Dave’s BLOG Archive July 2009 – July 2014

The BLOG page will primarily be used to post quick thoughts, rather than the somewhat long-winded articles that make up the rest of the website. It won’t be a “Daily” type of BLOG, however; it will be more of a “Whenever Dave Can Get To It” type of BLOG.

 

Sorry, but Dave does have other things to do.

 

Also, the most recent post appears at the top. If you wish to follow a given topic over multiple posts, scroll down to the end and then follow the topic by moving up one post at a time…

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July 24, 2014: What the Polls are Missing

There has been yet another big surprise this election season.
This past Tuesday, July 22nd, political newcomer David Purdue defeated veteran Congressman Jack Kingston in a runoff for the GOP nomination for the Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss. This was a surprise because Kingston had led Purdue in every poll since the May 20th primary made the runoff necessary – by as much as eleven points in more than one poll – and the final Real Clear Politics Average still gave Kingston a 6-point lead over Purdue going into Tuesday’s vote. Purdue won by almost two points anyway. Why? Kingston, who has served in the House for more than two decades, believes he lost because he couldn’t escape the “Washington Insider” label: “People are very frustrated with Washington, D.C., and I think that was a big hurdle,” he said. “And my opponent capitalized on that — as he should.”
So how did the polls in Georgia miss this, and what does this mean going forward?
First, it is important to note that this was not the first big surprise that saw the ouster of a “Washington Insider” this election cycle. Last month House Majority Leader Eric Cantor – arguably the ultimate “Washington Insider” – lost his re-election bid in the Republican primary, something that has never happened to any House Majority Leader from either party. There were many factors that were blamed for Cantor’s defeat, but the consensus eventually settled around the idea that Cantor was widely perceived as having “Gone Washington”. Just like in the Georgia runoff, the polls going into Cantor’s primary completely missed what was about to happen.
There have been other results along these lines as well. In May, Tea-Party candidate Chris McDaniel forced veteran Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran into a runoff. Although Senator Cochran ultimately won the nomination, McDaniel finished ahead of Cochran in the initial primary – and again the polls going into the primary missed it. Congressman Ralph Hall of Texas was also forced into a runoff last March – again a result completely missed by the preceding polls – and ultimately lost the nomination.
So how significant is this anti-Washington sentiment? Every poll taken in recent years has shown dismal approval ratings for how Congress is doing its job, which usually leads to a high turnover in the House – in fact, the coming midterms will be held with Congressional approval likely to be at an all-time low – but the typical trend has been that, while voters disapprove of Congress in general, they vote to re-elect their own representatives. This time, however, things may be different. The Associated Press has found that this year a majority doesn’t even want their own representative re-elected. This bucks the trend, and could call all of the normal expectations into question.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that the Republicans will lose the House of Representatives – redistricting will ensure that they hold on to their majority there. However, House members currently representing districts that are even remotely competitive – those that are now considered “toss-ups” or only “leaning” one way or the other, or seats currently held by one party but which were won by the other party’s presidential candidate in 2012 – should be very concerned about this. If long-term House members like Hall, Cantor, and Kingston can lose primaries to Washington outsiders they were expected to defeat – losses that pollsters never saw coming – then other “Washington Insiders” in the House may not be as secure in their re-elections as they think they are. Senator Cochran’s near-political-death experience means that incumbent Senators should also take heed.
Ironically, one race where this won’t be a factor is the Georgia Senate race, where neither candidate has ever held (or even run for) office before. Republican David Purdue, the outsider who defeated Congressman Kingston this week, is a former corporate CEO (of both Reebok and Dollar General), and Democrat Michelle Nunn is the CEO of the non-profit Points of Light Foundation (which was founded by former President George H. W. Bush). On the other hand, both of these candidates come from well-known political families in Georgia – Purdue is the cousin of former Governor Sonny Purdue, and Nunn is the daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn. How this plays out is anyone’s guess – the race is currently a toss-up on Real Clear Politics – but I have predicted that Nunn wins.
Meanwhile, pollsters may want to take a look at the reasons they have been missing the strength of the anti-Washington mood that is so clearly out there. There are still nineteen states that have not even held their primaries yet – these are scheduled in Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Washington on August 5th; Tennessee on August 7th; Hawaii on August 9th; Connecticut, Minnesota and Wisconsin on August 12th; Alaska and Wyoming on August 19th; Arizona, Florida and Vermont on August 26th; Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island on September 9th, and Louisiana on November 4th(Louisiana uses a “jungle primary” system where all candidates from every party appear on the November 4th ballot, with a runoff between the top two candidates – regardless of party affiliation –being held in December if no candidate receives 50% + 1 of the vote). Given so many races that are yet to be decided, there may very well be more surprises to come…

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June 13, 2014: Reports of the Tea Party’s Death are Greatly Exaggerated

One of the major narratives in the political news this election cycle has been the Republican Party Establishment finally standing up to the “Tea Party” wing of their Party. The Republican Party apparatus went into full aggressive campaign mode, launching negative advertising campaigns against Tea Party challengers across the country. They wanted no more Todd Akins, no more Richard Mourdocks, no more Christine O’Donnells (or Sharron Angles, or Joe Millers, or Ken Bucks, or…). There have been significant establishment victories over Tea Party challengers this year – most notably Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s easy defeat of Matt Bevin in Kentucky on May 20th and Senator Lindsey Graham’s win over Lee Bright (and others) yesterday in South Carolina, as well as the failures of both Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey to make the run-off for the open Senate seat in Georgia. The Tea Party’s only victory had been to force 91-year-old Congressman Ralph Hall of Texas into a run-off. The news narrative has essentially been little more than an ongoing obituary for the Tea Party.
Then things began to change.
On May 13th, a Tea Party-backed candidate named Ben Sasse won the Republican primary in Nebraska to fill the vacancy left by the retirement of Senator Mike Johanns. At the time little was said – Sasse had been ahead in the polls for some time, so the result was not a surprise – but this was the first rumbling that perhaps the Tea Party was “not quite dead” (any Monty Python fans out there?). Given that this happened in Nebraska, the Tea Party is virtually guaranteed a victory here in November.
One week later (May 20th), Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel won a plurality of the vote against six-term incumbent Senator Thad Cochran, but did not quite reach the 50% threshold to avoid a run-off. Senator Cochran, who had the full and very active support of the entire Republican establishment at both the state and federal levels, had been seen as a virtual shoe-in for re-election as recently as six weeks ago, but there were signs of trouble in the final weeks leading up to the actual voting. McDaniel is now favored to win the run-off on June 24th, and – given that this is Mississippi – would have to be heavily favored to win in November, giving the Tea Party another victory.
On May 27th, the aforementioned Congressman Hall of Texas lost his run-off against John Ratcliffe, a former U.S. Attorney, giving the Tea Party yet another victory. As with the Senate seats in Nebraska and Mississippi, Hall’s House seat is safe for the Republicans, so the Tea Party will likely win this one in November as well.
For all their significance, those were just warning signs. This week the sky fell on the GOP establishment. On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, one of the most powerful politicians in the country and presumed by many to be the next Speaker of the House, lost his bid for re-election to his House seat in Virginia – by about 12 percentage points – to a little-known college professor named David Brat, despite having outspent Brat by a ratio of 40 to 1. Interestingly, Brat will now face off in November against Democrat Jack Trammel, another professor from the same tiny college – Randolph-Macon Collegein Ashland, Virginia, which only has about 1200 full-time students.
This primary was completely different from the Senate races in either Nebraska or Mississippi, or Hall’s House race in Texas. In Nebraska, Ben Sasse had been leading former State Treasurer Shane Osborne for most of the campaign. In Mississippi, Chris McDaniel had been gaining ground against Thad Cochran for weeks, and by the day of the primary was widely expected to at least force Cochran into a run-off. In Texas, Congressman Hall had only been a Republican since 2004; he had been a Democrat for the previous 50 years, and his performance in the March primary (he received just 45% of the vote against a field of five opponents) foretold his fate. But no one – not even Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight.com – saw Cantor’s defeat coming. This is absolutely unprecedented – never before in our nation’s history (or at least since 1899, when the position was created) has a House Majority Leader from either party been defeated in a primary. Moreover, Cantor is certainly no liberal; he voted with the GOP 95% of the time and his “DW-Nominate” score (which tracks the voting records of members of Congress and rates them on a conservative-to-liberal scale) is about the same as that of ultra-conservative Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe. His defeat has sent shock waves through the Republican establishment – on Wednesday it was announced that Cantor will step down as House Majority Leader, setting off a scramble within the Republican leadership – and has forced the political news media to do some serious backpedalling on their “Tea Party Obituary” narrative.
It could get even worse for the GOP establishment. There are still several states that have not yet held their primaries, including three where Tea Party candidates have at least a chance to win Senate nominations (Joe Miller – again – in Alaska, Milton Wolff in Kansas, and Joe Carr in Tennessee), not to mention the Tea Party candidates running for various House seats. Given that Cantor’s Virginia district, Hall’s Texas district and the Senate seats in Nebraska and Mississippi are all safe Republican seats, this may turn out to be the Tea Party’s most successful year yet.
Clearly, reports of the Tea Party’s death are greatly exaggerated!

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May 21, 2014: A Fanatic is a Fanatic is a Fanatic…

Last week, Tea-Party favorite Ben Sasse won Nebraska’s Republican Primary for the Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Senator Mike Johanns. Given Nebraska’s strong Republican leanings, Sasse is virtually assured to win the seat in November and become Nebraska’s next Senator. According to Sasse’s campaign website, “Ben Sasse believes that our right to the free exercise of religion is co-equal to our right to life. This is not a negotiable issue. Government cannot force citizens to violate their religious beliefs under any circumstances. He will fight for the right of all Americans to act in accordance with their conscience.”
Wait a minute. “Government cannot force citizens to violate their religious beliefs under any circumstances?” Does he really mean “under ANY circumstances”? “He will fight for the right of all Americans to act in accordance with their conscience”? Does he really mean ANY action “in accordance with their conscience”?
Wow. The implications of this statement are truly stunning – and disturbing.
Many have taken Sasse’s statement to mean that he believes any citizen can violate any law of their choosing, and simply claim “religious belief” to avoid prosecution, and I agree with that interpretation. Frankly, it’s hard to read Sasse’s statement any other way. There has already been a firestorm – mostly on the political left, although some at the other end of the spectrum have raised concerns as well (especially regarding the notion that it sounds like Sasse would defend Sharia Law) – since this statement came to light, and many have raised specific questions. Here are a few questions of my own:
• If a man believes the biblical commandments – found in both the Old Testament (Leviticus 20:13) and the New Testament (Romans 1:32) – that homosexuals should be put to death, does that religious belief give him the right to kill any homosexual he runs across without fear of prosecution? Wouldn’t this fall under the heading of acting “in accordance with their conscience”?
• If a person believes that their neighbor is possessed by the devil, do they have the right to kill their neighbor?
• If a man holds a religious belief that a woman must submit to a man, does that give the man the right to rape the woman?
These questions point out just how ludicrous Sasse’s statement is. The way I read it, Sasse is claiming that, as long as a person is acting “in accordance with their conscience” – something that could only be determined by the person committing the act – then government cannot prevent that action under any circumstances because to do so would violate that person’s religious beliefs. “Under any circumstances” can only mean exactly what it says – under ANY circumstances. In other words, Sasse is claiming that there can never be a situation where the legitimate needs of the government to enforce the law would supersede the religious beliefs of any individual, no matter what. He is simply wrong. He is wrong Constitutionally, he is wrong morally, and he is wrong in terms of common sense. Your religious beliefs, no matter how fervently or sincerely held, simply do not justify breaking any law of your choosing.
Another major problem with this is that it displays a remarkable ignorance of Constitutional Law for someone who is about to become a United States Senator. What Sasse clearly does not understand is that since the Bill of Rights was ratified back in 1791, the Supreme Court has had the task of figuring out what happens when the rights of individual citizens come up against the legitimate needs of the government to ensure a safe and secure society. There is a line between individual rights and what are called “compelling governmental interests”, and it has been the Supreme Court’s task to determine just where that line lies. As a result, limitations have been placed on virtually every right listed in the Bill of Rights. Here are some examples of these limitations on our rights (this is not intended to be anything close to a complete list):
Freedom of Speech – You cannot incite a riot, reveal classified information or other national secrets, commit perjury, or slander someone, and you can be required to obtain a permit (which may involve the payment of a fee to cover the costs of providing security and other services) to give a speech or hold a demonstration in a public place, and that permit can be denied if your “free speech” is considered likely to pose a “clear and present danger”. During the George W. Bush Administration, “free speech zones” were established for the first time at public appearances by Administration officials (not just the President) for those who wanted to protest; the clear implication being that the right to “free speech” did not exist outside of those zones (in fact, those protesting outside of those zones were removed and/or arrested).
Freedom of the Press – You cannot reveal classified information or other national secrets, commit libel, or violate obscenity laws and/or various other restrictions. The government can impose fines and other penalties for violations, and can dictate the general type of programming that can be broadcast on public airwaves during certain hours.
Right to Peaceably Assemble – A fee can be required obtain a permit to hold a rally or other gathering in a public place, and the permit for such a gathering can be denied for any number of reasons.
Right to Keep and Bear Arms – Gun owners can be required to register their weapons, a waiting period for a gun purchase can be enforced, and personal possession and/or ownership of certain weapons can be regulated or even prohibited.
Right to Protection Against Unreasonable Searches and Seizures – Cases have arisen where a warrant was issued for one thing – which turned out not to be there – but authorities found evidence of other crimes “in plain sight” when serving those warrants – and that evidence was admissible in court even though the authorities never would have found it had it not been for the unrelated warrant. Technology has also created many “gray areas” around this protection – for example, can police search your cell phone, tablet, or computer to examine your internet browsing history for evidence of criminal activity? This is one of the most active areas of ongoing Supreme Court jurisprudence.
Which brings us to…
Freedom of Religion – You cannot sacrifice a virgin to the volcano god. OK, that one’s silly, but it serves to make the point. More realistically, the Native American Church has been prohibited by the federal government from engaging in the centuries-old practice of smoking peyote as an integral part of their religious ceremonies – a practice that pre-dates Columbus – and that prohibition was upheld by the Supreme Court. A Christian Scientist couple’s daughter, who had a large tumor in her leg, was forcibly removed from her home and the tumor was surgically removed against the parents’ wishes after the parents refused to seek medical treatment on religious grounds (the daughter, who – if I remember correctly – was 12 years old at the time, also professed to follow Christian Scientist doctrine and did not want the tumor removed). The parents were charged with child neglect. Other “churches” that have been based on marijuana use or even prostitution (in one of the more amusing cases, a “tithe” was required to engage in the “religious ceremony” of having sex with the “high priestess”) have been shut down by the government. Warren Jeffs, the president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Utah, has been prosecuted for arranging marriages between adult male followers and under-aged girls (among other things), although Jeffs claimed that those marriages were within his religious beliefs. Even Hobby Lobby, the leading plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case fighting the Obamacare mandate that employers provide health coverage that includes contraceptive care to their employees (which the company’s owners say violates their religious beliefs), acknowledges in their court filings for that case that the government can place limitations on the free exercise of religion when there is a “compelling governmental interest” (the Supreme Court is expected to rule on that case by the end of June).
In a nutshell, there is no such thing as an unlimited right, and that includes the right to religious freedom. I find it a bit frightening that someone who is about to become a United States Senator would have such a fundamental misunderstanding about our rights and the Constitution, but even this is not what disturbs me most about Sasse’s statement.
Given that Sasse claims that “he will fight for the right of ALL Americans to act in accordance with their conscience” – which, if he truly means what he says, must include each and every individual American, no matter what belief system they adhere to – he is claiming that he will fight against any government limitations on any and all of those beliefs. Will he fight for a Muslim’s right to live by Sharia Law? Will he fight for the right of Jehovah’s Witnesses to refuse to recite the Pledge of Allegiance? Will he fight for the right of an Atheist to not have to listen to prayers at public meetings? What would he have done for “conscientious objectors” during the Viet Nam War?
If he really means he will fight any government restriction against religious freedom for ALL Americans, then he is advocating not just for all “valid” religions, but also for every fanatical nutcase out there. He will fight for Warren Jeffs’ immediate release from prison. He will fight for the “sex with the high priestess” thing. Remember the “suicide cult” in San Diego that believed the apocalypse was imminent and that they would be taken up in a spaceship that was following a comet? That was a “religious belief” (at least it was to those cult members), and according to Sasse, their right to that belief was “non-negotiable”, and “co-equal to our right to life”, and therefore he would have fought for them as well.
But I don’t really believe he will fight for any of these fanatics. I don’t even believe that he will fight for all “valid” religious beliefs. In fact, I believe he is flat-out lying.
Here’s what really bothers me about Sasse’s statement: I strongly suspect that when he says “Government cannot force citizens to violate their religious beliefs under any circumstances”, the “religious beliefs” he is referring to are limited to his personal Evangelical Christian beliefs, and when he says “He will fight for the right of ALL Americans to act in accordance with their conscience”, he really only means those Americans who share his beliefs. That makes him a religious fanatic.
What he clearly fails to understand is that if you apply a legal principle (like “Government cannot force citizens to violate their religious beliefs under any circumstances”) to one group – such as those who share his particular religious beliefs – then that same legal principle MUST also apply to everyone else. This is called the “Equal Protection of the Laws”. Perhaps he should look that one up.
The bottom line is that his statement shows Ben Sasse to be a religious fanatic, indistinguishable from all of those other fanatics that I don’t believe he will fight for.
A fanatic is a fanatic is a fanatic.

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March 31, 2014: The Best-Laid Plans…

The Republicans have done President Obama a huge favor – unintentionally and much to their chagrin, I’m sure – by doing something the President could not have done himself. They have publicly labeled the new health care reform law “Obamacare”, an easy-to-remember shorthand name that can be used in place of the unwieldy and all-too-forgettable official title of “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”. For a while, the President and his Administration actually resisted calling the law “Obamacare” (they tried – unsuccessfully – to get the public to adopt the abbreviation “ACA”), but have now fully embraced the term, citing the public’s familiarity with it.
Why was creating this label such a huge favor to President Obama? Simply put, the President could not have coined that term himself, because doing so would have made it seem like it was “all about him”. All Presidents – and all Presidential candidates – have big egos (Of course they do! How else could they believe they are the one and only person who is capable of leading the country?), but none of them want to be seen as arrogant. It’s good politics to appear to be humble, especially if you’re not. Even Lyndon Johnson, who arguably had the biggest ego of any President in our history, did not dare give his own major health care reform accomplishment, Medicare, the name “Johnsoncare” – although he probably would have been willing to cut off his right arm to do so. President Obama certainly wants to be remembered favorably by history, and since health care reform is his signature domestic achievement, he knows that history will judge him largely on the success or failure of that law. Nevertheless, he could never have named it “Obamacare” himself. He knows better. Only the Republicans could do that.
The Republicans wanted to forever tie this law to the President as a political liability, because they were absolutely convinced that the American people didn’t support it (to be fair, there was plenty of polling data to support that belief). They thought Obamacare would become an albatross around the President’s neck, and the Democrats’ waterloo. They fully intended the term “Obamacare” to be a derisive one, but it hasn’t worked out that way. Despite their best efforts to use the public’s opposition to Obamacare to their advantage in 2012, the Republicans failed to defeat President Obama’s re-election bid. In fact, he became only the seventh President in our nation’s history – and the first since Ronald Reagan – to win a majority of the popular vote twice (well, at least since 1824, when the popular vote totals were first recorded).
The Republican game plan for the upcoming 2014 midterm elections will once again be to focus on their opposition to Obamacare. They are utterly convinced that this issue is a winning one for them – that they will take back the Senate, increase their majority in the House, and position themselves nicely for the 2016 Presidential election, all because they will emphasize their opposition to Obamacare. Their faith in this strategy was reinforced last month when their candidate, David Jolly, won a special election in Florida’s 13th District to fill the vacancy left by the death of Representative Bill Young, in an election that followed the “oppose Obamacare” strategy. However, Mr. Young had represented that part of Florida since 1971 (he was the longest-serving Republican in the House at the time of his death) and, before that, the area had been represented by another Republican, William Cramer, since 1955, so it wasn’t actually much of a surprise that the Republicans held on to the seat. What was a surprise was the slim margin of victory. In my view, instead of being so focused on the idea that Mr. Jolly’s opposition to Obamacare won them the election, the Republicans should be concerned that it almost cost them the election. They barely held on to the seat, with Mr. Jolly receiving less than 50% of the vote and winning by a margin of less than 2% over the Democratic candidate (Alex Sink), in an area that had been represented by a Republican since 1955 – a period of almost six decades. The bottom line is that they almost lost an election that shouldn’t have even been close, and that maybe – just maybe – Mr. Jolly’s opposition to Obamacare was the reason why.
When the Obamacare website first went online back in October – and then proceeded to crash due to the overwhelming volume of traffic (Hmmm…perhaps the massive volume of traffic should have been a clue?) – the Republicans were overjoyed. When health insurance companies cancelled policies that did not meet the new law’s requirements, making the President’s repeated claim – “if you like your health care plan, you keep your health care plan” – clearly untrue for many Americans (although many others, myself included, were able to keep their existing plans – a fact the media completely ignored), the Republicans were ecstatic. Their plan was working. Americans were angry, and the use of the term “Obamacare” made it clear where that anger should be directed.
But then something amazing happened. The website glitch was fixed, and the American people began to sign up for health coverage on the Obamacare “exchanges” at remarkable rates. Clearly, the American people wanted health coverage, and were willing to utilize Obamacare to get it. The deadline to enroll was extended to accommodate the demand, and even more people signed up. Again a massive volume of traffic crashed the website on the final day (March 31st), but it was fixed and back online in a matter of a few hours. It appears now that enrollment has not only surpassed the revised goal of 6 million Americans (revised after the website crashed in October), it has actually surpassed the original goal of 7 million people enrolled – despite the website not being operational for pretty much all of October and a good part of November. Now it is the Obama Administration’s turn to be ecstatic.
Of course, the Republicans won’t see it that way. They are going to stick to their strategy come hell or high water. They will try to spin the new data to support their side of the argument, twisting facts into pretzels to make them fit their talking points (they’re very good at this – remember the “death panels”?). One Republican Senator, John Barrasso of Wyoming, even went so far as to accuse the Obama Administration of “cooking the books” on the enrollment numbers (in a March 30th appearance on Fox News Sunday) – a claim that was repeated the following day by Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina (“Totally, they are!”) during an appearance on Fox News. When asked if he had any actual facts to back up the accusation, Senator Graham was unable to come up with anything, other than to ask how many of the enrollees had paid. Wild accusations like these, without anything to back them up, are a sure sign of desperation. It looks to me like the Republicans have started believing their own rhetoric – always a foolish thing to do.
The problem for Republicans is that all they have is their opposition to Obamacare – they don’t have a plan of their own. On the final day for enrollment, in the same appearance with Senator Graham noted above, Fox News host Jenna Lee asked the Senator four separate times what the Republican plan was to replace Obamacare, and he was entirely unable to give any answer beyond vague generalities and a list of policies that are already accomplished by Obamacare (such as not denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, and allowing children to stay on their parents insurance longer). The next day, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas appeared on Fox & Friends and insisted that Congress should “repeal every word of it [Obamacare]”. Fox News’ Steve Doocy – by no means a supporter of President Obama or Obamacare – disagreed, saying “You know, you’re kind of in a minority when it comes to that…” Doocy’s co-host, Brian Kilmeade – also not a supporter of President Obama or Obamacare – then asked Senator Cruz what his plan was, and the Senator couldn’t come up with anything beyond repeating some of the same old Republican retreads we’ve heard before – allowing people to purchase insurance across state lines, strengthening health savings accounts, and separating health insurance from employment. What Senators Cruz, Graham, and Barrasso – and the rest of the Republican Party – don’t seem to understand is that the American people don’t want blind opposition, they want a plan, and the Republicans simply don’t have one.
New data shows why the Administration is so happy. It turns out that people were angry and frustrated with the Obamacare website back in October because they were eager to enroll and the website’s crash prevented them from doing so – not because they opposed Obamacare. The American people like having the peace of mind that comes with being insured after having to go for so many years without insurance for themselves and their children. They like not being turned away for pre-existing conditions. They like knowing their policies will not be cancelled when they get sick or injured. They like being able to keep their adult children on their policies until the age of 26, by which time those children will be set up in a career and be able to get their own policies. Women like not having to pay more than men for the same coverage. Additional data shows that medical costs and insurance premiums are down nationwide. Despite Republican claims to the contrary, Obamacare is working, and the American people do not want it repealed.
As the years go by, and as more and more people see Obamacare actually working (and the sky not falling), more and more of them will enroll. As more healthy people enter the system, overall costs will drop even further. Sure, there will be glitches here and there – that’s to be expected – but they will be fixed and Obamacare will keep on rolling. People will become more accepting of the idea of mandatory health insurance, because they will see that, quite simply, it works. Obamacare will become more and more popular, and eventually will be almost as politically untouchable as Johnsoncare – whoops! Sorry, I meant Medicare. The Republicans wanted to forever tie this law to President Obama, and they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams – but instead of a political albatross, the health care reform law will be seen as the landmark accomplishment that it truly is. And it will be called “Obamacare” – no one will call it “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”.
And Barack Obama will have the Republicans to thank for that.

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November 6, 2013: A Harbinger of Things to Come?

In November of 2009, off-year elections were held for Governor in New Jersey and Virginia. The victories of Republicans Chris Christie in New Jersey and Bob McDonnell in Virginia were widely seen as a harbinger of things to come in the next year’s mid-term elections – and indeed they were. Thanks in no small part to the rise of the Tea Party, the Republicans won big in 2010, taking control of the House of Representatives and of more state legislatures than at any time since the 1920’s.
Yesterday, voters went to the polls in those same off-year elections, and the results in New Jersey and Virginia – and elsewhere around the country – should serve as a strong message to the Tea Party and others in the Republican Party’s right wing.
But will that message be heard?
Only time will tell if yesterday’s results will ultimately prove to be a harbinger of things to come in the 2014 mid-terms, but the results are noteworthy in their own right for the message that voters sent. The closest race was in Virginia, where Democrat Terry McAuliffe defeated the Republican candidate, Tea Party favorite Ken Cuccinelli, by a slim margin. This should have been a very winnable race for the GOP; no candidate from the sitting President’s party has won Virginia’s Governorship for nine consecutive elections (a span of 36 years), and with the Obama Administration reeling from a series of scandals over the past year and a major debacle this past month in the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act, McAuliffe – a flawed candidate at best – should have been an easy target. Many factors have been mentioned as reasons Cuccinelli lost – among them that he was outspent by a large margin and that a relatively strong third-party candidate (Libertarian Robert Sarvis) is believed to have gotten most of his votes at Cuccinelli’s expense – but the real reason was that Cuccinelli was way too extreme for voters in what has become a battleground state in recent years. Several pundits and columnists have tried to make the argument that voters in densely-populated northern Virginia (largely suburbs of Washington, D.C., where many federal workers live) were angry over the 16-day shutdown of the federal government, for which they blame the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, and took this anger out on Cuccinelli, but this doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. The fact is that Cuccinelli had consistently lagged slightly behind McAuliffe from day one of this campaign, and was never able to overcome that gap. Some have also argued (correctly, in my estimation) that the more moderate Bill Bolling, Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor, would have been a stronger candidate against McAuliffe and would have probably won easily, but the Tea Partiers pushed for a nominating convention (a format that tends to favor party activists) instead of a primary, and the result was the nomination of the more extreme Cuccinelli instead. Well, the tea Party got what they asked for – and now their next Governor will be a Democrat.
But the Tea Party isn’t getting that message.
In New Jersey, the other side of the voters’ message was readily apparent. Governor Chris Christie won re-election with a whopping 61% of the vote over Democrat Barbara Buono in a state that is widely regarded as a Democratic stronghold. Christie’s victory included solid numbers among women (and don’t forget – his opponent was a woman), minorities, young voters, and other demographic groups that have leaned heavily Democratic lately, making it clear that Christie has the ability to make significant inroads into these demographic groups – something the Tea Party has repeatedly demonstrated they are unable to do. The reason this is important is that the Republicans cannot win the White House without gaining ground among those same demographic groups and without cutting into the Democrats’ electoral vote advantage (New Jersey’s 15 electoral votes would go a long way towards accomplishing this), and Christie, who is almost certain to run, is therefore the potential GOP candidate with arguably the best chance of actually winning the election in 2016, but he will apparently have to struggle to even get the party’s nomination. Christie is generally reviled by the Tea Party and, despite his strong name recognition, only polls in the teens when potential GOP primary voters are asked who they want to see nominated, largely because he downplays his views on social issues, publicly calls out the GOP leadership when he disagrees with them (most notably last December when House Republicans delayed passage of federal aid following Super-storm Sandy), and has publicly embraced and complimented President Obama (again, most notably in the aftermath of Super-storm Sandy). Once again, the Tea Party would prefer a deeply conservative candidate who will probably lose (Ted Cruz leaps to mind) rather than a more moderate candidate who has a good chance of winning. As has been the case since the rise of the Tea Party, they seem to be far more interested in ideological purity than in actually winning elections. The problem for them is that, despite their protestations to the contrary, the Tea Party doesn’t have the support of the public they once had, and the confluence of the Virginia and New Jersey results – voters rejecting a Tea Party candidate but supporting a more moderate one – is yet another indication of their problem.
But again, the Tea Party isn’t getting that message.
Another race where the Tea Party got stung badly was in Alabama, where the Tea Party favorite, real-estate developer Dean Young, was easily defeated in a Congressional Primary run-off election by a GOP establishment candidate, former State Senator Bradley Byrne. Even in a Republican primary in a deep-south state like Alabama, voters rejected the Tea Party candidate in favor of a more moderate Republican.
The Tea Party, of course, still isn’t getting that message.
Another indication that does not bode well for the Tea Party – or for the GOP in general – were the mayoral races that took place in major cities around the country: New York, Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton, Charlotte, Atlanta, Houston, Miami, Minneapolis, and Seattle. Of these cities, only Miami elected a Republican; all of the other races – each and every one of them – were won by Democrats, which should give the Republican Party many reasons to worry. New York City hasn’t elected a Democratic Mayor since David Dinkins in 1983; Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton, Minneapolis and Seattle are all in key battleground states; and Houston, Atlanta, and Charlotte are all in southern states that are generally regarded as Republican strongholds. These Mayoral contests appear to represent a significant trend towards the Democrats in local elections across the country. Losing this many Mayoral contests does not bode well for Republicans in next year’s Congressional mid-terms, which are essentially local elections since they take place within individual Congressional districts.
The message is coming through loud and clear, but the Tea Party just isn’t listening.
Overall, this election was an absolute disaster for the GOP, and especially for the Tea Party. The last time these off-year elections were held in 2009, the results served as a harbinger of what was to come in the 2010 midterms. Are yesterday’s election results an indication of what will happen in the 2014 midterms? Only time will tell, but the GOP – and especially the Tea Party – would do well to heed the message.
UPDATE (11/7/13): Since Tuesday’s voting, there have been several attempts by various Republicans and right-wing pundits trying to claim that the Virginia Gubernatorial election results are somehow bad news for Democrats. Looking at the following numbers, I find it extremely difficult to find any support for this obvious attempt to “spin” the results:
• Virginia By the Percentages:
In 2009, Republican Bob McDonnell won with 58.61% of the vote to Democrat Creigh Deeds’ 41.25%, a margin of 17.36% favoring the Republicans. In 2013, Democrat Terry McAuliffe won with 47.74% over Republican Ken Cuccinelli’s 45.25%, a margin of 2.49% favoring the Democrats. In terms of the margin of victory, that’s a 19.85% turn-around for the Democrats. McAuliffe also saw an improvement of 6.49% over Deeds’ 2009 performance, while Cuccinelli saw a decline of 13.36% from McDonnell’s 2009 performance.
• Virginia By the Raw Numbers:
In 2009 McDonnell received 1,163,651 votes to Deeds’ 818,950, for a margin of 344,701 votes favoring the Republicans. In 2013 McAuliffe received 1,067,114 votes to Cuccinelli’s 1,011,377, for a margin of 55,737 votes favoring the Democrats. In terms of the margin of victory, this adds up to a turn-around of 400,438 votes in the Democrats’ direction. McAuliffe also received 248,164 more votes than Deeds did in 2009, while Cuccinelli received 152,274 fewer votes than McDonnell did in 2009.
Virginia Turnout:
Total Votes Cast in 2009: 1,958,324
Total Votes Cast in 2013: 2,235,263
Change in Turnout: + 276,939 (+14%)
All told, the Democrats saw a massive improvement in their performance, and the Republicans saw a massive decline in theirs, all while turnout saw an increase of more than 14%.
So… how exactly are these results bad news for the Democrats?

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October 30, 2013: How ‘Bout Fantasyland?

In the 1986 comedy Back to School, the great Rodney Dangerfield (in the role of a rich and very street-savvy businessman who has gone back to college to be with his son) is attending a business class where a stuffy, conceited professor (Paxton Whitehead) is guiding the students through the process of building a hypothetical factory. After going over the various steps necessary to get the factory built, the professor asks the class if they have considered everything that would be needed. Dangerfield immediately pipes up that the professor has “left out lots of stuff”, and proceeds to list all the palms that would need to be greased – labor union bosses, building inspectors, planning commissioners, and so on – in order to actually get the factory built. The professor summarily dismisses Dangerfield’s points, condescendingly noting that he was teaching his students about “legitimate” business practices, not the type of corruption Dangerfield is talking about. He then asks the class where their hypothetical factory should be built, and Dangerfield derisively retorts, “How about Fantasyland?”
What a great line.
I thought of this line while I watched the unfolding controversy over the cancellation of health care insurance plans. Most of the problems revolved around what President Obama had repeatedly said during the debate over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – that if the American people liked their current health care plan, they could keep it. “Period.”
I’m sure the President had the best of intentions, and he is technically correct in what he said. Under the ACA, existing health care plans could in fact be “grandfathered in” if – and only if – they remained basically unchanged, meaning that the plans offered the same coverage with the same premiums, co-pays, and maximum caps (I got to keep my plan, for example). However, the ACA does NOT require the insurance companies to continue to offer those plans, nor does it prohibit them from making any changes to those plans! That’s a loophole big enough for the insurance companies to drive a truck through, and they all took full advantage of it.
Given that the people are now required to have heath care insurance, why would any insurance company in its right mind (other than mine) continue to offer the existing plans unchanged? All they had to do was jack up the premiums, co-pays or whatever, and those plans were no longer eligible to be grandfathered in. With the existing plan no longer available, the insurance companies would now be “forced” to offer the consumer an even more expensive plan that included the additional coverage required under the ACA, and the people – thanks to the individual mandate – would have no choice but to pay the price.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not in any way blaming the insurance companies for acting this way – they are only doing what corporations are supposed to do. President Obama apparently forgot that corporations don’t exist for altruistic reasons; they exist to make money – as much money as market conditions allow. The combination of the individual mandate and the lack of a requirement for the insurance companies to continue to offer existing plans unchanged defined the new market conditions, and the insurance companies acted accordingly. To not take this into account is beyond foolish – it is simply naïve. Of course the insurance companies would try to make as much money as possible – that is the reason for their very existence!
Seriously – on what planet would corporations, especially ones as experienced in making huge profits as the health insurance companies, just roll over and accept less profit than could be had by simply altering the existing policies by just enough to trigger the new requirements? Where does the President think corporations like that exist?
How about Fantasyland?

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October 3, 2013: An Idea How To Fix the Shutdown

One of the most basic functions of Congress is to authorize the government to spend money for each fiscal year, by passing legislation authorizing that spending. However, as of this past Tuesday (October 1st, the first day of the new fiscal year), they had utterly failed to do so, meaning that for the most part the federal government can’t spend any money, because no such spending has been authorized. As a result of this failure of Congress to do their jobs, most government offices will be shut down until Congress gets their act together. Even worse, this is an intentional act on their part. The members of Congress who are blocking the needed spending authorization bills (at least the bills that have any chance in the Senate) are openly displaying their disdain for their bosses – “We the People” – by failing on purpose to perform this most basic of job functions. If you or I failed to perform our basic functions at work, especially as an act of open defiance towards our supervisors, we would be fired – and rightly so. However, this won’t happen to any members of Congress (at least not yet). Essentially, they will face no consequences to speak of.
There is a sentiment out there that we don’t need the government, that the government does nothing useful, and that the shutdown won’t really have any effect on us personally, but this is simply wrong. This shutdown is going to affect each and every American’s daily life, and we will all be feeling it very soon. Need examples? Your social security check will be sent out, but what if it doesn’t arrive or the amount is wrong? There will be no one available to answer your phone call in case of any problems. Do you have kids in school? The federal school lunch program will not be sending any more money – not one more dime – to your school district until this shutdown ends. Do you need help with a tax issue? Too bad – the IRS offices are closed. Worried about Salmonella, E. coli, and other food-borne bacteria on the food you feed your children? You now have cause for even more concern, because the FDA has suspended routine food inspections. What about that family vacation to a national park, monument, or museum? Forget it – the gates are locked and no one is there to open them. [There was a bit of a brou-ha-ha at the World War II Memorial on the Mall in Washington D.C. yesterday when a group of WWII veterans on an “Honor Flight” arrived to find the memorial closed. The vets went in anyway – or “stormed the gates” as some have put it. The National Park Service issued a statement saying that WWII vets will be allowed in, and the “Honor Flight” group has said that the Park Service has “bent over backward” to accommodate them. Various Republicans have tried to turn this into a huge controversy, attempting to use this incident to shift the blame for the shutdown to the Obama Administration – Senator Rand Paul even claimed that the President had sent “goons” to close the memorial – but the memorial was closed as part of the shutdown, which every poll indicates is being blamed on the Republicans, no matter how hard the Republicans try to shift the blame.]
Our troops will continue to be paid (Congress was at least able to agree on that much), and certain emergency, national security, and other “essential” functions will continue, but pretty much everything else will be closed or minimally staffed. (click here for a full listing of what’s open and what’s closed). In addition, thousands of federal employees (including thousands of civilian employees at the Department of Defense and the various Intelligence agencies) and thousands more employees of various government contractors (400,000 just among defense contractors) will be furloughed without pay, meaning they will have to tighten their belts financially and spend less money, which will cause a drag on the national economy due to this slowing down of economic activity (Wall Street is tanking as I write this). This shutdown will be felt in ways most people haven’t considered yet, and when they feel it, they will be angry.
But what will they be able to do about it? At whom should they direct their anger?
There has been an amazing amount of finger-pointing (amazing even for Washington D.C.) over who should be blamed for the shutdown, but where the fault lies is crystal clear. John Boehner and the House Republicans (the Tea Party Caucus in particular) – along with certain Republican Senators (most notably Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky) – have forced this shutdown for ideological reasons, with reckless disregard for the overall well-being of the country and our economy, and polling indicates that the American people understand this. In a nutshell, they have insisted on shutting down the government rather than authorize funding for the roll-out of what they so derisively call “Obamacare” (the official name of the law is the “Affordable Care Act”, or ACA). These Republicans have still not accepted the fact that the ACA, having been passed into law by both Houses of Congress and duly signed by the President of the United States, and having then been upheld as Constitutional by the United States Supreme Court, is a law made in pursuance of the Constitution and is therefore, under Article VI of the Constitution of the United States, part of the “Supreme Law of the Land”. They have also refused to accept that, after making opposition to the ACA the central argument against President Obama in the 2012 election, the President was re-elected by a decisive margin (he received a larger majority of the popular vote than either Ronald Reagan in 1980 or George W. Bush in 2004). Rather than accept that they have lost this debate (Rand Paul actually went so far as to claim we hadn’t had much debate at all on the ACA; perhaps he slept through most of 2009), the House Republicans have only been willing to pass spending authorizations that completely exclude funding for the ACA, knowing full well that these spending bills had zero chance – none whatsoever – of passing in the Senate. These Republicans therefore knew without a doubt that they were bringing about a shutdown of the federal government by refusing to pass any spending authorization that had even a remote chance of becoming law. This was a deliberate act, with malice aforethought. Even worse, the House easily has the votes to re-open the government right now, but Speaker John Boehner won’t bring it up for a vote because he doesn’t want to offend the Tea Partiers. Why? Because he knows how tenuous his position is (most House Republicans believe his days as Speaker of the House are numbered), and he is desperate to hold on to the Speakership. To hold on, he needs the support of the Tea Party Caucus. It really is just that simple.
And so the nation suffers.
Americans who are justifiably angry over this should direct that anger towards Speaker Boehner and the House Republicans (and, to a lesser extent, Senators Cruz and Paul), but these “public servants” simply aren’t feeling pressured to do their job. Due to the last round of redistricting, most members of Congress – especially the House Republicans – believe they are safe from any electoral punishment, which is probably true (time will tell if they are right – the 2014 mid-term elections are just over a year away). Despite the fact that these “public servants” work for “We the People”, we have no real leverage over them to compel them to perform even this most basic function of their jobs.
So now we get to the fun part of this discussion – how do we get the leverage needed to get Congress to do its job?
Some say we should suspend their salaries, and I actually agree with that sentiment – if other federal employees have to go without pay, so should members of Congress who fail to do their jobs – but we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking this would provide any sort of leverage over them. The simple fact is that most members of Congress are multi-millionaires, and the small portion of their $174,000 annual Congressional salary that they would have to give up during whatever period of time the government is shut down (a few weeks at most – probably) amounts to pocket change for them. It just isn’t enough for them to feel the pain. (To their credit, dozens of members have said they will have their salaries withheld or will donate their salaries to various charities during the shutdown.)
So if withholding their salaries won’t do the trick, what can we do? I have an idea how we could gain the necessary leverage – and it’s even specifically permitted in the Constitution of the United States.
Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution states that both Houses of Congress may “…compel the attendance of absent members, in such manner, and under such penalties as each House may provide.” (my emphasis) In other words, under the Constitution of the United States, members of Congress can be forced – physically if necessary – to attend a session in their respective chambers. My idea is that, once they’re all in there, we should lock the doors! They wouldn’t be allowed to come out until they did their job and got the government funded for the next full fiscal year. If they get thirsty, they can drink water. Not bottled water – that would cost money – but they could drink the municipal water out of the drinking fountains. If the shutdown continued long enough, the water bill wouldn’t get paid and the drinking fountains would stop working, but this would just increase the pressure. If they get hungry, they could be provided with the same “Meals Ready to Eat” (MRE’s) that are provided to our troops in combat – and if they complain about having to eat them (MRE’s are notoriously unappetizing), they should be reminded that if the MRE’s are good enough for our troops, who put their lives on the line daily in defense of our country, then those MRE’s are damn sure good enough for members of Congress who have failed to do their jobs. I suppose we would also have to provide access to a bathroom (although denying that access would certainly increase the pressure a bit!), but there is nothing that says it has to be a nice bathroom. They could survive with “port-a-potties” that could be brought into each chamber and, thanks to the government’s inability to spend any money, wouldn’t be serviced or replaced until the shutdown ended (which, to put it delicately, would result in still more pressure that would increase by the hour). For everything else (sleep, showers, changes of clothes, visiting their families and so on), that would just be too bad – they would have to remain in their chambers until the job was done.
This idea is simple and, more importantly, it would provide the true leverage that “We the People” should have over the members of Congress – after all, physical discomfort can be highly motivating.
And it’s even Constitutional!
I say we give it a try.
[UPDATE (10/17/13): Congress finally reached an agreement last night, and government offices re-opened across the country today (we also avoided a first-ever default on the national debt). The compromise was hammered out by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and had significant bipartisan support in both Houses. Opposition to the deal was NOT bipartisan; all “no” votes (144 in the House and 18 in the Senate) were from Republicans, and came primarily from the Tea Party wing of the GOP. The general consensus seems to be that the Tea Party is the main loser in this deal, and that they overplayed their hand and brought on a rebellion by the more moderate Republicans to “take their party back”. We’ll see…]

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March 1, 2013: This Could Have Been Avoided

The deadline to pass an alternative to the “sequester” – the automatic spending cuts agreed upon in 2011 as part of the compromise over raising the debt ceiling – has now come and gone. The dreaded spending cuts will now begin to take effect over the coming weeks and months; $85 billion this year and more in the years following, divided half-and-half between defense and non-defense discretionary spending. This sequestration was purposely written to be bad policy – there was so much in these cuts for both sides to hate that both sides would be compelled to avoid the sequestration from taking effect. These cuts were put in place as a means of forcing both sides to come together and reach a compromise alternative approach to deficit reduction. Well, so much for that theory – it didn’t work, and now we’re stuck with this meat-cleaver across-the-board method of reducing spending. The sequestration will hit virtually all areas of government spending, with no regard for which programs are essential, which programs work and which don’t, or how these cuts will affect American security or the American people. It is possible, of course, that a bill will be passed retroactively that could ameliorate the more harmful cuts, but after watching how this played out over the past few weeks I have zero confidence that such a thing will happen. The sequestration is now policy. We’re stuck with it.
I have been utterly dismayed to watch both sides in Washington descend into finger-pointing and blame-shifting, rather than coming together to actually do their jobs. President Obama has been traveling around the country holding campaign-style events, angrily blaming Congressional Republicans for not taking what he calls a “balanced approach”, rattling off a litany of consequences to the sequestration, including an estimated 750,000 jobs lost, police and fire fighter layoffs, teacher layoffs, cuts to essential programs for the poor, and so on. The White House has issued press releases describing how the cuts will hit individual states and programs. Basically, the Obama Administration’s approach has been to try to scare the American people into pressuring their Representatives and Senators into action. It didn’t work. The President should have been holding non-stop meetings with the leadership from both parties in both Houses for weeks (taking time out for meals and bathroom breaks, of course), hammering out an agreement – in other words, he should have been showing leadership. Instead, he is holding his first meeting with the bipartisan Congressional leadership today – after the deadline has passed. I am usually an Obama supporter, but he blew it on this one.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has done little more than express his disappointment, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) hasn’t done much either – except, of course, to blame President Obama for the whole situation. McConnell’s position – that it’s all the President’s fault – has been the main Republican talking point for weeks now, but it’s not accurate. The GOP has tried very hard to make the point that the sequester was the President’s idea (which is true – the Obama Administration originally proposed the sequestration during negotiations over the 2011 debt ceiling crisis as a way to break the deadlock and give Congress time to reach a compromise before now), but this ignores the fact that the sequestration was never intended to actually become policy – as noted above, it was purposely written as bad policy to force both sides to compromise. It also ignores the fact that the Republicans agreed to it – and in fact sponsored the legislation that enacted it. Their fingerprints are all over this thing, no matter how many times they use the term “Obamaquester” (they haven’t been able to get that one to stick). The Senate’s inaction has been inexcusable, but I have saved the most inexcusable for last.
House Speaker John Boehner has demonstrated once again that he is arguably the most ineffective House Speaker in recent memory. He has been at the forefront of the Republican efforts to get the press to use the term “Obamaquester”, and has repeatedly referred to “the President’s sequester” in his press briefings. He apparently thinks we all have Alzheimer’s or some other type of memory loss, or that nobody records him when he makes statements, or that if they do, nobody ever goes back to look at those recordings. When the sequester was agreed upon back in 2011, he said – on camera – that “I got 98% of what I wanted [in the negotiations], so I’m pretty happy.” That footage has come back to haunt him. He has tried to exonerate himself and his caucus by pointing out that House Republicans have passed an alternative twice, but that the Senate hasn’t acted on either bill. This is true enough, but both of those bills were “my way or the highway” bills, consisting exclusively of spending cuts, not the “balanced approach” that President Obama had called for, making a Presidential veto likely. Both bills also took all of the cuts to defense spending and moved them to the non-defense side (which would include everything from fixing roads and bridges to education and social programs to medical research and meat inspections), which Boehner knew was an absolute non-starter in the Senate (and for that matter, with the President).
Boehner’s most recent comments, however, were especially noteworthy. He said that the House has passed an alternative bill twice, and he doesn’t think that the House should have to pass a bill a third time until the Senate “gets off their ass” and passes something. There are three major problems with this statement and, no, none of the three problems have to do with his use of the word “ass”, which the media has inexplicably fixated on. The first problem is one I have already discussed – that both bills were “my way or the highway” bills that had no chance in the Senate, and Boehner knew it. The second problem is that both bills were passed in the previous Congress, and both bills died when that Congress ended. The fact that they were passed is now irrelevant – the Senate couldn’t take them up now even if it wanted to. Boehner and the Congressional Republicans have done nothing – absolutely nothing – to address the sequester in the new Congress that began on January 3rd. The third problem is that President Obama and the Democratic leadership in the Senate have made it clear that any alternate bill would have to take a “balanced approach”, at least to some degree – meaning that it would have to address the revenue side of the equation, not just the spending side. Some of the more egregious tax loopholes would have to be closed. Several such loopholes were brought up as possible candidates for elimination, including the ability of corporations to avoid paying any taxes in the United States by listing their headquarters in another country. As an example, there is a three-story building in the Cayman Islands which houses a law firm’s offices. That building’s address, however, is also listed as the corporate headquarters for over 18,000 companies. No, that’s not a typo – more than 18,000 corporations claim to be based in that same three-story building, and by doing so avoid paying taxes in this country. The fact that any bill that would actually succeed in avoiding the sequester would have to address revenue is why Boehner’s statement – that he didn’t think the House should have to pass something before the Senate took action – is so startling. Under the Constitution of the United States, any bill that affects revenue must first be passed by the House of Representatives (Article I, Section 7: All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other Bills). In other words, it wasn’t up to the Senate to “get off their ass” – under the Constitution, it was the House that had to act and pass a bill that would actually have a chance in the Senate. I have to believe that John Boehner knows this; he is the Speaker of the House, after all. Boehner’s statement that the Senate should act first implies, therefore, that any such Senate legislation would not address revenue, which Boehner knew was a dog that just wouldn’t hunt. In truth, many House Republicans made it quite clear that they would rather see the sequester go into effect than reach a deal with Senate Democrats or President Obama that raised revenue at all.
The real problem here is not that we have witnessed yet another example of the bitter partisan divide that has infected our government; the real problem is the impact the sequestration will have on our country. The defense cuts will hurt our military readiness, make no mistake about that. Orders for new weapons systems will be put on hold or cancelled altogether. Bases will be closed. Personnel will be reduced. We will be less prepared to deal with the threats we face around the globe. Our national security is not something to play political games with, but that’s exactly what has happened. The non-defense cuts will also hurt in many ways – some of which the President has pointed out at those campaign-style events, and some that he has not. There has been a sentiment out there that the government is the enemy, that the government shouldn’t be doing many of the things it does, or that there is so much excess spending going on that these cuts are barely a drop in the bucket. As these cuts take effect, however, people will begin to notice – and to realize just how many aspects of our daily lives depend on government. Police and fire-fighter layoffs will impact emergency response times. Teacher layoffs will affect our kids’ class sizes. Roads, bridges, and other parts of the infrastructure won’t be fixed, retrofitted, or updated. Lines will be longer at government offices. Jobs-producing projects will be delayed. Claims will take longer to be processed. Fees will increase for many government services, the filing of various forms, and entrance to national parks. The list is endless (which, of course, is precisely the “small-government” ideologues’ point).
And then there is the impact on the overall economy. Our recovery from the recession has been excruciatingly slow. Things are moving in in the right direction, but we’re not there yet – not even close. The just-released revised numbers show that the economy grew at an annual rate of just 0.1% in the last quarter of 2012 (the original numbers showed the economy had actually shrunk by 0.1%). Technically, that’s growth, but just barely – it is way too slow, and pulling $85 billion of economic activity out of the economy in a short period of time can only slow it down even further. These aren’t abstract cuts – these cuts will hit real people and real companies. This is $85 billion in spending – payments to businesses providing goods and services to the various agencies of government, who then pay their employees and pay dividends to their stockholders; payments to government employees, the unemployed and the poor; and so on. The recipients of all this spending then use the money in their everyday lives or reinvest the money in their businesses or invest in stocks and bonds. In other words, these spending cuts are best thought of as cuts in economic activity. This is $85 billion in cuts to the money in active circulation in our economy, which will inevitably have the effect of slowing economic growth. This is just bad policy, given the fragility of our economic recovery.
So why are the politicians doing this? One theory has it that the Congressional Republicans are willing to let the country go straight “to hell in a hand basket” economically, as long as they can blame President Obama for it. I hope that’s not the case. Some have said that President Obama, who never has to run for office again, is showing his “socialist” tendencies and is trying to “re-distribute wealth” by protecting entitlement spending and insisting on raising taxes on the rich. I don’t think so. Others have suggested that this is about the 2014 mid-terms, and that the Congressional Republicans are avoiding the specter of primary challenges from the right wing by refusing anything that looks like a tax increase. If so, that could backfire – Obama won’t be on the ballot, but the Congressional Republicans will be, and the pain from these cuts will be felt in every Congressional district. Still another theory is that both sides really do consider the size of the national debt to be a significant threat to our nation’s well-being and that reductions must be made, whatever the short-term cost. This is somewhat more plausible.
My theory is that both sides really do believe the debt is too high, and both sides also believe their own rhetoric regarding how best to bring the debt under control. I think President Obama and the Senate Democrats truly believe that more taxes from the wealthy and from corporations are needed as a component of any deficit reduction plan to avoid at least some of the spending cuts (the “balanced approach”), and Congressional Republicans truly believe that any increase in taxes will hurt the economy and that deficit reduction should be accomplished exclusively through spending cuts because “we have a spending problem, not a revenue problem”. Under this theory, both sides have stood firm for what they actually think is in the best interest of our country. How patriotic.
Unfortunately, neither side was willing to meet the other halfway, and the result is that what was intentionally written as bad policy that should be avoided at all costs – the sequester – is now the law of the land.
And that’s bad news for all of us.

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January 28, 2013: “Spin” vs. Truth

The Republican spin machine is at it again, but this time their spin is so blatantly – and verifiably – false that my task (calling them on it) is almost too easy. Since the November elections, the Republicans – and House Speaker John Boehner in particular – have repeatedly claimed that “The American people voted to keep a Republican House majority.” This is a lie. They argue that this should be interpreted to mean that the Republican-controlled House has the same level of support among the American people as President Obama. This is another lie. They extend this logic to argue that, due to that equal level of support, they are on an equal footing with the President, and that the President should therefore show them a level of deference in negotiations commensurate with that equal level of support. Lies, lies, and more lies!
The truth is actually the exact opposite. First of all, more Americans voted for a Democrat for the House than for a Republican in November – by a margin of about 1.4 million votes – meaning that the American people actually voted for a Democratic House! The only reason the American people did not get the Democratic House they voted for stems from the Republican successes back in the 2010 midterm elections. Following the 2010 Census, the states drew new maps for their congressional districts and, because Republicans controlled so many of the state legislatures as a result of the 2010 elections (more legislatures than at any time since the 1920’s), they were able to gerrymander far more districts to their own partisan advantage than usual, making virtually every Republican-held district very safe for the Republican candidates. The fact that the Democrats were able to gain seats in the House in spite of this partisan gerrymandering was a good indication of the national Republican Party’s current unpopularity, and the Republicans would be wise not to mistake their success at gerrymandering for popular support. As former Republican Congressman and current Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough wrote for Politico on January 24th, “Republicans maintained control of the lower chamber this session not because they won the popular vote nationwide but because of aggressive gerrymandering following the 2010 elections. That is standard practice in modern American politics, but no Republican should mistake that reality with any positive long-term trend.” Scarborough is absolutely correct – gerrymandering is standard practice, and has been ever since the term was coined in March of 1812 by the Boston Gazette in a political cartoon (shown at right) which combined the name of then-Governor Elbridge Gerry with the word “salamander”, an animal whose shape the Boston-area district being criticized was said to resemble. It is not the gerrymandering that occurred following the 2010 Census that I find offensive (frustrating, yes, but not offensive – it’s the way things have always been done by both parties); what I find offensive is the lie – which has been repeated ad nauseum – that the American people voted for a Republican House. It’s just not true, but that hasn’t stopped the Republicans from making the claim.
Second, the Republican House majority does not enjoy anywhere close to the level of popular support that President Obama does. According to Real Clear Politics, the President’s job approval is currently at 52.3%, while the Republican House majority, according to Boehner Advisor and top GOP pollster David Winston, currently has an approval rating of 27%. To make things even worse for Speaker Boehner and the House Republicans, the House Democrats have an approval rating of 46% – 19 points higher than the House Republicans (again according to Winston). To suggest that the Republican House majority somehow has a level of support equal to that of the President is ludicrous – they aren’t even close to the approval rating of House Democrats!
Finally, as to the question of whether the President should show the House Republican leadership (and specifically Speaker Boehner) deference in negotiations, he absolutely should – but only to a point. The Constitution does in fact create three co-equal branches of government, so in that sense, Congress in its entirety (the full membership of the Senate and House combined – not just the Republican leadership in the House) is on an equal footing with the President and should be treated as such. Pragmatically, of course, anything that is going to be accomplished in the next two years will have to pass the Republican-controlled House, and that means negotiating in good faith with Speaker Boehner and the rest of the House Republican leadership. It should never be forgotten, however, that the President has the clear upper hand in those negotiations. He is coming off of an election victory that was not as close as the Republicans would like us to believe, and the House Republicans are coming off a loss of 8 seats and a nationwide loss in the overall House vote (by the aforementioned 1.4 million votes). Also, President Obama never has to run for office again – a fact that gives him a certain level of liberation from approval ratings – while the House Republicans must face re-election every two years (albeit in those safely gerrymandered districts). Perhaps most significantly, Speaker Boehner is arguably the weakest Speaker in recent memory; he was utterly humiliated in December when he had to pull his “Plan B” fiscal-cliff legislation from the floor because his own caucus did not support it, he was excoriated by members of his own party for failing to pass the disaster relief funding for areas devastated by Hurricane Sandy before Congress adjourned in December (Republican Congressman Peter King of New York, for example, publicly considered leaving the Republican Party and took to the airwaves to insist that no one should donate money to the GOP anymore, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie held a press conference to express his outrage, criticizing the Speaker by name), and when Boehner was re-elected Speaker on January 3rd, he saw more defections from within his own caucus than any Speaker in at least two decades. The most obvious sign of Speaker Boehner’s weakness, however, is that even on his best day he has only tenuous control over his own caucus – and everyone in Washington knows it. The House Republicans have rebelled against the Speaker many times before (even others in the House Republican leadership, like Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan, have voted against legislation Boehner supported), and could rebel again at any moment, a fact that undermines virtually everything Boehner says or does. Those he negotiates with – whether it is President Obama, the Senate Democratic leadership, or anyone else – cannot trust that he speaks for his caucus. Given Speaker Boehner’s weak position, to suggest that the Speaker is somehow on an equal footing with the President in negotiations is simply wrong.
Another factor is that President Obama has the “bully pulpit” (a description coined by Republican President Teddy Roosevelt), and as so many Presidents before him have done, he can and will (and should) use it to garner public support for his positions – and to encourage opposition to the Republican positions. Second-term Presidents have conducted campaign-style efforts to promote their agendas in the past, and President Obama can be expected to do the same. There is already talk that the Democrats could take back the House majority in 2014, a major concern for the Republicans (I’m more than a little skeptical of this, however, given the gerrymandering). In fact, Congressional Republicans gathered for a retreat this past week in Williamsburg, Virginia to address how unpopular they are, why they are so unpopular, and what they should do about it (my favorite outtake from the conference: “We have to stop being the stupid party” – spoken by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal).
If I were advising the Republicans, I would advise them to be seen as working with President Obama to solve the urgent problems we are facing as a nation. They need to appear to be willing to compromise for the good of the country. If they instead choose to draw a line in the sand and refuse to cooperate, they will make themselves vulnerable to the accusation that they are putting party above country, a state of affairs that has not gone well for them recently.
Of course, the Republicans won’t listen to me. They will instead insist they are “standing on principle”, and perhaps they are. Unfortunately for them, their principles don’t have the level of popular support the Republicans seem to think they should have, and if they’re not careful, they will negotiate themselves right out of power and end up standing on those principles far, far away from the corridors of power in Washington.
And that’s the truth.

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December 17, 2012: Everything You Need To Know About the Fiscal Cliff,
But Were Afraid to Ask…

As the negotiations over how to avoid the so-called “Fiscal Cliff” drag on with little public progress, perhaps now would be a good time to go over what is actually going on here. People are confused. They are asking questions like “What exactly is the fiscal cliff anyway?” “What would happen if we went over it?” “Are my taxes going to go up? By how much?” “How does the debate over raising the debt ceiling factor into the fiscal cliff negotiations?”
All of these are good questions, and here are the honest answers.
What exactly is the “Fiscal Cliff” anyway?
The “Fiscal Cliff” is a combination of tax increases and spending cuts, intended to address the increasing national debt. How steep a cliff it actually is has been the subject of some debate, but so much has been made of this “crisis” that it has artificially become more steep than it actually is in reality, because so many people’s perception of the “crisis” has become so severe – and in economics, as in so many other things, perception is often far more important than reality. More on that later…
On one side of the cliff is spending cuts, or the “sequestration” of spending. To resolve the debt-ceiling crisis back in 2011 (at least temporarily), Congress passed the Budget Control Act, which put in place automatic across-the-board spending cuts, which will take effect unless Congress and President Obama can agree on a deficit-reduction package before January 2, 2013 that will accomplish the same reductions in the annual budget deficit. The formulas are a bit complicated, and I won’t go into them right now (if you’re really interested in those details, click here), but the bottom line is about $110 billion per year in cuts, split evenly ($55 billion each) between defense and non-defense spending. Essentially, spending in 2013 would be frozen at 2012 levels, and then would increase by about 1.5% from 2014 through 2021 – a far lower rate of increase than in the past decade. It is an important fact to note here that the rate of the growth in annual spending would be reduced, but overall annual spending would not actually be reduced from current spending levels.
The other side of the fiscal cliff is the scheduled expiration of the Bush Tax Cuts at the end of 2012. This has become one of the major sticking points in the negotiations between President Obama and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. President Obama has proposed allowing the Bush Tax Cuts to expire on those with incomes over $200,000 for individuals or $250,000 for married couples (the “threshold amounts”) – or about 2% of the population – thereby returning the tax rates on this group to Clinton-era levels, but making the Bush Tax Cuts permanent for all incomes lower than those threshold amounts – or about 98% of the population. The Republicans, on the other hand, are opposed to any tax increases at all, but have said that increased revenue could be accomplished by closing various tax loopholes and eliminating certain deductions (they have pointedly refused to specify which loopholes they intend to close or which deductions they intend to eliminate). By refusing to extend the Bush Tax Cuts for the 98% under the threshold amounts unless they are also extended for the 2% with higher incomes, the Republicans have (correctly) been accused of essentially holding 98% of Americans hostage to protect lower taxes for the rich.
What would happen if we go over the fiscal cliff? Are my taxes going to go up? By How Much?
So if no deal is reached, what would actually happen? The first thing is that the Bush Tax Cuts would expire for everybody – including the 2% with incomes over the threshold amounts that the Republicans are trying so hard to protect – thereby raising everyone’s tax rates to the levels that existed under President Clinton. It is expected that the Democrats in Congress would then immediately introduce legislation reinstating the current lower rates for individuals with incomes under the threshold amounts, retroactive to January 1st, and basically triple-dog-dare the Republicans to vote against it (it is expected that, after trying – and failing – to amend the legislation to include those with higher incomes, the Republicans would ultimately vote for this). The end result would be to enact President Obama’s current proposal on taxes. In other words, if you make less than the threshold amount, your taxes are probably not going to go up. If you make more than that amount, your taxes will probably increase – but only on that portion of your income over the threshold amounts, and only to the levels that existed under President Clinton.
For example, if a married couple has an income of precisely $250,000 in 2013, their taxes would not go up. If their income was $251,000 in 2013, the taxes on the first $250,000 would not change, but they would pay an additional 4% in taxes on the remaining $1000 (an additional $40 in taxes for the year). In a nutshell, those with incomes over the threshold amounts would pay an additional $40 for every $1000 beyond the threshold amounts. A couple that made $300,000 would therefore only pay the higher rate on $50,000 (an additional $2000 in taxes); their taxes on the first $250,000 would stay the same. This is perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of the fiscal cliff, and has led some people to reach nonsensical conclusions, such as that they should close their business for the rest of the year as soon as they have earned $250,000 so they won’t have to pay higher taxes on that first $250,000 in income.
On the spending side, the cuts in spending growth would go into effect on schedule, and this is where the most damage would potentially be done (especially in the Defense Department). It is widely expected, however, that the Republicans would immediately introduce legislation to restore a sizable portion of the money for Defense (which, if that was all it did, would have a strong possibility of passing), and shift more of the cuts to non-defense spending, including entitlements (which would have less chance of passing). The end result would be to basically try to enact what the Republicans are pushing on the spending-cut side of the fiscal cliff.
Regardless of what each side tries to do later, the most damage would come from how the markets and consumer confidence respond to the failure of Congress and the President to reach an agreement before the fiscal cliff kicks in on January 2nd. Our economy is utterly dependent on people’s perception of how the economy is doing and is likely to do in the future, which is why market forecasts, consumer confidence ratings, and other indicators that measure the perception of the economic future are so important. If no agreement is reached, consumer confidence will plummet, the markets will plummet, and a return to recession is the probable result. Both sides need to understand how important it is to reach an agreement to avert this potential economic disaster. If they fail to do so, it will be on all of their heads – with plenty of blame for both sides. As Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet, “A pox on both your houses!” (OK, he actually wrote “plague”, not “pox”. So sue me.) [UPDATE (12/27/12): In a report released today, the Conference Board announced that the Consumer Confidence rating, which had been on the rise for months, fell farther than expected – from 71.6% in November to 65.1% in December – as a direct result of concerns over the fiscal cliff negotiations.]
Negotiations continue in private, with each side throwing barbs at the other in public. One thing that needs to be emphasized here is that the fiscal cliff was created by an act of Congress, and it could just as easily be eliminated by an act of Congress. The problem lies in exactly how to go about doing that, but the simple fact remains that this is an entirely self-imposed “crisis”. What is needed is compromise – from both sides – and no; “my way or the highway” does NOT constitute compromise.
All I can say to the Congressional Leadership and the President is, “C’mon people – do the job you were elected to do!”
How does the debate over raising the debt ceiling factor into the fiscal cliff negotiations?
First, a little history. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution of the United States authorizes Congress to borrow money on the credit of the United States. Until 1917 each instance of borrowing was authorized separately, but that year Congress passed the Second Liberty Bond Act of 1917, establishing a “debt ceiling” as a means of authorizing continued servicing of the debt (this was done to provide more flexibility in borrowing money to finance America’s involvement in World War I). This legislation was fine-tuned in the Public Debt Acts of 1939 and 1941, creating the fundamentals of the debt ceiling system we have now. In 1979 the House of Representatives passed a rule that the debt ceiling would be automatically raised as part of passing a budget without a separate vote, unless the House voted to waive this rule. The debt ceiling has been raised as a matter of course ever since, with two notable exceptions. In 1995, the Republican-controlled House waived the automatic rule and challenged a Democratic President by refusing to raise the debt limit, resulting in two government shutdowns. The second time occurred in 2011, when the Republican-controlled House again challenged a Democratic President by refusing to raise the debt limit, creating the debt-ceiling crisis and resulting in the lowering of America’s credit rating for the first time in our history (which will only make the debt we already have more expensive because we will have to pay higher interest on that money). On both occasions, the Republicans suffered severe consequences in the following election.
Raising the debt-ceiling is an issue that the Republicans have tried to force into the fiscal cliff negotiations this year, but the truth is that it is (and should be) a completely separate issue. Basically, as the government continues to spend money on everything from feeding our military troops in combat zones to fixing potholes on interstate highways – spending that has already been authorized by Congress – the national debt continues to rise because we are spending more than we take in. Many people think that raising the debt ceiling authorizes more spending, but this is actually not true – only appropriation bills passed by Congress and signed by the President can do that. What raising the debt ceiling does is to allow the United States Government to continue paying on the debt it has already authorized through those appropriations bills. As the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) put it in a 2011 Report, “The debt limit does not control or limit the ability of the federal government to run deficits or incur obligations. Rather, it is a limit on the ability to pay obligations already incurred.”
Think of it this way. When you buy something on a credit card, you have already decided to spend the money. When the bill comes, you are no longer deciding whether to spend the money, now you are deciding whether or not to pay the bill for the money you already decided to spend. If you miss payments on your credit card bill, your credit rating takes a hit, your interest rate will go up, and you will end up paying even more money. Because your credit rating will go down, borrowing money later on other things will cost you more money due to the higher interest you will have to pay because of your poor credit rating. The debt ceiling works basically the same way. The decision whether or not to raise the debt ceiling is not a decision over whether to put more spending on the credit card – instead, it is a decision on whether to pay the credit card bill for the money we have already decided to spend. If we skip payments on our national debt – if we default – our nation’s credit rating will be downgraded (as it was in 2011, when we came very close to defaulting), and borrowing money later will be more expensive because of it.
In the Senate this past week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) asked for a vote on an idea he had originally advocated as part of the negotiations during the debt limit crisis of 2011 – that the President could raise the debt limit on his own unless a 2/3 majority in both Houses of Congress vetoed it. When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) accepted McConnell’s offer and called for the vote, however, McConnell turned around and initiated a filibuster against the vote on the bill for which he himself had just called for the vote! In declaring the filibuster, he asked if we really wanted to give the President the authority to raise spending to any amount and for any purpose he wanted. This was misleading, it was disingenuous, and it was a red herring – in other words, IT WAS A LIE!!! Giving the President the authority to raise the debt ceiling, subject to a Congressional veto, would not authorize the President to do any such thing – and Senator McConnell knows it. Nothing can be spent unless Congress authorizes it. All McConnell’s proposal (which he has now filibustered) would do is allow the President to authorize the Treasury to make the required payments on the money Congress has already authorized (in other words, to make the minimum payment on the credit card bill)!
There is another Constitutional aspect of this to consider that has not received a lot of attention, but perhaps it should. Section 4 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads, “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions … shall not be questioned.” This calls into question the constitutionality of any debt ceiling at all, since failing to raise that ceiling when the debt surpasses it could prevent the United States from honoring its commitment to pay the “public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions”. Does refusing to raise the debt ceiling – in other words, refusing to pay the credit card bill for money Congress has already spent (debt that has been “authorized by law”) – constitute “questioning” the public debt of the United States? It’s a valid point, and may ultimately have to be decided by the Supreme Court. For what it’s worth, the White House has said they will not invoke this section of the 14th Amendment in the fiscal cliff negotiations with Congressional leaders. [UPDATE (12/27/12): It has now become clear that the national debt will hit the debt ceiling on December 31st, meaning that the ceiling will have to be raised by then or we will once again be in danger of defaulting. The Treasury department has some tricks up its sleeve that involve moving money around and delaying payments into certain pension funds (they would have to catch up on those payments later) that could delay the default, but not for very long. The last time we threatened to default, our credit rating was lowered for the first time in American history. Again I would say to Congress and the President: C’mon – do the job you were elected to do!]
So what is going to happen? My guess is that President Obama and the Congressional Leadership will see the light and reach an 11th-hour deal that averts the fiscal cliff [UPDATE (1/4/13): A deal was reached at the 11th Hour and 59th minute]. If they don’t, then we’re all in for a bumpy ride down that cliff. On the plus side, however, the fiscal cliff was originally intended to reverse the upward spiral trend in our national debt. Going over the fiscal cliff would be a bitter pill to take, but it would at least have the intended effect. Unfortunately it would also probably force us into another recession – and nobody wants that.

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November 20, 2012: One More Reason for Republicans to Worry

There has been a lot of talk (including on this blog) about how the demographics were such a huge factor in this year’s Presidential race, and how the continuing demographic trends don’t bode well for the Republicans in future elections. Most of the attention has focused on the Hispanic vote and the women’s vote, and correctly so. It remains clear that the 2-to-1 margin for Democrats in the Hispanic vote, the double-digit margin in the women’s vote, and how the electoral college adds up as a result present major challenges to the Republican chances of ever winning a Presidential election again.
But there is another growing demographic group that went even more strongly for President Obama – and it is getting virtually no attention. It is a demographic group that exists across gender lines, across racial and ethnic lines, across religious lines, across economic lines, and across the political spectrum.
It is the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) vote, and it appears to have provided President Obama with virtually his entire margin of victory in the popular vote. It may even have affected the electoral vote.
According to a study conducted by Gary J. Gates of the Williams Institute at the U.C.L.A. School of Law and published by the Gallup organization, 5% of voters nationwide identified themselves as LGBT in exit polls, and not too surprisingly, these voters went for President Obama by better than a 3-to-1 margin – 76% to 22%. Among the 95% who identified themselves as straight, on the other hand, Obama and Romney were tied at 49%. In other words, the straight vote would have yielded a popular vote tie, meaning that the LGBT vote provided President Obama with his entire 2.8%-point margin of victory in the popular vote. The study also indicates that the LGBT vote probably cost Romney Ohio and Florida – both of which ended up in Obama’s column – because Romney actually won the straight vote in both states by small margins. 5% of the national electorate (the percentage that identifies itself as LGBT) is not an insignificant number – less than 2% of the population is Jewish, for example, and 5% is roughly the percentage of the electorate that is neither white, black, nor Hispanic (a group that would include Asians, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans and others). It is also important to note that it is likely that some percentage of the “straight” vote are actually LGBT but chose not to reveal this to the pollsters, and it is probable that this group voted for Obama by the close to the same margin as those who openly identified themselves as LGBT. These numbers should be of major concern to Republicans interested in winning in 2016 and beyond.
So how can the Republicans do better with LGBT voters? They can take solace in the fact that more than 1 in 5 LGBT voters voted for Romney, and the GOP should focus on broadening that share. Since the Democratic Party is far more progressive on issues specific to LGBT voters, it is obvious that the 22% of LGBT voters that chose Romney are more concerned about other issues than they are with issues directly related to their sexual preference – and those other issues determined their vote. These would include fiscal conservatives, libertarians, defense “hawks” and so on, who are also LGBT, and the Republicans should emphasize these issues as they relate specifically to the LGBT population if they are to have any hope of making inroads into that 3-to-1 margin. One avenue they could take is to approach a group calling itself the “Log Cabin Republicans”, which is an LGBT group within the GOP. The Log Cabin Republicans stay with the GOP because of issues like the deficit, national defense, business regulation, and so on. Instead of demagoguery and demonizing the LGBT population, perhaps the Republican national leadership should try to be more inclusive, and take more of a “big tent” approach.
For starters, it wouldn’t hurt if they got on the right side of history on gay marriage.
I won’t hold my breath.

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November 9, 2012: A Word about the Polling…

To hear Fox News tell it, there was just no way the polling leading up to election day could possibly be right, because Mitt Romney was going to win by a landslide. Period. Several of the Fox personalities, including hosts Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, and pundits Bill Press (who is usually smarter than this), Dick Morris (who usually isn’t), and Karl Rove (who is too partisan to take seriously), predicted an Electoral College count of over 300 electoral votes for Romney and a victory in the popular vote to match. These views were echoed throughout the right-wing bubble. Never mind the polling – it was obviously “skewed”.
As it turned out, the polling was “skewed”, but not the way Fox News and the others claimed – instead, it understated the margin of victory for Obama and the Democrats. Two websites in particular deserve vindication after being much-maligned on Fox and elsewhere in the right-wing echo chamber.
First, major kudos to Nate Silver (who writes the five-thirty-eight blog) whose predictions were right on the money. Not only did he correctly predict all 50 states (as I did), but Silver correctly predicted the margin in each state – and in the nationwide popular vote (he was one of the only ones out there predicting Obama would win a majority of the popular vote, and he nailed the precise margin within a few tenths of a percent)! In the Senate races he correctly predicted all but one race (North Dakota, a result that surprised just about everybody). Give the guy credit – his model worked perfectly and his interpretation was amazingly accurate. Again.
Second, Real Clear Politics (RCP) has taken a lot of heat for using a relatively simple process of averaging all of the major scientific polling. They have been criticized especially for including polls that the right wing feels should not be included, specifically polls from Public Policy Polling (PPP), which does indeed have a clear bias towards the Democrats – and RCP indicates this with a (D) next to every PPP poll. The truth is, however, that polls with a bias to the right – including Rasmussen, Magellan, and Fox News’ own polling operation – are also included (something Fox and the others conveniently fail to mention), meaning the bias generally comes out as a wash in the averages. Looking at the final RCP averages compared to the actual results of the election, RCP’s averages significantly understated Obama’s margins in most of the battleground states as well as in the national polling, and also understated the Democrats’ strength in each of the Senate toss-up races. If there was any bias at all in the RCP Average, it clearly wasn’t towards the left.
What Nate Silver’s model and the RCP Average have in common is that neither one relies on a single poll – instead they both use an accumulation of many polls to reach their conclusions. The odds against that many polls all making the same mistake and skewing all of their results in the same direction by the same amount are astronomical; there is just no way to claim otherwise with any legitimacy. When that many polls from that many different organizations are all factored in, the result is as accurate a picture of the race as it is possible to create.
So enough already. Disregarding the data just because you don’t like what it indicates is not a legitimate interpretation of that data, and any talking head or talk show host who tries to convince you otherwise is just spewing BS (to put it politely). Perhaps Fox News and the rest will learn from this election – or perhaps not. Either way, the fact is that the science – yes, science – of polling has become so sophisticated and advanced that the days of being able to say “I don’t believe the polls” and still retain any real credibility are simply gone. In my view, anyone who says they don’t believe the polls is publicly declaring themselves to be an idiot, and they should be called on it immediately – kind of like the smackdown that unfolded on Fox News Tuesday night, when Megan Kelly humiliated Karl Rove by asking, “Is this just math you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better, or is this real?” (that was a beautiful thing to watch as it played out). The truth is that the polls are generally right, especially when several polls are factored into the interpretation by a statistics wizard like Nate Silver.
And this election proved it.
UPDATE (11/19/12): In regards to poll bias, Nate Silver has published a chart showing how accurate (or not) the various polls were, comparing their polling over the last three weeks of the campaign to the final results of the election. This chart only includes pollsters that conducted at least 5 polls during that three week period. The results clearly show that Republican claims of poll bias were simply incorrect. The chart follows:

Poll bias - 2012 Presidential Election

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November 7, 2012: BOOM, BABY!!!

AH – SWEET VINDICATION!!
When I posted my election predictions back on September 18th, I was fairly confident I was right. Now the result are in. and check this out: Of the 49 states that have been called in the Presidential race, I correctly predicted…49! The one remaining state is Florida (now THERE’S a surprise…), where they seem to be taking their time with the last few precincts. As it stands right now (1:30am on Election night/wee morning hours), with 97% of the precincts reporting, President Obama is leading in Florida by 46,039 votes. If Obama’s lead holds (and most of the remaining votes will be coming from Broward and Miami-Dade counties – both Democratic strongholds), I will be a perfect 50 for 50! [UPDATE (11/12/12): Florida was finally called over the weekend, and Obama won the state again, making the final electoral vote a 332-206 Obama win and making me 50 for 50 (plus the District of Columbia) in my predictions!]
BOOM, BABY!!
In the Senate, I made predictions for each race, and had predicted that the Republicans would gain 1 seat, leaving the Democrats with a 52-48 majority. I was correct on all but one of the seats that have been called so far, and I’m happy about the one I got wrong! I had predicted that former Governor, former Cabinet Member (Health and Human Services Secretary under President Bush), and former Presidential candidate Tommy Thompson would be unbeatable in Wisconsin’s Senate race. I was wrong – Tammy Baldwin won by about a 5% margin, meaning that the Democrats will have at least 53 seats (counting two Independents that are expected to caucus with them). I say “at least” 53 seats because there are still 2 seats that are too close to call – Montana and North Dakota – and these are both seats I had predicted the Republicans would win. As of right now, the Democrats are leading in both! John Tester is about 4% ahead of Denny Rehberg in Montana with 71% of precincts reporting, and Heidi Heitcamp is leading Rick Berg by just under 3,000 votes in North Dakota with 93% of precincts reporting. If their leads hold, the Democrats will actually gain 2 seats in the Senate! [UPDATE (11/8/12): The Democrats won the Senate races in both Montana and North Dakota, meaning they gained two seats for a 55-45 margin in the Senate!]
BOOM, BABY!!
In the House I had predicted that the Democrats would gain between 10 and 20 seats, but the Republicans would hold on to the majority. As of right now, the Republicans have won 229 seats (more than enough to hold the majority), and the Democrats have won 183. We will have to wait for the remaining seats to be finalized before we know who gained or lost seats, but with how well my other predictions have gone, I am feeling pretty good about this one, too. [UPDATE (11/12/12): Enough House seats have been called for the Republicans to retain at least 240 seats (and thus the majority) to the Democrats 190, with 5 seats still not finalized. Of those 5 seats, the Democratic candidate is currently leading in 4, and the Republican is currently leading in 1. The current House configuration going into this election was 241 Republicans to 194 Democrats, so it now looks very possible that those numbers could remain completely unchanged in the next Congress. UPDATE (11/20/12): The previous count was incorrect. It turns out the Democrats gained 8 seats, and the new Congress will have 234 Republicans and 201 Democrats.]
Watch for an election wrap-up analysis, coming soon! (It’s here!)

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November 4, 2012: Standing My Ground

With the 2012 election just two days away, I believe the die is cast – nothing either candidate does tomorrow or Tuesday will change anything, and I don’t think anything else will either. With early voting already happening in many states, and with each campaign’s ground game at the ready, the wait is finally over. It’s up to us now – the voters.
On September 18th I posted my “official” predictions for Tuesday’s election. I included in those predictions a caveat – that I reserved the right to alter those predictions if an unexpected game-changing event took place. In the Presidential race, many people believe that just such an event did take place: the first debate on October 3rd. Going in to that debate, President Obama was leading nationally by an average of 4+ points and rising, he had 269 electoral votes – enough to guarantee at least a tie – in his safe, likely, and leaning columns on Real Clear Politics, and he was leading in all of the remaining toss-up states. Meanwhile, Romney had become the first major-party candidate in decades to have a net negative personal approval rating at that stage of a campaign. It looked like Obama was headed for a runaway victory. The first debate changed all that, and we are now witnessing one of the closest elections in recent memory. Yes, that first debate altered the race, but it was not an unexpected event. Rather, it was scheduled as part of the regular campaign season, and I am not going to take the easy way out and use Obama’s inexplicably lackluster performance – or, for that matter, Romney’s strong one – as an excuse to change my predictions. In fact, I am not changing my predictions for a single state. I am standing my ground. Obama 332, Romney 206. I believe I will be vindicated on Tuesday night.[UPDATE (11/12/12): Final electoral results: a 332-206 Obama win.]
As for the Senate, I predicted that the Republicans will see a net gain of one seat, leaving the Democrats in the majority by 52-48. However, I have good reason to be optimistic that I was wrong in thinking that three states in particular would be won by the Republicans: it is looking like Tammy Baldwin is going to beat Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin, Heidi Heitcamp is giving Rick Berg a real run for his money in North Dakota, and John Tester might just survive in Montana against Denny Rehberg. Nevertheless, I am standing my ground on my Senate predictions as well. A net gain of one seat for the GOP, and a Democratic majority of 52-48. [UPDATE (11/12/12): Final results: 55 Democrats (including 2 Independents who are expected to caucus with them) and 45 Republicans.]
For the House I predicted that the Democrats will gain between 10 and 20 seats – a good showing, but not enough to take back the majority. Nothing I have seen has changed my mind. I am standing my ground. The Democrats will gain between 10 and 20 seats. [UPDATE (11/12/12): Current tally: 240 Republicans, 190 Democrats, 5 seats still not finalized.]
Be sure to vote on Tuesday if you haven’t done so already. Be sure you are participating in the Democracy our Founders handed down to us and our troops have so valiantly defended.
VOTE!!!!!
It’s important.
(And if you don’t vote, don’t complain about the results!)

A Special Note From Dave: As a side note, many people have suggested that Hurricane Sandy would qualify as an event that altered the Presidential race, and it may well have in ways that have not yet become clear, but a situation like this is not a time for politics – it is a time for national unity, a time when all of us should come together and help our fellow Americans in their time of need. It is a time when our nation’s elected leaders at every level of government should come together, regardless of party or politics, and do the job they were elected to do. That is exactly what President Obama and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have done, and they aren’t alone – Governors in New York, Connecticut, West Virginia, and elsewhere, along with mayors from cities all over the affected region and officials at every level of government, also worked with President Obama and FEMA to respond to the storm. This is as it should be. Some on the Republican side have lambasted Governor Christie for his effusive praise of President Obama’s handling of the crisis, and frankly I find their criticism despicable. A crisis is not a time for division, it is a time for unity, and Mr. Christie’s critics only made themselves look petty and small. I will say that the President’s response to Hurricane Sandy certainly did not hurt his chances for re-election, but in a time of crisis a President is supposed to lead. Yes, the storm provided the President with an opportunity to demonstrate strong leadership during a crisis on national television (without his campaign having to pay for the airtime), but you don’t have to look very far back in history – remember the Bush Administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina? – to realize that such a crisis could just as easily have worked against President Obama had he not handled it well. As it happened, the leadership displayed by President Obama undermined both of the main Republican closing arguments against him – that he is not up to the job (he clearly showed that he is), and that he cannot work with Republicans (he obviously can – if and when the Republicans are willing to work with him). Governor Christie was right to put his job above his politics, and praising the job President Obama was doing was an act that helped bring the country together in a time of crisis – it let the victims of this storm know that their government – at all levels – was doing everything possible to help. We should all follow his example, and put politics aside during this crisis. This is not a time for Democrats and Republicans to knock each other down; it is a time for Americans to lift each other up. How? For starters, the American Red Cross needs your help. Give money. Give blood. Volunteer. Do whatever you can – every little bit helps.

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October 23, 2012: Debate Series Wrap-Up: Final Score – Romney 1, Obama 2.5

Well, the last debate is over, and things have drastically changed as a result of the series. At the end of September President Obama was beginning to pull away in this race. He had 269 electoral votes (enough to guarantee at least a tie in the electoral college) in his “Solid”, “Likely”, and “Leaning” columns according to Real Clear Politics (RCP), and he was leading Mitt Romney by an average of 4% in national polling. The first debate, on October 3rd, changed all that. In my previous post (see below) I said I wouldn’t declare Romney the winner of the debate – even though he had clearly turned in the better performance – until we could see that he had accomplished what he needed to accomplish, which was to reverse the momentum in the campaign. We now know that he accomplished this in dramatic fashion, and he therefore clearly won that first debate. Romney’s poll numbers skyrocketed, and Obama’s plunged. By the day of the next debate – the Vice Presidential debate on October 11th – Romney was ahead in national polling, Obama’s numbers were still falling, and Obama’s electoral votes were down to 201.
Score: Romney 1, Obama 0
It was an obvious wake-up call to President Obama, but before he could fix it he had to hand things off to Vice President Joe Biden for his debate with Paul Ryan. In the Vice Presidential debate, Biden laughed at most of what Paul Ryan said, ridiculed his positions, and generally demolished Ryan. Others thought his behavior didn’t play well, but the polls don’t agree – the day after the Biden-Ryan debate Obama’s poll numbers had turned around and begun to rise, while Romney’s leveled off. By October 15th, Obama was within 0.1% of Romney in national polling. Biden had done what he needed to do – stop the bleeding. I’ll call this one-half (0.5) of a debate victory, being that this was a Vice Presidential debate rather than a Presidential one.
Score: Romney/Ryan 1, Obama/Biden 0.5
The following week, Obama and Romney had their second debate, and a very different President Obama was on display. He was energetic, aggressive, knew the material, and made his arguments, all while connecting with the audience in the town-hall debate. Romney seemed defensive, stiff, and had trouble connecting with the audience. In what was perhaps the turning point, moderator Candy Crowley fact-checked Romney on the spot when President Obama said he had called the attack in Benghazi an “act of terror” the day after the attack and Romney said it took two weeks for the President to call it an act of terror (the Truth: Obama did say that in the Rose Garden the day after the attack, but this got lost in the narrative about protests over an internet video). Romney was clearly caught off-guard, and never really recovered. Obama came out the clear victor, and his poll numbers continued to rise. The day after the debate Obama’s national polling numbers surpassed Romney’s for the first time in over ten days. Just to confuse the issue, however, North Carolina moved from “Toss-Up” into Romney’s “Leaning” column that same day, giving him 206 electoral votes to Obama’s 201, moving him ahead of Obama in electoral votes for the first time in this campaign season.
Score: Romney 1, Obama 1.5

map-syria-iraq-iran
Last night was the third and final debate between Obama and Romney, and in my opinion it was close, but with the edge going to Obama. He was sharp, tough, and knew the material. Romney also did reasonably well, but made at least one clear factual error when he claimed that Syria was Iran’s “route to the sea”. The fact is that Iran has over 1500 miles of coastline and many ports in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman to the south, and also has coastline on the Caspian Sea to the north, but no border with Syria (which has coastline on the Mediterranean Sea). In order for Syria to be Iran’s route to anywhere, Iran would first have to go through Iraq and/or Turkey to get there (see map above). I consider this a major blunder, because it raises doubts about Romney’s knowledge of the region, but of course only freaks like me would even catch that one – most people didn’t pay that much attention in Geography class in high school, so Romney will probably get away with it. Most of the instant polling (which is not particularly reliable) showed Obama winning the debate by a large margin (by 30 points in some of them – I don’t think it was anywhere near that high). It remains to be seen what effect this debate has on the regular poll numbers, but frankly I don’t see it widening the gap much.
Score: Romney 1, Obama 2.5
The national polling has had the two candidates within 1% of each other – with the lead switching back and forth between them – since October 14th, according to Real Clear Politics. The electoral votes are still where they have been since October 18th, at 206 for Romney and 201 for Obama, but Obama is currently leading in most of the toss-ups. While Obama clearly came out ahead on points in the debates (2.5 to 1), that one victory for Romney has made the most dramatic difference. This race is now going to be exceedingly close – a true nail-biter right to the end – and that is because of Romney’s strong showing (or, more correctly, Obama’s weak showing) in that first debate. Those who thought it would come down to the debates this year were right – instead of Obama running away, as he was beginning to do as the debates were set to begin, Obama’s dismal performance on October 3rd has turned this into one of the closest races since 2000.
The election is just two weeks away. With no more big events, it will be two weeks of hard campaigning and swamping the airwaves with advertising. Be ready, because the onslaught is coming. On November 6th, I suggest first that you vote – seriously, for the love of God, VOTE! – and then spend the evening learning which direction our nation will be traveling over the next four years.

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October 4, 2012: The First Presidential Debate: Romney 1, Obama 0

The build-up for this year’s Presidential debate had reached a fever pitch going into the first debate last night. There were reports that Mitt Romney had spent months memorizing “zingers” he could use against President Obama at the debates to create sound bites that would garner certain media coverage. There was talk that Romney’s campaign was dead in the water if he couldn’t use the debate to defend his “inelegant” comments about 47% of Americans. Pundits insisted that these debates – and this first debate in particular – were Mitt Romney’s last, best chance to reverse the momentum in this election. And it was all wrong.
Here are the biggest surprises from last night’s debate:
SUBSTANCE
The most surprising thing to me about this first debate was how substantive the debate turned out to be. There were (thankfully) no memorized “zingers” from either side; instead both candidates articulated their positions on various domestic issues at great length, and clearly delineated the differences between them. For the most part, both candidate’ answers were actually responsive to the questions asked, and the back-and-forth format was a breath of fresh air in the sense that the candidates could actually debate the issues, rather than just try to create sound bites. All in all, I found the level of substance refreshing.
STYLE
Another huge surprise was in the difference between the two candidates’ style of presentation. Both campaigns and their respective allies had spent weeks trying to lower expectations for their particular candidate in advance of the debate. The Romney camp argued that Obama is a great orator who has been on this stage before while this is Romney’s first time in a general election debate, while the President’s allies noted that Obama hasn’t been in a debate in four years, while Romney participated in countless debates during the primaries and besides, Obama is only a so-so debater. Lowering expectations like that is standard practice these days, so it should be taken with a grain or two of salt.
What actually materialized last night was an energetic and aggressive – but not abrasive – challenger who came well prepared, hit all his points, and stood his ground against a reserved incumbent who, while also well prepared and able to hit all his points, delivered them in such a hesitant, tentative manner that he seemed unsure of himself. What it came down to was that Romney was able to stand on that stage and go toe-to-toe with the President of the United States, known as a great orator, and beat him – and this made Romney look entirely Presidential.
So why was Obama so lackadaisical? Here’s my theory: Obama was not “on his game” because he knew he was in trouble as soon as this debate was over, and this distracted him. Why was he in trouble? This debate was taking place on his 20th wedding anniversary – a date his campaign had agreed to in negotiations with the Romney campaign and the Commission on Presidential Debates. I know how my wife would react if I scheduled something other than time with her on my 20th wedding anniversary – or any wedding anniversary, for that matter – I’d be sleeping on the couch (not the good couch, either – the lumpy one that smells funny). Michelle’s initial reaction would have come when the schedule was first known, of course, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she had brought it up again. This would be enough to distract anybody! I could be wrong, but this is as good an explanation of Obama’s lackluster performance as any other I’ve heard.
DEMEANOR
Both candidates were respectful – even friendly – to each other and to the moderator, even smiling occasionally, but when their opponent was speaking their demeanor could not have been more different: Romney’s expression when Obama was speaking was one of polite interest with a hint of a smile, but when Romney spoke Obama was almost always looking down at his notes with a frown on his face. Romney’s demeanor made him seem more likeable. Obama, on the other hand, just seemed grumpy.
THE MISSING 47%
After all the talk about how Romney would have to defend those “47%” remarks or his campaign would effectively die right there on that stage, it was astonishing that the subject didn’t even come up. I was not surprised that the Moderator, PBS’s Jim Lehrer, did not ask Romney about it – that would not have been appropriate – but I was stunned that Obama did not work it into his answers at any of the several opportunities that were presented to him. This was, after all, the debate on domestic issues, and this was logically when the subject would arise (the remaining two Presidential debates are on foreign policy and national security, neither of which would lend themselves to a discussion of Romney’s “47%” comments). Romney has been taking a beating over those comments for two weeks, and if there was one thing that all sides agreed on before the debate, it was that Romney would have to address the issue at this first debate. Perhaps Obama decided that he didn’t want to be seen as “going negative” on an issue that is now considered old news. Perhaps he decided to “let Joe do it”, meaning that it will be left to Vice President Biden to bring up the 47% comments when he debates Paul Ryan next week (although the 47% thing was Romney’s comment, not Ryan’s, so that wouldn’t make much sense). Perhaps Obama got distracted and simply forgot, or couldn’t formulate a way to work it in to one of his answers. Whatever his reasons may have been, in my view it was a mistake to not bring it up, because Romney has had a difficult time explaining it away (in fact he has failed in spectacular fashion to do so) and would have had to come up for some defense of those comments with 50 million people watching. Instead, Obama let him off the hook, and there is probably not going to be another chance like last night to force Romney to answer the criticism.
Pundits like to declare winners and losers at these debates, but I’m not going to do so. Romney clearly turned in the better performance – frankly, it wasn’t even close – but whether a candidate has “won” a debate depends on the definition of “winning”. I would submit that the best definition is whether the candidate accomplished what he or she needed to accomplish at the debate, and that is simply something we can’t know yet. Why? Because what Romney needed to accomplish was to turn the momentum in this campaign around, and we won’t know if he accomplished that for at least 10 days or so, when we can look at polls that reflect voters’ impressions from the debate after it had taken place.
So how should the candidates prepare for the remaining debates? For Mitt Romney, he should keep doing what he did to prepare for this debate, and continue to turn in strong performances like this one. For President Obama, he needs to go back to the drawing board and spend some serious time preparing for the next two debates.
At least the next debates won’t be on his wedding anniversary – so maybe he won’t be so distracted…

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September 27, 2012: Was “47%” a Minor Blip or a Game Changer?

In mid-September, poll watchers were dutifully writing about Romney’s lack of a convention bounce and wondering if the convention bounce Obama received would fade (for the most part, it did). Pundits were saying with confidence that the election was going to be so close that the debates would decide the winner. News programs were analyzing economic statistics – especially the job numbers – fully expecting them to serve as a prognostication tool for the election. Everything seemed to be following a prepared script.
And then, in a supremely unscripted development, an amateur video of Mr. Romney speaking at a fundraising event last May was released – and it changed everything.
In the video, Mr. Romney made many stunning statements, from joking that he’d have a better shot at winning the election if he were Latino to giving Iran advice on how best to commit a terrorist attack against this country(!); from suggesting that we should keep 20,000 American troops in Iraq forever to admitting that peace between Israel and the Palestinians was just too hard to accomplish and he planned to do little more than “kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen to resolve it.”
The real kicker, of course, was when Mr. Romney cavalierly dismissed 47% of the American people, saying it wouldn’t be his job to worry about them: “Well, there are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right? There are 47% who are with him. Who are dependent upon government, who believe that– that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they’re entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it. But that’s– it’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. And– and– I mean the president starts off with 48%, 49%, 40– or he– he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. 47% of Americans pay no income taxes. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. And he’ll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean that’s what they sell every– every four years. And– and so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for for their lives.”
This is the part that got the most airplay, and this is the part that has made this video the game-changer it seems to have become. Shortly after this video was released, Mr. Romney began adding to his regular stump speech that he wants to be President of “100% of Americans”, but that was such a transparent attempt at damage control that he quickly dropped it. Even he recognized that he was being insincere, and that everybody who heard him knew it.
It was also at this point that the polls began to change rather abruptly. Take a look at the following chart, which shows the change in Presidential Campaign poll numbers in competitive states that has occurred since the release of the video :

RACE MARGIN IN REAL CLEAR POLITICS AVERAGE
JUST BEFORE VIDEO RELEASE TODAY CHANGE
Obama vs. Romney – Nationally Obama +2.8 Obama +4.0 Obama +1.2
Obama vs. Romney – Colorado Obama +1.3 Obama +2.9 Obama +1.6
Obama vs. Romney – Florida Obama +1.3 Obama +3.2 Obama +1.9
Obama vs. Romney – Iowa Obama +0.2 Obama +3.6 Obama +3.4
Obama vs. Romney – Michigan Obama +6.2 Obama +8.6 Obama +2.4
Obama vs. Romney – Nevada Obama +3.3 Obama +3.8 Obama +0.5
Obama vs. Romney – New Hampshire Obama +2.3 Obama +2.5 Obama +0.2
Obama vs. Romney – North Carolina Romney +4.8 Obama +1.1 Obama +5.9
Obama vs. Romney – Ohio Obama +4.2 Obama +5.4 Obama +1.2
Obama vs. Romney – Virginia Obama +2.8 Obama +4.1 Obama +1.3
Obama vs. Romney – Wisconsin Obama +1.4 Obama +7.8 Obama +6.4

In each and every one of these competitive states, President Obama saw gains that began on September 17th and 18th. To be sure, some gains were marginal, but some – specifically in Iowa, North Carolina, and Wisconsin – were quite significant. What is striking is the suddenness and steepness of the change in these states – they all begin on September 17th and 18th, when the video was released. That cannot be a coincidence. What was shaping up to be a tight race has begun to look like more of a runaway (at least in the electoral college), and the timing seems to indicate that this video was the cause. Clearly, the release of that tape was a serious blow to the Romney campaign – especially because it reinforced a narrative that was already believed by a large swath of the electorate; that Mr. Romney is out of touch with the struggles most Americans (or at least about 47% of us) face in our everyday lives. It may even be hurting Republicans in general; poll numbers in several Senate and House races (such as the Senate races in Virginia and Wisconsin) have seen similar sudden gains for the Democrats that also coincide with the September 17th date, suggesting that the Romney video may be impacting down-ballot races as well
Oh – and those debates that were supposed to be Mr. Romney’s best shot at re-introducing himself and turning this race around? The general consensus now is that more than anything else, Romney will have be have a great defense of this video at the first debate this Wednesday (October 3rd), or his campaign will effectively die right there on the debate stage. And let’s be honest – if he’s playing defense the month before Election Day on a side issue like this at the precise moment he had hoped to take control of the campaign storyline, he’s probably already lost.
The only question that remains is whether the trend of the past 2 weeks will continue to rise for the next 6 weeks, if the numbers will hold where they now are, or if Mr. Romney can still turn these numbers around. In other words, was the release of this video just one more temporary blip in the polls, or will it turn out to be the game changer? Only time will tell. There are still almost 6 weeks to go, and a lot of surprises can happen in a campaign when you least expect it.
Just ask Mitt Romney.

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August 31, 2012: Say Anything: The Lies of Paul Ryan

To anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to facts, Ryan’s speech was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech.
– Fox News, August 30, 2012

Wow. Even Fox News couldn’t find a away to sugarcoat the “blatant lies and misrepresentations” in Paul Ryan’s convention speech. Here is a summary of Ryan’s lies, taken directly from Fox News’ analysis:
Lie #1: Ryan said that President Obama is to blame for the downgrading of America’s credit rating.
The Truth: According to Standard and Poor’s report on the downgrade, America’s credit rating was downgraded because, “The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy.” It was the Congressional Republicans – not President Obama – who threatened to default on our debt payments by not raising the debt ceiling, an effort that was led by none other than – yep, you guessed it – Paul Ryan!

Lie #2: Ryan said that President Obama was to blame for the closing of a General Motors plant in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin.
The Truth: That plant was closed in December of 2008 – when George W. Bush was President! Obama had nothing to do with it.

Lie #3: Ryan said that President Obama wants to give all the credit for private sector success to government.
The Truth: This is a reference to the “You didn’t build that” statement that was so blatantly edited and taken out of context in ads by GOP-allied Super-PACs. What Obama actually said the business owners “didn’t build” was the taxpayer-built infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.), without which those businesses could not have succeeded. The super-PAC ads edited out the part about the infrastructure to make it seem that Obama was saying the business owners didn’t build their own companies. As Fox News’ analysis admits, “Though Ryan insisted that President Obama wants to give all the credit for private sector success to government, that isn’t what the President said. Period.”

Lie #4: Ryan said that President Obama cut $716 billion from Medicare.
The Truth: This money is actually savings over 10 years through reductions in administrative costs, waste, fraud, and reimbursement rates (which, as Fox News pointed out, saves Medicare patients out-of-pocket money), not cuts in services to Medicare patients. Furthermore, Paul Ryan’s own budget plan includes these exact same savings!

That is as far as the Fox News analysis went, but there were other lies in Ryan’s speech that Fox News didn’t mention. These included the following:

Lie #5: Ryan said that President Obama is to blame for the failure to enact the recommendations of the Bowles-Simpson commission on the national debt.
The Truth: According to Bloomberg News, it was House Republicans, led specifically by – yep, you guessed it again – Paul Ryan, who sabotaged the legislation that would have enacted the Bowles-Simpson recommendations, not President Obama.

Lie #6: Ryan said that President Obama has amassed “more debt than any other President before him.”
The Truth: This is a favorite argument of the Republicans and their allies and, objectively speaking, probably their most effective argument against President Obama’s re-election. Mitt Romney has taken this argument even further, having said that Obama has amassed more debt than “almost all of the other Presidents combined (my emphasis).” However, neither of their statements are true. As of December 31, 2008, the national debt was slightly under $10.70 trillion (Obama took office just three weeks later, so this is roughly what the debt was when he took office and therefore roughly the debt amassed by “all other Presidents combined”). As of the end of June 2012, the debt was slightly less than $15.86 trillion, for an increase of about $5.16 trillion. To be sure, the national debt has increased under President Obama, but he has not amassed more than “all other Presidents combined” – it’s is actually less than half that amount. Of course, Romney actually said “almost all other Presidents combined (my emphasis)”, and by adding “almost” he is close to being almost right, but only if the President you leave out of the calculation is George W. Bush! During Bush’s term, the national debt grew from $5.66 trillion to $10.70 trillion, for an increase of about $5.4 trillion – more than President Obama! While this is over an 8-year period and Obama’s $5.16 trillion increase has been over just 3-1/2 years, Ryan did not make that distinction in his speech; he simply said that President Obama has amassed “more debt than any other President before him” – which is simply not true. And where was Ryan when Bush was amassing $5.4 trillion in debt? He was in Congress, voting in favor of each and every one of Bush’s debt-expanding policies! Where was his concern for the debt back then?
This lie becomes even more pronounced when the debt is viewed on a percentage basis. During Obama’s term (12/31/2008 to 6/30/2012), the debt has increased 41.4%. During George W. Bush’s term (12/31/2000 to 12/31/2008), it increased by 89.0% – in other words, Obama is roughly on pace (if he is re-elected) to match the percentage increase under Bush. During the first President Bush’s term (12/31/1988 to 12/31/1992), it increased 55.6% – a greater increase than Obama will have in his first 4 years – and during President Reagan’s term (12/31/1980 to 12/31/1988), it increased an incredible 188.6%! Contrary to the impression given by Romney, Ryan, and their allies, President Obama has actually decreased the rate of growth of the national debt every year! During Bush’s last year (12/31/2007 to 12/31/2008), the debt increased 15.9%. During Obama’s first year it increased 15.1%, during his second year it increased 13.9%, and during his third year it increased by just 7.8%. At least the trend is in the right direction – but you won’t hear the Republicans acknowledging that!
Don’t misunderstand me. The debt is far too high and is clearly a major concern, and it has increased – a lot – under President Obama. However, if we are going to be effective in turning that trend around, we are going to have to take an honest look at the numbers, rather than rely on lies and grandstanding. There will have to be a combination of the spending cuts favored by the Republicans and the revenue increases favored by the Democrats – in other words, both sides will have to compromise – to get it done. False accusations and blistering partisan rhetoric like Ryan’s speech will only make it worse.

Our country is facing many important issues, and this year’s election is widely regarded as the most crucial in decades. The decision voters make this November will determine the direction this country takes for the next four years – and likely beyond – and, as Fox News put it, “Elections should be about competing based on your record in the past and your vision for the future, not competing to see who can get away with the most lies and distortions without voters noticing or bother to care.”

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August 14, 2012: The GOP’s Ticket is a Dream Come True
(For the Democrats!)

With the selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney has effectively doomed his campaign to failure. Here are five reasons why:

Reason #1: The Ryan Budget

As Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan has submitted budget proposals for each of the last two years. Each time, his budget has passed the Republican-controlled House of Representatives on strict party-line votes (last year, for example, all but 4 House Republicans voted for it, while every Democrat voted against it), only to stall in the Senate. There is an old saying in politics: “Don’t tell me what your priorities are. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what your priorities are.” Because of the priorities outlined in the Ryan budget, that budget spells certain defeat for the Romney/Ryan campaign.
The only reason anyone had ever heard of Paul Ryan on a national level, for good or bad, was his budget proposals. In these budgets he has proposed massive cuts to social services – many of them considered “sacred cows” – and, infamously, proposed a plan that “eliminates Medicare as we know it” (those aren’t my words – that’s a quote about the Ryan budget from the ultra-conservative editorial page of Rupert Murdoch’s The Wall Street Journal). At the same time, his budget proposals would eliminate any taxes at all on capital gains, and would lower the top marginal tax rate from 35% to 25%. It is perhaps worth noting that these two income tax provisions, taken together, would have lowered Mitt Romney’s 2010 tax rate (the only year he has yet released) from about 14% to less than 1% on over $20 million in income.
No wonder Romney likes him.
Unfortunately for Romney, that just won’t play in Peoria. By selecting Paul Ryan, Romney gets all the baggage that comes with him – especially those budget proposals. He will now be irrevocably tied to the proposals to eliminate Medicare, and to reduce his own taxes to less than 1% while at the same time sticking it to the lower and middle classes with middle-class tax hikes, an “expansion of the tax base” (code for making the poor pay more taxes), and cuts to social safety nets. To make matters worse (for Romney), the effect of the Ryan budget on Romney’s tax rate will keep the issue of Romney’s taxes in the spotlight. The Obama/Biden campaign will drive all of these messages home relentlessly.
To take it a step further, by selecting Ryan as his running mate, Romney has put all of the Republican incumbents in the House who are running for re-election (except for the four that voted against the Ryan budget) in the position of having to choose between defending their vote to kill Medicare and being at odds with the Republican ticket. With Ryan on the ticket, that vote will become the dominant issue in almost every Democratic challenger’s campaign for Republican-held House seats, and will cost some of those Republicans their re-elections. Those votes had already been part of the Democrats’ plan to try to take back the House Majority, but as Steve Israel (D-NY), Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, recently said, “Mitt Romney has given us a lot to work with. It was becoming challenging to try to nationalize the Ryan budget, and Mitt Romney just handed that to us.” Israel’s counterpart in the Senate, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) added, “A House budget plan is a House budget plan. But all of the sudden the architect and definer of that has the potential of sitting in the White House, and that is really frightening to people.” POLITICO interviewed dozens of Republican strategists about Romney’s selection of Ryan, and their consensus was best summed up by one of the few willing to speak on the record – former George W. Bush senior advisor Mark McKinnon, who said, “I think it’s a very bold choice. And an exciting and interesting pick. It’s going to elevate the campaign into a debate over big ideas. It means Romney-Ryan can run on principles and provide some real direction and vision for the Republican Party. And probably lose. Maybe big.” As to the effect this will have on Congressional and other races, one of the consultants replied, “Very not helpful down ballot – very.” That one is right on the money.
Will it be enough to tip the House back to a Democratic majority? I doubt it, but it does have the potential to do so, depending on how well the Democrats play it (knowing the Democrats, they won’t play it well enough).
In a nutshell, the Ryan budgets are what brought Paul Ryan to national prominence in the first place, and by selecting Ryan as his running mate, Romney has effectively endorsed those budgets and taken them as his own. There is enough material in those budgets to allow the Democrats to hammer the Romney/Ryan campaign for much longer than the time left before November will allow. The Obama/Biden campaign’s biggest problem is going to be choosing which of the many controversial proposals in those budgets to hit Romney/Ryan with – and that’s a nice problem to have.

Reason #2: Ryan’s Voting Record

Based on his Congressional voting record, Paul Ryan is the most extreme Member of Congress – from either party – to run as the Vice Presidential pick on a national ticket since at least 1900. This isn’t just rhetoric, and it’s not just me saying this; this is the conclusion of a statistical study conducted by DW-Nominate, which examines the voting records of Members of Congress. It should be noted that this system does not examine Governors and other Vice Presidential candidates who have never served in Congress (like Sarah Palin, to cite one example). To lend some perspective as to just how extreme Ryan’s voting record is, this study concluded that Ryan is roughly as conservative as the Queen of the Lunatic Fringe, Michele Bachmann.

The DW-Nominate system rates Members of Congress on a scale from -1.0 (liberal) to +1.0 (conservative), with zero representing the political center. As can be seen in the chart below, Paul Ryan’s score is further from the ideological center than any other Member of Congress who has run for Vice President since at least 1900, besting the previous record held by Dick Cheney. In fact, Ryan, Cheney, and Dan Quayle are the only candidates on the chart with scores more than 0.5 away from center. The most liberal Democratic Member of Congress to run since 1900 was John Nance Garner (-.482), who was the Speaker of the House at the time and ran in 1932 (and 1936) as Franklin Roosevelt’s running mate. Here’s an interesting historical side note: On Inauguration Day in 1933, Garner spent the morning finishing his term as Speaker of the House, and at noon became Vice President, the presiding officer of the Senate. He is therefore the only person to be the official presiding officer of both Houses of Congress on the same day.

Another historical note that should be factored in here is that Garner was the last sitting member of the House of Representatives to run for Vice President and actually win. The last time a sitting Republican Member of the House successfully ran for Vice President was the same year that the Chicago Cubs last won the World Series – 1908. This doesn’t bode well for the Romney/Ryan ticket.

It won’t just be Ryan’s overall voting record that hurts the Romney/Ryan ticket. It’s safe to say that his votes on specific bills and issues will be the grist of many Obama/Biden campaign ads (in fact, President Obama has already begun hitting Ryan on his Farm Bill vote during a visit to Iowa). It is in this area that the Ryan pick makes the least sense. His votes on a wide array of issues will provide plenty of material for the Obama campaign to choose from, and Romney had to know that when he made his selection. Clearly, Romney believes that Ryan’s energizing the Republican base will be enough to outweigh the downside provided by Ryan’s actual record. I think he’s completely wrong about that.

In a previous post, I cited a mathematical study that assumed Romney would win the 22 states won by John McCain in 2008 and Obama would win the District of Columbia and the 18 states that have gone to the Democrats in all 5 of the past 5 elections. The remaining 10 states can be divided into 2 groups in 1,024 possible combinations. Of those 1,024 combinations, 939 of them yield an Obama victory. Only 85 yield a Romney victory, and all 85 require Romney to win Florida.

Romney has already tried to run away from Ryan’s record on Medicare, which Ryan has proposed eliminating and replacing with a government voucher that seniors would have to use to purchase insurance on the open market. This is an extremely unpopular proposal, since (among other things) no one believes those vouchers would be enough to cover the actual cost of health insurance. Romney will be asked – repeatedly – if he supports his running mate’s proposal to eliminate Medicare. If he says yes, he will doom his campaign, because he will lose Florida (badly), and he simply cannot reach 270 electoral votes without winning Florida. If he says no, then why did he pick Ryan? That proposal was the primary reason anyone had ever heard of Paul Ryan in the first place!

No matter how hard he tries, Romney will not be able to run away from Ryan’s voting record. Given this obvious fact, the selection of Ryan doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Reason #3: The “Personhood” Amendment

I will preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose. I will not change any provisions of Massachusetts’ pro-choice laws.”
– Mitt Romney, when running for Governor of Massachusetts in 2002

The abortion issue is one of the main reasons conservatives have never considered Mitt Romney to be one of their own – he was staunchly pro-choice when he needed votes in liberal Massachusetts, and only became pro-life when facing the conservative base of the national Republican Party as a Presidential candidate. As a result of this mistrust from conservatives, Romney has been trying to solidify his pro-life credentials at every turn. As part of his professed conversion to the pro-life side, Romney told Mike Huckabee in a televised interview last October that he would have “absolutely” supported a “Personhood” amendment in Massachusetts (which, of course, conflicts with his above statement that he would “not change any provisions of Massachusetts’ pro-choice laws”, which only reinforces the notion that he doesn’t really stand for anything, but will adopt whatever position will help him politically – an image he has been trying to overturn since his 2008 campaign).
The idea of “Personhood” would grant the constitutional status of “life” at the moment of fertilization, which would have the effect of outlawing ALL abortions – even in cases of rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother – and because of that, Romney has been backtracking ever since he said he would “absolutely” support it – especially when the Obama campaign ran ads pointing out (correctly) that Romney had taken a position opposing ALL abortions. However, granting life at fertilization would go much further than Romney apparently realized. While some forms of contraception prevent the actual fertilization of the egg (condoms, diaphragms, spermicidal jellies and foams, etc), birth control pills and other forms of hormonal birth control do not prevent fertilization – instead, these types of birth control prevent implantation of the fertilized egg, which can occur several days, or even a full week, after fertilization. “Personhood” would therefore make this type of birth control illegal, and outlawing birth control pills (in fact, going so far as to rendering them a form of murder) is not a mainstream position by any measure.
But wait – there’s more! By granting the status of “life” to fertilized eggs, personhood would also outlaw in-vitro fertilization (IVF), because IVF usually results in a dozen or more fertilized eggs, only a few of which are ever implanted into the womb, with the rest being discarded. Discarding these fertilized eggs would amount to murder under “Personhood”, and therefore IVF, one of the most-utilized forms of fertility treatments for couples who desperately want children but cannot conceive on their own, would have to be eliminated. Again, this is not a mainstream position by any stretch of the imagination.
“Personhood” amendments have been attempted in Colorado twice, with more than 70% voting against it each time, and in Mississippi, that reddest of red states, where it lost by a 16-point margin. Clearly, this idea is far out of the mainstream, even in the most Republican of states. Nevertheless, it will be on the ballots of several states this November – a fact that could prove a boon to Democrats, given the vehement unpopularity of these proposals.
What does this have to do with Paul Ryan? Ryan is one of the foremost proponents of “Personhood” nationally, and has even co-sponsored a bill to enact “Personhood” at the federal level (H.R. 212 in the current Congress). By choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate, Romney has essentially endorsed “Personhood” – again – a position he has spent the last 10 months (since that appearance with Mike Huckabee) running away from. This can only hurt him.

Reason #4: Failing to Meet the Basic Criteria

Generally speaking, there are two basic criteria for any Vice Presidential pick: first, do no harm, and second, balance the ticket in some way, in order to appeal to a broader spectrum of the electorate. The Ryan pick fails to meet either of these criteria.
As for doing no harm, the Ryan choice will hurt Romney in several key states, and especially in the battleground states of Florida and Nevada, both of which have large populations of retirees. Paul Ryan’s proposed elimination of Medicare and his past endorsements of the privatization of Social Security will be devastating to the Romney camp in these – and other – states. His support of “Personhood” will hurt him all over the map (that one was even defeated – by a 16-point margin – in Mississippi), and Ryan’s overall voting record – which makes him the most extreme Member of Congress to be the running mate on either party’s ticket since at least 1900 – won’t help him win over undecided voters in the middle of the political spectrum. As for the argument that the Ryan pick will energize the Republican base, he will certainly do that – but the general consensus is that Ryan’s being on the ticket will energize the Democratic base even more strongly. In other words, the Ryan pick will only do harm.
As for balancing the ticket, Ryan won’t help Romney in the upper mid-west, and in fact he won’t even help Romney win his home state of Wisconsin (Obama continues to lead there by an RCP average of 5.4%), so he doesn’t balance the ticket geographically. He could be regarded as balancing the ticket in terms of experience, having served in Congress for seven terms (Romney, a state governor and businessman, has never held a position in the federal government), but that goes against the “Washington is the problem, not the solution” mantra of the Republican Party, so that doesn’t make sense. Therefore, he could only balance the ticket ideologically. Unfortunately for Romney, if that is the case, then the selection of Paul Ryan is a tacit admission that Romney is not the “true conservative” he claims to be! If he needs Ryan to balance the ticket ideologically, and Ryan is a darling of the conservatives, then the only way Ryan balances the ticket ideologically is if Romney is admitting he’s not a true conservative. If Romney insists he’s a conservative, then Ryan doesn’t balance the ticket.
In other words, Paul Ryan fails to meet even the most basic criteria usually applied to Vice Presidential picks.

Reason #5: Failing to Meet Romney’s Own Criteria

Back in May, Mitt Romney appeared before a Las Vegas crowd and touted an idea for a Constitutional Amendment that would require that, in addition to the existing qualifications to serve as President (natural-born citizen, at least 35 years old, and at least 14 years residency in the United States), only those with three years of business experience would be qualified to hold the office of President of the United States. After bringing up the notion of such an amendment, he went on and on about how the President would then understand how poorly-designed government policies can cause businesses to close, employees to lose their jobs, and so on (interesting how he neglected to mention how his practices at Bain Capital accomplished these same things…closing businesses, costing employees their jobs, etc). This was a loopy idea to begin with – in general, any suggestion to amend the Constitution should be regarded as suspect until fully examined – and would disqualify a good number of our past Presidents from both parties (including such Republican icons as Ronald Reagan, Dwight Eisenhower, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln), but it would also disqualify Paul Ryan from serving as Vice President since, under the 12th Amendment, the Vice President must meet the same qualifications as the President.
So… according to Mitt Romney’s own stated criteria that a President should have at least three years of business experience – stated unequivocally just three months ago – Paul Ryan is not eligible to be his running mate!
Time, of course, will tell if the selection of Paul Ryan will help or hurt Mitt Romney in the November elections, but there is another issue here that will affect future elections as well. The conservative base of the Republican Party has never fully trusted that Mitt Romney is a true conservative. Had Romney selected a running mate that did not satisfy that base, and then lost the election in November, the conservatives could point to those results and say, “See? We needed a true conservative on the ticket!” This would have been their rallying cry going in to the 2016 election cycle – WE MUST HAVE A TRUE CONSERVATIVE!!!
Now that Romney has selected Paul Ryan, the darling of the conservative base, that base will not be able to distance themselves from a loss this November. Romney has heeded their advice and selected one of their top choices as his running mate. He has advocated many of their positions on issues near and dear to conservatives’ hearts, and the Party Platform that will be adopted at the Republican National Convention later this month will be written almost exclusively to please that base. The conservatives will be fully invested in this election, and therefore a loss this November will mean that having a “true conservative” on the ticket didn’t help.
Together, all of these factors add up to one thing – Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan makes the GOP ticket a dream come true – for the Democrats!

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June 15, 2012: This Has GOT to Stop!

This has got to stop. Advocating for the death of an American President – by any means – is not OK. It’s not even close to acceptable. It crosses so far over the line, you can’t even see the line from there.

But it still keeps happening.

bushheadpike-screen

The latest incident occurs at the beginning of the final episode of the first season of the popular HBO series Game of Thrones, when one of the characters, Sansa Stark (played by actress Sophie Turner), is forced to look at a number of severed heads on spikes, including that of her character’s father (I’ve personally never seen the show – I don’t get HBO – but it sounds just delightful). One of the heads – believe it or not – is a fake head made in the likeness of former President George W. Bush. That’s right – President Bush’s severed head is shown on a spike.

No, I’m not making this up.

This probably would have gone unnoticed, since the face is partially obscured by a shaggy wig and is turned away from the camera (it’s the one on the left in the above photo), except that the show’s creators actually went to the trouble of pointing it out on the Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season DVD set.

How stupid are these people?

In the audio commentary included in the DVD set, producer David Benioff and writer D. B. Weiss say, “The last head on the left is George Bush. George Bush’s head appears in a couple of beheading scenes. It’s not a choice, it’s not a political statement, it’s just we had to use what heads we had around,”

Not a political statement?? Are they kidding? How in the hell is putting George W. Bush’s head on a spike – and then pointing it out to make sure that everyone knows you did it – NOT a political statement?

Once the inevitable, reasonable, and completely justified outrage began, the Game of Thrones creators found themselves at the center of a firestorm and started backtracking quickly.

Benioff and Weiss quickly issued a statement Wednesday saying “We use a lot of prosthetic body parts on the show: heads, arms, etc. We can’t afford to have these all made from scratch, especially in scenes where we need a lot of them, so we rent them in bulk. After the scene was already shot, someone pointed out that one of the heads looked like George W. Bush. In the DVD commentary, we mentioned this, though we should not have. We meant no disrespect to the former President and apologize if anything we said or did suggested otherwise.”

Sorry, but that’s not good enough. We’re supposed to believe they just happened to have President Bush’s head lying around, and decided to put it on a spike as a cost-saving measure? C’mon – they went to the trouble of pointing it out, apparently in case anyone missed it. This was no accident.

HBO issued a statement of its own, saying, “We were deeply dismayed to see this and find it unacceptable, disrespectful and in very bad taste. We made this clear to the executive producers of the series who apologized immediately for this inadvertent careless mistake. We are sorry this happened and will have it removed from any future DVD production.”

Sorry, but that’s not good enough either. This was no “inadvertent careless mistake”. Making death threats against the President of the United States – including former Presidents – is a Class D Felony. According to the Secret Service, President Bush received an average of about 3,000 death threats a year when he was in office, and President Obama has received about four times that many – an average of about 12,000 death threats a year – since taking office. This is a serious crime, and it should be treated as such.

This is by no means the first time this sort of threat has been made against a President, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. For example, in 2009 a marketing campaign selling t-shirts, bumper stickers and other such items promoting the phrase “Pray for Obama: Psalms 109:8” circulated around the internet.

pray_for_obama_psalm_109_8_tshirt

Anyone who looked it up would find that Psalms 109:8 reads, “Let his days be few; and let another take his office.” This was hardly a prayer for the President’s continued well-being. When confronted on this, some of those who had propagated or displayed this slogan defended themselves by claiming that the slogan was just a joke, intended to be taken “tongue-in-cheek”, and that they actually meant “Let his days in office be few…”; in other words, they argued that this was a call for President Obama’s removal as President, not his assassination. I have as good a sense of humor as the next guy (and, quite frankly, a better one than most), but I don’t see the humor here at all, and I doubt the Secret Service would find it funny, either. As for the bit about it referring to his “removal” from office, when Psalms 109:8 is read in context, this argument falls completely apart. The very next verse (Psalms 109:9) reads, “Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.” There is absolutely no ambiguity as to what these words mean. Furthermore, Psalm 109, taken in its entirety, is a call for the “unjust kings” of ancient Israel to be killed – if not by God himself, then by “righteous men”. It was hard to miss the real intention of this marketing campaign. This was clearly not a prayer for President Obama’s impeachment – it was a prayer for President Obama’s death, and that’s inexcusable.

As another example, in 2006 a motion picture called Death of a President was released, presented as a mock documentary about a 2008 investigation into a presidential assassination that took place in 2007. Yup, 2007. Could there be any question which President was to be assassinated in the film? While there is nothing inherently wrong with examining the various ramifications of the assassination of an American President, the creators of this film chose not to depict the assassination of some fictional future President, but rather the forthcoming but fictional assassination of President George W. Bush, the current President at the time of the film’s release – a decision that cost them a ton of money for the cost of the CGI special effects needed to put President Bush’s face on the actor portraying the President.

Bush-Death of a President 3

This was not only inexcusable, it was stupid. Due primarily to the controversy that erupted over the film’s depiction of the future assassination of the sitting President of the United States, the response to the film was overwhelmingly and appropriately negative, and Death of a President was an absolute flop at the box office (it cost about $2 million to make, and grossed less than $900,000 worldwide). The response was also bipartisan – the statement made by then-Senator Hillary Clinton was both appropriate and typical: “I think it’s despicable. I think it’s absolutely outrageous. That anyone would even attempt to profit on such a horrible scenario makes me sick.”

I completely agree.

In fact, I would argue that Hillary Clinton’s statement about Death of a President could be applied to any of the threats I have discussed here. Depicting President Bush’s assassination was unacceptable. So was calling for President Obama’s death by marketing the phrase “Pray for Obama: Psalms 109:8”.

And so is putting President Bush’s severed head on a spike – in fact, I consider this to be a grotesque escalation of this despicable trend.

I don’t care how popular Game of Thrones is. HBO should recall the Season 1 DVD set, refuse to release any further DVDs of any future episodes, and take the show off the air completely –NOW.

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May 17, 2012: On Gay Marriage, Bullying,
and Presidential Politics

This election was going to be about the economy – you know, the whole “jobs, jobs, jobs” thing. That’s what the Republicans (and most pundits on both sides) have been telling us almost since President Obama first took office over three years ago. That’s what the Republicans ran on in the 2010 mid-term elections, which they won decisively, taking 63 House seats, 6 Senate seats, several governorships, and control of more state legislatures than at any time in decades. Everyone was in agreement – President Obama’s re-election hopes were going to ride on the state of the economy. It was the conventional wisdom.
That has all changed – it is now clear that this election won’t be about the economy.
Since the 2010 mid-terms, the Republicans have governed like social conservatives, focusing on abortion, gay marriage, contraception, creationism vs. evolution, and the like, while paying only scant attention to the economic issues that face our nation. The record is clear – at both the federal and the state level, the Republicans have all but dropped “jobs, jobs, jobs” as a campaign issue and as a priority in governance.
Why would they do this? Despite my disagreement with them on many issues, even I don’t think the Republicans are stupid – in fact quite the opposite; they are clearly very smart politicians. Some argue that the Tea Party movement has forced the Republican Party to the far right, and while there is some validity to that argument, the best explanation for their changing the focus of this election from the economy to the social conservative agenda is that they think doing so will give them a better chance to win.
The truth is that the economy is improving – slowly, yes, but improving. When President Obama took office, the economy was hemorrhaging 750,000 jobs every month. Now we have had 25 consecutive months of private sector job growth. When President Obama took office, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was below 8,000. Now it is over 13,000. The auto bailout, which was especially unpopular with the Republicans, has been an unqualified success – Detroit has paid the money back and GM is now once again the top auto manufacturing company in the world, with Chrysler and Ford not far behind (in contrast, Mitt Romney is on video saying “Let Detroit go bankrupt”, which pretty much eliminates any hope he may have had of winning Michigan). The housing market has now stopped its collapse and has leveled off somewhat, and mortgage interest rates remain at historic lows. The bottom line is that, when asked the question “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” most people – however grudgingly – would have to say “Yes”. The Republicans have been hitting Obama on the economy for a long time, and despite their best efforts, Obama is still ahead. This is why the Republicans are backing off the economy as the defining issue of the campaign.
Last week the focus of this election shifted to what had previously been regarded as little more than a side-show (or at most an issue that would be decided in the courts), even among the social conservatives: gay marriage. On Sunday of last week (May 6th), Vice President Joe Biden appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press and said he is “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage. On Tuesday, North Carolina voters approved – by 20 points – an amendment to the state’s constitution that outlaws gay marriage. On Wednesday, after several years of “evolving” (his word) on the issue, President Obama became the first President in US history to openly support gay marriage. On Thursday, the Washington Post published an investigative piece that quoted several former schoolmates of Mitt Romney, alleging that in high school Romney had bullied a student, John Lauber, who was “perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality” (it wasn’t until later that Lauber revealed he was gay) by leading a group that tackled Lauber and pinned him down. While Lauber screamed for help, Romney cut off his hair, which had been dyed blonde and was hanging over one eye, with a pair of scissors. According to the witnesses, on another occasion Romney said “Atta girl” to another male student who had spoken up in class, and that such behavior on Romney’s part was not at all unusual. What this reveals is not only the kind of person Romney was in high school, but how threatened he felt – and perhaps still feels – by homosexuality. In response to questions about the allegations, Romney claimed to not remember the hair-cutting incident, and said that he had done “some dumb things” when he was in high school, and if he had hurt or offended anyone “Obviously I would apologize for that”. In a speech at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University a few days later, Romney reiterated his opposition to gay marriage. This is one of those issues where there is now a clearly-defined difference between the candidates.
There are strong feelings on both sides of the gay marriage issue, and there is already some evidence that this will have an impact on the Presidential election. Given that North Carolina – one of the true battleground states in this election – had just added a gay marriage ban to its constitution by a sizable margin the day before President Obama’s announcement, it would be shocking if there wasn’t some response reflected in the polls there (at least temporarily). A new poll from Rasmussen shows just such a response, giving Romney an 8-point lead over Obama in North Carolina, which is way off any previous polling results, most of which have given Obama a slight lead – even the last Rasmussen poll only gave Romney a 2-point lead. This either reflects a response to Obama’s announcement, or it is an “outlier” (a poll that doesn’t align with any other poll), but more polling will need to be done before we can dismiss Rasmussen’s latest results as just an outlier.
Outside of North Carolina, however, the response has been mixed. Despite a few high-profile defections from supporters on both sides, in general the solid Republicans support Romney’s position, the solid Democrats support Obama’s position, and those in the middle seem to be roughly equally divided. In other words, it’s a bit of a wash. Frankly, I think many voters will respect the fact that Obama took a firm position on a controversial issue despite the obvious political risk, which will help him at least as much as his support of gay marriage might hurt him – with the possible exception of North Carolina.
What may turn out to have the far bigger impact in the long run is the revelation of Romney’s bullying, which many people (myself included) find much more troubling than whatever position a candidate may hold on either side of the gay marriage issue. We all knew bullies in school, and we all either experienced or witnessed the effect they had on their victims. There was always one guy – that guy – among the bullies who was their leader, the popular guy who was always able to get his cronies to join in his cruelty, who was always able to make others laugh at his victims’ expense, and we all felt a healthy resentment, a fear and loathing – perhaps even a deep hatred – of that guy.
Now it has been revealed that Mitt Romney was that guy.
To make matters worse, Romney’s response to the allegation – the details of which were corroborated by several witnesses in the Washington Post article – was to claim he did not remember the attack on Lauber. Really? If I had tackled a fellow student and hacked off his hair, I’m pretty sure I would remember it. Denying he remembers the incident only makes Romney look like a liar – or at best a slick politician willing to say anything to make an issue go away.
Or both.
To be sure, times have changed since 1965, when this incident allegedly took place. However, Romney isn’t campaigning in 1965, he’s campaigning in 2012 – and he is going to have to deal with the current public sensibilities of the American people, not those of forty-seven years ago. He has already had problems with his likeability with the voters, and having been that guy will absolutely not help him with that. Given the increased awareness of bullying in the public consciousness today – especially since Columbine – the issue of Romney’s alleged bullying is not going to go away with a half-hearted apology and a selective memory. Today this type of assault on a “presumed homosexual” would be probably be prosecuted as a hate crime, and any school that tolerated such behavior could expect to be sued and the school’s leadership fired (in contrast, Romney was not punished for the alleged incident – although the fact that his father was the Governor of the state at the time may have had something to do with that).
Time will tell, of course, how either the gay marriage issue or the allegations of Romney’s past bullying affect the Presidential race, but one thing is certain – this election isn’t going to just be about the economy anymore, no matter what the conventional wisdom might be.

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May 2, 2012: For Those Who Are Not Yet Convinced…

In case my last two posts have not succeeded in convincing you beyond any shadow of a doubt that President Obama will win his bid for re-election this November, here is more hard evidence of this inevitability.
This is not empty rhetoric or wishful thinking – these are hard numbers, and they’re not my numbers or my over-confident interpretation of the numbers. This is real.
Real Clear Politics (RCP) is a website regarded by most political analysts on both sides of the aisle as the definitive source of polling data. Only “scientific” polls – those conducted using proper statistical analysis practices – are included on the website. One of the features on Real Clear Politics is what they call the RCP Average, which is calculated by adding each candidate’s percentage score in the various recent legitimate polls, dividing this result by the number of polls to arrive at each candidate’s average score, then figuring the difference between these averages. The RCP Average is considered the most accurate estimate available of where each candidate actually stands in a given election campaign.
Currently, Real Clear Politics lists 11 states – California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington – plus the District of Columbia – as “Likely Obama”, for a total of 161 electoral votes in that category. In addition, RCP lists 7 states – Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wisconsin – as “Leans Obama”, for another 66 electoral votes. The combined states in the “Likely” and “Leans” categories for Obama total 227 electoral votes, just 43 shy of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the election.
On the other side, RCP currently lists 17 states – Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming – as “Likely Romney”, for a total of 131 electoral votes. In addition, RCP lists 4 states – Georgia, Indiana, Montana, and South Carolina – as “Leans Romney”. The combined states in the “Likely” and “Leans” categories for Romney total 170 electoral votes, a full 100 electoral votes less than the 270 needed to win the election.
This leaves 11 states that are considered by RCP to be “Toss-Ups” – Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Let’s take a look at RCP’s information for each of these 11 toss-up states:

Arizona (2008 Results: McCain 53.8%, Obama 45.0%)
The current RCP Average for Arizona shows Romney ahead by 3.2%, but this average is calculated using polls as far back as mid-February. RCP lists two polls conducted in April, one by Arizona State and the other by the Behavior Research Center. Arizona State gave Romney a margin of 2%, while the Behavior Research Center gave Obama a 2% lead. This would seem to indicate that Arizona is a dead heat at the moment – a true toss-up.

Colorado (2008 Results: McCain 44.8%, Obama 53.5%)
There is no current RCP Average for Colorado, because there is only one poll that has been conducted in 2012. That poll is from Public Policy Polling, and gives Obama a 13% lead. One poll isn’t enough for RCP to move Colorado out of the “Toss-Up” column, but this looks like an Obama state to me.

Florida (2008 Results: McCain 48.4%, Obama 50.9%)
Florida is an especially crucial state for Mitt Romney. In the April 18th update to my post of April 16th, I cited a mathematical study that assumes that President Obama will win all of the states (plus the District of Columbia) that went to the Democratic candidates in all 5 of the past 5 Presidential elections, and that Mitt Romney will win all of the states won by John McCain in 2008 (both are reasonable assumptions). This leaves 10 remaining states, which can be divided into two groups in 1,024 possible combinations. Of these 1,024 combinations, 939 of them ultimately yield a victory for President Obama, while only 85 yield a victory for Mitt Romney – and all 85 require Romney to win Florida. He literally cannot win the election unless he wins Florida, because he will have no mathematical possibility of reaching 270 electoral votes without it. Currently, the RCP Average for Florida shows Obama ahead by 3.3%, but what is interesting is the progression of the 4 polls used to calculate this average. Obama’s lead shrinks from 7% to 5% to 2% between mid-March and mid-April, then a Rasmussen poll taken in late April shows a 1% Romney lead. This general trend away from Obama and towards Romney should give the Republicans some measure of hope. There is no doubt that Florida will once again be a major battleground state – a true toss-up.

Iowa (2008 Results: McCain 44.7%, Obama 54.0%)
The current RCP Average for Iowa shows an Obama lead of 3.0%, but this goes all the way back to October, with no polling conducted since mid-February – and that February poll gave Romney a 2% lead (at a time when the Republican primaries were given wall-to-wall news coverage and Obama was not). What this means is that, despite Obama’s 9.3% margin here in 2008, Iowa must be regarded as an unknown at the moment. I suspect that when more polling is conducted, Iowa will move into the “Leans Obama” column.

Missouri (2008 Results: McCain 49.4%, Obama 49.3%)
There is no current RCP Average for Missouri, because only one polling organization (Rasmusssen) has conducted polling in Missouri in the past two months. Their latest poll, conducted in mid-April, shows Romney with a 3% lead. Given that John McCain won this state by a margin of just 0.1% in 2008, it is surprising that more polling hasn’t been done here. Despite the lack of polling, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this state is likely to once again be a true toss-up.

Nevada (2008 Results: McCain 42.7%, Obama 55.1%)
The current RCP Average for Nevada shows Obama with a 7.4% lead, but this is a bit misleading because it includes a poll conducted last December that shows Obama with only a 6% lead. The two polls that have been taken this year (one by Public Policy Polling at the end of March and one by Rasmussen at the end of April) both show Obama leading by 8%. This looks like an Obama state to me.
UPDATE (5/3/12): Real Clear Politics has moved Nevada to the “Leans Obama” column.

New Hampshire (2008 Results: McCain 44.8%, Obama 54.3%)
The current RCP Average for New Hampshire shows Obama leading by 3.5%, but this is calculated using only two polls with widely disparate results. A Dartmouth poll from early April gave Romney a 2% lead, while a WMUR/UNH poll from mid-April showed Obama leading by 9%. More polling will be needed before we can determine where New Hampshire actually stands, but given Obama’s 9.5% margin here in 2008, I suspect Obama will have the edge.

North Carolina (2008 Results: McCain 49.5%, Obama 49.9%)
The current RCP Average for North Carolina gives Obama a 2.4% lead, and is taken from three polls conducted in April, so this is probably a fairly accurate picture of the current situation here. Obama won this state by just 0.4% in 2008, and it is likely to be close again this time around. North Carolina will be a true toss-up.

Ohio (2008 Results: McCain 47.2%, Obama 51.2%)
The current RCP Average for Ohio gives Obama a 5.3% lead. Even more significant, Obama has won 9 of the 10 polls taken in Ohio this year, the exception being a single Fox News poll taken in mid-February. Ohio is generally thought of as a critical battleground state, but it is looking more and more like an Obama state this year.

Pennsylvania (2008 Results: McCain 44.3%, Obama 54.7%)
The current RCP Average for Pennsylvania shows Obama with a 6.0% lead, but this only covers polling done in February and March – there was apparently no polling done in April (which is very surprising, considering that Pennsylvania’s primary election was April 24th). Despite Pennsylvania’s reputation as one of the key battleground states, Obama won by more than 10% in 2008 and it has gone Democratic in all 5 of the past 5 Presidential elections. Updated polling will be needed to know for sure, but I suspect this will be a state Obama wins easily.
UPDATE (5/3/12): Real Clear Politics has moved Pennsylvania to the “Leans Obama” column.

Virginia (2008 Results: McCain 46.4%, Obama 52.7%)
The current RCP Average for Virginia gives Obama a 2.5% lead, and includes four polls conducted since mid-March with a range from an Obama lead of 8% to a Romney lead of 5%. Despite the disparity between these four polls, the RCP average is probably a good indication of where Virginia actually stands right now. It is a true toss-up.

As outlined in the above summary of the Real Clear Politics numbers for the 11 “Toss-Up” states, four of these states – Colorado, Nevada, Ohio and Pennsylvania – are already leaning significantly (a margin of 5.3% or greater) towards Obama, and two other states – Iowa and New Hampshire – don’t have enough current data to tell where they actually stand right now, although I believe forthcoming polls will show them leaning considerably in Obama’s direction. This leaves just 5 of the states on RCP’s list of toss-ups – Arizona, Florida, Missouri, North Carolina, and Virginia – which should actually be regarded as true toss-ups, and this is the “hard evidence” I referred to earlier. If the battlegrounds in this election are going to be in traditionally Republican states like Arizona, North Carolina and Virginia, the Republicans are already in serious trouble! The 5 true toss-up states have a total of 78 electoral votes between them. If Romney were to win all 5 of these states, it would not be enough – when combined with his 170 votes already leaning or likely to go his way, this would only raise his total to 248 electoral votes, 22 votes short of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the election. Even if Iowa and New Hampshire both end up going for Romney as well, this would only raise his total to 258 electoral votes.
It’s just not enough.
What this means is that President Obama already has enough electoral votes – 280 – to win the election, even if we only count states where he is currently leading by a margin of 5.3% or greater.
The Republicans will tell you that the campaign is just getting under way, that anything can happen in the next 6 months, that it’s too early to know for sure (all true), and that Romney will be able to turn it around in time for the election (not true). The problem for the Republicans is that Romney’s poll numbers among specific significant voting groups don’t bode well for him. For example, Obama has large leads over Romney among American women (Reuters/Ipsos 51% – 37%; Pew Research 53% – 40%), among Hispanic voters (Fox News 70% – 14%; Pew Research 67% – 27%), among college graduates (Pew Research 53% – 42%), and among those earning less than $50,000/year (Pew Research 51% – 42%). If these numbers don’t change – dramatically – before November, Romney simply has no chance whatsoever of turning around enough electoral votes to even make the election close.
Not that they won’t try. The Republicans and their allies will inundate us with an absolute onslaught of negative advertising claiming all sorts of things – some true, but most false or misleading. They will show health care reform in the worst possible light and accuse Obama of attacking Medicare, although virtually every Republican in Congress voted for the Paul Ryan budget, which ends Medicare completely. They will blame Obama for the poor economy, even though he inherited the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression from his predecessor; even though the Dow Jones Industrial Average was below 8,000 when he took office and is now above 13,000; even though the U.S. economy was losing 750,000 jobs every month when he took office and we have now seen 25 consecutive months of private sector job growth. They will blame him for higher gas prices, even though the recent price increases have been caused by speculators in the commodities markets and not by the government or any shortage in supply or increase in demand. They will bring up all of the old garbage they have been complaining about for four years now – they will call him a socialist (he’s not), a Muslim (he’s not), an atheist (he’s not), incompetent (he’s not), the anti-Christ (he’s not), and so on. They will bring up Jeremiah Wright, his time spent living in Indonesia as a child, the birth certificate, and any number of other things – we’ll just have to wait and see what they are. Obama will respond effectively, and none of it will matter.
Write it down. Bet the farm. Count on it.
President Obama will be re-elected.
End of story.
UPDATE (5/3/12): Real Clear Politics has moved both Nevada and Pennsylvania from the “Toss-Ups” column into the “Leans Obama” column, giving Obama a combined total of 253 electoral votes in the “Likely” and “Leaning” columns – just 17 votes shy of the 270 needed to win the election.

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April 23, 2012: More Thoughts On Why Obama Will Win Re-Election

Continuing the theme from my last post, what follows are my top 5 reasons to believe that President Obama will win re-election. The first reason, the electoral vote potential, is a (very) brief re-cap of that last post (April 16th – “Why President Obama Will Win Re-Election”). The other four reasons explain why Mitt Romney will not be able to turn it around between now and November.
Reason #1 – Electoral Vote Potential (see post of 4/16/12 for further details)
As I wrote in my April 16th post, the only thing that matters in any Presidential election is the number 270 – the number of electoral votes needed to win the election. President Obama has the clear advantage here:
Obama: “Safe” + “Likely” states = 284 electoral votes
Romney: “Safe” + “Likely” states = 191 electoral votes
(note: “Safe” means a margin of more than 10%; “Likely” means a margin of 6% through 10%)

Reason #2 – Current Nationwide Polling: Obama vs. Romney (RCP Averages)
Although Presidents are not elected by a nationwide popular vote (see post of April 16th), it is still usually true that the winner of the nationwide popular vote wins the election. On those few occasions when the popular vote winner has lost the election in the past (most recently in the year 2000), the popular vote has been extremely close. The wider the margin, therefore, the more likely is will be that the popular vote winner will also win the electoral vote. In this light, the nationwide popular vote can serve as an indicator of who will ultimately win the election:
Current:
• Obama: 47.6%
• Romney: 44.5%
• Advantage: Difference of +3.1% in Obama’s favor
History: Obama has been ahead of Romney every day since he took office (1/20/09), except for 8 days in September, 2011 (9/6 – 13/2011) and 7 days in October, 2011 (10/5 – 11/2011). On February 18th, Obama had his highest lead – 6.1% – since last June.

Reason #3 – Current Favorability Ratings (RCP Averages)
In order to get people to vote for you, they have to have a favorable opinion of you. These numbers make it clear that the primary process has not made Romney a stronger candidate; instead, he has been battered by negative ads from his primary opponents, while President Obama has been able to stay above the fray. Clearly, being President makes it much easier to look “Presidential”!
Obama: 49.8% Favorable; 44.4% Unfavorable (+5.4% overall)
Romney: 35.3% Favorable; 40.5% Unfavorable (-5.2% overall)
Advantage: Obama’s favorable rating is an astonishing 14.5% higher than Romney’s, although his unfavorable rating is also higher – but by just 3.9%. This translates to a total overall difference of +10.6% in Obama’s favor.

Reason #4 – Campaign Funding (as of April 20, 2012 campaign filings)
It’s all about money. It always is. Money is the lifeblood of any campaign. A candidate’s ability to expand the map into states beyond his base will depend largely on his ability to raise enough money to establish themselves in those states. TV advertising, essential to any campaign, is extremely expensive, as is the constant travel. Being able to outspend his opponents has served Romney well during the primaries, but he won’t be able to do that in the general election against Obama. According to financial reports filed by both campaigns on Friday, April 20th:
Obama:
• Has just over $104 million cash on hand
• Raised $53 million in March 2012
• 97% of donations in March were amounts of $250 or less
Romney:
• Has just over $10 million cash on hand
• Raised $12.6 million in March 2012
• 84% of donations in March were amounts of $250 or less

Reason #5 – Personal Characteristics (From CNN Poll conducted 4/13-15/2012)
This poll reveals the main reason Romney will not be able to turn it around by November – the American people just don’t think he would make as good a President as President Obama! Although it is just one poll, this was a devastating poll for Romney, and had to send waves of panic shooting through Romney’s campaign headquarters. In time, other polls will likely reveal similar results. Among other things, the poll asked the participants to respond to the following:

“Thinking about the following characteristics and qualities, please say whether you think each one applies more to Barack Obama or more to Mitt Romney. Please feel free to name a candidate even if you may not support him.”

Characteristic or Quality OBAMA ROMNEY
Can get the economy moving 44% 42%
Agrees with you on the issues that matter most to you 49% 37%
Is in touch with the problems facing middle class Americans today 51% 33%
Is in touch with the problems facing women today 55% 27%
Can handle the responsibilities of Commander in Chief 52% 36%
Is a strong and decisive leader 50% 34%
Is likeable 56% 27%
Is more honest and trustworthy 44% 33%
Shares your values 49% 37%
Stands up for what he believes in 50% 29%
Is a person you admire 44% 25%
Can manage the government effectively 46% 38%
Inspires confidence 50% 30%
Has a clear plan for solving the country’s problems 38% 33%
Pays the right amount of attention to independents and moderates in this country 48% 33%

As you can see, there are 15 Characteristics or Qualities listed here, and Obama beats Romney in all 15* – and by double digits in 12 of them! Assuming this poll accurately reflects public opinion (it’s probably fairly close to the mark, since the poll was conducted according to accepted standards of statistical analysis), I have to ask – What exactly will be Romney’s pitch to the American people on why they should choose him over President Obama?
To add insult to injury, the poll also asked the following questions:

QUESTION

OBAMA

ROMNEY

Who do you think is more likely to change his positions on issues for political reasons – Barack Obama or Mitt Romney?

39%

47%

This confirms that the notion of Romney as the “chameleon” candidate – that he has no core values and will change his positions on issues to fit his audience (precisely what his primary opponents have argued all along) – has stuck. Almost half of America has bought into the image of Romney as “chameleon”, or, to put it another way, as the “etch-a-sketch” candidate (an analogy that comes from his own campaign staff), and this will be extraordinarily difficult for Romney to “shake off” (if you’ll pardon the pun).

And finally:

QUESTION OBAMA ROMNEY
Regardless of whom you support, and trying to be as objective as possible, who do you think will win the election in November – Barack Obama or Mitt Romney? 61% 35%

That last one is especially bad for Romney. These things have a way of becoming self-fulfilling prophesies, and if 61% already think Obama is going to win, then Romney is in real trouble!
To sum all this up, I have seen a lot of opinion-peddling and punditry trying to make the case that Obama is in trouble when it comes to his re-election, but none of it has been particularly compelling – in fact, quite the opposite. I haven’t seen a single piece of hard evidence that Romney has even the slightest chance of beating President Obama – it’s all just empty rhetoric. Individual opinions and wishful thinking won’t win an election.
The bottom line here is that everything points to an Obama re-election victory in November, regardless of what anyone else might tell you. Don’t fall for the rhetoric! If someone tries to convince you Obama’s re-election is in trouble, or that Romney even has a chance of beating him, demand evidence to back up their claims. Insist they show you the actual numbers. Trust me on this – they will come up empty, because they’ve got nothing.

* OK, although Obama scored higher than Romney on all 15, the quality “Can Get the Economy Moving” actually resulted in a statistical tie, since the 2% difference falls within the poll’s margin of error. So sue me.

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April 16, 2012: Why Obama Will Win Re-Election

President Obama will win re-election. I say this not as an expression of my opinion or as mere rhetoric, but as a simple statement of fact. Forget opinions, forget rhetoric, forget the forthcoming onslaught of negative attack ads – forget whatever issues you may think are important. None of that will matter. There is only one thing that matters in any Presidential election, and that is the number 270.
First, a quick civics lesson:
In the American system of Presidential elections, the President and Vice President are not elected directly by the American people. Instead, the President and Vice President are elected by “electors”. Under our Constitution, each state is given the number of electoral votes equal to that state’s total combined representation in both houses of Congress – that is, their membership in the House of Representatives plus their two Senators (the electors themselves cannot be office-holders). Since there are 435 voting members of the House of Representatives and 100 Senators, and Washington D.C. is granted 3 electoral votes, there are a total of 538 electoral votes available. A majority of these is needed to win election, meaning the candidate with at least 270 electoral votes wins the election. Period.
Each state’s electoral votes are awarded “in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct”. All but two states grant their entire allotment of electoral votes to the candidate that wins a plurality (more than anyone else, but not necessarily a majority) of the state-wide popular vote – the exceptions are Nebraska and Maine, both of which grant two votes to the state-wide winner and the remaining votes to the winner in each congressional district – meaning that the winner of the nation-wide popular vote may lose the election (this has actually happened, most recently in the election of 2000). Presidential campaigns are therefore reduced to finding a way to accumulate 270 electoral votes.
And that is why President Obama will win.
Consider the information in the tables below:

Definitions
• Safe = Margin of greater than 10%
• Likely = Margin from 6% through 10%
• Leans = Margin of at least 3% but less than 6%
• Toss-Up = Margin of less than 3%
• “Current Polling” is either the current RCP average or the latest polling (2012 only).
• “—“ = no 2012 polling available

STATES FAVORING OBAMA

State Electoral Votes 2008 Result Current Polling* Status
California 55 Obama: 60.94%;  McCain 36.91% Obama +23.5% Safe Dem
Colorado 9 Obama: 53.66%;  McCain 44.71% Obama +13% Safe Dem
Connecticut 7 Obama: 60.59%;  McCain 38.22% Obama +16% Safe Dem
Delaware 3 Obama: 61.91%;  McCain 36.93% Safe Dem
District of Columbia 3 Obama: 92.46%;  McCain 6.53% Safe Dem
Florida 29 Obama: 50.91%;  McCain 48.10% Obama +3.5% Leans Dem
Hawaii 4 Obama: 71.85%;  McCain 26.58% Obama +27% Safe Dem
Illinois 20 Obama: 61.85%;  McCain 36.74% Obama +21% Safe Dem
Maine 4 Obama: 57.71%;  McCain 40.38% Obama +23% Safe Dem
Maryland 10 Obama: 61.92%;  McCain 36.47% Safe Dem
Massachusetts 11 Obama: 61.80%;  McCain 35.99% Obama +18.5% Safe Dem
Michigan 16 Obama: 57.33%;  McCain 40.89% Obama +11.3% Safe Dem
Minnesota 10 Obama: 54.06%;  McCain 43.82% Obama +9.6% Likely Dem
Nevada 6 Obama: 55.15%;  McCain 42.65% Obama +6.7% Likely Dem
New Hampshire 4 Obama: 54.13%;  McCain 44.52% Obama +10% Likely Dem
New Jersey 14 Obama: 57.14%;  McCain 41.61% Obama +12% Safe Dem
New Mexico 5 Obama: 56.91%;  McCain 41.78% Obama +16% Safe Dem
New York 29 Obama: 62.88%;  McCain 36.03% Obama +25.2% Safe Dem
North Carolina 15 Obama: 49.70%;  McCain 49.38% Obama +1.5% Toss-Up
Ohio 18 Obama: 51.38%;  McCain 46.80% Obama +8.6% Likely Dem
Oregon 7 Obama: 56.75%;  McCain 40.40% Obama +11% Safe Dem
Pennsylvania 20 Obama: 54.47%;  McCain 44.15% Obama +6% Likely Dem
Rhode Island 4 Obama: 62.86%;  McCain 35.06% Obama +17% Safe Dem
Vermont 3 Obama: 67.46%;  McCain 30.45% Obama +25% Safe Dem
Virginia 13 Obama: 52.63%;  McCain 46.33% Obama +4% Leans Dem
Washington 12 Obama: 57.34%;  McCain 40.26% Obama +12.4% Safe Dem
Wisconsin 10 Obama: 56.22%;  McCain 42.31% Obama +11.8% Safe Dem

* Source: Real Clear Politics
Totals for Obama:
• Safe = 226
• Likely = 58
• Safe + Likely = 284
• Leans = 42
• Safe + Likely + Leans = 326
• Toss-Ups = 15
• Safe + Likely + Leans + Toss-Ups = 341

STATES FAVORING ROMNEY

State Electoral Votes 2008 Result Current Polling* Status
Alabama 9 McCain 60.32%;  Obama 38.74% Safe Rep
Alaska 3 McCain 59.42%;  Obama 37.89% Safe Rep
Arizona 11 McCain 53.39%;  Obama 44.91% Romney +5.4% Likely Rep
Arkansas 6 McCain 58.72%;  Obama 38.86% Romney +24% Safe Rep
Georgia 16 McCain 52.10%;  Obama 46.90% Romney +12% Safe Rep
Idaho 4 McCain 61.21%;  Obama 35.91% Safe Rep
Indiana 11 Obama 49.85%; McCain 48.82% Romney +9% Likely Rep
Iowa 6 Obama: 53.93%;  McCain 44.39% Romney +2% Toss-Up
Kansas 6 McCain 56.48%;  Obama 41.55% Safe Rep
Kentucky 8 McCain 57.37%;  Obama 41.15% Safe Rep
Louisiana 8 McCain 58.56%;  Obama 39.93% Safe Rep
Mississippi 6 McCain 56.17%;  Obama 43.00% Safe Rep
Missouri 10 McCain 49.36%;  Obama 49.23% Romney +9% Likely Rep
Montana 3 McCain 49.49%;  Obama 47.11% Romney +9% Likely Rep
Nebraska 5 McCain 56.53%;  Obama 41.60% Safe Rep
North Dakota 3 McCain 53.15%;  Obama 44.50% Safe Rep
Oklahoma 7 McCain 65.65%;  Obama 34.35% Safe Rep
South Carolina 9 McCain 53.87%;  Obama 44.90% Safe Rep
South Dakota 3 McCain 53.16%;  Obama 44.75% Romney +6% Likely Rep
Tennessee 11 McCain 56.85%;  Obama 41.79% Romney +7% Likely Rep
Texas 38 McCain 55.39%;  Obama 43.63% Romney +7% Likely Rep
Utah 6 McCain 62.24%;  Obama 34.22% Safe Rep
West Virginia 5 McCain 55.60%;  Obama 42.51% Safe Rep
Wyoming 3 McCain 64.78%;  Obama 32.54% Safe Rep

* Source: Real Clear Politics
Totals for Romney:
• Safe = 104
• Likely = 87
• Safe + Likely = 191
• Leans = 0
• Safe + Likely + Leans = 191
• Toss-Ups = 6
• Safe + Likely + Leans + Toss-Ups = 197

Note that President Obama’s total of just “safe” and “likely” states is 284 electoral votes – more than enough to win re-election. Romney, on the other hand, has just 191 votes in the “safe” and “likely” categories. He has no states in the “leans” category, and only another 6 votes (from Iowa) in the “Toss-Ups”. Even if Romney takes Florida and Virginia (both currently “leaning” to Obama), North Carolina (currently a toss-up that slightly favors Obama), and Indiana and Iowa (both currently favoring Romney) – all states Obama won in 2008 – Romney would still lose the election, since Obama would still have 284 electoral votes. In other words, Romney has to expand the Republican map into states that are not just “toss-ups” or “leaning” Democratic, but also into states that are considered “likely” Democratic – a difficult (and probably impossible) task.
Maybe Romney will win his home state of Massachusetts? It won’t happen (Obama is way ahead there, by 18.5%), but it wouldn’t matter anyway – Obama would still have 273 votes. What about those states that barely make it into the “Likely” category, like Pennsylvania and Nevada – the “low-hanging fruit” of the “Likely” category? The pundits will tell you that Pennsylvania is a “key battleground state” (or something to that effect), but the reality is that Pennsylvania has voted Democrat in each of the last 5 Presidential elections, including Obama’s 10-point victory there in 2008 – and there is no real reason to think it will be different this year. Nevada also went for Obama in 2008 (by more than 12 points), and the robust population growth there – mostly in the Las Vegas/Henderson area, mostly minority, and mostly lower income levels – offers no good reason to think that Nevada will abandon Obama this time around. With President Obama leading Romney in both Pennsylvania and Nevada by at least 6%, it will be next to impossible for the Romney campaign to move those states into the Republican column.
Whatever issues are brought up by the Republicans simply won’t matter. Health Care? That issue has been out there for more than two years and is already reflected in the above poll numbers. The economy? Same thing – it’s already reflected in the numbers. What about President Obama’s “low approval rating”? Actually, it’s not all that low – it’s averaging over 47% right now, and a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll showed him at 50%, and besides, it too is already reflected in the above poll numbers (by comparison, the approval rating of Congress is averaging just 13% – a good indication that the American people blame Congress more than they blame President Obama for our various problems). What about Afghanistan? What about oil prices? What about Jeremiah Wright? What about…
FORGET IT – IT WON’T MATTER.
Nothing matters here except the number 270, and Mitt Romney has no viable path to get there. On the other hand, President Obama can lose several of the states he won in 2008 and still win the election. There will be those who say it’s still too early to make a prediction, and they have a point, but I’d much rather be in President Obama’s position (way ahead) at this stage of the race than in Mitt Romney’s position (way behind). Wouldn’t you?
Not that the Obama campaign has become complacent. They will fight tooth and nail to keep each and every state they won in 2008. In fact, while the Romney campaign has been trying to expand the 2008 Republican map into enough states to get to that magic 270, the Obama campaign has been fighting hard to keep those states and has already begun efforts to expand the Democratic map even further, into states that he came close to winning in 2008 – particularly Arizona, Missouri, the Dakotas, and even Georgia. Make no mistake: the Obama camp will aggressively pursue victory, and will have all the money they need to do it.
The bottom line here is quite simple. It’s a foregone conclusion. It’s a fait accompli. It’s in the bag.
President Obama will be re-elected. Period.

UPDATE (4/18/12): A mathematical study has been released that makes this post’s point even stronger. Assuming that President Obama wins all of the states that went to the Democrats in all 5 of the past 5 Presidential elections, and Mitt Romney wins all of the states won by John McCain in 2008 – assumptions virtually everyone agrees are likely – there are 10 remaining states. These 10 states can be divided up into two groups (one group going to the Democrats, the other to the Republicans) in 1,024 possible combinations. Of these 1,024 combinations, 939 of them yield a victory for President Obama, and 85 yield a victory for Mitt Romney. All 85 require Romney to win Florida.

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March 16, 2012: Are We About to See an Open Convention?

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Mitt Romney was supposed to wrap up the 2012 Republican nomination quickly, developing such a commanding lead with his victories on Super Tuesday that his remaining challengers – if there were any – would concede the race and go home. Then, people actually began voting, and all hell broke loose.

It started in Iowa. Romney had been declared the winner there, but the real story was the surprisingly strong second-place finish of Rick Santorum, who finished just 8 individual votes behind Romney. When Romney won in New Hampshire, there was a rush to declare Romney the first non-incumbent Republican to ever win both Iowa and New Hampshire (which, had Romney actually won Iowa, would have been true). Meanwhile, Romney was enjoying a double-digit lead in the next contest, South Carolina. It looked like Romney was going to breeze to the nomination.

Unfortunately (for Romney – and those rushing to tout his historical “first” in Iowa and New Hampshire), it turned out that Romney didn’t win Iowa after all. The final count, which wasn’t completed until two weeks after the Iowa Caucuses (which begs the question of why Romney was ever declared the winner in the first place – with a difference of just 8 votes and the count not completed, why was a winner declared at all?), showed that Rick Santorum actually finished 34 individual votes ahead of Romney. This revelation was followed almost immediately by the South Carolina primary, which was won by Newt Gingrich after Gingrich pulled off a 22-point turnaround in the polls there in less than a week. Suddenly there was a new historical “first” – for the first time ever, three different Republican candidates had won Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, and Romney was in trouble.

Romney rebounded in Florida, winning all 50 delegates after pulling off a 21-point turnaround of his own in the polls (Florida was punished by the Republican National Committee with a loss of half of its delegates because the state party scheduled its winner-take-all primary before April, in violation of RNC rules), and followed this win wins in Maine and Nevada. Things looked like they were back on track.

On February 7th, Rick Santorum cam roaring back with wins in Minnesota and – in a real stunner – Colorado, along with the non-binding primary in Missouri. Once again, Romney’s “inevitable” nomination appeared to be in jeopardy.

The three-week gap between these contests and the next ones gave the candidates time to regroup. Before he knew it, Romney was in trouble in his home state of Michigan (yes, he was Governor of Massachusetts, but he grew up in Michigan – his father, George Romney, was a very popular Governor there in the 1960’s, and ran for the 1968 Republican Presidential nomination, but lost to Richard Nixon. He then served in Nixon’s cabinet as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.) Romney was ultimately able to win in Michigan, thereby averting electoral disaster, but not by much. He won by a margin of just 3.2%, and only came away with 16 delegates to Santorum’s 14. The same day (February 28th), he won the winner-take-all primary in Arizona (like Florida, Arizona was punished with a loss of half of its delegates because the state party scheduled its winner-take-all primary before April, in violation of RNC rules). Once again, Romney had the momentum and his march to the nomination seemed assured.

With the onset of the month of March came this year’s Super Tuesday – March 6th. This was the day Romney was supposed to have put the nomination in the bag (although it wasn’t possible to reach 1144 delegates and mathematically clinch the nomination any earlier than April 3rd). Romney did well – he won Ohio and 6 other states (two of them by over 50%, thus winning all of those sates’ delegates), and even won a southern state, Virginia. However, this “southern victory” was a pyrrhic one – neither Santorum nor Gingrich were even on the ballot in Virginia. Santorum won Oklahoma, Tennessee, and North Dakota, and Gingrich won the most delegate-rich state of the day, Georgia. Thanks to proportional awarding of delegates, Romney was only able to pad his lead. He now had more delegates than all three of his opponents combined, but the knock-out punch would have to wait.

In the week after Super Tuesday, Santorum won in Kansas (by a more than 30% margin), and dramatic victories in both Alabama and Mississippi, while Romney won in Hawaii (by a 20% margin) and American Samoa. All this has really proved is that the proportional awarding of delegates cuts both ways. Despite his wins in Alabama and Mississippi, Santorum did not gain any significant ground on Romney in the delegate race.

So where does the race stand right now? Here is the delegate count as of today (March 16th):

Romney 495
Santorum 252
Gingrich 131
Paul 48

As you can see, Romney has more delegates (495) than all of his opponents combined (431), giving him a clear advantage going forward. He needs to win just 649 (less than half) of the 1358 remaining delegates to reach the 1144 needed to clinch the nomination. By comparison, Santorum needs to win 892 (almost two-thirds) of those remaining 1358 delegates, Gingrich needs to win 1013 (almost three-fourths), and Paul needs to win 1096 (over four-fifths) to reach 1144.

But that’s not the whole story.

Clearly Romney has the advantage at the moment, and if he continues to accrue more delegates than all of his competitors combined he will of course win the nomination – but not necessarily the support of the party’s conservative base. On the other hand, once we get into April many winner-take-all states will be holding their primaries (although proportional distribution states will also be voting), potentially allowing Santorum and/or Gingrich to catch up in the race for delegates more quickly. It remains true, however, that neither Santorum nor Gingrich (and certainly not Paul) are likely to get the 1144 delegates needed to win the nomination.

But they don’t have to.

All Santorum, Gingrich, and Paul need to do is win enough delegates between them to prevent Romney from reaching that magic 1144 number. This is not just possible, it’s looking more and more likely. Romney has shown an astonishing ability to fall short of “sealing the deal”, and this may be his undoing.

If Romney fails to win 1144 delegates, the primary season will end with no clear nominee. The Republican National Convention will convene as an open (or “brokered”) convention, populated by delegates committed to four different candidates. Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that the proportion of delegates’ candidate support goes something like this:

Romney 40%
Santorum 33%
Gingrich 22%
Paul 5%

Romney would have more delegates than any other candidate, but it takes a majority vote of the delegates to win the nomination, and 60% of the delegates will be there supporting one of the other three. Those delegates committed to Santorum and Gingrich combine to make up 55% of the vote, and these delegates will be far too conservative to support Romney. Long story short – there is no way a convention with a majority of delegates that are that conservative nominates Mitt Romney.

So what would happen?

The only answer is that virtually anything could happen! Under RNC rules, the voting would start with an initial ballot, for which the delegates must vote for the candidate to whom they are committed (the old “you dance with the one that brung ya” concept). This will reaffirm the situation, but won’t resolve anything. This is when the backdoor wheeling and dealing will start, and things will really get interesting.

Possibility 1: Santorum and Gingrich Join Together. If Santorum and Gingrich could find a way to join forces, they would have a majority of delegates. The problem would be convincing one of them to give up the top spot on the ticket in favor of the other. Would the ticket be Santorum/Gingrich or Gingrich/Santorum? One for President and the other promised a coveted cabinet position? Frankly I’m not sure I see either of these guys agreeing to play second fiddle to the other, but if they can work it out, they will get the nomination.

Possibility 2: Romney Assembles a Coalition of Delegates. After the initial ballots, delegates can begin to vote for other candidates. If Romney can peel off enough delegates from the other three candidates to reach the 1144 needed for the nomination, he could win the nomination after all. Unfortunately for him, the delegates he would be attempting to peel off will have been selected for their opposition to Romney almost as much as for their support of their own candidate. I don’t see Romney being able to peel off any of these votes – much less enough to give him the nomination.

Possibility 3: A Compromise candidate is Proposed. Now the really interesting stuff begins to happen. After a long primary season, which the candidates (and their supporting PACs) have spent bashing and discrediting each other, the delegates on the convention floor are not likely to be anxious to jump to another of the declared candidates. When this happens, a “compromise candidate” who party leaders hope is acceptable to a majority of the delegates can be proposed. Who this turns out to be is anybody’s guess – Chris Christie? Marco Rubio? Jeb Bush? Mitch Daniels? Sarah Palin? It could literally be anybody, as long as they could get a majority of the delegates to vote for them. This has happened before, but it was a very long time ago. Whoever it is would head into the general election with no preparation, no campaign organization, and no money. God luck!

The bottom line here is that the Republicans are in trouble in this race. They will either end up with a candidate (Romney) who doesn’t have the support of the party base (although a smart vice-presidential pick could go a long way towards helping on that score), an extreme conservative ticket (Santorum/Gingrich) that would have little chance of winning the general election, or a yet-to-be-named compromise candidate who would then have to face the Obama juggernaut with no money or organization. None of these scenarios plays well for the Republicans – and they know it. Even Grover Norquist recently said that the Republicans should forget about the White House this time around and concentrate on Congress instead. He’s right. The Republicans will not beat Obama, and if they’re not careful they’ll lose ground in Congress.

UPDATE (4/12/12): Rick Santorum has withdrawn from the race, guaranteeing that there will not be an open convention and Mitt Romney will be the 2012 Republican Presidential nominee.

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January 31, 2012: What a Difference a Week Makes! (Part 2)

[Editor’s Note: Over the final weekend of the Florida campaign, Rick Santorum left the campaign trail to be with his three-year-old daughter, Isabella, who has a rare and often fatal condition called “Trisomy 18” or “Edwards Syndrome” – she has already lived longer than most children with this condition – and who had been admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. Our thoughts and prayers for Bella’s swift and full recovery go out to the Santorum family during this difficult time.]

January 24th (RCP Average of current polling): Gingrich 37.7%; Romney 30.3% = Gingrich +7.4%
January 26th (RCP Average of current polling): Romney 37.4%; Gingrich 32.4% = Romney +5
January 31st (Actual Primary Voting): Romney 46%; Gingrich 32% = Romney +14%
Wow – what a turnaround! As recently as last Tuesday, January 24th, the Real Clear Politics (RCP) Average of current polling showed Newt Gingrich, fresh off a solid win in South Carolina, with a better than 7% lead in Florida over his nearest rival, Mitt Romney…
If this is sounding vaguely familiar, that would probably be due to your having read my last blog post, but this time Gingrich and Romney have switched roles. Last time, Gingrich pulled off a 22-point turnaround in less than a week; this time Romney pulled off an almost identical 21-point turnaround in precisely one week. So…What the hell happened this time?
Again, there were several factors, but this time the list can be whittled down to two major ones – the debates and the advertising.
First were the debates. That 7.4% lead Gingrich had on January 24th did not reflect the previous evening’s debate, at which Romney came out swinging – and swinging hard. He went on the attack against Gingrich and, combined with Gingrich’s lackluster performance (especially in comparison to his debate performances in South Carolina the previous week), succeeded in reversing the trend in the polls. Just two days later, Romney was ahead by 5%. The second Florida debate sealed the deal – again Romney was on the attack, and again Gingrich turned in a lackluster performance.
Far more significant was the advertising. The Romney campaign and its allied PACs inundated the Florida airwaves at unprecedented levels with negative ads about Gingrich, out-spending Gingrich and his allied PACs by a ratio of 6 to 1. Romney’s wealthy Wall Street friends flexed their muscle, and Florida turned around. It is fascinating to watch two Republican candidates both run as the heir to President Ronald Reagan, while at the same time ignoring Reagan’s famous 11th commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican.”
What I find particularly interesting is that neither Republican candidate is decrying the extremely high expenditures, the PAC and Super-PAC spending, the sources of all that money (especially the Super-PACs, which don’t have to disclose their donors), or anything else about the money being raised and spent by their current opposition. This is interesting because you can bet the farm that the Republican candidate (whoever that turns out to be) will try to make this a major issue in the general election campaign this Fall, when President Obama will have an anticipated $1 billion to spend in the two months between Labor Day and Election Day. There will be calls for President Obama to release his donor list, and that of his allied PACs, which of course is a complete and total sham – if they were serious about this issue, they would be addressing it now, against their fellow Republicans, in the primaries. Their feigned outrage will have no credibility then because they are not pursuing this issue now. Besides, Obama beat them to it by today releasing the list of his major campaign donors. I guess he saw that one coming.
So what do we make of the back-and-forth pattern in the Republican primaries? The answer is deceptively simple – it will continue, going back and forth between Romney and Gingrich as the primary season goes forward. In a nutshell, the Republicans are in for a long, hard slog for the next four months – and perhaps five – before they have a nominee. The negativity and personal attacks will make it harder and harder for these two candidates to reconcile when the primaries are over, and their supporters will not be enthusiastic about falling in line behind their all-too-recent political enemy.
And every day it continues, President Obama’s re-election becomes more likely.
You gotta love it!

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January 23, 2012: What a Difference a Week Makes!

January 17th (RCP Average of current polling): Romney 32.3%; Gingrich 22.0% = Romney +10.3%
January 20th (RCP Average of current polling): Gingrich 32.4%; Romney 30.4% = Gingrich +2%
January 21st (Actual Primary Voting): Gingrich 40.4%; Romney 27.8% = Gingrich +12.6%
Wow – what a turnaround! As recently as Tuesday, January 17th, the Real Clear Politics (RCP) Average of current polling showed Mitt Romney, fresh off wins in both Iowa and New Hampshire, with a better than 10% lead in South Carolina over his nearest rival, Newt Gingrich. He was considered the clear front-runner, and most pundits were predicting that he would win South Carolina and Florida easily, giving him a sweep of the first four states and locking up the nomination quickly (although in truth it is not mathematically possible to win enough delegates to clinch the nomination until April 3rd). Alas, it was not to be. By that Friday, January 20th, the day before the South Carolina Primary, Gingrich had pulled ahead of Romney by 2%. The actual primary vote one day later came as a bit of a shock to most observers (and especially, I’m sure, to Mitt Romney) – Gingrich won by an astonishing 12.6%! That’s a turnaround of more than 22% in about five days. What the hell happened?
The answer to that question is that several things happened in rapid succession, with the end result being Romney’s worst week of the campaign (so far), and easily Gingrich’s best week. It started on Monday, January 16th, at that evening’s debate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Gingrich was at his best, giving a fiery performance that set Romney back on his heels – and it showed. The RCP Average on the 17th (the one showing Romney with a 10+ point lead) did not yet reflect the impact of the previous night’s debate, but that impact became clear quickly – Gingrich was gaining ground, and gaining it fast. Meanwhile, Romney was committing that worst of campaign sins – letting what should have been a non-issue turn into a major catastrophe for his campaign. The issue, which came up during the debate on Monday evening, was whether Romney would release his tax returns, as virtually every other major candidate has done since Romney’s own father, George Romney, released 12 years’ worth of tax returns when he ran for President back in 1968. This should be a “no-brainer” – just release them already! Romney, however, seems to be deathly afraid of people finding out he’s – gasp! – rich (perhaps someone should tell him that we already know this). Romney’s resistance and his fumbling, constantly changing answers over several days on whether he would release his tax returns was just painful to watch. Making matters worse, he proudly stated at a campaign appearance that he pays a tax rate of “about 15%”. To be fair to Romney, there is nothing inherently wrong with this, and it should not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with Romney’s history, who would know that Romney’s wealth is virtually all in the form of capital investments (capital gains are taxed at 15%) rather than earned income (taxed at a higher rate, which varies by income level – the top rate is 35%). Nevertheless, bragging that he pays taxes at a lower rate than most working people just came off wrong and made him seem privileged. He then tried to make it sound better by saying that he did have some earned income last year from speaking fees – about $375,000 – but then made everything worse by insisting that this “was not a lot of money”, which made him seem even more out of touch with most working people’s reality. Meanwhile, he kept faltering over the course of the week, going back and forth on the issue of when he would release his tax returns and how many years worth of returns he would release. By Thursday – at another debate, this time in Charleston – he was only able to answer the question of whether he would release returns like his father had done with a feeble “Maybe” (this was met with loud boos from the debate audience). Gingrich was quick to pounce, announcing that his campaign staff had released his returns by posting them on his campaign’s website during the debate (a quick analysis showed that Gingrich and his wife reported earned income of just over $3 million last year, and paid just under $1 million in taxes, for a rate of about 31.4%). Romney’s actions on the tax return issue have been incomprehensible – if he had simply said something like “of course I’ll release them – my staff is working on getting them ready now”, when the issue first came up, it would have remained a non-issue, and he might very well have prevented his sudden drop in the polls, won South Carolina, and still be leading in Florida. In other words, his lame response to this issue might very well cost him the nomination.
On top of all this, the final vote tally was announced in Iowa, more than two weeks after the caucuses, and it turns out that Rick Santorum actually won Iowa, with 34 more votes than Romney (initially, Romney had been declared the winner by 8 votes over Santorum). Instead of being the first non-incumbent Republican candidate to ever win both Iowa and New Hampshire (which added to his aura of inevitability) and on a fast-track to locking up the nomination, Romney found himself reeling, stripped of his Iowa win and losing ground quickly in South Carolina. (Combined with Gingrich’s South Carolina win, this means a new historical first has occurred – this is the first time that three different Republican candidates have won Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina).
The next blow to Romney came when Rick Perry dropped out of the race, further consolidating the social conservative vote. To make sure that his supporters would unite behind his candidate of choice, Perry endorsed Gingrich (rather than Santorum), emphasizing that while Gingrich was not perfect, the focus should be on “redemption”. Saturday’s vote made it clear that Perry’s supporters – and perhaps others – listened.
Finally, on Wednesday, ABC aired an interview with Gingrich’s second wife, Marianne, who claimed that Gingrich had asked her for an “open marriage” that would allow him to continue his affair with his then-mistress, Callista (now Gingrich’s third wife). What at first looked potentially devastating for Gingrich turned into a positive when CNN’s John King chose to open Thursday’s debate with the subject of that interview and challenged Gingrich on the “open marriage” allegation. Gingrich’s response – a blistering attack on King, CNN, and the “elite media” in general (and, almost as an afterthought, denying the allegation) – proved to be red meat to conservatives for whom the elite media is a favorite bogeyman, earned Gingrich a standing ovation from the audience, inoculated him from the issue (at least for now), and accelerated his climb in the polls that had begun following the debate of the previous Monday evening.
Romney turned in his usual competent debate performance (except for the “Maybe” response on the tax return issue), but it wasn’t enough to overcome the week’s awkwardness over his wealth, which he had stupidly allowed to become the defining issue of the campaign. The result can be seen in the final tally from South Carolina – Gingrich won by 12.6%, and clearly now has the momentum, which can already be seen in the polling for the next contest – in Florida on January 31st.
The same day that Gingrich was winning South Carolina’s Primary, the RCP Average showed Romney leading Gingrich in Florida by 18.5% (40.5% to 22.0%). Now, just two days later, Gingrich has completely erased that deficit and is leading by 0.7%. If something dramatic doesn’t happen immediately to stop Gingrich’s momentum in Florida and/or Romney’s fall there, Romney is going to lose Florida at least as badly as he lost South Carolina, giving Gingrich yet more momentum as the primary season continues. Instead of Florida being where Romney put the finishing touches on a four-state sweep and catapulted himself to the nomination, Florida has now become a must-win state for Romney, a win being absolutely necessary to prevent Gingrich from becoming unstoppable.
What a difference a week Makes!
Here are some things to watch for as we move forward:
• Will Rick Santorum stay in the race? The newly-declared victor in Iowa finished a distant 5th place in New Hampshire, and a distant third in South Carolina (he got 17% of the vote, less than half that of Gingrich). He has not benefited from Romney’s falling numbers in Florida – in fact he has dropped four points there (from 15% to 11%) in the RCP Average in the last two days, and could soon fall below Ron Paul. If he drops out, Gingrich will finally be able to consolidate the social conservative vote around himself.
• Will the Primary Calendar benefit Romney? This has been an article of faith among most pundits for months. Between Florida – a state that was looking friendly for Romney just two days ago – on January 31st and the March 6th “Super-Tuesday” contests, voting will be held in Nevada on February 4th, Maine during the week of February 4th – 11th, Colorado and Minnesota on February 7th, Arizona and Michigan on February 28th, and Washington on March 3rd. Many of these states are generally considered good for Romney, but given the current state of his campaign, I’m not so sure he can count on that.
• How much of an impact will Ron Paul have? Ron Paul will not withdraw from the race (he didn’t in 2008 either – he was still in at the time of the Republican National Convention and even held a competing convention in protest just down the street in Minneapolis), and his libertarian constituency is extraordinarily loyal to him. He is the wild card in this race. His support has ranged from the mid-teens to the mid-twenties, enough to make him a potential “king-maker” in a drawn-out race, and he therefore cannot simply be ignored. There has been some talk of him leaving the Republican Party and running as a third-party candidate in the Fall (a nightmare scenario for Republicans, since this would probably ensure Obama’s re-election), but I doubt he will go that far just to make a point.
• What will the nationwide polls show? As recently as Monday, January 16th (the day of that Myrtle Beach debate), Romney was leading Gingrich nationwide by 15% (31.2% to 16.2%). Since then, Gingrich has climbed to within 6.5% of Romney (29.5% to 23.0%), and the trend is that his gains will continue. Meanwhile, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum each remain at 14%, although Paul is generally on the rise and Santorum is generally dropping. If Santorum drops out and his 14% support is added to Gingrich’s poll numbers, Gingrich would leap far ahead of Romney and would have to be considered the favorite to win the nomination.
Keep watching – this is pure entertainment, folks!

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January 12, 2012: After New Hampshire

The results from the New Hampshire Primary included some surprises, but not at the top (Romney won as expected). There are significant ramifications for the remaining primaries, however. A quick look at the results:
• Mitt Romney won – no surprise there – although his 39% of the vote was slightly higher than where he had been polling. An interesting historical footnote is that his win makes him the first non-incumbent Republican Presidential candidate in history to win both Iowa and New Hampshire. Despite his win, however, he has reason to be a bit disappointed. First, as a quasi-“favorite son” candidate (he is the “New England” regional candidate, he owns a home in New Hampshire, and was Governor of neighboring Massachusetts), he should be worried that more than 60% voted for someone else; and second, he only increased his total from four years ago by a few percentage points, despite having never stopped campaigning. Nevertheless, Romney comes out of New Hampshire as the clear favorite to win the nomination.
• Ron Paul came in second with 23%, several points higher than he had been polling, cutting Romney’s long-standing lead of 20+ points down to about 16%. Combined with his strong 3rd place finish in Iowa, Paul has become a force to be reckoned with. His constituency is very different from that of any other candidate in the field, and they are extraordinarily loyal to Paul, meaning it is unlikely they will switch their loyalty to another candidate easily. In 2008 Paul never withdrew from the race, and as a symbolic protest even held a competing convention down the street from the Republican National Convention in Minnesota. What does this mean for 2012? There is already talk that Paul could leave the Republican Party rather than fall in line behind Romney (or any of the others, for that matter) and run in the Fall as a third-party candidate. He has done this before – in 1988 he was the Libertarian Party’s candidate for President – but his impact on the race would be far greater this time around. If he were to do so, this would split off at least 10%, and perhaps as much as 20%, of the Republican vote, thereby ensuring President Obama’s re-election. It could also have repercussions for his son, freshman Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who might have to bear the brunt of the Republican establishment’s anger since the elder Paul is not running for re-election to Congress.
• Third was Jon Huntsman, who surged to 17% – the biggest surprise of the night. Huntsman did not campaign in Iowa, betting everything on New Hampshire, and while 17% and third place are nothing to sneeze at, they’re nothing to write home about either. It remains to be seen whether this will translate into a strong enough surge in other states to make him a true contender (an Insider Advantage poll from yesterday shows him with 7% in South Carolina, up from 4% last month, and a Rasmussen poll from yesterday shows him with 5% in Florida, up from 2% in November – not nearly enough). If a stronger surge does not materialize quickly, he’s done.
• Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum finished fourth and fifth, respectively, just a few hundred votes apart, and both failed to reach the 10% plateau that was necessary to win delegates (they both got about 9.4% – so much for the “Santorum Surge” after Iowa). They are both polling relatively strong in South Carolina (current RCP averages: Gingrich at 20% and falling, Santorum at 19% and rising) which might be more receptive to their brand of conservatism (especially Santorum’s). Gingrich’s distant fourth-place finishes in both Iowa and New Hampshire make South Carolina and Florida essential for his campaign to continue to be relevant. He must now finish a strong second (or perhaps even third, if it is a strong enough third) in one – or both – of those states to justify staying in the race. Santorum’s surprisingly strong finish in Iowa gives him a bit more time, but he still has to show it was not a fluke by doing well in South Carolina or his days will be numbered as well.
• Sixth place went to Rick Perry, who only garnered 0.7% of the vote (just 12 votes ahead of former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer and a few hundred votes ahead of Gay Rights Activist Fred Karger), which is just pathetic. While he stayed away from New Hampshire and concentrated instead on South Carolina for the last week or so, he did campaign in New Hampshire before that – he made appearances, gave stump speeches, ran TV ads, and appeared at every debate (Roemer appeared in none and almost beat him). For the next debate, the qualification to be invited is to have finished in the top four in either Iowa or New Hampshire, meaning that unless those rules change, Perry (who finished 5th in Iowa and 6th in New Hampshire) will not be invited to the debate. If he finishes where he is currently polling (5% and 5th place) in South Carolina, he will have no way to justify staying in the race after that – not even for the week and a half leading up to Florida.
The upshot of all this is that Romney is in a great position to knock most of his competition out of the race quickly. If he wins both South Carolina (next Saturday, January 21st) and Florida (Tuesday, January 31st) by convincing margins – he currently leads handily in both – it is probable that at least Perry, and possibly others, will drop out quickly. The problem and potential risk for Romney is that this could serve to consolidate the conservative anti-Romney vote around a single candidate – most likely Gingrich – increasing that candidate’s vote and making it more difficult for Romney to win. Gingrich, for his part, has gone on the offensive in the past week, using recent large contributions to his “Super-pac” to fund attacks on Romney’s record at Bain capital (specifically the closing of businesses and firing of people while reaping huge profits) in defiance of the Republican establishment, which has been openly calling on Gingrich to back off on that issue (they defend Romney’s record at Bain as “capitalism at work”; Gingrich counters that just because Romney could do these things doesn’t mean he should – adding “It was not the right thing to do.”). The attacks seem to be working, at least in the short run – Gingrich’s drop in the polls in South Carolina has leveled out since he began those attacks, and Romney’s rise there has also stopped. If that trend continues, expect Gingrich to step up the attacks even more. Santorum, interestingly, has joined the defense of Romney’s record at Bain (he agrees that it’s “Capitalism at work”), raising the possibility that he may be interested in a cabinet post in a Romney Administration – something that would not be credible for Gingrich, given his unrelenting attacks on Romney. Perry has joined Gingrich in attacking Romney’s record at Bain, but his polling hasn’t yielded the same results. He’s probably done after South Carolina.
My prediction – and this is only a wild guess – is that Huntsman (his surge will not be strong enough), Perry (he should have dropped out already) and Santorum (he lacks the necessary gravitas to make him a serious alternative to Romney), not necessarily in that order, will all drop out before “Super Tuesday” (March 6th). Gingrich’s attacks will work well enough to lift him at least to the point that he stays in the race and becomes that single candidate around whom the conservative vote coalesces, giving him enough support to seriously challenge Romney. Given Gingrich’s gravitas and his debating skills (easily matching Romney’s, and far better than Huntsman’s, Santorum’s or Perry’s), this will lead to a long, drawn-out battle for the nomination between Romney, Gingrich, and Paul. Regardless of who ultimately prevails (Romney or Gingrich – it won’t be Paul), the eventual reconciliation will be even more awkward than the Obama-Clinton reconciliation of four years ago (the policy differences are far more significant), and the loser’s supporters will not support the winner with the level of enthusiasm necessary to beat President Obama.
As for Paul – only he knows what his intentions are. I suppose I would be a bit surprised if he ran a third-party campaign, but frankly not all that much. He just might do it.
You read it here first…
UPDATE (1/16/12): Jon Huntsman has dropped out of the race and endorsed Mitt Romney.
UPDATE (1/19/12): Rick Perry has suspended his campaign and endorsed Newt Gingrich.
UPDATE (1/20/12): More than two weeks after the Iowa Caucuses, all the votes have now finally been counted. It turns out that Rick Santorum won Iowa by a 34-vote margin over Mitt Romney, meaning that Romney’s supposed historical first – being the first non-incumbent Republican Presidential candidate to win both Iowa and New Hampshire – didn’t actually happen. Interestingly, Romney had been awarded 13 delegates from Iowa to Rick Santorum’s 12 when it was believed that Romney had won by 8 votes. Now that Santorum has won by more than four times that margin, however, that extra delegate has been taken away from Romney, but for some reason has not been given to Santorum (it’s currently listed as “unallocated”, and both Romney and Santorum have been given 12 delegates from Iowa). That just doesn’t make any sense to me.

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January 9, 2012: (Almost) Feeling Sorry for Romney

Pity Poor Mitt Romney. The guy wins Iowa – something that did not appear possible just a few short weeks ago – and all anyone talks about is Rick Santorum. Granted, Santorum’s stunning second place finish, just 8 votes behind Romney (that’s 8 individual votes, not 8%), makes for a great story, but Romney winning was almost as much of a surprise.
Next comes tomorrow’s New Hampshire primary, where Romney has had a twenty-point lead for over a year. Already the punditry is saying that, since Romney winning New Hampshire is such a foregone conclusion, the only real story will be who finishes second – probably either Ron Paul or Rick Santorum. If it’s Santorum (or if he places a strong 3rd), the story will be all about the “Santorum Surge” and what it means for the remaining early states – particularly South Carolina. Romney will have won both Iowa and New Hampshire, but Santorum would have the momentum. With expectations of Romney’s victory in New Hampshire set so high, the only way Romney will get any attention for winning there is if he doesn’t win by at least 20 points, so the story would be how “disappointing” a win it will have been for him. The guy just can’t catch a break. He’s been running for President non-stop for almost 5 years, and still a large majority (about 70%) of Republican voters want somebody (anybody!) else. I almost feel sorry for him.
Romney is currently leading in the next two states, South Carolina and Florida. Maybe if he wins both, giving him a sweep of the first four states, he will finally be the story – or maybe not. If Santorum comes close in either one of these contests (or, more likely, in both), he would officially be crowned the new “Not Romney” candidate (see my discussion of the cycle of “Not Romney” candidates here) and gain still more momentum just as the primary season really takes off.
Part of Romney’s success so far has been due to the fact that so many candidates have been vying for the “Not Romney” vote – especially among the conservative base (Ron Paul has a different, more libertarian constituency, which is not likely to switch candidates). So far, the conservative vote has been split to the point that Romney has come out ahead of all of them. That may soon change, however. Herman Cain dropped out of the race in December, leaving 5 conservative candidates heading into the actual primaries. With Michele Bachmann dropping out following her 6th-place finish in Iowa, the likely withdrawal of Rick Perry soon (he is still a candidate, but finished 5th in Iowa and is currently polling in 6th in New Hampshire and 5th in South Carolina), and Jon Huntsman continuing to poll in the very low single-digits (except in New Hampshire), the conservative vote is basically down to being split between Santorum and Newt Gingrich – and Gingrich is plummeting in the polls (Gingrich finished 4th in Iowa and is polling in 5th place in both New Hampshire and South Carolina, but his ego may prevent him from recognizing that his campaign is a lost cause, so he’ll probably stay in the race awhile longer). With Gingrich on the decline and Santorum on the rise, it seems more likely that Santorum would be the one to benefit from the consolidation of the conservative vote.
The math is pretty simple. If we assume that Romney will continue to have the support of just 30% (or less) of Republican voters and that Ron Paul will get 10%, that leaves 60% that are being split among the conservative candidates. 60% divided by five is 12% (easy for Romney to beat, even with various candidates cycling through as the dominant one), but 60% divided by two is 30% (not so easy – especially if the vote is split in a lopsided way towards a single candidate). If that voting bloc were to coalesce around Santorum and he got the lion’s share of that 60% (with Gingrich polling at around 15% and dropping, Santorum’s share could be 45% or higher), he could present a serious challenge to Romney heading into the next round of states – especially in the South, where Santorum’s brand of ultra-conservative Christianity would play well against Romney’s Mormon faith, his past positions on issues important to conservatives, and his New England home turf. Some are saying that Santorum doesn’t have the organization, the money, or the “ground game” to match Romney, which may well be true, but all of those are certain to improve as Santorum gains momentum.
The bottom line is this: despite his victory in Iowa and tomorrow’s certain win in New Hampshire, Romney’s nomination is not yet inevitable, and the majority of Republican voters still don’t like him.
Poor guy.

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December 19, 2011: Gingrich vs. the Courts

At last Thursday’s Presidential debate in Iowa, Newt Gingrich ignited yet another firestorm – this time over the federal judiciary, by suggesting that, as President, he would “ignore” Supreme Court rulings he didn’t like and would press for the impeachment of judges – or even “abolish courts” – whose rulings he disagreed with. The immediate response in the legal community, from both the left and the right, was one of incredulity. His position, according to these critics from both ends of the political spectrum, is blatantly unconstitutional.
This past weekend, however, Gingrich doubled down.
In a conference call with reporters on Saturday, Gingrich continued his attack on judges, claiming that the founding fathers “consciously made the judicial branch the third branch and the weakest branch.”
On Sunday, he appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation and hit the courts again. This time he said that he would actually send the U.S. Capitol Police or U.S. Marshalls to arrest judges who make “controversial rulings”, and have them dragged before Congressional hearings, where they would be forced to testify and justify their decisions. Frankly, this sounds more like something that would happen in some banana republic under a despotic ruler than something that could happen here in America, but Gingrich persisted in pressing his point. “Are we forced for a lifetime to keep someone on the bench who is so radically anti-American that they are a threat to the fabric of the country?” Gingrich asked.
Wow. This is coming from someone who is running for the Presidential nomination of a party that believes Government is already too powerful? Now he wants to eliminate judicial independence and place the federal courts under the thumb of the President? Really? Would he grant the same power to President Obama? No, he clearly would not – in fact, he specifically said that Obama would not be able to ignore the Supreme Court’s decision on health care reform expected next June. Apparently, only decisions that Newt Gingrich disagrees with are “controversial” and could be ignored. For someone who claims to be a constitutional scholar and historian, Gingrich is espousing a shockingly inaccurate notion of what the Constitution actually says.
Where to begin?
Let’s start with his question: “Are we forced for a lifetime to keep someone on the bench who is so radically anti-American that they are a threat to the fabric of the country?” First of all, just because Newt Gingrich doesn’t agree with a judge’s decision, this does not mean that the judge who issued the ruling is “radically anti-American” or a “threat to the fabric of the country”. Instead, I would argue that it is unconstitutional arguments like these that are “radically anti-American” and a “threat to the fabric of the country”, and that it is remarkably irresponsible for Mr. Gingrich to make such arguments as a Presidential candidate. That being said, the answer to the question is YES! Under the Constitution, all federal judges, from the Supreme Court down to the local federal district courts, are appointed to serve “during good behavior” – in other words, until they retire, they are impeached, or they die. If Mr. Gingrich doesn’t like that, there is a process in place to amend the United States Constitution, and Mr. Gingrich is welcome to pursue that process. Unless and until such an amendment is actually ratified, however, there will continue to be exactly three ways a federal judge can leave the bench: retirement, impeachment, or death.
Can a judge be impeached over an unpopular ruling? NO! Regardless of Mr. Gingrich’s claims, no federal judge has EVER – at ANY time in our nation’s history – been threatened with impeachment over a controversial ruling, and we shouldn’t start down that road now. Furthermore, while Mr. Gingrich says he would “press for the impeachment” of the offending judges, it is the House of Representatives that has the sole power of impeachment, not the President (as Mr. Gingrich knows all too well), and the Senate that holds impeachment trials. Presidents have certainly pressed for the impeachment of judges before (the case of Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas leaps to mind), but it is ultimately up to the Congress – not the President – to decide to impeach any official.
Let’s look at some of Mr. Gingrich’s other comments.
• Can the President “abolish” courts? NO! Under the Constitution, the power to establish – or, inversely, to abolish – “tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court” lies with the Congress, not with the President. Language to this effect appears in both the first and the third Articles of the Constitution. Mr. Gingrich cites Thomas Jefferson as a President that “abolished” courts, but in fact it was the Congress, albeit under pressure from Jefferson, that did the actual abolishing – not Jefferson himself. Mr. Gingrich is simply wrong – the President has no such power.
• Can the President send U.S. Capitol Police or U.S. Marshalls to arrest judges over a controversial ruling? NO! This has NEVER happened in our nation’s history, and would fly in the face of Constitutional concepts like the separation of powers and an independent judiciary. As I said before, this sounds more like something that would happen in a banana republic under a despotic ruler. Just imagine the judge at home with his or her family enjoying a peaceful evening, when suddenly the door is kicked in and the judge is dragged, kicking and screaming, out of the house by the President’s personal police force. The judge is then forced to stand before a tribunal of government officials (eg: a Congressional hearing) who demand an explanation from the judge for the heinous offense of issuing a ruling the despot didn’t agree with. What consequence would the judge face if the tribunal doesn’t like the explanation? It boggles the mind. It is stunning that Mr. Gingrich thinks this could – and, in fact, should – happen here in America. Mr. Gingrich is simply wrong – the President, thankfully, has no such power.
• Can a President determine who testifies at a Congressional hearing, or determine the topic of that testimony? NO! That power rests with the Congressional committee holding the hearing – not with the President. Mr. Gingrich is simply wrong – the President has no such power.
• Is it true, as Mr. Gingrich claims, that the founding fathers “consciously made the judicial branch the third branch and the weakest branch”? NO! The founding fathers fervently believed that an independent judiciary was necessary to curb abuses of power by the executive and legislative branches (don’t forget – they still had strong memories of living under a tyrannical King and Parliament when they wrote the Constitution). There is nothing anywhere in the historical record to indicate that the founding fathers believed judges should be subjected to the whims of the President, that they could be arrested by federal law enforcement over decisions they had reached, or that the judiciary was in any way “the weakest branch”. What is clear from the historical record is that the founding fathers consciously created a government with three CO-EQUAL branches, and that an independent judiciary, made up of judges who were free to make what they believed was the legally correct decision – not necessarily the politically popular decision – was absolutely an essential part of a democracy. This is why the founding fathers gave federal judges tenure “during good behavior” – to ensure their independence. Mr. Gingrich is simply wrong. Again.
• Can a President ignore Supreme Court rulings he disagrees with? NO! There is nothing in the Constitution that puts the President above the law. A good example is United States v. Nixon (1974), in which the Supreme Court ordered President Nixon to turn over tape recordings of Oval Office conversations to a special prosecutor investigating the Watergate case. President Nixon, to his credit, obeyed the ruling, even though he was probably fully aware that doing so would eventually lead to his downfall. Mr. Gingrich cites Abraham Lincoln’s disagreement with the infamous Dred Scott decision (which stated that people of African descent were not protected by the Constitution and could never be citizens) as justification for his position, but the facts don’t help him here – Dred Scott was only granted his freedom because the sons of his former owner purchased his emancipation. Had they not done so, Scott would have remained a slave. President Lincoln certainly disagreed with the decision, but he didn’t ignore it. Mr. Gingrich is simply wrong. Again.
In a nutshell, I find it astonishing – and hugely alarming – that a leading Presidential candidate would take the positions on the courts that Mr. Gingrich has taken. This is a Constitutional democracy. Perhaps Mr. Gingrich should read up on just what that means.

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November 28, 2011: Can Newt Hang On?

There has been a striking pattern to the campaign polling in the race for the 2012 Republican nomination, and the latest to benefit is Newt Gingrich. This pattern, which can be seen most easily in the graph of the Real Clear Politics (RCP) Average, has been called “the flavor of the month”, “this month’s ‘not-Romney’”, the “anybody-but-Romney vote”, and so on. In a nutshell, various candidates have risen out of the second tier of candidates – on a remarkably consistent 6-week cycle – to challenge Mitt Romney as the front-runner for the Republican nomination. Consider the following:
Herman Cain rose from 5th place and 3% support on May 25th to 2nd place and 10.2% support by June 26th, only to drop back to 4th place and 6.5% support by July 13th, and eventually down to 6thplace and 3.6% support by September 11th (Cain would rise – and fall – again later, as I will point out momentarily). His rise began with a 1.7% jump on May 26th and his fall began with a 1.8% drop on July 4th – a period of just under 6 weeks. He continued to fall, and two weeks later he was back in 5th place and out of contention (for the time being).
Next came Michele Bachmann, who rose from 6th place and 4.9% support on June 15th to 2nd place and 14% support by July 19th, only to fall back to 6.4% on September 12th. She has continued to fall, and hasn’t risen above 5% since October 4th, and has floundered in 6th place since September 28th. Her rise began with a 1.9% jump on June 25th and 26th, and her fall began with a 2.3% drop on August 10th and 11th – a period of just over 6 weeks. She continued to fall, and a little more than two weeks later she was in 4th place and out of contention.
The next candidate to rise was Rick Perry, who had been rising steadily as rumors of his imminent candidacy spread. He didn’t really take off, however, until he began a climb that would see him go from 3rdplace and 12.6% support on August 5th to 1st place and 31.8% support by September 12th, only to drop back to 3rd place and 12.8% support by October 14th. His rise took off when he moved past Romney into 1st place with a 2.2% jump on August 24th, and his fall began with a precipitous 7% drop on October 4th and 5th – a period of just about 6 weeks. He continued to fall and two weeks later was at 12.8% and out of contention.
Perry was replaced by a resurgent Herman Cain, who rose (again) from 6th place and 5.5% support on September 26th to 1st place and 26% support on October 20th, only to fall (again) to 3rd place and 15% support today. His rise began with a dramatic 4.7% jump on October 3rd and 4th, and his fall began with a 3.2 % drop on November 11th – a period of just under 6 weeks. He continued to fall, and two weeks later was at 15.5% and out of contention.
Through all of this, Romney has remained fairly consistent, polling at 21.6% on June 13th, and 21.3% today. While there have been fluctuations (he has been as low as 16.5% and as high as 25.5% since mid-May), it is clear from the graph that the candidates listed above are cycling through as the alternative to Mitt Romney.
So who will be next? The latest front-runner, Newt Gingrich, was in 5th place (with 8.9% support) as recently as October 26th, but is now in 1st place with 23.8% support. His numbers really took off beginning on November 3rd. Newt’s problem is that the first actual voting for the nomination, the Iowa Caucuses, is scheduled for January 3rd. If the 6-week cycle continues, Gingrich’s numbers would begin to drop somewhere around December 15th, and two weeks later – or roughly around the time of the Iowa Caucuses – he would have dropped out of contention (which begs the obvious question of who would rise in his place). What remains to be seen, then, is if Newt can break the 6-week pattern and hold on just long enough to win in Iowa and possibly launch himself to the nomination. While the winner in Iowa doesn’t always go on to win the nomination (for example, the 2008 Republican winner in Iowa was Mike Huckabee, and eventual nominee John McCain finished fourth), a win in Iowa means money, it means media attention, and it means momentum.
At the moment, things look pretty good for Newt. He is the national front-runner, and he is looking good in the five early states that lead up to “Super Tuesday” – Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, and Nevada:
In Iowa, Gingrich is leading the field by 5%. UPDATE (12/1/2011): In Iowa, Gingrich now leads by double digits in two polls taken since mid-November; by 13% in a Rasmussen Reports poll and by 15% in an Insider Advantage poll.
In New Hampshire, where Romney has maintained a lead of about 20 points for more than a year, Gingrich is now in 2nd place, leading all candidates but Romney by more than 5 percentage points. In what has been widely seen as a significant blow to Romney, Gingrich has now received the endorsement of the influential New Hampshire Union Leader. UPDATE (12/1/2011): In New Hampshire, Gingrich has now pulled to within 10 points of Romney in a recent Rasmussen Reports poll, cutting Romney’s year-long lead in half.
In South Carolina, only one poll has been conducted in the last three weeks – in other words, since Cain was the front-runner – and Gingrich leads Cain in that poll by 14% (and leads Romney by 15%). Gingrich was also recently endorsed by the state’s Lieutenant Governor. UPDATE (12/1/2011): In South Carolina, Gingrich now leads by double digits in two polls taken since mid-November; by 14% in a Polling Company poll and by 23% in an Insider Advantage poll.
In Florida, there have been no major polls conducted in the last three weeks pitting the Republican candidates against each other directly, but Gingrich was already a strong 3rd place back then, when Cain was the front-runner. A Rasmussen poll conducted last week, however, tested the 3 major Republican candidates (Romney, Cain, and Gingrich) against President Obama in Florida, and found that Romney leads Obama 46% – 42%, Obama leads Gingrich 45% – 43%, and Obama leads Cain 46% – 37%. In other words, Gingrich has clearly surpassed Cain, and is now within a few points of Romney in Florida. The next round of polling in Florida is likely to show Gingrich in – or at least very close to – the lead. UPDATE (12/1/2011): In Florida, Gingrich leads by double digits in two polls taken in late November; by 30% in a Public Policy Polling poll and by 24% in an Insider Advantage poll.
In Nevada, the latest polling was done over a month ago (again, when Cain was the national front-runner), but found Gingrich already in a strong 3rd place. Just as in Florida, the next round of polling will likely show Gingrich in – or at least very close to – the lead.
The upshot of this is that Gingrich just might win Iowa, South Carolina, Florida, and Nevada, and finish a strong 2nd place (or perhaps even win) in New Hampshire, putting him in an almost unbeatable position heading into “Super Tuesday” – IF he can break the 6-week cycle.
That’s a huge “IF”. Only time will tell if he can pull it off.

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November 14, 2011: An Influential Conservative Republican
Joins the Chorus

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), one of the Senate’s most outspoken conservatives, has just released a report on what he says amounts to “welfare for the well-off” – his description of the many special tax breaks for wealthy income earners. This 37-page report, called “Subsidies for the Rich and Famous”, is especially significant because it is not coming from the Democratic side of the aisle or from the supposedly “liberal media”, but is instead coming from a leading Republican conservative, and because Senator Coburn has been such a central figure in the deficit-reduction battle; he has been a member of the “Gang of Six”, he served on the President’s bipartisan Fiscal Commission, and he has basically been working so hard over the past year to reach a bipartisan “Grand Bargain” on deficit reduction. His findings have the potential to give the so-called “Supercommittee” a path to compromise that could achieve enough bipartisan support to pass Congress.
Or not – time will tell. The Supercommittee is required to complete its work no later than November 23rd. If it fails to find $1.5 trillion in combined revenue and spending cuts over the next ten years, potentially devastating across-the-board cuts will be automatically triggered.
Senator Coburn, the senior Republican on the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, released his report today [November 14th], saying, “From tax write-offs for gambling losses, vacation homes and luxury yachts to subsidies for their ranches and estates, the government is subsidizing the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Multimillionaires are even receiving government checks for not working,” According to the report, millionaires receive the rough equivalent of twice NASA’s budget in what Senator Coburn called “tax giveaways” and federal grants every year.
There are billions of dollars in tax breaks for millionaires specifically identified in the report, and it is a virtual certainty that Democrats will highlight any given Republican’s opposition to eliminating those tax breaks in the 2012 election campaign; hopefully this means that at least some Republicans will support eliminating them rather than have to explain their opposition during the campaign. This report comes hot on the heels of the “Corporate Tax Dodgers” report that was the subject of my most recent blog post. Between these two reports, the Republican arguments against raising taxes on millionaires and billionaires are becoming farcical.
The message to the Supercommittee should be crystal clear: Get over the rhetoric – and get the job done!

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November 3, 2011: The “Corporate Tax Dodgers” Report

Today, the Center for Tax Justice (CTJ) and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) released a joint report called “Corporate Taxpayers & Corporate Tax Dodgers 2008-2010”. In the report, 280 companies were examined – all from the “Fortune 500” list and all profitable in each of the last three years (together these 280 companies reported total pretax profits of $1.4 trillion over the three year period). You might find it outrageous – and rightfully so – that you as an individual likely paid more in federal taxes in each of the last three years than Pepco Holdings, GE, Boeing, PG&E Corporation and others – combined! This report is nothing short of a bombshell that will – and should – send shock waves through the hallways of Capitol Hill and beyond.

As the report states in its introduction, it is not an anti-business report; instead, the report “reveals which companies pay their fair share to support the country that makes their huge profits possible, and which companies don’t.” To use the common vernacular, the report “kicks ass and names names.” For those who have always wondered how these companies avoid paying their taxes, the report specifies exactly which loopholes are being used by which companies. GE, for example, reported profits of $10.46 billion over the three-year period according to the report, but instead of paying taxes on those profits, GE actually got money back – $4.737 billion – from us, the taxpayers. This means that instead of the 35% tax rate their apologists will claim is too high, GE actually enjoyed an effective tax rate of negative 45.3%. How? By employing such tax-avoidance tricks as “accelerated depreciation” (and the supposedly temporary 50% “bonus depreciation” provision that was added to the tax code under President George W. Bush), the “active financing exception”, offshore tax shelters, and many others. Read the report – it’s all there.

Why should you care? Because this hurts you personally. The report notes that “Corporate taxes paid for more than a quarter of federal outlays in the 1950s and a fifth in the 1960s. They began to decline during the Nixon administration, yet even by the second half of the 1990s, corporate taxes still covered 11 percent of the cost of federal programs. But in fiscal 2010, corporate taxes paid for a mere 6 percent of the federal government’s expenses.” Corporate taxes, then are now paying for less than one-fourth of the share of federal government expenditures that they paid for in the 1950’s (a great decade for business, by the way). Who makes up that difference? You and I do, of course.

Are you getting angry yet?

A similar report by these same two groups was largely responsible for President Ronald Reagan’s successful push to eliminate corporate tax loopholes with the Tax Reform Act of 1986. Let’s hope this report has the same kind of impact.

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October 25, 2011: Rick Perry’s Bonehead Political Move

Rick Perry can’t be this stupid. This is the sort of thing that reminds us that sometimes politics can be pure entertainment.
No successful politician – and lest we forget, Perry has been the Governor of Texas for more than 10 years, so he is obviously a very successful politician – would pull the kind of bonehead move Perry has pulled over the past few days.
First, the background against which this bonehead move comes: after rising dramatically to a 12-point lead in the race for the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination (on September 12-13 Perry peaked at an RCP Average* of 31.8%; Mitt Romney was second with 19.8%), Perry has seen his poll numbers plummet to a current RCP Average of just 11.6%, a distant third behind Herman Cain and Mitt Romney. He needs to turn things around – and fast.
Perry thought he knew just the thing that could do it – the “Flat Tax”. The concept of a “Flat Tax” is an idea that resonates with a large swath of Republican primary voters, and none of the leading contenders were proposing it. By making the “Flat Tax” his own, Perry could rejuvenate his crumbling support among those voters. When Perry unveiled his “Flat-tax” proposal in a series of interviews over the past few days, it received tons of positive media attention; for a brief moment, it seemed he would soon be on his way back into contention.
But the same day he began unveiling his “Flat Tax” proposal, a magazine interview was published in which Perry questioned the validity of – get this – Barack Obama’s birth certificate.
No, I’m not kidding. The birth certificate.
In an interview with Parade Magazine that came out over the weekend, Perry was asked if he believed that President Obama was born in the United States. His response (“I have no reason to think otherwise”) didn’t satisfy the interviewer, who pointed out that Perry has seen Obama’s birth certificate. Perry responded, “I don’t know. Have I?” When asked if he believed the birth certificate was real, Perry said, “I don’t know. I had dinner with Donald Trump the other night. … He doesn’t think it’s real.” He then added, “I don’t have any idea.”
The Birther issue? Donald Trump? Really?
To make matters worse, Perry then defended his statements in an interview with John Harwood on CNBC yesterday, saying “It’s a good issue to keep alive.” He then added, “I haven’t seen his grades. My grades ended up on the front page of the newspaper…It’s fun to poke at [President Obama] a little bit and say ‘Hey, how about let’s see your grades and your birth certificate.”
His grades? Please tell me he was joking. Perry is really going to bring that up? Barack Obama graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard Law School, and was selected as the editor of the Harvard Law Review – an honor generally reserved for the top law student at Harvard. Perry went to Texas A & M – a very good University, but it’s not Harvard – where, among other things, he earned a “D” in a course called “Principles of Economics”. I’m not sure Obama’s grades are something Perry wants to pursue…
The bottom line here is that Perry’s sudden foray into the birther issue has completely overshadowed any and all media coverage of his “Flat Tax” proposal – and this is why it was such a bonehead political move. With the “Flat Tax”, Perry had finally hit on his last, best hope – the one thing that could reverse his campaign’s downward spiral. Now, thanks to the furor over his “birther” remarks, no one is paying any attention to his “Flat Tax” proposal, meaning that whatever advantage he was hoping to gain from the “Flat Tax” proposal has just been obliterated by what Perry himself called “a distractive issue”.
What a bonehead.

* The RCP Average is compiled by Real Clear Politics (RCP), and represents an average of all of the most recent polls from legitimate polling agencies.

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October 21, 2011: Will Cain be Able to Stay on Top?

Sorry about the “Cain and Able” thing – I couldn’t resist the pun. Anyway…
Herman Cain’s new status as the frontrunner for the 2012 Republican nomination – he currently enjoys an RCP Average* of 26%, half a percentage point ahead of Mitt Romney – has led to greater scrutiny of his proposals, his positions, and his statements, and he has already faltered a few times (such as at a recent debate, when he was asked how his 9-9-9 plan would apply to a company that manufactures products overseas and ships them here to be sold, and he responded, “I have no idea”). He may have set some sort of record this week, however, when he switched from an extreme anti-abortion position to a pro-choice position – and then switched back again – all in the space of less than 24 hours.
In an appearance with CNN’s Piers Morgan this past Wednesday evening, he first reiterated his previously-stated position of opposing all abortions, including in cases of rape or incest. This is an extreme anti-abortion stance – even the more mainstream pro-life crowd would allow exceptions in cases of rape or incest (or to protect the life of the mother). When Morgan pressed him on cases of rape or incest, however, Cain changed is point of view completely, saying, “It’s not the government’s role or anybody else’s role to make that decision…what I’m saying is it ultimately gets down to a choice that that family or that mother has to make. Not me as president, not some politician, not a bureaucrat. It gets down to that family. And whatever they decide, they decide. I shouldn’t have to tell them what decision to make for such a sensitive issue.”
I’m not sure the President of NARAL could have expressed the pro-choice position any better.
Rest assured, this blog post is not about advocating one side or the other on the abortion issue – it is about a Presidential candidate who is apparently having difficulty coming to terms with his own positions. The other Republican candidates (Rick Santorum most vociferous among them) pounced on Cain’s apparent switch to the pro-choice camp, and on Thursday the anti-abortion version of Cain was back, posting, “I’m 100% pro-life. End of story” on Twitter.
Regardless of anything he may tweet, however, it is not the end of the story – not by a long shot. First of all, his “Whatever they decide, they decide” statement in the Morgan interview is not something that a “100% pro-life” candidate would ever say (even to themselves), and the other candidates can be counted on to continue their attacks on his pro-choice statements as they attempt to knock him off the “frontrunner” pedestal. Second, the Iowa Caucuses are just over two months away, and the abortion issue remains a major litmus test for many Iowa Republicans. Finally, this stumble did not occur in a vacuum; Cain has had difficulty at recent debates with basic questions on foreign policy, on how his 9-9-9 plan would affect low-income and working-class Americans (he finally conceded that the plan would raise their taxes), and on a host of other issues. If he doesn’t improve his ability to answer difficult questions, his time atop the “frontrunner” pedestal in certain to be short.

* The RCP Average is compiled by Real Clear Politics (RCP), and represents an average of all of the most recent polls from legitimate polling agencies.

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October 6, 2011: Perry’s Fall: Cain’s Gain?

The conservative contingent of the Republican Party has been searching far and wide for a candidate they can support in the 2012 election cycle, and Texas Governor Rick Perry was supposed to be it. He was the bee’s knees; the answer to the Tea Party’s prayers. He was the conservative hero who would rip the 2012 Republican nomination out of the not-conservative-enough Mitt Romney’s clutches. For months he said he would not run, but then, on August 13th, much to the delight of conservatives, he formally jumped into the race.
Oops.
Following an initial surge in the polls that saw him climb higher than Romney ever had this time around (to an RCP Average* of 31.8% on September 12th – Romney has never scored an RCP Average higher than 25% this entire election cycle [UPDATE (10/20/11): Romney has finally broken through the 25.0% barrier, and currently stands at 25.5% – but, although this represents the highest level of support he has enjoyed this entire election cycle, he now trails Herman Cain, who has surged to 26.0%]), Perry actually started campaigning and – even worse – joining the other candidates on stage at the debates where, what with Perry being the new front-runner and all, the other candidates joined together in attacking him. He was criticized on several fronts: for his policy as Governor of allowing illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at Texas universities (a policy he defended at the debates); for his executive order (which he had later rescinded) that all Texan girls get the HPV vaccine by age 12 (which is the age recommended by the CDC, the NIH, the AMA, and other medical organizations to prevent cervical cancer because that’s when a girl’s immune response to the vaccine is strongest); and for calling Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” and “a great hoax”, among other things. As his resulting downward plunge in the polls accelerated, conservatives – again – went looking for another candidate to save the party from Mitt Romney, hitting – again – on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (despite his having said in the past, “Short of suicide, I don’t really know what I’d have to do to convince you people that I’m not running. I’m not running!”). Christie pretended to reconsider for awhile, but then said – again – that he will not run. Another potential candidate, Tea Party favorite Sarah Palin, announced today that she will not run. There are only two other potential candidates who are not yet in the race but are said to be considering a run – former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani – and neither of them fits the bill (Moore would have no chance at the nomination and Giuliani would be regarded as too liberal) [UPDATE (10/12/11): Giuliani announced yesterday that he will not be a candidate for President in 2012]. That leaves the current crop of candidates for conservatives to choose from. So who among them will be the new conservative hope? Who among the 2nd tier will be the beneficiary of Perry’s downfall?
Apparently, it will be Herman Cain.
Cain had enjoyed a surge in the polls back in June, following some strong debate performances, rising from an RCP Average of 3.0% to 10.2% by June 28th, but then falling back as Michelle Bachmann surged (Bachmann peaked at an RCP Average of 14% on July 19th, only to completely collapse since then). As recently as September 11th, Cain was at just 3.6%, in sixth place, ahead of only Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman. When Perry peaked at 31.8% on September 12th and 13th, Cain had risen slightly (to 4.2%), but was still mired in 6th place. Now Perry is in freefall, down to an RCP Average of less than 18% (and probably heading lower fast). In the nine days since September 27th, Cain has skyrocketed out of the 2nd-tier pack and now stands at an RCP Average of 14.7% – higher than any other candidate besides Romney or Perry has ever reached in this election cycle, and is showing no signs of slowing down. If the current trend continues, it’s only a matter of a few days – if that – before Cain overtakes Perry and moves into 2nd place in the overall RCP Average. [UPDATE (10/7/11): Cain passed up Perry today; he is at 16.2 (and rising), while Perry is now at 15.8 (and falling – rapidly). UPDATE (10/17/11): The trend has continued. In the RCP Average, Perry has fallen to just 12.9%, while Cain has risen to 23.4% – just 0.5% behind Mitt Romney.]
There are still questions, however. Will Cain overtake Romney? How long will Cain’s surge last? Will his surge catapult him into true contention with Romney, or will he fade like he did in July, like Bachmann did a few weeks later, and like Perry is now doing (although Perry’s “fade” has been more like falling off a cliff)? [UPDATE (10/13/11): During a discussion at Tuesday’s debate about Cain’s “9-9-9” tax plan, for example, he was asked how a corporation that manufactures a product overseas, then ships it here to be sold, could be subject to his proposed 9% tax on that revenue. His response? “I have no idea”. No, I’m not kidding – that’s a direct quote. He’s going to have to do better than that if he wants to stay on top…] If Cain fades again, will there be time for another candidate to challenge Romney’s lead before the primaries begin? If Romney continues to lead the pack, will the others drop out and allow him to win the nomination, or will they remain in the race and deny Romney enough delegates to lock up the nomination, forcing the first open convention since the Democratic Convention of 1968 (a not-unreasonable scenario, given that Romney has never had the support of more than an RCP Average of 25%, meaning that at least 75% have – and continue to – prefer someone else, and that candidates like Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann, and Herman Cain are not likely to quit)? Who would emerge the winner from an open convention?
Meanwhile, President Obama continues to lead each of the Republican candidates in head-to-head polling, except for – you guessed it – Mitt Romney, whom the President trails by just 0.5% in the RCP Average. Obama leads both Rick Perry and Ron Paul by more than 5%, Herman Cain and Jon Huntsman by more than 9% each, and the remaining candidates by double digit margins. In fact, other than Romney, not one of the Republican candidates has finished ahead of Obama in any individual poll taken in the last month. That’s right – the only candidate who could beat Obama if the election were held today is the one candidate conservatives are fighting desperately against, searching frantically for another candidate who could deny Romney the nomination [UPDATE (10/17/11): Herman Cain became the first Republican candidate other than Mitt Romney to best Obama in an individual poll, finishing with 43% to Obama’s 41% in a Rasmussen Reports poll taken October 14th-15th. Meanwhile, Romney hasn’t finished ahead of Obama in an individual poll since October 3rd.]
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Considering all of this, conservatives should ask themselves: are they really as aligned with the people at large as they think they are?
Think about it this way: despite his 42.4% approval rating (and 52% disapproval rating – a 9.6% deficiency), and despite polls that show he trails a generic Republican opponent by 0.7%, Obama remains in a strong position against the current Republican field. This is perhaps the best indicator of that field’s relative weakness – only Romney is currently ahead of Obama in the polls – just barely ahead, and even he doesn’t quite match the margin a generic Republican has over Obama. If Obama is so unpopular (and, make no mistake, a majority of American do not approve of the job he is doing), why can’t the conservative Republican candidates, who have been dominating the news coverage for several months now, beat him in any poll – even a poll conducted by Fox News? It’s a valid question. [UPDATE (10/17/11): In the RCP Average, Obama now trails a generic Republican opponent by 2.3%, but leads all specific Republican candidates (including Romney). His job approval now stands at 43.7%, with a 51.0% disapproval.]
Perhaps the answer to that question lies outside the Republican presidential field. The latest RCP Average for Congressional job approval stands at a dismal 13%, with a disapproval of 82.3% (an astonishing 69.3% deficiency). Two recent individual polls (one from CBS News and one from Fox News) both recently recorded an approval rating of just 11%. In contrast, the lowest RCP Average for congressional approval recorded during the 111th Congress (January 2009 – January 2011) was 17.4%, and the highest disapproval was 77.0%. In other words, Congress is less popular now, with John Boehner and the Republicans in control of the House and enough Republican power in the Senate to block legislation, than it ever was with Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in control of the House and the Democrats having a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Maybe President Obama isn’t the one who should be worried about 2012… [UPDATE (10/17/11): In the RCP Average, Congressional Job Approval now stands at just 11.7%. Considering that, on November 5, 2010 (election day), when Democrats in Congress took what President Obama called “a shellacking”, Congressional Job Approval was 19.8%, this could definitely spell trouble for Republicans…]
Of course, recent events (like the battle over the debt ceiling and the current budget battles) have a strong impact on these ratings, and it is more than a year – a political eternity – before the 2012 elections, so the relevance of any of the numbers I have discussed to that election is questionable at best. They are, however, the only numbers we have, and they indicate that, at least at this point in time, President Obama still has to be favored to win re-election.
Members of Congress, and especially the freshman class of House Republicans, on the other hand, may want to start updating their resumes. [UPDATE (10/17/11): More evidence that freshman House Republicans may be in trouble can be seen in their newly-released fund-raising numbers…]

* The RCP Average is compiled by Real Clear Politics (RCP), and represents an average of all of the most recent polls from legitimate polling agencies.

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September 13, 2011: The Inhuman Heartlessness of Republicans

The Republican Party is utterly heartless. They will deny this, of course, but yesterday the GOP’s indisputable heartlessness was on striking display on two fronts.
First, at a Presidential Candidate debate in Florida sponsored by the Tea Party, Wolf Blitzer posed a question to Ron Paul regarding health care: “A healthy young, 30-year-old man has a good job, makes a good living but decides, ‘You know what? I’m not going to spend $200 or $300 a month on health insurance because I’m healthy, I don’t need it.’ But something terrible happens, all the sudden he needs it. What’s going to happen if he goes into a coma? Who pays for that?” Representative Paul’s response was, “What he should do is whatever he wants to do. That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks. This whole idea that you have to prepare to take care of everybody…”, at which point Blitzer interjected, “Are you saying society should just let him die?”
What happened next was outrageous but sadly predictable; several audience members shouted out “Yes!” This type of callousness is all the more shocking because these same people probably consider themselves Christians. I’m not one to tell people how to practice their faith, but enthusiastically insisting that we as a society should just let people without medical insurance die doesn’t seem to me to be a particularly “Christian” attitude (meanwhile, Mr. Paul, completely missing the point of the question, answered Blitzer by talking about the lack of competition in medicine because “Everybody’s protected by licensing”). This attitude is not just held by a few audience members at a debate – it is widely-held Republican dogma. According to these Republicans, when bad things happen to good people, we as a society have no role to play in coming to their aid – they should be left on their own to suffer their fate, and they should suffer it quietly. These Republicans are wrong – totally, completely, and absolutely wrong. They are missing the human side of the equation, because they are barely human themselves. Humans have a heart, and these Republicans are utterly heartless.
The second front on which the GOP’s heartlessness was displayed was in the United States Senate, where last night the Republicans voted overwhelmingly to block emergency funding for disaster relief that is desperately needed in the wake of Hurricane Irene, the earthquake that hit the east coast last month, the Texas and Louisiana wildfires, and several other recent natural disasters. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor recently went so far as to say that the House Republicans would only approve disaster relief funding if it was offset by budget cuts elsewhere – a process that could take months. The problem is that the money is urgently needed because FEMA has just $300 million left in its coffers after a long series of disasters, and has actually had to stop the rebuilding of Joplin, Missouri (virtually destroyed by a massive tornado earlier this year) and use the money to instead address the more recent crises. The Senate tried again today, and this time was able to get the 60 votes needed to move forward with the bill. Astonishingly, 38 Republicans voted against it. Again.
What these heartless Republicans fail to grasp is that disaster relief is not a partisan political issue, it is a human issue. These are human beings, and they have lost their homes, their businesses, their livelihoods, and in many cases their loved ones, through absolutely no fault of their own. The Americans suffering from these various “Acts of God” need help now – not next week, not next month, not next year – they need it RIGHT NOW! It is unconscionable that this disaster relief is being held hostage for partisan political purposes. That’s not what America is about – Americans come to each other’s aid in times of need, they don’t withhold that aid to use as leverage in a negotiation. The United States government has a long and proud history of providing relief in times of crisis, but the Republicans have apparently forgotten that. Every Republican who voted against this funding should hang their head in shame.
The Republicans, of course, won’t do that, because they don’t see it that way. They see disaster relief funding as a wedge issue they can use to score political points. They see it as nothing more than an accounting dilemma. These Republicans are wrong – totally, completely, and absolutely wrong. They are missing the human side of the equation, because they are barely human themselves. Humans have a heart, and these Republicans are utterly heartless.

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July 3, 2011: A Self-Inflicted Reversal of Fortune

WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?
In last November’s elections, Republicans won historic victories across the country in what President Obama labeled “a shellacking”. They took 63 seats from the Democrats in the House of Representative (giving them a sizable majority and making John Boehner Speaker of the House), 6 seats in the United States Senate, 10 Governorships, and they now control more state legislatures than at any time since 1928. It was widely reported that the Republican victories should be considered a public repudiation of President Obama and his policies, and that President Obama’s prospects for re-election were in serious trouble.
It’s been less than six months since the Republicans who won such resounding victories in November actually took office, and in that short time an astonishing reversal has taken place.
Congressional job approval, which had risen under Republican control of the House from 19.7% on January 5th (the day the New Congress began) to 28.2% in early March, has steadily dropped since then and now stands at 19.2%. In other words, the new Congress with John Boehner as Speaker of the House is even less popular than the old Congress was with Nancy Pelosi as Speaker. The newly-elected Republican Governors have fared even worse. For example, Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin, John Kasich of Ohio, Paul LePage of Maine and Rick Snyder of Michigan all have approval ratings in the low 30’s, and Rick Scott of Florida is now the most unpopular Governor in the country, with approval ratings in the 20’s. The state legislatures in these states are facing voter rebellions over newly-passed policies, in the form of voter recall efforts (such as in Wisconsin) and voter referendums to veto the new laws (such as in Ohio).
Perhaps the biggest surprise has been seen in the nascent Presidential race. Despite President Obama’s perceived vulnerability, many of the big names who were expected to run for the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination have declined to run – among them former Governors Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, Charlie Crist of Florida, and Bob Riley of Alabama; Governors Mitch Daniels of Indiana, Chris Christie of New Jersey, Bob McDonnell of Virginia, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana; Senators John Thune of South Dakota, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, John Cornyn of Texas, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Scott Brown of Massachusetts; Representatives Mike Pence of Indiana, Paul Ryan of Minnesota, Peter King of New York, Steve King of Iowa, and Allen West of Florida; Generals David Patreaus and Stanley McChrystal; and business executives Donald Trump and Meg Whitman. This has left what most observers describe as an incredibly weak field of candidates running for the Republican nomination, and as a result, President Obama’s re-election is now regarded as very likely. Of the current field of candidates who are running, former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts is the clear frontrunner, but only has the support of about 20% of Republican voters, and many on the far right have said they would support a third-party candidate if Romney gets the nomination. President Obama is currently polling ahead of every declared Republican candidate (including Romney), and over any of the remaining potential candidates – he even beats former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin in Alaska and Texas Governor Rick Perry in Texas!
So I ask again – WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?
It’s a fair question, and the answer can be found in what the Republicans have done since taking office in January. After running so successfully on a platform of “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs”, they have instead focused on abortion, gay marriage, union busting, declaring English to be the official language of the United States, de-funding NPR and Planned Parenthood, banning Sharia law, giving huge tax cuts to large corporations paid for on the backs of working and middle class families, and they have now engaged in an extended game of “chicken” with President Obama over whether to default on America’s debt for the first time on our history, putting the “full faith and credit” of the United States in jeopardy and risking a world-wide economic cataclysm. In addition, this new Congress has shown a remarkable inability to get things done – according to Politico, “Just 18 bills have become law through the first half of 2011, and 15 of those named a building after someone, temporarily extended expiring laws or appointed an official to the board of the Smithsonian Institution.” Compare this to the accomplishments of the 111th Congress, and it’s easy to see why the public is so dissatisfied.
The real kicker, however, was the vote in the House (soon to be taken up by the Senate) to end Medicare as we know it and replace it with a Government voucher seniors would have to use to purchase health insurance on the open market. Just four Republicans in the House voted against this – every other Republican voted in favor. Every legitimate expert and agency that has looked at this proposal, including the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has determined that the proposed vouchers would not be sufficient to pay for the insurance, meaning that seniors would have to make up the cost difference on their own (the CBO estimates this cost difference to be at least $1600 per year). Even worse, the Republicans’ intention to repeal “Obamacare” would have the effect of reinstating “pre-existing conditions” as a reason to deny health insurance coverage, meaning that the seniors attempting to use these vouchers – virtually all of whom have some “pre-existing condition” or other – would probably not be able to get coverage at all, no matter how much the vouchers were worth. The outcry has been loud and immediate; many Republican House members have had to face angry “Town Hall” meetings similar to those experienced by Democrats in the summer of 2009, complete with the “Keep your hands off my Medicare!” refrain.
In a nutshell, the Republicans have been given a chance, and they are completely blowing it. If they stay on their current course, this self-inflicted reversal of fortune will cause their hard-won victories of November 2010 to amount to nothing – they will find themselves recalled, their legislation overturned by the voters, their House majority lost, and President Obama re-elected in a landslide.
And they will have no one to blame but themselves.

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June 14, 2011: The Mutual Admiration Society

Seven of the Republican Presidential contenders participated in a debate in New Hampshire last night. When the moderator, CNN’s John King, said at the start that this was the “first debate” of this election cycle, he was ignoring the fact that there was an earlier debate in South Carolina on May 5th (apparently because Mitt Romney wasn’t there). Four of last night’s participants were at the South Carolina debate (Businessman Herman Cain, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, Representative Ron Paul of Texas, and former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania), along with former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, who was left out of last night’s debate because he hasn’t done well enough in recent polls to qualify to be there. The general consensus following the South Carolina debate was that, although Tim Pawlenty had been widely expected to be the winner, he did not live up to those expectations; instead Herman Cain won it in a landslide, with Rick Santorum finishing second.
Last night, in addition to Cain, Pawlenty, Paul, and Santorum, Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and the nominal front-runner, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, were also on the stage. There are other candidates who could have been there but were not, including former Utah Governor and Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman (who will formally announce his candidacy next Tuesday at Liberty Park in New Jersey), former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (who is said to be close to jumping in the race), and of course, former Alaska Governor and 2008 Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin (who has been behaving like a potential candidate, but has remained mum about her plans).
So, who won, who lost, and did anything exciting happen? Basically, not much happened (with the exception of Bachmann’s announcing that she has filed papers and is now officially in the race), and none of the candidates committed any notable gaffs. Nevertheless, there were several things I found striking about the debate, especially the unity that was shown by the seven candidates. All of them declined – and in some cases flatly refused when given a clear opportunity – to criticize each other, instead focusing their attacks on President Obama. This failure to criticize their immediate opponents (especially the perceived front-runner, Mitt Romney) will hurt some of their chances as the campaign progresses.
I would assess the debate as follows:
THE WINNERS: Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann.
Romney came into the debate as the clear front-runner in the polls (see polling data below), and will continue to be the front-runner following this debate. He was widely expected to take a beating as all the others turned their fire on him, instead he not only emerged unscathed – not one of his opponents even so much as disagreed with him – he looked Presidential throughout the debate. He was the prime beneficiary of the mutual admiration that was on clear display. The most stunning example occurred when the subject of abortion came up. In a follow-up to a question for Rick Santorum, John King asked Romney to explain his change in position on this and other social issues, from supporting abortion rights (when running for Governor of Massachusetts) to being pro-life (his position now). Romney ignored the accusation of a flip-flop and instead enunciated his current pro-life position. King then asked the others if Romney’s flip-flops should be an issue in this campaign, or if this was “case closed”. Herman Cain said “Case closed” and, remarkably, the others all assented. The idea that all of these candidates have now precluded the possibility of raising the issue of Romney’s flip-flops later in the campaign is nothing short of astonishing – this is one of his major weaknesses in the eyes of the Republican base, after all – but it was in keeping with the apparent theme for the evening: “All for One and One for All”. Frankly, I don’t believe for one second that Romney’s flip-flops won’t be an issue later on; of course they will be an issue.
Bachmann took the opportunity to announce that she had filed her papers earlier in the day and is now officially a candidate for President (something I am not sure has ever happened at a debate before), making her announcement the most watched – and most effectively timed – of any of the candidates’ announcements so far. She also did not make any of her trademark crazy statements, instead appearing to be downright sane. Her family story – she and her husband have 5 of their own children and have taken in 23 foster children – served to make her an appealing personality. She also benefited from being the only woman on the stage (Sarah Palin was noteworthy for her absence). She not only held her own with the men – and eclipsed most of them – her answers were coherent and well thought out, meaning she certainly looked good compared to the absent Palin.
THE LOSERS: Tim Pawlenty and Newt Gingrich.
Pawlenty needed to turn in a stand-out performance – especially after his South Carolina showing – and he simply failed in his attempt. When he was given the best opportunity of the night to go after Romney, he pointedly refused to do so: on Sunday, in an appearance on Fox News Sunday, Pawlenty had coined the term “Obamneycare” to simultaneously criticize President Obama’s health care reform bill and tie Romney to that bill – the first time Pawlenty had done something that could make him stand out from the rest of the field. When John King asked him about this, however, he backpedalled and tried to make it sound as if he was not criticizing Romney at all, instead saying he was referring to Obama’s statement that he had looked to the health care reform law in Massachusetts (signed into law by Romney) for inspiration for his bill. King pressed the point, asking Pawlenty why, if it was OK to say “Obamneycare” in the safety of a TV studio on Sunday, it wasn’t OK to repeat his criticism on Monday with Romney standing with him on the stage. It was a “man-up” moment – a chance for Pawlenty to break from the pack and show some backbone – but instead of “manning up” he backed down. Frankly, I found it pathetic. His tepid response killed any chance he had of distinguishing himself from the other candidates. It was almost as if Pawlenty was running for Vice President, rather than for President.
After what has arguably been the worst first month of a major Presidential campaign in the history of Presidential politics, Gingrich desperately needed a strong showing last night. He failed to deliver it. While he has tried to position himself as the intellectual and “policy-driven” candidate, he did not stand out from the others; intellectually, in terms of policy, or in any other way. He was utterly forgettable – something he could not afford to be.
THE ALSO-RANS: Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, and Herman Cain.
Paul was his usual libertarian self, trying numerous times – but never succeeding – to turn the conversation to monetary policy and the elimination of the Federal Reserve. Perhaps the worst part for Paul was that everyone else on the stage agreed with the idea of privatizing everything from NASA to FEMA, meaning that Paul’s libertarianism did not distinguish him from the others. He also looked significantly older that everyone else on the stage.
Santorum gave decent answers to the questions directed to him, but at the end of the day he failed to stand out. As the most staunchly anti-abortion candidate present, he should have been emphasizing that issue (and other social issues) to separate himself from the pack. That’s his brand, so to speak, and he needed to push it. Instead, he blew the opportunity to go after Romney’s flip-flops on social issues, negating any benefit he may have had from his brand.
Herman Cain, who had been the clear winner in South Carolina on May 5th, did not repeat that performance last night. Instead he said basically the same things all the others were saying but with fewer specifics, and stumbled over his answers to a few of the questions (for example, when he was asked about his recent comment that Muslim Americans are not loyal Americans). Cain had been surging in the polls lately (especially following South Carolina), but his performance last night may bring that surge to an end.
In short, this debate will be just one of many as the campaign gets into full swing. There will be other candidates who enter the race and some who will leave. However, if none of the other candidates are willing to go after Mitt Romney – in the debates or elsewhere – they may as well hand the nomination to Romney now. The other candidates needed to bring him down a notch last night, but in this debate it just didn’t happen.
Recent 2012 Republican Presidential Nomination Polling Data
(source: Real Clear Politics)

Poll Date Romney Palin Giuliani Cain Paul Gingrich Pawlenty Bachmann Perry Santorum Huntsman
RCP Average 5/23 – 6/11 21.6 16.4 11.0 8.1 7.1 7.0 5.4 5.1 4.0 3.2 1.7
Gallup 6/8 – 6/11 24 16 9 7 5 6 5 6 1
FOX News 6/5 – 6/7 23 12 13 7 5 7 5 4 4 2
CNN 6/3 – 6/7 24 20 12 10 7 10 3 4 1 1
Reuters 6/3 – 6/6 18 19 6 8 4 2 5 5 2
ABC/WP* 6/2 – 6/5 21 17 8 4 6 6 4 3 3 1 1
Quinnipiac 5/31 – 6/6 25 15 9 8 8 5 6 4 1
PPP (D) 5/23 – 5/25 16 16 12 9 9 13 9 4

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June 3, 2011: Stumbling Out of the Gate

When politicians consider a run for President of the United States, they spend months going over their entry into the race so as to get their campaign off to the best start possible. No detail is too small, no aspect too insignificant – the announcement of a Presidential bid is a well-scripted, completely controlled, and meticulously planned affair. At least, that used to be the case. If the newly-launched campaigns of this year’s Republican Presidential candidates are any indication, however, something has radically changed.
There are now six legitimate Republican candidates who have officially entered the race for the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination: former Governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, Representative Ron Paul of Texas, former Godfather Pizza CEO and talk radio host Herman Cain of Georgia, former Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, and, as of yesterday, former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. Each of them has sought to launch their candidacies in the strongest possible way, and each of them has blown it to some degree. Some (such as Newt Gingrich) have fallen flat on their face, while others (like Herman Cain) seem to have recovered, but with the exception of Ron Paul, all of them, each in their own way, have stumbled out of the gate.
The first to formally announce his candidacy was Gary Johnson, who informed the media a full week in advance that he would make the announcement at the state capitol building in Concord, New Hampshire on April 21st. Despite the advanced notice, and despite his tied-for-third-place finish in February’s CPAC Straw Poll, no one – and I mean no one – bothered to notice his announcement. Johnson even participated in the first Republican debate on March 5th in South Carolina, one of just five candidates to do so. No one noticed him there, either. What did get noticed was Country Singer Willie Nelson’s endorsement of Johnson on May 17th – and his retraction of that endorsement on May 19th (Nelson wrote his retraction statement, “My bad. Sorry.”). Obviously, this is not how Johnson would have preferred the first month of his candidacy to go, but Johnson already knew he was going to be a “dark horse” candidate, and his inauspicious start hasn’t changed that.
The next candidate out of the starting gate was Newt Gingrich. Unlike Gary Johnson, Gingrich was supposed to be one of the heavy hitters in this campaign. Strong name recognition and a built-in following gave him an advantage from day one – or so he thought. He officially announced his candidacy on May 11th, and imploded spectacularly the following week – and, again unlike Gary Johnson, everyone noticed. It started on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, May 15th, where he called the Republican budget plan – specifically the provision that would end Medicare as we know it and replace it with a voucher system – “right wing social engineering”, saying it was no more desirable than “left-wing social engineering” and saying it was “too big a jump”. The ensuing firestorm from Republicans – especially supporters of the budget plan’s principal author, Representative Paul Ryan of Minnesota – forced Gingrich to go on the defensive. To make matters worse, a voter in Iowa confronted Gingrich on camera, calling him an “embarrassment to our party” and suggested he drop out of the Presidential race before he made “an even bigger fool of himself”. The video of the incident went viral, playing in a continuous loop for several news cycles. Within a week, Gingrich had performed a complete flip-flop on the budget plan (his actual quote was, “Let me say on the record: any ad that quotes what I said on Sunday [on Meet the Press] is a falsehood.” – Huh?).
Another controversy hit that same week when it came out that, as recently as 5 years ago, Gingrich owed as much as $500,000 to Tiffany & Company of New York (this according to his wife’s financial filings). When asked about this on CBS’s Face the Nation (on May 22nd), his response was that he and his wife are “very frugal” ($500,000 in jewelry is frugal??), and he refused to say what it was he had bought, arguing “…it’s my personal life.” He seems to think that his “personal life” would somehow be off-limits – how quaint. Could he really be that naïve? Although he has apparently paid off the Tiffany’s bill, middle-class voters just won’t be able to relate to the concept of half a million dollars in jewelry – and they certainly won’t think that much jewelry is “frugal”. How many voters even know anybody who has bought half a million dollars’ worth of jewelry? On May 19, Gingrich fired back at his critics with a press release that was so bizarre, Stephen Colbert felt compelled to have actor John Lithgow read it verbatim on The Colbert Report (check it out – this is one of the funniest bits I have seen in years).
This string of events constitutes one of the most stunning reversals of fortune in the history of presidential politics. Where Gingrich was once considered to be among the top contenders for the nomination, no pundit is taking Gingrich seriously as a candidate anymore, and Gingrich has responded by taking a two-week luxury cruise to the Greek Islands with his wife (conveniently getting him away from the glare of the media spotlight). His campaign is in damage-control mode (they claim the cruise had been planned all along, but I have never heard of a candidate announcing a presidential bid and then immediately going on vacation), but it is unlikely that Gingrich will recover – his fall has been the hardest of any of the five candidates. UPDATE (6/9/11): Today the Gingrich campaign announced that his campaign staff – the entire campaign staff – is resigning en masse. No fewer than sixteen key members of his staff from his national headquarters in Georgia and offices in the early-contest states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina are all walking out at the same time. This just gets better and better.
Ron Paul came out of the gate next, making his formal announcement on May 13th, and is the only candidate in this race who hasn’t stumbled – yet. Keep watching…
The fourth Republican to emerge from the starting gate was Herman Cain. In his speech announcing his candidacy on May 21st, Mr. Cain said, “We don’t need to rewrite the Constitution of the United States of America, we need to reread the Constitution and enforce the Constitution. … And I know that there are some people that are not going to do that, so for the benefit of those who are not going to read it because they don’t want us to go by the Constitution, there’s a little section in there that talks about ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’…You know, those ideals that we live by, we believe in, your parents believed in, they instilled in you. When you get to the part about ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’ don’t stop there, keep reading. Cause that’s when it says ‘when any form of government becomes destructive of those ideals, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.’ We’ve got some altering and some abolishing to do!”
Presumably Mr. Cain’s comments were directed towards President Obama. Perhaps before Mr. Cain lectures anybody – especially a former Constitutional Law Professor like Barack Obama – about reading the Constitution, he should take a gander at it himself. The passages he quoted (specifically “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and “when any form of government becomes destructive of those ideals, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.”) are not found anywhere in the Constitution – they are actually found in the Declaration of Independence. Oops. Other than this misstep, Cain has performed remarkably well on the campaign trail since entering the race. It remains to be seen if his misquoting the Constitution while lecturing President Obama to read it will come back to haunt him (perhaps in a future debate?), but for now he seems to have recovered from his stumble.
The fifth candidate out of the gate was Tim Pawlenty. Pawlenty has been actively campaigning for well over a year, but has not yet been able to develop the name recognition he will need or managed to connect with voters in any significant way, and the result has been little or no movement in the polls – he continues to find himself in the low single digits. To make matters worse, on May 23rd (the same day that Pawlenty formally announced his candidacy) a story appeared in the press alleging that in 2008, as Governor of Minnesota, Pawlenty had granted a pardon to Jeremy Giefer, a convicted child molester who had served 45 days in prison back in 1994 for statutory rape. This is not your typical “bad pardon” story, however. Giefer married the then-14-year-old girl back in the mid-1990’s, and stayed to raise the daughter he had fathered with her. In November of 2010, two years after Pawlenty had granted his pardon, Giefer was again arrested on charges of having sex with an underage girl – only this time his victim was the daughter he had fathered back in 1994. According to the complaint, Giefer raped his daughter more than 250 times over an 8-year period, including the six years leading up to the pardon. Pawlenty’s response to the news was pathetic; if only he had known about the molestation, he never would have pardoned Giefer. That this pardon showed poor judgment is obvious – what is less obvious is what the political fallout will be. I can’t imagine that his competitors will let this one slide, and given the (relatively) high expectations for his campaign, this could prove to be a stumble that he is not able to recover from.
Yesterday Mitt Romney became the sixth candidate out of the starting gate. Romney is the presumed frontrunner in the race, having finished first in virtually every poll taken over the past several months (the only candidate who has polled competitively with Romney is Mike Huckabee, who has announce he will not run). He is by no means a prohibitive favorite to win the nomination, however. He has already adjusted his campaign strategy to gloss over states where he doesn’t believe he will do well (such as Iowa and the South). The health care plan he signed into law as Governor – known as “Romneycare” in Massachusetts – is remarkably similar to President Obama’s Health Care Reform plan, even including an individual mandate to buy health insurance, and for this and other reasons (such as his past support for abortion rights and progressive positions on other social issues, positions on which he has now “flip-flopped” just in time to run for President), the conservative base of the Republican Party doesn’t trust him, and it has been no secret that many of the Party’s leaders detest Romney personally. There has been a very perceptible “Anybody but Romney” sentiment among the Republican leadership and major donors in the early months of this campaign cycle, and many on the right have actively – some of them very publicly – tried to recruit other candidates to throw their hats into the ring, but so far the strongest potential challengers – including Huckabee, Chris Christie, Mike Pence, John Thune, Haley Barbour, and Mitch Daniels – have all passed on the race.
Romney’s main stumble, however, was demonstrated by his fellow Republicans. In spite of the fact that Romney gave a full week’s advanced notice that he would be making his announcement yesterday, both Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani went out of their way to hold political events in New Hampshire on the same day, denying Romney his “moment”. Given how much many of the leading Republicans loathe Romney, one has to wonder how much support Romney would get from these Republicans if he were to actually win the nomination. Will they endorse him? Will they campaign for him? Or will they recruit a third-party candidate instead?
So who will be next out of the gate? Michelle Bachmann is said to be close to entering the race (I can hardly wait to hear what she has to say), as is John Huntsman, and others are likely to join them soon. Will they stumble? My money says “YES!”
This is pure entertainment – enjoy!
UPDATE (6/7/11): Rick Santorum became the seventh legitimate candidate to officially enter the race yesterday, and the stumbling continued; his announcement was completely ignored in the press because it was overshadowed by the latest Washington sex scandal – Congressman Anthony Weiner’s pathetic tear-filled press conference in which he admitted to, among other things, “tweeting” inappropriate photos of himself (something he had vociferously denied over the past week on dozens of TV appearances). While this stumble is not Santorum’s fault, it nevertheless continues the pattern of campaign launches not going as well as planned.
UPDATE (6/21/11): Jon Huntsman made his official announcement at Liberty Park in New Jersey with the Statue of Liberty in the background, and managed to pull it off without any noticeable stumbling…
UPDATE (6/28/11): Michele Bachmann made her “official” announcement that she is entering the race yesterday (apparently her announcement at the June 13th debate in New Hampshire that she had filed official papers with the FEC that day wasn’t “official” enough), and stumbled in so many different ways that they warrant a full listing:
• The weekend prior to her announcement, Bachmann was asked by Chris Wallace on Fox News, after Wallace rattled off several examples of her past misstatements, whether or not she was “a flake”. If Fox News isn’t even a friendly venue…
• Bachmann claimed that the “Founding Fathers” who wrote the Constitution and Declaration of Independence fought tirelessly – and successfully – to end slavery, saying, “the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States.” This is simply false; George Washington and Thomas Jefferson – and many of the other “Founders” – were themselves slave owners; Ben Franklin and John Adams removed the complaint that the British Crown had forced slavery on the colonies from Thomas Jefferson’s initial draft of the Declaration of Independence; and slavery was actually written into the Constitution with the “3/5th compromise” and the provision that prohibited laws ending the importation of slaves until 1808. It took over 70 years, a Civil War, and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (ratified in 1865) to end slavery – and by then the “Founders” were all long since dead.
• When pressed on the slavery issue, Bachmann added, “men like John Quincy Adams… would not rest until slavery was extinguished in the country.” John Quincy Adams, the son of John Adams and the 6th President of the United States, was in fact a strong opponent of slavery, but he was 9 years old when the Declaration of Independence was written (perhaps he was a “Founding Child”?) and died in 1848, 17 years before slavery was finally abolished.
• Bachmann, who was born in Waterloo, Iowa (where she made her “official” announcement), appeared on Fox News the evening before her announcement and said, “John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa. That’s the kind of spirit that I have, too.” The problem? The actor John Wayne was not born in Waterloo – he was born in Winterset, Iowa. However, the notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy was from Waterloo, and received his first sex-crime conviction there. Oops.
• The Bachmann campaign chose the great Tom Petty classic “American Girl” as the theme song for her campaign, and the song was played at her announcement rally. Tom Petty immediately – and very publicly – sent a “cease and desist” letter to the campaign, demanding that they stop using the song so that no endorsement of Bachmann by Petty would in any way be implied.

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May 27, 2011: This Field is Anything But “Set”

The current field of potential Republican Presidential candidates is, to put it generously, less than inspiring. For months there has been a rising panic among the Republican leadership and right-wing talking heads, who have been very publicly clamoring for someone else – anyone else – to jump in the race and “save” the Republican Party from Mitt Romney. After Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi, businessman Donald Trump, former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, and – especially – Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana all announced that they would not run however, a decision seems to have been made to talk up the idea that the field is now “set”. Apparently it has finally occurred to these people that constantly going on TV and badmouthing the current field might make it look like perhaps they don’t have confidence in their candidates – which would be likely to backfire in the general election. This appears to me to be an attempt to staunch the bleeding that the damage from their clamoring has caused.
The problem is that this is only wishful thinking, because the field is anything but “set”.
So far there are five declared candidates (former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Representative Ron Paul of Texas, businessman and talk-radio host Herman Cain, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty) and four others who have established “Exploratory Committees” and are expected to enter the race soon (former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer, and former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore). In addition, former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman is expected to announce soon that his hat is in the ring. These are the ten candidates that make up the current field, but their numbers will soon grow considerably..
Following the recent string of potential candidates choosing to pass on the race, and especially the decision of Mitch Daniels not to run, many new names – and some old ones – have surfaced as possible candidates. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Representative Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota are both said to be more inclined to run now than they were before, RepresentativesPeter King of New York and Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan are now said to be considering running. and several potential candidates who had previously stated that they would not run – including former Governor George Pataki of New York and Governor Rick Perry of Texas – have now said they are rethinking their decisions. Even Donald Trump seemed surprised by Governor Daniels’ announcement and suggested he might reconsider.
And then there is Sarah Palin. The former Alaska Governor and Vice Presidential candidate will be embarking on a bus tour from Washington D.C. to New England starting this weekend, visiting “historical sites that were key to the formation, survival, and growth of the United States of America” – including several stops in New Hampshire. A “Documentary” about her tenure as Governor of Alaska – which is expected to put that tenure in the most favorable light possible – will debut in (you guessed it) Iowa next month. Furthermore, she has purchased a home in Arizona, which many regard as a better home base for a national campaign than Alaska. Finally, she recently told Greta van Susteren on Fox News “I have that fire in my belly” to run. Frankly, I would be stunned if she doesn’t run, and her entrance into the race would shake things up in unpredictable ways.
The field is, most definitely, not “set” – no matter how much the talking heads may wish it be. The chaotic primary campaign that will soon engulf the Republican candidates will cost millions upon millions of dollars and will likely produce a wounded nominee who will limp into the general election campaign, where that nominee will face President Obama, who will have coasted to the nomination unchallenged, who will be able to take advantage of all the opposition research that will have already been done for him by the other Republican candidates, and who is expected to have somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 billion to spend in the three months from Labor Day to Election Day.
No wonder the Republicans are panicking.

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May 23, 2011: The Implosion of Newt Gingrich

It began long before he even announced his candidacy for President. The re-hashing of the controversies began to race around the internet and talk shows as former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich publicly considered running for President – the 22 bounced checks that were part of the House Banking Scandal of the early 1990s; the marital problems and affairs (including telling his first wife he was divorcing her when she was in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery, and having an affair – cheating on wife #2 with eventual wife #3 – while he was leading the charge for the impeachment of Bill Clinton over statements Clinton made regarding an affair); the disastrous (for Republicans) 1998 midterms and his subsequent resignation from Congress; and the rest.
Then there was the high-profile flip-flop on intervening in Libya:
• On March 7th, when turmoil had erupted in Libya and many were urging the Obama Administration to intervene, Gingrich told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren, “[I would] exercise a no-fly zone this evening, communicate to the Libyan military that Gaddafi was gone and that the sooner they switch sides, the more like they were to survive, provided help to the rebels to replace him … This is a moment to get rid of him. Do it. Get it over with. We don’t need to have the United Nations. All we have to say is that we think that slaughtering your own citizens is unacceptable and that we’re intervening. And we don’t have to send troops. All we have to do is suppress his air force, which we could do in minutes.”
• On March 23rd, after President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had engaged in the difficult diplomacy necessary to get the Arab League’s unanimous blessing for a western attack on an Arab nation (no easy task) and the approval of the United Nations Security Council (including abstentions from both China and Russia – either of which could have vetoed the resolution), and established the no-fly zone in partnership with several NATO countries and “at least two” Arab nations, Gingrich told Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today Show, “I think that two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is a lot … I would not have intervened. I think there were a lot of other ways to affect Gaddafi. I think there are a lot of allies in the region we could have worked with. I would not have used American and European forces.”
This complete flip-flop was widely ridiculed on both sides of the political spectrum, and diminished Gingrich’s stature (such as it was) as a statesman of any gravitas.
It only got worse after Gingrich officially declared his candidacy on May 11th. The following Sunday (May 15th), Gingrich went on NBC’s Meet the Press and referred to the House Republican budget plan (which, among other things, would end Medicare as we know it and replace it with a voucher for seniors to purchase health care coverage on the open market) as “right-wing social engineering”, saying it was no more desirable than “left-wing social engineering” and that it was “too big a jump”. The ensuing firestorm from Republicans – especially supporters of the budget plan’s principal author, Representative Paul Ryan of Minnesota – forced Gingrich to go on the defensive. To make matters worse, a voter in Iowa confronted Gingrich on camera, calling him an “embarrassment to our party” and suggested he drop out of the Presidential race before he made “an even bigger fool of himself”. The video of the incident went viral, playing in a continuous loop for several news cycles. Within a week, Gingrich had completely retreated, and more than anything else seemed not just taken aback, but truly dazed and confused by the criticism, calling into question whether he is ready for the level of scrutiny that comes with any Presidential campaign.
Another controversy hit last week when it came out that, as recently as 5 years ago, Gingrich owed as much as $500,000 to Tiffany & Company of New York (this according to his wife’s financial filings). What is damaging about this isn’t that he owed the money – he didn’t default on the account or anything, and it is apparently now paid – what will hurt him is that there will no longer be any way for Gingrich to present himself as a “man of the people” or as “one of us”. Middle-class voters can’t relate to the concept of half a million dollars in jewelry. How many voters have ever bought half a million dollars’ worth of jewelry? How many voters even know anybody who has bought half a million dollars’ worth of jewelry?
When asked about this on CBS’s Face the Nation (on May 22nd), his response was again one of dazed confusion, insisting that he and his wife are “very frugal” ($500,000 in jewelry is frugal??), and refusing to say what it was he had bought, arguing “…it’s my personal life.” He just couldn’t seem to believe he was being asked these questions.
Doesn’t he get it? His is running for President. All aspects of his life – both political and personal – are now fair game. If he isn’t ready for that, he really should get out of the race now.
On May 19, Gingrich fired back at his critics with a press release that was so bizarre, Stephen Colbert felt compelled to have actor John Lithgow read it verbatim on The Colbert Report (check it out – this is one of the funniest bits I have seen in years). In the press release, Gingrich said (among other things) that “a lesser person could not have survived the first few minutes of the [media] onslaught, but out of the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia emerged…Gingrich!” This ties in perfectly with his statement from earlier in the week chastising reporters that they should realize how lucky they were to be covering the kind of campaign that comes along “once or twice a century”. Clearly, Gingrich has an ego roughly the size of one of the outer planets (I’ll let you guess which one) – another factor that will make it difficult for him to come across as “one of us”.
These self-inflicted wounds have put the Gingrich Campaign in damage-control mode almost from its first day of existence, and have left Gingrich appearing dazed and confused as to why anyone would even think to criticize him. He seems to have a classic messianic complex – he is stunned that he has not been welcomed with grateful open arms as The Answer to all of America’s problems. Many pundits have already written his campaign off – even ultra-conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer considers Gingrich’s campaign “over” – and I would have to agree. No matter what happens between now and the Iowa Caucuses next year, there is no recovering from the kind of week the Gingrich campaign has suffered through.
And if Gingrich wants to blame somebody, he should take a good, hard look in the mirror.
UPDATE (6/9/11): Today the Gingrich campaign announced that his campaign staff – the entire campaign staff – is resigning en masse. No fewer than sixteen key members of his staff from his national headquarters in Georgia and offices in the early-contest states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina are all walking out at the same time. This just gets better and better.

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May 5, 2011: It Was A Good Day For America – So Why All The Criticism?

The “If Obama did it, it must be wrong” crowd is at it again..
This past Sunday evening, President Obama announced that an elite Special Operations force of Navy Seals had conducted a raid on a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in which they succeeded in killing Osama bin Laden. Not a single American was wounded. The Seals had also taken custody of bin Laden’s body. The raid had been a complete success.
The response was immediate. Chanting U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!, people gathered by the thousands around the White House, in New York City’s Times Square, at Ground Zero, and across the country to celebrate the death of the man responsible for the bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, for the attack on the USS Cole, and especially for the attacks of September 11th, 2001. This was a good day for America – a very good day indeed.
But the aforementioned “If Obama did it…” crowd had a problem: no victory for the Obama Administration – no matter how absolute – could be allowed to go unchallenged.
It didn’t take long for the criticism to start.
There has been criticism that bin Laden was killed despite being unarmed at the time. Frankly, I am not going to question the actions of a United States Navy Seal who made a split-second decision when he had Osama bin Laden in his sights in the heat of battle. The Seal who pulled the trigger is a hero and should be honored, not criticized. This was Osama bin Laden, for Pete’s sake – SHOOT HIM! He is responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent Americans, in addition to thousands of other people around the world. I just don’t care that he didn’t have an AK-47 in his hands at the time he was killed. Besides, taking him alive would have been problematic – can you imagine the circus that a trial would have become?
There has been criticism that we entered Pakistan to conduct this raid without Pakistan’s permission. Gee – that’s too bad. There are three major reasons to discount this argument. First, during the third debate of the 2008 Presidential campaign between then-Senator Obama and his opponent, Senator John McCain, Obama said that if we had actionable intelligence of bin Laden’s location inside Pakistan, and if the Pakistanis could not – or would not – act on that intelligence, then we would act on it. He warned them, and President Obama has now kept his word which, of course, doesn’t fit into the “If Obama did it…” crowd’s narrative. We were right to go into Pakistan to get bin Laden Second, there is the matter of whether we could trust the leadership of Pakistan not to tip off bin Laden to the impending raid. Given the fact that bin Laden was not living in a cave along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, as had been widely believed, but was in fact living in luxury in the middle of an affluent city just 30 miles from the capital city of Islamabad (and just ½ mile from Pakistan’s military academy!), there would seem to be good reason not to be entirely trusting of the Pakistani government. Someone had to know bin Laden was there, and I have no doubt that those who knew where he was would have warned him. We were right not to tell them. Third, SO WHAT? This was Osama bin Laden, the most wanted terrorist on earth! We took him out, and we did it without any damage to the surrounding area. No apologies. Besides, ever since the question was raised regarding whether Pakistan knew where bin Laden was, the Pakistani government has been bending over backwards to assure America that they did not know of bin Laden’s whereabouts and have cooperated in the War on Terror. There has been talk of the UN taking some action. Big deal – we can veto any action they try to take. This is just one of those times when we should look the rest of the world straight in the eye and say “What are you going to do about it?” The answer is…nothing. There is simply nothing the rest of the world can – or should – do, except to thank us for ridding the world of bin Laden.
There has been criticism that photographs of bin Laden’s dead body have not been released to the public. There are those who simply don’t believe that bin Laden is actually dead, and won’t believe it until they see proof – in the form of photos and/or videos of bin Laden’s corpse. There are also those who have advocated releasing the photos to prevent the inevitable conspiracy theories that will claim bin Laden is still alive. Other than satisfying the morbid curiosity of these people, releasing the photos – which are, according to the Administration, “gruesome” – would be pointless. The conspiracy theories would still be out there, with or without the pictures – they would just argue the photos were faked. Releasing the photos would only serve as a rallying point for bin Laden’s supporters. In my view, the most convincing evidence that bin Laden is dead lies in the fact that bin Laden has not released a video of himself holding today’s newspaper to prove he is alive. If he were alive, he would certainly want to let his supporters know that – and make America look stupid at the same time. The simple fact that he has not done so is proof enough for me. Besides, why would the Obama Administration claim bin Laden was dead if they were not absolutely certain of that? If bin Laden were to surface alive, the political fallout would be devastating.
There has been criticism that now we have to worry about attacks on the United States in retaliation for the killing of Osama bin Laden. I don’t get this one. While we must of course remain vigilant against possible attacks, do these people honestly think al Queda wouldn’t try to attack us eventually anyway? Do they really think we should not have killed bin Laden because of the risk involved in angering his supporters? Please.
Then there has been criticism that bin Laden’s body was treated according to Islamic tradition and given a burial at sea. These people seem to think this was far too respectful and would apparently prefer that the body be dragged across the country behind a tank, or perhaps strung up like a piñata in Times Square with free baseball bats provided to anyone who wanted to take a swing. Treating the body in accordance with Islamic tradition, on the other hand, demonstrates to the world that we respect the Muslim faith and are not “at war with Islam.” The burial at sea ensures that there will never be a grave site that could become a monument to bin Laden. Smart move.
The bottom line is this: The Obama Administration got it right. Osama bin Laden is dead. Our government has several forms of proof – bin Laden’s wife (who was wounded in the raid but survived) identified the body, the DNA taken from the body was a perfect match with DNA taken from bin Laden’s sister, and we have the photos and videos. And, of course, every day that bin Laden doesn’t show up in a video holding that day’s newspaper is additional proof that he is dead.
This shouldn’t be a political issue (although President Obama has already seen a rise – probably temporary – in his poll numbers, and it certainly won’t hurt his re-election chances), this is an American issue. We were attacked, and now we have exacted our revenge. Justice has been served. All Americans should rejoice in the news. There is no way for President Obama’s critics to “spin” this for political advantage, and those who have tried just come off looking desperate.
The Republicans seem to have settled on the talking point that the credit for killing bin Laden should go to President Bush, and that President Obama just continued the Bush Administration’s efforts. There is some validity to this argument (President Obama inherited the ongoing War on Terror and all that had been accomplished up to that point), but the specific intelligence that led to this raid was developed too recently to give Bush much of the credit, and despite some claims to the contrary, the information that led to the raid was not acquired through the “enhanced interrogations” carried out during the Bush Administration. To his credit, President Obama has indicated that President Bush deserves some of the credit, and even invited Bush to join him on a visit to ground zero (Bush declined the invitation). No amount of “spin” will change the fact that the killing of Osama bin Laden – perhaps the most significant single event of the War on Terror – occurred on President Obama’s watch and at his direction.
Credit for this success should be given to the intelligence community for obtaining and following up the information that led us to bin Laden, to the commanders who planned the details of the mission, and especially to the Navy Seals who carried out the raid, but credit must also be given to President Obama, who made the decision to send in troops rather than bombing the compound. There were immense risks. When President Carter sent a special operations force to try to get the 52 American Hostages out of Iran in 1980, the mission ended in an embarrassing disaster – 8 Americans died and the helicopters never even got to their destination. Had that mission succeeded in rescuing the hostages, President Carter would have looked like a genius; instead he looked like an idiot and America looked impotent. Had this operation met with similar disaster, President Obama would have looked no better. He must have been tempted to simply launch cruise missiles against the compound and be done with it. Had he done so, however, there would have been a debilitating uncertainty as to whether bin Laden had been successfully killed, and there would have been no way for us to get any intelligence information from the compound. Sending in troops was incredibly risky, but offered the chance for certainty (and even possibly taking bin Laden alive), as well as gaining a treasure trove of intelligence regarding al Queda. President Obama decided to take the risk, and it paid off. Not only was bin Laden successfully killed, the raid was carried out without a single American casualty. In addition, we got several computers, hard drives, and the like that are now being analyzed. One can only imagine what bin Laden had on his computer!
Sunday was a good day for America – a very good day indeed. The credit should be given where it is due.
UPDATE (5/6/2011): Today al Qaeda released a statement confirming that Osama bin Laden was in fact killed in the raid this past Sunday, and – big surprise – vowed revenge for his death. I guess we can stop waiting for that video of bin Laden holding today’s newspaper…

Got Him

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April 27, 2011: NOW Can We Focus on What’s Important???

The State of Hawaii today released President Obama’s long form birth certificate, which verifies once and for all that he was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on August 4th, 1961 – just as he has said all along, just as his “Certification of Live Birth” (aka “Short Form Birth Certificate” – a document which, by the way, satisfies the State Department requirements for proof of citizenship), which Obama publicly released (by posting it online) during the campaign back in 2008 – THE ONLY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE TO EVER DO SO – had already proven, and just as anyone with any semblance of common sense already knew. I have already addressed this issue, in full, so I’m not going to go into great detail about why this whole thing is so completely idiotic.
President Obama had decided to ignore the nutcases who have been pushing this (the media has dubbed them “birthers”), knowing full well that paying them any attention would only serve to, well, give them attention. He knew that these birthers would never let this go no matter what documentation he released. He acknowledged as much when he made today’s announcement: “I know that there’s going to be a segment of people for which, no matter what we put out, this issue will not be put to rest,” Obama told reporters from the White House podium. “We don’t have time for this kind of silliness. We have better stuff to do. I have better stuff to do.” “We’ve got some enormous challenges out there,” the president added, imploring the nation not to “get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers.”
This, of course, is a profound insult to carnival barkers everywhere.
Politically, I think President Obama was right to ignore the birthers until now because any Presidential attention to such nonsense would only lend it credence. This also allowed many of his most vocal critics to marginalize themselves by raising the birth certificate issue, which was largely seen as just another wacky conspiracy theory. Lately, however, Donald Trump – who is toying with the idea of running for the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination – has raised the issue almost daily and the mainstream media has been covering it, so President Obama decided to finally respond by releasing the long form certificate. Again, I think this is politically smart on President Obama’s part, because now Trump looks like a complete fool (which is not exactly a new development).
Soooo….

Now that the long-form birth certificate has been released, can we please move past this crap and start focusing on what matters? With an economic recovery struggling to catch hold, American military actively engaged in three middle-eastern countries, gas prices soaring, and a host of truly vexing and serious issues facing our nation, it seems to me that we have enough on our national plate without this sort of rubbish wasting our President’s – and everybody else’s – time.

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April 19, 2011: Whither the Tea Party?

Happy Birthday to the Tea Party Movement!
The Tea Party movement was born two years ago, on April 15th, 2009. That was the day of the Tax Day rallies in Washington DC and across the country, where thousands of people gathered to protest the fiscal policies of the Obama Administration, which had been in office for less than three months. While the Tea Party movement has been described as a “grassroots” movement, the truth is that the whole thing was organized and funded by some very wealthy and well-connected people (such as the Koch brothers and former Representative Dick Armey’s “Freedomworks” organization). The movement caught on in a big way and, it is argued, helped the Republicans take back the House of Representatives in the 2010 mid-term elections.
There is no question that the Tea Party movement fired up the Republican Party’s conservative base, which certainly helped them in those mid-terms, but I would argue that the overall impact was not to the benefit of the Republicans – I believe they would have taken the House anyway, and in fact, the Tea Party cost them the Senate.
Historically, the President’s party loses seats in both Houses of Congress in mid-term elections, and 2010 was not going to be an exception. With the economy struggling while the Democrats held the White House and majorities in both the House and the Senate, the Democrats really had no chance to have a good year. The Republicans were a near certainty to take back the House. Perhaps the Tea Party helped somewhat, but it was probably already a done deal.
In the Senate, the Republicans fell three seats short of pulling even with the Democrats (and four seats shy of winning a majority), and I can think of three 2010 Senate races which the Republicans lost but should have won – and would have won had not the Tea Party derailed their efforts.
The most obvious is Harry Reid’s seat in Nevada. Senate Majority Leader Reid was easily the most vulnerable Senator up for re-election in 2010, and the Republicans spent millions of dollars trying to defeat him. They would have easily done so had their candidate not been Sharon Angle, the Tea Party nutcase who won the Republican primary over much more mainstream Republicans like Sue Lowden. Ms. Angle made so many bizarre statements during the campaign (suggesting people could exchange chickens for medical services, telling a group of Latino students that they looked “Asian” to her, and so on) that Reid won by a comfortable margin.
Another obvious case was the Delaware seat that had been held by Joe Biden until he became Vice President. Ted Kaufman, a long-time aide to Biden, had been appointed to fill the seat until the 2010 election, and chose not to run. When Republican Mike Castle, a 9-term Congressman and former Governor, announced he would give up his House seat to run for the Senate, the Republicans were virtually assured of victory – especially after Beau Biden (Joe’s son and the state’s Attorney General) passed on the race. Then the unthinkable happened – in a stunning upset, Castle lost the Republican primary to Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell. O’Donnell proceeded to make Sharon Angle look downright sane, making a number of statements that made it obvious she was in over her head and was not ready to be a United States Senator. The Democratic candidate, Chris Coons, would have been easily defeated by Mike Castle; instead he pummeled Christine O’Donnell.
A third seat that the Republicans should have won was in Colorado. Ken Salazar had resigned from the Senate to become Secretary of the Interior in the Obama Administration, and Denver Schools Chief Michael Bennett was appointed to replace him. Bennett was a political neophyte, having never run for political office before the 2010 midterms, and was virtually unknown throughout the state. The Republicans made him a target, but were shanghaied when the Tea Party candidate, Ken Buck, won the Republican primary. Bennett was able to marginalize Buck with relative ease simply by emphasizing Buck’s own words, and won re-election to the Senate by a comfortable margin.
Nevada. Delaware. Colorado. Three seats where the Republicans had it made – until the Tea Party came along. Now the Democrats hold a 3-seat majority.
To be sure, there were Tea Party candidates who won, such as Marco Rubio in Florida and Rand Paul in Kentucky, both of whom defeated well-known “establishment” Republicans in the primary (Paul defeated Secretary of State Trey Grayson in Kentucky; Rubio defeated Governor Charlie Crist in Florida) . In both cases, however, those “establishment” Republicans would have won anyway, meaning the seats would have ended up Republican with or without the Tea Party.
Since the new Congress took office in January, the Tea Party has forced even moderate Republicans to lean heavily to the right, affecting everything from budget negotiations to the House schedule. Under the new Republican leadership, the House has spent the first three months of this session trying to repeal Health Care Reform, de-fund Planned Parenthood and National Public Radio (NPR), reaffirm “In God We Trust” as the national motto, declare English as the official language of the United States, and so on, and almost succeeded in shutting down the government. All of these were the result of pressure from the Tea Party contingent, who have threatened to “primary” those members of Congress who don’t bend to their will.
If you don’t believe that the Tea Party is driving the House Republicans’ agenda, ask yourself this question: Whatever happened to “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs”?
Tax Day 2011, aka the 2nd Birthday of the Tea Party movement, has now come and gone. Rallies were held across the country, but instead of thousands of people, most of the rallies had only a few hundred people show up (the one exception was the rally where Donald Trump was the headliner – they had a few thousand at that one). The most embarrassing one took place in Laguna Beach, California – only 12 people showed up. 12! That’s just pathetic, especially when compared to the size of the pro-union demonstrations that have taken place this year in Wisconsin, Ohio, and other states – demonstrations which went on for weeks, not just a single day. And Washington DC? They didn’t even bother to have a Tea Party rally in DC this year!
So whither the Tea Party? If it is such a powerful grassroots movement, where were the people? This was supposed to be their big show of strength, and it fizzled.
I believe the Tea Party movement was more hype than grassroots, and never had much real strength to begin with. Sure, there are still die-hards, but once the novelty wore off – and people saw what the Tea Partiers would do when they actually got into office – the popular support evaporated.
So what will this mean in 2012? It’s incredibly early to offer predictions (not that this would stop me), but I think the impact is clear – the Tea Party will be a non-factor in 2012, except in the sense that the punditry will expect them to be a major factor and will be surprised when that impact fails to materialize. With the House Republicans and the Republican Presidential candidates having been pulled to the extreme right by the Tea Party for the two years leading up to the election; with a bitter and crowded primary season necessary to find their Presidential candidate; and with President Obama able to hold off until the general election campaign before having to spend any of the money he is already raising (he is rumored to have set a fund-raising goal of $1 billion for his reelection campaign), I predict a Republican Party in shambles for the 2012 race. President Obama will win, and he will win big. The Democrats will take back the House, but the Republicans will probably gain a seat or two in the Senate due to the sheer number of Democrats facing re-election (23, compared to just 10 for the Republicans).
You read it here first.

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March 31, 2011: Will Someone PLEASE Give This Man
a Copy of the Constitution?

This never ceases to amaze me. Once again, a leading Member of Congress has demonstrated an embarrassing lack of understanding of the Constitution of the United States. I have written of such awkward moments before (eg: Bob Bennett and others on the Census and Congressional reapportionment and John Boehner confusing the Preamble to the Constitution with the Declaration of Independence), but yesterday’s example is the most egregious of all, because it belies a complete misunderstanding of the most basic components of the legislative process.
Yesterday (Wednesday, March 30th), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Ohio) held a press conference and announced that the Republicans would be introducing a piece of legislation on Friday (April 1st) called the “Government Shutdown Prevention Act of 2011”, which would require that, if the Senate did not act on the budget in time to prevent the looming government shutdown, then “HR 1 would become the law of the land”.*
What?!?
He’s kidding, right? Please tell me he’s kidding. Doesn’t the House Majority Leader know, as any high school civics student could tell him, that a bill has to be passed by both Houses of Congress and then signed by the President in order to become law?** There is simply no way under the Constitution of the United States of America for one House of Congress [in this case, the House of Representatives] to pass a bill [such as Cantor’s “Government Shutdown Prevention Act of 2011”] requiring that a second bill [such as HR 1, which has not yet been passed by the Senate] will become law simply by virtue of the other House [the Senate] failing to pass a third bill [the budget] – but this is precisely what Mr. Cantor says he is proposing. It is now fair to ask – has Representative Cantor ever read the Constitution? Does he even possess a copy? Did he ever take civics in high school or college? How the hell does someone serve as a Member of Congress for a decade, as Mr. Cantor has – much less hold a series of House leadership positions over the past 8 years, as Mr. Cantor has – and have such an outrageous misconception of how a bill becomes a law?
The Democrats were quick to pounce. On the House floor, Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Florida), who has just been named by President Obama as the new Chair of the Democratic National Committee, suggested that perhaps Members of Congress should be required to watch the Schoolhouse Rock classic “I’m Just a Bill” at the start of their next session, while Representative Anthony Weiner (D-New York) recommended the children’s book House Mouse, Senate Mouse by Peter W. Barnes which, he pointed out, was available in the Capitol gift shop, “and” he added with derision, “it rhymes!” Even some Republicans, such as the ultra-conservative Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), spoke out against the bill on grounds that it was blatantly unconstitutional.
Personally, I find it hard to believe that Mr. Cantor really believes his own words on this one. He just can’t be that stupid – whoops, I mean “misinformed about the legislative process” (sorry).
So what is really going on here?
My best guess is that the Republican House leadership, through Mr. Cantor, is pandering to the “Tea Party” segment of their political base. They know they will eventually have to reach a compromise on the budget with Senate Democrats and President Obama, and they know this will anger the Tea Party contingent. They also know that this bill would give them the political cover they need, allowing them to claim that they fought as hard as they could for a budget that would please the Tea Party groups. The only surprise about this is that the Republicans apparently think that their base is actually gullible enough to be hoodwinked so easily.
Frankly, I believe this will backfire on Mr. Cantor and the Republicans. At his press conference, Mr. Cantor specifically said that under this bill, “HR 1 would become the law of the land.” Anyone who pays enough attention to understand the designation “HR 1”* will quickly recognize this for the stunt that it clearly is, because they will know that both Houses have to pass a bill in order for that bill to become law. Nobody likes to have their intelligence insulted, especially publicly, and Mr. Cantor’s proposal has received a lot of attention (almost all of it negative) on the TV and radio talk shows.
Our nation needs leaders who take their responsibilities seriously, and who won’t engage in political games or obvious pandering – and who definitely won’t pull blatantly unconstitutional stunts like this.
UPDATE (April 1st, 2011): The “Government Shutdown Prevention Act of 2011” actually passed the House of Representatives today, by a vote of 221-202, with all Democrats and 15 Republicans voting against it. I wish I could tell you this was an April Fools Day joke…
UPDATE (April 2nd, 2011): President Obama and Congressional leaders reached an 11th-hour compromise on the budget last night, preventing a government shutdown, rendering the “Government Shutdown Prevention Act of 2011” moot, and avoiding the Constitutional “smackdown” that Mr. Cantor so richly deserves.
* “HR 1” indicates the first bill introduced in the House during any given legislative session (“HR” stands for “House Resolution”; bills introduced in the Senate carry the designation “SB, which stands for “Senate Bill”). This Congress’s “HR 1”, the “Full Year Continuing Appropriations Act”, is a bill that would continue federal government spending at 2010 levels for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year (and would therefore not include funding for any legislation that took effect on or after January 1, 2011 – including several provisions of the health care reform law). It was passed by the House in February but has not been passed by the Senate.
** There actually are two other ways a bill could become law: it could be vetoed by the President and then that veto could be overridden by a 2/3 vote of both Houses of Congress, or the President could take no action for 10 days after receiving the bill (excluding Sundays) during which Congress does not adjourn (this is called a “pocket veto”). However, both of these methods still require that the bill pass both Houses of Congress before being sent to the President.

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March 21, 2011: Getting It Right In Libya

The Obama Administration got this one absolutely right.

In the face of Moammar Gaddafi’s forces slaughtering civilian protesters with warplanes and helicopter gunships, and Gaddafi going on television with promises of more attacks on his own people, the Obama Administration resisted the call for the immediate unilateral implementation of a no-fly zone – which would have been a mistake for a variety of reasons – and instead did the hard work of diplomacy to build international support. Kudos have been – and should be – given to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her efforts in getting the unanimous support of the Arab League (except, of course, for Libya, whose envoy was not allowed to be in the room for the vote) and then the approval of the United Nations Security Council (including convincing both Russia and China to abstain rather than veto the resolution). This is now an international effort, with approval and even military support from Arab nations – a crucial point.

While American military power has certainly been brought to bear over Libya, we will ultimately not be leading this one. Britain and France are the two nations that have been in the forefront of this effort, and there are several other nations involved – Canada, Italy and Spain are among the other NATO nations taking part, and there are reports that “at least two” Arab nations are supporting the action. To be sure, American B-2 stealth bombers went in early to knock out Gaddafi’s radar, anti-aircraft batteries, command and control centers , military communication systems, and the like, and American Tomahawk Cruise Missiles were used in much the same way, but it is now expected that the other nations will take over command of the operation in the next few days.

Gaddafi can yell all he wants, but everyone knows this is not just America attacking Libya, it is an international effort to prevent the slaughter of Libyan civilians. Once again, thoughtful and persuasive diplomacy accomplished what knee-jerk chest-thumping would have screwed up – Arab support for a (primarily) Western military attack on an Arab country.

The bottom line is that President Obama got it right, and that is making the “If Obama did it, it must be wrong” crowd absolutely crazy. They are completely flummoxed as to how to respond, and the result is that their responses are all over the map. They have gone after him for everything from taking his family with him on his trade mission to Latin America (what – no other Presidents have ever done that?), to even going on the trade mission at all during a time of crisis (George W. Bush took more vacation time than any President in American history, bypassing Ronald Reagan’s record, yet we were at war through almost his entire Presidency), to not getting permission from Congress before taking action (this flies in the face of the neocon arguments for Presidential authority as Commander-in-Chief, and Obama has sent the legally required notifications to Congress. Besides, Congress is on vacation at the moment – unlike President Obama, who is on a trade mission working on behalf of American exporters). Some of them say he moved too fast (Haley Barbour), while others say he took too long (Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty). Some of them say we shouldn’t be involved at all (Ron Paul), while others say we should have been leading the effort all along (Lindsay Graham). Some of them say we should keep the mission limited (George Will), while others say we should take out Gaddafi (William Kristol). The striking lack of a clear set of talking points is highly unusual for the Republicans, and is a sure sign that the measured, level-headed and ultimately decisive actions of the Obama Administration have caught them completely off-guard.

Face it – President Obama got it right. Get used to it.

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February 23, 2011: Be Careful What You Ask For…

The recent unrest in North Africa and the Middle East has dominated the news since its beginnings in Tunisia, and rightly so – this may just be the most significant global development since the fall of the Soviet Union.
It all started in Tunisia, where popular uprisings ousted President Sine al-Abidene Ben Ali in January [UPDATE (2/27/11): In an attempt to ease tensions and aid the country in successfully holding elections by July 15th as promised, Tunisia’s Prime Minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, resigned today. Ghannouchi had served under President Ben Ali for 11 years and had taken control of the government following Ben Ali’s departure, but was regarded by many as having been too close to Ben Ali to satisfy the protesters.] This was followed by uprisings in several countries across the region, most notably in Egypt, where the Egyptian people were successful in forcing President Hosni Mubarak to step down on February 11th. Now the news is focused on Bahrain and – especially – Libya, where the respective governments have cracked down on protesters, prompting international outrage. The crackdown has been particularly egregious in Libya, where (depending on whose estimate you believe) as many as 1,000 people have been killed. The protesters are now believed to be in control of at least the eastern third of the country (and perhaps more), including the cities of Benghazi and Tobruk, with Muammar Gaddafi making what is likely to be his final stand in the capitol city of Tripoli. Other countries that have seen uprisings include Morocco, Algeria, Sudan, Jordan, Yemen, and Iran. This means that the unrest has spread all the way across North Africa, and has enveloped almost the entire Middle East. The few Middle Eastern countries that have not yet seen significant unrest – Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Kuwait – are bracing themselves for impact, and many have preemptively offered reforms in an attempt to avoid unrest in their countries. For example, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has announced housing and other reforms in the face of a “day of rage” planned for March 11th, and President Bashar-al-Assad of Syria has promised political reform and has lifted bans on Facebook and YouTube. [UPDATE (2/27/11): Uprisings have now begun to occur in Oman. According to Reuters news service, Omani police fired tear gas at stone-throwing protesters who were demanding political reforms in the city of Sohar today, and two demonstrators were killed. The news service also reported that protests are also taking place in the city of Salalah, where protesters have been camping out near the office of the provincial governor.]
[UPDATE (3/22/11): In addition to the countries listed above, uprisings have now occurred in Syria, Saudi Arabia, and the Palestinian Territories, and have intensified in Yemen and Bahrain. See the blog post of March 21st for updates on Libya.]
So what does this all mean? In my view, this is all good news. Fears that the ouster of long-time dictators in the region by the people they have ruled will somehow lead to radical extremists taking power are misplaced – these uprisings are not being led by radical extremists; rather, they are true uprisings of the general population, mostly young people, and are about freedom and self-determination, not about Islamic extremism. Watch the video footage yourself. You will see women in western clothes with their faces exposed, loudly speaking their minds – something that would never be allowed to happen among Islamic extremists. While the end result of the protests are by no means certain, I believe a far more likely outcome is that the region will end up being dominated by moderate secular governments that are chosen by the people through free and fair elections (international monitoring will probably be necessary to ensure the “free and fair” part).
“Pie in the Sky”? Perhaps – but still more likely than the “doom and gloom” scenario.
Think of it: moderate secular governments across North Africa and throughout the Middle East, combined with the already moderate governments in Turkey and the former Soviet Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan. Imagine what this could mean for our foreign policy concerns. Popular uprisings that bring about moderate secular governments would be Osama Bin Laden’s worst nightmare – a region-wide rejection of all he stands for. On the other hand, American ideals (governments deriving their just power from the consent of the governed, the right to free expression and peaceful assembly, and so on) taking root in a region that has inarguably been the most volatile region on earth has the potential to bring about a level of stability that has not existed in the Middle East for, well, ever, and that could only be good for us. This has not only been our dearest hope, something that America has sought for decades, but it is precisely what the Bush Administration argued would happen if Iraq became a stable democracy in the heart of the Middle East. In other words, this is exactly what we asked for. Remember when supporters of President Bush were arguing that a democratic Iraq would serve as a “beacon of democracy” that would spread throughout the region?
Well, guess what?
It’s happening, and it’s happening far faster and wider than even the most ardent of those supporters could have dreamed. Why is it then that many of those same supporters are now panicking about where this will lead? Glen Beck, for example, has become convinced (at least publicly) that this turn of events is just short of the apocalypse. He has been telling his followers that the extremists (such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt) are the only organized entity in the region and are certain to rise to power. I disagree, and Egypt is a perfect example of why. The Muslim Brotherhood is by no means the only organized entity remaining in Egypt – and in fact they’re not all that organized. The military is far more organized and is now running the country with the promise of free and fair elections in September. This is a military that receives more than one-fourth of its funding – and lots of advanced weaponry – from the United States as a result of the Camp David Accords, the peace treaty with Israel signed by Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Menachim Begin over 30 years ago. Mr. Beck has raised the specter of an impending Egyptian military attack on Israel as a virtual certainty, but this would be pure folly. There would be no benefit to the Egyptian military if they did so – in fact such an act would absolutely be against their own interest. They would not only lose the support of the United States (which they desperately need), they would have to face the combined wrath of America and Israel – a fight they would be sure to lose, and they know it. Besides, the protests that brought down Mubarak were not organized by the Muslim Brotherhood, they were organized by young people using social networking software, and those people did not go to all this trouble just to replace one form of tyranny with another. They have fought hard for this, and they are not about to accept a government that doesn’t truly represent them.
As for America’s ability to influence what is happening, there really isn’t that much we can do – not that this has stopped President Obama’s critics from complaining. In some cases, like that of Libya, our course is clear – we condemn the actions of Gaddafi in the strongest terms and stand with the Libyan people. In cases such as Bahrain, on the other hand, our course is not as clear, despite the government crackdown on the protesters. We certainly should stand by our ideals, and for this reason we support the demonstrators who want freedom and self-determination. On the other hand, King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa is a long-time US ally of strategic importance due to Bahrain’s location – about halfway up the Persian Gulf from the Strait of Hormuz, and because of this the US Navy’s 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain. This makes things a bit awkward for us, but we faced a similar situation in Egypt. Mubarak had been a strong US ally that had kept the peace with Israel and served as a moderate force in the region for over 30 years. The Obama Administration had to walk a very fine line between wanting to support the demonstrators and not wanting to throw a long-time ally under the bus (so to speak). Make no mistake – other allies around the world were watching very carefully to see if we would drop our support for Mubarak at the first sign of trouble. No matter how much we may have wanted to, we could not just walk away from our support of Mubarak. To have done so would have sent the clear signal to those other allies across the globe that our promises are worthless – that we wouldn’t “have their back” should trouble arise. This would affect negotiations on issues large and small, from free trade to military alliances and everything else. In international relations, our word truly is our bond, and we can never fail to honor that. In my view the Obama Administration walked that line very well during the protests in Egypt, and has handled the overall situation expertly. The Administration has made clear that we support the uprisings in principle, but are not abandoning our allies; rather we are encouraging our allies to enact needed reforms. There is also a certain amount of truth to the notion that overt American support – either real or perceived – for any proposal in the Middle East would immediately doom that proposal, and for that reason it was, and continues to be, essential that these demonstrations are true uprisings of the people, and are not seen as being orchestrated by the United States; to do otherwise would doom the demonstrations to failure. The Obama Administration has walked this tightrope with care, and has done as well as could have been hoped given the scope of the upheaval.
So, to all the naysayers and purveyors of gloom and doom, I say let’s see how this thing plays out before we paint the devil on the wall. This could work out very well for us.
UPDATE (3/9/2011): Mohamed AlBaradei, the former President of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a Nobel Peace Prize winner (in 2005), announced today that he intends to run for President of Egypt. Yesterday, Amr Moussa, an Egyptian diplomat who has served as the Secretary General of the Arab League since 2001, announced his intention to run. Both are good news for the United States – both have pledged continued peace with Israel, and neither could ever be regarded as an Islamic extremist.
UPDATE (3/12/2011): A full-blown civil war has broken out in Libya, with entire military bases – complete with their weaponry – defecting to the rebel cause, and forces loyal to Gaddafi pushing back with military air strikes. There have been calls for the United States to establish and enforce a “no-fly zone” over Libya to end these air strikes, but this would involve much more than President Obama simply telling Gaddafi to knock it off – this would involve American armed forces attacking anti-aircraft installations inside Libya, eliminating their command and control, and disrupting their military communications, not to mention flying patrols over Libya for an extended period (months or perhaps even years) to enforce the “no-fly zone”. In other words, this would involve active military involvement, with potentially deadly risk to American troops, in yet another Arab country – something we really don’t want to do. The Obama Administration has proceeded cautiously, making it clear that a “no-fly zone” would have to be sanctioned – and put into effect – by the United Nations, not just by the United States, there would have to be a legal basis for our intervention, and that the surrounding Arab countries would have to be amenable to the idea. Today brought us one step closer to that happening, when the Arab League unanimously gave its approval to an internationally-enforced “no-fly zone” over Libya (Libya, of course, did not have a vote – Gaddafi’s envoy was refused entrance to the Arab League’s meeting). The legal basis could easily be established on humanitarian grounds, given the massive number of casualties that have been wrought by the air strikes. That leaves the United Nations as the only remaining obstacle. Britain and France have been drafting a proposal for UN action to authorize the “no-fly zone”, but China and Russia aren’t so sure about this. Both nations buy a lot of oil from Libya, and both have “veto power” on the UN Security Council – meaning their voting “no” would kill the proposal (Britain, France and the United States also have this power). We should know more in the next few days…
UPDATE (3/18/11): The United Nations Security Council approved a resolution last night authorizing Britain and France – with US support and that of at least two Arab nations – to launch air strikes to enforce a “no fly zone” over Libya to protect the protesters who are fighting to oust Dictator Moammar Gaddafi. Combined with the approval of a UN-enforced “no-fly-zone” by the Arab League last week and the ongoing humanitarian crisis caused by Gaddafi’s air strikes against the rebels, this means the “no-fly-zone” has overcome the final obstacle and can be enforced as soon as the necessary assets are in place. In light of this, Gaddafi – who may be crazy (and cruel, and brutal, and deluded, and …) but isn’t stupid – declared an immediate “cease fire” in the country. Libya’s Foreign Minister, Moussa Koussa, said, “We decided on an immediate ceasefire and on an immediate stop to all military operations,” adding, “[Libya] takes great interest in protecting civilians.” You would be forgiven if that last line makes you spew your coffee all over your computer screen, because the “ceasefire” was never implemented – Gaddafi’s forces didn’t even slow down in Benghazi. Obviously, Gadaffi is more interested in protecting his own ass(ets) than protecting “civilians” (the rebels).
UPDATE (3/25/11): The President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, said today he would step down, but only if he could hand over power to “safe hands” (whatever that means). This comes just days after several top military and government figures, including Yemen’s top General, defected to the demonstrator’s side and called on Saleh to step down after government snipers killed about 50 protesters last Friday. Meanwhile, government forces have fired on protesters in several cities in Syria. In Amman, Jordan, government forces have cleared a protester’s camp. Protests also continue in Bahrain, where it has been reported that Saudi Arabian forces have come to the aid of King Khalifa.

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January 25, 2011: Higher Approval than Reagan?

Presidential approval ratings fluctuate all the time, and often reflect how the public views a President’s response to specific events. Nevertheless, it can be instructive to compare the approval ratings of different Presidents at equivalent points in their Presidencies, such as halfway through their first term in office – a point that President Obama has just reached. Despite all the right-wing talk of President Obama’s unpopularity, he is actually remarkably popular in comparison to how popular past Presidents were at this same point. Take a look at the following chart:

Presidential Approval at start of third year
One thing that stands out clearly is President George H. W. Bush’s rating of 86% – far higher than any other President on the chart at the start of their third year (and actually not his highest rating – he reached 91% at one point!). There are two things to remember about this, however. First, his 86% approval rating occurred during the same month (January of 1991) that the first Gulf War began, and the American people were rallying around their President. Second, President Bush went on to lose his bid for re-election less than two years later.

The next highest is President George W. Bush’s rating in January of 2003 – as President Bush was ramping up the preparations for the War in Iraq (we had already been in Afghanistan for more than a year). It was in that month’s State of the Union Address that President Bush made so many false and misleading statements about Saddam Hussein’s WMD’s (including the infamous accusation that Hussein had obtained uranium “yellowcake” from the African nation of Niger) that he would later be accused of “lying us into war”.

The highest approval rating of any President not named “Bush” in the past 30+ years is Barack Obama – in fact, he is the only other President with an approval rating above 50% at this point in their Presidency! Ronald Reagan, by comparison, had an approval rating of just 37% at the beginning of his third year in office, and was the only President with a disapproval above 50% at that point.

Don’t let the right-wing talk shows or tea party politicians fool you. President Obama is relatively popular right now – far more popular than the Republicans in Congress. When you hear them talk of “what the American people want” or how the government should “listen to the American people”, remember who REALLY has the approval of the American people.

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January 10, 2011: A SPECIAL NOTE FROM DAVE

In the wake of the tragic shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others in Tucson this past Saturday, there has been a rush to judgment going back and forth between the left and the right over just who is responsible for the “tone” of the last election which, according to their line of thought, somehow led to the Arizona shootings. The left has been quick to point to the map Sarah Palin posted on her Facebook page showing crosshairs over “targeted” districts – including Representative Gifford’s Arizona district, or to Mrs. Palin’s “Don’t retreat – reload” rhetoric, or to Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharon Angle’s talk of “2nd Amendment solutions”, while the right has been just as quick to point to President Obama’s talk of “hand-to-hand combat” in Washington, Vice President Biden’s comment that he would “strangle” Republicans, and on and on. I think everyone – on both sides – needs to step back, take a deep breath, and just calm down.
Jared Loughner’s shooting spree at Representative Giffords’ “Congress in your Corner” event was a tragedy that killed 6 people and wounded 14 others, and that is where the focus should be. It is completely inappropriate to try to “spin” this horrific incident for partisan gain. While the political discourse in this past election cycle undeniably reached a higher level of vitriol than usual, it simply is not known if this had any influence whatsoever on Jared Loughner. What is known is that Loughner is a very disturbed man with a history that would seem to indicate serious mental problems.
This should be a time for coming together, not for further division. Instead of trying to blame the political opposition, we should all be uniting to pray for the families of John Roll, Christina-Taylor Green, Gabriel Zimmerman, Dorwan Stoddard, Phyllis Schneck, and Dorothy Morris, and for the fast and full recovery of Representative Giffords and all of those wounded in the attack. Anything less would dishonor the victims of this tragedy.

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January 4, 2011: The Best Idea I’ve Seen Anywhere For Fixing The Economy

In my last blog post (“Going Back to Hamilton”, posted December 3, 2010), I argued that Reaganomics has been a disastrous 30-year experiment for anyone not among the richest 1% of Americans, and that we should consider going back to the 11-point plan first espoused by Alexander Hamilton and which had worked for the 190 years prior to the imposition of Reaganomics. I haven’t changed my mind on this, but I would have to concede the point that the United States unilaterally backing out of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the various free trade agreements (eg: NAFTA) and suddenly imposing 20% tariffs on imported goods would wreak havoc on both the domestic and the global economy.
The problem remains, however. American manufacturing needs to be restored. American jobs need to be created.
Perhaps there is another way.
The best idea I have seen – anywhere – on this issue comes from Jason Rosen at Balancing Act. In essence, his idea is to encourage American job growth and manufacturing through tax incentives at the consumer end of the cycle. Under his plan, consumers could earn tax credits by buying products that have been determined to promote American job growth. Basically, this would give American-made products an advantage over imported goods – without the upheaval that would be caused by the sudden imposition of tariffs. Services could also qualify for these tax credits, based on how much they grow the economy. A certification process would be established, and people would simply claim the tax credits on their annual income tax returns, just as they do now with other credits and deductions. This plan would avoid any question of Constitutionality – Congress’s power over the tax code is not in dispute – and an idea like this could find support on both sides of the aisle.
I contacted Jason and asked how he envisioned the implementation of his idea, and he provided more details:
“To answer your questions about how the tax policy would be carried out in real terms, I envision the following:
A department within the revenue service or as a separate agency, would be created to administer over this program. Once guidelines were established by law as to what business activity and what specific thresholds need to be met for businesses to qualify for the program the agency would be charged with assisting businesses with the qualifying process.
With guidelines established, businesses would then apply to this department to qualify their product or service for a variable tax credit status for their consumers. Businesses would be encouraged to demonstrate how they will add jobs and contribute to the economy. The better this is demonstrated the better the tax credit would be for their customers. Once a business was qualified based on their merits, the agency would then issue a renewable registration or certificate. The business would then place this registration number on their receipts. At tax time, consumers would then show their qualified purchases on the Federal return to receive a credit on their tax liability. The businesses would report their sales as they typically do including qualified sales.
For businesses that do not sell directly to consumers would also be able to participate as there would be provisions in the code to allow for direct investment in terms of job creation or by adding jobs to the completed product or services that are ultimately resold. This would give companies incentive to use qualifying vendors to help them qualify for the program.
Businesses would then be able to use the tax credit program as a way to encourage patronage. Consumers would be encouraged to shop from businesses that actually contributed to the community in the form of job creation and consumers would be able to choose their effective tax rate by deciding to make qualifying purchases or opting out by simply putting their money to work in the market or other savings vehicles.
While it may be difficult to do with food products due to the small dollar value, farmers and agricultural businesses would be able to qualify for tax credits by creating more employment and producing domestic products.
I don’t distinguish between farming, manufacturing and service sector as all jobs are important. The important thing is that create a progressive tax system that is fair and encourages economic growth. The problem with the tax system now is that the tax rates are not validated by real results. The premise of “Trickle Down” simply doesn’t work because there are no conditions placed on the tax rates. At least this way there would be some rationale behind running up the deficit and giving the wealthiest 2% a discount on their taxes.”
Clearly, Jason has put a lot of thought into this idea. We need good ideas right now, and Jason’s idea is a potentially great one. I strongly encourage you to visit Balancing Act and read his article – and then write your Representatives and Senators and encourage them to visit the site as well.

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December 3, 2010: Going Back to Hamilton

The numbers are in. They are irrefutable, and there is no legitimate case for interpreting them any differently than this – “Trickle-Down Economics” (aka “Reaganomics”) doesn’t work.
Perhaps I should clarify. Reaganomics works extraordinarily well if you happen to be in the richest 1% of the population. It is the “trickle-down” part that doesn’t work.
The numbers are staggering. First there were the obscene Wall Street bonuses of $144 billion – bonuses that will go to the same people whose reckless and irresponsible behavior crashed the economy and whose companies only survived at all because they were bailed out by the taxpayers. Then there was the report that the highest-earning 1% of the population now earn about 24% of the total income earned in the United States, triple the 8% of the total income that the top 1% were earning in 1981. The additional 16% of the total income that now goes to the top 1% has come entirely at the expense of the middle class – in other words, the wealth has not “trickled down” at all. Instead, over the past 30 years we have seen a redistribution of wealth away from the middle class and into the hands of the richest people in the country. Now comes the news that the 3rd quarter of 2010 (July, August, and September) saw the highest corporate profits in recorded history. This is the final nail in the coffin for Reaganomics.
According to Reaganomics, enriching the upper echelon will cause them to hire more employees, stimulating economic activity across all economic levels and creating a rising tide that will lift all boats. In other words, the wealth will “trickle down”. George H. W. Bush famously called this “Voodoo Economics”, and he was right (he was running against Ronald Reagan in the Republican Presidential primaries at the time; he would later become Reagan’s running mate and go on to succeed him as President). Reaganomics has been put into practice for 30 years now (including the 8 years of the Clinton Administration; President Clinton took things even further with NAFTA and other free trade agreements), and the evidence is clear – there is no “trickle-down” effect. The rich have just become richer, and they have done so at the expense of the middle class.
For those die-hard believers among you, I have a question: if “Trickle-Down” economics works, WHERE ARE THE JOBS? How is it possible that corporate America is making more money than ever before, but unemployment remains stuck at almost 10%? Reaganomics doesn’t predict such a scenario – instead it predicts that if corporate America is riding so high, they should be hiring like mad. But they’re not hiring, proving beyond any doubt that Reaganomics is, quite simply, wrong.
So what does this mean? First, in the short term, the Republican arguments for continuing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans are clearly off the mark. Reality has now demonstrated that the money will not trickle down – continuing those tax cuts will instead become a $700 billion taxpayer bailout for the wealthiest Americans. Here’s another point: why do we need to continue the same policies that have been in place for the last decade (the Bush tax cuts) in order to get corporate America to change its behavior (hire more workers)? It’s nonsensical to argue that corporations will change their behavior if and only if we keep their tax rates exactly the same as they have been. Keeping things the same won’t change anything. Furthermore, employers – especially small businesses – don’t decide whether or not to hire an employee based on tax rates, they base that decision on whether or not they will make a profit off of that employee’s labor. That’s just common sense.
In the long run, we need to take a serious look at our economic policy. The implementation of “Reaganomics” began in 1981, and has continued unabated for 30 years. Here are the results of this 30-year experiment:
• In 1981, the United States was the world’s largest creditor nation; we are now the world’s largest debtor nation.
• In 1981, our national debt was about $1 trillion; it is now almost $14 trillion. Of the additional $13 trillion, $9 trillion was incurred during Republican presidential administrations.
• In 1981, the United States was the world’s largest exporter of manufactured goods; we are now the world’s largest importer of manufactured goods.
• As noted above, in 1981 the top 1% earned about 8% of all income earned in America; the top 1% now earns about 24% of the total income – meaning their share of America’s wealth has tripled in 30 years, all at the expense of the middle class.
This much is obvious – Reaganomics has been a disaster, and we need to look for something else. We don’t have to look far – I believe our own history holds the answer.
During colonial times, there was little manufacturing in America – the colonists had to buy goods and merchandise manufactured in England and elsewhere in the British Empire. When George Washington was inaugurated as our first President in 1789, he asked his Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, to outline an economic policy that would promote manufacturing in this country. Hamilton’s plan, consisting of 11 points, was enacted and remained in place for 190 years (until it was replaced by “Reaganomics” beginning in 1981), during which the United States grew from a developing economy to the most powerful nation on earth. Clearly, Hamilton’s plan worked. Perhaps we should consider going back to it.
Read about Hamilton’s 11 points here (excerpted from Rebooting the American Dream by Thom Hartmann – you’ll have to scroll down a bit):
Going back to the policies that were in place for 190 years prior to the implementation of “Reaganomics”, and which made us the world’s most powerful economy, would be difficult, to say the least – but then, most worthwhile things are. It would require the United States to pull out of several “free-trade” agreements (eg: NAFTA), the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and the World Trade Organization (WTO) – no easy task – and instead re-institute protective tariffs. The alternative, however, is unthinkable: continued growth of the national debt, an ever-widening gap between rich and poor, the virtual elimination of the middle class, the continued outsourcing of jobs, and an economy based almost entirely on the service industry. We would essentially go back to a feudal society, with serfs and lords. It would be impossible for the United States to compete globally with rising economies like China and India, or even the Europe Union. If we were to eliminate Reaganomics and re-institute tariffs at the levels that existed prior to 1981, however, manufacturing plants would begin re-opening almost immediately, creating a massive number of jobs, restoring the middle class to its former strength, and spurring the economy to new heights.
It’s a radical suggestion, I admit, but I believe it is the only way to bring us back to what we should be – the world’s most powerful economy. It’s worth thinking about.

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November 10, 2010: The Expiring Bush Tax Cuts – Who To Blame And
What To Do About It

This Monday, the 111th Congress will begin its “lame duck” session – and in this case, the term “lame duck” truly applies. The Democrats still hold a substantial lead in the House, and 58 seats in the Senate. The ball is still in their court, so to speak. All of that will change, of course, when the just-elected 112th Congress takes their seats in January.

There are a number of items Congress will consider during the “lame duck” session, such as a Defense Authorization bill that could include a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, and immigration reform (the DREAM Act), but none have gotten the attention that has been given to the issue of the expiring Bush Tax Cuts. If Congress fails to do anything on this issue, the tax cuts will indeed expire, and taxes will go up – but let’s be clear who’s to blame for this.

The Bush Tax Cuts were passed in 2001 and 2003 by a Congress controlled by the Republicans, and signed into law by a Republican President. Those laws creating those tax cuts included the expiration date of December 31, 2010 – meaning that Republicans (including John Boehner and Mitch McConnell) voted to end the tax cuts on that date. In other words, the Republicans voted for a tax increase to take effect on January 1st, 2011. This impending tax increase – which, again, WILL happen if no bill is passed during the “lame duck” session – was set in motion by the Republicans – not the Democrats.

Both parties, however, claim to want to extend the Bush Tax Cuts, so why is the impending tax increase still “impending”? The reason is simple – Democrats only want to extend the tax cuts for the first $200,000 in annual income for individuals and $250,000 for families (98% of Americans fall at or below this income level), while the Republicans want to extend the tax cuts for all income levels. Democrats argue that giving the continued tax cuts to incomes over $200,000 will add $700 billion to the deficit over the next 10 years (which, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, is true), while Republicans argue that raising taxes on the richest 2% will be a “job-killer” (which is debatable at best – it is small business that creates the most jobs, not the super-rich – and don’t forget who voted this tax “increase” into law in the first place).

Perhaps some perspective is needed here. Take a look at the chart below. The numbers in the “Average cut ($) per taxpayer under each plan” column represent actual dollars (not hundreds or thousands of dollars) that would be saved by the average taxpayer in each income level, when compared to what they would pay if the tax cuts expire for everyone. This graphic is taken from the Washington Post:

Bush Tax Cut Impact 2
As you can see, the two plans yield virtually identical results, except for the two highest income brackets. Americans who make less than $200,000 will, on average, fare the same or slightly better (by $76 or less per year) under the Democratic plan, while those with incomes between $200,000 and $500,000 will do better with the Republican plan (but by an average of just $409 per year). Those with incomes over $500,000 – and especially those making a million dollars or more – will do far better (I would say obscenely so) under the Republican plan. As the chart clearly indicates, the Democrats are absolutely correct when they say that the Republicans are holding middle-class tax cuts hostage to benefit the very wealthy – the two plans are virtually identical for incomes up to $200,000, and not even that far off for incomes up to $500,000. It is only the seriously rich who would see any real difference.
One piece of information that has not been communicated well by the Democrats – a common problem for them lately – is that even those in the highest income brackets would see their tax cuts extended for the first $200,000 of income – it is only for income earned over and above the $200,000 that the tax rates would go up under the Democratic plan (this is why the tax savings under the Democratic plan are so close for all incomes over $200,000). For instance, if someone makes $250,000, they would pay the lower tax rates on $200,000 and the higher rates on just the remaining $50,000 – and even what they had to pay on the $50,000 would be paid at the rates that were in place during the Clinton Administration – a time when the economy was booming and the budget had a record surplus.
This is a political win-win for the Democrats – it still drives me crazy that they didn’t force this issue before the elections – and they should use the power they still hold to get it done. The Republicans, however, will undoubtedly try to hold out until January, when they will take control of the House of Representatives, and try to pass their plan then. They should remember, however, that the Democrats will still control the Senate and hold the White House. The Republicans made dramatic gains in the elections, but they fell short of being in a position to set the agenda without compromise.
How will this end? Time will tell. For me personally, either plan would give me virtually the same tax rate, and it wouldn’t even be that much of a hit if neither plan passed and the tax cuts expired – so rest assured this isn’t about my own taxes. Nevertheless, my vote is for the Democratic plan. We simply can’t afford another $700 billion in what would amount to a give-away to the super rich – who, by the way, are doing just fine, thank you very much. Consider this: When President Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, the richest 1% of Americans earned about 8% of all income earned in America. In 2007 (the last year for which data is available), the richest 1% earned almost 24% of all income earned. In other words, the richest Americans have tripled their share of the wealth in America over the last three decades – and this has all come at the expense of the middle class. A strong middle class is what has made this country great in the past, and a strong middle class is what is needed to make this country even greater in the future. We need a plan that will strengthen the middle class, not a plan that will continue the redistribution of wealth away from the middle class and into the hands of the richest among us.

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November 3, 2010 – A Good Night for Republicans, a Not-Too-Horrible Night for Democrats

As I wrote in my last blog entry, this was always going to be a year that favored Republicans, and the Republicans did indeed have a good night last night. As expected, they took over the House of Representatives. I had predicted they would pick up between 40 and 45 seats in the House, but they did better than that; they picked up at least 60 seats (as of this writing, 12 seats remain too close to call). The Democrats didn’t just lose conservative seats they had won in the last two elections – they lost some long-serving and powerful members, including Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt of South Carolina (first elected in 1982), Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton of Missouri (first elected in 1976), and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar of Minnesota (first elected as part of the “Watergate” class in 1974). The Democrats did win the two seats I specifically mentioned in my last blog entry (Delaware’s at-large seat, which had eluded them in the last two elections, and Louisiana’s 2nd district), and they took back Hawaii’s 1st District (which they had recently lost in a special election with two strong Democratic candidates splitting the vote), but there is no getting around the fact that this was, to use President Obama’s term, a “shellacking” (remarkably similar to George W. Bush’s term from 2006, a “thumpin”).

In the Senate, I had predicted the Republicans would see a net gain of 2 seats; they gained at least 6: Arkansas, Illinois (an especially symbolic victory – this was Barack Obama’s former Senate seat), Indiana, Kentucky, North Dakota, and Wisconsin – with the Democrats unable to take any seats from the Republicans. The Senate results could have been much worse for the Democrats, but this is still a bit of a “shellacking”.

As I am writing this, there are still three Senate seats that have not yet been called – Alaska, Colorado, and Washington. In Alaska, “write in” won the election with 41% of the vote, with the Sarah Palin stand-in, Joe Miller, in second place at 34% (the Democratic candidate, Scott McAdams, finished with 24%). The only major write-in candidate was the incumbent in the race, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, who lost the Republican primary to Miller. We will have to wait and see if she has, in fact, won (all 81,876 of those write-in votes now have to be individually opened and read, and there is some question as to the amount of leeway the voters will have in attempting to spell “Murkowski” correctly), but I suspect she has been re-elected.

In Colorado, Democrat Michael Bennet, who was appointed to fill the seat when Senator Ken Salazar became the Secretary of the Interior, is leading Republican Ken Buck by just 7,516 votes – well within the margin that would automatically trigger a recount, so we may not know the final results here for several days.
[UPDATE (11/4/2010): Many news organizations organizations have projected that Michael Bennet will win this race, but it has not yet been made official.]

In Washington, incumbent Democratic Senator Patty Murray is ahead by 14,005 votes, which may be enough of a margin to avoid the automatic recount. We will probably learn the final result later today. [UPDATE (11/4/2010): Dino Rossi conceded today, making it official that Patty Murray has been re-elected.]

The Democrats do have reason to cheer, however. They held on to the West Virginia seat that had been held for so long by the late Robert Byrd, they held California’s seat, and, perhaps most significantly, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid – who had been heavily targeted by the Republicans – held on to defeat tea party favorite Sharron Angle (who bragged in her concession speech that over 80% of the money she raised had come from out of state).
The end result is that Congress will now be split, with the Republicans controlling the House of Representatives and the Democrats controlling the Senate.  This leads to many questions about the next two years.
What happens now? The Republican leadership has already said they now have a “mandate to roll back health care reform”. The problem for them is that any such “roll back” would have to get through the Senate (not likely) and, if they somehow manage that, they would need to override an almost certain veto from President Obama (which requires a two-thirds vote in both Houses – there is absolutely no chance of this happening). The same is true for the rest of their agenda. To be sure, beginning January 3rd, the Republicans will have the ability to push whatever they want through the House of Representatives. This does not mean they will be able to get their agenda enacted. The Senate will remain in Democratic hands – albeit with a smaller margin – and the Democrats have made it clear that there is no way the Republican agenda will survive there. Don’t forget – it was the Republicans who made it impossible to pass anything in the Senate without 60 votes (remember when filibusters were rare?), and the bills that will be coming out of the Republican House simply will not be able to get the now-required 60 votes. Period. Although President Obama made overtures to the Republicans to work together in his press conference this morning, many Republicans have made it clear they have no intention of compromising with President Obama or the Congressional Democrats on anything. If the Republican House simply refuses to pass anything President Obama proposes, and the Senate refuses to pass anything the House passes, what will result is complete gridlock.
Will the Republicans spend the next two years investigating President Obama? There has been a lot of talk about investigations into many aspects of the Obama Administration, including such pressing matters as President Obama’s birthplace and what those on the right call the “scientific fraud” of global climate change. While these are mostly tea party plans – Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota has promised to introduce legislation to start many of these investigations – there are more “responsible” investigations planned as well. Representative Darrell Issa of California, who will soon be the Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has already announced (this morning!) the first four subpoenas he plans to issue in the investigation he will pursue into the economic collapse (he says this will also entail investigating the Bush Administration). Will soon-to-be Speaker of the House John Boehner allow all of these investigations to go forward, just the “responsible” ones, or none at all?
How much sway will the tea party have among House Republicans? One potential measure of this could come very quickly – Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, the House Republican Conference Chairman and long considered a “rising star” in the Republican Party, has announced he will step down from the Chairmanship of the Republican Conference (the fourth most powerful position in the Republican Leadership), saying “my family and I have begun to look to the future”, fueling speculation that he is planning a Presidential run in 2012. There is already a battle brewing to replace him – tea party favorite Michele Bachmann of Minnesota wants the job, as does Representative Jeb Hensnarling of Texas, who is close to soon-to-be House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and the Republican establishment. Several of the tea partiers believe the tea party deserves a spot among the Republican leadership, and it will be interesting to see what happens here. This could well become the first “tea party vs. establishment” battle of the new Congress, perhaps the first of many. Will we see a civil war within the Republican Party, or will they be able to maintain party discipline?
Will the tea partiers put their ideology ahead of reality? One of the first votes the new Congress will have to take in January is to raise the debt limit. Will the tea partiers fight this? Will Kentucky’s new Senator, Rand Paul, who seems to be someone who stands on principle no matter what anyone else thinks, filibuster this? If the debt limit is not raised by a specific time on a certain day (the moment when borrowing, which is literally increasing every second of every day, would exceed the limit), the United States goes into default on its debt, causing instantaneous economic havoc worldwide. Lowering spending and reducing the debt were among the key tenets of the tea party platform – will they stay true to their ideals, or will they face reality and “tow the line”?
In other words, What happens now?
My money is on complete gridlock and investigations.

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October 25, 2010 – Why the Tea Party May Be the Best Thing The Could Have Happened This Year… for the Democrats!

This was always going to be a year that favored Republicans. Historically, the first midterm election during any Presidential administration results in the President’s party losing seats in both Houses of Congress, and there was no reason to suspect that this time would be any different. This was exacerbated by the fact that the Democrats were coming off two election cycles (2006 and 2008) in which they won virtually every seat that was reasonably within their reach, including many seats that would normally be considered Republican (there are two obvious exceptions: the “At-Large” seat in Delaware remained Republican because it was held by Mike Castle, one of the most popular politicians from either party in that state, and the 2nd District in Louisiana, which is currently held by Republican Joseph Cao, who won the seat after Congressman William Jefferson – the guy caught with $90,000 in marked bills hidden in his freezer, having already been caught on videotape accepting those same marked bills as a bribe – was convicted of corruption. The Democrats are expected to win both of these seats this year. The fact that there are only these two make it clear that they are the exception that proves the rule). What is left is a large class of Democratic Representatives in the House, in their first or second terms and not yet entrenched, representing largely conservative districts, heading into a midterm election during a Democratic administration. It was almost pre-ordained that the Democrats would lose seats.

The question – to be answered next week – has become how many seats the Democrats will lose. When the health care bill, the stimulus package, and the bank bailout – all of which remain unpopular – are added to continued high unemployment, there was every reason to think this year would see a tidal wave of victories for the Republicans. That was the storyline for this midterm season, but it was not to be.

Enter the Tea Party.

The big story so far this election season has been the many stunning primary upset victories of the Tea Party over Republican “establishment” candidates. Even many of the Tea Party candidates that did not win the primaries forced the establishment candidates into tough primaries that drained precious resources from their campaigns that could have been saved for the general election. Candidates like Joe Miller in Alaska , Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, Sharon Angle in Nevada, Rand Paul in Kentucky, and others have created absolute chaos within the Republican Party. The Delaware Senate seat formerly held by Vice President Joe Biden, for example, was certain to go to the Republicans – until Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell defeated the aforementioned Mike Castle in the primary. The Delaware seat is now certain to remain Democratic. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada was almost certain to be defeated – until Tea Party candidate Sharon Angle won the Republican primary. While Senator Reid is certainly not out of the woods just yet, he is probably going to be re-elected now. The open Senate seat in Kentucky was certain to go to the Republicans, especially in a year like this – until Tea Party candidate Rand Paul won the Republican primary. The race is now considered a “Toss-Up”…in Kentucky! In a strong Republican year, Kentucky should be in the bag for the Republicans, but instead it will go down to the wire. Why? The answer is simple – the Tea Party. There are several other examples (Ken Buck of Colorado & Ron Johnson of Wisconsin in Senate races, several candidates for the House, and some for Governor)

Make no mistake – the Democrats will lose seats in both Houses next week, but thanks to the Tea Party, those losses will be less than they could have been. If they retain control of either House, they will have one group to thank – the Tea Party movement!

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September 24, 2010 – The Spinelessness of Congressional Democrats

There has been much fear mongered and much anger expressed over the “tax increase” that will take effect on January 1st, 2011 – in fact, I have received a few of these emails myself. The emails at least have part of the story straight – if nothing is done, the tax rates will indeed go up. Where these emails have it wrong is who is to blame for this. These emails heavily imply – usually without explicitly saying so – that this impending tax increase was put into place by President Obama and the Democratic Congress, and this is simply incorrect.
Here’s the “inconvenient truth”, in three parts:
First, the impending tax hike was voted into law – twice – by a Republican Congress and signed into law by a Republican President. The coming tax hikes are actually the expiration of the “Bush Tax Cuts” that were passed in 2001 and 2003 – a time when Republicans controlled Congress – and were signed, of course, by President George W. Bush. Included in the Republican-authored legislation that created those tax cuts – in both 2001 and 2003 – was the expiration date of December 31st, 2010. When the Republicans voted to approve these bills, they were in fact voting to end the tax cuts – in other words, they were voting to raise taxes– as of January 1st, 2011. Among those who voted for the coming tax increase back then were the current Republican leaders in both houses, Representative John Boehner of Ohio and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Now these same Republicans are up in arms because, well, pick a cliché – they are reaping what they have sewn, their chickens have come home to roost, they made their bed and now they have to sleep in it, and so on (maybe the chickens came home to roost, and crapped in the Republicans beds instead?). The bottom line is that it was Republicans who voted to raise your taxes on January 1st – not the Democrats, and it certainly was not President Obama (he was serving in the Illinois State Legislature at the time).
Second, not only did President Obama and the Democrats in Congress not cause this impending tax increase – they are trying to prevent the tax increase from happening by making the tax cuts permanent for everybody for incomes up to $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for married couples – which covers 98% of the American people. Even people who make more than this – the top 2% of Americans – would still get the permanent tax cut on the first $200,000 of their income ($250,000 for married couples). They would only see tax rates increase for that part of their income that exceeded these amounts, and even that higher income would only be taxed at the rates that existed when President Clinton left office – a time when the economy was booming and the federal budget had a surplus.
Third, the only reason the impending January 1st tax increase is still “impending” is that efforts by Congressional Democrats and President Obama to stop the increase have been blocked by Republicans in the Senate. The Republicans are actually threatening to filibuster tax relief for 98% of Americans, and are holding out for tax breaks for the richest 2%.
In terms of policy, the Democratic approach is eminently logical. As the economy continues to recover, it is essential that the 98% of Americans who would benefit from the President’s proposal keep their lower tax rates. It is just as essential, however, that we not spend $700 billion (the cost over the next ten years of extending the tax cuts to those with incomes exceeding $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for married couples) on yet another give-away to the wealthiest 2% of Americans. That money would be better spent on deficit reduction and infrastructure improvements.
The argument that letting the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthiest 2% of Americans is somehow “unfair” to them is simply ridiculous. Recent statistics show that the top 1% earned almost 24% of the total income earned by all Americans in 2007 – almost triple the share of income earned by the top 1% when Ronald Reagan took office in 1981. Quite frankly, those in the top 2% are doing just fine, thank you very much. This gain in the share of wealth (dare I say “redistribution of wealth”?) in favor of the richest Americans over the past 30 years is the direct result of the so-called “trickle-down” economic theory that came to be known as “Reaganomics”. [Other results of “Reaganomics” include turning America from the world’s largest creditor nation to the world’s largest debtor nation, turning us from the world’s largest exporter of manufactured goods to the world’s largest importer of manufactured goods, giving us the largest gap between rich and poor of any major industrialized nation on earth, and dual-income families becoming not just the norm, but a necessity for the financial survival of most middle-class families.]
In political terms, this was a no-brainer. Polls indicate that a substantial majority of Americans (well over two-thirds in most polls) want to end the tax cuts for the rich, but want to keep their own tax rates low – exactly the position being proposed by President Obama and the Congressional Democrats. John Boehner, the House Minority Leader, even stated on a recent Sunday talk show (I believe it was Face the Nation) that he would vote for the Democratic proposal if he had no other choice. Other Republicans – particularly in the Senate – had said they would oppose continuing the tax cuts for 98% of Americans if the bill did not also give that $700 billion to the wealthiest 2%. The Democrats could have argued that they were fighting for the middle class tax cuts, but that they were thwarted by Republicans who are holding middle class tax cuts hostage in favor of a $700 billion give-away to the rich. The spin would have written itself.
Much to my utter dismay, however, the Senate Democrats – and especially Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid – proved themselves to be just as spineless as their worst critics have claimed. These gutless wonders have decided to delay any vote on this issue until after the election, and House Democrats have refused to hold a vote on something the Senate isn’t going to vote on before the election. The Democrats had this issue handed to them on a silver platter, and instead of taking advantage of this opportunity to salvage something in the coming midterm elections, they have chosen to give the benefit on this issue back to the Republicans, who can now rightfully claim that everybody’s taxes are scheduled to go up in January, and that the Democrats – who, if you needed to be reminded, control both Houses of Congress – have failed to do anything to stop it!
Unbelievable! In my opinion, if Harry Reid manages to win re-election (which is certainly not a sure thing, but his chances improved dramatically when Sharon Angle became the Republican nominee), he should immediately be replaced as Majority (Minority?) Leader. The Democrats need a leader in the Senate who has something resembling a backbone (Chuck Schumer of New York leaps to mind) and Senator Reid simply doesn’t have one.
Even some relatively sensible Democratic Senators, such as Diane Feinstein of California, argue that delaying the vote is smart politics because the Republicans might use advertising that “mischaracterizes” the vote in the weeks leading up to the elections (presumably the term “mischaracterizes” refers to the Republican argument that not including the top 2% in the continued lower tax rates would mean the Democrats voted for a “tax increase”). Does Senator Feinstein honestly think that the Republicans won’t use advertising on this issue anyway? Of course the Republicans will run ads. So should the Democrats. This process is called “politics”.
So, out of sheer frustration, I offer the following advice to Democrats (although it is probably too late to help in November):
First, don’t be afraid to “punch back” in an election campaign. Make no mistake – the Republicans will throw their fair share of punches (and then some). The Democrats should match them punch for punch. The decision to delay a vote on the tax cuts is just gutless and pathetic. Come on, Democrats – show some backbone!
Second, don’t be afraid to stand for something in a campaign, and don’t be afraid to brag about your accomplishments. For example, the first key provisions of the Health Care Reform bill took effect this week. Where was the fanfare? Where was the crowing? There should have been at least some acknowledgement that these provisions – many of them extremely popular – are now in effect. The Democrats did nothing to mark the occasion, apparently afraid to remind voters that they passed Health Care Reform. This is a mistake. To the extent that voters have any respect for politicians at all (an iffy proposition to begin with), they respect those that stand on principle. What voters don’t respect is a politician who tests the political winds before taking a position on an issue. This tax cut issue was another perfect example, and the Democrats just blew it.
Third, the Democrats need to get over the idea that the election campaign starts after Labor Day in an election year. What have they been waiting for? Why do they continue to allow the Republicans to monopolize the political news for the entire month of August? One of the main lessons that should have been learned from the 2008 election is that the election cycle is much longer now. President Obama campaigned for almost two full years before November of 2008 (he announced his candidacy in February of 2007). The Republicans started campaigning for the 2010 midterm elections well over a year ago, but the Democrats have just now begun to campaign. Had they started a year ago (like the Republicans did), and with the same level of intensity as the Republicans, the Democrats would be facing a far more favorable outlook in November.
Will Rogers once famously said, “I belong to no organized political party – I am a Democrat”. I doubt even he would have thought that the Democrats weren’t just disorganized, but were spineless as well. The Democrats have dug their own grave on this one, and in my view are about to pay the price for their own spinelessness. The image I get in my mind to describe the Congressional Democrats as they head into the upcoming midterms is that of the Democrats cowering in the corner, hands and arms shielding their heads, wailing “Please don’t hurt me!” If this is their idea of “leadership”, then they deserve whatever happens in November.

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June 24, 2010 – President Obama’s “Truman-MacArthur” Moment

President Obama has just faced a “Truman-MacArthur” test – and he passed with flying colors! When Rolling Stone magazine (Really? Rolling Stone?) published an article quoting General Stanley McChrystal (the commander of our forces in Afghanistan) and several members of his staff making disparaging, contemptuous and openly disrespectful comments about President Obama, Vice President Biden, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, special envoy Richard Hollbrook, and other key members of the Obama Administration, President Obama had no choice but to fire General McChrystal. It was the right decision, and General David Patraeus was the best possible choice as McChrystal’s replacement.
According to a statement issued by Rolling stone, General McChrystal was even given the opportunity to review the article before it was published – and he raised no objections! General McChrystal has not denied this, which makes this entire situation all the more maddening. The General had to know better than this. The published comments (his own and those of his staff) were clearly beyond the pale. He knew (or at least, he should have known) that they would cause controversy at home in the midst of a war overseas. This kind of distraction could only harm the war effort he was assigned to lead, and by extension, harm the troops under his command. This is unforgivable. He left President Obama no option other than removing him from command. His error in judgment has now cost him his job and his reputation – and deservedly so.
The selection of General David Patraeus to replace General McChrystal has been met with what could only be described as relief – both here at home and around the world. General Patraeus was the obvious choice, and his selection serves as an indication of President Obama’s determination to see the Afghanistan war to a successful conclusion.

The Constitution of the United States clearly mandates civilian control of the military – the President is designated as the Commander-in-Chief, and Congress is given the power to declare war, raise and support the army, provide and maintain the navy, and to make the rules for governing and regulating the military. This constitutional mandate is one of the many ideas that have provided incredible stability in our form of government for over 200 years. Our military forces have a proud tradition of serving under civilian leadership and of respecting the chain of command all the way up to those civilian leaders.

Back during the Korean War, General Douglas MacArthur thought he was untouchable and openly criticized President Harry Truman’s handling of that conflict (considering the fact that we are STILL in Korea, perhaps MacArthur was right, but that is a subject to be pursued elsewhere. Regardless, MacArthur was wrong to make his criticism of his Commander-in-Chief public). President Truman reaffirmed the Constitutional mandate of civilian control over the military by firing the immensely popular general. The decision was controversial, but it was the right decision.

President Obama has now faced a remarkably similar situation (although General McChrystal is nowhere near as well known or admired as General MacArthur was), and he, like President Truman before him, has reaffirmed the Constitutional mandate of civilian control of the military. It was the right choice for President Truman then, and it is the right choice for President Obama now.
June 8, 2010 – More evidence that reports of the Congressional Democrats’ demise may have been premature…

According to a recent Gallup poll (conducted May 24th-25th), just 43% of Americans view Congressional Democrats favorably. While this is up 2% from the record low of 41% measured by the same poll this past March, it is nevertheless dismal. This is obviously nothing for the Democrats to crow about, and is often cited by various talking heads on the political shows as irrefutable “proof” that the Congressional Democrats will take a beating from voters in November.
What these talking heads conveniently fail to mention, however, is the other finding in the same poll – that just 36% of Americans view Congressional Republicans favorably! This 7-point advantage enjoyed by Congressional Democrats over Congressional Republicans is further evidence – over and above what has repeatedly happened when voters have actually gone to the polls this year – that the Democrats will probably survive the November midterms with their congressional majorities intact.

The media has tried to write their November stories already, repeating the mantra of anti-incumbent sentiment over and over, but the voters seem to have other ideas. What seems to be actually happening when Republican voters go to the polls is that the party activists are punishing “establishment” candidates. Rand Paul, for example, defeated the candidate hand-picked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Trey Greyson, in the Republican primary for the open Senate seat in Kentucky – McConnell’s home state. In Nevada, tea-party favorite Sharon Angle has now defeated the establishment candidate, former state Party chair Sue Lowden, for the right to challenge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (this actually improves Senator Reid’s chances of survival – however slightly – Ms. Angle has espoused many controversial opinions, including calling for the elimination of Social Security). Republican Senator Bob Bennett of Utah (who could not be considered “moderate” anywhere outside of Utah) was denied his Party’s nomination for re-election, ostensibly because he wasn’t conservative enough. On the Democratic side, primary voters seem to be punishing those incumbents who have not supported President Obama’s agenda enthusiastically enough. Senator Blanche Lincoln, for example, has been a thorn in the side of the Democratic Senate majority, even threatening to join Republican filibusters of Democratic legislative priorities. She was forced into a run-off (which she won tonight – just barely) against a more progressive candidate, Lt. Governor Bill Halter, for her own Party’s nomination to her own Senate seat. Meanwhile, two “party-switchers”, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania (who switched from Republican to Democrat) and Congressman Parker Griffith of Alabama (who switched from Democrat to Republican) were both defeated in their new Party’s primaries. Finally, tea-party favorite Marco Rubio, running for the open Senate seat in Florida, successfully drove the establishment candidate, moderate Republican Governor Charlie Crist, out of the Republican Party completely – Governor Crist is now running as a third-party candidate.

The overall pattern, if there is one, seems to be about loyalty to the grass-roots base of each party more than anything else. It’s about who is the “real” Republican or the “real” Democrat, far more than it is about incumbency or any sort of “throw the bums out” mentality. With candidates who appeal to the grass roots of each party winning the primaries, the election will clearly be decided by those moderate “swing” voters in the middle of the political spectrum. While much of the punditocracy has already reached the conclusion that these voters will lean Republican because, well, that’s what always happens in midterms, I would argue that those moderates are appalled by the tea partiers and are far more likely to vote Democratic in November than they are to vote for a tea party candidate. Simply put, the Democrats who are most vulnerable in the House races are those that have won their seats in the last two election cycles (2006 and 2008), when the Democrats won almost every seat that was reasonably within their grasp. These newer Members of Congress, because of the leanings of the districts they represent, are the more moderate House Democrats, often referred to as “Blue Dogs”. Who are the swing voters more likely to choose – a moderate “Blue Dog” Democrat or a tea party Republican? The question kind of answers itself, does it not?

So much attention has been paid to the “Tea Party” movement that the movement has been portrayed as stronger than it actually is. To be sure, there have been tea-party victories (Rand Paul in Kentucky is just the most publicized), but these “victories” have created general election races featuring Republican candidates that will have a hard time winning a general election – especially those running against moderate or “Blue Dog” Democrats. Despite the media attention and the raucous gatherings, there has yet to be a poll that shows more than 18% of voters identifying themselves with the Tea Party, and I don’t know any way to win a general election with just 18% of the vote.

So don’t order the new curtains for that Speaker’s office just yet Mr. Boehner – I don’t think the November elections will give the Republicans the majorities they are hoping for.

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June 1, 2010 – President Obama takes a page from George W. Bush’s playbook, and it doesn’t go well…

If the gratitude and respect that all Americans feel for our troops were to be envisioned as a living, breathing organism, its heart would have to be at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. There is no American soil more hallowed than this – if there is a central location where Americans honor the men and women who put their lives on the line in defense of our freedoms, that location is the Tomb of the Unknowns. It is for this reason that the American President traditionally lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns on Memorial Day – and on Veterans’ Day – every year.

On November 12, 2007, I posted a Blog entry criticizing then-President George W. Bush for not laying the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns himself on Veterans’ Day (he sent Vice President Cheney instead). President Bush was on vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, and attended a ceremony honoring four veterans at a nearby American Legion post instead of attending the ceremony at Arlington. I stated then that, “The symbolism of this act on the President’s part [laying the wreath at Arlington] – especially in a time of war – conveys the essential message to our veterans that our nation is grateful for their sacrifice. This is one of those items on the President’s schedule that should ‘etched in stone’; any other item on the schedule would have to be worked around it.”

I stand by what I wrote then, but now I must direct that same outraged ire at President Obama.

Yesterday, May 31st, 2010, was Memorial Day – a day that has become something of a “Summer Kick-Off” celebrated around the country with barbeques and picnics, but should always be regarded as a solemn day of remembrance honoring those who have given what President Abraham Lincoln called the “last full measure of devotion” in defense of our nation and all that it stands for. While there are Memorial Day events across the nation, there is none more significant than the ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Inexcusably, President Obama did not attend yesterday’s ceremony. Vice President Biden laid the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, while President Obama briefly attended a ceremony at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Illinois – close to where he was vacationing with his family in Chicago – before the ceremony was cancelled due to thunderstorms. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the President honoring our troops at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery (or with President Bush honoring veterans at an American Legion post), it cannot replace the symbolism of him attending the ceremony at Arlington. As President Bush should have done on Veterans’ Day in 2007 (and 2001, 2005 and 2008 – he missed those years too), President Obama should have interrupted his vacation and laid the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier yesterday. It is essential that our troops get the message that their sacrifice is honored and appreciated, and President Obama not bothering to interrupt his vacation – even for a few hours – to honor those who have died fighting for our country at the one location that could effectively send that message instead sends the exact opposite message.

President Obama has been heavily criticized for this by the right-wing media, but most on the left have remained silent, or even offered excuses and apologies on the President’s behalf. Being generally on the left myself, and usually a supporter of President Obama, I would encourage others on the left to speak out – President Obama needs to hear this criticism from all across the political spectrum – including from the left. Honoring our troops is not a political issue – it is an American issue, and all of us should insist that our President honor the troops in every way he possibly can. His vacation does not outweigh the need for him to lay the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier himself – nothing (in the usual course of events) should have prevented him from being there.

As I wrote back in November of 2007, “Our veterans deserve nothing less than to be honored and venerated with the full respect and gratitude of our nation, as symbolized by the President personally taking the time to lay the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.” President Obama should have been at Arlington, like he was last year for both Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day – it’s just that simple.

In addition to sending the wrong message to our troops, President Obama’s decision not to attend the ceremony at Arlington was, at the very least, politically “tone-deaf”. President Obama almost seemed to be going out of his way to hand his critics an issue to use against him, and make no mistake – they have already begun to use it against him.

Incidentally, several critics on the right (Michael Savage, for example) have claimed that President Obama is the first President to not personally attend the Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington since Memorial Day was created. This is simply false, as can be seen by the following list (I have also included information about the Presidents attending the wreath-laying ceremony on Veterans’ Day):

• President George W. Bush missed the Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington in 2002 because he was in France at the time, where he attended the ceremony at the American cemetery above Omaha Beach in Normandy (the site of the D-Day landings). Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz attended the Arlington ceremony in his place. President Bush also missed the Veterans’ Day wreath-laying ceremony four times in his eight years as President (2001, 2005, 2007, and 2008).
• President George H.W. Bush – a decorated World War II veteran – did not attend the wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns on any Memorial Day while he was President. In 1989 he was in Rome, where he led the ceremonies at an American cemetery just south of the city. From 1990 through 1992, he was vacationing in Kennebunkport, Maine over the Memorial Day weekend, and Vice President Dan Quayle laid the wreath at Arlington in his place. Additionally, President Bush only attended the Veterans’ Day ceremony once (in 1991).
• President Ronal Reagan missed the Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington four of the eight years he was President. In 1981 he was at his ranch in Santa Barbara, recovering from wounds he received during John Hinkley, Jr.’s assassination attempt on March 30th of that year (I’ll excuse Reagan on that occasion). In 1983 he was attending a G-7 summit in Virginia, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Thayer laid the wreath at Arlington in his place. In 1987 he spent Memorial Day at the Presidential retreat at Camp David, while Navy Secretary James Webb attended the ceremony at Arlington. In 1988, President Reagan was in Moscow for a summit meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev. He also missed the Veterans’ Day wreath-laying ceremony six times in his eight years as President (he only attended in 1985 and 1988).

So which recent President actually honored our troops by personally laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns on both Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day each and every year of his Presidency?

Bill Clinton.

Hmmm.

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May 24, 2010 – The 2010 Primaries Begin to Heat Up

Now that the Hawaii special election has taken place (on Saturday, May 22nd), it’s time to look at this past week’s highly-anticipated elections. There were some surprising results – and some not-so-surprising results – and both indicated that the preliminary reports of a huge Republican wave in November may have been overstated and premature.

Let’s start with a look at last Tuesday’s elections in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Arkansas and Oregon:

Pennsylvania

First, in a special election to fill the Pennsylvania House seat left vacant by the death of Democratic Representative John Murtha, Democrat Mark Critz defeated Republican Tim Burns by a surprisingly large margin (53% to 46%). What makes this race especially significant is that the Republican Party had called this race a bellwether for the nationwide November elections. Representative Murtha had held the seat for decades, but this district voted for John McCain in the 2008 Presidential race, making the Republicans hopeful of taking the seat. The Republican National Committee (RNC) and the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) were heavily committed to this race, and both had devoted large amounts of time and money to helping Mr. Burns. Mr. Burns ran primarily against President Obama and the health care reform bill (just as Doug Hoffman had done in the 2009 special election in New York’s 23rd District, which Hoffman lost); this was seen as a preview of the Republicans’ nationwide strategy for the November midterms – another reason for Republicans to worry. The same two candidates will face off again in November; both won their party’s primary that was held the same day as the special election. For now, Mr. Critz’s victory has deflated Republican momentum and, combined with Democratic successes in passing health care, financial services reform (the House and Senate still need to reconcile their versions, which will probably happen by July), the ease with which Elena Kagan will likely be confirmed to the Supreme Court, and President Obama’s rising job approval rating, has given Democrats reason to hope that perhaps the November midterms won’t be so bad after all.

Second, Representative Joe Sestak, a retired Navy Admiral, defeated Senator Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary by a 54% to 46% margin. Senator Specter had the support of the Democratic establishment, including President Obama, Vice President – and former Delaware Senator – Joe Biden (often referred to as “Pennsylvania’s third Senator”, due to Delaware’s proximity to Pennsylvania), Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, and organized labor, and his loss has been described as part of a general nationwide anti-incumbent or anti-party-establishment sentiment. The circumstances in this race were so unique, however, that I’m not sure it can be considered part of any nationwide trend. Senator Specter has been in the Senate for 30 years (he is the longest-serving Senator in Pennsylvania history), and until last year he was a Republican. He switched to the Democratic Party in April of 2009 in response to a challenge in the Republican Primary race from Pat Toomey (Mr. Toomey easily won Tuesday’s Republican primary). Representative Sestak focused his campaign on Senator Specter’s years as a Republican, arguing that Specter wasn’t really a Democrat and had switched parties “to save one job: his own”. Exit polls indicated that this strategy worked – Democratic primary voters simply didn’t trust Senator Specter’s Democratic credentials.

Kentucky

In the primary election for the Kentucky Senate seat currently held by Republican Jim Bunning (who is retiring), ophthalmologist and tea-party candidate Rand Paul, the son of Congressman and former Presidential candidate Ron Paul, easily defeated the preferred candidate of the Republican establishment, Trey Grayson. This is a result that should have the Republican Party worried – Senator Bunning was widely considered the Republicans’ most vulnerable Senator and was essentially driven into retirement by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky’s other Senator), and McConnell handpicked Mr. Grayson to replace him. Senator Bunning endorsed Rand Paul. Senator McConnell campaigned heavily for Mr. Greyson, and Mr. Paul’s victory here – by a whopping margin of 59% to 36% – has been interpreted as a massive repudiation of Senator McConnell by the Republican primary voters in his own state, and as a repudiation of the overall Republican establishment, given the resources the Republican National Committee had devoted to Mr. Greyson’s campaign. This has left the Republican Party trying desperately to figure out how they can reconnect with their obviously unhappy base.

As bad as this repudiation could turn out to be for the Republicans, this is not the main reason they should worry. The main reason the Republicans should be worried – in Kentucky and elsewhere – can be seen in the numbers. According to the Kentucky State Board of Elections, Rand Paul received 206,960 votes in the Republican primary. Meanwhile, over in the Democratic primary, state Attorney General Jack Conway (with 228,904 votes) defeated Lieutenant Governor Dan Mongiardo (with 225,159 votes), and will face Mr. Paul in the November election.

Do you see the Republicans’ problem? Did you catch the reason Republicans are worried? No? Here it is: both Democratic candidates received more votes than Rand Paul!

It gets worse. A total of 352,218 votes were cast in the Republican Primary, while 520,992 votes, or about 148% of the number of votes cast in the Republican primary, were cast in the Democratic primary! Since primary voters also tend to vote in the general election, the Republicans have good reason to be worried. What happened to the “motivation gap” between Republicans and Democrats? How is it possible that so many more Democrats were motivated to vote than Republicans – in Kentucky! – in a year that is supposed to favor the Republicans so heavily? This has been described as the year of the Republican tidal wave, with demoralized and disillusioned Democrats staying home, but these results fly in the face of this narrative.

The days following the election have given the Republicans yet another reason to worry about Kentucky – Rand Paul’s public implosion on the issue of civil rights. In interviews the day after the election with NPR and, especially, on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show (where the discussion lasted 20 minutes, even cutting through commercial breaks), Mr. Paul was asked whether he would have voted for the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 if he had been in the Senate at the time. His answer was that he had no problem with 9 out of the 10 sections (called “Titles”) of the Act, but he couldn’t support Title 2, which bars discrimination in “places of public accommodation” (meaning businesses that are open to the general public). While emphasizing that he doesn’t support discrimination of any kind in the public sector and regards discrimination by a privately-owned business as a poor business practice, he made it clear that he believes that the government shouldn’t interfere with private business in this way – putting his Libertarian views on full display. When pressed on the point, he refused to say whether the lunch counters at Woolworth’s should have been integrated, or whether the government could prohibit a business from posting a “No Blacks Welcome Here” sign. To say that this raised eyebrows would be a gross understatement. The ensuing imbroglio resulted in Mr. Paul’s campaign going into “damage control” mode and Mr. Paul pulling out of an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press on May 23rd – only the third time in the more than 60-year history of that program that a scheduled guest has pulled out.

What should really worry the Republican Party about Mr. Paul is that this is probably just the tip of the iceberg. Rand Paul is a true Libertarian, and he may find that the tea-partiers who have supported him won’t be thrilled with his positions on a wide range on issues, from his support of the legalization of marijuana and allowing states to decide the issue of gay marriage to his opposition to the Fair Housing Act, the USA PATRIOT Act and the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (“McCain-Feingold”). He also supports abolishing both the Department of Education and the Federal Reserve.

Mr. Paul was not alone in his oratorical troubles; there was another major Senate candidate who created a firestorm with comments he made last week – Democrat Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who is considered (or at least was considered) the heavy favorite to win the seat being vacated by Chris Dodd. In a recent speech, Mr. Blumenthal referred to his military service “in” Viet Nam. The problem? Mr. Blumenthal was never “in” Viet Nam. According to his military records, he received at least five deferments, then enlisted in the Marine Reserves and served stateside throughout his time of service. His campaign has admitted the gaff, saying that Mr. Blumenthal meant to say “during” Viet Nam rather than “in” Viet Nam, and that he has only made this mistake “a few times out of hundreds of speeches”. In fact, a full transcript of the speech in question shows that, earlier in the same speech, Mr. Blumenthal did describe his service correctly. Mr. Blumenthal has been lumped together with Mr. Paul in several news articles that focus on how their own statements may hurt them in November, but there are two key differences that should be noted here. First, Mr. Blumenthal’s misstatements, while certainly problematic, are in fact misstatements. He clearly meant to say “during”, as he did earlier in the same speech and in hundreds of other speeches. Rand Paul’s statements, on the other hand, should not be regarded as “misstatements” at all – he is saying what he actually believes. Second, the Connecticut race was regarded as “Likely Democratic” before the storm erupted, so Mr. Blumenthal has some leeway and can probably survive this. In contrast, the Kentucky Senate race was regarded as a “Toss-up” before these interviews were broadcast, meaning that Mr. Paul may have a more difficult time recovering from this controversy.

Arkansas

The race in Arkansas went about as expected. Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln was forced into a runoff against Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter, since neither candidate received over 50% of the vote. Senator Lincoln received 44.5%, Halter received 42.5%, and a third candidate, DC Morrison, received about 13%. The real question for the runoff is where the 13% that voted for Morrison will end up. Given that Senator Lincoln is the incumbent here, it would be logical to interpret Morrison’s votes as anti-incumbent – in other words, as votes against Senator Lincoln. The idea that a sitting United States Senator couldn’t muster 50% in her own party’s primary would seem to confirm the accepted narrative of the anti-incumbent wave, but again, I‘m not so sure. Senator Lincoln has been a thorn in the side of President Obama and the Senate Democrats, including not voting for closure on Health Care and Financial Services reform, and her inability to garner even half of the Democratic primary voters has been attributed to this. Mr. Halter is seen as the more progressive candidate, and his ability to come within about 2% and to force Senator Lincoln into a runoff is striking, especially in a state like Arkansas. Rather than anti-incumbent, this could very well have been punishment by party activists (who often dominate primary elections) for not cooperating more with President Obama and the Democratic leadership.

Oregon

The Oregon election hasn’t received the media attention that these other races have, simply because there were no surprises. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden easily won his primary, and will face Republican Jim Huffman in November. He is expected to win.

Hawaii

On Saturday, May 22nd, there was a special election in Hawaii’s 1st District – the birthplace of President Obama (no, he wasn’t born in Kenya…) – and Republican Charles Djou won – the first time in the last 7 special elections for a House seat that the Democrats lost. However, this is probably a pyrrhic victory for the Republicans at best. Mr. Djou won this election because the Democratic vote was divided between two strong candidates: State Senator Colleen Hanabusa (30.8%) and former Congressman Ed Case (27.6%). Combined, these two Democrats received over 58% of the vote, but Mr. Djou, with 39.4%, will go to Washington for the rest of the current term. His stay there will be short-lived, since there will be just one Democrat on the ballot in November, and without splitting the Democratic vote, Mr. Djou simply doesn’t have a chance. Mr. Djou will serve only while the Democrats still hold a strong majority, and then the Democrats will take the seat back. Nevertheless, this is still a very symbolic victory for the Republicans.

So….

What is the result of all this? Clearly, the results are mixed, and should at the very least make Republicans uneasy. Representative Pete Sessions of Texas, the Chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), has said that he considers anything less than winning a Republican majority to be a “failure”, telling reporters on April 19th, “Anything less, and I do not fulfill my mission statement.”

In Kentucky, Rand Paul’s victory against the establishment candidate has fired up the tea partiers and dealt a huge blow to Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, but Democrat Jack Conway is certain to push Mr. Paul’s statements on the civil rights issue, along with Mr. Paul’s other troublesome Libertarian positions. This race was a “Toss-up” before, and is becoming more and more competitive every time Mr. Paul opens his mouth, making this race one to watch.

In Pennsylvania, Senator Arlen Specter’s switch from Republican to Democrat failed to save his career, and now voters will face a clear choice between Republican Pat Toomey (the founder of the ultra-conservative “Club for Growth”) and Democratic Representative Joe Sestak, a retired Navy Admiral and a progressive ally of President Obama. Democrat Mark Critz’s victory over Republican Tim Burns in the special election in the 12th Congressional District has the Republican leadership scrambling to figure out what went wrong in a race they had labeled a national bellwether.

In Arkansas, incumbent Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln couldn’t even get 50% of her own party’s vote – but was this because of an anti-incumbent trend or because she is seen among Democratic activists as not being cooperative enough with President Obama?

To be sure, the combined results in Kentucky, where the Republican establishment candidate lost badly, Pennsylvania, where Senator Arlen Specter lost his primary, and Arkansas, where Senator Blanche Lincoln has been forced into a runoff, could indicate a general anti-incumbent trend. The media has latched onto this idea, given that this narrative had already been established after Republican Senator Bob Bennett of Utah was denied re-nomination to his seat by a state party convention and Democratic Representative Alan Mollohan of West Virginia was defeated in his primary. However, it is important to remember that Tuesday’s contests were primary elections – meaning that the party activists wield far more clout than in a general election – and the results could also be interpreted as disaffection among party activists with Mitch McConnell (Kentucky), mistrust among party activists of Arlen Specter’s Democratic credentials (Pennsylvania), and frustration among party activists with the lack of cooperation Blanche Lincoln has given to President Obama’s agenda (Arkansas). Which interpretation is correct? I guess we’ll find out in November.

In Hawaii, the Republicans won a symbolic – but essentially meaningless – victory in winning in the Congressional district that includes President Obama’s birthplace. This will give the Republicans in the House another vote for now, but the Democrats will still hold a large majority and the seat will probably revert to the Democrats in November.

All in all, this doesn’t amount to much for the Republicans to celebrate – but it gives the Democrats reason to breathe much easier than they have been.

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May 11, 2010 – The Nomination of Elena Kagan

President Obama’s announcement yesterday that he will nominate his Solicitor General, Elena Kagan, to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens came as no surprise – Ms. Kagan has been on everyone’s “short list” since President Obama took office. In fact, she was the first name on my list of possible nominees in my Blog post of March 16th (I would also point out that Sonia Sotomayor was the first name on my list of possible nominees to replace Justice David Souter last year, which makes me 2-for-2 on my predictions of President Obama’s Supreme Court picks!).

Ms. Kagan is widely respected throughout the legal profession – on both sides of the political divide – and has already made history as the first woman to serve as the Dean of Harvard Law School (where she became known as a consensus-builder – a skill she can put to good use on the Court) and as the first woman to serve as Solicitor General. When President Obama nominated her to be Solicitor General last year, every single Solicitor General who has served over the past 25 years – from both parties – signed a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee enthusiastically supporting her nomination (the Solicitor General argues before the Supreme Court on behalf of the United States Government and is the third-highest ranking official in the Justice Department). She was confirmed by the Senate as Solicitor General by a vote of 61-31, including the votes of 8 Republicans.

There are some issues that have already been brought up, by activists on the extreme wings of both sides of the political spectrum, that are sure to become major topics of discussion during her confirmation battle this summer. Many on the far left are concerned about her defense of indefinite detention without trial (battlefield law) for those captured outside of a traditional battlefield during the war on terror, while many on the far right are concerned about her strident opposition to the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy – they are especially disturbed by her barring of military recruiters from the Harvard Law School campus because of what she called the “discriminatory recruitment policy” and “a profound wrong – a moral injustice of the first order” during her tenure as Dean (the recruiters were allowed back on campus when the Supreme Court ruled that military recruiters had to allowed on campuses that received federal money, but then-Dean Kagan encouraged the students to protest against the policy).

Another issue that has already received a lot of media attention is the belief by some on the far right that Ms. Kagan herself is gay. Former Bush Administration aide and Republican Senate staffer Ben Domenech, for example, has suggested – in a blog posted on CBSNews.com – that she would be the first “openly gay” Supreme Court Justice, creating a firestorm of protest from the White House. He later updated the post, writing, “I have to correct my text here to say that Kagan is apparently still closeted – odd, because her female partner is rather well known in Harvard circles.” CBS later pulled the column from its website and apologized, noting that “Domenech’s reference to Ms. Kagan as gay is inaccurate”, and “after looking at the facts we determined that it was nothing but pure and irresponsible speculation on the blogger’s part.” Domenich himself released a statement, saying, “I offer my sincere apologies to Ms. Kagan if she is offended at all by my repetition of a Harvard rumor in a speculative blog post.”

Another issue that has not yet received a lot of attention is that she served as a member of the Research Advisory Council of the Goldman Sachs Global Markets Institute from 2005 to 2008, and right now any connection – however tenuous – to Goldman Sachs is a political liability. Lastly, there is the issue of her (in)experience. While some Senators have expressed concern over the fact that Ms. Kagan has never served as a judge, others have expressed their pleasure that President Obama has selected someone who, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid put it, comes from “outside the judicial monastery”.

It will be interesting to see how she responds to questions about these issues during her confirmation hearings.

Overall, I am very pleased by this nomination (and not just because it makes me 2-for-2 in predicting President Obama’s Supreme Court picks!) For one thing, I believe Ms. Kagan is extremely well qualified for the Court. She is a Constitutional scholar of the highest order, and the word “brilliant” has been used – often – to describe her legal intellect. For another, I believe that she will be confirmed with relative ease (even in the politically-charged atmosphere of an election year) since she has received the support of Republican Senators as recently as last year, and she has connections to many Conservatives. Also, the simple fact that concerns have been raised on the far end of both sides of the political spectrum probably means that she is more politically moderate than she will no doubt be accused of being (make no mistake – Republicans in the Senate and their talk-show mouthpieces will call her things like “judicial activist”, “extremist”, and “outside the mainstream” – and those on the far left will join the chorus, albeit for different reasons). Finally, Ms. Kagan is only 50 years old, meaning she could serve as a strong voice and consensus-builder on the Court for decades.

Once again, President Obama has selected a Supreme Court nominee who has already served our nation with distinction and who is known as a brilliant legal mind. As a former Constitutional Law Professor himself (for 12 years at the University of Chicago Law School), President Obama has lived up to the expectation that he will take these nominations seriously. As one advisor put it, there would be “no Harriet Miers”.

There will be much gnashing of teeth over this nomination for the next few months, especially on conservative talk radio and Fox News, but also on the liberal programs. There will be accusations, name-calling, and misrepresentations of Ms. Kagan’s past positions, but hopefully there will be legitimate discussion as well. Healthy debate is good for our Democracy, and should be encouraged.

Let the games begin!

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April 1, 2010 – President Obama Gets His Mojo Back

Over the past two weeks there has been a marked change in President Obama. One only needed to watch the news to see it: President Obama has got his mojo back.

First there was the passage of health care reform – a hard-fought victory that took over a year to achieve. Several times this fight was written off as lost, but he persisted and, as the saying goes, pulled victory from the jaws of defeat. The magnitude of this victory cannot be overstated – had the health care reform effort failed, President Obama would have been crippled by the loss for the remainder of his Presidency.

Since health care reform passed, however, President Obama has been on a bit of a roll. One week after signing the health care reform bill, he signed the reconciliation package of “fixes” to the main bill. That package included another major priority of the President’s agenda – reform of the College Student Loan program. The government will no longer pay “middleman” fees to banks saving an estimated $60 billion over the next ten years; instead these savings will be turned around and used to beef up the Pell Grant program, making college more affordable for many thousands of potential students. The President emphasized this at the bill-signing ceremony, declaring another major policy victory.

In the last week, President Obama has also announced the largest US-Russia arms reduction agreement in over 20 years, unveiled a new offshore oil-drilling policy that will open up some areas (like the Virginia coast) but protect others (like Alaska’s Bristol Bay), appointed 12 federal judges using his “recess appointment” power, paid a surprise visit to the troops in Afghanistan, and has now begun traveling around the country touting health care reform and raising money for Democrats (he has already visited Iowa City, Iowa; he is in Portland, Maine today, and will be in Boston tomorrow).

That’s quite a week. No longer hunkered down, no longer seeming to be cowed by the Republican obstructionists in Congress, President Obama has gone through a major transformation in a short period of time. There is only one explanation: the passage of health care reform gave President Obama his mojo back – and this is good news for America, good news for Democrats, and, quite possibly, not-so-good news for Republican hopes this November.

 

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March 16, 2010 – Will Justice Stevens Retire?

One of the most effective ways a President can leave a lasting legacy is through his Supreme Court appointments. Last year President Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to replace retiring Justice David Souter. So far, Justice Sotomayor has voted almost exactly as Justice Souter might have been expected to vote, meaning that President Obama didn’t alter the ideological make-up of the court with that nomination (instead, he made a liberal vote younger). The next likely opportunity he will have to nominate a Supreme Court Justice will probably have a similar result; that is, it would simply make a liberal vote younger – in this case significantly younger.
Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who will turn 90(!) on April 20th, has hinted that he may retire soon (What??? Already?? After just 35 years on the court and at such a young age?). In an interview published in the March 22nd issue of the New Yorker magazine, the Justice told Jeffrey Toobin, “Well, I still have my options open. When I decided to just hire one clerk [at the beginning of this year’s term], three of my four clerks last year said they’d work for me next year if I wanted them to. So I have my options still. And then I’ll have to decide soon.” He then said that he would decide in about a month [from March 8th – the date of the interview], adding, “You can say I will retire within the next three years. I’m sure of that.”
The full New Yorker interview and article can be read here.
Stevens, who was appointed to the Supreme Court by Republican President Gerald Ford in 1975, has emerged as the leader of the Court’s liberal wing. As the longest-serving member of the current Court, he is responsible for selecting which Justice will write the majority opinion when the Chief Justice is not among the majority. He has used this power effectively over the years, often as a means of building a coalition in support of his position on the case in question. His retirement will probably not change the ideological make-up of the Court (President Obama is likely to select a replacement who is ideologically similar to Justice Stevens), but a new Justice would simply not be able to assume the leadership role Justice Stevens has held. That leadership role would instead fall to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who just turned 77 and has had numerous health problems, or, on those all-too-rare occasions when he sides with the Court’s more liberal wing, to Justice Anthony Kennedy, 74 years old and generally regarded as the Court’s “swing vote”.
Given Justice Stevens’ statement that he will retire within the next three years, it will be President Obama who selects his replacement. Again, this is not likely to have an immediate ideological impact on the Court, but rather will make one of the liberal votes younger. Who will the President pick? This is purely guesswork – reading these particular tea leaves is never an easy task – but here is what I believe to be President Obama’s “Top Ten List”:
1. Elena Kagan (born 1960) – Few names have been floated as often as a potential Obama nominee as Kagan, formerly the Dean of the Harvard Law School — Obama’s alma mater. Like Obama, she also taught at the University of Chicago. Kagan served in President Clinton’s White House as an associate counsel and domestic policy advisor, and is serving as Solicitor General of the United States in the Obama Administration. President Clinton nominated her for a position on the prestigious U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, but Republicans stalled her approval. Kagan clerked for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
2. Cass Sunstein (born 1954) – A preeminent and prolific law scholar and an advisor to Obama’s presidential campaign, Sunstein was a colleague of President Obama’s at the University of Chicago and then taught at Harvard Law School. He is currently the head of the White House Office of Informational and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama Administration. Sunstein has decried the Supreme Court’s more conservative justices, including Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. He calls them judicial fundamentalists who have advocated “earthquake-like” changes in the law. Sunstein argues for a minimalist approach to jurisprudence. He believes justices’ decisions should be narrowly tailored to the case at hand and should lean heavily on precedent. Sunstein has said minimalists believe “the Supreme Court is not our national policy maker.”
3. Harold Hongju Koh (born 1955) – The former Dean of Yale Law School is a Korean-American and an expert on international law and human rights. From 1998 to 2001, he served as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor under President Clinton. He also worked in the Department of Justice and is currently serving as Legal Counsel for the State Department in the Obama Administration. Koh is considered a staunch liberal. He was an outspoken critic of the Bush administration and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. He said in an interview with the Yale newspaper that gay rights are especially important to him. Koh also served as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun.
4. Leah Ward Sears (born 1955) – She was the first woman to serve as Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, but that is hardly Sears’ only trailblazing achievement. She was the first woman and the youngest person ever to serve on the court when Gov. Zell Miller appointed her in 1992. She was also the first African-American to serve on a Georgia superior court. Sears, like Sonia Sotomayor, will present an attractive pick for Obama if he looks to increase the diversity of the U.S. Supreme Court. She describes herself as a moderate, but she has often been targeted by Georgia’s conservatives.
5. Merrick Garland (born 1952) – President Bill Clinton appointed Garland to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1997. Garland also served in the Department of Justice during the Clinton administration; as an associate deputy attorney general he oversaw the Oklahoma City bombing and Unabomber cases. Garland was a clerk for Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr. This impressive résumé makes him one of the most experienced of Obama’s potential nominees. Recently, Garland joined two other judges in throwing out the Bush administration’s “enemy combatant” designation for a Chinese Muslim held at Guantánamo Bay. He is considered politically moderate.
6. Diane Pamela Wood (born 1950) – Wood is a distinguished law academic. President Clinton nominated Wood to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in 1995 after she worked in his Department of Justice. She is a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School and was also a lawyer in private practice. She started her law career as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun. She is considered somewhat liberal.
7. Ruben Castillo (born 1954) – A United States District Court judge in Chicago, Castillo was appointed by President Clinton in 1994. The judge is the son of a Mexican immigrant father and a Puerto Rican mother, and he was the first member of his family to graduate from college. After starting his career in private practice, Castillo became an assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago. During one of Castillo’s prosecutions, a drug kingpin took out a contract on his life, and Castillo and his family had to be placed in police protective custody. Castillo also served as the director of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
8. Deval Patrick (born 1956) – As the first African-American governor of Massachusetts and a friend of Barack Obama’s, Patrick is often mentioned as a potential Supreme Court nominee. Patrick would bring something that is in short supply on the court: executive experience. But he would also bring a major risk: He has never served in the judiciary. Despite that gap in his résumé, he has some background in the law. Before he was governor, Patrick was a lawyer and President Clinton appointed him the assistant attorney general for civil rights in 1994 — the nation’s highest civil rights position. Patrick is solidly liberal and supports a number of positions, such as same-sex marriage, that could make him a target for Republicans during the confirmation process.
9. Jennifer Granholm (born 1959) – The governor of Michigan and that state’s former attorney general, Granholm has many of the strengths and weaknesses that Deval Patrick has. She would bring executive experience, but she has also never served in the judiciary. Granholm backed Hillary Clinton during the Democratic presidential primary, but she stumped for Obama during the general election and served on his economic transition team. She also stood in for Sarah Palin during Joe Biden’s preparation for the vice-presidential debate.
10. Carlos Moreno (born 1948) – Moreno has served on the California State Supreme Court since 2001 (appointed by Democratic Governor Gray Davis), and previously served as a US District Court Judge (appointed by Democratic President Bill Clinton), as a judge of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County (appointed by Republican Governor Pete Wilson), and as a judge of the criminal court in Compton, California (appointed by Republican Governor George Deukmejian). He is regarded as a centrist, having been appointed to judicial positions four times – twice by Republicans, and twice by Democrats. He is a former President of the Mexican American Bar Association

UPDATE (4/9/2010): Justice Stevens has informed President Obama that he will retire at the end of this term.

 

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January 20th, 2010 – The Stunning Victory of Scott Brown

Yesterday, Republican State Senator Scott Brown defeated Democratic Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley in the special election to fill the remainder of the Senate term left vacant by the death of long-time Massachusetts Senator Edward “Teddy” Kennedy. Numerous polls had shown Mr. Brown gaining on Ms. Coakley (some even showed him leading), but the Democrats acted as if they were in complete denial – they simply could not comprehend the possibility that they might lose this seat. As the polls showed a tightening race, however, the national Democratic machine got involved; President Obama himself recorded TV advertisements and robo-calls, and even went to Boston on Sunday to campaign for Coakley. Yet, with national Democratic leaders, including President Obama, Vice President Biden, Senator John Kerry (the other Massachusetts Senator and the 2004 Democratic nominee for President), and even Ted Kennedy’s widow all campaigning in this bluest of states, they lost. Wow.

There is no way to describe Mr. Brown’s victory as anything other than a stunning, devastating loss for the Democrats. This is Massachusetts, for Pete’s sake! As recently as last month it was inconceivable that the Democrats would lose – the general election was even described by some as a “formality”; the real race was considered to be the Democratic primary.

Following the elections of 2008, the Democrats looked invincible; they had the White House, a huge majority in the House of Representatives, and, eventually (after the party-switch of Arlen Specter and the seating of Al Franken), a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the Senate. At least on paper, they had the power to move their agenda forward free from Republican interference, and the future appeared to favor them even more. The Republicans, on the other hand, were at their weakest point since the Viet Nam era, and seemed to be in complete disarray. Much was made of the apparent lack of a national leader – was it John McCain, Mitch McConnell or John Boehner? Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney? Newt Gingrich or Michael Steele? Perhaps Rush Limbaugh? The Republican Party was rudderless and foundering, and was actually in danger of fracturing (this is still a possibility – however remote – as the so-called “Tea Party” movement has mounted right-wing challenges to moderate Republican “establishment” candidates in several of the major 2010 primary races and has stated the desire to banish moderates from the Party).

What a difference a year makes! The Democrats – being, well, Democrats – have not been organized or unified enough to capitalize on their 60-seat majority in the Senate, as evidenced by the wheeling and dealing that had to take place to get all 60 Democrats on board to pass health care reform. It has been said that there are two things you don’t want to watch being made – one is sausage, and the other is legislation. The Senate deliberations on health care served as a clear example of why this is true. It was truly ugly. National polls have shown a sharp reversal of fortune for the two parties over the past year as this process played out in the harsh light of day, and many are arguing that Mr. Brown’s victory in Massachusetts should “send a message” to the Democrats.

Senator-elect Brown did campaign for this Senate seat on a pledge to vote against “Obamacare”, and Ms. Coakley pledged to vote in favor. This election result may not serve as an accurate national bellwether on health care reform, however. It is important to note two things about Massachusetts: first, it is a “donor state” (meaning it sends more money to the federal government in taxes than it gets back), and second, Massachusetts already has near-universal health care! (In 2006, the Massachusetts state legislature passed a law guaranteeing health care coverage to nearly every state resident and requiring everyone in Massachusetts to obtain health insurance. It was signed into law by then-Governor Mitt Romney and has since come to be known as “Romneycare”). Many voters in Massachusetts were asking why they should have to pay even more so that people in other states can have health care coverage when they already have it themselves and are already paying more into the federal kitty than they are getting in return. Senator-elect Brown may find himself in an awkward position on this – as a state Senator, he voted in favor of “Romneycare”, which has much in common with “Obamacare” (most notably the requirement for the people to obtain health insurance). He will be up for re-election in 2012, and his opponent (whoever that may be) is bound to bring this up. It will be interesting to see how he handles this dichotomy on the campaign trail.

The idea that an opponent of health care reform would fill the seat that had been held by Ted Kennedy – who, despite his many legislative accomplishments, considered universal health care to be his “life’s work” – will certainly deal a severe blow to the health care reform effort. While the Massachusetts race focused on the health-care reform legislation currently working its way through Congress, however, it would be short-sighted to consider Mr. Brown’s victory solely on that basis. Senator-elect Brown will have to deal with many other issues that will be addressed over the next two years, including financial reform, energy policy, immigration reform, and the economy, not to mention the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. With Senator-elect Brown becoming the 41st Republican in the Senate, the Republicans will now have the ability to block Democratic legislation using a filibuster without having to split the Democratic vote (it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster, and the Democrats will now have only 59 votes). The implications will be complicated for Senator-elect Brown. He does, after all, represent Massachusetts – a very liberal state – but will be under intense pressure from the Republican leadership to join them to block Democratic bills. Will he vote in lock-step with the Republican leadership to block future items on President Obama’s agenda regardless of how Massachusetts voters feel about those issues, or will he vote according to the wishes of his constituents (keep in mind that he will come up for re-election in 2012)? This will be quite a tight-rope for him to walk; in fact, on many of these issues he may find himself aligned with Olympia Snowe and other Republican moderates trying to forge a compromise. Whichever way he decides to vote, he will be more in the national spotlight than many of his Republican colleagues. As the “41st Republican Senator”, he won’t be able to hide under the veil of a 40-seat block – although any Republican Senator’s vote could be considered the 41st and critical vote, his will be considered the “deciding vote” by the media because it is his victory that gives the Republicans those 41 seats.

Congratulations to Senator-elect Brown on his hard-fought victory. I wish him luck – he’s going to need it!

Moving on…

So what now with health care? In the wake of Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts, the Democrats are regrouping to figure out the best way to move forward now that they no longer have those 60 Senate votes, and they have several options. They could continue the process of forging a compromise between the House and Senate versions and then try to get that compromise through both Houses, possibly using the process of “reconciliation”, which would only require 51 votes in the Senate but would limit what could be included in the bill. They could make concessions to moderate Republicans (such as Olympia Snowe, who voted in favor of the bill developed by the Senate Finance Committee but opposed the final Senate version) to get the 60th vote they would need to defeat a Republican filibuster, and then try again to get that passed by both Houses. Another possibility, and one that is now garnering serious interest, would be to somehow get the House to approve the version of the bill that was passed by the Senate in December. The advantage of this option, of course, is that this version of the bill has already passed the Senate, and would not need to face the new 41-seat Republican block (as a concession to the House liberals, there is talk that the bill could be modified later through the “reconciliation” process).

Or they could start over.

My money is on the House passing the Senate version of the bill, with changes made later through the reconciliation process.

 

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January 6, 2009 – So Dissent is Patriotic After All, Mr. Cheney?

On December 28th, just three days after the attempted bombing of a Northwest airplane bound for Detroit on Christmas Day, former Vice President Dick Cheney sounded off against President Obama and his handling of the ongoing “War on Terror” (which President Obama has taken to calling the “War Against al Queda” – a much more accurate name in my view). Specifically, Mr. Cheney argued that President Obama is trying to “pretend we’re not at war”. His full statement was as follows:

“As I’ve watched the events of the last few days [the Christmas day bombing attempt] it is clear once again that President Obama is trying to pretend we are not at war. He seems to think if he has a low-key response to an attempt to blow up an airliner and kill hundreds of people, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them lawyer up and reads them their Miranda rights, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if we bring the mastermind of Sept. 11 to New York, give him a lawyer and trial in civilian court, we won’t be at war.

“He seems to think if he closes Guantanamo and releases the hard-core Al Qaeda-trained terrorists still there, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if he gets rid of the words, ‘war on terror,’ we won’t be at war. But we are at war and when President Obama pretends we aren’t, it makes us less safe. Why doesn’t he want to admit we’re at war? It doesn’t fit with the view of the world he brought with him to the Oval Office. It doesn’t fit with what seems to be the goal of his presidency — social transformation — the restructuring of American society. President Obama’s first object and his highest responsibility must be to defend us against an enemy that knows we are at war.”

He has received a lot of criticism from both ends of the political spectrum for his comments. First, the criticism from the far right has essentially been one of distancing themselves from Mr. Cheney and his comments. They are frustrated that Mr. Cheney has “taken the wind out of the sails” of whatever momentum they thought they were getting from their own criticism of President Obama’s handling of the Christmas Day attack. There was certainly some blowback following Mr. Cheney’s comments, and it probably did have the effect those on the right feared. The problem here is that this criticism is grounded in politics – the far right was hoping to score some political points from this incident in advance of the 2010 mid-term elections. Some, such as Representative Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, even used the Christmas Day attack as a fund-raising tool (which I find utterly despicable). This was not a political event – it was an attempted attack on the United States of America, and it should not be exploited for political gain – by either side.

Second, the criticism coming from the far left has been along the lines of calling Mr. Cheney a traitor for criticizing the President during a time of war. They argue that he is emboldening the terrorists and making President Obama appear weak – that he is making us “less safe”. The hypocrisy is astounding – these are the exact same arguments that the Bush/Cheney Administration made against these same people on the left who criticized President Bush’s handling of the war! I argued then – and I continue to argue now – that dissent is not treason; it is, in fact, patriotism.

America has a long and proud history of expressing this sentiment. Some examples:
• Thomas Jefferson said, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism”.
• Theodore Roosevelt said, “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”
• Senator William Fullbright said, “Criticism, in short, is more than a right; it is an act of patriotism, a higher form of patriotism, I believe, than the familiar rituals of national adulation…it may destroy a consensus on policy while expressing a consensus of values.”
• Senator George Mitchell said, “In America, disagreement with the policies of the government is not evidence of lack of patriotism. Indeed, it is the very fact that Americans can criticize their government openly and without fear of reprisal that is the essence of our freedom, and that will keep us free.”
My feelings on this have not changed simply because we now have a Democratic President – what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. The Bush/Cheney Administration called those who criticized them “traitors”, they claimed that these people were making President Bush look weak and emboldening the terrorists – that these people were making us “less safe”. The Bush/Cheney Administration was wrong then, and those on the left who are expressing the same point of view are wrong now.

Mr. Cheney’s is a private citizen now, and as such he has every right to make whatever statements he chooses. There are two problems with his comments, however. First, he is simply wrong – President Obama is clearly NOT “pretending we’re not at war” – far from it. He has dramatically increased the number and frequency of drone attacks against al Queda in the Pakistan/Afghanistan border region, he has launched US air strikes in Yemen against al Queda targets there (with the consent and cooperation of the Yemeni government), and he has ordered troop increases in Afghanistan on two separate occasions (last Spring and again this Fall), for a total of about 50,000 additional troops. Obviously, President Obama is keenly aware that we are at war, but he is prosecuting the war differently than the Bush/Cheney Administration approached it. He has in fact strengthened our war effort, but with the exception of his recent announcement regarding the latest troop increase, he is doing so without much fanfare. This has apparently really ticked off Mr. Cheney.

Mr. Cheney was wrong on several other counts as well. For example:

He seems to think if he closes Guantanamo and releases the hard-core Al Qaeda-trained terrorists still there, we won’t be at war.
Yes, President Obama is planning on closing Guantanamo, but he has no intention of releasing the “hard-core Al Qaeda-trained terrorists still there”. These terrorists will simply be moved to another facility, probably in Illinois.

He seems to think if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them lawyer up and reads them their Miranda rights, we won’t be at war.
Yes, the Christmas day bomber has been indicted and will be tried in federal court – but so was the so-called “shoe bomber”, Richard Reed, during the Bush/Cheney Administration. This was an almost identical incident – a foreign national boarded a US-bound flight from overseas, tried (unsuccessfully) to ignite an explosive concealed on their person during the flight, and was subdued by the passengers and crew. Both attacks occurred after 9/11. Both attacks even used the same kind of explosive (PETN). The Bush/Cheney Administration indicted Mr. Reed and tried him in federal court. He pled guilty and is now serving a life sentence at a “super-max” prison in Colorado. The Bush/Cheney Administration hailed the way the justice system worked, calling it an indication of our strength. Why is the same response to a virtually identical incident now a problem?

He seems to think if we bring the mastermind of Sept. 11 to New York, give him a lawyer and trial in civilian court, we won’t be at war.
The Obama Administration has indeed decided to try Kalid Sheik Mohammed in federal court (a decision I disagreed with, by the way), but this has nothing to do with whether President Obama believes we’re at war, or how he is prosecuting the war in the field.

The biggest problem for me, however, is that Mr. Cheney is being completely hypocritical. Consider the history. During his tenure as Vice President, Mr. Cheney argued that criticizing the President during wartime was nothing less than treason. If he really believes this is true, then Mr. Cheney’s recent comments could only be interpreted in two ways. One possibility is that he is willing to commit treason to get his point across. I don’t believe this is the case, and I’m quite sure Mr. Cheney doesn’t believe his comments make him a traitor – in fact I’m sure he believes he is committing an act of patriotism. The other possibility is that he no longer believes we are at war, and therefore it is perfectly okay to mount such criticism against President Obama. The obvious problem here is that this would contradict the actual content of Mr. Cheney’s comments (is Mr. Cheney “pretending we’re not at war”?), so this is clearly not true either. If neither of these possibilities hold true, then what do we make of Mr. Cheney’s statements?

The only remaining possibility is that Mr. Cheney knows he was wrong about wartime criticism of a President being treason. In fact, I would argue that by making these comments, he is tacitly admitting he was wrong. He knows full well that criticizing the President – at anytime – is absolutely within the rights of all Americans. The problem is that he seems to think that it is only within the rights of those who agree with him.

To criticize a Democratic President during wartime, after arguing that doing so constituted treason when the President was a Republican, is nothing more than blatant partisanship and the height of hypocrisy. This level of hypocrisy is matched only by those on the left who are now calling Mr. Cheney a traitor for criticizing President Obama during wartime, but who never hesitated to criticize President Bush during the war (are you listening, Mr. Olberman?).

Hypocrisy is hypocrisy, and I’ll call it out anytime I see it. I hold the same position now that I have always held – that dissent is an act of patriotism, regardless of who is in the White House.

 

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December 8, 2009 – Look Out! She’s Going Even Rogue-er!

Today Sarah Palin made news – twice. The first news story was not her fault. This incident took place at Mrs. Palin’s book-signing at the Mall of America in Minneapolis, where – no kidding – a man was arrested for throwing tomatoes at her. Apparently this twit threw two tomatoes from a balcony above Mrs. Palin, and his aim was so bad that she was not even aware the incident had occurred. This guy is an embarrassment to those of us who are politically opposed to Sarah Palin (just to clear up any ambiguity, we’re not embarrassed by his poor aim, but rather by the utter classless-ness of his actions). I, for one, don’t want to be associated with this kind of stupidity. Thankfully, he missed.

Today’s other news story involving Sarah Palin, unlike the one about the idiot throwing tomatoes, is of her own doing. She was a guest on a conservative talk radio program hosted by Lars Larson, who asked her if she would consider running as a third-party candidate for President in 2012. Remarkably, she didn’t rule it out – instead, she made it very clear that she has actually given the idea considerable thought, and that her decision would depend on how strongly the Republican Party appeals to its conservative base:

“That depends on how things go in the next couple of years. It really does depend. There are enough Republicans who are realizing, ‘Oh whoops, some of us liberal Republicans have screwed up.’ And I’m not including myself in that group, but some liberal Republicans have screwed up…If the Republican Party gets back to that [conservative] base, I think our party is going to be stronger and there’s not going to be a need for a third party, but I’ll play that by ear in these coming months, coming years.”

In other words, if the Republican Party nominates one of those “liberal Republicans”, there would be a need for a third party?

As a Democrat, my reaction to this would be something along the lines of, “YES!! PLEASE DO IT!! OH PLEASE! OH PLEASE! OH PLEASE…”

The reason this would be so great for the Democrats is that, whatever else can be said about her, Sarah Palin has a very devoted following, all of whom would become seriously energized if she decided to launch an independent campaign for President. Such a bid would have to be taken seriously – not because she might win (there would be no realistic chance of that), but because of what this would do to the Republican candidate. There is no doubt that she would excel at fund-raising, she would garner extensive daily media coverage, she would probably be invited to participate in the Presidential debates, and she believes so strongly in her ideals, and has deluded herself into thinking that a strong majority of Americans agree with her (the actual number is closer to 15%), that she would almost certainly continue her campaign all the way to election day – all at the expense of the Republican nominee. The end result, of course, would be to split the Republican vote and thereby ensure that President Obama is re-elected. Even if she dropped out midway through the campaign (which wouldn’t exactly be out of character), her followers would have been so fired up – not just against President Obama, but against the Republican nominee as well – that they would be too disheartened by her quitting the race to vote at all, depressing Republican turn-out and again ensuring President Obama’s re-election.

As I have argued in A Look Ahead to the 2010 Elections, the conservatives followed this same strategy in the recent special election in New York’s 23rd Congressional district. In that race, a right-wing candidate, Doug Hoffman, ran a third-party campaign to the right of the official Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava. Sarah Palin and other national leaders of the conservative movement (including Rush Limbaugh, Mike Huckabee, and Fred Thompson) got involved by endorsing Hoffman, while other national Republican leaders (including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and current House Minority Leader John Boehner) endorsed Scozzafava. The results of that election were that the Republican vote was split between Scozzafava and Hoffman and the Democratic candidate, Bill Owens, won the election – the first time the Democrats have won in that District since 1872. This strategy of right-wing challenges to moderate Republican candidates is apparently going to be repeated in contests all across the country in the 2010 mid-term elections as the ultra-conservatives attempt to take full control of the Republican Party, with the probable result that the Democrats will hold on to more Congressional seats and Governorships than they otherwise would. If Sarah Palin were to run a third-party campaign to the right of the Republican Presidential nominee, the result would be the same. These right-wingers may have strong opinions, but they’re apparently not so good in math – you can’t win an election with just 15% of the vote, and splitting one side’s vote only makes it easier for the other side to win.

Perhaps these conservatives are more interested in taking over the Republican Party than in actually winning elections?

Another possibility, of course, is that Mrs. Palin is not really considering a third-party run, but is instead trying to use the threat of that prospect as leverage to push the Republican Party further to the right in the selection of their 2012 Presidential candidate. Her statement makes it clear that her decision regarding any potential third-party run will depend on whether the Republicans choose a candidate who, from the particularly singular perspective of Sarah Palin, is not a “liberal Republican”, but instead represents the far right wing – what she considers the “base” of the Republican Party – purely enough to appease her.

Again, my response would be, “YES!! PLEASE OH PLEASE OH PLEASE…”

Historically, extremist candidates – from either party – do not fare well, because Presidential elections are generally won in the middle of the political spectrum, not at the extremes. One example on the Republican side is Barry Goldwater in 1964, who felt the need to defend his extremism in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention by saying “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice…and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue”. On the Democratic side, George McGovern won just one state (Massachusetts) and the District of Columbia in 1972; Richard Nixon won all 49 of the other states, including McGovern’s home state of South Dakota. Both Goldwater and McGovern received less than 40% of the popular vote – among the most dismal showings in American history for a major party’s candidate in a two-way race. A Republican nominee that was conservative enough to satisfy Sarah Palin would fall into this same category, which would clearly be good news for President Obama’s re-election campaign.

This is such a win-win scenario for President Obama that one almost has to wonder if Sarah Palin is secretly working for the Democrats…

 

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November 18, 2009 – This just isn’t funny anymore!

This one is truly outrageous…

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The T-Shirt shown above bears the phrase “Pray for Obama: Psalm 109:8”. Over the last few weeks this phrase has also appeared on all sorts of merchandise, including bumper stickers, coffee mugs, and even teddy bears. While on the surface it seems to express a concern for President Obama’s continued good health, it is actually expressing the exact opposite.

Let me start by saying that I strongly believe that all people have the right to express their opinion – even if they disagree with me – and I would encourage them to do so. If someone doesn’t like President Obama and/or his policies, they should speak up – loudly. As Thomas Jefferson has been credited with saying, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism”.

There is a difference however, between expressing opposition to the President’s policies and calling for the President’s assassination – and, make no mistake, that horrifying possibility is exactly what the above slogan is calling for.

The biblical verse cited in the slogan, Psalms 109:8, reads, “Let his days be few; and let another take his office.” This is hardly a prayer for the President’s continued well-being. When confronted on this, some of those who have propagated or displayed this slogan have defended themselves by claiming that the slogan is just a joke, intended to be taken “tongue-in-cheek”. I have as good a sense of humor as the next guy (and, quite frankly, a better one than most), but I don’t see the humor here at all. I doubt the Secret Service would find it funny either.

Others claim that they actually mean “Let his days in office be few…”; in other words, they argue that this is a call for his removal as President, not his assassination. When this verse is seen in its full context, however, this argument falls apart. The very next verse (Psalms 109:9) reads, “Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.” There is absolutely no ambiguity as to what these words mean. Furthermore, Psalm 109, taken in its entirety, is a call for the unjust kings of ancient Israel to be killed – if not by God himself, then by righteous men. It’s hard to miss what is obviously an intentional analogy. This is clearly not a prayer for President Obama’s impeachment – it is a prayer for President Obama’s death, and that is inexcusable.

I would have thought that religious leaders would be horrified at the thought of the Bible being used in this way, and would rise up in outrage. To attempt to cite a biblical justification for the assassination of a President is a disgraceful misuse of Holy Scripture, yet I haven’t seen the leaders of the Christian Right coming forward to speak out against this. Where are they on this? They are probably at least as offended as I am, but I would like to hear them say so – and do so very publicly.

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Many Americans, including myself, were outraged when a motion picture called Death of a President was released in 2006. The plot of the film revolved around an investigation, conducted many years after the fact, into the fictional assassination of a President, which had, according to the plot of the film, never been solved. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with a film that examines the general subject of an investigation into a Presidential assassination, this particular film used archival footage of George W. Bush himself – the sitting President of the United States at the time – to actually depict President Bush being assassinated. This was completely inappropriate and outrageously offensive, and the film was – properly in my view – universally panned. Most people, including myself, chose not to see the film at all, and it was (deservedly) an utter failure at the box office. This slogan, however, takes things much further than Death of a President. As inappropriate and offensive as that film was, it did not advocate for the assassination of President Bush – it focused on the investigation, rather than on the fictional assassination itself. This slogan, on the other hand, is actually advocating for the assassination of President Obama! This is going too far.

When the promotion of this slogan, which seems to provide a rationale from Holy Scripture for murdering the President, is combined with widely-disseminated email campaigns that claim (erroneously) that President Obama is everything from a Muslim extremist to the biblical Anti-Christ, it is not much of a stretch to imagine some delusional nutcase seeing this as a personal call to action.

The Secret Service has already reported that threats to the President’s life have increased by more than 400% since President Obama took office in January, and are now at a higher frequency than ever before. Given this context, the promotion of this slogan is an especially abhorrent – and unpatriotic – act.

Actions have consequences. If some nutcase comes unhinged and tries to assassinate President Obama – or, God forbid, succeeds – because they “heard the call” from the promoters of this slogan, the President’s blood will be on the hands of those promoters. This is not funny – it is very serious business. Our American freedoms do not extend so far as to include advocating for the assassination of the President of the United States.

Criticizing a President is one thing, advocating for the President’s assassination is quite another. Enough already. There are some lines that cannot be crossed – ever. This is one of them.

 

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November 18, 2009 – This is Utter Madness!

Last Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others currently held at Guantanamo Bay will be tried in federal civilian court for their alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks. The announcement provoked immediate responses from leaders of both parties – with the Democrats generally supportive and the Republicans generally outraged. This may come as a shock to those of you who regularly read this page, but on this one I have to side with the Republicans.

My first reaction to the announcement was along the lines of “What the hell are they thinking?” and, having now slept on it, my reaction hasn’t changed. This decision is utter madness.

Attorney General Holder expressed confidence that “the outcomes in these cases will be successful”, and that an impartial jury could be found that would “ensure a fair trial in New York”. He also referred to these five men as “common criminals”. I disagree on all counts – these men are not common criminals, there will be no way an “impartial” jury can be found in New York City for this trial, and given the myriad potential Constitutional issues, there is no way to guarantee that the outcomes will be successful.

Let’s start with the Constitution of the United States. There are several sections that will come into play here:
• The Fourth Amendment reads in part, “no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
• The Fifth Amendment reads in part, “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury…nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…”,
• The Sixth Amendment reads in part, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed…[and] to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”
• The Eighth Amendment prohibits the infliction of “cruel and unusual punishment”.
Here are just some of the problems (there will most assuredly be many more – not the least of which will be security concerns):
1. If he is to be considered a “common criminal” and face a civilian trial, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would have to have been captured according to the terms of the Fourth Amendment – meaning there would have to have been a proper search warrant. He would had to have been informed of his rights, or “mirandized” (“You have the right to remain silent…” and so on). The same would apply to the other four men to be tried along with him. This was obviously not the case.
2. While the 9/11 attacks could certainly be described as an “infamous crime”, these five men have not been held “on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury”, and have been deprived of their liberty for several years – with no “due process of law” to justify their being held.
3. The fact that these men have been held for so long without having been charged with a crime means they have certainly not been given a “speedy” trial. Attorney General Holder also seems to be sure that an impartial jury can be found in New York City. Really?
4. The requirement that he be “confronted with the witness against him” and “to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor” – which together have historically meant that he have access to all evidence in the case, including any evidence that could prove exculpatory – could require the government to provide these men with access to classified information. Mr. Holder disagrees, and has cited the case of the so-called “20th hijacker”, Zacharias Moussaoui, as an example of a terrorist being successfully tried in civilian court. The problem is that Moussaoui has appealed his conviction on the grounds that he was denied access to potentially exculpatory evidence because that evidence was classified. That appeal is still pending – what if Moussaoui wins that appeal?
5. The government will be required to provide these men with “the assistance of counsel for his defense”. In other words, we taxpayers will have to pay a lawyer who will fight strongly enough to provide what would be considered a “vigorous defense” – the generally accepted standard to uphold a conviction.
6. The CIA has admitted that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in a single month (March of 2003 – the same month the Iraq War began), and it is likely that the other four have been subjected to such treatment as well. Most of the world – including, historically, the United States – regards waterboarding as torture. This would almost certainly qualify as “cruel and unusual punishment”. The government could not possibly enter as evidence any confession or statement made by any of these men while they have been detained – especially anything they said while being waterboarded.

All of these problems would provide the basis for an appeal of any conviction, and this is just a partial list of problems that would arise before the trial even begins! This does not even include the problem of a public trial giving these men a forum from which they can espouse their hatred of America. For this and many other reasons, I sincerely hope the trial is at least not televised…

When asked (by a family member of a 9/11 victim) what would happen if these men are not convicted, Attorney General Holder said, “We would continue to hold them under the laws of war. We believe we have the authority to do that.” Then why risk holding the trial at all?

These men have been held as “enemy combatants” – a term invented by the Bush Administration to avoid having to declare them “prisoners of war”; if they had been considered POWs, they would have had certain rights under the Geneva Conventions – as part of the Global War on Terror. While I have expressed opposition to the use of the term “enemy combatants” before – and I am not backing down from that opposition – the 9/11 attacks were more than an “infamous crime”, they were an act of war. Military tribunals, which have been used by the United States since the American Revolution, would therefore be a far more appropriate venue for these trials.

An even better solution would be to officially declare these men to be “Prisoners of War”. While gaining POW status would provide them with certain rights under the Geneva Conventions (such as visitations by the Red Cross), they could then be detained “for the duration of the conflict”. Since the current conflict – the Global War on Terror – could go on indefinitely, this would allow us to detain these men indefinitely, without ever having to bring them to trial in any venue.

I can live with having to abide by the Geneva Conventions – just call them POWs (which is what they are anyway) and be done with it!

 

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November 17, 2009 – Hasn’t Anybody in Washington Read the Constitution?

It is amazing to me the lack of familiarity with the Constitution shown on occasion by Members of Congress. These people have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution, but – rather embarrassingly – some of them don’t seem to know what’s in it!

Earlier this month it was House Minority Leader John Boehner who, while speaking to a rally on the steps of the Capitol Building, held up a copy of the Constitution, waved it around like a stage prop, and then misquoted it (the quote he recited is actually from the Declaration of Independence).

Now it is an entire group of Republican members of Congress, led by Senator Robert Bennett of Utah, who has introduced legislation (Senate Bill 1688) requiring the Census Bureau to determine the citizenship status of all respondents, and then to reapportion seats in the House of Representatives based only on the number of citizens in each state, rather than the total number of persons. He has even accumulated six Senate co-sponsors for the bill: Senators Jim Bunning of Kentucky, Mike Crapo of Idaho, James Inhoffe of Oklahoma, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Michael Enzi of Wyoming, and David Vitter of Louisiana. A version of the bill (House bill 3797) has been introduced in the House by Representative Virginia Fox of North Carolina, who has lined up no fewer than twenty co-sponsors (the full list can be found below).

While there may certainly be some popular sentiment in support of such a bill, none of these Senators or Representatives seem to be aware that this would be a flagrant violation of the Constitution of the United States of America, which reads, “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed.” (14th Amendment, Section 2; emphasis added).

It is important to understand that the Constitution makes a clear distinction between “persons” and “citizens”. Section 1 of the 14th Amendment reads, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” “Citizens” are unmistakably defined here as only those persons who were “born or naturalized in the United States”, differentiating those who thereby qualify as “citizens” from the rest of the “persons”. Some provisions in the Constitution specifically apply only to “citizens”, while other provisions apply to the broader group of “persons”. The provision establishing the census specifically requires that the reapportionment of Congressional seats be based on “the whole number of persons in each state”.

Accordingly, the reapportionment of Congressional seats has never – at any point in American history – been based on a count limited to citizens. As an example, the first eight times the census was conducted, from 1790 through 1860, the count used as the basis for reapportionment included three-fifths of the total number of slaves, even though slaves were not citizens (they finally became citizens when the 14th Amendment was passed in 1868). As another example, during the period of westward expansion, the nation was flooded with immigrants who flocked to the open territories – and who were always counted in the census for determining the Congressional representation when those territories became states.

There are those who will argue that times are different now – the issue of “illegal immigration” is actually a relatively recent development – and that we need to change how states are allotted seats in the House of Representatives to reflect this new state of affairs. Perhaps, but such a change could not be accomplished with a mere bill; it would require nothing less than an amendment to the Constitution, and there is simply no chance of that happening – and certainly not before the 2010 census. Amending the Constitution requires the approval of two-thirds of both Houses of Congress (290 votes in the House; 67 votes in the Senate), and then ratification by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states (38 states). This is the procedure that must be followed if such a change is to be made. All I would say is, good luck – let me know how that works out for you.

Unless and until such an amendment is ratified, the Constitution will continue to require that Congressional reapportionment be based on “the whole number of persons in each state”, and we simply do not have the option of going against the Constitution. Like it or not, we will have to include every person, not just the citizens.

Perhaps instead of waving copies of the Constitution in the air as if it were little more than a stage prop, these Members of Congress should actually read it.

The following Representatives have signed on as co-sponsors of the House version of the bill introduced by Representative Virginia Fox (R-NC):

Rodney Alexander (R-LA) Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD)
Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) Paul Broun (R-GA)
Dan Burton (R-IN) Jason Chaffetz (R-UT)
Tom Cole (R-OK) Geoff Davis (R-KY)
Scott Garrett (R-NJ) Phil Gingrey (R-GA)
Gregg Harper (R-MS) Sam Johnson (R-TX)
Walter Jones, Jr. (R-NC) Jim Jordan (R-OH)
John Kline (R-MN) Doug Lamborn (R-CO)
Robert Latta (R-OH) Christopher Lee (R-NY)
Kenny Marchant (R-TX) Tom McClintock (R-CA)

 

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November 12, 2009 – She’s “Going Rogue” – again!

On Tuesday, November 17th, Sarah Palin’s autobiography, Going Rogue: An American Life, will officially be released. However, it has somehow – although not too surprisingly – already been “leaked” online. Among the notable aspects of the book are that, despite being a full-length book, it has only five chapters – including chapters on her family, her career, and her faith – but no index. Mrs. Palin will also “name names” in a section that includes vigorous criticism of some members of John McCain’s Presidential campaign staff, which doesn’t sound like this book will do much to heal the growing rift within the Republican Party. It is more than likely that there will be some rebuttals from the staffers she names – just who should accept the blame for what went wrong with that campaign is certainly open to dispute – meaning there will be some serious entertainment for us Democrats in the coming days…

There is one particular allegation she makes in the book that is not open to dispute, however. It is completely false, and it was – get this – the Fox News Channel that called her out on it!

In her book, Mrs. Palin accuses President Obama as somehow being behind the decision to place the phrase “In God We Trust” on the edge of the new Presidential Dollar coins, rather than on the face of the coins – a decision she considers to be “anti-God”. As Fox News – of all people – pointed out, the design of the Presidential Dollar Coin series was established by legislation approved by Congress back in 2005 – at a time when both Houses of Congress were controlled by the Republicans (and President Obama was just a freshman Senator from the minority party) – and signed into law by then-President George W. Bush. The designer of the coins was Joel Iskowitz, who lives in Woodstock, New York. Legislation to alter the design to move the phrase “In God We Trust” from the edge of the coin to the front face of the coin was co-sponsored by Republican Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas (one of the most conservative members of the Senate and briefly a 2008 Presidential candidate) and Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia (one of the most liberal members – and currently the President Pro Tempore – of the Senate) and passed in 2007. Clearly President Obama is not the one behind the design of these coins.

One has to wonder if anyone even read this book – much less edited or fact-checked it – before it was rushed into print. In my view, this is just one more serious dent in the national stature of Sarah Palin – when the Fox News Channel calls you out on your lies, you are pretty much finished as a leader of the Republican Party!

By the way, the Presidential Dollar coin series is being released in groups of four coins per year, in the order that the Presidents served in office. Coins depicting those Presidents still living at the time their coin is scheduled to be released – which could include Jimmy Carter (scheduled for release in 2016) and George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama (all would be scheduled for release in 2017), and subsequent Presidents – will not be released until after their death, because federal law prohibits the depiction of any living person on United States currency. The first Presidential Dollar coins were released by the US Mint in 2007, and included coins depicting the first four Presidents: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. In 2008, four more coins were released, depicting Presidents James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, and Martin Van Buren. All of these coins had the phrases “In God We Trust” and “E Pluribus Unum”, as well as the minting year, on the edge of the coins (see the photos below). [Note: There was an angry email campaign that circulated in 2007, claiming that the phrase “In God We Trust” had been omitted from the Presidential Dollar coins entirely. This was false, and came about as a result of a small percentage (an estimated 50,000 out of 300,000,000 coins, or less than one-fifth of one percent) of the first George Washington dollars being erroneously released without the edges having been minted on them. The US Mint admitted the error, and these smooth-edged coins are now hot collector’s items.].

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Beginning with the coins released in 2009, all future Presidential Dollar coins will have the phrase “In God We Trust” on the front face of the coins (see the picture below), and the phrase “E Pluribus Unum” and the minting year on the edge.

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There are certainly many battles Mrs. Palin could fight with President Obama. Why she would pick this one is beyond me.

 

UPDATE (11/19/09): The serious entertainment has already begun!

NBC News reports that Senator John McCain “has specifically asked his former aides not to do interviews rebutting Palin’s charges in her book — to avoid escalating the feud between her and the campaign staff. Most are complying with his wishes, hoping it will die down.”

Well, perhaps most are complying, but certainly not all.

In the book, Mrs. Palin accuses McCain Campaign Communications Aide Nicolle Wallace of, among other things, having aggressively “pushed for Katie Couric and the CBS Evening News”:

“Nicolle went on to explain that Katie really needed a career boost. “She just has such low self-esteem,” Nicolle said. She added that Katie was going through a tough time. “She just feels she can’t trust anybody.” I was thinking, And this has to do with John McCain’s campaign how?”

Nicolle Wallace, responding to Mrs. Palin’s allegations against her, said that the conversations that appear verbatim in the book had to have been “fabricated,” noting that Mrs. Palin never recorded conversations with campaign staff, nor did she take notes during those conversations.
She gave the following statements to a producer for MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show:

On how Couric was chosen to interview Palin:

“The whole notion there was a conversation where I tried to cajole her into a conversation with Katie [Couric] is fiction…. I am not someone who throws around the word ‘self-esteem.’ It is a fictional description. Katie Couric was selected because we did evening anchors…. I did not advocate an interview for anyone I am friends with.”

On preparation and expectations for the Couric interview [which Mrs. Palin claims was to have been promoted as a conversation between two working women]:

“We set up this interview on the day of the U.N. General Assembly, with a walk-and-talk in front of the U.N. It was never made as two working gals. It’s either rationalization or justification or fiction. That was supposed to be to highlight her foreign policy savvy [in the context of] the U.N. General Assembly. The picture is in front of the U.N. to highlight her expertise and readiness to be Vice President — it wasn’t about two working gals.”

On her overall reaction to Palin’s book:

“I think she has probably a legitimate complaint that things could have been better conceived and executed. A book about that would have been painful but not entirely unfair. What she gets wrong is this personalization that [Steve] Schmidt and I were these lone villains — and that took place entirely in her imagination. Just like the Obama and Clinton campaigns, we were consensus driven…. I think she fixated on me from very early on. She hated me from the beginning. I try not to take it personally, the fact is that she wrote a book based on fabrications. She gave a brilliant convention speech — other interviews that inspired support. But this book is a bizarre fixation on things that everyone else has moved on from.”
Former McCain Campaign Manager Mark Salter has backed up Ms. Wallace’s version of events, saying that all interviews, including the interview with Couric, were “discussed and agreed to by senior members of the campaign staff in consultation with the candidate” and that Wallace did not choose either the journalists or the outlets Palin spoke to. “Nicolle Wallace, along with others, was tasked with helping the Governor prepare for some of her interviews. She did not decide which interview requests the candidates would accept. Nor was she tasked with securing the candidates’ agreement,” Salter said, adding, “To the best of my knowledge, any interviews the Governor had with the individuals she referred to were approved and arranged by the campaign management with her agreement.”

Former McCain Campaign strategist John Weaver slammed Mrs. Palin for using the book for score-settling: “Sarah Palin reminds me of Jimmy Stewart in the movie ‘Harvey,’ complete with imaginary conversations. All books like these are revisionist and self-serving, by definition,” he said, “but the score-settling by someone who wants to be considered a serious national player is petty and pathetic.” Regarding Mrs. Palin’s complaints about the Couric interview, Weaver said, “The problem wasn’t who her interview was with, the problem was her interview. Couric asked no trick questions.”

McCain Campaign Manager Steve Schmidt, who is the subject of much of Mrs. Palin’s wrath, has said of Palin’s book, “It’s all fiction.”

Despite imploring his former campaign staffers to avoid a public confrontation with Mrs. Palin, even Senator John McCain himself has gotten into the act. He spoke to The Hill (a magazine that covers Congress), denying Mrs. Palin’s allegation that the McCain campaign charged her $50,000 for the legal costs incurred in vetting her as a Vice-Presidential candidate. According to Senator McCain, “That was over the Troopergate” [“Troopergate” was a scandal relating to then-Governor Palin’s alleged involvement in the attempted firing of an Alaska State Trooper, Mike Wooten, who just happened to be in a custody battle with Mrs. Palin’s sister at the time].

Senator McCain’s General Counsel, Trevor Potter, has also denied this allegation, saying, “To my knowledge, the campaign never billed Governor Palin for any legal expenses relating to her vetting and I am not aware of her ever asking the campaign to pay legal expenses that her own lawyers incurred for the vetting process.”

Senator McCain has made it clear that he would prefer the whole thing would just go away, saying “Look, I’m just moving on. I’m just moving on, and I’ve got too many other things to worry about except to say that I’m proud of my campaign.”

Now that’s entertainment!

 

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November 6, 2009 – What’s That You’re Holding?

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There was a “Tea Party” rally in Washington D.C. yesterday to protest the Democratic efforts to reform the health care system, and several prominent Republicans were featured speakers – among them House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio. Representative Boehner, as can be seen in the photograph above (you can also watch the video), held up a pocket-sized booklet of the Constitution of the United States of America and, waving the booklet in the air, said, “This is my copy of the Constitution. And I’m gonna stand here with our Founding Fathers, who wrote in the Preamble: ‘We hold these truths to be self evident – that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ ”

Perhaps someone should point out to the Minority Leader what our Founding Fathers actually wrote in the preamble to the Constitution (those of us who remember “Schoolhouse Rock” can sing along):

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

You may notice that, despite waving around his copy of the Constitution and prefacing the quote by saying that these words were written by the Founding Fathers as part of the Preamble to the Constitution, Representative Boehner recited words that are not actually found there – or anywhere else in the Constitution, for that matter.

The words he recited are actually found in the Declaration of Independence, written in 1776 by Thomas Jefferson, who was serving as our Ambassador to France in 1787 when the Constitutional Convention took place, and was therefore not involved in writing the Constitution. The Declaration of Independence was signed by an almost entirely different group of men than those who signed the Constitution eleven years later (there were only six men who actually signed both documents: Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, George Clymer, Robert Morris, James Wilson, and George Read), so it seems fair to ask which of the Founding Fathers Representative Boehner thought he was standing with.

Perhaps it is a small point. To be sure, the “average Joe” on the street would probably mix up these two documents as well – if he knew them at all. It’s a mistake that anyone could make. But is it too much to ask that members of Congress – or, if not the general membership, then at least the leadership of Congress – know American history well enough to know the difference between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution? Is it really too much to ask that, if they are going to wave around a copy of the Constitution like a stage prop and claim they are standing with the Founding Fathers who wrote it, that they actually have some idea what that document says?

Apparently it is.

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November 2, 2009 – Of Blue Dogs and Doghouses

Harry Reid has put the Blue Dogs on the spot, and Joe Lieberman may have finally put himself in the doghouse for good. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada announced on Friday, October 30th that he will include a public option in the Health Care Reform bill that will be considered on the Senate floor. The following day, Independent Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut announced that he will join a Republican filibuster of the bill – if it remains unchanged. The significance of these moves goes far beyond the current Health Care debate.

First of all, Senator Reid has now significantly enhanced the probability that a public option – something that was considered “dead in the water” as recently as September – will be part of the bill that eventually reaches President Obama’s desk (yes, I believe Health Care Reform will eventually pass the Congress, and that it will include a public option of some sort). The House of Representatives is already certain to pass a bill that includes a “robust” public option and now, thanks to Senator Reid, the Senate will have to muster the votes needed to pass an amendment that would remove the public option from Senator Reid’s bill in order to pass a bill that does not include a public option. Given that 55 Senators have already gone on record in support of a public option, there is no way such an amendment would pass – much less get the 60 votes that would likely be needed to avoid an all-but-certain Democratic filibuster. In other words, Senator Reid just fundamentally changed the game; where before it was a question of finding 60 votes to pass a public option, the Senate will now need 60 votes to defeat a public option!

Of course, Senator Reid’s Health Care Reform legislation will still need to get the 60 votes necessary for “cloture” (an end to debate so the bill can be brought up for an up-or-down vote) to defeat the expected Republican filibuster, but it now appears that Senator Reid believes he will have those 60 votes. There remains some doubt whether some of the so-called “Blue Dogs” (along with Senator Lieberman, this includes conservative Democrats, specifically Democratic Senators Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Max Baucus of Montana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and Kent Conrad of North Dakota, among others) will support cloture on a bill that includes a public option, but Senator Reid is known to have met with each of these Senators in the days preceding his announcement, and it seems unlikely that he would be bringing this bill to the floor had he did not think he would be able to convince them to at least support cloture (even if they plan on voting against the bill on the actual up-or-down vote). As a result of Senator Reid’s action, the public option can now only be defeated if one or more of these Blue Dogs joins the Republicans in a filibuster of theentire Health Care Reform package, as Senator Lieberman is threatening to do.

There are two reasons I believe this is not likely to happen. One is that the Republicans may not be entirely unified; Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine voted in favor of the Health Care Reform bill passed by the Senate Finance Committee and may end up supporting Senator Reid’s bill, and Senator Susan Collins (also of Maine) has indicated that she might also vote in favor. The second reason is that any of the Blue Dogs who join in a Republican filibuster of the bill would have to do so very publicly. They could no longer hide behind a veil of “back-room deals” and vague statements of non-committal; they would be called out individually as being THE reason the entire Health Care Reform effort failed (this is already happening to Senator Lieberman). This would be a major news story, especially in their home states. Many of these Blue Dogs will be facing tough re-election battles in the next few years (most notably Senators Lincoln, Landrieu and Lieberman), and will need the full support of the Democratic establishment to help their campaigns. Do they really want to buck the Democratic leadership by supporting a Republican filibuster of legislation on an issue that has been a top priority of the Democratic Party since Harry Truman? Despite Senator Lieberman’s posturing – he is the only Blue Dog that probably wouldn’t be able to count on Democratic party support – I don’t think any of them will want to do that.

Another possibility – and this remains a last resort – is that Senator Reid could push his bill through under a procedure called “budget reconciliation”. Senate rules do not allow for a filibuster on legislation brought up for a vote under reconciliation, meaning that Senator Reid’s bill would only need a simple majority to pass – not the 60 votes needed to defeat a filibuster under the normal procedures. Under the Constitution, Vice President Joe Biden could even provide a tie-breaking vote in the Senate, meaning that Senator Reid would only need 50 Senators voting in favor of his bill – and there are clearly more than that already committed to vote in favor. Although reconciliation would be an act of desperation, Senator Reid has made it clear that the option remains on the table.

The reason using reconciliation would be such an act of desperation is that doing so would cause such consternation and outrage in the Senate that the Republicans would be sure to retaliate. This is no small consideration – even with the Democrats having a 60-vote “super-majority” in the Senate, the Republicans have many procedural options available to them that could stop the Democrats from getting anything done. Among these options would be to simply insist that all Senate rules be followed. While this sounds fairly obvious, most people don’t pay close enough attention to the daily Senate proceedings to understand that following all of the Senate rules is not normal procedure – in fact it would wreak havoc on the most basic functions of the Senate. The full rules of the Senate can be found in something called “Jefferson’s Manual”, and literally date back to Thomas Jefferson’s term as Vice President of the United States (1797-1801). Many of these rules are so antiquated that each daily Senate session has to open with a motion to waive several of them, and because it is so routine, the presiding officer automatically responds to this motion by saying “hearing no objection, it is so ordered” (there is never an objection). The result of this motion is that the Senate is able to function more efficiently – committee hearings can proceed without a 2-hour/day time limit, many bills can be passed quickly by “unanimous consent”, and so on. This is absolutely the accepted normal routine. If any Republicans objected to the motion – all it would take is a single Senator to object – those rules would all have to be followed to the letter, meaning that the Senate would become bogged down in procedural votes on every single piece of business that comes up – no matter how insignificant. Instead of disposing of routine business in a matter of a few minutes at the beginning of each day’s session, Senators would have to spend entire days going through that business, preventing the Senate from dealing with anything else. Essentially this would bring the normal functioning of the Senate to a grinding halt. The Republicans would have other options as well – including an endless array of amendments that could be proposed for every single piece of legislation that comes up for consideration – and it is the possibility of this retaliation that makes reconciliation a last resort.

What this means in a nutshell is that Health Care Reform, including a public option, is likely to pass the Congress soon. There is still work to do: each House still has to actually pass its version of the bill, and those differing versions will need to be reconciled by a “conference committee”. (This was where the main stumbling block was perceived to be – if the House passed a bill with a public option and the Senate passed a bill without one, the two bills might have been irreconcilable. Now that both versions will probably include a public option, the reconciliation is likely to be much easier.) The resulting reconciled bill will then have to pass both Houses before it could finally be sent to President Obama for his signature, but I believe this IS going to happen. The final outcome no longer seems in doubt; the only remaining questions involve specific details and timing.

But the implications of all this go beyond passing Health Care Reform.

IMPLICATIONS FOR FUTURE LEGISLATION

The main delay of Health Care Reform has not come from the Republicans (no matter how much they would like to claim the credit for it); the delay has come from the Blue Dogs. If these conservative Democrats win out and prevent a public option from being included in the bill, this will serve as a blueprint for how the Blue Dogs can hold the Democratic agenda hostage. The Democratic leadership would have to allow the Blue Dogs to dictate the terms of any future legislation. This would affect everything from energy policy to immigration reform, from global climate change policy to education reform. Legislation on all of these issues will soon be considered in the Congress, and the Blue Dogs are attempting to position themselves as the “King-Makers” in the Senate. [One has to wonder where these Blue Dogs were during the Bush Administration – why do they suddenly feel the need force moderation into Democratic bills when they didn’t seem to feel the same need when the Republicans held the Senate majority?]

Senator Reid has essentially called their bluff. Rather than acquiescing to the Blue Dogs’ demands, Senator Reid is forcing them to “put up or shut up”. If they want to stop a public option now, they will have to go against President Obama’s top priority very publicly and very individually, and Senator Reid is taking the chance that none of them will want to do that.

Rather than serving as a blueprint for how the Blue Dogs could control the Democratic agenda, Senator Reid’s inclusion of the public option in the Health Care Reform bill may now serve as a blueprint for how the Democratic leadership can keep the Blue Dogs in check. The implications for all of those other issues that will be coming up in the near future are clear – it will be more likely that the progressive versions ultimately pass.

IMPLICATIONS FOR HARRY REID’S RE-ELECTION

Another major implication relates to Harry Reid himself. He is perhaps the single-most vulnerable Senator up for re-election in 2010, and he may have just made himself far less vulnerable. By forcing the issue on the public option, Senator Reid is making the progressive wing of his party much happier than they have otherwise been with him, and as a result he will be more likely to enjoy the full support of labor unions and activists during his 2010 re-election campaign – something that will be an especially huge factor in Clark County (the Las Vegas/Henderson area), where more than two-thirds of the entire population of Nevada lives – and votes. Senator Reid still faces a steep uphill climb for re-election, but strong union support, combined with the Republicans’ failure (so far) to recruit a top-tier challenger to face him, might just do the trick.

IMPLICATIONS FOR SENATOR LIEBERMAN

Senator Lieberman’s announcement that he would actually join a Republican filibuster of the Health Care Reform bill may make things more difficult for the bill’s chances, but the most likely result is that this will make things more difficult for Senator Lieberman! In 2006, Senator Lieberman was already so unpopular with Connecticut Democrats that he lost the Democratic primary election for his own party’s nomination to his own Senate seat (he lost – badly – to Ned Lamont), and had to run for re-election as an Independent. In 2008, he not only campaigned for Republican Senator John McCain in the Presidential race, he was a prime-time speaker at the Republican National Convention and campaigned for Republican candidates for other “down-ballot” offices as well. Nevertheless, he was allowed to remain in the Democratic caucus in the Senate – primarily because the Democrats were so close to the 60-vote “super-majority” and they needed his vote – and he was even allowed to keep his seniority and his Chairmanship of the powerful Homeland Security Committee. In exchange for all of these concessions, Senator Lieberman promised Senator Reid and the rest of the Democratic leadership that he would vote with the Democrats on procedural votes (like, say, a cloture vote). Now he is saying he will actually filibuster against a bill that represents the best chance in 50 years to pass one of the Democrats’ top priorities – and went even further by announcing this past weekend that he plans to campaign for Republican candidates (such as Senator Susan Collins of Maine) in the 2010 campaign! The clamoring has already begun among the Senate Democrats to strip Senator Lieberman of his seniority and chairmanship, and perhaps even to kick him out of the Democratic caucus altogether. It is hard not to see their point – if Senator Lieberman is going to filibuster their top priorities, what exactly do the Senate Democrats gain by allowing him to keep his seniority and his committee chairmanship?

Another implication for Senator Lieberman lies in the fact that he faces re-election for his Connecticut Senate seat in 2012. Recent polls indicate that 68% of Connecticut voters support a public option. Just who is it that Senator Lieberman is representing in the Senate if he is going to filibuster something supported by better than two-thirds of his constituents?

IMPLICATIONS FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA’S LEADERSHIP

Successfully passing meaningful Health Care Reform will also have implications for President Obama and his ability to lead. Health Care Reform has been widely regarded as a major test of President Obama’s leadership and how he would work with the Congress, and he will be a huge beneficiary if the legislation is successfully passed. His name will forever be associated with Health Care Reform, much as Franklin Roosevelt’s name is associated with Social Security and the New Deal, Lyndon Johnson’s name is associated with Medicare and the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s, and Ronald Reagan’s name is associated with winning the Cold War. It will be a major achievement – not his “Waterloo”, as Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) predicted it would be – especially since it will probably come during his first year in office (meaning before January 20th, 2010). He will have earned significant political capital, which he will be able to use to push legislation through on many other issues.

IMPLICATIONS FOR THE 2010 ELECTIONS

Another factor to consider is that a successful President is usually a popular President. If Health Care Reform passes – as now appears likely – and President Obama then uses his new-found political capital to move more of his agenda through the Congress, he will be seen as an effective leader and his approval ratings will go up significantly – and he is likely to bring the Congressional Democrats along with him. The President and the Democrat-led Congress will be seen to be working together to accomplish major reforms, and reform – or “change”, as it was called during the 2008 campaign – enjoys the support of most Americans (hence the election results of last November). This has major implications for the 2010 Congressional elections. Any mid-term election, such as will take place in 2010, usually serves as a referendum on the sitting President, and historically (but with some notable exceptions) the President’s party loses seats in Congress. Whether the Democrats lose their current 60-seat “super majority” (or even hold their simple majority) or expand their numbers to more than 60 in the Senate is one question that hangs in the balance; whether they will decrease, expand, or even hold their majority in the House is another. The various right-wing talk show hosts (Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and others) are already talking about the Republican “comeback” in the 2010 Congressional races, but this impending Republican “comeback” in Congress may be wishful thinking; a CNN/Opinion Research poll released on October 30th showed Congressional Republicans with an approval rating of just 36%. This is consistent with other recent polls – a Washington/Post ABC poll in June also put Congressional Republicans at a 36% approval rating, while the New York Times rated them at 29%, Pew Research gave them 28%, and NBC showed them at just a 25% approval rating. Congressional Democrats, on the other hand, have an approval rating of 53%, according to the CNN/Opinion Research poll. Other recent polls show generic Democrats beating generic Republicans (some of these polls show a double-digit margin), and the current Real Clear Politics (RCP) Average gives the Democrats better than a 5-point lead, meaning that it is not likely that the Republicans can take back the majority in the House – at least at this point. Given the specific Senate seats that are up for re-election in 2010, the Democrats are actually favored – for now – to gain seats in the Senate (read more on the 2010 Senate races here).

How all of this plays out over the coming weeks and months will be fascinating, but keep in mind these implications as you watch – it will make it even more fun!

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October 22nd, 2009 – Who’s “Dithering”?

In a speech yesterday at the Center for Security Policy, former Vice President Dick Cheney said that President Obama should “stop the dithering” on his Afghanistan policy, and should reach a decision on whether to send additional troops.

“Dithering”? Who even uses that word anymore?

Seriously, President Obama has been mulling over a request from General Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in the Afghanistan theater, for additional troops. General McChrystal has reportedly developed three options ranging from 10,000 troops to as many as 80,000 (according to the AP), but he is recommending an increase of 40,000 troops. General McChrystal wants to utilize a counter-insurgency strategy (or COIN, in military parlance) – similar to that used by General David Patraeus in Iraq – that would involve fighting insurgents in a given area, and once that area is secure, leaving that area in the control of the Afghan military forces while our troops move on to fight insurgents elsewhere. In order to authorize General McChrystal to implement such a strategy, President Obama needs to know that the Afghan government will be able to provide the military forces necessary to control those areas that have been secured, and that will depend on who will be in charge of the government of Afghanistan. Because of this, President Obama has been waiting for the November 7th run-off election between incumbent President Hamid Karzai and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah (the August election in Afghanistan was declared invalid due to corruption and voter fraud). The eventual outcome of the run-off is, at best, uncertain.

President Obama has been meeting with his advisors and generals in anticipation of the November 7th election date, but has not yet announced a decision on how he will proceed. It is a complicated decision – because the war in Afghanistan is a complicated war. There are so many basic, fundamental questions that remain unanswered regarding the war in Afghanistan that no decision can possibly be made on a troop increase until these questions are answered. Who is our enemy? What is our objective – to establish a new stable government in Afghanistan or to defeat al Queda? Are we willing to accept a role for the Taliban in the new Afghanistan government, or is the Taliban as much our enemy as al Queda is? Are we nation-building, or are we retaliating for the attacks of 9/11? If al Queda leaves Afghanistan entirely and moves to, say, Somalia or Sudan, will we leave Afghanistan and follow them, or will we stay to maintain control in Afghanistan? Will we attack al Queda inside Pakistan, our nuclear-armed ally, where most of al Queda seems to have relocated – and where al Queda enjoys the support of a large majority of the population?

It is important to remember that the Obama Administration inherited this mess from the Bush/Cheney Administration, who utterly failed to resolve these questions for more than seven years, yet Mr. Cheney has somehow reached the conclusion that it is President Obama who is “dithering”. Even some other Republicans have risen to President Obama’s defense. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), appearing on MSNBC, said, “I think President Obama is entitled to take sufficient time to decide what our long-term role ought to be in Afghanistan. I want him to take the time to get it right.”

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, when asked today about Mr. Cheney’s comments, said, “What Vice President Cheney calls ‘dithering’, President Obama calls his solemn responsibility to the men and women in uniform and to the American public. I think we’ve all seen what happens when somebody doesn’t take that responsibility seriously.” He added that Mr. Cheney’s comments were curious “given the fact that [a request for] an increase in troops sat on desks in this White House, including the vice president’s, for more than eight months,” and that it was President Obama who finally filled that request in March, when he sent 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan.

Mr. Cheney’s remarks are all the more striking considering that he played such a key role in the Bush/Cheney Administration’s Afghanistan policy from the beginning of that war in the Fall of 2001, as well as in the diversion of vast amounts of military resources away from the war in Afghanistan and into Iraq instead.

If anyone has “dithered” in Afghanistan, it was the Bush/Cheney Administration, which virtually ignored the war in Afghanistan for over seven years. No attempt by Mr. Cheney to re-write that history will change the fact that the Bush/Cheney Administration allowed the effort in Afghanistan to languish, while they focused on the diversion of resources away from Afghanistan and into their war of choice in Iraq. It is high time that the war in Afghanistan got the appropriate consideration – it is this war, after all, that began as our retaliation against those who attacked us on 9/11. Senator Alexander is absolutely correct – President Obama needs to get this decision right, and he should take the time necessary to ensure that he does indeed get it right. The Bush/Cheney Administration “dithered” for over seven years – waiting a few more weeks now for the information needed to make the best decision won’t do near the harm to American interests – or to our troops – that was done by the Bush/Cheney Administration’s “dithering” for those seven years.

For his part, when asked to comment on some of President Obama’s policies, former President George W. Bush said – appropriately, in my view – that President Obama deserves his silence. Perhaps Mr. Cheney should follow his example.

[UPDATE (11/2/09): Abdullah Abdullah has unexpectedly withdrawn from the Afghan run-off election, leaving incumbent President Hamid Karzai as the only candidate left standing. In response, the Obama Administration has now declared Karzai’s re-election to be legitimate. An announcement on the requested troop increase is expected soon.]

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October 9, 2009 – President Obama’s Peace Prize Surprise

This morning, the Nobel Prize Committee awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama, for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” adding “The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.” The announcement stunned just about everybody – perhaps no one more than President Obama himself, whose reaction was reportedly one of “stunned disbelief”.

In a hastily-prepared statement, President Obama said he was “surprised and deeply humbled” by the award. He certainly looked surprised. His staff apparently didn’t see this one coming either; when the White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, was awoken at his home in the wee hours of the morning and asked to comment on the award, Emanuel thought he was being “punked” (for those of you who are not up on these things, this means he thought it was a practical joke).

Regardless of whether you believe President Obama deserved the award (there was certainly no shortage of other deserving candidates), two things are clear: first, that any blame for his receiving it should be placed on the Nobel Committee, not on President Obama and, second, that the key question now is what impact the award will have on President Obama’s future diplomatic efforts. Despite some calls (from both ends of the political spectrum) for President Obama to respectfully decline the award, the President chose to accept the award as a “call to action”. It is now up to him to use it effectively. One would hope he will use the award to add strength to his efforts on a wide spectrum of issues, from the ongoing genocide in Darfur to China’s human rights violations to peace talks in the Middle East, among others. Exactly what practical leverage the award actually gives President Obama remains to be seen, but at the very least it should give him some added prestige on the world stage – and that can only help.

 

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Editor’s Note: Sorry about the gap between entries – my computer was stricken with the “blue screen of death” and it has taken me awhile to get things back up and running…

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June 25, 2009 – The Governor’s Not-So-Excellent Adventure

Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina, who recently gained national headlines for refusing to accept $700 million in federal stimulus money, has finally resurfaced after having gone “missing” (quite literally) for almost a week. He had last been seen on Thursday, June 18th, leaving the State Capitol at around 1:45 in the afternoon, driving a black Suburban belonging to the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED). He was alone, having left his normal security detail behind. A mobile telephone tower near Atlanta, Georgia picked up a signal from the Governor’s cell phone at 5:40 pm that day – the last known contact anyone had with the Governor before he disappeared. The SLED Suburban was later located parked in a lot at Columbia Metropolitan Airport.

On Friday, June 19th, state law enforcement officials tried to reach the Governor, leaving voice and text messages on his cell phone, but received no response. The Governor’s whereabouts were unknown to not just us regular folk and the media, but to the state’s law enforcement agency, the Lieutenant Governor (who would be in charge of the state’s executive branch in the case of Governor Sanford’s absence) and even to his wife and four young sons – on Father’s Day!

As word of the Governor’s absence spread, alarm began to build in the halls of the South Carolina capitol. Questions were raised (by State Senator Jake Knotts, among others) about just who was in charge, and no one seemed to have the answers – not SLED Chief Reggie Lloyd, not Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer, and not even the Governor’s staff, who – without providing any details – on Saturday assured state law enforcement officials that there was no reason for concern.

By Monday, June 22nd, the missing Governor had become a national story, and conflicting statements were emerging from South Carolina’s statehouse. At around 2:50 pm, the governor’s office issued a statement saying that Governor Sanford was “taking some time away from the office this week to recharge after the stimulus battle”, but did not offer any specifics. At 3:40 pm, the lieutenant governor’s office said that they had been informed by the Governor’s office that the Governor’s staff had spoken to Governor Sanford and knew where he was. By 5 pm, however, Joel Sawyer, Governor Sanford’s spokesman, denied that Sanford staffers had told the Lieutenant Governor’s office that anyone from the Governor’s office had spoken with the Governor. Mr. Sawyer also said, “Before leaving last week, (Sanford) let staff know his whereabouts and that he’d be difficult to reach”, but declined to elaborate. Mr. Sawyer also admitted that he didn’t know whether Sanford was even in the country. Then, at 10:05 pm Monday, the Governor’s office issued another statement, this one saying that Governor Sanford was “hiking on the Appalachian Trail”, but noting that staff members did not know precisely where on the trail the Governor might be, or whether he was hiking with anyone else.

(An amusing side note: Sunday, June 21st was “National Nude Hiking Day”. Hmmm.)

On the morning of Tuesday, June 23, the governor’s office issued yet another statement, this time saying that staffers have spoken with Governor Sanford and he will return to work “today”. However, the Governor did not arrive until Wednesday, June 24, when he disembarked from a flight at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta for the drive back to Columbia. The Governor admitted that he had decided not to return to the Columbia airport so that he could avoid the media (reporters from only one media outlet, The State, a newspaper that covers South Carolina’s government, were waiting for the Governor at the Hartsfield-Jackson airport). When they asked him about the reaction to his absence, Governor Sanford said, apparently not seeing why it would be a big deal for him to drop off the radar for a week, “I don’t know how this thing got blown out of proportion.” He told reporters that, while he had considered hiking the Appalachian Trail, he instead decided “at the last minute” to do “something exotic” and go – alone – to Buenos Aires, Argentina. He offered no details about what he had done there, other than to say he “drove along the coastline”. The State noted that even this raises some questions: “Trying to drive along the coast could frustrate a weekend visitor to Argentina. In Buenos Aires, the Avenida Costanera is the only coastal road, and it’s less than two miles long. Reaching coastal resorts to the south requires a drive of nearly four hours on an inland highway with views of endless cattle ranches. To the north is a river delta of islands reached only by boat.” When asked why his office had said he had been hiking on the Appalachian Trail, the Governor said, “I don’t know” but that “in fairness to his staff”, he had told them that he might do so.

Then the real bombshell hit. Not only did the Governor abandon his duties. Not only did he leave his family on Father’s Day. Not only did he put himself out of touch without making arrangements for emergencies. On Wednesday, the Governor admitted, at an afternoon press conference held upon his return to Columbia, that his trip to Argentina had not been to unwind after a tough legislative session, but that he had actually gone to Buenos Aires to visit a woman with he had been having an affair over the past year.

Wow.

So what is the upshot of all this? In my view, although he gave the usual apology to his wife and sons, his extra-marital affair will be devastating for any Presidential ambitions he may have been harboring. Even without the affair, it wasn’t going to bode well for the Governor’s presumed 2012 presidential bid that he needed time off after “difficult” legislative battles to “recharge” – while Presidents certainly take vacations, a President is expected to be tougher than that – nor does it bode well that he would abandon his duties without at least notifying the Lieutenant Governor, who would need to know he was being left in charge. It does not look good that he would leave and go to a place where he would be “difficult to reach” in case of emergency without making arrangements to handle possible emergencies (even the State Law Enforcement Division couldn’t reach him when they tried). It also does not look good that he would abandon his four young sons over Father’s Day weekend without them or their mother even knowing where he was.

Simply put, as a potential Presidential candidate, Governor Sanford is finished. He’s done. Governor Sanford showed an incredible lack of responsibility in regards to his gubernatorial duties, and behaved inexcusably in his role as a father and husband. I doubt he lasts the month as Governor, much less runs for President.

[UPDATE (10/30/09): Despite all the controversy, despite all the outcry and calls for his impeachment, Mark Sanford is still the Governor of South Carolina. It’s not like he hasn’t made things worse; in an interview he described his mistress as his “soul mate” and said that he was in the process of “trying to fall back in love” with his wife. Things must be a bit uncomfortable at the Sanford household…]

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May 1, 2009 – The Tortured Logic of Defending Torture

This past Monday (April 27th), former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice made an appearance at Stanford University. During a question and answer period, the following exchange took place:

STANFORD UNIVERSITY STUDENT: Is waterboarding torture?

CONDOLEEZA RICE: The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations under the Convention Against Torture. So, that‘s—and, by the way, I didn‘t authorize anything. I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency. And so, by definition, if it was authorized by the President, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.

Where to begin?

There are two startling aspects to Dr. Rice’s response. The first of these is that, in the midst of yet another attempt by a Bush Administration official to justify the use of torture, Dr. Rice made two key admissions: 1) that it was President Bush himself who authorized waterboarding and 2) that she relayed to the CIA President Bush’s authorization to use waterboarding on detainees. These are key points, because these are criminal acts under both United States law and international law.

It is essential to understand that there is no legitimate debate – no matter how hard the right wing tries to argue the point – over the question of whether waterboarding is torture. Waterboarding is, and has always been, considered torture. This has long been recognized under international law – and under United States law. The Convention Against Torture defines torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession…when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.” Waterboarding authorized by the President for the purpose of obtaining information absolutely fits this description, and as such has always been considered – by the United States and by the international community – to be torture. President Obama has confirmed this as recently as this week.

President Bush, Vice President Cheney, other Bush Administration officials (including Dr. Rice at this Stanford University appearance on April 27th), and their various surrogates and apologists have put forth the argument that the circumstances (the attacks of 9/11, the War on Terror, the fear of another attack, etc.) justified the use of waterboarding, but there are two major problems with this argument. One is that torture – whether by waterboarding or by some other means – NEVER yields reliable information. The other is that the Convention Against Torture directly invalidates this argument: Part 1, Article 2 states, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” These attempts to justify the use of torture as a means of gaining information that would help prevent another attack, while at the same time claiming that we are not violating the Convention Against Torture, are obviously hypocritical misrepresentations of what is in the Convention Against Torture.

This is not even the only way that Dr. Rice’s statement is self-contradictory. Part 1, Article 2 of the Convention Against Torture also states, “An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.” (my emphasis). As noted above, waterboarding is torture. Under the Convention Against Torture, therefore, President Bush’s “authorization” of waterboarding does NOT make waterboarding legal – quite the opposite; his authorization makes President Bush criminally liable for the torture. Dr. Rice’s statement that President Bush’s authorization of torture means that carrying out that torture “did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture” is yet another hypocritical misrepresentation of the Convention Against Torture.

There are only two possibilities here – either Dr. Rice is knowingly misrepresenting what is in the Convention Against Torture, or she is unknowingly misrepresenting what is in the Convention Against Torture. The idea that she is doing this unknowingly implies that she doesn’t know what is in the Convention Against Torture – and I don’t buy that for a second. Of course she knows, which means she has to be knowingly misrepresenting what is in the Convention Against Torture. Perhaps she is counting on our ignorance – how many Americans (besides me) have actually read the Convention Against Torture? (You can read it here)

In my view, “knowingly misrepresenting” is another way of saying “lying”.

Furthermore, by admitting that she forwarded President Bush’s authorization to the CIA (she was National Security Advisor at the time), Dr. Rice admitted that she knowingly played a role in the Bush Administration’s plan to commit torture. She knew full well that her actions would result in detainees being tortured by waterboarding. Part 1, Article 4 requires all nations to make torture a crime, including “an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture.” Our obligations under the Convention Against Torture clearly require that Dr. Rice’s “complicity” in this plan to commit torture be regarded as a crime.

As stunning as they are, these admissions are not even the most startling thing Dr. Rice said in this statement. In my view, the most startling – and disturbing – part of the statement she made was “And so, by definition, if it was authorized by the President, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.”

Setting aside for a moment that the Convention Against Torture does not allow a President to authorize the use of torture, the very idea that a President could authorize an illegal act – and thereby make that act legal – goes against the principles upon which this nation was founded. According to Condoleeza Rice, however, a crime isn’t a crime anymore – by definition – if the President says it’s not a crime.

Wow. The ghost of Richard Nixon must be smiling.

First, I should emphasize that the Constitution of the United States contains a provision which reads, “This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land…” (my emphasis). The Convention Against Torture is an international treaty to which the United States is a signatory, and therefore is a “treaty made under the authority of the United States”. It was – and remains – the supreme law of the land.

Our nation was founded as “a nation of laws, not men”. The notion that an illegal act becomes legal if it is authorized by the President – in other words, that the President is above the law – has been thoroughly debunked numerous times, most notably in the 1974 decision of the United States Supreme Court in United States v. Nixon, a unanimous decision by a Court that included four Nixon appointees. Although President Nixon complied – however grudgingly – with the Supreme Court’s ruling, he never accepted that the President was constrained by the law. In his series of interviews with David Frost (conducted in 1977 – long after he had left office – and now dramatized in a major motion picture that I highly recommend), President Nixon famously said, “If the President does it, that means’s it’s not illegal.” He also testified at the trial of two top FBI officials, Ed Miller and Mark Felt (they were accused of civil rights violations), that a Presidential Authorization meant that “what would otherwise be unlawful or illegal becomes legal”. (Mark Felt has now – ironically enough – been confirmed to have been Bob Woodward’s secret Watergate source, “Deep Throat”)

There is an eerie similarity between President Nixon’s court testimony and Dr. Rice’s recent statement. President Nixon said in court that a Presidential Authorization made illegal acts legal. Dr. Rice said that,by definition, if an illegal act is authorized by the President, it becomes legal. Clearly, Dr. Rice – and presumably others in the upper echelons of the Bush Administration – subscribed to the Nixonian belief that the President is above the law. President Nixon was wrong then, and Dr. Rice is wrong now.

This attitude would explain a lot of the Bush Administration’s actions, including the authorization of torture, warrantless wiretapping of Americans, exposing the identity of an undercover CIA operative as political payback, refusing to comply with Congressional subpoenas, lying to Congress and the American people, and so on (Discourse and Diatribe has addressed these issues before; see the archived article The Case for the Impeachment of George W. Bush for extensive details on these and other issues, and the archived article How Bush Imitates Nixon for other similarities between these two Presidential Administrations).

The groundswell of support – insistence, actually – is growing for an investigation into possible violations of the law that may have been committed by Bush Administration officials, especially in relation to torture. There are calls for everything from Congressional hearings to a special prosecutor to something called a “Truth Commission”. President Obama, for his part, has repeatedly said that he is focused on “looking forward, not back”, but nevertheless has (properly, in my view) given his Attorney General, Eric Holder, the power to decide if such an investigation is warranted by the evidence (of which there is plenty). President Obama really doesn’t have a choice here – Part 1, Article 6 of The Convention Against Torture clearly requires the United States government to undertake an immediate investigation if evidence indicates that torture occurred. Personally, I think Attorney General Holder should appoint a special prosecutor, and then step back and allow that special prosecutor to conduct the investigation without interference. This would allow President Obama and his Administration to “look forward” while still holding the Bush Administration to account and meeting our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.

It is important to clear the air on these issues – especially the issue of torture, which has done so much harm to our nation’s standing in the world – in order for our nation to “look forward”. If these issues go unaddressed, it is a virtual certainty that some future Administration will cite the worst actions of the Bush Administration as some sort of precedent for further abuses of power and the continued erosion of our Constitutional principles. We must make it clear – for now and for evermore – that these actions committed by the Bush Administration were not acceptable, that they were not legal, and that they do not represent who we are as a people.

In my view, we must “look forward” to that future Administration and send them a message with crystal clarity: We are better than this.

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© 2009-2014 by David Bleidistel.  All rights reserved.