Charlie Arlinghaus

May 23, 2012

As originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader

Last week, Lamar Alexander proposed a budgeting swap that New Hampshire should support. Instead of the federal government dividing responsibility, funding and accountability for programs, they should make one entity responsible for one program. Alexander proposed starting with education and Medicaid but the principle could work at all levels of government.

Lamar Alexander, senator from Tennessee, was known by supporters and opponents alike as a thoughtful former governor when he ran for presidents. And also for plaid shirts. Yet, despite his sartorial gimmickry, his policies were generally sound and thoughtful. Continuing that tradition, his latest budget proposal is simple but revolutionary.

As a governor in the 1980s, he had approached President Ronald Reagan and suggested a swap: instead of divided loyalties, accountabilities and funding, why didn’t the federal take care of Medicaid by itself and leave education to the states? Reagan liked the idea but it never came close to becoming law.

Last week, Sen. Alexander proposed the idea again and it makes more sense than ever.

Too many programs are divided between federal and state government (or between local and state government) and it leads to bad incentives. Each side blames the shortcomings of any program on the other. One the financial side, the managers of the program always complain that the other side isn’t paying enough in, sets up too many rules and then doesn’t provide the funding, or shortchanges us in some other way. The administrator of the program can’t set the rules by itself, can’t make the changes needed for our particular circumstances, or can’t be expected to do everything we’re told to do without the money.

In Medicaid, for example, it becomes easy for the federal government to propose new mandates, limit flexibility, or require greater paperwork. They feel free to impose the rules because they are providing some funding. Yet because they aren’t providing all of the funding, they feel free to not worry about the cost of the rules they impose.

This particular swap makes sense for the states. Medicaid is a growing program. It costs the federal government $149 billion each year for the half or a little more that the feds pay of the costs. However, the rules are primarily set in Washington with some modest degree of flexibility chiefly regarding rates.

Federal education spending costs about 40% of what Medicaid does – about $57 billion a year. In addition, while the federal share of Medicaid is the majority and gives them enormous authority to set rules, federal education payments are only a small part total state education spending. In New Hampshire, federal revenues are only about 7% of the total $2.7 billion we spend on education at the local level.

In terms of the state budget, total federal funds going to the department of education (often as a pass through to towns) will be $221 million in FY2013. In exchange for eliminating that spending, we’d turn over Medicaid on which we spend more than $600 million or about three times as much.

Divided management is never more efficient management. Too often it is an excuse to allow the more powerful entity to have budget certainty while delegating the hard decisions to the weaker partner.

This would be a bad deal if education were something that ought to be done federally but the opposite is true. Does anyone think any decision made in a non-descript building in Southwest D.C. can possibly have taken into account the probably different needs of the enormous Chicago school district and the somewhat smaller district in Henniker?

Washington rules don’t help. We certainly don’t need some sort of standardized federal curriculum. These are decision that can, should, and will be made at the local level.

By the way, this would increase federal spending a little bit. It may be they need to come up with something else to even out the swap. On the other hand it’s better than aid programs of the past. Eliminating a responsibility is a better support than a little extra money and increased responsibility.

This is something we can pursue at the state level as well. The current budget transfers $1.1 billion from the state to cities and towns in sixteen different programs many of which are jointly managed. There are additional joint programs at the county level. Instead of more programs and mixed management, let’s make one level of government responsible for each program.

Lamar Alexander is making sense. Let’s listen to him. The federal government doesn’t need to stick its fingers in every pie. Let’s divide the tasks and make one entity responsible for one project.

Figures from Realtytrac, a foreclosure tracking firm, show foreclosure filings increased slightly in New Hampshire for the month of April to 727. This is up from 674 in March. Foreclosure filings for the purpose of this snapshot are the number of properties receiving a default notice, a foreclosure auction notice or bank repossession.

The state foreclosure rate is now 1 in 846 properties, up slightly from 1 in 912.

However, New Hampshire continues to have a much lower rate than the national average of 1 in 698.

Hillsborough County has the highest rate of 1 in 686, while Carroll County came in the lowest with 1 in 1327

While the uptick is not good news in term of the housing recovery, the magnitude is only 53 additional housing units. This slight increase is not New Hampshire specific however, other states in the region also saw slight increases in April.

However, it remains to be seen if the April data is a blip, or the beginning of a trend. Previous months figures, as well as other series of economic data indicate that the housing market is generally recovering, albeit slowly which makes it unlikely, (though not impossible) that this is the beginning of an serious upward trend.


 Charlie Arlinghaus

May 2, 2012

As originally publish in the New Hampshire Union Leader

Elections and governments produce many tall tales. One of the tallest was the wishful thinking that the federal and state governments are in fine shape fiscally. Each month, something else emerges that tells us how bad things really are. This month’s dead canary in the fiscal coal mine is the sooner-than-expected exhaustion of the fictional social security and Medicare trust funds. Like the federal government, New Hampshire has hidden problems. Unlike the federal government, ours are getting better.

The Social Security Trustees release regular reports projecting the long term insolvency of the programs. What we call social security consists of the larger “Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI)” – the pension program we traditionally think of as social security – and a smaller “Disability Insurance (DI)” program which will be bankrupt much sooner.

For decades, the amount of tax taken from your paycheck was greater than the amount needed to pay that year’s bills so Congress took the money and gave the trust fund an IOU. But those fictional assets consisting only of a government IOU continue to grow. However, they grow slower as benefits paid rise faster than taxes taken. And in a few years, assets will start decreasing. So the trustees make long range projections to warn us about the future.

Twenty years ago, we were told that the theoretical assets would be exhausted in 2057, long after everyone reading the report would be dead so nobody cared. Ten years ago, the bankruptcy date was moved to 2038, a year many of us hope to reach. And this year we have been told that the money runs out in 2033 – the year I might have started collecting.

Actually, considered separately, the disability plan runs out in 2016, before the next presidential election. The old age and survivors pension portion might struggle on until 2035.

By the way, the Medicare trust fund is equally fictitious in the sense that it too exists as a bookkeeping tool so the government knows what it didn’t actually set aside. That theoretical trust fund will be spent in 2024. As Bill Clinton noted, the theoretical trust fund “does not have any impact on the government’s ability to pay benefits.” They have to be paid, like everything else, with this year’s revenues.

For decades, politicians of both parties have borrowed the trust fund money and trillions more (actually a trillion a year these days) to finance their spending wishes on the backs of those yet to be born. This strategy – called pretending the future doesn’t exist – is good politics and worked well for Greece and Portugal, at least until it exploded and ruined those two countries.

Despite all the warning signs in Europe and a subtle alarm from trustees, politicians in the swamps of Washington continue to pretend nothing need happen. Paul Ryan’s an alarmist. All is well.

Back at home, we have similar problems but we’re doing something about them. Some politicians have been critical of my description of fiscal crisis and claimed that we didn’t need to cut the budget 10% because previous budgets were nominally balanced.

But over the two budgets previous to the cut, we increased spending without the revenues to pay for them. New funds were created to obscure general fund spending and spending paid for with borrowed money doesn’t count under our accounting rules but, comparing apples to apples, general fund revenue rose over two budgets by 14.5% in regular tax funds and 20% in total funds despite an actual decline in tax revenue.

How was that possible? A federal bailout of one-time used to pay for ongoing expenses was one way but borrowing was another. Unique borrowing methods shifted money off the regular books to make comparisons difficult. We even borrowed money to pay for our borrowing costs.

Look at state debt. From 2007 to 2011, state debt rose 43.5%. The previous two four years cycles, it rose by 8% and 4%. Put another way, the annual increase from 1999-2007 was 1.4%. From 2007-2011 it was 9.5%. So we borrowed to balance. Nice work in Washington, unusual in New Hampshire.

In the current spending declined because we don’t have the money. Debt is going to decline as well. Although be careful. There are some politicians today who want to borrow more while the interest rates are low. That makes sense if it replaces borrowing in later years but I fear they want to borrow in addition to not instead of.

New Hampshire learned the lesson of Greece and Portugal. Washington still hasn’t.

 Charlie Arlinghaus

April 25, 2012

As originally publish in the New Hampshire Union Leader

Limiting access to the courts and limiting free speech are actions too often favored by elected officials who worry that you and I aren’t privy to their special knowledge and can’t possibly understand public issues.

In recent years, local governments have tried and usually failed to limit free speech. The Legislature is considering restoring long-held rights of citizens of a town to challenge the legality of government action. That taxpayers “have standing to seek redress for the unlawful acts of their public officials” ought not be remotely controversial.

Recently, selectmen in Pittsfield reversed their order prohibiting employees from speaking to the press without prior approval. This controversy is all too common lately. Local government officials are too often annoyed at people who question their decisions. For example, there were two public cases in 2010 of school boards that tried to impose silence on dissenters.

A school board member in Temple was censured by her board after she spoke out against a bond proposal the majority of the board supported. The school board in Pelham expressed frustration that it couldn’t actually remove a member who spoke publicly against a majority decision. The board members wondered if they could restrict differences of opinion to sessions held out of public view. That prickly First Amendment was blamed for their inability to suppress public opposition.

Imagine if this same attitude was taken on a state level. Once we passed a bill, no one in the minority would be permitted to criticize the policy. There could be an opposition party, but it wouldn’t be allowed to tell anyone why it opposed laws.

It would make life easier for a governor, or whatever we chose to call the new opposition-free chief executive.

The Pelham school board’s attorney carefully showed the would-be autocrats that New Hampshire’s law heavily favors openness. But the favor weighs less heavily than it used to.

Through 2010, there was a common interpretation of state law that held, quite sensibly, “it is plain that every taxpayer of a town has a vital interest in and a right to the preservation of an orderly and lawful government regardless of whether his purse is immediately touched.”

Taxpayers in a town could sue their government. In fact, regular citizens of a town were thought of as something of a check on the action of government. Courts regarded citizen lawsuits as a legitimate act: “it is well settled in this state that plaintiffs, as taxpayers, have standing to seek redress for the unlawful acts of public officials.” Although this interpretation of state laws, based in common sense, prevailed for 150 years, recent cases have reversed that sense. In 2010, the New Hampshire Supreme Court decided that state law doesn’t allow a taxpayer to sue unless “his personal rights have been impaired or prejudiced.”

No longer can the average citizen contest the unlawful acts of public officials unless directly affected. It is no longer plain that everyone has a right to the preservation of an orderly and lawful government.

Town officials don’t like being sued. The court’s interpretation of the law doesn’t prohibit them from being sued, but it makes them less subject to lawsuits and therefore less accountable.

A bill in the Legislature this year would amend the statute the court found open to interpretation and make explicit the standing of taxpayers that was thought to exist for the previous 150 years.

The political right-left odd couple agitating for the rights of citizens is a couple of Charlies: the conservative former Supreme Court Justice Chuck Douglas and former Concord Democratic chairman Charlie Russell, noted for insisting, to its annoyance, that his local government dot its i’s and cross its t’s. The two activists share a great first name and willingness to question the king.

The opponents are a cross section of officialdom and their lawyers. Officials don’t like their actions questioned and would prefer fewer lawsuits and fewer obstacles to decisions they honestly believe are in the best interests of the community. I agree that they ought not be opened up to legal delaying tactics, but there are adequate protections in the law for lawsuits judged to be frivolous or made in bad faith.

Inherent in our system, however, is the notion of power vested in the people, not the officials. To say that taxpayers have standing to seek redress for the unlawful acts of their public officials is hardly radical or a difficult standard to hold themselves up to. For hundreds of years that seemed quite reasonable.

The foreclosure tracking firm RealtyTrac released its March foreclosure data this week which showed that the number of foreclosure filings continue to fall both here in New Hampshire and across the country. A foreclosure filing is either a default notice, bank repossession or foreclosure auction notice.

March saw 674  filings, which marked the third month in a row that they have fallen here in New Hampshire. Last month saw 737.

While New Hampshire has 1 housing unit in foreclosure per 912, which is higher than neighboring states , it is still well below the national average of 1 in 662.

While Merrimack and Strafford Counties have the highest ratios of foreclosures, Hillsborough County followed by Rockingham County continues to have the greatest number overall, which makes sense due to the size of the population in comparison to the rest of the state.

Charlie Arlinghaus

April 4, 2012

As originally publish in the New Hampshire Union Leader

Good public policy can be boring and complicated. It often gets in the way of a good political argument. All too often, we support or oppose ideas because of who sponsored them not what they are. It’s a lot easier and stops us from having to think too much.

The evil twins who run the world from the right and the left are apparently named Koch and Soros. You may recall two years ago when then-chairman of the House Ways and Means committee Rep. Susan Almy was roundly castigated because she had a hearing on taxes in New Hampshire and one of the national speakers was from a group funded in part by the left wing billionaire George Soros.

At the time, I protested the protesters arguing that it was sensible that the tax committee of the House might actually discuss taxes. Further, the agenda was by any measurement balanced not just because it included me (although isn’t that enough?) but because the other two speakers were from a center-right think tank (the Tax Foundation) and the solidly conservative legislative foundation ALEC (yes, the good liberal Susan Almy brought the evil conservative ALEC to New Hampshire).

But for some, debate is unhealthy and instead the taint of Mr. Soros demanded anyone infected not be allowed to be heard. The conservative paranoia about Mr. Soros has a counterpart this year in liberal caterwauling about the chimerical Koch brothers.

Ideas are neither good nor bad. Debating them isn’t worth the time of your opponents. Instead, they need to create a bogeyman whose specter makes argument superfluous. I don’t need to explain that this is a bad idea. I merely have to utter the magic words Soros/Koch and all is explained.

I, for example, am accused regularly of being a puppet of the Koch brothers –unfortunately without the mitigating effect of actual donations from them. I’m thinking of applying for a grant by asking them “if I get accused of being your tool enough, shouldn’t we give in to what everyone wants? Please?”

In reality, it’s a compliment or would be if any of the accusers were sensible people. People confident in their ideas debate them. Those who merely don’t like “people like you” can’t debate ideas so they resort to silly attacks.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t further public policy, solve the problems of the day, or improve anyone’s life. It does, however, make for good entertainment. Cable “news” channels (and let’s be honest, they’re all more or less the same) excel in these substance free arguments.

There is a stepchild of this sort of non-argument. It’s softer but also problematic. We tend to ignore ideas proposed by a political opponent. Proposed by a friend, we might give it the benefit of the doubt and try to work on the details.

An obvious example of this is that the national Democrats respond to any Republican proposal on entitlements as “ending Medicare as we know it.” The ideas may be similar to other proposals by their friends or ones contained in the president’s commission but nothing sells voters like “ending Medicare as we know it.” The analogous attack on the other side is Republican angst about deficits that seemed to have only developed after George Bush left office. Bush deficits, fine. Obama deficits, bad.

There are smaller examples locally but one worth talking about is government reform. Although I have been quite critical of many of Governor Lynch’s fiscal choices, past results are not an indicator of future performance. The governor proposed consolidating 34 state licensing boards into one board of licensure to achieve overhead savings. This is a great idea.

Many conservatives have talked about finding efficiencies in government through combining functions and centralizing back office operating for efficiencies. Instead of 34 separate offices, boards, administrations, bookkeepers, little mini-departments, why not have one? In addition, decisions about which professions need licensing and which don’t are somewhat easier if there isn’t an office depending on it.

But there’s an obstacle. As one advocate of combining offices and merging overhead functions in other parts of state government said to me “but it’s Lynch’s idea.” Apparently, good ideas become bad if they’re proposed by a governor you don’t care for.

The idea is currently hibernating. The Senate gutted the bill and replaced it with something entirely different. I hope they rejected the plan, the perfect embodiment of the narrative under which the majority of them were elected,  because they have grave concerns about geologists and practitioners of reflexology each needing their own separate board, staff, and overhead. That’s possible, right?

Charlie Arlinghaus

March 14, 2012

As originally publish in the New Hampshire Union Leader


Increasingly on both ends of the political spectrum, the belief in principles and ideas is ridiculed in favor of a supposedly noble brand of gelatin called consensus. We need to heed Margaret Thatcher’s advice and realize that too often consensus is the opposite of conviction. Politicians need to be clear about where they stand, not make a virtue out of having no fixed beliefs.


When Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1979, major political parties were used to disagreeing on very little. The differences tended to be in tone and speed. The notion of consensus snuffed out any major disagreements.


But Thatcher was different. On her arrival, she said “I’m not a consensus politician. I’m a conviction politician.” At the time, convictions and principles were seen as getting in the way of government.


Thatcher’s denunciation of the supposed virtue of consensus rings true for us today: “To me consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects—the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead.”


Thatcher understood that sometimes we’re going to disagree. That’s perfectly acceptable in a free society. If we disagree about a solution, the right solution isn’t for you to agree to do half of what you think is a bad idea and me to do half of what I think is a bad idea.


But among much of the chattering classes, convictions and principles are annoying and get in the way of everyone just agreeing with them.


A friend sent me an article from the New Yorker in which political scientists fret that party nominations are no longer controlled by deliberative party conventions and the candidate who has the most endorsements from party elite.


Instead, one political scientist refers to activists “who care a great deal about policy and ideology.” He’s annoyed by these “intense policy demanders” and suggests “their mission is to find the most extreme candidate who can win.”


The prophets of consensus don’t like what Thatcher calls conviction. They call it “ideology” which they regard as the intense demand of an extremist. For them, to believe in something is an obstacle to the glorious consensus.

In this respect they agree with Thatcher’s characterization of consensus. Instead of disagreeing they would respond to her quote by retorting “you say that like it’s a negative thing.”


As we approach elections for both president and governor, it’s hard for me to be upset about people “who care a great deal about policy.” That people who vote on who represents us in determining public policy should care about policy seems not just natural but healthy.


Elections have consequences and the people we elect are going to do things. I’d like to know ahead of time what they plan on doing. In that sense, I am an intense policy demander and you should be too. In electing the chief policy officer of the country or the state, they have an obligation to tell us more than “I’m going to roll up my sleeves and get to work.”


At the state level, both parties have primaries. This is all to the good. Because they have to debate, engage in conversation, and talk to people “who care a great deal about policy and ideology,” we’ll learn more about their beliefs, principles, values, and policies. That will keep them from avoiding the issues that have to be solved.

If the election is a conversation that involves everyone, it will help persuade and educate the populace so the policies and proposals of the next administration aren’t a surprise.


No one would suggest that compromise and practicality shouldn’t be part of politics. The perfect should never be the enemy of the good. But what we honestly believe are good ideas should not be abandoned simply because there isn’t consensus.


The president pursued his health care plan without consensus because he thought it was a good idea. The Republican plan to balance the budget wasn’t a consensus plan but they thought it was a good idea. To wait for consensus would prevent any action and lead to the tyranny of the status quo.


The pursuit of “something in which no believes but to which no one objects” is not a virtue. This election, we need conviction politicians not consensus politicians.


Charles Arlinghaus is president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a free market think tank based in Concord. He can be reached at [email protected]

Charlie Arlinghaus

January 18, 2011

As originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader

Be careful not to get on the wrong side of your legislator or he might pass a law just to get back at you. We are being treated to an example of the temptations of power this year as one legislator has introduced a bill that doesn’t change a set of rules for everyone but rather singles out only one institution that happens to be in his town and has annoyed him. Rep. Frank Sapareto of Derry introduced HB1201 for the sole purpose of creating an exception to state law and taxing Pinkerton Academy. The law doesn’t tax anything else, create a new category of taxation, or change the rules under which the other cities and towns of New Hampshire operate. It merely says that notwithstanding provisions of current law, this one school, singled out by name, has to pay property taxes. Other similar schools are still exempt from property taxes and the bill would affect no other institution. The motivation for this dispute is the annoyance of Rep. Sapareto and a few fellow legislators with decisions of the school. Pinkerton Academy is a privately run school that serves as the public high school for the town of Derry. Under state law, it and similar institutions are known as public academies. Mind you, the Sapareto bill doesn’t change the rules for public academies in general, just for this one school. Like many other public high schools, Pinkerton accepts kids not just from Derry but from neighboring towns as well. Like Derry, the neighboring towns pay tuition to the school. The school is run by a board of trustees with tuition payments set by contract rather than by a school board with recourse to tax revenues. Sapareto is annoyed that Pinkerton accepts students from anywhere else, recently telling the press that “if only Derry kids went to Pinkerton there would be no need for this bill.” I suppose if your town had a ten building multi-acre campus for your school, you might not want to share either. But the legislature is not the private playground of people looking to pass bills that affect only them. Derry is free to enter into a contract with the school, as it has. Rep. Sapareto is free to object to the decisions that are made by the school board or to object to the terms of the contract. But if he loses, he is not free to come to the legislature and use the rest of us to reverse decisions he lost. Let me reiterate: this bill doesn’t change the laws of the state for everyone. It changes the laws of the state for one school in one town. Similar schools are unaffected. Rather than change a law, the Sapareto bill creates an exception for one school because he’s annoyed about the political outcome. This is simply an abuse of power. We all know it would be insane to pass a bill saying “notwithstanding any laws to the contrary, Charlie’s taxes are only $12.” The Sapareto bill is equally abusive. By the way, the bill is worse than I’m making it sound (and I hope I’m making it sound ridiculous). Not only does the bill say this one institution has to pay taxes, it also dictates what Derry must do with those taxes. Normally, property taxes go into the town budget. That would be the case with any other institution taxed. But in this case Sapareto also would stipulate under state law that the revenue from this one special tax (do we call it the Pinkerton Fee or the Sapareto Tax?) must be used to reimburse the school district for higher tuition payments that Pinkerton will have to charge so it can pay the tax. Here’s where Rep. Sapareto is at his sneakiest. For Derry, it’s a zero-sum game. The town receives the tax revenue, then sends it to the school district, which uses it to pay the higher tuition Pinkerton has to charge because of the new tax. But the higher tuition rates will affect all four sending towns. Those towns will pay higher tuition rates, with only Derry receiving offsetting revenue. Derry gets more money. Chester, Hampstead and Auburn get the bill. If we let officials pass legislation to settle their own private frustrations, the law becomes more and more abusive. I hope everyone interested in public policy will talk about this bill and cheer it on its way to the ash heap that ought to be the resting place of this sort of abusive nonsense.

Charlie Arlinghaus

January 11, 2011

As originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader

Understanding the New Hampshire primary is a hobby that occupies most of us who are politically obsessed. Since I’m writing before the results and you are reading this after they’ve come in, I’m going to suggest some of the best political reading for understanding not just the New Hampshire primary but the nature of politics in general.

The single best thing written to date on the New Hampshire primary is Dayton Duncan’s Grass Roots: One Year in the Life of the New Hampshire Primary. The book focuses the grass roots campaign experience of a dozen volunteer activists, Democratic and Republican, each with a different presidential campaign in the 1988 primary. Although written about an election two decades ago, the lessons are timeless.

Duncan is now much better known nationally for PBS documentaries like Lewis and Clark. His skill with documentary and his previous work as a reporter and a political professional come together to make Grass Roots a great antidote to the talking heads on television.

Television too often focuses on a professional political class of reporters and consultants who all know each other. They talk about what they’re hearing at the hotel bar and what the crosstabs of polls are telling them. During the last weeks, they grab a few locals – usually the same locals they’ve been speaking to for 20 years – who have become skilled at explaining what the real people are thinking or at least at a good patter that sounds plausible.

Duncan’s book is the opposite. It’s not based on interviews with insiders telling you the “real” backroom story. It is a detailed and often poignant study of the emotions, day-to-day activities and motivations of activists at a county level removed from the Washingtonian aspects of the campaign by at least three or four levels.

In an age when the political chattering class confuses automated phone calls for grass roots activity, Duncan puts a magnifying glass on each individual blade of grass and helps distinguish the mythology of politics from the realities of individual motivation.

The energy and idealism of dedicated volunteers sometimes founders on the rocks of national trends beyond their control. But Duncan reminds us of the human side of politics and we experience their heartbreak and exhilaration with them. A sign of his strong writing and storytelling is the sympathy and understanding a reader finds himself feeling for volunteers of opposite parties.

The humanity of politics is rarely more visible than in Duncan’s book. That this book is not reprinted every four years is a crime.

Craig Shirley’s excellent Rendezvous With Destiny is a remarkably balanced account of the Reagan 1980 campaign from an old Reaganite. Although his motivation is clear, his sympathies don’t interfere with his history. For studying New Hampshire, the chapters covering the New Hampshire primary are fascinating from a time when the gap between the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary was not seven days but five weeks.

The Reagan comeback after losing the Iowa caucus is one of the great stories in American politics, particularly for conservatives. Shirley’s narrative includes a full chapter on the famous “I am paying for this microphone” moment.

No discussion of political writing would be complete without mention of the single best book ever written about politics and the people in it, The Last Hurrah by Edwin O’Connor. The Last Hurrah is not just the best political novel ever written but one of the best American novels. It is well known as a description of urban politics and for being loosely based on the infamous James Michael Curley.

But more than that, The Last Hurrah is a complex study of the motivations and character of people – in this case people practicing politics. As O’Connor explores the loneliness of popularity, the different natures of corruption, and the simultaneous nobility and shame of politics, many characters from today make an appearance even if in an urban 1940s setting.

Anyone who wishes to practice or observe politics and government in particular is incomplete without having read O’Connor’s brilliant novel. Like most of the best writing, truth often emerges more clearly in works of fiction rather than fact.

As this presidential primary cycle moves on and you seek to understand why things happen, move beyond the yelling on television and the quick current affairs of the internet. Sometimes the news cycle moves too fast. Take a look at the long form. You’ll be glad you did.

Charlie Arlinghaus interviews former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in the first installment of the Josiah Bartlett Center’s “Substance Over Soundbites Series”

Part 1- Gingrich says it would be “virtually impossible” to support Ron Paul if he is the Republican Presidential Nominee.

Part 2- Gingrich explains why he’s running for President

Part 3- Gingrich discusses the need to balance the federal budget

Part 4- Gingrich and Arlinghaus address the need to reform entitlements

Part 5-Gingrich says he can win the debate with Barack Obama over turning control of welfare programs back to states.

Part 6- Gingrich argues that America’s health care system has to choose whether to become like WalMart or like Canada.

Part 7- Gingrich has nice things to say about Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan’s Medicare Reform Plans

Part 8- Gingrich on Big Ideas and Hunting Chipmunks

Part 9- Gingrich says he burnt out the House as Speaker and says what he would do differently

Part 10- Gingrich on the addiction to deficit spending, the NH budget process, what he’s learned on the campaign trail, and the strength of the Republican Presidential field.