interpreter who appeared to translate his comments the way he wanted them understood, not the way he stated them in Spanish. Seeking to regale his three Congressional guests with facts and statistics, his delivery was more like filibustering; where if he talked, no one else could. It was only through interruption that one could pose a question or make a point.

Castro was still angry with the Soviets after the USSR stopped his $200-million-per-year support payments in the late 1990s. He dismissed my suggestion that to open Cuba to American capitalism, he could allow U.S. colleges to hold spring breaks in Cuba. He reiterated his outspoken policy that Cuba should be treated the same as other nations, as far as U.S. policy went, rejecting the American policy that allowed for cash-only sales of American products to his country. Cuba was encouraged to “buy” American goods, essentially walking through the door that American policy had left open. Saying “No” because he had “said too much” to the world at large about the sorry state of U.S.-Cuba relations, Castro wanted Cuba to be treated as a first-class nation in the world. We politely told him that no Congressional policies would be forthcoming that loosened the relationship more without affirmative actions by his country.

Two months later, a devastating hurricane struck Cuba. The U.S. offered free aid. Cuba refused the offer, saying instead that it would “buy” U.S. products. It was a pretext to allow Castro to save face, since the U.S. had not changed its cash-only policies as Castro had demanded. Since that time, Cuba has bought more than $2 billion of U.S. products for cash, including our crops.

Following the legislative easing of U.S.-Cuba relations, the George W. Bush administration took a harder line against Cuba and Castro, failing to recognize that most of today’s 11 million Cubans are not communists, and many long to be free. Under Bush, American travel to Cuba was limited. U.S. Department of Treasury and Commerce regulations became more restrictive. Outreach to Cuba fell off, though cooperation between anti-drug officials of both countries continued, since Castro didn’t want Cuba to be economically drug-dependent.

When President Obama reached out to Cuba to normalize relations, the relationship began to thaw. While Castro was an avowed communist, anti-capitalist and oppressive force for more than 50 years, it’s no wonder that American presidents have been reluctant to normalize U.S.-Cuba relations. Anti-Castro Floridians have led political opposition, with American presidents and Congressional representatives and senators in tow. Florida members of Congress insisted on not extending American credit to Cuba, requiring the cash-only sales position from Americans to Cuba.

Cuban-American foreign policy under the new Trump Administration isn’t yet determined. Hopefully, Trump will seek to attract Cuba’s willing citizens 90 miles off American shores to freedom, thereby signaling rejection of the oppressive society that Castro championed. Florida’s Cuban population, now accustomed to American freedom, should lower its resistance to embracing Cubans, with the lure of a free society, rejecting the communist-inspired, anti-American rhetoric of Raul Castro, Fidel’s successor, who may turn out to be less oppressive than his brother. The U.S. should continue reaching out to Cubans with a message of liberating them from the society that has historically restricted and punished them in areas of health care, baseball and the arts.

I would expect Cubans to embrace any American outreach. If presented properly, they’ll soon realize that Americans are not as evil as Fidel told them for decades. Just ask the Cubans who have emigrated here and become some of America’s most productive citizens.

Level the Field

November 10, 2016 | George Nethercutt for the Inlander

This article first appeared here on the Inlander.

Our political parties need to adopt new changes to give challengers a better chance at getting elected.

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Donald Trump spoke recently about “draining the swamp” in Washington, D.C. We do need changes, particularly to the two major political parties. Though Trump had proposed term limits, that’s not the best way. Here are six other ways to bring the kind of change we need:

  1. Pass a Constitutional amendment requiring candidates to receive at least 50 percent of the vote in 80 percent of all counties in their state or congressional district. Today, candidates can win a few populated counties and be victorious, ignoring smaller counties. That’s unfair to smaller counties and the voters there. Washington state is a good example — it has 39 counties. Sometimes, incumbents don’t win them all. Senate candidates running against incumbents are disadvantaged if they don’t win the three most populated counties — King, Pierce and Snohomish. Former Washington Senator Warren Magnuson once remarked, “If one stands atop the Space Needle, you can see all the votes you’ll need to win.” One can see King, Pierce and Snohomish counties from the Space Needle. If incumbents are required to win at least 50 percent of 80 percent of each county, they would truly represent all their constituents. For example, little Garfield County (population about 2,200) rarely sees their U.S. senators. Nor do other small counties. Making sure that candidates visit and fight for votes in all counties will assure fair representation.
  2. Pass a political party rule that incumbents must debate challengers in at least 80 percent of all counties of a state or congressional district. Ninety-five percent of all incumbents are re-elected. Usually, incumbents shun debates with challengers, not wanting them to receive attention, so incumbents usually agree to one or two Saturday night debates opposite a World Series game, assuring low viewership.
  3. Pass a political party rule that puts limits the amount of carry-over cash from a prior campaign. Indiana’s former U.S. Senator Evan Bayh is a good example. Having served in the Senate from 1999 to 2011, he took a break, earned a fortune, but maintained his multimillion-dollar Senate campaign account. Now he seeks a return to the Senate, using the account’s millions to seek re-election. Limiting such accounts would eliminate the incumbent advantage for those employing the Bayh model. While money alone doesn’t assure victory, it provides a major advantage against a challenger. Candidates should start even. Limiting spending in campaigns would also assure that Congress is not made up only of millionaires who spend their fortunes for election or re-election.
  4. Eliminate superdelegates from the Democratic Party rules. This year, superdelegates gave Hillary Clinton a nomination advantage in her party. Challenger Bernie Sanders came close but couldn’t overcome the superdelegates pledged to Clinton, so she was nominated. Without the superdelegates pledged to Clinton, Sanders might have won, representing an energized wing of the Democratic Party.
  5. Though Donald Trump won the Republican nomination fairly, he did so without decorum, thrusting the 2016 presidential election into a situation where some 60 percent of voters distrust both major party candidates. Some don’t consider him a Republican. Changing Republican Party rules could change the outcome. In order to be eligible for a Republican primary, a candidate must sign a pledge to certain party principles, to wit: agreeing to a preconceived public plan to balance the federal budget and pay down the national debt; agreeing to Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment (thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican); agreeing to adhere to the Constitution; agreeing to take and pass the U.S. immigration and naturalization test (the same one immigrants must pass to become American citizens); emphasizing civic learning as part of a candidate’s education platform; and agreeing to a reduced income tax program. Failure at any time to so pledge and adhere to those stipulations would result in the elimination of a candidate from the race and prohibition from running as a Republican. Such a program would prevent voters from supporting a nominee breaching such standards.
  6. Assure that congressional districts are not gerrymandered. Some counties nationally resemble a Rorschach test, they’re so convoluted to preserve Democratic or Republican advantage. Both parties should require that district boundaries are limited to 100 miles from a candidate’s home.

This year’s presidential contest has jeopardized not only the American presidency, but also candidates seeking lesser offices, placing voters in a dilemma unseen in prior elections. Assuring that campaign contributions and incumbency don’t play an outsized role in electing quality individuals, appropriate changes can assure that Americans elect high-quality candidates who will properly do the people’s business.

Change We Believe In

February 11, 2016 | George Nethercutt for the Inlander

This article first appeared here on the Inlander.

All candidates pledge change; voters need to be behind those changes, as they were two decades ago.

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Voters are angry — disappointed with politicians, the “establishment” and anything connected to the federal government. They’re frustrated that the two major political parties have refused to reach across the aisle in Congress to find common ground and avoid legislative paralysis. The Iowa caucuses confirmed this anger, as new candidates emerged victorious — Ted Cruz and Donald Trump for Republicans, and Hillary Clinton (just barely) and Bernie Sanders for Democrats.

The majority of caucusgoers supported a Republican ideologue, a Democratic socialist, an entrenched liberal who is anything but an “outsider” to Washington politics and a billionaire businessman/TV personality who has masterfully spoken to American fears. The unfortunate irony is that American voters, as demonstrated in Iowa, are supporting the very candidates who would perpetuate our nation’s polarization.

As a political beneficiary of voter anger in 1994, I can testify that there was then an ideological outlet for that anger. The Contract With America was a political pledge to voters stating what candidates would do if voters elected and trusted them to serve honorably. The Contract promised that a set of principles would be voted on within the first 100 days of members being sworn in. The Contract’s provisions had been poll-tested, and all had at least 80 percent public support. In the first 100 days of the 104th Congress, the Contract was fulfilled, the federal budget was balanced for four years and the national debt was reduced by $500 billion. Promises made were promises kept.

For a time, voters supported the first Republican Congress in 40 years, but then the ways of Washington returned — unbalanced budgets, fiscal irresponsibility and overspending — and voters replaced Republicans in 2006, only to later replace Democrats once voters understood their policies.

Now Republicans are back in charge of the House and Senate, in part to blunt the political philosophy of President Obama, a philosophy that many Americans find both unpopular and polarizing. Still, voters need more. This year, the presidency stands on the brink of changing back to more traditional patterns of governance — fewer (hopefully) executive orders that bypass Congress, more spending control and greater assertion of American influence across the globe.

But America is still polarized. The vote in Iowa demonstrated at least that newcomers — a strict conservative (Cruz) and an unapologetic liberal (Sanders) — are popular in America’s heartland. It also showed the strength of a candidate (Trump) who’s a master at mobilizing Americans by tearing down rather than building up, feeding their anger while promising greatness. Along with empty promises, Trump’s bold criticisms of anyone who dares challenge him may lead to his political downfall. But the crowds he draws and the polling support he enjoys illustrate that Americans are fed up with politicians and initially willing to entertain the idea of an Entertainer-in-Chief.

Today, however, Iowa’s victors speak in simplistic terms about complex national issues — and the political season is lengthy, giving voters a chance to flirt with ideologues.

Cruz: “I’ll carpet-bomb ISIS.” “I’ll rip Obama’s executive orders to shreds.”

Trump: “I’ll make America great again.” “No Muslims will be able to enter America.”

Sanders: “Let’s tax the rich.” “Wall Street will be under control when I’m president.”

Hillary: “I’ll go farther than Obama.” “Free college tuition for everyone.”

Such declarations feed the extremes and rally “the base.” But on November 8, 2016, voters will cast their ballots in one of the most pivotal presidential elections in American history. At stake is the security of the United States, including economic security, tax and environmental policy, the livelihood of families everywhere, the healing of racial tensions in a coarse world and American leadership all over that world.

President Lyndon Johnson once said, “It’s not doing what is right that’s hard for a president. It’s knowing what is right.”

We Americans want a president who knows what is right, believes it deeply and is in sync with the thoughts of most Americans. Polarizing figures may temporarily satisfy their segment of the electorate, allowing supporters to blow off steam, but America’s presidents owe the entire nation a commitment to do what’s right for the majority, recognizing that circumstances often trump ideology in modern times.

Sober times in today’s world require sober judgments by voters, too, driven not by anger or frustration, but by knowledge and understanding borne of study and experience. We must expect the best of our leaders, but also realize the difficulty of leading more than 320 million Americans through the minefields of public policy.

If we choose wisely this year, we enhance the likelihood that the United States will endure for centuries to come.

Voting - The George Nethercutt Foundation

Presidential Litmus Test

May 13, 2015 | George Nethercutt for the Inlander

Voting - The George Nethercutt Foundation

This article first appeared here on the Inlander.

With the presidential election upon us, here are some age-old virtues for voters to think about as they consider the candidates.

Starting now and running through 2016, Americans will be searching for qualities in candidates that would make for a good president. Serious consequences will follow if voters choose incorrectly.

There are many legitimate presidential candidates now available for voter consideration. With an underperforming American economy, international developments in disarray, consumer confidence faltering and citizens disgusted with political dishonesty, candidates have high standards to reach if they are to receive broad support. Here are some time-tested traits, assuming that each candidate possesses the requisite intelligence, recognized leadership and a strong work ethic that may help voters sift through the field and arrive at a reasoned choice for 21st century leadership.

HUMILITY A lifestyle of service without self-exaltation is rare in candidates, but the combination is a necessary trait for which to strive in this next election. Candidates must know themselves well and show confidence in their public policy beliefs. Yet presidential candidates who genuinely convey heartfelt commitments to human struggles will generate followers and demonstrate a humble nature, in spite of their natural self-assurance. Americans are hungry for a leader who can effectively wed compassion with humility.

AUTHENTICITY Getting what we see in major candidates is a modern political necessity. Political campaigns are scripted so that we rarely get to “know” the candidate who seeks our vote. Public debates are usually a series of sound bites or broad platitudes. We often only see the images (through TV ads) the candidates or their teams want us to see. When we don’t get the leader we expected, approval ratings drop and the political system is diminished. Authenticity and political transparency generate trust and can reverse the trend.

COMPASSION Deeply caring for people and their circumstances means a candidate has keen insights into their problems and would work for effective policy solutions. Even though President Franklin Roosevelt was a wealthy, accomplished New York blue blood, his common touch helped him lead America through the Great Depression and on to victory in World War II. He sensed what was good for both the common man and our whole nation. Deep caring is instinctive, but can also result from broad experience.

HONOR One who lives an honorable life, free of deception, possesses a trait that marks a good leader for greatness, for only when leaders are trustworthy can they fully expect broad support. Citizens should only elect candidates whom they trust, because an untrustworthy candidate often becomes an untrustworthy leader.

HOPE Leaders must inspire hope in those they lead and encourage others to greatness. If citizens conclude that their leaders do not share their hopes for a better world, they’ll have little to strive for. Hope is inspirational and aspirational. If acted upon by leaders, it can truly motivate. A hopeless people soon become a hopeless nation, with leaders lacking enthusiasm that leads to leadership stagnation, with neither patience nor kindness. Citizens can tell when leaders aren’t committed to the greater good or the issues at hand.

PATIENCE True leadership in a political setting demands patience. Few leaders accomplish their policy objectives immediately. Work and patience eventually persuade other leaders to follow a preferred public policy course. The American government’s constitutional system expects and requires patience. President Abraham Lincoln withstood a long Civil War, showing extraordinary patience accompanied by kindness and perseverance. Had he been impatient, a broken, irreparable nation may have resulted. Since the American system is generally not built for speed, a presidential leader’s patience is essential — not only to keep pursuing sound policy objectives, but to patiently tolerate and work to resolve policy objections.

FAITH Belief in community, in unity, in people — and their goodness — is essential. Any leader who doesn’t love the nation led is unworthy of leadership. Citizens need to know that their leaders love America and want to make it better. Believing in a nation’s people, their goodness and self-interest in the communities they form and the possibilities they represent, means a leader is equipped to be a nation’s unapologetic standard-bearer: reliable in times of stress; proud, without being arrogant, in times of triumph; and always recognizing the hard work of others.

WISDOM It usually comes with age and experience. It leads to statesmanship and reassures all who deal with America, engendering confidence and success.

For the sake of America’s future, each voter must examine the 2016 presidential candidates with caution and discernment. In our examination, are we finding humility, genuineness, compassion, honor, hope, patience, faith and wisdom? America deserves no less in its next president. ♦

Americans get an F in civics

May 7, 2015 | Former U.S. Rep George Nethercutt

George Nethercutt The Pew Research Center and the U.S. Department of Education, respectively, issued recent findings on citizens’ knowledge of current affairs and student scores of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The findings showed broad failures. If policymakers don’t soon pay attention to such failures, the perpetuation of citizen understanding of the basic concepts of the American system will continue to be at risk.
Too many Americans don’t understand the principles of a free society based on freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. In the aftermath of the tragic Baltimore riots in April, the Baltimore prosecutor failed to emphasize the innocent-until-proven-guilty guarantees of the Constitution for those charged with crime. In the recent Texas shooting by two men upset by the extremist speech of a group mocking Muslim cartoons, media outlets condemned the speech because of its admittedly offensive nature, failing to recognize that most speech in America is constitutionally protected, no matter how outrageous or politically incorrect.

When Americans are oblivious of basic constitutional principles, American society suffers. Such omissions are akin to a vehicle driver being unaware of the rules of the road, not understanding the safety importance of traffic lights, stop signs or rights-of-way at intersections. Such ignorance is bound to result in a crash and injury.

When news commentators condemn a person’s right to speak out, especially if such speech is politically offensive, it shows a misunderstanding of the Constitution’s First Amendment protections. The First Amendment, protecting speech, was the first one the Founders devised, not a later number of the first ten Bill of Rights. Adopted on Dec. 15, 1791, the First Amendment regarding free speech has been interpreted many times by the Supreme Court. Obscene speech, school speech, false speech, political speech — all have been upheld by the court, with some restrictions, because free speech is a vital constitutional right that laws and courts must protect if American society is to be perpetuated through adherence to the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment also protects religious freedom, a free press, the citizen’s right to petition the government and free assembly.

The Pew Research Center News IQ results led to the April 28, 2015, Politico headline “Americans bomb Pew test of basic political knowledge.” The Department of Education’s Nation’s Report Card, revealed on April 21, 2015, contained findings showing students’ failure to grasp basic concepts in the 2014 study of civics and social studies. The NAEP is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what American students know and can do in various subject areas. Its findings covered student assessments on the topics of science, mathematics, reading, civics, the arts, economics, geography, U.S. history and technology and engineering literacy. The last national assessment of student learning across America was conducted in 2010.

The latest results show that of the more than 29,000 students tested, only 18 percent of eighth-graders reached the proficient level, with little improvement since 2010. Civics, geography and U.S. history were the categories surveyed, with 15 to 25 percent of the questions devoted to such topics as the “roles of citizens,” “U.S. relationship to other nations,” “government embodiment of American democracy,” “foundations of American political life” and defining “civic life, politics, government.”

What do low test scores mean?

American students are not learning the basics of American citizenship and fail to grasp the concepts of a free society that have changed the world because of their existence. Without change, leaders of tomorrow — today’s students — will undertake leadership obligations in Congress, state legislatures, city councils, school boards and other important venues without the knowledge necessary to perpetuate the constitutional freedoms that have developed over two centuries.

What should be done?

A national effort to focus learning on citizenship and government should be undertaken with the same vigor with which America has undertaken an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). A goal of improving NAEP scores should be established nationally and embraced by 2016 candidates and school officials everywhere. Corporate America should publicly support civic learning as it has supported STEM learning. Various states are passing laws requiring graduating seniors to pass the immigrant citizenship test as a condition of graduation, and many states are requiring more civic learning. All states should adopt basic civics requirements for graduation.
President Kennedy once famously said: “Democracy is never a final achievement. It is a call to an untiring effort.” Only by emphasizing civics now will the constitutional understanding of American democracy and the good citizenship we expect be enjoyed by future generations.

State Qualifying Tournament - George Nethercutt

Nethercutt Returns to N.C.H.S. to Host Debate Tourney at Alma Mater…

March 8, 2015

State Qualifying Tournament - George Nethercutt

I am so pleased and proud of Geroge Nethercutt! George Nethercutt and the Nethercutt Foundation’s primary mission is to build upon young peoples’ passion for civic mindedness. George demonstrated this at North Central High School on Saturday, February 28 by sponsoring the 1st and now Annual George Nethercutt State Qualifying meet.

George’s commitment to civics is more than talk, he follows it up action and passion for patriotism and American civic mindedness.

Please truly pass my thanks along to George!!

Well done!

Steve Fisk
Principal
North Central High School