Category: Campaign 2008.1
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
A few weeks ago, I attended a discussion of the coming 2008 presidential race offered by Thomas Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

As I said then,
I like Patterson. I heard him speak a few years ago at another convention. He is thoughtful and fair-minded. He has a great line: "the forecasting models indicate (insert prediction here) but I wouldn't bet my house on it." It is an important caveat. He sees this as a Democratic Party year, and I agree with him, but there is a reason we show up for the game even when the odds are prohibitive. On any given Sunday....

With a recent spate of polls and news analysis pieces reinforcing his points, I thought it would be appropriate to re-emphasize the wisdom of Professor Patterson:

Why are the Democrats ahead? Patterson noted that 1952 and 1968 were historical parallels. Stuck in unpopular wars, the parties of Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson suffered the consequences of presidential unpopularity. Looking at the job approval ratings of the President, the party of Bush groans with dread. The Democrats are currently running an 18-point lead in the generic canvass. There are potential pitfalls for the Dems (looking "anti-American" for one), but right now they have the better hand to play.

Even as there are many strongly persuasive indicators on general elections, the dynamics of the primaries make predictions on party nominations uncertain. Having said that, the nominations are now decided during the "invisible primary." That is, in the era of front-loading, the campaign prior to the first caucus and first primary generally determines the nominee. In a nutshell, this time next year, in all likelihood, we will know our two major party nominees.

Some things to watch for between now and the primaries:

1. Follow the Money. A winning candidate will need to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to win the nomination. George Bush busted the ancien regime, opting out of the matching funds system in 2000. Flush with cash, Bush rebounded after a loss in New Hampshire by swamping the poorly funded opposition on Super Tuesday. Then John Kerry in 2004 reaffirmed that no candidate could afford to stay within the federally funded order. Unable to gain traction, Kerry used his own money to fund his comeback. Limited funds deny candidate flexibility. The more money a candidate possesses, the less lethal any one mistake or setback will be.

2. Follow the Media and the Media Paradox. Media coverage drives popularity. The Media only cover viable candidates. Candidates cannot gain popularity without media coverage. In an era of limited media resources, only candidates with momentum and popular appeal will draw coverage.

The conclusion: It is very difficult for second tier candidates to break into the front-runners. Having said that, it happens: Howard Dean in 2004 for example.

Who will break through this time? Maybe no one in the party of Jackson. Patterson sees the Democratic race fairly fixed. There are three major candidates: a charismatic fresh face with a classically liberal outlook, an experienced DLC centrist triangulator and a populist white guy outlier (Obama, Hillary and Edwards).

The one wild card? Al Gore. He keeps saying he won't run--but Patterson wondered if an Academy Award and a Nobel Prize might create enough momentum to change the course of the primary battle. Sunday night [2-25-07] reinforces Gore's improbable dream. However, based on personal acquaintance with some Gore insiders, and the physical appearance of the former VP, Patterson guesses that Gore stays out.

For the GOP. There are three prominent Republican candidates: Romney, McCain and Giuliani. But they don't strike Patterson as very GOP-like. There may be an opening because the Republicans really need another choice.

UPDATE: Fred Thompson mania may be just the beginning....
Category: Campaign 2008.1
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
My Mantra: Nobody Knows Anything (a review here).

Having said that, again, here goes nothing:

1. Barack Obama and Hillary continue to hammer at one another. Smart people continue to say watch for Edwards. NPR did a friendly piece on Edwards this afternoon (NPR feature here). The gist of the story was that Edwards is doing better in Iowa than his two larger-than-life opponents. Is that true today? Probably. Will it continue? Maybe. Will Iowa determine the eventual nominee this time around? Not so certain. The race among the states to front-load primaries may make Iowa much less significant than in times past.

I don't like Edwards (some previous unfavorable thoughts on him here). He strikes me as a trimmer. On the other hand, as I say, smart people continue to point to Edwards. I agree that he is brilliantly stroking the base. Moreover, I see clearly the possibility of Hillary and Obama dealing one another mortal blows, and a winner emerging from the pack. Notwithstanding, I have a hard time seeing Edwards in that role.

2. I like Barack Obama. A few weeks ago, I came across a cartoon depicting an Easter-Island-like sculpture in the likeness of Obama with the caption: "I don't know what it is, but I am strangely attracted."

3. The best thing that could happen for the Obama campaign is a tiff with Al Sharpton. Is this it? Obama is a viable candidate because white America likes him and trusts him. They don't feel the same way about Reverend Al or Jesse Jackson. Even more than Bill Clinton did in 1992, Barack Obama will, at some point, need and greatly benefit from a "Sister Souljah" moment of his own.
Category: Campaign 2008.1
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Nobody knows anything.

Why? We have never done anything like this before.

For all the historians who point out historic parallels to this presidential election (Michael Kazin here), I say: rubbish!

Yes. Andrew Jackson started positioning himself for the 1828 race as soon as the dust cleared following the Corrupt Bargain election of 1824. Yes. William Jennings Bryan started campaigning for 1900 only weeks after he lost in 1896. Notwithstanding, those examples are of a completely different character.

This campaign is unlike anything we have ever seen. Even more modern comparisons are meaningless. Yes. Jimmy Carter began his 1976 campaign for the presidency in 1974. But Jimmy Carter toiled in obscurity for a full year. Howard Dean: similar story arc.

Never in the history of the American presidency have we had this kind of campaign, with so many candidates, with so much money and media attention on this kind of scale at this point in the cycle. Never. Therefore, there are no historical parallels. There are no good models. Nobody knows anything.

This week's rush to anoint Rudy is premature. We are just getting started. Rudy may win; he may prove a wonderful, resilient and tireless campaigner--but right now he is a two-week wonder. He is a novice at this level of competition. He has not even weathered his first media crisis. He is a great prospect, but only in the same way a triple-A phenom is a great prospect in spring training for a major league club. This is going to be a long season. Sometimes rookies win twenty games. More often they don't. Sometimes they don't even make it out of camp.

This week's storyline is the demise of John McCain. It may prove true. On the other hand, McCain survived eight years in the Hanoi Hilton, and seven years in the on-deck circle waiting for his final at-bat. I would not underestimate his patience or discipline. He strikes me as unlikely to get depressed and go home in the face of this most recent adversity. But we'll see.

Nobody knows anything, and I count myself in that category--but my sense is that Mitt Romney does not have IT. I wouldn't count Newt out--but he is still a long shot. He has a lot to overcome. We'll see.

Nobody knows anything, but George Will is awfully damned smart. Read his latest column here. He makes a lot of sense.
Category: Campaign 2008.1
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Much has been said about Barack Obama's clumsy chronology in crediting the 1965 "March to Freedom" in Selma with producing the interracial courtship of his parents that preceded his birth in 1961. The Obama campaign explained later that the candidate was speaking metaphorically and broadly.

However, I have not heard anyone question Hillary's description of the events of Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965:

Now, my friends, we must never forget the blows they took. Let's never forget the dogs and the horses and the hoses that were turned on them, driving them back, treating them not as human beings (full text here).

The intro to the Newshour on PBS report tonight even went so far as to show archival footage of police dogs attacking protesters and teenagers in the park dodging high-pressure hoses.

Indeed, Bull Connor was the master of the German Shepherd attack dogs, cattle prods and fire hoses. There is only one problem. Bull Connor was the villain of Birmingham. The news footage was of Birmingham--not Selma.

Hillary and the Newshour conflated Bloody Sunday with the images from Birmingham during the spring of 1963. In March of 1965, Sheriff Jim Clark and other local and state law enforcement confronted civil rights protesters on the Edmund Pettis Bridge with tear gas and mounted police. The images of Bloody Sunday are equally gruesome and the stories are just as harrowing--but they are two distinct events.

Perhaps I am being too fastidious? Perhaps Mrs. Clinton, like Senator Obama, was speaking in larger terms, compressing events into one dramatic narrative. But, after she exerted such effort to insert herself into the Selma commemoration, one could hope that the Senator from New York could have at least made a similar effort to get her facts straight.
This is a ridiculous but telling debate over the semantics of race.

Last week I wrote (speaking of Barack Obama):

" African American candidate, for the first time in our history, enters the contest as a serious contender to win the biggest prize in American politics."

Joe Biden said this week: "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."

I bet we meant just about the same thing. I used fewer words, which is always a good policy in that it is safer as well as better form.

But to the bigger point--and my question for you: With what set of facts within Biden's statement, exactly, do you disagree?

Barack Obama responded that he was not offended. I suppose that is the bright side. But Obama noted that Biden's statement was "obviously...historically inaccurate." Obviously?

Obama also asserted: "African American presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Mosely Braun and Al Sharpton gave a voice to many important issues through their campaigns, and no one would call them inarticulate."


Obama's rejoinder is, first of all, mostly a non sequitur; Biden did not call the enumerated African American notables inarticulate. Secondly, Obama's statement, dripping with political correctness, is true enough on its face--but a howler if it were intended to refute Biden's primary political assessment.

One more time, Joe Biden said: "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."

Shirley Chisholm and Carol Mosely Braun were not "nice looking guys." In fact, they were not especially attractive women. Okay so far.

Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are articulate only in the broadest sense of the word. Their oratory, in fact, is actually quite narrow in its appeal and flows from a specific cultural milieu that is inarguably out of the mainstream. Jackson and Sharpton are both preachers and entertainers. But politically speaking, they are not especially "articulate" or persuasive in an orthodox sense of the term. Joe Biden is still right on the money.

Is Obama "bright" and "clean"?

By this I presume any rational listener would conclude that Biden meant that Obama is a fresh face, unsoiled by past public errors, poor decisions or scandal.

My view: Those who distort "clean" into some sort of racial epithet are beneath contempt.

Obama is a "storybook" figure. He is a dream candidate. He is absolutely unique in the purest sense; that is, he is completely unlike any previous candidate for president of the United States. Biden was absolutely right. This feeding frenzy is completely unwarranted and lacks any sense of proportion or decency. Having said that, if this were a prominent Republican public figure, the story would be a wall-to-wall media event, which would only gain steam until the dastardly Republican was driven from the field of play.

But what about Biden? His biggest problem is that he generally uses too many words. Most of the time, he is too clever by half. He is too confident in his modest intellect and too fond of the sound of his own voice. None of this comes as a revelation to any one who has watched more a minute or two of C-SPAN2.

And he is out (or will be soon enough). Again, not a big surprise and probably for the best. Having said all the bad about Biden, he really is an immensely talented senator and fairly competent and useful when he is not running for president. We will all be better off when Joe Biden reconciles himself to the overwhelming probability that he will never be president of the United States.

I welcome the inevitable: his announcement that he is fishing his hat from the ring.

Just for fun: Who is the next irrelevant senator who doesn't have a chance that is soon likely to see the writing on the wall?

I don't want to say his name, but his initials are Chris Dodd.
Category: Campaign 2008.1
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The question of the day on C-SPAN's Washington Journal this morning (January 17, 2007):

Is Barack Obama experienced enough to be President of the United States?

Not surprisingly, Democrats assured us that he is. Republicans hooted at his brief career in national politics.

The truth is that winning the presidency is a combination of timing and likeability. That is, the timing must be right for your brand of change. If you are running against a popular incumbent, the record indicates that a challenger, no matter how smart, no matter how articulate, no matter how handsome, does not fare well. Think Dwight Eisenhower is 1956; Ronald Reagan in 1984; Bill Clinton in 1996. Was there a challenger anywhere in America capable of diverting those landslide reelection victories?

On the other hand, if you are running against a failed incumbent, and the collective sense of the American people is that change is necessary, almost any candidate, no matter how formerly unknown or inexperienced, can win on the first Tuesday in November. After twelve years of Democratic Party rule, any candidate could have beaten Martin Van Buren in the aftermath of the Panic of 1837. Similarly, any candidate could have bested Herbert Hoover, broken on the wheel of economic depression, in 1932.

Much more fluid are elections in which there is no incumbent or heir apparent to an administration in power. We are approaching just such a rare election in 2008.

In these elections (this election), timing will be an important factor; that is, what is the zeitgeist of the American electorate? Does the economy drive the decision? National security? The national debt? Taxes? Integrity? These are all important factors.

But in this election in which there is no incumbent and no heir apparent, all things being equal, likeability will be an extremely strong determinant in the contest.

Do Americans care about experience? Not especially. Al Gore was much more experienced than George Bush, but Bush won the likeability contest by a wide margin (and, of course, John Kerry was incredibly unappealing). Jerry Ford was eminently more experienced and qualified to be president than Jimmy Carter--but Americans were ready for a change.

Henry Clay was the most qualified American statesman to never be president--but his accomplishments did not matter to Americans in 1844 when they elected virtually unknown James K. Polk over the Great Compromiser. J.Q. Adams boasted perhaps the finest record of public service in all our history--but he lost the popular vote in 1824 to the charismatic war hero, Andrew Jackson. JFK and LBJ in the Democratic contest for the nomination in 1960. JFK and Nixon in the general in 1960.

Moreover, add into the 2008 equation friendly media coverage of an Obama campaign, and you can easily envision how his inexperience could be an advantage. Voters tend to project their own views on fresh faces. In fact, during the modern era, extensive voting records have proved debilitating handicaps in media-driven elections.

I make no definite prediction here, but in answer to the question of whether Americans will elect an inexperienced person whom they like and to whom they can attach their optimism and desire for a change? Or can Barack Obama be elected? Bet the farm on it.

Note: Thanks to Citlalli for her consultation in the development of this post.
Category: Campaign 2008.1
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Biden disappoints:

From Glenn Kessler and the Washington Post:

"Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said yesterday that he believes top officials in the Bush administration have privately concluded they have lost Iraq and are simply trying to postpone disaster so the next president will "be the guy landing helicopters inside the Green Zone, taking people off the roof," in a chaotic withdrawal reminiscent of Vietnam."

You may read the entire article here.

I was holding out much hope for Joe Biden. My sincere wish was that the Senator would choose statesmanship over grandstanding. There are two Bidens. Most of us are familiar with the blowhard-Biden of the judiciary committee, spewing gibberish and comically attempting to match wits with great legal minds. But there is another Biden. A thoughtful, pragmatic and experienced Senator who loves his country more than himself.

I was hoping for the statesman Biden--but got the clown. The demagoguery above also serves as his unequivocal signal that he seeks the Democratic Party's nomination for president in 2008. Only Joe Biden with a bad case of Potomac Fever would be addled enough to display this degree of wanton foolishness.
Hillary Clinton is still the most likely person to be elected the forty-fourth president of the United States in 2008 (see Part I). If she is elected, America will endure (see Part II); perhaps, we will even prosper.

Clinton-44: Part III. Why it might even be good:

1. We have reason to hope that Republicans will better inhabit the role of loyal opposition than the erstwhile players.

2. Most importantly, if Mrs. Clinton remains faithful to her record and rhetoric, her election will commit the Democratic Party en masse to the global war on terror. Just as Harry Truman and the Democrats owned the Cold War until Dwight Eisenhower came along and embraced the policy, the War on Terror at this moment is a unilateral Republican policy. It is vital for American survival that the Democrats have a partisan interest in our success in the larger war on terror.

A crucial time. Mrs. Clinton is at a crossroads right now. Does she stand pat on her Iraq position? Or should she hedge her bet? During the next few days, President Bush will reaffirm his commitment to winning in Iraq, and he will announce a "surge" in troops (very likely a number larger than many of us are prepared for). Will Mrs. Clinton support the President? Or will she join John Kerry and John Edwards, who have both repudiated their 2002 support and are vocally advocating for an expedited withdrawal? Hillary's choice will be the most important decision of her political career, and not merely vital for her personally; her determination goes a long way toward shaping our future as a nation.

Her political calculation: To win the general election, Mrs. Clinton must cast herself as a moderate Democrat, tough on terror, strong on defense, realistic on taxes and sane on the cultural issues. She has steadily constructed this political persona for almost a decade. For the most part, she has succeeded grandly. As a result, most of the other moderate Democrats are fleeing the field, leaving the canvass to Mrs. Clinton.

An aside: Most handicappers have this race down to Hillary and Barack Obama (the candidate who has burst onto the political scene from nowhere to become a viable choice with astonishing momentum). Not invested in the original decision to invade Iraq, Obama has made the safest bet: he opposes increased troop levels (his statement here ). This is clearly the best route for him, as it highlights his original opposition to what has become an incredibly unpopular military action. His compelling answer to the inevitable question of experience: "My opponent may have a few years on me, but I have enough common sense to avoid a debacle." Notwithstanding, there are weaknesses in this strategy (see below).

Back to Clinton: Although she wobbled a bit this week, significantly, Mrs. Clinton has not laid the predicate for supporting a precipitous exit from Iraq. Why has she remained firm thus far? She understands that success in Iraq is in her interest. Best case scenario for candidate Clinton in 2008? A passive Iraq quietly building strength below the media radar. In fairness to her, she also understands that wresting a stable Iraq from the current chaos is in America's vital national interests, comprehending the catastrophic consequences of a humiliating withdrawal.

The Politics: Mrs. Clinton is the frontrunner. She is a superstar; she sits atop the best organization in the contest; she has unlimited access to money, and she (in partnership with her husband) has spent a lifetime locking in endorsements, racking up favors and collecting promises from all the key players in the upcoming primary battle. But she has a dilemma. If a volatile Iraq continues to deteriorate through January 2008, her opponents in the Democratic primary will inflict monumental damage depicting her as George Bush's enabler. Can she survive that? Impossible to say.

On the other hand, staying the course may be the wiser political move. She is not in a desperate position like John Edwards, who must publicly and repeatedly repent to resurrect his 2008 viability. She does not need to appeal to the most radical elements in her party, who detest the war. A degree of hawkishness and faith in American good intentions helps her in the heartland.

The McCain factor: More significantly, if she abandons ship, and the plan to increase troop levels succeeds, she is in real trouble in the general election. Surprisingly, John McCain seems now in position to secure the Republican nomination. Increased troop strength is John McCain's recipe for success. He has been sounding this call for three years. If this last gasp works, John McCain (with the willing aid of President Bush) takes full credit for the change in tactics. If Hillary deserts the cause at this late date, and the new plan works, she cedes the foreign policy high ground to her Republican opponent. On the other hand, if she stays true to her previous commitment, she fights McCain on even ground in November of 2008.

This is an extremely vexing political decision. But it is momentous. If she holds firm, the Democratic Senate leadership in the Senate will back her. With the support of Mrs. Clinton, Joe Biden and Joe Lieberman, the United States gets one more chance to snatch victory from the awful struggle in Iraq.

Dick Morris wrote an insightful piece a few weeks ago (read it here courtesy of Jewish World Review).

He begs us not to elect Hillary Clinton and enumerates a long list of reasons why she would be a disaster. Undoubtedly, he has a lot of this right. I agree with much of his unflattering character profile. Morris is a canny operator and an insightful observer with expert knowledge of the Clintons. Having said that, Morris's analysis is always flavored by his hatred for them (especially intense for Hillary), which clouds his judgment.

Even so, Morris points out that Hillary, in contradistinction to Bill, is rigid and stubborn, inclined to make up her mind and "charge ahead and do what she thinks needs to be done, the torpedoes be damned." Morris sees this as a horrendous flaw, and I would agree with him in ordinary circumstances; however, in this case it may work to our national benefit. We need stubborn more than practical right now.
Category: Campaign 2008.1
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Does the Ninth Ward in hurricane-devastated New Orleans prove John Edwards's "Two Americas" thesis?

He thinks so. There he was today, against a backdrop of African American young people, calling for "action" and "responsibility" and announcing his candidacy for Activist in Chief.

Intent on "transforming" America, Edwards could have been reading from candidate George Bush's playbook, when he praised "faith-based groups, charitable groups and volunteers" for taking action and making a difference in New Orleans. Holding forth in his blue jeans and open-at-the-neck dark blue button-down, Edwards exuded youthful energy and earthy common sense: "don't wait for government. The people know what to do. Let's take action and responsibility now."

His Platform:

1. Leave Iraq NOW! No escalation.

2. "Take the lead on genocide in Sudan and Darfur."

3. Stop Global Warming by conserving energy.

4. Universal healthcare for all Americans (to start).

5. Eradication of Poverty.

My Analysis:

Edwards is an interesting person. The attending media, however, seemed cynical about his chances. I am too. I think he turned out to be a dud in the 2004 general election campaign, and I concur with the conventional wisdom that the race is already down to two candidates (and he is not one of them).

On the other hand, Edwards is attractive. He connects. He artfully blends his stolid progressive political menu with conservative rhetoric and personal charisma. Watching the C-SPAN coverage of him after the press conference reveals a candidate who has a Bill Clinton-like ability to press the flesh. He was the great surprise of the 2004 campaign. He could certainly exceed expectations again.

Having said that, Edwards is more likely the Gary Hart of this campaign (Monkey Business aside). He is the guy who seemed so fresh four years ago, but you cannot quite remember why exactly you were so impressed back then.

His main problem is that aside from his charm and winning smile, he doesn't offer much in the way of new ideas. As Walter Mondale asked of Gary Hart in 1984: "Where's the beef?" How exactly do we go about eradicating poverty and curtailing global warming? How do we pay for universal healthcare?

Well, we are going to raise taxes on the wealthy and shut down the government largesse to the oil companies. That is a big applause line--but is it a real solution? Since Edwards kicked off his campaign in South Louisiana, I suppose it is appropriate to remember Huey Long, who promised to make every man in America a king. When numbers crunchers, scratching their heads, asked him how he would pay for it, Long replied: "You don't have to understand it; just shut you damn eyes and believe it."
Back in March, I explored my own mind in re John McCain. I am more convinced today than I was then that McCain is likely our man. Below are my thoughts then.

My post from 13 March:

Today New York Times columnist Paul Krugman (and the Democratic party) officially declared war on John McCain, calling him "slippery and evasive" and a "right-winger." Although I fought hard against McCain's candidacy for the Republican nomination in 2000, for the last several months I have been telling my friends that I think McCain may be our guy for 2008.

First of all, why was I so dead-set against McCain six years ago? Frankly, it is hard to remember exactly, but I came to genuinely dislike him for a time. I started out an Orin Hatch supporter, and then I reluctantly settled on George Bush because he looked like he could win and I liked his family. He also struck me as an unpolished but authentic and sincere man ("I believe in grace, because I have seen it ... In peace, because I have felt it ... In forgiveness, because I have needed it"). On the whole, George Bush has not disappointed me.

Why my dislike for McCain? Once committed to Bush in the early months of 2000, McCain was the enemy. I disagreed with McCain-Feingold, which was one of the cornerstones of his campaign. Perhaps most importantly, I was spooked by his boosters. Looking back, I was very suspicious of someone who courted the MSM and appealed to my hardcore Democratic friends (although I predicted back then that McCain's liberal admirers would desert him in the general election). Moreover, I felt he was playing to the Beltway press corps (and we are supposed to hate the Beltway press corps). In retrospect, my distaste for McCain based on his association with reporters who flocked to his bandwagon on the "straight-talk express" was unfair and not quite rational.

Why does McCain appeal to me today? McCain self-identifies as a Reagan Republican (as he has throughout his career). He is a Westerner. He is rock-solid on conservative issues (today Paul Krugman asserts that McCain's voting record is currently ranked the third-most conservative in the Senate). Krugman (who is not linked here; my policy is to not link the Times) has it just about right: McCain is not a radical opponent of tax cuts; McCain has a long history of toughness against rogue states (Krugman makes the important point that William Kristol supported McCain over Bush in 2000; McCain's foreign policy would have been similar to Bush's, only stronger). Krugman also fumes that McCain is now friendly with the Religious Right and positioning himself as "an extremist on abortion."

Krugman makes a lot of sense to me (did I really say that?).

Moreover, McCain, who had the power to derail Bush in 2000 and 2004, rallied around the flag and proved his loyalty to Republican ideas. McCain set aside any personal animus and did the right thing for the right reasons. He had every opportunity for revenge, and he passed. You must admire that kind of discipline. McCain has supported the war on terror unflinchingly. Although he balked on the torture question, and he called consistently for more troops in Iraq during 2003 and 2004, arguably, he was right on both counts.

Added comment: McCain drew near-unanimous condemnation from conservatives for his leadership role in the "Gang of Fourteen" (aka "The Mod Squad"), but that seems somewhat misplaced and wrong-headed now that the compromise netted us Roberts and Alito and broke up the logjam of conservative Circuit Court nominees.

Why now? In brief:

1. McCain will run as a Reagan Republican, but he will not carry the baggage of the Bush administration. The GOP faces tough times in 2006 and 2008. The next election will be a referendum on President Bush (35 percent approval). But no Repubilcan candidate can succeed running away from George Bush. Republicans cannot nominate an "outsider," anti-Washington governor (it just won't fly). Having said that, there needs to be some distance. McCain will run on his record of integrity and independence and fiscal responsibility, at the same time promising to stay the course where it counts.

To that end, McCain is an articulate spokesman for conservative common sense. The winning candidate will need to connect with the public. The GOP candidate will need to sell a program that is not very popular right now. McCain is a great communicator. His vaunted appeal to "moderates" (much criticized in some conservative circles) really means that many regular Americans perceive McCain as a good man and wise leader.

2. McCain is battle-tested and up to the challenge. The next presidential election will prove devastatingly cruel and heartless. Think Hillary Clinton and James Carville and Paul Begala and Paul Krugman unleashed. This is no time to learn as you go along. The Republicans need a tough guy for this very tough upcoming race. McCain's life experience and his sense of humor will help him navigate the ugliness.

3. Lindsey Graham. Graham is the brightest shining star on the Republican horizon and a long-time McCain supporter. Graham will be a floor leader in the Senate in a McCain presidency, positioning him for bigger and better things to come. McCain and Graham represent the future of the party.

What say you? What are your reasons for and/or against McCain?