News & Views from 465 California Street

The kitchen is as hot as ever

Clint Reilly
Jul
20
2010

My daughters are away at camp. This is the second summer they have gone away for two weeks and we really miss them. At the same time our dog, Ollie, developed an eye problem so he has been treated by the vet and is currently off rehabbing his cornea. The house is eerily quiet and the silence is a reminder of who’s not there. Fortunately, my wife Janet is running for Supervisor in San Francisco’s District 2 and there is much to distract us from the girls’ absence.

District 2 is the illustrious area in San Francisco which has elected such luminaries as Dianne Feinstein, Louise Renne and Gavin Newsom in former times. All of them are endorsing Janet. She has even received the endorsement of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, another famous D2 resident. In fact, it is hard to find a leader in the City who is not enthusiastic about Janet’s run. Running for the vacant seat of termed out Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, Janet has garnered an impressive array of supporters. Read More »

 

Where are the Troops for Paul Krugman?

Clint Reilly
Jul
7
2010

Paul Krugman is predicting another Depression because governments are refusing to keep pumping more money into the economies of Europe and the United States. He has written that the mistake of 1938 is being repeated. At that time, Franklin Roosevelt listened to the deficit hawks and cut back on federal subsidies meant to create jobs and fuel the economy. The economy tanked and the New Deal hit a brick wall.

After an $800 billion stimulus package spearheaded by President Obama and a Democratic Congress, job creation is stalled and deficits are ballooning. Republicans smell blood as the November elections approach. Political will has softened among moderate Democrats for more government spending to spur employment and growth. A large cadre of first term Democrats in Congress were elected in conservative districts fed up with George Bush and failing Republican policies.

But now Obama is the incumbent and his policies have become the target of an increasingly agitated American electorate. Wall Street’s collapse has left average citizens with a bitter taste in their mouths. The detritus is strewn throughout middle America. Millions of soured mortgages, confiscated homes, failed businesses and lost jobs remain as financial titans responsible for the carnage are nursed back to health with taxpayer subsidies. Polls show decisive majorities for shrinking government rather than embracing the pump priming policies of John Maynard Keynes that were the Democratic formula for the New Deal, Fair Deal, New Frontier and the Great Society. Read More »

 

Hello Again

Clint Reilly
Jun
25
2010

After a brief respite, I’m back. I intend to periodically record my thoughts on matters of public interest. My column in Bay Area Media News papers has run the agreed upon three years and now I will record my thoughts for a vastly reduced readership. No matter. I learned a powerful lesson from having a deadline every Tuesday. The benefits to self from writing – apart from whether or not anyone ever reads your content – are awesome.

When I was a student, my seminary English professor made us write a daily essay. I remember the grueling nights spent dissecting Shakespeare’s poetry. But the forced regimen, learned long ago, to condense ideas into one clear message, has served me well throughout the rest of my life. Also, there is a certain value in the simple discipline of articulating your own thoughts and impressions only to yourself. We sometimes don’t know what we think until we reflect and organize our precise thinking.

But writers write to be read. So let us begin… Read More »

 

The Final Screed

Clint Reilly
Jun
8
2010

Today marks my final column after three years of weekly dissertations. That’s 156 columns, or about 100,000 words.

Writers know sleepless nights and the midnight oil. Frankly, I’ll miss them both.

There is satisfaction in communicating a simple thought in writing – however difficult it can be at times. And there’s something gratifying about sending your thoughts out to be critiqued by the literate masses.

Am I inflating my vitae to call myself a columnist when no newspaper actually hired me? Will the résumé police unmask my inflated biography? Many readers simply thought I was buying the space – a blowhard’s advertorial.

That would be a plausible explanation in a day when novice politician Meg Whitman is spending tens of millions to become a public servant.

But readers know by now that I was really given the space by this newspaper’s owner.

Imagine if you could pretty much write anything you wanted in 650 words every seven days as long as it wasn’t X-rated or otherwise unfit for a family newspaper. In these angry times, there is plenty to rail about. Read More »

 

The Death of Newspapers?

Clint Reilly
Jun
1
2010

A recent Atlantic Monthly article by James Fallows titled, “How to Save the News” offers a fascinating glimpse into the future of an industry currently beset by technological upheaval and rapidly evolving information consumption patterns.

At one point in the article, Google CEO Eric Schmidt states, “Nothing I see suggests the ‘death of newspapers.’”

The case of the San Francisco Chronicle would appear to be an exception.

The paper’s paid circulation numbers within the city itself have shrunk to 64,000 on Sunday and 58,000 during the week. If estimated Daly City subscribers – who are not really San Francisco residents – are subtracted, Sunday paid circulation falls further to 57,000 and weekday circ dips to 52,000.

San Francisco is a highly educated city of 808,000 residents. That means that only 6.4 percent pay to read the flagship daily newspaper each morning, about one in 16.

Those numbers aren’t encouraging. Read More »

 

Death of a Politician

Clint Reilly
May
25
2010

This November, California’s junior senator, Barbara Boxer, will face a stiff challenge from one of several formidable GOP candidates: Harvard pedigreed moderate Tom Campbell, wealthy former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, or Tea Party darling Chuck DeVore.

After three terms in Washington, Boxer must climb down from the senatorial throne and beg for votes in an angry state where unemployment has reached 12.5 percent and spiraling budget deficits have resulted in cutbacks to parks, transit, libraries, police and fire departments.

Eighteen years in the Senate might seem to entitle Boxer to an easy re-election. But easy elections in tough times are for dictators.

Full disclosure: I am a Barbara Boxer contributor and I hope she wins. Early in her career, I helped her get elected to Congress.

A subsequent campaign – which I did not manage – proclaimed “Boxer is a Fighter.” This year, she’ll have to be more than a fighter if she wants to hold on to her championship belt.

I’m sure the pugnacious Senator was watching apprehensively last Tuesday night when the working class voters of Pennsylvania dealt a lethal blow to the political career of her six-term Senate colleague, Arlen Specter.

Old, tired and defeated, Specter’s sepulchral countenance during his televised concession speech fit the occasion perfectly. All that remained was for his eyes to be closed and the body slid neatly into the coffin. Read More »

 

Obama in the Bubble

Clint Reilly
May
18
2010

Election cycles, like candidates, all seem to have their own slogan.

Congressional Democrats surged back into power in 2006 because of the “culture of corruption” Republicans had fostered in Washington. In 2008, after eight disastrous years of George W. Bush, the election was simply about “change.”

This year, with unemployment hovering around 10 percent and little hope for a quick recovery, conservatives and liberals alike have pre-branded this year’s mid-terms: This year, it’s about “ordinary Americans.”

Both parties have practically fallen over themselves trying to show their commitment to the average voter. While Republicans try to cast President Obama and congressional Democrats as “out of touch,” Democrats scramble to tie the GOP to Wall Street.

Sensing danger, Obama has laid out a “reconnection strategy” to renew ties with the first-time voters and independents who swept him into office.

That’s what makes his nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court so baffling. Read More »

 

I Believe in Credo

Clint Reilly
May
11
2010

A few months ago, I devoted a column to the impending opening of my restaurant, Credo, at 360 Pine Street in the heart of downtown San Francisco. I recounted the doom-and-gloomers and naysayers who scoffed at me. They predicted falling sky.

Today, Credo is open and serving more than 1,000 diners per week.

For our March launch party, we squeezed more than 400 friends into Credo’s 75-seat ground floor dining room. The original skeptic, my wife Janet, opened the night on a humorous note by recounting her initial horrified reaction to my idea.

The famous social justice priest Monsignor Eugene Boyle, now a venerable 88 years old, then blessed the premises.

Our guests enjoyed a short parade of Credo personalities: Mario Maggi, our Milanese executive chef; Tim Felkner, our suave young general manager; Frank Holland, our editor and creative director; and finally my close friend, Lorenzo Petroni.

Lorenzo owns North Beach Restaurant, a renowned destination which is thronged nightly. Who better to help me cut the ribbon?

That was the easy part.

Credo’s grand opening was a lot like some of my experiences as a political consultant.

The campaign launch always turned out to be irrelevant to the final outcome of the election. I usually forgot the details of the announcement by the time the election rolled around; the rough and tumble of the actual campaign quickly replaced the ceremonial perfection of opening day. Read More »

 

Rivalry and Nobility

Clint Reilly
May
4
2010

John Ruskin, the great English philosopher, art critic and poet, once said that “Nothing is ever done beautifully which is done in rivalship: or nobly, which is done in pride.”

After nearly three years of writing this column, I have decided that I disagree with Mr. Ruskin.

I began my relationship with the owners of this paper under antagonistic circumstances. In 2006, I filed an anti-trust lawsuit to block a partnership between Hearst Corporation (owners of the San Francisco Chronicle) and MediaNews Group (owners of every other Bay Area daily), which I believed would have diminished the richness of news-gathering and opinion in the Bay Area.

Apologies to Mr. Ruskin, but I believe that rivalry between competing news organizations is not only beautiful, it is essential in a democratic society. My lawsuit succeeded in stopping the partnership, and I ended up with a quarter page space in the Tuesday paper to try my hand as an independent columnist for three years.

The calendar has nearly run out, and my June 8th column will be my last. Read More »

 

Challenging Celibacy

Clint Reilly
Apr
27
2010

Two Fridays back, I attended the 13th annual Catholic Charities Loaves and Fishes Dinner, which my wife and I started and ran for its first 10 years. I quickly discovered that the priest pedophilia scandal has reignited the debate about celibacy within the Catholic Church.

Although many contend that there is no direct correlation between pedophilia and celibacy, Catholics in the pews are beginning to discuss the Church’s ban against a married priesthood.

Former United States Federal Attorney Kevin Ryan and his wife Ann sat at our table. As the retired U.S. Attorney in the Region, Ryan was deeply troubled by the revelations of molestation by priests against innocent children.

I recently wrote that the celibacy topic was above my pay grade but Ryan challenged me to focus a column on this important issue.

So, last week I asked my mother – a devout Catholic – whether she favored lifting the ban on a married priesthood. She was baptized as a convert at St. Felicitas Church in San Leandro nearly sixty years ago. Read More »

 

We called him “Kes”

Clint Reilly
Apr
20
2010

We called him “Kes.” He was a big, burly guy who played center on the basketball team and hurled the shot put in track.

Kes was an excellent student; very smart. We liked him. He was our classmate at St. Joseph’s High School in Mountain View and St. Patrick’s College/Seminary in Menlo Park during the 1960s.

There were hundreds of students in the seminary and dozens in our class. The all-male seminary was filled with young Catholic teenagers and men studying to become priests from throughout the Bay Area, Sacramento and the Central Valley, as well as Hawaii.

On the two campuses, students ranged from 13 to 25 years old.

Kes and I were both students for the priesthood from the Oakland Diocese so we sometimes commuted home together on Christmas and holidays. I left in 1969 but Kes stayed and was ordained a priest in 1972.

“Kes” was Steve Kiesle, the pedophile priest who was allowed to continue in his role for years after being convicted for tying up and molesting two young boys in a church rectory in 1978.

Kiesle’s story has taken on new weight after recent revelations that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – now Pope Benedict – ignored pleas from Oakland Bishop John Cummins to remove Kiesle from the priesthood in 1985. Read More »

 

Harboring Pedophile Priests

Clint Reilly
Apr
13
2010

The sexual abuse of children is so vilified in our society that the mere possession of child pornography by an adult is grounds for an automatic jail sentence.

One well known local writer, Ken Kelley, died in jail after kiddie porn was found on his computer. Radio talk show host Bernie Ward is serving time for sending illicit sex pictures of underage children over the Internet.

Nevertheless, thousands of priest child abusers all over the world – in the U.S., Ireland, Germany, the Philippines and elsewhere – were allowed by both ecclesiastical and civilian authorities to roam like predators molesting innocent children.

Buried stories continue to be uncovered like mass graves at a holocaust site. Now, like Watergate slowly winding its way into the Oval Office and engulfing Richard Nixon, two new stories implicate Pope Benedict himself.

First, there is a sickening account in the New York Times of serial abuse by a Wisconsin priest who went unpunished for decades. He continued to molest children while being transferred periodically by higher ups who were aware of his history. Pope Benedict is linked to the chain of leniency.

Second, Europe has just been rocked by new revelations that Archbishop Ratzinger – now Pope Benedict – allegedly did not oust a known child molester when he led the Munich Diocese as a younger prelate. Read More »

 

Alms for Jerry

Clint Reilly
Apr
6
2010

Recent developments in the California gubernatorial race are giving me political flashbacks.

UC Berkeley’s Institute for Governmental Studies, shortly after the 1994 elections. A political postmortem.

Several hundred political junkies and a smattering of candidates mixed freely with academics and media types, all eager to dissect the election.

As the losing gubernatorial campaign manager, I was on the hot seat. My candidate, Kathleen Brown, had lost handily to incumbent Governor Pete Wilson. Wilson’s team of consultants entertained the audience with detailed accounts of their own behind-the-scenes strategic brilliance.

Standing off to one side, the famous pollster Mervin Field listened pensively. George Gorton, Don Sipple and Joe Shumate of the Wilson campaign were openly derogatory of my commercials and strategy as the Sacramento Bee’s John Jacobs, (formerly of the Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner), nodded in enthusiastic agreement.

“I feel like a cadaver at my own autopsy,” I opened. Gallows humor seemed the only credible rejoinder.

Newspapers were rampant with commentary that I had bankrupted KB’s campaign by wasting money on summer television and not saving for October.

Professor Bruce Cain, who headed the institute and who was also one of the state’s leading election pundits, presided over the event, occasionally tossing a sympathetic shrug in my direction.

Which brings us back to Election 2010: Jerry Brown is in trouble for almost the same reasons as Kathleen Brown 16 years ago. He will be massively outspent just like his sister Kathleen and soon will have to choose between two lousy options.

I know, because I’ve faced the same choice. Read More »

 

PROGRESS

Clint Reilly
Mar
30
2010

Fantastic! Triple high fives to Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi. Hail to Harry Reid, too.

Kudos to our Bay Area Democratic congressional delegation which has been out front on the battle for years – Anna Eshoo, Jackie Speier, Barbara Lee, Pete Stark, Mike Honda, Zoe Lofgren, George Miller, Lynn Woolsey and John Garamendi.

Thank you United States Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer!

A political war as bloody and monumental as the Battle of Gettysburg has been waged and won.

It’s about time Democratic leaders ignored GOP obstructionism and rejected the fiction of “post partisanship.” Health care reform is finally here.

It should have been here long ago.

Despite being the wealthiest country on earth, our embarrassing Rube Goldberg device of a health care system is ranked 37th in the world.

We are eating up a greater percentage of our GDP on health costs than Germany, France, Great Britain or Japan – all countries that have universal care. In fact, we are the only industrialized nation without universal coverage.

The health care victory was vital for Democrats. The core message of the Democratic Party is an unremitting commitment to drive progress for the average citizen. But what is “progress” for a family if they have no health care for their children?

How can we justify workers who are on a payroll but lack health insurance? What kind of society prices health care so high for workers in their 50s that employers are incentivized to jettison them in favor of younger workers with cheaper premiums?
How can we say it’s OK for a woman with a history of past illness to be denied coverage?

These injustices have been a part of American reality for so long that we are inured to their backwardness, their primitiveness, their barbarism. Read More »

 

Drowning Democracy

Clint Reilly
Mar
23
2010

When it happened, no one is quite sure. But during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the stream of money flowing into our political system began to swell. Since then, the river has become a raging flood that is now drowning our democracy.

I remember managing my first victorious campaign in the 1970s. We spent less than $20,000 on a major race and won handily.

Another time, I was able to win a campaign for my client by spending less than $2,000. We placed brochures on the seats of every transit rider and delivered our literature door to door with teenage volunteers.

During those lean years, I needed a day job to support my forays into political campaigning. I opened a store on the San Francisco waterfront at 33 Filbert Street just to pay my bills.

I would have starved to death if I had tried to live on my pittance wages from running campaigns.

But by 1980, my fee alone for running a single congressional race in Los Angeles was well over $100,000. In 1987, my firm earned millions when I was hired to direct a package of initiatives on the California ballot. And our bill was only a slice of the nearly $80 million spent on the races.

At the time, I thought this huge sum would become a high water mark for spending. In fact, the amount has been exceeded multiple times in the intervening decades.

The mega sums now spent on elections are nothing compared to the gusher of cash paid out by special interests for lobbying and public relations. Read More »

 

American Gridlock

Clint Reilly
Mar
16
2010

Change is supposed to be difficult. Major progress – like reforming a country’s education system or achieving universal health care – takes vision, patience and will.

But it’s not supposed to be impossible.

Especially not for the most economically prosperous, militarily powerful and politically advanced country in the world.

Still, here we are.

Nearly 15 months into the Obama presidency – with huge Democratic congressional majorities – we’re still waiting for health care reform. Our corrupt and broken banking system remains unaddressed. A climate bill? Please.

These are just a few of the big problems now confronting us. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find a rapidly deteriorating education system, a fragmented immigration policy, the looming insolvency of Social Security, and the absence of a rational plan for energy independence.

Conservatives implore the president to slow down, that “America” doesn’t want big change. They throw sand in the gears of government. So, nothing happens at all.

It’s no wonder that a recent poll showed that 86% of Americans believe our system of government is broken. Time and again we have proven incapable of addressing major national concerns without the boot of acute crisis bearing down on our necks. Read More »

 

How to Beat a Billionaire

Clint Reilly
Mar
9
2010

Now that California Attorney General Jerry Brown has made his candidacy for governor official, does he have what it takes to beat back his likely Republican foe, billionaire Meg Whitman?

Sixteen years ago, I managed the gubernatorial campaign of Brown’s sister, then-State Treasurer Kathleen Brown, who was soundly defeated by incumbent Governor Pete Wilson.

Jerry was a quiet bystander during that campaign, contributing only $150 to his sister’s cash-starved campaign as a protest against the power of money in politics.

Now Jerry must raise tens of millions to beat Whitman, an adversary with unlimited personal wealth who is anxious to paint him as an over-the-hill 1970s retread.

He should also take note of critical lessons from his sister’s failed quest in 1994. Like “Jerry 2010,” “Kathleen 1994” faced several major obstacles. Read More »

 

The “Difference Makers”

Clint Reilly
Mar
2
2010

In 2008 an unknown, inexperienced senator from Illinois emerged from poet Carl Sandburg’s Chicago and rekindled hope in America. The common thread among Barack Obama’s supporters was a passion for change.

Over the course of my career in politics, I’ve seen a number of leaders like Obama who were determined to make a difference.
Looking back, the “Difference Makers” all share three distinct qualities.

As a young man I worked for the labor leader Cesar Chavez. When the state of Arizona passed a law that prohibited farm workers from organizing a union, Cesar decided to recall the governor, a Republican by the name of “One-eyed” Jack Williams.

There was only one problem: I took a poll and discovered that 85 percent of Arizonans were against the recall. The poll was taken door-to-door throughout the state by volunteers. I went into the living rooms of many voters myself and saw their antagonism toward Chavez first-hand.

Cesar’s reaction to my survey was volcanic. First, he ordered more volunteers into the state to intensify the campaign. Second, he raged at me for producing such awful numbers.

I saw then the first attribute of the Difference Maker – a refusal to acknowledge that any obstacle is insurmountable. Well, almost any. Read More »

 

Beware the “Geniuses”

Clint Reilly
Feb
23
2010

I recently attended a small party with President Obama’s deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina. Messina – a Huck Finn type originally from the office of Montana Senator Max Baucus – treated us to a Pollyannaish assessment of Obama’s first year.

According to Messina, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is the smartest political brain in America and Obama is the greatest political communicator of his generation.

That’s where I started to tune out. My BS periscope surfaces whenever I hear these superlatives used to describe politicians. After a lifetime in the game, I’ve learned that genius labels should be reserved for Nobel Prize winning scientists and mathematicians.

Why am I so skeptical? Maybe it’s because our “genius” political class so often drums out rational, intelligent voices of dissent.

Take the case of Brooksley Born.

You could be forgiven for not knowing the former Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chair. But last week’s powerful PBS Frontline story about Born should be must-see TV for all Americans.

Let’s put it this way: If former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and Assistant Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers had heeded Born’s warnings, we might have averted the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, saved taxpayers $12 trillion in bailouts and averted the loss of millions of jobs. Read More »

 

BREAK THE BANKS

Clint Reilly
Feb
16
2010

American banks love to affect a false pose of solidity and enduring strength. That’s why so much bank architecture mimics the classical columns of ancient Greece.

But the American financial system today is in ruins – much like the Parthenon.

So, how can it be that more than a year after the ignominious collapse of our financial system, banking reform still languishes in Congress?

A just-published book by former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson – who wrote the trillion dollar checks – contends that taxpayers stand to make a profit on the bank bailouts.

Paulson’s conjecture is laughable in light of the more than $11 trillion of taxpayer infusions and guarantees committed to staunching our hemorrhaging financial system and stabilizing our economy. Even if it had a grain of truth, it still wouldn’t change history: the unprecedented intervention, the ruined personal wealth, the mass unemployment and our shattered economy.

President Obama has proposed a Consumer Financial Protection Agency to oversee credit cards and mortgages. Mega-money hedge funds would be required to register with the SEC. A Financial Services Oversight Council would target and regulate banks and financial firms too big to fail. A National Bank Supervisor would scrutinize problem banks. He even proposes a tax on banks to repay the government and the end of proprietary securities trading with depositors’ money.

Of course, the banking lobby is shamelessly resisting regulation the way car companies once smeared seat belts. Read More »

 

Get Health Care Done

Clint Reilly
Feb
9
2010

Health care reform must pass, even in light of the changed political calculus on Capitol Hill. There’s too much riding on it for it to fail.

A generation of idealists inspired by Barack Obama in 2008 now teeters on the brink of disenchantment. Where Candidate Obama made millions of people believe that government could drive positive change, President Obama risks alienating those who believed in him. If he fails to achieve real results, Americans’ enthusiasm for civic engagement and trust in their institutions may be lost for a generation.

That’s why Obama can’t afford to let health care reform die on the operating table.

Every Democrat who believes in the power of government to improve society has a vested interest in the revival and passage of health care reform before the 2010 election cycle begins in earnest.

Let’s review the case for a cure:

Our broken health care system ranks 37th in the world. More than 45 million Americans are uninsured. Those have insurance rely almost exclusively on employer-provided coverage, which is unfair to both employees and businesses. We are the sole industrialized nation without universal health insurance yet our percentage of GDP expended on health care is far above nations like France, Germany and Japan.

Experts warn that our present rate of spending on health care is untenable. And yet, after a year of careful crafting in the Senate and House, health care reform has been stopped at the goal line.

How can the White House, Senate and House lay such an embarrassing egg after a year of concerted focus? Read More »

 

NATIONAL EMERGENCY

Clint Reilly
Feb
2
2010

James Fallows recently wrote a long piece in The Atlantic titled, “How America Can Rise Again.”

We should listen to him.

While pundits claim that America’s greatest challenge is the bitter economic aftermath of our recent near-Depression, Fallows disagrees. “The American tragedy of the early 21st Century…is a governing system that increasingly looks like a joke,” he writes.

“When the United States Senate was created, the most populous state, Virginia, had ten times as many people as the least populous, Delaware. Now the most populous, California, has 69 times the population as the least populous, Wyoming. And yet they both have the same two votes in the Senate. A business organization as inflexible as the United States Congress would still have a major Whale Oil Division; a military unit would be mainly fusiliers and cavalry.”

In other words, our ossified and creaky political system is increasingly unable to address and solve the problems of the American Commonweal. Or, as Fallows succinctly states, “our government is old and broken and dysfunctional and may even be beyond repair.”

During such desperate economic times, government reform may seem disingenuous and disconnected from our real problems. But just read the headlines:

The right makes a goal line stand against health care reform. An $800 billion stimulus package can’t bust out of Washington. Double-digit unemployment persists even as seven figure bonuses rain down on Wall Street. Budget deficits storm in like tornadoes – more than $1 trillion in Washington, $20 billion in Sacramento and $500 million in San Francisco. Polls by both CNN and The Wall Street Journal reflect the unpopularity of President Obama’s policies.

Republicans crow that these are all examples of Democratic failure and government’s inability to work effectively and efficiently.

But the nihilistic attacks of so many ideologues against “big government” are nothing more than a puerile denial that we need government at all.

In fact, a robust, vibrant government is the only forum that exists in a democratic society where we come together to address our most daunting challenges. Read More »

 

Kennedy Fatigue

Clint Reilly
Jan
26
2010

An electoral earthquake shook Massachusetts last Tuesday. When the dust settled, the U.S. Senate seat held for 40 years by Ted Kennedy had fallen to Republican upstart Scott Brown, the Democrats’ 60-seat majority in the Senate had crumbled and the Democratic to-do list was in ruins.

Martha Coakley’s loss was a severe blow to President Obama.

Everyone has their reasons why it happened. Obama’s miscalculation. The economy. Health care overreach. Coakley’s listless campaign. Scott Brown’s truck:

I wonder, however, if the loss wasn’t a final repudiation of Kennedy’s big government vision by his former constituents. Read More »

 

Terrorism’s Exploding Cost

Clint Reilly
Jan
19
2010

Last month we learned that lax security procedures allowed a terrorist to board a commercial flight bound for Detroit with a bomb sewn into his underwear. Luckily, the device’s detonator failed, sparing the lives of hundreds of passengers.

Nevertheless, the botched plot exacted a heavy economic and psychological toll.

The subsequent national uproar forced President Obama to call for full body scanners at airports and led to severely tightened security precautions at airports around the world. Air travelers reported tortuous delays and federal officials laid plans to spend $1 billion on full-body scanners.

As I watched the president and his White House aides call for even tighter airline security measures, I wondered why the gold plated equipment and elaborate precautions already in place had missed an underwear bomb.

It may feel like we’re fighting terrorism by instituting draconian security at airports and vulnerable facilities across the nation, but I am beginning to feel that the gigantic expense of defending Western society against a small band of terrorists is itself a massive victory for terrorism. Read More »

 

The Democrats’ Debt Trap

Clint Reilly
Jan
12
2010

Politics runs on its own clock. Only 12 months ago, I was triumphantly predicting decades of Democratic dominance in Washington. Today, I worry about President Obama’s re-election prospects in 2012 and whether Democrats will retain their strong majorities in the House and Senate.

What happened?

The massive federal expenditures orchestrated to rescue the nation from economic collapse are now boomeranging politically. Republicans are using the $12 trillion national debt as a cudgel, beating Democrats over the head as the midterm elections approach.

Charlie Cook – ace predictor of congressional races – now says Democrats will probably lose 30 seats this November.

It’s not unusual for an incumbent president’s party to lose seats two years into the first term. Ronald Reagan lost 26 Republican seats in the 1982 midterms. In 1994, Bill Clinton lost more than 50 seats and Republicans won control of the House and Senate for the first time in 40 years.

Both Reagan and Clinton faced grinding recessions during their first years in office. But the economy recovered over the subsequent two years, just in time for both of them to be comfortably reelected – Reagan by 17 million votes and Clinton by 8 million.

So, President Obama may well see his own polling numbers – and re-election prospects – improve dramatically if the recession ends, the national job picture brightens and the country’s GDP continues to grow.

But what if it doesn’t? Read More »

 

Power to the (Local) People!

Clint Reilly
Jan
5
2010

Imagine for a moment that you’re a kid again. Maybe you have a lemonade stand or your parents give you a small allowance each week. It’s not much, but it’s enough to cover the general operating expenses incurred by a seven-year-old.

Enter “Cal,” the school bully who lives down the street.

Cal is the most feared eighth grader in your school. He’s twice your size and his egotism is matched only by his avarice. He’s always broke, so his favorite pastime involves punching you in the stomach and taking your money.

If this scenario sounds familiar to you, there’s a decent chance you’re a local government official or service provider in the state of California.

Thomas Jefferson would be appalled by the past 40 years of California’s political history. A firm believer that government is most responsive when it is closest to the people, Jefferson would undoubtedly recoil at Sacramento’s relentless assault on local governments.

Indeed, the only thing more predictable than serial budget crises in Sacramento is the subsequent attempt to close the gap with local revenues.

If you think the state’s multi-billion dollar budget shortfalls are some abstract, far-off problem, think again. Local governments – cities, counties and special districts – have become the piggy banks of last resort for a state government that has come unhinged. Read More »

 

A Difficult Decade

Clint Reilly
Dec
29
2009

With only two days left in the first decade of the 21st century, it’s hardly a surprise that many Americans are heaving a sigh of relief. The rest are likely holding their breath until the clock strikes midnight.

And who could blame them? By virtually any metric, the last 10 years have been extraordinarily difficult ones for the United States.

The Internet gold rush that began in the mid 90s had reached fever pitch by early 2000. I remember speaking to a Berkeley freshman at the time who was starting an online business from his dorm room. I asked him about his business plan.

“I don’t need a business plan,” he told me. “I could take my mom public right now and make a million dollars!”

Needless to say, the dot-com era ran headlong into a buzz saw in March of 2000. When investors realized that a bad company with “.com” at the end was still a bad company, the bubble exploded.

Eight months later, Americans went to the polls on Election Day to cast their vote for president. No one anticipated the constitutional crisis around the corner. For more than a month, Americans were treated to daily dispatches about “hanging chads” and clandestine legal maneuverings as George W. Bush and Al Gore vied for Florida’s 25 electoral votes. In the end, Bush claimed the presidency after an extraordinary 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court.

The Bush v. Gore ruling hinted at the level of bitter political polarization that would mark the next nine years. Despite Bush’s pledge to bridge the divide, it took a horrifying national disaster to bring the country together again. Read More »

 

Repair California

Clint Reilly
Dec
22
2009

The 2010 California governor’s race is just around the corner. Barring a dramatic change, Jerry Brown has already clinched the Democratic nomination. And unless Steve Poizner gets his act together or Tom Campbell comes into an unexpected trove of cash, Meg Whitman will be the GOP nominee.

The stage will then be set for a high-stakes November showdown between two Northern California celebrities to succeed Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But another issue on the same ballot may have a greater impact on California’s future than who is elected governor. If enough valid signatures are collected to qualify, California voters could be calling a constitutional convention to reform state government.

God knows the Capitol desperately needs reform. I certainly think so. That’s why I recently signed on to help lead a citizen’s movement to change it. I left my quiet niche on the sidelines and joined a campaign to allow California citizens to rewrite the Golden State’s outmoded and archaic constitution. You can help too, by signing up at www.repaircalifornia.org.

Have you noticed that it doesn’t seem to matter who is elected because the system they are called upon to manage is dysfunctional, broken down or corrupt? Read More »

 

Citizen Lockyer

Clint Reilly
Dec
15
2009

When Jesse Unruh died in 1987, his New York Times obituary called him a “blunt speaking virtuoso of backroom politics.”

But Unruh was much more than that. As Assembly Speaker, he transformed the body into a professionally staffed, full-time institution. Later in his career, as California’s Treasurer, he oversaw the expenditure of billions of dollars in public funds.

In more ways than one, Unruh earned his name, “Big Daddy.”

If there is a single politician in Sacramento today who can fill Unruh’s shoes, it would be today’s inhabitant of the office Unruh vacated when he passed away in 1987: Bill Lockyer.

Lockyer is winding up his first term as treasurer after a career in the Capitol that began in 1973. His first election came at the young age of 32, after his boss, East Bay Assemblyman Bob Crown, was hit by a car while jogging and killed.

After a distinguished career in the Assembly, Lockyer moved to the State Senate. From 1994 to 1998, he was the most powerful Democrat in Sacramento as Senate majority leader.

In 1998 Lockyer became California’s Attorney General. He served as the state’s top law-enforcer for eight years before he was elected Treasurer in 2006.

His re-election to the office in 2010 is a virtual certainty. By the time he leaves office in 2014, Lockyer will have completed 40 years of service in the Capitol – single handedly defying the era of term limits.

But it isn’t simply his longevity that sets him apart. Read More »

 

East Bay Diary

Clint Reilly
Dec
8
2009

I recently paid a visit to the Oakland Museum just before it closed for renovation. I made the trip to view an exhibit by Squeak Carnwath, a highly regarded local artist of national renown.

Squeak’s work has had special significance for my family ever since I gave my wife one of her paintings to mark the birth of our youngest daughter. Titled “Thank You,” the work of art perfectly expressed our elation and gratitude at this special time.

My time at the museum took me on an unexpected detour down memory lane.

I remembered my mother praising the innovative design of the new Oakland Museum after she visited the complex when it opened in 1969.

As a young kid, I took the AC Transit bus from our family home in San Leandro to the Oakland Library near Lake Merritt just blocks away. I spent many afternoons combing the stacks and burying myself in books I never knew existed.

Not far away, at Frank Youell Field, I got my first glimpse of a young Al Davis pacing the sidelines as the coach of the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders would later move to the Oakland Coliseum in 1966.

A student of Coach Sid Gillman – father of the long ball – Davis believed in having his quarterback throw bombs. He was coach of the year in 1963 – 46 years ago – and he built a blue collar culture that fit the East Bay’s up-from-the-bootstraps fans. Read More »

 

Paging Bill Clinton!

Clint Reilly
Dec
1
2009

How quickly the worm turns. Just last November, pundits were predicting 40 years of Democratic hegemony and the dawn of a new progressive era.

That was before America’s $12 trillion national debt descended like a dark cloud over the Capitol.

The effect of this staggering number is twofold. First, it puts a damper on future government spending for social programs. Second, it has prematurely revived the fortunes of the Republican Party.

A New York Times article by Edmund L. Andrews explained our problem: “With the national debt now topping $12 trillion, the White House estimates that the government’s tab for servicing the debt will exceed $700 billion per year by 2019, up from $202 billion this year.”

Liberal columnist Paul Krugman dismisses such figures as “deficit hysteria,” claiming that $700 billion is a sustainable debt service payment for a greatly expanded economy in 10 years. But Krugman’s ideology is blinding him to the political consequences of such staggering sums.

For middle-class taxpayers, the sticker shock will almost certainly raise grave concerns about the cost and size of government and set the stage for Republican candidates to unfairly attack Democratic incumbents as “tax-and-spend liberals” in 2010 and beyond.

It is ironic that Republican President George W. Bush’s failed economic policies and hands-off regulatory agenda created the crisis. Even the most egregious bank bailouts came under Bush’s watch. But who ever said politics is about the truth? Read More »

 

Taking a Chance

Clint Reilly
Nov
24
2009

“I thought you were a smart businessman,” an astonished colleague exclaimed when he heard I was opening a restaurant. “Even my wife Janet looked at me quizzically and said, “You’re opening a what?!”

I had heard the horror stories all before. “Restaurants don’t make money” is ensconced in the pantheon of aphorisms right next to “Money doesn’t grow on trees.”

When I began to tell friends and associates last year that I planned to open an eatery in San Francisco, they practically organized an intervention to deter me.

Coming as it did while the country was plunging headlong into a financial catastrophe, my urban trattoria concept wasn’t wildly embraced.

I countered skeptics with the example of my good friend, Lorenzo Petroni, who began his career as a waiter upon his arrival from Lucca and who now presided over a small empire from his North Beach Restaurant in San Francisco. I also cited the legendary Sirio Maccioni, whose famous restaurant Le Cirque has become an internationally recognized brand.

“But you’re Irish,” folks admonished me while shooting winks at nearby associates.

Nevertheless, I forged ahead with little more than a name: “Credo,” the Latin word for “I believe.” Catholics recognize Credo as the prayer of the mass which enunciates the tenets of the Catholic faith. But this creed is followed immediately by prayers to God for help in daily life.

Let’s just say that I’ve done my share of praying for Credo to get off the ground. Read More »

 

Babs vs. Carly

Clint Reilly
Nov
17
2009

According to a recent LA Times poll, California’s U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer is still nearly as popular as her counterpart, Dianne Feinstein.

Nevertheless, Boxer will face a tough battle to retain her senate seat next year against former Hewlett Packard executive Cara Carleton “Carly” Fiorina.

Political handicappers have underestimated Fiorina’s chances, due primarily to her choppy performance as an economic adviser to John McCain and her mixed record as HP’s CEO. But there are reasons to believe that a Boxer/Fiorina matchup could be a blockbuster.

Boxer, a three-term incumbent Democrat, may be vulnerable to the electorate’s sour mood and the traditional midterm election backlash against the incumbent president’s party.

Undoubtedly, “Babs” (her nickname used by close friends) will face bruising attacks from Fiorina and her political brain Marty Wilson – a former adviser to Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I know Boxer well.  I advised her early races for Supervisor in Marin County and then ran her tough primary campaign for Congress against then San Francisco Supervisor Louise Renne in 1982.

Ten years later, Boxer won a primary campaign for U.S. Senator over Lieutenant Governor Leo McCarthy and Southern California Congressman Mel Levine. The Democratic primary electorate was 55 percent female, and Boxer benefited from her lopsided gender advantage. The two men split a minority of males while she swept the female vote.

Boxer was fortunate to face conservative talk show host Bruce Herschensohn in the general election.  Herschensohn was forced to spend the waning days of the campaign explaining away his frequent visits to a well-known strip club near the Los Angeles airport.

After her victory in 1992, Boxer drew mediocre, under-funded opponents in 1998 and 2004. I have heard Willie Brown frequently describe Boxer as the luckiest politician in the Golden State for this reason.

But Fiorina is neither mediocre nor poor. Read More »

 

The Education of Gavin Newsom

Clint Reilly
Nov
10
2009

When San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom backed out of the governor’s race last week, a classic fight between old school and new school politics was canceled.

Too bad. The bloodfest would have drawn a crowd.

Newsom tried hard to be a local version of Barack Obama, using new technologies to connect with young voters. His Facebook page substituted for a traditional campaign brochure and more than 1.2 million people followed his every move on Twitter. Nary a week passed that Newsom did not write a column for the online newspaper Huffington Post or post his views at the hub of online progressivism, the Daily Kos.

The telegenic Newsom starred in a series of town hall meetings staged across California. These events were designed for television news. He communicated his agenda via press conferences and photo ops that highlighted his mayoral initiatives: Here he is touting a law requiring San Franciscans to compost waste! There he is setting aside space near City Hall for a public garden!

Newsom’s campaign committed considerable energy to online fundraising from small donors as a substitute for special interest contributions and major givers. It was a noble goal, but the big money never materialized.

Taken as a whole, Newsom’s strategy was to build a clear contrast with his 71-year-old opponent, Jerry Brown.

Ironically, Brown was once a “new politician” himself as California governor in the late 70s and early 80s. Read More »

 

The Ambivalent President

Clint Reilly
Nov
3
2009

Barack Obama must succeed. After so many young people and first time voters invested their hopes in his presidency, his failure would elicit a level of despair that would plague the Democratic Party for decades to come.

The Democratic message was resurgent in 2008. Millions of new voters teamed up with Obama to reassert the government’s role in improving lives and protecting the public interest. A wave of optimism swept over the country and restored faith in America’s ability to renew itself domestically and regain moral standing internationally.

No symbol better characterized young people’s investment in Obama than the millions of “Hope” posters that appeared in windows across America.

But is Obama’s leadership meeting the expectations of these new civic participants?

The charitable answer is “not yet.” Obama’s indecisive White House is a case study of Washington’s finger-in-the-wind style of followership.

Nine months into his presidency, Obama has yet to take a strong leadership position on three compelling issues of our time: Regulatory reform of the financial system, health care reform, and the war in Afghanistan. Read More »

 

Political Animals

Clint Reilly
Oct
27
2009

My friend Joe Scott writes a popular blog on politics called “The Body Politic.” In some ways, it is a natural outgrowth of his renowned newsletter from an earlier era, “The Political Animal.”

A former political writer for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Scott cites a famous quote from Aristotle as his inspiration:

“Man is a political animal in a greater measure than any bee or any gregarious animal. For nature does nothing without purpose, and man alone of the animals possesses speech.”

Rereading the quote on Joe’s blog, I was reminded that political animals are a breed apart. They eat, drink and breathe politics 24/7. Some are junkyard dogs but others are lions who make the human race proud.

Long-time political writers Jerry Roberts and Phil Trounstine recently launched their own political website. These two cats are political animals par excellence. The Harvard-educated Roberts rose from his perch as political editor of the San Francisco Chronicle to become the paper’s managing editor.

Trounstine was the cagey political editor of the San Jose Mercury News who hated to get the story wrong almost as much as he salivated to get the story in the first place.

Writing out of a love of the game – only part time between other gigs – these combined 60-year veterans of state and national politics have already become the go-to source on Arnold, the underworld of the Capitol, the 2010 gubernatorial aspirants, initiative wars, the ups and downs of insiders and the rise and fall of political consulting careers.

You can get a ringside seat by punching in CalBuzz.com on your Blackberry or iPhone. Read More »

 

Reform Fever

Clint Reilly
Oct
20
2009

Before the progressive movement swept through California in the early 20th century, there was a growing sense throughout the state that Sacramento had ceased working for regular Californians.

Shackled by special interests and rife with corruption, the capitol had become a playground for corporate lobbyists who exerted unfettered control over the legislative agenda.

Over time, public displeasure with the system became public disgust. Reformers of every stripe began to speak out against the corruption and graft in Sacramento.

Once relegated to the political periphery, suffragists, environmentalists, labor activists and good government groups began to coalesce under the banner of “progressivism,” which aimed to take back the state from the party bosses and corporations that were perceived to be running it into the ground.

What a difference 100 years makes.

Today, Californians are similarly disgusted with the state of affairs in Sacramento. Last week’s Field Poll on voter attitudes painted a comically bad picture for the state legislature, with only 13 percent of those polled registering approval. And although he doubled the legislature’s score, Governor Schwarzenegger can hardly brag about his own 27 percent approval rating.

A second poll released by Field indicated significant voter support to overhaul state government from the ground up. Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo stressed the importance of the numbers, noting that “a majority sees the need for making fundamental changes to the state constitution and would support calling a constitutional convention to develop the reform proposals.”

In short, people are fed up. Read More »

 

Save California

Clint Reilly
Oct
13
2009

Is California, once the striding colossus of the American economy, about to go the way of the Soviet Union?

In its final days, the USSR was a flailing giant – a paper superpower with an imploding economy and a deteriorating ability to exercise rational public policies.

Sounds a lot like the Golden State.

With an ossified and impotent state bureaucracy, diminishing public services and a wholesale meltdown of the California economy, the analogy isn’t too far-fetched.

Even the state’s leading historian, Dr. Kevin Starr, has his doubts about California’s ability to recover from its current downward spiral. Quoted in a recent article in Great Britain’s Sunday Guardian, Starr warned that California may become “America’s first failed state.”

Foreclosures have leveled suburbs from Riverside to Merced. California is home to one of every four mortgages in the country where the loan is worth more than the property.

Employment numbers have plunged even more dramatically. At 12.2 percent, the state’s unemployment rate is the highest it has been since the 1940s. In many areas of the state, the job picture is almost surreal. The central valley town of Mendota, for example, is grappling with 38 percent unemployment. Nearly 5,000 East Bay jobs will disappear in one broad stroke when Fremont’s NUMMI auto plant closes early next year.

There are other alarming crisis indicators as well. The poverty rate in Los Angeles has climbed to 20 percent. Our schools, once the backbone of California’s ingenuity and progress, are now ranked 47th out of 50 states. This, coupled with spiraling higher education costs, has resulted in a 13-percent reduction over eight years in the number of 19-year-old Californians enrolled in college.

This isn’t a game. Californians need to wake up to the urgency of the situation. Read More »

 

Earth to Meg: Voting Matters

Clint Reilly
Oct
6
2009

The shocking story that California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman – the 53-year-old billionaire former CEO of eBay – never cast a ballot before 2002 continues to astound.

How can a candidate who never took the time to vote in any election until six years ago even presume to place her name on a ballot – let alone for the highest office in the largest state in America?

Whitman’s smug declaration that “Californians need to trust their government again” is a new high in the decoupling of political rhetoric and truth.

With a straight face, Whitman has spun a running list of answers for her failure to participate in our democracy ranging from “I’m sorry,” to “I was too busy.” Believe it or not, she even likened herself to the late singer Sonny Bono, another apparent non-voter before running for office.

That’s setting the bar pretty low.

I’m sorry, but when I was a kid, my parents voted. My dad was a milkman for Berkeley Farms Creamery and worked six days a week. My mother was a housewife who raised 10 kids while running a vending stand at the Oakland Coliseum for 26 years. They were busy. Their friends were busy. But they considered it their civic duty to take the time to be informed and to vote.

So, forgive me if I don’t buy Whitman’s excuse that she was too “focused on raising a family, on my husband’s career,” to vote.

The fact is that Whitman’s political consultants are so cynical about the reputation of our democracy among voters, they have advised their client that the issue won’t matter.

They know there will be a period of negative stories and turbulence, but they think interest will quickly evaporate and new rabbits will appear for the newshounds to chase.

But Whitman and her advisers may have underestimated the renewed enthusiasm Americans across the political spectrum are exhibiting for their democracy. A newly energized electorate is participating in politics more than at any time in our history. Read More »

 

Governor eBay

Clint Reilly
Sep
29
2009

Here we go again. Meg Whitman, the latest in a long line of corporate chieftains promising to “run government like a business,” has formally announced her candidacy for California governor.

The conceit of America’s business elite is striking. Even after our entire financial system was nearly scuttled last year through the incompetence and greed of so many “brilliant” executives, they continue to peddle the myth that they are better qualified to run the country than anyone else.

Their attitude stems from the worn out “government/bad, private sector/good” argument. By this logic, we are supposed to believe that a billionaire CEO will run California better than a career civil servant or another qualified candidate.

Ronald Reagan crystallized the argument in his inaugural address, attacking government as America’s biggest problem. But Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman recently turned that mantra on its head, gently reminding us that during last year’s financial meltdown, business was the problem and government was the solution.

In the halls of power, business lobbyists love to contrast the mythological competence of corporate executives to the abject ignorance of elected politicians. They tout the private sector’s efficiency over the public sector’s profligate wastefulness. But the credibility of these clichés has been sorely eroded by the near-death experience of our free enterprise system. Read More »

 

Obama Parachutes In

Clint Reilly
Sep
22
2009

President Obama wields words the way Zorro flashed his sword.  But how many times can a president credibly orate his way out of crises which his administration was elected to solve or avoid altogether?

As Frank Rich recently observed in the New York Times, Obama has made a habit of delivering eloquent speeches at moments of intense political crisis. He enters the fray after the situation has hit fever pitch, then attacks with sharp barbs and inspiring prose. Usually, it’s just what the doctor ordered.

But just like antibiotics, political ploys grow ineffective with overuse.  Early in his first term, Obama runs the risk that too many speeches may immunize the public against his primary weapon.

The past two weeks brought us two more rousing Obama speeches: a health care address to a joint session of Congress, and a speech in New York detailing his plan to reform Wall Street.

The health care speech followed a tumultuous summer of raucous town hall meetings and a frenzied misinformation campaign by the right-wing chattering class bent on killing health care reform at any cost.

The Wall Street address came one day before Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke announced that the recession that has wracked the nation for 18 months is now technically over.

The president laid out his health care reform agenda to both houses of Congress effectively. The speech itself wasn’t the problem; it was the vacuum of leadership that led up to it. Read More »

 

The Bridges that Bind Us

Clint Reilly
Sep
15
2009

Every city has a heart, a feature that defines it in the minds of locals and visitors alike. In New York, the city’s character pulses from Times Square. In Los Angeles, Sunset Boulevard comes to mind.

The heart of the Bay Area is the bay itself, that vast stretch of water so central to our history and progress that it gives the region its name.

But if the bay is our heart, our bridges are the arteries that keep the region’s lifeblood flowing. They are the corridors of commerce and the ties that bind our disparate communities together within a common identity.

No span on earth rivals the Golden Gate Bridge in sheer architectural majesty. Envied and copied from Istanbul to Lisbon, its iconic status belies a more ominous distinction as the world’s most popular suicide destination. My wife, Janet, is a member of the bridge’s board of directors and a fierce advocate for a new suicide barrier.

The Golden Gate once inspired a political ad campaign I created for former San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan during his first run for office. In it, I described Jordan as a bridge-builder who sought to bring people together in pursuit of common goals. In a city where fractious politics constantly inhibits progress, the metaphor resonated deeply.

The Bay Bridge was always my favorite, however, even as a young boy. Carrying 270,000 vehicles per day (more than 2.5 times the traffic as the Golden Gate) it is the blue collar tractor trailer that pulls the region’s load every day of the week. Read More »

 

One-Term Obama?

Clint Reilly
Sep
8
2009

As I watched the funeral mass of Senator Edward Kennedy on television, a strange but not entirely unrelated thought crossed my mind:

Is it possible that Barack Obama will be a one term president?

It was little more than a year ago that Kennedy issued a ringing endorsement of Obama’s improbable presidential campaign. Kennedy was struck by Obama’s ability to motivate young Americans and he believed that the young senator offered a chance to heal the political divisions that had been tearing the country apart.

Today, the Liberal Lion has been laid to rest and Obama now finds himself in exactly the kind of divisive political dogfights that defined Kennedy’s accomplished career.

The point seems clear: A message of unity and inspiration may have been good for a landslide victory in November and a few months of 70-percent approval ratings, but it probably won’t be strong enough to pass health care, energy and education reform.

At least that’s what the numbers are saying. Obama’s job approval rating now hovers at 50 percent and prognosticators are predicting double-digit Republican gains in next year’s midterm congressional elections.

To be fair, Obama has been victimized by an unfortunate chain of events. Read More »

 

Stop Bashing Government

Clint Reilly
Sep
1
2009

Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and a parade of conservative pundits – usually speaking for a big business lobby – continue to berate the Democratic Party as the party of “Big Government.”

Their underlying argument is the same broken record we’ve been hearing since Reagan: “Government is bad.”

But the quarrel over whether a strong, proactive federal government is good for America was won decisively last November when Barack Obama routed John McCain for the presidency and Democrats swept to huge majorities in the House and Senate.

The debate was settled for me decades ago by a Catholic priest, a labor leader, a politician and an organizer. They taught me that government can improve lives, drive progress and increase the odds that average people will get a fair shake.

I was standing next to Bobby Kennedy in 1968 when he received communion from Father Eugene Boyle on the day Cesar Chavez ended his long fast for farm workers’ rights in Delano.

At the time, Father Boyle was Chairman of the Commission on Social Justice of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. I remember thinking that Kennedy was smaller than I expected and his eyes were bluer. Chavez was emaciated from a brutal fast.

There were tens of thousands of people at that mass. The hunched Mexican-American leader embodied the aspirations of the huge crowd, but so did the charismatic senator at his side. Kennedy’s presence sent a signal that the Democratic Party was closely aligned with the struggle of disenfranchised farm workers, not powerful growers.

When Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, I happened to be sitting with Father Boyle watching the election results of the California Democratic primary on television. Kennedy won the primary that night only to die in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles as he headed to his car.

It was a heartbreaking moment. Only weeks before, Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis and Kennedy appeared on national television urging calm and forgiveness. Now, he too fell to an assassin’s bullet just as his campaign for president gained momentum.

I was still in college at the time, but no career seemed as relevant or important as public service on that tragic night. Read More »

 

Save the Public Option

Clint Reilly
Aug
25
2009

The conservative right’s anti-federal government drumbeat continues, this time to oppose health care reform.

I’ve seen the attack so many times before: “Government can’t do anything right.”


I’m amazed it keeps working.

Last weekend, word came from the White House that President Obama was bending to the criticism and was now willing to sacrifice one of the central tenets of health care  reform, the so-called “public option.”

This would be a terrible mistake.

The public option simply refers to a government-run health insurance plan that would compete in the open market with private insurers. The added competition would help to lower overall prices and guarantee accessibility to those who have been shut out by private insurers.

Despite the profoundly positive role our government has played in creating a better life for Americans, anti-government sentiment remains deeply ingrained in the national psyche. Consider the reforms generated by the New Deal that have improved the lives of successive generations.

Social Security and Medicare, universities and colleges, home loan programs, public parks and recreation facilities, regulation of natural resources, creation of roads, highways and public transportation systems – even our armed services, which are the most powerful in the world.

Still, there is a suspicion that government misspends tax dollars and operates inefficiently because it does not run on the profit motive. Read More »

 

Obama’s Health Crisis

Clint Reilly
Aug
18
2009

Why are so many health insurance companies and Republican power brokers trying to kill health care reform on its way to the operating table?
They’re hoping history will repeat itself.

When Bill and Hillary Clinton tackled health care reform in 1993, Republicans and their insurance industry allies demonized the effort and rode the negative public sentiment to unprecedented electoral gains in the next election.

I experienced the electoral tsunami first-hand while managing Kathleen Brown’s ill fated 1994 campaign for California governor. She, along with every other Democratic gubernatorial challenger, went down in defeat.

The Republicans racked up 54 seats in the House of Representatives, taking control of the chamber for the first time in four decades. They also claimed the Senate, taking eight Democratic seats. Out of 177 incumbent Republican governors, senators or members of Congress, none lost. To top it off, the GOP also took control of 15 state legislative chambers.

The seeds of the Democrats’ 1994 defeat were planted during the health care battle of 1993, when a huge TV campaign financed by the Health Insurance Association of America frightened middle-class policyholders into believing that President Clinton’s reform proposals would raise taxes, increase bureaucracy and reduce patient choice.

Sound familiar? Read More »

 

March on Sacramento

Clint Reilly
Aug
11
2009

Rome is burning. But this time, the reformers aren’t fiddling.The CCC – California Constitutional Convention – can’t happen soon enough.

The alarming spectacle of our state capitol going up in smoke has moved the Bay Area Council – a Northern California group of business leaders led by its savvy executive, Jim Wunderman – to call for a constitutional convention to repair California state government.

I have known Wunderman since he was a young star in the office of then-San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein. Over 20 years, he has evolved into one of the state’s true leaders. Fed up with the dysfunction in Sacramento, Wunderman hatched the idea of a constitutional convention to set things straight.

The proposal has caught on.

In an unusual turn of events, California citizens are listening to a business group. By a 59% majority, state voters favor a convention to rewrite California’s constitution.

The Los Angeles Times, San Jose Mercury News and Sacramento Bee have backed the convention with editorials. Longtime Capitol observers such as the Bee’s Dan Walters and George Skelton of the Times have given up on the legislature’s ability to self-correct and strongly endorsed the idea.

Widespread support from local governments and citizens signals that a constitutional convention may really occur.

The proposal on the drawing board calls for a 2010 initiative to empower the citizens to call a convention, a reform convention in 2011, and a set of proposals on the 2012 ballot alongside President Barack Obama.

But the voters patience may not last that long. Experts predict another budget crisis lurking around the corner that will fire voter disgust and ignite the kind of popular explosion that produced Proposition 13 in 1978. Read More »

 

Eric & Gavin’s Divorce

Clint Reilly
Aug
4
2009

It was a déjà vu moment.

Last week’s big political story was the resignation of Gavin Newsom’s gubernatorial campaign manager, Eric Jaye. Newsom is vying for position with Attorney General Jerry Brown for the Democratic nomination in next year’s primary.

Jaye’s abrupt departure took me back 20 years to my own resignation as Dianne Feinstein’s campaign manager in her gubernatorial primary campaign against then Attorney General John Van de Kamp.

Both Newsom and Feinstein built their reputations as Mayor of San Francisco. I managed Feinstein’s 1983 re-election campaign and later directed her victory over a high-profile recall effort. In that race, she obliterated the recall with 83 percent of the vote.

Now 50 years old, Jaye broke into political consulting 25 years ago with Clint Reilly Campaigns. The young Jaye was a political natural. Even then he had a brilliant mind and the stamina of a marathon runner.

It didn’t surprise me when years later he steered a young, dynamic San Francisco supervisor – Gavin Newsom – into the mayor’s office. Four years later, he engineered Newsom’s re-election victory.

Political consultants are dependent upon the fate of their clients. Likewise, when candidates like Feinstein and Newsom try to move up the ladder from mayor to governor, they initially lean on their existing cadre of experts, including their former consultant. Read More »

 

The Value of Rectitude

Clint Reilly
Jul
28
2009

Where was the standing ovation when our elected leaders managed to “fix” the state’s $26 billion budget gap? Blame it on drama fatigue.

Like a tiresome game that drags on for years, Sacramento’s increasing dysfunction and dwindling credibility has simply exhausted the state. The serial budget cliffhangers are a turn-off.

A disenchanted public sits on their hands while newspaper editorial boards offer only tepid praise.

The daunting size of the original gap startled everyone, including legislators. But the accounting legerdemain employed to close it has given rise to rampant skepticism.

As Sacramento Bee columnist and unparalleled Capitol observer Dan Walters noted in his July 22 column:

“Desperate to ‘score’ revenues or savings on paper and claim to have balanced the chronically imbalanced budget, they often draft decrees that are slammed into law without any thought of long-term consequences.

“The latest dead-of-night budget deal between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders offers multiple examples of desperation-tinged policymaking…”

At a recent Los Angeles press conference, representatives of the League of California Cities called the latest budget agreement a “Ponzi scheme” and a “smoke and mirrors scam” for taking nearly $2 billion from cities and counties. A lawsuit is on the way.

When corporations miss their earnings and revenue guidance to analysts and stockholders over a couple of quarters, the stock price is pounded relentlessly.

California, however, produces multi-annual shortfalls like a herd of cows churns out manure. Long years of such irresponsible policymaking now threaten our core asset.

There is one thing worse for California than a budget gap: a credibility gap. Read More »

 

Culture of Capitol-ism

Clint Reilly
Jul
21
2009

Sacramento is not just a big small town or the capital of America’s biggest state. It is also a symbol of governmental gridlock and dysfunction, the political version of General Motors or Lehman Brothers.

But unlike GM or Lehman, California won’t go bankrupt – not while taxpayers are guarantors of last resort. So, the blunders continue.

Sacramento isn’t just a place; it’s a culture. Let’s call it a culture of “Capitol-ism.” Legislators are now “Capitolists” who commandeer billions of tax dollars and special interest contributions to re-elect themselves rather than govern California. The Capitol is no longer the seat of government – it is the home office of a massive 24/7 public relations company.

I first noticed this distorted reality when I began managing campaigns in the 1970s.

Incumbent Assembly members had access to a large pool of consultants on the state payroll whose primary job was to legally orchestrate year-round campaigns. The entity was called “Majority Consultants,” and the staffers really worked for the Speaker of the Assembly.

These political operatives manufactured press releases and cranked out expensive newsletters to constituents – paid for by the taxpayers. At election time, they exited the state payroll and seamlessly appeared on the campaign payrolls of members involved in tough races. Read More »

 

Mea Culpa!

Clint Reilly
Jul
14
2009

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa are the key words of remorse in the Act of Contrition – the Christian rite of asking God and one’s fellow human beings for forgiveness of sins.

But one class of sinners seems to have dropped the need for priest and confessional.

The voting public can expect more public mea culpas from an adulterous politician than wiped out investors will ever receive from Bernie Madoff.

The press conference of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford – complete with choreographed apology – might have been a Saturday Night Live opening skit. The tearful disclosure, the excruciatingly detailed description of how his affair evolved, and the tortured explanation of his disappearance cried out for Will Ferrell or Darrell Hammond.

Sometimes – like Sarah Palin and Tina Fey – it’s hard to tell the difference between the politician and the satirist.

Last week, New York Times columnist David Brooks attacked the lack of dignity that has infected much of our public life. Citing the stoic pride of our forefathers, Brooks wrote, “The old dignity code has not survived modern life.” As evidence, he cited Sanford’s press conference, noting, “Here was a guy utterly lacking in any sense of reticence, who was given to rambling self-exposure even in his moment of disgrace.” Read More »

 

The Power of Freedom

Clint Reilly
Jul
7
2009

In a modern entertainment complex in the heart of Berlin – built by Sony in the 1990s – the Berlin Museum of Television and Film has mounted an extraordinary exhibition on the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

It is a collection of memories, news clips, photographs and video vignettes from those who were there.

“We were all Germans that night,” recalled NBC anchor Tom Brokaw in one of many fascinating interviews.

Mikhail Gorbachev kept 350,000 Soviet troops in their German barracks as the GDR – a Soviet puppet regime – issued a simple announcement: that travel between East and West Berlin was now permitted without restriction.

After 28 years, the Berlin Wall collapsed – taking with it the Soviet Union and the Cold War.

The crowds who rushed across the border that night and over the ensuing days overflowed with elation.

The euphoria among average citizens is palpable in every picture and interview.

Germans literally leapt for joy into the arms of loved ones. Saws, hammers and axes leveled huge sections of the wall. People walked through gaping holes, climbed over crumbling blocks of concrete and danced uncontested through unguarded checkpoints.

One of the most famous scenes featured exiled Soviet cellist Mstislav Rostropovich sitting in a simple chair against a graffiti-covered section of the wall below a spray-painted portrait of Mickey Mouse.

The world-renowned musician played an impromptu one-man concert in celebration of freedom.

Within a month, the GDR’s entire government resigned.

At the same time, President George H.W. Bush’s meeting with Gorbachev in Malta signaled an end to the Cold War.

By July of 1990, Germany was reunited.

Berlin has witnessed the atrocities of the Third Reich, the traumatic division of the city by the Wall, Soviet repression and the eventual triumph of democracy. Read More »

 

Disrespecting our Elders

Clint Reilly
Jun
30
2009

John F. Kennedy once said that the strength and durability of a society can be judged by how it treats its elderly.

Proving his point more than four decades later, the careening state of California is considering cutting off vital in-home services to thousands of dependent seniors.

Of course, with the Golden State staring down the barrel of a $24 billion deficit that swells with each passing nanosecond, we must expect our elected officials to make difficult spending decisions.

But the proposal to dramatically slash In-Home Supportive Services is best described with one word: “stupid.”

Or perhaps two: “astonishingly stupid.”

IHSS is one of a select breed of programs that serve thousands and actually save the state money.

The program helps pay for in-home caregivers for more than 400,000 elderly and disabled Californians.

These home-care providers are often responsible for the most intimate self-care tasks that most people take for granted, like feeding, bathing and dressing. They also do day-to-day chores, provide transportation to and from medical appointments and administer various other medical and domestic services.

It’s a big job, but it doesn’t exactly equate to big bucks. The statewide average hourly wage for an IHSS provider is less than $10. In many rural California counties, home-care providers are making minimum wage for their efforts.

So, yes; IHSS costs the state money. But consider the alternative. Read More »

 

BUSTED

Clint Reilly
Jun
23
2009

It is said that a hardcore drug addict needs to hit “rock bottom” before recovery is possible.

Life must become so hellish and circumstances so dire that they have no choice but to accept reality and begin to change.

For the sake of all Californians, I hope that the state has finally reached its own rock bottom moment.

“Our wallet is empty. Our bank is closed. Our credit is dried up,” Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently told a joint session of the state legislature.

But even with the state tumbling toward fiscal oblivion, Californians continue to look for easy answers. Everyone wants to maintain crucial public services but no one wants to pay for them.

In many respects, the state of California today resembles an addict desperate for a fix. We are addicted to expediency and unrealistic expectations, and to prosperity without sacrifice.

After years of rampant borrowing, budgetary sleights of hand and collective finger crossing, it’s time to pay the piper.

Never mind the piper; we can’t even pay the teacher, the nurse, the policeman or the firefighter. The only way out of our $24 billion predicament, we’re told, is by taking a chainsaw to vital state services.

In short, this isn’t a good time to be in California if you’re young. Or old. Or poor. Or sick.

As the Golden State unravels beneath our feet, we should be doing more than blaming the legislature and the governor. There is plenty of blame to go around.

Instead, every Californian should be rallying for the fundamental structural reforms that this state so desperately needs.

But for this to happen, we need to wake up. Read More »

 

The Passing of Clay and Mike

Clint Reilly
Jun
16
2009

Recently, I experienced the death of two friends.

One was my next door neighbor, Clay Thomson. Active until the end, he collapsed after stepping off his treadmill at 79 years of age. He seemed much younger and his passing occurred too soon.

He wanted no funeral or formal service, so a group of us sponsored a Saturday afternoon party in his honor. The memorial event was attended by many retired doctors who had worked with him throughout his long career as an anesthesiologist. Friends from decades past also filled the room to help his still grieving wife celebrate his memory.

I met my neighbor when I bought my house more than 20 years ago. He and his wife immediately invited me to dinner and introduced me to other long-time neighbors.

They patiently endured a disruptive remodel of my house and even though they were staunch conservatives, they good naturedly attended the large Christmas Party I held every year which attracted Democratic politicians from throughout the Bay Area.

My new neighbor became a true friend. In 1995 I was married. My wife was living in Los Angeles and worked for Mayor Richard Riordan. She had grown up in Sacramento, but she was new to the Bay Area.

Our neighbors quickly embraced her and arranged a dinner party to introduce her to the neighborhood. When our children were born, they too were singled out for special gifts at Christmas and birthdays.

Meanwhile, our retired friend and his wife led volunteer campaigns for a well known museum, skied at Lake Tahoe, spearheaded a local tennis club and participated in efforts to preserve the quality of life in our neighborhood.

As one speaker after another rose to offer their memories, three phrases kept recurring 1) Excellent doctor 2) Loyal friend 3) Private person.

He had drawn the admiration of peers in the medical profession. He had touched the lives of many through simple kindness regularly extended. Yet he never sought the limelight for himself.

In this respect, he was a stand-in for all those quiet heroes in our nation who act nobly and transform the world by leaving their own small corner of the universe so much better than they found it. Read More »

 

Too Big to Succeed

Clint Reilly
Jun
9
2009

General Motors. Lehman Bros. The San Francisco Chronicle. The State Capitol. The Church. The Republican Party.

Why are these fortresses under attack?

Formerly impregnable bulwarks of our society – banks and car companies, churches, governments and newspapers – are facing convulsive challenges, wrenching change or extinction.

The printed word, long a building block of our democracy, is passing away in many communities, taking with it the local columnist and the blistering editorial. Many young people no longer find newspapers relevant to their lives.

California’s democratic government has hit the wall. The ever-widening gulf between rising expectations and shrinking pocketbooks has caused Sacramento to grind to a halt. Apparent needs have far outpaced the willingness of citizens to foot the bill. But that’s only part of the problem. The legislature seems increasingly unable to solve problems. Special interest money calls the shots.

Unbridled capitalism has fewer worshipers today than 20 years ago. And Ronald Reagan, the standard bearer of capitalism’s triumph, is a much-diminished figure after his hands-off policies toward the free market nearly ended in global bankruptcy.

“What’s good for General Motors is good for America,” now seems more like an Andy Warhol screen print than a paean to quality. The Republican Party no longer has a message that resonates. Home ownership is a questionable aspiration. The stock market is a casino. The line between borrowing and binging, success and excess, just rewards and greed has closed. The Greek columns that symbolize banks’ timeless stability are now just reminders of false promises made upon rotten foundations.

The church pews are thinning. A clergy shortage continues to pose challenges. A child abuse scandal rocks the Catholic Church. Vigorous debate over such controversial issues as contraception, abortion, gay marriage, married clergy and the ordination of women have wracked Catholicism and Anglicanism on both sides of the Atlantic. Fundamentalist Christians face off in a culture war against “godless elites.”

Our crumbling institutions suffer from many of the same ailments. Read More »

 

The Big Pushback

Clint Reilly
Jun
2
2009

Graduation day at most American universities usually isn’t the occasion for a debate about abortion.

But don’t tell that to the tiny minority of Catholic bishops who decried Notre Dame’s invitation to President Obama to deliver the university’s commencement address last month.

In the end, their protests backfired.

Obama’s eloquent plea for common ground in the abortion debate drowned out the polarizing demonstrations against his appearance.

Echoing the words of Notre Dame’s president, Father John Jenkins, Obama asked:

“How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?”

President Obama appealed to our shared values, noting that while we might not agree on abortion, “we can still agree that this heart-wrenching decision for any woman is not made casually; it has both moral and spiritual dimensions.”

Most important, Obama outlined concrete steps for people on both sides of the issue to take together:

Reduce the number of women seeking abortions. Reduce unintended pregnancies. Make adoption more available. Provide care and support for women who do carry their children to term. Promote health care policies that respect science and the equality of women.

Of course, many pro-life advocates remain unconvinced. In the wake of Obama’s call for unity, they cling closer than ever to the venomous rhetoric that has been used to assail pro-choice Americans for 30 years.

Such polemics are the reason why pro-life activists have made almost no headway in changing public policy on abortion in more than three decades. Read More »

 

The Price of Principle

Clint Reilly
May
26
2009

Politics is an uncompromising taskmaster that does not always reward virtue. In fact, it can often be a grim reaper that punishes principle.

The writer Joseph Campbell dissected what he called the “Hero’s Journey.” The heroes of history and mythology all endure scorn, ridicule and defeat but ultimately their adherence to a noble cause is vindicated and they receive justified acclaim.

But that’s only the case in myths and movies.

State Senator David Roberti was president pro-tem of the California State Senate for 13 years, from 1981 to 1993. Roberti was highly respected for his policy-oriented track record, probity and commitment to social justice.

A Democrat’s Democrat, Roberti was also a liberal’s liberal. While the Assembly was controlled by the flamboyant Willie Brown, the low-key Roberti held a tight grip on the State Senate.

I was Roberti’s personal campaign manager for many tough campaigns. Unlike other legislative leaders, Roberti was a fierce protector of his fellow Democratic senators but not always good at protecting his own self-interest. That meant many tough elections. Read More »

 

Jarvis & Reagan are Dead

Clint Reilly
May
19
2009

The ghosts of Ronald Reagan and Howard Jarvis are all that’s left of a dying Republican Party in California.

In 1984, I managed the initiative campaign that defeated Proposition 36, Howard Jarvis’s sequel to Proposition 13. Double-digit annual property tax increases had driven Jarvis’s citizen rebellion that blasted politicians out of the water with Prop 13’s passage in 1978.

Six years later, Jarvis wanted to put additional restrictions on government taxation and spending but the voters thought Prop 13 was enough.

The best part of the campaign was Jarvis himself. A burly character with a deep, gravelly voice, Jarvis barreled ahead with a twinkle in his eye and a real gut passion for fundamental reform of state fiscal policy.

The anti-tax Republican legislators in Sacramento are what remain of Howard’s movement that began to die in that Prop 36 campaign in 1984.

Like the dull descendants of a founding patriarch, they mouth slogans and recite numbers that don’t add up. They live off the remnants of a charismatic forebear’s accomplishments. Read More »

 

Episcopal Partisanship

Clint Reilly
May
11
2009

Certain hard-line cardinals and bishops – whether they get it or not – are coming dangerously close to a permanent alliance with the Republican Right Wing in America.

The long romance among Republican conservatives, the Christian Right and fundamentalist Catholics is walking Catholicism to the brink of extremism in this country.

Let’s examine the record.

After President Barack Obama was invited to deliver the 2009 commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, the school was besieged with 350,000 signatures of conservative Catholics urging the university to revoke the invitation. At the same time, 50 U.S. Catholic bishops also urged Notre Dame to ban the President. Why? Because of his pro-choice position on abortion.

Only a tone-deaf church could warmly embrace President George W. Bush during his two terms, then turn around and sanction Obama at the height of his popularity and power.

Whatever positives Pope Benedict XVI and other church leaders saw in President Bush, he was also the architect of a controversial war, an agent of torture, a tireless advocate for protecting the perks of the rich and powerful, a banal enthusiast for the death penalty as governor of Texas, and a shocking bungler of the response to Hurricane Katrina.

Isn’t that why America overwhelmingly rejected him when it elected Obama and ushered in Democratic control of both the House and Senate? Read More »

 

Political Wonks, Policy Gurus

Clint Reilly
May
5
2009

When President John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960, he appointed his campaign manager Lawrence O’Brien as United States Postmaster General.

It was customary to give the impression that political operatives were not making policy in the White House, so O’Brien was given a safe job running the postal service. Franklin Roosevelt gave his chief political adviser Jim Farley the same low profile job in the 1930’s.

But there is no such church-state line between politics and policy today. In today’s world of 24-hour news cycles and rapid-fire pundits, political capital must be carefully husbanded to successfully implement controversial policies. Leaders want their political consultants closer than ever.

In fact, our last two presidents have entered the White House with their campaign gurus – Karl Rove and David Axelrod – right by their side.

During George W. Bush’s first term, Rove’s influence on policy decisions was readily apparent. Nearly a year before war with Iraq was a foregone conclusion among the general public, Rove was known to tell people, “Let me put it this way: If you want to see Baghdad, you’d better visit soon.”

Democrats fumed at the intermingling of politics and policy, as did Bush’s Secretary of State, Colin Powell. At one point, Powell even warned the White House that he didn’t expect to receive, and wouldn’t accept, phone calls from Rove. But for good or ill, Powell gravely underestimated Rove’s influence, not just on political strategy but also on critical public policy decisions.

Rove’s official duties during the first Bush term were confined to managing the White House political operation. Yet it was an open secret that he participated in policy meetings on matters as diverse as the Iraq War and domestic spying on potential terrorist suspects.

During Bush’s second term, Rove was elevated to Deputy Chief of Staff with significant policy responsibilities. He had come a long way from his days as a direct mail specialist back in Texas. Read More »

 

Theological McCarthyism

Clint Reilly
Apr
28
2009

Can we criticize the Catholic Church without having our faith and loyalty called into question?

It seems that the answer is “no.” A climate of theological McCarthyism has infected the institutional church, particularly around the issue of abortion.

Selective public condemnations by a handful of conservative bishops are a Sword of Damocles over Catholic leaders who have experienced drive-by denunciations from the pulpit.

It is unfair that a Catholic presidential nominee – or a Catholic United States senator or member of Congress – who personally opposes abortion but has genuine convictions that a blanket anti-abortion law would not work in a pluralistic society – can be randomly refused communion by any bishop who so decides.

A boldface example of the intolerance for alternative views in the public square that is emerging in the Catholic Church is the push to ban President Barack Obama from speaking at Notre Dame University because of his pro-choice position on abortion.

Great! Let’s not invite America’s first black president – elected with the enthusiastic support of the nation’s youth – to talk about the state of the world at our leading Catholic university. Read More »

 

A Church Divided

Clint Reilly
Apr
21
2009

As a lifelong Catholic who spent nine years as a young man in our Archdiocesan seminaries studying to be a priest, and more recently served nearly five years as the first lay President of the Board of Directors of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, Catholicism is in my blood.

But today I sometimes find my Catholic blood boiling.

Rather than focusing on solving the problems confronting the church, we Catholics are often at war with ourselves.

The overcrowded Mountain View seminary I attended in my youth no longer exists. It was demolished and the land sold off by the Diocese of San Jose because there were too few students.

St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, where I also studied, still serves as the major training center for new priests. But enrollment is tiny and most of the students are either older men coming to the priesthood as a second career or foreigners.

The Catholic Church in America faces a major manpower shortage as young Catholic men reject the priesthood as a profession. Read More »

 

The PG&E of Newspapers

Clint Reilly
Apr
14
2009

One utility company dominates Northern California. But what if one corporation controlled every daily newspaper?

Newspaper firms argue that monopolies – which streamline production and editorial costs – are the only way for financially beleaguered metropolitan dailies to survive.

The California Public Utilities Commission regulates PG&E for consumers. But who regulates a monopoly newspaper?

If large media conglomerates – unfettered by anti-trust laws – are given a blank check to re-engineer news-gathering in the absence of competition, the results could be grave.

Critical coverage of the local school board or city council becomes overhead to be cut. Big stories that two or three reporters once competed to tell are left to a single overstretched soul. And independent editorial boards, once the primary opinion-making bodies in our society, get boiled down into an overworked (but cost-efficient) regional unit.

What is needed in an era of consolidated media is a new institutional paradigm. The old rules no longer apply. Newspapers have long touted their special status as “watchdogs for the public interest.” But in a monopoly situation, the watchdog for the public interest requires a public watchdog. Read More »

 

The Tyranny of the Dow

Clint Reilly
Apr
7
2009

Now that the Dow Jones Industrial Average is creeping up, so is my skepticism. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of the stock market dictating public policy in our country.

When the Dow doesn’t like what it hears from President Barack Obama, Congress or Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, it falls down like a baby in a snit. When it hears something positive, it’s a hippie high on marijuana.

I’m sure the following imaginary announcement would precipitate a 1,000-point drop:

“Consumers have decided to pay off their debts. They are eschewing the mall and spending more time at home playing Monopoly and riding bikes. The car is in the garage to conserve energy.

“Buyers have gone on a national spending strike to repair their personal balance sheets and save for their kids’ college tuition. And guess what? After seeing their life savings evaporate in the stock market, people on Main Street are tucking their money under the mattress.”

Such thrift would terrify the Dow. Read More »

 

Hearst’s Hindenburg

Clint Reilly
Mar
31
2009

The San Francisco Chronicle is the greatest wealth destruction machine in American journalism today. While its headlines announce the immolation of hallowed names such as Lehman and Merrill Lynch, the paper itself is aflame with astonishing losses of more than a billion dollars.

Think the “Hindenburg” of newspapers.

Since Hearst bought the Chronicle in 2000 for nearly $700 million and gave $66 million to subsidize the Examiner’s new owners, operating losses have reportedly reached up to $90 million in a year.

A fair estimate is that losses have averaged $50 million annually for the last eight years. This means that Hearst has invested more than $1.2 billion in a newspaper that has no viable vision for success.

While the paper’s editorials excoriate politicians for mismanaging California’s budget, the Bay Area’s largest daily newspaper has crashed and burned under Hearst’s management. Now Hearst has asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to suspend the nation’s laws protecting the competition of news gathering in order to save the Chronicle. Hearst says it needs a monopoly in order to survive.

But does it? Read More »

 

Madam Speaker, I Object!

Clint Reilly
Mar
24
2009

Sanctioning a Bay Area newspaper monopoly in order to rescue the San Francisco Chronicle from bankruptcy is a horrible idea.

Does anyone know what I’m talking about?

Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder urging him not to enforce antitrust laws, which would pave the way for the Chronicle and MediaNews – the owner of every other paid-subscription daily newspaper in the Bay Area – to merge operations and have a monopoly over news and opinion in the Bay Area.

The logic is that the Hearst-owned Chronicle, which is rumored to be losing $60 million per year, will be forced to close if it is not allowed to combine many functions – or merge altogether – with Denver-based MediaNews, which runs the Contra Costa Times, Oakland Tribune, Marin Independent Journal, San Jose Mercury News and many other local dailies.

I respectfully disagree, Madam Speaker. Read More »

 

Chronicle gone-icle!

Clint Reilly
Mar
17
2009

Two weeks ago, Maitland “Sandy” Zane – a longtime writer at the San Francisco Chronicle – died of cancer at 80 years of age. Sandy never won a Pulitzer.

But, like many of the great characters who passed through the old Chronicle before it was purchased by the Hearst Corporation, Sandy had more fun than the entire newsroom of the rival Hearst Examiner combined.

He loved to brag about the time that journalistic ethics forced him to personally confirm for an exposé he was writing that a certain escort service’s girls actually did have paid sex with patrons. The punch line was that the Chronicle had to reimburse his expenses.

I have been reading the Chronicle ever since I was a young boy. Initially, I started looking for the paper to see if Carol Doda – the North Beach high priestess of topless dancing – was on the front page again, or to follow the exploits of Willie Mays.

In those days, the “Chron” was edited by Scott Newhall, who loved to titillate and entertain rather than overwhelm readers with profound analysis. Read More »

 

Middle Class Meltdown

Clint Reilly
Mar
10
2009

Since the 1970s, the American middle class has been the object of a violent political tug-of-war between Republicans and Democrats.

Each side has had its moments, but I bet that our economic collapse has settled the fight: We could be witnessing a Democratic realignment that may last for 20 years, or until Americans recover and become complacent again.

It is the reversal of a long trend. In sociologist Ben Wattenberg’s seminal 1974 book, The Real Majority, he wrote, “Something has happened in the United States that has never happened before anywhere: the massive majority of the population is now in the middle class.”

He reiterated the point in 1984, as Ronald Reagan’s first term drew to a close. “I believe we live in a nation that has never had it so good,” he wrote.

With such a rise in the standard of living (powered largely by debt) government was viewed as a non-profit foundation for the poor rather than an indispensable protector of the average American. Anti-government sentiment grew on both sides of the aisle.

Central to the Republican appeal was a growing suspicion among middle class Americans that their tax dollars were paying for social programs which almost entirely benefited the disadvantaged – not them. Read More »

 

What’s Your Job Worth?

Clint Reilly
Mar
3
2009

I  grew up in a working class enclave in San Leandro. My dad was a milkman. Our next door neighbor was an airplane navigator. In our neighborhood there was a plumber, a carpenter, a mailman, an Oakland fire department captain and two Berkeley Farms Creamery drivers who worked with my father.

Each job held a fascination for us kids, and our dads were very serious about their work. We watched the carpenter build custom furniture for his own home and were proud to be coached by a genuine fire captain in Little League baseball. Of course, we were on the edge of our seats listening to flight stories by the navigator who flew all over the world.

But the value of a day’s labor in America has become dangerously distorted.

The eye-popping paychecks in the financial services industry are dangerously undermining the egalitarian ethic that helped make America the greatest country on earth.

Wall Street’s outrageous pay packages are luring a disproportionate percentage of our most talented young people away from science, engineering, technology, teaching, medicine, architecture and the arts – jobs that are vital to America’s future competitiveness. Read More »

 

The Cure

Clint Reilly
Feb
24
2009

Nationalize bankrupt banks? Hell, let’s nationalize our bankrupt health care system.

Everyone I know has a horror story: The insured, employed single mother who must choose whether to pay for her two children’s health policies or the rent on a two bedroom apartment; the recently laid off Mervyn’s employee who cannot afford her COBRA, the 50-year-old freelance accountant with a successful practice who can’t find affordable coverage; the unemployed journalist with five kids and no health coverage; the older worker who was furloughed because his coverage was three times the cost of a younger co-worker with a fraction of the experience.

Inequity and iniquity abound.

The sole industrialized nation without universal health coverage? How does that make sense when American taxpayers are bailing out the financial system, the auto industry and are being called upon to rescue free market capitalism from the abyss?

I will dispense with the usual grim statistics – like 49 million uninsured Americans – (as if proof is still needed to justify jettisoning America’s terminally ill health care system). What are we afraid of? If capitalists can’t run our financial system, how can they manage our health care system? Read More »

 

Pop President?

Clint Reilly
Feb
17
2009

In the days before President Obama’s inauguration, with the U.S. economy engulfed in flames and two wars simmering abroad,   one publication enjoyed unrivaled access to the entire incoming administration.

It wasn’t a newspaper. It was Vanity Fair.

Over the span of a week, ending right after Hillary Clinton was sworn in as Secretary of State, legendary celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz shot photos of more than 50 Obama administration subjects for Vanity Fair’s cover piece, “Historic Portraits of Washington’s New Establishment.”

I found the photos puzzling.

Why was it in the president’s interest to have his entire administration sit down for a photo shoot with Vanity Fair while the country awaited his leadership on the worst economic crisis in 80 years?

Leibovitz is famous for such iconic photos as Demi Moore’s pregnant profile and John Lennon’s naked embrace of Yoko Ono. Where does the new administration fit in?

It’s “pop art” meets “pop politics.” Read More »

 

Don’t Buy the Big Lie

Clint Reilly
Feb
10
2009

For decades, corporate fat cats have warded off government oversight and regulation with a big lie: “Government bureaucrats are incompetent managers who can’t tie their own shoelaces, much less oversee or run complex corporations.”

As a young political consultant, I officially named this the “Post Office Argument.”

Thirty years ago, a disorganized and bankrupt postal service became the poster child for the government’s fiscal irresponsibility and inefficient management. Perennial deficits, cost overruns, price hikes, erratically delivered mail and scandals plagued the agency until Bay Area businessman Anthony Frank was appointed to clean up the mess.

But the negative image of the “government bureaucrat” stuck. It was then exploited by an entire generation of conservative ideologues to resist regulation. Big landlords, big energy companies – just about every arm of big business – have exploited the cliché of the flailing government dinosaur.

The Reagan-era canard has been dusted off yet again, this time to argue against federal oversight of the banks receiving taxpayer dollars meant to reignite lending. Predictably, most of the money has been used to acquire other banks, shore up balance sheets or earn interest. Lending has dried up.

America faces a dual crisis. Yes, economically, we are on the brink. But politically, our democratic institutions are failing as a forum to solve critical national problems. The same old discredited clichés are recycled as truth by paid advertising and carefully crafted public relations campaigns. Ads have become a substitute for rational discourse. Read More »

 

Fall of the Mandarins

Clint Reilly
Feb
3
2009

These times have not been kind to the mandarins who run American financial institutions. One after another, their larger than life images have dissolved into puddles of red ink.

Alan Greenspan – “The Maestro” – was roundly hailed as the greatest Federal Reserve Chairman in history. The obsequious bows from politicians and the press are embarrassing in retrospect.

During his presidential campaign, John McCain said he would appoint Greenspan to lead a review of the nation’s tax code: “If he’s alive or dead it doesn’t matter. If he’s dead, just prop him up and put some dark glasses on him.”

Asked during a Presidential debate with Al Gore in the 2000 campaign what he would do first in an economic emergency, George W. Bush couldn’t say fast enough, “Get in touch with Alan Greenspan.”

Even as it became obvious that the real estate bubble presented a growing danger in 2006, BusinessWeek magazine heaped on the praise: “Concise when it suited him and artfully opaque when it didn’t, his prescience, record and stewardship of the Federal Reserve make him a hard act to follow.”

But that was all before it became apparent that Greenspan’s easy credit policies were only sustaining artificial growth fueled by second mortgages and credit cards rather than higher wages and better jobs.

History sometimes shreds the proudest of reputations. Read More »

 

Catching up to China

Clint Reilly
Jan
27
2009

Over the past two decades, armed with second mortgages and credit cards, American consumers have mounted a long march of spending. Now they are tapped out, and President Obama has proposed an $825 billion stimulus package of tax cuts and infrastructure spending to jumpstart our ailing economy.

Even without the urgency caused by the current recession, our country desperately needs to rebuild its infrastructure.

Our fast-decaying network of airports, roads, transit systems, bridges, seaports, railway cargo hubs, broadband networks, schools and universities isn’t keeping pace with the rest of the world.

Our current electrical grid couldn’t recharge a national fleet of electric cars even if Detroit was able to manufacture them.

Every century, America wakes up to the fact that it must modernize itself. In 1808, President Thomas Jefferson ordered up a plan that mapped out the infrastructure needs for that era. In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt created a 20th century master strategy for roads, bridges and waterways. 2009 is President Obama’s time.

Most Americans are still living the illusion that we are the most modern country in the world. But travel outside our borders and the myth soon evaporates. Read More »

 

Bailing Out Democracy

Clint Reilly
Jan
20
2009

The challenge for Barack Obama on the eve of his inauguration is whether our democratic institutions will rescue capitalism or follow our financial institutions into decline.

The classical Athenian architecture of the New York Stock Exchange, with its soaring Corinthian columns, was designed to reassure us that our money is safe.

The style is replicated in banks and financial districts across the country to symbolize the durability and strength of America’s impregnable financial system.

Unfortunately, the ruins of Wall Street now remind us of the decaying temples of modern Greece, with toppled columns and crumbling statues of the Gods.

The trillions lost in our banking system meltdown reveal the dirty little secret etched in the sewers of Wall Street: short-term bonuses for bankers are more important than long term investments.

Ironically, this same Greek classicism is the signature style of government buildings across the country – a parallel statement about the enduring integrity of our democratic institutions.

Nowhere is this architectural statement more pervasive than in Washington DC, where the grandeur of the Capitol, Supreme Court and White House proclaim the preeminence of democracy.

With the inauguration of President Obama, our nation has the chance to make a new beginning. And we must if our country is to continue to grow and thrive economically.

The question is: will Washington suffer the same fate as Wall Street or will President Obama reclaim the Federal Government’s vital role as arbiter, protector and enforcer of the common good.

Will we save capitalism or succumb to its temptations? Read More »

 

A Lesson from the Roosevelts

Clint Reilly
Jan
13
2009

As a young political consultant, two books about the eras of Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt profoundly shaped my core convictions about the role of government in a democratic society: The Age of Reform, by Richard Hofstadter, and The Coming of the New Deal, by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

Hofstadter was the foremost authority on the Progressive Era during and after Theodore Roosevelt. Schlesinger wrote the definitive account of Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency.

These two books are more important now than ever because they provide powerful lessons about how to address our current economic crisis.

In The Age of Reform, Hofstadter eloquently described the reform impulse that began in the early 20th century and endures in the spirit of the Obama presidential campaign today. “A great part of both the strength and weakness of our national existence is that Americans do not abide very quietly the evils of life,” he wrote in the introduction to his book.

“It has been the function of the liberal tradition in American politics from the time of Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democracy through Populism, Progressivism and the New Deal, to broaden the number of those who could benefit from the great American bonanza and then to humanize its workings and help heal its casualties.”

Hofstadter chronicled the role of government regulation as the only answer to the inevitable excesses of unchecked capitalism. Events at the end of the 19th century had proven that a powerful counterforce to corporate power was needed to protect the public interest. Read More »

 

Three Inspirational Priests

Clint Reilly
Jan
6
2009

Last week I saw Doubt, a Meryl Streep/Phillip Seymour Hoffman movie about a nun who accuses a popular priest of molesting a young altar boy. I found myself saddened not only by the actions of rogue priests, but also by the indelible stain they have left on the entire priesthood.

I personally owe much to a series of great priests who helped me immeasurably throughout my life.

I was raised in Saint Felicitas Parish in San Leandro and attended St. Leander’s Elementary School. My mother was a convert to Catholicism and my father was a Catholic by virtue of his Irish heritage and his baptism at St. Peter’s Church in San Francisco’s Mission District.

St. Felicitas had two priests. Pastor Michael McGinty was an older man who baptized my mother and then both me and my sister Jill when we were six or seven years old. Later, all of my brothers and sisters were baptized.

Edward McTaggart was the assistant pastor, a dynamic young priest who had recently been ordained. He managed the parish youth programs including CYO sports. St. Felicitas had a large program that produced many championship teams. I played basketball and baseball, and our baseball team won the Bay Area CYO championship in sixth grade. Father McTaggart was a role model not only for me but for many others as well.

In today’s jaded world, it is almost inconceivable that I decided to become a priest when I was in the 8th grade and went into the seminary in my first year of high school. Read More »

 

1959|1969|2009

Clint Reilly
Dec
30
2008

1959
When I was a kid, my father was a world-class recycler. He rarely bought anything new. Instead, he had an eye for quality used cars, bikes, wagons, lawn mowers, television sets, coffee pots, kitchen equipment and other consumer products that he purchased from secondhand stores and flea markets in San Leandro, Oakland, Alameda, Hayward or Fremont.

He and my mother also had a constant eye out for bargains on food and clothes. They were experts at scouring the newspaper for sales at Safeway, Lucky’s, Capwell’s, Sears, Mervyn’s and Montgomery Ward.

Do-it-yourself was a way of life for my family. Our home in San Leandro was the site of an ongoing infrastructure project orchestrated by my father and implemented by successive generations of Reilly children and relatives.

In my dad’s view, buying new, paying retail and hiring contractors were luxuries only wealthy families in Piedmont could afford. How else could my mom balance the books on a milkman’s salary with 10 kids to feed? Read More »

 

America’s False God

Clint Reilly
Dec
23
2008

By deifying the private accumulation of extraordinary wealth rather than the performance of extraordinary work, our culture worships a false god.

Wall Street has become a metaphor for a system that has forgotten basic values like sacrifice, thrift, saving for a rainy day, integrity and moderation. Unfortunately, the contributions of those ordinary Americans who work hard, raise families and play by the rules are made to seem trivial.

If we are to repair the country, that perception needs to change.

The secret to America’s success is simple: We are an egalitarian society where ideas are celebrated and equal opportunity is a protected right. Sadly, the gap between rich and poor has grown since Ronald Reagan lowered tax rates on both capital gains and personal income in the 1980’s.

We have falsely convinced ourselves that America has the world’s best standard of living. We look down our nose at countries that have higher tax rates and more comprehensive social services like universal health care. At the same time, it’s clear that neither our federal nor state governments have enough money to pay for the smaller level of services provided in the United States.

California’s projected $45 billion deficit is a prime example. The reason for chronic deficits and deficient levels of education and health services is that our tax rates are too low, particularly for the wealthy. Read More »

 

Obama’s Sacred Cows

Clint Reilly
Dec
16
2008

Despite our national obsession with politics, we often forget that the decisions made in Washington DC and Sacramento ultimately impact millions on an individual level.

Since mid-October, more than 675,000 Americans have lost their jobs, bringing the 2008 tally to almost two million so far.

When a head of household can no longer support his or her family, the devastation is heartbreaking.

What begins with a lost job soon cascades into lost health care benefits and gut-wrenching choices: mortgage or school clothes? Food or electricity? Unemployment benefits often aren’t enough to make ends meet.

The situation grows darker when debt – the same poison that killed Wall Street – tightens its grip. Missed mortgage and credit card payments turn into the loss of a home, harassment by bill collectors, marital strain and emotional distress. Children and seniors suffer.

Americans are about to feel the pain of economic crisis in untold ways over the next several years.

Taxpayers shouldn’t expect a bailout, but they should expect their government to guide them through the jungle ahead. Read More »

 

Your Memories of Mervyn’s

Clint Reilly
Dec
9
2008

Last week, I told the sad story of the death of Mervyn’s.

I recounted my childhood memories of the first Mervyn’s store in San Lorenzo, and how that single store eventually grew to nearly 300 across 12 states with $4.5 billion in annual sales, only to be brought to its knees by corporate greed.

I received dozens of thoughtful messages from folks who came from families like my own and who wished to share their own fond memories of Mervyn’s.

The unnecessary demise of this Bay Area retailing icon evoked deep emotions. It was more like the death of a person than the passing of a department store chain.

“I remember many times when my children gathered their allowance to purchase Hot Wheels or a Barbie outfit,” wrote one parent.

Another reader recalled a time when “credit” was more personal: “When I was about eight years old, my mother would give me a note saying it was OK to charge a new shirt or a pair of shoes at Mervyn’s.

“Mr. Mervin Morris would check our account on a 3×5 card and I would soon be on my way with my purchase.”

One mother’s story showed how Mervyn’s remained true to its community roots through the years. “Our family will never forget the “Local Hero” scholarship that Mervyn’s gave our daughter,” she wrote. “It was a company that understood and honored the need to give back to its community.” Read More »

 

Ode to Mervyn’s

Clint Reilly
Dec
2
2008

The death of a business rarely evokes emotion these days. “Good riddance” is a frequent reaction. “Don’t let the door hit your fanny on the way out,” is another popular refrain.

But when Mervyn’s – a Bay Area retail institution – declared bankruptcy in July and announced a liquidation sale on October 15, many were saddened.

Of course, the company has been hurt by the same stormy economic picture that all retailers are now facing. But Mervyn’s is also an example of how unscrupulous financial engineers loot good companies and abandon them to be picked over by buzzards as they roll over and die.

When I was a young boy in the 1950s, my family lived in Washington Manor – a small enclave of postwar homes near San Lorenzo’s Arroyo High School.

I can still remember the day my mother took me to Mervyn’s in the San Lorenzo Village Shopping Center to purchase my first pair of black-and-white Converse high tops. It was the first of many trips to the friendly local department store during my childhood.

Mervin Morris began in 1949 with this single store in San Lorenzo and built it into a chain he ultimately sold in 1977 to Dayton Hudson, (now the Target Corporation, one of the nation’s iconic retail brands).

Opening branches from Hayward to Daly City, Walnut Creek to San Jose, and from Vallejo to Marin, Morris developed the prototype of the modern department store chain serving working class families. Read More »

 

No Pain, No Gain

Clint Reilly
Nov
25
2008

History is about to take a whole new generation of Americans to the woodshed. Hopefully, the old-fashioned backyard beating will leave a lasting impression about the virtues of hard work, saving money and sacrifice for others, values that made the United States the world’s greatest country in the first place.

My parents’ generation – those now in their 80’s – developed values that are as scarce today as material wealth was during the 1930s.

My parents both lived through the Great Depression, as did my grandparents. The grave lifestyle and dire conditions shaped their attitudes about both career and money.

A good job was treasured. During the 1930s, both of my grandfathers lost their jobs and never really regained their economic footing for the rest of their lives.

My mother particularly understood the importance of my dad’s job as a milk deliveryman for Berkeley Farms Creamery and later as a driver for Dreyer’s Ice Cream. In an era in which 25% were unemployed, financial calamity was always a fearsome possibility.

This had two effects on my parents. First, even though they were not deprived, they feared deprivation. Second, they stretched every dollar to provide maximum benefit for their family. Read More »

 

There Are No Answers

Clint Reilly
Nov
18
2008

Three of the top five Wall Street investment banks have been financially destroyed in the past two months – Lehman Bros., Merrill Lynch and Bear Stearns.

If investment banking leaders created this mess, why have we tasked one of them with resurrecting the global financial system?

Consider it part of our national delusion. We blindly assume that our leaders have all the answers when they obviously don’t.

We watch as Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson improvises his way through the current fiscal crisis. In the beginning, he promised that the federal government would buy troubled assets with a $700 billion bailout fund – disbursed at his sole discretion. Then he abruptly reversed course last week, announcing that he will focus instead on thawing the still frozen credit markets.

The fact is neither Henry Paulson – nor Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke – has ever confronted a problem anything like the meltdown of the global financial system. Read More »

 

Keeping the Flame Alive

Clint Reilly
Nov
11
2008

Barack Obama’s landslide was an awesome victory for all Americans and a personal triumph for Obama. As he strode to the podium to declare victory, it was also apparent that Obama had become the surrogate for the hopes and dreams of millions of people who were finished with the callousness, selfishness and bankruptcy of a failed governing philosophy.

It was the last battle in a long war that has raged for the past 30 years.

I remember vividly when it all began, the night Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter and the demonization of government became a mainstream political platform.

Reagan’s overwhelming victory, like Obama’s last week, brought massive gains for his party all the way down the ticket.

I was not immune to Reagan’s coattails. I was advising five Democratic campaigns in California and two of my candidates suffered razor-thin losses that would have been wins in a normal year. Read More »

 

Judgment Day

Clint Reilly
Nov
4
2008

Is the cliché true – that a country is only as strong as its citizens, not its leaders?

All of us have high expectations of our leaders. But do we hold ourselves to the same lofty standard that we expect from those we elect to office?

Election Day 2008 is a good time to look into the mirror, a judgment day not just for our next president, but also for ourselves.

How do we measure up to past generations of Americans?

In 2001 I visited Normandy with my wife, children and my mother and father-in-law, Margaret and Tom Koewler of Sacramento. Tom is a World War II veteran. Together, we walked the deadly beaches where 53,000 allied troops perished. We prayed at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, where 9,387 American soldiers are buried.

A pale cross rises from each grave, the name of a dead soldier carved deep into the marble. This sea of white crosses spread against the landscape is still one of the most powerful images I have ever experienced.

Television anchorman Tom Brokaw famously assessed the generation of Americans who won World War II to be “the greatest generation any society has ever produced.”

It was a generation shaped not only by war, but also by the Great Depression. As children, they faced the worst economic crisis since the end of the 19th century. They grew up when unemployment reached 25% and poverty was a way of life. But thanks to education, Brokaw wrote, “They gave the world new science, literature, art, industry and economic strength unparalleled in the long curve of history.”

Ironically, it was this exposure to death and hardship that shaped their values and inspired their accomplishments. Hard work, education, self-sacrifice and deferred gratification were virtues handed down from grandparent, to parent, to child.

This contrasts sharply against today’s culture of instant gratification. Jeff Saut of the financial firm Raymond James calls debt the “crack cocaine” of our generation.
Read More »

 

Destiny’s Challenge

Clint Reilly
Oct
28
2008

Colin Powell used the term again. How many times in this campaign have we heard the phrase, “transformational leader” applied to Barack Obama?

“Hope” and “change” are the two promises that Obama has made to the people, simple aspirations that have evoked an unprecedented outpouring of support. Seasoned campaign watchers are stunned. I’ve never witnessed anything like it, and I ran political campaigns for two decades.

I doubt anyone else has seen anything like it either, including the surviving veterans of the 1960 presidential campaign. Obama’s 100,000 person crowd in Missouri and $150 million September haul are signs that we are witnessing the elevation of an historic figure.

Obama began as the personification of Democrats’ mistrust in their own ability to create desperately needed change. (Why not just crown Hillary?)

But he has morphed into more than a vehicle of protest. One senses that history has anointed him. Events have conspired to confirm his critique of a faltering America – first articulated more than two years ago – long before the financial heart attack that recently struck the country.

He has bounded so effortlessly over previously insurmountable barriers like race, experience, name ID and the huge money necessary to compete that he seems to be carried along by what the Greeks called “Destiny.”

In the process, he has forged a unique bond with Americans who have invested their hopes and dreams for a better world in him – as well as their grim contempt for the corrupt and ineffective machinery of government. Read More »

 

Reagan Revolution, RIP

Clint Reilly
Oct
21
2008

In his book, “The Crisis of Global Capitalism,” legendary investor George Soros warned that free markets needed to be supervised by a force more powerful than corporations or they would reel out of control.

Soros was prescient: “I argue that the current state of affairs is unsustainable. Financial markets are inherently unstable and there are social needs that cannot be met by giving market forces free rein.”

Nevertheless, Republicans have preached the virtues of deregulation since Ronald Reagan routed Jimmy Carter in 1980. Moreover, they have demonized government’s role as watchdog of the public interest.

Republicans so successfully undermined the vital importance of good government that they forgot how to govern in a stark emergency like Katrina. They have essentially asserted that unfettered markets would transform the world by seeding democracy and employing the planet into middle class prosperity, while deriding the concept that a powerful arbiter must protect the common good.

A blind promise to lower taxes is the primary Republican domestic platform. Frankly, it’s little more than a bribe that promises the nation prosperity and preeminence without an honest assessment of the money needed to sustain these high standards. Read More »

 

The Gilded Age Implodes

Clint Reilly
Oct
14
2008

The Republican Party is a dying elephant. But can Democrats seal the deal with the American people and craft a 21st century coalition that rivals the power and durability of their 20th century New Deal coalition?

The 2006 midterm elections made Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House with a sizable majority. Barack Obama is now poised to capture the White House. But it will take more than a simple rejection of George Bush to sustain a lasting Democratic majority.

The devastating collapse of seemingly impregnable financial institutions laid bare the rotting pillars of an unregulated Wall Street. Gone is the cloak of probity that allowed so many big players to reap undue rewards.

The biggest lesson of the $1 trillion bailout is that capitalism needs democratic government as much as democratic government needs capitalism. As President Theodore Roosevelt realized at the end of the 19th century’s Gilded Age, business must be overseen and regulated by government to assert and protect the common good.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan ignited a revolution by mobilizing taxpayers against the very “big government” that had rescued their parents from the Great Depression. But without checks and balances for the common good, free markets ultimately unhinge in binges of excess and greed. The gilded age implodes.

We are witnessing more than the death of our free-for-all financial system; the passing of a governing philosophy is also at hand. The question is whether we will use this moment of reflection to chart a new course. Read More »

 

The Snobs at the Times

Clint Reilly
Oct
7
2008

With friends like New York Times columnists Thomas Friedman, Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich – does Barack Obama need enemies?

Forget the exhausted claims of “liberal bias”; the Times has a serious smugness problem on its hands. Even I – a life-long Democrat, Obama supporter, Times subscriber and daily reader – find the paper’s pomposity and orthodoxy difficult to stomach. An October 1 column on the Times op-ed page illustrates my point.

Noted Times columnist and best-selling author Thomas Friedman (The World Is Flat) was irate. The U.S. House of Representatives had just voted down the $700 billion bailout. Friedman fumed, smoke billowing from his column in great clouds:

“I’ve always believed America’s government was a unique political system – one designed by geniuses so it could be run by idiots. I was wrong. We have House members, many of whom I suspect can’t balance their checkbooks, rejecting a complex rescue package because some voters, whom I fear also don’t understand, swamped them with phone calls…”

No words more clearly illustrate the attitude of moral superiority and intellectual certainty that perfumes the op-ed pages of the New York Times. Read More »

 

$1,014,000,000,000 (and counting)

Clint Reilly
Sep
30
2008

The big numbers keep piling up. First there was Bear Stearns’ controlled implosion, which cost $29 billion. Then Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac flatlined, eliciting another emergency injection of $200 billion and a government takeover. AIG teetered and fell into an $85 billion safety net. Then came the request for another $700 billion from the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve to save Wall Street from itself.

Wow! That’s a ton of scratch – even for Uncle Sam’s deep pockets.

To justify the unprecedented zeros, Wall Street bankers argue that our financial system will collapse without the intervention, taking with it the machine that keeps the American economy generating taxes and jobs. A new depression would ultimately cost Americans far more. President Bush reasserted this message when he addressed the nation last Wednesday night.

By contrast to this trillion dollar grift, many social programs long castigated as “too expensive” by conservative critics seem positively cheap. Read More »

 

Blind Watchdogs

Clint Reilly
Sep
23
2008

As the stock market reels and storied houses of American finance crumble into the pages of history, the long-running myth of Wall Street’s superior intelligence has also begun to unravel.

A false belief in the supremacy of financial engineering over substantive accomplishment and socially meaningful labor has sapped our country’s commitment to true innovation and seduced a generation of potential entrepreneurs.

To some extent, the press is complicit. By focusing its scrutiny on easy targets in the public sector – while the financial world runs amok – the Fourth Estate has promulgated unyielding faith in the power of high finance.

But this faith has proven poisonous, allowing corporate greed, dishonest business practices and unchecked avarice to corrode not only the gilded foundations of Wall Street, but also the lives and dreams of average Americans across the country.

What about the destruction – before our very eyes – of old-fashioned values like hard work and integrity? What value system rewards the CEO of Merrill Lynch with a $150 million golden parachute following more than $30 billion in losses under his watch?

It is the same system that provided his three successors with $200 million in severance just months later after they sold the company under duress to Bank of America. Read More »

 

An Election for the Ages

Clint Reilly
Sep
16
2008

Like the greatest games in sports, this presidential election will go down in history as a legendary contest.

Author Teddy White made the 1960 Kennedy/Nixon race into a Pulitzer Prize-winning, non-fiction thriller. Will a contemporary Teddy White emerge to chronicle the drama of campaign 2008?

America loves underdogs, and two of them have risen to the top of their parties’ tickets. World affairs have become dinner table conversation thanks to 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Most compelling, an increasingly educated electorate is finding new ways to engage politically.

The 24-hour news cycle has turned the 2008 campaign into reality TV, with cameras trained permanently on the contestants. Fierce debates rage everywhere: on TV, over the radio, in newspapers, throughout the Internet, at the gym and during work.

Everyone from grade-schoolers to auto mechanics and waiters offer loud strategic advice to David Axelrod – Barack Obama’s chief consultant (whom they know by name) – on matters from TV commercial content and debate tactics to opposition research into Sarah Palin’s gubernatorial record.

The armchair quarterback is being replaced by the couch potato campaign guru. Read More »

 

MediaNews Deserves Credit

Clint Reilly
Sep
9
2008

When it comes to making informed decisions about the latest ballot initiative, candidates for public office or how to manage the current water shortage, newspaper editorial boards occupy a place of singular distinction among opinion shapers.

But historically, the editorial positions that newspapers take have been the exclusive province of their publishers and staff. Regular community members rarely, if ever, participated in their deliberations.

With this in mind, the owners of this newspaper joined me in an endeavor to engage the public by recruiting exemplary local citizens to serve on the editorial boards of 11 Bay Area newspapers. The citizen board members are independent and broadly networked in their communities, making them ideal conduits for local concerns.
Read More »

 

Obama’s Perilous Road

Clint Reilly
Sep
2
2008

In December, I wrote a column endorsing Hillary Clinton for president. In it, I registered three major concerns about Barack Obama’s candidacy:

First, Obama’s claim to be an agent of transformational change was overblown and bound to deflate.

Second, Obama would be hampered by his lack of specific solutions to America’s problems and by his thin résumé, which fails to demonstrate his ability to implement practical solutions.

Third, Obama would embrace the very Washington insiders he campaigned against once he captured the nomination, further alienating those hard-core supporters he initially enticed with a promise of transformational change.

Although I am now strongly supporting Obama, my reservations have turned out to be valid.

Labor Day marks the beginning of the end of the 2008 presidential campaign, and Obama has his work cut out for him. His presumptive landslide has not yet materialized, and any post-convention bump will inevitably level off. Furthermore, John McCain’s choice of a female running mate reinforces his maverick credentials and sets the stage for a classic battle for the center.

But if Obama wants to win the center, he’ll still need to overcome the same set of hurdles I listed in January.
Read More »

 

Why Readers Reject Newspapers

Clint Reilly
Aug
26
2008

Newspapers used to print money for their owners. Some – like Richard Thieriot, the former owner of the San Francisco Chronicle – did better than others.

Thieriot was smiling like the cat that ate the canary when I spoke with him at former State Senator Quentin Kopp’s recent 80th birthday party. Thieriot’s family sold the Chronicle and KRON television for more than $1 billion at the market’s zenith in 2000. Hearst Corporation paid $660 million for the Chronicle alone.

Today, rumors abound about the Chronicle’s financial picture. Including annual losses, Hearst has likely invested more than $1 billion in the Chronicle, yet the paper is only worth a fraction of that amount. Facing a dismal economic picture, Hearst recently offered buyouts to more than 100 Chronicle staffers, the second time it has done so in the last 18 months.

But the Chronicle is not alone. The entire newspaper business is in free fall. The Internet has stolen both readers and advertisers, and a grinding recession has further curtailed ad spending. And as younger readers flock online, circulation continues to plummet. Read More »

 

An Idea for a Better World

Clint Reilly
Aug
19
2008

Even in today’s age of cutting-edge science and technology, it is important to remember that history can still be shaped by big ideas.

In the 18th century, a philosophy of knowledge emboldened the Founding Fathers to build our democracy – a system of government based on the meritocracy of ideas, rights of the individual and a free press. Capitalism itself is rooted in an innate belief in the power of individual initiative rather than the supremacy of group action – which inspired Marxism and Communism.

Philosophy can be mind numbingly boring. But it can help us more clearly see the path to a better world. Read More »

 

Avoiding “The Bomb”

Clint Reilly
Aug
12
2008

After a long hiatus, recent events have put the “mushroom cloud” back on the front page.

On August 15, one large Bay Area city is conducting an emergency response to a simulated nuclear attack by terrorists.

There are well-founded fears that terrorists will obtain an illicit nuclear weapon and mount an attack on a large American city.

Also, the specter of a nuclear-equipped Iran has shaken governments around the globe. In some hard-line neoconservative circles, the mere possibility of Iran’s extremist leaders obtaining a bomb warrants a preemptive nuclear strike.

As nuclear proliferation becomes a burning international issue among policymakers once again, I worry that many of us have forgotten the stakes. Read More »

 

Expose the Real Culprits!

Clint Reilly
Aug
5
2008

It is a sobering fact that a penny ante political scandal often provokes more outrage, elicits more ink and attracts more attention from law enforcement than a multi-billion-dollar financial scandal that wipes out the savings of millions of people.

Without trivializing any potential public corruption or graft, a few examples of misplaced outrage come to mind:

In 1958, Sherman Adams, Dwight Eisenhower’s chief of staff, was toppled after he accepted a vicuña overcoat from a Boston textile manufacturer.

Here in California, Secretary of State Kevin Shelley was driven from office by the twin accusations of abrasive language toward staffers and illegal campaign finance activity. Even as it became clear that he had nothing to do with the illicit campaign funds, a drumbeat of hysterical exposés about his behavior hounded him until he resigned. Read More »

 

The Islamic Disneyland

Clint Reilly
Jul
29
2008

If Al Gore could take every U.S. citizen on a tour of Dubai, his 10-year vision for a fossil fuel-free America would jump start like a Prius with a new battery.

I just returned from the glossy desert city, where I saw firsthand what is happening to our $75 gas station fill-ups. With oil revenue for the United Arab Emirates projected to exceed $100 billion in 2008, a fantasyland is rising from the hot desert sands along the Arabian Sea.

It is a gilded kingdom built on American petrodollars that would embarrass the pharaohs for its pomp and ostentation. Read More »

 

The Faith Based Charade

Clint Reilly
Jul
22
2008

Barack Obama announced recently that he would increase the federal government’s commitment to faith-based charity programs begun under George W. Bush.

I hope Obama also subjects America’s social services agenda to a much needed re-examination.

In the 1930s and 40s, President Franklin Roosevelt’s brain trust developed a series of federal programs aimed at providing equal opportunity and access to the American dream. By all accounts, most have been quite successful.

Social Security helped provide a decent retirement. The Federal Housing Administration enabled folks to buy homes. The G.I. Bill sent thousands of servicemen and women to college and was the single biggest factor in creating a thriving U.S. middle class.

Successive Democratic administrations expanded Roosevelt’s New Deal to the Fair Deal, the New Frontier and the Great Society. The definition of freedom grew from freedom to worship and freedom of speech to a fundamental right to a minimum standard of living.

But Ronald Reagan’s presidency ushered in a gradual retrenchment of our economic safety net for the poor and underprivileged. Read More »

 

A Dangerous World

Clint Reilly
Jul
15
2008

To understand our shrinking planet, it is necessary to experience its complexities firsthand. But traveling the globe doesn’t always reassure us about the ideological and religious conflicts that still afflict the human race. A recent family vacation was a case in point.

Last Monday morning, my wife and I took our two young daughters to the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Visitors from all over the world, including the French themselves, jammed every wing of the museum. We had similar experiences at the Prado Museum in Madrid and almost everywhere else.

But behind the unrelenting tourist crush, police armed with machine guns lurked in the shadows. Heavy security checked every bag that passed through the gates. Read More »

 

You’ve Got Mail

Clint Reilly
Jul
8
2008

I remember the moment well. The year was 1979, and I was walking precincts in the Richmond District of San Francisco with mayoral candidate Quentin Kopp.

The Richmond was a diverse neighborhood that contained homeowners and renters, Asians, new professionals, Irish and Italian native San Franciscans, married couples, singles, seniors and young people.

The Richmond was supposed to be the most politically moderate neighborhood in the city. But as we walked door to door, day after day, I saw something else – an amalgam of every point of view from very liberal to very conservative.
Read More »

 

Goliaths Beware!

Clint Reilly
Jul
1
2008

When more than 75 percent of Americans believe their country is on the wrong track, the pent-up frustration is like a geyser ready to blow.

This presidential election could be the catalyst for angry voters to lash out at everything “big” – banks, Wall Street, special interests, lobbyists, oil companies and other corporations, not to mention a costly and ineffective federal government.

Americans have rebelled against “big” before. During the Progressive Era of the early 20th century, the country rolled back the excesses of unrestrained corporate power.

Is a new progressive era about to explode today, detonated by revulsion against pig-out greed on Wall Street and negligent oversight in Washington?
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Followship, not Leadership

Clint Reilly
Jun
24
2008

Do leaders really lead in the political arena or do they follow?

I think our system elects followers and calls them leaders. This creates both a false perception and a false expectation.

The false perception is that politicians have answers to our problems. The false expectation is that politicians will pursue answers to our problems. The fact that neither is precisely true drives Americans’ disillusionment with their government when their expectations are unmet.

I know my analysis is cynical and not universally true. But let me explain how I arrive at my conclusion.

I can still remember a well-known client during my political consulting days saying to me, “Clint, tell me what I believe.”
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Requiem for Republicans

Clint Reilly
Jun
17
2008

The front page headline of a recent New York Times article read, “Worries in GOP About McCain Camp Disarray.”

A more apt headline might have been reorganized to declare: “Worries in McCain Camp About GOP Disarray.”

Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama inherits a resurgent party that is far stronger than pundits or party insiders ever could have predicted just four years ago. After marching back from their nadir of 2004, Democrats enter the presidential cycle with enormous advantages.

Read More »

 

Grass Roots 2, Big Media 0

Clint Reilly
Jun
10
2008

For the second presidential race in a row, Washington outsiders versed in the grass-roots tactics of local politics have out-witted and out-maneuvered brand name East Coast media consultants.

This year, Barack Obama’s campaign – headlined by seasoned Chicago consultant David Axelrod – built a series of individual campaigns in states where Hillary Clinton lacked the volunteers to compete.

Obama’s grass-roots army filled the void in states like Nebraska, Colorado, Idaho and North Dakota, allowing him to rack up precious delegates virtually unopposed.

Clinton mistakenly relied on her early lead in the polls to carry her through the primary schedule, while Obama harnessed a volunteer crusade that helped him reel off 11 straight primary victories and provided his margin of victory.

The roots of Obama’s volunteer organization extended deep into the Internet, where a massive array of committed donors armed him with a lethal fundraising advantage.

Like an army bogged down for lack of fuel, a cash shortage made it almost impossible for Clinton to compete on a level playing field in the late states.

Unfortunately for Clinton, her campaign never learned the most important lesson of the last presidential cycle.

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Those Awful Political Ads

Clint Reilly
Jun
3
2008

Today is election day in California.

Even though I actively support many candidates financially and through volunteering, just turning on a TV during election season is difficult for me. Opening my mailbox is painful. I feel smothered by the tidal wave of television commercials and brochures that wash through my house every election cycle.

I was a political consultant for more than two decades before exiting the profession in 1996. I was responsible for helping to create dozens of campaigns and many new techniques for managing them. I certainly produced my share of marginal political ads.

But frankly, I’m shocked by the state of political advertising today. It’s appalling.

Nevertheless, mediocre candidates win and atrocious political ads work for two disturbing reasons: because one side has more money, and because there isn’t enough objective information coming from neutral sources like newspapers to communicate the truth.

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The Battle for Labor’s Soul

Clint Reilly
May
27
2008

The biggest battle in the American labor movement today is raging right here in the Bay Area.

The epic clash is between two leaders of the same union with opposing philosophies on the same question: What is the best way to organize workers in an environment that has seen union membership decline from 28 percent of employed workers in 1954, to 12 percent in 2007?

Andy Stern, the Washington D.C.-based president of the 1.9 million-member Service Employees International Union, came to power by calling for a return to organizing workers as the best way to restore union power in America.

However, Stern has now largely abandoned on-the-ground organizing – labor’s core principle – in order to pursue cooperative alliances with corporations. These deals often trade the union’s greatest piece of leverage – political clout – for symbolic concessions of little benefit to the union’s members. Read More »

 

Beyond Bread-and-Butter Politics

Clint Reilly
May
20
2008

The post-war explosion of wealth and the spread of basic financial security to an ever-wider range of Americans has altered the national political agenda.

In the Depression Era of the 1930s and the difficult World War II years of the decade following, working class Americans skirted poverty at best or were trapped in a hand-to-mouth existence.

But by the 1970s the sociologist Ben Wattenberg was able to proclaim in his book, The Real America, “Something has happened in the United States that has never happened before anywhere: the massive majority of the population is now in the middle class.”

Brink Lindsay – vice president for research at the Cato Institute – expanded on the theme in his 2007 book, The Age of Abundance, arguing that unprecedented prosperity has fundamentally transformed America’s politics. Read More »

 

The Bay Congresswomen Power Bloc

Clint Reilly
May
13
2008

I recently traveled to Washington to attend the swearing in of Jackie Speier, the Bay Area’s newest Congresswoman.

While awaiting the ceremony, we sat in the balcony of the House of Representatives and looked down upon a debate about protecting the coast from oil drilling. Sacramento Congresswoman Doris Matsui led the Democrats.

A succession of Republicans rose to deliver stormy speeches before Matsui deftly maneuvered the debate to a vote, which the Democrats won handily.

Speier was sworn in by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi following the vote.

Speier joins a formidable group of Bay Area women who represent their communities in Washington. Led by Speaker Pelosi, they are a powerful force for Bay Area regional interests. Read More »

 

Altered Landscape Imperils Obama

Clint Reilly
May
6
2008

The ground under the presidential race is shifting, at great peril to Barack Obama in his primary contest against Hillary Clinton.

At the starting line, Clinton’s insider credentials and celebrity status were both a strength and a weakness. Obama’s lack of Washington experience and his outsider’s critique of a flawed government was a popular formula that attracted many followers.

Today, Obama’s message of transformational change seems less relevant as a credit crisis cuts through Middle America’s pocketbook like a tornado down Main Street.

Voters’ outrage about Washington lobbyists – whom Obama has demonized to great effect – has been replaced by the stark reality of the unemployment letter at work or the foreclosure notice in the mail box. Read More »

 

The Pope is a Republican?

Clint Reilly
Apr
29
2008

Distinctly separate events occurring at the same moment are often part of a larger whole. A recent week provided a perfect example.

When Pope Benedict XVI arrived for his first U.S. visit, President Bush took the unprecedented step of greeting him at the airport. Vice President Cheney – who rarely emerges from his bunker except for the occasional Republican fundraiser – bade him farewell six days later.

An unpopular president and vice president sought to share the glow of Pope Benedict’s boffo visit.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama continued campaigning ahead of Pennsylvania’s Democratic presidential primary, in which Catholics represented a third of the vote. Read More »

 

Tracking the Credit Virus

Clint Reilly
Apr
22
2008

For decades, Wall Street financial institutions have escaped government oversight by convincing people that even the slightest regulation would hogtie the global financial system.

Over time, the lack of oversight spawned a rogue banking system in which hedge fund entrepreneurs, mega-money managers and investment bankers were free to gamble vast sums completely unregulated. The sub-prime lending extravaganza rose from this unchecked morass.

That was before a rolling credit crisis brought staggering losses of wealth not only to big banks, but to regular homeowners across the country. With the economy reeling and in the wake of Bear Stearns’ $30 billion taxpayer bailout, much-needed government regulation is on the way.

Read More »

 

Return of the Organizers

Clint Reilly
Apr
15
2008

The lost art of political organizing is making a comeback.

Fifty years of redundant television spots, cookie cutter mailings and computer-dialed, pre-recorded phone messages have anesthetized voters. Paid political media is now a commodity, which consumers view with a skeptical eye.

Still, traditional political consultants – the image makers – continue to craft poll-tested homilies that echo voter concerns but sidestep unpopular solutions. The result is vanilla rhetoric and “me too-ism.” But voters are revolting against manufactured, wholesale campaigns. These new stakeholders demand a conversation, not a sermon. They resent being treated as passive bystanders. They seek personal involvement.

In this new political climate, many old-fashioned media consultants have found themselves marginalized, supplanted by the rising stars of politics: the organizers.

Read More »

 

Masters of the Game

Clint Reilly
Apr
8
2008

The New York Times recently described the Obama-Clinton race as “the Ad Man vs. the Pollster” in reference to the candidates’ high-profile political consultants, David Axelrod and the recently-resigned Mark Penn.

Axelrod – Obama’s “Ad Man” – shapes images via emotional 30-second television commercials. Until this week, his counterpart in the Clinton camp was Penn, a pollster who analyzes voter sentiment with carefully calibrated surveys.

Consultants like Axelrod and Penn today enjoy celebrity status, but they are only the latest in a line of masters who have helped elect America’s presidents, senators, governors, mayors and members of Congress.

Their predecessors were pioneers who developed many of today’s political strategies quietly, before the advent of cable news and out of the media spotlight. Read More »

 

Wall Street’s Big Bailout

Clint Reilly
Apr
1
2008

March, 2008 will go down in history as a turning point in finance. The delusion of deregulated financial markets has been exposed.

For decades, the titans of Wall Street have demonized government regulation meant to protect the public interest and the integrity of our financial system. They framed their case against intervention as “innovative public policy.” But as the financial giants have crumbled, their argument has been revealed as a mere tactic to avoid scrutiny of their unsavory and imprudent practices.

Martin Wolf, writing in the Financial Times of London, describes the current crisis in stark terms: “Remember Friday March 14, 2008,” he writes. “It was the day the dream of global free market capitalism died.”

In recent weeks, the Federal Reserve has been forced to bail out Bear Stearns, guarantee tens of billions of the firm’s losses and loan hundreds of billions to big banks and Wall Street investment firms in order to prevent the collapse of both the domestic and global financial systems.

Breaking a barrier that had never before been broken, the Federal Reserve used the taxpayers’ credit and dollars to save Wall Street from imploding. Read More »

 

Beware, Rush Limbaugh

Clint Reilly
Mar
25
2008

A recent Boston Globe article examining Hillary Clinton’s newfound success among GOP loyalists made a strong case for the “Limbaugh Effect,” tactical voting by Republicans who believe that Clinton’s nomination will benefit the GOP in November.

These “tactical voters” might want to reconsider their tactics.

I’m reminded of two instances in which similar political maneuvering brought about wildly unintended consequences. In the first case, an attempt to bring down an urban mayor helped catapult her toward a successful career in the U.S. Senate. In the second, voters seeking campaign finance limits released a flood of special interest money into the system.

In 1983, then San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein was preparing for her November reelection when she was blindsided by a recall effort. Her support of a San Francisco hand gun ban had drawn the ire of pro-gun zealots. I ran her anti-recall campaign. Read More »

 

Perata is Oakland’s Hope

Clint Reilly
Mar
18
2008

Oakland desperately needs a nuts-and-bolts mayor to fix its ongoing problems.

Oakland’s leadership crisis troubles me.

I was born in Oakland’s Kaiser Permanente Hospital. I can still remember my mother’s many visits to Pill Hill during the 50’s and 60’s as she prepared to give birth to my next brother or sister.

Back then, my family lived with my grandparents in the house where my mother grew up across the Oakland line near Ashby and San Pablo Avenues in Berkeley. We later moved to San Leandro, but Oakland was still a big part of my life.

I recall trips with my mother and grandmother on the AC Transit bus to the long-gone Capwell’s Department store in downtown Oakland.

Later, as a teenager, I was a frequent visitor to the Oakland Main Library near Lake Merritt and DeLauer’s 24-hour book store on Broadway – an Oakland landmark.

I attended Oakland Raider games with my dad at Frank Youell Field before the Oakland Coliseum was built. I can still remember a young coach Al Davis pacing the sidelines during games. Read More »

 

Nancy Pelosi

Clint Reilly
Mar
11
2008

“A Voice That Will Be Heard”

I was Nancy Pelosi’s political consultant when she was first elected to Congress in 1987.

Her performance in that campaign augured the political skills and passionate determination that would not only elect her to Congress but also propel her to become the first female Speaker of the House.

On February 1, 1987, San Francisco Congresswoman Sala Burton died of cancer. On her deathbed, she endorsed Nancy Pelosi, a 47-year-old San Francisco Democratic party leader, to succeed her in Congress.

Pelosi faced a legitimate challenge from Harry Britt, a gay San Francisco supervisor who had succeeded Harvey Milk after Milk’s assassination in 1979. Britt’s stock in trade was an array of carefully calibrated positions on high-profile progressive issues. We quickly assessed Britt’s weaknesses: First, he lacked an organization. Second, he was a talker, not a doer. Read More »

 

A Legacy of Service

Clint Reilly
Mar
4
2008

“It is well to be prepared for life as it is. But it is better to be prepared to make life better than it is.”

R. Sargent Shriver

California’s First Lady, Maria Shriver, turned heads when she joined Oprah Winfrey and Caroline Kennedy at a recent rally to endorse Barack Obama for president. A Republican governor’s spouse supporting a liberal Democrat would normally evoke a loud outcry from conservatives and skepticism from the press. But Maria Shriver’s mother is Eunice Kennedy – sister of President John F. Kennedy. Her bloodlines go back to Camelot.

A lifetime lived in proximity to one of the 20th century’s great political dynasties might have been a heavy burden for a daughter of the next generation. But Maria Shriver is living proof that great parents leave an indelible imprint on a child. Read More »

 

“Just Politics”

Clint Reilly
Feb
26
2008

JFK, Caroline, Ted and Hillary

It is said that there are no friends in politics, only temporary allies.

Ted Kennedy stands at the podium proclaiming his support for Barack Obama in an old school shout. Caroline talks quietly into the television camera explaining why Obama is this generation’s John Kennedy. The 1960’s media guru Marshall McLuhan would have lectured his students that Teddy’s loud style was too hot for the medium of television – like Richard Nixon’s – and Caroline’s conversational tone was cool – exactly like JFK’s.

When JFK summoned young Americans to public service in his 1960 inaugural address, he bequeathed a generation of political activists to future decades. These activists were shaped by four experiences: First, “The Assassinations” (John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King). Second, the Civil Rights Movement. Third, the Vietnam War. Fourth, a cultural revolution that profoundly impacted American mores. Read More »

 

The Obama Revolt

Clint Reilly
Feb
19
2008

The success of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign can be explained as a partnership between a great candidate and an idea whose time has come. The winning idea is simple: democratic government has cracked beneath the weight of special interest money.

Many average American citizens have decided to fight back via Obama’s candidacy, fueling his campaign with $32 million in January alone. With their relatively small donations, they are storming the barricades in protest against the special interest campaign dollars flooding government at every level – local, state and federal.

It has been difficult to stem the tide of special interest money because it takes so many shadowy forms. Much has been written about special interest contributions to political campaigns. Now they have invented new ways to influence the democratic process, such as independent campaign expenditures, expensive trips lavished upon public officials and the illicit use of charities and nonprofit organizations for political purposes. Read More »

 

Editorial Boards and the Public Interest

Clint Reilly
Feb
12
2008

Are you curious as to why I write this column each week? Many people are. They want to know how much money I am spending to disseminate my views; it strikes them as an expensive ego trip. They are usually surprised when I tell them that I pay nothing. In fact, the owner of this newspaper provides the space gratis as part of the settlement to an antitrust lawsuit I brought in 2006. Many readers already know the details of my battles with media companies to preserve vigorous competition among paid subscription daily newspapers in our Bay Area. In a time when consumers are bombarded by paid messages, I am happy to say that my column is not another piece of paid propaganda.

In addition to this column, the settlement granted me the right to work with this newspaper’s staff to appoint a citizen to the paper’s editorial board. This is an exciting opportunity for the community, but it is not unprecedented. The Marin Independent Journal has long enjoyed the successful contributions of citizen board members during editorial meetings. In opening up the editorial process to citizen representatives, a new voice and an outside perspective will join the important deliberations that determine this newspaper’s position on critical issues impacting your city, county, state and nation. In addition, the new appointee will be a full participant in editorial choices, ranging from local and regional planning to the endorsement of political candidates and propositions. Read More »

 

Choosing a Leader

Clint Reilly
Feb
5
2008

Barack Obama has electrified crowds across the country with his transcendent speeches and promise of changing our politics.

So why do I favor Hillary Clinton in today’s primary election?

In short, Clinton has the leadership acumen and toughness to be an outstanding transactional president. Obama’s inspirational speeches are not backed by the kind of substantive reform agenda necessary to bring about transformational change.

The primary election battle between Clinton and Obama is a case study in James MacGregor Burns’s two classic approaches to leadership. Obama casts himself as an outsider advocating wholesale, fundamental change in Washington, while Clinton burnishes her Washington credentials and touts her ability to carry out incremental change among the factions and interest groups she is personally acquainted with. This outsider/insider contrast has produced a comparative stalemate as Democratic voters split on which reform approach is more relevant in 2008. Read More »

 

Capitalism Without Values

Clint Reilly
Jan
29
2008

Are the barons of high finance ever called to account for their avarice, or for the billions squandered by their schemes?

A culture has evolved which allows the corporate executives of public companies to achieve monumental pay packages without investing a dime of their own money. I recently talked to the 45-year-old retired CFO of a famous Silicon Valley company who justified his $250 million stock package by saying that he had worked six days a week for five years. I thought of my father, who worked six- and seven-day weeks for 40 years as a deliveryman for Berkeley Farms and Dreyer’s Ice Cream.

Business leaders are portrayed as omnipotent gurus who blame the ills of society on a recalcitrant government bureaucracy and a self-dealing political class. The myth of the meritocracy of financial genius is perpetuated by horserace coverage of wealth, such as the Forbes 400 list. Here the accumulation of money is more than lauded; it is mythologized. Success has become so equated with money that critical professions such as teaching, journalism, medicine, public health and government service, which require a spirit of sacrifice, are made to seem less important than pure capitalistic endeavors.

But current events are challenging the myth of the omnipotent businessman. Read More »

 

Anatomy of a Slush Fund

Clint Reilly
Jan
22
2008

If one word has come to characterize the 2008 Democratic presidential campaign, it is “change.” The early success of the “change candidate,” Barack Obama, has been charged by Americans’ growing revulsion to negative commercials, libelous mailings and the practices of shadowy special interest groups that bend campaign finance laws in order to wage deceptive campaigns against political opponents.

Unfortunately, these practices are commonplace in many state and local campaigns. And without aggressive and balanced local media reporting to counteract them, illicit political activities often work. Here’s an example:

When former California State Senate President Pro Tem John Burton was termed out of office in 2004, he returned to his lobbying law practice with a $1.8 million fund raised between 1998 and 2004. Burton grew the fund during his years as Senate leader, poaching money from other accounts raised for purposes as diverse as voter registration, electing Democrats to state and federal offices, and advocating for an initiative to overturn term limits. The $1.8 million was spun into an entity called “Former Leaders for an Effective Government.” Read More »

 

The Streets of San Francisco

Clint Reilly
Jan
15
2008

While cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles – with huge populations and complex problems – report historic decreases in crime and murder rates, San Francisco faces a wave of senseless killings. San Francisco also continues to be plagued by an epidemic of homelessness and anti-social behavior on its streets that has long since disappeared from more seemingly ungovernable cities in America, Europe and Asia.

The problem is rooted in an archaic approach to law enforcement taken by Mayor Gavin Newsom and the San Francisco Police Department.

Newsom’s 2003 mayoral campaign heavily promoted the “Broken Windows” theory of law enforcement first implemented by William Bratton, the highly successful Police Chief of Los Angeles who restored order to New York City in the 1990’s. Newsom also loudly promised to appoint an outsider as police chief who was conversant with Bratton’s widely acclaimed tactics, which have become the “best practices” for managing a 21st-century law enforcement agency. Read More »

 

Political Motives

Clint Reilly
Jan
8
2008

Political careers are based on a complicated brew of idealism and ambition, self-interest and altruism, fiction and conviction. On stage, in the harsh spotlight of the 24/7 news cycle, the motives of our potential leaders are put under a microscope. Those who fall short are held wanting on the one quality Americans demand in their leaders – Character.

But what seems like an easy test is actually quite subjective.

The single reason for the partisan polarization of American politics is that voters demonize the motives of candidates with whom they disagree.

Is Hillary Clinton running for President to bring a needed change of direction to the nation or simply to regain power for the Clintons?

Is the young Barack Obama’s candidacy truly based on the premise of his book The AUDACITY of HOPE or is it merely the audacity of hype?

Is John Edwards passionately pursuing the presidency out of a sense of duty in spite of his wife’s illness or is Edwards cynically exploiting his wife’s cancer to win sympathy? Read More »

 

Broken Sacramento

Clint Reilly
Jan
1
2008

One of the most egregious examples of the broken system in Sacramento is the dual role of legislator/lobbyist played by one key leader — former President Pro Tem John L. Burton when he was Assemblyman, State Senator, and President pro tem of the State Senate. I first met Burton when I was managing Barbara Boxer’s campaign for Congress in 1982. Burton had announced his retirement from Congress because he suffered from a major drug problem. His chosen successor was Marin Supervisor Barbara Boxer, who I knew and had helped over the years. The problem, however, was that Burton was still active in Boxer’s campaign. Several times an incoherent Burton insisted that I attend 7:00 AM meetings in his office on campaign strategy. I dutifully arrived on time. But Burton never showed up. Usually he would materialize unannounced in my office when I was not there and wander the halls intimidating my staff with his irrational behavior. Frantic phone calls and meetings were filled with ranting and incomprehensible speeches. He was clearly still using drugs during the campaign while he was a United States Congressman and presented a real danger to the success of Boxer’s campaign. Nevertheless, we won by 20% over a tough opponent. After the campaign, Burton entered rehab and later obtained a six figure part-time job in Sacramento at taxpayers’ expense from his close friend Speaker Willie Brown. Eventually, Burton ran successfully for the Assembly and State Senate where he became President pro tem of the Senate. During his years in the Assembly and Senate, and since being termed out of the legislature in 2004, Burton has maintained a lucrative lobbying law practice at The Merchants Exchange Building in San Francisco. Read More »

 

Christmas Message

Clint Reilly
Dec
25
2007

After 2000 years, the message of Jesus resonates on Christmas Day 2007 as loudly as ever. I am a Catholic. Confession of sins is a sacrament in the Catholic Church – luckily for me. “Judge not, lest you be judged” is an apt admonition as is Jesus’ famous warning, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

The Catholic Church is an institution which has survived twenty centuries in spite of the occasional actions of ecclesiastical ministers whose sins have sometimes undermined the teachings of Christ. In our time, the scandal of priests abusing children has thrown back the curtain on the risks of celibate priesthood, the poor screening of seminary students, outmoded personnel policies and the inadequate supervision of troubled priests. In his book, A PEOPLE ADRIFT, THE CRISIS OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH IN AMERICA, Peter Steinfels wrote, “The American Catholic Church’s sex scandal of 2002 occurred because terrible things were done to thousands of children and young people. It occurred because many church officials…failed to prevent those crimes and do everything in their power to repair the harm.” The huge financial settlements will neither heal the wounds nor restore credibility.

Nevertheless, The Catholic Church is an irreplaceable force for good in America. Read More »

 

Barack Obama’s Dilemma

Clint Reilly
Dec
18
2007

In 1978 I had the pleasure of riding around in a car for a day with then House Speaker Tip O’Neill, soon-to-be Congressman Bob Matsui and then Sacramento Union Political Writer Dan Walters. O’Neill was campaigning for Matsui, the Democratic Congressional nominee. A large man with a rumbling voice, O’Neill exuded a love for the game of politics that was plain in the constant flow of stories about colleagues, constituents, and Presidents. He could not have been more different than Bob Matsui. Matsui was a reserved Japanese American City Councilman and attorney who had grown up with his parents in World War II internment camps. His mother and father had lost their family business and their family home. I developed a 60-second television commercial detailing Matsui’s return to Sacramento as a young boy and his inspirational rise from a World War II internment camp to successful young lawyer and community leader — the quintessential “American Success Story.” The theme of Matsui’s campaign appropriately was “Citizen Matsui.” He scored a dramatic upset against two formidable Democratic opponents in a tough June primary election. Read More »

 

Bay Area Regional Government

Clint Reilly
Dec
11
2007

America is a country founded on the practical application of philosophical ideas. Ideas have a power to change the course of history. But today there is greater confidence in the immediate beneficial effects of technology, medicine, and science. There is little appetite for slowly baked solutions. Voters demand microwave answers, and easily forget that philosophical truths are the foundation of the economic and political institutions which have enabled technology, medicine, and science to flourish.

The late journalist and historian Theodore H. White claimed credit for coining the phrase “Power Broker”. Ironically, White, who wrote the breakthrough series on American Presidential Campaigns, The Making of the President, did not invent the term to describe a practitioner of electoral politics. He was referring to Jean Monnet, a man of ideas whose career was dedicated to creating a united European community. Today the European Union stands as a legacy to Monnet. The concept that a continent of independent nations with a history of war and sectarian rivalry that traced back 1000 years could unite around a shared system of law was a loony notion in the 1940’s and 50’s. The thesis that a common market of European Nations with a single currency and open borders would become a global economic powerhouse was a far fetched idea in post war France. In 2005, I visited the newly constructed headquarters of the European Union in Brussels, Belgium, which is now the political capital of Europe. Any American tourist visiting Europe can testify to the declining value of the dollar. But the rising Euro may be the most eloquent validation of Jean Monnet’s vision of the power of a United Europe. Read More »

 

Newspapers as Watchdogs

Clint Reilly
Dec
4
2007

When does a newspaper cease to be a legitimate watchdog of the public interest? Do a newspaper company’s own ethical lapses impeach its credibility as an independent watchdog of the public interest?

In 1973, I was a very young political organizer. I participated in a campaign for Governor of Arizona. The United Farm Workers Union, led by Cesar Chavez, was strongly backing a candidate against the Republican Governor, “one eyed” Jack Williams, who opposed the right of farm workers to organize. Chavez recruited me to manage the campaign of the Farm Workers’ candidate, Jerry Pollack, against Williams. The Arizona Republic was the most important newspaper in the state. Eugene Pulliam, the uncle of former Vice President Dan Quayle, owned the Republic and ran it with an iron fist. Pulliam had no compunction about destroying Democrats with front-page lies and smears. Chavez had launched a campaign to register new Democratic voters, particularly Latinos. The effort was a great success and nearly 75,000 new voters were registered. Read More »

 

Tabloid Justice

Clint Reilly
Nov
27
2007

Rather than charging Barry Bonds with using steroids, the prosecutor indicted Bonds for lying to a Federal Grand Jury. Once again, an expensive, painfully drawn out investigation by a US Attorney has led to a celebrity indictment on tangential charges, not the substantive issue. And questionable journalistic tactics by the San Francisco Chronicle has fed speculation that the troubled newspaper is more interested in a journalistic prize than steroids – or justice.

Earlier this year, a protracted investigation of the leak of Valerie Plame’s identity as a CIA operative by Bush Administration officials resulted in a similar indictment. Lewis “Scooter” Libby was charged and ultimately convicted – not of leaking Plame’s name to reporters – but of lying to a grand jury. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald produced a conviction on perjury – not a definitive resolution of the central issue – who leaked Valerie Plame’s identity to the press? Read More »

 

The Free Press

Clint Reilly
Nov
20
2007

The Free Press is an institution which democracy cannot do without — much to the chagrin of just about anyone who comes into consistent contact with reporters and television cameras. The theology that reporters capture photo-realistic snapshots is a quaint notion taught in Journalism 101. Existentialism preaches that the same object viewed by many people will spark myriad descriptions — often contradictory. Applying the Ten Commandments is easier said than done. Ethicists acknowledge that the line between morality, amorality, and immorality is often hard to find. Democracy is an adversarial process where opposing sides present their version of the facts to a jury of their peers — and the jury decides. Truth necessitates a competition of ideas and points of view. Hence, the indispensability of those underpaid, overworked, biased, disheveled folks known as journalists and the necessary role played by the greedy, corrupt media conglomerates which transmit information. The Great American Free Speech Machine is plugged in. Read More »

 

The Presidential Election

Clint Reilly
Nov
13
2007

Commentary on the 2008 Presidential Election centers on the presumption that the Christian Right will again play a decisive role in the outcome. I disagree. What often occurs in politics has happened to the religious right. In the 2004 election, Evangelicals invented a fairy tale White House where Republicans were Good and Democrats were Evil. Christian denominations were convinced by their preachers that a President John F. Kerry would undermine Christian Values – even though Kerry is a life-long Catholic. The religious right dominated the 2004 vote. A united Christian movement mobilized behind President George W. Bush, who became a symbol of fundamentalism’s war on a materialistic, permissive culture. Christian volunteers helped with phone banks and door-to-door voter contact programs that put Bush over the top in key swing states. Read More »

 

The Democratic Party

Clint Reilly
Nov
6
2007

The stunning victory in the 2006 midterm elections which led to a Democratic takeover of the House and Senate obscures a view articulated by many political experts. The Democratic Party lacks a rationale for permanently governing America. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and their legion of collaborators earned an important and legitimate triumph in 2006. Bill Clinton won the White House in 1992 only to see the Republican Party gain control of the House of Representatives in 1994.

In his new book THE ARGUMENT – BILLIONAIRES, BLOGGERS AND THE BATTLE TO REMAKE DEMOCRATIC POLITICS, New York Times Reporter Matt Bai tracks the emerging community of entrepreneurs, policy wonks, and technophiles who are collaborating and competing with old-school Washington power brokers to hone a progressive message relevant to 21st Century America. Bai concluded that blue smoke and mirror victories in the House and Senate were based on a rejection of Republican leadership rather than an embrace of Democrats. Democrats still make a garbled argument incapable of sustaining a winning coalition. “Until they (Democrats) ….. find something more contemporary than defending programs of the New Deal and espousing the social justice rhetoric of the 1960′s, it will be hard for Democrats to establish themselves as anything other than a slightly dated alternative to the mess that is modern conservatism.” In fact, the Democratic Party has been struggling to replace the message of New Deal liberalism since Ronald Reagan won a landslide victory in 1980 by running against Big Government. Read More »

 

Religion and Politics

Clint Reilly
Oct
30
2007

The carefully plotted hijacking of the word “faith” by the Republican Party in the 2004 presidential election ought to be warning to church leaders to stay out of partisan politics in the 2008 presidential election. Religious fundamentalists careened across the median line between church and state like drunk drivers. Ignoring lifelong commitments to public service, social justice, and peace by many Democratic candidates, a few church leaders applied litmus tests on selective social issues which were heavily weighted in favor of Republicans. This partisan involvement by religious denominations has ultimately backfired, as the repugnant policies of a Republican Congress and a Republican President has led to a Democratic takeover of both the House and Senate in 2006 and a likely Democratic president in 2008. Today, more Republicans are deserting ship as key Republican Senators and Members of Congress announce their retirements. President George Bush’s job rating is at an historic low. Polls show a disillusioned Christian movement – in no shape to line the barricades for the Republican presidential candidate in 2008. Read More »

 

Credentials for the American President

Clint Reilly
Oct
23
2007

History invents Presidents who rise to the challenges of the moment.

President Theodore H. Roosevelt was both a reformer and an environmentalist. After the unchecked industrial growth of the nineteenth century, Roosevelt — who became President in 1901 when President William McKinley was assassinated — created an innovative public policy he termed “regulation”. He said, “we hold that government should not conduct the business of the nation, but that it should exercise such supervision as will ensure its being conducted in the interests of the nation.” Under TR, the federal government instituted tough government regulation as a tool to protect and promote the public interest. Read More »

 

Political Campaigns

Clint Reilly
Oct
16
2007

Anything can happen in a political campaign.

Once I was managing a campaign for the Assembly. The opposition campaign manager was arrested. I thought it was for a minor offense but it turned out that he was accused of murder. Allegedly, he had put out a contract on a business partner seven years earlier. Naturally, the press wanted to know what his boss, the incumbent Assemblyman, thought about his campaign manager’s arrest for murder. A memorable answer ended his political career and elected my client. “What my campaign manager does on his own time is his own business”, he intoned. As soon as that quote was splashed onto the front page of the local newspaper, the election was over. Read More »

 

The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia

Clint Reilly
Oct
9
2007

The lines of photographs stare blankly like rows and rows of stark mug shots. These are not criminals, but the faces of innocent victims of the twentieth century’s second holocaust.

The Khmer Rouge murdered almost two million Cambodians during a bloody four-year purge in the 1970’s. Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, was a school converted into a prison where more than 14,000 men, women and children were killed by the Khmer Rouge between 1976 and 1979. My wife and I visited Tuol Sleng last week. Read More »

 

Marshall McLuhan

Clint Reilly
Oct
2
2007

Just about any consumer, traveler, artist, museum curator, entrepreneur, executive, pro athlete, sports fan, politician or religious leader understands globalization. Globalization is the mass marketing of business, sports, culture, fashion and values through the “universalization” of media. In fifty short years since 1960, the spread of mass media has shrunk the planet. All of this was predicted by Marshall McLuhan in his book “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man” published in 1964.

McLuhan observed that electronic media’s ability to transport events, leaders, political and religious ideas, celebrities, and entertainment or consumer products – even wars – into our living rooms via television would transform the world. Read More »

 

Philanthropy

Clint Reilly
Sep
25
2007

Bill Clinton has written a new book, GIVING, about “the explosion of private citizens doing public good.” Environmentalist Paul Hawken‘s book, BLESSED UNREST, chronicles a nonpartisan humanitarian movement comprising tens of millions of citizen activists spanning every continent. Citizens no longer depend purely on government to solve social problems. Even the trendy new moniker given to non profits – NGO’s – stands for Non-Governmental Organizations. In Europe, high tax rates heavily discouraged private giving. Europeans feared they would tacitly permit government to curtail its social agenda by donating to private charities which duplicated the state’s cradle-to-grave responsibilities. However, in the United States a tradition of giving has prevailed since the founding of the republic. The French writer Alexis de Tocqueville, author of Democracy in America, observed in the 1830’s, “I must say that Americans make great and real sacrifices to the public welfare, and I have noticed a hundred instances in which they hardly ever failed to lend faithful support to one another.”

Every day, millions of Americans donate time or money to more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations. Donations to America’s nonprofit organizations totaled 260 billion dollars in 2005. More than 80% of contributions were from individuals. The Bureau of Labor Statistics asserts that 64.5 million Americans have volunteered their time to assist a nonprofit organization at least one time per year. Read More »

 

Followship

Clint Reilly
Sep
18
2007

Voters say they want leaders who have the courage to take unpopular stands. But election results often prove otherwise. Leaders who advocate out-of-favor positions are often defeated. Leadership conjures the image of the Old Testament prophet who goes out ahead of a wandering people and finds the way to a safe haven. The leader travels in front guiding the way. In fact, political leaders follow their constituents.

The modern science of political research enables politicians to poll voters in order to ascertain their views on any subject. Focus groups pre-test speeches, television commercials, programs and policies. Finely honed solutions are calculated to appeal to constituents – not jolt them with unwanted medicine. Political marketers, like brand marketers for consumer products, create messages for their clients that are carefully calibrated to avoid sparking disagreement. Read More »

 

The Public Square

Clint Reilly
Sep
11
2007

Red Square in the Kremlin and Tiananmen Square in China are mammoth public places which attract visitors from all over the world. To Westerners, these monumental squares symbolize the cold war power of the Red Army and the Chinese regime’s bloody suppression of the 1989 student demonstration. But to the Russian and Chinese people, these are sacred grounds where the history of their countries — the victories and the defeats — was made. Ancient Athens had the Agora, a central square where Athenians came together to debate, celebrate, eat and shop. The great public squares of Europe, like St. Mark’s Square in Venice or St. Peter’s Square in Rome, are world famous landmarks that date back to feudal days when kings and popes ruled supreme.

Last week I visited Portland, Oregon’s Pioneer Courthouse Square, called “Portland’s living room” which hosts over 300 events and attracts 9.5 million visitors a year. In May, my wife and I experienced the elegant squares of Savannah, Georgia which are famous throughout the South for injecting natural beauty into urban living. Practically every city in America has such a place today. In reality, the boundaries of the public square in our country extend far beyond the perimeters of a physical space where local citizens come to congregate. First, the public square is all the streets and sidewalks and parks in every city, town and neighborhood, not just an essential gathering place in the middle of a city like Cesar Chavez Park in downtown San Jose. Second, the public square is also a shared commitment to solve problems through rational debate rather than violence. Read More »

 

Leadership

Clint Reilly
Sep
4
2007

During the 2007/08 presidential season Chris Matthews, the touted MSNBC commentator, will utter the Leadership word ad nauseam. In fact, I heard Matthews ask all of the following questions on his Sunday August 26 show. Is Barack Obama too young to provide leadership? Are American men ready to accept leadership from Hillary Clinton? Is Rudy Giuliani’s 9/11 leadership enough to elect him President? Is John McCain too old to provide energetic leadership? Will other religions reject leadership from a practicing Mormon – Mitt Romney? Leadership is a much abused word.

Politicians in today’s 24/7 news cycle are not the only spin doctors. The constant repetition of political clichés by reporters and journalists trivializes the meaning of important words and concepts critical to our democracy and numbs the body politic like a narcotic. Read More »

 

Thomas Albright

Clint Reilly
Aug
27
2007

My passion for Northern California art began not by viewing a painting but by reading a newspaperman’s book. Thomas Albright was the influential art critic for the San Francisco Chronicle when he passed away prematurely of lung cancer at 48 years old in 1984. Albright had been a legendary journalist who possessed a messianic conviction that the contributions of Bay Area artists were undervalued. At the time of his death, the hard-living and influential Albright was putting the final touches on a book he had been writing about contemporary Bay Area Art after World War II. The 350-page, coffee table-sized opus – “Art in The San Francisco Bay Area 1945 :: 1980″ – was published posthumously. TIME Magazine’s super-critic Robert Hughes wrote, “This is the best book on its subject and will remain so for years to come.” I was neither a friend of Albright’s nor knowledgeable about art. But after attending an event marking the publication, I immediately understood that Albright had focused much deserved attention on a generation of underexposed artists in Northern California who were neglected by the New York media.

From 1958 to 1966, Beat Artist Jay DeFeo labored over a painting that she layered until it weighed 2,300 pounds and was so large that the façade of her apartment building had to be removed in order to crane the painting onto a truck. Her painting titled “The Rose” was eventually hidden away behind a conference room wall at the San Francisco Art Institute. Jay DeFeo died of lung cancer in 1989 at 60 trying to resurrect The Rose from this humiliating tomb. In 2003, DeFeo’s famous work was the centerpiece of a major exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and is now in the permanent collection of the Whitney. Read More »

 

Political Consultants

Clint Reilly
Aug
21
2007

For two decades I was a political consultant. I managed campaigns for many of California’s most powerful politicians – Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator Barbara Boxer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Treasurer Kathleen Brown to cite a few brand names. I left the profession twelve years ago. When I became a consultant in the early 1970’s, it was nearly impossible to be consistently employed in campaigns and even harder to earn a living. At that time, running for office was cheap. The year-round 24/ 7 election cycle had not yet been invented. By the time I exited the profession in 1995, campaigns had become big business. An explosion of spending completely changed political consulting.

During the 1980’s the amount of money spent on both sports and campaigns grew exponentially. In professional sports, huge television contracts created a cascade of new revenue. In politics, lobbyists and special interest groups injected hundreds of millions into campaigns. Lucrative television contracts radically changed the economics of the National Football League. In professional sports the stakes and the competition demanded that players receive the best possible coaching to win. This new money made possible the advent of specialization in coaching – breaking the game into its incremental parts and hiring an expert to maximize the potential of every position. Like the NFL, the money flowing into the political process created a new class of professionals to manage campaigns. Today media consultants create the 30-second television commercials which dominate politics at the end of each election. Direct mail gurus hammer the mail boxes with repetitive print broadsides. Pollsters calibrate the messages that come out of the mouths of candidates. Fundraisers specialize in finding the money that fuels campaigns and careers. Organizers stimulate or simulate grass roots support by either motivating real people to get involved or hiring a staff to act as paid volunteers. These are the gurus who call the shots on political advertising. Read More »

 

Hearst & History

Clint Reilly
Aug
14
2007

In 1887, The Hearst Corporation was born with William Randolph Hearst’s purchase of the San Francisco Examiner. That small investment is now a sprawling international empire. Today, the Hearst Corporation owns 14 daily newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle, a chain of Hearst Argyle television stations, a thriving magazine company, internet investments, 20% of ESPN, and stakes in A&E and Lifetime cable television. The company generates huge profits.

In 2006, the Hearst Corporation officially cut the ribbon on its new headquarters – Hearst Tower in New York City. The New York Times architectural critic Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote that “this 46-story tower may be the most muscular symbol of corporate self-confidence to rise in New York since the 1960′s, when modernism was in full bloom and most Americans embraced technological daring as a sure route to social progress.” Hearst Tower was designed by British Architect Sir Norman Foster who is responsible for such global icons as the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank Building in Hong Kong, the Reichstag renovation in Berlin, and the British Museum in London. Read More »

 

Why We Need Newspapers

Clint Reilly
Aug
7
2007

Al Gore is deeply concerned that a precipitous decline in reading is an ominous sign for our democracy. His new book, Assault on Reason, is an indictment of democratic government’s growing incapacity to solve big problems. The glacial, twenty-year process of making an obvious crisis like global warming a top national issue is only confirmation to Gore that rational discourse is failing to identify and resolve key social problems and conflicts. At the center of Gore’s critique is a surprising assessment: “Our facility with rational analysis is not what it used to be. The truth is reading and writing don’t play as important a role in how we interact with the world as they used to. Our ability to operate the intricate machinery of self government has always depended, to an under appreciated degree, on a widespread competence and familiarity with printed words.”

One symptom of the former Vice President’s grave concern for the decline of reading and writing in America is the bleeding circulation of daily newspapers across the nation. Here in the Bay Area, newspapers have faced significant drops in subscribers. Younger, educated readers are said to be turning to the Internet for their news. Another rationale is that today’s 24/7 pace is forcing the news consumer to cable television’s ready-when-you-are programming. But these glib rationales ignore key facts. First, statistics are clear that few Americans are reading local news on the Internet. Television news is not the same as the printed word. Local television news is only able to cherry-pick high profile, regional stories. And national television news is a headline service for breaking national and international stories. The hard truth is that a growing cadre of college- educated Americans are less informed on local civic affairs than their high school-educated parents for whom the newspaper was a daily must-read. A slow decline in newspaper readership among younger Americans undermines our democracy. Read More »

 

Bess and Joe

Clint Reilly
Jul
31
2007

It was only 1932 when 25% of Americans were unemployed. Hunger was the number one political issue in America. The economy was mired in a deep depression that tested the premises of a capitalistic system and even, according to the historian Arthur Schlesinger, threatened our faith in democratic government’s ability to create economic advancement for the average citizen.

My father, Joe, grew up during the Depression in San Francisco’s Mission District. My mother, Bess, is a Berkeley native who was born and raised on Carrison Street, one block away from the intersection of Ashby and San Pablo Avenues. My mother graduated from Oakland Tech High School. Married after World War II, they initially lived with my mother’s parents in Berkeley and started a family that grew to seven boys and three girls. Later, as their family expanded, they moved again to a larger home in downtown San Leandro where my parents, now in their eighties, still live today. Read More »

 

Presidential Politics

Clint Reilly
Jul
24
2007

The biggest electoral prize on the globe is in the balance. Already the 2008 presidential candidates are breaking records for money raised. Newspaper editors and television news assignment desks are deploying their top journalists to cover the race. The Sunday morning television hosts Tim Russert, George Stephanopoulos, Brit Hume et al are chasing the contenders like hounds after a rabbit. Presidential politics provokes punditry in the way a herd of elephants kicks up clouds of dust. For humble voters, seeing clearly can be daunting. Nevertheless, behind the personalities, strategies and ad campaigns – there are four consistent criteria that a lay person can use to predict who will become the next President.

Let’s take the issue of character. In the 1980 Presidential primary, incumbent President Jimmy Carter was challenged by Sen. Ted Kennedy. The unpopular president, who subsequently lost the general election overwhelmingly to Ronald Reagan, branded himself a “President with Character.” The theme implied that Kennedy lacked it — an obvious reference to Mary Jo Kopechne, the young woman who drowned while driving late at night with the married Kennedy in a car that plunged off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island at Martha’s Vineyard. Carter easily defeated Kennedy. Read More »

 

Earl Warren

Clint Reilly
Jul
17
2007

As time marches on it’s easy to forget that one of the most influential Supreme Court Justices in American history began his career in Oakland in the 1920′s. After graduating from UC Berkeley Law School, Earl Warren became Alameda County District Attorney, Attorney General of California and Governor of California. President Dwight Eisenhower appointed Earl Warren Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court in 1954. Almost immediately after his ascendancy to the High Court, Warren was confronted with a landmark legal case that would impact politics, education and the law in the nation for the next fifty years. The case was known simply as “Brown v. Board of Education.” Warren led a potentially divided Court to issue a unanimous opinion banning segregated schools in America.

The civil rights movement of the 1960′s was waged over the principles laid down by the monumental ruling of The Warren Court in Brown v. Board of Education and other rulings for civil rights and racial justice made under Warren’s leadership. Read More »

 

Deconstructing Public Service

Clint Reilly
Jul
10
2007

Deconstructing the motives of those who serve the public interest is America’s favorite indoor sport. Consider the case of Senator John Kerry. As a young man, Kerry voluntarily enlisted in the Armed Forces and served admirably in Vietnam as a Swift Boat captain. Kerry was awarded for exemplary leadership in combat. Nevertheless, as a Presidential candidate, Kerry’s combat record was smeared and twisted until a sizeable percentage of Americans doubted his courage and deeds. A new phrase was created to describe the successful smear – swiftboating. In an era when voters are dissatisfied with government, it has become too easy to discredit honor and too difficult to confer praise where it is legitimately due.

The greatest challenge that public servants have today is communicating their good deeds. Voters are predisposed to believe negative information and reject positive facts. Politicians have always faced a wall of doubt. Today the National Inquirer would have run an expose on George Washington having chopped down the cherry tree before he had a chance to confess. How would “Honest Abe” fare on Fox News? Read More »

 

Ranked Choice Voting

Clint Reilly
Jul
3
2007

If you hear the words “ranked choice voting” or “instant runoffs”, beware. Like so many seductive proposals being placed on Bay Area ballots by reformers, the concept looks as American as apple pie. But watch out for the worms!

A few years back San Francisco voters passed ranked choice voting. Now it’s being peddled to cities and counties throughout the Bay Area.

San Francisco politics can be puzzling. How does the City that produces such heavyweights as Senator Dianne Feinstein and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also elect a new Supervisor, much in the headlines recently, who apparently does not even live in San Francisco? This same supervisor‘s offices were raided because he allegedly accepted $40,000 in cash from an undercover FBI agent. The new Supervisor claimed that $20,000 was slated for a recreation center in his district. Unfortunately, the recreation center knew nothing about the gift. This Supervisor, Ed Jew, was elected in an instant runoff election. He escaped intense scrutiny from the press, a contested opponent and a skeptical electorate that would have occurred in a normal head-to-head, two-person runoff. Potential issues like his place of residence and moral compass were never challenged. Read More »

 

Decline of the Printed Word

Clint Reilly
Jun
26
2007

Newspaper readership is declining. The fact is reported by newspapers. Isn’t this like the dead man reading his own obituary? The death march of layoffs, budget cuts, disappearing revenues, downsizings is dutifully told each quarter when publicly-owned newspaper companies report earnings. These reports are proxies for an industry under siege. The internet, cable television, satellite radio, free news on the web are cited as the familiar culprits.

Exhibit number one is right here in the Bay Area. The San Francisco Chronicle has lost 350 million dollars since being purchased by the Hearst Corporation in 2000. Including a purchase cost in excess of 700 million, Hearst has now invested more than one billion in the Chronicle without so much as a dime returned. In fact, the Hearst Corporation has effectively subsidized the Chronicle for the last seven years. During these seven years of fiscal pestilence, Hearst has changed publishers at the Chronicle three times. Hearst has conducted two rounds of buyouts and layoffs effecting more than 35% of the reporters and editors. Hearst has announced a plan to outsource the printing of the newspaper to a Canadian company that will produce the paper for lower cost. What Hearst has not done is to announce a plan for how it will return the Chronicle to profitability and financially stabilize one of the Bay Areas most important civic institutions. At best, recent changes will save only 20 million of the more than fifty million per year the Chronicle is bleeding in red ink. And what about Adam Smith’s outmoded concept of a return on Hearst’s one billion dollar investment? Read More »

 

Newspapers & Democracy

Clint Reilly
Jun
19
2007

Several weeks ago the Bay Area newspaper world was rocked by word that the San Francisco Chronicle was laying off 100 editors and reporters. Other papers here and across the nation have announced similar cuts to cope with declining circulation and ad revenues. There are five primary causes cited for the newspaper crisis. First, the ill fated decision by newspapers to allow their news to be cannibalized by free websites such as Yahoo, which provide encyclopedic snapshots of national and international events. Second, the no-win formula adopted by local newspapers to post the entire paper on the Internet without charging for access. Third, the growing trend of sub-forty-year olds not to read newspapers and instead to acquire their news on the web. Fourth, the proliferation of 24-hour cable news channels and other media that provides instantaneous news, which often makes newspaper coverage stale and redundant. Fifth, the structural inability or outright failure of newspapers to effectively compete with other forms of advertising to sell products.
Read More »

 

Tony Schwartz

Clint Reilly
Jun
6
2007

For decades whenever commentators raised an example of the power of the political television spot, they invariably cited the daisy ad. The daisy ad was a commercial for Lyndon Johnson against Barry Goldwater in 1964… A young girl picks daisies in a field…The idyllic tranquility is destroyed by the countdown to an exploding mushroom cloud as a nuclear bomb detonates. Though the ad ran only once – it sparked a response that reverberated for decades.

The commercial was created by Tony Schwartz – a pioneer political media consultant. Schwartz himself was a blind eccentric whose inability to see led to heightened focus on his ability to hear …and to a career as one of the most successful radio and television spot producers of his generation. He put his ideas into a seminal book on communication called The Responsive Chord. Schwartz’s central thesis was that political commercials are not about teaching new information and new facts to voters. Schwartz preached that the best spots ratify what people already believe rather than educate them about new truths or challenge them with new ideas or solutions. Read More »

 

Bill Honig

Clint Reilly
Jun
5
2007

In January 1982, I owned a political consulting company headquartered in San Francisco. I was in the process of opening new offices in a classic, turn-of-the-century Edwardian near downtown when my phone rang one morning. It was Bill Honig, Superintendent of the Reed Union School District in Marin County. Reed Union had 500 students in the entire district. Centered in the high income city of Tiburon, Reed Union was one of the wealthiest and smallest school districts in California. I knew Bill Honig was already a declared candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. A native San Franciscan whose father had founded a highly respected ad agency, Bill Honig was attempting the impossible – the Superintendent of possibly California’s tiniest school district wanted to be elected Superintendent of California’s schools – the largest public school system in America.

Honig was running an insurgent, reform campaign to unseat incumbent Wilson Riles, a popular State Superintendent running for his third term. He hired me to manage his campaign. We had less than 6 months to introduce Bill Honig to California and to pound home his succinct but effective message: “homework, discipline, required courses. It worked when he was a young student and it will work for California students in the 1980’s.” Read More »

 

 

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