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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.

March 14, 2007

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

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.

March 12, 2007

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

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.

March 08, 2007

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

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

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

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.

March 02, 2007

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.

March 01, 2007

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.

February 28, 2007

Daley History

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

(Photo: Tom Cruze/Chicago Sun-Times)

South Carolina Shootout Continues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 24, 2007

U.S. Troops Will Be Leaving Europe As Well

From Pat Buchanan's column yesterday:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 19, 2007

The Day's Political News

Is all right here.

February 09, 2007

Defending Dungy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don't think so.

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

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

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

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

Don't treat him as such, Professor.

February 06, 2007

Broder's Moment of Truth?

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

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

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

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

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

February 05, 2007

Faith-Based Opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 01, 2007

Can Franken Keep His Cool?

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

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

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

franken2.jpg franken3.jpg

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

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

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

January 26, 2007

Hagel's Courage

Peggy Noonan begins her salute to Chuck Hagel's courage today by writing: "We all complain, and with justice, about the falseness of much that is said in Washington, and the cowardice that leaves a great deal unsaid."

I wonder if Noonan's feeling will change after she reads this interview with Hagel in GQ Magazine in which he calls the president and members of his administration liars:

GQ: And producing a National Intelligence Estimate that turned out to be doctored. Hagel: Oh yeah. All this stuff was doctored. Absolutely. But that's what we were presented with. And I'm not dismissing our responsibility to look into the thing, because there were senators who said, "I don't believe them." But I was told by the president--we all were--that he would exhaust every diplomatic effort.

GQ: You were told that personally?
Hagel: I remember specifically bringing it up with the president. I said, "This has to be like your father did it in 1991. We had every Middle East nation except one with us in 1991. The United Nations was with us."

GQ: Did he give you that assurance, that he would do the same thing as his father?
Hagel: Yep. He said, "That's what we're going to do." But the more I look back on this, the more I think that the administration knew there was some real hard question whether he really had any WMD. In January of 2003, if you recall, the inspectors at the IAEA, who knew more about what Saddam had than anybody, said, "Give us two more months before you go to war, because we don't think there's anything in there." They were the only ones in Iraq. We hadn't been in there. We didn't know what the hell was in there. And the president wouldn't do it! So to answer your question--Do I regret that vote? Yes, I do regret that vote.

GQ: And you feel like you were misled?
Hagel: I asked tough questions of Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld before the war: How are you going to govern? Who's going to govern? Where is the money coming from? What are you going to do with their army? How will you secure their borders? And I was assured every time I asked, "Senator, don't worry, we've got task forces on that, they've been working, they're coordinated," and so on.

GQ: Do you think they knew that was false?
Hagel: Oh, I eventually was sure they knew. Even before we actually invaded, I had a pretty clear sense of it--that this administration was hell-bent on going to war in Iraq.

GQ: Even if it meant deceiving Congress?
Hagel: That's right.

This is, quite frankly, almost indistinct from the antiwar left's "Bush Lied, Troops Died" cry we've heard for so long. Maybe this is really what Hagel believes. Fair enough.

But a bit later on in the interview Hagel says "I have never doubted the motives of those who wanted to go to war so badly." Come again? He just said the Bush administration "doctored" intelligence and lied to take us to war in Iraq knowing (or having a good idea, at least) that Saddam didn't have weapons of mass destruction. That sounds like "doubting the motives" of the President and his administration to me - not to mention impugning their character. Hagel appears to be trying to have it both ways, which isn't very honest, let alone "courageous."

January 24, 2007

About Last Night

My brief two cents is that Bush was better than expected - though that might be because I had such exceedingly low expectations to begin with. I also think the White House purposefully undersold the foreign policy aspect of the speech. It was longer and much more robust and detailed than we were led to believe. That being said, despite the gracious touch toward Nancy Pelosi in the beginning and the rhetorical flourishes outlining the stakes in the war on terror and the consequences of failure in Iraq, Bush's speech doesn't change anything about the facts on the ground, it won't patch up any relations in Congress, nor will it build much support with him among the public.

I thought Senator Webb did a very good job in offering the Democrats' response. I wouldn't go quite so far to gush like Jay Carney that it was the best response ever, but Senator Webb's rebuttal was well-structured, concise, and clear.

And then, of course, there were the goings on the in chamber which always provide ample fodder. This year Dennis Kucinich stood out by proving he's more of a media whore than anyone ever imagined. At least Sheila Jackson Lee can use the excuse that she's from Texas.

The subtle reactions were often the most interesting: John McCain's wink and smile at Bush's mention of earmark reform, Tom Tancredo's ever-so-subtle frown and shake of the head at Bush' s call for comprehensive immigration reform.

My favorite, however, was the not so subtle gesticulations of Chuck Grassley who popped out of his seat with a huge grin and began pounding his hands together at Bush's mention in support of ethanol. Grassley looked like a five year old who'd been told he gets to spend the entire day at Chuck E. Cheese's.

More than any SOTU in recent memory, last night was a display of the pomp, circumstance, and ritual that we've come to expect of the event, but it was noticeably devoid of any real political significance. President Bush's low approval ratings, the split within his own party on Iraq, and the Democrats' control of both chambers of Congress inevitably made his speech seem lacking in force and substance. It was a decent speech on an historic night with Speaker Pelosi behind his shoulder, but today it's back to the slog.

January 23, 2007

Telling It Like It Is

I can't resist pointing out this inadvertent gem that escaped White House Press Secretary Tony Snow on a conference call a few minutes ago previewing the details of President Bush's State of the Union.

Asked whether Bush's new healthcare proposal is the same type of sacred cow issue that will go the way of the President's 2005 plan to overhaul Social Security, Snow responded: "The Republican leadership made the decision not to bring up Social Security. We don't have that problem anymore."

Excerpts From the SOTU

Here they are, as prepared for delivery:

"Some in this Chamber are new to the House and Senate - and I congratulate the Democratic majority. Congress has changed, but our responsibilities have not...We are not the first to come here with government divided and uncertainty in the air. Like many before us, we can work through our differences, and achieve big things for the American people."

"Our citizens don't much care which side of the aisle we sit on - as long as we are willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done. Our job is to make life better for our fellow Americans, and help them to build a future of hope and opportunity - and this is the business before us tonight."

On the economy:

"A future of hope and opportunity begins with a growing economy - and that is what we have...Unemployment is low, inflation is low, and wages are rising. This economy is on the move - and our job is to keep it that way, not with more government but with more enterprise."

On education:

"Five years ago, we rose above partisan differences to pass the No Child Left Behind Act...And because we acted, students are performing better in reading and math, and minority students are closing the achievement gap."

"Now the task is to build on this success, without watering down standards ... without taking control from local communities ... and without backsliding and calling it reform...And we can make sure our children are prepared for the jobs of the future, and our country is more competitive, by strengthening math and science skills."

On healthcare:

"[I]n all we do, we must remember that the best healthcare decisions are made not by government and insurance companies, but by patients and their doctors."

On comprehensive immigration reform:

"Extending hope and opportunity in our country requires an immigration system worthy of America - with laws that are fair and borders that are secure. When laws and borders are routinely violated, this harms the interests of our country... Yet...we cannot fully secure the border unless we take pressure off the border - and that requires a temporary worker program."

On energy policy:

"Extending hope and opportunity depends on a stable supply of energy that keeps America's economy running and America's environment clean. For too long our Nation has been dependent on foreign oil. And this dependence leaves us more vulnerable to hostile regimes, and to terrorists - who could cause huge disruptions of oil shipments ... raise the price of oil ... and do great harm to our economy. It is in our vital interest to diversify America's energy supply - and the way forward is through technology."

On the war on terror:

"For all of us in this room, there is no higher responsibility than to protect the people of this country from danger...[T]o win the war on terror we must take the fight to the enemy. From the start, America and our allies have protected our people by staying on the offense. The enemy knows that the days of comfortable sanctuary, easy movement, steady financing, and free flowing communications are long over. For the terrorists, life since Nine-Eleven has never been the same."

"[O]ur military commanders and I have carefully weighed the options. We discussed every possible approach. In the end, I chose this course of action because it provides the best chance of success. Many in this chamber understand that America must not fail in Iraq - because you understand that the consequences of failure would be grievous and far reaching."

"The war on terror we fight today is a generational struggle that will continue long after you and I have turned our duties over to others. That is why it is important to work together so our Nation can see this great effort through."

"Both parties and both branches should work in close consultation. And this is why I propose to establish a special advisory council on the war on terror, made up of leaders in Congress from both political parties. We will share ideas for how to position America to meet every challenge that confronts us. And we will show our enemies abroad that we are united in the goal of victory."

On foreign policy:

"American foreign policy is more than a matter of war and diplomacy. Our work in the world is also based on a timeless truth: To whom much is given, much is required. We hear the call to take on the challenges of hunger, poverty, and disease - and that is precisely what America is doing. We must continue to fight HIV/AIDS, especially on the continent of Africa."

January 22, 2007

The Good Dr. Takes His Medicine

Since I've commented a couple of times (here and here) on the brouhaha involving Rep. Steve Kagen (aka Dr. Multimillionaire), it's worth noting that he has finally taken his medicine and apologized for the incident in a letter to his constituents that also ran in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel on Sunday:

I have officially been the congressman from the 8th district for almost three weeks now. In this short time, I am even more struck than I was when I first decided to run by the enormity of the challenges we face - in Iraq, in our nation's health care system, along our borders, in our public schools and universities, in our jobs and in the record debt we risk leaving for our children and grandchildren.

Yet you have probably heard more about my appearance at last year's White House reception for new lawmakers than you have about the issues my colleagues and I are grappling with today on your behalf. And that's a shame because you deserve better.

I apologize for handling this situation as I did. I allowed this distraction to get out of hand and divert our attention from the critically important work we are doing. My mishandled attempt at humor wasn't delivered or received well. It won't happen again.

I am completely committed to bipartisan efforts to confront the issues I was sent here to address...

Seems the brash Dr. Multimillionaire has suddenly - if belatedly - discovered the virtues of bipartisanship.

January 19, 2007

More on Dr. Multimillionaire

Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has more on Wisconsin Democrat Rep. Steven Kagen, aka Dr. Multimllionaire, including this quote from the publisher of the paper that originally reported Kagen's kick-ass comments:

"I feel bad for Kagen, I do," said Jim Moran, publisher of The Scene, which reports on arts and culture and covers political issues from a liberal point of view. Moran also owns a hunting and fishing publication and the Chilton Times-Journal.

Moran said the reporter who wrote the story, Jim Lundstrom, taped Kagen's comments. The tape is "not flattering" to the congressman, said Moran, who said Kagen "sounds kind of cocky," apparently unaware a reporter was present.

"He's trying to get a reaction from the audience. You couldn't tell if (the encounters) really happened or didn't, but you're thinking, 'If it did, boy this guy's got balls, because who could do that?' " Moran said.

"Everybody wants the tape," Moran said, but Lundstrom doesn't plan to release it because "our goal isn't to bring Kagen down any further than we've already done."

Wrong. Kagen brought himself down by making those comments, and he's lucky the only reporter in the room at the time was from a left-wing alternative paper who is now willing to protect him by not making the tape public.

January 17, 2007

Colorado Dirt

Peter Blake of the Rocky Mountain News has some good ground-level detail on the race to replace Republican Senator Wayne Allard.

January 16, 2007

Compassion in Action

To the extent President Bush has any legacy beyond Iraq, it may very well be the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (FBCI). Originally established by Executive Order in late January 2001, the FBCI overcame initial critics and slowly but quietly has gone about the business of expanding its influence in government over the last six years. There are now about 70 employees across a number of federal agencies who work with the FBCI to coordinate and execute programs - a group that Jay Hein, the new Director of FBCI, refers to as the "tip of the compassionate arrow."

I spoke with Hein on the phone yesterday morning about the FBCI's newest initiative: a series of roundtable discussions his office is calling "Compassion in Action." Every month the FBCI plans to bring together a group of people across a wide spectrum (from activists to think tankers to private philanthropists) to focus on a particular issue. The first roundtable convenes this morning in Washington D.C. to discuss "Grassroots Solutions for Reducing Youth Violence." Robert Woodson, founder of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, will give the keynote address and talk about his organization's Violence Free Zone Initiative in cities across the country.

Next month's roundtable will cover the topic of combating malaria in Africa. Last June President Bush announced a $1.2 billion initiative to fight the disease, and Hein says the FBCI is looking to match that amount in private contributions and to continue building a high level public-private partnership.

In March, the Compassion in Action roundtable will tackle the issue of reintegrating prisoners into society and decreasing recidivism. Hein noted that 700,000 prisoners are released every year (primarily into 65 major metros across the country) so the issue is of great concern at the local, state and federal level. The roundtable will include the release of results from a three-year "demonstration project" covering 4,500 prisoners in eleven cities. Hein said the project was a good example of how the government can work as a type of "venture capitalist" by locating and expanding successful, innovative community-based programs in cooperation with the help of foundations and the private sector.

As the interview came to an end, I asked Hein what he thought was the FBCI's greatest accomplishment over the last six years. He said that the office's biggest successes have been mostly behind the scenes in changing the way the government works: sixteen federal rules and regulations have been revised over the last six years to create a "more level playing field" for faith-based organizations to compete for federal funding. The result, according to Hein, is a "healthier marketplace" with more innovation and a more robust working relationship between the public and private sectors.

January 12, 2007

Joe's Iraq-mentum

To say many Democrats across the country cringed when they heard Bush say on Wednesday night that he was "acting on the good advice of Senator Joe Lieberman.." is probably an understatement.

David Lightman of the Hartford Courant has more on the tense relationship between Lieberman and the Democratic caucus over Iraq.

January 11, 2007

Al Gore, Inconvenienced

There's a lot of grist in this story from today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporting that a complaint from a parent has prompted a school in Federal Way to restrict the showing of Al Gore's movie on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth. Here's part of the text of the email complaint:

"Condoms don't belong in school, and neither does Al Gore. He's not a schoolteacher," said Frosty Hardison, a parent of seven who also said that he believes the Earth is 14,000 years old. "The information that's being presented is a very cockeyed view of what the truth is. ... The Bible says that in the end times everything will burn up, but that perspective isn't in the DVD."

It seems like Hardison's email might have edited to make that last statement look as foolish as possible, but nevertheless it's the kind of statement that leaves you speechless.

But on the other extreme, check out the response of Laurie David (the co-producer of the movie) to news the school board has decided to treat global warming as a "controversial subject" thus requiring teachers who want to show Gore's film in class to also show or present an alternative view of the subject to students:

"I am shocked that a school district would come to this decision," David said in a prepared statement. "There is no opposing view to science, which is fact, and the facts are clear that global warming is here, now."

I happen to think there is merit to the argument of global warming, not only because of the science but also because a beneficial by-product of the global warming issue is to provide additional, compelling reasons for America to speed the switch to alternative fuel sources as quickly as possible, which I consider a vital component of long-term U.S. national security.

Nevertheless, for Ms. David to arrogantly assert "there is no opposing view to science" when she knows there is legitimate disagreement about the science behind the claim of global warming itself is nearly as bad as the guy who claims the world is only 14,000 years old.

January 09, 2007

Reid On The Edge

One thing I haven't seen mentioned in all the chatter over Todd Purdum's profile of John McCain in Vanity Fair was this tidbit on Harry Reid:

On another flight, later that day, McCain reacts to the news that Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, has used campaign money to contribute to the employees' Christmas bonuses at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, where Reid and his wife, Landra, own a condominium. In legal terms Reid's move was dodgy at best. "Who knew he lived at the Ritz?," McCain says. "Not bad for a boy from Searchlight, Nevada." Then McCain--a former amateur boxer and inveterate gambler, whose wife is the wealthy heir to a beer-distributing franchise in Phoenix--goes on to recount how the McCains and the Reids once ran into one another in Las Vegas and went to a boxing match. It turned out that the Reids took free tickets, while the McCains paid.

"I wouldn't say this publicly," McCain tells the crowd at the private Thune fund-raiser, speaking of Reid, "but I came to the House with him in 1982 and he's always been ... " Here McCain pauses--as if suddenly realizing that what he's saying he is indeed saying publicly--and then goes on to finish the thought anyway: " ... a little on the edge."

Sounds to me like McCain is being quite collegial in his description of Senator Reid. In addition to the two ethical hiccups McCain mentions, there was also the Abramoff connection and the lucrative land deal. And this was just in 2006.

No wonder Reid was voted the 2nd most "ethically challenged" member of the Senate by those who work on the Hill - finishing right behind the now former Senator from Montana, Conrad Burns.

By the way, did I mention that Majority Leader Reid is leading the Senate in taking up "ethics reform" today?

January 05, 2007

Deval's Frustration

Jules Crittenden has some observations on Deval Patrick's inauguration, along with a prediction: "I suspect this whole governor thing will soon become a great frustration."

On a related noted, Harvard Constitutional Law Prof Charles Fried was deeply unimpressed with Patrick's handling of the gay marriage issue:

Yet Deval Patrick, our new chief magistrate, instead of showing principled leadership by urging the Legislature to vote, but to vote the proposal down, or, failing that, urging the people to reject it, has resorted to ambiguous but lawless sloganeering, urging the legislators to defeat the petition by all "appropriate" means. And if you thought that meant voting against it, Patrick goes on to say that a civil right should not be subject to a referendum, and more amazing that the question of civil rights outweighs the provisions of the Constitution providing for citizens' petitions to amend the Constitution. [snip]

I wonder whether Deval Patrick had his fingers crossed yesterday when he took the oath to uphold the Constitution.

Ouch. Not the best of beginnings.

Walking the Tightrope

On his blog, Dick Polman of the Philly Inquirer takes a sharp look at the Dems' "trouble on the left flank:"

The Democrats on Capitol Hill clearly face a difficult challenge. The liberal activists within their ranks are anxious to advance what they see as the moral rightness of their positions, notably a de-funding of the Iraq war. As Sheehan said yesterday, "These are not requests. These are demands." And as Deborah Sweet, who runs a pro-impeachment group, said the other day, "We've been told for many years, 12 years now, 'Wait until we get in power. Then you'll see things change.' We'll give them a couple of months or a few weeks to see what they come up with, but if they don't do something very decisive around the war and these other issues, I think there will be trouble." [snip]

The Democrats broadened their tent in the '06 elections; they captured 59 percent of all independent swing voters. Whether they can hold those voters over the next two years, while satisfying the shouters on their left flank, is another issue entirely. They probably can't snag the White House in '08 unless they find a way.

Sounds about right to me.

Durbin Rises

As Democrats take control of the Senate few, if any, have it better than Illinois Senator Dick Durbin. In addition to being number two in the leadership behind Harry Reid in Washington, Durbin is surrounded by powerful allies at home and thanks to the utter and complete futility of the Illinois Republican Party, he's unlikely to face more than a mere annoyance on his way to reelection in 2008.

Yesterday Mark Kirk of the 10th Congressional district, seen by many as the Republicans' best hope of offering Durbin a challenge in 2008, made it clear he's not gonna run. The GOP bench in Illinois is so weak there's not a single person who comes to mind (with the possible exception of Jim Edgar, who won't run) who can put up a legitimate challenge to Durbin.

So Durbin can settle in comfortably through 2014 and work to preserve a Dem majority. The only way it could get better for him, of course, is to get a Democratic President in 2008 - especially one that hails from Illinois.

The Casey Era Begins

The Bob Casey, Jr. era began yesterday for Pennsylvanians. Of all the Democrats elected to the Senate this year, Casey seemed to me by far to be the least impressive. In addition to being positively soporific, Casey ran a campaign that had all the same attributes as a Seinfeld episode: it was a show about "nothing." The best thing one can say about Casey is that he was disciplined enough to stay out of sight long enough to let voters to toss Rick Santorum out of office.

If you remember his nationally televised debate on Meet the Press, Casey's strategy seemed to be born to a large degree out of necessity. He struggled to put two coherent thoughts together and didn't seem to have much of a command over any issue beyond boilerplate talking points. In particular, his response to Tim Russert's question of what to do about Social Security was striking for its complete vacuity.

A week or so after the election I was doing a wrap up show on the radio and the host asked me to name someone who lost in November that I'd miss seeing in Congress. The first person who came to mind was Rick Santorum - not because I'm necessarily the biggest fan of his, but because he was a passionate and eloquent defender of many of his party's values. The Senate needs more people like Santorum, not less, and in my opinion the chamber will be a less interesting place without him in the same way I think the Senate (and the public debate in general) misses the fiery passion of a character like Paul Wellstone.

That's not to say we need 100 firebrands in the Senate. It takes all types. Perhaps Casey will turn out to be a decent Senator in his own bland, low-wattage way - though I doubt that's where the smart money is. We'll have to watch him over time and see how he does - assuming that when he's on C-Span we can stay awake long enough to form an opinion.

January 03, 2007

Depressing Factoid of the Day

Courtesy of Drew Griffin at CNN:

According to the Taxpayers Union research, 20 lawmakers over the last 25 years have been found guilty of serious crimes while in office. All 20 received, or are still receiving, congressional retirement benefits.

The focus of Griffin's post is Chicago's own Dan Rostenkowski, convicted on charges of corruption stemming from the 1994 House post office scandal and subsequently pardoned by Bill Clinton after serving more than a year in the pen. Rosty is still collecting a cool $126,000 per year pension, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers.

McCaskill Wants Exemption

Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill hasn't even been sworn in yet, but she's already creating controversy by seeking an exemption from federal contribution limits to take advantage of a new Missouri state law that would help her more easily recoup the $1.6 million she loaned her 2004 gubernatorial campaign.

The new Missouri law, which is being challenged in court, lifted contribution limits altogether effective January 1, 2007, so McCaskill would be able to raise the entire $1.6 million - which would go straight back into her pocket - in a few large chunks or even in one very "generous" contribution from an individual or a political action committee. Federal law restricts contributions to McCaskill to $2,100 from individuals and $5,000 from PACs.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Missouri law gives candidates 18 months to repay campaign loans, and since this one is already nearly three years old McCaskill has gotten creative to keep it on the books, thus giving her a chance of getting the money back someday. In 2005 she transferred the $1.6 million loan from her gubernatorial committee to her State Auditor committee, which restarted the 18 month clock. Last month she restructured her State Auditor committee into a "debt service" committee, resetting the clock again.

The FEC can take up to 60 days to decide whether or not to grant Senator-elect McCaskill the exemption.

January 02, 2007

The Dems' Moment Arrives

Did anyone really believe the Democrats would usher in a kindler, gentler era of "bipartisanship?" What a farce. It's equally naive to think Republicans will respond to being in the minority with some new found magnanimity after watching Democrats fight tooth and nail for the last few years to derail their agenda - and still be rewarded handsomely at the polls.

That being said, the new Congress presents unique challenges and opportunities for both parties, particularly with a lame duck Republican President serving as a backdrop. Democrats face fissures between new-comers and old-timers, as well as between the hardcore liberals and moderates and conservatives in the caucus. For example, take Melissa Bean, the Democrat from Illinois' conservative 8th District, who will now have to navigate an entirely different landscape:

Serving in the majority means there will be a lot more pressure on Bean to stay on the Democratic reservation -- it's a lot easier to buck your party knowing you weren't going to prevail on the issue anyway. And it's more difficult to disagree with party leadership when they've spent millions to win and defend your seat.

"I think there's always going to be those who feel others of their party affiliation should vote with them. There are others who will say I'm independent and I'm going to represent my district," Bean said.

So what happens when push comes to shove at voting time?

"I'm going to go hang out with my Blue Dog buddies," said Bean, referencing a group of House Democrats known for being more conservative on tax and spending issues. "They're like my blockers. I don't even hang out on the aisle seats."

It's probably smart for Democrats to start by playing "small ball," tackling modest but relatively popular proposals that will minimize their own divisions and at the same time be difficult for most Republicans to oppose.

But a small-bore approach to policy is unlikely to pacify for very long a Democratic base that wants results on big-time issues like the war, repealing tax cuts, and universal healthcare. That's when Nancy Pelosi will have to earn her stripes as a leader.

December 27, 2006

The Ford Legacy

Gerald Ford was a good and gracious man.

He was a dedicated and honest public servant--well liked by all who knew him personally. And I think his controversial pardon of Richard Nixon was a good idea--good in the sense that it got it off the table so the country could move on.

However, President Ford was one of a long line of American executives who presided over the decline of the U.S. in both national security and economic terms. This began under LBJ and stretched out through Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter.

In national security terms, Mr. Ford was a détentist who accommodated the Soviet Union in a number of ways, including unverifiable arms control deals that Ronald Reagan put an end to when the Gipper assumed the presidency in the 1980's.

The U.S.'s Vietnam retreat from the rooftop of our embassy in Saigon was one of the low points in the history of American foreign policy--a disgraceful action. Reagan, of course, changed all this in the 1980's with his many actions to overturn and defeat Soviet communism.

In economic policy, Mr. Ford was a traditional Republican budget balancer who had no pro-growth policies. Arthur Laffer tried to persuade Ford of the merits of supply side economics to reduce marginal tax rates and grow the American economy--but Ford, acting on advice of top economic advisor Alan Greenspan, rejected this.

June Wanniski called this root canal economics and Newt Gingrich described Ford's futile obsession with the budget deficit as simply the tax collector for the welfare state.

The combination of high inflation interacting with high marginal tax rates led to stagflation and the continued decline of the American economy. And the infamous "whip inflation now" program was nothing more than price controls and state planning.

Again, it took Ronald Reagan to reverse all this by adopting the incentive-minded growth model which slashed tax rates and reignited the U.S. economy in the 1980's - an economy whose fire still burns brightly a quarter of a century later.

At the end of the day, Ford was defeated by Jimmy Carter, who was just as baffled about stagflation and Soviet hegemony as Ford was.

Mr. Ford attempted one last play on the national political stage at the 1980 Republican National Convention in Detroit. Reagan had soundly trounced Papa Bush in the primaries to capture the nomination. But the Papa Bush forces--led by James Baker--attempted a bizarre co-presidency that would have made Ford the vice president and divided up all the executive branch responsibilities.

Reagan himself squashed this, chose Papa Bush instead, crushed Carter in the election, and went on to become one of the greatest presidents in United States history.

Thank God for Ronald Reagan.

December 21, 2006

Gregoire's Good Times

This is yesterday's news - literally - but it's worth a comment. Here's how Washington Democratic Governor Christine Gregoire announced $4 billion worth of spending increases in the state budget over the next two years:

"These are good times, these are exciting times. Now is the time to make the investments in the future," Gregoire said. "If we fail to make the investments ... then the future can say, 'Shame on us.' We had the opportunity and passed it up."

It's hard to imagine a comment more illustrative of the difference between liberals and conservatives with regard to fiscal policy. Gregoire's attitude is that if there's any extra money laying around, it must be spent - I'm sorry, "invested" - by the government. Not returned to the people who own it. Not used to pay off debt. The ranking Republican on the Budget Committee said he couldn't find a single instance - not one - in which the governor reduced spending on any program in the entire state.

More from the Seattle Times story:

Gregoire's 2007-09 general-fund budget of nearly $30 billion would add nearly 3,800 new state jobs; spend about $1 billion on pay raises for teachers and state workers, $343 million for public schools and $110 million for health-care programs; and put millions more into state parks, higher education and early learning.

It also would burn through most of a projected $1.9 billion budget surplus and possibly set the state up for a shortfall of more than $600 million when lawmakers have to put together a new budget in 2009. [snip]

Gregoire brushed aside concerns about how much money she wants to spend. "I think the fact that we're headed to that size of the budget is simply an indication that we put people to work and the economy is booming," she said.

"I love my budget."

I bet. Gregoire's giddiness over engaging in a spending spree with taxpayer money should be a helpful reminder to the GOP about the importance of fiscal austerity - a concept that seems to have escaped quite a few members of the Republican party at the state and federal level in recent years.

December 19, 2006

The Uppity Slur

Yesterday Georgia Republican State Rep. Len Walker offered a resolution to strip Cynthia McKinney's name off a highway in DeKalb County saying that Ms. McKinney's tenure in Congress was "marked by controversies and rhetoric that has brought embarrassment to the state of Georgia." Walker added, ""Where I come from, we don't name roads for people like Cynthia McKinney."

You may or may not find this idea silly. Fine. McKinney's behavior did cause a lot of attention, and it certainly caused sufficient embarrassment and/or disgust among voters in her district to toss her out of office in November. But she wasn't convicted of a crime or get caught in some other egregious act (a la Mark Foley), which is the sort of disgrace that normally precedes something like this.

Regardless of what you think of Walker's resolution, listen to the way McKinney's former campaign manager responded:

And as for Walker's claim that McKinney has caused embarrassment to Georgia, [John] Evans said: "He must be talking about white folks or uppity black folks."[emphasis added]

So if you're an African-American who thinks McKinney's behavior was embarrassing you're "uppity?" That's the sort of vicious slander some blacks use against members of their own community to keep them in line, whether that line is supporting someone like Cynthia McKinney or opposing other African-Americans like Michael Steele. It's an effective but truly shameful tactic.

Santorum Soldiers On

Salena Zito of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review lands an exclusive interview with outgoing Republican Senator Rick Santorum. Here's a bit:

During the preceding months of his re-election bid, he never wavered in his support for Rumsfeld or the increasingly unpopular war in Iraq, even as both plummeted in public-opinion polls.

He chose to "run with my convictions rather than run away from them, even if they were unpopular and even though they may have cost me my seat," he said, "... because that is how important I believe that they were and still are."

He said he was unimpressed by the Iraq Study Group's report after reading a summary of its 79 recommendations, dismissing it as "not worth reading ... a bunch of contradictory suggestions, with no clear plan other than the fact that we have to get out, and that means to surrender."

He criticized news coverage of the war in Iraq, declaring: "I have always said that if World War II was covered like this war, I really, very seriously, doubt that we would have ever won that war. ... The bottom line is, the media -- and I am not saying that they are intending to do this -- but simply by what they are doing, without question, it is aiding the terrorists and their objective."

Read the whole thing.

Nancy's Circle

Zachary Coile of the San Francisco Chronicle runs down a list of Speaker Pelosi's closest friends and confidants.

No real surprises on the shortlist of Congressional members (George Miller, Anna Eshoo, John Murtha, John Spratt, Rahm Emanuel, David Obey, Ike Skelton, and Charlie Rangel in the House. Harry Reid, Barbara Boxer, Dick Durbin, and Chuck Schumer in the Senate), but the list of ex-members of Congress is interesting:

Ex-members of Congress -- a.k.a. the lobbyists

Tom Downey: former Long Island lawmaker and now powerful Democratic lobbyist knows Pelosi well enough that his kids call her "Aunt Nancy."

Marty Russo: a former House member from Illinois was part of Pelosi's Tuesday night dinner club; he's now CEO of Cassidy & Associates, one of D.C.'s top firms for securing earmarks.

George Crawford: Pelosi's former chief of staff, now a lobbyist at King & Spalding; he's raised eyebrows for taking two new clients, ExxonMobil and pharmaceutical giant Amgen, who will face tough scrutiny under a Pelosi-run House.

So among the small group of friends and advisers the SF Chronicle says "will be whispering in her [Pelosi's] ear as she leads a new Democratic Congress" are the CEO of a top D.C. earmarking firm and a former Chief of Staff now lobbying for ExxonMobil and Amgen.

Don't worry, though, Pelosi's going to start "draining the swamp" in DC - right after she gets done with a "4-day fete" celebrating her election as speaker that will culminate on January 5 with a big concert. Tickets? For PACs, a cool $15,000 will get you two.

December 15, 2006

Granholm's Secret

Did Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm hide the details of state budget overruns until after the election was over?

December 12, 2006

Politics and Racism in America

William "Dollar Bill" Jefferson handily won his run-off for Louisiana's Second Congressional District, beating State Representative Karen Carter who had taken a lot of political heat for her views on social issues.

It is one of the few times you'll see the candidate with a huge fund-raising advantage lose the race: According to published reports, Carter raised 5 times as much money as Jefferson (presumably mostly from whites despite the fact that Carter is black.)

Much has already been made of the comparison between the behavior of the Democrats (and particularly the Congressional Black Caucus) and Republicans when faced with scandal. Mark Foley was disgraced and resigned following his inappropriate (but apparently legal) communications with House pages. When Gerry Studs (a man), a Massachusetts Democrat, actually had sex with a (male) page, he not only refused to accept any censure by his Party, but he ran for re-election and won.

Jefferson is the financial version of Studs: He was caught with $90,000 of literally cold cash in his freezer, believed to be part of up to $400,000 in bribes received from a technology company who wanted Jefferson's help based on his position on the Ways and Means Committee (which is the single most powerful committee in government when it comes to government spending.)

As the newspapers note, Jefferson's victory could pose an ethics bind for the Democrats. What will be most interesting is how Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders deal with the Congressional Black Caucus ("CBC").

This is the group that supported Alcee Hastings to take over the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee despite Hastings having been impeached by the House when he was a judge. This is the group that opposed removing Jefferson from the Ways and Means committee when the bribery came to light. And I expect them to try to get Pelosi to return Jefferson to the Ways and Means Committee. I hope she does, as it would immediately destroy her claims of cleaning up the "culture of corruption" in DC.

The Congressional Black Caucus cares nothing for ethics or even the good of their Party, much less the good of the country. They care only about their own power and being able to say that they are keeping blacks in positions of influence. (It is an issue for another day, but I also believe they consistently take positions (i.e. attacking Wal-Mart, opposing Social Security reform, and opposing school choice) which are directly antithetical to the interests of Americans in general and black Americans in particular.

Jefferson's re-election reminds me most of all of is the O.J. Simpson verdict. Two guys clearly guilty of a crime, one of whom gets re-elected and the other acquitted solely because blacks believe that the system is dominated by whites and biased against blacks. It is similar to recent poll results which show that blacks distrust election results more than any other group.

The idea that a criminal should be returned to office or a murderer should go free as some sort of message against the presumably white-dominated institutions investigating or prosecuting them represents a fundamental problem in America: Blacks feel not only as if they have not achieved as much as whites but also that the game is rigged against them. What is worse black leaders, elected like CBC members or self-appointed like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, maintain their power and fund-raising ability by feeding this fear. They keep telling their constituents that without giving them money and without voting for the black guy regardless of his flaws they will lose what little ability they still have to succeed in America. And since, like it or not, most of the inner-city blacks to whom these messages are directed are less politically attuned, less affluent, and less educated on average than the average American, they are particularly susceptible to what is, in its own way, simply hate speech.

America has clearly had its racial problems, and they still exist in many places. But as black leaders and ordinary black citizens alike use them as an excuse to reward bad behavior and to equate the success of a particular black person (regardless of his crimes) to a victory for blacks as a group shows me that race relations in this country are not as good as most whites like me would believe. That said, I also do not believe they are as bad as the Cynthia McKinneys and Al Sharptons of the world want us to think.

The best thing that could happen for Congress and for the country is for the CBC or at least some prominent black leaders (and I don't mean Thomas Sowell or Ward Connerly) to say that William Jefferson does not represent them, that his re-election was not a good thing, and that he should not be returned to the Ways and Means Committee. I'm not holding my breath, and to the extent that there's a bright side in Jefferson's re-election, it is the prospect of seeing Pelosi twisting in the wind trying to decide what to do. For the record, my guess is that she will refuse to return Jefferson to the Committee.

December 06, 2006

Jackson Time?

The burning question: will Andy Dick call Jesse Jackson to apologize?

Speaking of the Good Reverend, he's at it again today in the Chicago Sun-Times arguing that President Bush should be impeached:

Whether we're Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, we all should support defending our Constitution. We need a careful consideration of whether the Constitution can or should be changed in the light of the threats we now face. If it is to be changed, then surely it should be changed by amendment, not by the unilateral acts of a president. If changes are not needed, then Bush's claims must be clearly rejected.

This is the same Jesse Jackson, mind you, who just last week argued we should shred the First Amendment and start criminalizing certain types of offensive speech. Thus, Jackson's "carefully considered" view of the Constitution supports tossing the President of the United States out of office during a time of war for defending the country against a global terrorist threat and throwing Andy Dick and Michael Richards in jail for using the n-word.

Is Diversity Dead?

In today's Seattle Times Lynne Varner writes, "Diversity, as a tool of public education, is dead as a doornail." Varner continues:

The death of the racial tiebreaker will not be the end of the world. It was a diversity tool less than artfully applied. Students could self-identify their race, opening a loophole large enough for hordes of crafty parents to pass through over the years. A smart, perceptive School Board ought to be able to find other ways to compel diversity in neighborhood schools that are growing less diverse.

However, if the court turns Brown on its head by prohibiting any consideration of race in public education, narrowly tailored or not, we're in trouble. It would be an almost perverse interpretation of the 14th Amendment's equal-rights clause. Instead of recognizing the necessary use of racial groups, particularly when ensuring equal opportunity in education, the court could well adopt a colorblind mentality.

God forbid we should ever adopt a colorblind mentality in this country. Apparently we're still a long way from Martin Luther King's dream about the "content of character."

And would prohibiting racial quotas in public education really be turning Brown "on its head," or rather the logical conclusion of equal access? As George Will wrote earlier this week, "the Supreme Court has held that public secondary education 'must be available to all on equal terms.''"

In his column on the Seattle School District's law suit, Will continued:

Until June, the school district's Web site declared that "cultural racism'' includes "emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology,'' "having a future time orientation'' (planning ahead) and "defining one form of English as standard.'' The site also asserted that only whites can be racists, and disparaged assimilation as the "giving up'' of one's culture. After this propaganda provoked outrage, the district, saying it needed to "provide more context to readers'' about "institutional racism,'' put up a page saying that the district's intention is to avoid "unsuccessful concepts such as a melting pot or colorblind mentality.''

There's that word again. It's bad enough that some people want to compel predetermined levels of "diversity" in schools via racial quotas, but the problem is compounded by those people eschewing assimilation and suggesting that "colorblindness" is somehow undesirable. In fact, "colorblind" students are exactly what we want, and it's not going to be made any easier by folks who want to balkanize schools into mini-ethnic groups.

December 05, 2006

The Dems Bag Bolton

So Bolton is out. What a nice parting gift Republican Lincoln Chafee gave the White House, after it had gone to the mat for him in the Republican primary.

Democrats are ecstatic over taking Bolton's scalp, especially Senator Christopher Dodd, who has been on a personal jihad against Bolton from the beginning. Joseph Cirincione, from the liberal Center For American Progress, said Bolton's resignation marked "the collapse of the neoconservative policy that has guided this administration since 9/11."

I guess that's one way of looking at it. Another would be to see it from the perspective of Republican Senator George Voinovich, who originally opposed Bolton's nomination in May but came to support him a few months later after watching Bolton work. Voinovich wrote in the Washington Post in July:

I cannot imagine a worse message to send to the terrorists -- and to other nations deciding whether to engage in this effort -- than to drag out a possible renomination process or even replace the person our president has entrusted to lead our nation at the United Nations at a time when we are working on these historic objectives.

That's exactly what the Dems did for months prior to the election, despite the fact that the world didn't end when Bolton went to the UN. To the contrary, he scored a number of successes during his short tenure and did an admirable job of aggressively representing America's interests as well as defending the administration's work at Turtle Bay to conservatives who were generally much more skeptical about (and hostile towards) the UN - a point for which Bolton often gets no credit.

Predictably, the Dems and members of the liberal media are callling for President Bush to chart a more "multilateral" course with Bolton's replacement:

Majority Leader Harry Reid: Hopefully this change marks a shift from the failed go-it-alone strategies that have left America less safe. President Bush should now nominate a UN Ambassador who is ready and willing to work with our allies around the world, and who understands the pressing need to change course in Iraq."

John Kerry: 'With the Middle East on the verge of chaos and the nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea increasing, we need a United Nations ambassador who has the full support of Congress and can help rally the international community to tackle the serious threats we face."'

The NY Times editorial board: The Bush administration doesn't need to insult the world at a time when it is becoming increasingly clear how much help the United States needs to stabilize Afghanistan, extricate itself from Iraq, and curb the nuclear appetites of North Korea and Iran. Mr. Bolton's withdrawal gives the president a chance to improve his relationship with both the U.N. and Congress. There are plenty of experienced, internationalist Republicans who could get near-unanimous support in the Senate and send a signal to the world that Mr. Bush understands that the United States is not the only nation on the planet whose opinion matters.

Think about how fantastic these statements are. The UN is going to help us get out of Iraq? The virulently anti-Semitic member organizations in the UN are going to solve the Middle East crisis? An "internationalist" Republican is going to be more effective than a hard-nosed negotiator like Bolton at getting Russia and China on board with sanctions against Iran?

If you believe any of these things you might as well believe in the the tooth fairy. And here I thought "realism" was the buzzword of the day with the Democrats.

The UN, as an institution, is inherently dysfunctional and has become systemically corrupt. Yet at the same time, the UN still maintains an aura of credibility around the world and, to a lesser degree, in the eyes of the American public. So it's unrealistic, and potentially damaging, for America to talk about withdrawing or defunding the UN. There's been some talk of the United States trying to establish a new organization composed of nations who share the same values (i.e. democracy, human rights, and the rule of law). But even that idea, which seems to a me a good one in theory, is a bit unrealistic at the moment.

As a result, the best we can make of our current situation is to push the UN to reform as much as possible and to work through the current system to aggressively defend our interests and those of our allies - which is exactly what John Bolton had been doing. And he'd been doing it pretty well, too.

-------------------------------

More Editorials on Bolton: NY Daily News | NY Post | Philadelphia Inquirer | Newsday | NY Sun | Baltimore Sun | Rocky Mountain News

November 30, 2006

Unforced Errors

Michael Barone runs down a list of recent unforced errors in Senate races by the GOP - and the Dems.

November 29, 2006

The Nancy He Knew

If you haven't already checked out Ethan Wallison's recollections of Nancy Pelosi , I strongly suggest you find five minutes and give it a read.

Who's It Going To Be?

The news about Nancy Pelosi passing over Alcee Hastings for the Chairmanship of the House Intel Committee came out last night, but in this morning's Washington Post Jonathan Weisman and Peter Slevin do a final smack down of Hastings' claims of innocence in much the same way Byron York did yesterday. Weisman and Slevin write:

He [Hastings] pointed repeatedly to his 1983 acquittal by a Miami jury and wrote that it is "amazing how little importance" his critics give that verdict. The events that followed that trial, he said, "are so convoluted, voluminous, complex and mundane that it would boggle the mind."

In fact, there is a certain simplicity in the conclusion drawn by an investigating committee of five eminent federal judges, each with strong civil rights credentials. Those judges, and later more than three dozen others, concluded that Hastings lied to the Miami jury as many as 15 times to win acquittal.

So who's it going to be? The three candidates being mentioned are Silvestre Reyes, Norm Dicks, and Sanford Bishop. Rush Holt is also in the mix.

Dicks says he hasn't talked to anyone about the Intel Chairmanship and he's not interested besides.

Reyes is the next most senior member on the committee after Hastings, but one can only imagine the anger directed at Pelosi by Congressional Black Caucus, first for ousting William Jefferson and now for passing on Hastings.That would seem to make Bishop a reasonable compromise, especially since he was orgininally bounced from the Intel Committee to seat Harman.

November 28, 2006

Carney's Ratings

Two interesting tidbits from this NYT profile of Chris Carney, the new Democrat representing Pennsylvania's 10th Congressional District. Carney worked for Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith in the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group at the Pentagon, searching for links between Iraq and al-Qaeda:

In the summer and fall of 2002, Mr. Carney was at the center of the storm, briefing George J. Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, and Stephen J. Hadley, then the deputy national security adviser, on the Feith unit's assessment of any links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. At the time, the unit was creating controversy within the government for arguing that there was significant evidence of ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda. [snip]

Today, Mr. Carney says he still believes there were links between Iraq and Al Qaeda, although he is careful not to overstate them.

"On a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 was no connection and 10 was operational control, I would say it's about a 2½," he said in an interview. "It was a relationship of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer," he added. "Saddam was a savvy guy, and I think he wanted to make sure that if Al Qaeda someday became a force, that he wanted to keep his options open. I thought that there was a relationship. Whether it was strong enough to go to war, that's the president's decision."

Interesting that Carney admits what other Democrats have flatly denied in public for at least the last two years. And knowing human nature, I suspect Carney is retrospectively downgrading his assessement of Iraq-al Qaeda ties for a number of reasons. I'll bet if you asked him at the time, Carney would have rated the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda more in the 4-6 range, or perhaps even higher.

As with WMD intel, it's easy to sit back with the benefit of hindsight and say what dots we should or shouldn't have connected, and far more difficult to weigh the risks and make the hard choices.

There's also this:

But Mr. Carney is not enthusiastic about the possibility of a new Congressional investigation of prewar intelligence, which he said would be a major distraction.

Of course Carney doesn't want an investigation, since he was right in the thick of the intel operation which the Democrats have gone out of their way over the last few years to malign and exploit as incompetent and nefariously manipulative. Can you imagine the sight of Carney testifying before House Intelligence Committee and watching his fellow Democrats rake him and others over the coals for "lying" us into Iraq?

November 22, 2006

The Politics of Drug Prices

The conventional wisdom in Washington is the Democrats have a winning issue with the public on whether the government should negotiate with the drug companies to set prices. I'm not so sure.

This exchange from Brit Hume's roundtable by Mort Kondracke illuminates how Republicans can win on this issue.

KONDRACKE: J.D. Power and Associates, the consumer satisfaction people, have surveyed this and 75 percent of seniors say that they are happy with the prescription part D, the prescription drug program as it exists.

HUME: Well, that may mean they're happy with the help they're getting, but that doesn't mean they think they're paying fair prices.

KONDRACKE:
Well, they're paying lower prices than anybody expected. The average premium was expected to be $34 a month per average Medicare premium it's down to $27 a month.

HUME: And this gives them an insurance policy that pays for their drugs?

KONDRACKE: Right, I mean look, what I'm tempted to say and I will say is that, you know, Milton Freedman has passed away in more ways than one. I mean, the Democrats do not belief in the private market -- private competition. The way the Medicare prescription drug plan works is that private insurance companies negotiate formularies with these various drug companies and they have lowered the price.

The Medicare system will not negotiate the price; it will set the price, the way it sets the price for regular Medicare procedures, doctor procedures. And what you have then is government control of the pharmaceutical industry, which is going to be a disaster.

The reason that V.A. prices are lower is, it's basically a socialized medical system. You go to a V.A. doctor, you go to a V.A. hospital, you go to a V.A. pharmacy and the V.A. pharmacies only have 25 percent of the drugs that seniors actually use all the time. So, you know, it doesn't work.

The private market does work. But the Democrats don't believe in it.

This is an issue Republicans can win with the public, and more importantly, can win with voters in the middle where they lost this election. Independents and moderates understand exactly the point Kondracke is making that the private market works better the government when it comes to their health care. The Democrats will have the PR carrot of lower prices, but if Republicans can credibly counter that the lower prices will come at the expense of the quality of care and future medical advances this issue will work well with independent voters they will need to get back in the majority.

November 17, 2006

The Mouth From the West

You just gotta love Arnold. In this month's issue of Men's Journal, Schwarzenegger says, ""Sacramento was death -- until I got there!"

The Sacrmento Bee editorial page responded with appropriate sarcasm:

"Dear Gov. Schwarzenegger:

"We, the citizens of Sacramento, want to thank you for breathing life into our once-corpse-like city. You, alone, have enlivened this moribund metropolis making its heart beat and its muscles bulge. Without you, Gov. Schwarzenegger, we would be as dead as a dog in a drainage ditch.

"Some might have forgotten what it was like in the BS -- Before Schwarzenegger -- era. The streets were empty. There was darkness everywhere. Vultures perched on trees, and we all dressed in black hoods, carrying our scythes.

"But then you came, Gov. Schwarzenegger, and it all changed. The skies parted. The flowers bloomed. The sun shone down on the city. Everyone was happy.

(via the LA Times blog, Political Muscle)

November 16, 2006

Arianna's Lemonade

Arianna gets busy squeezin' lemons over at the Huffington Post after the defeat of Jack Murtha. By the end of the post, however, it becomes clear that Arianna's not just making lemonade, she's mixed up a serious batch of Kool-aid:

And don't shed any tears for Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi. Even though her guy lost, this was still a big win for her. A victory for taking a stand -- and for her leadership. [emphasis added]

You must be kidding, dahhling. Nancy Pelosi got her head handed to her by the Democratic caucus this morning. Trying to spin today's vote as a victory for Pelosi is a job even Baghdad Bob would turn down out of embarrassment. Not Arianna. She continues:

Because that's what real leaders do, they take stands. They listen to their hearts and follow their gut. If you only jump into the fights you're sure you can win -- notches in the W column that will look good on your political resume -- you're a hack, not someone who can move the party and the country forward. It's not about trying to have a spotless record; it's about knowing which battles are worth fighting, whatever the outcome.

Real leaders take stands. They follow their guts. Hmm, where have I heard that before? Oh yeah, it's how people typically describe George W. Bush. Of course, to Arianna, when George W. Bush "takes a stand" and "follows his gut" he's a stubborn moron.

Here's one difference, though. After the votes have been counted, even George Bush can acknowledge when there's been a "thumpin.'" That's more than you can say about Arianna.

November 15, 2006

The First Test

Bob Barr writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Republican minority already facing its first important test:

Early betting is that Democrats' fear of losing the majority in 2008 if they come across as liberal extremists will trump using the power of their newly regained majority to push pet liberal projects too fast, too openly.

Whether the Republican leaders will be able to regroup sufficiently to seriously challenge the Democrats for supremacy in 2008 is a question of equal intrigue. Gingrich and his team of neophyte leaders faced the same Herculean task a dozen years ago; a challenge they met with decidedly mixed results. Now, lacking Gingrich's intellectual power and energy, and having to contend with a president in some respects more "simpatico" with many Democrats than with conservatives in his own party, congressional Republicans will truly be put to the test.

The first hand has been dealt the GOP team -- the White House has told Republicans in Congress it wants U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida , who is indebted to the Bush family for his Senate seat, to head the Republican National Committee.

If GOP leaders fall in line and ratify Martinez, it will serve as a clear signal to the country that the Republican Party has not learned its lessons; that it prefers business as usual and the comfort of minority status to new leadership and direction. Such a move will signal an embrace of the muddled and inconsistent game plan that led the party to the rocky shoals on which it now finds itself beached.

What Goes Up....

Joel Connelly reminds Democrats not to get too comfortable at the top:

Bill Clinton was going to the White House, eight Democrats from Washington were headed to the U.S. House of Representatives, while local pundits were bound for KCTS-TV and a panel: "Does the Republican Party have a future?"

By 1994, two Novembers later, six of those eight House Democrats had lost their seats, along with more than two dozen colleagues from the state House of Representatives.

The state Democratic Party held a holiday dinner honoring defeated House Speaker Tom Foley. The turnout -- including ringers admitted free -- 37 people.

Political winds change direction quickly. A sweeping victory is often followed by the winner's excess. The voters then administer a spanking. Experts' talk of a "watershed" election is washed away in the next cycle.

Republicans could have used similar advice after 2004 - obviously.

November 13, 2006

Mel Martinez to Lead RNC

That's the word from the Associated Press:

Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, the first-term lawmaker who previously served in President Bush's Cabinet, will assume the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee, GOP officials said Monday.

Martinez, 60, will replace current chairman Ken Mehlman, who will leave the post in January at the end of his two-year term, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid pre-empting a formal announcement.

Martinez will remain in the Senate. Mike Duncan, the RNC's current general counsel and a former party treasurer, will run the day-to-day operations at the party's Capitol Hill headquarters.

November 10, 2006

Next Moves For Steele and Ford

The Washington Times reports that Michael Steele has been offered the job of replacing Ken Mehlman as Chairman of the RNC. The article also says that Karl Rove "would rather see Mr. Steele serve in the president's Cabinet, perhaps as secretary of Housing and Urban Development." It's not clear that any offer has been made, or which way Steele is leaning. But it is clear that Michael Steele has a very bright future as a national leader of the Republican Party.

In Tennesee, Harold Ford, Jr. now also has to consider his next move. He clearly a smart, talented guy who, like Steele in Maryland, acquitted himself very well in this year's campaign but came up short. The AP reports on a post-election luncheon in Chatanooga where Ford addressed his supporters and said:

"Don't cry. We will do it again, and it will come out on our side the next time," Rep. Ford said to teary-eyed supporters who mobbed him outside the Innside Restaurant on Chestnut Street.

In an interview, Rep. Ford declined to elaborate on his promise to supporters other than to say, "I'd bet on me running again."

Later on the article says Ford "would not speculate on plans beyond his last weeks in Congress." There are plenty of options open to Ford, and It'll be very interesting to see what he decides to do as he sets up possible future run for elective office.

October 13, 2006

Family Law

Deb Price examines whether lawmakers are skirting the rules when they bring spouse and/or family members along on trips.

Harry's Hang Up

The details surrounding the Las Vegas land deal of Minority Leader Harry Reid that exploded onto the scene Tuesday afternoon may or may not turn out to be unethical. The most fascinating part of the story so far, at least to me, is the one that's been least commented on: the hang up.

Hang ups come in a few different varieties. There's the accidental "I had the phone pinched between my shoulder and my ear and hit the wrong button" hang up, and there's also the "I'm so enraged I can't stand it any more" slam the phone down hang up.

Harry's hang up was different. It was an "I'm above answering these questions from you" type of hang up, and one that could be fairly characterized as a bizarre mixture of petulance and contempt.

Let's assume for the moment that the land deal is exactly what Harry Reid says it is: a simple, straightforward, perfectly legal transaction that is being misreported or blown out of proportion. Why on earth wouldn't Reid simply state as much for the record? He could have said "we've been over all this before," or he could have said "you are way off base." Heck, he could have said just about anything. Instead, Reid hung up.

If you believe actions speak louder than words, what are we to make of the fact that the most powerful Democratic elected official in the country feels like he can just hang up in the middle of a tape recorded interview with the largest news syndicate in America?

October 12, 2006

The Money Squeeze

As a follow up to Jim Hoagland's piece in the Washington Post today about the financial squeeze we're putting on North Korea, this interview with Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Robert Kimmitt warning banks about doing business with Iran is also worth reading.

October 06, 2006

Pelosi's Analysis

Aside from saying that as Speaker of the House one of her agenda items would be pushing through a tax increase, here is what Nancy Pelosi told the AP about the politics of Foleygate:

The potential for political gain is clear to her [Pelosi].

"It's an opportunity for growth among women" for the Democrats, she said. "They don't always vote and this could be a motivation."

With married women, in particular, it's a huge issue, she added.

Among older voters, too.

"If there's an ethical issue, seniors take a hike" and abandon politicians they blame, she said.

"If we hold onto seniors we win the election."

I still think Pelosi made a minor political mistake yesterday by rejecting the proposal to have Louis Freeh recommend improvements to the page system, and when the AP brought it up in the interview Pelosi again dimissed the idea out of hand as a Republican ploy designed to protect their majority. Maybe so, but opposing efforts to improve the page system makes Pelosi look like the one who is more concerned about playing politics with the issue.

Denying Woodward

What do former Washington Post reporter Thomas Edsall, former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and former NSA Director Brent Scowcroft have in common? All three went on record this week questioning some of the assertions made by Bob Woodward in his new book, State of Denial.

In an interview with conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday, Mr. Edsall said he had "real problems" with one of the scenes described in the book. When pressed about the authenticity of Mr. Woodward's recollection and the larger question of his credibility, Mr. Edsall said he's "not sure Woodward makes things up." Rather, he continued: "There are significant problems in Bob's reporting techniques, and the product that he produces, that every reader of his work should be aware of."

Also on Tuesday Mr. Card said in a nationally televised interview that he was "concerned that the perception that he [Woodward] was creating may be a perception to reflect his bias, than the reality that I lived in." Mr. Card disputed Mr. Woodward's charge that he and First Lady Laura Bush pushed to oust Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, saying, "Laura Bush never said to me that she wanted to have Secretary Rumsfeld removed. Never."

On Wednesday, Mr. Scowcroft released a brief statement to the press on State of Denial which read, in part: "There are statements in the book, directly or implicitly attributed to me, that did not and never could have come from me."

Mr. Woodward's work has come under criticism before, but this time those questioning his methods and accuracy are a surprising set of strange bedfellows: a left-leaning former Washington Post colleague, a White House insider, and a Republican who has been fiercely critical of the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq. That's quite an achievement for Mr. Woodward.

October 04, 2006

Scowcroft on 'State of Denial'

Brent Scowcroft released the following statement today (View image):

"I have spoken to Bob Woodward a number of times about a variety of subjects over the years, but I did not agree to be interviewed for his latest book. Further, there are statements in the book, directly or implicitly attributed to me, that did not and never could have come from me. I never discuss any personal conversations that I may have with President George H.W. Bush, and he never discusses with me any conversations that he has with President George W. Bush."

Scowcroft's office confirmed the authenticity of the statement and said it was released earlier today to the Associated Press. Curiously, I can find no mention of it on any AP-driven news site.

Begala's Not So Civil Discourse

Anybody remember the penultimate paragraph from a column Paul Begala wrote on November 13, 2000? It has stuck with me as one of the truly despicable pieces of discourse of the last few years - and believe me, there have been quite a few. Here's a refresher:

Yes, Barnicle is right when he notes that tens of millions of good people in Middle America voted Republican. But if you look closely at that map you see a more complex picture. You see the state where James Byrd was lynch-dragged behind a pickup truck until his body came apart -- it's red. You see the state where Matthew Shepard was crucified on a split-rail fence for the crime of being gay -- it's red. You see the state where right-wing extremists blew up a federal office building and murdered scores of federal employees -- it's red. The state where an Army private who was thought to be gay was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat, and the state where neo-Nazi skinheads murdered two African-Americans because of their skin color, and the state where Bob Jones University spews its anti-Catholic bigotry: they're all red too.

You really can't paint with a much broader brush than labeling half the country racist, anti-gay bigots and neo-nazis. What struck me about Begala's comments at the time was that he wasn't some no-name nutroot blogger crying out for attention (they didn't exist yet), he was a top strategist in the Democratic party. He remains that today - even though his penchant for most uncivil type of discourse seems as great as ever. Here is Begala concluding his first post at the new Washington Monthly Election '06 blog:

The Capitol needs a change. Hell, it needs to be fumigated. And as the stench and filth of GOP sleaze slowly oozes away, let us never forget that these slimeballs, these dirtbags, these moral midgets think they're better than you and me.

Such highmindedness. As I said, this stuff isn't coming from a member of the kooky lunatic fringe but from a top Dem political strategist and one of the people who has their hand on the rudder of the Democratic party.

October 03, 2006

Stealing Elections

John Fund's book on election fraud won't go out of style as long as we still have elections. He talks about the subject on the latest installment of the Glenn and Helen Show.

September 28, 2006

More on Partisanship

Gentleman and scholar David Adesnik of Oxblog responds to my post from yesterday with a post of his own questioning the suggestion that "un-smart partisanship is a problem mainly of the left."

A couple of quick points. First, I think David misses the mark by suggesting what I wrote could possibly be interpreted as "invective" (definitions include: 1) vehement or violent denunciation, 2) a railing accusation; vituperation, 3) an insulting or abusive word or expression). I also think he did a bit of disservice by clipping my quote to exclude the two reasons I list that drive a lot of the current partisan anger on the left. My point isn't that it's bad that the most active partisans on the left have been given a voice, but rather that the circumstances under which that voice has been found - the agonizing losses in 2000/2004 and the war in Iraq - have contributed to the tone of the partisan discourse on the left.

Did I mean to imply this type of "un-smart" partisanship is exclusive to the left? Certainly not. And it's not hard to imagine that if the blogosphere had exploded five or ten years earlier, right wing partisans would have been the ones struggling with the problem of managing their visceral dislike - hatred, even - of William Jefferson Clinton. Some still do.

But it's also hard to dispute that if you compare the largest and most highly partisan sites on both the left and the right, there is an obvious difference in style, tone and substance. Markos Moulitsas and Duncan Black seem to revel in the use of obscenities and of ridiculing people who disagree with them with terms like "wankers." Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake tosses around names like "Rape Gurney Joe" to describe Joe Lieberman - not to mention depicts him in blackface - and occasionally uses language so foul it would make a long-haul trucker blush (see her reference to Ana Marie Cox in this post as one example).

Hugh Hewitt, Michelle Malkin and the guys at Powerline operate at very high-octane levels of conservative partisanship, to be sure, but they almost always manage to do so within the bounds of reasonable discourse. That doesn't necessarily make their ideas or argument any "smarter" than the ones that appear on left-wing sites, and they are often criticized - fairly in some cases, unfairly in others, in my opinion - for the partisanship of their views. But you certainly won't see Hugh Hewitt featuring a post on his site titled "Wanker of the Day."

David continues in his post to write something on which we can both agree:

After the discussion was over, I went over to Tom and made the following suggestion. Smart partisanship is partisanship that keeps the interest of the other side. Smart partisanship is something you disagree with, but feel that you have to read because you want to know what the best argument is for the other side.

That's the ideal I keep in my head when I blog. When I write, I keep an imaginary not-me on my shoulder that has the opposite opinion about everything. My goal isn't to get him to agree with me, but to prevent him for saying "This is a waste of time."

Of course, this method hasn't prevented lots of dumb partisanship from showing up on this blog. But I do believe that this ideal has helped make OxBlog a site that attempts to engage its critics rather than one that vents its authors' spleen.

Absolutely. I try to keep up with what Josh Marshall, Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein, Chris Bowers, Kevin Drum write precisely because they try (for the most part) to make smart, interesting arguments. Hopefully, they continue to read conservative-leaning sites for the same reason.

There is smart partisanship on both sides, though as I said it seems to me there is more of the invective filled, less substantive variety on the left these days. In my view that type of partisanship is easier to dismiss and in some ways counterproductive to goals of the people who practice it. But that's just my opinion.

September 27, 2006

How Partisan Is Too Partisan?

That's the question we tried to tackle at the Pajamas Media event last night at the National Press Club. The gist of my remarks was that it is a very difficult, if not impossible question to answer. Indeed, I came to the conclusion that it's probably best to fall back on the answer people most often give when asked to define pornography: "you'll know it when you see it." Here are three observations I tried to make last night about partisanship.

In general, I think partisanship is a good thing. As the editor of a political web site whose mission is to seek out and publish the best political commentary, opinion, and analysis across a broad range of viewpoints, partisanship is often what gives force to an argument and makes it compelling.

That said, there is a difference between "smart partisanship" and a much less attractive alternative that relies on invective rather than argument and employs the widespread use of insults and obscenities. This is a problem the left continues to struggle with given that the new media revolution (to use a pretentious phrase) has taken place almost entirely in the last five years under the tenure of George W. Bush and given voice to a core of the most active liberal partisans who A) believe he wasn't legitimately elected in the first place - or legitimately reelected in 2004 - and who B) believe the President and his administration deliberately misled the country into the current war in Iraq.

One reason the question of "how partisan is too partisan" is almost impossible to answer is because concept of partisanship is itself too subjective. The example I cited last night was the Swift Boat Veterans from the 2004 campaign. Basically half the country - meaning the 48% who voted for John Kerry - viewed the Swift Boat Veterans as an egregiously partisan attack. The other half of the country - or at least a good portion of the 51% who ended up voting for George W. Bush - thought it was perfectly legitimate, indeed newsworthy, that more than 100 of John Kerry's fellow Vietnam vets, including nearly all of his commanders, came forward and went on record to say that he was unfit to serve as Commander in Chief for a variety of reasons.

I think most would agree that if 100-plus members of the Texas Air National Guard had come forward in the same manner to denounce George W. Bush in either 2000 or 2004, liberals would have had a much different opinion on the matter - and the media would have covered it extensively.

Another example is to look at what's currently happening in the Virginia Senate race. Many of the same folks who moaned and screeched about the Swift Boat Vets attack on John Kerry two years ago as too partisan see nothing untoward about the attack being leveled against George Allen - which essentially boils down to a "he said-she said" affair between Allen and one person who went on the record (supported by anonymous sources) alleging he used the n-word thirty-five years ago.

The final point I tried to make last night is that naked partisanship, even of the most extreme kind, is preferable to partisanship masquerading as objectivity. I was thinking specifically about Dan Rather's Memogate episode and also the recent "fauxtography" incidents during the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict. The idea that evidence can be manufactured, images enhanced, and that "fake but accurate" is a new standard for professional journalists are all deeply disturbing and corrosive results of partisanship and bias in the media.

In a broader sense, the whole notion of objectivity in the media has fallen away on partisan lines. Conservatives look at FOX News and find the coverage exactly as advertised ("fair and balanced") while liberals see FOX as a shameless propaganda machine and mouthpiece of the Bush administration. Liberals read the New York Times and believe they're getting an objective take on the news, conservatives see a paper thoroughly riddled by liberal partisanship engaged in an agenda-journalism crusade against the Bush administration.

There aren't any profound conclusions to draw - not by me anyway - except that when it comes to discussing "how partisan is too partisan," the left and the right will have to agree to disagree. It was a great event last night and I was honored to be included among such a distinguished panel of guests.

September 26, 2006

Specter Speaks

I attended Senator Arlen Specter's address at the National Press Club yesterday (video at C-Span) . Specter discussed the extraordinary work left on the Senate's schedule: military commissions, NSA legislation, immigration, the federal shield law, and eleven appropriations bills. Specter remarked that never in all his years had he seen so much work of such high importance left to the final days of the session.

In addition to his fifteen minute long remarks, Specter spent close to an hour answering questions from the audience covering a wide range of subjects. Here are some of the more interesting pieces of Specters remarks and responses:

On Military Commissions: As he stated on CNN the day before, Specter reiterated that while he thought the compromise on classified evidence was "correct," he remained "strongly opposed" to the provision taking habeus corpus out of the hands of the federal judiciary. Specter said the great writ is explicitly authorized under the Constitution for cases of insurrection or invasion, neither of which we currently face. He'll be introducing an amendment to that effect this week.

On the NSA Program: Specter said there had been major changes in the bill over time but that it had been refined to the point where he thought the "chances are pretty good it will pass." In fact, responding to a question about his relationship with President Bush, Specter responded that he and the President had a great relationship and that he had negotiated directly with the President on aspects of the NSA legislation.

On Immigration: Specter was clearly peeved at being bullied by the House, saying it seemed clear that "the House of Representatives doesn't think much of the bicameral system." Specter said he thought enforcement was vital and that he supported a fence, but that immigration reform shouldn't be handled in such a "piecemeal" way. As Chair of the Conference committee on immigration Specter said he remained open to finding a comprehensive solution. "If somebody has a better idea," he said, "I'm open to listen."

On Judges: Specter defended his record as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, saying the 5.3% vacancy rate in the federal court system is the lowest it's been in 20 years. He rattled off a number of successful appointments, including Pryor, Brown, Owen and Kavanaugh, as well as Alito and Roberts. Specter said he put Boyle , Haynes and Meyers right back on the Committee list after President Bush sent them back up, and he stressed that he's been running a tight ship, getting folks through the committee in a timely fashion. Specter used John Bolton's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as an example of why it's important to move expeditiously on nominations, saying, "if Bolton had testified or one day he would have been confirmed. Let them [nominees] hang out to dry and you can forget about it."

On Bolton: Specter said he supported Bolton and thought he was doing a good job. "He's smart, industrious, and cantankerous" Specter said, adding that he considered those to be "three good qualities."

On Signing Statements: Specter said President Bush's use of signing statements is "inappropriate under the Constitution." If the President likes a bill, Specter said, he should sign it. If not, he should veto it. But the President can't pick and choose which provisions of a bill he (and the rest of the executive branch) is going to follow.

On Torture: when asked about the Bush administration's use of torture, Specter challenged the premise of question. "I don't know that any officials have authorized torture," Specter said. "I don't think they have." He also referred to our current interrogation techniques as "rugged" but legal.

On the Election: when asked whether the GOP deserved 2 more years of Control, Specter said yes, for the following two reasons: 1) they've done a good job and 2) look at the alternative! Specter said his view was that the odds are "strongly in favor" of the GOP hanging onto the Senate and "somewhat in favor" of them hanging onto the House.

On Santorum: when asked what single piece of advice he'd give to Rick Santorum right now, Specter said Santorum should begin emphasizing the bill the two of them authored on stem cells. Specter was proud of the fact they had reached a compromise consistent with Santorum's religious, moral and ethical concerns and that also promoted life-saving science that would benefit millions of Americans. Specter thought that was an issue that would benefit Santorum in the election.

September 21, 2006

D'oh!

Iowa Democratic Senator Tom Harkin whiffs on one of the biggest no-brainers in the history of politics.

September 18, 2006

TNR's "Rove Juggernaut"

Thomas Edsall has a long piece in this week's The New Republic (registration, but not subscription) which is quite good. While I don't necessarily agree with many of Edsall's points, he makes a number of astute observations:


--Many Democrats--and writers such as Thomas Frank--have called for the party to reconnect with the white, working-class, male voters it has lost over the decades. The problem with this call to populism is that the party's most influential wing is not populist; it is elitist--affluent, well educated, urban, indifferent (or hostile) to organized religion, and, on the controversial social issues of abortion and gay marriage, well to the left of the general public. The values of this elite tend to prevail in party debates and in the crafting of Democratic platforms.

--This has led to a profound realignment in U.S. politics. Once characterized mainly by the economic split of the Great Depression--a split that played to the Democrats' advantage for the better part of a generation--the parties now divide differently. Put simply, the Democratic Party has become the political arm of the subdominant, while the GOP is home to the dominant groups in American life.

-- Indeed, the pervasiveness of risk in today's economy has made many Americans feel it is safer to look out for yourself and your kin than to place your fate in the hands of a politically controlled collective. Risk is now, for better or worse, a central feature of American life--for managers, entrepreneurs, professionals, and workers. Both substantively and stylistically, Republicans speak to this prevailing mood in a way that Democrats do not.

--The Iraq war may someday be viewed as a political overreach of sorts, it seems unlikely that it will lead to a fundamental realignment of the electoral landscape. To be sure, there are plenty of unknowns that could bring about such a realignment: the approaching retirement of baby-boomers, the growing ranks of Latino voters, another terrorist attack, a serious economic decline. But, unless Democrats are rescued by a major trend or an unforeseen event, they will probably be making Karl Rove look good for many years to come.

I think Edsall's conclusion here is more or less correct. The Latino issue is a salient point and Republicans are vulnerable on both sides of this issue. If mishandled by the GOP it could help Democrats significantly in the long-term. However, as far as another terrorist attack, as long as the anti-war left is prevalent on the Democratic side, another terrorist attack is not going to help the Democrats in the long-term.

The sleeper issue is the growing investor class (I include homeownership along with stocks when talking about this group) which is a significant macro trend that strongly favors Republicans. This is one of the reasons Democrats fought so hard to prevent letting individuals have any control over the retirement money they put in Social Security. The more the public begins to rely on itself, the less need it has for government which in turn, needless to say, deeply undermines a core philosophy of the Democratic party. But the increasing tolerance for risk among that portion of the American public is a double-edged sword that could potentially lay the seeds for a Democratic revival in the event of a risk-precipitated economic collapse. In other words, another depression would be the "unforeseen event" that would end this Republican trend.

September 17, 2006

Impeach Bush!

Guess who said yesterday that President Bush should be impeached? It's not who you think.

September 15, 2006

Armey on 1995-1996

With my book, The Elephant in the Room, out this week (last plug, promise), today we run a Q&A excerpted from the book with former Majority Leader Dick Armey.

Here he is on what went wrong in 1995-1996:

What went wrong with the government shutdowns in 1995 and 1996? How did the Republicans miscalculate?

Newt's position was, presidents get blamed for shutdowns, and he cited Ronald Reagan. My position was, Republicans get blamed for shutdowns. I argued that it is counterintuitive to the average American to think that the Democrat wants to shut down the government. They're the advocates of the government. It is perfectly logical to them that Republicans would shut it down, because we're seen as antithetical to government. I said if there's a shutdown, we're going to get the blame. Here's the other thing: You're heard saying rather boldly in June that you're going to shut the government in the fall. You've set the stage for the press to report that the Republicans are now doing in October what they said they'd do in June. Even if, in fact, they thought it was the right strategy to shut down the government, they should have kept their mouths shut about it. The fact of the matter is what happened was, they honestly believed that Clinton would not shut down the government. It was a fiasco that was harmful and dangerous to us because we made it that way.

How could the Republicans have done things differently in 1995?

Just keep our mouth shut, go through the year, stick to our guns, stand quietly on the ground that we had, live by continuing resolutions until we break them. What we did was we precipitated a political confrontation, and we got our butts kicked. If we had just quietly done the nation's business, and let it drag into the next year -- it did anyway -- I think Clinton would have come along. What you had to do with Bill Clinton was don't give him any schmooze. The quiet "no," this is what he couldn't deal with. If you take me out in the back street with Muhammad Ali and give me a gun, I'll shoot him, right, and nobody will notice, but if you let me get in the ring with him, he's gonna kick the tar outta me. Clinton, if you give him the political arena, he's a Muhammad Ali. Newt thought he was big enough and smart enough and strong enough to handle Clinton, so that's what it was really about. Newt was really swelled up with -- the speaker's a very important job, I'm a really important man, I'm as important as the president. He had a compelling need to prove that the speaker was as big as, or bigger than, the president. A lot of it was naïveté on our part. We'd never been there before. Quite frankly, I look back at it, we did a remarkable job for people who'd never been in control of anything. But the idea that we could meet Clinton on his ground and beat him, I just think was naïve on our part.

I tend to agree with Armey that a lot of what went wrong back then was tactical. But it's had the lasting effect of making Republicans scared to pursue small-government policies. Now, we're left with Republicans wondering if it wouldn't just be better to lose?

September 12, 2006

Smith Smackdown

Former FEC Commissioner And Tireless Free Speech Advocate Brad Smith delivers quite the smackdown to Sen. Russ Feingold in this op-ed: "Yes, senator, McCain-Feingold does censor political speech."

A sample:

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., takes issue with The Examiner's editorial criticism of the McCain-Feingold bill and its "ban" on certain broadcast ads. The indignant senator responds that the law "doesn't ban or censor any speech."

Feingold's position is disingenuous. For just a few sentences after telling us the law "doesn't ban or censor any speech," he tells us that McCain-Feingold was necessary to prevent some voices from being "drowned out" by others. As McCain-Feingold does nothing to affirmatively create or encourage speech -- it offers no subsidies or platform for political speech -- the only way it can prevent anyone's voice from being "drowned out" is through the suppression of other speech -- and that is indeed what McCain-Feingold does, as the senator must know.

Smith goes on to dismantle the common objection from "reformers" that citizen groups are still allowed to speak by way of PACs. Suffice it to say, they shouldn't need permission, and this alternative is wholly inadequate.

September 08, 2006

The Times Slimes

The New York Times slimes think tanks that receive ludicrously small amounts of money from a Wal-Mart-related foundation, in a story on the front of the business section today.

As Daniel Drezner points out in the link above, these donations are tiny in the scheme of think-tank giving. And, what's more, it's simply no surprise that free-market organizations ... support the free market against attacks from labor unions.

A truly pitiful hit-piece from the Times.

Let History Be the Judge

President Bush likes to say history will judge his actions. Jonathan Rauch at The Atlantic, no psychotic Bush basher, thinks it will judge him harshly (sub required):

The question history will ask is whether Bush's presidency was as bad as Richard Nixon's or only as bad as Jimmy Carter's ... If the country seriously intends to prevent terrorism, then spying at home, detaining terror suspects, and conducting tough interrogations are practices that the government will need to engage in for many years to come. Instead of making proper legal provisions for those practices, Bush has run the war against jihadism out of his back pocket, as a permanent state of emergency. He engages in legal ad-hockery and trickery, treats Congress as a nuisance rather than a partner, and circumvents outmoded laws and treaties when he should be creating new ones. Of all Bush's failings, his refusal to build durable underpinnings for what promises to be a long struggle is the most surprising, the most gratuitous, and potentially the most damaging, both to the sustainability of the antiterrorism effort and to the constitutional order.

I think this is generally correct. While many of the individual actions the administration has taken in an aggressive fight against terrorism are defensible or outright correct, what's almost impossible to defend is why the administration has run what is likely to be a generation(s?)-long conflict like a temporary emergency. With a Republican Congress that would grant the president wide latitude to fight the war, the decision to treat the executive like a monarchy has been particularly unnecessary.

(HT: Sullivan)

September 06, 2006

Your (Former) Speech Rights

As John McCain runs for president, grassroots groups -- many of them anti-abortion activists -- continue to have their speech squelched:

In March 2002, when President Bush signed the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance "reform" bill, his signing statement noted, "Certain provisions present serious constitutional concerns." So, he said, "The courts will resolve these legitimate legal questions."

But, as Bush should have known, you can't trust those no-good "activist judges" to get anything right. And, in four years since, they haven't: The law's most heinous provision - which in effect bars unions, corporations and nonprofits from criticizing incumbent politicians' votes on controversial bills on TV or radio for 60 days before a general election and 30 days before a primary - still stands.

Yet another McCain-Feingold lawsuit proceeds in D.C. today.

September 04, 2006

Dodd's Jihad

Poor Chris Dodd. His jihad against John Bolton has lost some steam over the last 12 months given the UN Ambassador's solid performance since President Bush recess appointed him last August.

Nevertheless, Dodd tells the Hartford Courant he's "arming himself for battle" against Bolton when he returns to the Senate this week. Presumably Dodd knows, but doesn't care, that a filibuster of Bolton before the midterms could provide a much needed boost to Republicans. I'd be astonished if the Dems are foolish enough to risk sacrificing even the slightest electoral advantage to assuage Dodd's ego and vindicate his petty, personal vendetta against Bolton.

September 01, 2006

Political Video of the Day

Here's a light one going into the holiday weekend...

CNN anchor Kyra Phillips doing a little damage control after calling her sister-in-law a "control freak" on an open mic in the bathroom during a speech by the president:

As always, send nominations to:

ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com

That Tierney Column

On Tuesday, Tom linked to a John Tierney column on TimesDelete about the decline of South Park Republicans.

Reason has now reprinted that column on its Web site for free, so that it can escape from the black hole of the Times' bad business decisions.

This, from South Park co-creator Trey Parker, pretty much sums it all up: "The Republicans didn't want the government to run your life, because Jesus should. That was really part of their thing: less government, more Jesus. Now it's like, how about more government and Jesus?"

Time for Joe to Go

The Washington Post's editorial on Joe Wilson today is just brutal. What a stupid waste of time all around:

It now appears that the person most responsible for the end of Ms. Plame's CIA career is Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge, claiming -- falsely, as it turned out -- that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials. He ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife. He diverted responsibility from himself and his false charges by claiming that President Bush's closest aides had engaged in an illegal conspiracy. It's unfortunate that so many people took him seriously.

Will he go crawl into a hole now?

August 31, 2006

Sager Book Talk Sept. 6 at Cato with Michael Barone

Before too many people flee for the holiday weekend, I wanted to alert D.C.-area RCP Blog readers that I'll be speaking Sept. 6 (next Wednesday) at the Cato Institute at noon about my new book, just out from Wiley, The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party.

You can register to attend here. There will also be a feed online.

I'll be talking about big-government conservatism and the GOP's building identity crisis -- especially what it means for the Republican Party's hold on the eight states of the interior West. And I'll be joined by the famed Michael Barone of U.S. News & World Report and of course coauthor of the Almanac of American Politics, who will offer commentary.

Should be fun. You might even get a free sandwich from the think tank that understands better than any other that there's no such thing as a free lunch.

Giving Thanks

Wow. Paul Hackett makes an ass of himself on national cable television with an angry, unhinged, ad hominem attack. Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid must be patting themselves on the back for forcing this guy out of the Ohio Senate race.

August 30, 2006

Carterwatch Update - Jed Babbin

It should come as no surprise that former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami would be coming here for the annual UN anniversary celebration. And granting him a visa to do so is also no surprise. And, unfortunately, there is also no surprise in Harvard is offering Khatami a forum to spread his "message," or for our worst former president, Jimmy Carter, to be offering to meet with Khatami.

Khatami was Iran's president from 1997 to 2005, part of the time the mullahcracy was diddling the EU in the now-years-long nuclear kabuki dance. The White House - according to a Washington Post report - says that Khatami is free to meet and speak freely while visiting America. Mr. Carter has no standing to deal with Iran, so what harm can he do? Maybe the same he did in the Der Spiegel and Daily Telegraph interviews earlier this month.

Of Iran, Carter has specific memories. His presidency foundered on the 1979 Tehran hostage crisis. Perhaps he and Khatami can have a meaningful discussion. One that is, as the Post report cites a source saying, "poignant." It is a comfort to know that Carter's talk with Khatami won't be part of the "serious" talks Iran suggests it will have with us.

Political Video of the Day

A clip from Bush's interview last night with NBC's Brian Williams in New Orleans:

The highlight is when Bush seems to describe his reading list as "epileptic." (Of course he meant "eclectic" -- he kind of starts with one word and ends with the other.)

As always, send nominations to:

ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com

August 28, 2006

Plame It on the Rain

James Taranto sums up the end of the Plame affair here.

This is really looking like the most stunning humiliation for the anti-Bush Left in ... well, ever.

Derb on Sullivan

Over at The Corner, noted homophobe (before you send angry emails, realize he wouldn't object to this characterization!) John Derbyshire gives a brief review of Andrew Sullivan's new book.

Despite references to "Sullivan's fundamental hedonism" and "the perennial present-centeredness of those who don't intend to reproduce themselves," it's worth a read just for the fact that -- despite it all -- these two Brits have fundamentally similar ideas about what's wrong with the GOP and how conservatism should be understood.

War on Wal-Mart

The Democrats' campaign against Wal-Mart seems to be in the news a lot in the last few days. So, if you're new to the issue, and want to understand the politics behind it, definitely check out this segment from the Wall Street Journal's Editorial Report:

Gigot: Democrats are picking another fight with business. At least a half dozen of the party's presidential contenders have appeared at protests across the country this summer, denouncing the retail giant Wal-Mart for what they say are substandard wages and health-care benefits. It's a rallying cry many Democrats believe will prove powerful in the midterm elections. But could it backfire?

Kim, explain this to me. This is a company that employs something like 1.3 million Americans; 127 million Americans shop there at Wal-Mart during the week. Yet Democrats think this is terrific politics. Why?

Strassel: I don't think it's terrific politics with the general public or the people who work at Wal-Mart. What it is, is it's meant to suck up to the unions who are powerful in elections. And this is a union issue. This hasn't been talked about enough in the Wal-Mart campaign. What you have here are unions that are very unhappy. They have never been able to organize the largest employer in the country. But more importantly, Wal-Mart's success, its phenomenal low-cost structure, is putting a lot of pressure on their own employers. And that is causing lost jobs, fewer stores, shutdowns. And so, what you have here are unions, who are now trying through laws, like these Wal-Mart laws you've seen around the country, and through political pressure, to force Wal-Mart to actually have to take on the high cost structure that their own employers have.

Gigot: Just so people understand this union issue. You're talking about Wal-Mart entering, now, the grocery store business, which is very heavily unionized at Kroger, Safeway, Jewel, companies like that. And they have a relatively high cost structure, so when Wal-Mart goes in, they undercut the prices. That's one reason they can charge lower prices. And these unions are upset because they hurt the employment at Kroger and Safeway.

Strassel: That's absolutely right. And it's retailers, too. There are retailers who are unionized, and Wal-Mart is not.

Henninger: Another point to keep in mind here. They have singled out Wal-Mart. But Wal-Mart is not an absolutely unique company in the United States. Their earnings come in--their profit margin was about 3.7% last year. Their share price in mid-2003 was $57; it's down to $43 now. They need to increase those margins. They operate on a thin supermarket-like margin. And if they were to do all of the things the Democrats are urging them to do, they'd be wiped out. They'd go out of business. And it's no different whether you're a Wal-Mart or Target or Costco or any other big corporation.

Riley: And I think the grocery-store point is very important here, because it reveals the other agenda here. One agenda is unionizing Wal-Mart. But if you look at the unions driving this anti-Wal-Mart campaign--the United Food Workers and the Service Employees Unions--these are not manufacturing unions. These are grocery-store workers. And their separate agenda, aside from just organizing Wal-Mart, is to stop Wal-Mart from opening more grocery stores. Period. So there are a couple agendas going on here.

My general sense is that this is ridiculously bad politics for the Democrats. The people who hate Wal-Mart already vote Democratic -- that is, urban elitists who've never been inside the store and staunch union members who can't compete with the store. The people who shop at Wal-Mart and like the bargains, on the other hand, are up for grabs. And this will only push them toward the Republicans.

Once again, special-interest politics is leading the Democrats down the wrong road.

Obama: Anything There?

I agree with Tom that Obama's gesture was quite something. Obviously it's part political theater, but that's a big part of what leadership is: political theater by another name.

I have to admit that I've been as impressed as anyone with Obama as an orator and retail politician. He has an appealing plain-spokenness and real charisma.

At the same time, what troubles me about him isn't just his lack of experience (though there is that), but that when you scratch the surface, there's not much there other than very traditional Democratic pabulum. He's in a position where he could be taking a real lead on an issue like, say, school choice. It's a tremendous boon to the African-American community, but the Democrats are locked in a chokehold by the teachers unions. Obama could step up to the plate and change the politics of this issue in a meaningful way that would benefit millions of minority and low-income children. Yet, he takes a pretty standard Democratic line on education.

Now, the simplest explanation here is that he basically believes the standard Democratic line on most issues. And, well, that would make sense. He's a Democrat. But if he doesn't have anything unique to say, then he's just the same-old-same-old in a more appealing wrapper. And I don't think that will take him very far.

So, I think conservatives have to respect Obama's skills, even if they find nothing on which to agree with him. But unless Obama finds some substantive way to appeal to voters right-of-center, his skills will probably end up in service to a once-bright, but ultimately failed political career.

Free Speech and Its Discontents

Make sure to check out Bob Bauer on the "alarmingly ambiguous" relationship between modern "progressives" and free speech.

August 25, 2006

The 'Hole' in Nagin's Head

As offensive as Mayor Nagin's "hole in the ground" comment is in its phrasing, let me chime in with a note of not-really defense as a New Yorker: It is appalling that New York City is still left with an open wound approaching the five-year anniversary of 9/11.

The failure of the New York City and state governments to get their act together on rebuilding Ground Zero has been a governmental failure approaching the level of incompetence shown by Nagin in New Orleans (if not quite matching it). And the blame falls squarely on one man's shoulders: Gov. George Pataki. Now, Mayor Bloomberg hasn't covered himself in glory in all of this -- his obsession with other development projects around the city (such as trying to land the Olympics) has diverted attention from Ground Zero. But it is the governor who holds real power in New York state, and Pataki's incompetence and sheer laziness have led to a deadlock that still has no end in sight.

His performance at Ground Zero alone disqualifies Pataki from the presidency (if he really harbors any such delusions). Eliot Spitzer will have his shot at fixing this mess starting next year. Let's all hope he does better.

August 24, 2006

The Religion Problem

Pew has just put out its yearly survey on religion and public life. No surprise, the Democrats have a religion problem. According to the report: "Fully 69% of Americans say that liberals have gone too far in keeping religion out of schools and government."

It adds, however: "The proportion who express reservations about attempts by Christian conservatives to impose their religious values has edged up in the past year, with about half the public (49%) now expressing wariness about this." That includes 31 percent of Republicans who think conservative Christians go too far in imposing their religious values.

Forty-nine percent may still be a minority. But in a 50-50 political climate, and with the number seemingly on an upward trajectory, it's nothing at which to sneeze.

Political Video of the Day II

Lefties are up in arms over a series of ads being run by the Center for Union Facts (a conservative outfit opposed to unions -- particularly public-sector ones -- here's some info on them) in Michigan, Montana, Nevada, and Oregon, and on the Internet.

I'm not sure if the center is going to be effective, but its message is certainly the right one. While private sector unions have shrunk down practically to nothing, public-sector unions grow like a cancer in states like New York and California. If "cancer" seems an overly harsh metaphor, you don't live in the Empire State or have any stake in education reform.

The unions have immense political influence, and then they use that influence to make the laws more favorable to themselves, give themselves pay raises, get more political power, and then start the cycle all over again. There's no end in sight for the taxpayers, or for kids trapped in failing, decrepit public schools.

Anyway, here are some of the ads in question:

On teachers unions...

On so-called "card-check" organizing (designed to bully workers who don't want to organize a union -- the New York teachers unions are trying to foist this on non-unionized charter-school teachers)...

And here's one satirizing the benefits of unions generally...

OK, so it's really political videos II, III and IV.

August 22, 2006

Political Video of the Day

Harold Ford Jr. campaigning for Senate in Tennessee, ranting against globalization:

As always, send nominations to:

ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com

Public Financing: A Bust

Former FEC commissioner Brad Smith argues, rather convincingly, that the presidential public-financing system has not been a success by any measure -- despite the utterly unsupported claims by a number of columnists and reform advocates.

WSJ on Allen: 'a dismaying indifference'

Over at OpinionJournal, Brendan Miniter weighs in on George Allen:

Mr. Allen's problem is neither that he is a vicious campaigner nor that he is a modern-day George Wallace. Rather, it is that for more than two decades in state and federal office, he has displayed a dismaying indifference to his adoptive state's racial history. And it is this political tone-deafness that is now weighing down his political future with Southern baggage.

Read the whole thing.

Bush's Beliefs

Over at Andrew Sullivan's blog, guest blogger David Weigel of Reason magazine takes bemused notice of this post from National Review Online:

Bush has virtually never in his political career made a decision that he didn't think was the right thing to do and the right way to do it. Conservatives who are piling on the anti-Bush bandwagon should consider that this trait--which makes the Bush family historically great--is a historical rarity to be treasured. This administration would do well to be more concerned with its popularity -- the President and even Vice President should appear every week in press conferences and on the Sunday talk shows -- if only to strengthen the political viability of their agenda, and be able to shape the terms of debate. But it was not so long ago that Americans could only wish for a president who was obviously trustworthy, upstanding, and principled. And the day is not far off when we will think ourselves lucky to have seen this President defend the honor and integrity of his office--and the American people--for eight years.

As a fellow libertarian, let me give a slightly different take: I think the NRO poster, Mario Loyola, is right.

Small-government conservatives have many reasons to be unhappy with the Bush presidency, but that Bush hasn't done what he believes is right is distinctly not one of them. In fact, Bush has been remarkable for the number of times he's marched against the political wind: Social Security privatization, immigration liberalization and the continuation of the Iraq war are just a few examples.

Where he's gone against conservative principles is in areas where he simply doesn't have any conservative principles. For a man who came into office without a foreign policy, Bush is uniquely unengaged in domestic policy.

He sold-out small-government values on education in his first major bill as president because he really doesn't believe the government is the problem in public schools -- he thinks the federal government just needs to enforce stricter standards.

He gave free-market health-care reform short shrift and signed the Medicare prescription-drug bill because he didn't see anything particularly wrong with massively expanding the size of the welfare state.

He signed off on pork-filled highway and farm bills because reducing pork has never been a priority in his administration.

These aren't moral failings, or a failure to stand up for what he believes in. He simply doesn't believe in a number of principles that used to define conservatism.

(One act that was a moral failing, however -- where Bush knew he was doing wrong -- was signing McCain-Feingold. He admitted as much in his signing statement.)

Now, I would argue that Bush was fairly disingenuous in his 2000 presidential campaign, painting himself as a small-government conservative at crucial junctures (I go into this in my book). But, overall, I do believe Bush has shown a unique disregard for public opinion. And, yes, I think that's a positive trait.

Grassroots Partisanship

Bob Bauer takes a look at how the FEC might vote on proposed new rules to ease the campaign-finance laws' restrictions on issue advertising. He argues that campaign-finance regulation has become so complex and unwieldy that it's no longer sound to assume they'll break down along party lines.

In this case, that might actually be good news for freedom of speech.

August 18, 2006

Republicrats

Over at The American Prospect, Ezra Klein has an interesting article (subscription required) on what he calls, "The Rise of the Republicrats." No, he's not trotting out the old warhorse about there being no difference between the Republicans and the Democrats. He's looking at how the Republican Party has abandoned all pretense of being the party of small government and has instead embraced the Leviathan state -- leaving the Democrats, the usual champions of the Leviathan state, in something of a bind.

It's a subject near and dear to my heart (and I make a brief appearance in the article).

Klein argues:

The dilemma for conservatism is obvious: How can a pro-business, pro-tax cut, and anti-entitlement creed such as today's conservatism cater to this constituency [Southern, working-class, white, socially conservative] without abandoning everything it has believed for 40 years? For much of the old guard, such a radical re-imagining of conservatism may prove impossible. But some younger, less tradition-bound conservative thinkers are sketching out a pro-government philosophy that supports conventionally progressive proposals like wage subsidies and child-tax credits but places them in a new context -- as rear-guard protective actions in defense of the nuclear family. That is, whereas progressives argue for economic justice for a class or classes, these conservatives are arguing for economic favoritism for families, buttressed by government policies that encourage and advantage them as the central structure of American life. It isn't hard to see the potential appeal of that approach, and it could corner Democrats and liberals into being the party of the poor, while the GOP becomes the party of parents.
Klein's certainly right about what's happened to the Republican coalition -- i.e. that it's shifted away from the West and toward the South, and away from economic conservatism and toward economic populism married to cultural populism.

At the same time, I think it's faintly ridiculous to attribute the slide toward big-government conservatism to a younger generation "re-imagining" what conservatism means (Ross Douthat's and Reihan Salam's proposal for the GOP to become the Party of Natalism was interesting, but it isn't quite policy yet). Instead, big-government conservatism has grown out of purely cynical machinations by Republican politicians and public intellectuals who were neutered during the Gingrich years, and are now desperately trying to cling to power and relevance.

Big-government conservatism hasn't meant stealing from the rich to give to the middle class. It's meant meaningless gestures on education (No Child Left Behind), massive government giveaways to corporations and the elderly (the Medicare prescription-drug bill), and pork-laden highway and farm bills. The fact is that while there are Republican politicians who have signed on to this Protecting the Nuclear Family Through Big Government way of thinking -- chief among them Sen. Rick Santorum, who might not be with us much longer -- they don't set policy in the GOP. And if they started to, the party would split in half. Or in thirds.

It's also a strange assumption that the Democrats aren't the ones better poised to become the middle-class Mommy Party. It's only the War on Terror, and only by a few points, that has kept the GOP in power since 2002. Entitlement reform, child tax credits, middle-class "values" talk -- these are all hallmarks of the Clinton Era Democratic Party. The only thing standing in the way of the Democrats returning to power in the guise of such a party is -- well, the Democrats. It's the progressive netroots who want to purge the Democratic Party of all Clintonian (read: election-winning) tendencies domestically, and of all hawkish (read: election-winning) tendencies on foreign policy. A revival of the moderate wing of the Democratic Party (the Big-Government-Republican wing of the Democratic Party, if you will) is the only thing that will keep the Democrats from becoming, as Klein puts it, "the party of the poor." (The real danger, I might add, is becoming "the party of the poor and the pacifists.")

How the Democrats choose to react to the changes taking place in the Republican coalition and the Republican policy program is their business. (Though, I'd agree with Klein that moderately small-government voters -- particularly in the West -- are a group they should be looking to court.)

But the idea that small-government conservatism is dead, or that the libertarian wing of the GOP is just going to roll over and play dead, is mistaken. Small-government conservatism is far from obsolete. In fact, given the entitlement crisis we're all headed toward, especially we in the younger generation, it's more vital than ever. Market-based health-care reform, private Social Security accounts, school choice -- all of these ideas form the core of a policy platform that, if pursued skillfully, should appeal tremendously to the rising generation of voters, as well as to most of the GOP's traditional base. (Bush's Ownership Society actually gets at the core of this concept, but has been pursued ineptly.)

Anyway, pick up TAP and read Klein's whole, insightful article. Just don't mistake Republican incompetence, opportunism, and corruption for a new conservative ideology.

Ouch

Ouch.

Public Financing Fraud

E.J. Dionne Jr. today bases his entire column on a claim without a shred of support: That the presidential public-funding system has "worked."

How do we know it worked? Well ... uh ... a lot of presidential candidates took the free money. Big surprise.

Bob Bauer takes on this logic this morning on his blog:

We can't really say that the system "worked" or "served the nation well" when we can't assert, because we can't know, what would have happened without this system.

But it's actually worse than that. It's not just that we "don't know" if it's worked. We do know something much more important: That the public is at best indifferent to the program, and at worst actively hostile to it. A lot of people may say they like public-financing if you word the question in a biased way in a poll, but where the rubber meets the road, in the voluntary tax check-off box, Americans let their real feelings be known: In 2005, only 9 percent of filers elected to support the Presidential Election Campaign Fund; the number's been declining for years.

If people want to defend public financing, great. But the press tends to let them get away with simply asserting things that are -- on the face of it -- patently ridiculous.

August 17, 2006

Political Video of the Day

More Macaca Madness ...

Here's ABC News doing a segment on the George Allen's '08 campaign ender:

It features an interview with S.R. Sidarth, who seems to be having fun milking his 15 minutes.

As always, send nominations to:

ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com

Hollywood Gets It, Netroots Don't

Our good friend Duane over at RadioBlogger has a picture of the large ad Nicole Kidman and many other Hollywood celebs took out in the LA Times today. It is worth taking a look, as the ad is impressive and very encouraging. The language is clear and unambiguous and signed by over 80 Hollywood luminaries.

We the undersigned are pained and devastated by the civilian casualties in Israel and Lebanon caused by terrorist actions initiated by terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas. If we do not succeed in stopping terrorism around the world, chaos will rule and innocent people will continue to die. We need to support democratic societies and stop terrorism at all costs.

BuzzTracker has this as the number one blogged story today and the response from the far left netroots crowd is sadly typical. This from Booman Tribune:

Well, it was bound to happen eventually. Hollywood drank the kool-aid.

Apparently actors Michael Douglas, Dennis Hopper, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Danny De Vito, Don Johnson, James Woods, Kelly Preston, Patricia Heaton and William Hurt, and Directors Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, Michael Mann, Dick Donner and Sam Raimi cannot read the New Yorker.

I also condemn the taking of civilian life by organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. I'm just not dense enough to blame them for the deaths of over 700 Lebanese people. Those deaths fall firmly on the plate of Dick Cheney, Ehud Olmert, and George W. Bush. They took those lives months ago when they agreed to use the next provocation to destroy Lebanon and its infrastructure. Thankfully, Olmert resisted Cheney's request that they destroy Syria's infrastructure and kill their civilians too.

I'm no sympathizer with Islamic terrorism. I just don't like being lied to. Apparently, Nicole Kidman doesn't mind.


Looking past this year's mid-terms, at what point will Democratic Party regulars realize the netroots crowd is marching their party into an utterly unelectable position (at least nationally) when it comes to national security and the War on Islamic Radicalism?

The Dems' problem is there is no leadership to pull the party back from the brink, and the only one who has the stature in the Party to pull it off -- Bill Clinton -- can't because of his wife's bid for the '08 nomination.

August 15, 2006

More on Allen

Over at TAPPED there's a further discussion of this Allen "macaca" comment. I've got to say, the more I hear, the more I think this looks really bad for Allen. For one, Allen speaks French, which makes it quite doubtful he didn't know what the word meant.

You can also read the rest of what Garance Franke-Ruta has to say at TAPPED about the uses of the word.

That he said this on camera -- on a camera being held by his opponent's staffer -- well, this guy is simply beyond stupid.

August 14, 2006

Skeptical Conservatives

Heather MacDonald sounds more than a bit like Andrew Sullivan in defending "skeptical" conservatives in The American Conservative:

Skeptical conservatives--one of the Right's less celebrated subcultures--are conservatives because of their skepticism, not in spite of it. They ground their ideas in rational thinking and (nonreligious) moral argument. And the conservative movement is crippling itself by leaning too heavily on religion to the exclusion of these temperamentally compatible allies.

Conservative atheists and agnostics support traditional American values. They believe in personal responsibility, self-reliance, and deferred gratification as the bedrock virtues of a prosperous society.

But, then she adds this: "They view marriage between a man and a woman as the surest way to raise stable, law-abiding children."

I'm not sure where opposition to gay marriage fits in as an intrinsic part of non-religion-based conservatism.

Still, the article is worth a read.

'Reform' Hypocrisy

Why do campaign-finance "reform" advocates hate civil dialogue so? Those who follow these matters might remember how Sen. John McCain famously snarled at FEC Commissioner Brad Smith (a dogged "reform" opponent) and refused to shake his hand at a public hearing. Well, here's another bit of "reformer" pleasantness for the ages.

Bob Bauer -- noted progressive campaign-finance attorney and campaign-finance-regulation skeptic -- co-wrote an op-ed last week for the New York Times, expressing, well, skepticism about campaign-finance regulation. Bauer's piece was thoughtful, well-reasoned and engaged in no ad hominem attacks against reformers.

The response came in the Sunday NYT letters section: a ludicrous bit of name-calling and hyperbole from Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 and Trevor Potter of the Campaign Legal Center.

Here's a sample:

Mr. Baran and Mr. Bauer...have facilitated efforts by their clients to undermine the campaign finance laws, and then opposed efforts in Congress to deal with the resulting scandals. ...It is no surprise that these lawyers representing different political parties tell us they meet periodically for cozy lunches to discuss their mutual disdain for the campaign finance laws.

On his blog today, Bauer issues an appropriate -- and, let me say, scorching -- response, calling the "reformers" on their refusal to engage in civilized debate and their reliance on a Black Hat / White Hat narrative to make up for their utter lack of rigor or reason:

Wertheimer and Potter are counting, once again, on the Grand Reform Narrative to ease their way past a close examination of the reform record. This is a Narrative that slights argument and appeals with great success to the instinctive acceptance, in the press and among some members of the public, that politics is corrupt; that reformers are laboring valiantly in the public interest to clean it up; and that they must contend always with tireless resistance from the beneficiaries of the corrupt order. It is a labor-saving argument: it summons forth the fear of demons and excuses any attention to reasoned exposition. "Reform" is good: how could it not be, since it is "reform"?

Bauer goes even further in exposing the sleaze and hypocrisy these "reform" groups perpetrate. While they've tried to ruin Bauer's legal practice for having the audacity to publicly question the "reform" program, they go merrily about finding ways to help Sen. McCain solicit soft money without running afoul of his own laws.

(Those not familiar with McCain's antics as relates to the Reform Institute should familiarize themselves. The group, which can accept soft money, is essentially an appendage of the McCain operation -- hiring his staffers between campaigns and working toward his greater glory generally. He's, not surprisingly, been known to do favors for corporations and individuals who donate to it. I wrote up the scandal in The Post here.)

Anyway, it's nice to see once again that those who support "reform" can only operate from a commitment to sweetness and light, while those who oppose it are ravenous beasts, feasting on the flesh of our dying democracy. Campaign-finance regulation has sure brought us a more civilized public square.

August 11, 2006

Superprecedent or Giant Mess

Is the 1976 Buckley decision (which opened the door to modern campaign-finance regulation) a "superprecedent" or just a big mess.

Bob Bauer reports, you decide.

August 10, 2006

Forced To Be Free

Raise your hand if you want compulsory voting?

No, seriously. You'll be fined if you don't raise your hand.

The New Chicago School

On to more trivial news, for the moment, it looks like both Lowe's and Target have caught on to a tactic that used to be Wal-Mart's specialty: If a city wants to make it hard to do business, just don't do business there.

Chicago's city council passed a bill last month that requires "big-box" retailers to pay their workers $10 in wages and $3 in benefits by 2010. Mayor Daley can still veto it -- and he should. Otherwise, big-box retailers are 100 percent within their rights to refuse to be bullied by economically illiterate local legislative bodies.

Meanwhile, ACORN is going after Target with a letter-writing campaign (ouch -- that ought to bring them to their knees).

August 09, 2006

Curb Your Pollution

Shouldn't Larry David and wife have been driving a Prius?

August 08, 2006

A Reformer Without Results

Jan Baran and Robert Bauer have a must-read op-ed in the New York Times today (not, thankfully, in the TimesDelete black hole).

Baran is a lawyer for Republicans and Bauer a lawyer for Democrats. In their piece, they lay out the case that campaign-finance reform has accomplished precisely nothing (except fattening their own wallets, as politicians pay them to navigate our increasingly Byzantine system).

Here's a sample:

Our law practices, which have grown tenfold since 1981, have certainly prospered from the seemingly unappeasable demand for reform. But it cannot be said that others -- those active in the political process, or the public at large -- have done nearly as well. The law is not only increasingly complex but, in many cases, counterintuitive, requiring ever more nuanced clarifications from regulators.

Some reformers genuinely believe that it is possible to drive money out of politics and still observe the command of the First Amendment. Others see practical advantages. Many politicians favored McCain-Feingold because it prohibited certain advertising that mentioned opponents' names, or because it authorized them to raise more money if they were challenged by wealthy, free-spending opponents. The bill also attempted to strike at "negative" political speech -- known to ordinary Americans by its other name, "criticism"-- by requiring candidates to publicly approve their ad content.

In 2004, the first election year during which McCain-Feingold was in effect, negative campaigns overwhelmed the government's efforts to discourage them, and fund-raising records fell beneath the frenzied pace of collections by candidates, parties and interest groups.

By 2005, a rash of scandals, including the Abramoff and Cunningham cases, had answered the question of whether this legal crusade would quash corruption.

This is an extremely important point. Campaign-finance-regulation champions pretend that their "reforms" have "worked" -- though no one can define what having "worked" might even mean. They constantly lower the bar and declare themselves to have cleared it.

Meanwhile, government is as corrupt as ever, and incumbents are more entrenched than ever.

Given how ineffective Sen. John McCain's trademark domestic policy reform has been, I might even propose an '08 campaign slogan: A reformer without results.

August 07, 2006

Defending Dingell

Conservative radio host Paul Smith defends Rep. John Dingell in today's Detroit News:

Congressman John Dingell and I are from completely different political worlds. We often disagree about the best way to get to the same goal. We both love our country deeply, and, we both despise terrorists and terrorism.

Seems odd that I would have to make those last two points clear to anyone who knows either one of us or knows that we are friends.

I did not see or hear the "Flash Point" interview with Devin Scillian that has caused some folks to question Dingell's patriotism or loyalty to America's allies; or even worse, that he would support Hezbollah over Israel.

I didn't need to. I have 50 years of his public record to go by.

Read the rest to see the examples Smith cites.

August 04, 2006

The End of the Right?

E.J. Dionne may have a special affinity for declaring various ends to conservatism. But that doesn't mean he's wrong. Make sure to check out his piece today (also linked on the main page) on "The End of the Right?"

Sure, the GOP's in trouble in 2006. But its problems go much, much deeper than that. Under George W. Bush, conservatism has ceased to mean much of anything at all. It's not about small government, it's not about fiscal discipline, it's not about states' rights, it's not even about competent war leadership. And, as Dionne says, it reached something of a low last night with the Republicans trying to swap an increase in the minimum wage (which Republicans are supposed to hate as a government intrusion into the economy -- and an economically illiterate one at that) for a repeal of the estate tax (a good idea, certainly, but far from a top priority).

How has Bush led us to such incoherence? Andrew Busch, author of Reagan's Victory: The Presidential Election of 1980 and the Rise of the Right, put it well in an op-ed on OpinionJournal earlier this week: "Mr. Bush has neglected the critical task--carried out by Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and Newt Gingrich--of advancing a public argument that connects his otherwise disparate policy decisions to a broader philosophical framework. He has failed to articulate the philosophical argument for limited government that once defined the Republican Party."

Busch argues, correctly I believe, that coherent argument is much more important to the GOP than to the Democrats. They want to give away free stuff; that's easy to understand. We want to take away free stuff, lower taxes, and strengthen the economy and civil society; and that takes a lot more explaining. Without coherent argument or any sense of conservative first principles, Bush has repeatedly given away the store in the name of compassionate conservatism: with the worthless No Child Left Behind law, with the extravagant Medicare prescription-drug bill, etc., etc.

How to come back? Busch outlines a conservative plan based on:

• holding the fiscal line on both taxes and spending;

• re-energizing a public philosophy of constitutionalism and limited government;

• supporting a measured cultural traditionalism;

• incrementally introducing mechanisms for greater choice and accountability into existing public programs;

• concerted campaigning in the black and Hispanic communities on the basis of moral and religious standards, as well as entrepreneurship;

• continuing to promote the vitality of civil society.

It all sounds pretty good to me. There's no time or way to bring the Republican Party around by this fall. But as we head into the 2008 primary season, conservatives concerned about the direction of the party should keep these concepts in mind.

Just because Republicans have been winning elections doesn't mean conservatism is triumphant. In fact, given the compromises that have been made to get here, true conservatism may well be in its worst shape ever.

August 03, 2006

Brilliant

James Webb, Democratic Senate candidate in Virginia versus Republican George Allen, finds upon entering politics that campaign-finance reform has not worked.

His solution: more campaign-finance reform.

Brilliant.

(via The Note)

Death to Castro

Make sure to check out Peggy Noonan's column today at OpinionJournal (also linked from the main page). While she semi-defends the Cuba embargo, she also ... well, admits it's been a catastrophic failure and says now is the time to lift it. I have to agree on both counts.

Here's the argument:

What to do now?

How about this: Treat it as an opportunity. Use the change of facts to announce a change of course. Declare the old way over. Declare a new U.S.-Cuban relationship, blow open the doors of commerce and human interaction, allow American investment and tourism, mix it up, reach out one by one and person by person to the people of Cuba. "Flood the zone." Flood it with incipient prosperity and the insinuation of democratic values. Let Castroism drown in it.

...

Allow Americans to go to Cuba. Allow U.S. private money into Cuba. Let hotels, homes, restaurants, stores be developed, bought, opened, reopened. Use Fidel's death to reintroduce Cubans on the ground to Americans, American ways, American money and American freedom. Remind them of what they wanted, what they thought they were getting when the bearded one came down from the Sierra Maestre. Use his death/illness/collapse/disappearing act as an excuse to turn the past 40 years of policy on its head. Declare him over. Create new ties. Ignore the dictator, make partnerships with the people.

Yes give more money to Radio Marti and all Western government efforts to communicate with the people of Cuba. But also allow American media companies in. Make a jumble, shake it up, allow the conditions that can help create economic vibrancy and let that reinspire democratic thinking. The Cuban government, hit on all fronts by dynamism for the first time in half a century, will not be able to control it all.

That is how to undo Fidel, and Fidelism. That's how to give him, on the chance he's alive, a last and lingering headache. That's how to puncture his mystique. Let his people profit as he dies.

If he is actually ill, why not arrange it so that the last sounds he hears on earth are a great racket from the streets? What, he will ask the nurse, is that? "Oh," she can explain, "they are rebuilding Havana. It's the Hilton Corp. Except for the drills. That's Steve Wynn. The jackhammer is Ave Maria University, building an extension campus."

Imagine him hearing this. It would, finally, be the exploding cigar. That's the way to make his beard fall off.

Make his beard fall off? That, ladies and gentlemen, is why they pay her the big bucks.

July 31, 2006

Gore Unhinged

Not him, the other one. The Progressive is carrying an interview with Gore Vidal in this month's issue. It's really hard to capture the "unhingedness" of Vidal without reading the entire interivew. He call Bush "a thug", compares the President and the Vice President to monkeys causing trouble, rants about stolen elections, and on and on.

Here is one question and answer worth quoting in full:

Q: You're a veteran of World War II, the so-called good war. Would you recommend to a young person a career in the armed forces in the United States?

gore_vidal.gifVidal: No, but I would suggest Canada or New Zealand as a possible place to go until we are rid of our warmongers. We've never had a government like this. The United States has done wicked things in the past to other countries but never on such a scale and never in such an existentialist way. It's as though we are evil. We strike first. We'll destroy you. This is an eternal war against terrorism. It's like a war against dandruff. There's no such thing as a war against terrorism. It's idiotic. These are slogans. These are lies. It's advertising, which is the only art form we ever invented and developed.

Read the whole interview and you'll come away with a clear sense of the profound hatred and contempt this man has for America - and for everyone in it who doesn't share his views.

July 28, 2006

[Blank]-Feingold?

Two notes on the current push to revamp the presidential public-financing system:

1) Via Bob Bauer, we get a sense of how significant this push is. By radically increasing how much money candidates would get under public financing, this bill is attempting to make it almost impossible not to accept the cash. If your opponent's taking it, you'd better do the same. (Also see Bauer for how this is all just a step on the path to public financing of congressional races, which incumbent congressmen would just love.)

2) Note that one half of McCain-Feingold is absent from the current push. McCain, who can raise tons of private money -- remarkably, one has to note, for a "reformer" -- presumably wants to skip public financing. Feingold, who can't and who's involved in the current push, would be a direct beneficiary of the new system (talk about an appearance of corruption).

And so the campaign-finance-reform lobby keeps chugging along. Final destination: no speech allowed during federal elections, except for that granted by Congress and the president.

Political Video of the Day

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has a new ad making it clear that they want 2006 to be all about Bush -- understandably enough.

Here's the ad: Now is the Time for a New Direction.

As always, send nominations to:

ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com

July 27, 2006

Talking in Circles

What happens when a Berkeley linguist tries to save the Democratic Party through the power of language?

Find out in my review for the New York Sun of Geoffrey Nunberg's generously subtitled "Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latté-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show."

Political Video of the Day

An embarrassing day for America: Maliki gets heckled by a war protestor.

As always, send nominations to:

ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com

Gay Marriage and Democracy

The recent court decisions -- in New York on July 6 and in Washington State yesterday -- refusing to create gay marriage by judicial fiat have had a remarkable effect on the public discourse surrounding the issue: They've brought it into being.

Granted, there's been a lot of hollering about gay marriage, particularly from the Republican Party denouncing the activist judges who want to rewrite our marriage laws. But the Democratic Party has been largely silent. It's presumed many Democrats are in favor of gay marriage or civil unions, but most keep their mouths shut or even make noises about "defending marriage" to avoid the inevitable political fallout of speaking up.

But now, Democratic politicians are being forced to take a stand -- since judges aren't going to be able to do the heavy lifting for them.

When New York's decision came down, governor-in-waiting Eliot Spitzer immediately said he supported gay marriage and would introduce a bill to create it. Now, Washington's Gov. Chris Gregoire has come out for the first time in favor of (essentially) civil unions.

The logic here is simple. When the courts are taken out of the equation, people actually have to take sides and then defend their positions. In some states, it will be easy to defend the anti-gay marriage position. In others, however, like New York and Washington, high-profile Democrats are going to have to start going with their consciences -- or, at least, with public opinion.

It will be interesting to watch New York and Washington in the coming year. Those watching New York can check out the legislative wiki, put together by Ben Smith at the Daily News, set up to track state legislators' positions on the issue.

July 26, 2006

Blogola on the Right

Jim Geraghty at National Review reports that Patrick Hynes of Ankle Biting Pundits -- and author of In Defense of the Religious Right -- has been blogging about John McCain, while also, undisclosed, working as a political consultant for him.

Geraghty's story has all the details and Hynes's response to the whole thing -- in which he accepts full responsibility and explains how the relationship came to be. Also, here's Hynes's post at his own blog (comments are open).

Two things strike me here:

First, Hynes is handling this correctly. There's basically no excuse for not disclosing the relationship earlier. And his past comments about similar scandals on the Left now look awfully hypocritical. But, unlike on the Left, it's not all deny, deny, deny. He handled something in the wrong way, and now he's saying so forthrightly.

Second, isn't McCain the one always hyperventilating about "circumvention" of campaign-finance laws. He and his pals even wanted to clamp down on the Internet recently to prevent bloggers from coordinating with campaigns. And now this is what his PAC is up to? Very odd.

Or, really, entirely predictable.

The Initiative Myth

There's a fascinating little paper out from Pew today on whether ballot initiatives really work as turnout-boosters in close elections. The impetus for the study is the fact that the Democrats are looking to copy the GOP's "success" with gay-marriage initiatives by ramping up their own minimum-wage initiatives.

Currently, such initiatives are on the ballot in Arizona, Missouri, Montana and Nevada -- and may be on their way in Ohio and Wyoming -- but is there any real reason to expect them to be effective?

Pew looks at the impact of gay-marriage initiatives in 2004 and concludes: not really. Pew writes:

Yes it's true that in 2004, all 11 same sex marriage ban ballot initiatives were approved by voters -- and by sizable margins, ranging from a 57% majority in Oregon to an 86% majority in Mississippi.

Yes, it's true that Bush carried nine of the 11 states where the gay marriage bans were on the ballot in 2004. But it's also true that, unaided by gay marriage ban initiatives, Bush won those same nine states in 2000.

Yes, it's true that, in the aggregate, Bush increased his percentage of the vote in those 11 states by two percentage points between 2000 and 2004. But across all 50 states, he upped his percentage of the vote by three percentage points.

And yes, it's true that turnout spiked in those 11 states by 18.4% between 2000 and 2004. But nationwide, turnout was up by nearly as much -- 16%. And in Red America (the 31 states that Bush carried in 2004), turnout was up a bit more -- 18.9%.

In short, toting up all these numbers, it seems safe to say that the 11 gay marriage initiatives had no across-the-board impact on the 2004 presidential race.

Pew makes one exception: Ohio was so close (Bush won with 51 percent), that it's hard to say any one factor didn't tip the scale. And, of course, if Ohio had gone the other way, so would have the Electoral College -- no small matter.

But, overall, I think this Pew paper confirms what's been obvious since the smoke cleared after 2004. Despite the loud proclamations from "values voters" that they had won Bush his reelection, national security was far-and-away the decisive issue. And I don't particularly buy that the gay-marriage initiative tipped the scale even in Ohio. The Bush ground game there, particularly with black churches, was very aggressive. (But I'd be interested to hear from anyone with real, solid proof it was gay marriage.)

But back to those minimum-wage initiatives. Can they drive turn out? Well, 67 percent of Democrats consider the minimum wage "very important" as an issue; only 43 percent of Republicans consider gay marriage "very important." So, theoretically, it should have an even bigger impact (bigger than zero, that is, if you believe the first part of Pew's analysis).

Still, I don't really buy this. If an explosive, headline-grabbing issue like gay marriage made essentially zero difference, why would a wonkier, less emotional issue get new, Democratic-leaning voters out to the polls? There would have to be some real intensity of feeling about the minimum wage out there in the countryside for this to make a difference.

The minimum wage enjoys widespread (if wrongheaded) support. But I don't think it runs very deep or is the basis for too much excitement.

July 25, 2006

Political Video of the Day

A long one today ... John McCain's appearance Monday night on the Daily Show. He is, of course, loved by this crowd.

Conservatives should especially watch that ever-present McCain tension: between wanting to say what will make the crowd love him more and wanting not to hack away at President Bush.

Very fraught ...

As always, send in nominations to:

ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com

The Idea of an EC Alliance

ec.gif What if a group of states comprising at least 270 electoral votes banded together in an alliance and pledged to support the winner of the national popular vote in the next presidential election? Presto: the electoral college would be done away with, but without all the fuss of actually going through the process of amending the U.S. Constitution. Is it legal? Apparently. Is it likely? Not anytime soon.

Nevertheless, the idea, proposed by Stanford University computer science professor (and registered Democrat and former California elector in 1992, by the way) John Koza, is attracting attention from around the country, according to this article in today's San Francisco Chronicle.

Just for fun, let's see how this might work. Let's begin with the assumption that an alliance containing the smallest number of members would be the easiest to form. We can also assume that less populated states (i.e. those with the fewest EC votes) would be less inclined to join such an alliance since the Electoral College was specifically designed to offer them protection against a popular vote.

By my count, the fewest number of states it would take to form alliance to get to the magic 270 is eleven: CA-55, TX-34, NY-31, FL-27, PA-21, IL-21, OH-20, MI-17, NJ-15, GA-15, and NC-15 (or VA-13). Can you see all these states agreeing to a EC-popular vote alliance? Theoretically possible, I guess, but not very likely.

You have to assume any sort of EC pact would be approved by state legislatures. That leads to two problems: first, that the pact could be broken any time a state legislature in any one of the member states changed hands, which would make any such alliance inherently fragile and unstable. Second, it seems to me an alliance running against partisan sentiments of a given state would create a fabulous disconnect for the public that would make state legislatures balk. Put another way, imagine Republican state legislators in Texas trying to explain to their constituents that even though Texas voted overhwelmingly in favor of a GOP Presidential candidate, the state's 34 electoral votes were going to the liberal Democrat.

A more likely change to the Electoral College would be moving to a proporational system for allocating EV's based on the popular vote outcome in each state. But that too has problems, political drawbacks, and seems unlikely to occur anytime soon. It looks like we're stuck with the clunky old system created by The Founders which, while it may outdated and not perfect, still chugs along providing a solid framework for executing the will of the people in the world's greatest federal republic. - Tom Bevan

JAY COST ADDS: Rational choice theory goes a long way to explain the problem with the idea of an EC alliance. Different states have different preferences for different presidential voting systems. I would say the most decisive interest for any given state is the extent to which their economic interests would be enhanced by each method for voting for a President. Some states - like California - would get more attention from presidential candidates, and therefore more economic benefit (the rallies, parties, media, etc), from them. They get ignored now because they are solidly Democratic or solidly Republican. But in this proposal they would not. So they would prefer it. Other states - in Tom's list, I would say MI, PA, OH and VA - would probably economically suffer from the change. They get lots of attention now, and would probably expect a decline in attention. In Pennsylvania, for instance, Greater Pittsburgh is a decisive actor in the state's allocation of EVs. But greater Pittsburgh only has about 1 million people - much fewer voters and much fewer swing voters. That makes spending in the Pittsburgh media market much less rational for a presidential candidate. So also all the campaign rallies become much less feasible. Pittsburgh would suffer, and therefore Pittsburgh legislators would oppose it, and so it will not pass through the state legislator. Lots of other small states - IA, NH, MN, WI, etc - would also suffer. In other words - any state that would economically benefit would support the proposal. Any state that would economically suffer would oppose it.

So - the question is whether the proposal would economically benefit states whose EC population is now 270. I think the answer is no. And I think the reason is that there are simply too many swing states. We all bitch and moan about how few states are actually on the table, but in 2004 there were about 20 states that were on the table. This meant the campaigns spent money in those states, which means all of those states have an economic interest in maintaining the current system. Even if states MIGHT benefit from the change - for many of them there is just so much uncertainty in the new system. How will campaign resources shake out? Uncertainty like this only enhances the appeal of the current system.

There are broader political implications here as well - a look at the map clearly indicates that a change would almost assuredly help Democratic candidates. The Electoral College has a small state bias - every state gets a minimum of 3 EVs. The GOP does better in the small states. So GOPers will want to preserve the current system. Partisanship in the state legislatures can therefore sink the whole thing. There are a whole host of states on that list that have at least one Republican chamber or one Republican governor who are sufficiently partisan to stop the thing.

And Tom correctly indicates the fundamental problem - there is NO enforcement mechanism. No state is penalized for breaking the pact. And, further, the pact is very unstable. If one state reneges, the logic for all states to maintain it disappears - and cooperation ends entirely. Even if we presume that there are enough states with a real interest in the proposal - we can imagine how easy it would be to induce a state to renege. Again, because it is obvious that the GOP would be the harmed party, the GOP candidate could easily "pay off" a state to renege. They might promise the veep spot to the governor. They might promise a package of tax cuts or spending increases to help a state's industry, etc. All the POTUS candidate would have to do is make it in a state's economic or partisan interests to renege. POTUS candidates have that power in spades!

So, I would say that (a) the proposal is not an equilibrium because too many states would oppose it; (b) even if it is an equilibrium, the ease with which a GOP POTUS candidate could induce a state to switch makes it a hopelessly unstable equilibrium.

Finally, I cannot help but comment upon the irony. What these big states are objecting to is the issue of "dictatorship" - i.e. a minority is making a decision against the expressed wishes of the majority. But they are actually trying to create a "dictatorship" of their own to solve this one! These proposals will not pass unanimously in the state legislatures - so, if you add up the constituents of state legislators who oppose the pact along with the states where EVERYBODY opposes it, you are likely to come up with a majority in opposition to the plan. - Jay Cost

July 24, 2006

'Holistic' Hollywood

This morning, Bob Bauer looks at whether "holistic" campaign-finance regulation might stifle the left-wing filmmaking community:

A "holistic" approach to influence would certainly have to reckon with so mighty an influence network [the Hollywood Left, that is]. The law is not yet equal to the task, but a minor step in this direction was taken in 2004, when complaints were lodged against Michael Moore's filmed assault on George Bush. Moore, faced with the electioneering communication prohibition, suspended his television advertising in the weeks before the election. This is one among other examples of an established connection between this kind of activity and the influencing of political opinion generally, and of voter choice in particular.

And now back to Clooney, who, interviewed about his involvement with political film-making, wisely said: "the most patriotic thing you can do in our country is question your government." He appreciates the elemental proposition that political debate--debate seeking influence--should be open to all wishing to join in. Commenting on Bill O'Reilly's attacks on his views, Clooney has said this: "Fair enough. They [conservatives] can say what they want. I can't demand freedom of speech and then say don't say bad things about me. But I'm also not going to stop presenting opposing views."

No, he won't stop or be stopped, unless faced with the demands, maybe sometime in the future, of "holistic" legal restrictions on political influence.

If campaign-finance regulation starts backfiring on the Left -- and, well, it already has -- one of the first casualties will be the Hollywood political money machine. Yet one more reason for the Left to start rethinking their alliance with the cleanies.

July 23, 2006

Freedom vs. Funding

John Tierney (Remember him? No? Just because he's stuck in TimesDelete's black hole?) has an interesting column on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research in Saturday's Times.

He argues, essentially, that the research is better off without the federal funding:

Even before this week's veto, anger over the ban has prompted states and private philanthropists to put up their own money. They've committed well over $3 billion to this research in the next decade, which might be more than Washington would have provided anyway -- and the federal money would have come with strings attached.

Stem-cell researchers can benefit from the freedom enjoyed by scientists who developed in vitro fertilization, which Washington also refused to finance because it was originally denounced as immoral. The absence of federal involvement sped progress by allowing unregulated private labs and clinics to innovate.

Given the other sources of money for stem-cell research, including private companies that see potentially lucrative profits, there's no pressing need for Washington to get involved. And as long as some Americans -- a minority, but a passionate minority -- oppose the work, there's no reason to force them to subsidize it. The result would just be more pressure for Washington to impose restrictions on what researchers could do.

When I touched on this subject a couple days ago, libertarians wrote in to accuse me of going soft by supporting federal funding of science. Pro-lifers wrote in to accuse me of not getting the moral difference between killing embryos through IVF or killing them through embryonic stem-cell research. My point was that it's inconsistent to say IVF should be allowed but not to fund stem-cell research -- assuming the federal government was going to fund other types of basic science. The majority of Americans (by far) support stem-cell research, so the argument that people would be forced to subsidize research they find morally repugnant is a weak one. In a democracy you fund lots of stuff you don't like when the majority says so.

Anyway, the Tierney argument provides another coherent framework -- the one I subscribe to. The government doesn't fund research and doesn't ban it either (of course, no one's trying to ban the research in this debate). What's more, private philanthropy and the free market ultimately do a better job anyway.

What bothers me still, though, is that opponents of embryonic stem-cell research can't just be upset by the idea of federal funding. If the research is "murder" or crosses some moral line, then there's no rational position but to support an outright ban on it -- and on IVF, which kills far more embryos.

To be clear: I'm not supporting any such ban. I want to see this research continue. But it seems to me there are two binary choices: A) It's either moral (and legal) to create embryos for the purpose of destroying them OR it's not (and, thus, IVF and embryonic stem-cell research should be outlawed), and B) either the government funds basic science (including embryonic stem-cell research) OR it doesn't.

These two questions are mixed up constantly in this debate. But if we've already as a society essentially agreed that embryo-destroying research is permissible (if not beyond controversy), then it doesn't seem to me there should be quite so much fireworks around the question of federal funding.

Unless it's all just a way for the GOP to excite its religious base. Oops ... answered my own question.

July 22, 2006

Shifting Edupolitics

Another Kaus item...

Kaus notes some shifts in edupolitics.

For one, New York's governor-to-be, Eliot Spitzer -- a Democrat, as you may be aware -- has now endorsed opening more charter schools in New York state. (An issue on which I called him out for being reluctant to speak up here.) Spitzer's running mate -- David Patterson, a Harlem Democrat -- also supports the largely non-union schools.

For another thing, Kaus notes Clinton appointee Joel Klein's (five-years-old) support for charter schools and war against New York's United Federation of Teachers.

Third, Kaus notes that the lefty Center for American Progress may start ruffling some union feathers. (God willing)

Anyway, I wanted to address one question Kaus had: Is a new study on charter-school effectiveness out of New York state really meaningful? My answer (if I may be so bold as to step on Eduwonk's toes): a little, but not a lot.

[You can find a very biased union response to the report here (PDF).]

The study is a snapshot of the 2004-2005 school year, and shows students in charter schools outscoring students in nearby public schools. Noted conservative education wonk Fred Hess warned charter-school supporters (for tactical reasons) not to make too big a deal of these results. Essentially, snapshots like this control for ... well, nothing.

The essential problem is that state and city education bureaucracies don't study these issues appropriately. All education data should test how much progress students make in a year -- in other words, value added -- rather than taking snapshots. Essentially, you'd want to take a group of kids in a charter school, and then a similar group of kids who didn't get into that same charter school (admissions are done by lottery, so this would be random), and then compare the groups' results over the years.

But, there are very few studies done like this.

At the same time, this study confirms what we've all known for a long time in New York -- there are charter schools with scores that are simply off the charts. Take this example from the New York Post article:

At the Harlem Day Charter School, 100 percent of its fourth-graders passed the English exam and 94 percent passed the standardized math test.

By comparison, an average of 52 percent of students in neighboring schools in Community School District 4 in East Harlem passed the English test and 75.6 percent passed math.

These are kids who have improved dramatically after being plucked from traditional public schools. There's just no question. And since the point of charter schools isn't just getting high scores at every charter school, but rather experimenting and seeing what works and what doesn't, charter schools have been an unqualified success in showing us that there are educational models that can reach low-income, urban kids.

These models invariably involve: longer hours (more "time on task" and thus longer work days for teachers), frequent testing of students to identify where they need help, and strict accountability of teachers for their students' results.

All of these things are anathema to the teachers unions -- thus their hatred for charter schools. (And, oh yeah, teachers at charter schools don't like to unionize ... and that costs the unions dues-paying members.)

My basic plea on education: more charters, vouchers and experimentation ... AND (and this is a big and, hence the CAPS) an investment by cities and states in independent testing and evaluation bodies. State "accountability" systems are a joke, and almost all government-created data falls short.

New York City, for instance, has an Independent Budget Office that evaluates various things and puts out wonky reports. An independent body like this measuring the schools would be better than reports put out by city and state bureaucracies with overriding political agendas. The problem, of course, as with all "independent" bodies, is making sure that institutional players (and ideologues) don't take over. America's teachers colleges are already worthless because they're run by left-wing social-justice crusaders.

Back to the politics: There is a shift going on here among Democrats. New York will be the state to watch on that front. Will Eliot Spitzer take on the teachers unions that run the state's education policy when he takes office? Stay tuned ... I, for one, will be watching.

Disunion of Facts

Mickey Kaus catches ABC's The Note hallucinating a revival in long-moribund union-membership numbers.

I'd noticed the same problem with the item in question. It references "a resurgence in union membership across the nation," but the story it links to ... well, says no such thing. Union membership remains in the tank where it has long been.

But, well, I didn't write it up. [So why are you writing it up now? To prove you're slower than Kaus?--ed You said that. It just seems like news our readers would be interested in.]

Since Kaus's permalinks are as bad as ever, his item is reproduced after the jump.

[UPDATE: Here's a permalink that works. Kaus post no longer reproduced below. Go look at Slate's ads!]

July 20, 2006

Counting Snowflakes

On the substance of the president's stem-cell veto, I have to admit I'm torn. Here's one bit of reporting I found illuminating, though. ABC's Jake Tapper did a little digging into the "Snowflake" adoption program the president touted when he issued his veto. He interviewed Ron Stoddart, the executive director of Nightlight Christian Adoptions, which is responsible for the frozen embryo adoption program.

Here's a clip:

Stoddart says that 110 babies have been born in total, with "20 more on the way." There have been 273 donor families, he says, donating anywhere from one to 10 embryos per couple. They have been matched with 178 adopting parents. My math was correct - that means 143 embryos did not survive the process.

"Typically when we transfer or thaw the embryos, about half of them survive thawing," Stoddart reports. "Of those that survive, about a third result in a birth." Two-thirds of the embryos that survive thawing don't become a baby either because of miscarriage or failure to implant in the adoptive mother's uterus.

Even in the creation of the snowflake children being used as the face of opposition to stem-cell research, other embryos were destroyed. What's more, simply as a byproduct of in vitro fertilization treatment in general, thousands of embryos are discarded/destroyed every year. I just can't get my head around any logic that says it's OK to destroy those embryos, but not to use them for research that might vastly improve the quality of life for thousands (and eventually millions) of living, breathing human beings.

As Andrew Sullivan has said, if we consider embryos full-fledged human lives, then mother nature is the biggest abortionist/murderer of all, between embryos that fail to implant in natural reproduction and miscarriages.

Sullivan, however, is actually supporting the president's decision to veto:

This isn't a ban on such research; it's a decision not to throw the weight of federal financing behind it. I respect the case of those who favor it; but, when push comes to shove, I'm with Bush on this. It took political courage to take this stand. And the morality it reflects - a refusal to treat human life as a means rather than as an end - deserves respect even from its opponents.

I don't buy this, though. If we shouldn't treat human life as a means -- and embryos are human life -- then this research should be banned. Otherwise (assuming the government is going to be in the business of funding basic science, which it is), there's no reason for the federal government not to throw the weight of its financing behind it.

If the research were unpopular, maybe that would be a different story. But the research enjoys solid majority support.

It seems to me you either have to support banning any process that willfully leads to the destruction of embryos -- including IVF -- or you have to accept stem-cell research and fund it like any other type of basic science.

The Party of Science

Mark Warner has apparently been getting standing ovations on the pre-pre-campaign trail by promising "an administration that believes in science."

The theme has gotten an unexpected amount of traction. Perhaps that's why I received this email today:

Dear Ryan,

President Bush vetoed legislation yesterday -- his first ever use of the presidential veto -- that would help to unlock the potential of stem-cell research that could change the lives of millions of Americans with potentially curable diseases.

As with so many Americans, this issue is personal for me. I have a daughter with juvenile diabetes and a mother with Alzheimer's disease. These are among the host of diseases for which stem cell research could produce a cure.

In the Bush administration, politics has trumped science: on climate change, alternative energy research, and on medical advancement that could save lives. This country needs an administration that believes in science and brings hope to the many Americans and their families suffering from these horrible diseases. Please join me in asking Congress to overturn President Bush's veto. Sign the petition today.

Governor Mark R. Warner
Forward Together PAC

While I continue to think President Bush's veto was smart politics in the short term (2006), the "anti-science" label could be very damaging to the GOP in the long term. The fact is that most people know somebody suffering from a medical condition that embryonic stem-cell research might help treat or cure. And there are very few people who value a clump of cells -- whatever its theoretical moral status -- over the health and well-being of their parents or spouses or children.

There's a real theme between global warming, evolution and stem-cell research, and the Democrats shouldn't have too hard a time connecting the dots.

July 19, 2006

Political Video of the Day

In honor of Bush's first veto, here's Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) on "snowflake babies," during the Senate stem-cell debate.

Remember to send nominations to:

ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com

July 18, 2006

CCP Blog

The Center for Competitive Politics has unveiled a new Web site, complete with blog.

The CCP is the only anti-campaign-finance-regulation think tank around, so make sure to bookmark it and check back often.

Gay Marriage Amendment Goes Down

The House votes down the gay-marriage amendment: It fell 47 votes short of the necessary two-thirds majority. The vote was 236-186.

This is slightly better showing than the last time the amendment failed in the House, right before the 2004 election, by 227-186. In other words, there's been a net gain of 9 votes.

July 17, 2006

Two 9/11 Movies

In today's New York Sun, I take a look at two new 9/11 movies: Oliver Stone's World Trade Center and the indie Great New Wonderful.

For those who were worried about Oliver Stone doing a 9/11 movie ... put your mind at ease. There isn't a political or anti-Bush frame in the entire film (which comes out in August, but which was screened for some journalists in Manhattan on Friday). As I go into a bit in the piece, I don't think it's a particularly good movie (it's sort of 9/11 by way of Michael Bay), but it's harmless enough and perhaps just one of a number of "reenactment" type films Hollywood will come up with before filmmakers feel they can say something of substance about that day.

Far more enjoyable than Stone's film was the intimate Great New Wonderful. That's in theaters now -- though, not in many of them. It's about 9/11 in only the most glancing way, but the overarching theme is New Yorkers coping with an unspoken grief in September of 2002. It's also, strangely enough, extremely funny.

One other note: Both films star Maggie Gyllenhaal, for some reason.

Political Video of the Day II

And, because you know you want to hear it for yourself, here is President Bush telling Tony Blair:

"What they need to do is to get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit."

(via Wonkette)

Political Video of the Day

In what has to be some kind of a first, here's a music video and dance remix of Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens's remarks about the Internet being a series of tubes.

We highlighted a Daily Show segment about this on Friday.

Remember, send nominations to:

ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com

About Those Images...

dewinead.gifIt seems that right around the time the DCCC was pulling its latest video because of the vehement protestations of Republicans (and a couple of Democrats) over using a split-second image of flag-draped coffins, Senator Mike DeWine's campaign was firing up this website with an ad that put his opponent's picture on screen alongside images of the smoking WTC towers on 9/11 and mugshots of the 19 hijackers.

Clearly, attacking Sherrod Brown's voting record on national security is fair game, but don't Democrats have a legitimate gripe about the way this was done? Isn't DeWine using imagery from 9/11 for political gain? And will Republicans who just screamed their lungs raw over the DCCC video call on DeWine to take this ad down?

Misguided Dems

I've been meaning to comment on this post by Matt Stoller of MyDD last Wednesday because it's a perfect example of why Democrats often seem so misguided. The gist of the post is this: Stoller discusses opposition to Lieberman in the context of the potential fight created by another Supreme Court vacancy. "With a close filibuster vote for a SCOTUS nominee," Stoller writes, "you have to be able be able to bring unbearable pressure on individual Senators. They just have to know that the easy vote has costs."

Stoller calls the decision by NARAL and Planned Parenthood to back Lieberman "craven," and then adds:

In allowing Senator Lieberman to not filibuster Alito and still backing him for his reelection campaign against a reliably progressive candidate, the leaders of NARAL and Planned Parenthood have decided to throw away their political capital.

Let's be perfectly clear: the beef here isn't that Joe Lieberman voted for Sam Alito. He didn't. Only four Dems did: Byrd, Conrad, Johnson, and Ben Nelson.

And the beef really isn't that Lieberman is somehow less solid on choice issues than Lamont. Here's Lieberman's vote rating record with NARAL, Plannd Parenthood and the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Assocation over the last 12 years:

Year
NARAL
Planned
Parenthood

NFP&HRA

2005
75
n/a
n/a
2004
100
n/a
100
2003
100
100
100
2002
100
100
100
2001
100
100
100
2000
100
100
100
1999
n/a
100
100
1998
n/a
100
100
1997
n/a
100
100
1996
n/a
100
100
1995
n/a
n/a
100

You simply can't get much more solid than that. (The 75% vote rating Lieberman received from NARAL in 2005 was based on a single vote: to confirm John Roberts. That's the same rating Russ Feingold received, by the way.) So why shouldn't Planned Parenthood and NARAL support Lieberman when he has a virtually perfect voting record on the issues they deem most important?

Because, Stoller says, Lieberman voted in favor of cloture and against filibustering Alito. Think about that for a minute. Eigtheen other Democrats voted the same way as Lieberman, including all six other Democratic members of the The Gang of Fourteen. Lieberman voted to give Alito an up-or-down vote on the floor of the Senate, and then voted against his confirmation.

And that, in a nutshell, is the problem with the ever growing influence of hardcore progressive activists in the Democratic party. Instead of trying to broaden their message to win more votes, more Senate seats, and ultimately more control over judicial nominations, they're focused on purging moderates and electing more hard-core left wing partisans who are willing to sign on to using extreme tactics to hijack the advise and consent duty of the Senate and to take the judicial nomination process hostage through the use of filibusters.

July 14, 2006

Mercurial Matthews

Chris Matthews thinks Rudy Giuliani is going to be our next president ... along with John McCain ... and George Allen.

TOM ADDS: No she didn't. At the beginning of the clip Matthews asks his panelists to name someone, Democrat or Republican, who can match Giuliani on the issue of security. "Democratic strategist" Jenny Backus replied....wait for it.... John Kerry. It actually made me laugh harder than Jon Stewart's bit on Ted Stevens (see below).

Political Video of the Day

In this clip, Jon Stewart highlights some now notorious comments about the Internet from Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Bridge-to-Nowhereland):

A series of tubes, indeed.

July 13, 2006

Political Video of the Day

Here's Marine lieutenant Ilario Pantano, charged with murder, and author of Warlord: No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy, on the Daily Show Monday night.

A fascinating discussion, even if Jon Stewart goes a bit easy on him.

Remember to send nominations to:

ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com

Hypocrisy, Thy Name Is.....

Imagine my surprise when, after using the example of Bush's 2004 campaign ad showing an image 9/11 to chide some on the right yesterday for being a bit hypocritical with their outrage at the DCCC's new video, I read that Erick at RedState has used the exact same example....to charge Democrats of hypocrisy.

Let me see if I have this right. If you were against Bush using images of 9/11 in 2004 but aren't opposed to using images of flag-draped coffins in 2006, you're a hypocrite. So far so good. But if you weren't opposed to Bush using images of 9/11 in 2004 but are now up in arms over the use of an image of a flag-draped coffin, doesn't that also make you guilty of hypocrisy?

So unless Erick was opposed to Bush's use of the 9/11 image back in 2004, he's made a very effective case against himself, no?

The Imperial FEC

Today, Bob Bauer write about plans to remake the Federal Election Commission into an agency with sweeping powers to police political speech in America.

No surprise, the speech-regulation community is trying to rig things so that key "reformers" -- such as Trevor Potter, president of the Campaign Legal Center and counsel to presidential aspirant John McCain -- can serve on the new body while anyone with a more expansive view of the First Amendment would be effectively barred.

The War on Speech continues apace.

July 12, 2006

Quote of the Day

"While Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani are out building bridges in the community that will determine whether or not they can be the next POTUS, John McCain continues to act as if the next presidential election will be conducted via a Rolling Stone reader's poll."
-- "The Bij," at Red State

Political Video of the Day

Here's the YouTube version of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraising video Tom discusses below.

It's titled: "A New Direction for America."

I generally agree with Tom's reaction. The GOP held its national convention in New York City in 2004 for a reason, to highlight 9/11. It left the party open to criticism that it was "exploiting 9/11." But 9/11 defines our modern era, so the criticism rang hollow.

For Democrats opposed to the Iraq war, the pictures of coffins symbolize the human toll they believe isn't justified by the mission in Iraq. We, as conservatives, are likely to disagree with this -- but it's a perfectly legitimate piece of political message-making.

Perhaps marginally more interesting is the odd series of numbers and letters -- 91108GOP -- under a picture of Tom DeLay (visible around second 24). What on earth is that doing there?

And, of course, the only spoken words in the entire video are from ... Bill Clinton: "There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America."

Unfortunately for them, the same can't be said of the Democratic Party these days.

An Excess of Outrage

The gents at RedState and Ankle Biting Pundits are raging over a new video by the DCCC which uses an image of flag-draped coffins and another with a gun supporting the helmet of a fallen soldier. They're using words like "outrageous," "appalling," and "disgusting" to describe the Democrats' use of these images. I'm sorry, but I don't see it and, quite frankly, the outrage seems misplaced, if not a bit phony and hypocritical.

The charge that Democrats are "using dead solders" for political purposes sounds an awful lot like the gripe the left made against President Bush in 2004 for using an image of 9/11 in one of his campaign ads:

President Bush's day-old reelection advertising campaign generated criticism and controversy yesterday, as relatives of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strikes charged that television commercials using images from the attacks were exploiting the tragedy for political gain.

"The idea that President Bush would rally support around his campaign by using our loved ones in a way that is so shameful is hard for me to believe," said Rita Lasar, a New York resident whose brother, Abe Zelmanowitz, died in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. "It's so hard for us to believe that it's not obvious to everyone that Ground Zero shouldn't be used as a backdrop for a political campaign. We are incensed and hurt by what he is doing."

bush9-11.gif I had absolutely no problem with Bush using an image of 9/11 in his campaign ad for a very simple reason: it was a defining moment in our country's history, and served as the subtext of the entire campaign, including Iraq. Both campaigns talked about 9/11 and about our response to it, and both campaigns enlisted support from victims' families to appear at political events, including the nominating conventions. So why on earth shouldn't President Bush have been allowed to show a tasteful, split-second shot of an American flag waving in the foreground amid the devastation at Ground Zero?

The same thing goes for the DCCC video. The war in Iraq is the defining issue of our time, and the Democratic party is vehemently opposed to it. Soldiers are, in fact, dying in Iraq on an almost daily basis. So why can't the Democrats show a split-second visual depiction of that reality? What are they supposed to do, show a graph of the U.S. casualty rate to depict the sacrifices we're making in Iraq? Not mention them at all?

The DCCC video may be a terrible political move, because to the extent it's viewed by a non-leftist audience it will reinforce the idea that Democrats are cynical defeatists on the issue of Iraq. But charges that the use of those images in the video make it somehow "disgusting," "appalling" or otherwise beyond the pale simply don't stick.

A Coordinated Attack on Free Speech

The Supreme Court may get another chance to weigh in on campaign-finance regulation soon. The speech-regulation community (God bless their collective little hearts) is once again suing the Federal Election Commission for not being zealous enough in trying to stamp out coordination of independent political groups with candidates for federal office.

The concern, among the pro-regulation folks, is that supposedly independent groups could actually coordinate their advertising with candidates for federal office. Sounds like free speech? No, not to the regulators it doesn't (nothing does). If advertising or other support for a federal candidate is coordinated, the argument goes, this creates a debt on the part of the politician -- or, worse, the dreaded "appearance of corruption."

The problem, back on planet earth, is that it's virtually impossible to enforce the ban on coordination. That's because there's no limit to the ways in which politicians can coordinate with outside groups. They don't have to sit down for a meeting or exchange phone calls or strategy memos. They can make broad statements about strategy on TV. They can do the same on the Internet. They could wear a particular tie.

The point is, any regulatory regime that could effectively stamp out coordination would be unacceptably intrusive into the internal affairs of independent political groups, raising obvious First Amendment concerns.

Of course, the First Amendment has never been a barrier to McCain-Feingold-Shays-Meehan before. But that doesn't mean the courts will go along.

Anyway ... as usual, Bob Bauer has the definitive legal analysis here.

McCain, Pataki, and Congressman Kickass

I highly recommend Chris Jones' piece on John McCain in the latest issue of Esquire which we have linked on the frontpage this morning. In sum, the piece amounts to a big sloppy kiss for McCain, but it's really entertaining and exceedingly well written. If you don't have a chance to read the whole thing, however, here's a taste of what you're missing:

At the bottom of the stairs, McCain is greeted by John Sweeney, a hard-right Republican congressman in a tough race for reelection in New York's twentieth district. Sweeney is a bear-sized Irishman with a high forehead and a baritone voice; on behalf of Bush, he helped stop the 2000 recount in Miami, earning him the nickname "Congressman Kickass." But now he is on the verge of getting his own ass kicked, dragged down like every other Republican by his president's approval ratings and a few mistakes of his own, including his appearance at a frat party where he reportedly pushed back too many Keystone Lights. Tonight he has called in the cavalry, and the cavalry has arrived in the form of John McCain.

They man-hug and climb into a car for the ride to the hotel. It is late, and McCain is starting to feel heavy-lidded, but he begins peppering Sweeney with the names of local members of Congress and wonders aloud how each is faring. For every name that McCain rattles off--"How's Sue? How's Walsh? What about Reynolds?"--Sweeney answers with doom.

"I think the whole state's in play," he says.

McCain knows this to be true, and he nods.

A big part of the problem, Sweeney says, is Governor George Pataki: "He's checked out, and everybody knows it. Plus, there's still that big hole in Manhattan. You know what his approval rating is? Twenty-nine."

"Twenty-nine?" McCain says.

Pataki has long been rumored to want to run for the Republican presidential nomination, to run against McCain long before either man will get his chance to run against Hillary Clinton. By Jesus, there will be blood in the sawdust on the floors in New York. In 2000, Pataki worked hard to keep McCain off party ballots across the state. That led to McCain's stopping his campaign bus in front of the Russian consulate in New York City and shouting, "Comrade Pataki, give us our ballots!" McCain eventually won a place in a race that he went on to lose in part because of Pataki--but also, interestingly, because of John Sweeney, who campaigned aggressively for Bush. Sweeney has been forgiven for his sins, after he supported McCain in his fight to rid baseball of steroids and to find better body armor for the troops in Iraq, but Pataki has not.

"I don't know anyone with a twenty-nine," McCain says, "who thinks he can make a run for president."

Ouch. There's much more, so do try and read the whole thing.

July 11, 2006

When Will Rupert Buy It?

A political version of MySpace designed to bridge the gap between Left and Right and remake public-policy debate in America?

Sounds pretty ambitious.

If Rupert Murdoch starts sniffing around, though, you'll know something's up.

Political Video of the Day

Here are two of the ads from the Georgia Lt. Governor primary that Tom mentioned earlier today.

Here's an ad from Ralph Reed, aimed at his opponent, Casey Cagle (the company that did the ad even has "dirt" right in its name):

And here's Cagle's anti-Reed ad. Tagline: "Ralph Reed: His values are for sale."

Send nominations to:

ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com

July 10, 2006

McCain's Next Reform

"I would never say this publicly, but some of these talk-show hosts -- and I'm not saying they should be taken off the air; they have the right to do what they want to do -- I don't think they're good for America."
-- Sen. John McCain, from a profile in the coming issue of Esquire

Lord knows how McCain respects those First Amendment rights.

A Parents Union

Most of you, no doubt, are familiar with the problems created by teachers unions.

Well, in Los Angeles, they're starting a parents union to fight for reform against the status-quo-protecting unionized teachers.

This should be interesting. We've reached a critical point in the debate over education reform where the unions have basically zero credibility with the public but virtually limitless power over state and local legislators. The question is how to bring public sentiment to bear in the face of institutional resistance. A parents union is at least one idea.

Grab some popcorn. Things in LA are about to get good.

(via Eduwonk)

Political Video of the Day

For today's political video: the pro- (er, also a bit anti-) McCain ad highlighted by Howard Kurtz this morning.

It's not quite, well, this site. But it's not far off.

Send nominations to:

ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com

Politics on Demand

Hitting a favorite topic of mine, Howard Kurtz looks at how YouTube is affecting politics.

July 09, 2006

Kult of Kos

Kossacks: Tolerating dissent since 2002.

(via Kaus, member of the Evil Triangle of Triangulations since 2006)

July 08, 2006

Political Video for the Weekend

Sen. Joe Biden defends his recent comments about Indian-Americans and Dunkin' Donuts.

July 06, 2006

ACLU vs. CT

The ACLU is filing a federal lawsuit to block Connecticut's new campaign-finance system.

The problems with the system, according to the ACLU?

First of all, it puts the two major parties at a huge advantage by giving them public funds for campaigns. To qualify for public funds, a minor party candidate not only has to raise a significant amount of money on his or her own, but he or she also needs to collect hundreds of thousands of signatures -- a virtually impossible task, and one that was intended to be so by the Legislature.

Second, the system bans campaign contributions from lobbyists, state contractors and their families. This is an extremely broad ban, which raises significant First Amendment concerns.

The ACLU, of course, was part of the broad coalition that challenged the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.

The Lottery

What if voting were more like the lottery?

Arizona wants to find out.

You know what they say: You can't win if you don't vote!

Stevens's Séance

Progressive campaign-finance opponent Bob Bauer turns his weary eye to Justice Stevens's breathtaking dissent in the Vermont campaign-finance-reform case. In that case, of course, the Supreme Court struck down Vermont's limits on how much candidates can spend as well as excessively low limits on how much citizens can contribute.

What's remarkable is that the decision was only 6-3, meaning that three justices think that the First Amendment is actually without meaning.

But the Stevens dissent is of particular interest -- for purposes of mockery -- in that it makes a wholly unsupported appeal to the authority of the Founders:

I am firmly persuaded that the Framers would have been appalled by the impact of modern fundraising practices on the ability of elected officials to perform their public responsibilities. I think they would have viewed federal statutes limiting the amount of money that congressional candidates might spend in future elections as well within Congress' authority.5 And they surely would not have expected judges to interfere with the enforcement of expenditure limits that merely require candidates to budget their activities without imposing any restrictions whatsoever on what they may say in their speeches, debates, and interviews.

Why is he so persuaded? God knows. But there's certainly nothing in his dissent to persuade anyone else.

What an utterly unfit man to sit on the court.

Political Video of the Day

Mid last month, Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) made the following unfortunate remark to an Indian-American supporter:

"You CANNOT go to a 7-11 or a Dunkin Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent ... I'm not joking."

(via Hotline On Call)

Remember to send in nominations to:

ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com

UPDATE: What is it with Biden and Dunkin' Donuts?

Gay Marriage in New York

The New York State Court of Appeals (the state's highest court, confusingly enough) has ruled 4-2 this morning that the state's ban on gay marriage is constitutional.

This should be a relief to proponents of same-sex marriage, at least if they've absorbed the lesson of just how destructive the Massachusetts decision ended up being to their cause.

In a decision penned by Judge Robert S. Smith, the court properly deferred to the Legislature: "We emphasize once again that we are deciding only this constitutional question," Judge Smith wrote. "It is not for us to say whether same-sex marriage is right or wrong."

Amen.

Democrats might also be relieved that the court refrained from handing Karl Rove the key to the 2006 election.

(The text of the ruling can be found here. [PDF])

July 05, 2006

Do Libertarian Democrats Exist?

Markos Moulitsas has been making noise about the idea of co-opting the libertarian label -- and a tiny, tiny bit of the ideology -- as part of a Democratic comeback, focused particularly on the Mountain West.

Now, Terry Michael offers A Libertarian Democrat Manifesto.

Political Video of the Day

With all of the global warming talk today, here's the preview for Who Killed the Electric Car?

Over at TCS Daily, Ralph Kinney Bennett has penned a response. His basic argument: It's the battery, stupid. Electric cars actually work well for short distances, living up to all the promises of their proponents. But, ultimately, they can't go very far without needing to be recharged -- and recharging takes forever.

In other words: Who killed the electric car? The Energizer Bunny.

So, as with Robert Samuelson's argument about global warming, the problem here is engineering, not politics.

Watching the Dictators

Today will be the last day of Mike Antonucci's always-thorough, wall-to-wall coverage of the National Education Association's annual conference.

You can find all of it here.

Watch as the NEA debates measure after measure that has little or nothing to do with education!

Thrill as it sends money to the states to fight education reform in all its devious guises!

Gasp as it explores the idea of a U.S. Constitutional Amendment guaranteeing every child in America a free, high-quality, public education! (Forget that dusty old Tenth Amendment! It's old news! Why do you hate children so much!)

But really, read it. The teachers unions dictate education policy in much of the country. There's a reason our schools are so dysfunctional.

The Blame for Urban Schools

It seems Democrats bear a disproportionate amount of blame for the failures of urban schools (something about their being pupets of the teachers unions -- I forget), and it might start causing them trouble with African-American voters.

Who knew?

(via Eduwonk)

Ken Lay Dead at 64

Ken Lay is dead of a heart attack.

July 04, 2006

What Does YouTube Mean for Politics?

Here's an issue that's near and dear to my heart: What does YouTube mean for American politics?

When slick, or not-so-slick, video advertisements can reach millions of people for only the cost of producing the spot, politics has changed -- whether it's for better or worse, or a little or a lot.

The question is, "How?" Does cheap, viral video make it easier for candidates to have unfiltered, not-reduced-to-soundbites discussions with the American voter? Or does it mean that every cough, sputter, and misstep ends up in a million mailboxes as the outrage of the week?

It probably means both.

What's important, I think, is not to overestimate the importance of viral video, or the Internet in general, as a means to reach the average American voter. The Internet is a user-directed medium, so advertising on it is going to do little or nothing to reach out to the average, unengaged citizen. (This is one reason, among many, that it makes absolutely zero sense to regulate spending on Internet campaigning under campaign-finance laws.)

Instead, the Internet is mainly a tool to motivate your activists, a purpose to which viral video seems well-suited.

As for reaching actual voters ... well, nothing's going to replace traditional radio and television buys anytime soon, as best I can tell.

Still, watching this medium evolve, and watching political actors experiment with it, is great theater. That's why we've started watching political videos here at RCP in the past few weeks.

And we'll continue to watch this emerging area of political discourse with your help. Remember to send in nominations for the Political Video of the Day to:

ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com

Global Warming: The Real Consensus

It was highlighted on the main site on Sunday, but people should make sure to read the op-ed by MIT professor of atmospheric science Richard Lindzen in the Wall Street Journal.

In it, Lindzen goes to great lengths to sort out the true scientific consensus on global warming from the exaggerations of Al "ManBearPig" Gore.

Essentially:

* "Most of the climate community has agreed since 1988 that global mean temperatures have increased on the order of one degree Fahrenheit over the past century, having risen significantly from about 1919 to 1940, decreased between 1940 and the early '70s, increased again until the '90s, and remaining essentially flat since 1998."

* "There is also little disagreement that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have risen from about 280 parts per million by volume in the 19th century to about 387 ppmv today."

* "Finally, there has been no question whatever that carbon dioxide is an infrared absorber (i.e., a greenhouse gas--albeit a minor one), and its increase should theoretically contribute to warming."

However, figuring out just how much warming can be attributed to carbon dioxide, and how much to natural climate fluctuations that we simply don't understand, is "currently impossible."

Andrew Sullivan says he finds the piece highly persuasive, but thinks we should basically follow a "one percent doctrine" that says that even if the probability of humans setting off a global climate catastrophe is tiny, the consequences are so dire that we must take the threat seriously. He's also itching -- as ever -- to make Americans suffer for the sin of driving cars and living well. (People who ride bikes shouldn't call for gas-tax increases, especially when they're so big on "shared sacrifice.")

But what if the conservative concern is right, and the consequences of most anti-global-warming political initiatives would be economically ruinous? And, perhaps more importantly, what if even these economically ruinous policies would be completely futile, given the sharp increases in greenhouse gasses coming from the developing world?

The cure still seems worse than the not-yet-reliably-diagnosed disease.

July 03, 2006

Political Video of the Day

First there was the Joe Lieberman-George W. Bush Look Who's Talking ad, where netroots favorite Ned Lamont put Bush's words in Lieberman's mouth and vice versa.

Now, Michelle Malkin's Hot Air has created an Internet-only ad firing back. It puts Markos Moulitsas's words -- including a reference to his famous rant about the contractors killed in Fallujah in 2004 ("Let the people see what war is like. This isn't an Xbox game. There are real repercussions to Bush's folly. That said, I feel nothing over the death of merceneries. [sic] They aren't in Iraq because of orders, or because they are there trying to help the people make Iraq a better place. They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them.") -- in Ned Lamont's mouth.

I'm not sure it's a terribly effective piece (Kos's words here aren't particularly outrageous, and only Republicans are likely to see this video, which doesn't help in a Democratic primary). But there it is.

In other Lieberman-related news, the Connecticut Democrat now says he will run as an independent should he lose in his party's primary. So far, Sen. Chuck Schumer, head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has implied that the national party will stand behind Joe.

Look for the anti-Lieberman Left to cite the DSCC's mission statement quite a bit in coming months: "Our mission is to elect more Democrats to the United States Senate."

Making the Case Against Campaign Finance Reform

NRO's Sixers blog notes at least one race where money wasn't everything.

July 01, 2006

Truth, Justice and the Capitalist Way

I saw Superman Returns the other day, and one line caught my attention. It's apparently caught a lot of people's attention. Of course, the premise of this movie is that Superman has returned after a long absence. The editor of the Daily Planet asks (roughly), "Does he still stand for truth, justice ... and all that stuff?"

Not, mind you, the American way.

Apparently, this was quite deliberate on the part of screenwriters Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, who talked about the decision to The Hollywood Reporter:

"The world has changed. The world is a different place," Pennsylvania native Harris says. "The truth is he's an alien. He was sent from another planet. He has landed on the planet Earth, and he is here for everybody. He's an international superhero."

In fact, Dougherty and Harris never even considered including "the American way" in their screenplay. After the wunderkind writing duo ("X2: X-Men United") conceived "Superman's" story with director Bryan Singer during a Hawaiian vacation, they penned their first draft together and intentionally omitted what they considered to be a loaded and antiquated expression. That decision stood throughout the 140-day shoot in Australia, where the pair remained on-set to provide revisions and tweaks.

"We were always hesitant to include the term 'American way' because the meaning of that today is somewhat uncertain," Ohio native Dougherty explains. "The ideal hasn't changed. I think when people say 'American way,' they're actually talking about what the 'American way' meant back in the '40s and '50s, which was something more noble and idealistic."

While audiences in Dubuque might bristle at Superman's newfound global agenda, patrons in Dubai likely will find the DC Comics protagonist more palatable. And with the increasing importance of the overseas boxoffice -- as evidenced by summer tentpoles like "The Da Vinci Code" -- foreign sensibilities can no longer be ignored.

"So, you play the movie in a foreign country, and you say, 'What does he stand for? -- truth, justice and the American way.' I think a lot of people's opinions of what the American way means outside of this country are different from what the line actually means (in Superman lore) because they are not the same anymore," Harris says. "And (using that line) would taint the meaning of what he is saying."

The movie was entertaining enough (though way too long on time and way too short on internal logic). But is treating America the way a congressman treats an advisor caught with a transvestite hooker really the best way to open a movie the week before the Fourth of July?

In the filmmakers' defense, however, they're simply trying to maximize profit. And nothing could be more American-way-y than that.

Flagbert

I know this is a bit late, but just to return to the topic of flag burning -- I know it's a popular one -- here's Scott Adams's take (yeah, the Dilbert guy):

It seems to me that the great thing about the flag is that it symbolizes something inherently indestructible: the concept of freedom. You can burn the flag as many times as you want and the concept of freedom is not only still there - it's stronger. I like that about my flag. I would go so far as to say it's my flag's best feature.

I wouldn't mind if Congress were considering changing some other feature of the flag. For example, if they wanted to represent Rhode Island with half a star, I could get behind that. But I'd hate to chip away at my flag's freedom feature.

Adams's Dilbert Blog often delves into politics -- or, well, politics-like topics. Worth checking out.

Bonus Koizumi Video

Here's the Koizumi at Graceland video that wasn't at YouTube yesterday.

One commenter notes the rather dark news running on the ticker below.

June 30, 2006

Political Video of the Day

In honor of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit to Graceland with President Bush today -- in which the prime minister took the opportunity to sing some Elvis tunes -- here's some archival footage of Koizumi on CNN.

It seems this guy just can't control himself.

For some footage from today's press conference, try CBS or CNN (warning, though: it loads slowly).

June 29, 2006

Two Kosola-Related Items

No. 1: Salon.com blogger Peter Daou's friends think he's sold out by going to work for Hillary (in order to boost her netroots cred).

No. 2: The N.Y. Post wonders why '08 Dem hopeful Mark Warner has yet to fire netroots favorite Jerome Armstrong, despite the fact that he was involved in shilling for worthless dot-com stocks. The implication floated -- one has to assume by Hillary operatives -- is that Warner is afraid of getting his kneecaps busted by the Townhouse mafia.

The intersection of lefty bloggers and lefty politicians continues. A messy process.

Political Video of the Day

Part of the reason for looking at political videos every day is to find new ways politicians are using the Web to communicate with constituents.

With that in mind, here's a peak inside Rep. Jack Kingston's (R-GA) "Journeys With Jack" series being produced by his interns and distributed over YouTube.

In this video, Rep. Kingston talks with a member of the Minutemen and, oddly, a slightly out-of-character Stephen Colbert.

You can click here to browse through all of the Journey With Jack videos, including the congressman answering a question from a constituent, the congressman getting a briefing from the Minutemen, and the congressman presiding over a rather bizarre trivia contest with Ben Stein (where the comedian[?] gives disturbingly specific information as to where he lives).

You can send in nominations for the video of the day, as ever, to:

ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com

Arizona Next?

Will Arizona's "clean elections" system come under fire after the Supreme Court's Vermont decision?

It's certainly possible. In Vermont, the invalidated law held that individuals could donate $200 to a state House or state Senate candidate. In Arizona, the maximum is just under $600.

Sounds ripe for a challenge to me.

(hat tip: Skeptic)

Texas Redistricting Fallout

One of the effects of the Supreme Court's upholding Texas's mid-decade redistricting is that now Democrats can try the same trick in states where they have control of the governorship and the legislature.

From ABC's The Note:

In an interview with ABC News, DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel identified Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Louisiana, New Mexico, and North Carolina as the ripest targets for Democrats to pursue mid-decade redistricting.

"Every party is going to squeeze every last bit of pulp out of this lemon to make lemonade and they are going to go after this with every thing that they have got," Emanuel told ABC News.

How big is this? LA Times political reporter Peter Wallsten (author of the new One Party Country, on how the GOP's electoral machine works) writes that: "By some estimates, this could mean at least five new House seats for Democrats, along with a host of newly competitive Republican seats -- an outcome that would inject parity to a political map that has tilted in the GOP's favor for more than a decade."

However, he notes that Democrats face a couple of political and structural problems that are likely to prevent them from taking advantage.

First of all, many Democrats are on the record as vociferously opposed to gerrymandering, including likely incoming New York governor Eliot Spitzer.

What's more, the racial politics would be difficult for the Democrats to manage. Typically, civil-rights leaders have looked for concentrations of black voters to elect black representatives. Distributing these black voters differently might lead to more Democrats being elected, but fewer African Americans.

Is this palatable to black leaders as part of a strategy to even the electoral playing field with Republicans? Or is it too politically volatile?

Orin Gives Oxygen

The New York Post's Deborah Orin begins her column today with a thought experiment:

Imagine the outrage, especially from the Left, if President Bush were to hire an Internet guru who had a past as a Web shill for a worthless dot-com stock.

I'm sure you know where she's going. Read the whole thing.

June 28, 2006

Political Video(s) of the Day

The other day, we checked in on National Journal's No. 2 rated Senate race (out in Montana). Today, let's look in on No. 1: the Santorum-Casey race in Pennsylvania.

Both candidates have put lengthy biography videos up on the Web.

Here's Santorum's:

And here's Casey's:

It's worth noting that Casey's video leads off the bat with this quote: "How much longer must the concerns of Pennsylvanians take a back seat to an intolerant ideology?"

Santorum's video is much more focused on his can't-get-no-respect political career, where he's been counted out and then come from behind to win.

So far, it looks like Casey's approach is doing better, by a margin of 52-34, according to the latest Quinnipiac University poll.

Obama on Evangelicals

Obama: Democrats must court Evangelicals.

It sounds reasonable enough. But is it?

The Democrats have run very close in the last two presidential elections without doing this (at least without doing it successfully). And they tend to make fools of themselves when they try.

Bill Clinton could pull off that kind of pandering. Hillary Clinton clearly won't be able to.

They're going to need another strategy.

What Bolton Says

My column today covers some impressions of Ambassador John Bolton gleaned from a conference call with him on Monday. At the tail end of the call I managed to ask Ambassador Bolton about the New York Times' leaking of the SWIFT story, and this is what he said:

"This is one that, the publication of those stories is really very hard to defend....this is revealing something that was quite important and has been very effective in watching how the terrorists move money around, laundering it so that they can move it to places where they need to use it. And at some point somebody needs to make a decision in responsible media whether that World War II spirit that said "loose lips sink ships, don't spill our secrets", is something we still believe or not. So I don't think we can calculate the negative effect of the publication of that - how bad it's going to be."

By the way, if you're looking for a counterpoint to my column, Niall Stanage puts a hit on Bolton in the New York Observer this morning, airing conspiracies that Bolton's real agenda is to destroy the U.N. rather than reform it and/or he's merely positioning himself to write a big tell-all book in the future.

I have no doubt Bolton is tough and aggressive, or that his style may rankle some in Turtle Bay. The question, however, isn't so much whether Bolton is tough but whether he's fair and reasonable as well. I don't know that I've seen any evidence suggesting he's fallen short on either count. Recognizing that the term "fair and reasonable" is subjective, I'd still be delighted for Bolton's critics to lay out exactly which parts of the reform package being pushed by the U.S. Mission they find to be unfair and/or unreasonable and why.

June 27, 2006

Flag Letters

The flag amendment is dead for now. But we all know it'll be back.

So, with that in mind, here are the responses from RCP Blog readers to my earlier post expressing some skepticism about the amendment.

Most surprising, to me at least, was that the letters ran about 3-to-1 against the amendment.

A sampling (a little heavy on the pro-flag-amendment ones, for balance) after the jump.

Continue reading "Flag Letters" »

Flame Out

The flag-burning amendment has failed.

By one vote. 66 to 34. (It needed 67 to pass.)

Blogola?

Hillary Clinton is hiring Peter Daou, author of Salon.com's Daou Report. He was also director of blog operations for John Kerry's 2004 campaign.

Daou has a post announcing it here.

In particular, Daou talks about the importance of "closing the triangle":

Since launching the Daou Report in December 2004, I have written extensively about a 'triangle' comprised of the traditional media, the political establishment, and the blogosphere. I have argued that "closing the triangle" (i.e. enhancing the connection between the three entities) is imperative for the Democratic Party and the progressive netroots. My thinking on this issue is informed by my experience directing blog outreach and online rapid response for the Kerry-Edwards campaign.

...

Which brings me to the point of this blog post: I have been offered - and accepted - what I believe is a unique opportunity to help close the triangle: joining Senator Clinton's team as a blog advisor to facilitate and expand her relationship with the netroots.

That's all well and good. But what does the closing of this triangle mean for the independence of the Left side of the blogosphere (and for the Right when the same situation arises)?

I'm not sure I have an answer, but in the wake (or, is it still going on) of Kosola, people seem to have a lot of questions about what it means for there to be a free flow of bloggers between the journalistic and consultant worlds.

And, pace Kos, the concern isn't just old media types and conservatives wanting to destroy the lefty blogosphere. But when consultants are working with bloggers behind the scenes and collections of blogs are actively working to coordinate their "message" (ahem, Townhouse), then how do you tell a blog from a tentacle of a larger activist machine?

Maybe that's the point. The Left would certainly ask, how do you tell any given conservative writer from a cog in the vast right-wing-conspiracy-slash-noise-machine?

So, more questions than answers here, I guess.

But congrats to Daou. Hillary certainly needs the help with the netroots.

Why Does James Taranto Hate America?

I'll get to posting the flag letters shortly (y'all sent in a LOT of them), but right now I wanted to highlight and agree with James Taranto, writing in today's Best of the Web:

No doubt you are dying to know where this column stands on the flag-desecration amendment. The answer is, we are against it. Our view is that the Supreme Court got it right in 1989: Insofar as desecrating the flag is an act of political expression, it is protected by the First Amendment. (The objection that it isn't "speech" is overly literal. What we're doing now--causing pixels to form meaningful patterns on thousands of computer screens--isn't exactly speech either, but we like to think the First Amendment protects it from government interference.)

Burning the flag is a stupid and ugly act, but there is something lovely and enlightened about a regime that tolerates it in the name of freedom. And of course it has the added benefit of making it easier to spot the idiots.

Exactly.

Unpleasant Image of the Day

I apologize in advance for inflicting this on you:

"I'd rather be at home making love to my wife while my children are asleep."
-- Joe Biden (D-DE), on his interest in running for president

If his children read the papers, I don't see how they'll ever sleep soundly again.

Burning the Constitution

I realize this might not be a popular view around here, but is there anything more ridiculous than the constant attempts to write a ban on flag burning into the Constitution? And is there anything more saddening than the fact that the Senate is only a hair's width away from putting its stamp on this foolishness?

I'm sorry, but how can anyone with an ounce of respect for the First Amendment support this?

Either American citizens have the right to speak -- to express themselves, to associate -- or they don't. Campaign-finance reform is a liberal's way of stifling speech he or she doesn't like. And a ban on flag burning is a conservative's way of stifling speech he or she doesn't like. Either both restrictions of speech are OK, meaning the government can restrict speech when a majority of citizens or their legislators want that speech restricted, or neither one is OK.

The whole point of the Bill of Rights, though, is that some decisions are simply beyond the reach of the democratic majority. Some individual rights are not subject to a veto by your neighbors.

Flag burning may be abhorrent. But it is a right.

Weakening the First Amendment is far too high a price for the Republican Party to wring some cheap publicity and political points out of forcing Democrats to choose between besmirching the Constitution and aggravating those foolish enough to equate a vote for free speech as a vote against patriotism.

Of course, I expect many readers to disagree with me. Want to weigh in?

Write to ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com

I'll try to post a batch of your thoughts later.

More Vermont, More Bauer

As promised, here's more Bob Bauer on the Vermont campaign-finance decision.

This morning, he surveys Breyer's decision and tries to figure out if the First Amendment has anything to do with it -- or whether Breyer just decided he didn't particularly like the Vermont system, and then went about rationalizing a way to strike it down.

Unfortunately, the latter seems to be the case. The Vermont decision was a happy development, but we're still miles away from the Supreme Court striking down the whole ridiculous business of campaign-finance "reform" as anathema to our Constitution.

June 26, 2006

Political Video of the Day

In today's political video of the day, we take a trip to Montana, and the National Journal's No. 2 rated Senate race this November (by likelihood of the seat switching parties). In this race, State Sen. Jon Tester takes on Republican incumbent Sen. Conrad Burns, who has come under an immense amount of fire for his relationship with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

In this ad, Tester's first (according to the information included with the video at YouTube), he takes a page from the Brian Schweitzer school of Montana politics, emphasizing image over policy. Now-governor Schweitzer famously courted Montana voters in 2004, becoming the state's first Democratic governor in 20 years, by running a lot of TV ads featuring his dog and his gun.

With Tester, the image is all about the haircut in this ad titled: "Creating a Buzz."

The ad drew this response ad (a parody) from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, titled "Liberal Values."

There's been some controversy over the Republican ad's claim that Tester is a bad tipper.

June 25, 2006

A Fine Day for Edwards

John Edwards's 2004 presidential campaign has agreed to pay a $9,500 fine for accepting illegal contributions from a prominent Little Rock trial lawyer and his law firm.

I'm, of course, opposed to all campaign-finance regulation. But my guess is that Edwards is not, and there was no lack of clarity at the time as to what went on here being illegal.

Hypocrisy from the insufferable huckster Edwards. Not a surprise.

June 24, 2006

The Neo-Con Owner Weighs In

Over at The Plank, Marty Peretz (one of TNR's "neo-con owners") has a masterful reply to Kos's recent rantings:

Forgive me. But I never read Daily Kos until today. Well, now that I've read it, the first thought that came to me is how illiterate Kos is, just plain illiterate.

...

And his rant against us, well, borders on a nut case's. When a high-minded or, rather, high-strung moralist is accused by The New York Times of journalistic hanky-panky and then by TNR of running an ideological censorship bureau, reminiscent of the old Catholic Legion of Decency, he will go off the rails. And he did. "This is what The New Republic had evolved into--just another cog of the Vast RIGHT Wing Conspiracy." An old professor of mine once warned me against writers who use capital letters for emphasis. Good advice she gave me. Capital letters suggest some imbalance in the mind of their employer. In whose interests has TNR sought "to destroy the new people-powered movement"? Kos answers his own question: "for the sake of its Lieberman-worshipping neo-con owners; that it stands with the National Review and wingnutosphere in their opposition to grassroots Democrats." Don't look at Kos's grammar. He's ranting.

It feels a bit demeaning to defend oneself against Kos. But I am one of the neo-con owners, and I am titular editor-in-chief. So here goes: The New Republic is very much against the Bush tax programs, against Bush Social Security "reform," against cutting the inheritance tax, for radical health care changes, passionate about Gore-type environmentalism, for a woman's entitlement to an abortion, for gay marriage, for an increase in the minimum wage, for pursuing aggressively alternatives to our present reliance on oil and our present tax preferences for gas-guzzling automobiles. We were against the confirmation of Justice Alito. And, institutionally, TNR was against several policies that I favor, including allowing the government more rather than less leeway in ferreting out terrorists and allies of terrorists. From today's newspapers: I see nothing wrong with the feds scrutinizing international monetary exchanges in the dragnet for enemies of not just our civilization but civilization. But TNR is a heterodox institution, a concept Kos surely cannot fathom.

After covering YearlyKos, I was of the mind that conservatives shouldn't dismiss the netroots movement, no matter how easy it is to pick on the more unhinged of the commenters at Kos or the other major sites. This is a movement that's getting itself together as the conservatives did decades ago; in time, they could have a real impact.

But to the extent that the movement is built as a cult of personality around Kos himself -- around, that is, an unstable egomaniac bent on a sort of binge-and-purge model of management -- well, conservatives might not have that much to worry about.

June 23, 2006

The GOP's Love of Free Speech

Speaker Dennis Hastert is making something of an ass of himself with blustering legal threats against the Sunlight Foundation, which has been doing an admirable job shining, yes, sunlight upon a potentially shady real-estate transaction in which the speaker is involved.

Oops. I said something the speaker did is potentially shady. Maybe his counsel will send a blustering legal threat my way.

June 22, 2006

The Disconnect

In her OpinionJournal column today, Peggy Noonan writes that the elites of both parties have really started hating their bases recently:

It has occurred to me that both parties increasingly dislike their bases, but for different reasons and to different degrees. By both parties I mean the leaders and representatives of the Democrats and Republicans in Washington. I believe I correctly observe that they feel an increasing intellectual estrangement from and impatience with the activists who people their base of support.

And this is something new.

In the past, Republican leaders in Washington bowed either symbolically or practically to the presumed moral leadership and cleanness of vision of the people back home.

...

Now they seem to bow less. They know the higher wisdom on such issues as immigration. They feel less fealty to the insights of the base. They know more than the base, are more experienced than the base, have a more nuanced sense of reality. And as for conservative social issues groups, the politicians resent those nagging, whining pushers-for-the-impossible who are always threatening to stay home or go elsewhere. (Where?)

...

On the Democratic side, it is not just as bad but worse. They don't only think they're more sophisticated than their base, more informed and aware of the complexities. I believe they think their base is mad.

This seems to be the continuation of a recent theme for Noonan. A couple weeks ago she wrote about how it was time for a revival of third-party politics in America. "Right now the Republicans and Democrats in Washington seem, from the outside, to be an elite colluding against the voter," she wrote. "They're in agreement: immigration should not be controlled but increased, spending will increase, etc."

The question, however, is what a third party would stand for. If there's a political impulse not fully represented by a political party right now, it's populism. Down with the gays, up with the minimum wage, down with free trade, up with the U.S.-Mexico wall.

The two-party system has its faults, but it curbs Americans' ugliest impulses (for now) by keeping a lot of people who believe in the same bad ideas in different parties.

If it's a battle of the elites versus the masses, count me with the elites.

Political Video of the Day

From the Colbert Report, here is Wall Street Journal Deputy Editorial Page Editor Daniel Henninger (in all seriousness) comparing a woman marrying a snake in India to gays and lesbians marrying in the United States:

If only Republicans can keep the conversation focused on gays -- as opposed to spending and Congress' general disregard for actual conservative principles -- perhaps they can just pull 2006 out of the toilet.

Remember
, send in videos for the political video of the day to:

ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com

(And thanks to all those who sent in links today.)

Coulterkampf

Take the Ann Coulter vs. Adolf Hitler quiz.

I got a 7 out of 14. I'm not sure what that says.

(via Sullivan)

June 21, 2006

Political Video of the Day

Since Web video has gotten so much better recently, particularly through YouTube I've found, we're going to try something new: the political video of the day.

I'll be scouring the Web some myself, but I'd most love nominations sent in by you, the readers, of the funniest, most informative, most interesting politics-related videos making their way around the Web -- or, as of yet undiscovered. You see a particularly hard-hitting campaign ad? Send it in. A really bad ad? Send it in. An interesting clip from one of the Sunday shows floating around? Send it in.

To: ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com

Today, we're going to start off with the Frontline special aired last night, "The Dark Side," about Cheney's role in the War on Terror. This is the first clip of 10 up at You Tube. It also looks like PBS is going to post the whole video here soon. (Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)

It's PBS, so the politics are certainly slanted the way they're slanted. But, from the clips I've watched (haven't seen the whole thing yet), it's fairly gripping.

A Washington Post chat with the producer appears here.

Again, send those videos in to:

ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com

There will be a heavy preference for YouTube and other formats that can be embedded in a blog posting, as well as videos that can be downloaded.

June 20, 2006

New York's Clean Politics

A report from New York City's Campaign Finance Board says that roughly 22 percent of contributions in the 2005 election cycle (mayor's race, City Council and some other offices) came from contractors and lobbyists that had business with the city.

Is it just me, or does that seem quite low? Let's hear it for New York City's squeaky clean political culture! (Forget that the public-sector unions run Albany like their own personal piggy banks.)

The report didn't count the tens of millions (supposed) prospective presidential candidate Mayor Bloomberg donated to his own reelection effort.

Don't Mess With McKinney

The day after news leaked out last Friday that Cynthia McKinney wouldn't be indicted for striking a Capitol Hill police officer, Jeffrey Scott and Bob Kemper from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution served up this big wet kiss for Georgia's most notorious Congressperson.

Yesterday the Capitol Hill Police held a press conference expressing disappointment with the grand jury's decision and urging the House Ethics Committee to take up action against McKinney:

"This is solely about what is right or wrong," said Lou Cannon, president of the D.C. Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police. "It is wrong to assault a law enforcement officer who is performing his duties. No matter what your status, occupation or other factors, everyone must obey the law." [snip]

Also Monday, Chuck Canterbury, the national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, released a letter he sent to the chairman and ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee complaining about the investigation conducted by U.S. Attorney Kenneth Wainstein.

"It is clear to us that the accused is receiving special treatment from Mr. Wainstein," Canterbury wrote. "This is unacceptable. Had the officer's attacker been a visitor to the Capitol instead of a U.S. representative, it is likely that he or she would have already stood trial."

Members of Congress getting special treatment? You don't say. Don't hold your breath for the ethics committee to step up, either. McKinney pulled out the race card to smear the Capitol Hill Police, for God's sake. Imagine what she'd do to her poor fellow House members if they tried to take action against her.

June 19, 2006

Waiting for Vermont

No decision again today from the Supreme Court on the Vermont spending-limits case.

Rick Hasen's Election Law blog notes the passing of time and notes that Thursday is the next opportunity for opinions.

Hasen also notes speculation as to which justice might be writing the opinion:

Marty Lederman just called me with the following observation. He notes that Justices Kennedy and Breyer are the only Justices who have not authored opinions from the February session (in which both the Texas and Vermont cases were argued). Marty says that anything is possible, and there may be multiple opinions, but his guess at this point is that Kennedy and Breyer are each the lead author of one of these opinions.

Pure speculation. Generally speaking, Kennedy would be OK news (would rather it be Scalia, as, well, always) and Breyer would be very bad news. But, of course, this is again 100% speculation. And not even my own. It's speculation passed on twice on the Internet. You should probably forget you even read it.

Watching the Teachers Unions

If you aren't reading Mike Antonucci's Education Intelligence Agency Communiqués on American education -- especially keeping tabs on the nation's teachers unions -- then you should be. You can sign up to have it delivered, if you're obsessed like I am.

His section on ridiculous rules in teachers contracts is particularly delightful, for those of you who follow the issue and long ago realized that teachers unions' interests are diametrically opposed to those of children (and often to those of teachers, as well, especially charter-school teachers).

The June 12 Communiqué has a bit on the current scandal in New York, where the state teachers union (New York State United Teachers) took payments from financial giant ING Group to steer its members toward ING's investment funds. Attorney General (and gubernatorial candidate) Eliot Spitzer gave NYSUT a slap on the wrist. He's accepted donations from the union in the past, and will likely recieve their help in the near future.

My colleagues at the New York Post editorial page have a bang-up editorial on the whole kerfuffle here.

Union politics as usual in the good old Empire State!!!

Vermont Should PACk It In

As we await a Supreme Court decision on whether Vermont's campaign-finance system (with its limits on what individuals can spend) is Constitutional, here's a data point indicating that at the very least it's pretty ineffective:

Vermont's campaign finance law hasn't slowed the flow of money into campaigns since it was passed in 1998. Instead, the money merely follows a different path, one in which political action committees figure prominently.

Read the whole thing.

A P.S. on the Washington State Radio Case

OK, I'm a bit obsessed, but this has to be noted. There are two parties who have especially not distinguished themselves in this assault on free speech in Washington state:

1) Superior Court Judge Chris Wickham has twice upheld this egregious assault on free speech, twice turning a blind eye to the fact that this lawsuit constitutes little more than raw intimidation by one side in an initiative campaign against the other. He's a small fry in the legal system, and the important issues here will be decided by far bigger fish -- but because of his lack of respect for the First Amendment, the damage was already done in the I-912 campaign last year.

2) The Washington state press, and specifically the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, have behaved atrociously throughout this entire fight. The P-I ran editorial after editorial in favor of the gas-tax initiative, yet somehow felt its advocacy shouldn't count as a contribution while that of two conservative radio hosts on the other side should. The paper even wrote at least one snarky editorial to that effect. (I questioned the P-I's editorial page editor on his logic in this column last year ... I found it less than convincing.) I'm on the opposite coast from Washington state, so I could have missed the papers out there rushing to Wilbur & Co.'s defense. But I doubt it. It seems that if it isn't their ox being gored, they can't be bothered to exercise their First Amendment rights to speak up.

Free Kirby, Free Speech

Over at National Review, the editors urge: Free Kirby Wilbur!

Yes, the man with two first names is in a pickle over in Washington state. As I mentioned earlier this week, Wilbur is in the middle of perhaps the most important free-speech case currently ongoing in America: The outcome of this case could set a precedent where speech on the radio -- by radio hosts speaking their minds -- would be considered a "campaign contribution" under the law.

Specifically, Wilbur and his co-host, John Carlson of Seattle's KVI-AM, were vocal opponents of an initiative to impose a gas tax in Washington state last year (the initiative won despite their opposition, the gas tax was imposed). Agents of the government, with a financial interest in the ballot initiative carrying, filed suit to force Wilbur and Carlson's radio station to report their air time as an in-kind contribution to the anti-gas-tax campaign. The fact that the hosts helped collect money and signatures was used as evidence that they should be considered part of the campaign, as opposed to citizens simply speaking about it -- magically converting their "speech" into a "contribution."

A trial court judge decided this was a compelling argument. The air time was assigned a value, and the reporting was made. Now, the Institute for Justice is challenging the trial-court finding in the Washington State Supreme Court. For those who don't immediately see the significance: If speech has a monetary value, it has to be reported; and, far more importantly, it can be limited just like any other cash contribution.

Oral arguments in the case took place on June 8, and can be viewed online here.

I spoke to IJ attorney Michael Bindas on Friday, and here's the status of the case:

Time frame: There's no telling when the court will issue a decision, but the justices seemed to understand there is some urgency. There are, of course, elections this year. And the uncertainty surrounding the issue of whether radio speech can count as a campaign contribution needs to be resolved.

Next step: If the Washington State Supreme Court's decision were adverse to the defendants (for our purposes, let's call them "the good guys"), the appeal would be to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Precedent: To IJ's knowledge, the trial court was the first ever to treat "pure political speech essentially as a monetary contribution." There have been FEC complaints where radio stations have been targeted under a similar theory to that in the Washington state radio case, by politicians unhappy with talk show hosts' coverage. The FEC has uniformly rebuffed these complaints.

So, that's where things are. Keep your eyes peeled.

June 16, 2006

Neutral on Net Neutrality

So, the Christian Coalition is aligned with MoveOn.org, and both are aligned with Moby.

Either net neutrality is really good or really, really bad.

I'm guessing bad.

Here's a decent entry-point to the debate, if you follow some of the links. I must admit, though, I still don't think I know enough about the issue to render an informed opinion.

If anyone's seen a good, balanced article that explains the basics, send it in to ryan-at-realclearpolitics.com.

June 15, 2006

Press Conference Caps Bush's Best Week in Months - by Ross Kaminsky

Wednesday's press conference given by President Bush in the White House Rose Garden was the best I can remember him giving...ever. Despite the mother of all red-eye trips, a secret trip to Baghdad to meet with the Iraqi Prime Minister (who didn't know Bush was coming until 5 minutes before he arrived), Bush was obviously energized.

He didn't say anything like "ingrinable" or "strategery", and even made what I, as a stupid movie geek, found to be a very funny joke when he called on a reporter named Roger, and then said "Roger, Roger."

There was a minor gaffe which we learned about later: Bush asked a reporter if he was going to ask a question "with his shades on" not knowing that the reporter has an eye disease for which he has to wear sunglasses. Bush called the reporter later and apologized in what seemed like a very pleasant conversation. (Click HERE for the story.)

In any case, Bush gave a good answer to every question. He was firm about our support for Iraq. He stressed the importance of our commitment there, made no promises about withdrawing troops, and had excellent retorts for stupid questions like "Why didn't you tell the Iraqi Prime Minister sooner that you were coming?" (Those might not have been the exact words, but that was the question.) Bush's obvious answer: "I'm a high-value target for some."

The conference over all was the most solid performance I've seen from President Bush and was a great highlight to a solid week for him.

Al-Zarqawi was killed, Rove was not indicted, he made a successful trip to Baghdad, and he had his first noticeable uptick in poll results in months.

All this is a fragile foundation but a foundation nonetheless for improved Republican prospects for November, including making it more likely that GOP candidates will not shy away from having the President campaign for them.

I believe that some part of today's stock market rally, the first in 8 trading days for the Nasdaq, was due in some part to the improving possibility of the Republicans keeping control of Congress. As Oscar Wilde might say if he were still around "The only thing worse than electing Republicans to Congress is not electing Republicans to Congress", and that's especially true for financial markets.

In any case, although I'm not a huge fan of President Bush, I'm glad he had a good week. In this case, it meant we all had a good week.

June 14, 2006

The Kos Establishment OR Kaus vs. Kos

Mickey Kaus finds the treatment Mark Warner got at YearlyKos questionable -- as well he should. As I reported over at the New York Sun's blog, Warner was the only one of the four prospective 2008 candidates who got to address the entire Kos convention (at lunch on Saturday), and he got a very nice introduction from Markos himself.

Kaus attributes this treatment to "Warner's hiring of Moulitsas' buddy, Jerome Armstrong." That's part of it. Another part of it is that, as Markos said in his introduction, Warner was the second big shot -- after Harry Reid, in whose backyard (Las Vegas) the whole event was being held -- to accept the Kos invitation. Pandering, apparently, can get you to second base with these folks.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. If a political gathering wants to reward politicians who are early to sign up, good for them. But Kaus is right that it's more than a little hypocritical for a group of bloggers that constantly rails against the political establishment, and particularly centrist Democrats, to extend political-establishment-like treatment to a centrist Democrat just because he returns their phone calls.

The second round of stories out of YearlyKos seem to be focusing on whether the Kos folks are really anti-establishment or just trying to burrow their ways into the establishment as quickly as possible after making a splash on the Internet. That Jerome Armstrong is working for Mark Warner points toward the latter conclusion. Call him the Ana Marie Cox of the lefty blogosphere.

And call Mark Warner savvy for buying off a potentially problematic interest group (or at least its leaders) so cheaply.

Bush Regains His Mojo - by Larry Kudlow

Things are looking rather good right now for the President.

I'm sure he has been savoring this steady stream of good news. With some new, talented faces behind him in the West Wing, a powerful and resurgent White House team is welcoming a string of successes here at home and in Iraq. There is a new, unmistakable bounce in the President's step. Bush is confident, he is on message, and he is fighting the good fight.

In short, he has regained his mojo.

Not everyone is happy about these developments. Those poor Democrats, they don't know what to do with themselves. In between all their bickering, they just can't seem to figure out what to do about Bush's momentum and success.

Look no further than national security. In our critically important war on terror, without a doubt the most pressing issue of our time, the Dems have not changed their tune one bit. They remain off-key and more than a little suspect in protecting our safety and freedom.

Take this latest welcome blow to Al Qaeda, with the well-deserved death of their murderous leader/thug/enemy of peace and fomenter of violence, Al-Zarqawi; or the growing cohesion in Iraq's nascent government, where Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's cabinet shows increasing signs of promise. Observe the surge of American support for our vitally important Iraqi campaign in the polls.

All of this is great news. Or so you'd think.

But not for the Democrats. These positive developments have them wringing their hands, lost somewhere in outer space.

Instead of praising our progress in the war on terror, instead of getting firmly behind our Commander-in-Chief and signaling their commitment to finishing what we began, all we get is more bad ideas and a lot of head scratching from these folks. Just look at their leaders:

John "Flip-Flop" Kerry has raised the rhetoric for troop withdrawal;

Harry Reid too--he gave a talk at a lefty blogger convention this past Saturday echoing Kerry's cut and run call;

(Murtha? Well, you know where he stands);

Hillary Clinton thinks a timetable is a bunch of nonsense (good for her). But Hillary is a minority in the party. The Senator from New York was greeted with a chorus of thunderous boos yesterday by a bee's nest of Democratic activists. (In case you were wondering, John Kerry, who also spoke, was cheered wildly when he advocated his cut and run plan.)

The point here is that the wishy-washy Democrats still don't have a real message. They are still running for cover. At this pivotal time in our nation's history, a time when strong, effective leadership is needed to defeat these enemies of peace and democracy, the Democrats offer no game-plan, no leadership, and no consensus. They are defeatists.

Things don't look much better for the Dems on the economic front. (No real surprise there.) Try as they may, they still can't manage to kick their tax and spend habit.

As Karl Rove reminded everyone in New Hampshire yesterday, Democrats want to raise our taxes; Republicans want to reduce them. Democrats want an increase in spending; Republicans want a reduction. And, until they move towards pro-growth tax and spending reform, Democrats are not going to win elections.

The fact is that the Laffer curve tax-cut paradigm remains the most powerful policy weapon in American politics. When you tax something more, you get less of it. JFK and LBJ both adhered to this principle, as did Ronald Reagan. Papa Bush deserted it and got whooped. Bill Clinton originally opposed it, and the Dems lost Congress as a result. When Clinton finally embraced it during his second term (with a cap gains tax cut) he did well.

George W. Bush successfully used tax cuts in 2003 to re-ignite the American economy, and lead the GOP to big election victories in 2002 and 2004. And the President and Karl Rove are going to use it again in 2006. But, as long as the Dems keep banging their heads against the Laffer curve brick wall, they are doomed to defeat.

There is still a lot of time left between now and November. But, given Bush's resurgence, Democrats' dissension, continuing good news from Iraq and our war on terror, a continued strong economy with historically low unemployment, and the fact that Bush is on message and looking stronger than ever, well, you've got to reassess the conventional wisdom about the Dems picking up any seats in November.

Sure, the Dems have an opportunity to gain some ground, but it is an opportunity they will likely squander. Their message remains poor. As John Kasich pointed out recently on "Kudlow and Company," nobody ever won a close race by promising tax hikes. And, as the President correctly stated at his news conference, this is exactly what these guys will do.

No matter how they dress it up, no matter how they cut it, Democrats are angling yet again for tax hikes.

The stubborn fact remains that the Republican Party is the party of optimism and growth, while the tentacles of pessimism are still tightly wrapped around the Democrats. It remains the party of defeat and decline. They lack Ronald Reagan's sunny vision of America and the policy ammunition to effectively nationalize these races with an attractive message. This is the real political problem for the Dems. And until they get a new message, they're toast.

It's only June, but right now, with the way things are shaping up, it's looking more and more like a GOP Congressional hold to me.

Did I mention that the President regained his mojo?

Joe Wilson Going Forward

Upon the news that Karl Rove will not be indicted, Joe Wilson's lawyer hinted at the possibility of further, private litigation. Just what does he have in mind?

Over at The New York Sun's blog, I give an account of a statement Wilson made in a MoveOn.org meeting at YearlyKos this weekend that sheds a tiny bit of light on the question.

Victory in Newark

School choice supporters (including yours truly) cheered when reformer Cory Booker was elected mayor of Newark back in May. But the extent of his power was still up in the air, as most of his slate of Municipal Council candidates faced run-off elections.

Well, those elections took place yesterday, and Booker's slate won big.

The Newark teachers union can't be happy. And when teachers unions are unhappy, the sun shines just a little brighter and the birds sing just a little more sweetly.

Good luck to all in Newark.

June 13, 2006

Amendment Kabuki?

The flag-burning-amendment dance is a tiring one, but am I missing something or is the amendment scarily close to passing the Senate?

USA Today tells us:

The American Legion, which supports the amendment, and the American Civil Liberties Union, which opposes it, both say there are 66 votes to pass it.

Whether advocates can find the 67th vote to send the flag amendment to the states for ratification remains unclear. A Senate vote is set for the week of June 26.

Now, some of those 'yes' votes might evaporate if this ludicrous idea suddenly looks like it might become a reality (plenty of senators, one must guess, support the amendment based on the premise that it won't pass), but it's still too close for comfort.

Especially when all 50 states have non-binding resolutions supporting such an amendment.

Maybe I'm way out of the conservative mainstream on this one (it wouldn't be the first time, and I'll work actively to make sure it's not the last), but do that many Americans really lack a working understanding of the concept of freedom of speech? I mean, we know Congress and the Supreme Court and the president lack such an understanding. After all, McCain-Feingold became law. But it's hard to believe the American people are that threatened by political dissent.

Defining a 'Loophole'

The Las Vegas Review-Journal has a wonderful editorial this morning on campaign-finance "reform":

The late Murray Rothbard, a UNLV economist of national repute, used to tell a story about his mentor, the great Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises.

Sensing he would not fare well in greater Germany during the Nazi era, von Mises migrated to New York, where he would meet socially with a group of young American student economists. As English was not his first language, some of the American idioms left von Mises puzzled. At one point he interrupted to ask, " 'Loophole,' what is this word you keep using, 'loophole'?"

Once this term of art for analyzing the American system of taxation and regulation was explained, von Mises summarized, "Ah, so a 'loophole' is when they have left something unregulated."

In particular, the editorial takes on the current hyperventilating over the fact that the FEC has -- can you imagine this? -- left political emails unregulated. Papers like the Washington Post have been screaming that this will create a flood of possibly corrupting political spam.

Right. Spam is a very effective tool. And the people who pay for it will control our politicians like puppets.

Somebody stop these people before they reform again.

June 12, 2006

More On Moran (say it fast)

A reader writes in that the GOP as a whole chastising Moran for earmarking is a bit like Dick "Go #$%^ Yourself" Cheney chastising Moran for his language.

Turn Up the Radio

Who here remembers the Washington state radio case? Everyone should, because it's the front-line of the war on speech in America. In short, the outcome of this case could set a precedent where speech on the radio -- by radio hosts speaking their minds -- would be considered a "campaign contribution" under the law.

That means it could be regulated, limited, banned, fined, etc. etc. etc. ad nauseam.

I wrote about the case here for the N.Y. Post, back in July of 2005.

The anti-gas-tax campaign that was at issue is done and gone (the bad, pro-tax guys won in November), but the court case is still kicking around, with the Institute for Justice, as ever, bravely leading the charge against government oppression. IJ gives a summary of the case here, with links to amicus briefs by the ACLU, the Washington State Association of Broadcasters and others.

Nothing less than the First Amendment is at stake here, and in all fronts of the War on Speech (a.k.a. "campaign-finance reform"). Keep your eyes and ears open. Because there're a lot of people who want your mouth closed.

Earmarking Stones

The RNC has already sent out an email blast about Rep. Jim Moran's stupid comment about what he'll do if the Democrats regain the majority in Congress. Specifically, he'll earmark the s--t out of the federal budget.

Fair enough.

Somehow, though, I think this fiscal-high-mindedness play is a losing issue for the GOP of the Medicare prescription-drug bill, the No Child Left Behind law, the Bridge to Nowhere, and -- oh yeah -- the explosion of earmarks from 1,400 in 1995 to 14,000 in 2005.

Glass houses and all that.

Herbert Takes the Bait

You didn't seriously think Bob Herbert could resist writing a column about Robert Kennedy's article claiming Republicans stole the 2004 election in Ohio, did you?

Here is how it works. First, make no mention of the numerous criticisms and debunkings of Kennedy's piece and declare the article absolutely conclusive:

But Mr. Kennedy, in his long, heavily footnoted article ("Was the 2004 Election Stolen?"), leaves no doubt that the democratic process was trampled and left for dead in the Buckeye State. Mr. Kerry almost certainly would have won Ohio if all of his votes had been counted, and if all of the eligible voters who tried to vote for him had been allowed to cast their ballots. [emphasis added]

Then throw in a requisite smear of Republican African-American Ken Blackwell:

The point man for these efforts was the Ohio secretary of state, J. Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican who was both the chief election official in the state and co-chairman of the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio -- just as Katherine Harris was the chief election official and co-chairwoman of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Florida in 2000.

Next, bury the lede in the first sentence of paragraph nine:

No one has been able to prove that the election in Ohio was hijacked.

Finally, conclude with a wild-eyed generalization about evil Republicans systematically subverting democracy and a statement against the war in Iraq:

The lesson out of Ohio (and Florida before it) is that the integrity of the election process needs to be more fiercely defended in the face of outrageous Republican assaults. Democrats, the media and ordinary voters need to fight back.

The right to vote is supposed to mean something in the United States. The idea of going to war overseas in the name of the democratic process while making a mockery of that process here at home is just too ludicrous.

Voila! Almost as easy as using the Bob Herbert automatic column generator!

More Kos Koverage

More Kos Koverage, specifically mine, can be found over at the New York Sun's blog, It Shines for All.

Here on Mark Warner's visit.

Here on Howard Dean's speech.

And here on a literal tinfoil hat brigade.

And there's more if you scroll around.

McCain Gets Loopholed

Usually when incumbents craft campaign-finance regulations, they stack the deck in favor of, well, themselves. And as far as winning reelection to the House and Senate (or whatever state office is in question when state laws are crafted), they're pretty much on the mark.

This amusing Boston Globe story, however, reports how McCain-Feingold is helping Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney outflank other Republicans competing for the 2008 presidential nomination -- including one Sen. John McCain:

Since July 2004, Romney has set up affiliates of his political action committee, the Commonwealth PAC, in five states. By having donors spread their contributions across the various affiliates, Romney has been able to effectively evade the $5,000-per-donor annual contribution limit that applies only to federal committees, which most presidential aspirants set up to build initial support for their candidacies.

The multi-state system is helping Romney raise money quickly from relatively few contributors, and foster valuable political relationships around the country. It also is a strategy several potential opponents for the Republican nomination cannot use: Federal office-holders, under new campaign finance rules, are barred from operating such state affiliates.

How long could it possibly be before McCain calls for the closing of yet another loophole?

June 09, 2006

Quote of the Day

While the right-wing routine of constantly questioning the patriotism of those opposed to the Iraq war is more than a little tired, and a cheap way to try to shut down dissent to boot, even lab rodents eventually learn to stop pressing the button that delivers the electric shock.

Daily Kos denizens? Not so much.

- Ryan Sager covering the YearlyKos convention in Vegas for the New York Sun.

June 08, 2006

Big Losers In Iowa

David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register provides more evidence that labor unions are losing their political juice.

June 07, 2006

Anti-Americanism and Hewitt vs. Campos

Yesterday morning on RealClearPolitics we posted a column by Paul Campos of the Rocky Mountain News in which he attacked Hugh Hewitt, Glenn Reynolds and Peter Beinart for what he calls a "Rose-Colored View of History." Later in the day, Hewitt had Professor Campos on his radio show for a lengthy interview, which is well worth reading in full on RadioBlogger.

One comment I found interesting is Campos's assertion that "no country is inherently, morally superior to any other country." This is not an uncommon sentiment among many on the left who for some reason are repulsed by any attempt to elevate the moral status of the United States. But it is amazing to me to see someone as intelligent as Campos (not someone before this interview I considered a wild-eyed lefty) make an assertion that is so obviously wrong and lacking in common-sense.

The United Sates isn't or wasn't morally superior to Nazi Germany? Or Stalin's Soviet Union or Mao's China or the Taliban's Afghanistan? Or today's theocracy in Iran or Kim's dictatorship in North Korea? I mean come on. His comment is ridiculous.

I've written about this before, but one of the greatest liabilities the Democratic party has today, especially in the politics of a post-9/11 world when we are at war and where the average Jane and Joe American rallies unapologetically around the American flag, is the blatantly anti-American attitudes so prevalent on the left. It is just a killer liability.

The Hammer Pounds One More Time

One of DeLay's biggest political assets - and some would also argue one of his biggest liabilities - is his hard-charging, take-no-prisoners attitude. That attitude is on display in today's USA Today where DeLay chastises his fellow Republicans for defeatism:

The former No. 2 House leader criticized his Republican colleagues for "panic, depression and woe-is-me-ism," and predicted they will lose control in November "if they continue the attitude they have right now."

Whether you love or hate Tom DeLay, there's no denying he was an effective political operator. House Republicans are currently floundering in the wake of his influence: on one hand they're suffering from a political atmosphere of which Tom DeLay is poster boy and architect, on the other hand the discipline in the Republican caucus isn't what it used to be.

June 06, 2006

Krauthammer on Gay Marriage Debate

Charles Krauthammer is the clearest thinking analyst in politics today, and last night on Brit Hume's roundtable he summed up the politics and policy of the gay marriage debate very well.


Well, obviously in part its politics, but changing the definition of the oldest social institution in the human race, one that has been a man and a woman in every society for a long, long time, is a big deal. And if it's happening in a country, it's a legitimate issue and I think there is a legitimate issue here in that the president is right that judges have abrogated this decision which ought to be left to people either acting in referendum or in -- through their representatives. And that -- there are states, like Massachusetts in which it's been imposed and states like Georgia and Nebraska, where there has been a constitutional amendment where the people have spoken in large numbers and been stopped, stymied, by a judge.

But I think the answer is not a constitutional amendment, which would be in the name of the popular sovereignty, but ironically, it takes it away, because if you ever had a state in which a majority wanted to institute gay marriage, it would not be allowed to under this constitution. So it's a little bit contradictory, to act in the name of popular sovereignty and to pass a law which would extinguish.

The way you do it is change the ethos of the judiciary so that if you get the Defense of Marriage Act, which he spoke about earlier, at the Supreme Court, it's upheld and that it keeps it in one state and doesn't spread it all over the country. And having a president who nominates a guy like Sam Alito is a way in which we change that culture rather than changing the constitution.

Special Report's end of day roundtable is one of the best ways to quickly keep on top of the political ups and downs in Washington. RealClearPolitics will have each night's transcript available every morning at the RCP Resource Center and on the left column of the front page.

June 05, 2006

RFK Jr. and the Case of the Missing Credibility

Why exactly RFK Jr. likes to hitch his wagon to a never-ending train of already debunked conspiracy theories is anyone's guess, but he certainly isn't covering much new ground with his Rolling Stone article on the "stolen" 2004 election in Ohio.

It is perhaps the worst of signs for a liberal when Salon is the forum for his or her most thorough dressing down. Farhad Manjoo writes, in that day-pass protected Shangri-La:

If you do read Kennedy's article, be prepared to machete your way through numerous errors of interpretation and his deliberate omission of key bits of data. The first salient omission comes in paragraph 5, when Kennedy writes, "In what may be the single most astounding fact from the election, one in every four Ohio citizens who registered to vote in 2004 showed up at the polls only to discover that they were not listed on the rolls, thanks to GOP efforts to stem the unprecedented flood of Democrats eager to cast ballots." To back up that assertion, Kennedy cites "Democracy at Risk," the report the Democrats released last June.

That report does indeed point out that many people -- 26 percent -- who first registered in 2004 did not find their names on the voter rolls at polling places. What Kennedy doesn't say, though, is that the same study found no significant difference in the share of Kerry voters and Bush voters who came to the polls and didn't find their names listed. The Democrats' report says that 4.2 percent of Kerry voters were forced to cast a "provisional" ballot and that 4.1 percent of Bush voters were made to do the same -- a stat that lowers the heat on Kennedy's claim of "astounding" partisanship.

Such techniques are evident throughout Kennedy's article. He presents a barrage of seemingly important, apparently damning data to show that Kerry won the race. It's only when you dig into his claims that you see what thin ice he's on.

It goes on like that.

OK, just a little more, so you want have to go get that day pass:

Kennedy's headlining claim is that 357,000 voters, "most of them Democratic," were either prevented from voting or had their votes go uncounted, making Kerry (who lost by 118,000) the likely true winner. Kennedy finds these "missing votes" in the damnedest places. He counts 30,000 voter registrations that were deleted from voter rolls, in keeping with state law, as mostly Kerry voters, though it's impossible to know if those were even real people. He says that 174,000 mostly Kerry voters didn't vote because they were put off by long lines. But the source states it was actually 129,543 voters, and that those votes would have split evenly between Kerry and Bush. And that same source -- the Democratic Party's report once again -- notes conclusively: "Despite the problems on Election Day, there is no evidence from our survey that John Kerry won the state of Ohio." But Kennedy doesn't tell you that.

Ah, heck, go get the day pass...

And once you're done there, read Bob Bauer's analysis of the impact the Kennedy piece is having. Bauer, a progressive campaign-finance lawyer (and, by the by, campaign-finance-reform opponent), writes that Kennedy's article satisfies Democratic partisans while shifting the debate on election reform in a way that mostly benefits Republicans.

A snippet:

Robert Kennedy, Jr, meet John Fund: the two of you have more in common than you know. True, Kennedy would argue that some of the criminal and unethical behavior here is uniquely Republican or right wing in nature--such as in the targeting of minority and African-American neighborhoods, which is fairly condemned as a standing disgrace. But he is also portraying a system so vulnerable to fraud that Republicans can have their way with it, engineering the purposeful disenfranchisement of enough voters to change the outcome of a Presidential election.

If this is so, then anyone can aspire to carry out the same kind of plot. Hence: election fraud, not enfranchisement, becomes the central issue of the day--just as Republicans would like to argue, and just as they do, all the time and as a matter of institutional policy.

I'm not sure I agree with Bauer on the policy, that a focus on voter fraud is such a bad thing. But he couldn't be more astute on the politics.

The Kerry Files

Like many, I was shocked to see John Kerry proactively reignite the debate over some specific details of his war record, though I was less than surprised reading Kate Zernike's uncritical write up of Kerry's account in the New York Times back on May 28. I was even less surprised when Tom Lipscomb called to say the Zernike article had grabbed his attention with its almost complete disregard for items already in the public record, and that he was interested in doing a multipart series trying to get to the bottom of a number of issues surrounding Kerry's record - once and for all. The first installment, which is a response to Zernike's May 28 piece, is running on RealClearPolitics today.

As many of you know, Lipscomb is a Senior Fellow at the USC Annenberg School's Center for the Digital Future and has written extensively about the issue of Kerry's military records in the Chicago Sun-Times, Editor & Publisher and the New York Sun. He knows this story inside and out. And, despite what some people will almost inevitably say about him based on what he's written, Lipscomb's interest in this story has nothing to do with politics. He's not a big fan of George W. Bush, nor does he harbor any special animosity toward John Kerry. He's never met a Swift Boat Veteran, though he once attended a dinner where John O'Neill happened to be in the same room.

Lipscomb's gripe is with the way the MSM covered this story during the 2004 election - and now how it has covered it again in 2006; an unwillingness to demand the release of Kerry's full record and a general lack of interest in thoroughly investigating and evaluting some of the charges made by the Swift Boat Vets. Lipscomb isn't out to "get" Zernike (whom he describes as a "fine reporter on education and social issues"), only to point out that for some reason she failed - as did the editors at the New York Times - to do due dilligence investigating Kerry's claims and instead simply reprinted them. Lipscomb says that "there are likely to be holes in the Swiftie stories as well as Kerry's. But there are never grounds for assuming ONE side needn't be questioned and the other side universally discarded."

Since the Times has once again proven unequal to this fundamental task, Lipscomb decided to undertake an effort to do it on his own, and we've agreed to work with him.

Cynthia McKinney's Special Case

To prove the point of my column last Wednesday about a growing frustration with members of Congress - both Republican and Democrat - who cling to a sense of entitlement and don't have to play by the same rules as the rest of the public, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports this morning on the continuing case of Cynthia McKinney:

The grand jury investigation of 4th District Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney enters its third month today with no hint from the federal prosecutor about how much longer it will take to settle a case that legal experts said should have been wrapped up in a matter of days. [snip]

"Right from the start this U.S. attorney has handled this case differently from every other case," said Chuck Canterbury, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police. "And it's because she is a sitting congresswoman." [snip]

What most angers the police about the McKinney case is that it involves an assault -- no matter how minor -- of a police officer. [snip]

In legal terms, McKinney's case "is as simple as you can get," said George Washington University legal expert Jonathan Turley. Usually anyone who hits a police officer is immediately arrested on felony charges, police and legal experts said.

You or I hit a cop and we go to jail, period. If a member of Congress does it, especially one who is willing to stoop to playing the race card, the case gets special treatment so that it is "settled quietly and privately, avoiding a public spectacle."

Howard's End

Howard Dean is, by far, the most irresponsible head of either of the two major political parties this country has ever seen. Here he is giving succor to moonbat conspiracy theorists in the latest installment of the "we wuz robbed" meme by Robert F. Kennedy in this month's Rolling Stone:

''We know that there was substantial voter suppression, and the machines were not reliable. It should not be a surprise that the Republicans are willing to do things that are unethical to manipulate elections. That's what we suspect has happened, and we'd like to safeguard our elections so that democracy can still be counted on to work.''

June 01, 2006

Fight and Might

Peter Beinart's new book , The Good Fight, is out. Beinart discusses The Good Fight on the latest episode of the Glenn and Helen show. Kevin Drum also has comments.

I hope to tackle Beinart's book in the near future, right after I get done reading "With All Our Might: A Progressive Strategy for Defeating Jihadism and Defending Liberty." The book is a collection of essays edited by PPI Director Will Marshall. Listed among the contributors are Graham Allison, Reza Aslan, Michael McFaul, Ken Pollack, and Anne-Marie Slaughter. Should be interesting reading.

This is all part of the push back of the Democratic center, something I covered in a column a few weeks back.

May 30, 2006

McCain Delivers Ethics KO to Reid

John McCain's public relations team must be in heaven over press reports about Harry Reid's free ringside seats in Vegas, because you don't often find a more favorable contrast than this:

Sen. John McCain of Arizona insisted on paying $1,400 for the tickets he shared with Mr. Reid for a championship match between Oscar De La Hoya and Bernard Hopkins, one of 2004's most-hyped fights. [snip]

Andrew Herman, a Washington lawyer who frequently works with Congress, agreed. "I think it is pretty clear what Senator McCain did in the current atmosphere in Washington was certainly the more prudent thing."

May 26, 2006

The Senate Confirms

General Michael Hayden as Director of Central Intelligence by a vote of 78-15. Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, 57-36. The four Democrats who voted in favor of Kavanaugh were Byrd, Carper, Landrieu, and Nelson.

May 24, 2006

Remembering Lloyd Bentsen

Carl P. Leubsdorf has a great tribute to Lloyd Bentsen in today's Dallas Morning News.

May 23, 2006

Married to Bias at the NY Times

Greg Sargent breaks in his new blog by lambasting Pat Healy's silly front page article in the NY Times dissecting the Clintons' marriage. Sargent writes:

political reporters love to write about politics as if they are merely disinterested observers of political events and the public's perceptions of them, when in fact they play a very key role in shaping those events and perceptions.

Carol Platt Liebau is happy to see Sargent recognize something conservatives have known for a long time.

Rubbing Salter in the Wound

Mickey Kaus says McCain aide Mark Salter jumped foolishly "into the mosh pit of self-righteousness" by attacking New School commencement speaker Jean Sara Rohe. He's right, of course, in that by dignifying Rohe's speech with such a stinging response, Salter blew up publicity of the issue and pitted himself and his man against a 21-year old girl.

As to the substance of Salter's criticisms, I happen to think they're more on the mark than off. Rohe finished her remarks at the New School commencement by saying this:

Finally, Senator Mc Cain will tell us that we, those of us who are Americans, "have nothing to fear from each other." I agree strongly with this, but I take it one step further. We have nothing to fear from anyone on this living planet. Fear is the greatest impediment to the achievement of peace.

This is the sort of mushy, "kumbaya" leftist pablum that is deserving of derision, especially when it comes from a Greenwich-Village-ensconced student whose idea of hardship is having to forego an extra shot in her Starbucks latte, lecturing a war hero and statesman who can't lift his torture-riddled arms over his head about how the real problem in the world is that we can't join hands in a big circle with bin Laden and al-Qaeda and work out our differences.

Rohe also wrote in her blog post yesterday at HuffPo that when she saw Senator McCain before the speech she "almost wanted to warn the guy that I was about to make him look like an idiot so that he would at least have a fighting chance and an extra moment to change his speech to save himself." What utter arrogance. Rohe shouldn't have worried her pretty little head about McCain; had he been so inclined he could have easily humiliated her on the spot and probably reduced her to tears, but he wisely chose not to. Nevertheless, Rohe's line prompted the retort from Salter the next day that "the only person you have succeeded in making look like an idiot is yourself" - a remark that seems to have been taken grossly out of context in the NY Daily News article linked to on Drudge.

In other words, Salter has every right to be pissed, even self-righteously so, on behalf of his boss. Whether or not it's good politics to express that anger publicly is another matter, though a largely irrelevant one. The whole thing will be over in another six minutes and we can all get back to really important matters like speculating about Al Gore running for president in 2008.

May 22, 2006

Harry Reid: Daschle Redux?

Sherman Frederick, the publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, writes that Harry Reid's kowtowing to the Pelosi wing of the Democratic party has made him unelectable in Nevada:

And finally, Harry Reid has never been a thoroughbred racehorse on the track of Nevada politics. He's been more like a stubborn mule who never gives up, never gives in. And, in the heat of past races, he's been known to kick a few opponents in the head.

"Landslide Harry" is used to close races. Races that can be decided by a few thousand, and even a few hundred votes. But those were races before Harry became the top Democratic dog in the U.S. Senate. Before he disappeared as a conservative Democrat from Nevada. Before he started eyeing Nancy Pelosi's wardrobe.

Nevadans elected the Harry I've hiked the desert with in blue jeans and dusty work boots. But on national TV they see a guy in a capri and sandals.

Not pretty.

And, more to the point, not electable in Nevada.

Reid doesn't stand for reelection until 2010 so discussions about his electability are obviously premature, but the question is interesting nonetheless: will Reid's heightened visibility as the leader of an exceedingly angry, left-leaning party hurt his standing at home?

Tom Daschle makes for an interesting point of comparison. After assuming the role of Democratic Minority Leader in January 1995, Daschle cruised to reelection in 1998. By the time Daschle was ready to stand for reelection in 2004, however, he was the leader of a much different party. The Democrats' bitter loss to George W. Bush in 2000, the attacks of September 11, the War in Iraq, and Democrats' loss of the Senate in 2002 all contributed to an increase in partisanship and a leftward swing in the party. Add in the proliferation of cable news and the rise of the Internet, and Daschle was more visible than ever to his constituents back home not just as their home-state Senator but also as the leader of an angry, liberal Democratic Party.

Daschle had always been able to finesse a fairly liberal voting record in a heavily Republican state with excellent constituent relations and a mild-mannered demeanor. But in 2004 he was tagged as an "obstructionist" and upended 51-49 by a popular, well-financed conservative challenger, marking the first time in more than half a century a sitting Senate leader from either party was ousted from his seat.

A couple of notable differences between Daschle and Reid; Reid has a more conservative voting record in a much less Republican state. Reid also won't have to contend with a hotly contested Presidential race in 2010, a factor which almost certainly helped doom Daschle in 2004 (he lost to Thune by 4,500 votes while Bush carried South Dakota by 22 points).

After barely surviving a challenge from John Ensign in 1998, Reid won big in 2004 - but did so by spending an astronomical $7 million dollars against very weak opposition. Since then he's been the face of the party along with Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean, and his approval ratings in the last half of 2005 have remained in the high 50's - though they look to have become a bit more volatile in the last few months. Ultimately, Reid's fate will be determined by the quality of his opposition and the mood of Nevada voters in 2010, but it will be interesting to watch his numbers over the course of time, especially if the country is faced with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and/or President Hillary Clinton in the coming years.

May 18, 2006

Divided We Stand

Reader and blogger Mike Wallach offers an interesting solution to the problem of how libertarians can organize themselves for maximum political impact: Always vote for divided government. Always.

That divided government keeps down spending is now the conventional wisdom. The idea of using that concept as the central organizing principle of a political movement ... it's far-fetched. OK, it's implausible.

But it might stop anything much from ever getting done in Washington, D.C., which is a start.

(Of course, it could also lead to an outbreak of "bipartisanship" -- the worst of all possible political outcomes.)

May 17, 2006

Out of the Hot Tub, Into the Frying Pan

There was also a lot of blog response to the hot-tub libertarians column. I'll try to take the lines of argument one at a time.

One line of argument is that the libertarians should abandon the GOP because it's too close to the Evangelical, "fundamentalist" wing of the Right. One blogger making this case is the Cranky Insomniac:

Maybe I'm overly pessimistic, or maybe a significant slice of the "GOP forever" libertarians will suddenly decide that they don't have enough in common with other party elements to keep voting with them (as I did ten years ago, when I realized that "this party sucks," and split). But until this political Cialis takes effect, libertarians as a group will have about as much political clout as people who give Porter Goss as a reference.

We might as well keep kickin' it in the hot tub.

This is, of course, an extremely common view among libertarians: We don't have enough clout within the GOP, so let's not invest any energy in the GOP. The problem, though, is that this logic is circular. The GOP ignores libertarians because they're unengaged in politics, and they're unengaged in politics because the GOP ignores them. Libertarians can blame this on their numbers, but even the conservative estimate from Pew that they make up 9 percent of the American ideological spectrum robs them of such excuses. Libertarians are politically impotent because they're petulant and factious (and I say this as a libertarian), not because there aren't enough of them.

Another line of argument is that libertarians should be pouring all of their energy into third-party politics, i.e. the Libertarian Party. That's the argument over at Hammer of Truth (where I'm accused of being a "conservative"):

Other than playing lip service to the Second Amendment, when has the GOP been sensitive to individual rights? Is big-government conservatism the economic equivalent of the compassionate conservatism practiced by the GOP on homosexuals?

There is but one natural home for libertarians: the Libertarian Party. However, it's understandable that many libertarians avoid the LP because of frequently embarrassing election results.

...

[Sager is] half right. It is time to reclaim our libertarian roots, but the GOP is clearly not the answer. The time is now to form effective third-party and independent coalitions to get liberty-minded people elected to public office.

Of course, the GOP has never been a libertarian paradise. But, as I go into in great detail in my forthcoming book, there has long been a "fusionist" bargain where limited-government conservatives and social conservatives understood that they needed each other and that they both ultimately wanted a smaller state. The biggest change in the GOP coalition has been the decision by a large segment of social conservatives (goaded by neoconservatives like David Brooks) to start looking at the federal government as a friend and not an enemy. Libertarian efforts should be spent on persuading social conservatives back to our side and organizing within the GOP as opposed to outside it.

The last argument I'll deal with here is from Reason editor Nick Gillespie, who argues that the hot tub of real life is simply preferable to the cesspool of government and politics. It's a tempting idea and one that a lot of libertarians consciously or unconsciously buy into. And as an individual choice, it's fine. God knows not everyone finds immigration speeches and bridges to nowhere fascinating. But the business of governing is real life, and the outcomes of political fights will determine how much of our money is stolen in taxes, whether gay people can get married, whether cancer patients will risk arrest for using marijuana, whether people will be able to afford health care, etc. etc. etc.

Simply saying this stuff doesn't matter (or doesn't matter that much) doesn't make it so.

Libertarians need to get serious. And getting serious means organizing. And organizing means within one of the two major parties. I believe that can only be done within the GOP, that there is still a natural logic to fusionism.

But I'm happy to hear arguments otherwise.

We get letters... Hot-Tub Letters

Got a lot of responses to my column on hot-tub libertarians yesterday. Posted them here.

Libertarians are -- as ever -- a downcast bunch. And, of course, they can never agree on anything. Should we just forget about politics? How can anyone vote for the Democrats? How can anyone vote for the Republicans? How can anyone vote for the Libertarian Party?

OK. I made that last one up. No one votes for the LP.

May 11, 2006

Reply to Kaus

Mickey Kaus responds to my column on Immigration: South and West over at Slate. While no one peels the political onion quite like Kaus, I'll respond point by point:

On RCP, Ryan Sager argues that a hard line on immigration hurts Republicans in Western swing states, and helps them only in Southern states they've got locked up anyway. Problems with this thesis include 1) Sager seems to assume Bush had to make a big deal of immigration one way or another. He didn't. He could have kept it backburnered;

I didn't assume at all that Bush had to make a big deal out of immigration. I said that congressional Republicans taking a hard line on immigration was a bad idea politically. Bush might well have left the whole issue alone, knowing that it would split the Republican base when he could least afford it.

2) Bush's immigration-battered national poll ratings, however they're geographically distributed, are sapping his efficacy across the board every day and giving the press a club with which to beat him;

Absolutely. Again, if I were Bush, I would have left the whole thing alone. At least ahead of midterms.

3) Even with Bush making immigration a big issue, Sager points only to three contested Western House seats where a hard line hurts Republicans. In none does he show that the issue is decisive, or that Republican candidates aren't able to soften their stand if necessary to fit their constituency. Are there no three contested seats elsewhere in the country--the Northeast, say--where a hard line is helping the GOP candidate?

Kaus may be right, as far as the congressional races in 2006 go. Candidates can stake out their own positions, to an extent. But if the general message, nationally and bleeding down to the local level, is simply "congressional Republicans = kick out the Mexicans," then that will help in some places and hurt in others.

Specifically, as I argued in my column, it's likely to hurt in some Western places. Kaus asks if it might not help in some Northeastern places. I'm not sure why he thinks it would help in the Northeast, where anti-immigrant sentiment is fairly low. Where it could help is the South (where the GOP doesn't need the help) and the Midwest, where anti-immigrant sentiment is ticking upward.

Coming into 2008, though, I'd be more worried about immigration as an issue that could hurt the GOP electorally in the West while not doing enough good in the rest of the country to justify the bad.

Herbert Gives 'Em Hell

In today's New York Times, Bob Herbert says Democrats are in need of "a moxie transplant." Herbert writes:

I have no more patience with this perennially pathetic patient, this terminally timid Democrat who continues to lie cowering and trembling on the analyst's couch, wondering why the Demolition Derby Republicans control virtually all of the levers of power in the United States.

Herbert's column is particularly interesting in that he wants Democrats to be more vocally antiwar and to rail against the Bush administration's "monstrous buildup of state power" that has "undermined the freedom and privacy of innocent people," and yet he chooses to cite President Harry S. Truman as a model for Democrats to emulate.

Let's count the ways this is ironic. First, as a Senator from Missouri, Truman supported FDR's scheme to pack the Supreme Court. As President, of course, Truman is most well known for making the exceedingly difficult and courageous decision to drop the bomb on Japan in 1945. Twice. He also ordered the invasion of Korea in 1950 to repel communist aggression, igniting a limited war which dragged on for three years and cost more than 33,000 U.S. lives. In 1952, Truman established the NSA. That was also the same year he ordered the seizure of American steel mills, an act which the Supreme Court later declared had exceeded Truman's constitutional authority.

Herbert laments that "there are no Trumans in sight in this Democratic Party." No kidding, because hardcore antiwar liberals like Herbert have driven them from the ranks. Truman believed in a muscular, assertive foreign policy that has long since fallen out of vogue with members of the post-Vietnam Democratic party. The truth is that if Harry "Give 'em Hell" Truman were alive today, Bob Herbert would skin him alive in the pages of the New York Times.

Get Your Panic Here

Bush, GOP Congress Losing Core Supporters - Jim VandeHei and Peter Baker, Washington Post

Polls show Bush's base starting to flee - Dick Polman, Philadelphia Inquirer

Bush's low ratings worry Republicans - Linda Feldmann, Christian Science Monitor

Polls show Bush losing conservative support - John Whitesides, Political Correspondent

Out of the Loop

Lynn Sweet reports Speaker Denny Hastert was left out of the loop by the White House on the Hayden pick. So much for the White House shake up improving communications with key members of Congress, I guess.

Libertarians Unbound

The debate heats up, over at Cato Unbound, as to the GOP's future relating to limited government.

David Frum takes on his critics (including me) here. (My response here)

David Boaz argues for libertarianism's "coherence" here.

Bruce Bartlett argues that freedom isn't just about small government (and that it's just another word for nothing left to lose) here.

And Ross Douthat touches on "fusionism" -- essentially, the argument that libertarians and social conservatives are natural allies -- here. (It's a topic on which I spill some considerable ink in my forthcoming book.)

Somehow, no one seems to want to make the argument that Bush has actually been a great conservative president. Did nobody call Fred Barnes or David Brooks?

May 09, 2006

Cato's GOP Blues

The discussion continues over at Cato Unbound as to whether the GOP and limited government have a future together.

Today, Cato's David Boaz weighs in:

Last week I turned on NPR and heard some crazy woman ranting "We have two oilmen in the White House. The logical follow-up from that is $3 a gallon gasoline. It is no accident; it is a cause and effect, a cause and effect." Then the next morning I watched CNN and discovered that the ranting woman was Nancy Pelosi.

So it's hard to summon up hope that libertarians might find common cause with the Democratic party.

But the Republican party doesn't seem very inviting lately, either.

As one astute commentator said recently: "The Republican Party in Washington is in trouble not because it's overrun by crooks, but because . . . it has degenerated into a caricature of the party that swept to power 11 years ago promising to take on the federal bureaucracy and liberate the creative genius of American society."

And Tony Snow was right.

(My take on his take here.)

Suffice it to say, everyone involved so far is pretty down on the GOP.

May 08, 2006

Fukuyama Speaks

Here's a taste of Joel Whitney's Q&A with Francis Fukuyama that ran in yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle:

Q: As an intellectual leader of neoconservatism, do you have anything to say to other neocons who maintain their support for the Bush administration?

A: I just think that people need to look realistically at what our policy has brought forth. I know people say, "Well, we still don't know what's going to happen in Iraq." But I would say a realistic look at the situation, even the most optimistic upshot, is going to lead to the conclusion that it's very hard to say any of this was worth the price we've paid either in lives, economic cost or the reputation of the United States around the world. And we need to get beyond these justifying arguments about whether it was a good idea and move on to figure out what we're going to do now. Because I think that in a way saving American foreign policy from the backlash that is going to be inevitable against this failed policy, that's first on the agenda now.

May 05, 2006

Splitsville

This month, the Cato Institute's excellent online journal, Cato Unbound, is considering: "The GOP and Limited Government: Do They Have a Future Together?"

I happen to think it's a debate worth following.

David Frum kicked things off on Monday, arguing essentially that the chance for conservatives to make real progress toward a smaller federal government came and went in the 1990s. (I disagreed here.)

On Tuesday, Bruce Bartlett (a man who perhaps should be in this book) weighed in with an assessment of the prospects for limited government so bleak I contemplated jumping out my window before reaching the end of the fourth paragraph. That's where he suggested implementing a value-added tax to cover the inevitable growth in government spending (just from entitlements) over the next couple of decades. Every serious fiscal conservative has to absorb the gist of his argument here: Things will get worse before they get better.

Today, Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam -- of Party of Sam's Club fame -- made the argument that the GOP has to adjust to the needs of its increasingly working-class base. (I suggest here that the GOP perhaps consider adjusting the base it's built.)

My old boss, David Boaz (EVP of the Cato Institute), is scheduled to weigh-in Tuesday. So, if you're interested in the future of the GOP, stay tuned to the discussion. It's the one the party is going to be having in a thousand different forms until there's a nominee in 2008.

Bring a rain slicker. Spittle will fly.

May 01, 2006

Woodrow Wilson Revisited

Mark F. Bernstein writes an informative review of President Woodrow Wilson in the latest issue of Princeton Alumni Weekly:

One key to understanding Wilson, historians agree, is his religious faith. "Wilson had the certitude of a fierce Presbyterian," [Columnist George] Will says. "He believed that there is a God and God has intervened in history before and can do so again." Adds [Wilson biographer A. Scott] Berg: "Wilson was a Presbyterian minister's son. Strictness and righteousness permeated everything he ever said or did."

Fascinating insights into Wilson's conception of the presidency may be found in Wilson's war message to a joint session of Congress, delivered on April 2, 1917, which [Univ. of Wisc History Professor John M.] Cooper calls the greatest piece of presidential oratory since Lincoln's second inaugural address. "I have called the Congress into extraordinary session," Wilson began, "because there are serious, very serious choices of policy to be made, and made immediately, which it was neither right nor constitutionally permissible that I should assume the responsibility of making." When, one might ask, was the last time a president spoke with such constitutional humility?

Cooper, however, thinks the key insight into Wilson's character can be found in the speech's peroration. Declaring that "the right is more precious than peace," Wilson said that America should feel privileged to "spend her blood and her might for the principles that gave her birth and happiness and the peace which she has treasured. God helping her," he concluded, "she can do no other."

"That last sentence is an exact paraphrase of Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms," Cooper notes. "I think there's a key there. Wilson was wrestling with the same sort of problem Luther had, which was, how is the Christian going to live in a sinful world? We can only presume to know God's will imperfectly, and so we have to do the best we can. Luther's conclusion of what to do was: Sin boldly. Essentially, I think that's how Wilson portrays the United States, as a nation trying to be righteous and do good in the world. We're cast into this terrible situation where there is no good alternative. In a situation like that, he was going to sin boldly."

Definitely read the whole thing.

RELATED: Wilson, War, and Democracy

The UN Can't Be Reformed

On Friday, a bloc of third-world nations scuttled efforts to reform the United Nations, claiming that the proposed changes would give too much power to "rich" nations and, according to the UN Ambassador from South Africa, would violate "the right of every member state to have an equal say in the decision making of this organization." Thus has the UN proved once again it is an organization with a serious credibility problem that is incapable of meaningful reform.

Just how bad is it? In an interview published this morning in Britain's Telegraph newspaper, US Ambassador John Bolton describes life at the UN this way:

"This atmosphere is like a bubble. It is like a twilight zone. Things that happen here don't reflect the reality in the rest of the world. There are practices, attitudes and approaches here that were abandoned 30 years ago in much of the rest of the world. It's like a time warp."

U.S. contributions account for more than 1/5 of the U.N.'s total annual budget, and while Bolton has not threatened to suspend payment of those dues, expect pressure from Congress for some sort of penal action against the U.N. to grow.

Last June, the House passed a bill 221-184 - over the objections of the White House - calling for the U.S. to withhold payment of up to half its dues if the U.N. did not adopt a series of budget cutbacks and reforms, including the establishment of an independent oversight board and an ethics office. Congressman Henry Hyde characterized the bill as "radical surgery," but added, "Sometimes that's the only way to save the patient."

Next week the U.N. general assembly will hold elections for a new 47-member Human Rights Council to replace its discredited predecessor, the U.N Human Rights Commission, which over the years allowed seats to go to notorious human rights abusers such as Syria, Libya, Cuba and Sudan. This time around will likely be no different, and Senator Bill Frist is already urging the U.S. to withdraw support for the new U.N. body, saying that "despite superficial 'reforms,' this new body is all too susceptible to being compromised by the world's worst offenders of human rights."

This, of course, comes on top of the most recent outrage (previously mentioned here) of Iran being elected to a Vice-Chairmanship of the U.N. Disarmament Commission back on April 17 and the ongoing taint from the massive oil-for-food scandal.

All in all the U.N. has been making a mess of things lately and demonstrating why meaningful reform is going to be impossible. The reality is that it's both unreasonable and impractical for third-world countries to demand "equal say" to first rate powers in U.N. decision making. Zambia is never going to be treated equally to the United States or Japan, nor should it be. That doesn't mean the concerns and interests of second and third world countries shouldn't be addressed, but it does mean that the smallest member states that actively thwart the interests of the largest member states jeopardize the viability of the entire system.

If this sort of thing continues it's possible that at some point in the future we could see large member states forming and funding their own organizations (coalitions of the willing, you might call them) to address issues like Human Rights and non-proliferation, in which case some smaller member states at the U.N. might learn that having a small voice is better than having no voice at all.

April 17, 2006

Ryan Guilty

A jury has found former Illinois Governor George Ryan guilty on charges of racketeering and fraud. Ryan faces up to 20 years in prison.

March 30, 2006

Reagan Shot Today 25 Years Ago

Today is the 25th anniversary of John Hinckley's attempted assassination of President Reagan. The Washington Post's Sue Anne Pressley has a look back on that day 25 years ago and its effect on the country and those involved. Here also is David Broder's report from Tuesday, March 31, 1981.

March 29, 2006

The Pathetic Ethics of Jim McDermott (Cont.)

Yesterday, Jim McDermott lost in court - again:

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott violated federal law by turning over an illegally taped telephone call to reporters nearly a decade ago.

In a 2-1 opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that McDermott violated the rights of House Majority Leader John Boehner, who was heard on the 1996 call involving former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

The court ordered McDermott to pay Boehner more than $700,000 for leaking the taped conversation. The figure includes $60,000 in damages and more than $600,000 in legal costs.

I wrote about the last time the wheels of justice spun against McDermott in this case. In late December, 2004, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge ruled that Congressman McDermott's "willful and knowing misconduct rises to the level of malice."

At the same time, Seattle PI columnist Joel Connelly got his hands on a fundraising plea being circulated by Mr. McDermott to help fill the coffers of his legal defense fund. The letter cited Tom DeLay - who has nothing whatsoever to do with the case - and accused the GOP House leadership of "using the courts" to "pursue" him. "We cannot allow Republican leaders to financially destroy a member of Congress who has a proven track record of standing up for endangered democratic values," the McDermott letter said.

But three years ago the vicious Mr. Boehner offered McDermott a deal: Boehner would drop the suit if McDermott would admit he was wrong, apologize to the House, and donate $10,000 to charity. McDermott refused and has been appealing the case since - and losing every time, with legal fees now totalling over a $1 million. Sometimes saying you're sorry is not only the right thing to do, it's the cheap thing to do as well.

March 21, 2006

The Ghost of Andrew Jackson

In today's New York Times, H.W. Brands offers a cautionary history lesson for Democrats eager to censure President Bush. Brands recounts the censure of President Andrew Jackson in March 1834 which passed the Senate 26 to 20 behind the efforts of Henry Clay:

Clay thought he had won a great triumph. But the 1834 midterm elections returned control of the Senate to the Democrats, as the Jacksonians were called by then. And the Democrats refused to let the censure issue rest. Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, who had once shot Jackson in a street brawl (the president still carried bullet fragments in his shoulder) but eventually became the president's most devoted partisan, campaigned incessantly against the censure and all who had voted for it. His efforts helped make the retiring Jackson the focus of the 1836 presidential election, bringing voters out in force for Van Buren, Jackson's uncharismatic protégé...

...Clay continued to pay for his temerity: in 1844, even as Jackson declined toward death, Clay lost his third (and final) race for the presidency to another Jackson protégé, James K. Polk.

Russ Feingold is no Henry Clay, at least not yet. And if he hopes to discredit Mr. Bush, as he doubtless does, I'd suggest he find means other than censure. The last thing today's Democrats want to do is to make George W. Bush look like Old Hickory.

Indeed, the one thing Democrats have going for themselves at the moment is that Republicans are fractured and depressed over the administration's leadership on spending, immigration, the Dubai ports deal, scandals, and frustration over the pace of progress in Iraq. Charlie Cook examines the GOP's depression problem in detail today, adding, "Of course, the more Democrats talk about censuring or even impeaching President Bush, it's a pretty good bet that the intensity level of Republicans could rise, negating that Democratic advantage."

Speaking of the ghost of Andrew Jackson and things that would excite the Republican base, the press continues to generate easy column inches with speculation about an Al Gore comeback. This time it's Scott Shepard in the Atlanta Journal Constitution ruminating on the odds of Gore becoming only the third president in history to win the White House after previously losing the electoral college while winning the popular vote (Andrew Jackson accomplished the feat in 1828 and Grover Cleveland in 1892). Most of the evidence Shepard collects argues against a Gore run, but he finishes with this quote from Chris Lehane:

"In the Internet age, there is the potential for someone with his [Gore's] profile to mount a non-conventional campaign. Someone with a high name identification, someone who could raise money online, someone with prime time experience and someone who could potentially attract support from the angry left."

The thought of a Moveon.org-backed Al Gore run for the presidency in '08 would have Republicans manning the battlestations faster than you could say "no controlling legal authority." In the meantime, however, the GOP has to find something else to get excited about this November.

March 20, 2006

Is Bill Kristol Working for Karl Rove?

On FOX News Sunday, Bill Kristol took the position that the Feingold censure was good politics for the Democrats and hurting Bush and the Republicans.

KRISTOL: I think Feingold is smarter than the Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate, and I think he deserves some credit for taking a principled stand. And I honestly believe that, in fact, he's winning this debate right now.

We're sitting here talking about well, the censure, that's politically unwise. Who is defending the president's NSA actions? Suddenly everyone is talking about warrantless wiretapping. It's on the table, as Mara just said. Well, maybe he doesn't have legal justification. Impeachment will be too much, but it's certainly fair to question what he's done. I think Feingold has succeeded in casting a big cloud over the president's program here.

WALLACE: So you think this is helping Democrats and hurting Republicans?

KRISTOL: Yes, absolutely.

Last week I wrote the censure was good politics for Feingold and Republicans, and on the roundtable yesterday Brit Hume quickly countered Kristol, acknowledging that while it may play well for Russ Feingold and his run for the Democratic nomination, censure wasn't a smart move in terms of damaging the president. In my mind this is the simple, straight-forward, and pretty obvious analysis.

Kristol is one of the most astute analysts in the business, but he does get it wrong sometimes. I remember him opining after the New Hampshire primary in 2000 that Bush was finished and there was no way the McCain momentum could be halted. Kristol may have been letting personal loyalties get the better of him with that analysis, but this latest proposition that censure is good politics for the Democrats is great fodder for conspiracy theorists who can now whisper that Kristol is in cahoots with the White House trying to sucker Democrats into engaging on a sure fire loser of an issue.

Andrew Sullivan appears to have bitten on Kristol's rationale, writing yesterday, "Maybe the (censure/impeachment) meme has legs; and I should reconsider, as my reader has, the wisdom of Feingold's move."

Karl Rove couldn't hope for anything more than for Democrats to embrace Feingold's call to censure the President. It must be frustrating to Rove that Democrats appear to have finally gotten a little street sense when it comes to dealing with the White House political operation. Last week Senate Dems correctly realized the censure issue had the ability to completely undo all of the gains they had made from the Dubai Ports fiasco.

The problem for Democrats on this issue is their base, as heard through its megaphone on the Internet. The base is chomping at the bit to go after Bush, and this pressure coupled with the reality that privately many, if not most, Democratic Senators probably agree with Feingold are two powerful forces that make it hard for Democrats to keep this genie in the bottle and play the censure/impeachment issue the politically smart way. Dick Durbin, the Senate's #2 Democrat, unwittingly admitted as much yesterday when he couldn't bring himself to rule out impeaching the President should Democrats win control of Congress.

I do agree with Kristol that Republicans will be in trouble in November if they don't have more of a message than asking the public to reelect the GOP so that the Democrats won't impeach President Bush. But he is wrong to suggest that going at the President on the NSA issue is smart politics for the Democrats. One of the reasons Republicans may not be making "a substantive defense of the program" (to use Kristol's words) is there is nothing to defend. Bush and the Republicans have won on the NSA issue, and no amount of Feingold, Boxer, Harkin, or MoveOn.org whining is going to change that.

The Republicans are just hoping Democrats are naive enough to get in the ring again on the issue of whether the President, in consultation with Congress, has the authority to wiretap Al Qaeda phone calls in to the U.S.

Rounds Channels Humphrey?

Interesting historical note from David Kranz's column in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader this weekend:

When Gov. Mike Rounds was defending the state's legislative action making most abortions illegal, he offered a statement of support.

"In the history of the world, the true test of civilization is how well people treat the most vulnerable and most helpless in their society."

Rounds' original words?

Well, sort of.

Vice President Humphrey has been dead since Jan. 13, 1978, but his life is carefully documented, including his quotes.

Steve Sandell, director of the Humphrey Forum of the University of Minnesota, saw Rounds' reference and wrote a letter to the Star Tribune in Minneapolis.

"Those are the words taken from speeches that Humphrey made on several occasions," including the 1976 Democratic National Convention, Sandell wrote.

Humphrey's full quote: "The moral test of a government is how it treats those who are at the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those who are in the shadow of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped."

Sandell concludes his letter saying, "Regardless of one's opinion on the issue of abortion, we might expect the governor of Humphrey's home state to attribute his words to their author, and to use them in the context of their original meaning."

So the question is this: Did the governor alter the wording enough to rightfully make it his own, or was attribution appropriate?

Rounds did not return phone calls.

March 16, 2006

Scanning RCP

Just a note to make sure you're aware of all the different sections of the new and improved RCP. For example:

The Christian Science Monitor has a story today on the shifting political atmosphere in the Mountain West. Many more stories, including polls from races around the country, updated daily on the RCP Politics & Elections page

Here's a title from the new RCP Reader Articles page that got my attention: "PA Grants Murderer of 4-Year-Old Girl Honorary Citizenship." Keep scrolling to see all the different articles submitted by RCP readers in the last 7 days. You must register to submit a link or cast a vote for a particular article.

David Kirkpatrick's article on the move to censure Bush is generating some buzz in the blogosphere. Go to RCP's new Opinion Buzztracker to see what else people are talking about.

A bunch of new polls have been released in the last 2-3 days, and we've posted them all on the new RCP Polls Page.

On the RCP Blogs page you'll find a list of the day's best posts from around the blogosphere, hand-picked by the RCP edit staff.

In the RCP Resource Center, you'll find a link to the 2006 National Security Strategy document released by the White House today, as well as tons of other transcripts of speeches and talk shows.

Finally, let me remind you that you can click here to subscribe to RSS feeds for any of these pages (or just about any topic you'd like) to stay abreast of all the great content being posted to RealClearPolitics. Feel free to email me with any questions.

March 15, 2006

Feingold's Backseat Driving

A party's Senate caucus is like a car. In the case of the Democrats, right now that car has 44 passengers. They've chosen to put Harry Reid behind the wheel, and Dick Durbin is riding shotgun. But the rest of the Democrats are sitting in the backseat where it's crowded and uncomfortable. Worse, many of these folks are insufferable backseat drivers: they bitch and moan and carp, constantly offering advice about which route to take or whether to speed up or slow down. Others just sit in the back like impatient pre-teens asking over and over again, "Are we there yet, daddy?"

Theoretically, the people in the car have arrived at some general consensus as to where they're going and, despite their differences, do their best to work to find a way for all of them to get to that location together and in one piece. But, as we saw in the case of Russ Feingold this week, every now and then one of those backseat drivers gets either so impatient, so arrogant, or so ambitious they just reach right up into the front seat, grab the wheel of the car and start tugging.

Feingold's maneuver Monday was a bit of a Thelma & Louise moment in politics: he slammed the gas pedal to the floor and set Senate Democrats heading straight for the edge of the Grand Canyon. Liberals stood on one side cheering it as an act of heroism, Republicans stood on the other cheering it as a stunt of monumental stupidity and hoping the car would actually catch air. And poor Senate Democrats were left strapped in the vehicle, with eyes bulging and mouths wide open, as they scrambled to find the brake.

March 09, 2006

Immigration, Censorship, and the Great Netroots Debate

Quite a few interesting posts in the blogosphere today:

At The American Scene, Ross Douthat comments on Robert Samuelson's immigration column calling for the U.S. government to both erect a wall along the southern border and grant amnesty to illegal immigrants already in the country. Douthat concludes:

The odds of our actually building a San Diego or Israel-style barrier (which seems to be the only realistic way of significantly slowing the influx) are astronomically low, given how many powerful interests are arrayed against the idea of enforcing our immigration laws to any extent whatsoever. And so it behooves immigration skeptics to seize on a Samuelson-style compromise if it's ever offered, instead of holding out for the kind of sweeping, best-of-all-possible-worlds crackdown that they'll never, ever get.

Though you never know - maybe calling for a fence is what puts Hillary over the top in '08 . . .

John Leo gives some startling examples that suggest a coming "wave of pro-Muslim censorship, both voluntary and involuntary." For instance:

The University of Chicago threatened a student with punishment for posting on a door a crude cartoon that said, "Mo' Mohammed, Mo' Problems." After complaints, the student took the picture down and apologized. The student handbook contains a ringing endorsement of free speech, stating that the university does "not attempt to shield people from ideas that they may find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even offensive." Nevertheless, the student was placed under investigation and, according to a fellow student, was told that he might be kicked out of university housing.

That was his status two weeks ago. A database check showed no articles on his case since.

Do we get all the news that's fit to print?

Arianna Huffington reviews Glenn Reynolds' new book, The Army of Davids:

You know Reynolds has hit on something when John Podhoretz and I agree that "Army of Davids" is a must-read...

Reynolds may be identified with the right, but his central thesis that technology is evening the playing field between the media haves and the media-have-only-a-laptop-and-an-Internet connection crowd cuts across partisan lines.

This post by The New Republic's Jason Zengerle has sparked a debate in the left blogosphere over the Texas 28th district primary and "netroots" campaigns in general:

More often than not, these liberal bloggers (especially Kos) act like they already have taken over the world--writing manifestoes, issuing threats, and engaging in all sorts of chest-thumping behavior. But, like I said, their batting average is still a big fat zero.

Zengerle's slam prompted responses from Kevin Drum, Kos, and numerous others. Zengerle follows up here.

March 08, 2006

The South Dakota Gambit

Andrew Sullivan notes that the editors of NRO are conflicted over the South Dakota law banning all abortions except to save the mother's life:

We have mixed feelings about these laws. We share the pro-life objectives that animate them, but we doubt that they actually advance those objectives.

Alan Akers, a former South Dakota State Senator, voiced a similarly contradictory opinion earlier this week in the Rapid City Journal:

And so, as a candidate and a legislator, I had no hesitation in saying I supported a ban on abortion, with no exceptions for rape and incest.

Even so, the Legislature made a mistake in refusing to include these exceptions in their abortion ban.

If Gov. Mike Rounds signs the abortion ban, I'll be surprised if the pro-choice side doesn't gather the necessary signatures to put it to a vote of the people this November. Why would I fear that? After all, we pro-lifers have always claimed we have the majority of the electorate on our side.

I fear that referendum because, by the time we vote, it won't be a straightforward choice between pro-choice and pro-life. Pro-life would win. No, what we'll be voting on this November is whether the state of South Dakota is going to make the emotionally shattered, physically battered 16-year-old rape victim into a criminal. Never mind that the law would only charge the abortionist with the crime. Never mind the statistics on how few victims of a brutal rape would become pregnant and decide they want an abortion. We'll be voting on whether our state should be pointing fingers at that broken, battered young girl.

Fears that the ban is a tactical mistake on the part of the pro-life movement are well founded. The issue is always ripe for demagoguery, and one doesn't have to flex the imagination too hard to visualize how some will use the ban to try and scare people across the country out of their wits. In today's Salt Lake Tribune Molly Ivins provides a decent example of the over-the-top fearmongering we can expect on the issue:

The state Legislature of South Dakota, in all its wisdom and majesty, a legislature comprised of sons and daughters of the soil from Aberdeen to Zell, have usurped the right of the women of that state to decide whether or not to bear the child of an unwanted pregnancy. They will decide. Women will do what they decide. [snip]

Look at some of the incompetent women we have running around in this country - Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright, now there are a couple of girls in need of guidance from the South Dakota Legislature. Female doctors, lawyers, airplane pilots, engineers and, for that matter, female members of the South Dakota Legislature - who could ever trust them with an important decision?

In South Dakota, pharmacists can refuse to fill a prescription for contraceptives should it trouble their conscience, and some groups who worked on the anti-abortion bill believe contraception also needs to be outlawed. Good plan. After that, we'll reconsider women's property rights, civil rights and voting rights.

Ivins' rhetorical excess sounds similar to Hillary Clinton's standard refrain about the right wing trying to "turn back the clock on the progress of the 20th Century." I'll be surprised if Hilllary doesn't cite the South Dakota ban at some point as proof her concerns are legitimate and also use it to try and further position herself in the center.

Jay Bennish: Class Clown

I watched Matt Lauer's interview of Jay Bennish on the Today show yesterday morning, and I have to agree with Al Knight's take that Mr. Bennish's defense was less than convincing:

In his "Today" show interview, he [Bennish] presented three different explanations, none of them very satisfying. He first told host Matt Lauer that the balance could be found in the unrecorded portion of the class. That will be up to the school district to determine if that claim is true.

The other two explanations offered by Bennish are just plain silly. He said, for example, that it is his job to make a series of provocative statements so that his students can take them home and somehow "deconstruct" them and come to their own independent conclusions. Obviously, that is a very convenient and self-serving approach to education. The teacher gets off the hook for saying just about anything and the responsibility is shifted to the student. Put another way, it isn't the job of the teacher to point out that capitalism is subject to multiple layers of government regulation, it is instead up to the student to learn and incorporate that fact into his or her own thinking.

Finally, Bennish suggested that his lopsided lectures arise from his perception that his students haven't been broadly exposed to certain ideas. In other words, the students come to class reflecting a societal imbalance that needs correction. But that poses the question of how Bennish knows what societal imbalance exists and, more importantly, how he knows what "correction" is needed.

Bennish started the interview with the loopy explanation that his rant against Bush was somehow appropriate subject matter for a world geography class. He went on to cite "cognitive dissonance" as a valuable teaching method, which is a twist on the idea that teachers should be able to avoid responsibility for saying any number of outrageous things in the classroom if they merely make passing reference to an opposite point of view. Of course, nobody in their right mind would buy that argument if Bennish had been making derogatory, politically-motivated comments about blacks, women, etc. He'd be out of a job, plain and simple.

The bottom line is that Bennish wasn't presenting facts, he was pushing opinions. Teachers are a lot like journalists in the sense that there is a public trust and expectation that these people are professionals who will leave their politics at the door and stick to giving a balanced presentation of the facts. That's especially true for those charged with educating our children at the elementary and high school level of our public school system.

I don't think Bennish should be fired, but he certainly deserves a good dose of criticism for spending 20 minutes ranting and injecting his politics - irrespective of what they are - into the classrooom.

Fire Breathers

On the right we have Bruce Bartlett in The American Conservative:

Although I lost my job for writing a book critical of George W. Bush, I have no regrets. Sometimes you just have to say the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. My loyalty to my country and my party supersede whatever loyalty I may have to my president. As someone once said, facts are hard things.

I think it better for all loyal Republicans to face these facts now, no matter how painful they may be. Denouncing Bush’s conservative critics or firing them from allegedly conservative organizations won’t make those facts go away. Refusing to address them and circling the wagons against even the friendliest of critics only erodes the Republican Party’s base, setting it up for defeat in 2008. Better to have a debate now, when there is still time to change course.

Dana Milbank reports on the forum yesterday hosted by the Cato Institute where Bartlett laid out the case against Bush. Andrew Sullivan was also there voicing criticism of the administration, going so far as to call the President a "Christian Socialist."

Meanwhile, Molly Ivins is equally disgusted with the left. In the March issue of The Progressive , she blasts Democrats in her classic southern style:

Mah fellow progressives, now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of the party. I don’t know about you, but I have had it with the D.C. Democrats, had it with the DLC Democrats, had it with every calculating, equivocating, triangulating, straddling, hair-splitting son of a bitch up there, and that includes Hillary Rodham Clinton.

I will not be supporting Senator Clinton because: a) she has no clear stand on the war and b) Terri Schiavo and flag-burning are not issues where you reach out to the other side and try to split the difference. You want to talk about lowering abortion rates through cooperation on sex education and contraception, fine, but don’t jack with stuff that is pure rightwing firewater.

I can’t see a damn soul in D.C. except Russ Feingold who is even worth considering for President. The rest of them seem to me so poisonously in hock to this system of legalized bribery they can’t even see straight.

Look at their reaction to this Abramoff scandal. They’re talking about “a lobby reform package.” We don’t need a lobby reform package, you dimwits, we need full public financing of campaigns, and every single one of you who spends half your time whoring after special interest contributions knows it. The Abramoff scandal is a once in a lifetime gift—a perfect lesson on what’s wrong with the system being laid out for people to see. Run with it, don’t mess around with little patches, and fix the system.

It's been a while since we've seen both parties foundering so badly at the same time. Republicans are in the process of falling apart and Democrats - despite all the political gifts bestowed upon them by events and missteps of the GOP - can't seem to get it together. It's going to make for an interesting 2006 and an even more interesting race for the 2008 nominations.

February 20, 2006

The Port Debacle

Does anyone outside of the administration believe selling outsourcing the operation of our ports to the UAE is a good idea? Sure doesn't seem that way. Democratic Senators Hillary Clinton and Robert Menendez are against it, as are Republican Governors George Pataki and Robert EhrlichSenator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Rep. Peter King (R_NY), as well as a host of others.

Yet the administration had Michael Chertoff out defending the deal yesterday on the Sunday shows, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales doing the same today in Birmingham, Alabama. I'm not well versed on the potential merits of the deal, but irrespective of whether it might be good policy it is darn sure terrible politics. It's surprising the White House couldn't see this from the beginning, and even more surprising they can't see it now.  It feels a bit like a rerun of the Harriet Miers nomination where the administration dug its heels despite knowing within hours it had made a grave mistake.

The port deal is potentially even more damaging politically to the president because it strikes at one of his few remaining core political assets: the public's perception of Bush as an aggressive fighter of terrorism and staunch defender of America. Earlier today Baltimore Mayor (and Maryland Gubernatorial hopeful) Martin O'Malley said:

"I believe that President's Bush's decision to turn over the operations of any American port is reckless. It is outrageous and it is irresponsible. We are not going to turn over the port of Baltimore to a foreign government. It's not going to happen."

When the American public starts agreeing with a liberal like O'Malley, the President is in big trouble. The port deal is an idea that seems wrong at a gut level, and no amount of talk or persuasion on the part of the White House is likely to change that feeling.

UPDATE: I've edited the title of the post and references within the post to the "sale" of U.S. ports. Bad choice of words. The deal is a contract outsourcing of the management of operations of U.S. ports to DP World. Time has the specifics:

The transaction in question is the $6.8 billion acquisition by Dubai Ports World of the British P&O shipping company, to become the world's third largest port-operator. Among P&O's numerous worldwide operations are contracts to operate port facilities in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia. The transaction was approved by the Bush administration after a routine evaluation by the  Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, an inter-agency body that assesses the security implications of foreign acquisitions of major U.S. infrastructure assets. U.S. officials say that both P&O and Dubai Ports World have solid security records.

AJ Strata also has more on the details of the deal and some of the lazy language being thrown around - which included the stuff in my original post.

February 13, 2006

Did Howard Dean Lie?

Two weeks ago Howard Dean quietly abolished the DNC's "constituent outreach" programs, including the one directed at gays and lesbians. Dean's spokesman said they've all been folded into a new program that is "an expansion of what we had before," but gay Democrats aren't buying it.

On Friday, Ramon Gardehireformer deputy director for GLBT Outreach for the Democratic National Committee, wrote that Dean went back on a pledge he put in writing last year while campaigning for the job:

WHAT’S EVEN WORSE than the DNC’s disservice to gay Americans is the fact that Howard Dean lied on this very issue.

During his campaign to become DNC chair, Dean stated in a questionnaire from the DNC Gay Caucus that, if elected, he would retain the office of GLBT outreach.

Dean has broken his word and his flip-flop is tearing at the contract between the Democratic Party and GLBT voters, which has benefited both for so long. This gay Democrat is growing increasingly tired of political cowardice and lies.

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of Dean's election as Chair of the Democratic Party. During those twelve months he's had a number of foot-in-mouth moments, raised less and spent more (as a percentage of total cash) than his counterpart at the RNC, and alienated a core constituency.  Not a bad year's work.

Stuck on Stupid: Ann Coulter & Al Gore

Apparently, Ann Coulter called Muslims "ragheads" at the Conservative Political Action Conference this past weekend.  How stupid, pathetic, and unnecessary.  Coulter can often be sharp and funny - especially when attacking certain liberal sensibilities - but these comments crossed the line.

Yesterday, in Saudi Arabia, Al Gore told a crowd at the Jeddah Economic Forum that after September 11, Arabs in America had been "indiscriminately rounded up, often on minor charges of overstaying a visa or not having a green card in proper order, and held in conditions that were just unforgivable."  This strikes me as a grotesque mischaracterization of what happened in America after September 11. 

Now ask yourself: between the asinine comments of Gore and Coulter, who's done more harm to the cause of the United States? Clearly Coulter's comments are more "offensive" in the traditional sense in that they are bigoted and inflammatory. But ultimately, she's just a rhetorical bomb-throwing pundit (though a best-selling one) who thought she was being funny.  Al Gore is the former Vice President of the United States and potentially a candidate for president in 2008 standing up at a major forum in the Middle East accusing his own country of "indiscriminately" rounding up Muslims and locking them up in "unforgivable" conditions. 

It doesn't take a genius to know that Gore's accusations of abuse will get much more play - and be taken much more seriously - throughout the Muslim world than Coulter's unfortunate slur.

February 10, 2006

Quote of the Day

"In terms of the political shots at the president who was sitting there with his wife, I didn't like it and I thought it was kind of ugly frankly.  Anybody that shoots at the president of the United States at a funeral, I just didn't appreciate that." - Former Pesident George H.W. Bush, referring to the attack on his son at Coretta Scott King's funeral.

BONUS QUOTE FROM BUSH 41: "I thought President Clinton was maybe the best. It was his crowd. They talk about Bill Clinton being 'the first black president,' well when you walk into that church with 12,000 or whatever it was, I mean it was very clear who that crowd loved and respected."

Brownie On His Own

From the Washington Post today:

Michael D. Brown, the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was rebuffed in his request for a claim of executive privilege and plans to testify to a Senate panel today about his calls and e-mails to President Bush and top White House aides in the Hurricane Katrina crisis, Brown's lawyer said yesterday.

White House Counsel Harriet Miers declined to offer Brown a legal defense for declining to testify or respond to a Feb. 6 letter advising that without such protection Brown "intends to answer all questions fully, completely and accurately," said Brown's lawyer, Andrew W. Lester. (emphasis added)

Strange behavior from a lying, corrupt, rampantly abusive, imperial administration, no? So is the White House hanging Brownie out to dry, or does it really fear his testimony but can't find any justification for extending a claim of executive privilege? Or was Brown trying to bully the administration into giving him executive privilege protection by threatening to "tell all" and the White House called his bluff?

Some clues can be found in the details provided in the New York Times today. The Times reports that the Department of Homeland Security received word late Monday night (9:27p.m.) that the 17th street levee in New Orleans had broken and also that the news eventually reached the White House around midnight. The Times treats this as a contradiction to the White House's initial claim it didn't learn about the levee breaking until Tuesday morning - even though the White House says it was receiving conflicting reports. Nevertheless, the Times continues:

But the alert did not seem to register. Even the next morning, President Bush, on vacation in Texas, was feeling relieved that New Orleans had "dodged the bullet," he later recalled. Mr. Chertoff, similarly confident, flew Tuesday to Atlanta for a briefing on avian flu. With power out from the high winds and movement limited, even news reporters in New Orleans remained unaware of the full extent of the levee breaches until Tuesday.

Clearly, there was a great deal of confusion and the federal government, along with a great many other people including the news media in New Orleans and around the country, developed a misperception of the severity of what had actually taken place.

The Times' investigation revealed a number of other details showing that there is plenty of blame to go around for failures that occurred all across the board at the local and state levels as well as the federal level:

Among the findings that emerge in the mass of documents and testimony were these:

¶Federal officials knew long before the storm showed up on the radar that 100,000 people in New Orleans had no way to escape a major hurricane on their own and that the city had finished only 10 percent of a plan for how to evacuate its largely poor, African-American population.

¶Mr. Chertoff failed to name a principal federal official to oversee the response before the hurricane arrived, an omission a top Pentagon official acknowledged to investigators complicated the coordination of the response. His department also did not plan enough to prevent a conflict over which agency should be in charge of law enforcement support. And Mr. Chertoff was either poorly informed about the levee break or did not recognize the significance of the initial report about it, investigators said.

¶The Louisiana transportation secretary, Johnny B. Bradberry, who had legal responsibility for the evacuation of thousands of people in nursing homes and hospitals, admitted bluntly to investigators, "We put no plans in place to do any of this."

¶Mayor C. Ray Nagin of New Orleans at first directed his staff to prepare a mandatory evacuation of his city on Saturday, two days before the storm hit, but he testified that he had not done so that day while he and other city officials struggled to decide if they should exempt hospitals and hotels from the order. The mandatory evacuation occurred on Sunday, and the delay exacerbated the difficulty in moving people away from the storm.

¶The New Orleans Police Department unit assigned to the rescue effort, despite many years' worth of flood warnings and requests for money, had just three small boats and no food, water or fuel to supply its emergency workers.

¶Investigators could find no evidence that food and water supplies were formally ordered for the Convention Center, where more than 10,000 evacuees had assembled, until days after the city had decided to open it as a backup emergency shelter. FEMA had planned to have 360,000 ready-to-eat meals delivered to the city and 15 trucks of water in advance of the storm. But only 40,000 meals and five trucks of water had arrived.

Brown's testimony will be embarrassing to the administration because it will refocus attention on the many failures surrounding the Katrina tragedy, including those at FEMA and DHS. But I would think all the political damage from the debacle is already "priced in", so to speak, and I'll be surprised if we hear anything from Brown that will drastically change the public's opinion on the matter.

February 08, 2006

Advice to Dems: Face Up to the Problem

Elaine Kamarck is a lecturer at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and was a senior adviser to Vice President Al Gore.  Today in Newsday she gives the Democrats the kind of political advice Republicans love to see.

Some Democrats are so freaked by the past they are arguing that members of the party should stay away from one of the biggest issues of the day: the Bush administration's domestic spying operations.

This is a mistake for two reasons. First, if the Democratic leaders stay away from this issue, the activist left will fill the void. The left wing of the party frequently manages to sound weak on defense and weak on terror. Nothing could play more into Rove's hand. He wants this debate to be about eavesdropping on al-Qaida, familiar territory on which they win.

Second, if Democratic leaders can't question an issue with profound constitutional importance, a great many Americans will wonder - as they did in the past two elections - whether this party believes in anything at all.

And so the challenge is to get the debate onto Democratic grounds.

What Kamarck doesn’t understand is because of the left-wing’s influence on Democratic politics there isn’t any “Democratic grounds” on national security, its Republican occupied territory. As far the “left will fill the void” she’s too late, there is no void to fill. Howard Dean is Chairman, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are the Congressional leaders and Joe Lieberman is persona non grata. All she is doing with this advice is unwittingly playing right into Rove’s strategy.

The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Start with stopping the process of writing Joe Lieberman out of the Democratic Party and then take on the Dean/MoveOn/Pelosi crowd, otherwise Democrats have no chance of competing with Republicans on national security and terrorism issues.

Maureen Dowd's Misogyny Slur

As hard as it might be to believe, there's an unusual abundance of low-hanging rhetorical fruit in Maureen Dowd's column (Times Select) today on RNC Chair Ken Mehlman's "attack" on Hillary Clinton. But let's just focus on Dowd's description of the event:

The G.O.P. honcho Ken Mehlman kicked off the misogynistic attack on George Stephanopoulos's Sunday show. "I don't think the American people, if you look historically, elect angry candidates," he said. Referring to Hillary's recent taunts about Republicans, he added, "Whether it's the comments about the plantation or the worst administration in history, Hillary Clinton seems to have a lot of anger."

Dowd is a wordsmith, so she understands the importance of meanings.  Misogyny is singularly defined as "hatred of women." There are no alternate definitions or other possible interpretations. Ken Mehlman may hate Hillary Clinton - though I sincerely doubt it - but it's downright criminal for Dowd to say Mehlman's observation that Mrs. Clinton "seems to have a lot of anger" is somehow evidence of a hatred of all women.

Nevertheless, Dowd goes on to try and justify the basis of her "misogynistic" slur with this:

Hillary did not sound angry when she made those comments — she's learned since her tea-and-cookies outburst in the '92 campaign. A man who wants to undermine a woman's arguments can ignore the substance and simply dismiss her as unstable and shrill. It's a hoary tactic: women are more mercurial than men; they get depressed more often and pop pills more often. As a top psychiatrist once told me, women are "hormonally more complicated and biologically more vulnerable."

Maureen Dowd (and Hillary Clinton) should be quite familiar with the "hoary tactic" of trying to undermine a woman's credibility by suggesting they are "unstable and shrill." Conservatives used it against Anita Hill and the Clinton White House perfected the tactic against Monica Lewinsky, Kathleen Willey, and Juanita Broderick.  But none of this is even remotely comparable to Mehlman's observation about Mrs. Clinton - even if it was made with an eye toward partisanship.

February 06, 2006

The 2007 Budget

Today President Bush submitted a $2.7 trillion budget for FY2007. Here's the budget page from the OMB with all the details along with a statement from the President

Here is some reaction:

Speaker Hastert: "President Bush has laid the groundwork for a renewed look at our spending priorities as we focus on reining in federal spending, reducing the deficit and continuing America's strong economic growth. Make no mistake: this House of Representatives will keep a sharp eye on controlling spending throughout this budget process. We remain committed to passing a budget that improves the lives of American families, protects our citizens from terrorism and grows the economy."

House Majority Leader John Boehner: "Recognizing the substantial challenges we face at home and abroad, President Bush’s budget request ensures that our nation’s highest priorities are met, while not losing sight of the need for responsibility in government spending.  This blueprint represents a good starting point for this year’s budget process – a process that will be marked by our continued resolve to reform the way the federal government spends taxpayer dollars.

“Throughout the past year, House Republicans have demonstrated our commitment to saving taxpayer dollars by making federal programs more effective and efficient.  It’s unfortunate that House Democrats have sat idly by as spectators, offering plenty of sound bytes but no clear plan for fiscal accountability.  It’s my hope this year they’ll seriously consider offering constructive, fiscally-responsible ideas of their own.”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid

“The American people have paid the price for the Republican culture of corruption over the past five years and the president’s budget proposes more of the same. President Bush’s budget continues to put special interests first while making worse the financial pressures confronting American families. This is an immoral and irresponsible approach that does not reflect the values of the American people.

“While working Americans are facing higher prices for everything from health care to gas to college tuition this president’s budget continues to hand out costly, budget busting favors for special interests like the drug, oil, and HMO industries. After creating record deficits and debt with his budget busting tax breaks, the president is asking our seniors, our students, and our families to clean up his fiscal mess with painful cuts in health care and student aid.

“The American people know that together we can do better than this immoral and irresponsible budget. Democrats are committed to reform so that we can clean up Washington, get our fiscal house in order and focus on the day-to-day problems facing America’s families.”

 Senator Kent Conrad: "The nation needed a new budget plan this year, a dramatic and bold acknowledgment from this administration that we need to put our fiscal house back in order. Instead, we got more of the same - more deficits, more debt, and more hiding of the truth from the American people."

February 03, 2006

Red State Howard

Speaking of Howard Dean, you may have heard he wasn't in Washington, D.C. the other night for Bush's State of the Union address. There were some snickering suggestions this wasn't a coincidence and that Dean's absence was part of a coordinated effort to keep him as far away from a national television audience as possible. Whether there's a shred of truth to this rumor or not, it sure did work: Dean was absolutely invisible.

Instead, Dean spent Tuesday night rallying the faithful in Durham, North Carolina. According to columnist Scott Sexton, however, it looks like Dean's red state strategy might need a bit more fine tuning:

You would think that Democratic honchos in the state might want to be seen with the leader of the national Democratic Party. But a funny thing happened on the way to Dean's Bush bash. Apparently, the state's top elected Democrats would rather be caught cross-dressing in church than be seen with Howard Dean.

Then again, maybe they had some darned good excuses.

Gov. Mike Easley likes to golf and spend time at the coast, so maybe he wasn't even in town. Jim Black, the embattled speaker of the House, might have been meeting with his lawyers. Avoiding jail has to be a higher priority than publicly meeting with your party's leader.

And the roster of Democrats who hope to succeed Easley - Attorney General Roy Cooper, Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue and Treasurer Richard Moore - surely know better than to associate themselves with the national party.

If you want to win a state race as a Democrat, you run away from the national party. Unless you live in Durham or Chapel Hill.

On the upside, Dean did get three Durham city council members and one State Rep. to attend the festivities. Perhaps all that money Dean spent last year is starting to pay dividends after all.

February 01, 2006

State of the Union Analysis

The best analysis I’ve seen on the President’s speech last night is from John Podhoretz in the New York Post. So many analysts (Ron Brownstein, David Sanger, Susan Page) are takings shots at Bush for down-sizing his agenda, but many of these are the same critics who beat up on the President for failing miserably at his ambitious Social Security reform attempt last year.

At The New Republic, Ryan Lizza (whose analysis I normally like) writes:

First, we witnessed the death of the great-man theory of Bush. The Bush presidency, in the minds of its most fervent supporters, has been built on the idea that Bush is a visionary with bold ideas that he forcefully pushes even when they sacrifice his own popularity. But the bold agenda is gone. His "addicted to oil" line will garner lots of headlines, but his actual oil-independence plan is so modest--tens of millions of dollars in a two trillion dollar annual budget--that it is barely worth mentioning. Instead of re-arguing the case for his Social Security plan, he called for another Social Security commission. The much-hyped health care proposals were mentioned in passing. His fancy American Competitiveness Initiative--a research and development tax credit and more money for math and science--seems reasonable but forgettable.

Valid criticism, but politically Podhoretz is more on the mark:

Politically it had two virtues. First was the Hippocratic virtue: Nothing he proposed last night will do any harm to him. Whether Commission A or Initiative B is welcomed or rejected by Congress, it won't matter much.

Its second virtue was that it allowed him to spend a good deal of time reassuring a nervous public that he was focused on the primary tasks at hand.

The caution on display marked a change from last year, when Bush learned the cost of aiming too high in a State of the Union Address. He used the 2005 speech to launch his Social Security reform effort, a political calamity that came home to him last night when he was greeted with jeers and laughs from Democrats upon speaking the words "Congress did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security."

That's putting it mildly. The president gave his opponents a stick with which to beat him and his poll ratings down for six months as he toured the country telling people disaster was on the way — which had the unfortunate consequence of convincing Americans that the economy was still in wretched shape when it was in fact in fifth gear.

Bush despises "small ball"; that has led him to advocate dramatic and visionary policies abroad and at home. Last year, he seemed to forget for a time that it ain't "small ball" to focus on implementing his visionary policies, to see them take root and bear fruit.
Securing the future in Iraq, working to prevent terrorist attacks at home and seeing to it that his tax cuts become permanent — that's pretty big ball right there. His mistake last year was imagining that he should add Social Security reform to that heavy load.

So what we saw last night was Bush the Calmly Determined in place of Bush the Visionary. His delivery was low-key and assured, just the right tone for a speech intended to assure the American people — or at least those Americans willing to consider his words with an open mind — that he knows where his responsibilities lie and what he needs to do to meet them.

Podhoretz is right in the sense that Bush has recalibrated expectations and is in a position to follow through on many of the big agenda items that are already in motion (the war, tax cuts, reshaping the courts) and he is putting the GOP in a position to run as well as possible in November.

I’m surprised at some of the post-speech punditry that suggested Bush was trying to cozy to the middle or moderate his tone, because on the most important issue - national security and the War - he threw down the gauntlet to Democrats. Following through on Rove’s speech with his own message -- This isn’t going to be 2005 where I spent months droning on about Social Security and let you guys (the Democrats) beat up on me about torture, Iraq, etc… --  you better get ready for a street brawl on wiretapping, the Patriot Act and Iraq in 2006

In a time of testing, we cannot find security by abandoning our commitments and retreating within our borders. If we were to leave these vicious attackers alone, they would not leave us alone. They would simply move the battlefield to our own shores. There is no peace in retreat. And there is no honor in retreat. By allowing radical Islam to work its will -- by leaving an assaulted world to fend for itself -- we would signal to all that we no longer believe in our own ideals, or even in our own courage. But our enemies and our friends can be certain: The United States will not retreat from the world, and we will never surrender to evil....

Our country must also remain on the offensive against terrorism here at home. The enemy has not lost the desire or capability to attack us. Fortunately, this nation has superb professionals in law enforcement, intelligence, the military, and homeland security. These men and women are dedicating their lives, protecting us all, and they deserve our support and our thanks.  They also deserve the same tools they already use to fight drug trafficking and organized crime -- so I ask you to reauthorize the Patriot Act. 

It is said that prior to the attacks of September the 11th, our government failed to connect the dots of the conspiracy. We now know that two of the hijackers in the United States placed telephone calls to al Qaeda operatives overseas. But we did not know about their plans until it was too late. So to prevent another attack -- based on authority given to me by the Constitution and by statute -- I have authorized a terrorist surveillance program to aggressively pursue the international communications of suspected al Qaeda operatives and affiliates to and from America. Previous Presidents have used the same constitutional authority I have, and federal courts have approved the use of that authority. Appropriate members of Congress have been kept informed. The terrorist surveillance program has helped prevent terrorist attacks. It remains essential to the security of America. If there are people inside our country who are talking with al Qaeda, we want to know about it, because we will not sit back and wait to be hit again.

That’s a simple, straight-forward message that every American can understand and Bush made it clear Democrats better get ready to hear it over and over again between now and Election Day.

Do Conservatives Owe McCain an Apology?

Our friend Bob Robb of the Arizona Republic says they do:

When John McCain brokered a bipartisan compromise among seven Republican and seven Democratic senators to avoid a showdown over the filibustering of judicial nominees, conservatives flamed him. [snip]

The deal cleared the way for the relatively easy confirmation of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. Roberts wasn’t filibustered and the Democrats could only scare up 25 votes to filibuster Alito.

There was another benefit to the “Gang of 14” deal that I didn’t anticipate. By making conservatism itself not a disqualifying condition and giving some degree of Democratic acquiescence, the deal gave pro-choice Republicans more political cover to support clearly pro-life nominees. In Alito’s case, that proved important in getting the votes for his confirmation. Only one pro-choice Republican ended up voting against him.

In reality, McCain’s compromise provided a smoother and surer route to the confirmation of conservative judges than the showdown his critics preferred. A more conservative judiciary may well prove to be the most important conservative accomplishment in the post-Reagan era. President Bush deserves the lion’s share of the credit, since he’s the one making the nominations. But McCain’s much disparaged deal paved the way.

Conservatives owe him an apology.

I'm interested to know how many out there agree with Robb (email with comments). There's been much talk about conservatives "warming" to McCain of late, so theoretically you'd expect to find a number of people who have rethought their hostility toward his leading role in the Gang of 14.

For my part, I wasn't nearly as critical of the Gang of 14 deal as some, but I did "flame" McCain at the time for "the combination of high-handed arrogance, naked ambition and all-consuming egocentricity with which he comports himself" - a criticism which, incidentally, drew a rebuke from McCain's Chief of Staff.

Notwithstanding the decent judges who were thrown under the bus as part of the deal, the Gang of 14 compromise did work out significantly better for Republicans than for Democrats in the end. That matters a great deal, and McCain does deserve a lot of credit for being part of the process that achieved those results - even if I'm still not convinced he saved the Republic from certain doom.

SOTU & Raising Kaine

From my vantage point Bush's speech last night was just okay.  It contained the now-standard outline of the administration's policy of aggressively fighting terrorism and promoting democracy abroad.  It had the usual programmatic touches on the domestic side - though I think most were surprised how light those touches were given some of the pre-speech spin.

Bush's delivery was solid and steady - pretty much par for the course - and he did a decent job of containing his anger and embarrassment when Democrats jumped on his line about failing to enact Social Security reform.  The final minute of the speech was by far the best - for those who were still paying attention at that point.

What I really want to talk about, however, is Tim Kaine.  Finally, Democrats showed some political intelligence. After two years of putting forth the hapless Nancy Pelosi along with a counterpart from the Senate (Daschle in '04 and Reid in '05), Democrats resisted calls from the foamy left for a Jack Murtha led suicide mission and instead selected the new Governor of Virginia. And Kaine delivered.

There's an old adage in sports: play smarter, not harder.  Kaine did that last night, deftly choosing not to try and "out tough" the President on national security and avoiding the NSA issue altogether, instead attacking the administration for incompetence and lack of results across a spectrum of issues: from Katrina to Iraq to deficits to education.  And he did it without looking mean or unreasonable. To the contrary, most people who watched probably came away with warm feelings about Kaine  - and more importantly, his message.

Kaine's address is important because it is a carbon copy of the pitch Mark Warner is going to make in 2008. In a nutshell, it can be boiled down to four words: less ideology, more results. While Republicans will continue to try and highlight stark differences on national security, Warner is going to try and blur those same lines.  He'll do this partly out of personal necessity - he lacks any significant foreign policy experience - but also because it is smart strategy. 

The American people don't want a 180-degree turn in foreign policy and they're going to be very suspicious of candidates who've expressed sympathy for the "retreat and defeat" mentality of the hard left.  What I think the American public can be convinced of, however, and what Mark Warner (or some other pragmatic Democrat) has a decent chance of selling, is that he can do a more effective job of adminstering the core of our policy and producing better results than another Republican could.

In the end, the strength of that argument would obviously depend on which Republican opponent Warner might face in a general election, but he'll certainly have a better chance of making that case than any of the other current Democrats considering a bid in 2008. 

January 31, 2006

State of the Union Poll Bumps

Jeff Jones at Gallup takes a look at the kind of boost President Bush might expect to receive from the State of the Union tonight with the conclusion that typically Presidents receive little to no bump of consequence.

Historical Gallup findings dating back to President Jimmy Carter's administration indicate that presidents rarely are able to increase their popularity following a State of the Union address. George W. Bush may have done so temporarily with his speech last year, but his public standing was largely unchanged following his three prior State of the Union addresses....

In the 24 cases shown here, there are 10 instances in which a president's post-State of the Union approval rating was higher than his rating before the speech, 12 when it was lower, and 2 when there was no change.

Mark Blumenthal has a more thorough analysis on the Gallup track record and historical SOTU bounces over at Mystery Pollster.

Bottom line, I wouldn’t expect Bush’s address to have any meaningful change in the President’s approval three weeks from now. The latest RealClearPolitics Poll Average of 9 polls taken over the last 10 days has his job approval at 42.9%. If that number is materially higher or lower 3-4 weeks from now it will most likely be for reasons unrelated to tonight's State of the Union Address.

SOTU Morning Wrap

President Bush will give his State of the Union address tonight at 9 pm Eastern.  The New York Times tells us that the speech is on its 23rd draft and that Bush has been practicing since Friday.  There has been no shortage of predictions about the address, and the fact that it is already written has not stopped the pundits from giving their own own suggestions for the address.

For instance, Thomas Friedman says "the direction in which America needs to go is obvious: toward energy independence."  Among other things, his version of the speech would call for a "Bush Energy Freedom Act" and the resignation of Vice President Dick Cheney.  He would nominate Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, as Cheney's replacement.

Irwin Stelzer also looks over Bush's energy policy options but concludes:

"If history is any guide, little will come of any presidential initiative. Congress is more concerned with restoring its scandal-ridden reputation (Republicans), and attacking the president (Democrats), than with the nation's energy security."

According to Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times, the president will propose an expansion of Health Savings Accounts, and the Democrats are looking back to 2005 in order to fight them:

"Democrats were able to derail the main domestic program Bush highlighted in his 2005 State of the Union address, a move to privatize a portion of Social Security...

Both sides may have a harder time with either selling or stalling the health accounts than Social Security. That's because Social Security is a known factor -- a government institution used by generations of seniors, an easily identified constituency to target and organize."

Writing in the Wall Street Journal,  Fred Barnes says the "ownership society" was a big theme throughout last year and during the 2004 campaign, but this year Bush "is expected to take a more conventional--and politically palatable--approach."  Barnes thinks "he's likely to keep talking about Social Security and private accounts and perhaps even an ownership society. But not tonight, when he addresses the nation."

According to USA Today, tonight's address to the nation will be Bush's "best chance to lay out his agenda and shape the political debate for the next 12 months."  Although his job approval numbers have suffered in the last year, the president could expect a bounce if his speech is a hit.  In 1998,

"Clinton's job approval shot up 10 percentage points in the USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll, from 59% to 69%. Although there were rough days ahead, the speech helped Clinton clear an obstacle that could have been fatal."

On the other hand, Francis Wilkinson is not so fond of the State of the UnionShe notes the "imperious" nature of the speech and then points out that "in 'Lend Me Your Ears,' William Safire's compilation of great speeches, not one State of the Union address makes the table of contents."

Finally, George Will--criticizing pretty much everyone--says "the nation needs an adult hour."

January 30, 2006

The Taxes We Don't See

"Politicians need to end love affair with tax breaks." That's the title of Richard Doak's column in the Des Moines Register this week.  Doak writes:

Politicians must have a low opinion of people.

They seem to think there is but one force that motivates all of human behavior — the desire to avoid taxes.

Actually, the desire isn't to avoid taxes, but to pay as little as possible - within reason. Most people are willing to pay a certain amount of taxes so that roads get paved, schools stay open, and the country is adequately defended. But we're far beyond that today. The problem is that we live in a culture of taxation  - and we hardly even notice it. Sit down and start adding up all the taxes you pay - like I did five years ago - and you'll see what I mean:

The current debate on Capitol Hill over whether or not we can "afford" a federal income tax cut obscures a much greater truth: we live in a tax culture. Americans are under assault every single day by an army of tiny, unseen taxes - and they hardly even know it. Don't take my word for it, do the math yourself.

Take a look at your phone bill. Mine has nine different taxes attached, everything from 63 cents per month for "state and municipal infrastructure maintenance fees" to 28 cents for a "number portability fee." I'm not sure what any of these taxes are for, who voted for them or when they started showing up on my bill, but I do know they accounted for seven percent of my total phone bill this month.

Next try your gas bill. Mine, which thanks to Mr. Clinton's brilliant energy policy over the last 8 years was $326 dollars this month, has a $9.45 assessment under the heading of "customer charge" and a whopping $24.33 for a "municipal utility tax." More than 12 percent of the total bill was in taxes and fees.

You get the point. The average American is swimming in government taxes. Property taxes, sales taxes, fuel taxes, state income taxes. There is precious little we can do in America today without incurring some sort of taxation.

This isn't some high-brow debate over multimillionaires and the estate tax, the taxes I'm talking about are regressive. Everyone who has a phone, heats their apartment or drives a car gets charged the same amount whether they make five dollars a year or five million.

Taxes have become burdensome and frustrating, especially so for average Americans trying to make ends meet.  We'd be much better off with more politicians focused on finding ways to ease the tax burden on the public, rather than advising them to "end the love affair" with the idea of cutting people's taxes.

January 27, 2006

The Independent Red Flag For Dems

The Los Angeles Times does not have a reputation for producing poll results that tend to favor President Bush. And indeed, their new poll does have plenty of bad news for the president, especially when you look at how self-described independents respond to various questions about his handling of a whole host of issues. Bush has clearly lost a decent amount of support from this group over time, and I don't think that comes as a surprise to anyone.

However, the most interesting results are found when you look at how these same self-described independents respond to questions about national security and about Congress. Here are a few examples:

> When asked who they "trust to do a better job of protecting the nation against terrorism"  Independents favored Bush over Democrats in Congress by 19 points.

> When asked whether they agree with those seeking to reauthorize the Patriot Act, 55% of Independents said they agree with reauthorization, 42% said they disagree.

> When asked whether people "should be willing to give up some of their civil liberties so the government can keep the country safe from terrorism", 50% of Independents responded "yes" while 43% said "no."

> 54% of Independents think hearings should be held to investigate the NSA program, but only 41% think impeachment would be warranted if those investigations concluded the President broke the law (that number is 39% overall).

> Independents give Congress nearly as low of a job approval ratings as self-described Democrats do, 32% vs 30% respectively, but when asked about favorable and unfavorable ratings for the two parties, Independents give Congressional Democrats a only a 31% favorable rating (41% unfavorable) while they give Congressional Republicans a 38% favorable rating (34% unfavorable).

> When asked which party in Congress had "higher ethical standards," Independents gave both parties low marks (Republicans 8%, Democrats 5%) with 79% concluding there is "no difference" between the two. That was 11 points higher than overall.

To summarize, based on the results of this poll (and keep in mind it is only a single poll, though it does comport with other data we've seen recently) Independents aren't thrilled with President Bush and they don't have particularly warm feelings toward Republicans in Congress. However, they seem to have an even lower regard for Congressional Democrats and, even worse, they seem to continue to lack confidence in the Democratic party on matters of national security.

January 26, 2006

Karl Rove Interview

Duane at RadioBlogger has the transcript of Hugh Hewitt's interview with Karl Rove.

On NSA surveillance:

Hewitt: I'm great. Now Karl, we don't have a lot of time, so I want to focus immediately on the NSA program, which was a part of a speech you gave last Friday, and which was the focus of a lot of the questions of the president's press conference this morning. And the white paper from the Department of Justice is out there, and Democrats are not buying it, or at least they're pretending not to buy it. Why so much resistance to surveilling al Qaeda operatives contacting their agents in the United States from the Democratic Party?

Rove: Well, you'll have to ask them. I don't understand it, frankly. I think that any American, if they take their partisan hat off, would say that in a time of war, after we've been struck on our homeland, that the President of the United States, if he has the ability to have the appropriate agencies, with Constitutional restraints, and respect for personal liberties of Americans who might unintentionally get sort of swept up in it, if a phone call comes from a bad guy in some bad part of the world to somebody here in the United States, we want to know who they're contacting and what they're saying. And I frankly don't understand what the objection is. Look, under far less terrible circumstances in the 90's, the previous administration used warrantless surveillance in the United States. And this president, particularly after it was struck on 9/11, had a responsibility to do everything possible as commander-in-chief, and after the declaration by Congress to protect the country. And that's exactly what he's doing.

On the Patriot Act:

Hewitt: Karl Rove, will the president accept another short-term extension of the Patriot Act?

Rove: Well, we will do whatever is necessary to keep this on the books. It may be necessary for us to have another short-term extension, in order to sort of work out any last-minute kinks in order to get it reauthorized on a permanent basis. But our goal is...I mean, look. Law enforcement uses the tools of the Patriot Act routinely in the pursuit of other criminal enterprises. Roving wiretaps, for example, are used to get drug dealers. We use search of business records in order to get at Medicaid fraud. We use other tools in the Act in order to get at organized crime. You know, the view of this administration is if these tools are good enough to crack down on drug dealers, you know, white collar crime, and organized crime like The Sopranos, it's good enough to be used against terrorists who are striking at the heart of our country, and killed 3,000 people on 9/11. We cannot let our memories fade of that terrible moment, that terrible morning, bright September morning, when aircraft struck our country, and when al Qaeda declared its intention to drive America back in on itself. And we will only leave a world that is less peaceful and less hopeful for our kids if we falter in this fight.

On illegal immigration:

Hewitt: Last question, a political one, a time bomb, really, for the Republican Party concerns the border. The House of Representatives passed an act at the end of last year. It hasn't yet come up in the Senate. What is your advice to the Senate about the House's decision to crack down on the border and build the fence?

Rove: Well, we support the border security initiative. We are a little bit concerned about the fence. I mean, look. There are now parts of the border, particularly in urban areas, where a fence is necessary and helpful. Frankly, building a fence along a 400 mile part of the Texas border that is high cliffs along the Rio Grande River is probably not the best expenditure of our money. We like to think of the concept of a virtual fence, where we use a combination of fences, barriers at critical points, sensors and technology to in essence strengthen the border. And I'm confident that the Senate is going to take this up. I know this is a strong concern to Senator Frist, the Senate Republican leader. I think the Senate is likely to tackle the issue in a more comprehensive fashion, and not only look at border security, but also look at the issue of a guest worker program as a way to relieve the pressure on our border, so that whatever technology and manpower and resources we've got on the border are concentrated on the border, with fewer people trying to come across because we have got a program to match willing worker with willing employer for jobs that Americans won't do. But we'll see. They're going to try and take this up, I think, in March. We're doing a lot more on the border.

Hewitt: When people say guest worker means amnesty, what's your response.

Rove: That it doesn't, because what we do is require people to come here to the United States, if they want to come here to the United States, they've got to apply. They've got to be matched up with a job. They can stay here for a certain number of years to work, three years or four years. They might be able to renew that for one time. Look, most people who come here, every bit of evidence that w