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February 28, 2007

Song Choices

Since Jon Chait started the ball rolling giving advice to the Obama campaign about song choices, let me quickly toss in my two cents.

Stomping around outside in the frigid weather before Obama's announcement in Springfield a couple of weeks ago I wasn't paying much attention to the "pre-game" music coming out over the loud speakers, but one song did catch my ear. So here's my advice to the Obama folks: for obvious reasons, you might want to rethink letting the DJ spin Brewer & Shipley's "One Toke Over the Line" at future campaign rallies.

Daley History

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Richard M. Daley rolled to a sixth term as Mayor of Chicago yesterday. If Daley finishes out his term he'll make history as the longest serving Mayor in the city's history, breaking the record currently held by his father, Richard J. Daley.

(Photo: Tom Cruze/Chicago Sun-Times)

Pre-War Obama

If you have not watched the video of Barack Obama in 2002 discussing Iraq and the war vote, you should. Obama's warnings in regard to the difficulties the U.S. might face post-invasion appear remarkably prescient and while he was certainly not alone in raising these type of concerns, and in many ways these were the obvious post-invasion worries, the ease and comfort with which he discuses the relevant issues conveys to me a level of understanding and wisdom that is quite impressive. For a Democratic primary voter this video and his stance pre-war, juxtaposed against Hillary Clinton's dissembling and triangulating on Iraq, is just one more reason to make the switch from Clinton to Obama.

I delved in to some of Hillary's favorability problems earlier today, but the bottom line is Senator Clinton is increasingly losing her iron-grip on the Democratic nomination and this video is only going to make the situation worse for her campaign.

Update: The latest Keystone poll showing her trailing John McCain by 4 points and Rudy Giuliani by an incredible 16 points in Pennsylvania (a state both Kerry and Gore carried) is just more fuel for the anti-Hillary fire.

Giuliani Out Front, Obama Gaining on Hillary

Both ABC News/Washington Post and Diageo/Hotline released major polls on the 2008 campaign yesterday. On balance the numbers were positive for Barack Obama and Rudy Giuliani and mixed -- at best -- for Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

The favorable/unfavorable ratings of Giuliani versus Clinton in these two polls are striking. Rudy sports spreads of +36% in the ABC/WP (64/28) and +33% in Hotline (58/25) compared to Hillary's barely positive spreads of +1% in ABC/WP (49/48) and +3% in Hotline (49/46). The Giuliani/Clinton differential is over 30 points in Rudy's favor.

Giuliani's favorability ratings will only go lower as the campaign progresses and if he does win the Republican nomination, by Election Day there is no chance he will have favorable/unfavorable spreads over 30 points. However, the bigger unknown is where will Hillary Clinton's favorable/unfavorable rating head over the course of the campaign. Usually candidates' favorability ratings deteriorate as a campaign intensifies, which, given where Sen. Clinton stands today, does not bode well for her in both the primaries and the general election. The question is will the fact that she has been such a public and polarizing figure for over 15 years mute the historical tendency for candidates' unfavorable ratings to climb. In other words, does the public know all of Hillary's negatives?

To the degree Sen. Clinton remains the favorite and the likely Democratic nominee there is a floor for how low her favorability rating may fall. But if the shield of inevitability surrounding her continues to crack and Obama (or John Edwards or Al Gore) becomes a real alternative, then Democrats may begin to turn on Clinton. This of course would have serious implications on her ability to hold on to the nomination, but would also negatively affect her general election prospects.

As a point of reference the Final RCP Favorable/Unfavorable Averages going into the '04 election for President Bush and John Kerry were +7.4% for Bush and +1.2% for Kerry -- a differential of 6.2% for Bush. Today's Giuliani/Clinton differential is over 30 points in Rudy's favor. Clinton can potentially close that gap to single digits, if she is able to keep her favorability ratings even. But if her numbers go negative and stay negative, she could be digging herself (and Democrats) an insurmountable hole against a candidate like Giuliani, who today has plus 30% favorability ratings. Giuliani's ratings will fall, but if he is the Republican nominee they will almost assuredly be positive in the spring of 2008.

Democrats are certainly aware of Clinton's vulnerability in this regard, which makes Obama's strong favorability ratings of +23% in the ABC/WP (53/30) and +31% in Hotline (50/19) all the more attractive to Democrats looking for a general election winner. On the back of the Geffen imbroglio (which unquestionably hurt Hillary) the last thing the Clinton machine wants is a consensus to form that Obama would fare better in the general election. Zogby's head-to-head polls also out this week which show Hillary trailing Giuliani and McCain by 7 and 8 points, while Obama leads both by 6 and 4, don't help in this regard.

McCain who is increasingly becoming the odd-man-out has some relatively good news in that his favorability remains quite strong -- +17% in ABC/WP (52/35) and +22% in Hotline (58/26), which bodes well for his general election prospects. However, his horserace numbers in the Republican field have to be troubling to his campaign as Giuliani beats him by 23 points and with Newt Gingrich out of the race by a whopping 30 points (53/23) in the ABC/WP poll. With sustained numbers like that, the general election is going to be irrelevant for McCain.

All the momentum continues to ride with Giuliani and Obama, while the long-time front-runners of McCain and Clinton flounder. McCain lost his front-runner status several weeks ago; we'll see about Hillary's over the next few months.

South Carolina Shootout Continues

If you thought the Clinton-Obama duel was hot, take a look at the McCain-Romney shootout in South Carolina.

The Politico's Jonathan Martin reveals how and where the battle lines are being drawn in the state GOP. The warring camps are led by their own generals: Richard Quinn, who is reprising his '00 role with Sen. John McCain and ex-George W. Bush consultant Warren Tompkins who now backs Mitt Romney. "Campaign allegiances aside, there is an unknown factor that complicates the 2000 redux storyline: Rudy Giuliani," Martin writes. But Giuliani has no organization and a McCain supporter said, "If Giuliani hadn't shoved it into higher gear, Romney may be out of single digits right now."

Tomorrow, Spartanburg, SC will hold its straw poll and even this small event is exhibiting the big fighting. The county's GOP chair is accused of "stacking the deck" for Romney and holding meetings in locations that aren't handicap-friendly. Still, all the candidates have worked feverishly to do well in the poll and create buzz even though the real primary is 11 months away. When it finally comes, McCain may utilize his new counsel who just resigned as SC's elections chief to join the campaign.

Meanwhile Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign is dealing with problems of its own creation after "inadvertently" omitting from her Senate ethics forms a family charity that's allowed Clinton and her husband to write off millions. Clinton's team is also trying to undo "days of harsh coverage" from two San Francisco-area Chinese-language newspapers that were not admitted to a fundraiser last week.

This weekend Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama will head to Selma, AL to commemorate 1965's Bloody Sunday civil rights march. Before Obama's trip, NPR asked him pointed questions about his experiences as a black presidential candidate, including if he talks the same way to black and white audiences, if he feels he has to prove himself to black leaders and if he has to dominate the black vote to win.

Soon enough all of these candidates will be talking about the immigration plans McCain and Sen. Ted Kennedy are taking up again in Washington today.

What else is flying through the political universe? Check our Politics and Elections page.

Obama on Iraq in '02

File this clip under "more trouble for Hillary Clinton." It's Illinois State Senator Barack Obama on a local public affairs television show in late November 2002 giving a pretty clear explanation of why he would have voted against the Iraq war authorization:

A quick aside on Obama's political skill. If you go to his web site, on the page titled "Plan to End the Iraq War" you'll find the text of remarks he gave at an antiwar rally in Chicago in October 2002. As you might expect, the tone of his remarks at the antiwar rally were fairly strident (he called members of the administration "armchair, weekend warriors" and singled out Karl Rove as a "political hack") and well suited to the crowd at the time and to the current base of the party. But a month later he was on television in the clip you just watched, speaking in thoughtful, measured tones about the war and how he would have voted. It's a testament to his political skill, his mastery of the medium of television, and why he's such a threat to Hillary.

Ode To Olbermann

Mark Binelli profiles Keith Olbermann in the new issue of Rolling Stone, and though it's supposed to be flattering I'm not sure it comes across that way.

According to Binelli, Olberman's upswing began when he delivered this six-and-a-half minute rant against Don Rumsfeld last August. Binelli writes:

Audience response was positive, so Olbermann began hitting the Bush administration even harder. Scathing commentaries, directly inspired by broadcast legend Edward R. Murrow, became a regular feature on Countdown. As in Network, momentarily losing it seems to have paid off.

Later in the story Binelli briefly touches on Olbermann's history at ESPN, noting that after five years he left "under a cloud of stories about how he'd become a nightmare to work with." And then there's this:

Last June, the Daily News printed e-mail exchanges between Olbermann and hostile viewers. The host advised one correspondent to "go f*** your mother" and another to "kill yourself." He also told a fan that fellow MSNBC host Rita Cosby was "nice but dumber than a suitcase of rocks." Though the e-mails were meant to embarrass Olbermann, they only served to underline what people already know and like about him.

The pattern seems clear: Olbermann has pretty much always been an ass and a jerk in private, and now he's being celebrated by Arianna Huffington and others on the left for being that way in public.

February 27, 2007

The Political Cost of Iraq

The numbers from the latest Washington Post poll pretty much speak for themselves:

5. Who do you trust to do a better job handling (ITEM), (Bush) or (the Democrats in Congress)?
The situation in Iraq: Bush 34, Dems in Congress 54
The U.S. campaign against terrorism: Bush 39, Dems in Congress 52
The economy: Bush 36, Dems in Congress 56
The federal budget: Bush 32, Dems in Congress 59
Health care: Bush 25, Dems in Congress 62

Given the decided advantage Republicans have enjoyed on national security issues over the last 20 to 30 years, if someone had told you that five and a half years after September 11 the Republican President who shepherded America through the worst terrorist attack in her history would be running 13 points behind Democrats in Congress on the question of who can better handle the war on terror, you probably would have thought that to be very unlikely, if not a bit nuts. But that's where this President appears to be.

The real question is whether (or perhaps how much) the public's dismal view of President Bush is rubbing off on the Republican party in general, GOP members in Congress, and potentially the party's 2008 Presidential hopefuls as well.

'08 News and More

Presidential candidates were mostly outside of the early primary states today, but they and their campaigns still made news - not all of it good.

The Boston Globe obtained a document explaining "Romney will define himself in part by focusing on and highlighting enemies and adversaries, such common political targets as 'jihadism,' the 'Washington establishment,' and taxes, but also Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, 'European-style socialism,' and, specifically, France." The campaign also anticipates a challenge on this front from Newt Gingrich, even though the former speaker and conservative icon has not yet announced his candidacy.

Elsewhere on the trail, Rep. Duncan Hunter's PAC may have broken campaign finance laws by using its money to advertise for him in New Hampshire. Down in South Carolina, Sen. Sam Brownback is calling on as many Republicans as he can before an upcoming straw poll.

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side Illinois Sen. Barack Obama continued his tour of the Ohio River Valley yesterday by rallying 2,000 supporters in Cleveland. At home, Obama manages a complicated relationship with Chicago politicians, including Mayor Richard Daley, who faces reelection today. Sen. Hillary Clinton, not to be outshone by Al Gore's climate change popularity, called on the government to spend $50 billion on energy independence.

Outside of the presidential race, RNC Chair Sen. Mel Martinez said he's trying to build a consensus of Republicans around immigration reform, including his proposed "earned citizenship" plan that would require English proficiency, citizenship tests and fines or back taxes. The proposal is supported by the Bush administration and most Democrats.

In Washington, President Bush and governors traded pleas on their health care plans while five Western states did an end-run around Congress and the administration and signed an agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

You can find those stories and more at RCP's Politics and Elections page.

The Iranian Analysis

Nice. Memri has a video clip of Iranian Majid Goudarzi offering the following bit of "political analysis" on Iranian TV on February 20:

I don't believe that a regime like the Zionist regime is legitimate, let alone that it will ever accept peace. Its very existence involves aggression, war, terrorism, and killing. It cannot stop these methods. This is even repeated in their Torah several times. In the Book of Exodus and the Book of Numbers, it is said several times that Moses called this people corrupt. They are genetically bloodthirsty and criminal, and therefore, they cannot give up their criminal character.

February 26, 2007

The Hillary Haters

Ironic, don't you think, that the most influential paper in nation happens to be located in Hillary Clinton's home state and most of the columnists on the op-ed page seem hate her guts. Today Bob Herbert joins in the fun, bashing the Clintons for raising an objection with Barack Obama over his supporter David Geffen's attack on the former First Couple:

If Bill and Hillary Clinton were the stars of a reality TV show, it would be a weekly series called "The Connivers." The Clintons, the most powerful of power couples, are always scheming at something, and they're good at it. [snip]

When Senator Obama talks about bringing a new kind of politics to the national scene, he's talking about something that would differ radically from the relentlessly vicious, sleazy, mendacious politics that have plagued the country throughout the Bush-Clinton years. Whether he can pull that off is an open question. But there's no doubt the Clintons want to stop him from succeeding.

The line of the Hillary haters (or Obama supporters, if you prefer) goes something like this: what Geffen said was more or less true, therefore it's not really an attack. Herbert writes this morning, "In all the uproar over Mr. Geffen's comments, hardly anyone has said they were wildly off the mark."

Yesterday Maureen Dowd went with something similar on Meet the Press:

I think that David Geffen gave voice to what a lot of Democratic donors and supporters had been secretly worried about, and, in fact, it's reflected in Hillary's own talking points for her supporters, which is the fact that she's polarizing, that she's calculating, that she's overscripted, and that her relationship with Bill could still cause problems. And, you know, he was bold enough to say that, and that sort of broke the dam of nervousness over that.

Two points. Obviously, there's a partisan double standard at play: if a Republican had said the same things about the Clintons as Geffen, we wouldn't be having a nuanced discussion about whether it was an "attack" or whether the person was merely "giving voice" to concerns held by a lot of Democrats. In fact, I don't recall any of that taking place when William Safire called Clinton a "congenital liar" way back when.

The second, and more important point is that Obama defenders have now established a sort of baseline which will serve as a helpful guideline: anything goes, even personal attacks, so long as it's true. So Bob Herbert won't be upset if a major Clinton supporter comes out in the press and starts talking about the fact that Obama did "a little blow" in his younger years, or that his wife sits on the board of a company whose biggest customer is Wal-Mart and paid it's CEO a ridiculous $26.2 million last year, or that the Obamas appear to be unbelievably savvy when it comes to buying real estate (though I can't believe the Clintons or their surrogates would want to go there).

Of course we all know that if a major Clinton donor came out and said any of these things, in all likelihood Bob Herbert (being the intellectually honest fellow he is) would be at the front of the line decrying it as a vicious, sleazy, and mendacious attack and calling in on the Clintons to disassociate themselves from the remarks - even though every bit of it is true.

The Tin Ear Endorsement

Good grief. Note to John McCain's campaign: if you're looking to mend fences and try to become the choice of conservative Republican primary voters, it's best not to go around trumpeting news of an endorsement by Senator John Warner of Virginia - especially after Warner just finished spearheading an effort in the Senate to rebuke the President and undermine his Iraq policy.

The endorsement game is really a bizarre phenomenon. I suppose, in the aggregate, endorsements offer a campaign the "aura of inevitability," but there's little evidence that individual endorsements (or newspaper endorsements, for that matter) really help, and I think this is an instance where an endorsement actually does more harm than good.

Good News From Iran

Apropos Mitt Romney's comments on Iran, the Associated Press reports some encouraging news:

TEHRAN, Iran - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faced a new round of sharp criticism at home Monday after he said Iran's nuclear program is an unstoppable train without brakes. Reformers and conservatives said such tough talk only inflames the West as it considers further sanctions. The criticism came even as new signs have arisen that Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is growing discontented with Ahmadinejad, whom he is believed to have supported in 2005 presidential elections.

PJ, Me, and the QOTD

The quote of the day (QOTD) comes from a WSJ interview with PJ O'Rourke from last month that I somehow missed at the time:

"I have no idea if some societies, anthropologically speaking, aren't really suited for democracy. I don't think that's true. But there certainly are societies that just love to fight. Northern Ireland, for instance. You couldn't stop that problem because they were having fun--they were really, really enjoying themselves. It would still be going on full-force today if the sons of bitches hadn't accidentally gotten rich. What happened was, more and more people started getting cars, and television sets, and got some vacation time down in Spain, and it wasn't that they wanted to stop fighting and killing each other and being lunatics, but they got busy and forgot."

As an aside, O'Rourke has been one of my favorite authors for as long as I can remember. Parliament of Whores is one of the best works of political humor ever, and the collection of essays in Republican Party Reptile is equally as funny while covering more ground. Though O'Rourke gained notoriety for "How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink," my personal favorite has always been "High-Speed Performance Characteristics of Pick Up Trucks."

Germany: A One-Year Wonder?

German economic growth ended 2006 on a high note. Real GDP grew 3.7% in 2006, the fastest growth rate in more than 15 years, more than twice as fast as the 1.7% growth rate of 2005, and significantly above the identically disappointing 0.2% real growth rates of 2002, 2003, and 2004.

The acceleration of growth in 2006 caused many forecasters to become more optimistic about Germany, and some even began to predict an economic renaissance in Continental Europe. After years of sub-par performance, this would be welcome.

But all this excitement appears misplaced. On January 1, 2007, the German VAT tax was raised from 16% to 19%, while the top marginal income tax rate increased to 45% from 42%.

The knowledge that these tax rates would rise in 2007 created an incentive to bring income and spending forward into the lower tax year. For Germany, this means that growth was stolen from 2007, which artificially boosted economic activity in 2006.

Early data for 2007 on consumer and business confidence show a reversal from the positive news of 2006. Both industrial production and factory orders fell in December, and January retail sales are weaker than at any time since early 2004.

While the consensus has settled on a German real GDP growth rate of 1.5% to 2.0% for 2007, we suspect that this is overly optimistic. The European Central Bank is running what we would call a neutral monetary policy and the German government is planning a reduction in corporate tax rates in 2008. In other words, there will be an incentive to push income and profits from 2007 forward into 2008.

Germany remains a very high tax economy. The top marginal income tax rate is 45%, social security taxes are 19.9%, health care payroll taxes are 14.3%, while unemployment insurance is 4.2%, and corporate tax rates are roughly 40% (when local taxes are included). These high tax rates suggest the surge in 2006 economic activity was nothing but one-year wonder.

And Then There Were 11

The Libby jury loses a member.

WaPo Poll

Initial release: Bush job approval 36%, handling of Iraq at 31%, and Democrats hold a 20-point advantage on who the public trusts to do a better job of handling Iraq. As dismal as those numbers are, they all represent a slight improvement for the President over last month's survey.

More results this evening.

The Romney Interview

I sat down with Governor Romney at this headquarters in Boston on Friday. I asked to record the interview and Governor Romney agreed without hesitation, and as I turn the recorder on Romney is in the middle of commenting on the fact that his every utterance these days is captured on tape in one way or another:

ROMNEY: You've got to be really careful about what you say and do anywhere you are. I actually had a dream about being in parking garage and having somebody in front of me taking too long to get their change and honking the horn and then yelling back, and getting out and yelling at each other and then seeing it on YouTube the next day. So I said 'OK', I've got to really be careful, you know, in my personal life.

RCP: So how's the campaign going for you so far? Is it what you expected?

ROMNEY: It's gotten going a lot faster than I would have expected. I saw George Stephanopoulos last week, he said he was hired on as the first Clinton campaign employee in what would be the equivalent of October of this year. And we have many tens of employees at this point. And even this early the response in states that really are early in the process: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, the response is really quite surprising. Large numbers of people, lots of questions, enthusiastic reaction.

RCP: What's the question you get asked most?

ROMNEY: From Republican crowds most often the question relates to immigration, then education and healthcare. Interestingly, very rarely is there a question about foreign policy, Iraq, Iran. I typically have to insert those into my opening remarks to get the audience to draw out on that at all.

I think it's in part because Republican audiences don't want to talk about it. It hasn't gone well. It feels like the team is losing and people don't want to hear about it.

RCP: Speaking of, yesterday there were reports you issued some mild criticism of the Bush administration policy in Iraq, saying it wasn't going as well as many had liked. John McCain said recently he thought Secretary Rumsfeld would go down as one of the worst Defense Secretaries in history. Dick Cheney responded by saying he thought Rumsfeld had been a great Secretary of Defense and that he'd done a super job. What do you think? What's your impression of the job Rumsfeld did?

ROMNEY: I really don't think pointing fingers at individuals is a productive exercise at this point. Clearly the president would agree the buck stops with him. He's responsible for the management of our affairs, and I would not suggest we go and try and find individuals within various departments to assume the blame.

In my view, and I've said this many times before, we did an excellent job knocking down Saddam Hussein's government, but we did less than a superb job in managing the post major-conflict period. And I think we were underprepared for it, under planned, under staffed, and under managed. And because of our shortcomings in those areas we've contributed to the difficult position in which we find ourselves. But we are where we are.

And if you, like me, have done a lot of reading about the process that led up to the conflict and the preparations for the post-major conflict period, you too will recognize that, if these accounts are accurate, we've made a lot of errors in terms of preparation. And whether you've read the Looming Tower, or The Assassin's Gate, or Cobra II, or Paul Bremer's book or Gen. Zinni's book, they come to that set of conclusions even though they come from very different viewpoints.

RCP: And do you believe it's still fixable at this point?

ROMNEY: Yes. I think there is a reasonable course - or, let me restate that, there's a reasonable probability that there is a path to securing the nation and establishing stability for a central government. I don't say that's a path with high confidence of being successful, but there's still a reasonable probability that path can be pursued. And that's why I think the president is right to add to the military mission the responsibility for securing Baghdad and the population of Baghdad.

I think that should have been done a lot earlier and should have been part of the initial plan. But, be that as it may, it's now being added to the mission. And when you add a mission to our military that means you need to add troop strength to carry it out. We'll see how well that plan is working. It will probably play out over a matter of five to six months, or more. But it's months, not years.

I presume that the Defense Department and the President have worked out with al-Maliki's government what the milestones are and what the timetable is for determining if we're being successful in this new effort. And we'll be able to judge, are we accomplishing what we hope to accomplish? Those don't have to be made public, although I think it'd be helpful if in some cases they were, so the public could understand and have credibility behind the accomplishments, if there are accomplishments. I think it's much broader, for instance, than just saying, "are there fewer attacks?" It's much more devoted to determining are the Iraqi military and police forces able to take the lead at some stage here in providing for the security for their people.

RCP: And, as you said, it'll play out over course of five or six months. That's what most experts have said. But what happens if it's not successful, or not as successful as we'd hoped? What then?

ROMNEY: If you establish milestones, and you determine that we're not making progress against those milestones, then you know the strategy isn't working and you have to turn to Plan B or C. I'm not going to forecast what Plan B or C might be. Clearly there are people who say we should just turn and walk out. There are others who say we should divide the country in various - three, four, five or more parts.

There are additional risks associated with those courses that would suggest we don't want to take those options unless there is no other option available. And the additional risks you're familiar with. If you divide the country in parts Iran may try and seize the Iraqi portion - excuse me the Shia portion of Iraq. Al-Qaeda could play a dominating role in the Sunni portion. The Kurdish population could destabilize the Kurds in Turkey and could create conflict across the border. You could have a regional conflict develop. And for all of those additional reasons and risks, you wouldn't want to pursue that course unless there were no other option available.

RCP: On a related subject: Iran. You made some comment yesterday about Iran. If Iran hasn't acquired nuclear weapons by January 2009 when President Romney takes office, would they acquire them under a Romney administration?

ROMNEY: I think it's unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon. Unacceptable to our interests and to the interest of the civilized world. For that reason I think we should exert every source of our world pressure to keep Iran from pursuing that course. And, of course, the military option must be left on the table

In my view, at this stage, we should be doing as the Bush administration has begun, which is tightening economic sanctions, as well as tightening diplomatic isolation, we should be communicating to the Iranian people the downsides of becoming a nuclear power, we should be engaging the moderate Muslim states in the neighborhood to help put pressure as well on Iran and to help us by taking pressure off of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Finally, in my view, we should be putting together a much broader comprehensive strategy to defeat radical jihad in the world of Islam.

RCP: So, just to phrase it a different way, it's your view that the national security risk to the United States of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon outweighs -

ROMNEY: Is extreme...

RCP: and outweighs any sort of adverse effect or fallout that might come from attacking them either with airstrikes and/or some sort of ground force.

ROMNEY: You know I won't describe precisely what action should be taken or how it would be taken, but clearly the consequences of a nuclear Iraq - excuse me, a nuclear Iran - for the world and for America are so severe that military options have to remain on the table. Those options I have not discussed in great depth with the US military, so I'm not going to describe what particular path would be considered, but I can say that given the fact that we would never want to pursue a military option unless we had pursued every other reasonable option, I want to make sure we are aggressively pursuing those other options. And those other options relate to tightening economic sanctions so that Ahmadinejad is increasingly unpopular in his own country, so that religious leaders like Khamenei, as well as the public at large, are dissatisfied with him and ultimately sweep him from power, or cause him to withdraw his nuclear ambition. And that's why it's so important for us -

RCP: Do you think that's probable?

ROMNEY: Yeah, I think that - in fact the Bush administration's restrictions on credit and banking are already having an impact. Ahmadinejad did fall behind in the most recent elections. Our intelligence in Iran is somewhat limited, as it is throughout the Middle East, but there is indication among some observers that Ahmadinejad is on a bit of thin ice and that if we were to continue to exert extensive pressure on his economy and the diplomatic reception that he and his fellow Iranians receive around the world that that could have the desired effect of either causing him to retreat to a certain degree or to be replaced by a leader that had more moderate views.

RCP: Switching gears to a lighter subject, for our readers to get a better sense of who you are as a person, tell me something about yourself that only people who know you well know.

ROMNEY: I love practical jokes and humor. That there's frankly no joke that I don't think is funny. I love practical jokes, but I don't like being scared. My sons will tell you that when they have jumped out of the tree when I'm coming from work in the middle of the night and said "boo" to me, that there is swift and severe retribution.

I have five boys in the family, and it's constant competition, sport, humor, and practical jokes. For instance, when we gathered for my big - was it the announcement day, no I guess it was the big fund raising thing, we were going to have a January national call day - all my sons came back to gather for that. We were there at the dinner table and someone said, "hey, should we go have a 440 race at the high school?" Sure enough, we all went upstairs and found our respective jogging shorts, put on tennis shoes or running shoes, went over to the high school and had a 440 competition at the track.

RCP: Who won?

ROMNEY: I came in last. I was thinking I could beat my son Ben but, boy, even though he's in medical school and has gotta be out of shape, he still beat me, darn it!

RCP: One last question, and forgive me if you've already been asked and answered this question because I haven't seen it. Being that we celebrated President's Day this week, and I see John Adams by David McCullough here on the table... who is your favorite President?

ROMNEY: Ah, it's too hard to pick a favorite President. It really is. It's like picking your favorite from a box of chocolates - I love all of them. There are, of course, the famous and great presidents that everybody knows and says "ah, Lincoln, Washington." How could anyone not choose Lincoln and Washington, and they're so obviously so far above the standard of Presidents in our land or any land, that of course they have to be at the top of the list.

But I love John Adams. His book is on my desk there. The first time I read that book by David McCullough when I got to the last page I literally had tears in my eyes because I felt like I was losing a family friend.

I love Teddy Roosevelt. I read everything I can get my hands on about Teddy Roosevelt. Anybody who says "Bully" is a friend of mine. And his enthusiasm, his energy, his can-do attitude was just extraordinary.

From a more modern standpoint, you've gotta love Ronald Reagan. I respected him for his optimism, his humor, the glint in his eye throughout his career. But I find that as I get older and older, he gets smarter and smarter as well.

RCP: Any Democrats at the top of list?

ROMNEY: Truman was a man I see as having real character and the courage of his convictions. And FDR at a great time of need was a communicator that made a real difference for America. Clearly, there are a number of his policies that I vehemently disagree with. But I think as you look at American presidents, more important than their policy was their character, and those who brought something to the American spirit are one who we remember with affection and admiration for generations.

I frankly don't know whether Teddy Roosevelt's policies would be accepted by the Republican party today, but Teddy Roosevelt was as Republican as any Republican I know.

February 24, 2007

U.S. Troops Will Be Leaving Europe As Well

From Pat Buchanan's column yesterday:

NATO is packing it in as a world power. NATO is little more than a U.S. guarantee to pull Europe's chestnuts out of the fire if Europeans encounter a fight they cannot handle, like an insurgency in Bosnia or Kosovo. NATO has one breadwinner, and 25 dependents.

At the end of the Cold War, internationalists like Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana declared, "NATO must go out of area, or go out of business." What Lugar meant was, with the Soviet threat lifted from Europe, NATO must shoulder more of the global burden.

But the Balkan crises of the 1990s showed that Europeans are not even up to policing their own playground. The Americans had to come in, gently push them aside and do the job. The message Europe is today sending to America, with the withdrawals from Iraq and the refusal of Italy, Germany and France to fight in Afghanistan:

"We are not going out of area again. If you Americans want to play empire, go right ahead. We will not again send our sons overseas to fight in regions of the world from which we withdrew half a century ago. You're on your own."

Where does this leave NATO? This leaves NATO as little more than a U.S. guarantee to go to war for the nations of Europe, while Europeans can be freeloading critics of U.S. policy around the world.

NATO is an expensive proposition. We maintain dozens of bases and scores of thousands of troops from Norway to the Balkans, from Spain to the Baltic republics, from the Black Sea to the Irish Sea.

What do we get for this? Why do we tax ourselves to defend rich nations who refuse to defend themselves? Is the security of Europe more important to us than to Europe?

In the early years of World Wars I and II, Europeans implored us to come save them from the Germans. We did. In the early Cold War, Europeans welcomed returning GIs who stood guard in the Fulda Gap.

Now, with the threat gone, the gratitude is gone. Now, with their welfare states eating up their wealth, their peoples aging, their cities filling up with militant migrants, they want America to continue defending them, as they sit in moral judgment on how we go about it.

Don't be surprised if 90% of U.S. troops in Europe today are gone ten years from now.

February 23, 2007

Edwards' Missing MoJo

edwards.gif When John Edwards announced his intention to run for president last year, he was immediately considered a top tier candidate in the Democratic field: He had already demonstrated considerable political skill and an ability to raise money in his strong 2004 showing. He also was seen as benefiting from an even more front-loaded primary schedule in 2008 that should work in his favor.

But for someone as smooth as Mr. Edwards, the first few months of his campaign have been anything but. While his two main rivals have been sucking up media oxygen with dueling announcements and maiden tours to early primary states, Mr. Edwards has managed to make only a few headlines -- none of them good.

First, he took flack from his base for giving a hawkish, saber-rattling speech on Iran, telling an Israeli audience that "all options" were on the table and that "under no circumstances can Iran be allowed to have nuclear weapons." Shortly thereafter, news broke that Mr. Edwards, whose central campaign theme is closing the economic gap between the "two Americas," is living in a newly constructed 28,000 square-foot estate outside Chapel Hill, N.C., worth an estimated $6 million.

The biggest embarrassment came two weeks ago when Mr. Edwards hired two left-wing feminist bloggers to run his campaign web site, only to have their history of writing vulgar and inflammatory posts revealed. After receiving extreme pressure from his left-wing base, Mr. Edwards at first kept the women but tried to distance himself from their remarks. Both resigned less than a week later.

The latest snag for the Edwards campaign is a story in Variety that quotes him as telling a Hollywood fundraising group that Israel bombing Iran's nuclear facilities is the "greatest threat to short-term world peace." Yesterday Mr. Edwards' campaign denied he made the remark, but Variety is standing by its reporting.

As you'd expect, the net results of Mr. Edwards' missteps is that he's losing ground in the polls. Nationally, he remains mired in third place, ten points behind Barack Obama and close to 30 points behind Hillary Clinton. More concerning, however, is that he appears to be slipping in Iowa, one of his strongholds and a place where he must finish well if he wants to have a shot at winning the nomination.

Two recent polls tell the tale: A new survey by Strategic Vision shows Mr. Edwards' lead has slipped to six points, down four points from the previous month. A Zogby poll released last week is even worse: The 11-point lead he held in January has completely evaporated.

With the Democratic hopefuls attending their first "candidate forum" yesterday in Nevada, the race is only beginning, and there'll be plenty of time for Mr. Edwards to recover his mojo. But even at this early date, Democrats are searching the field looking for a winner. Mr. Edwards' bumbles have raised doubts about his political skills in a year when Democrats believe the presidency is theirs for the losing.

DJ, RIP

Dennis Johnson died yesterday of a heart attack at 52 years young. Most people remember Dennis as a freckle-faced veteran guard for the Boston Celtics who spent seven years playing alongside Bird, McHale and Ainge during their dominant run in the eighties. To give you an idea of the kind of player DJ was, all you have to know is that Larry Bird once called him "the best teammate I've ever played with."

Those of us who grew up in Seattle, however, remember Johnson as a fresh-faced rookie drafted out of Pepperdine by the Sonics in 1976 who became an integral part of the one (and still only) world championship in Seattle sports history.

I turned 10 the year the Sonics won the NBA Finals (DJ was named MVP, by the way), and I can still name almost every member of the team from memory. Somewhere, stuffed inside a box of memorabilia from my younger days, I have a picture of the '79 Sonics that I kept on my bedroom wall for years, along with trading cards of all the players.

There's one other thing in there, too. The year after the Sonics won the NBA Championship my dad, who was a pilot, arrived at a hotel in Boston for a layover. Sitting there in the lobby was Dennis Johnson and a teammate who were in town to play the Celtics. And so, ironically enough, in the entire universe of celebrities and sports heroes, DJ is among the very tiny group of people whose autographs I have in my possession; his name scrawled in pencil across a torn gray envelope bearing the United Airlines logo.

Rest in peace, DJ. You may have retired a Celtic, but you'll always be a Sonic to me.

February 22, 2007

North Korea Has No Intention of Giving Up Nukes

In the days right after North Korea signed an agreement that would supposedly require its nuclear disarmament, the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, made clear that he has no intention of giving up those weapons.

The consequences of that stance are likely to be far reaching. Politically, Presidents George W. Bush of the US and Roh Moo Hyun of South Korea, both having labeled the agreement a step toward getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear arms, will most likely be shown to have been naïve or, worse, deceptive.

Then, no political leaders anywhere appear to have begun figuring out what they will do when forced to accept North Korea into that small circle of nations with nuclear arms, which will change the dynamics in the balance of power in Asia.

Nor has anyone confronted the crack that a nuclear North Korea will cause in the nuclear non-proliferation regime that has stood for four decades, even though weakened in recent years when India and Pakistan went nuclear. In particular, the example of North Korea will undoubtedly complicate negotiations with Iran on a similar nuclear issue.

The agreement that North Korea signed in Beijing in what is known as the Six Party talks with China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, and the US on Feb. 13 says Pyongyang "will shut down and seal for the purpose of eventual abandonment" its nuclear facilities and will provide the other five with "a list of all its nuclear programs."

On that same day, however, the North Koreans, through their official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), said Pyongyang had agreed only to a "temporary suspension of the operation of its nuclear facilities." Further, North Korea ignored most of the other provisions of the agreement, such as denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.

That began a steady drum roll of belligerent statements asserting Pyongyang's right and need for nuclear arms. An official newspaper, Rodong Shinmun, charged that the US sought to dominate Asia "through preemptive nuclear attack."

KCNA said North Korea's "status of a full-fledged nuclear weapons state successfully realized the long-cherished desire of the Korean nation to have matchless national power." In another dispatch, KCNA said that "Kim Jong Il punctured the arrogance of the US imperialists with a powerful nuclear deterrent."

On Kim Jong Il's birthday, a national holiday on Feb. 16, a Communist Party committee lauded him: "You have turned the homeland of Juche (Self-reliance) into a power having nuclear deterrent for self-defense and made the Korean nation emerge a nuclear weapons nation which no force can ever provoke."

At a banquet that evening, which was aired by the Korean Central Broadcasting Station, the president of the Supreme People's Assembly, Kim Yong Nam, toasted Kim Jong Il for, among other things, for turning North Korea into "a military power that even possesses a self-defensive nuclear deterrent."

Still more: The North Koreans fell back on the time warn argument -- the Americans made us do it. Using North Korea's proper name, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, KCNA asserted: "US policy compelled the DPRK to have access to nuclear deterrence for self-defense."

Some observers question the value of statements from Communist officials. Experience has shown, however, that Communist leaders, when addressing their home audiences as in this case, tell the public what they really want their people to believe.

A former foreign minister of South Korea, Han Sung Joo, has published an assessment of the reasons the North Koreans want nuclear arms. Writing in Time magazine, Han said:

* "Nuclear status is a political trophy for Kim Jong Il."

* "The nuclear program is intended to deter a possible external attack."

* "North Korea's nuclear capability gives it an upper hand in relation to the South."

* "The nuclear program is seen as a key to survival-a way to block and prevent any outside attempts at regime change."

* "Nuclear weapons represent a powerful bargaining tool."

Han was politically correct in contending that this agreement was "better than no deal at all," which kept him reasonably in line with his government's position. He went on, however, to demolish any thought that Kim Jong Il will move toward abandoning his nuclear arms.

Instead, he points to "what North Korea sees as compelling motives to possess nuclear weapons." He doubts that Kim Jong Il's regime will "agree to completely rid itself of nuclear equipment and material," including the 8 to 12 nuclear warheads it is thought to have already produced.

Personal Saving Rate is a Misleading Indicator

The personal saving rate was negative 1% in 2006 (equal to negative $92 billion), the second straight negative year and the lowest since at least 1947. What this means is that for every $100 in after-tax "income," US consumers spent $101. To some, this proves that Americans are living beyond their means and that calamity is virtually assured unless something changes.

We could not disagree more. The so-called personal saving rate is a highly misleading indicator of the consumer balance sheet. Other, much better measures show that the American consumer is in excellent financial health.

To calculate the personal saving rate, government statisticians subtract taxes and spending from personal income. Income includes wages, salaries, interest, dividends, rent received, small-business profits, and some government benefits. Excluded are withdrawals from IRAs and 401ks, as well as capital gains. This is inconsistent with how most people measure their private fiscal health.

For example, a retiree with no wage (or other) income, who withdraws $40,000 each year from her IRA to spend on living expenses, would drag down the savings rate. Or, as Bear Stearns economist David Malpass pointed out, the $30 billion in appreciated Berkshire Hathaway stock Warren Buffett has pledged to the Gates Foundation was never counted as income. But when that money eventually gets spent it will count as consumption and reduce "personal saving."

A basic problem with the often quoted personal saving rate is that it mixes together current workers with retirees who should be expected to spend much more than they earn. One academic economist has calculated that excluding retirees from the figures would add about 4 percentage points to the saving rate. Moreover, this error should grow over time as the US ages and healthcare costs (a major purchase for retirees) continue to grow.

Another problem with the saving rate is that when consumers buy durables - think cars, furniture and appliances - the spending is counted right away even though payments will be made over time. Amortizing these purchases would push up the saving rate another 2 percentage points. Interestingly, despite this treatment of durable goods, the government does subtract housing depreciation from income. And because home prices have climbed dramatically in recent years, depreciation has climbed. In 2006, this depreciation subtracted $226 billion from saving - it did not affect consumer cash flows, but pushed the "official" saving rate into negative territory.

In the end the saving rate, as it is currently calculated is a useless measure of household balance sheets. A much better measure of true savings is the net worth of households, a statistic calculated by the Federal Reserve. As of September 2006 (the latest data available) US households had $54 trillion more in assets than liabilities, an all-time high. Moreover, total net worth had increased by $3.5 trillion from the year before. If this $3.5 trillion increase in net worth were used as the appropriate measure of personal saving, the saving rate was 37% last year and has averaged 33% the past ten years, a far cry from the "negative saving rate" which so many pessimists decry.

February 21, 2007

A World Without America

Two weeks ago I mentioned that Brit Tim Montgomerie was spearheading an advertising campaign around the theme of "A World Without America" - a concept derived from this excellent Peter Brookes column last year. Well, the first ad just launched:

I'm interested to hear what people think of the ad. Email comments here.

The Full McCain

Earlier today I posted the YouTube of McCain speaking about abortion that had been selectively edited and distributed (it appears)by an operative of a rival campaign. So, to be fair, here is the full, unedited clip of McCain's statement:

A Taste of the Slugfest

My, my, how quickly it starts. Last week I wrote about the perils of Barack Obama going negative:

As anyone not living in a cave surely knows, Obama launched his campaign for president last weekend by deriding the "smallness of our politics" and promising to change the tone of political discourse in America. But with Hillary Clinton leading Obama by an average of nearly 20 points in the six major polls taken so far this year, will Obama be able to close the gap over the coming year without playing hardball? And how can he attack Clinton without looking small himself and undermining the core rationale for his candidacy?

And now we have David Geffen, with a gleeful assist from Maureen Dowd, slicing and dicing the Clintons in the New York Times, just days after Obama once again denounced "slash and burn politics."

The Clinton camp jumped on the contradiction, as they will every time anyone associated with Obama's campaign says anything remotely negative about them.

I'm sure the left is willing to give Obama a pass, but you can see the inherent problem this poses for his candidacy. Obama's senior strategist, David Axelrod, has said that a positive campaign is "he only kind of campaign that he [Obama] really can run" and that they won't be engaging in a strategy to tear other people down. Given that Obama has made changing "smallness of our politics" the clarion call of his candidacy, he's almost obliged to have to denounce Geffen or else look like a hypocrite.

Obama's attacks, and those of his surrogates, have to stay focused on issues. I've been having a back and forth with a left-leaning reader on what those attacks might look like. Here is what he wrote:

I'm waiting for a version of this devastating remark from Obama to Hillary if it comes down to a one on one debate between them down the homestretch. It would come in response to her touting her supposed trump card over him: her "experience."
Senator, I think you're an able colleague, and an important leader of our Party. But let's recall that your "experience" hasn't helped you when you needed it most: In dealing with the most important domestic issue of our time, and the most important foreign policy issue of our time. When in President's Clinton's White House, you headed the administration's botched effort to bring all Americans national health insurance--that set back that project for 15 years. And, when faced with the fateful decision as to whether to give President Bush the authority to go to war against Iraq, you voted to do so. Senators can make those kinds of mistakes every so often, but I don't think the American people can afford to risk putting you and your "experience" in the Oval Office.

Nobody else in either party can do it. Edwards can't because he voted yes on the war, too. Richardson can't because he was part of the Clinton administration. Rudy and McCain can't because they presumably supported the war from the start. Only Obama could deliver this death blow to the Clinton campaign. Game, set, match--but does Mr. Nice guy have the guts to do it?

And here is my reply:

Yes, and i'm waiting to see how Hillary attacks Obama when he starts threatening her. It will have to be very well calibrated so as not to offend, but will also have to be a devastating indictment of his inexperience. I think I've hit on how it might happen: Bill Clinton will come out and say something to the effect that Barack Obama would make a very able cabinet secretary in a future administration. Maybe he'll say VP.

But Bubba is the one who will have to bring Obama down with a velvet hammer. He's got the skill to do it, and responding to the attack also poses a dilemma for Obama: does he really want to get in a pissing match with Bill Clinton? I don't think so.

It's going to be fascinating to watch this drama between Clinton and Obama continue to play out. And we haven't even gotten started talking about how vicious and dramatic the fight on the other side is going to be.

Gardasil Update

Merck puts on the brakes:

Bowing to pressure from parents, physicians and consumer advocates, drug manufacturer Merck and Co. said Tuesday that it would suspend its campaign to implement mandatory vaccination against cervical cancer with the use of its drug, Gardasil.

The aggressive campaign undertaken by Merck was intended to hone in sales of the Gardasil -the vaccine received approval from the Food and Drug Administration last year and launched the drug in June.

Dr. Richard M. Haupt, Merck's medical director for vaccines, told the AP, "Our goal is about cervical cancer prevention, and we want to reach as many females as possible with Gardasil."

He added, "We're concerned that our role in supporting school requirements is a distraction from that goal, and as such have suspended our lobbying efforts."

In a related story, the Washington Times questions whether the push for mandatory Gardasil vaccinations is targeting the wrong age group:


Lawmakers looking to force preteen girls to take Gardasil, a new vaccine against a virus that causes cervical cancer, are targeting the wrong age group, cancer data shows.

Middle-school girls inoculated with the breakthrough vaccine will be no older than 18 when they pass Gardasil's five-year window of proven effectiveness -- more than a decade before the typical cancer patient contracts the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV).

I received a fascinating email along similar lines a while ago but can't print it until I verify some of the specifics, which I hope to do in the very near future.

National '08 QPoll

Quinnipiac is out with a new national poll on '08:

Democrats
Clinton 38
Obama 23
Gore 11
Edwards 6
Undecided 13

(Updated RCP Average on Dem Nomination here)

Republicans
Giuliani 40
McCain 18
Gingrich 10
Romney 7
Undecided 15

(Updated RCP Average on GOP nomination here)

Head to Head Match Ups
Giuliani 48 - Clinton 43
Giuliani 47 - Obama 40
Giuliani 48 - Edwards 40

McCain 46 - Clinton 44
McCain 43 - Obama 43
McCain 43 - Edwards 42

Romney 37 - Clinton 49
Romney 29 - Obama 49
Romney 32 - Edwards 48

(Updated RCP Averages on Head to Head Match Ups here)

Poor Sandy Berger

You have to read all the way to the end of this Washington Post article on the Justice Department's willful neglect in handling the Sandy Berger case before being confronted with this astonishing quote by Berger's attorney, Lanny Breuer:

"It never ceases to amaze me how the most trivial things can be politicized. It is the height of unfairness . . . for this poor guy, who clearly made a mistake," Breuer said.

Stealing highly classified documents from the National Archives is "trivial?" You've got to be kidding.

This is one of the most brazen violations of classified material in our lifetimes: Bill Clinton's former National Security Advisor went into the Archives to review documents at the former President's request, stuffed a number of reports and memos with information of potential value to the 9/11 commission down his pants, took them home and shredded them, and he's now being defended by a lawyer from Clinton's White House Counsel office who tells us "it is the height of unfairness" to want to know the truth about what Berger took and why he took it.

Poor Sandy Berger. He had to pay a $50,000 fine and pick up some garbage on the side of the road in Virginia. Meanwhile, Scooter Libby had to face trial and might go to jail for, at worst, telling "a dumb lie" (to use the words of prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald) about a non-crime.

McCain on Abortion

Now it's McCain's turn to face a Youtube clip of himself talking about abortion:

This doesn't seem very damning to me, especially given that, as The Hotline reports, this clip omits a couple of very important sentences at the beginning where McCain says, "I believe this issue of the repeal of Roe v. Wade is important. I favor the ultimate repeal of Roe v. Wade." That seems fairly consistent with what he said the other day.

Of course, McCain's political problem on abortion, in so far as he has one, stems from his 1999 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle in which he stated quite explicitly:

"But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations."

But this is old news. I though McCain put the issue to bed for the most part during the 2000 campaign and it seems he's been consistent ever since, so I don't know how opponents are going to get much mileage out of it this time around.

Two Johns on Withdrawal

As a follow up to the post below about the framing of news of the withdrawal of British soldiers from Iraq, here is the reaction from our coalition partners down under, led by Prime Minister John Howard:

"A reduction has been in the wind (a while), and the reason I understand Mr Blair will give is that conditions have stabilised in Basra.

"I don't think it follows from that that there should be a reduction in our 550. I mean you have got to maintain a critical mass and to do the job according to our defence advice, you need that."

Australia is, in fact, bolstering its contribution in Iraq, sending up to 70 more non-combat military trainers within coming months.

Defence Minister Brendan Nelson says the British move is a sign of progress in southern Iraq.

"Under no circumstances should anybody interpret the British (decision) ... as any kind of cut and run," he said.

Dr Nelson denied that the British policy was at odds with America's plan to send an extra 21,500 troops to Iraq, mainly to Baghdad.

"People ought to remember that 60 per cent of the violence comes from Baghdad and al-Anbar province, where al-Qaeda is particularly active," he told ABC Radio.

"The rest of Iraq is quite different".

Meanwhile, thousands of miles away another John, this one a Democratic Senator from Massachusetts and erstwhile presidential candidate, responded to the news this way:

"America's leading ally in Iraq has decided that a timetable for the phased redeployment of troops is the only responsible policy to help force Iraqis to stand up for Iraq. After years of touting Prime Minister Blair's resolve, the Administration should now pay attention to his new policy. This announcement makes it all the more inexplicable that the President and leading Republicans actually want to send more American troops into the middle of an Iraqi civil war."

February 20, 2007

Blair to Announce British Troop Withdrawal

The Daily Telegraph reports:

Tony Blair is preparing to announce a major reduction in British troops in Iraq as a result of a successful operation to improve security in the southern city of Basra.

Downing Street indicated tonight that Mr Blair could make his promised statement this week on Britain's future strategy in Iraq, He will be in the Commons tomorrow for his weekly Prime Minister's questions session

Reports circulating in Whitehall tonight suggested that Britain's 7,000 contingent in Iraq could be cut to around 4,000 by the early summer.

More from the BBC:

BBC political correspondent James Landale said: "We have been expecting an announcement for some time on this."

He said by Christmas a total of 3,000 troops were expected to have returned to the UK from Iraq.

However, he said reports that all troops will have returned home by the end of 2008 was "not a fair representation of what is true at the moment".

Our correspondent said senior Whitehall sources told him that the pullout was "slightly slower" than they had expected and "if conditions worsen this process could still slow up".

So according to the news reports this is a long-planned announcement that is also coming as a result of the improved security situation in Basra. But is that really what it is? Perhaps more importantly, how will this news be framed by the media and used by Congressional Democrats to try and influence the Iraq war debate here at home?

Mitt Defends Again

Wow. The Hotline came across more video of Mitt Romney laying out his "pro-choice" views, this time in his 2002 gubernatorial debate with Democrat Shannon O'Brien:

In many ways this is more devastating for Romney than the clip of him debating Kennedy in 1994. It's certainly not the kind of news and video his campaign wanted to see breaking on the day they're promoting his first ad campaign (see below).

Mitt TV

Here is Mitt Romney's first ad that will begin airing in Florida, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire and South Carolina starting tomorrow:

Hillary's Tone Deaf Pivot

hillary.gif Judging by the photos and the media coverage, it looks as if Hillary's first trip to South Carolina as a Presidential candidate was a success. Aaron Gould Sheinin of The State reports on the scene at Allen University, the historically black college where Hillary held one of her town hall events:

She was greeted like a star, regardless. People were lined up for more than a block down Pine Street in near-freezing temperatures to get a seat in the John Hurst Adams Gymnatorium. Organizers estimated more than 3,200 people were on hand, many of them in an overflow room.

Sheinin reports that Hillary fielded eight questions on Iraq from the crowd. She slammed Bush for being "reckless," reiterated her position on beginning the redeployment of troops out of Iraq in 90 days, and hung tough on the apologizing for her vote. But, interestingly, Clinton also used one of the questions on the war to make this nifty little pivot:

"To underscore a point, some people may be running who tell you we don't face a real threat from terrorism," she said. "I'm not one of them. We have serious enemies who want to do us serious harm."

Who's she talking about, exactly, and is it smart primary politics for Clinton to be suggesting that "some" Democrats in the race (hint: name rhymes with Osama) are soft on terror? How very John Howard of her.

As Mickey Kaus notes with his usual satirical brilliance, Hillary has already managed to put herself in an incredibly difficult and probably untenable position on the war through "a conscientiously applied mixture of high-minded comity, Machiavellian calculation, stubbornness and bad expert advice." So it would certainly fit the mold of Hillary's campaign thus far that the bright new idea is to defend her position on the war by slagging her fellow Democrats for being soft on terror.

(Photo credit: Tim Dominick, The State)

The Campos Insurgency

Letfy law prof Paul Campos attacks Glenn Reynolds, calling him "the right's Ward Churchill." Reynolds responds here. I suspect we'll be hearing from Hugh Hewitt as well at some point in the not too distant future.

'08 Hopefuls Turn Up Heat On War

The tone of the Iraq war debate got more strident today with Democratic presidential candidates competing to be more anti-war than the next and Republicans delivering bi-partisan blasts.

While stumping for Democrats in California yesterday, Sen. Barack Obama reiterated his opposition to the war and gave a thinly-veiled rebuke to President Bush's calls to continue fighting with a new strategy. "There are no good options in Iraq at this point," Obama said. "There are only bad options or worse options. But the worst option is to continue to put our young men and women in the midst of what is essentially a sectarian civil war in which they cannot succeed."

Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Biden didn't just criticize the commander-in-chief strategies as ineffective, but said they are "emboldening the enemy." This came after Biden accused Bush himself of saying war critics embolden the enemy. (Taking the cake was Rep. Dennis Kucinich who claimed the U.S. is "on its way toward being a fascist kind of government.")

On the GOP side, Rep. Duncan Hunter characterized Congress' war debate as equivalent to pulling "the rug out from under the soldiers ... by condemning this mission," Hunter said. "I thought it was a disservice to our soldiers."

Sen. John McCain continued to campaign as a critical hawk by blasting Donald Rumsfeld's conduct of the war, claiming he predicted the bloodshed in Iraq and the need for more soldiers and a new strategy more than three years ago. McCain said, "We are paying a very heavy price for the mismanagement -- that's the kindest word I can give you -- of Donald Rumsfeld, of this war. ... I think that Donald Rumsfeld will go down in history as one of the worst secretaries of defense in history." McCain's comments were met by applause.

The best of the rest of today's news can be found here.

What John McCain Needs

Yesterday in South Carolina:

"It was a charade and a joke and a publicity stunt on the part of the Democrats in the Senate, because they wanted to embarrass the president of the United States, my friends."

That clip from Senator McCain campaigning in South Carolina led off FOX News' Special Report with Brit Hume last night and it is exactly the right campaign message the McCain folks need to be hitting -- and hitting consistently, day after day -- on the campaign trail. The quickest way McCain can begin to shore up support and win back disgruntled conservatives is to hit Democrats hard on their tactics regarding Iraq, while at the same time defending the commander-in-chief and the troops. The political reality is potential GOP primary voters hear that line and like John McCain just a little bit more.

Given McCain is already fully locked into the pro-war side of the political debate, it doesn't hurt him as much with general election voters as one may think for a number of reasons. First, there is an assumption in Washington that being "pro-war" on Iraq is a political loser because that is the way the war and in turn public opinion has been trending the last two years, but the future is never a straight line progression of the past and it is certainly not inconceivable that the situation in Iraq improves. Second, so much of the "anti-war" sentiment in the general public revolves around the growing frustration with the prosecution and success of the war as opposed to the rightness or wrongness of the mission, and with the Democrats now in charge of Congress their actions over the next 12 months - and how those actions affect the success of the war -- could very easily change the political dynamics of Iraq irrespective of what happens on the ground.

The point is the general election politics of Iraq are more fluid than the conventional wisdom thinks and if McCain wants to be president he has to win the Republican nomination first, something his campaign didn't understand in 2000, but appears to get this time around. The more sound bites John McCain can get like the one that led off Special Report last evening will go a long way toward repairing his relationship with the Republican base.

February 19, 2007

More on Marist

A couple of interesting results from the aforementioned Marist poll that deserve special mention.

First, this question:

Does the fact that Hillary Clinton will not say her vote was a mistake make you more or less likely to vote for her?

Among Democrats it's a total wash: 30% say they're more likely to vote for her for not apologizing, 32% said "less likely", and 38% said it made no difference.

The second question concerns Rudy Giuliani:

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is a pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-gay rights Republican. Would the fact that Rudy Giuliani has these positions be a major factor, a minor factor, or not a factor in deciding if you would vote for Rudy Giuliani for president in 2008?

Among registered Republicans, 32% said Rudy's position on these issues would be a "major factor," 40% said they would be a "minor factor," and 28% they would "not be a factor." That represents a rather substantial shift versus the Marist poll from December 2006. Among Republicans in that survey (same question, exact same wording), 47% said Rudy's positions as "a pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-gay rights Republican" would be a "major factor," 31% said they would be a "minor factor," and 22% said his views would "not be a factor."

Assuming those citing Rudy's views on social issues as a "major factor" are doing so in the negative (e.g. a major factor against his candidacy), the 15-point drop in that category among Republicans in the last couple of months would seem to be a significant, and positive, development for Giuliani.

However, despite that seeming piece of good news, when Republicans were asked whether they'd be more like or less likely to vote for Rudy based on those positions, 36% said "more likely," 48% said "less likely," and 16% said it would make "no difference."

In other words, even though it's impossible to know how this national survey of registered Republicans compares to the make up of the caucus goers and primary voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, it's evident that Rudy still has a long way to go to make the sale.

Marist '08 Poll

New Marist poll on 2008:

Democrats
Clinton 37 (+4 vs. December 2006 poll)
Obama 17 (+5)
Gore 11 (-2)
Edwards 11 (-3)
Biden 2 (-1)
Richardson 2 (+1)
Undecided 17 (+1)

Republicans
Giuliani 28 (+4 vs. December 2006 poll)
McCain 21 (-2)
Gingrich 11 (+3)
Romney 10 (+6)
Undecided 22 (+5)

Head-to-Head Match Ups
Clinton 45 - Giuliani 47
Trend: Clinton +2, Giuliani -2 versus December 2006

Clinton 46 - McCain 46
Trend: Clinton +3, McCain -3 versus December 2006

Clinton 49 - Romney 36
No trend

Clinton 56 - Gingrich 36
No trend

The Day's Political Buzz

The two top stories on RCP's Buzztracker:


Al Qaeda Chiefs Are Seen to Regain Power
- Mark Mazzetti & David Rohde, New York Times
Blog Reaction on Buzztracker


McCain: Roe v. Wade should be overturned
- Jim Davenport, Associated Press
Blog Reaction on Buzztracker

For more buzz, go here.

The Day's Political News

Is all right here.

Krugman's Correction Run Amok

A reader emails to point out something that slipped past me this morning:

As so often, the truth is not just different but the exact opposite of what Krugman wrote.

If you had looked up what the NYT's 'readers' representatives' had to say about Krugman you would have found him sinning in exactly the way he so unjustly, as you point out, tries to foist on Giuliani.

Indeed, Krugman's column this morning deriding those who can't readily admit mistakes is particularly ironic given his own history in this regard. I'm speaking of the August 19, 2005 column on the 2000 election where Krugman wrongly asserted that:

the simple truth: "Al Gore won the 2000 presidential election." Two different news media consortiums reviewed Florida's ballots; both found that a full manual recount would have given the election to Mr. Gore.

Instead of admitting his mistake and issuing a standard correction, Krugman opted to use his entire next column to try and "clarify" his comment - without ever acknowledging or apologizing for his error. The Times' public editor, Byron Calame, protested and pushed editorial page editor Gail Collins to force Krugman to print a correction. Krugman issued a correction in his next column, on August 26, but botched it by citing bad info from a Miami Herald study.

According to Collins, Krugman pleaded out of having to issue a another correction in print, and she agreed to let him publish it on the Times web site, which he did on September 2, though it was published separately and not at the bottom of his column. One month later Collins concluded this had been a mistake, writing that, "The correction should have run in the same newspaper where the original error and all its little offspring had appeared."

The Islamic Funnies

Here's a useful reminder of the cultural divide we face with Islamic nations, courtesy of the Egytptian newspaper Al-Ahram:

Title: "Hillary" and "Obama" - A Woman and a Negro are Participating in the Campaign for the American Presidencyalahram.JPG
The Religious Man: "This is another sign of the collapse of the Western civilization"

(Image and translations via The MEMRI blog)

The Dems' Bidding War on Iraq

First Barack Obama didn't favor a timetable for withdrawal. Now he's sponsoring a bill to have all combat troops out of Iraq by March 2008.

Not to be outdone, Hillary Clinton says she'll begin redeploying troops out of Iraq during the first 90 days of her presidency.

And not to be one-upped by Clinton, Bill Richardson now said yesterday that he'll get us out of Iraq on the "first day" of his presidency.

Who's next in the Dem bidding war to get us out of Iraq and how can they possibly top the last bid?

Krugman's Infallibility Complex

In the New York Times today, Paul Krugman explains why it's so vitally important to the left - and to him - that Hillary say she was wrong about her vote on the Iraq war:

For the last six years we have been ruled by men who are pathologically incapable of owning up to mistakes.[snip]

The experience of Bush-style governance, together with revulsion at the way Karl Rove turned refusal to admit error into a political principle, is the main reason those now-famous three words from Mr. Edwards -- "I was wrong" -- matter so much to the Democratic base.

The base is remarkably forgiving toward Democrats who supported the war. But the base and, I believe, the country want someone in the White House who doesn't sound like another George Bush. That is, they want someone who doesn't suffer from an infallibility complex, who can admit mistakes and learn from them.

How much truth is there to Krugman's hunch? As it turns out, the latest FOX News poll contained two questions pertaining to Krugman's argument:

QUESTION: Would you be more or less likely to support a candidate who has changed his or her position on the war in Iraq?

 
More Likely
Less Likely
Not
Major
Factor
 
Total
A Lot
Smwt
Total
A Lot
Smwt
Total
Overall
22
11
11
28
15
13
38
Dem
20
10
10
23
10
13
45
GOP
18
10
8
37
20
17
33
Ind
31
15
16
22
17
6
37

QUESTION: In general, during a time of war, would you prefer a president who: 1) sticks to his convictions, 2) can be persuaded to change his mind and withdraw, 3) depends, 4) don't know.

 
Sticks to
Convictions
Changes
His Mind
Depends
Don't
Know
Overall
45
33
16
6
Dem
28
50
14
8
GOP
70
14
14
2
Ind
36
37
19
8

The results from this poll, at least as it pertains to opinions about Iraq, look to be mixed (at best) for Krugman. Independents are the only group that would be more likely to vote for a candidate who has changed his or her mind on the war, while Republicans and Democrats would be less likely, the former much more strenuously than the latter. But the plurality among all groups, led by Democrats, say it's not a major factor.

Krugman is right about one thing: even with the somewhat loaded wording in the last question, a majority of Dems, by a margin of almost two to one, prefer a presidential candidate who could be persuaded to withdraw in the middle of a war rather than one who would stand by his convictions. Independents were split evenly on that question.

One more thing from Krugman's article. Near the end he argues that both McCain and Giuliani would have "infallibility complexes" similar to Bush and would be unable to admit mistakes. Specifically, Krugman writes about Giuliani:

And as for Rudy Giuliani, there are so many examples of his inability to accept criticism that it's hard to choose.

Here's an incident from 1997. When New York magazine placed ads on city buses declaring that the publication was "possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn't taken credit for," the then-mayor ordered the ads removed -- and when a judge ordered the ads placed back on, he appealed the decision all the way up to the United States Supreme Court.

Now imagine how Mr. Giuliani would react on being told, say, that his choice to head Homeland Security is actually a crook. Oh, wait.

Krugman must have missed Giuliani's appearance on Larry King just a few days ago:

KING: A couple of other quick things. Your long relationship with Bernie Kerik, a potential campaign problem?

GIULIANI: It -- you mean the...

KING: The former police commissioner?

GIULIANI: ... his -- recommending him?

KING: His downfall, yes.

GIULIANI: Recommending him and that? It was a mistake. I made a mistake.

And before that King asked Giuliani if mistakes had been made in Iraq. Giuliani replied, "of course there were mistakes." King then asked whether Giuliani would have done a better job of communicating than the current administration, to which Giuliani responded:

GIULIANI: I don't know. I hope -- I hope I would. I mean, you know, I hope -- I hope that I would learn from the mistakes that were made in this situation.

KING: Such as?

GIULIANI: Just as the mistakes I made when I was mayor, I tried to learn from them. If I get to be president of the United States, I probably won't make the same mistakes, because I will have learned from them. I'll probably make different ones.

KING: Now how is...

GIULIANI: And then the next one will learn from the ones that I made. And I would say that about Bill Clinton or George Bush. This job is so difficult that you've got to have humility about it and you have to understand how to look at the past not in a way in which you cast blame, but you learn from it.

I doubt that sounds to most Americans like a man with an infallibility complex.

CT '08 Poll

Quinnipiac has a new '08 poll out for Connecticut:

Democrats
Clinton 33
Obama 21
Gore 9
Dodd 8
Edwards 5
Undecided 16

Republicans
Giuliani 43
McCain 27
Gingrich 5
Romney 4
Undecided 12

Head to Head Match Ups
Clinton 46 - Giuliani 44
Clinton 48 - McCain 40
Clinton 55 - Romney 27

Obama 43 - McCain 38

Edwards 40 - McCain 44

Dodd 43 - McCain 42

Favorable/Unfavorable Ratings
Giuliani 61/22 (+39)
Obama 48/10 (+38)
McCain 52/22 (+30)
Dodd 49/30 (+19)
Clinton 53/36 (+17)
Edwards 39/28 (+11)
Gore 44/49 (-5)
Romney 13/19 (-6)

February 18, 2007

Sullivan's Rewrite

Andrew Sullivan has been slinging the word "Christianist" about with sanctimonious ease for some time now. He never misses a chance to point out a news story and filter it through the "Christianist" lens. He's written a book on the subject. Heck, Sullivan has turned slamming "Christianists" into a veritable cottage industry.

So what does he do when a "Christianist" is booed out of a room by 800 Republicans for attacking a Republican presidential candidate for not possessing sufficient belief in Jesus Christ? He attacks the candidate, Mitt Romney, as a religious bigot.

The coup de grace to Sullivan's "Christianist" meme, of course, would be the nomination of Rudy Giuliani for President. Last week Sullivan confronted the growing body of evidence suggesting Rudy is acceptable, if not preferable, to Republican voters at this point by saying:

My view is that the managers and spokesmen of the base may be misreading the real mood of the evangelical rank and file. They're more pragmatic than their leaders.

This would seem to fly in the face of Sullivan's contention that the Republican party is controlled by "Christianists," whom Sullivan defines as those believing "religion dictates politics and that politics should dictate the laws for everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike."

We'll have to wait and see what happens. But I find it interesting that Sullivan isn't more demonstrably enthusiastic of Giuliani's candidacy and the fact that - although it's ridiculously early - he continues to extend his lead over the field. After all, if Sullivan considers himself a conservative, Giuliani should be far and away his top choice in the race across both parties.

Maybe Sullivan's muted praise of Giuliani is Machiavellian: Sullivan is so disliked by conservatives he knows his full throated support for Rudy would actually be harmful to Giuliani's candidacy.

Then again, when Sullivan posts a YouTube of Giuliani in drag kissing Donald Trump and asks "Will it go down well in South Carolina?", you almost get the sense he's trying to stir up trouble for Giuliani, and eagerly awaiting the day Giuliani goes down in flames so Sullivan can stand up and reaffirm his claims about the odious "Christianists."

P.S. If Giuliani wins, will Sullivan take credit (at least some) for having helped "reclaim" the party of Reagan from the "Christianists?"

Giuliani vs. McCain

CBS News released a poll last night (pdf) focused on Giuliani vs. McCain. Here are the particulars among Republican primary voters:

Head to Head Match Up
Giuliani 50
McCain 29
Niether 13

Giuliani wins 55-37 among self-described "moderate" Republicans, but he also wins 48-21 among those who label themselves "conservative" Republicans.

Favorable Rating
Among Republican voters only
Giuliani 60/7 (+53)
McCain 30/17 (+13)

Another interesting question: Republican voters were asked whether they would label Giuliani and McCain "liberal," "moderate," or "conservative."

McCain
Among Republican voters only
Liberal 16
Moderate 38
Conservative 28
Don't Know 18

Giuliani
Among Republican voters only
Liberal 20
Moderate 48
Conservative 18
Don't Know 15

Not a tremendous amount of news here: Republican voters perceive Rudy to be more liberal/moderate than McCain, but they also find Rudy very likable and, when given the choice between the two, preferable to McCain by a decent margin at this point in the race.

February 17, 2007

He's No Hillary

While Hillary is getting the stuffing knocked out of her as she travels around the country by Democrats demanding that she apologize for her 2002 vote to authorize the war in Iraq, the most prominent Democrat in the Senate says he has nothing to apologize for:

As he prepares to lead Senate Democrats in the debate on President Bush's Iraq policy, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada says he has no second thoughts about his vote in 2002 authorizing the president to go to war.

"The evidence at the time was persuasive -- especially if you go back and look and see what Secretary of State Colin Powell did at the United Nations," Reid said Tuesday.

"We've learned since then that the evidence was manipulated," he said. "So the answer is no. I'm not going to apologize."

Can Hillary get away with the same line? I doubt it.

February 16, 2007

Romney's Explanation

ABC News has the scoop on Romney's explanation for his 1992 vote for Paul Tsongas:

ABC News' Jonathan Greenberger Reports: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said today he voted for Paul Tsongas in the 1992 Democratic presidential primary as a tactical maneuver aimed at finding the weakest opponent for incumbent President George Bush.

The explanation came during an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, which will air Sunday on "This Week."

"In Massachusetts, if you register as an independent, you can vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary," said Romney, who until he made an unsuccessful run for Senate in 1994 had spent his adult life as a registered independent. "When there was no real contest in the Republican primary, I'd vote in the Democrat primary, vote for the person who I thought would be the weakest opponent for the Republican."

But 12 years ago, the Boston Globe reported that Romney was giving a different explanation for his vote for Tsongas.

"Romney confirmed he voted for former U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas in the state's 1992 Democratic presidential primary, saying he did so both because Tsongas was from Massachusetts and because he favored his ideas over those of Bill Clinton," the Boston Globe's Scot Lehigh and Frank Phillips wrote on February 3, 1994.

Rudy on Abortion

In response to my last post on Rudy's poll numbers, reader AG emails with a good point: the phrasing of the questions in the FOX poll is far too crude to accurately gauge how Republicans feel about Rudy's position on social issues. AG asks how the numbers might have looked if FOX had instead asked the following:

Are you more or less likely to support a candidate who is personally pro-life on the issue of abortion, but believes it is ultimately a woman's decision?

Are you more or less likely to support a candidate who will nominate strict constructionists to the Supreme Court in the mold of Scalia, Roberts and Alito?

AG also challenges the idea of labeling Rudy pro-choice: "In your opinion, what makes Rudy Giuliani "pro-choice"? He is personally against abortion, says he "hates it", would advise against it, and would nominate judges to the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe."

Fair enough. But I call Rudy "pro-choice" because that's what he calls himself, and that is probably how most people will come to understand his position.

The debate that's pinging around the blogosphere is whether Rudy's pledge to nominate "strict constructionists" to the bench will be enough to bridge the gap with the base on the abortion issue. Law prof Ann Althouse thinks it will:

Can Rudy walk this tightrope? I think he can. With the level of legal understanding that Giuliani obviously has, it's a very thick, stabilized tightrope. You pick great judges who follow a strong interpretive methodology, and they take their proper constitutional position in an independent branch dedicated to law. How utterly solid and responsible.

Ace points out that Rudy's "pro-choice" position isn't all that different that our current President's "pro-life" one:

He's basically parrotting Bush's position, which is, felicitiously enough, my position, and a principled, coherent position to take on the issue. Put strict constructionists on the court to adjudicate not legislate new dubious rights, and Roe may or may not fall, and then the states can decide on the question.

The Influence Peddler agrees:

A rose is a rose is a rose. Bush describes himself as pro-life; Giuliani as pro-choice. That doesn't necessarily mean that they're all that far apart - in terms of practical effect.

My two cents, for what it's worth, is that Rudy may well be able to paper over differences on abortion with his pledge. But labels do matter, especially the ones we give ourselves, because they offer at least a glimpse into a person's world view - and Rudy's world view is distinctly more liberal than the Republican base on abortion. Yes, there are Republicans who call themselves "pro-choice." Even many Republicans who "hate" abortion but also begrudgingly recognize Roe v. Wade as the law of the land, don't want to throw women or doctors in jail, etc. (all of which Rudy says he believes) characterize their position not as "pro-choice" but "pro-life with exceptions." Again, it's a world view thing.

And the kicker for Rudy is going to be his public unwillingness to support a federal ban on partial birth abortion in 1999. This is a procedure that is opposed by the vast majority of Republicans. To give you an idea of where this puts Rudy on the ideological spectrum: when the Senate finally got around to passing the partial birth abortion ban in March 2003 by a vote of 64-33, only two Republican Senators voted against it: Lincoln Chafee and Olympia Snowe. You think either one of those Senators could win the Republican nomination for President?

February 15, 2007

Running the Republican Numbers on Rudy

Trying to read too much into any 2008 poll at this point, especially with respect to horserace numbers, is somewhat silly and a waste of time. But the new FOX News poll does have some interesting tidbits in the internals asking about voters' general impressions on issues. Again, I don't want to make too much of the numbers, only to point them out as more grist for the mill.

Here are the numbers that have some relevance to Mitt Romney:

Are you more who are more or less likely to support a candidate who is a Mormon?
Republicans only:
More likely 8% (a lot more likely 4%, somewhat more likely 4%)
Less likely 30% (a lot less likely 19%, somewhat less likely 11%)
Not a major factor 59%

Are you more who are more or less likely to support a candidate who has changed his or her position on the issue of abortion?
Republicans only:
More likely 16% (a lot more likely 6%, somewhat more likely 10%)
Less likely 28% (a lot less likely 16%, somewhat less likely 12%)
Not a major factor 39%

And here are the numbers with some relevance to Rudy Giuliani:

Are you more who are more or less likely to support a candidate who is pro-choice on the issue of abortion?
Republicans only:
More likely 22% (a lot more likely 12%, somewhat more likely 10%)
Less likely 46% (a lot less likely 36%, somewhat less likely 10%)
Not a major factor 30%

Are you more who are more or less likely to support a candidate who supports civil unions
for gays and lesbians?

Republicans only:
More likely 8% (a lot more likely 5%, somewhat more likely 3%)
Less likely 50% (a lot less likely 39%, somewhat less likely 11%)
Not a major factor 38%

Obviously, as a general proposition, the numbers show that between the two, Rudy has the more significant obstacles to overcome. But we already knew that.

Nevertheless, Rudy beats John McCain handily in a head to head match up, 56 to 31. Twenty-four percent of Republicans say they would "definitely vote for" Rudy, 56% say they "might vote for" him, and 17% say they would "under no circumstances" vote for Giuliani. McCain's numbers are slightly worse: 13% "definitely vote for," 54% "might vote for," and 25% "under no circumstances" vote for.

The biggest red flag for Rudy has to be that only 42% of Republicans surveyed correctly identified him as pro-choice. Twenty-one percent of Republican voters have it wrong and think Rudy is pro-life, and another 36% of Republicans don't have a clue what his position on abortion. In other words, nearly six out of ten registered Republican voters have yet to learn something about Rudy which, we can infer from the first question on abortion, will make close to half of them either "somewhat" less likely or "a lot" less likely to vote for him. There's no doubt the same holds true of his position on civil unions for gays, and the Second Amendment as well.

In time we'll see if Rudy has the skill and the charisma to defuse these differences with the Republican base and also whether conservative Republicans are willing to cut Giuliani any slack on social issues out of deference to his superior leadership skills and his commitment to fighting the war against Islamic jihadists, which is the overriding issue for most Republican voters.

The Worst Apology In History

Yesterday South Carolina state senator Robert Ford - an African-American - made news in a bad way. When asked by the press why he was endorsing Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama, Ford replied that, "Every Democrat running on that ticket next year would lose because he's black and he's top of the ticket. We'd lose the House and the Senate and the governors and everything."

Ford caught considerable grief for that statement, so he decided to issue and apology. Check it out:

"If I caused anybody, including myself, any pain about the comments I made earlier, then I want to apologize to myself and to Senator Obama and any of his supporters."

I don't believe I've ever seen anyone issue an apology to themselves for "any pain" caused by their own comments.

By the way, Mary Mitchell of the Chicago Sun-Times is none too pleased with Ford or his pal State Senator Darrell Jackson, another influential African-American state senator from South Carolina who signed on with Hillary shortly after his public relations firm, Sunrise Enterprises, inked a $200K deal with the Clinton campaign through the end of the '08 race. Mitchell writes:

Skepticism I understand. But when two black male legislators from the Deep South throw their hats in Hillary Clinton's ring at the start of a wide-open election, I want to slap them upside their heads.

Why are these black men so eager to drive Miss Hillary to the White House when Illinois' U.S. Sen. Barack Obama is also a front-runner?

And then she closes with this:

Political leaders like Robert Ford and Darrell Jackson are guarding their political turf in the same way drug dealers guard street corners. But worse, they are hatin' on a brother who dares to believe anything is possible.

Rudy's Slow Roll

In what might be the slowest roll out in Presidential history, Rudy Giuliani announced - yet again - on Larry King last night that he's running for President. But he did it in classic Rudy style, which is why you can't help but like the guy:

KING: Are you running or not?

GIULIANI: Yes, I'm running. Sure.

KING: Oh, you are. Have you -- when would you -- do you make an official announcement or is this it -- here, right now?

GIULIANI: I guess you do...

KING: You just said, "I'm running."

GIULIANI: I guess you do one of these things where you do it four times or five times in a day so that I can, you know, get on your show and about five others.

KING: So you're running?

GIULIANI: Yes, I'm running.

Giuliani goes on to discuss his position on abortion, gay marriage, gun control, and Iraq. Though I didn't watch the show, my impression from the transcript is that he handled them all fairly well.

Defending Hillary

Not that it will matter to the left, but David Brooks writes an effective defense of Hillary Clinton in today's New York Times:

Far be it from me to get in the middle of a liberal purge, but would anybody mind if I pointed out that the calls for Hillary Clinton to apologize for her support of the Iraq war are almost entirely bogus?

Brooks chronicles Hillary's public utterances before the war and finds them surprisingly consistent in seeking a "third way" by opposing a pre-emptive strike but also trying to give additional leverage to Colin Powell and the administration to force a diplomatic solution. Brooks points to Clinton's statement on March 3, 2003, when she said: "It is preferable that we do this in a peaceful manner through coercive inspection. At some point we have to be willing to uphold the United Nations resolutions.This is a very delicate balancing act."

Brooks concludes that Hillary should stand her ground:

Today, the liberal wing of the Democratic Party believes that the world, and Hillary Clinton in particular, owes it an apology. If she apologizes, she'll forfeit her integrity. She will be apologizing for being herself.

Brooks is right, though as John wrote the other day, the political reality is that at some point in the primary - probably sooner rather than later - Hillary's defense of her vote to authorize the war will become such a political liability it will be untenable. So we're fast approaching the moment where Hillary has to choose between her integrity and being president. Any guesses which way she'll go?

February 14, 2007

More '08 Polls

A new batch of 2008 state polls from ARG:

Alabama
Democrats
Clinton 44
Obama 13
Edwards 11
Undecided 23
Republicans
Giuliani 31
Gingrich 25
McCain 19
Romney 3
Undecided 16

Arizona
Democrats
Clinton 33
Obama 24
Edwards 13
Undecided 22
Republicans
McCain 45
Giuliani 21
Gingrich 11
Brownback 3
Romney 2
Undecided 18

Oklahoma
Democrats
Clinton 40
Edwards 16
Obama 15
Undecided 18
Republicans
Giuliani 37
McCain 21
Huckabee 14
Gingrich 3
Romney 2
Undecided 21

Utah
Democrats
Clinton 31
Obama 18
Vilsack 16
Edwards 9
Undecided 20
Republicans
Romney 40
McCain 21
Giuliani 13
Gingrich 6
Undecided 15

Franken Is In

Video messages are all the rage these days. Here is Al Franken's:

The question remains: can he keep his cool?

New York Loves Hillary in '08

New Quinnipiac poll on New York state's 2008 preferences:

Democrats
Clinton 47
Obama 16
Gore 11
Edwards 7
Biden/Richardson/Dodd/Clark/Kucinich 1
Undecided 12

Republicans
Giuliani 51
McCain 17
Pataki 7
Gingrich 6
Huckabee 2
Romney/Hagel/Hunter/Tancredo 1
Undecided 9

Head-to-Head Match Ups
Clinton 50 - Giuliani 40
Clinton 56 - McCain 35
Clinton 61 - Romney 25

Obama 46 - McCain 35
Edwards 48 - McCain 35

Favorable/Unfavorable Rating
Obama 44/9 (+35)
Giuliani 56/30 (+26)
Clinton 59/35 (+24)
McCain 48/24 (+24)
Edwards 44/21 (+23)
Gore 52/40 (+12)
Romney 13/14 (-1)

February 13, 2007

Gallup on Iraq

New Gallup poll taken Feb 9-11 with the following detail on Iraq:

Republicans get a 27% job approval rating on their handling of the Iraq issue. Dems are only slightly higher at 30% approval.

60% oppose Bush's plan to surge troops, but only a slim majority (51%) favor a non-binding resolution from Congress expressing its disapproval of the plan.

57% favor putting a cap on the number of U.S. troops serving in Iraq (aka The Hillary Clinton option).

63% favor setting a time-table for withdrawing all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of next year (aka The Barack Obama option - more or less, since Obama would have troops out by March 2008).

40% favor (and 58% oppose) denying the funding needed to send any additional U.S. troops to Iraq (aka The Russ Feingold option).


Sounds Familiar

Barack Obama Mitt Romney announcing his run for President:

"We have lost faith in government, not in just one party, not in just one house, but in government.

"We are weary of the bickering and bombast, fatigued by the posturing and self-promotion. For even as America faces a new generation of challenges, the halls of government are clogged with petty politics and stuffed with peddlers of influence.

"It is time for innovation and transformation in Washington. It is what our country needs. It is what our people deserve."

Obama: Ready or Not?

Barack Obama's campaign for president isn't even three full days old and he's already made his first gaffe:

Shortly after making the comment that U.S. soldiers' lives have been "wasted" in Iraq, Obama told reporters that he "absolutely apologized" to military families who were offended, adding further that, "Even as I said it, I realized I had misspoken."

This may be the first gaffe of the campaign, but it certainly won't be the last. Obama's ability to handle these type of situations is part and parcel of the selection process. As Dan Balz writes in today's Washington Post:

Obama's advisers expressed general satisfaction with the initial campaign swing. Still, they do not underestimate the difficulties ahead. Asked Monday what they regard as the most significant question Obama must answer in the coming months, communications director Robert Gibbs answered without hesitation: "People want to know if he can handle this."

To the extent Obama continues to commit unforced errors like the one in Iowa on Sunday, Democrats may begin to have creeping doubts about his readiness. I don't think that'll be the case: Obama seems a quick study and disciplined enough not to do himself in with self-inflicted wounds, and my hunch is he'll be adroit enough to navigate the rough and tumble with the big dogs in the primary - even though his only real experience to date has been a Democratic Senate primary where the front runner imploded in the final weeks and a non-competitive general election against an easily dismissed, hyper-aggressive opponent.

But even if Obama does run a competitive, mistake-free campaign, Democrats may still come to view him in the role of understudy. That's probably been part of Obama's calculation all along: best case scenario he captures the nomination with, to use his terms, an "improbable quest" for the White House. But if he makes a decent showing in the primaries, how does the eventual nominee - whether it be Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Bill Richardson, or anyone else - not put him on the ticket?

February 12, 2007

Bernanke Goes to the Hill

This week, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke goes to Capitol Hill to give his semiannual testimony to Congress. Many members of Congress seem ready to grill him about the economy in general. Newly elected Ohio Senator, Sherrod Brown said, "While the economy is good for people at the top, it's not so good for a steelworker in Lorain, Ohio, or a small-business owner in Dayton. I'd like to hear a recognition from [Bernanke] of that and what he's going to do about it."

This is an interesting question. It gets to the heart of what monetary policy can and cannot do. We have no idea how Chairman Bernanke will answer it, but a truthful answer would not give much satisfaction to Senator Brown.

While many people think the Federal Reserve controls interest rates, and some even think the Fed controls the entire economy, in reality, the Fed only controls one policy tool - the amount of money circulating in the economy.

By adding money to, or subtracting money from, the US banking system, the Fed can impact the economy in the short-term, and influence the level of interest rates. But printing money creates no lasting wealth. If it did, counterfeiting would be legal and no nation on earth would experience poverty.

The number one job of monetary policy is to keep the value of money stable - balancing money supply and demand. If the Fed supplies too much money, inflation climbs and the dollar loses purchasing power. If the Fed allows the money supply to contract, (as it did in the 1930s) it causes deflation. Neither of these is good. A stable currency creates the best environment for conducting business and building long-term wealth.

Judging the perfect monetary policy is not an easy task. This is where the Fed creates problems for itself. For years, the Fed has suggested that a low unemployment rate and rising wages signal inflationary pressures. Then when the Fed tightens to fight those issues, it creates an anti-prosperity appearance, often infuriating congress.

A much more meaningful and appropriate signal of impending inflation can be found in low real interest rates, rising commodity prices and a declining value of the dollar. These signals indicate an excess supply of money.

It is fiscal policy that has the most impact on economic growth, jobs and incomes. In this regard, keeping tax rates low, regulation to a minimum, and markets free provides the most potential to increase living standards for all.

Hillary, The War and Her Vote

Meet the Press yesterday:

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Hillary Clinton. She was in New Hampshire yesterday. Her first appearance there in 10 years. And it was quite striking how many times she was asked about her position on the war. Here she is being asked in Berlin, New Hampshire, by a voter, a very serious question. Let's watch that exchange.

Unidentified Man: And I want to know if right here, right now, once and for all, without nuance, you can say that that war authorization vote was a mistake. And the reason I want to ask is because a lot of other senators have already done so, including some Republicans and including one of your competitors, Senator Edwards. And the reason I ask personally is because I, and I think a lot of other Democratic primary voters, until we hear you say that, we're not going to hear all these other great things you're saying.

SEN: HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY): Well, I have said, and I will repeat it, that, knowing what I know now, I would never have voted for it. But I also--and, I mean, obviously you have to weigh everything as you make your decision. I have taken responsibility for my vote. The mistakes were made by this president, who misled this country and this Congress into a war that should not have been waged.

MR. RUSSERT: Roger Simon, it's interesting. Reporters have been asking Hillary Clinton, "Was the war a mistake? Was the war a mistake?" because all the other Democratic candidates, major ones, have said that. Now, a voter, several voters have stepped forward. Is this simply "Gotcha" or is this something that's dead serious in the voters' minds?

MR. SIMON: It's dead serious. The questions come because she refuses to make Iraq part of her stump speech. And I think, and many disagree with me, that her current position not to apologize, not to say it was a mistake, is an untenable position for her. I think she will be pushed to say, before we get to the Iowa caucuses, "I was wrong," for two reasons. One, I think that's where the Democratic voters are in Iowa and New Hampshire; and two, it feeds the image that the critics have of her that she's a divisive figure. If this keeps going on week after week, people are going to say, "Why doesn't she just say she was wrong? Why does she keep this controversy growing--going on?" She doesn't want that, and I don't think she's going to be able to stick to that.

I think Roger Simon is correct that it will become untenable for Senator Clinton (as long as she wants to be the Democratic nominee for President in 2008) to not completely disavow her 2002 Iraq vote. With Barack Obama having been against the war from the very beginning and John Edwards having flat out recanted and admitted to being "wrong" on his war authorization vote, Senator Clinton will be at too much of a competitive disadvantage in the Democratic race if she continues to dissemble and not give the anti-war Democratic base what it wants to hear on Iraq.

To a majority of Democratic primary voters the questions "I want to know if right here, right now, once and for all, without nuance, you can say that that war authorization vote was a mistake" has the simplest of answers and her refusal to provide that answer and admit she was wrong in 2002 only allows her rivals to gain increasing traction on the central issue of the war.

Hillary's Lead Down to Only 5 Pts?

Rasmussen Reports has new poll out on the 2008 Democratic field that has Hillary Clinton's lead down to a scant 5 points over Barack Obama -- 28% vs. 23%. That is by far the smallest lead for Senator Clinton to date, though a single election day poll by McLaughlin & Associates (R) had similar results (27% - 21%). Otherwise, all of the post-election presidential polling has shown Clinton with leads ranging from 11% (Gallup) to 28% (FOX News).

The latest National RCP Average of the Democratic field gives Senator Clinton a solid 17-point lead over Senator Obama. Edwards and Gore run third and fourth at 12.5% and 9.8% respectively.

In Iowa, Edwards runs particularly strong and trails Clinton by 2 ½ points in the latest RCP Average 24.7% vs. 22.3%. Obama comes in third at 16.3%.

The New Hampshire numbers are closer to the national polls and currently show Clinton with a 13-point lead over Obama, and a 19-point lead over Edwards in the latest New Hampshire RCP Average (Clinton 35.3%, Obama 22.0%, Edwards 16.3%).

Obama: Lincoln in 1860 or Dean in 2004?

As I stood in the freezing cold on Saturday morning watching Barack Obama announce his run for president in Springfield, two questions kept circling in my head:

1) Why couldn't Obama be a Senator from Florida or some other warm southern state?
2) How is this man going to become president?

With respect to question number two, I have to admit I'm torn. On one hand, it's hard to enter the vortex of media adulation and hopeful enthusiasm surrounding Obama's campaign without becoming infected by it to some degree. Obama is an exceptionally gifted orator who radiates charisma - two qualities that in and of themselves make him a formidable modern day presidential challenger.

But as much as Obama wanted to draw parallels between himself and Abraham Lincoln on Saturday, I couldn't get past the echoes of much more recent history: Howard Dean in 2004. Obama went out of his way to cast himself not as a presidential candidate but as the leader of a "movement" of a younger generation that was going to "change our politics" and "take back" the country. We're now seeing media reports touting the impressive number of people signing up to internet networking sites to support Obama. There's a very "deja-vu-all-over-again" feel to the whole thing.

Substantively, at this early stage it's hard to discern any differences between Obama's candidacy and Dean's. The difference is all in the packaging - and that may or may not be enough to change the outcome. Where Dean was tart and pugilistic, Obama is smooth and soothing. Dean wanted to gird up and go to war with Republicans, Obama says he wants to "disagree without being disagreeable."

The other big difference between the two is the color of their skin, and it's the thing that may allow Obama to transcend politics in a way few candidates have ever done and to fulfill his promise of reaching across the partisan divide to unite the country.

February 09, 2007

Defending Dungy

NYU historian Jonathan Zimmerman penned an interesting column criticizing Colts' head coach Tony Dungy. Unfortunately, he seems to have put words into Dungy's mouth to make his point.

Zimmerman is troubled by the broad social phenomenon of "born-again Christians" claiming that theirs is the only correct way to follow God. And he accuses Tony Dungy of making that claim in the wake of his Super Bowl XLI win. Zimmerman writes:

In a post-game interview on Sunday, Dungy was asked about the "social significance" of the game - that Dungy and the Chicago Bears' Lovie Smith were the first black coaches to face off in a Super Bowl. Dungy acknowledged the importance of race, but said that the coaches' shared faith was even more noteworthy.

"Lovie Smith and I [are] not only the first two African Americans," Dungy told CBS's Jim Nantz, "but Christian coaches showing that you can win doing it the Lord's way."

Huh? Weren't any prior Super Bowl coaches Christian?

By my count, every single one was. Indeed, the championship trophy that Dungy hoisted on Sunday is named after Vince Lombardi, a devout Catholic who spent two years training for the priesthood.

What distinguishes Dungy and Smith is their born-again Christianity, not their "Christianity" per se. And the problem starts when we lose sight of this distinction.

Actually, the trouble comes with his interpretation of Dungy's sentence. In reality, the sentence is ambiguous, i.e. it is consistent with several interpretations. However, not only does Zimmerman not acknowledge this ambiguity, he also selects the interpretation that paints Dungy in the most intolerant possible light (and that enables him to use the coach to make a broad point about born-again Christians).

Dungy's sentence could indeed mean: Lovie Smith and I are (a) the first two African American coaches to coach in the Super Bowl, and (b) more importantly, the first two Christian coaches to coach in the Super Bowl.

But it could also mean: Lovie Smith and I are (a) the first two African American coaches to coach in the Super Bowl, and (b) more importantly, two Christian coaches who coached in the Super Bowl.

The difference between them boils down to the extent of the word "first." Does it apply to both clauses, or does it apply to just the clause regarding African American coaches? The first interpretation indeed implies that Tony Dungy is claiming that all previous Super Bowl coaches were not Christian, but the second does not.

Again, I think the sentence is ambiguous in its construction. Taking the sentence itself as our only data point, both interpretations are consistent with the wording. But here Zimmerman has made his first mistake. He takes it to be pointing necessarily to the first interpretation, rather than to either the first or the second.

The second mistake is his failure to take in the context of the comment, namely Tony Dungy himself. The man has been in the league for many years. He is not a bomb-thrower. He seems to be loved by pretty much everybody who has ever met him: does he seem like the type of man to make this kind of statement? My answer is a firm no. I think that Dungy - who was interviewed by Jim Nance after the game (read: he had other things on his mind than the social/political/moral significance of his victory, and might therefore not be speaking with maximum precision) - meant something like the latter interpretation, but his meaning was lost in the ambiguity of the actual phrasing.

In other words, I don't think the mild-mannered Dungy was using Nance's question to offer a quickie Jeremiad about the destination of the souls of other ring-bearing coaches. Rather, I think he was doing what he was doing all week -- using questions about the race factor to follow the commandment of Matthew 28:19, to proclaim to the world that, first and foremost, he is a follower of Jesus Christ. I would note that Zimmerman ostensibly has no problem with this. Dungy "has every right to believe what he wants and to recruit others for that belief. That's a no-brainer."

I'll take this a step further to say that Zimmerman's chosen interpretation has no leg to stand on - if we take it in the context of what Dungy had recently said about previous championship coaches. Tony Dungy is - in many respect - a student of the legendary (and vastly underrated) Chuck Noll, head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1969 to 1991 (and Tony Dungy's coach in the '77 and '78 seasons, the latter of which saw the Steelers win their third Super Bowl). This was an oft-covered topic in the lead-up to the Super Bowl. Rob Musselman of the Toledo Blade has a nice write-up on the influence of Noll on Dungy, and how quick the latter is to credit the former. His "Tampa 2" defense is in many respects a modification/amplification of the '75 "Steel Curtain," but also Dungy picked up moral and strategic cues from Noll on how to manage a team. Noll was not a bomb-thrower. Noll was a coach who kept his family close to heart. Noll was an even-keel guy. And so on. Dungy learned a lot from Noll about how to lead a football team calmly and decently - both on and off the field. He believes he owes the man a lot, and during the pre-game festivities of the last few weeks, he never seemed to hestitate to lavish praise upon the coach with the most Super Bowl wins. (I can't blame him. As a Terrible Towel waving, "Steeler Polka" singing, black-and-gold bleeding, "yoi and double yoi!" Steelers fan, I can't praise Noll and the '70s Steelers enough!)

So, here's a question for Professor Zimmerman: do you think Tony Dungy really meant to imply, in that quotation, that Chuck Noll - in many respects his model for a good and decent head coach - is going to h-e-double-toothpicks? Statistically speaking, if we are talking about a "Super Bowl champion coach," most likely we are talking about Noll, who won more than anybody else. So - is that what Dungy thinks of him?

I don't think so.

I am guessing that you don't either, professor -- at least not now that you know a bit more of the story.

My inference is that Zimmerman never came across the affectionate comments Dungy had been making about Noll all week (or at least did not identify them as being a falsifying instance of his hypothesis), which in turn means that he rushed out an op-ed blasting Dungy's character without actually doing sufficient research into said character.

Professor Zimmerman: you owe Coach Dungy an apology. It seems to me that your incorrect interpretation, while surely not willful, is predicated in large part upon not doing the research that Dungy clearly deserved and that you - as a scholarly historian - know how to conduct. If you are going to characterize a man's moral/political/social beliefs, don't you think you owe him the courtesy of checking out his personal story just a little bit?

I find all of this very frustrating. Zimmerman has put words into Dungy's mouth to personalize a broad-based social-political-cultural complaint he has against a segment of the population: the "born-agains." Tony Dungy has been a Steeler, a 49er, a Chief, a Viking, a Bucaneer, and a Colt. He has never been a Straw Man.

Don't treat him as such, Professor.

Arnold's Immigration F-Bomb

Latinos are up in arms over the most recent round of audio tapes leaked out of Arnold Schwarzenegger's office that show the Governator engaging in a very frank and thorough discussion of the immigration issue. Condemnations are ranging from offensive and outrageous" to "abhorrent." But after you read the LA Times piece, go spend a few minutes reading the full 24 page transcript of Arnold's conversation (also provided by the Times, to their credit) , which paints a vastly different and more interesting picture of his views.

Here is some of what Governor Schwarzenegger said that caused such a huff, starting with questions about what to do if Mexicans in the United States on some kind of work visa program stay in the country and refuse to return home to Mexico and leading into a comment about the Simpson-Mazzoli bill:

GOVERNOR: Do you go back then and chase them down? Do you then make them criminals for staying here? Do you put them in prison for staying here? Do we have the prison beds, and do we have the supervision? Do we have enough of the personnel in the prisons, in the county jails for this stuff, to feed them and to guard them and all of those things? Do you round them up? Do you send them back?

Q: Well, those are the nitty-gritty detail questions that need to be answered in Washington. But I think --

GOVERNOR: But the most important thing here is -- you see, that's the interesting thing about it. That, for instance you call the 'nitty-gritty detail', but that actually is the biggest issue. Because why? Because our government in 1986 --

Q: The amnesty.

GOVERNOR: Has f***** the American people.

Q: Yeah, we've got twice as many illegals --

GOVERNOR: You see, because what happened, they said, "Look, we came up with a solution."

Q: Right. M-hmm.

GOVERNOR: And now 20 years later the government comes up again and says, "We are going to work on a solution."

Q: It's worse now.

GOVERNOR: And what happened was with the solution is that they said that if we give them amnesty and if we solve this, and we are going to go and track them down if anyone comes in here illegally, and we'll send them back, and the people that are providing jobs will be punished and all. No one enforced the law.

And later Arnold says this about assimilation:

GOVERNOR: It is changing, but in reality, I tell you. We can talk about what do we say when we get asked in an interview, and there are certain things you can't say. And one of the things that is, I think, tough for the American people to digest is that Mexicans, because it's next door, are holding onto their tradition and to their language much longer than the Polish did when they came over here, and the Germans and the Austrians when they came here, the French when they came here, because that was like you wanted to go and become part of America so quickly that you tried to learn the language. The older generation had always much more difficulty, as much as I have more difficulty getting up to speed with the computer. The older generation that is kind of like still with this new technology kind of stay away from it. But my son is on the computer and everything, and he's much better in English than I am, and he's 12 years old. So that's just the way it is. But I made an effort. But the Mexicans don't make that effort. See, they are building, as you saw down there -- you were down there, right, with the Mexican shopping mall?

Q: You bet.

GOVERNOR: Which is like a --

Q: Plaza de Mexico.

GOVERNOR: Which is like the -- yeah, the Plaza de Mexico, which is like a growth.

Q: On our side?

GOVERNOR: Yeah (SS)

Q: (SS) Linwood.

GOVERNOR: In Linwood. I mean, it's spectacular, when you see that shopping mall. Literally I felt I was in Mexico City, because I was in Mexico City for months and months and months doing my movies there. And it felt like I was down there. Everyone only spoke Spanish, every shop was in Spanish, every sign was in Spanish. They create a Mexico within California.

Q: You bet. And it's not just in that area. It's in (SS)

Q: Oh, I know.

GOVERNOR: And so you have to now bring all your brochures and everything in Spanish, all your government forms in Spanish, and all of this and all of that. So we have to make an effort, and I think that annoys people in California. It annoys people in America. They say, "Look, you want to come in here as a guest, but then behave as if you are a guest. That if you come --" I always compare the country to a house, your home. If you have someone coming to your home, he's going to say, "This family wakes up at 6:00 in the morning, and then they leave the house, or they go out running and all this. If I stay here I think I should get with the program here, you know? That's the way it is. And it's really funny what I've seen here in the Dehlson's house. Everyone does chores here. It's wild.

Q: They do?

GOVERNOR: Kids go and take out the trash, and the wife is doing the cooking, and Gary is there, he's going out shopping to get the food while she's doing the vegetables ready, he's getting the steaks. And so and so and doing this, and the grandmother is over there putting the flowers -- everyone is doing something. I'd better get with the program. So if I'm smart now, if I'm the guest, I go to his wife and I say, "Hey, what can I do?"

Q: That's true.

GOVERNOR: Right?

Q: That's a big part of it, absolutely.

GOVERNOR: Because I'm not going to say, "Well, in my house, I sit there and I read all day, no matter what happens around me, I read." Well, when you are a guest you don't want to go and sit in a chair while everyone is working and you keep reading your book because you love your novels. You go and get up in this one hour, at least you will then go and make an effort here, because I'm a guest here. Or, let me go out and get the flowers, to the wife, to the lady of the house. "I'm going to get some flowers for doing all of this," with a little message on it. So you do certain things. But what do we see in return? We see protestors carrying the Mexican flag.

Q: Carrying the Mexican flag.

GOVERNOR: And stepping on the American flag, and speaking in Spanish and talking about, "We are here and we're going to stay." So now imagine, someone coming to your house and he has no place because his house burned down next door. Now, he comes to your house because of the misery he went through, or she went through, comes to your house now and you say, "Come on in here for a week or two weeks until you get going." And that person comes out and says, "I'm not going to move anymore. You know, something, Gary? I'm here to f****** stay."

Again, I urge you to read the whole transcript, not just the parts that are generating the most heat in the press. Arnold remains very pro-immigration but, like most everyone else, is grappling with the complexities of solving this very contentious issue.

Quote of the Day

"The appropriate debate isn't on whether climate is changing, but rather should be on what we should be doing about it." - Kenneth Cohen, Exxon/Mobil's vice president of public affairs.

Edwards Gets Tough

Leno strikes with a very funny bit:

(h/t Minor Ripper)

Was Giuliani a Bum on 9/10/01?

Today Peggy Noonan makes a glancing reference to something I've been meaning to write about for a while with respect to Rudy Giuliani:

On 9/10/01 he was a bum, on 9/11 he was a man, and on 9/12 he was a hero. Life can change, shift, upend in an instant.

Noonan is over dramatizing for effect, of course, but a while back I got an email from a self-described liberal in NYC saying much the same thing - namely, that in the mythical afterglow of Rudy's performance on 9/11 people have forgotten that (to paraphrase my emailer's formulation) "on September 10 Rudy couldn't have been elected dog catcher in New York City."

So how much truth is there to the claim that Giuliani was a bum on 9/10? Not much, though I guess that depends on what criteria you use - not to mention taking into account the ideological make up of the registered voters iof both parties in New York City responding to surveys. A general answer is that before 9/11 Rudy was pretty darn well-respected, though not necessarily so well liked.

Six days before September 11, Quinnipiac recorded Rudy's job approval rating among 303 New York City likely Democratic primary voters at 42% approve and 49% disapprove.

Six weeks earlier, on July 25, 2001, Quinnipiac released a more detailed tab of Rudy's approval rating among a larger sample of 913 New York City registered voters:

 
Tot
Rep
Dem
Ind
Wht
Blk
Hisp
Men
Wom
Approve
50
86
41
54
63
25
43
56
46
Disapprove
40
12
48
34
28
63
45
37
42

Quinnipiac notes that Rudy's 50-40 job rating had been "unchanged for months." His favorable/unfavorable rating among all voters in the survey, however, was 39% favorable, 36% unfavorable, and 23% mixed opinion.

Even though it's further back and thus a bit less relevant to the discussion, another Quinnipiac survey in June of 2000 provided an even clearer picture of New York City voters' "respect-but-not-love" relationship with Mayor Giuliani:

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's approval rating has bounced back to 49 - 45 percent among New York City voters, his highest level in more than 18 months and a 24-point turnaround since April, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

The Mayor's highest ever approval rating was 74 - 23 percent in a February 11, 1998, poll by the independent Quinnipiac University. It stood at 60 -33 percent November 18, 1998. By April 19, 2000, his approval was a negative 37 - 57 percent, his lowest ever.

New York City voters approve 53 - 41 percent of the Mayor's handling of crime, and give him a negative 34 - 54 percent for his handling of education. He also gets a negative 21 - 68 percent rating for his handling of race relations.

Life in New York City has gotten better since Giuliani became mayor, according to 62 percent of New Yorkers, while 15 percent say it has gotten worse and 19 percent say it has remained the same.

"Now that he's out of the Senate race, is Mayor Giuliani on the rebound? This is the first positive approval rating for him since the Amadou Diallo case in February, 1999," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

"New Yorkers see their Mayor as a strong leader, and a big majority say life has gotten better since he moved into City Hall, but they still don't see him as a kinder, gentler Mayor."

White voters approve of the Mayor 64 - 30 percent, while black voters give the Mayor a negative 13 - 83 percent rating and Hispanic voters give the Mayor a 40 - 49 percent rating.

Looking at Giuliani's personal characteristics, New York City voters say:

* 80 - 17 percent that he can get things done;
* 27 - 68 percent that he has a likable personality;
* 74 - 23 percent that he has strong leadership qualities;
* 48 - 45 percent that he is honest and trustworthy;
* 26 - 68 percent that he is sympathetic to the problems of the poor;
* 32 - 60 percent that he works well with other political leaders.

Voters give the Mayor a 41 - 38 percent favorability rating, with 20 percent mixed and 1 percent saying they don't know enough to form an opinion. This is up from a negative 35 - 52 percent favorability rating April 19.

On one hand, discussion of what New York City voters thought about Giuliani prior to 9/11 is irrelevant to trying to speculate how folks in Iowa or New Hampshire will view him as a post 9/11 presidential candidate. On the other hand, despite ideological differences there is some universality to human nature, and history does often provide clues to the future.

Furthermore, in some ways this quick look back at Giuliani's past bolsters his over all case to both Republicans and to the country at large which is, in a nutshell: "you don't have to like me or even necessarily agree with me, but I'm a sonofabitch who gets things done." Then again, glancing at Rudy's past does make you question, as a prominent Democratic strategist said to me the other day, whether Giuliani's tough, pugilistic, New Yorker attitude is going to wear well over a long campaign with caucus goers in a place like Iowa.

More Gardasil Politics

As a follow up to my lengthy post on Gardasil the other day, this morning USA Today editorializes that it's "premature" for states to mandate HPV vaccinations, and on the same page Governor Rick Perry defends his decision:

As governor of Texas, I will do everything in my power to protect public health. The executive order I signed last Friday will help stop the spread of human papillomavirus (HPV) and prevent cervical cancer in young women.

Some are focused on the cause of this cancer, but I remain focused on the cure. And if I err, I will always err on the side of protecting life. [snip]

If we could stop lung cancer, would some shy away claiming it might encourage tobacco use? This is a rare opportunity to act, and as a pro-life governor, I will always take the side of protecting life.

It's clear throughout the op-ed, and in the last paragraph in particular, that Perry is trying to counter the claim of some conservatives that since HPV is transmitted through sexual intercourse, mandatory vaccines will somehow encourage promiscuity. Personally, I find that argument unpersuasive.

To the extent I have objections about this policy, they lie with the fact that Rick Perry has made a unilateral decision mandating that 11 and 12 year old girls are injected with an eight month old vaccine - and his defense that "as a pro-life governor, I will always take the side of protecting life" makes me more unsettled by his action, not less.

Take Perry's last question, for example. Say we did have a brand spanking new, eight month old vaccine that prevented future occurrences of lung cancer. Would Perry mandate it for all children, given that he always takes "the side of protecting life?" What about a drug that prevented heart disease? Or better yet, one that reduced obesity, thereby preventing future cases of heart disease and diabetes?

The question is, who gets to make these decisions and are they being made in a careful and methodical way?

Perry gives us a clear answer in today's op-ed when he writes:

Though some might argue that we should wait several years before requiring the vaccine, I believe such a delay unnecessarily risks the lives of young women.

Really? Unless the current crop of 11 and 12 year olds scheduled to receive it next year are going to become sexually active, is anyone really going to be put at risk by waiting, and why would the governor be so dismissive as to call a delay to debate the merits of the vaccine "unnecessary?"

Remember, this is an eight month old vaccine. Yes, it's been approved by the FDA and put on the "recommended immunization schedule" for 2007, but there are doctors who believe it's way to early to mandate the vaccine, one of whom emailed me the other day to say this:

Gardasil will not do away with yearly Pap tests for women. It will not meaningfully reduce healthcare costs, in my estimate. Cervix cancer is readily prevented by straightforward treatment of early Pap abnormalities which may over years evolve into cancer if left untreated.

Gardasil's long term safety is unknown, yet we see a stampede to immunize middle school girls with it. Do you remember the swine flu crisis? Those immunizations caused an outbreak of Guillan-Barre syndrome, a debilitating neurologic disorder. There never was a swine flu epidemic in the non-immunized!

Merck will profit from Gardasil, but womens' health will not.

This may be a minority view, but it is certainly a view worth letting the public and the state legislature hear in the course of coming to grips with the decision of the state mandating that 11 and 12 year old girls are injected with a drug that's been on the market less than a year.

Governor Perry wrote today, "a full debate will take place as our health agency adopts implementation rules before the order takes effect in 19 months." He's got it exactly backwards. The debate should take place before the decision is made, not after. Furthermore, the decision should come from the legislative branch, not the executive, at which point the Governor could lend his support to the idea or oppose it. You'd think a conservative Republican governor would know how the system should work.

February 08, 2007

Bad News for Romney

This story from Romney's home town Boston Herald, on the back of his big pro-tax cut speech to the Detroit Economic Club yesterday, is exactly the kind of news the former Massachusetts's governor does not need at this stage in his campaign.

After refusing to endorse President Bush's tax cuts when he was governor, Mitt Romney has now made them a central part of his presidential campaign, stirring accusations that he is changing his position to appeal to GOP primary voters. In 2003, Romney stunned a roomful of Bay State congressmen by telling them that he would not publicly support Bush's tax cuts, which at the time formed the centerpiece of the president's domestic agenda. He even said he was open to a federal gas tax hike.

This report flies directly in the face of Romney's economic address yesterday, and subsequent interview on CNBC with Larry Kudlow, and is only going to reinforce a building image of an overly ambitious man who is a serial flip-flopper on core issues.

Who Will Be the GOP Supply-Side Candidate?

The early (but much accelerated) race for president on the Republican side has coalesced around the "Big Three" of Senator John McCain, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Messrs. McCain and Giuliani have commanding leads in the early polls: The latest RealClearPolitics Average gives Mr. Giuliani a small five-point lead over Mr. McCain nationally, 31.4% to 26.4%.

Mr. Romney trails the other two substantially, logging in at only 6.4%. But with George Allen's surprise loss to Senator Jim Webb in November, Mr. Romney is thought to be the most likely candidate to emerge as the conservative option for Republican voters not enthused about either Mr. Giuliani or Mr. McCain.

Mr. Romney recently appeared to be reaching out to social conservatives with his high-profile fight against gay marriage in Massachusetts. However, a very damaging YouTube video of his 1994 debate with Senator Ted Kennedy opened him up to charges that his recent focus on social issues was little more than presidential political opportunism. With his campaign noticeably stalled in the last few months, Mr. Romney turned attention to the economy with a high-profile speech yesterday to the Detroit Economic Club, in which he promoted his vision of a tax-cutting administration that reduces entitlements, promotes free trade and lessens business regulation.

In a post-speech interview on CNBC with Larry Kudlow, Mr. Romney strongly played up his supply-side beliefs: "Raising taxes well above 18% of GDP would cause a slowdown of the growth in the economy, would reduce our employment and would reduce the wages and salaries of people in this country. It is a bad idea. Ronald Reagan, and before him John F. Kennedy, proved that by keeping tax rates low you create more jobs and innovation in this country."

Unlike 28 years ago when George H.W. Bush dismissed Reaganomics as "voodoo economics," supply-side economics is a well-accepted view in the Republican Party today and it is doubtful that either Mr. McCain or Mr. Giuliani would disagree with any of the Governor's broad points.

While Iraq has dominated the political oxygen for the last six months, as the 2008 Presidential campaign heats up there is likely to be a battle among the "Big Three" of Messrs. Giuliani, McCain and Romney to lay claim as the pro-growth, supply-side candidate in the GOP field. With the rapidly shrinking deficit and booming U.S. economy providing validation for the Bush tax cuts, this competition among the leading GOP contenders may lead the eventual Republican nominee to get behind a solid and perhaps bold supply side, pro-growth agenda -- including radical tax simplification, a flat tax and private retirement accounts.

At the same time, the Democratic Party will likely be turning away from the Clinton/Rubin economic approach of the 1990's to a more Jim Webb/John Edwards style populist, anti-trade, progressive approach to the economy. Though Iraq gets most of the airtime, the 2008 race could be a crucial turning point for the future of economic policy.

The Heads Blog 2008

At bloggingheads.tv, Bob Wright and Mickey Kaus discuss the presidential prospects of Rudy Giulani, Hillary's un-inevitability, and the fact that John Edwards is so calculating he can rightly be labeled, to use Bob's phrase, a "super duper."

Quote(s) of the Day

A special doubleheader edition courtesy of Mary Ann Sieghart in the Times of London. Sieghart looks at the possibility of Hillary Clinton and Ségolãne Royal in France joining German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a gender-busting shift in world leadership.

Sieghart is theoretically excited by the idea of a trio of women becoming such geo-political power brokers, but she has reservations about Mrs. Clinton:

I have met Hillary a couple of times and, although she is formidably intelligent, there is something scarily inauthentic about her. True, she couldn't help being overshadowed by Bill, who lights up a room, leaving everyone else in the shade. But still, she seemed cold and artificial to me, her face a mask, her eyes unlit by her smile.

Everything about her seemed manufactured, from her looks to her small talk. There was no spontaneity, no natural warmth. She reminded me of a porcelain doll: a highly intelligent one, of course, but a doll nonetheless.

And later, Sieghart writes this about Chancellor Merkel's toughness:

Merkel, too, was underestimated at the start yet is proving to be a highly successful Chancellor, given the constraints of having to work in coalition with the Social Democrats. Dismissed by Helmut Kohl as das Mädchen (the girl), she has transformed German foreign policy, raised the retirement age and reformed the health system, all in just over a year. One American diplomat is rumoured to have said that "Merkel has the biggest balls in Europe".

Who Won the Senate Debate?

Robert Novak's column today suggests Republicans suffered a "public relations fiasco" over the Senate debate on the Iraq resolutions. I don't think he is correct.

The broader public is detached from the inside baseball nature of the Senate debate, and they also more or less understand that at the end of the day we are talking about utterly toothless, non-binding resolutions on Iraq. Political partisans, on the other hand, in each of the parties' respective bases, however, are keenly aware of the Senate dynamics and the political and military message of a Congressional vote against the U.S. offensive now under away in Iraq.

Republican partisans who have been understandably depressed for the last six months (particularly since the election) finally had something to cheer in the GOP unity in not allowing the Senate Democrats to ram through an anti-surge resolution. The anti-war left partisans are frustrated by what they perceive as Harry Reid's capitulation toward the Warner position, and then after compromising, still not being able to deliver a rebuke to President Bush on the war.

Republican Senators who are scared about Iraq and the 2008 elections will have plenty of time and opportunities over the next year to jump off the President's Iraq policy if they feel that is in the their personal political interests. It is hard to imagine that voters are going to hold GOP Senators accountable in November 2008 for not allowing a vote on a Democratic, non-binding Iraq resolution in February 2007.

After last year's election debacle, the Senate Republicans' solidarity and the Democrats' obvious frustration in not being able to deliver the political embarrassment to the President easily outweighs a couple of days of news stories about how Republicans "blocked" debate on non-binding Iraq resolutions.

Headline of the Day

From Andrea Peyser's column on astronaut Lisa Nowak in the New York Post: "She's Like Amy Fisher, But Out of This World."

No Need for Tax Hikes, Surplus on Tap for 2009

If you think the offensive production of Peyton Manning and the Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts was spectacular, you ain't seen nothing yet. When January budget data comes out this week, our models predict that tax revenues continued to surge and the federal budget will show a surplus of more than $40 billion.

This would pull the budget deficit on a 12-month moving average basis below $200 billion for the first time since September 2002 - a massive reduction from the peak deficit of $455 billion in the 12-months ending April 2004.

Tax revenues were $2.479 trillion in the 12 months ending in January 2007, a $255 billion increase from the 12 months ending in January 2006. Tax revenues have surged for almost three consecutive years now, ever since the tax cuts of 2003 stimulated a strong economic recovery.

But putting points on the scoreboard is not a guarantee of victory. The defense has to play well too. And for the budget this means spending restraint. Federal spending was $2.667 trillion in the 12 months ending January 2007, a $134 billion increase from the 12 months ending in January 2006.

On a 12-month versus 12-month basis, federal revenues increased 11.5%, while federal spending increased just 5.3%. This is great news. As long as spending growth remains in check, the budget deficit will continue to decline.

In fact, our models expect average tax revenue growth of 9% over the next three years and spending growth of between 4% and 5%. This will generate a well below consensus deficit in FY07 of just $115 billion. Next year in FY08, we forecast a deficit of only $35 billion. On a 12-month basis, we suspect that the budget will move into balance early in FY2009, well before the Office of Management and Budget or the Congressional Budget Office expect.

All of this is fabulous news for the markets. With gridlock holding spending back and the economy continuing to generate spectacular revenue growth, earlier than expected budget surpluses will significantly reduce the odds of tax hikes.

Pennsylvania '08 Poll

Another new '08 poll from Quinnipiac, this time in Pennsylvania:

Democrats
Clinton 37
Obama 11
Edwards 11
Gore 11
Biden 5
Vilsack 1
Richardson 1
Dodd 1
Kucinich 1
Undecided 17

Republicans
Giuliani 30
McCain 20
Gingrich 14
Romney 4
Brownback 2
Hunter 1
Hagel 1
Huckabee 1
Undecided 20

Head-to-Head Match Ups

Clinton 44 - Giuliani 47
Clinton 53 - Romney 34
Clinton 45 - McCain 46

Obama 39 - McCain 46
Edwards 42 - McCain 47

Favorable/Unfavorable Ratings for the top-tier candidates (all voters)

Giuliani 61/18 (+43)
McCain 54/20 (+34)
Obama 39/15 (+24)
Edwards 43/27 (+16)
Clinton 53/39 (+14)
Romney 12/11 (+1)

February 07, 2007

The Politics of Gardasil

Every now and then an issue pops up on the radar screen that scrambles what we've come to expect as the natural political order. Mandating human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines for eleven and twelve year old girls is that type of issue.

Here's the brief backstory: HPV is the most commonly transmitted sexual disease in the United States. According to news reports by the AP and others, some 20 million people are currently infected, and some 6.2 million people contract the infection each year. Certain strains of the virus can lead to cervical cancer which killed some 3,700 women in the U.S. last year (even though it is a disease on the decline).

Last June the FDA approved the vaccine Gardasil, hailed as a breakthrough in protecting against four strains of HPV that are responsible for 70% of cervical cancer cases. In January, Gardasil was put on the 2007 "recommended immunization schedule" issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians, and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Center for Disease Control (CDC). As a result, certain state legislatures have begun debating bills that would make Gardasil a state-mandated vaccine.

Last Friday, Rick Perry, the conservative two-term Governor of Texas, issued an executive order requiring all sixth grade girls to receive the three-shot vaccination series (which costs about $120 per shot), though the order does allow parents to "opt out" for religious or philosophical reasons, but only if they file a written affidavit.

Perry has come under fire, not only from conservatives in Texas who argue that the vaccine will increase sexual promiscuity, but also from doctors in Texas who believe it's way too early to mandate such a new vaccine.

Others, like the editorial board of the San Antonio Express-News have taken issue with Perry's order, saying that while "the health of Texas girls is paramount, you have robbed citizens of the chance to hear the issue discussed during the normal legislative process."

But even in those states currently considering legislative action on mandating HPV vaccinations there are serious concerns and objections. Yesterday, both the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times editorialized against the Illinois state legislature passing a mandate right now. Even Christine Gregoire, the very liberal Governor of Washington state, said she was unwilling to go as far as Perry in issuing a mandate:

"I told the medical association that I was reticent to dictate when I think there is a lot of public education that needs to go on," Gregoire said. "To go out and start just saying everybody mandatorily has to have this is a little bit troublesome for me."

Given all this, it may or may not be surprising to note that the one organization rushing to hail Perry's decision was none other than the New York Times editorial page which wrote yesterday:

Congratulations to Texas for becoming the first state to require vaccinating young schoolgirls -- ages 11 and 12 -- against a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer and genital warts. Other states would be wise to follow the same path.

On one hand, it makes sense the New York Times would find this to be a "wise" decision, since it involves the government getting behind a policy that the Times' editorial writers obviously favor. Notice, however, the Times congratulates Texas for "for becoming the first state to require vaccinating young schoolgirls" without ever making mention of the fact it was done by executive order.

Here's another twist: the Times does mention the fact that the HPV vaccination, Gardasil, is made by Merck & Co. What they don't say is that Governor Rick Perry's former chief of staff is now a lobbyist for Merck and that the company contributed $6,000 to Perry and $38,000 to Texas state legislators last year. You can bet those are two facts that would not have escaped the NY Times editorial writers had they been opposed to Perry's decision.

Furthermore, the push for state mandates for HPV vaccinations is part of an intense lobbying effort on the part of Merck, as the Baltimore Sun reported last week:

Just a few months after federal regulators approved a vaccine against a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer, more than a dozen states - including Maryland - are considering a requirement that girls entering middle school get it.

One of the primary drivers behind the legislative push: Merck & Co., the pharmaceutical giant that manufactures Gardasil, the only vaccine for human papillomavirus, or HPV, on the market.

The vaccine is expected to reach $1 billion in sales next year, and state mandates could make Gardasil a mega-blockbuster drug within five years, with sales of more than $4 billion, according to Wall Street analysts.

Again, the point here isn't about Merck's lobbying efforts or even the merits of the policy, but rather the blinding hypocrisy of the New York Times editorial page. The Times is always willing trash big pharma or to rail against executive power when it suits its needs, and it's easy to see how the Times editorial page editors would have cast the issue if had been something they didn't agree with.

Editorial pages are supposed to have a certain point of view, but they should also be consistent, intellectually honest, and persuade through argument rather than glossing over facts they're unwilling to deal with or find politically inconvenient.

For a good example of what I'm talking about, go read this editorial("Perry's power play aside, HPV vaccination is wise thing to do") from the Austin American-Statesman. The Statesman ends up in the same place as the Times but does so in a much more balanced way that gives its readers the full scope of the issue before coming to the conclusion that however the fight over Perry's executive order comes out, "parents should have their girls vaccinated to guard against cervical cancer. And the government should make those vaccinations available to families who are uninsured or can't afford it."

Florida '08 Poll

New Quinnipiac poll on the '08 Presidential race in Florida. On the Democratic side, Clinton is cruising:

Democrats
Clinton 49
Obama 13
Edwards 7
Gore 7
Richardson 3
Biden 2
Clark 1
Undecided 13

On the Republican side, Giuliani has a slight lead over McCain:

Republicans
Giuliani 29
McCain 23
Gingrich 14
Romney 6
Thompson 2
Pataki 2
Brownback 1
Undecided 19

Head-to-head matchups show Clinton losing to Giuliani but beating McCain and Romney, while Edwards and Obama run slightly less well against McCain:

Clinton 44 - Giuliani 47
Clinton 47 - McCain 43
Clinton 52 - Romney 34

Obama 40 - McCain 42
Edwards 42 - McCain 43

Lastly, favorable/unfavorable ratings among all voters (not just registered primary voters) are as follows:

Giuliani 60/20 (+40)
McCain 50/21 (+29)
Obama 37/18 (+19)
Edwards 44/27 (+17)
Clinton 51/39 (+12)
Romney 13/11 (+2)

As far as name ID goes, 44% said they didn't know enough about Barack Obama to have an opinion. That number was a sky-high 75% for Mitt Romney - which just goes to show how little we really know about the way the race might shape up in the coming months.

Burton Blasted

The Indianapolis Star editorial board takes Republican Congressman Dan Burton to task for missing votes to play in a celebrity golf tournament:

So here's the score: Burton would rather play golf than attend a hearing on Iraq. He shows up for work less often than a 20-year-old slacker who refuses to move out of his parents' basement. He has little shame when it comes to accepting expensive gifts. And he feels immune from voters' wrath because he's been handed a heavily gerrymandered district that might as well hang up "Democrats need not apply'' signs.

Sweet gig, Dan.

Just remember the good folks back home in Indiana when the pro-am season ends.

Remembering Kirkpatrick

Kirsten Chick of the Washington Times reports on the memorial service held yesterday for the inimitable Jean Kirkpatrick. Richard Miniter adds a colorful remembrance of Kirkpatrick here as well.

February 06, 2007

More New Hampshire #'s

The latest from CNN/WMUR:

Republicans
McCain 28
Giuliani 27
Romney 13
Gingrich 9
Tancredo 3
Brownback 2
Pataki 1
Hagel 1
Huckabee 1
Undecided 13

Giuliani's favorable/unfavorable rating among Republican primary voters is 70/13 (net +56) and McCain's is 59/27 (+32), and Romney's is 53/27 (+26).

Democrats
Clinton 35
Obama 21
Edwards 16
Gore 8
Biden 3
Clark 1
Richardson 1
Vilsack 1
Dodd 1
Undecided 14

Among Democratic primary voters, Edwards leads in the fav/unfav rating category with a 74/13 (+61), Clinton is right behind with a 74/15 rating (+59), and Obama is also viewed very favorably with a 67/12 (+55).

The poll also asked all primary voters who was the "least liked" candidate in each party. Hillary Clinton and Newt Gingrich were the clear winners (or losers, depending on your perspective) from each respective side.

Hillary's "I Want to Take Those Profits" Problem

I have thought for over two years now that Hillary was a lock to win the Democratic nomination, and I still believe she is the clear favorite. But the withdrawal of Bayh and Warner from the race, which on the surface looked like a plus as it cleared up her right flank, is now starting to cause her problems as it has untethered the Democratic field from the center.

Obama, Clinton, and Edwards are all scrambling to pacify the anti-Iraq base of the Democratic party which is now the central, most powerful force in today's Democratic party. Had Warner and Bayh remained in the race Senator Clinton probably would have felt less a need to jack up the invective in her ideological attacks, thus causing her to say incredibly stupid things like (video):

The Democrats know what needs to be done. Again, we're working trying to try push this agenda forward. The other day the oil companies reported the highest profits in the history of the world. I want to take those profits and I want to put them into a strategic energy fund that will begin to fund alternative, smart energy; alternatives and technology that will begin to actually move us toward the direction of independence.

Hillary's supporters will suggest that this was an innocent slip of the tongue and she didn't mean to suggest the government should be expropriating legally earned corporate profits, while her enemies will suggest that she was simply letting slip her true inner socialist. For now, I'm less interested in the back and forths of that argument.

My point here is Hillary's inability to engage and energize left-wing partisan audiences without saying stupid things that will get her into trouble in a general election campaign. (She did something similar to this in an MLK event with Al Sharpton last year.) Cal Thomas made a related point the other day, and essentially it boils down to this: Hillary Clinton does not come close to having the same level of innate political ability as her husband.

Running for president is not like running for the Senate, and Hillary is not going to get a "pass" on the way to the Democratic nomination like her Senate primary coronation in 2000. The listening tour shtick is not going to cut it against Obama and Edwards (and possibly even Gore) especially with a newly revitalized Democratic left that is deeply suspicious of Clintonian triangulation.

Hillary is still the front runner, and Bill Clinton's influence should not be underestimated, but she is going to need to step up her political acumen to match the impressiveness of the juggernaut-like campaign organization that's been built for her.

Clinton already has a good deal of baggage to manage in her quest for the White House. Another twelve month's worth of "I want to take those profits" type gaffes will not only imperil her general election chances, but will hurt her in the eyes of Democratic primary voters who may feel she is just too much of a general election liability.

That Was Fast

Terry Jeffrey unleashes the social conservative anti-Rudy argument over at National Review this morning. We can skip past the first 791 words and cut right to Jeffrey's conclusion:

Rudy will not win the Republican nomination because enough of the people who vote in Republican caucuses and primaries still respect life and marriage, and are not ready to give up on them -- or on the Republican party as an agent for protecting them.

And Tony Perkins, Chairman of the Family Research Council, was quick to issue the standard social conservative threat:

"If by some chance Giuliani were to gain the Republican nomination it would set up a very similar scenario that we had last November. A unenthusiastic Republican base which will suppress turnout and set up a Democratic victory."

Except the problem last November wasn't Republican turnout, it was Independents and moderates who turned out and voted Democrat. Perkins wants to use the threat of a Democratic victory in November 2008 to bully Republicans into nominating a social conservative - like Sam Brownback or Mitt Romney, for example - with the irony being that such a candidate would likely get walloped in '08 by any of the top tier Democrats while Guiliani would be a favorite to win.

A World Without America

Last year Peter Brookes wrote a column speculating on what the world would look like without America. Now Brit Tim Montgomerie has taken the concept of "a world without America" and turned it into the premise for a forthcoming ad campaign, which you can participate in by submitting your ideas here.

Broder's Moment of Truth?

David Broder has struck a nerve with the left over this comment in his column today on the Dems' recent winter meeting:

One of the losers in the weekend oratorical marathon was retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who repeatedly invoked the West Point motto of "Duty, Honor, Country," forgetting that few in this particular audience have much experience with, or sympathy for, the military.

One of the commenters at the Washington Post calls Broder "a shill and a disgrace and a stain on humanity." Oliver Willis blasts Broder for being a "filthy liar" and calls on the Washington Post to "correct the slander he's published in their pages."

Of course, so far as I can tell from looking at his blog, Willis hasn't demonstrated any outrage over the real slander published in the Washington Post recently: William Arkin's unhinged diatribe against U.S. troops. Neither, for that matter, has any other major left wing blog that I'm aware of.

This neatly captures Broder's sentinment in an anecdotal nutshell: when someone on the left slimes the military, we get deafening silence from them. When anyone (mostly from the right, but in this case from the left), questions the left's sincerity when they say they "support the troops," we get a collective tearing of the flesh and screeches of "slander," "libel," and ad hominem attacks like "filthy liar." I'm perfectly willing to accept that left wingers like Willis do in fact support and have sympathy for the troops. It'd just be nice if they showed it once in a while by defending our troops against some the vicious attacks launched by their fellows on the left.

Giuliani Is In and Becomes the Immediate Favorite

There is an assumption by many that Giuliani is un-nominatable as a Republican for President given his less than conservative positions on many social issues. Charlie Cook summed up the conventional Washington wisdom on Giuliani's chances with his statement in the Washington Post several months ago that he'll "win the Tour de France before Rudy Giuliani wins the Republican nomination."

But the conventional wisdom on Giuliani's ability to capture the nomination is wrong. Not only can Giuliani win the GOP nomination, but as the Republican field sits today he has to be considered the favorite.

As Republicans look to their standard bearer in what will be a post-9/11 and post-George W. Bush world, the usual handicapping yard-sticks that may have worked in the '80's and 90's won't work this cycle.

Leadership is going to be the single most important issue to Republican voters and this is almost certainly Giuliani's strongest asset. As long as McCain remains Giuliani's chief rival for the nomination, Rudy will hold an advantage for the simple reason that conservatives like Rudy Giuliani and do not like John McCain. Leadership and the conservative animus toward McCain are why Giuliani has the edge.

The strategic box Giuliani puts McCain in is significant, especially since one of McCain's selling points to Republicans was always going to be that he could deliver a win in the general election. But the obvious tactic to employ against Giuliani, trying to undermine him with conservative base voters by attacking him on social issues, also undercuts McCain's ability to win the general election, which in turn, undermines his strongest selling point to Republicans.

The McCain campaign is going to have to a find non-social issues path to taking down Giuliani and they can't commit the same mistake they made in 2000 by going after independents and Democrats before capturing the nomination. McCain has to find a way to energize Republicans behind his candidacy. Robert Novak's column from earlier this week where McCain is playing up his supply side credentials may provide an early direction of where the Arizona Senator's campaign may be going.

Strategically, McCain would be well advised to position himself as the pro-growth, supply-side conservative in the Republican field. While Giuliani may be the favorite today, McCain should not be underestimated, especially if he were to get behind a bold pro-growth, economic agenda like a flat tax and private accounts for Social Security.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who had risen up into the "Big Three" with McCain and Giuliani after the implosion of George Allen last year, has struggled the last couple of months and is going to have to figure out a way to appeal to conservatives without it appearing like obvious political pandering. The recent You Tube video of his '94 debate with Ted Kennedy and the focus on his well-documented recent conversion to pro-life from pro-choice smacks of obvious political opportunism and tarnishes what is otherwise a compelling case for his campaign. The Mormon issue will also complicate his ability to get traction in the race.

Gingrich may create a few sparks if he gets in the ring and could generate a decent amount of support in the polls, but he is a sure loser in the general election which in the end creates insurmountable problems for his candidacy.

The others are all running to improve their name ID and for potential VP slots.

A couple of months ago I suggested to look out for McCain/Pawlenty in 2008. Today Giuliani/Huckabee may be the better bet.

But everyone should remember it is February 2007, not February 2008.

Giuliani on Hannity & Colmes (Video)

Rudy Giuliani gave a wide ranging interview to FOX News' Sean Hannity last night. Probably the most important words were: "I'm in this to win"

Part II:

February 05, 2007

McConnell 1, Reid 0

Majority Leader Reid and Senate Democrats are learning that it is not always fun being in the majority, especially a majority that hangs by a single Joe Lieberman vote.

The debate over the non-binding resolutions on Iraq has turned into the first real skirmish of the new Congress and so far McConnell and the GOP minority are winning this battle. Harry Reid's frustration was evident in his closing statement before the cloture motion went down to defeat. (The vote failed by eleven votes 49-47. To my knowledge not a single Republican voted for cloture. UPDATE: The Senate website has the roll call and Norm Coleman and Susan Collins did vote for cloture. Interestingly Chuck Hagel and John Warner did not.)

Reid is going to slowly realize that very few Republican Senators are going to shed tears over his lamenting of "stalling tactics" by the minority, especially after the Democrats perfected those exact same stalling tactics under then Minority Leader Reid in the last Congress.

Faith-Based Opportunity

David Gray of the New America Foundation penned the following letter in response to my column this morning about Democratic Presidential hopefuls deciding what to do with the White House Office of Faith Based & Community Initiatives:

Funding charitable initiatives at home and abroad has great merit. Speaking strictly politically, it is interesting to see how the two different parties do, and can, outflank each other on such funding.

President Bush has gotten great credit in many circles by outflanking Democrats on the issue of funding AIDS and debt initiatives in Africa. Most people assume that Democrats would take the lead in spending on these initiatives, but the President has received much praise relative to the Democrats from unlikely sources, such as U2's singer Bono, for his spending in these areas.

On the domestic front, Democrats have an opportunity to outflank Republicans on the issue of faith based initiatives.

Tom Bevan wrote an excellent article (http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2007/02/will_democrats_keep_the_faith.html) in RealClearPolitics on February 5 about the potential future of the White House Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives (Office) under a potential Democratic President. Mr. Bevan posits that Democratic candidates will have to grapple during the '08 campaign with what they would do with the Office if elected, and he concludes that Democrats will likely keep the office and use it as an outreach tool. Much of the Democratic base is hostile to the creation of the Office and at least some of the presidential candidates thus far opposed its creation. With most moderate potential Democratic candidates (such as Bayh and Warner) are not in the race, frontrunners like Hillary Clinton will be pulled to the left. Does that make it likely a Democratic candidate would abolish the Office?

No. I believe Mr. Bevan is correct that a Democratic President will keep the Office. Perhaps the strongest argument that Democrats will keep the Office is "leave well enough alone." If a Democrat President was ambivalent towards the Initiative, they could keep the Office but render it powerless, effectively telling their base that they are ignoring it. However, actively abolishing the Office would anger evangelical voters at a time Democrats are making some inroads in that constituency, and effectively prove the point of conservatives who say Democrats are anti-religion.

I think Mr. Bevan is correct that the Office provides an opportunity for Democrats, but not only because it could help them open a dialogue with evangelicals. One prominent criticism of the Faith-based Initiative is that it was never funded properly. Former White House staffer David Kuo argues in his recent critique Tempting Faith that the Initiative could be successful if only the White House had put more emphasis on funding it. Congress controls the purse-strings, and if Democrats retain control of Congress after the next election perhaps a Democratic Washington would invest in the Initiative. This situation provides an opening for a Democratic President to outflank Republicans and make real connections with many faith based groups that traditionally do not vote Democratic by not only embracing the White House Faith Based Initiative, but by doing one thing that even Republicans have criticized the current White House for failing to do - fund it.

An Armey of One

Dick Armey covers a remarkable bit of ground in this brief interview with Dave Montgomery of McClatchy Newspapers. In between rapping Tom Delay, George Bush and himself over voting for the Iraq war resolution, Armey manages to analyze the 2008 race:

Q: Who's going to be president? Who's going to win?

A: If you said right now, Dick Armey, put your money on a horse that's in the race, I'd put my money on Hillary. She will be whoever you want her to be. She's a skillful, able politician. Her husband could go in and screw it up in a day. She's walking around with a ton of dynamite in her hip pocket.

Q: I assume you wouldn't vote for her though.

A: Of course I wouldn't vote for her. Betting on a horse to win doesn't mean you want to buy the horse.

Senate Debates Iraq

The Senate is debating the non-binding resolutions right now. Watch here. The Politico's John Bresnahan reports:

"As of yet, there is no deal," said McConnell's spokesman, Don Stewart. "There will be a cloture vote at 5:30 [p.m.], and they are not even going to get 50 votes." If there are not 60 votes to invoke cloture, the Senate cannot begin the Iraq debate and must shift to other legislative business.

Rudy!

He's basically in. Hannity & Colmes will have an exclusive interview with Giuliani tonight at 9pm Eastern.

I guess this means we'll all have to pick up a copy of Fred Siegel's Prince of the City. If you haven't already ingested Steven Malanga's epic pro-Rudy essay in the latest issue of City Journal, it's also required reading. And last August I wrote a column looking at some of the hurdles Rudy has to clear (outside of the ones in his personal life) if he wants to win the nomination.

Today's Buzz

The only thing more fun than reading Stuart Elliott's embarrassingly fatuous NY Times piece on last night's Superbowl ads is reading the responses of the substantial number of people mocking him on Buzztracker.

Obama Running the Race

Ben Smith at The Politico has the story:

A key supporter of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama urged united African-American support for his presidential bid, questioning whether black Democrats still "owe" Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton their support, according to several people who attended a meeting of black Democratic politicians.

The comments by Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr., which he confirmed Saturday, angered Clinton backers and deepened a sharp rift among African-American political activists.

"How long are you going to owe politicians for past favors?" Jones asked in a speech Friday to more than 100 members of the Democratic National Committee's black caucus and other political operatives gathered at the Washington Hilton for the winter meeting of the DNC, according to people who were there.

Obviously, Obama and his surrogates are going to do whatever they can to chip away at Clinton's support among African-Americans - which has been strong thus far. The interesting backdrop to the question of whether blacks will vote for Obama is just how much he needs African-American support to win the nomination given the paucity of black voters in crucial early states.

Obama's biggest primary appeal is among white progressives, and if he can leverage that appeal into a thumping of Hillary in Iowa and New Hampshire (and maybe even Nevada), won't that create the sort of wave effect that will propel him to the nomination?

Having watched Obama in the 2004 Senate primary, I agree with Mark Blumenthal that whatever misgivings or doubts African-Americans have about Obama are likely to fade pretty darn quick as he emerges, especially if he acquires the look of a winner with some early momentum.

And even if Obama manages to peel away only half of the African-American vote by the time South Carolina rolls around (assuming he wins in IA and NH), John Edwards' presence in the race might blunt the possibility of Hillary scoring the kind of decisive victory she'd need to turn things around (a la Bush in 2000) after early losses.

Lucky Day

Hidalgo County sheriff's deputy Emmanuel Sanchez says he found $1 million in cash in a dumpster outside a Hooters restaurant in Atlanta, so he stuffed it in the door panel of his truck and headed home.

Don't Forget

To please spare a few minutes and fill out the new RCP reader survey. Thanks in advance for helping out.

Keeping the Faith

My column today looks at a question facing Democrats running for President in 2008: if elected, will they keep the White House Office of Faith-Based & Community Initiatives in place or kill it?

It's a simple "yes" or "no" answer, and given the political dynamics involved (which I discuss in the column) it'd be especially interesting to see the question asked and answered at the Democrats' first debate at South Carolina State University on April 26.

February 04, 2007

The '08 Race in Michigan

There's much to chew on in this Free Press/Local 4 Michigan poll, not the least of which is former Speaker Newt Gingrich is out polling the state's favorite son, Mitt Romney:

Republicans
Giuliani 32
McCain 28
Gingrich 16
Romney 8
Brownback 2
Hagel 1
Other 10

On the Democratic side, Hillary thumps the rest of the field with the big news being that she pulls in 59% of the African-American vote versus only 23% for Barack Obama:

Democrats
Clinton 49
Obama 20
Edwards 8
Gore 7
Richardson 2
Biden 2
Kucinich 1
Dodd 1
Other 8

Here are the head-to-head results, which seem to bode well for Democrats at this very early stage:

Clinton 46 - Giuliani 42
Clinton 45 - McCain 43
Clinton 49 - Romney 36

Edwards 49 - Giuliani 38
Edwards 45 - McCain 40
Edwards 53 - Romney 29

Obama 45 - Giuliani 38
Obama 44 - McCain 39
Obama 49 - Romney 30

The poll asked one other question, the always important "if you had another chance to vote in 2004, would you vote for Bush or Kerry?" Answer: Kerry's meager 3-point win (51-48) turns into a 15-point rout (53-38).

February 02, 2007

Giuliani's Texas Hold 'Em

The Houston Chronicle reports that Rudy Giuliani has been raking in the cash in Texas, thanks in part to his relationship with the Houston law firm formerly known as Bracewell & Patterson, now Bracewell & Giuliani.

According to the latest filings, Hizzoner's exploratory committee has raised $124,050 in the Lone Star state compared to only $14,150 for McCain. (Overall McCain leads Giuliani in fund raising thus far, , $1.7 million to $1.4 million, respectively).

Giuliani was on hand last night in Houston for another big fund raiser where - as with every place he goes these days, particularly in the South - there were differences of opinion about whether he can get through the Republican primary:

Cathie Adams, director of the Texas Eagle Forum, a conservative group based in Dallas, said Giuliani is a "nonstarter" in Texas largely because of his support of gun control, gay rights and abortion rights. "He doesn't hold Texas views and Texas standards. We are a conservative state," she said. [snip]

Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace, who calls himself "a strong hard right wing when it comes to social issues" and who was a host of the Giuliani event in Houston, said many conservatives will back the former New York mayor for pragmatic reasons. He noted that polls show that Giuliani has wide support and could beat leading Democratic contender, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

I think Giuliani's support among conservatives (even some hard core social conservatives in the South) is much wider and stronger than many people believe. Whether that support holds when all of the nasty attacks and messy details of his personal life start getting thrown around in a serious way is another matter. I continue to think Giuliani has a shot, though he is going to have a "hell of a battle."

Quote of the Day

"The two of them are criminals. They should be tried and thrown in prison for the rest of their days" - Hugo Chavez at a news conference yesterday referring to George W. Bush and John Negroponte.

Deaf Ears, Closed Minds

President Bush is often derided by the left for taking a "predetermined" course of action but, honestly, has there ever been anything more predetermined in political history than Nancy Pelosi, Jack Murtha, et al. jetting over to Iraq and returning to declare they were "pessmistic" (Skelton) and "not encouraged" by what they saw (Murtha). Was there even a remote chance they would have changed their position, regardless of what they might have seen or heard while in Iraq? Of course not.

Now watch the video below closely. It is "B-roll" from Nancy Pelosi's recent trip to Iraq. At the 1:15 mark is a fifteen second clip of Pelosi speaking to Major General Fil, the commander of the 1st Cavalry Division, whose primary responsibility is the security of Baghdad. The audio is terrible and the clip begins and ends abruptly, but here is a transcript of the exchange:

Pelosi: next three to six months...

Gen. Fil: I think we'll have real progress. I'm speaking as the Commander, now, of the Division. I can't speak for the Prime Minister or General Casey, but as the Division Commander here in Baghdad, um, I think we'll...

Now read the transcript of Speaker Pelosi characterized what she heard on her trip at a big press conference in Washington DC on Tuesday:

"The escalation instituted by the president has been tried before and failed. Although we heard varying judgments about prospects for success this time, everyone we spoke to agreed that this was the one last chance, and it might not work."

We don't know who else Pelosi might have spoken to while on her trip, but we do know at least one very knowledgeable, high ranking officer told her that he expects to see "real progress." Is it conceivable Major General Fil also conceded to Pelosi upon direction examination the possibility that the plan "might not work?" I suppose so. But even if he did, Pelosi's carefully worded remarks to the American public appear to put the most pessimistic, most defeatist spin possible on what she saw and heard in Iraq. Unfortunately, it seems for political reasons the Democrats aren't even willing to concede the possibility, no matter how slight or remote it might seem to them, that we might actually succeed in Iraq.

Spinning the Non-Binding Battle in the Senate

Washington Post - Senate Democrats Split on Measure Opposing Bush

Wall Street Journal - Bush Senate Allies to Seek Iraq Benchmarks

New York Times - Compromise Senate Measure Rebuffing Bush's Iraq Buildup Gathers Support

Washington Times - Majority in Senate Support 'Stay the Course' Resolution

The Washington Post and the WSJ headlines hit closest to describing what is really going on behind the scenes. The New York Times tries to spin the recent Democrat movement "toward GOP positions" - which is how the Washington Post reports recent development -- as (surprise) anti-Bush. The worst of the bunch is the Washington Times, which makes a laughable effort to spin the Senate as getting behind a "stay the course" resolution.

The real battle over these non-binding resolutions is between the Warner-Levin camp and the new McCain-Lieberman resolution as described in the WSJ story.

This entire debate in the Senate has always been purely a political exercise because all of these resolutions are non-binding and thus policy impotent. But the political advantages that the Democrats felt they were gaining through this exercise appear to be slipping away. Depending how the process continues to play out over the next week, the entire episode could ironically provide Senate Republicans and President Bush a much needed boost.

The Big Event

Wingbowl 15 is here! Will Bunch is not happy.

McCain-Pawlenty in 2008?

John mentioned the possibility of a McCain-Pawlenty ticket in '08 right after Pawlenty won reelection as Governor of Minnesota last November.

That potential prospect was one of the topics reporters wanted to talk about when they interviewed him in DC yesterday after he attended the 55th annual National Prayer Breakfast.

Earlier this month Pawlenty signed on as national co-chair of McCain's presidential campaign, so whatever happens the Governor's star is firmly hitched to McCain's presidential wagon.

UPDATE: Jeff Patch from the Politico has more on the interview with Pawlenty, including a more fully reported quote on Pawlenty's shot at Al Franken: "I don't think he'd be right for Minnesota...You'd be hard-pressed to point to what he's done that would lead you to the conclusion that he should be helping -- be in the United States Senate at this time."

Cable Wars

Yesterday Richard Johnson of the NY Post's Page Six reported that "ratings-challenged CNN is flipping out over a taunting Fox News Channel ad that cattily compares the also-ran cable network's dapper newsman Anderson Cooper to Paris Hilton." You can see the crew from Fox & Friends having a good laugh at the ad - and mocking Cooper - in the clip below:

This morning on Drudge's site, it looks like CNN has tried to strike back with the following ad (it's animated but I've captured three of the stills):

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Hunter's Promise

Duncan Hunter: ""As president, I will complete the border fence in six months."

Terror Inc.

In addition to conducting a proxy war against the U.S. in Iraq and supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon, guess who appears to be working closely with Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza?

Fatah-affiliated Palestinian security forces arrested seven Iranian weapons experts - including an Iranian Army general - during a raid Thursday night at the Islamic University, a Hamas stronghold in Gaza City, a security official said. [snip]

In the university compound, the Fatah gunmen also found 1,400 Kalachnikov rifles, rockets, as well as several RPG and LAU missiles.

Iran has supplied Hamas with funds, but there have been no previous claims of Iranians working with Hamas in Gaza.

However, Deputy Defense Minister Efraim Sneh told Army Radio that Israel was fully aware of the presence of Iranian officials in the West Bank and Gaza, who were assisting Hamas and Islamic Jihadf with money, weapons enhancement and training."

"Iran is fighting Israel all the time, on every front," said Sneh. "But Israel is prevented from fighting it directly and only hits its agents," he added.

Manhattan Keynotes

The New York Post reports that the state GOP Chairman has purposefully double-booked Rudy Giuliani and John McCain at a major fundraiser in May, which the Post portrays as a slap at Rudy. Both men are delighted to be "keynoting" the event.

February 01, 2007

Favor Time

We don't ask for favors from our readers very often, and when we do it's always important. With that in mind, we'd like to ask that you spare a few minutes of your time to fill out this survey. Let me emphasize that all the responses are completely anonymous. Thanks in advance for helping out, it will go a long way toward helping to insure the long term success RCP.

Boeing Soars

To those who've been paying attention, news that Boeing beat Wall St. expectations in Q4 isn't really news. George Will wrote a column a couple detailing one of the largest reasons for Boeing's big turn around in the last couple years: the bungling incompetence of its major competitor, Airbus. And Thomas Lifson, the editor of the American Thinker who follows the aviation industry quite closely, has more on Airbus's annus horribilis today on RCP.

On a more personal note, having grown up in Seattle I can tell you that few people understand how vitally important Boeing has been and remains for the local economy.

seattle.jpg I was born in 1969, right in the middle of what was known as the "Boeing Bust," a four year period in which the company shed some 62,000 plus jobs. As you would expect, it was a disaster that nearly killed the economy and a devastating blow to the the morale of the city. The bleakness of the time was immortalized by the 1971 billboard near Sea-Tac airport pictured to the right.

Years later, I still remember my third grade teacher asking us if anyone in their family worked at Boeing. More than half the hands in the class went up.

In my case it was my uncle, who supervised the construction/assembly of wings for the 737 at the plant in Everett. In high-school he took my dad and I on a guided tour of the plant which is so massive that being inside it creates a surreal, Alice in Wonderland effect.

Workers rode bicycles (with baskets on the front to carry papers, etc) to get from one place to another while a few golf carts buzzed around the facility. In one area workers sat high atop a scaffolding-like structure putting in rivets, in another they were laying the almost incomprehensible lengths of electrical wire that go into the guts of a modern aircraft. Most amazing of all was the area where they were stress testing the wings. I'll never forget the sight of a full size 737 with each wing pulled up so high by thick cables coming out of plant's ceiling that they looked like should have snapped clean off. That memory has given me great comfort over the years as I've looked out the window of an airplane I was riding on to see its wing bobbing and bouncing furiously through turbulence.

Needless to say, I've got a bit of a soft spot for Boeing. It's nice to see a great American company flying high again.

Can Franken Keep His Cool?

Al Franken is telling members of the Minnesota delegation he's running for Senate against Norm Coleman next year. He might be a very formidable candidate, or he might end up joining Howard Dean, et al in the political flame out Hall of Fame. At this point I'd say it's a coin flip.

For one thing, Franken is a loose cannon. He's made a living by shooting his off his mouth (at times in very humorous ways), but he doesn't strike me as possessing enough self-discipline to rein things in. Over the course of a long campaign, I can see his seemingly genetic predisposition to irreverence catching up with him at some point.

The other problem is that in between bouts of humor, Franken can come across as angry and condescending - two traits don't wear well with voters over time. He also seems to have a pretty thin skin and could lose his cool, like he did at the 2004 Republican National Convention when he got into a tussle with a producer from the Laura Ingraham show on "radio row:"

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Minnesota is not so blue that Franken can afford to be turning off moderates and independents with any antics, goofy or otherwise.

The Governor's race last November is a good cautionary tale for Franken: in a big Dem year, DFLer Mike Hatch led incumbent Republican Tim Pawlenty by a slim margin all the way to the end of the race until Hatch mishandled a last minute brouhaha concerning his running mate's inability to answer a question about E85 (a blend of ethanol). Angered by repeated questions, Hatch lashed out at reporters, calling one a Republican "whore." He ended up losing the race by 22,483 votes out of more than 2.2 million cast.

So will Franken be able to keep his cool? Like I said, the betting line is probably even money.

A Tragic Update

Six months ago Leonid Milkin was finishing a tour of duty in Iraq when he received the tragic news: his wife, her sister and his two sons - aged 5 and 3 - back home in Kirkland, Washington had been murdered in a shocking, senseless crime. The Seattle Times has a heartbreaking update of Milkin's struggle adjusting to life without his family.