Tuesday, January 29, 2008

McCain raises the stakes in celebrity tough-guy endorsements

John McCain sees Mike Huckabee's Texas Ranger and Raises him a Rambo and a Rocky. The ironic thing is, in a competition for whose celebrity endorsement will make the biggest difference in the end, both these tough-guys lose to Oprah.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Bill Clinton caught sleeping in church

Attacking Obama all weekend, Bill must have just tuckered himself out. From the New York Post:

Debate Reactions

A few thoughts:

1) Why is Edwards still running? The guy hasn't won a primary yet, hasn't come close to winning one, and is not going to win one. At one point, when Clinton and Obama really got into it, Edwards asked "Are there just two people in this debate." The funny thing is, actually, there really are only two serious possible candidates.

My thought has been that he's trying to pull some decent percentages to use as leverage to be the VP candidate. But that's not a good strategy if he waits too long. Edwards' support comes mainly from the health-care/labor faction of the Democratic party--a faction that will be less relevant as the focus moves from party nomination to general election. The reality is that Edwards will not win. There are, I suspect, a good number of voters who know for sure they don't like Clinton, but who can't decide who is the better Clinton alternative. At this point, about the only thing that Edwards' candidacy is going to do is weaken Obama. As both Clinton and Edwards turned on Obama, the one thing that seemed clear was that Clinton sure is glad Edwards is still running.

2) Obama did seem a tad Janus-faced when he attacked Clinton and then asked for more civility. On the other hand, for me it's forgivable. With the attacks coming from the Clinton campaign lately, it's not realistic to expect Obama to not respond by giving her a bit of her own medicine. One thing he did do well was to actually have an explanation for what Clinton calls inconsistencies in his record.

He did get off one of the best lines of the night on this topic. When he said that Bill Clinton was distorting his record on behalf of his wife's campaign, Hillary tried to draw the focus away from Bill saying "I'm here, he's not." Obama shot back, "Well, sometimes its hard to tell who I'm running against."

Actually, I think Obama played a good rhetorical move by constantly bringing up Bill. You might think that Bill's popularity might make Obama want to draw the focus of him, but by constantly mentioning him in the same breath as Hillary, Obama continually reminded audiences that he's up against the Clinton machine, not just Hillary Clinton. It raises the unseemly specter of a behind the scenes third-term Bill behind his own version of a Manchurian candidate. It also makes Obama the underdog, and it allows him to write off his losses as the result of having been double-teamed.

3) Obama is better at responding to attacks than Clinton is. I think it's perfectly fair for a candidate to use personal attacks in politics. I also think it's perfectly fair for candidate to call the attacker to task for it.

It all started when Clinton started attacking Obama for having something nice to say about President Reagan. Obama's response:

What I said -- and I will provide you with a quote -- what I said was is that Ronald Reagan was a transformative political figure because he was able to get Democrats to vote against their economic interests to form a majority to push through their agenda, an agenda that I objected to. Because while I was working on those streets watching those folks see their jobs shift overseas, you were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board at Wal-Mart.
Fightin' words. So Clinton tries to respond. But rather than explain her ties to Wal-mart, she hits back.
CLINTON: Well, you know, I think we both have very passionate and committed spouses who stand up for us. And I'm proud of that.

But you also talked about the Republicans having ideas over the last 10 to 15 years.

OBAMA: I didn't say they were good ones.

CLINTON: Well, you can read the context of it.

OBAMA: Well, I didn't say they were good ones.

CLINTON: Well, it certainly...

OBAMA: All right, Wolf.

CLINTON: It certainly came across in the way that it was presented, as though the Republicans had been standing up against the conventional wisdom with their ideas. I'm just reacting to the fact, yes, they did have ideas, and they were bad ideas.

OBAMA: I agree.

CLINTON: Bad for America, and I was fighting against those ideas when you were practicing law and representing your contributor, Resco, in his slum-lord business in inner city Chicago.
So what's worse, being on the board of Wal-mart, or representing a slum-lord? Close call. Both provide something that there is a market for, I guess. But compare Obama's response to Clinton's attack to her response to his attack:

BLITZER: I just want to give you a chance, Senator Obama, if you want to respond. Senator Clinton made a serious allegation that you worked for a slumlord. And I wonder if you want to respond.

OBAMA: I'm happy to respond. Here's what happened: I was an associate at a law firm that represented a church group that had partnered with this individual to do a project and I did about five hours worth of work on this joint project. That's what she's referring to.

Now, it's fine for her to throw that out, but the larger reason that I think this debate is important is because we do have to trust our leaders and what they say. That is important, because if we can't, then we're not going to be able to mobilize the American people behind bringing about changes in health care reform, bringing about changes in how we're going to put people back to work, changing our trade laws. And consistency matters. Truthfulness during campaigns makes a difference.
Way more effective. Rather than hit back tit-for-tat, he corrects what he calls a lie on Clinton's part by putting his own spin on it, and then bringing it back to his theme about truthfulness in the campaign.

Another moment when Clinton's attacks seemed to backfire was when she accused Obama of being evasive and unwilling to talk about his record. She brought up the fact that he voted against an amendment that would have capped credit card interest rates at 30%. Obama explained that he voted against the amendment because he thought 30% was too high, and he wanted to see serious debate on the issue before voting for anything. The irony of it all, is that even though Obama voted against the amendment, he still voted against the bill it was attached to, while Clinton and Edwards both voted for it before changing their minds and voting against it. But Clinton's attack did not go well, and it was the only time a candidate drew audible boos from the audience. She said:
Well, you know, Senator Obama, it is very difficult having a straight-up debate with you, because you never take responsibility for any vote, and that has been a pattern.

You, in the -- now, wait a minute. In the Illinois state legislature...


4) This is my most superficial observation. Compare the three candidates when they raise their voice. When Edwards does it, he drawls more and it just accentuates his folksiness. When Obama does it, his voice deepens and becomes more resonant. When Clinton does it, it grates on my ears. She sounds feisty, yes, which is what I think she's going for, but she also sounds shrill. It's not good for her. I think she would do better to keep an even-keel. I know there's a certain misogynistic connotation associated with the word "shrill," but I honestly can't think of a word that better describes Clinton's voice.

5) One last thought. The last question of the debate was "If MLK were alive today, why would he endorse you?" Edwards actually answered the question fairly well. He said that King's life was dedicated to eradicating poverty and that his campaign is as well. Obama said that King would endorse none of them because he would let people make their own choices. Clinton basically ignored the question and talked about how nice it is that there's an African-American, and woman, and a "son of the south" (zip-a-de-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay! My dad worked in a mill, so vote for me!) running together. While Obama came the closest, none gave the answer that I wanted to hear. If it were me, this is how I would have responded:

Well, I fundamentally disagree with the premise of that question, that we ought to be speaking for Dr. King and claiming him as our own to use as a weapon against each other in our political fight. Rather than speak for him, we ought to let his life and his work speak for itself. I refuse to claim Dr. King as mine alone because his legacy is one that belongs to all Americans. But I will tell you how my vision for America is consistent with Dr. King's dream...

Anyway, here's the transcript of the debate.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Happy Birthday, Walter Mondale!

Walter Mondale, namesake of my Law School, former VP and one-time presidential candidate turned 80 today. I gotta say, he looks pretty good for his age. Too bad he's endorsing Clinton.

Friday, January 4, 2008

A few observations on the Iowa caucus speeches last night

I'll leave the parsing of the percentages and all that to abler analysts. What interests me more than the results are the speeches that followed. I didn't stay up to watch all the speeches, I was mostly interested in Obama's and Huckabee's as the winners. But while waiting for those two I did catch Edwards' and Clinton's.

First was Clinton. She was predictably stilted and only barely stifled her rage at Obama and Edwards. It was a stale, safe, innocuous, boring speech. The highlight was seeing Madeline Albright over her right shoulder.

Next was Edwards. I suppose it's no surprise that Edwards did well in Iowa, what with his populist pro-union, anti-free trade, universal health care shtick. Not surprisingly, his speech hit the health care theme hard, complete with anecdotes of individual Americans who get sick and can't pay for treatment delivered in a charming, folksy drawl. It's his bread and butter. It's his theme, and he plays it well. He played it well as a trial lawyer and he still does well. The only problem is that he's a bit of a Johnny-one-note. My other stylistic criticism of Edwards he does the Bill Clinton thumb point. The idea is that pointing is rude and a subtle thumb emphasis is more friendly. But when Clinton was in office, the thumb point was satirized to death by late night comics ("Ah feel your pain"). Edwards doing it now is almost self-caricature.

Then came Huckabee. It was about what you would expect. A lot of folksy grandstanding, a lot of talk about our American (i.e. evangelical Christian) values, and a lot of drawling. He talked about how it's a "new day" in American politics---an throwback, I think, to Reagan's "morning in America." The funniest part of Huckabee's speech was the way a be-flanneled Chuck Norris hung, fawning, on his every word like, grinning giddily like a twelve-year-old girl at a Hannah Montana concert. And for some inexplicable reason, the unshaven Texas Ranger shifted from Huckabee's left shoulder to his right shoulder midway through the speech.

Obama's was the best speech of the night. I like to compare it with Edwards. Edwards' message really plays only to working class Democrats. That's not a bad thing, particularly in a Democratic primary in Iowa, but it is limiting. Obama's message has a more universal appeal. He eschewed the Clintonian anecdotes of individuals and went for a more abstract, but more unifying message hitting hard on hope, unity, and possibility. Such abstractions can be hard to visualize and can often make for a forgettable speech, But Obama countered that with his personal stage presence. I appreciate that Obama does the real finger point rather than the Clintonian thumb point. I don't think it's rude, I think it's forceful. He was by far the most energetic, the most passionate. This highlighted his youth and energy, which in turn complements his message of change over Clinton's of experience.

Speaking of Democratic youth, energy, and idealism, I couldn't help but see shades of Kennedy. Not only is Obama a young man who appeals to the unifying transcendence of American values, but he also has a young, attractive, graceful wife, and two cute kids to boot. And if you look at Michelle Obama, it's not hard to see a shadow of Jacki Kennedy, especially in her conservative, chin length, flipped coif---specially last night, wearing pearls and a conservative dress that would not have been too out of place in the 1960s. All she needed was a pill box hat, and a pair of gloves. It was to the point that I almost wonder if it's on purpose.

But after two Bushes and a Clinton, I guess we could use another Camelot after all.

Anyone see Romney's?

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Why I want Romney to win the Republican nomination

This is cross-posted at the Council of Fifty.

I don't like Romney's politics. I've said this before. I also think he has come across as insincere and seems to be more a conservative of convenience than of conviction. I also can't get his support for President Bush's foreign policies.

But I want Romney to win. As I've said before, I think it would be good for the Republican party. So what do I, a Democrat, care about having a good Republican party? Well, if my party screws it up, there's only one other alternative. Sure there's a lot of dissatisfaction right now with the current Administration, but Congressional Democrats aren't that far behind he President as targets of public bile. In this atmosphere, neither party is all that likely to win an overwhelming Congressional majority. And the fact is, no matter which party wins the White House in 2008, the other one will still have a significant amount of power. So even if there's a Democrat in the White House, the Republicans will still have plenty of influence. I want them to be shepherded by a party leadership that is moderate, pragmatic, reasonable.

An additional reason: it would make Clinton less likely to win the Democratic nomination. If, say, Huckabee gets it, he would stand no chance against Clinton, and the liberal party elite would have an easier time getting Clinton the victory because the concern about drawing moderate votes would be essentially irrelevant. If, on the other hand, the Republicans put up someone with a real fighting chance to beat Clinton, the Democrats would be more likely to give their nomination to a candidate less polarizing than the ex-First Lady, someone who could draw more moderate voters.

Romney is more Presidential, arguably more moderate, and most importantly, better funded than any of the other Republican candidates. He stands the best chance against Clinton. If he wins, the Democrats will be forced to think more carefully about nominating Clinton. A strong, moderate, electable Republican candidate gives more leverage to the Edwards and Obama campaigns to argue that Clinton, a elite northeastern liberal connected to perhaps the most hated Democrat (at least among conservatives) in recent memory, can't win in the heartland.

And on a personal level, it comes down to this: I don't want to vote for Clinton. And at this point, Romney is the most appealing Republican.

So what's my beef with Hillary? Well, for one, it goes back to before my mission when she first started trying to be a Senator from my home state (actually, I voted against her by absentee ballot). I had no problem in theory with the idea of Clinton running for, or even being my Senator. She's certainly capable. But the fact that she wasn't from New York and hadn't lived there, that she bought a house to barely met the residency requirements, and that it was obvious that she had chosen New York only because it was a liberal enough state to elect her to a calculated Presidential launching pad---well, that bothered me.

And to make matters worse, the state Party leadership didn't even make her run the primary. They just handed her the nomination. That bothered me even more. Now, the interesting thing about Hillary Clinton is that most of the other members of the New York Delegation in Congress can't stand her, personally. These are the people that have worked with her, not those that are paid to stump for her. But they won't say that in public because of the huge amount of influence that the Clintons hold over the party machine. I trust their opinions, and I don't trust her.

Another problem with Clinton: We've already had eight years of the second half of a Republican political dynasty. Do we really want the same thing coming from the Democrats? Do we really want the last few decades of our history to go Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton? Are there really so few qualified people that we have to keep picking from the same two families?

Of course, it would be cool to say that we had finally elected a woman to be President. But do we really want to show the world that the only way a woman can be elected in this country is if she schemes for three decades, finagles her party leadership, and rides on her husband's popularity? Wouldn't we rather have a woman who gets elected on her own merits?

So I want the Republicans to choose someone that will give the Obama and Edwards campaigns a better chance against Clinton. Nobody but Romney can do it: McCain is too old and crazy, Huckabee is too trailer park and Ted Nugent, Fred "Cadaver" Thompson (AKA dead man walking) can barely keep his eyes open during interveiws, Guiliani ought to be disqualified for running a campaign based entirely on 9-11, and Ron Paul, well, come on, it's Ron Paul. If he wins, the Democrats might as well run Kucinich so we can distribute the crazy equally on both sides. It's got to be Romney.

On the other hand, if Clinton does win, that would make Bill the first First Gentleman, which might get him into the news more often and provide some excellent political comic relief.