Obama speaks; McGinn's speaking is dissected

It was a week where the president took a surprising stand, voters in Europe and Indiana made their wishes known, and Mike McGinn saw his words about car usage checked for accuracy.
Crosscut archive image.

Mayor Mike McGinn (with the bicycle) took part in a dedication for a portion of the Mountain to Sound Greenway through the city.

It was a week where the president took a surprising stand, voters in Europe and Indiana made their wishes known, and Mike McGinn saw his words about car usage checked for accuracy.

Here are random snapshots of the past political week, from global to local. All struck me as having potential for shaping events in the months ahead.

  • Lugar goes down: Long-serving Republican Sen. Richard Lugar was defeated Tuesday (May 8) in the Indiana Republican primary by a Tea Party-backed state treasurer.

Lugar, a former reform mayor of Indianapolis, came to the Senate in 1976 and since then had been one of its most thoughtful and respected members, finishing as ranking Republican and former chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He joins other departing moderates of both parties in Senate and House. Whatever happens in this fall's presidential election, Congress seems certain to be even more greatly polarized in 2013, populated by diehard believers on both sides of the aisle. TV talking heads, for the most part, have characterized Lugar as a victim of Tea Party extremism.  Fact is, though, that his opponent was no rightwing crazy.

Challenger Richard Mourdock probably won, mainly, because Lugar, 80, seemed old and tired to Indiana voters. His campaign appearances reportedly lacked energy and Lugar personally appeared worn as election day loomed.

Washington's nationally and locally respected Sen. Warren Magnuson met a similar fate in 1980 in his general-election defeat by Slade Gorton. Despite his prior accomplishments, he seemed tired and done to state voters.  Forget gratitude for past service; voters can be uncaring and ruthless when they're done with you.

  • Gay marriage confusion:  President Barack Obama had equivocated and dodged regarding his stand on gay marriage but, over the last week, Vice President Joe Biden and three Cabinet members stated their unequivocal support for it. These appeared to be more than trial balloons but, instead, advance signals that Obama soon would follow suit.

Then came Tuesday night's adoption in North Carolina of a provision banning gay marriage in the state. That made it the 31st state with such a law. Yet Obama bit the bullet Wednesday and went ahead with a straight-up gay-marriage endorsement. It is always better politics to appear strong and straightforward rather than equivocal and evasive. But the decision must have been difficult. 

Obama campaign officials have been characterizing North Carolina as one of a handful of swing states which will decide the fall election and speaking confidently of their chances there. Both the president and First Lady have visited there often. The Democratic national convention will be held in Charlotte this summer. The gay-marriage vote had to have surprised them.

  • European weakness:  France has elected a new president opposed to further austerity measures in his country.  Greece has held a national election which gave increased power to irresponsible demagogues on both the Right and the Left. A new election probably will need to be held there within a few weeks.

Voters' message in both countries: We may need to reduce public debt and undertake domestic reforms, but won't sacrifice to do it. Similar sentiments exist in Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland, where ordinary voters are rebelling against the policies of finance ministers, European central bankers, and international institutions that have kept them afloat. 

Bond markets will punish these countries. Germans, who have pursued the right policies and are not responsible for euro-zone weakness, are tired of supporting European partners who refuse to put their own economic houses in order. There is talk that the Greeks may leave the euro zone and that other EU countries might follow. It is unlikely that this will happen since the countries involved have worked so intensely over the post-World War II years to construct a democratic and economically successful community.

But the present confusion and weakness will be contagious and will affect our own financial and economic stability. This is not getting the media attention of the John Edwards payoff trial or recent travails of athletes and pop-music artists. But it matters far more.

  • Seattle political nonsense: Kudos to The Seattle Times city beat reporter who took the trouble to check Mayor Mike McGinn's recent KUOW statements regarding local transportation against the facts of the matter.

McGinn made his statements to reinforce his proposal to the City Council that developers not be required to provide parking in new buildings within one-quarter mile of transit. Seattle, he said, "had better things to do than build parking spaces that will go empty."

He asserted that 19 percent of Seattle households had no vehicle. The correct number, according to the 2010 census, is 16 percent, a difference of 6,300 households, and it becomes 11 percent if you include households with at least one person working. The same census indicated 39 percent of households had two vehicles and 17 percent had three or more. Altogether, data show, a strong majority of people who work in Seattle use their cars to get there.

McGinn also asserted that the percentage of 16-year-olds getting their drivers' licenses was at an all-time low, as was the percentage of 21-year-olds. Fact is, however, that the percentage of 16-year-olds in King County getting their licenses had increased from 31 percent in 2006 to 45 percent in 2011, according to state government, which said it did not have comparable data for 21-year-olds.

McGinn favors a transition from automobiles to bicycles, streetcars, and light rail. His office told the Times that commuting by bike in Seattle was up by 105 percent in 2010 over 2000, transit by 11 percent, and walking by 25 percent. But, Times research showed, cyclists went from 1.9 percent of commuters in 2000 to 3.6 percent in 2010. A Seattle bicycle census last year showed that, in all neighborhoods but downtown, there were fewer bicycles in use than two years before.

McGinn was asked in his KUOW interview where Seattleites should put their cars if buildings where they lived or worked had no parking. "Then they'll have to figure out where to park their car, just like everyone else in the city," the mayor replied.

If you're the mayor and love bikes, streetcars, and light rail — and believe everyone should ride them because you prefer it — this is an understandable view. But a majority of Seattleites own and must use their cars. City Council take notice.



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About the Authors & Contributors

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk has been active in national policy and politics since 1961, serving in the White House and State Department and as policy director of several Democratic presidential campaigns. He is author of Heroes, Hacks and Fools and numerous essays in national publications. You can reach him in care of editor@crosscut.com.