« February 2007 | The RCP Blog Home Page | December 2007 »

March 21, 2007

The Politics of AttorneyGate

March 15, 2007

The Daily 2008

The leading Democratic presidential candidates and Republican senators John McCain and Sam Brownback attended yesterday's meeting of the International Association of Fire Fighters. The forum was mostly uneventful as candidates lavished praise on firefighters and criticized their treatment by the government: from health care and labor issues to a lack emergency equipment. Of course the biggest story was Rudy Giuliani's absence after the union attacked his decision to reduce the number of firefighters doing recovery operations shortly after 9/11. The union endorsed John Kerry in '04 and Republicans "stand little chance of winning the union's endorsement" because of their opposition to labor initiatives.

Giuliani had his own meeting though: a 1,000-person fundraiser in Manhattan where he cast himself as a can-do candidate and said he's "impatient and singled-minded" about his goals. Meanwhile, a Quinnipac poll surveyed New Yorkers, 46 percent of whom said Mayor Bloomberg would make a better president than Giuliani.

Out in California, the state GOP is struggling with a proposal to open its presidential primary to independent voters, who would probably favor Giuliani or McCain. Michael Shear at the Washington Post writes that McCain is trying to recapture the maverick spirit of his '00 campaign now that he trails Giuliani.

On the Democratic side, the Des Moines Register has a long follow-up to a report earlier this week that quoted Sen. Barack Obama as saying "nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people" in a discussion of the Middle East, a remark that's now drawing fire from some Jewish Democrats. Obama is also under scrutiny for whether he believes homosexuality is "immoral" after dodging three consecutive questions about the issue yesterday.

For the second time this week Bob Shrum's revelations have struck another Democrat. Shrum writes in his new book that Clinton lobbied to be Kerry's vice presidential pick but was denied because of her high negative ratings in polls.

Find the rest of today's election news at RCP's Politics and Elections page.

The Long Exit

Many people have commented on the fundamental lack of seriousness with which some Democrats have approached the Iraq debate but few, if any, have done it as well as David Brooks does this morning in the New York Times:

The fact is there are two serious approaches to U.S. policy in Iraq, and the Democratic leaders, for purely political reasons, are caught in the middle, and even people like Carl Levin are beginning to sound silly.

One serious position is heard on the left: that there's nothing more we can effectively do in Iraq. We've spent four years there and have not been able to quell the violence. If the place is headed for civil war, there's nothing we can do to stop it, and we certainly don't want to get caught in the middle. The only reasonable option is to get out now before more Americans die.

The second serious option is heard on the right. We have to do everything we can to head off catastrophe, and it's too soon to give up hope. The surge is already producing some results. Bombing deaths are down by at least a third. Execution-style slayings have been cut in half. An oil agreement has been reached, tribes in Anbar Province are chasing Al Qaeda, cross-sectarian political blocs are emerging. We should perhaps build on the promise of the surge with regional diplomacy or a soft partition, but we certainly should not set timetables for withdrawal.

The Democratic leaders don't want to be for immediate withdrawal because it might alienate the centrists, and they don't want to see out the surge because that would alienate the base. What they want to do is be against Bush without accepting responsibility for any real policy, so they have concocted a vaporous policy of distant withdrawal that is divorced from realities on the ground.

Say what you will about President Bush, when he thinks a policy is right, like the surge, he supports it, even if it's going to be unpopular. The Democratic leaders, accustomed to the irresponsibility of opposition, show no such guts.

March 14, 2007

Edwards on Global Warming

This video is just more proof John Edwards is running hard to capture the heart and soul of the netroots. After explaining his reason for boycotting the FOX News debate in Nevada he actually says that potential global warming in the next 75 years "will make world war look like heaven."




Maybe he should spend some time watching the History Channel and old WWII clips to see what a real world war would look like, and that was with weapons over 60 years old. God forbid we have world war over the next 75 years with nuclear weapons and the state of armaments today. I can’'t predict the future, but I’'d be willing to bet that the weather over the next 75 years will not be as bad as a real world war.

This type of stuff, eerily like:

If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve will get up out of that wheelchair and walk again.

is one of the reasons John Edwards' favorable/unfavorable ratings are so bad for a guy who hasn't been on the national stage for that long. In the most recent Hotline/FD poll he had a +12% (39/27) favorable/unfavorable spread and in the ABC/WP it was down to single digits at +7% (46/39). These type of favorability numbers only complicate his uphill road to the nomination.

Rudy's Chances

An interesting pro-Giuliani email:

It seems clear that the conservative punditry and - most especially - conservative religious leaders are panicked over the probability of the Republican Party will nominate Rudy Giuliani as its Presidential candidate for 2008. The conventional wisdom is that primary voters don't know just how liberal Rudy is and when they find out, they'll flee to another candidate. Between now and February of next year, religious conservative leaders will do everything they can to destroy Rudy's candidacy.

The problem is there appears to be a disconnect between the conservative punditry and religious leaders and the Republican primary voters expressing in polls their approval of Rudy as their likely candidate. How can this be?
No part of the electorate follows politics more closely than primary voters. The fact is they already know about Rudy's past liberal positions. But they also know Rudy is a born leader, agrees with them on most issues and is probably the only Republican candidate who can handily beat Mrs. Bill Clinton or Mr. Obama. Republicans - conservatives & moderates - want to win. More than that, they want to keep the Clintons and the Obamas out of the White House.

And when Republican primary voters look at all the other candidates, what viable alternatives do they actually have?

• McCain: War hero who's contemptuous of conservatives, who seems to have a screw loose and could self-combust at any moment
• Romney: Plastic, seemingly computer-generated, opportunistic flip-flopper - and let's not kid ourselves, the Mormon thing is going to be a problem for some
• Gingrich: Great guy, smart as a whip, been married 3 times, had affair during Clinton impeachment thing, so much baggage - has higher negatives in polling than Hillary
• and the flavor of the day - Fred Thompson: Boring, lack-luster career in the senate, not really qualified, flash in the pan and won't finish in the top 3

None of the other candidates are on the radar and, as such, worth mentioning.
If Rudy wins the nomination, will Dr. James Dobson et al run a 3rd party candidate in the general election? If so, they'll commit political suicide.

New Hampshire Poll

New polls numbers out of New Hampshire today has Hillary Clinton with a 7 point lead over Barack Obama, 32% to 25%. That's much larger than a Suffolk poll two weeks ago which had Clinton at only a 2 point advantage (28-26), but the sample size was about half (212 likely voters) of the new poll (401 likely voters).

In the RCP Average for the New Hampshire primary, Clinton's lead over Obama is 4.3 points with a long 10 months to go until the primary on Jan 22.

Obama is heading to New Hampshire this Friday to campaign. Asked about the new trend of states moving their primary dates up to Feb. 5, Obama said, "If anything, all the eyes in the nation are going to be fastened on New Hampshire and the kind of retail politics that is called for in New Hampshire becomes that much more important because this is where most of the country is going to get a sense of who the candidates are."

Clinton, Kaplan and the Establishment

There's a mini-uproar brewing over the new CBS "Evening News" executive producer Rick Kaplan and his friendship with the Clintons.

Interestingly, the CBS News blog, Public Eye, is giving the issue some attention. Of course, blogger Brian Montopoli concludes that "Kaplan is capable of covering the Clintons fairly." Whether that's true, it's understandable that the right side of the blogosphere is howling about the perceived bias of a news executive who slept in the Clinton White House twice.

Otherwise, what we're reminded of in this story is just how ingrained Hillary Clinton is with the media and political powerbrokers. Does Barack Obama have any network news executive friends? He might, but those are the kinds of relationships one gets having lived and worked in the elite power circles of Washington and New York for the last 15 years. Being the Establishment Candidate comes with some fringe benefits.

Unfortunately for Clinton, the increasingly powerful left-wing base loathes the establishment. Straw polls aren't much good for anything other than gauging the mood of the activists, so it's worth noting that a recent straw poll conducted by the left-wing site MyDD came up with these results:

Candidate 1st Choice
Obama 36%
Edwards 33%
Richardson 10%
Clinton 5%
Kucinich 2%

Also remember how masterfully John Edwards stoked the left-wing's hatred of Fox News by being the first to drop out of the Nevada debate. That's the kind of thing the base loves and it's the kind of thing Clinton just can't do without ticking off some of her powerful friends - friends like Fox News' Rupert Murdoch, who, let's recall, held a fund-raiser for her last year.

The Daily 2008

California's new Feb. 5 primary date has given the state's politicians new clout as they become important proxies for presidential campaigns. One especially close relationship is between Rudy Giuliani and Bill Simon, who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2003 and is now Giuliani's policy director and salesman to the right. New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer doesn't want his state to be left out of the spotlight and said he would like to move the primary date to Feb. 5 as well.

In Washington today, Giuliani will not attend a presidential forum hosted by the International Association of Fire Fighters as they and other first-responder groups criticize Giuliani's record from emergency preparedness to 9/11 search-and-rescue operations. As RCP was first to report yesterday: Sen. John McCain will not attend the Club for Growth meeting this month because of a prior committment in Iraq.

Speaking of Iraq, Bob Shrum's new book says John Edwards was "skeptical" about voting to authorize the use of force in Iraq in 2002. According to Shrum, Edwards voted for the war after being told by advisers he didn't have the credibility to vote against it and that he had to vote for it to be taken seriously on national security during his 2004 campaign. "It wasn't a political calculation. It was a mistake," Edwards said yesterday after claiming he had "no idea" what Shrum was talking about. Tomorrow Edwards is slated to deliver a "major policy address" on poverty in New Hampshire.

Elsewhere, Ben Smith at the Politico reports that a Democratic AIPAC member has asked Sen. Barack Obama to clarify his claim that "nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that he was open to the idea of loosening restrictions on direct aid to the Palestinians.

As Obama plays defense, Sen. Hillary Clinton is playing offense. This morning Clinton called on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign during a "Good Morning America" interview. Yesterday Clinton reprised the "vast right-wing conspiracy" line that she originally used to describe efforts against her husband during the Lewinsky scandal. Clinton said it was "proven" in a New Hampshire court that the conspiracy exists after two Republicans pleaded guilty to charges concerning a 2002 case of Election Day phone jamming.

The rest of today's election news can be found at RCP's Politics and Elections page.

March 13, 2007

Edwards vs. Shrum

An interesting story today from the AP about a forthcoming book by Democratic strategist Bob Shrum.

Democratic strategist Bob Shrum writes in his memoir to be published in June that he regrets advising Edwards to give President Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq. He said if Edwards had followed his instincts instead of the advice of political professionals, he would have been a stronger presidential candidate in 2004.

Which is all very nice of Shrum to say no doubt. Problem is, Shrum's account is bad for business.

Edwards spokesman David Ginsberg disputes the suggestion that Edwards was making a political calculation with the 2002 vote that he has called the most important of his career.

Throughout the 2004 campaign, Edwards and John Kerry could never successfully spin their Iraq war votes. Which is why both Edwards and Kerry - who isn't even running - ended up saying after the election simply that they made a mistake. This calmed the antiwar activists, even if it elided over some inconvenient statements Kerry and Edwards had made back in 2002 about the threat Iraq posed to the United States.

So it's understandable for Edwards' spokesman David Ginsberg to say this in response to Shrum's version of events:

John Edwards cast his vote based on the advice of national security advisers and the intelligence he was given, not political advisers," Ginsberg said. "He got political advice on both sides of the argument, and made his own decision based on what he thought was right, not political calculation.

While this argument lessens the charge that the administration lied, it does serve to cast Edwards as a responsible politician, one who makes decisions based on what he knows and is prepared to admit mistakes.

But what of Shrum's version?

Shrum writes that Edwards, then a North Carolina senator, called his foreign policy and political advisers together in his Washington living room in the fall of 2002 to get their advice. Edwards was "skeptical, even exercised" about the idea of voting yes and his wife Elizabeth was forcefully against it, according to Shrum, who later signed on to John Kerry's presidential campaign.

But Shrum said the consensus among the advisers was that Edwards, just four years in office, did not have the credibility to vote against the resolution and had to support it to be taken seriously on national security. Shrum said Edwards' facial expressions showed he did not like where he was being pushed to go.

But go there he did, and, unfortunately for Edwards, Shrum's account makes him look as if he was swayed for political reasons.

McCain to be in Iraq During Club for Growth Event

The McCain campaign informs RCP that Senator McCain will be overseas in a "war theater" at the time of the Club for Growth conference at the end of this month. This has been a long-standing trip and thus a conflict with the March 31st and April 1st speaking slots for McCain at the event.

This helps explain what on the surface looked like a bizarre political move by the McCain campaign to just "skip" the anti-tax, supply-side group's winter conference. The contrast of McCain's rivals being in Palm Beach while Senator McCain is with the troops in Iraq should mitigate the political fallout from his absence.

However, the speed with which his opponents on the Internet jumped on his absence coupled with Club for Growth President Pat Toomey's less than enthusiastic column in today's Wall Street Journal only highlight McCain's troubles with large blocs of the conservative electorate.

Vitter & Rudy: Wound Too Tight?

Quin Hillyer has an interesting tidbit on what may have contributed to David Vitter's decision to back Giuliani, and also a word of caution to all of the Rudy booster's in the GOP.

The Vitter endorsement probably will help Giuliani some, it's true, but in one sense it is a case of like attracting like. Just as stories are becoming rampant about how obnoxiously and outrageously the mayor was known to berate reporters (not that I am a big defender of the media in general, but we're talking flying way off the handle here), he gets an endorsement from another politician prone to totally freakazoid behavior of the same sort. I once wrote a rather positive notes package about Vitter, only to have him call me up and go absolutely bonkers on me for nearly 10 solid minutes --we're talking large decibel level here -- because the notes mentioned that he already had blanketed the state legislative district for which he was running with high quality glossy flyers handed out door to door.

The problem? Vitter was furious that I had used the word "glossy," because he said I was trying to imply that he was a slick politician without substance. Never mind that nothing else in the notes package hinted at that, nor that anybody had publicly suggested such a thing during the race that was just beginning, not that I even believed that myself. And of course never mind that "glossy" is, obviously a precisely accurate description of a type of photo paper, which is of course the way the word was used. I mean, the Vitter eruption came totally out of left field. But people who know him know that he's wound about five times more tightly than an old Titleist balata golf ball.

That same characteristic in both Giuliani and in McCain make them easy targets for Hillary's henchmen to exploit in a general election campaign with a media biased in Hillary's favor. It is a very, very good reason why conservatives should not leap on board too soon for the mayor, even though he does have much to recommend him. This does not mean that conservatives should write him off, not at all, but only that there is no need for any early commitments.

Vitter Good for Rudy, Toomey Bad for McCain

Forgetting Giuliani's not insignificant lead in the polls (ahead by 17.2% in the RCP Average), two news events yesterday further illustrate what the Giuliani campaign is doing right and how the McCain camping is struggling.

Endorsements by your average governor or senator are usually not that big a deal, especially from a state that does not have a significant role in the nominating process, but Louisiana Sen. David Vitter's endorsement of Giuliani is a big positive for the Giuliani campaign, because it sends a message that Rudy is acceptable to social conservatives. If a social conservative from a southern state like David Vitter can get behind the former mayor of New York, it takes some of the punch out of the anti-Giuliani analysis that he will be found unacceptable to Republican primary voters.

Contrast this positive development for the Giuliani campaign with the news from the Club for Growth that Senator McCain is declining an offer to speak at their winter conference in a couple of weeks.


The Club for Growth is happy to announce a star-studded array of guest speakers for its 2007 Annual Winter Conference in Palm Beach, Florida., to be held March 29 - April 1, 2007. Joining the Club for Growth for its policy forums are declared or potential presidential candidates former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney; former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani; Kansas Senator Sam Brownback; and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Arizona Senator John McCain was invited to attend, but declined.

Skipping the CPAC event could be tactically justified; however, the unexplained Club for Growth snub just doesn't make a lot of sense politically. At the beginning of February when Giuliani threw his hat into the ring and became the favorite I suggested:

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. Strategically, McCain would be well advised to position himself as the pro-growth, supply-side conservative in the Republican field.

There is not a clear pro-growth, anti-tax candidate in the GOP field today, which is an opportunity for all of the Republican candidates. The reality is McCain does need to be proactive in finding ways to get Republicans enthusiastic about his campaign. Steadfastness on the war will not be enough to deliver Senator McCain the nomination, especially when his main competition is Giuliani. By itself skipping the Club for Growth event is no big deal, but on the back of his absence at other recent conservative gatherings he is doing himself no favors among the conservative activists he is going to need over the course of 2007 to put himself in the position to win the votes in January and February 2008.

The Daily 2008

Adam Nagourney and Megan Thee of The New York Times tell us what we already knew about the GOP field, just with newer information: the party is restless. A new NYT/CBS News poll reports that 40 percent of Republicans think Democrats will win next year, 58 percent want a candidate who's "flexible" on withdrawing from Iraq, but most don't know enough about the leading candidates to make a choice.

In other news on the GOP, Sen. Chuck Hagel's deferred decision about a presidential run may be based on his hope that voters will become tired by the current field and embrace a fresher, more anti-war candidate come fall. But as former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey put it: "On the other hand, it's very difficult to run for president unless you're running for president."

Conservative Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) was made Rudy Giuliani's regional Southern chair and said the mayor isn't running to "advance any liberal social agenda." Yesterday, Giuliani told reporters he was cool to the idea of President Bush immediately pardoning Scooter Libby. "I know more about pardons than anybody needs to know about them," Giuliani said of his time running the pardon office in the Justice Department.

Mitt Romney will be on Giuliani's turf next week in New York where he'll try to raise money from big-name donors who Giuliani hasn't totally locked up. Out west Romney received the backing of a former Nevada governor at the same time the state's GOP faces an internal pushback to the early primary date it set last week.

Not to be forgotten, Democrats are trying to outfox each other. Al Sharpton asked why Sen. Barack Obama, who is against the Iraq war, supported Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic primary, even though Lieberman is the "biggest supporter of the war," according to Sharpton.

Should Obama or another Democratic make things close at the Democratic convention next year, Sen. Hillary Clinton will turn to "superdelegates" to make her the nominee. These "superdelegates" are mostly Congress members, governors and national committee members who act like free agents at the conventions, unlike delegates selected in the primaries and caucuses.

The Hill reports that Clinton has created a network of Democratic lobbyists and insiders three times the size of Obama's base of Beltway support. Obama has declined contributions from lobbyists for his presidential campaign and even money lobbyists may raise on behalf of others

Find the rest of today's news at our Politics and Elections page.

Election 2008

I was on Hugh Hewitt's national radio program last evening discussing the 2008 campaign. The audio stream lost the section where I suggested the country was tired of the sixteen years of bitterness with the Clinton and Bush presidencies, all of which was working in Obama's favor in his battle for the Democratic nomination. Most of the discussion was on Hagel, Obama and Thompson.

Carol Platt Liebau was filling in for Hugh, who is in New York promoting his new book, "A Mormon in the White House."

March 12, 2007

Hagel's Road Less Traveled

When Frost found himself at the crossroads, he took the road less traveled. And that, he said, made all the difference. When Sen. Chuck Hagel finds himself at the crossroads, he calls a press conference.

"America stands at an historic crossroads in its history. It is against this backdrop that I find myself at my own crossroads on my political future. Burdened by two wars, faced with dangerous new threats and global uncertainty, beset by serious long-term domestic problems and divided by raw political partisanship-America now reaches for a national consensus of purpose."

Wait for it; wait for it...

"I am here today to announce that my family and I will make a decision on my political future later this year."

One doesn't have to follow Frost's advice and take the road less traveled, but, man, if you're going to call a press conference, make a decision.

Media Alert

It's a bit short notice, but I'll be on The Live Desk with Martha MacCallum at 1pm Eastern today.

'08 Nevada Poll

Research 2000 poll in Nevada:

Republicans
Giuliani 38
McCain 18
Gingrich 13
Romney 4

Democrats
Clinton 32
Obama 20
Gore 11
Edwards 11
Richardson 2
Clark 2

Head-to-Head Matchups
Giuliani 46 - Clinton 38
Giuliani 44 - Obama 42

Ready, Aim.......Hit Giuliani

The first of what will be many death blows aimed at the Giuliani candidacy hit Drudge today in the form of a video clip of then NYC mayoral candidate Rudy Giuliani in 1989 running on the Republican-Liberal line against David Dinkins.

There must be public funding for abortions, for poor women. We can not deny any woman the right to make her own decision about abortion because she lacks resources. I have also stated that I disagree with President Bush's veto of public funding for abortion.

Rudy is now at 38% in the latest RCP Average, which will most likely be his peak as more candidates get in the race and more clips like this continue to be unearthed. If Fred Thompson gets in the race, he would likely vault to a strong third very quickly.

Let's be clear: Video clips like this are totally expected and just part of the long string of baggage the Giuliani campaign is going to have to manage if they hope to capture the Republican nomination. It is exactly clips like these (and the three marriages, and the Bernie Kerik sludge) that make many analysts discount Giuliani's chances.

It will be very important to monitor the reaction to this video and how the Giuliani campaign manages damage control. We will learn quite a bit about just how strong of a favorite Rudy really is today (and I do think he is the favorite) or whether the Giuliani doubters are correct and he is simply not nominatable.

The Brownback Interview

I sat down with Senator Brownback in his office last Wednesday. You can read the full transcript of the interview below the jump, but let me offer a few quick observations about why Brownback is such an intriguing candidate.

Obviously, he's a hero to cultural conservatives, but Brownback is also taking the lead in the Senate on comprehensive immigration reform and he's the only Republican in the current field who came out against the President's surge in Iraq (though Chuck Hagel might be getting into the race today),

Another interesting piece of Brownback's profile that is sometimes overlooked: he grew up on a farm and was elected the youngest Secretary of Agriculture in Kansas history. When it comes to retail politics with Republicans in Iowa, he's basically one of them. How well can Rudy stand on a farm or in a local town hall meeting and talk "ag" issues? What about McCain? And how much will it even matter?

While there are questions about how well Rudy's brash New York City style will play in Iowa, I don't think there's any doubt that Sam Brownback is going to wear very well as a candidate in Iowa over the course of a long, twenty month campaign.

Can Brownback win Iowa? If the top tier candidates fall away or flame out and he's left standing as a solid alternative, sure it's possible. That would probably still leave him as a long shot to win the nomination, though it would certainly enhance his chances of getting a VP nod, especially if Rudy goes on to win and is looking for balance.

Just as a point of historical reference: since 1984 the Republican winner of the Iowa caucus has gone on to win the party's nomination five out of six times. The only exception was in 1988, when Bob Dole won Iowa with 37% of the vote, Pat Robertson finished second with 25%, and the eventual nominee, George Herbert Walker Bush, placed third with 19%. Obviously, Bob Dole was from Kansas. Guess who took Dole's seat in the Senate? Sam Brownback.

Read the full transcript of my interview with Senator Brownback below the jump...

Revisiting Fred Thompson

My sense is that if you are conservative and were watching Fox News Sunday yesterday, you liked what you saw in former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson. My sense is also that if you are a Republican presidential candidate, you didn't.

Host Chris Wallace went down the litany of questions and Thompson hit all the right notes from a conservative voter's perspective: Pro-life; Scalia-like judges; against gay marriage; opposes gun control; would pardon Libby; and supports the President's surge in Iraq.

Thompson's record in the Senate from 1995 through 2002 sustained his answers: His lifetime American Conservative Union rating is 86 (out of 100) and his lifetime Americans for Democratic Action (the liberal quotient) rating is a measly 5. Add in his presence in front of the camera as well as his folksy way of speaking, and it's no wonder conservatives are pressing him to get into the race.

There were a few stumbling blocks, however. On immigration, Thompson had to splice some comments he's made which make it sound as if he agrees with his friend Sen. John McCain. The very fact that he felt he needed to address that issue means Thompson well understands that the McCain position doesn't play well with the conservative base. Wallace also asked, though didn't press, Thompson about his previous support for campaign-finance reform - another McCain albatross.

But there are two questions Wallace didn't ask. First, he didn't ask Thompson about tort reform. In 1995, the GOP-led House passed a tough medical liability bill that included tort reform as part of the Contract With America. Things were all ready to go in the Senate under Majority Leader Bob Dole, when freshman - and former trial lawyer - Thompson introduced his own medical liability reform bill, sans tort reform. The bill passed and in conference committee the House's tort reform package got completely extirpated. Conservatives were outraged and many blamed Thompson.

Second, Wallace introduced his guest by asking, "Is Fred Thompson the next Ronald Reagan?" What he didn't bring up is that this isn't the first time conservatives have expected big things from Thompson nor the first time he's been compared to Reagan.

In a 1999 National Review article by Jay Nordlinger, for instance, we're reminded that Thompson's Senate career failed to live up to the hype. Who recalls that in 1994, before Thompson was even sworn in, Dole tapped Thompson to give the rebuttal to an economic address by Bill Clinton? The day after his five-minute retort the New York Times ran a headline "A Star is Born." The New Republic followed with an article called "Reagan Redux." Nordlinger wrote, "The mentioning class began to mention him as a possible vice-presidential nominee in 1996, and certainly as a contender for the top prize in 2000."

But life in the Senate got in the way. In addition to the tort reform mess, Nordlinger says, Republicans were also upset that Thompson, as chairman of Governmental Affairs Committee, wasn't as eager as they were to go after the White House during investigations into campaign-finance reform abuses. "On top of all that, they think he seems joyless, arrogant, and hostile to the political p's and q's that ordinarily make for success in Washington," Nordlinger wrote. Ouch.

Perhaps enough years have passed and perhaps Thompson was never suited to life in the Senate - not a bad quality, to be sure. After all, there's a reason senators rarely make it to the White House. But with Thompson-mania sure to increase following his Wallace interview, these are issues Thompson is going to have to address.

Obama's Audacity

I'm not sure this is even news, but I found it interesting. On March 2 the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story about Craig Robinson. Robinson is the head coach of the Brown University men's basketball team, and he also happens to be Barack Obama's brother in law. Obama married Robinson's younger sister, Michelle, in 1992.

(Some quick disclosure: Craig Robinson is a fellow Princeton grad (eight years my senior) and we've met a couple of times over the years through mutual friends - though I promise you he wouldn't know me from Adam. Michelle is also a Princeton grad, Class of 1985, whom I've never met)

With that out of the way, the Inquirer story begins with the following hook:

In the early 1990s, when his sister brought her new boyfriend home for the first time, Craig Robinson was understandably wary.

Now read how the article ends:

As for his brother-in-law, Robinson still shakes his head when he remembers that initial meeting. "We were talking about a variety of things and he said, 'I'm thinking about running for president one day,' " Robinson said.

"I said, 'President? President of what?' "

Again, in a generic sense, news that Obama is ambitious is very much "man bites dog." The guy was the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, etc.

On the other hand, I can't recall seeing anything like this about Obama in print before. Robinson is talking about meeting him sometime in the early 1990's, probably during the latter half of 1991 when he returned to Chicago after graduating from Harvard Law and began work as a civil rights attorney (as stated above Barack and Michelle were married in 1992).

So, if Robinson's recollection is accurate, more than five years before Barack Obama first ran for elected office he was thinking and talking somewhat openly about running for President. Even though it sounded like a deluded fantasy to Robinson at the time, it provides a revealing glimpse into Obama's ambition. The fact that he would say such a thing to his girlfriend's older brother on their first meeting is another conversation altogether but it also speaks to a remarkably high level of confidence, ambition and, yes, audacity).

Part of Obama's appeal is that he appears refreshingly unambitious relative to his competition. Unlike Hillary, who seems to have spent every minute of the last ten years calculating each move with respect to its impact on her presidential ambitions, and unlike John Edwards, who has been running for President non-stop for the last five years, Obama has cultivated an image of being "the right man at the right moment." He's gone out of his way to make self deprecating remarks about his hyper popularity, and when discussing his thoughts about running for President he said more than once that "This is an office you can't run for just on the basis of ambition."

That's absolutely true. Personally, I think Obama made the right choice in running this year, even if it is a bit audacious. Still, it's a bit shocking to learn via his brother-in-law that Obama's audacious move seems to have been on his mind and in the works for a lot longer than most people thought.

The Daily 2008

USA Today surveys the presidential field and finds candidates who reflect "broad trends in American life that also have affected the nation's schools, workplaces and neighborhoods" and has detailed polling data showing how comfortable different voting segments are with a particular type of candidate.

Sen. Hillary Clinton has used her unique position as the only female candidate to appeal to women, but Democratic female support isn't locked up -- a split personified by dueling abortion rights endorsements between Clinton and John Edwards. Both candidates and their fellow Democrats are hiring consultants from Nevada and building organizations there.

In Iowa, Sen. Barack Obama said Palestinians are suffering and if "we could get some movement among Palestinian leadership" he'd like to see some loosening of restrictions on direct aid to Palestinians. Obama's wife will play a major role in her husband's campaign, both as advisor and booster. Mrs. Obama recently hired a chief of staff and changed her work status to part time.

Today, Sen. Chuck Hagel will make a major announcement at the University of Nebraska, though it's still unclear if he'll announce for president after staying in his Omaha townhouse this weekend. In other GOP news, Sen. John McCain said "out of control" spending was the reason Republicans lost Congress last year. Rudy Giuliani continues his foray into the presidential arena by canceling all of his future paid speeches. So far neither McCain or Giuliani has been scheduled to attend the South Carolina GOP's version of Super Tuesday: three GOP county conventions on April 21. Sen. Sam Brownback sat down with Tom for an extensive interview, which you can find here.

Get the rest of today's news at our Politics and Elections page.

March 09, 2007

Friday Funnies

Some cartoons from earlier in the week that piled up in my bookmark folder:

030607shelton_blog.jpg (Mike Shelton, Orange County Register)

anderson2.jpg
(Nick Anderson, Houston Chronicle)

csm.jpg
(Brian Barling, Christian Science Monitor)

Federal Court Overturns D.C. Gun Law

Big news out of the nation's capital today, where the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck down 2-1 the District's handgun ban as a violation of the Second Amendment. Lots of reaction from the blogosphere, which I posted below, but here's the relevant paragraph of Judge Laurence Silberman's majority opinion:

To summarize, we conclude that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms. That right existed prior to the formation of the new government under the Constitution and was premised on the private use of arms for activities such as hunting and self-defense, the latter being understood as resistance to either private lawlessness or the depredations of a tyrannical government (or a threat from abroad). In addition, the right to keep and bear arms had the important and salutary civic purpose of helping to preserve the citizen militia. The civic purpose was also a political expedient for the Federalists in the First Congress as it served, in part, to placate their Antifederalist opponents. The individual right facilitated militia service by ensuring that citizens would not be barred from keeping the arms they would need when called forth for militia duty. Despite the importance of the Second Amendment's civic purpose, however, the activities it protects are not limited to militia service, nor is an individual's enjoyment of the right contingent upon his or her continued or intermittent enrollment in the militia.

Expect this one to decided by the Supreme Court right around, oh, Summer 2008.

The legal experts at Volokh Conspiracy have the wrap-up here with some thoughts on how this might play in the presidential race.

Cato's Tim Lynch sums it up: "This is a very big deal."

Some more reaction from How Appealing. And thoughts on the decision's political ramification from Wizbang and Ace of Spades, which asks, "Is Rudy's gun-control stance rendered moot through jurisprudence?"

Guess Who'll Be on FNS?

fns.gif

You know Wallace is going to ask the question, but will he get an answer?

Must See Obey TV

Watch Democratic House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey get exercised:

He later apologized in an interview with The Hill, saying:

"What so frustrated me about the encounter is that it became apparent that she had no idea that the bill she was being asked to tell me to vote against would set a deadline for our getting out of Iraq," he said. "So many of these liberal groups don't adequately inform their members. They don't have the full story about what we're trying to do and they wind up not being able to distinguish their friend from their enemy. These people won't take yes for an answer." [snip]

"I'm sorry that the frustration happened to erupt in that hall," he said. "I wish it hadn't. If these groups would inform people before they hit the Hill...we might have a better chance to have the votes to end this thing."

Timing Is Everything

As a follow up to Blake's post, consider the following timing: Yesterday at around 3am, Eastern Standard Time, America's new top general in Iraq gave his first big press conference in Baghdad.

Shortly thereafter, Secretary of State Rice's Senior Advisor on Iraq, Ambassador David Satterfield, held a press conference in Washington before departing last night for Baghdad to attend the "neighbors conference" that will take place in Iraq tomorrow -- an event intended not only for Iraq's new government to build support in the region but also to set the stage for ministerial level meetings in April.

Sandwiched in between these two events, yesterday morning the Speaker of the House held a press conference of her own to announce the Democrats' new plan for getting America out of Iraq. This plan demands that the President certify by July 1 that certain benchmarks in Iraq are being met. If he can't make such a certification, troop withdrawals would begin immediately and be completed by the end of this year. Curiously, the plan also demands troops begin leaving Iraq in March of 2008 and be fully out of Iraq by the end of August even if the President can certify progress is being made.

As I said last week, if Democrats have one vulnerability on Iraq, it's leaving the impression they want to see America fail. The timing of the Dems' announcement strikes me as getting somewhere in that vicinity, in so much they were willing to make, as Blake suggests, what amounts to a political bet predicated on the surge not succeeding right in the middle of news of America's top commanders and diplomats pushing forward and trying to build on some of the recent positive momentum there.

So why didn't the Dems announce their plan earlier in the week or postpone it until next week to avoid looking like they were intentionally stepping on Gen. Petraeus and preempting the diplomatic conference? Politics, of course. To maximize exposure and limit any response, it's probably not a coincidence the Dems waited to go before the cameras until the President was wheels up on Air Force One for a six day trip to Latin America.

The Political End Game on Iraq

It's come to this then: Democrats anted up yesterday and declared an end to U.S. participation in the Iraq war no later than September 2008. Republicans in turn vowed resistance and the President threatened veto. With the two sides forming ranks, the coming showdown in Congress over the next month should be quite an event, as the future of the Iraq war hangs in the balance.

Or not. For a good summary of what happened yesterday on Capitol Hill check out The Politico's John Bresnahan's posts on the Pelosi plan and the Reid plan.

But the fact of the matter is that the Democrats presented their withdrawal plans with the expectation that neither will ever reach enactment. Both Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi appreciate better than anyone the insurmountable task facing them of getting either one of their plans through Congress and past a presidential veto. It won't happen.

The question arises then as to why the Democrats would willingly enter a political standoff that will ultimately end in the surge progressing. It has to do with positioning and perception: Pelosi presents a withdrawal plan that is predicated on certain conditions and goals going unmet by the Iraqi government. Reid, meanwhile, forgoes conditions, but sets a "target date" for withdrawal past the point where there could be any question that Congress had given the president's plan time to succeed. Come November 2008, the expectation is that the public will have a very clear idea of which party allowed the surge to continue and which tried to avoid catastrophe (without of course causing it).

Is this much of a gamble? From the Democrats' calculations, no. Were all things equal, and the chances of success in Iraq 50-50, the Democrats wouldn't be as aggressive in their opposition. But all things aren't equal and the Democrats are probably moving forward on the assumption that the chance of failure in Iraq is 70-30, if not 80-20, which are very good odds.

But military odds and political odds are not one and the same, the latter being dependent on an independent, highly unpredictable variable known as the American public. Should we lose in Iraq, the odds are Republicans will take the blame. Unless, of course, the public believes that Democratic actions helped lead to that defeat. Hence, Pelosi's and Reid's differing plans that place complete withdrawal well into 2008 - in other words, well past the time they think the public could blame them for encouraging defeat.

But if the surge should succeed, then Democrats have a problem. Success in Iraq switches the dynamics of the gamble from avoiding blame to getting credit. And although Democrats have probably gone out on the ledge as far as they think is wise, they are still out there and vulnerable if Iraq takes a turn for the better.

So the coming showdown the media will be trumpeting for the next few weeks won't be much more than a lot of fiery rhetoric from both sides. This is now a waiting game and it all depends on what happens in Iraq.

Thompson's Test

Rumors of Republican Fred Thompson joining the race for President have been circulating for the past couple of weeks, and today The Hill reports a bit more detail. It seems Howard Baker has been making phone calls to Republican power brokers gaging support for a potential Thompson bid.

I've thought for some time that with Jeb Bush forced to the sidelines for obvious reasons, Fred Thompson is the only Republican in the country with the stature, name recognition, the ability to raise money, and the conservative bona fides who could step in and fill the current void that exists in the field. The questions is whether that void is big enough to make Thompson a top-tier contender and give him a legitimate shot at winning the nomination.

The Special Report roundtable tackled the issue of a Thompson run last Friday, coming to a unanimous conclusiuon:

ANGLE: All right, we don't have much time left. There was some talk today that Fred Thompson might get into the race. Fred Thompson, who's now on Law and Order, but a senator and a jovial fellow who's known around town is also involved in the Scooter Libby defense fund. What are the prospects of that?

KRAUTHAMMER: Look, we've had an actor in a White House, but he also was a two-term governor of the largest state in the union and quite an accomplished political thinker. In getting a guy right out of a television show -- it's not going to happen, especially in wartime.

KONDRACKE: I completely agree with that. And Fred Thompson, you know, was the chairman of the government operations committee in the Senate and basically did nothing while he was there. I mean, he doesn't have much of a record.

BARNES: There's a space for more candidates, I suppose, always, but I agree with Charles, it's -- I mean Ronald Reagan, you know, was governor, he didn't just jump from Death Valley Days right to a presidential campaign.

KRAUTHAMMER: I'd say he's finished.

(LAUGHTER)

Personally, I'm not so sure. Thompson may have a shot for two reasons. First, experience is generally overrated. Two of the top-tier candidates on the Democratic side (Obama & Edwards) currently have eight years in the Senate between them - the same as Thompson. Second, persona matters a tremendous amount in modern politics and there are very few people who project more of an aura of strength and seriousness than Fred Thompson. It's hard to envision him standing on a stage debating Obama, Clinton, or Edwards and coming away looking like a lightweight.

I think the biggest challenge for Thompson is meeting the desire requirement. Is this something he really wants, and is really ready to put forth the effort it will take to keep up the grueling schedule of a presidential bid over the next twenty months? However popular Thompson may be with the party faithful, his entry into the race would be light years away from a coronation. He'd have to fight hard for it, especially against his good pal John McCain.

I suspect that's the main reason why Thompson won't run, even though I'd like to see him in the race. I'd also like to see Al Gore jump in on the Democratic side, though I doubt he will. At this point, it's already a complete circus, so the more the merrier.

The Daily 2008

Today's newspapers have some good news for Sen. Hillary Clinton and bad news for rival Sen. Barack Obama for a change, while its being reported two Republican frontrunners have come under attack from their own.

Clinton pledged a GI bill of rights to ensure better health care for soldiers and more assistance for their families in a speech at the Center for American Progress yesterday. She also echoed FDR in calling for all Americans to be involved in the war, but "did not respond directly" to an audience question if her comments meant "we should win this war." Dana Milbank was there to satirize her, clichés and all.

A new poll from Alabama reports Clinton's lead over Obama expanded eight points since last month and their joint appearance in Selma last weekend. Meanwhile, questions still linger about Obama's stock dealings with companies backed by some of his top donors. Obama's money issues don't stop there: Lynn Sweet writes that his campaign has been secretive about recent fundraising events.

The most surprising attacks today come for Rudy Giuliani from the nation's largest firefighters union, which criticizehis decision to limit Ground Zero searches after 9/11. After the union's letter to officials was revealed, Giuliani backed out of a forum they're sponsoring next week. At the same time his opponents say it's Giuliani's turn to be subject opposition research and attacks. Mitt Romney is also being targeted by some of his own: two Massachusetts-based GOP consultants are planning national TV and radio ads against Romney.

The GOP field may expand next week when Sen. Chuck Hagel is expected to announce a presidential run at the same forum Giuliani backed out of. Discovering Hagel's intentions has been tough for reporters who say he keeps his plans and counsel closely guarded. Journalists haven't had the same problem with Fred Thompson, who's reaching out to GOP power brokers to explore an '08 run. Meanwhile, potential GOP vice-president candidate, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is expected to sign a bill that would outlaw most abortion procedures in his state.

You can find the rest of today's news at our Politics and Elections page.

Blogger in Chief

Governor Mike Huckabee is blogging. Here's a clip from one of his most recent posts:

There will be an unprecedented number of people running for President. Many will boast of raising bigger money. We will focus on raising bigger ideas.

Some will proudly display their celebrity endorsements. We will focus on sincere and ordinary citizens who are willing to endure a long road ahead.

Already, some of those seeking the office have changed their positions on major issues more often than a baby changes sleeping positions in a crib. I will not waver from being the same, consistent conservative, pro-life, pro-family advocate who believes that government shouldn't rob its citizens with excessive taxes, unnecessary regulation, frivolous litigation, and the resulting job migration from our shores to China, Mexico, or India.

I'll have to more to say about Governor Huckabee in the near future. I'll be joining him on the campaign trail next week in New Hampshire.

The Cliche Machine

Dana Milbank is not impressed with Hillary Clinton's rhetoric.

March 08, 2007

Stock Volatility: It's Not the Economy

From the peak last Monday, to the close last Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 5.3%, the NASDAQ tumbled 5.5% and the S&P 500 slid 4.3%.

Some blame rising delinquencies in the US sub-prime loan market, while others blame China for attempting to slow down its supposedly overheating economy and markets. These explanations fit snuggly into the widespread belief that investors have underestimated risk and become complacent. Alan Greenspan's use of the R-word last week also fed a fear that the current recovery is long in the tooth and trouble may be looming.

The fact that Alan Greenspan is worried about a recession is somewhat ironic. One of the major issues facing the economy today is the aftershock of the rollercoaster the Fed forced the economy to ride beginning in 1999.

The Fed lifted rates too high in 1999 and 2000, causing a recession and deflation. It then cut rates too much in 2001, 2002 and 2003 in an almost panicked response designed to keep deflation from spreading. Because of those rate cuts, deflation did not spread, but a federal funds rate of 1% led to a rapid expansion of credit - especially in the housing market.

Now that the Fed has lifted rates 17 times, and pushed the funds rate back to 5.25%, those who over-leveraged in the midst of extremely low interest rates have found themselves in trouble. These credit problems are not because interest rates are too high today; they are the result of absurdly low rates of the recent past. This is important because most recessions occur when the Fed tightens too much and causes liquidity problems to spread.

But the Fed is not too tight, it's just less loose. In fact, inflation is still on the rise and both our top down macro-models and our bottom-up estimates of weekly data, continue to point to 3% real growth in the first quarter, despite a below trend February employment report. Fear is the market's problem, not the economic fundamentals. Stocks are still cheap.

China & Taiwan's Running Dispute

The verbal shots across the Taiwan Strait were stark.

"Taiwan is our territory," said Tan Naida, a delegate to the National People's Congress in Beijing. "Just look at history. Why can't we take Taiwan back?"

"Taiwan wants independence," said President Chen Shui-bian of Taiwan in Taipei. "Taiwan wants to change its name, Taiwan wants a new constitution, Taiwan wants development."

That aspect of the running dispute between China and Taiwan over the island off the coast of China is clear enough. Much of the rivalry, however, is riddled with contradiction. The consequence is an uneasy and perhaps dangerous stalemate about which the Bush Administration has done little but wring its hands.

Perhaps the most evident contradiction is the difference between what Beijing says and what it does. The party line includes frequent appeals to "compatriots" in Taiwan to reunite with the mainland. It's a Communist Party version of: "Come back, Taiwan, all is forgiven."

Yet many Chinese actions alienate the people of Taiwan. Some is petty harassment. When Mr. Chen flew to Nicaragua in January to attend the inauguration of President Daniel Ortega, China pressed Mexico not to allow his airplane to fly through Mexican air space on the return trip, forcing the plane to swing out over the Pacific and adding several hours to the flight time.

Chinese officials seem to go out of their way to humiliate the Taiwanese. In international sports events, the team from Taiwan is forced to compete under the clumsy name of "Chinese Taipei." The same is often true in international economic forums.

During a seminar in Honolulu some months ago, the head of a Chinese delegation walked out in a huff when he discovered that staff members of Taiwan's quasi-official consulate were in the audience. Elsewhere, a senior Chinese official, approached by a TV reporter from Taiwan, sneered on camera: "Who cares about you?" That was televised all over Taiwan.

China's campaign to isolate Taiwan diplomatically is well documented. For years, Beijing has blocked Taiwan's application to join the United Nations and affiliated agencies such as the World Health Organization. That effort is often extended to non-governmental organizations.

Equally well documented is China's military modernization aimed primarily at Taiwan, including an estimated 1000 missiles aimed across the strait. Chinese leaders last week announced an 18 percent increase in military spending, to $45 billion. Many Western estimates place China's real military spending at twice that.

China's hostility clearly affects the attitudes of Taiwanese as seen in polls taken three times a year, the latest in December. About 85 percent opted for maintaining the status quo, meaning moving toward neither independence nor unification with the mainland. Taiwanese seem to take at face value the Chinese threat to launch an attack if Taiwan seeks formal independence.

Among the contradictions on Taiwan's side were those in the "Four Wants" proclaimed by President Chen last week.

Chen said earlier that Taiwan would not seek formal independence. He has said that Taiwan would not change its formal name, the Republic of China, to the Republic of Taiwan. He has said he would not seek a new constitution that would, in effect, be a declaration of formal independence. Only the desire for more economic development did not contradict earlier statements.

Buttressing President Chen's "Four Wants" have been new versions of history textbooks used in Taiwan's high schools that emphasize Taiwan's separate identity and renaming state-owned enterprises to substitute the word "Taiwan" for "China." Corporate executives say this is not easy as all sorts of legal and regulatory changes must be made.

Where the history of Taiwan was included in China's history before, the new series of four textbooks has a volume on Taiwan's history, another on China's history, and two on world history. Among the company name changes, the China Post Company has become the Taiwan Post Company and the Chinese Petroleum Corporation has become CPC Taiwan.

The Bush Administration, preoccupied with Iraq and other pressing issues, has tried to persuade both Taiwan and China not to make unilateral changes that would upset the status quo and what the White House and State Department see as stability across the Taiwan Strait.

A State Department spokesman said President Chen's "Four Wants" were "not helpful" about the same time the department issued a Congressionally mandates report on human rights in which China was accused of allowing human rights to deteriorate.

The open question is how long Taiwan or China will refrain from drastic measures to resolve the dispute.

The Daily 2008

Primaries lead today's news again after the California legislature passed a bill to move the state's primary up to Feb. 5, 2008, and now awaits "what should be a swift signature" by Gov. Schwarzenegger. Next door in Nevada, the state GOP approved a Feb. 7 caucus date -- three weeks after Democrats will caucus there and two days after about a dozen states including CA vote.

Next Monday, Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel says he will announce whether he plans to run for president. Should he run, Hagel would stand out in GOP field as the only outright opponent of the Iraq war. Some are suggesting that John McCain's "steadfast support" for the Iraq war is one of a few reasons he's being forced to play catch-up to Rudy Giuliani, who leads McCain by more than 20 points in a new WSJ/NBC News poll. The New York Times reportsthat Giuilani faces a "less obvious hurdle" to the nomination than his liberal social positions: "whether he is too much of a New Yorker for the rest of the country." In South Carolina, it's questionable whether the once-powerful Christian Coalition can play the role it once did in Republican politics now that it's faced with a changing political landscape, debt and fractured leadership.

On the Democratic side, Gov. Bill Richardson is burdened by quotes from his lieutenant governor, Diane Denish, who says she avoids being close to Richardson. The governor, she also mentioned, "pinches my neck. He touches my hip, my thigh, sort of the side of my leg." Richardson denies the allegations, but questions remain on whether his personal conduct can withstand scrutiny. Meanwhile, John Edwards said he will not attend an August debate in NV because it is being co-sponsored by Fox News.

Find the rest of today's news at our Politics and Elections page.

March 07, 2007

Meet the Mayor

Austin Bay on Giuliani.

Hillary in Selma - Take II

Thanks to Drudge, Hillary Clinton received a good heap of derision Monday for the phony Southern accent she put on over the weekend in Selma. But my recollection from watching her speech is that she wasn't faking an accent but doing a very awkward and poor reading, in character, of a passage written by someone else. (UPDATE: I see Greg Sargent has the video and transcript of the relevant portion of Hillary's speech. She was reading a freedom hymn by James Cleveland called "I Don't Feel No Ways Tired").

So, yes, Hillary is awkward and oftentimes inauthentic, but she got a bum rap this week. In fact, there were cheers in the audience during her rendition. Incidentally, I haven't seen any remarks about Barack Obama's performance in Selma, where he slipped quite noticeably into the style and cadence of a Southern black preacher, which is very different from how he speaks on an everyday basis. He obviously got away it while Hillary was taken to task.

All of that is really an aside from the main point, however, which is about the art of pandering. All politicians pander, and some are much better at it than others. Obama is particularly good at pandering, in part because he's skilled enough to not look obvious while doing it, but also because he does a very deft job of mixing in some uncomfortable truths (albeit with a very soft edge) to different groups while in the process of telling them things they want to hear. He did it on Sunday in Selma when he transitioned into a Bill Cosby-esque riff on personal responsibility.

Hillary, on the other hand, is a terrible panderer. To her credit, she's resisted pandering to the antiwar base over her Iraq vote so far, but when Hillary decides to go for the pander, she's blatant, ham-handed, and over the top about it - especially when it comes to African-Americans.

Selma provided another perfect example. Here's a clip of Hillary telling her African-American audience on Sunday that their right to vote in America in 2007 is "under siege:"

Like the plantation remark she made on MLK Day in 2006, this is needlessly dramatic as well as a gross distortion of the truth.

Voting rights is an issue in the black community, and it's something that Obama has addressed (see here and here). But I think it's very telling that on Sunday, at such a historic and widely covered event, Obama made his points with the black community in a forward looking way by saying things like African-Americans have come 90% of the way in the fight for equality but still have 10% left to go, and that "we should never deny that it's gotten better. But we shouldn't forget that better is not good enough."

In other words, Obama tried to inspire as opposed to prey on fear. He didn't go for the cheap, easy, and over the top. Hillary, on the other hand, simply couldn't help herself.

The Daily 2008

The presidential race has garnered considerable interest from the public 20 months before election day, according a new USA Today poll released today. About 20 percent of respondents said they have a "good idea" about who they'll support in '08 and 55 percent said they've at least thought about the candidates. The same poll shows that Sen. Hillary Clinton lost four points in her match-up with Sen. Barack Obama from last month and Rudy Giuliani expanded his lead over Sen. John McCain by four points. Of all the candidates, Giuliani has the highest favorability rating, with Obama second.

According to the New York Times today, in 2005 Obama bought "$50,000 worth of stock in two speculative companies whose major investors included some of his biggest political donors." Obama's campaign said his broker bought the stocks without consulting him and once Obama learned of the stocks, he sold them.

While Obama has made significant inroads with Clinton's bases of black and Jewish voters, her campaign is courting female voters with a special Web site, online ads and high-profile female backers. In the Senate, Clinton herself is pushing a bill that seeks to reduce the wage gap between men and women. Meanwhile, John Edwards is stitching up a different constituency: a hundred Iowa Democrats who formerly backed Tom Vilsack and now say they support Edwards.

There are some interesting developments in the GOP field, especially in California where Sen. John McCain is mounting a "stealth effort" to change Republican presidential nominating rules to allow independents to vote. This comes on the heels of a "barely noticed move" by CA Republicans that has made their primary "winner-take-all by congressional district" instead of the whole state -- a move seen as favoring Mitt Romney. In Florida, Romney has released a Spanish-language ad aimed at Cuban-Americans. Meanwhile, Sen. Chuck Hagel's decision to attend two cattle calls this month fuels speculation of an '08 run.

For news on all of the candidates and early states, check our Politics and Elections page.

March 06, 2007

Photo of the Day

libby.jpg

(Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Libby Verdict Roundup

Here's a quick round up of reaction to the Libby verdict:

Howard Dean: "Today the American legal system did something the Bush Administration hasn't, by holding Scooter Libby accountable for his illegal actions..."

Speaker Pelosi: Today's guilty verdicts are not solely about the acts of one individual. This trial provided a troubling picture of the inner workings of the Bush Administration.

Majority Leader Reid: "I welcome the jury's verdict. It's about time someone in the Bush Administration has been held accountable for the campaign to manipulate intelligence and discredit war critics..."

Chris Matthews: Why did Cheney's chief of staff call and complain so fatefully when Wilson's claims were repeated on "Hardball?" Could it be that Cheney feared that if the country knew it was his inquiry that led to the Africa trip then he, the president's right-hand man, could be expected to have gotten a full report on the trip's findings..."

Video: Fitzgerald Press Conference on Libby Verdict | Judge Napolitano Breaks Down Verdict |

Is Hillary Steaming on the Titanic?

Part of the dynamic that Senator Clinton always had working in her favor was the ability of her husband to deliver the black vote, en masse, for her if she ran into minor bumps along the way in Iowa, New Hampshire and even Nevada. This was always a critical element in why she was such an overwhelming favorite to capture the Democratic nomination. The Obama phenomenon has made this analysis inoperable.

Against candidates like John Edwards, Mark Warner, Evan Bayh, Bill Richardson, or even Al Gore, former President Bill Clinton would have been in a position to deliver Hillary the black vote. And when Senator Obama originally threw his hat in the ring there was a question of just how much of the black vote he would be able to get against Hillary. Six weeks ago I was of the opinion that she had a decent chance of winning the black vote, but today, in the aftermath of the David Geffen affair, which helped whack ten points off her lead, and then this weekend's head-to-head down in Selma, on the current trajectory there is no way Hillary Clinton will beat out Barack Obama for the black vote.

And what has to have the Hillary camp scared stiff is the possibility that not only will Obama win the black vote, but that he might win it overwhelmingly. Last night on Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Fred Barnes suggested that Obama would win 80% of the black vote. Today I would agree that 70 - 80 percent is a very real possibility.

If you watch Obama's speech from this weekend he sends a clear message that he is not going to let any campaign try and make the case that he is "not black enough." As the first of the second generation of black candidates to run for president -- as opposed to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who had no chance of winning the White House -- not only does Barack Obama have a very real chance of being the next president, but at the current rate he may well be the front-runner by summer.

He has closed Hillary's recent 20-point plus lead to only 10.2% in the latest RCP Average; he trails Rudy Giuliani by only 3.5 points and actually leads John McCain by 1.4% in today's RCP Average.

Obama's ability to take away the black vote, en masse, from the Clinton campaign may turn out to be the iceberg that sinks the H.M.S. Hillary.

The Daily 2008

At least 19 states with half the nation's population have "moved or are considering moving their primaries" to Feb. 5, 2008 creating a de facto national primary. Not to be outdone, New Hampshire is prepared to defend its first-in-the-nation primary from another state by moving up its date.

In the early state of Nevada, Sen. Hillary Clinton hired four more staffers making her campaign the largest in the state. Clinton made national news today by reiterating her opposition to the "Don't ask, don't tell" military service policy for gays that she originally opposed during her first Senate run. The policy was enacted by the Pentagon under President Clinton in 1993.

Clinton and opponent Sen. Barack Obama will gear up to fight for Jewish support with dueling receptions during next week's AIPAC conference in Washington. In New York, Obama received donations from rappers and Wall St. executives, and also raised money in Boston where some compared him to JFK. Down in South Carolina, Sen. Chris Dodd got some good news by winning a 100-person straw poll against Clinton and Obama.

Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani is tackling questions about his family life after his son was interviewed yesterday about their strained relationship. Giuliani also stepped up his campaign by selling his investment bank to eliminate potential conflicts of interests. Giuliani declined an invitation to speak to the GOP club in NY where he launched his political career, allowing Sen. John McCain to take top billing there come May. The strategist for their mutual opponent, Mitt Romney, said people are right to ask questions about Romney's faith, because very little is known about it.

Newsweek asked Mike Huckabee what he makes of his prominent Republican challengers who've moved right on social issues. Huckabee: "Some are having a late adult moment to come to a position I've held since I've been a teenager. Voters will have to determine if they're seeing the politics of conviction or convenience."

You can find the rest of today's '08 news at our Politics and Elections page.

March 05, 2007

Photo of the Day

Actually, it's from yesterday - but precious nonetheless:

obama-clinton.jpg

(Credit: Robert Sullivan, AFP)

"Jesus Family Tomb" Aftermath

For those of you who did not catch the 1-hour roundtable discussion of the Jesus Family Tomb that immediately followed the documentary, you missed a bloodbath. The panel included Simcha Jacobovici, the producer/writer/director of the documentary, UNC-Charlotte Professor James Tabor, and five other scholars not involved with the documentary. All five scholars were not just critical of the program, but harshly critical. Professor Jonathan Reed went so far as to call it "archeo-porn." Ouch.

In the wake of what can only be called worldwide criticism, the documentarians are doing what most people in their situation do: shooting the messengers. The responses I have seen essentially boil down to: the world disagrees because the world cannot agree, because it is too invested in the truth of what we have the bravery to question. Jacobovici called it "the mobilization of bias." This has been the general thrust on James Tabor's blog for the whole week (Tabor was a close associate on the project, though it does not bear his name), and it hit its crescendo with an early AM post called, "Methinks Thou Protesteth Too Much."

This is the worst kind of elitist nonsense. There is indeed such a thing as "mobilization of bias." This is the type of power that is exercised when options are taken off the table before discussion has begun. Sociologists call it the "second face of power." However, that is not what is going on here. If you look around the web, you will clearly see critics offering evidence to support their critique. Thus, the arguments of critics assume that the claim might be valid. If their thesis is a priori wrong, there is no reason to offer evidence in the first place.

It is one thing to say "They say this, but here are two dozen reasons why they have no business saying this. Thus, I reject it." It is another to say, "They say this, but this simply cannot be true. Thus, I reject it." The latter is the mobilization of bias. The former is mobilization of evidence.

Their claim, then, is fatuous. It seems to me to be an attempt to win the debate by out-flanking the arguments for a last-ditch shot at the critics themselves. We can thus see the ever-widening circle of unfalsifiability that the documentarians seek to create. Not only is the evidence that contradicts their thesis a priori excluded. So also are those who critique the claim. The documentarians want to have a debate between (a) those who think that this tomb belonged to Jesus of Nazareth, and (b) those who are unsure. All and sundry who read the book, who watched the documentary, and who find their claims laughably underdetermined are "biased."

Once again: heads they win, tails you lose.

Final point. Keep an eye on their evolving response. The next step in the cycle will probably be: why can't you just admit that this is possible? There are flashes of this from both Tabor and Jacobovici already. This, too, is fatuous. Anything is possible. Probability distributions never actually touch the x-axis -- which means that all options, at least in theory, are on the table. But that is not the point. The point is that it is highly unlikely. The point is that, when one actually takes the time to assign a probability to this being Jesus of Nazareth's tomb -- one comes up with a ridiculously low number.

Science -- even a "soft" science like New Testament studies -- is not, should not be about delineating all of the things that are possible. It is about making arguments about what is likely, what is expected to happen or to have happened. Making a big fuss about a "sexy" unlikelihood is pseudo-science.

Card Sharks

This is kind of cool: Las Vegas Sun columnist Jeff Haney attended a Blackjack card-counting seminar put on by Michael Aponte and David Irvine, two members of the famous group of card counters from MIT that won something like $10 million in Vegas during the 1990's.

Rasmussen on '08 Dems

Scott Rasmussen is out with new numbers on the Democratic primary. The skinny: Hillary down 3 points but still leading at 34%, Obama steady at 26%, Edwards up 2 points to 15%. As a results, her overall lead in the RCP Average dropped slightly to 10.2%.

Coulter's No-Brainer

If there had been any debate about whether Ann Coulter had already jumped the shark, I don't think there is anymore. She's a performance artist who injured her brand by going to far - like a juggler who moves from beanbags to knives and then, spurred on by the excitement of the bigger crowds drawn to feats of increasing danger, moves to flaming torches and then chainsaws before eventually losing concentration and lopping off a hand. No more serious juggling for you - the show is over.

Her comments were so fantastically gratuitous and off the mark they had the weird appearance of being calculated - as if she was daring conservatives to stand up and smack her down. They have - and in some ways she did conservatives a favor by making it so easy for them. It was a free-pass and a no-brainer for almost everyone.

Where Will the Sports PC Busybodies Stop?

First the NCAA took Chief Illiniwek's scalp after 81 years of being the U of I's mascot. Of course, in some corners this capitulation to political correctness is being hailed as an important sign of progress and a step toward bagging even bigger game:

Critics of Indian nicknames for athletic teams - whether high school, college or professional - say such nicknames are a racial stereotype, and demeaning and insulting to Native Americans.

We agree. And we can't think of a nickname more demeaning that the NFL's Washington Redskins.

If that isn't bad enough, now comes word that the PC busybodies in Washington state have come up with what could be the dumbest idea in history:

The organization that oversees high school sports in Washington is considering rules for fans that could ban booing and offensive chants.

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association has not made an official ruling, but has discussed guidelines to crack down on negative conduct, a spokesman said.

Some of the state's top coaches believe a boo ban is extreme.

"They're kidding, right?" asked Rainier Beach High School boys basketball coach Mike Bethea, who played as a student at Franklin High School. "I can see stopping someone if they're saying derogatory remarks, but not letting people boo? Come on."

The sportsmanship guidelines are meant to address the dwindling number of people who want to be coaches and officials. Association officials also say they remind fans to cheer for their team, and not against the other.

"I don't know why people think it's acceptable to boo in the first place," WIAA Executive Director Mike Colbrese said. "It's a pretty novel concept to me."

Booing is a novel concept? Please. In some stadiums around the country booing is considered an art form - not to mention if they outlawed booing they'd have to shut down all the sports franchises in New York and Philadelphia permanently. Where do people come up with this stuff?

The Daily 2008

The biggest news this weekend was the join appearance of Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton at the "Bloody Sunday" commemoration in Selma, AL. The NY Times said the visit "became a proxy battle for black support" between Clinton and Obama whose candidacy represents a threat to Clinton's traditional base of black support. The Montgomery Advertiser covered every angle in their package, including Bill Clinton's induction to the Voting Rights Museum.

Donald Lambro of the Washington Times writes that Clinton's spat with Obama over David Geffen's remarks haseroded her supportamong Democrats and especially independents. In a related story, Stephen Braun and Dan Morain of the Los Angeles Times report the Clinton-Geffen dustup was merely latest episode in a rocky relationship between the mogul and the former First Couple.

Meanwhile, Josh Gerstein of the New York Sun reports on John Edwards's efforts to go after Barack Obama's popularity among young voters. Edwards' has been on a tour of college campuses pushing for wage increases among university employees, most recently in Berkely where he "sounded the civil rights theme" heard in Selma. In an interview at Beliefnet.com, Edwards talked about what his faith means to him privately and politically.

On the GOP side, the debate about Rudy Giluiani's electability continues to be "the question in Republican presidential politics at the moment," Republican consultant Whit Ayres told Dan Balz of the Washington Post.

Elswhere, the Salt Lake Tribune reports that Mitt Romney raised a hefty $3 million in Utah during the last quarter.

In other notes on 2008, Lee Bandy of The State reports that despite - or perhaps because of - the massive amount of attention already being lavished on South Carolina at this early stage, voters are tuning out the campaign for now. In the Las Vegas Sun, Michael Mishak takes a look the reasons this is being called a "race on steroids" - still with 20 months to go until the first ballot is cast.

Finally, in other '08 election news, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports on the DCCC's effort to recruit challengers to Nevada Rep. John Porter (R-03). Meanwhile, ex-GOP candidates are "calling for major changes at the NRCC," which they depict as a "rogue attack-ad shop" that went too far in accusations against Democrats during the midterms that often hurt their own candidacies.

You can find all of this and the rest at our Politics and Elections page.

A Tale of Two Speeches

If you watched the dueling speeches yesterday between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in Selma, Alabama, it's clear why Hillary Clinton is in such a precarious position despite being atop the field for the Democratic nomination.

It's not really news to say that Clinton is no match for Obama rhetorically, but seeing them speak back to back yesterday gave a real sense of just how vastly inferior Clinton is to Obama as a candidate. He exuded warmth and inspiration, she seemed innately incapable of either. The difference between the two was quite clear: Obama preached to his audience, Clinton screeched at hers.

Worse for Clinton than the aesthetic comparison, perhaps, was the tactical result from yesterday. Obama did a masterful job of using the event to take on the notion that he's not "black enough." Here he is tying his experience as a black man - - in fact his very existence - back to the Civil Rights revolution that started in Selma:

Whatever goodwill Clinton might have generated among African-Americans for showing up at the event was swamped by Obama's ability to "lay a claim" to Selma, which he did with the kind of charisma and effectiveness that will only further consolidate his support within the black community.

As Bill Kristol pointed out yesterday on FNS, Obama now trails Clinton by less (10.6%) than McCain trails Giuliani (16.4%). In other words, we've already reached the point where Clinton's "inevitability" is being called into question. It's an especially dangerous place for her because that aura is a big asset to her candidacy, and once it's gone she can never get it back.

March 02, 2007

Obama on Iran

Barack Obama before an AIPAC gathering in Chicago today:

"A consequence of the administration's failed strategy in Iraq has been to strengthen Iran's strategic position, and place Israel and other nations friendly to the United States in greater peril."

Assume for the sake of argument that's true. Here's the thing: we are where we are in Iraq. Isn't Obama's proposal to withdraw all US combat forces out of Iraq by a date certain (March 2008) going to further enhance Iran's strategic position in the region thereby putting our allies even more at risk? It's hard to see how it won't.

Hasn't Obama just illustrated, albeit inadvertently, one of the most important reasons for making sure we stay and complete the mission in Iraq?

CPAC: Romney Hits One Out

Almost everything now being written about the 2008 race should be prefaced with "It's still early but..." With that in mind, Mitt Romney, who's had a tough couple of weeks fending off flip-flopping charges, apparently just dazzled the CPAC crowd, according to some conservative folks in attendance.

Over at the Corner, Kate O'Beirne said Romney's attacks on McCain-Feingold and the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill were "big crowd pleasers." (Hmmm, what do those two bills have in common?) Also, she notes, "In stringing together some of the events he faced upon taking office -- the Massachusetts court ordering gay marriage, the scientific community's support for creating embryos for research, and the blackballing of Catholic Charities over gay adoption -- he offered a potentially plausible sequence that prompted second thoughts on social issues."

At RedState.com, Erick Erickson sums it up: "Giuliani had leadership. Romney had conservatism." He adds, "Mitt Romney was pitch perfect and willing to talk social issues -- something totally missing from Giuliani's speech. And people noticed. I have to say that it was a tremendous speech. I actually could not listen to all of Rudy's, but Mitt's was great." Oh, and there's a trend emerging at CPAC. As Erickson notes, "He spoke negatively about McCain-Feingold and McCain-Kennedy."

RedState has Romney's full speech here.

For a less partisan perspective, Jonathan Martin of ThePolitico.com writes, "Mitt's team got what they wanted: a tougher, more focused, more forward-leaning speech that was just that, a speech. Gone were the rambling anecdotes and asides (no Olympics and no Challenger) and left was a more concise message." And, yes, Martin makes sure to tell his readers that Romney "took two direct shots at John McCain" over campaign finance reform and immigration.

Two conclusions to draw from this. First, Romney did what he had to do to. And second, McCain took it on the chin.

McCain Pulls Out the SC Straw

According to Jonathan Martin, it looks like McCain eked out a two vote victory over Giuliani in the South Carolina straw poll.

Army Secretary Resigns Over Walter Reed

The Washington Post reports:

President Bush today ordered a "comprehensive review" of care for wounded service members by a new presidential commission, and the secretary of the Army submitted his resignation, as the administration sought to deal with reports of festering problems in outpatient care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Read the rest.

The Hagel Boomlet

It's officially a boomlet:

Margaret Carlson of Bloomberg: "Long-Shot Hagel May Be Republicans' Best Bet"

Brett Arends of the Boston Herald: "Hagel's the Only Real Right Stuff"

And here is a link to video of the man himself, discussing the possibility of jumping into the 2008 race. Here's an interesting exchange with the interviewer:

Q: Would you give any consideration to running as an Independent?

HAGEL: Well, if I seek the Presidency, I would seek it as a Republican. Where all this is going to go and how it ends up next year, whether that's possible for an Independent to be elected President, maybe. Maybe it would be. But, right now, I'd be focused on seeking the Republican nomination.

This follows on the heels of Hagel's interview with Kathy Keily in USA Today on Monday in which she reported he was "talking up Unity '08" as an "intriguing enterprise."

Very coy. If many Republicans don't like Hagel now, how would they feel about a 2008 race that included him as an Independent?

Notes on Iraq

In my column today on the administration's early efforts to secure Baghdad, I note some of the signs of progress that have emerged from Iraq in recently. Here are three more from today: 1) The Washington Post reports that Sunni tribesmen joined with Iraq security forces to defeat dozens of insurgents in Western Iraq, 2) the Associated Press reports a sharp drop in the body count in Baghdad, and 3) The Los Angeles Times says that Iraqis who fled amid the earlier violence in their country are beginning to return home.

Also of note, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has chosen Iraq war critic Eliot A. Cohen to replace Philip Zelikow as a counselor.

Meanwhile, Democrats in the Senate yesterday continued to struggle to find ways to rebuke the administration's policy in Iraq. Majority Leader Reid said that while Democrats weren't able to agree on a political tactic, there was unanimity among his caucus that the "war in Iraq is going wrong."

And Russ Feingold said this:

"It's still George Bush's war, but we run the risk of gaining some ownership of it if we don't make it absolutely clear that we are the party that wants to get out of there."

The public is clearly sour on the war, and will probably remain so. But that sourness stems from frustration over a lack of progress in Iraq, not necessarily a desire to declare the whole thing a failure and leave as quickly as possible. In fact, if the Bush administration had made all of the same moves and adjustments six months before the election instead of six months after, Republicans would have faired much better in the election and probably would have kept control of the Senate.

So there is some political risk to Democrats continuing to try and rebuke and/or undermine the administration's policy even as it's showing signs of progress, however small. It makes it seem like they want this last chance in Iraq to fail for political reasons. It seems to me far smarter to lay low and shift the focus to a different issue for a while. If the surge fails in six months, Democrats can stand up and say "we told you so." If it somehow succeeds, they won't look like they've been pining for America's failure.

The Daily 2008

National Journal released its '06 vote ratings, showing each party just how orthodox their presidential candidates are. Sen. Barack Obama is the most liberal Democrat running, followed by Sens. Chris Dodd, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. For Republicans, Sen. Chuck Hagel voted more conservatively than Sens. Sam Brownback and John McCain.

In South Carolina, McCain and Brownback finished third and forth in yesterday's Republican straw poll, behind winner Rudy Giuliani and second-place finisher Rep. Duncan Hunter. Mitt Romney finished fifth. Romney and Giuilani will speak at today's CPAC conference in Washington, where conservatives attack the GOP as "big-government, free-spending coddlers of illegal immigrants." Romney tried to associate Giuliani with those positions during a New Hampshire interview by calling him "pro-gay marriage and antigun."

At today's AIPAC meeting in Chicago, Obama seeks to "convince skeptical Jewish voters that he is as reliable a supporter of Israel as any of the better-known" Democratic candidates. On Sunday, Obama and Clinton will attend the a commemoration of "Bloody Sunday" in Selma, AL. The event is receiving even more attention now that Bill Clinton will join his wife and bring his "star power and popularity among African Americans" to the weekend that had been "shaping up as a showcase" for Obama's candidacy. This competition between Obama and Clinton entered into the SC Legislative Black Caucus' decision over who will keynote their spring gala.

Though the biggest news about Obama and African-Americans today is not political, but ancestoral. A "first draft" genealogical report says Obama's forebears of his white mother owned slaves in 1850s Kansas.

Notably absent from the news lately has been John Edwards, which Democratic insiders speculate is being coy to hide the strength of his fundraising. Edwards showed a little leg today with the announcement that he raised $1 million online since December -- the same amount Clinton raised in a week. Obama and McCain are trading proposals to stay in the public financing system if both men win their parties' nominations.

Staying out of the Democratic fray is Tom Vilsack, who said he hasn't decided whether to endorse one of the Democrats running for president or whether he'll challenge Sen. Chuck Grassley in 2010.

Check our Politics and Elections page for these articles and more every morning.

McCain's Rough Week

It's hard to imagine how the week could get much worse for John McCain. Wednesday night's announcement on Letterman, coupled as it was with news the following morning that McCain had rejected an invitation to attend CPAC, brought back all the anger conservatives generally feel toward McCain. He's not one of them. He's chummy with the media.

That was followed yesterday by an apology for saying US soldiers' lives had been 'wasted' in Iraq. And that was followed by Rick Santorum's "anyone but McCain" broadside, which was itself followed a somewhat brutal elaboration by Santorum last evening in an interview with Hugh Hewitt:

On taxes, John was never a vote that we could count on to reduce taxes, and I just fundamentally believe that that's what Republicans are all about, and he was one of the few, less than a handful, that repeatedly voted against reducing taxes and keeping tax rates down. He's, on an issue that I think is essential for a republic, which is campaign finance and the freedom of speech, I think he's done great damage to our republic in the way campaigns are run and financed. And it's this misguided notion that government should control speech, and that we should limit speech as a way of improving the discourse in this country, and I think it's wrongheaded, and I think it's dangerous, and he has been the outright leader. I think he's wrong on immigration. He's been the leader on that issue, too, which he's been wrong on the issue of the environment and our energy security. And I think it's...talking what he's talking about with the issue of accepting at face value and beyond the issue of what we need to do to control emissions, and having government controls of those emissions and not do it through technology, but do it through imposed government solutions, I think, is certainly from my state, Pennsylvania, devastating to a manufacturing state, and devastating to our economy, and I think will make us more energy dependent, and as a result, will decrease our security in this country. And I can go on with other issues, but those are pretty major issues in my book.

And I just don't think he's been there, and on the social issues that I care a lot about, look, I've been out there for twelve years leading in the United States Senate. I challenge you to find John McCain standing up one time when I was on the floor of the Senate fighting for the lives of the unborn, or fighting for the defense of marriage, standing up there and fighting with me. He just hasn't been there.

As if that weren't bad enough, McCain appears to be pushing full steam ahead on two issues that really infuriate conservatives (see Santorum's comments), campaign finance and comprehensive immigration reform. On the latter, McCain looks to be adding insult to injury by freezing other Republicans out of the process - including moderates like Arlen Specter - and crafting the bill in closed-door sessions with Senator Ted Kennedy.

Topping it all off, three major 2008 polls were released in the last four days (FOX News, Time, and ABC/WaPo) which showed McCain's support slipping by 3%, 6%, and 6%, respectively, while Giuliani surged in all three polls.

All in all, a disastrous week. It's going to be a marathon campaign with plenty of ups and downs, ebbs and flows. But unlike the other candidates, this is not McCain's first rodeo. Normally, experience in a Presidential race is considered an asset, and that may still prove to be the case with McCain.

The flip side, however, is that while other candidates like Giuliani and Romney are getting their first and second looks from voters, McCain has already gotten plenty of looks from Republicans, and they remain underwhelmed - to put it politely. So McCain's slippage in the polls has got to be concerning to his campaign. McCain can't just bank on Rudy coming back to earth when the honeymoon is over, he needs to start running a primary campaign that will appeal to Republican voters. He'd better start doing it soon.

Cartoon of the Day

This cartoon by Nick Anderson isn't necessarily in the best taste, but I couldn't help from chuckling anyway:

cjcartoon.jpg

March 01, 2007

Who Won the Geffen Dustup?

In the punditry that followed the Obama-Hillary spat over David Geffen's comments to Maureen Dowd, there was considerable disagreement over which side had gained the upper hand in the first real intramural scuffle of the campaign. However, at least according to the poll numbers, Senator Obama looks to have emerged as the clear winner.

Before the dustup, Senator Clinton had leads over Senator Obama ranging from 15 points to 33 points in five polls that make up the RCP Average. On the day the column ran, the polls gave her an average lead of 38.5% to 18.0%. But in three national polls taken since the Geffen incident -- including polls by ABC News/Washington Post, Zogby and Time magazine -- Hillary's lead plummeted to 8-12 points. Today's RCP Average shows her with 35.5% support among Democrats versus 24.8% for Mr. Obama, cutting her lead down by a sizable 10 points in eight days.

In the short term at least, the evidence appears incontrovertible that the Geffen broadside, coupled with the Clinton campaign's handling of the issue, has given the young Obama campaign even more momentum. The pro-Clinton spin that Hillary wins this round because it dragged Mr. Obama down in the mud with her and tarnished his image of being above the political fray is just silly.

To the contrary, the Obama campaign's immediate and forceful response to Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson's demand for an apology has sent a loud message to Democrats that Mr. Obama, despite his youth and inexperience, will not be pushed around and steamrolled by the Clinton juggernaut. That message, along with Mrs. Clinton's deteriorating poll numbers, has started seriously to undermine the notion that Hillary's nomination is inevitable.

Mr. Obama not only won the "Geffen" round. If the polling holds up and the incident proves the catalyst to pull him to within single digits of Hillary Clinton at this very early date in the campaign, the contretemps may turn out to have been a key turning point in the entire campaign.

Giuliani: Welfare liberal?

Yesterday, Opinion Journal ran Steven Malanga's essay, "Giuliani the Conservative," originally published in the Winter 2007 issue of City Journal. In it, Malanga writes: "Mr. Giuliani decided to launch a welfare revolution, moving recipients from the dole to a job." So effective was Giuliani's "revolution" that by 1999 "the number of welfare recipients finding work had risen to more than 100,000 annually, and the welfare rolls had dropped by more than 600,000."

One would think that as a matter of course Giuliani strongly supported Bill Clinton's 1996 Welfare Reform Bill, which, as NRO's Ramesh Ponnuru says, "was only the most successful piece of conservative domestic reform since, well, maybe ever." Quite right.

But hang on. Ponnuru found a 1996 Giuliani speech in which he says, well, take a look:

Thank you. I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the Welfare Act that was recently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton. . . . There are aspects to the Welfare Reform Bill that, as just a matter of policy, I disagree with and I think could pose very serious problems, and although I do think the bill does some good, in the end I believe it does more harm than good.

You read that right: More harm than good. To be fair to Giuliani, who was very much a welfare warrior, he said he supported the core tenets of the law. One of his problems with it, however, was "a provision that attempts to reverse an executive order that New York City has had in existence since 1988 which basically says that New York City will create a zone of protection for illegal and undocumented immigrants who are seeking the protection of the police or seeking medical services because they are sick or attempting to or actually putting their children in public schools so they can be educated."

Read the whole speech. Then take a look at what Mickey Kaus wrote during Hillary Clinton's 2000 Senate run: "According to news reports at the time, Giuliani's administration actively lobbied President Clinton to get him to veto the 1996 bill." As a matter of fact, Kaus notes, Hillary's claim that "I supported welfare reforms. He [Giuliani] didn't" was true, if only when talking about the federal reforms.

If Hillary could get to the right on Giuliani on welfare back then - the one area conservatives thought Giuliani was a safe bet - then how hard would it be for the candidates in the Republican field?

Which is not to say Giuliani can't defend himself. Malanga's larger point - that Giuliani did a masterful job reforming New York's dismal welfare system - stands regardless. Still, so early in the race the Giuliani camp doesn't want to be defending his fiscal strengths with conservatives; he's going to have a hard enough time on the social ones.

Will Newt Get The Geffen Treatment?

Okay, calling Hillary Clinton "a nasty woman" is a bit more of a direct attack than saying that she and her husband lie "with such ease, it's troubling."

Other than that, Newt's comments were not at all dissimilar from what David Geffen said to Maureen Dowd a couple of weeks back. When asked whether Obama could stand up to "Clinon Inc.", Geffen responded, " ''I hope so, because that machine is going to be very unpleasant and unattractive and effective.''

Newt called the Clintons "endlessly ruthless" and said, "They're too relentless, they're too well-organized, they have too big a machine and they'll just grind you down."

As you know, Geffen was praised by some on the left for "speaking truth to power," as the saying goes, and giving voice to the concerns of many Democrats. Any chance Newt will get the same treatment? I know, stupid question.

New '08 NJ Poll

New Quinnipiac numbers out of New Jersey:

Democrats
Clinton 41 (+11 versus Jan 25 poll)
Obama 19 (+3)
Gore 10 (-1)
Edwards 5 (-3)
Undecided 15 (-2)

Republicans
Giuliani 58 (+19 versus Jan 25 poll)
McCain 15 (-6)
Gingrich 5 (-6)
Romney 2 (-3)
Undecided 10 (-3)

Head to Head Match Ups
Giuliani 50 - Clinton 41
Giuliani 50 - Obama 39

McCain 45 - Clinton 45
McCain 41 - Obama 45

Favorable/Unfavorable Ratings
Giuliani 66/20 (+46)
Obama 42/11 (+31)
McCain 48/24 (+24)
Clinton 47/43 (+4)

New Time Poll

Time is out with a new poll which mirrors the trend of the WaPo poll released this week. On the Dem side that trend, in a nut shell, is this: Hillary down a bit but still leading, Obama rising, Edwards flat, and Gore with a bit of a pre-Oscar publicity bump:

Democrats
Clinton 36 (-4 from Jan poll)
Obama 24 (+3)
Gore 13 (+4)
Edwards 11 (n/c)

Overall, Hillary's lead in the RCP Average is now down to just over double digits (10.7%) - a noticeable drop in the last couple of weeks.

On the Republican side, Rudy Giuliani, after gaining 10 points in the Washington Post post to extend his lead over McCain to 23 points, picks up an astonishing 24 points in the new Time survey. Add in McCain's drop this time and you have a ridiculous 31-point net swing in the Time poll over the last four weeks:

Republicans
Giuliani 50 (+24)
McCain 33 (-7)
Gingrich 12 (-2)
Romney 7 (+2)

The cumulative effect of these polls has Giuliani busting out to an 18.7% lead in the RCP Average.