Saturday, March 08, 2008

Apres Denny Hastert?

Democrat Bill Foster won today's election to replace recently resigned former Republican leader Denny Hastert in the House of Representatives. Foster pulled down 53% of the vote over the Republican candidate Jim Oberweiss.

Unlike Kos and dday at Digby, I don't think winning this election is a sign that Democratic utopia had arrived. Oberweiss wasn't a strong enough candidate to make the election a true test of a Democratic Party surge.

But I do think that an Obama or Hillary victory in November will result in a dramatic shift away from the Republicans in particular and conservative ideology in general. If either Obama or Hillary become president, there's a good chance that the Democrats will be working with big majorities for the next 10 or 12 years.

Ironically, conservative Republicans are counting on John McCain to hold the fort for them until the Conservative Brand recovers from the Bush administration.

Apres Denny--the Democratic deluge? Probably after Barack instead.

McCain Bad Decision Watch #1

One of my personal hypotheses about John McCain is that he's not a good manager or decision-maker. In fact, he's basically a one-man band kind of guy. McCain's most comfortable in situations where it's just him on the spot--off-the-cuff speaking, television interviews, town hall meetings, and debates. His presidential campaigns work best when it's just McCain, a few of his close allies, and a bus rolling across the countryside. McCain especially likes to be coddled in as everybody's "studmuffin" and is at his best when he's being coddled, nurtured, and buttered-up by the mainstream media.

Otherwise, he gets angry and has the kind of temper tantrums he threw at Elizabeth Bumiller of the New York Times.

At the same time, McCain doesn't "do" organization very well at all. McCain's never been good at building campaign organizations himself, never been good at hiring people to build campaign organizations, and never been good at fundraising. Perhaps McCain just isn't effective when it isn't "all John all the time."

Now that McCain is the Republican nominee, however, he's going to be the head of a large campaign organization, he gets to choose the top leadership of the Republican National Committee, and he has to be coordinated with various Republican elites.

My bet is that McCain botches up the whole thing and makes his general election campaign even tougher than it was going to be.

The first evidence of McCain's poor decision-making was the idea to seek out the endorsement of a megachurch superstar and general all-round bigot like Rev. James Hagee. That led to three straight days of uncomfortable backtracking. Following the NYT story on Vicki Iseman, McCain now has had two straight weeks of bad press in the wake of sewing up the Republican nomination.

Not a great start.

Today, Robert Novak complains about McCain choosing Carly Fiorina as the finance chair for his presidential campaign.

Conservatives and party regulars were not happy about the selection of Carly Fiorina to head the Republican National Committee's "Victory 2008" campaign raising funds for the presidential election . . . .

Federal Election Commission records show Fiorina contributed nothing to the Republican Party the last eight years. Her only political giving was to Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign -- $2,100 in 2006 and $2,300 in 2007. Fiorina was at McCain's side when he campaigned in the critical Michigan and Florida races.

Fiorina has no standing in the conservative movement and has taken no position on the abortion question.

Given her status as a celebrity ex-ceo of Hewlett-Packard, Fiorina is going to serve mostly as a celebrity spokesperson for McCain's poorly formulated and ad hoc economic policies. If she's really in charge of campaign fund-raising as well, it's most likely another bad decision on McCain's part.

Friday, March 07, 2008

McCain Frays His Lifeline

My initial read of the John McCain campaign is that McCain has a lot better chance of flopping his way to a landslide defeat than he has of giving Obama or Hillary a serious fight. Sure, McCain looks like a serious contender and he has a serious contender's poll numbers (6 behind Obama in today's RCP average). But John McCain also looks a lot like Rudy Giuliani late last year. Giuliani was still on top of the polls but he was also on the verge of looking ridiculous as the media started documenting his two divorces, estrangement from his children, fights with NYC firemen, and his bachelor pad in the terrorist command post. Giuliani sank like a stone after yet more revelations.

McCain's in an analogous situation. Certainly, his candidacy has strengths. The Republican Party will support McCain, the media worships him, and he's generally well-liked by moderate and independent voters. But McCain's in several kinds of binds. Worst of all, McCain has no natural base outside the media that he's been cultivating for decades. McCain used to have a base among moderate and independent voters but that was seriously weakened by his full-throated support for President Bush's surge. In fact, McCain's situation with moderates and independents is now extremel fluid. Centrist voters are still willing to give McCain a chance, but they're also open to criticism of McCain for his support of Bush's surge, his flip-flopping on immigration and torture, his position on social security, his temper, and his history of adultery back in the 70's. McCain's standing among moderates and independents also depends on the continued enthusiasm of the mainstream media for the McCain campaign. In fact, the media serves as a kind of lifeline for McCain these days. If the establishment media either gave up on him or started to treat him like he was ridiculous, McCain would lose his line to the moderate and independent voters he would need to have any chance in the general election.

This is why McCain's angry exchange with Elizabeth Bumiller of the New York Times was such a risky gambit. I'm sure McCain precipitated the exchange partly as a way to show right-wing talk show hosts and conservative bloggers he was eager to stick it to the Times. But it backfired because it made McCain look like a stupid bully. Bumiller asked a challenging but innocent question about McCain's switching from the Republican Party to independent status in 2001 and flirting with accepting a vice-presidential nomination from John Kerry in 2004. McCain could have just denied the stories, but he decided to badger Bumiller about asking the questions in the first place. McCain's attack on Bumiller in front of a group of reporters was stupid because the stories about the incident are going to remind conservatives of how little loyalty McCain has to the Republican Party and the conservative movement. Even more dangerous for McCain is the fact that the mainstream media now sees that McCain can blow up at them as well as Republican senators, military officials, and homestate Arizona politicians. In other words, McCain was putting his media lifeline to moderate and independent voters at risk and increasing the danger of looking ridiculous and implausible to voters at large.

Of course, it's going to take more than one incident to undo the good will McCain's built up with the media over the last fifteen years. But it is safe to say that McCain frayed his lifeline today.

Supporting Hillary, Respecting Obama

A commenter asks how I can be supporting Hillary if I'm so critical of the Hillary campaign and ready to recognize the virtues of Barack Obama and his campaign.

That's a fair question.

My answer is this. I believe that Hillary Clinton would make a better president than Obama and that she's right in viewing the United States as a fiercely divided country. However, I'm also very critical of the Hillary campaign because they've done a poor job of making her case and because the candidate herself sometimes seems stuck in the "New Democrat" politics of opposing the left as much as she opposes the right.

Concerning Obama, I believe that his vision of transcending the politics of class, race, gender, and sexual orientation is a fantasy. At the same time, I'm more than willing to acknowledge the effectiveness of his campaign and am beginning to see ways in which the "fantasy of unity" can become a "dominant fact" of American politics.

In other words, I support Hillary but am more than willing to acknowledge the power of the Obama campaign.

How Obama Would Unite

Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer asks how Barack Obama can be a "uniter" if he hadn't supported "bi-partisan" legislation like warrantless wiretapping, immigration reform, and the "gang of 14" deal to end Democratic filibusters on Bush judicial appointments.

The answer is simple.

Obama's premise is that an Obama victory would mean that the Republican right-wing would no longer exist as a meaningful force in American politics. It's not that Rush Limbaugh, James Dobson, Ann Coulter, Tom Coburn and the rest of the right-wing would disappear, or be disappeared. It's just that so few people would be listening to them that they wouldn't matter anymore.

Divisions of race, gender, sexual orientation, rich and poor, and young and old can be transcended only if the right-wing politics of hate no longer has the ability to exploit those divisions. For Obama, the politics of the future is one in which the Gingrich/Limbaugh right is magicked back to its pre-Ronald Reagan irrelevance and people on the left no longer have to be so aggressive in fighting them.

In this sense, the decline of the activist right means that the left can get back to the business of governing for the common good and working out the compromises with conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans needed to get things done.

In Obama's world, the decline of the right liberates the left from the politics of opposition as well. No Limbaugh means that and Kos aren't needed either.

Hillary's idea is that the next Democratic president is going to have to fight with right-wing figures like Charles Krauthamer from Day One. Obama's idea is that people like Krauthammer are slated to disappear from the political scene as surely as last of the big dinosaurs were going to disappear after the giant meteor hit in the Gulf of Mexico.

I'm more in agreement with Hillary. But I'd worry a lot about Obama if I were Charles Krauthammer. That's because an Obama victory might mean that millions of people are getting ready to tune out the Charles Krauthammers of the world.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Threshold Ploy: I Kind of Like It

I generally like Daily Kos even if I think their posting is a pretty vanilla version of the left-wing views I hold as well. Contrary to Kos top-poster devilstower though, I thought today's Hillary gambit on national security was pretty well done. It was a two-part rhetorical manuever. First, Hillary defined the "commander-in-chief threshold" as a kind of magic criteria for evaluating presidential candidates. The idea is that people shouldn't vote for anyone for president who they can't imagine as crossing the threshold of being credible in wielding the imperial power of the United States. In retrospect, the American public was mistaken in thinking that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney had ever crossed that threshold and we now realize the gravity of our collective error.

Then, she claimed that both she and John McCain had crossed that threshold and challenged voters to determine whether they thought the same of Barack Obama.

“I think that since we now know Sen. (John) McCain will be the nominee for the Republican Party, national security will be front and center in this election. We all know that. And I think it’s imperative that each of us be able to demonstrate we can cross the commander-in-chief threshold,” the New York senator told reporters crowded into an infant’s bedroom-sized hotel conference room in Washington.

“I believe that I’ve done that. Certainly, Sen. McCain has done that and you’ll have to ask Sen. Obama with respect to his candidacy,” she said.

Calling McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee a good friend and a “distinguished man with a great history of service to our country,” Clinton said, “Both of us will be on that stage having crossed that threshold. That is a critical criterion for the next Democratic nominee to deal with.”

I don't agree that John McCain has crossed any kind of threshold about being commander-in-chief. McCain's basically another Dick Cheney, somebody who's developed the ability to sound rational and informed in relation to defense policy at the same time he's a completely unhinged warmonger.

But Hillary's running against Obama right now rather than McCain. So there's no harm in implying that she would be seen more as McCain's equal on foreign policy than Barack Obama and I'm sure that Hillary herself believes that. Despite his many weaknesses as a candidate, John McCain does have a lot of political capital as a "straight-shooter" on national security and other issues. As a result, there is a real question about whether Obama would be taken seriously on national security issues during a general election campaign and Hillary is right to try to figure out a way to push the question to her advantage.

Another thing I like about the idea of a "commander-in-chief threshold is that she introduced the concept while forwarding her own proposals on the war effort in Afghanistan. But did The Chicago Tribune's "The Swamp" report what those proposals actually were?

Not on your life.

Point Coulter

This blog doesn't often find itself in agreement with Ann Coulter. But yesterday's Coulter column does make a good point about liberals.
Liberals believe, often accurately, that if they say the same thing over and over again 1 billion times, people will believe it: "Bush lied, kids died," "We've lost in Iraq," "Reagan is stupid," "Bush is stupid," "Republicans are stupid," "Global warming is destroying the planet," "Gloria Steinem is good-looking" and -- their most provably false assertion -- "Bill Clinton is the most talented politician of his generation."
For some reason, Democratic politicians and consultants believe that saying the same thing "over and over again 1 billion times" is the route to political success. During the 2006 campaign, Nancy Pelosi said "Republican culture of corruption" so many times I got blue in the face. Likewise, Obama has two words--"change" and "hope"--that he and his supporters repeat over and over again zillions of times. But Hillary Clinton's campaign has to be the worst. Her senior campaign staff spent more than $100 million dollars while debating between "strength" and "warmth" before finally stumbling last week into a combination of strength, warmth, media criticism, and taking on Obama. Stunned by her new versatility, Ohio voters gave her a ten-point victory.

In the days leading up to the Ohio and Texas contests, Clinton presented herself as the victim of media bias and displayed a sense of humor on "Saturday Night Live" at the same time her staff was holding daily conference calls attacking Obama on his trade record and for his ties to an indicted real estate developer. The yin-yang approach -- going positive and negative at the same time -- may not have been deliberate, but it seemed to work.

"There has been a long-term disagreement on strategy over whether to focus on character . . . or raising questions about Senator Obama," said one top Clinton aide who was at the core of the fight. "What's happened over the last two weeks is we've done both."

The main reason for the endless repetition of catch phrases is the assumption by Democratic candidates and consultants that their constituencies are an electoral minority. Paralyzed by fear that the Republicans will be able to mobilize their "natural majority," Democratic candidates ride any kind of Democratic-favorable catch-phrase or slogan into the ground. But voters take this kind of rigidity as a sign of weakness in the same way that they view the Democratic leadership as weak because of its endless surrenders on Iraq war funding, warrantless wiretapping, telecom immunity, and other issues. Democrats are now a majority by almost every measure. The Democratic leadership should start feeling their strength and hitting the Republicans from several angles at the same time.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

How Stupid Can the Hillary People Get?

Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign complains about their lousy media coverage.

And rightfully so!

But they shouldn't be surprised about media hostility if they're sticking reporters in a men's room to do their work.

How stupid can they get?

John McCain, the StudMuffin Candidate for President

Sen. StudMuffin wins. At the bottom of a Newsweek story about a media barbeque given by John McCain, Holly Bailey notes the welcome mat at the door of the "master cabin" at McCain's ranch.

Reporters were given surprisingly free rein on the McCain property. As the senator grilled, and his wife Cindy and other aides talked to reporters, members of the press were allowed to roam around, availing themselves of the opportunity to take rides on the tire swing and exploring his house, which features a mat outside the door that says, "Geezer (formerly known as Stud Muffin) Lives Here."
I don't know why Bailey made StudMuffin into two words. Everybody who's anybody knows that "StudMuffin" is just one word. But "StudMuffin" well captures the world of John McCain has made for himself. Cindy McCain fell in love with John McCain the handsome, glib, tough-as-nails, navy guy. But John McCain's not just a stud who is plagued by foul-mouthed bad temper. He also projects a kind of self-deprecating, little boyish vulnerability that also makes people want to protect him. Perhaps because of his prisoner of war experience, perhaps for other reasons, John McCain seems to have an outsized need for warmth, nurturing, protection, and embrace. That's what makes him a "StudMuffin" rather than just a stud.

And Cindy McCain was so happy to nurture McCain that she financed McCain's political career with her family's money. I wouldn't be surprised if McCain's "Hidden Valley Ranch" wasn't purchased with her money as well.

Nothing was too good for her StudMuffin.

Now that McCain's the officially annointed Republican candidate for President, mainstream media figures have come out of the closet about the doe-eyed way they look on McCain as their StudMuffin as well.

McCain is definitely Holly Bailey's StudMuffin. Her prose in her piece on McCain's barbecue is the political version of a romance novel. Here's a fawning little bit:

On Sunday McCain pointed out a black hawk's nest high in one of the old sycamore trees, marveling at the time he watched a mother hawk teach her baby how to fly. "It was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen," he gushed. A few feet away McCain motioned up toward a dead branch frequented by a certain woodpecker and noted that there are 67 different kinds of bird on his property. He motioned toward barren bushes and talked of the roses and spring flowers that will soon bloom. Reporters nodded and scribbled in their notebooks. "What kind of tree did he say that was?" one whispered.

Give McCain credit for not being stupid enough to stick the reporters into a bathroom like Hillary Clinton. But the gush enthusiasm is all Holly Bailey.

Of course, Chris Matthews and NBC are much more in contact with their swooning inner heroine than Bailey. Here's Brian Williams and Matthews competing to see who can sigh more dramatically over McCain as he's being endorsed by disgraced President George Bush.

Brian Williams: You know what I thought was unsaid ---they took their position Chris, we're seeing the replay --- they end up in this spot and the sun is coming is just from the side and there in the shadow is John McCain's buckled, concave shoulder. It's a part of his body the suit doesn't fill out because of his war injuries. Again you wouldn't spot it unless you knew to look for it. He doesn't give the same full chested profile as the president standing next to him. Talk about a warrior...

Chris Matthews: You know, when he was a prisoner all those years, as you know, in isolation from his fellows, I do believe, uhm, and machiavelli had this right --- it's not sentimental, it's factual --- the more you give to something, the more you become committed to it. That's true of marriage and children and everything we've committed to in our lives. He committed to his country over there. He made an investment in America, alone in that cell, when he was being tortured and afraid of being put to death at any moment -- and turning down a chance to come home.
Needless to say, Matthews has been in awe of Republican manliness for a long time. Like Cindy McCain, Matthews is not just admiring McCain's macho, he's nurturing McCain's vulnerabilities and protecting him from Matthews knows is a tough political enironment. Matthews knows that McCain's candidacy is going to need constant stroking from the media if McCain is to have any chance of winning.

Much like Cindy McCain, Matthews is more than willing to help and protect the strong but damaged and vulnerable man he sees in John McCain.

I don't see why Matthews just doesn't call McCain "his little StudMuffin" as well.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Hillary Takes Ohio, Leads Texas

OHIO! It's 11:40 right now and Ohio has been called for Hillary Clinton. That's not a big surprise. Ohio has been trending toward Hillary over the last couple of days. The big surprise is that she's leading by 14 at 56-42. The biggest lead I saw for Hillary in the polls was 10 points which means that she was at the edge of the margin of error for the most Hillary optimistic polls.

She also has a 2 point lead in Texas with 65% of the vote in. Of course, that's subject to a lot of change.

BUT WHY? Last week, Ohio looked even. So the question then is why did Hillary move anywhere from 10-14 points over the last week. One of the anonymous critics of this blog (and their criticisms really hurt my feelings) believes that the Drudge item from a Hillary campaign e-mail on Obama's Muslim dress and the Hillary "3am" ad were the things that tilted things toward Hillary.

But I don't buy that.

If anything the Obama Muslim story and the "3am" ad were damaging to Hillary herself. She certainly got a lot of negative press over the Drudge item. Likewise, I heard the ad while listening to Laura Ingraham and Ingraham wasn't far off the mark when she said it was the "worst ad" she ever heard. It was so bad that I almost switched my support from Hillary to Obama right then.

I thought it was a combination of things that pushed Hillary out to a big lead in Ohio. The most important damage came from the report on an Obama representative telling a Canadian official that Obama wasn't serious about his criticisms of NAFTA. That not only made Obama look like a "typical politician," but it made him look like a hypocrite on an issues that's particularly important in Ohio.

Obama was also getting a barrage of media criticism on the patriotism issue of a flag lapel pin, a lot of scrutiny over his connections with Tony Rezko, and attacks by McCain for his opposition to a 100 year occupation of Iraq.

Finally, Democrats like Mrs. RSI were tired of seeing the media dance on Hillary Clinton's grave. Hillary may not prove to be as popular as Barack Obama, but she is a popular politician and a lot of Democrats don't want to see her humiliated even if they are willing to see her lose.

Hillary herself doesn't have a lot to do with any of these factors. The most that can be said for her is that she didn't make any egregious mistakes. That put her in position to take advantage of the fact that Barack Obama is the leading candidate means that the media focus is shifting toward him and the search for warts, failures, and contradictions is really beginning. Facing the white-hot heat for the first time, Obama looks less attractive. Having been pushed out of the glare, Hillary looks better--about 14 points better.

Monday, March 03, 2008

A Hillary Mini-Surge

Today's Bump for Hillary. Talking Points Memo reports a couple of polls that show Hillary widening her lead in Ohio and closing on Obama in Texas. Good for her. But I don't think it's anything she's doing. Instead, it looks like the right-wing's and mainstream media's attacks on Obama's patriotism are having an impact.

Mrs. RSI Approves. Although Mrs. RSI has been a steady Obama supporter, she was glad to see that Hillary is doing better in the polls. She doesn't want Hillary to be "humiliated" in the sense of seeing the media dance on her grave. Of course, the only way for the loser between Hillary or Obama to emerge relatively "un-humiliated" is to be nominated for the Veep slot.

What Awaits the Next Democratic President. I haven't seen anybody put it in these terms yet, but one of the big headaches awaiting the next Democratic president is the lawlessness of the Bush administration. Of course, the real migraines are going to come from dealing with the Bush administration's illegal data mining, wiretapping, waterboarding and other torture techniques, and kidnapping (or extraordinary rendition) policies. It was all either a violation of American criminal law or a crime against humanity. I imagine that Hillary and Obama are both somewhat hopeful that the seemingly imminent passing of telecom immunity legislation will sweep the whole problem under the rug.

But they won't be so lucky with the DOJ scandals though. Paul Craig Roberts makes a compelling case that former Alabama governor Don Siegelman was railroaded into prison by the machinations of Karl Rove, DOJ attorneys, and an Alabama federal judge. It looks there's going to be a long investigation of the misconduct of federal prosecutors and their Washington bosses on that one. Meanwhile the judge in the case is withholding the trial transcripts as a way to block Siegelman's attorney's from filing an appeal. Disgusting!