Friday, August 31, 2012

How I Know Benjamin Harrison From A Fellow Miami Alum.

 How I Know Benjamin Harrison From A Fellow Miami Alum.
It was a fall morning in Oxford, and as I strode along the Slant Walk the Beta Bells rang out nine times in the chilly November air, indicating I was going to be a few minutes late to my morning class. Just a few short years before, my fellow alum Benny no doubt strode down the same iconic pathway past the Phi Delt gates and the Poli-Sci building which bears his name to this day. You see, Benny and I have a certain affinity for one another, given we went to the same university... all of the pundits, authors, and commentators can say what they want about him, but you really have to have studied in the same general area of him sometime after he did to really grasp his true beliefs and character. Yes, Benjamin Harrison and I both went to Miami University - thus my credibility for all that follows here is established (thanks COM 131).
OK, now some may say that our 158 years of separation implies that Miami was a different place back in the Gilded Age than it was during the time following my matriculation as an undergraduate student, but these people are no doubt unaware of our alma mater's opening lyrics: "Old Miami, New Miami" - you know what that means, right??? Miami never changes. Old Miami IS new Miami. Benny Harrison knows this, Wally Szczerbiak knows this, and of course, the most famous of all Miami Alums who is making a splash in current day politics, Washington Senator Maria Cantwell, knows this. Now that I have silenced all of my nay-sayers, I'll get on with my point.
In the time that big Benny has left Miami, many who did not really know him have pontificated on his accomplishments, they have written books about him, they have even attempted to paint pictures of him - well let me just say this: all you "historians," "accomplished portrait artists" and "experts in your field" really know nothing about my fellow alum, Benny Harrison. I'll bet you did not know that we call him Benny. I'd even bet you guys don't even know the name of Miami's football stadium. You probably think it's "Miami Florida Hurricanes Field" or something, don't you? No. Miami was a University before Florida was a state, Buck-o!! Well, Benny and I know what the stadium is called. In fact, I can still see him there, cheering in the bleachers for the 'ol Redskins as they drive down the gridiron in hopes for their next bowl title - not literally "see him" in the sense of using my eyes... I mean see him in that we shared such a common experience that I may as well have seen him... it's called "imagery", folks.
The thing about Ben is that he so exemplifies typical Miami students across the ages that you really need to have spent four years at his alma mater to know what makes him tick.  Some may remember him as a typical tariff hiking, big spending, protectionist, Gilded Age Republican, but those people probably never took Zora Thurston's history class at Miami. Credible academics the world over can't stop writing about how right I am about this. It's all about thinking critically and understanding context. Most if not all historians who have published books about Harrison just don't know the context, that's all. They have never spent those long nights partying uptown into the wee hours of the morning on "Misogyny Monday", "Tipsy Tuesday", "Wild Wednesday", "Thirsty Thursday", and "Find Yourself Waking up in McCollough Hyde Friday" (Just to ensure that I have not just ruined my credibility as an intellect by appearing like a binge drinking, womanizing college student, I'd like to remind you I have two degrees, and darn near graduated with honors). Thorough examinations of the Harrison administration, in fact, reveal that he had these nicknames which have been in the Miami vernacular for years embroidered on a set of Oval Office couch pillows. That's right, Benny was just like the rest of us Miamians: He worked hard, and he played hard - if you think that his protectionism and tariff hiking only prolonged America's rise to global prominence in an ever increasingly globalized society, you are forgetting that Benny was a product of his time. He wasn't going to be the first bearded old white man in history to tell middle-class Americans working in the auto-factories of Detroit that their jobs were in jeopardy because we can get cheaper tires by importing them from Shanghai... no, that's not the Benny I know; 'ol Ben knew how to play the game.
So for all of you historians out there who think you know Ben, all I have to say is please refer to the following YouTube video which he has dedicated just for you. That's right: you don't know him at all. But I do. I spent TIME at Miami and know the likes of the man who became our "Michael Jordan" president. Before you write some blog, publish some book, or paint some "official White House portrait," consider the fact that you don't know him at all, because you did not go to Miami. I did. He and I are kindred spirits, and although I truly know nothing about his administration or policies, I can envision myself alive during his time, standing in the Oval Office while he receives Otto von Bismark of Prussia, who looks down at the embroidered pillows on the couch and in his broken English with a skeptical lifted brow asks, "What's up with that, man?" Benny looks at me and with a wink and slight grin just says, "Nothing Otto, nothing..." Ben and I know. And that's all that matters.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Game Changer

No metaphors are perfect when attempting to describe or clarify a situation, but they often help. Jesus used metaphors to explain things His disciples, and often even with His clarity and Godly talents of speaking, they just confused the heck out of them, causing the Savior to have to just lay in out in good ol' plain Aramaic. Somtimes they do help us grasp the heart of an issue which may otherwise just be a little to abstract to understand. Well dog-gonnit, I've got one that's darn good, and it involves our recently named presumptive Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, and the Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Cheifs of Staff.
Rooted in our country's constitution is the principle of civilian leadership of the armed forces. Our founders knew that if generals controlled foreign policy, their esoteric views may distort the true national interest. History would indeed be very different if this check were not in place. World War III, for example, may have started in the winter of 1950 with MacArthur's nuking of China. Operation Iraqi Freedom may have been rendered moot with Stormin' Normin Schwarzkopf's victorious march into Baghdad in 1991 to topple the Hussein regime once and for all. But alas, for better or for worse, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces during both of these times was not a seasoned General of the Army, he was a polititian, with a much broader view of the situation than the men calling the shots on the ground. There have been several occasions when these brilliant military men of great accomplishment saw their successes sweep them into the role of commander-in-chief through their popular election as president: Washington, Taylor, Grant, Eisenhower -  to name a few. With the glaring exception of the first man in this list, these men did not make extrordinary presidents, as tacticians don't often make great polititians. I suppose all of the B.S. in politics tends to not jive well with a man who is accustommed to his success being evaluated by how many of his enemies he was able to have killed. 
Take a look at the picture of this man. General Martin E Dempsey. West Point grad, served in Desert Storm and went on to command all of CENTCOM, overseeing Baghdad during the time in which insurgency was reaching its peak. He then went on to be nominated as as Chief of Staff of the Army, before assuming the role as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Dempsey is decorated with the Defense Distinguished Service Medal with an Oak Leaf Cluster, the Distinguished Service Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Bronze Star with “V” Device and Oak Leaf Cluster, the Combat Action Badge, and the Parachutist Badge. Translation: this guy is a badass. See all the color on his chest? That means he's been around... and I dont mean in the Jersey Shore sense, I mean in the sense that you could probably count on one hand the people in the active military that have seen more or accomplished more than him. So what does this all mean? All of this knowledge, experience and ability, while it has given him the ability to think globally about all of our armed forces (hence his appointment as Charman of the Joint Chiefs), still wouldn't necessarly make him an effective commander-in-chief, let alone a great civilian leader. His views of the world are still esoteric -  framed by a lifetime of leading men to battle, planning and executing military operations, and ensuring that a mission is accomplished with speed, efficiency and effectiveness. There have been dire times throughout history, however,  in which men with military backgrounds have been effective national leaders: Winston Churchill many times outright overruled his top admirals and generals in the field on matters of tactics. Having gained a discerning military perception through his backgound in the Royal Navy, Chuchill had a global yet incredibly specific way of thinking about things . If we somehow had plunged into a new global war in the late fifties which required moving masses of armies around the world for battle, I could think of no better commander-in-chief than Dwight Eisenhower or Winston Churchill (granted, a war during that time would have probably involved wholesale nuclear exchanges, for this no general or leader would have been prepared). They could have stepped into a job for which their specific knowledge of war would have been incredibly useful - if you're going to have two world wars in as many decades, you may as well have the guy that won the first one for you take care of the second one, right? Unfortunately when Ike did step into office, it was duing a time in which knowing more than any man alive about amphibious operations and commanding mulltinational forces across mulitiple continents didn't do him much good. Hence as a president, he'll have to settle for a legacy as a highway-builder, not a world-saver.
Enter Paul Ryan. Political Science and Economics Major at Miami University - he received the best formal training in economics and politics that money can buy. That's right, chew on that Univeristy of Chicago and Harvard. Mr. Ryan is the Chairman of the House Budget Committee and easily the most outspoken congressman on the Hill when it comes to the budget.  He's advanced ideas that could bring spending to levels that would be sustainable over the long term, allowing us to get out of our current "throw money at anything that moves" strategy of economic stimulus. His plan (perhaps to his own detriment) also addresses the "third rail" of American politics: entitlement spending. Any responsible budget must address how the current exponential spending growth for entitlment programs is unsustainable in the long run. Like his ideas or not, he's talking about it. Anyone who isn't talking about it (almsot everyone else), isn't capable of proposing a credible budget for the next decade.
Our country has big, big problems right now - the consequences of our problems lie a decade or two down the road, which is why no one is doing anything about it now. Just look at these trends. Notice the change in slope of the line every eight years. That's no accident folks -  and the slope has never been steeper than the last four years. If you follow that little line four more years out, it doesnt fit on the graph - were talking about moving that y-axis mark to... oh probably closer to the 25 mil mark. And no, that's not 25 million, it's 25 million million... that's right, 25 trillion dollars. Our national debt in four years under the current trend. See the problem, now? We need to change the slope of the little blue line, fast. Whether or not you think that means raising tax rates on the super rich is enough to do it is up to you, and hopefully that's a conversation we'll be having this fall.
Were in a crisis situation right now with the trajectory of our deficit spending. If that chart doesn't convince you of that, I dont know what will. We need leaders that have the capability of thinking incredibily specifically of how to solve this problem - numbers crunchers, budget gurus, Miami economics majors... dare i say. We need people capable of fundamentally changing the way our government conducts fiscal policy and revenue allocation. Someone that has sat in Laws 100 and daydreamed about how they are going to change the world one day for the better. If Paul Ryan doesn't fit this description to a tee, I don't know who does. He's the Dwight Eisenhower to your World War III beginning in 1958, no nukes invloved... the Aroldis Chapman to your bottom of the ninth, one run lead, any month but July and not in Ohio (did you know that the guy hasn't given up an earned run yet this year outside of Ohio? Whee doggy he's good... but I digress). We NEED to have this debate this fall - and I don't care if you are a Democrat, Republican, or anything in between, Paul Ryan's message is essential to getting that converstion going.