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Month: February 2008 (page 1 of 3)

Independent Orthodoxy

The great political strength of Obama’s campaign is his ability to attract support from independents (and Republicans) to build a working majority and a clear mandate to achieve big goals — ending the Iraq occupation, engaging Iran, fighting global warming, guaranteeing health care for all, investing in infrastructure and reducing poverty.
So I have nothing bad to say about small-i independent voters. They have every right to eschew party and size up candidates based on their individual platforms. They should be engaged and heard.
But for big-I “Independent” politicians, that’s another story.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg exposed the intellectual emptiness of the captial-I Independent pseudo-movement, in his New York Times op-ed, perhaps properly titled: “Here’s Why Not Even $1 Billion Could Buy Me The Presidency.”
He begins:

Watching the 2008 presidential campaign, you sometimes get the feeling that the candidates – smart, all of them – must know better. They must know we can’t fix our economy and create jobs by isolating America from global trade. They must know that we can’t fix our immigration problems with border security alone. They must know that we can’t fix our schools without holding teachers, principals and parents accountable for results. They must know that fighting global warming is not a costless challenge.

Watching Bloomberg, I get the feeling that he must know better.
He must know that criticizing the poor results of NAFTA, as Clinton and Obama do, is not proposing isolation from trade, but supporting better trade agreements — so trade works for workers and consumers worldwide, not just for multinational corporations. (McCain supports NAFTA and other like agreements.)
He must know that Clinton, Obama and McCain have all supported comprehensive immigration reform that does not solely rely on a border crackdown (McCain’s recent flip-flop notwithstanding).
He must know that Clinton, Obama and McCain all support the basic principle of accountability for schools embodied in No Child Left Behind — with Clinton and Obama backing significant reforms of the widely criticized program, while McCain sticks with it.
He must know that Clinton and Obama support a cap on greenhouse gases, and effectively putting a price on carbon emissions, so private companies have to pay for polluting public sky. And that McCain supports a weaker version of “cap-and-trade,” but at least recognizes that global warming is a looming crisis.
The politician Bloomberg plays on people’s natural skepticism of politicians, saying “politics being what it is, the candidates seem afraid to level with them.”
But in fact, the candidates have been talking about all the above issues, in debates and town halls, in a great deal of specificity for several months — far more than Bloomberg offers in his op-ed.
The final two candidates won’t agree on everything. In fact, they’ll fight about some things!
We’re actually on the verge of having a general election campaign that will be quite substantive, with two candidates offering contrasting visions and approaches — not mushy buzzwords designed to attract independents at the expense of clarity.
The public will have ample time to hear them out and make a choice. The winner is likely to be one that builds a coalition, including independent voters, earning a mandate to act.
It’s called democracy.
Bloomberg decrees: “If a candidate takes an independent, nonpartisan approach — and embraces practical solutions that challenge party orthodoxy — I’ll join others in helping that candidate win the White House.”
Does it matter what orthodoxy is being challenged? What the actual policies are? Apparently not.
Just like the checklist interest group politics Bloomberg rails against, he has his own checklist demand: break with your party on something — anything — then I will support you.
That won’t be a good standard in a Obama-McCain race. They both have their moments where they break with party orthodoxy.
Granted, it’s a good quality in a leader to be able to think for yourself and not be mindlessly pushed around by interest groups.
But one can also mindlessly challenge party orthodoxy to make a cheap claim of independence, ending up with a patchwork of positions that doesn’t add up to a cohesive vision for the nation.
Bloomberg promises us: “I will continue to work to steer the national conversation away from partisanship and toward unity; away from ideology and toward common sense; away from sound bites and toward substance.”
In fact, all the candidates are pledging to work across the aisle to enlist support for their platform. And all have talked substantively about the issues we face, more so than Bloomberg.
But we will have a choice of ideological directions in November. And that’s a good thing.
In 2000, American got a ideological direction they didn’t affirmatively choose. In 2004, they affirmatively chose to swallow it again as they presumed they had to for their national security. In 2006, they sought to correct that mistake.
In 2008, we will likely have a relatively frank discussion about what direction we should take, giving voters the opportunity to make an informed decision, and give the winner a mandate that can overcome the sort of obstruction that has thwarted the public will in the past year.
As a voter, Bloomberg has every right to try to influence the debate.
But the man who barely garnered a few thousands petition signatures to run for president will soon find that he won’t influence much, unless he actually has something useful to say.

McCain serves up a zinger but the return is too hot to handle

I think that this dovetails into what Bill wrote previously about McCain. He is going to have trouble slinging mud at Obama. He is going to have a lot of trouble. I’ll try and explain what happened yesterday and I’ll try not to mix my metaphors.
In tennis if you have a strong serve you have the advantage. You can ace your opponent. You can smack the ball wide so even if your opponent gets their racket on the ball they are way out of position to make the next shot. Of course, if your serve is weak, you are in trouble.
Yesterday, McCain’s zinger was weak. First, he admits that he didn’t watch the debate. Okay, if you didn’t watch the debate then you need to shut up until have watched it but not McCain. He has to venture out into this fray. He says, “I have some news. Al-Qaeda is in Iraq. Al-Qaeda is called al-Qaeda in Iraq. My friends, if we left, they wouldn’t be establishing a base…they would be taking a country. I will not allow that to happen my friends. I will not surrender. I will not surrender to al-Qaeda.”
Come on. Is that it? That is what McCain is serving up? Barack Obama masterfully, returned the serve for a winner. From WaPo: Speaking to 7,000 voters at Ohio State University, Obama answered McCain’s mocking tone with his own. “McCain thought that he could make a clever point by saying , “Well let me give you some news Barack, al-Qaeda IS in Iraq.’ Like I wasn’t reading the papers, like I didn’t know what was going on. I said, ‘well first of all I DO know that al-Qaeda is in Iraq , that’s why I’ve said we should continue to strike al-Qaeda targets.”

I have some news for John McCain, and that is that there was no such thing as al-Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq,” Obama said, as the crowd roared. “I’ve got some news for John McCain! He took us into a war along with George Bush that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged. They took their eye off the people who were responsible for 9/11, and that would be al-Qaeda in Afghanistan that is stronger now than at any time since 2001.”

“I’ve been paying attention, John McCain,” Obama continued, the cheers growing so loud that the audience could hardly make out the words. “That’s the news. So John McCain may like to say he wants to follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, but so far all he’s done is follow George Bush into a misguided war in Iraq that’s cost us thousands of lives and billions of dollars…I respect John McCain but he’s tied to the politics of the past — we are about the policies of the future! Hes the party of yesterday — we want to be the party of tomorrow.”
So, now, what does John McCain do? He goes and gets his the President to fight his fight for him. George Bush jumps into this fight. I find this interesting. Very Interesting. Why did President Bush jump into this fight? Did he think that McCain needed the help? So, the President gets the following question:

Q Mr. President, do you believe if we have the kind of rapid pull-out from Iraq that Democrats are talking about, that we would be at greater risk of a terrorist attack here at home? And when Senator Obama was asked a similar question, he said, “If al Qaeda is forming a base in Iraq, then we will have to act in a way that secures the American homeland and our interests abroad.” So I’m wondering if —
THE PRESIDENT: That’s an interesting comment. If al Qaeda is securing a al Qaeda base — yes, well, that’s exactly what they’ve been trying to do for the past four years. That’s their stated intention, was to create enough chaos and disorder to establish a base from which to either launch attacks or spread a caliphate. And the intent of the surge was to send more Marines into the area that — where they had proclaimed their desire to set up a base. That was Anbar province. And so, yes, that’s one of the challenges we face, is denying al Qaeda a safe haven anywhere. And their intentions — that’s what they said, that they would like to have a base or safe haven in Anbar province.

Oh, that answer wasn’t too predictable. The President is a broken record. He hasn’t said anything new or innovative about Iraq since 2003. I do find it interesting that the President thought that it was necessary to “help” John McCain. I guess if you see a zinger come back that fast, all Republicans had to jump to McCain’s side. I think that it is going to be a long 8 months for McCain if his “zingers” don’t get any better.

Why McCain’s Attacks Will Likely Fail

A friend of mine emailed me yesterday, asking for my take on Mark Halperin’s analysis: Things McCain Can Do to Try to Beat Obama That Clinton Cannot
In the past, I have not been impressed with Halperin’s understanding of American politics. This time was no different.
Below is a slightly edited version of what I sent back, an annotated version of Halperin’s original post.
1. Play the national security card without hesitation. [NOT MUCH OF A CARD IF IRAQ IS STILL A MESS]
2. Talk about the Iraq War without apologies or perceived contradiction. [DITTO]
4. Encourage interest groups, bloggers, and right-leaning media to explore Obama’s past. [HE’S HANDLED IT WELL SO FAR]
5. Make an issue of Obama’s acknowledged drug use. [YAWN]
6. Allow some supporters to risk being accused of using the race card when criticizing Obama. [ASK GEORGE “MACACA” ALLEN HOW SMART THAT IS]
7. Exploit Michelle Obama’s mistakes and address her controversial remarks with unrestricted censure. [I HIGHLY DOUBT SHE WILL MAKE MANY MISTAKES]
8. Play dirty without alienating his party. [TRUE!]
9. Dismiss Obama’s brief national tenure from his own lofty platform of decades in the Senate – there will be no ambiguity about who has more experience as conventionally defined. [ONLY MATTERS IF OBAMA DOES SOMETHING THAT SEEMS NAIVE, CLUMSY, IGNORANT, ET CETERA. CLINTON HAS LEARNED OBAMA GETS BETTER AS HE GOES ALONG, NOT WORSE]
10. Use his sterling war record to reinforce his image of patriotism and valor – and contrast it with his opponent’s. [SEE IRAQ]
11. Emphasize Barack Hussein Obama’s unusual name and exotic background through a Manchurian Candidate prism. [SEE THIS]
12. Employ third party groups like the NRA to hit Obama on issues that might turn off general election voters. Perhaps an ad such as this will run in Ohio: “So, what do you really know about Barack Obama? Did you know he supports meeting with the head of terrorist states? Do you know he wants to get rid of your right to own a handgun? Do you know he is calling for the repeal of the law preventing gay marriage? Do you know he is for a trillion-dollar tax increase? What do you really know about Barack Obama?” [1. IT’S A LONG CAMPAIGN, HE’LL BE KNOWN 2. THESE TYPES OF APPEALS DID NOT WORK IN 2006 3. OBAMA IS PERFECTLY POSITIONED TO SWAT THIS AS THE OLD POLITICS]
13. Face an electorate less consumed with “change change change” (the main priority for Democratic voters) and keenly interested in “ready from day one” as an equally important ideal. [SEE #3 AND # 9 ABOVE]
14. Link biography (experience/courage) and leadership (straight talk) to a vision animated by detail – accentuating Obama’s relative lack of specificity. [ACTUALLY OBAMA IS MUCH MORE SPECIFIC THAN MCCAIN ON A NUMBER OF ISSUES. MCCAIN IS ONLY SPECIFIC ON A NARROW RANGE OF ISSUES]
15. Give Obama his first real race against a credible Republican. (Clinton has always asserted that Obama would wilt before a fierce Republican assault.) [I’LL GIVE MARK THIS ONE]
16. Confront Obama with a united, focused campaign absent of second-guessing, which hits the same themes and message every day. [LET’S SEE IF MCCAIN IS ATTACKING OBAMA FOR “SELF-GLORY” A MONTH FROM NOW.]

Armstrong Williams, John McCain, the NYT and ethics

Okay, wait. I need to stop laughing. I need to compose myself. Armstrong Williams is the guy who was found to have pocketed over $240,000 from the Department of Education. He was the one who pushed No Child Left Behind on his talk show and never acknowledged that he was on Bush’s payroll.
So, now, he is criticizing the New York Times about their John McCain story. I’m starting to laugh again. Look if Armstrong Williams is Superman and he is not, then ethics is his kryptonite. He shouldn’t come within a mile of anyone with a microphone and a question about ethics. He simply isn’t credible. He can’t make himself credible. He can’t wave a magic wand and become credible. That ship has sailed. MSNBC should be ashamed for digging him up.

Now, about the NYT. I’m not sure why the NYT sat on this story for a couple of months but they did. First of all, the reaction to the New York Times story has been overwhelming. The New York Times has received over 2400 comments on their website. I have been following online blogs and newspapers for years. I have never seen 2400 comments to anything on any website. It is an amazing response. It is a type of response that raises a red flag. Someone sent out an e-mail and asked people to berate or chastise the New York Times. I don’t know this for a fact but that number of comments is way out of proportion to what that story should’ve gotten.

Secondly, if the story come out back in December, when Drudge said the New York Times had the story, what would have happened? John McCain would’ve been dead in the water. Let’s remember a few things — back in June – August, John McCain’s campaign was in serious trouble. They weren’t raising any money. He just fired a bunch of staff. His campaign chairman in Florida had just been arrested for doing some Larry Craig type of activity in some public restroom. If the New York Times had released an article in December John McCain would not be running for president now. Therefore, the New York Times did him a favor by holding the article until his campaign was stronger.
Let’s look at the other side of the coin, suppose the article was released after the Republican convention. What would be the reaction? I think one could easily argue that this with the spirit of the newly united Republicans. It would energize an already jazzed Democratic party. The party of “values” would again seem hypocritical. So, I would argue, that the New York Times release in the article now instead of waiting, again, helped John McCain!

Releasing the article now, helps solidify Republican support for John McCain (2400 comments came from somewhere). Nothing brings a family or party together better than some outsider picking on one of their own. The New York Times “picking on” John McCain should get those Republicans who are sitting on the fence to run to his side. Plus, this story guarantees that John McCain will be the lead story in most newspapers and most news programs for over 72 hours. During that time, we won’t hear anything from Mike Huckabee. Now, the big old mean right-wing talking heads like Laura Ingram, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter can run to John McCain side without seeming to be more hypocritical than they usually are. As a matter of fact, if you stand back and look at it, there couldn’t have been a better time to release the story for John McCain.

The truly ironic thing about this story is that we’ve missed the point. In my opinion, it really doesn’t matter whether John McCain slept with a lobbyist or not. Personally, I don’t care. Instead, this story again shows that John McCain is at best ethically insensitive and at worst completely ethically tone deaf. The story clearly shows that John McCain gets uncomfortably close to lobbyists. This is the same John McCain who’s been railing against lobbyists and special interests on the campaign trail. This is the meat of the story. John McCain is not ethically any better than Armstrong Williams. We don’t have to think back too far to the Keating five. John McCain was part of that. His behavior has always been questionable in this matter. Whether you like John McCain or whether you hate John McCain, everybody can agree that he was too close to lobbyists in the Keating five incident for anyone to be comfortable. That was 20 years ago. Let me repeat, that was 20 years ago. I guess the question really is, has John McCain learned anything about lobbyists in the last 20 years?
Back to the New York Times — the editors take time and answer several of the overall questions about the McCain story — here.
Armstrong Williams on MSNBC here (He is a great actor. He sez everything with a straight face)!
McCain’s friends. This video was produced by Robert Greenwald and Brave New Films.

The LiberalOasis Radio Show: Texas Edition

Today at 10 AM ET, The LiberalOasis Radio Show was broadcast on WHMP-AM in Western MA. My special guest was Matt Glazer of Burnt Orange Report who offered the ground-level view of the upcoming Texas primary & caucus, and reactions to this week’s Texas debate.
The audio podcast for the show is here. And you can watch my opening monologue below: on Karl Rove’s feeble attempt to define Obama early.
Segment 1
Segment 2

No Opening

Sen. Clinton has a very difficult task.
Convince voters it’s necessary and worthwhile to risk a divisive, messy convention. Make the race about something different than it is, without crudely attacking Sen. Obama and having it backfire.
It’s difficult to make this race about something else than it currently is.
It was difficult for Clinton’s competitors to do it last year, because there are limited openings to stress policy differences. (Obama’s big, and lucky, break was when Clinton finally made a debate mistake back in October, renewing fears of her electability.)
Clinton hoped one-on-one debates would be her salvation. Aside from that October debate, they have been her strong suit — the forum where her fluidity in discussing policy shines, where she can best make the case she is the most prepared to be president.
But now, that plan requires Obama making a mistake. Instead, his debate performances get better and better.
He becomes a more confident and assuring presence, as he increasingly blends his inspiration and his wonk.
Clinton ended the performance on a strong, graceful note, stirring speculation that perhaps she won’t go scorched-earth in the last weeks.
There’s no need for her to muzzle herself. Principled attacks on policy — like her arguments on health care mostly are — are perfectly appropriate, and are the sort of thing that can turn a race around.
Though the health care argument alone has proven not to be enough. If that can’t work in Russ Feingold country, it won’t work in Texas or Ohio.
But more personal attacks, like those about his speeches, won’t change what the race is about. They will just continue to backfire and diminish her reputation.
What other opening is there that can turn the race around for her?
Well, that’s the problem.

Standing By McCain…For Now

I was curious last night to see how the conservative movement reacted to the NYT/McCain story: chance to dump McCain before the convention, or chance to use the NYT as a foil to firm up conservative support for the expected nominee.
It appears that folks are doing the latter, for now, and waiting to see if more shoes drop. The loyalty for McCain is non-existent. And he’s not even polling well against Obama. They will shove him off the stage if they have a clear opportunity.
Granted, McCain may poll better than anyone else. But many conservatives would rather lose Goldwater-style — in a blaze of glory, while laying down clear conservative markers — than lose Dole-style.

Barack Obama or a Brokered Convention

After Obama’s ninth straight win, in another predominantly white state, winning among working-class families, he has an unequivocal lead in delegates that is extremely difficult for Clinton to overcome in the upcoming primaries and caucuses.
Voters in Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont — the March 4 states — who see a specific policy reason to vote for one candidate or another, will have no reason to switch.
But for the majority of Dem voters who like both candidates, the political reality is this: a vote for Sen. Clinton is a vote for a brokered convention.
And the vast majority of Democrats are terrified of having a brokered convention.


From ABC’s This Week today:

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: …we’ll argue about whether we should increase your taxes or decrease them. Obviously, I’m for decreases in taxes. Maybe Americans want their taxes increased. We’ll argue about —
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: … for middle-income Americans, only raise them on the wealthy.
MCCAIN: Oh, yes, sure, the wealthy, the wealthy. Always be interested in when people talk about who the, quote, “wealthy” are in America. I find it interesting.

Interesting, like McCain in 2001:

I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us, at the expense of middle class Americans who most need tax relief.

The LiberalOasis Radio Show: Superdelegate Edition

Today at 10 AM ET, The LiberalOasis Radio Show was broadcast on WHMP-AM in Western MA. My special guest was Jennifer Nix of Literary Outpost, and one of the founders of the brand-new Superdelegate Transparency Project.
The audio podcast for the show is here. And you can watch my opening monologue below: on Clinton, Obama, poverty and policy substance.
Segment 1

Segment 2

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