Category: Campaign 2008.4
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Compelling theater on the floor of the United States Senate tonight (Friday PM).

The Good News: Comity, pragmatism, and the national interest reigned within the Upper Chamber this evening, as the Senate passed the President's FISA bill.

An AP account of the proceedings here.

Watching the drama play out on C-SPAN2, one could not help but notice that the production appeared skillfully orchestrated. Even as the Democrats were voting against the Republican-crafted version of the bill, certain members seemed designated to raise the total to the needed sixty votes for passage. Red-state Democrats (Southerners like David Pryor and Mary Landrieu and lower Mid-Westerners like Claire McCaskill) provided the needed margin, while all the Democratic candidates for president voted against the measure.

Another wrinkle: Although the Senate website has not posted the roll call vote yet, I distinctly heard Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Mikulski, and Bill Nelson, all Democratic members of the Intelligence Committee, vote in the affirmative for the bill.

A humorous aside: I think I heard Mary Landrieu change her vote twice, voting in the affirmative initially, re-voting in the negative, and then casting her third and final vote in favor.

All in all, well done. The mission was accomplished, the Democratic leadership saved face, Russ Feingold scolded, and almost everybody seemed to exit the chamber smiling and friendly, happily headed home, and deservedly proud of one another--having done their duty.

Good show.

One last thing: The junior senator from New York waited until near the end of the vote to cast her "thumbs down," and I was holding my breath wondering if she was going to further set herself apart from her nearest rival, the junior senator from Illinois. I really wanted to title this post: "Mrs. Clinton? Aye!" What a fitting end to a week in which candidate Clinton advocated an adult foreign policy, while Barack Obama seemed adrift. But, alas, not tonight.
This headline in the Washington Post today:

"Three Top Democrats Share Lead In Iowa Poll;
Clinton, Obama, Edwards Are Tied"

Jon Cohen and Dan Balz report:

"Less than six months before Iowa voters open the 2008 presidential nomination battles, the Democratic contest in the Hawkeye State is a deadlock, with Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards in a virtual tie for first place, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll."

The full story here.

My Analysis in brief:

1. It is still very early--but this race (especially in Iowa) seems to be taking shape. These polls are starting to count.

2. Bad news for Edwards. This is the state in which he is best-positioned for success. He is well-known, popular, and a proven vote getter in Iowa. More importantly, this is the state on which he has placed all his chips.

I have already recorded my skepticism on this strategy, but Edwards is hoping to win in Iowa, generate a groundswell of momentum, and ride the wave of victory in the caucus to victory in the other state primaries that closely follow.

To review: this is a long shot at best, as the caucus in Iowa will probably have much less positive influence on underdogs as in times past. Why? The primaries are configured in a completely different way this time around. They are frontloaded and compressed, which requires a massive and powerful organization to compete everywhere simultaneously. This is not good for insurgent campaigns.

Having said that, Edwards is now losing momentum in Iowa--where he must emerge as surprisingly strong to have any chance. You may ask if this is the chicken or the egg, but, ironically, this new three-way poll affirms the recently emergent storyline of a two-horse race.

3. Good news for Hillary. A few weeks ago she was squelching rumors that she would not contest Iowa. As the Post story contends, and as the Okie Gardener's onsite reporting asserted, Iowa is not a good fit for the Clinton candidacy. She does not play well in Peoria. That is, Iowans seem unimpressed, suspicious, and unfriendly to her personally.

However, she is grinding this one out: four yards and a cloud of dust. There was much discussion a while back regarding Bill's coming to Iowa. The punditry wondered: Was this too soon? Probably not. Switching sports analogies: start your ace in game one, and you can possibly start him again in four and seven. Bring the heat early and often. All that to say, the Clinton team realizes Iowa is big. Bill Clinton might make the difference in a close race; it would be foolish to leave him on the bench.

The bottom line: Candidate Clinton can overcome a loss in Iowa, because she has the best organization. She is prepared to compete in every state primary over the following three weeks. However, a win in Iowa would be huge for her. She can overcome a loss in Iowa--but a win might clinch the aura of inevitability.

With Certainty: If John Edwards does not win Iowa, he is finished.

Less Certain: Barack Obama. If the Illinois senator, a favorite son from a neighboring state does not win in Iowa, he will be damaged. However, he will have plenty of money with which to dust himself off, get back in the race, and go on to New Hampshire et al with vigor.

One other note of interest: Bill Richardson broke through to double digits in this poll. Insiders see Richardson as a serious person. Perhaps this gives him hope in the VP derby or for a top cabinet slot.

UPDATE: A big Texas welcome to Instapundit readers. Browse around and make yourself at home. For other stories of possible interest, click above on "Campaign 2008" or here and scroll down.

Also, for a view of the FISA vote in the Senate last night, see here.
Category: Campaign 2008.4
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The Washington Post is currently featuring this video clip (view here), in which Michele Griffin, a waitress in a New Hampshire diner, confronts Mitt Romney regarding healthcare.

Although the Post headline frames the exchange broadly, "How 'Bout the USA? Romney Is Asked In Emotional Exchange on Health Care," the confrontation is much more personal. "What are you going to do for me and my family?" Ms. Griffin demands, making clear her core concern is immediate. How is the government going to solve my problem? She also wants to know about Romney's individual plan (co-payments, deductibles, etc.) implying that her care and his care ought to be equal.

The exchange is uncomfortable to watch. I felt bad for Romney, and I felt embarrassed for Ms. Griffin. It is one of the reasons I would never want to run for President.

An aside: Increasingly, I am inclined to ask: who would want this job? Who would be willing to go through this kind of humiliation (and plenty of other kinds) to get this job? God Bless the candidates--each and every one. I cannot help but believe that they all possess out-sized portions of civic responsibility and love of country.

Perhaps even more alarming, the exchange spotlights a culture in which we expect the government to solve our problems. Ms. Griffin is the pony-tail guy of 1992 in a slightly different guise. I am hurting. You need to fix it. We continue to look for a candidate who can feel our pain.

My heart goes out to folks who are struggling. Ms. Griffin appears to be a sympathetic mother in genuine despair. Nevertheless, how did we get to the point in our national culture in which we expect a random candidate for president to come in off the street, wave a magic government wand, and make our lives better? My hunch is that the Lotto offers Ms. Griffin better odds for amelioration than waiting for government to transform her life.

This is not a healthy dynamic. I think I am going to be ill...
Category: Campaign 2008.4
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Appearing presidential may be the most essential element in the art of running for president. The Foreign Policy theater is often the toughest venue for aspiring presidents, and sometimes desperate actors do take desperate measures to demonstrate their capacity for the role.

I have not read Barack Obama's major foreign policy address delivered Wednesday at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. I will read it soon, and I will report on anything I find significant that is not completely obvious and/or already well covered.

Before I do that, however, I will assess the speech as a campaign event, keeping in mind that the vast majority of Americans who will pick the next president did not, nor will they ever, read the statement.

Therefore, much more important than what Obama said yesterday is how it is reported and received in the coming days.

How was it covered?

The conservative blogosphere and talk radio played up the speech, focusing on Obama's promise to invade Pakistan and taking the freshman senator to task for his naive bravado.

The mainstream media initially softened the hard edges of the speech, concentrating on the broader themes of Bush incompetence, missed opportunities, and the current unpleasantness.

However, the Washington Post, holding the same story over night, changed its headline to reflect the tough talk toward Pakistan.

More importantly, the bridge collapse story pushed all things Obama (and Campaign 2008 in general) off the front pages--in fact, as of this morning on their website, the New York Times had not even updated their coverage since Obama actually delivered the speech.

Any likely impact?

1. For Republicans: very little. The speech was merely another act in an entertaining side show. Obama did not sway one Republican yesterday (either way). However, if Obama were to win the nomination, the speech gave the opposition something meaty to chew on, dissect, scrutinize, and further build a case against the candidate.

2. Impact on Move-On Democrats: They can't be all that impressed. Aside from the harsh rhetoric against the war (reminding voters of his early opposition to invading Iraq and his rival's initial support), the candidate cannot hope to help himself with the peace wing of his party by advocating an invasion of Pakistan.

On the other hand: Obama's best shot at wresting this nomination away from the Clinton organization is hammering his commitment to disavow US policy on Iraq. Perhaps this major speech is designed to resonate with the "out of Iraq caucus" more than anyone else. Perhaps he is hoping that the the base will ignore the bellicose language directed at Pakistan, while he reminds them of his consistently anti-war stance.

Perhaps Obama believes that every time he can remind primary voters that Hillary is an adult and part of the vast bipartisan international relations policy-making complex, he wins. Look for him to play that note frequently and with increasing intensity in the days to come.
Assuming Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, and she wants Barack Obama to fill out the ticket, will he accept?

The question is predicated on two BIG assumptions, especially in the midst of a campaign in which nobody knows anything--but here goes nothing...

Some things to think about:

1. As a general statement, nobody turns down the vice presidency. Off the top of my head, I can think of only two American statesmen who have demurred. Gerald Ford in 1980. John McCain (from Kerry) in 2004. Both of those instances were extraordinary cases: Ford a former president and McCain a member of the opposition party with presidential aspirations within his own caucus. Any others?

An Update: Thinking about things, Silas Wright declined to run with James K. Polk in 1844. Surely there must be others who famously declined. Help me out. Let's make a contest of it.

2. Why do American statesmen so often accept the VP?

--most American statesmen are committed to service above self aggrandizement (that's their story anyway). The VP is a lowly job but somebody's got to do it. Turning the job down smacks of too much ego and seems almost unpatriotic. Turning the job down would also be seen by many partisans as betrayal of party.

--the VP is a lowly job (John Adams called it "the most insignificant office that ever the Invention of man contrived or his Imagination conceived"). Having said that, the VP is a heart beat away from ultimate power.

--the VP is a platform for ambitious men. True, the office is a gamble. Sometimes the VP prospers and sometimes he fails miserably. But the potential for elevation (both literally and metaphorically) strikes most young men in a hurry as an irresistible gambit.

3. Even in the case of Al Gore, whom both the Gardener and I cite as a person damaged by the administration to which he attached himself, the VP opened up a plethora of opportunity for the former senator from Tennessee. Gore is Gore, Inc. today because he was VP. His association with the Clintons may have lost him the presidency in 2000 (or it may not have), but it is hard to argue that Gore would have even made a run for that nomination without his VP connection. The cult of Gore depends mightily (albeit indirectly) on his eight years in the second slot.

In closing, the VP is hard to turn down for a number of reasons, especially for a young man. If Hillary wins, and if she decides to tap Obama (two big ifs), I say he takes it. He has no real choice.
Category: Campaign 2008.4
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The Okie Gardener points us to this story in the Washington Post : "Religion Looms Large Over 2008 Race" (read here).

The article attempts to make two basic points:

1. Religion plays a much more important role in electing a president than it did four decades ago. All candidates (both GOP and Dems) feel that they need a religious public persona.

In essence, this is correct. However, there is a bit of journalistic leger demain in there. The story pivots on the Election of 1968, in which Mitt Romney's father, George, a practicing Mormon like his son, did not face much animosity or even curiosity about his religious beliefs in his unsuccessful run for the Republican nomination.

What changed? The Post calls on pollster Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center, who avers that "between the late 1960s, when Romney's father ran, and now there has been one of the great transformations of our era."

Kohut asserts: "There is more mixing of religion and politics than there was then."

The attention to 1968 seems to imply that there is an unprecedented concern for religion in politics today, which perpetuates the modern myth of an American electorate historically dedicated to preserving a strict separation of religious culture and political culture. As we have discussed time after time on this blog, such a "wall of separation" was never the reality in the American tradition.

Although the Post assumes the importance of JFK and his Catholicism in 1960 as precedent, they don't seem to make the logical connection to an electorate concerned with religion in 1960 (not to mention 1928). Nor does the Post ask the perfectly reasonable question: if religion were not a factor in selecting national leaders, why has a Mormon candidate not won the presidency over the past 150 years? A Jewish candidate? The truth is that 1968 is the aberration (for a lot of reasons that I will not go into here). No matter, by neglecting to mention the context of 1968, the Post is sloppy (at best).

UPDATE: Something for another time: I agree with the Post that we are in the midst of a religious revival in that faith is increasingly essential for candidates; on the other hand, our corporate religious personality has become so diverse that minority religionists today have more viability than ever before. More at some later date on this paradox.

The other theme of the Post article:

2. The Religious Right and their prejudice against Mormonism still presents Mitt Romney with a formidable obstacle to overcome in winning the Republican nomination.

This one strikes me as based on a false assumption at worst, and a bit overblown at best.

The power of the Christian Right in the GOP is limited

It is a mistake to assume that the Christian Right plays the ultimate "kingmaker" role in GOP primaries. Just ask Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer, Sam Brownback, and a myriad other failed aspirants who built campaigns around appealing to the tastes of religious conservatives. Since the advent of the so-called Religious Right, the GOP has nominated Ronald Reagan, George Bush (41), Bob Dole and George Bush (43). None of those candidates were anathema to religious people--but, with the possible exception of the latter George Bush, neither were they simpatico with conservative evangelicals.

An aside: the continued success of Rudy puts the lie to the notion that a candidate offensive to the Southern Evangelical power structure is not viable within the Republican Party.

Evangelicals can be quite ecumenical when the situation dictates

More importantly, the continued speculation centering on Romney's Mormonism ignores the propensity of the evangelicals to compromise and coalesce. Regardless of how powerful the Christian Right may be within the party, there is no doubt that evangelicals have been more than willing to join hands with other like-minded people of differing faiths. Part of the strength of modern religious voters is that they transcend denominations. Conservative Jews, Catholics and Protestants are now quick to make common cause. As for the General Election: faced with a big-name opponent whom they don't like very much (Hillary Clinton), religious conservatives will be happy to support Mitt Romney, a person of faith who enunciates shared conservative values.

My hunch is that Romney does not need to overcome a religious hurdle. Romney needs to prove himself a stimulating candidate with a message and a good chance to win in November. Once he does that (and I must admit that he is even making some headway with me in that regard), he will be plenty palatable to the Richard Lands of the political world.
I try not to do a lot of "I told you so" on this blog; such egocentric triumphalism is boring and boorish. On the other hand, the buzz concerning Newt's prediction that Clinton and Obama will form the Democratic ticket for 2008 makes this late post newly relevant.

From last week:

A Likely Scenario

Right now Mrs. Clinton holds a comfortable lead. Most likely, Obama will continue to rise in the polls until he is even with Clinton, possibly even surpass Clinton, and then peak. These will be tense moments. Both camps will develop a deep dislike for the other. Then Mrs. Clinton's experience and superior organization will take over, the adults in the Democratic Party will exert their influence, Clinton will pull back ahead of Obama, and then pull away from him down the stretch. Then Mrs. Clinton will extend a gracious hand of friendship to Obama and offer him the VP. Obama will seize the opportunity to further his political education and prepare for his ultimate elevation to the Chief Executive. And they both shall live happily ever after.

You may review the entire post here.
Category: Campaign 2008.4
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Important Caveat: The following paragraph is not offered as a veiled prediction.

I remember distinctly watching the Today Show at some point during the early stages of the Republican primary in 1980 when Tom Pettit of NBC News pronounced the political career of Ronald Reagan officially dead. Not too long after that, Reagan fired John Sears as his campaign manager, went back to being Reagan, and won the nomination easily.

Even before his latest troubles, I had counted out John McCain with sincere regret. I would not be at all surprised if he bowed out of the race in the very near future (hours not days; days not weeks). On the other hand, it would not surprise me if McCain persevered through Iowa and New Hampshire. After all, he is tough as nails. It would SHOCK me, however, if McCain re-emerged as a viable candidate a la RR.

Here are a few reasons why McCain is not Ronald Reagan:

1. Charisma. McCain lacks the movie star good looks and stage presence, not to mention the Reagan gift for communication. Of all the candidates for president, McCain is the most ardent and spot-on regarding the war. No matter, he seems incapable of delivering that message to a wider audience.

2. True-blue believers. I know a lot of people who like McCain, but I cannot think of anyone who worships him. Back in 1976 and 1980, a whole host of us saw RR as a political messiah.

3. The Kitchen Cabinet. In addition to an army of awestruck admirers out in the heartland, Reagan enjoyed an intensely loyal coterie of really smart and sophisticated political operatives who believed in him completely. McCain had the best staff money could buy. Now he has no money and no staff.

4. The Base. Reagan always had his detractors--but they were on the other side of the political divide. The most virulent hatred for McCain comes from within the GOP.

5. The Message. Reagan articulated core convictions he had rehearsed and perfected over the course of three decades. Even when adopting a new position (right to life, for example), Reagan hammered it home like a lesson he learned in Sunday School back in Dixon, Illinois. McCain, exceedingly principled and full of core convictions, ironically, strikes voters as an opportunist. Too often GOP loyalists see McCain as prone to adopting trendy positions to impress the Washington intelligentsia.

Much of this is unfair--but sometimes the ball bounces that way.
A few thoughts from a conversation with Bosque Boys reader and contributor, Coach, which further points to a Hillary Clinton presidency:

I said: Americans vote FOR people more than they vote AGAINST them. I agree that Hillaryís negatives are bigóbut I donít think they will sink her. Her negatives are part of the landscape (a lot like Nixon). They strike me as obstacles that sharp operators can navigate, having the advantage of knowing where they are from the outset.

I continue to think Hillary can win in November. I tend to think her biggest problem is that Democrats might panic in January and decide she canít win in November and look for a more conventional candidate.

Coach agreed and added that "the Democrats donít have a good conventional candidate to fall back on."

And he ticked off a few other elements in Hillary's favor:

--The Republicans donít have a candidate for those who would most oppose Hillary. Neither Giuliani or McCain (moderates) or Romney (a recently converted conservative) are especially fitted to the needs of conservative Christians, who seem to find the most fault with Hillary.

An Aside from me: I am not sure how Fred Thompson fits in to that equation.

--Hillary will run as a moderate, advocating positions very close to the Republican candidate.

--The Republican candidate will be fighting an uphill battle. This is a Democratic election year. See the results of the recent Congressional elections and the approval ratings for the President.

--The electorate is restless. The public has unrealistic expectations about what the president can actually do, and they are disappointed when those expectations arenít met.

--Hillary will have the discipline to stay on message and listen to her magnificent brain trust. Part of the political genius of the Clintons is that they never slip up during elections. They are criticized for being phony or ďcannedĒ, but there are never any gaffes.

Good handicapping, Coach.