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Frank Rich Reads Charles Black's Mind

By Brendan Nyhan

Frank Rich asserted Sunday that John McCain adviser Charles Black's comments to Fortune magazine (which McCain repudiated) weren't an "improvisational mishap":

Don't fault Charles Black, the John McCain adviser, for publicly stating his honest belief that a domestic terrorist attack would be "a big advantage" for their campaign and that Benazir Bhutto's assassination had "helped" Mr. McCain win the New Hampshire primary.

In private, he is surely gaming this out further, George Carlin-style. What would be the optimum timing, from the campaign's perspective, for this terrorist attack -- before or after the convention? Would the attack be most useful if it took place in a red state, blue state or swing state? How much would it "help" if the next assassinated foreign leader had a higher name recognition in American households than Benazir Bhutto?

Unlike Hillary Clinton's rumination about the Bobby Kennedy assassination or Barack Obama's soliloquy about voters clinging to guns and faith, Mr. Black's remarks were not an improvisational mishap. He gave his quotes on the record to Fortune magazine. He did so without thinking twice because he was merely saying what much of Washington believes.

Even if we grant that the second paragraph is satirical hyperbole, the third paragraph makes a direct claim -- that Black's remarks "were not an improvisational mishap" because he "gave his quotes on the record to Fortune magazine." In fact, however, the remarks were almost certainly an improvisation -- Fortune, not Black, raised the issue of another terrorist attack on the US, as Bob Somerby pointed out (emphasis added):

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December was an "unfortunate event," says Black. "But his knowledge and ability to talk about it reemphasized that this is the guy who's ready to be Commander-in-Chief. And it helped us." As would, Black concedes with startling candor after we raise the issue, another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. "Certainly it would be a big advantage to him," says Black.

You certainly can't assert that Black intentionally raised the issue -- that is, unless you write novels about politics for a living.

Brendan blogs at Brendan-Nyhan.com

Obama's Plan to Address Energy Trading

By Justin Gardner

This is one way to bring some sanity back to the price of oil, and I'm glad to see that not only is Obama backing this bi-partisan push to put some limits on out of control speculation, but also calling for tougher restrictions on market forces that aren't doing anything to help out consumers...

Obama wants to close a loophole in federal law that exempts some energy traders from regulations that govern other exchange-traded commodities. Democrats call this "the Enron loophole" because it benefited the Houston energy-speculation firm that collapsed in an accounting scandal. [...]

Obama said in a statement: "My plan fully closes the Enron Loophole and restores common-sense regulation as part of my broader plan to ease the burden for struggling families today while investing in a better future."

The campaign calls the loophole "one example of the special interest politics that put the interests of Big Oil and speculators ahead of the interests of working people."

Here's why this is important...

Michael Masters, a portfolio manager, told Congress last month that index speculators had bought the equivalent of 1.1 billion barrels of oil - eight times as much as the United States has added to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve over the last five years. Speculators also had purchased enough corn futures to fuel the entire U.S. ethanol production for a year.

Masters said the strategy is to buy futures contracts for items in limited supply and hold them - which he called "virtual hoarding."

"Individually, these participants are not acting with malicious intent," he said. "Collectively, however, their impact reaches into the wallets of every American consumer."

Justin blogs daily at Donklephant.com

Obama and Public Financing

By Michael Stickings

I must admit, I just can't get worked up over Obama's decision:

Senator Barack Obama announced Thursday that he would not participate in the public financing system for presidential campaigns. He argued that the system had collapsed, and would put him at a disadvantage running against Senator John McCain, his likely Republican opponent.

With his decision, Mr. Obama became the first candidate of a major party to decline public financing -- and the spending limits that go with it -- since the system was created in 1976, after the Watergate scandals.

Mr. McCain, who has been a champion of the public financing system, affirmed Thursday that his campaign would accept public financing.

And the reason I can't get worked up is this: It's not like the U.S. has anywhere near a perfect public financing system. It would be one thing if election campaigns were all funded publicly, with no private donations allowed, and there were strict and sensible spending limits. But it's essentially just a system of loopholes.

Here's how Obama himself put it: "The public financing of presidential elections as it exists today is broken, and we face opponents who've become masters at gaming this broken system. John McCain's campaign and the Republican National Committee are fueled by contributions from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs. And we've already seen that he's not going to stop the smears and attacks from his allies running so-called 527 groups, who will spend millions and millions of dollars in unlimited donations."

Of course, the Democrats are awfully good at exploiting the system, too, especially through their own 527s, as they showed in 2004.

This year, though, Obama and the Democrats have a decisive advantage over McCain and the Republicans -- and that advantage is Obama's incredible ability to raise money. Ambinder (via Benen): "The potential money gap in the general election is huge -- Obama could raise as much as $300m, and the McCain campaign/RNC budget team doesn't anticipating spending more than $150m."

Some political finance reformers are understandably unhappy with Obama's decision. And some of his critics on the right -- hypocrites, of course -- are predictably smearing him with the flip-flop label. But why should Obama stay in the system if doing so would only disadvantage him, that is, take away one of the main advantages he has over McCain?

Singer (via Benen again): "McCain was hoping to tie Obama's hands behind his back by forcing him to opt into the public financing program -- while McCain would still rely heavily on the RNC to finance his efforts. What's more, with the proliferation of 527 organizations willing to say anything and everything to tar Democrats, not the least of which Obama, had Obama opted into the program he would have been hampered in efforts to rightfully defend himself from smears. But Obama didn't fall for McCain's game -- he called the bluff, forcing McCain to show that his real priority in trying to force this election into the public financing program was not reform but rather ambition to be elected President."

Exactly. Obama has run an incredibly effective grassroots campaign, raising huge sums of money from small (and new) donors. Meanwhile, being in the public financing system has been a matter of convenience and necessity for McCain, not a matter of principle. Back during the primary season that just ended, he was in the system (when he was losing and unable to raise money on his own) before trying to get out of it (when he was winning and able to raise money on his own).

Again, if there were actually a system in place that worked and that was fair, with firm rules in place well ahead of time and no loopholes, fine. I'm not necessarily against the public financing of elections. But that's just not the way it is.

And so, I think, Obama made the right decision.

Michael blogs daily at The Reaction

MoveOn Promotes McCain "100 Years" Myth

By Brendan Nyhan

MoveOn.org is running an ad that reinforces the myth that John McCain wants to continue the Iraq war for 100 years:

Hi, John McCain; this is Alex. He's my first. So far, his talents include trying any new food and chasing after our dog -- that, and making my heart pound every time I look at him. So, John McCain, when you said you would stay in Iraq for 100 years, were you counting on Alex? Because, if you were, you can't have him.

As I've written before, McCain didn't say what the ad suggests. Here's the New York Times fact-check:

In several forums last January, Mr. McCain said he could envision a United States troop presence in Iraq for 100 years or more. But he did not mean to advocate a prolonged war, and he was clearly speaking in terms of a peace-keeping presence. The quotation Democrats most commonly refer to was from a town-hall-style meeting on Jan. 3 in Derry, N.H., when a voter mentioned that President Bush had spoken of "staying in Iraq for 50 years." Mr. McCain interrupted to say, "Maybe 100." But his comment came in the context of a broader lecture equating such a decades-long mission to American troop deployments in South Korea and Japan. He had also included a pretty big "if," saying that such an enduring presence in Iraq, "would be fine with me as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed."

Brendan blogs regularly at Brendan-Nyhan.com

Is Alaska Up for Grabs?

By Justin Gardner

Lots of polling today, and most of it favoring Obama in traditional swing states and at least one Republican stronghold.

The numbers...
McCain - 45%
Obama - 41%

Rasmussen breaks down the demos...


This is the third straight poll showing Obama within single digits of the presumptive GOP nominee. A month ago, McCain was up by nine. Two months ago, it was McCain by nine.

McCain is supported by 78% of Republican voters while Obama attracts 74% of Democratic voters. Among those not affiliated with either major party, it's Obama 48% McCain 33%. A month ago, Obama attracted 47% of unaffiliateds while McCain was supported by 41%.

McCain is viewed favorably by 57% of Alaska voters, Obama by 53%. Both figures are up a point over the past month.

Just to give you an indication how surprising this is, Bush beat Kerry in Alaska in 2004 by 61% to 35%. The fact that Obama is within striking distance at all is a testament to his crossover appeal and the discontent with the Republican brand.

At the very least it'll hurt McCain because he'll have to spend resources there that he could otherwise use for swing states.

Justin blogs daily for Donklephant

Orrin Hatch Warns of "Democratic Tsunami"

By Brendan Nyhan

How bad are things for the GOP? In a fundraising letter to the National Republican Senatorial Committee email list, Senator Orrin Hatch warns that "the coming Democratic tsunami" could lead to a filibuster-proof Democratic majority in the Senate (PDF):

For all of us, there comes a time when the choices are so stark, the risks so great, we have to take a stand. We can no longer assume someone else will save us. We have to step forward and be counted.

We face such a time today. If we don't take a stand against the coming Democratic tsunami, the country we know and love today will be lost.

...Just this week, the Senator in charge of raising money to get Democratic Senators elected said they are going to pickup nine seats in the US Senate. Nine seats! Do you know what that would mean! That would mean they could pass every piece of their liberal agenda through the House and the Senate untouched! There would not be a tax they could not raise or a freedom they could not abridge.

...I am doing all I can to ensure the Democrats don't have a super-majority. You need to do all you can to help.

As part of his email, Hatch misstates Democratic tax plans, saying that "I believe the Democrats when they say they plan to double our taxes." What evidence is there to support that claim? In fact, contrary to both Hatch and John McCain, Barack Obama would cut income taxes on Americans with incomes under $75,000 while rolling back the Bush tax cuts for people with higher incomes.

Brendan blogs regularly at Brendan-Nyhan.com

Obama Flip-Flops on NAFTA

By Michael van der Galien

OK, this is pathetic: Obama now says that his anti-NAFTA rhetoric during the campaign was a bit 'overheated.' He added that NAFTA has indeed been positive for the US in some ways, and that his earlier criticism - while trying to convince white blue collar voters in some states to vote for him - 'overheated and amplified.'

When asked whether his rhetoric was 'overheated and amplified' the new kind of politician answers: "Politicians are always guilty of that, and I don't exempt myself."

He also 'nuanced' his criticism, by implying that he does not 'want to unilaterally reopen negotiations on NAFTA.' Instead he may 'open up a dialogue' with America's main North American trading partners, "and figuring to how we can make this work for all people."

Nevertheless, Obama's tone stands in marked contrast to his primary campaign's anti-NAFTA fusillades. The pact creating a North American free-trade zone was President Bill Clinton's signature accomplishment; but NAFTA is also the bugaboo of union leaders, grassroots activists and Midwesterners who blame free trade for the factory closings they see in their hometowns.

The Democratic candidates fought hard to win over those factions of their party, with Obama generally following Hillary Clinton's lead in setting a protectionist tone.

In February, as the campaign moved into the Rust Belt, both candidates vowed to invoke a six-month opt-out clause ("as a hammer," in Obama's words) to pressure Canada and Mexico to make concessions...

Now, however, Obama says he doesn't believe in unilaterally reopening NAFTA. On the afternoon that I sat down with him to discuss the economy, Obama said he had just spoken with Harper, who had called to congratulate him on winning the nomination.

"I'm not a big believer in doing things unilaterally," Obama said. "I'm a big believer in opening up a dialogue and figuring out how we can make this work for all people."

That's of course the sensible approach, but it's interesting to see that Obama, once again, proves that he is willing to deceive people and to tell them what they want to hear, as long as they vote for him. Now that he's the nominee, and he needs independents to support him, he suddenly becomes much less radical on NAFTA. Amazing that.

Canada and Mexico, though, will most likely not care; after all, this is in their interest. Whether a person supports NAFTA, mostly, because he or she believes in it, or because he or she wants to get (re)elected, well, in either case both countries enjoy the benefits of free trade.

Michael is Editor-in-Chief of PoliGazette.com

Patti Solis Doyle and the Elusive Unity Pony

By Kyle Moore

The news hit today that former Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle will be joining the Obama campaign as the chief of staff for the eventual running mate. The truly hilarious thing about this is that not a single person seems to have a clue what the hell this means.

While the general consensus is that Mark Penn was perhaps the single most destructive force in the Clinton campaign's upper echelon, it was Doyle who ended up being the first high profile sacrificial anode from Team Clinton during the hard fought primary season. Indeed, for all the political blunders made by the once revered staffers, there were surprisingly few people shed even when it was more than clear that the Clinton campaign needed a shake up in a major way.

How detrimental Doyle was to Clinton's campaign is likely to never be known; criticisms both inside Hillaryland, and outside from political pundits have been widespread and noisy, perhaps noisy enough to make it difficult to fully analyze everything that went wrong and why. Post mortems continue to trickle down weeks after the primary has ended, and everyone has their own pet theory.

But the question now is what is Doyle's worth to the Obama campaign? As a campaign staffer, her role in the Clinton campaign may or may not be suspect. That question can only be answered by knowing if Doyle was originally replaced in the Clinton campaign as a scapegoat, or because she truly did hamstring her candidate.

What about the all important unity goal, though? Surely, on the surface it would seem that Doyle's hiring would be a step in the right direction towards ensuring the bitter-ender class of Clinton supporters that high level Clintonistas are being welcomed into the fold.

More importantly, could Doyle's specific title, chief of staff to the VP, be indicative of the holy grail "unity ticket" that some so desparately desire?

The surface answer to these last to queries may seem blatantly positive, but the devil in the details may have another story to tell. Anne Korblut reports that Clinton insiders are steaming mad over the selection, and Steve Benen believes that such a hire signals that Team Obama is less likely to take Hillary on as the number two spot on the ticket.

Frankly, I just don't know about this. I've never gotten the impression that Solis Doyle was the major drag on the Clinton campaign, not nearly as much as Wolfson, Ickes, McAuliffe, and mostly Penn. Personally, I've always felt as though her firing was more sacrficial than corrective in nature. One could make the claim that Williams' hire had a net positive effect on the campaign, and indeed, there were some strategic shifts that benefitted Clinton, but these positives are muted by the fact that Clinton was also heading into a far more friendly roster of states coming out of February.

But I'm not an insider.

What I do know is that this sort of highlights exactly how tricky the entire push for unity really is.

On one hand, there's the fact that the most invested supporters for Clinton are likely to be upset no matter what Obama does. For them, it has actually quite a little to do with Obama so much as the fact that Clinton lost.

Another common thing I read and hear is that Obama is not doing enough to reach out to Clinton supporters, but then again, this too puts him in a rock and a hard place type situation just as picking former Clinton staffers to join the team does.

When it comes to which Clinton staffers to hire, there is the hope that the right combination may just get people thinking, 'Okay, he's picking members from our team, I'll give him a chance to see what he does with them,' or, 'If so-and-so is joining, I suppose it can't be that bad.' There are unity benefits, in other words, to hiring Clinton's former staffers, but there's also the major net negative that they ran a pretty terrible campaign. One could easily make the argument that many of the high profile staffers from Team Clinton are major drags on the ticket.

Likewise, when it comes to making overtures to embittered Clinton supporters, there are most definitely unity benefits to be had, but they come at the cost of the overall strength of the Obama campaign as it currently exists, and as it attempts to pivot towards a more general election based organization.

The fact of the matter is that Obama has a strong campaign with almost the perfect messaging for this election year. He was highly disciplined in maintaining that message throughout the course of the primaries, and that allowed him to beat a field of better known candidates all of whom should have been capable of putting down a rookie senator whose surge to the national spotlight was a speech delivered in 2004.

The problem with overtly approaching Clinton supporters is thus two-fold. For one, it makes him and his campaign look weak and beholden which is an uncomfortable position for someone who must now don the mantle of leader of the party. But the other is that it runs the risk of weakening what has been an ultimately successful message.

How that messge would be weakened would not be because he would have to change it, necessarily.

Instead, the great danger, message wise, in becoming too beholden to bitter-enders is recognizing that there are weaknesses in his message, weaknesses that couldn't easily be addressed given the fact that there's not a whole lot ideologically that Obama could do in order to be more in line with Clinton than he already is.

There's simply just not that much room for Obama to change to be more appealing to bitter-enders.

As a result, Obama is in a tricky situation, one that requires some severe operational risk management. One that weighs the risks of shifting his campaign to woo Clinton supporters, vice one that is more geared towards the prime currency in a general election of swing voters. If his campaign can be made weaker by trying too hard to appeal to Clinton supporters, would the votes gained there be worth the loss he would suffer elsewhere by such a weakening?

That's a difficult question to answer at this point as, with five months left, it's still difficult to tell exactly how many Clinton supporters are going to hold out throughout the rest of the election season.

So where does this put us?

Regarding Solis Doyle, two things are quite possible; 1) while she may not have been effective as a campaign manager, she may very well be effective as a chief of staff, and she was simply hired on her qualifications, and 2) it's also quite possible that she was hired for a circus effect; to keep the press focused on the Obama campaign to continue to steal air out of the McCain campaign.

As for the ever elusive unity pony, I think for the time being Obama's doing what he needs to be doing. He needs to stick to his message, and he needs to continue to run his own campaign and not put too much energy into unity efforts. If he focuses solely on unity efforts, he does so at the cost of not focusing on other things.

But if he continues to make the case for his presidency and continues to highlight the differences between him and McCain, and most importantly stay on message, that allows him to continue to compete strongly on the national stage among the millions of voters who weren't active in the primaries, while continuously reminding Clinton supporters that McCain was an ideological polar opposite of Clinton. Eventually most of them will come around.

Kyle blogs at Comments From Left Field

Does Obama's Health Care Plan Save Money?

By Brendan Nyhan

Last week, I questioned Barack Obama's statement that "over the long term we will save money" under his health care plan, which suggests that the plan actually decreases government health spending in the long term. This is not true. However, estimates for Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker's health care plan, which is similar to Obama's plan, show that it would reduce national health spending.

At the end of the post, I asked for feedback from blogosphere health policy wonks Ezra Klein and Jonathan Cohn. Over the weekend, Klein stepped up. The short answer is that cost savings from Obama's plan are ambiguous:

[T]he answer to whether Obama's plan will save us money? A definitive maybe.

First off: Barack Obama's plan is not Jacob Hacker's plan. In the update to his post, Nyhan mentions the Lewin analysis of Jacob Hacker's plan, which shows that Hacker's plan will save about $1.1 trillion over its first decade. But the mechanism for those savings are a rule Hacker places on his group market, which caps per person spending increases at the growth of GDP plus one half of one percent per year. That's a much lower rate of growth then the system currently exhibits, and Hacker is achieving it basically by government fiat -- the government will adjust reimbursement rates in order to meet the spending requirements. In other words, the group market has price controls (for a more in-depth explanation of these controls, and how the two plans differ, see this article). These controls account for approximately $1 trillion of the plan's $1.1 trillion in savings.

Obama's plan has a similar structure to Hacker's plan, but it doesn't explicitly include that provision. In an e-mail to me, Hacker argued that it could be implicit. "It really depends," he said, "on what they end up doing with the public plan alternative. Assuming it uses Medicare-like rates and bargains for prescription drug prices, it's going to have the leverage to bring down costs. The crucial issues are (a) how many people end up in the public plan and (b) whether the payments to private plans within the purchasing pool are tied to the average cost of the public plan. If the answer to (a) is 'many' and (b) is roughly as Medicare currently does it, with risk-adjusted payments based on average per capita costs, then the public plan will not only have leverage, but in addition the payments to the private plans will be contained insofar as the public plan's costs are contained. The candidates will need to spell this out, but they certainly have not ruled it out and, indeed, the architecture of their plans is set up to facilitate it."

Hacker's right about that. Obama has left the cost controls ambiguous (though a more cynical observer, like me, would say he's simply removed them), and adopted a structure that could easily support them. As a matter of policy, it's extremely easy to see how they build upon the underlying architecture of the plan to implement effective cost controls. As a matter of politics, however, it's much harder. I've little doubt that a President Obama would like his health care plan to save money. But cost controls through spending caps are a tough political sell, and if Obama can't get to 60 votes with them, he'll try and get to 60 votes without them.

The question then becomes whether Obama's plan without the "hard" cost controls will save us money. Because it does have what I call "soft" cost controls -- prevention programs, health information technology, a comparative effectiveness board that could, over time, help us waste less money on useless treatments. Will those provisions wipe out the spending from increased access? Probably not. Comparative effectiveness could have huge impacts down the road, but in the 10 year timeframe we're talking about, you can't confidently predict huge savings. These provisions will save some money, but not necessarily enough to put us in the black.

In his post, Klein also quibbles with my interpretation of Obama's statement that "I think over the long term we will save money":

Brendan Nyhan questions whether Barack Obama's health care plan "would actually cause a net reduction in government health care spending." Except that Obama doesn't say it would cause a net reduction in government health care spending. In the quote Nyhan offers, Obama says, "I think over the long term we will save money because people will be getting regular checkups, regular screenings." The "we" here refers to what the "we" in health care spending usually refers to: National health care spending.*

...*Nyhan has a bit of a sleight-of-hand at the end of his post. He concludes by writing, "In short, while the Hacker plan would reduce total national health spending, it's still projected to cost the federal government approximately $50 billion more per year than the status quo." That's like saying the new buying system will save our business millions of dollars, but it's still projected to cost our secondary checking account $10,000 more per year. Nyhan is leaving the impression that under Hacker, spending goes up. But it doesn't. Slightly more of it is shifted to the government's dime, but that's paid for through premiums. As it is, all health spending actually comes out of our pockets. We pay for it in premiums, taxes, wages, and fees. The question, then, isn't whether one or another of our intermediaries (Cigna, the government) is paying more, but whether we're paying less. And under Hacker's plan, we are. It saves money.


Klein's statement that "The 'we here refers to what the 'we' in health care spending usually refers to: National health care spending" is too broad. Policy analysts and politicians frequently refer to the projected costs of health care plans to the government rather than their net effect on national health spending. For instance, Klein himself referred to estimates of the costs to the government of both the Edwards ("$90 billion and $120 billion a year") and Obama ("$50 billion and $65 billion a year") plans.

It's also strange to suggest that American politicians and policy analysts don't refer to government actions using the pronoun "we." Obama does. ("For what we spend in several months in Iraq, we could be providing [people without health care] with the quality, affordable health care that every American deserves.")

Finally, at a more general level, it's bizarre for Klein to try to rule out any discussion of the relative change in government spending associated with a health care plan. From a distributional perspective, the extent to which health care costs are paid by the government matters quite a bit. And from a fiscal policy perspective, the projected costs of a new health care plan need to be funded to avoid widening the federal budget deficit.

Brendan blogs at Brendan-Nyhan.com

Obama on Fathers

By Kyle Moore

We liberal and Democratic bloggers have a significant task laid out before us over the next five months in regards to the presidential election. The right has made it clear that they have little concern for defining or defending McCain, but instead heaping everything they got on Obama and then some.

Thus, for me at least, it's important not only to go after McCain, not only to defend Obama, but to do the one thing few conservative bloggers seem willing to do; and that is make a positive case on behalf of my candidate.

In the end, I think that may be what does it; for many of us, we actually LIKE the candidate we're going to vote for.

"I'm big on personal responsibility, so I'm a conservative," was the beginning of a long running political conversation I had with a coworker many years ago. One that had to end when he claimed that he would be executed even if he was innocent just because he believed in the Death Penalty so much, and when he called John McCain a traitor for talking under torture during his time as a POW.

The big myth lurking around out there in our highly charged partisan war of ideas is that liberals don't believe in personal responsibility. That we want government to take care of everything while everyone gets to do whatever the hell we want.

Of course this is more caricature than characterization.

One of the things that I was impressed with in regards to Senator Obama early on is his approach to the status of the American family, and we're not just talking about deadbeat dads either, but the whole deal, from making sure your kids sit down and do their homework, to knowing when to turn the television off, to providing a healthy diet. In his book The Audacity of Hope, Obama wrote passionately and honestly about the responsibilities of parenthood, and how too many parents aren't meeting those responsibilities.

And it was these themes that took center stage in Obama's father's day address yesterday. I'm sure there's a way to twist this, but here's the thing, and perhaps it's a key difference. Republicans, I believe, too often hide behind a cloak of personal responsibility; a shadow of the small government theme they claim to be so steadfastly for.

But sometimes, and this necessity is apolitical, it takes a leader to stand up and demand from the people that they actually adhere to those precepts of personal responsibility. That Obama is black will likely dominate the coverage from many corners much along the vein of; he's black, so he can tell this to black people when non-black people can't.

But the familial problems that face this country are not strictly held within the confines of the African American community, and I don't think it is the color of Obama's skin that makes him the best equipped to speak on these issues.

For all the discussion of who is the elitist, and who isn't, what gives Obama the authority to speak on these topics is not the color of his skin, but instead the nature of his youth. He was not born into a rich family, and his father wasn't an Admiral. He grew up, like many of us, in a broken home, and worked his way up from humble beginnings. As a boy whose own father in many ways abandoned him, Obama knows exactly the kind of world many children are coming in today, and yet he stands as an example of not only what can be accomplished, but also, well, how to be a father and a man of a strong family.

Kyle blogs daily at Comments From Left Field

Irish Reject EU Treaty

By Michael van der Galien

It's truly unbelievable but European politicians have not learned anything from the past. Instead of learning from the referendums in France and the Netherlands, in which French and Dutch voters rejected the EU 'Constitution,' they simply decided to change the name of the document (not calling it a 'constitution' anymore), after which they thought they could push it through rather quickly. One problem: although the Netherlands and France won't hold a new referendum, Ireland did have to ask its people permission to sign the new treaty.

Well, the referendum in Ireland was yesterday, and guess what the answer of the Irish is? Hell no.

Here is the problem: Europeans do not think of themselves as 'Europeans' yet. We're first Dutch, German, French, Irish, British and Italian, and then were are European. Another problem is this: the European government is too far away. A third problem is that Europeans feel that the process is going way too fast. European politicians want to transform Europe within 20 years time. That's nice, but the people aren't ready for it.

Fourthly, yes the list goes on, Europe is incredibly unpopular because Brussels is constantly messing with domestic affairs. Brussels seem to be of the somewhat idiotic opinion that it can decide about everything, and that someone sitting far far away can tell people what to do, and what not to do. Related to this point is the popular view that Brussels isn't doing anything big, but instead focusing on minor details. Should people be allowed to eat this? Are they allowed to call this food like that? Shouldn't there be a special sticker on those kinds of foods? Should people be allowed to smoke in cafes? And so on.

Furthermore, although it seems that Brussels is one when it comes to irrelevant issues, it seems to be incapable of uniting when it comes to the big issues of the day. See Iraq.

Then there is the minor issue of the Euro. Most Dutch, at the very least, believe that the Euro has made daily life considerably more expensive. Yet, we were told that this would not be the case. It was only after the Euro was implemented here in the Netherlands that we found out that our government had agreed to a ludicrous exchange rate. The Germans paid relatively little for the Euro, while we paid relative much. This while the German Mark and Dutch Guilder were almost worth the same before the Euro came along (if I'm not mistaken, only a difference of 10% back then; 1 guilder was 1.10 mark).

Lastly, people get the impression that Europe is becoming too powerful, while they cannot influence anything that happens in Brussels. They have opinions, but Brussels is one big bureaucratic mess, or so the people believe.

But all those concerns have been shoved aside. Instead of listening to the concerns of the people, European politicians have tried to push through laws that would make the situation even worse. Instead of bringing Europe to the people, they continue to present Europe as something that people cannot really influence. Something that's 'above them.'

So, is it surprising that the Irish say no? Of course not. Until European politicians bring Europe to the people, the people - when asked about further coordination and unity in Europe - will say no.

Michael blogs daily at PoliGazette.com

Stop Demonizing Lobbyists

By Betsy Newmark

Kimberley Strassel addresses what has been bothering me about both candidates - their rhetoric to act as if lobbying was by its very nature a dirty and corrupt profession and thus they forswear having lobbyists involved in their campaigns. The campaigns and their supporters now trade accusations as they comb through the backgrounds of everyone working on the campaigns who might have had a job as a lobbyist.
The folly of campaign finance was thinking that it was wise or possible to outlaw free speech in the form of campaign contributions. The folly of lobbyist restrictions is thinking it is wise or possible to outlaw free association, in the form of men and women who are employed to petition government, many of whom also (unsurprisingly) take a passionate interest in politics. Start down the path of weeding out every "conflict" and you'll be weeding from now until November.

There's a particularly big risk for Mr. McCain here. One of his biggest attributes is his reputation as a reformer. His record should say it all, yet he has now set a new standard on which to be judged. And the irony is that those doing the judging will be the 527s and other big-dollar funds that gained new power thanks to McCain-Feingold.

Groups like Fund for America - a 527 backed by George Soros - are training their efforts at sullying Mr. McCain's reformist reputation. MoveOn.org kicked it off with a mudslinging TV ad targeting McCain adviser Charlie Black's lobbying work. A Democratic 527 called Campaign Money Watch is also hitting him for perceived campaign-finance transgressions.

Mr. Obama also has a reformist reputation to worry about, but the newbie's bigger risk is that he'll have to purge his campaign of the wisdom it needs to run a national campaign, or even a White House transition. Plenty of candidates have, like Mr. Obama, pitched themselves as Washington "outsiders." But the successful always understood that they needed people behind the scenes with expertise and experience in national politics.

We should have learned from the whole campaign finance reform fiasco that there is no law we can write that would guarantee purity in election campaigns. And lest we forget, lobbying is guaranteed by the right of petition in the First Amendment. This taint by association with lobbying creates a dangerous precedent that will cut off experienced people from politics and contains the danger of spreading to other professions. We've practically established the pattern that anyone who has worked in the oil industry is now presumed to be corrupt and shouldn't work in government. What other professions will follow? Those who work for pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, bankers? Are we going to arrive at the point that the only people deemed pure enough to work in politics are those who have worked only for the government all their lives?

Betsy blogs daily at Betsy's Page

How Liberal is Obama on the Economy?

By Brendan Nyhan

There's been a surge of stories describing the Obama/McCain debate over the economy as some sort of throwback to the 1980s. For instance, a day after NPR reporter Adam Hochberg described Obama's economic plan as "heavy on working class populism," NPR host Michele Norris framed Obama's plan as "tax and spend liberalism" in an interview yesterday:

Now, as you well know, John McCain is also out this week talking about the economy. His campaign has already said that your "Change that works for you" campaign really amounts to change this country can't afford. The GOP has used the same argument for decades, that tax and spend liberalism is bad for America. "Tax and spend" is almost a hyphenated phrase that's become equivalent a dirty word. Are tax and spend policies really bad for America or is that what you're intending to do?

Obama is probably the most liberal Democratic nominee since Michael Dukakis, but these descriptions are a caricature. His top economic advisers are establishment moderates (University of Chicago economist Austan Goolsbee and Brookings Institution economist Jason Furman); his health care plan, while ambitious by historical standards, is more cautious than Hillary Clinton's; and his proposals to raise taxes on the wealthy largely represent a return to the status quo before President Bush took office. In addition, Norris is implicitly misrepresenting the effect of Obama's tax plan on most Americans. As the New York Times points out this morning, he would actually reduce taxes on Americans making less than $75,000.

However, I do take issue with Obama's claim during the Norris interview that "over the long term we will save money" under his health care plan:

John McCain doesn't have a plan to make health care affordable and accessible to every American. I do believe that it's important for wealthier Americans to contribute a little bit more by giving up some of the Bush tax cuts so that we can provide health care to every American. I think over the long term we will save money because people will be getting regular checkups, regular screenings. That's something that John McCain does not do.

To me, this suggestion sounds disturbingly reminiscent of the phony supply-side claim that tax cuts pay for themselves. I'm sure that Obama's plan would generate some savings from preventive care, but I've never seen a serious estimate suggesting that any plan like his would actually cause a net reduction in government health care spending. Is there any support for that idea? Over to you, Ezra Klein and Jonathan Cohn...

Brendan blogs regularly at Brendan-Nyhan.com

Is it Important When American Troops Come Home?

By Justin Gardner

I think yes. McCain thinks no.

First, his side...

Now, mine...

Once again it appears that McCain is trying to reframe the goal of the surge by saying it's a success because fewer troops aren't getting killed. And while he's correct that casualty rates are dropping, our men and women are still dying at an average of 1 every 1.5 days. More still are getting seriously wounded or injured. And let's not even get into the military's massive PTSD problem.

As I and many have said in the past, reducing violence in Iraq was only meant to be a strategy to enable the goal of political progress...which hasn't happened and is presently in limbo. How much longer will we wait until the Iraqis get their act together? McCain seems to suggest as long as it takes, but there's no evidence to suggest that continuing to stay will make things any better or motivate Iraqi politicos to move faster to secure their own country and work towards a stable democracy.

Another thing, McCain is attempting to draw parallels to other locales we've occupied as the model for Iraq. However, his argument just doesn't square. America wasn't pouring hundreds of billions into South Korea, Japan or Germany, nor were we experiencing post-war casualties anywhere close to rate in Iraq. And I know that McCain is talking about getting to a similar reality in Iraq, but there are no guarantees of that.

So this leads me to the reasons why it's important to know when our troops are coming home...

First, there are the fiscal costs of maintaining such large troop levels in Iraq. This excursion into the Middle East has been extremely costly, and since we didn't have the money to conduct it in the first place, our rampant borrowing from foreign governments to fund it has been responsible for helping drive down the value of the dollar and ultimately resulting in higher prices for consumers stateside.

Second, there has been no discernible safety gains from our presence in Iraq as the number of terrorists and terrorist acts has actually increased since 9/11. Many poo-poo this stat, but if we're fighting a "War on Terrorism", more of it means we're losing. Honestly, I wish we'd reframe the entire "war" thing, but I'm just using what Bush and McCain are giving us.

Third, because our resources have been diverted to Iraq, our government has been limited in their capacity to invest in alternative energy sources...which nearly everybody acknowledges as being THE key to strangling terrorism once and for all. Oil money funds terrorism. No getting around it. Thankfully, McCain has an alternative energy plan, but how will he pay for it if we're continuing to divert billions to Iraq? And what's more, how much quicker would we realize energy independence with those billions being diverted away from Iraq and into alternative energy development? I think the smart money would be on "a lot quicker."

What's the conclusion? Well, McCain's latest statement could really hurt him because it plays right back into that "100 years" comment he flippantly made early in the campaign. Yes, lowering the troop casualty rate is important and nobody will deny that, but there are other things to consider and McCain's simplistic view of what "success" means in Iraq is almost bound to draw intense scrutiny. Not only from those who heard him talk recently about a possible 2013 timetable, but also from those whose chief concern is America's economic future.

Long story short, the quicker we can get our troops home, the quicker we can start to refocus our efforts on what really matters: American prosperity.

Justin blogs daily at Donklephant.com

Will Webb Make the Cut?

By Kyle Moore

Quick aside: the McCain folks have simply just got to HATE how much more attention Obama's running mate hunt gets than his does.  I'm just sayin.

Speculation is flying hard and fast regarding who will eventually find themselves on the number two spot for the Democratic ticket.  I think it's worth noting that in the Spring of last year my pick was Tim Kaine (just hold onto that for a little longer, we'll see how well I did soon enough).  But while my long ago prediction hasn't gotten a lot of mention in the VP running, another prominent Virginia politician is the subject of much speculation: Jim Webb.

There's lots to be said for an Obama/Webb ticket, but as talk about him grows louder, there seems to be more dissent out there as well.  For one, I've heard rumbling in the weeds that Webb's just not that great of a campaigner, something that I mentioned earlier this morning may not actually be a problem.

The Politico reports that another stumbling block to Webb's selection might be his affinity towards the Confederation.  While Webb frequently makes an historical argument for the Confederacy that I've heard often in the past, that doesn't change the divisiveness of the issue any.  Such proclivity may tamp down support in some areas, even while in others it will undoubtedly help (hint: Appalachia and the South).

But I think the Slate's Timothy Noah probably gets the biggest picture.  Simply put, Jim Webb's got a pretty long paper trail of positions on issues that don't go over well, not for a progressive base anyway, and on some issues probably not with a good majority of Americans.  Not that he continues to hold some of these stances, mind you, such as women in the military, but in the world of politics, as we all know, if you ever believed in something that is a political liability, you believe in it until the day you die.

Of course, there's a very likely possibility that none of this matters.

Virginia has a strong and growing Democratic party, but at the moment it almost feels as though that party is balanced on the shoulders of Tim Kaine, Mark Warner, and Jim Webb.  Those are the big three.  Now, Tim Kaine's governorship is almost up (in Virginia, you can only serve one consecutive term as governor), so if he were to be tapped to be Obama's running mate, little would be lost.  But if Webb were to join Obama on the ticket, and they won, then we would have to figure out how to hold his Senate seat, which may prove to be a difficult task.

Former governor Jim Gilmore (who is challenging Mark Warner for the John Warner's seat this election year), has made it clear that he wants in on the Senate.  He will lose (badly) to Mark Warner, but I'm not sure that Virginia can put up another tough challenger to hold the seat against Gilmore should Webb vacate.

I've also heard that George Allen wants his seat back.  The Macaca moment may have sunk him initially, but, again, without another strong Democratic challenger, one wonders whether or not Allen could take his seat back.

In other words, we kind of need Webb where he's at right now.  On top of this, while Webb hasn't pulled a Strickland-esque, "I'll never ever ever serve ever," he has indicated in the past that he would better serve as Senator as opposed to Vice President.

Kyle blogs daily at Comments From Left Field

Bob Barr: War on Drugs Has Failed

By Justin Gardner

He admits he was wrong and that it's now time to call this "war" off because it's doing far more harm than good.

From Huff Post:

For years, I served as a federal prosecutor and member of the House of Representatives defending the federal pursuit of the drug prohibition.

Today, I can reflect on my efforts and see no progress in stopping the widespread use of drugs. I'll even argue that America's drug problem is larger today than it was when Richard Nixon first coined the phrase, "War on Drugs," in 1972.

America's drug problem is only compounded by the vast amounts of money directed at this ongoing battle. In 2005, more than $12 billion dollars was spent on federal drug enforcement efforts while another $30 billion was spent to incarcerate non-violent drug offenders.

The result of spending all of those taxpayer's dollars? We now have a huge incarceration tab for non-violent drug offenders and, at most, a 30% interception rate of hard drugs. We are also now plagued with the meth labs that are popping up like poisonous mushrooms across the country.

While it is clear the War on Drugs has been a failure, it is not enough to simply acknowledge that reality. We need to look for solutions that deal with the drug problem without costly and intrusive government agencies, and instead allow for private industry and organizations to put forward solutions that address the real problems.

Still, is this too little too late? Because what can he really do now? What's more, Barr's Libertarian run for President isn't exactly setting the world on fire. And sure, it's early, but how is he going to get this message out?

Here's my opinion...if Barr made this THE central issue of his campaign he may be able to have a larger voice...but 3rd party candidates who are starting out late need ONE big issue. Perot had the deficit, and as a former federal prosecutor, Barr can make a very Libertarian case to end this "war", but he needs to be absolutely dogged about it.

Will he do it? I have my doubts.

Justin blogs daily at Donklephant.com

Let's Talk "Big Oil"

By Sister Toldjah

The nation is grumbling about fast-rising gas prices and Congress is trying to "solve" the issue via "solutions" that have proven in the past to only make matters worse.

I confess this isn't my area of expertise, but I know a bad solution when I hear one and the 2008 version of the Carter policy on windfall profits is certainly that. I almost think that Democrats in Congress attempted this latest farce of a gas "policy" knowing it wouldn't pass, in an effort to make Americans so miserable having to pay so much for gas that they'd be forced into buying hybrids or cars with exceptionally good gas mileage.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Bill Steigerwald had an interesting piece today that discussed "Big Oil's" answers to the recent grilling Congress gave them about their record profits.

Among them:

= U.S. companies, while huge, are actually relatively small players in a gigantic global oil market. They can compete directly for only 7 percent of available reserves while large national companies like Petroleos de Venezuela own and control 75 percent of world supply.

= As Stephen Simon of ExxonMobil humbly pointed out, his hated behemoth -- America's largest oil and gas corporation -- accounts for only 3 percent of global oil production and 6 percent of global refining capacity. It has only 1 percent of global petroleum reserves - 14th in the world.

He sums up:

Big Oil can take care of itself in Washington - and it always has. It has bought and paid for all the lobbyists and political patrons it needs. Big Oil is not perfect. And it doesn't deserve a dime in government subsidies or special tax breaks.

But with worldwide oil demand up, oil harder to get at and oil prices at $130-plus a barrel, America needs Big Oil now more than ever -- no matter what environmentalists and liberal senators think.

So instead of pandering to voters' ignorance, maybe Washington politicians should try to do something useful -- like helping Big Oil discover, extract and deliver the energy all earthlings need to make their lives better.

So, my dear readers, what is the real solution - if any - to the rising cost of gasoline in this country? Would simply allowing more drilling here in the US in so-called "protected areas" like ANWR go a long way towards resolving this? The floor is yours.

Read more at SisterToldjah.com

John McCain on Other Wars

By Brendan Nyhan

Via Brad DeLong, Digby notes the irony of this passage from John McCain's forward to David Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest:

It was a shameful thing to ask men to suffer and die, to persevere through god-awful afflictions and heartache, to endure the dehumanizing experiences that are unavoidable in combat, for a cause that the country wouldn't support over time and that our leaders so wrongly believed could be achieved at a smaller cost than our enemy was prepared to make us pay. No other national endeavor requires as much unshakable resolve as war. If the nation and the government lack that resolve, it is criminal to expect men in the field to carry it alone.

As I noted last December, he said something similarly ironic about the US presence in Lebanon back in 1983:

The fundamental question is "What is the United States' interest in Lebanon? It is said we are there to keep the peace. I ask, what peace? It is said we are there to aid the government. I ask, what government? It is said we are there to stabilize the region. I ask, how can the US presence stabilize the region?...

The longer we stay in Lebanon, the harder it will be for us to leave. We will be trapped by the case we make for having our troops there in the first place.

What can we expect if we withdraw from Lebanon? The same as will happen if we stay. I acknowledge that the level of fighting will increase if we leave. I regretfully acknowledge that many innocent civilians will be hurt. But I firmly believe this will happen in any event.

Will anyone in the press ask him about these quotes?

Brendan blogs regularly at Brendan-Nyhan.com

"Jewish Lobby" Story Overinflated

By Kyle Moore

There will probably be more coming on this story as things develop. There are still questions; who's Juan Carlos? How long did the post stay active? But one thing that seems increasingly clear is that the right is working overtime to force fire into a plume of smoke regarding an anti-Semitic post that used to be on my.barackobama.com.

In an incredibly misleading headline, Israel Matzav declares that, "Barack Obama Explains how the Jewish Lobby Works." Doug Ross is only a little better off by advertising that it's the "Official Obama Blog." Of course, as anyone who visits MyBO knows, it is a "community blog." That's to say, it's open to any who register.

It's kind of like letting all of the commenters to your blog have accounts, and letting them bring as many friends as they want.

Does such a situation need constant clean up? Of course it does, that's why the post has already been taken down, but that doesn't keep Little Green Footballs from accusing all of the Obamabots from being big old anti-Semites:

There's something deeply wrong with a presidential candidate who attracts so many of these hateful psychotics. Read the comments; you just won't believe what is allowed to be posted at Barack Obama's web site.

Now, one could accuse LGF of a lot of things, being itself disgusting and offensive at times not the least of which. But two things I don't think I've ever heard them being accused of by anyone with more than two brain cells to knock together would be "smart" and "thorough". You see, had LGF done the homework, like our mattt did, they would have noticed that the offending post in question was actually copied and pasted from a far right anti-Semite site called Real Jew News. And when you compare the comments in the cached version of the MyBO page (google cache is the only way to see it now), you find something curious-all those anti-Semitic Obamabots posted their comments two months before the MyBO post was even published.

Those hateful comments were ported directly over from the Real Jew News site; the names and time stamps weren't even changed to protect the innocent.

In fact, delving even FURTHER (yes mattt's that awesome), when you find the full cached page, you learn something interesting, there were only TWO comments that ever actually made it from MyBO'ers onto the post, and both were complaints.

Like I said, there are still plenty of questions to be asked, but considering that posts on MyBO often go over a thousand, the fact that this had only two comments before it was filed in the circular filing cabinet points to the fact that it was scrubbed likely at a suitably rapid pace.

Again, MyBO is open. Anyone, say a rabid rightwing nutjob, or a radical commie, or anyone with a mental disorder and access to the internet can post on Obama's page. Thus, trash is likely to spring up from time to time, just as it did now. And, as would be expected, it was rightfully binned.

But hey guys, you keep working on it, 'kay? Don't try to, you know, say anything nice about McCain, we know that's a little tough for EVERYONE involved.

Kyle blogs at Comments From Left Field

Bloggers Go After John McCain's Torture Injuries

By Michael van der Galien

The political debate is incredibly passionate, aggressive, and personal in the United States. We all know that, so do I. Even though I know that political operatives do not know shame, I was shocked to read this post at AMERICAblog. It is one of the most insulting blogposts I have read in my three year history of blogging.

Senator John McCain is a veteran of the Vietnam War. In that war, he was captured by the North Vietnamese, who tortured him for years. Ever since, McCain cannot raise one of his arms above his shoulder and he obviously has mental issues to deal with. Being tortured does not merely affect one's body, it affects one's mind.

But McCain has been able to do deal - or so it seems - with the mental side of things, and has become one of the most respected US Senators in US history. Not only that, he has now even become the nominee for one of the big parties.

Although McCain has a history as a veteran, he understands that one should separate emotions from politics, when it comes to governance at least. He opposed a GI Bill introduced by Democrats for a variety of reasons, none of them being that he does not care about veterans. How can he not care about them when he is one of them.

But all of this does not matter to John Aravosis of AMERICAblog. It's irrelevant. After all, the only veterans that deserve respect and appreciation are... Democrats. Republicans who suffered for their country are not merely irrelevant, they are looked down upon. Nor does Aravosis understand that governance, laws, do not necessarily have to be related to one's own life, let alone to one's emotions.

So here is what Aravosis wrote:

First off, I find it fascinating that John McCain, who is refusing to vote for the GI Bill for our troops because "it's too generous," is himself getting $58,000 a year, tax-free, from the US government for his military service. Had McCain been getting that amount every year since Vietnam, that would total $2,000,000 for the man who isn't into overgenerous government. I just find that interesting.

His staff responded with the classic "he was tortured for his country." Yeah, we get it. The torture card. It's to McCain what 9/11 was to Giuliani's candidacy - the never-ending name-drop. Though what McCain's staff actually said was downright, um, we're being nice to Clinton now, so I won't say Clintonian. Here's the quote:

McCain campaign strategist Mark Salter said Monday night that McCain was technically disabled. "Tortured for his country -- that is how he acquired his disability," Salter said.

Technically? What does that mean? Usually, it means that under the strict reading of the law, you're covered, but in fact it's kind of a nudge-nudge-wink-wink situation - that's what "technically" means. It's called parsing, which is something you do to "technically" claim something is true, when on its face it really isn't. So is McCain "technically" disabled, and taking $58,000 a year tax free from the government, or is he actually disabled? I would imagine there are other solders who are actually disabled who could use the money. And if he is actually disabled, just how disabled is he?

And they wonder why Republicans often say that Democrats hate the troops.

Macsmind comments:

None of your business ass wipe (literally). First, it's not "parsing", its the law. Disability income is tax exempt per federal law.

USC, Title 38, 5301(a)(1), Payments of benefits due or to become due under any law administered by the Secretary shall not be assignable except to the extent specifically authorized by law, and such payments made to, or on account of, a beneficiary shall be exempt from taxation, shall be exempt from the claim of creditors, and shall not be liable to attachment, levy, or seizure by or under any legal or equitable process whatever, either before or after receipt by the beneficiary."

Secondly, you just don't "get disability", it's awarded after careful review and a medical board convenes to establish eligibility. After the review it's awarded or not awarded based on the findings.

I'm disabled from service, and I know exactly what it took to get it. A ton of paperwork. Yet the paperwork was a cakewalk compared breaking my back in the line of duty protecting American so that idiots like Arovosis - who's only service has been to out gay republicans - can announce their ignorance to the world.

Perhaps Aravosis should be tortured for a couple of years. Lets see how he talks then.

Mark Hemingway:

 So let me help clarify things here: McCain's decision not to support an expensive proposed Democratic "G.I. Bill" is a total red herring and using it as a pretext to ask, "Just how badly was he tortured, anyway?" is pretty vile. Technically, John McCain can't lift his arms above his shoulders as a result of being tortured as a P.O.W. While that shouldn't impair his ability to be President, it does make him clearly disabled. McCain isn't doing anything remotely improper by accepting a disability pension he earned the hard way. For liberal blogs (and regrettably, the L.A. Times) to make an issue of this is as ridiculous as it is disrespectful. But hey, support the troops, right? You know, provided that one of those "troops" didn't serve their country in the most difficult situation imaginable and then have the temerity to run for president as a Republican. In which case, screw 'em.

Michael blogs at PoliGazette

Can Obama Put Mississippi in Play?

By Justin Gardner


There's been a lot of talk about Obama's 50 state strategy, and while I don't buy that idea completely, the Votemaster over at Electoral-vote.com notes that some states could be in play that would never be if a traditional candidate was running...

But Obama might put strange states in play, like Mississippi. About 37% of the state's population is black. If they go for Obama for 95%, all he needs is 25% of the white vote. Where might he get that? Young voters and college-educated voters. If the Obama money machine gets up to speed, he could raise $200 million, maybe $300 million, which would make it possible to burn $5 million in Mississippi. He might also go there to campaign for former governor Ronnie Musgrove (D) who is trying to replace Sen. Roger Wicker (R) in the Senate. And many western states such as Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada will certainly be in play, and likely Virginia as well. Maybe Pennsylvania and Michigan, too.

I definitely think we seen evidence that's suggest Obama has the potential to change the electoral map in ways that Hillary never would, but those discussions have always been about Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada...not necessarily Mississippi. If Obama can land that state, we could be looking at landslide territory.

Justin blogs daily at Donklephant.com

Obama's Judgment

By Betsy Newmark

For a man who is trying to sell the American people on the idea that his judgment is so superb that it trumps whatever experience his opponents have, Barack Obama has certainly had to admit that he has shown bad judgment in picking his friends. As Patterico points out, Obama is using the same defense about his friendship with the convicted Tony Rezko as he did with Jeremiah Wright: the guys that the public are seeing are just not like the guys he was friends with. And I bet he'd offer up that same defense of Michael Pfleger or Bill Ayers. Funny how this man of such superb judgment that he's trying to ride that judgment all the way to the White House kept getting fooled by his friends.

Odd how Obama felt it was perfectly fine to accept all sorts of monetary benefits from his friendship with Tony Rezko including that incredibly fishy deal with the land for his house all the while, as Stephen Spruiell points out, the Chicago papers were quite public about the suspicions being cast on Rezko.


The following fact pattern was out in the open long before Obama severed his ties to Rezko (sometime in late 2006): In 1983, Rezko started raising a lot of money for Chicago politicians. In 1989, he and his partner Daniel Mahru started vacuuming up deals with the city to develop low-income housing, despite having virtually zero experience in the field. They proceeded to obtain over $100 million in city, state, and federal grants and bank loans to develop 30 run-down properties into affordable-housing projects, earning $6.9 million for themselves. By 2007, the city had sued them numerous times for failing to heat these properties; over half of the properties had fallen into foreclosure, and six of them were boarded up.

Obama helped put one of these deals together during his time as a junior associate at Davis Miner Barnhill & Galland. Other lawyers at Davis Miner helped Rezko acquire half of the properties that fell into disrepair. And many of these properties were located in the district Obama represented as an Illinois state senator. Nonetheless, Obama told the Chicago Sun-Times that he was unaware of Rezko's growing reputation as a slumlord until he read Sun-Times reporter Tim Novak's two-part series on the subject. So we are to believe (yet again) that Obama was the last person to know what one of his longtime friends was up to.

Now that may well be true -- but still, it indicates that Obama is the kind of Democrat who cares a great deal about securing the funding for liberal programs like subsidized housing, but very little about what happens to the money after that. In Rezko's case, it appears to have been doled out based on which developer had the right political connections, not which one could actually do the job.

Even if Obama can claim plausible deniability about the deteriorating shape of Rezko's slums, he faces a more difficult challenge in explaining why he entered into a real-estate deal with Rezko after the Chicago papers had run over 100 stories about the clouds gathering over Rezko's head. When the Obamas were looking for a new house in the summer of 2005, Rezko helped them buy their dream home by purchasing an adjoining lot they could not afford, then selling them a strip of the land on which they wanted to build a fence.

You can well imagine the hay that liberals would be making of this if it were a Republican involved in such shenanigans. Now they'll tell us that all of Obama's less-than-savory associations from Chicago are a "distraction" from what people really care about. What they won't be able to claim is that any of these so-called distractions say anything positive about Obama's judgment.

Betsy blogs daily at Betsy's Page

The Remarkable Rise of Barack Obama

By Brendan Nyhan

Matthew Yglesias notes how improbable it was that Barack Obama would win the Democratic nomination:

The fact that Obama's had this kinda sorta wrapped up since March 5 has tended to obscure the fact that his primary victory has got to be the greatest upset in the history of American presidential politics. In retrospect, whatever happens looks obvious and somewhat inevitable, but back in the day all that was obvious was that Clinton had the party locked down. Obama's entire meteoric ascent from the State Senate to the cusp of the presidency is just a very, very, very unlikely story.

It's worth underlining this point. Consider, for instance, the Intrade futures market price on Obama winning the Democratic nomination, which represents his predicted probability of winning. It shows that he was given very little chance of winning as late as winter 2007:

Chart12124841351779529

John McCain was considered dead in the water during the same period:

Chart12124841351779535

In fact, the futures price on an Obama vs. McCain race was given near-zero probability as late as early December (note: the history on this contract only goes back to January 2007):

Chart121248413517714887

We haven't had a campaign without a sitting president or vice-president since 1952, and both parties end up choosing candidates who were considered relative longshots. What an incredible year for politics.

Brendan blogs regularly at Brendan-Nyhan.com

Could Bill Prevent Hillary from Getting VP Slot?

By Justin Gardner

WSJ explains why:

[...] close advisers to Sen. Obama signaled an Obama-Clinton ticket was highly unlikely. People in both camps cited what several called "a deal-breaker" -- Bill Clinton may balk at releasing records of his business dealings and big donors to his presidential library.

Remember, many feel (including myself) that the financial records of politician's spouses are fair game now, and none moreso than a former President's. The logic for the full disclosure argument is if you jointly benefit from each other's incomes, both incomes should be open to the same intense scrutiny.

Obviously this doesn't mean Hill won't get the VP slot, because maybe Bill will want to release all that info above and beyond his tax returns.

But if it's the case that Bill won't release those records...I'll make the case again that Bill is probably the single biggest reason Hillary failed this year. Yes, there were a bunch of organizational problems with her campaign, but if he hadn't gone off script repeatedly Hillary may have pulled tighter in many states and come out with more delegates. At least it would've been a hell of a lot closer race and she'd have increased leverage. She may have even been able to take this to the convention.

Justin blogs daily at Donklephant.com

John McCain's Anti-Partisan Tics

By Brendan Nyhan

As many observers of John McCain have noted, one of the reasons the press loves him so much is the way he signals his disdain for normal politics. Even when McCain delivers partisan attack lines, he winks and nods to reporters as if to say "I know this is silly." The problem his speech last night revealed is that those tics seems to have become so ingrained that, as Josh Marshall writes, McCain seems to "[find] it impossible to pretend he's actually thinking what he's saying." The cheesy fake smiles that were interspersed with his attacks on Obama -- which the press may appreciate as signals of insincerity -- only enhanced the phoniness of the effect on television.

On a more substantive level, embracing the idea of "change" is probably the right idea given the political fundamentals, but -- like Hillary -- McCain's identity and length of service mean that he will never take that role away from Obama. Also, unlike Hillary, he has few policies to promote that actually would represent significant changes from the current administration. In short, he's boxed in, which means his message will ultimately boil down to the claim that entrusting Obama with the presidency is too risky.

Brendan blogs at Brendan-Nyhan.com

Hillary Claims She Won Most States...

By Justin Gardner

...after February 20th.

Here's what she said...:

"I've been closing very strongly since Feb. 20," she said, referring to the day after Mr. Obama won Hawaii and Wisconsin. "I have won more votes and won more states than Senator Obama. All the independent analyses break in my direction. A lot of the key states that we have to win, I win those states."

So why February 20th?

Well, because before that Obama racked up 11 victories in a row after Super Tuesday. So if you count contests after Super Tuesday, Obama has won 17 and Hillary 8.

However, if you start with the Ohio and Texas contests, well, she's beating him by a count of 8 to 6. So yes, after more than 3/4ths of the contests were over, Hillary leads in states won.

This one definitely goes in the Dumb Things Said By Smart People category.

Justin blogs for Donklephant.com

Restructuring Coalitions

By Kyle Moore


My friend Mark has a great post up about the nature of the political coalitions in the two major parties, and how two previously irreconcilable ideological groups may just find themselves allies after all.

Outside of the Democratic primary from Hell, one of the major running memes this election cycle is the collapse of the modern three legged Republican stool.  The catalyst of such a collapse would seem to be the inability of any of the Republican presidential candidates to successfully embody in acceptable measures the fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, and neoconservatives that the GOP has been relying upon to build winning coalitions.

This has left the party with something of an identity crisis as OpEd after OpEd comes out where old party stalwarts continue to bang their head against the wall in their attempts to try to find new ways to make the Grand Ol' Party marketable again.

But is the Republican party the only party that is undergoing a realignment of its ideological coalitions?

At first glance,the disruption within the Democratic party may appear to be only skin deep; the logical result of two very popular candidates in a contest where only one can survive.  At the same time, as anyone familiar with the Democratic circular firing squad knows, we've always been a fractious bunch.  Unlike the GOP which always seemed to rally around the base, the Democrats seemed incapable of figuring out exactly what its base was, creating constant tension between the more conservative and more liberal aspects of its factions.

And this was BEFORE the Howard Dean and Barack Obama style Democrats started taking over, and it'll be some time before we see what their, or our, impact will be even as we seek to define this new breed of Democrat.

But because of the amorphous quality of the Democratic coalition, and because we've yet to see the final outcome and fallout of this election year, it is far more difficult to see how the Democratic party would divide itself ideologically should such an event occur.  But when we take a look outside of the traditional and the new portions of the party complete, there are definitely some things of note.

For one, there are the Obamicans; Republicans who are disillusioned with their own party, and probably too set in their animosity against the Clintons to ever vote for Hillary.  And then there has been, and this brings us back to Mark's post, the libertarians.

And then there is the Religious Right.  The Religious Right will likely always be the Religious Right, however evangelicals as a whole have, in recent years, seemed to be increasingly been breaking out of the hot button issues that Republicans make many a promises about, and rarely follow through with.  Once outside of these realm of the hot buttons, it would seem that a push to the left would be almost natural for them given that, as I'm fond of saying, Jesus was a liberal after all.

More specifically, a more dovish foreign policy coupled with a liberal approach to poverty and the underpriveleged would seem to provide at least the beginnings of a happy home for those religious voters who have broken from the pack of the Religious Right.

Which brings me full circle to Mark's post and the role of libertarians in regards to the two major parties.  Libertarians have, for a time, kind of piggy backed on the Republican party which at least sold itself as the party of small government which is itself a key libertarian ideal.  However, as Mark points out, there are means and there are ends.  The three legged stool of the Republican party has for the most part driven the party away from both the means and the ends of smaller government and more liberty, however; the Democratic party, depending on which factions you are looking at, and where on the ideological spectrum you are looking at, may not necessarily share the same means as liberatians as a whole, but we do share the same ends more often than not.

Indeed, one thing I've noticed is that while we should traditionally be on opposing sides of the political spectrum, we tend to only disagree on rare occasions.  Usually these disagreements are of the Keynesian/Friedmanism variety.

The interesting thing here is that at least for my intents and purposes, such arguments are of little consequence.  Regarding the economy, I just want the damn thing to work.  I want people who are willing to work to be able to work hard at their jobs and make a living off of them.  I don't want people to have to worry about whether or not their paycheck will cover the rent or if they are going to go under if one of their kids gets sick.  And I'm going to address this again in a little bit.

Outside of the economy, on individual issues, though, I find that I tend to have a lot in common with libertarians, specifically on foreign policy and civil liberties and rights.  While this may not cover ALL libertarians, many libertarians like many liberals don't want the government to concern itself with who I fall in love with, or what websites I choose to visit etc.  Like many liberals, many libertarians don't want the government snooping around in our libraries or in our telephone bills or in our emails, and like many liberals, many libertarians think that torturing people and eavesdropping on our citizens is wrong.

And of course there is a kind of agreement between the doves and the libertarians as well.

Even on the economy we can agree in some regards.  I'm not afraid of the market, and indeed, I think it can and does work, the only place where I may disagree with libertarians on a whole is that I think it's unwise to let the market go unchecked.  And indeed, despite all the claims that Obama's a socialist, and on a broader scale of the entire Democratic party, most Democrats, especially the new new Democrats, or, perhaps, for the purposes of this discussion, "fair trade" Democrats, are all on board.  We don't trust the market completely, but we do recognize that with just the right amount of regulation, it can do quite a bit of good.

There's a lot of interesting stuff to think about, and I think that over the next five to ten years we may see the two major parties looking quite a bit different than they do today.  And this isn't even taking into account the fact that demographics are changing, and that slowly, often times painfully slowly, old prejudices are fading away.  This too will change the political landscape in years to come.

But first, there must come resolution.  How will the Republican party resolve its splintered factions?  How, if at all, will the battle between Obama and Clinton alter the internal mechanisms of the Democratic party.  And those factions that have long been minimized, such as the hard left and the libertarians, as these parties rebuild themselves in the midst of their own self inflicted aftermaths, which of these parties, if any, will these floating ideological factions attach themselves to?

Kyle blogs daily at Comments From Left Field

WaPo on Iraq: The US "May Be Winning This War"

By Sister Toldjah
The WaPo acknowledges what the NYT (and Barack Obama) refuses to:

THERE'S BEEN a relative lull in news coverage and debate about Iraq in recent weeks -- which is odd, because May could turn out to have been one of the most important months of the war. While Washington's attention has been fixed elsewhere, military analysts have watched with astonishment as the Iraqi government and army have gained control for the first time of the port city of Basra and the sprawling Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, routing the Shiite militias that have ruled them for years and sending key militants scurrying to Iran. At the same time, Iraqi and U.S. forces have pushed forward with a long-promised offensive in Mosul, the last urban refuge of al-Qaeda. So many of its leaders have now been captured or killed that U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, renowned for his cautious assessments, said that the terrorists have "never been closer to defeat than they are now."

Iraq passed a turning point last fall when the U.S. counterinsurgency campaign launched in early 2007 produced a dramatic drop in violence and quelled the incipient sectarian war between Sunnis and Shiites. Now, another tipping point may be near, one that sees the Iraqi government and army restoring order in almost all of the country, dispersing both rival militias and the Iranian-trained "special groups" that have used them as cover to wage war against Americans. It is -- of course -- too early to celebrate; though now in disarray, the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr could still regroup, and Iran will almost certainly seek to stir up new violence before the U.S. and Iraqi elections this fall. Still, the rapidly improving conditions should allow U.S. commanders to make some welcome adjustments -- and it ought to mandate an already-overdue rethinking by the "this-war-is-lost" caucus in Washington, including Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

[...]

If the positive trends continue, proponents of withdrawing most U.S. troops, such as Mr. Obama, might be able to responsibly carry out further pullouts next year. Still, the likely Democratic nominee needs a plan for Iraq based on sustaining an improving situation, rather than abandoning a failed enterprise. That will mean tying withdrawals to the evolution of the Iraqi army and government, rather than an arbitrary timetable; Iraq's 2009 elections will be crucial. It also should mean providing enough troops and air power to continue backing up Iraqi army operations such as those in Basra and Sadr City. When Mr. Obama floated his strategy for Iraq last year, the United States appeared doomed to defeat. Now he needs a plan for success. He won't come up with one - at least not one he'd share with his supporters (been there, done that). He's built his entire candidacy around his "judgment" to oppose the war when so many others would not, and his "committment" to withdraw from Iraq quickly in order to refocus back on Afghanistan.

In addition to that, anytime the issue of Iraq and the progress being made there is brought up, or when he gets caught in a gaffe about Iraq, both Obama and his campaign make it a point to shift the topic away from positive news about Iraq or the gaffe and go back to the judgment issue. They even did this after McCain initially invited him to take a trip to Iraq. He only backtracked a short time later when McCain demonstrated how interesting it was that he would turn down a trip to Iraq to meet with Petraeus, considering Obama's willingness to meet unconditionally with some of the world's most notorious despots, including Iran's president, who is helping fund some of the opposition groups in Iraq trying to murder our troops and our coalition partners in order to weaken the will of the US.

McCain needs to make sure this issue stays on the front burner for the duration of the campaign, because it demonstrates that most everything Barack Obama says is politically calculated. Even in the face of success, he refuses to admit the obvious - he can't admit it right now, because he's still trying to appeal to anti-war liberal Democrats. But he'll have to walk a tightrope during the general, because he'll be talking to people whose first option for Iraq isn't automatically to cut and run - even if they do believe the war was a mistake - especially considering that the news coming out of the country is more good than bad. McCain is in a strong position to argue how wrong Obama is on his Iraq policy, not only because of the changing-for-the-better situation in Iraq, but also considering McCain himself knows all too well what it's like to be fighting in a winnable war, only to see the possibility of victory snatched away by politicians more interested in political gains in the short term rather than national security gains for the long term.

During the debates, McCain needs to approach the Iraq issue like this: Obama has painted him as a Bush stooge on the Iraq issue, but McCain was among the few Republicans willing to openly criticize the admin's Iraq policy after it started to go south, and was one of the first to call for more troops as part of an overall troop surge. It was Bush who came around to that way of thinking, not McCain tagging along with Bush. McCain should also point out that Barack Obama opposed the very surge which is seeing the big successes that we wouldn't have seen if Obama had had his way last year when he proposed that all combat brigades be withdrawn by March 2008. McCain needs to also stress that while they obviously disagreed on the decision to go in, that we are there now, and that he as a veteran of the Vietnam war understands well that the US has the duty and obligation to complete the mission not just for the security of the Iraqi people, but for the long term national security interests of the United States, as well as to honor the memories of those who have died trying to make this happen. Pulling out too soon, McCain should argue, would be like snatching that victory away all over again, a victory that so many of the troops Barack Obama claims to support have given their lives for.

Any other Republican candidate who tried to make that argument wouldn't be able to sell it as effectively, because they weren't Vietnam POWs who spent years refusing to bow down to their brutal captors, and weren't part of a war that we could have won if only our political 'leaders' here at home would have had steel for spines rather than jello. McCain's history as a veteran and POW will serve him well on this argument and Obama's spinmeisters, who have earned their keep in trying to re-frame the Iraq issue, will have a very difficult time helping their candidate counter it.

Read more at SisterToldjah.com

Is Sebelius at the Top of Obama's VP List?

By Justin Gardner

 

Personally, I've been skeptical because I don't think she could deliver Kansas. McCaskill made a lot more sense.

However...look who popped up on MSNBC as an Obama surrogate tonight to respond to Hillary's win in Puerto Rico:

Okay, so why is this significant? Because note the background for her interview. That ain't Kansas...it's San Francisco. So why would she be in San Francisco of all places? Could she be meeting with Pelosi? Is she being vetted?

Something else about the intervew that struck me as curious...I can't help but think Chris Matthews knows something we don't when he lavishes praise on her at the end of the interview. He doesn't often do that, and if Matthews is anything, he's a very shrewd politico.

Also, I can't discount that she's been able to have a fairly progressive record as the Governor of a red state and still keep her approval numbers up. And she's a perfect fit with Obama's change message because she's been able to set the tone in Kansas that he'll be looking to duplicate in Washington.

Food for thought...

Justin blogs at Donklephant.com