Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ike Skelton

On Ike Skelton

Want to know why there is so much partisan deadlock in Washington today? In part it’s because of the rise of a radical Tea Party wing of the Republican Party which is interested in grandstanding, not legislating. But it’s also due to the demise of the centrist wing of the Democratic Party as represented by the likes of Ike Skelton, a Missouri congressman who served 17 terms in the House and has just died.

Skelton represented the area where Harry Truman came from and he often voted like Truman. He was one of the most pro-defense members of Congress–and one of the most knowledgeable experts on military issues. A longtime member of the House Armed Services Committee, he capped his service as its chairman. He made his primary impact not by grandstanding for the cameras but by working quietly behind the scenes to bolster the armed forces. He had a particular passion for enhancing military education and he put in place schooling requirements which remain in effect to this day.

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Want to know why there is so much partisan deadlock in Washington today? In part it’s because of the rise of a radical Tea Party wing of the Republican Party which is interested in grandstanding, not legislating. But it’s also due to the demise of the centrist wing of the Democratic Party as represented by the likes of Ike Skelton, a Missouri congressman who served 17 terms in the House and has just died.

Skelton represented the area where Harry Truman came from and he often voted like Truman. He was one of the most pro-defense members of Congress–and one of the most knowledgeable experts on military issues. A longtime member of the House Armed Services Committee, he capped his service as its chairman. He made his primary impact not by grandstanding for the cameras but by working quietly behind the scenes to bolster the armed forces. He had a particular passion for enhancing military education and he put in place schooling requirements which remain in effect to this day.

His views allowed him to hold office even as his district turned more conservative. But his luck finally ran out in 2010 when he was beaten by a Republican challenger. Two other conservative Democrats–John Spratt of South Carolina and Gene Taylor of Mississippi–lost in the same year.  

Races such as those enabled Republicans to recapture control of the House in 2010. But it’s not your father’s Republican Party anymore. The Tea Party wing is now in effective control in the House–i.e., if not actually able to pass its priorities, it is able to block anyone else’s most of the time. The Tea Party Caucus formally numbers 46 House members but its influence is larger. On the other side of the spectrum are equally ideological members of the Progressive Caucus which now numbers 68 members.  

Unfortunately there are too few Ike Skeltons left. Congress and the country are the poorer for it.

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Recruitment Is a Leading Indicator

The weekend before the Virginia gubernatorial election, I spoke with former Rep. Tom Davis. Sensing a victory in the offing, he told me that an immediate effect of a big GOP win would be recruiting for 2010. In 1994, a majority of the GOP’s successful recruiting, which enabled the Republicans to regain the House, took place after gubernatorial wins that year in New Jersey and Virginia.

It seems that Davis is right. The GOP victories in Virginia and New Jersey are accelerating a trend that was already well under way. As this report notes:

Several Democratic candidates have decided to drop out of tough races, while Democratic members of Congress who rarely face serious challenges are finding themselves with their toughest re-elections in years. … But in 2010, defense is the name of the game for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is defending several dozens vulnerable freshmen and second-term members, while also protecting veteran members who could find themselves in newfound trouble. It will be a lot more challenging for a first-time candidate running in a tough district to get financial support from the DCCC when the party is worried about defending its own.

Meanwhile, Republican recruiting is turning up challengers to Democrats who haven’t had significant challenges in the past. David Wasserman at Cook Report explains:

This is not to say that highly influential and venerated fixtures such as Reps. Ike Skelton (MO-04), John Spratt (SC-05), Bart Gordon (TN-06), John Tanner (TN-08) and Rick Boucher (VA-09) are goners next year. Their eventual vulnerability is highly dependent on the quality of GOP nominees and the discipline of their “time for change” messages. But if these party elders decide to seek reelection rather than retire, the underlying dynamics of their districts suggest at least several will need to fight to survive.

All this suggests that 2010 is shaping up to be a potential “wave” year in which there are more opportunities for pickups than in a run-of-the-mill year. If we learned anything in the past year, it’s that political prognostication is a dicey business. The GOP is now challenging in places it was considered dead (e.g. New England) and has recaptured momentum on key issues. But much can change, and the Democrats — if they can figure out what to do with it — have the power of incumbency.

The weekend before the Virginia gubernatorial election, I spoke with former Rep. Tom Davis. Sensing a victory in the offing, he told me that an immediate effect of a big GOP win would be recruiting for 2010. In 1994, a majority of the GOP’s successful recruiting, which enabled the Republicans to regain the House, took place after gubernatorial wins that year in New Jersey and Virginia.

It seems that Davis is right. The GOP victories in Virginia and New Jersey are accelerating a trend that was already well under way. As this report notes:

Several Democratic candidates have decided to drop out of tough races, while Democratic members of Congress who rarely face serious challenges are finding themselves with their toughest re-elections in years. … But in 2010, defense is the name of the game for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is defending several dozens vulnerable freshmen and second-term members, while also protecting veteran members who could find themselves in newfound trouble. It will be a lot more challenging for a first-time candidate running in a tough district to get financial support from the DCCC when the party is worried about defending its own.

Meanwhile, Republican recruiting is turning up challengers to Democrats who haven’t had significant challenges in the past. David Wasserman at Cook Report explains:

This is not to say that highly influential and venerated fixtures such as Reps. Ike Skelton (MO-04), John Spratt (SC-05), Bart Gordon (TN-06), John Tanner (TN-08) and Rick Boucher (VA-09) are goners next year. Their eventual vulnerability is highly dependent on the quality of GOP nominees and the discipline of their “time for change” messages. But if these party elders decide to seek reelection rather than retire, the underlying dynamics of their districts suggest at least several will need to fight to survive.

All this suggests that 2010 is shaping up to be a potential “wave” year in which there are more opportunities for pickups than in a run-of-the-mill year. If we learned anything in the past year, it’s that political prognostication is a dicey business. The GOP is now challenging in places it was considered dead (e.g. New England) and has recaptured momentum on key issues. But much can change, and the Democrats — if they can figure out what to do with it — have the power of incumbency.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Obama drops below 50% approval in Gallup.

The cap-and-trade bill is so bad even John McCain opposes it. “McCain refers to the bill as ‘cap and tax,’ calls the climate legislation that passed the House in June ‘a 1,400-page monstrosity’ and dismisses a cap-and-trade proposal included in the White House budget as ‘a government slush fund.’”

A Democrat breaks with the White House on trying KSM in civilian court: “The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee expressed opposition today to Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to give civilian trials to the 9/11 plotters. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) penned a letter to Holder and Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggesting military trials would be a more appropriate venue for the accused terrorists. ”

Another slighted democratic ally: “Days before India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is to be welcomed in the White House for his first state visit with President Obama, two perceived missteps by the Obama administration have concerned Indian officials that New Delhi suddenly has been relegated to the second tier of U.S.-Asian relations.” When is it that we start “restoring” our standing in the world?

Sen. Jon Kyl wants answers from the Justice Department regarding the NIAC.

Trouble in the “permanent majority“: “The Democratic Party’s broad ruling coalition is starting to fracture as lawmakers come under increasing pressure from the left to respond to voter anger over joblessness and Wall Street bailouts. Tensions boiled over this week, with an angry party caucus meeting Monday in the House, and black lawmakers Thursday threatening to block legislation in protest of President Barack Obama’s economic policies.  . . The squabbling is turning up pressure on the White House and Democratic leaders in Congress to respond, a challenge when their focus is on passing a health-care overhaul.” What a difference a year of one-party Democratic liberal rule makes.

Democrats insist that 2010 won’t be another 1994. However, “danger could lurk if turnout is low, factors that hurt Dem GOV candidates in NJ and VA this year.” In other words, if things keep going the way they have been, a lot of Democrats will be in trouble.

She must not have gotten the new script. This week we are being supportive of the Afghan government: “Calling Afghan President Hamid Karzai an ‘unworthy partner,’ a key Democratic leader warned Friday that Congress cannot fund an expanded military mission without a reliable ally in Kabul. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, said moreover she did not think there was political support for sending more US troops to Afghanistan, as President Barack Obama is contemplating.”

The Obama team may not be able to give Big Labor card check but they haven’t run out of goodies: “The National Mediation Board, which oversees labor relations in the air and rail industry, this month moved to overturn 75 years of labor policy. The board plans to stack the deck for organized labor in union elections. Under a proposed rule, unions would no longer have to get the approval of a majority of airline workers to achieve certification. Not even close. Instead, a union could win just by getting a majority of the employees who vote. Thus, if only 1,000 of 10,000 flight attendants vote in a union election, and 501 vote for certification, the other 9,499 become unionized.”

Obama drops below 50% approval in Gallup.

The cap-and-trade bill is so bad even John McCain opposes it. “McCain refers to the bill as ‘cap and tax,’ calls the climate legislation that passed the House in June ‘a 1,400-page monstrosity’ and dismisses a cap-and-trade proposal included in the White House budget as ‘a government slush fund.’”

A Democrat breaks with the White House on trying KSM in civilian court: “The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee expressed opposition today to Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to give civilian trials to the 9/11 plotters. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) penned a letter to Holder and Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggesting military trials would be a more appropriate venue for the accused terrorists. ”

Another slighted democratic ally: “Days before India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is to be welcomed in the White House for his first state visit with President Obama, two perceived missteps by the Obama administration have concerned Indian officials that New Delhi suddenly has been relegated to the second tier of U.S.-Asian relations.” When is it that we start “restoring” our standing in the world?

Sen. Jon Kyl wants answers from the Justice Department regarding the NIAC.

Trouble in the “permanent majority“: “The Democratic Party’s broad ruling coalition is starting to fracture as lawmakers come under increasing pressure from the left to respond to voter anger over joblessness and Wall Street bailouts. Tensions boiled over this week, with an angry party caucus meeting Monday in the House, and black lawmakers Thursday threatening to block legislation in protest of President Barack Obama’s economic policies.  . . The squabbling is turning up pressure on the White House and Democratic leaders in Congress to respond, a challenge when their focus is on passing a health-care overhaul.” What a difference a year of one-party Democratic liberal rule makes.

Democrats insist that 2010 won’t be another 1994. However, “danger could lurk if turnout is low, factors that hurt Dem GOV candidates in NJ and VA this year.” In other words, if things keep going the way they have been, a lot of Democrats will be in trouble.

She must not have gotten the new script. This week we are being supportive of the Afghan government: “Calling Afghan President Hamid Karzai an ‘unworthy partner,’ a key Democratic leader warned Friday that Congress cannot fund an expanded military mission without a reliable ally in Kabul. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, said moreover she did not think there was political support for sending more US troops to Afghanistan, as President Barack Obama is contemplating.”

The Obama team may not be able to give Big Labor card check but they haven’t run out of goodies: “The National Mediation Board, which oversees labor relations in the air and rail industry, this month moved to overturn 75 years of labor policy. The board plans to stack the deck for organized labor in union elections. Under a proposed rule, unions would no longer have to get the approval of a majority of airline workers to achieve certification. Not even close. Instead, a union could win just by getting a majority of the employees who vote. Thus, if only 1,000 of 10,000 flight attendants vote in a union election, and 501 vote for certification, the other 9,499 become unionized.”

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Can We Leave Yet?

It sounds like a joke: Obama has agonized for months already on his Afghanistan war strategy and has yet to make a decision, so he skipped to the exit strategy. No, really:

President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have turned the focus of Afghan war planning toward an exit strategy, publicly declaring that the U.S. and its allies can’t send additional troops without a plan for getting them out.

The shift has unnerved some U.S. and foreign officials, who say that planning a pullout now — with or without a specific timetable — encourages the Taliban to wait out foreign forces and exacerbates fears in the region that the U.S. isn’t fully committed to their security.

“It’s not a good idea,” said Rep. Ike Skelton (D., Mo.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Not a good idea at all. This simply reinforces the image of an irresolute president who’d rather not do what it takes to win a war that he once declared to be critical. As Skelton explains: “When the area has been stabilized … then it’s time to go home. But to set up a timetable for people in that neck of the woods, they’ll just wait us out.” But there’s no firm deadline for withdrawal, the Obami hastened to add. Well, that’s a good thing, perhaps one lesson learned from their Iraq posturing. But Obama’s image still remains: can’t manage to commit and can’t wait to get out. Not good in a potential spouse, horrid in a commander in chief.

It sounds like a joke: Obama has agonized for months already on his Afghanistan war strategy and has yet to make a decision, so he skipped to the exit strategy. No, really:

President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have turned the focus of Afghan war planning toward an exit strategy, publicly declaring that the U.S. and its allies can’t send additional troops without a plan for getting them out.

The shift has unnerved some U.S. and foreign officials, who say that planning a pullout now — with or without a specific timetable — encourages the Taliban to wait out foreign forces and exacerbates fears in the region that the U.S. isn’t fully committed to their security.

“It’s not a good idea,” said Rep. Ike Skelton (D., Mo.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Not a good idea at all. This simply reinforces the image of an irresolute president who’d rather not do what it takes to win a war that he once declared to be critical. As Skelton explains: “When the area has been stabilized … then it’s time to go home. But to set up a timetable for people in that neck of the woods, they’ll just wait us out.” But there’s no firm deadline for withdrawal, the Obami hastened to add. Well, that’s a good thing, perhaps one lesson learned from their Iraq posturing. But Obama’s image still remains: can’t manage to commit and can’t wait to get out. Not good in a potential spouse, horrid in a commander in chief.

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