29 August 2008

The Veepstakes, Part XI: McCain-Palin

...and the Maverick strikes again.

As a McCain backer, I'm pleased with his choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his VP for many reasons. But I'll admit two downsides -- the most obvious, of course, is her inexperience. I won't even attempt to argue that Palin is equipped to be president -- but then again, the Democratic nominee's resume is nearly as thin as hers. (The Dems have already begun playing the inexperience card -- that is the most obvious knee-jerk reaction to this pick, but I question whether the experience issue is a good one to debate when John McCain is on the other side.) Second, I worry about the ongoing ethics investigation concerning her dismissal of a state official who refused to fire her ex-brother-in-law, a state trooper.

Dem strategist Bob Beckel called this pick "risky" and "gutsy." Maybe so. Palin is a much lesser-known commodity than, say, Mitt Romney. But choosing her isn't "risky" like the choice of Joe Lieberman would have been.

Lieberman was the Democratic Party's vice-presidential candidate eight years ago. He's pro-choice. He's pro-gay marriage. He caucuses with the Democrats. He's a Democrat on virtually every domestic issue that comes to a vote in the Senate, voting with them 70% of the time in 2007. Several of the areas in which he and McCain have shared common ground -- climate change and the Gang of 14 among them -- are issues on which McCain has incensed the Republican base. Conservatives -- with Rush Limbaugh leading the charge -- might well have revolted.

I personally supported the idea. But Joseph I. Lieberman as the Republican vice-presidential nominee? That would have been a risk.

Sarah Palin is a completely different story.

Her upside?

First, she's a true-blue conservative. She's pro-life. She's a card-carrying member of the NRA. Apparently -- and I wish this didn't matter -- El Rushbo loves her. Unlike Lieberman, Tom Ridge or even Condi, she'll sit well with the base.

Second, she weakens considerably Obama's main two arguments against McCain: He won't bring "change," and he represents four more years of Bush. McCain and Palin are a dynamic maverick, reformist ticket. Palin is a legitimate outsider and clearly is no Dick Cheney (or Joe Biden). The GOP ticket now consists of two mavericks who have spent their careers bucking the status quo. Palin also allows McCain to further distance himself from the Bush administration. This can and must be highlighted above all else in the final 60+ days.

Third, Biden will have to tread lightly during the VP debate on Oct. 2. If he is an attack dog against a 44-year-old mother of five, that won't play well. Against Romney, Lieberman or even Pawlenty, Team Hope could let Biden off the leash. Against Palin, however, he knows he'll have to be civil -- and for Joseph R. Biden, Jr., that's a tall order.

Fourth, Obama won't be able to play the class-warfare card he would have had Romney been the choice.

Fifth, Palin reinforces two key tenets of McCain's message -- a realistic platform for energy independence and generally, political reform. A big key for McCain will be articulating his -- and now Palin's -- ideas on these two topics on which Democrats have traditionally held a monopoly.

Finally, Palin's youth -- and gender -- directly counters the historic nature of Obama's candidacy. Palin is younger than the Changemaker and, obviously, is female. If Obama's VP choice was HRC -- which it should have been, by the way -- Palin probably wouldn't have been under consideration. But Team Maverick sees an opening with a large segment of the Democratic Party -- many of them women -- who believe that, for whatever reason, HRC was unceremoniously given less than a fair shake. As Jonathan Martin at Politico noted, disaffected HRC voters thinking about jumping sides now have one more reason to do so. Exhibit A was the flood of "Hillary" signs during her speech Tuesday night. The Democrats clearly remain a fractured party.

Obama's base is made up of three camps: anti-war activists (the Dennis Kucinich wing), northeastern elitists (the John Kerry/Howard Dean wing) and previously disengaged young voters (the Michael Moore wing). Many Democrats have swarmed to Obama because of his socialistic tendencies and do-gooder platform. But many others, mistrustful of the vagueries and flowery rhetoric, have been more inclined to stay away.

This election should be a blowout -- instead, the most transformative politician of our lifetimes is locked in a neck-and-neck battle with a 72-year-old senator whom many in his party even dislike.

Admittedly, I approve of this pick on more speculative, idealistic grounds. Romney, for instance, is clearly more qualified for the presidency. But as Dick Morris recently noted, Obama has struggled mightily to connect with female voters, especially those over 40. And in an election where a female candidate's historic run for the presidency (HRC's) was torn apart by a media contingent that fell in love with her opponent, McCain has seized on a huge opportunity.

Once again, the Maverick has tossed the book out the window.

28 August 2008

The Veepstakes, Part X: One day out

In less than 24 hours, Sen. McCain will announce his running mate at a rally in the swing state of Ohio.

Earlier this summer, I was upset at McCain's campaign, even titling a particular post "Team Maverick begins to misfire." But McCain has -- for better or for worse -- limited his access to the press (who gleefully jump on every slip of the tongue and immediately blast out a story), stayed on message, hit Obama hard on everything from his voting record to his poor judgment to, yes, his association with unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers, and evened the contest to a virtual tie as the month of August comes to a close. In addition, McCain turned in a remarkable, forceful performance at the Saddleback Forum, endearing himself to millions of evangelical voters who were previously mistrustful of his legendary maverick streak.

Seventeen days ago, I made a case for the choice of Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut Democrat-turned-independent, and Al Gore's running mate in 2000. Although a McCain-Lieberman ticket could redraw the electoral map, McCain admittedly runs the risk of alienating a huge number of conservative voters who have rallied behind him in recent weeks. Two months ago, conventional wisdom held that McCain would be the one struggling to unite a fractured party behind him.

It now seems that task is Obama's.

Thus, Govs. Tim Pawlenty -- whose political acumen has been compared favorably to President Clinton and whose brand of conservatism hearks back to the "Contract with America" days -- and Mitt Romney are now the clear favorites.

If Condoleeza Rice and Sarah Palin are out of the running (and it appears that they are), I genuinely hope that McCain picks Pawlenty. The popular 47-year-old governor from Minnesota offers virtually no drawbacks (other than his relative youth), and his list of positives are striking: The first in his family to go to college. Immensely popular governor of a swing state that Obama badly needs to win. Strong conservative credentials. A quick wit. And perhaps most importantly, Pawlenty hails from a legitimate working-class background.

At this stage of the game in such a close race, the running mate's background is as crucial as anything. And the choice of Romney -- while not a bad one -- would open up the class-warfare floodgates. Democrats will happily seize on Romney's past venture capitalist endeavors and his willingness to outsource jobs, as well as his enormous personal wealth (he financed his own presidential campaign). They'll try to paint a McCain/Romney ticket as a pair of rich white guys who are out of step with the economic struggles many other Americans face.

Additionally, McCain relentlessly hammered Romney during the primaries as a flip-flopper, calling him "the real candidate of change." (Zing!) Although Romney has been a tremendous surrogate for Team Maverick, perhaps that role is the way he offers the most value.

I don't believe Mitt Romney is particularly principled, nor do I know that he stands for much of anything. I do believe, however, that he'd be an excellent president. He's a sort of anti-Dubya. But at this point, a "two rich white guys" ticket doesn't sound like a winner in November, particularly against an opponent who has sounded the populist -- one could even argue socialist -- bell more than once. Such rally cries would be far more pervasive during September and October if McCain chooses Romney.

Of course, there are other, equally compelling reasons to pick the Minnesota governor -- Pawlenty has been in McCain's corner ever since McCain announced his candidacy; Romney has been a supporter for about four months. Pawlenty is a true-blue conservative; Romney is a flip-flopper. Pawlenty is a fresh face and 47; Romney is not and is in his early 60s. Pawlenty offers McCain a clear electoral advantage; Romney's advantage in Michigan and the mountain west is somewhat speculative.

In sum, however, Pawlenty looks to be a much better choice at this stage of the game than does Romney.

I hope it's McCain-Pawlenty. I think it will be.

A new kind of politics, redux

First it was Bill Ayers, the unrepentant terrorist in whose living room Barack Obama launched his political career.

Next it was the Rev. Wright.

Next it was NAFTA-gate, when Team Hope dispatched a campaign surrogate to privately assure Canadian officials that Obama's anti-NAFTA rhetoric was mere pandering meant to resonate in union-heavy states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, and that the Changemaker didn't actually mean what he said.

Next was the nonpartisan National Journal's determination that Obama was in fact the Senate's most liberal member in 2007.

After that he played the race card against the Clintons, specifically Bill.

After wrapping up the nomination, the Hopemonger went after McCain, lobbing generalities about "four more years of George W. Bush" and making not-so-veiled references to the Senior Senator's age.

Then came more negative ads.

Then came the race card a second time.

Then came the selection of the ultimate Washington insider and attack dog as his VP.

Now comes the revelation that the Democratic Party will hold "72nd birthday parties" for McCain on Friday.

For the love of all things holy.

Obama is not unfit for the presidency based simply on his paper-thin resume. I'm sure he's a nice enough man. But if the last 7 1/2 years have taught us anything, it's that being kind and affable shouldn't be enough to get the keys to the White House.

Obama's pathetic, laughable, nonsensical message is a fraud.

To be sure, many on the left side of the political spectrum are in love with his almost socialistic platform. If that applies to you, congratulations on settling on a candidate who shares your views.

But if you're among the millions who has been captivated by change/hope/new politics, open your eyes. Has there ever been a bigger gulf between a candidate's rhetoric and a candidate's actions?

In a word: No.

I'm no big fan of the Clintons, but I hold a deep respect for politicians -- Lieberman, McCain, Schwarzenegger and yes, Bill Clinton -- who buck their party and reach across the aisle to forge an otherwise impossible solution to a problem. And Bill's private assessment of Obama is dead on:

Typical. Chicago. Politician.

This "new kind of politics" that the Hopemonger is peddling makes me long for the good old, tired politics of yesterday.

26 August 2008

The Veepstakes, Part IX: Two days out

It looks like it's down to Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Joe Lieberman, and probably in that order. Second- and third-tier candidates -- from Jindal and Crist down to Whitman and Rice -- look to be out of the running. However, with Romney and Rudy Guiliani headlining a GOP sideshow in Denver this week, Dems have already sounded the class-warfare bell with respect to the former Massachusetts governor.

Obama mouthpiece David Plouffe has already laid the groundwork for an attack against a McCain/Romney ticket -- John McCain owns seven homes, and uber-wealthy Mitt Romney outsourced jobs when he was in the private sector. It's another lame liberal attempt to paint the GOP as the party of the rich, but McCain must be mindful of its potential effectiveness in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, et al., in such a close race. 

Pawlenty might have scored himself a point or two yesterday. When asked how he would fare in the Oct. 2 VP debate against Joe Biden, he replied that he'd do fine but that, given Biden's long-windedness, they might have to extend the debate by a couple hours. The class-warfare line won't work against Pawlenty, the first in his family to attend college. Additionally, a recent poll indicates that Pawlenty's popularity in his home state of Minnesota could in fact tip the state into the GOP column for the first time in a generation. That's not to be discounted. If McCain thinks that Pawlenty can at least hold his own against Biden, then he should choose him over Romney. 

In terms of a long-term focus: Pawlenty is 47 and into his second term as the governor of Minnesota. Simply adding him to the ticket would establish a clear rising star in the GOP ranks, much like Obama was four years ago. Even if McCain loses the election, Pawlenty would be well-positioned to run for the presidency in either 2012 or 2016. He is the exact type of Republican -- affable, humble, blue-collar and genuinely concerned about limiting the reach of government into people's everyday lives -- that is attractive to voters on the national stage.

Evaluating the three frontrunners, however, it's clear to me that Lieberman would not only be the most fascinating, but the most effective. In reality, the choice of Romney will move public opinion only slightly, and Pawlenty is a relative unknown outside of his home state. Lieberman, however, would have an enormous reach to disaffected Democrats. (Did anyone else see the flood of "Hillary" signs during HRC's "unity" speech last night?) The Connecticut senator would aggravate the base, but he's a game-changer. Obama's line about "four more years" -- probably the central theme of his campaign for the next 70 days -- would be rendered moot. And if Lieberman made a promise to either stay on for only one term or to never run for president, at least some disenchanted conservatives would probably be mollified. 

And really -- where are these conservatives going to go? Will they really pull the lever for the Hopemonger?

The race is currently 50/50. McCain and Obama are effectively tied in every nationwide tracking poll. Thus, a safe choice (Romney) is a better idea today than it was three or four weeks ago. Similarly, an outside-the-box pick (Lieberman) doesn't seem as necessary. Still, if McCain wants to make headway and throw a full-court press on the political center (which must be won), he'll choose Lieberman. Concededly, a few conservatives would stay home. But McCain could turn this thing into a potential blowout if he picks his buddy.

25 August 2008

The Veepstakes, Part VIII: McCain's turn

Sen. Obama's choice of Sen. Biden as his VP points to one inescapable conclusion: The Changemaker has taken off the gloves and is clearly bracing for a 70-day brawl. Sen. McCain is expected to name his #2 on Friday -- his 72nd birthday -- the morning after the Messiah's acceptance speech in front of 70,000 disciples in Denver.

The GOP field has settled during the last month. Instead of a sizable top tier, the group of favorites has dwindled down to four, and possibly just three. The leaders, four days out:

Mitt Romney is the clear favorite and deserves two paragraphs.

Three months ago, it was almost unthinkable. But McCain has buried the hatchet with his biggest adversary from the primary season, and Romney has quickly become McCain's most loyal surrogate. (Whether the two men actually like each other is a different story.) Like Obama's choice of Biden, McCain's choice of Romney would shore up the candidate's most glaring weakness -- in this case, it's the Senior Senator's lack of interest in economic issues. Romney is expected to help in Michigan (where his father was governor) and in a number of Mormon-heavy battlegrounds out west. In addition, the base likely would rally around the guy that the Republican establishment backed so stridently during the primaries, ensuring that McCain would have the backing of a unified party.

The downside? First, Romney is a flip-flopper -- during the primary season, I termed him the GOP's answer to John Kerry. Second, he and McCain went at each other hard during the winter and spring, and it's likely that Obama could air some of the candidates' primary-season dirty laundry, much like McCain has (wisely) done concerning the Obama-Biden relationship. Third, resident wingnut Mike Huckabee clearly reviles Romney, and I'm worried that the supporters of Gov. Falwell -- er, Huckabee -- could incite a mini-revolt. (I'm assuming, by the way, that most of Huckabee's vitriol for Romney is because the latter is Mormon. In Mike Huckabee's world, I don't doubt that such things are of paramount importance.)

2. Tim Pawlenty: Unlike Romney, the 47-year-old governor of Minnesota has been in McCain's corner since day one. Pawlenty clearly puts Minnesota in play, a state that hasn't gone Republican in more than a generation and that Obama badly needs to win. He would bring a fresh face to the scene, and become the standard-bearer that virtually all conservatives could rally around. Like Romney, Pawlenty brings executive experience and is a Washington outsider. Unlike Romney, however, Pawlenty comes from a blue-collar background (he coined the phrase "Sam's Club Republican") and is the first member of his family to go to college. On Oct. 2, McCain's veep will debate Biden on national TV, and McCain must decide whether the comparatively green Pawlenty is up to the challenge. It seems that Obama's choice of a seasoned veteran in Biden would drop Pawlenty's stock slightly.

3. Joe Lieberman: The bottom line is this: Obama's consistent line of attack against McCain is that he represents four more years of George Bush. This line is probably rendered moot if McCain picks a guy who voted with the Democratic Party 70% of the time in 2007. Conservatives need to suck it up: Joe Lieberman would be a tremendous choice, and would have great appeal to disenchanted HRC supporters, Reagan Democrats and those sick who are of Bush yet mistrusting of Obama. There has never been anything remotely like a McCain-Lieberman ticket. The political landscape would be dramatically recast. While some conservatives would be upset, Obama and Biden would be left stammering.

4. Tom Ridge: Picking a pro-choice Republican would incite far fewer conservatives than choosing a pro-choice Democrat, but "the base" still wouldn't be pleased. If McCain thinks Ridge can plausibly swing Pennsylvania into his column, this is a decent choice. If not, the former Homeland Security chief simply doubles down on McCain's national-security credentials, and I don't think that's good enough. Lieberman would re-draw the map; although he has blue-collar appeal, Ridge clearly won't.

5. Bobby Jindal: Especially given the choice of Biden -- 28 years his senior -- and that Jindal's resume is about as thin as Obama's -- the first-term Louisiana governor's star is falling. But McCain is intrigued by the reform-minded Jindal, and he, like Pawlenty, Romney and others, will make a speech at the convention in early September.

6. Sarah Palin: Like Jindal, the 44-year-old governor of Alaska's stock has fallen. But I like the choice of Palin immensely, as McCain could first, symbolically reach out to disaffected female voters and second, introduce a true Washington outsider to the race. I just don't think McCain will reach this far.

7. Charlie Crist: HRC would have put Crist's home state of Florida in play, but McCain should beat Obama there without the help of the Sunshine State's popular governor on the ticket. Crist is a very moderate Republican -- remember, the ticket already has one of those -- and it's not clear that despite his immense popularity, he would add much.

8. Meg Whitman: I don't get it, but McCain seems to think that the former eBay CEO is veep material. I hope his handlers talk him out of it.

9. Condoleeza Rice: I still believe Condi is McCain's best choice, her ties to the Bush administration notwithstanding. But unless the Senior Senator is playing his cards extraordinarily close to the vest, she isn't under serious consideration.

10. Michael Bloomberg: Another terrific outside-the-box choice. Given his withdrawal from the GOP several years ago, as well as his strident opposition to the Iraq war, however, I'm not seeing it.

Overall, McCain has made considerable headway to effectively pull even with the Changemaker. At this point, the Senior Senator has a 50-50 chance of finally realizing his longtime presidential ambitions, despite the unpopularity of the Republican brand and the Pope of Hope's monstrous, delusional following. On August 11, I wrote that if McCain picked Romney, I'd jump out the window. Today, however, given the state of the race, it seems to be a safe choice.

23 August 2008

Changemonger/Bombthrower '08

As our (second) 11th-hour poll predicted yesterday, Sen. Obama has chosen Delaware Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate.

Despite the title of this post, I have a deep respect for Biden. His wife and infant daughter were killed in a car accident before he turned 30, and he took the train home every night from Washington to Delaware to care for his two sons that survived the crash. (He took the oath of office at his sons' bedside.) Biden continues the practice to this day -- he literally rides the train to work.

He was the only Democrat at a fall 2007 debate to halt the anti-war, cut-and-run rhetoric of Obama, HRC, Edwards, et al. and point out that the situation in Iraq required a well-reasoned exit strategy. Biden crafted an intriguing one: Splitting the country into four provinces based on its pronounced ethnic divides, with allowances for each unit to have its share of oil revenues and essentially govern its own affairs, with some American troops remaining as a security force. Such is probably why he garnered less than 2% of the vote in Iowa, and dropped out soon afterward.

Overall, this is a strong choice for Obama for several reasons. First, and most obviously, Biden is a foreign-policy guru, the Dems' answer to Sen. McCain, and he shores up what is so clearly Obama's biggest weakness. Second, Biden loves to argue, and will be a highly effective attack dog against McCain and his yet-to-be-chosen running mate. I worry that his attacks on his longtime colleague McCain will be highly damaging. Third, if elected, Biden clearly won't be a "yes" man. Obama has seemingly surrounded himself with people who believe him to be some sort of political messiah, but I trust that Biden will cut through the crap and shoot his boss straight. Fourth, his roots in Pennsylvania and blue-collar Irish-Catholic background will be highly beneficial to strengthening the Pope of Hope's hold on Pennsylvania, an absolute must-win.

Though Biden was a wise choice, however, there are downsides.

First, one of his biggest assets -- his mouth -- is also his greatest liability. Biden, like McCain, sometimes can't help himself from saying highly offensive things. Despite being a political veteran, Biden's slips of the tongue are legendary and sometimes highly damaging. In 2006, he noted, "You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent."

Second, Biden has said a few less-than-flattering things about Obama himself, and reportedly, McCain plans to air ads centered around Biden's criticisms of his boss. In 2007, he cracked, "If the Democrats think we’re going to be able to nominate someone who can win without that person being able to table unimpeachable credentials on national security and foreign policy, I think we’re making a tragic mistake." Later last year, he noted about Obama, "I think he can be ready, but right now I don’t believe he is. The presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training."

Third, aside from a purely speculative effect on Pennsylvania, Biden offers Obama no distinct electoral advantage. Gov. Tim Kaine almost assuredly would have delivered his home state of Virginia, one of the most crucial battlegrounds of the election -- instead, it remains a toss up. Sen. Evan Bayh would have put his home state of Indiana in play -- instead, McCain will probably win it easily. Even Sen. Claire McCaskill (guffaw!) would have had some sort of effect on Missouri and its 11 electoral votes. But Biden's home state of Delaware was already a lock.

Fourth, the choice of Biden does nothing to assuage the complaints of the 18 million Democrats who cast their ballots for Sen. Clinton. It still baffles me why the Changemaker didn't include HRC on his final short list. If one includes Florida and Michigan, HRC garnered roughly the same amount of votes as the Hopemonger. It's stunning why Obama didn't even consider her, and he must be prepared to deal with the reality that her supporters will likely remain unhappy.

Finally, and perhaps most crucially, the choice of Biden -- unlike, again, Gov. Kaine -- runs directly counter to Obama's message of "change" and his image as a Washington outsider. While he's highly unspecific about what "change" actually refers to, he probably isn't talking about a 65-year-old who has spent over half his life in the Senate. One of McCain's most potent potential attacks -- and one he hasn't used yet -- is on Obama's laughable image as a change agent. Especially with the choice of a true Washington insider as his running mate -- and one who, according to Politico, has taken over $5 million in donations from lobbyists since the beginning of 2007 -- Obama looks even more like just another liberal from Chicago. Choosing such a deeply ingrained political veteran certainly doesn't comport with Obama's rhetoric that he intends to bring a "new kind of politics" to Washington.

22 August 2008

The Veepstakes, Part VII: Team Hope plays 'em close to the vest

The Changemaker has reportedly made his selection. But when asked by reporters in Virginia who he had picked as his #2, Obama replied, "Wouldn't you like to know."

Add Texas Rep. Chet Edwards -- who represents the president's home district encompassing Crawford -- to what is reportedly a very short list. Edwards was a favorite of Nancy Pelosi's and has apparently made the final cut.

Additionally, Sen. Clinton -- #5 on our most recent power poll -- is reportedly a long shot, and insiders suggest Team Hope didn't even vet her.

Cobbling together reports from various sources, the short list appears to be, in order:

1. Delaware Sen. Joe Biden: Foreign-policy guru and now the clear favorite

2. Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh: Safest pick, but also by far the most boring

3. Texas Rep. Chet Edwards: Former military dude would give Obama red-state cred

4. Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine: A double-down on change and inexperience

5: Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius: Clearly the weakest choice of the 5 -- but the only female

Reportedly, and thankfully, Claire McCaskill is still believed to have an outside shot at becoming Obama's veep.

Analysis to follow immediately following the Changemaker's announcement.

21 August 2008

So this is "change we can believe in"?

Sounds like the same old middling partisan tactics of yesterday to me.

Per Ben Smith at Politico, "Barack Obama's campaign, moving rapidly to exploit what they see as a major opportunity, is deploying high-profile surrogates in 16 states across the country today to highlight John McCain's uncertainty yesterday about how many houses he owns."

At least Team Hope is consistent -- Obama never fails to say one thing, do the other, then express outrage when his opponent -- either HRC or McCain -- hits back. As has been stated ad nauseum in this space, McCain needs to consistently hit back as hard as possible, and with one finger pointing at Obama's outlandishly laughable hypocrisy.

That's just what the McCain campaign did. In step with its more recent responses to Obama's attacks, Team Maverick brought a gun to Obama's knife fight:

Does a guy who made more than $4 million last year, just got back from vacation on a private beach in Hawaii and bought his own million-dollar mansion with the help of a convicted felon really want to get into a debate about houses? Does a guy who worries about the price of arugula and thinks regular people “cling” to guns and religion in the face of economic hardship really want to have a debate about who’s in touch with regular Americans?


UPDATE: According to Mark Halperin, guru of Time.com's The Page, the McCain camp and/or RNC will begin airing TV ads -- potentially beginning tonight -- hammering Obama's association with convicted felon and longtime Obama ally Tony Rezko. The Commish strongly endorses this move. Again, if Obama wants to use a knife, McCain should pull out a gun. The more Obama is forced to sling mud, the sillier his "new kind of politics" message looks.

19 August 2008

The Veepstakes, Part VI: The Changemaker's 11th-hour top 10

It's been widely speculated that Sen. Obama will name his #2 by the weekend (additionally, as an aside, Politico reported today that Sen. McCain will celebrate his 72nd birthday on August 29th by announcing his running mate at a 10,000-person gathering in Ohio -- the morning after Obama's convention speech). A final ranking of the frontrunners:

1. Evan Bayh: The Indiana senator is probably Obama's best choice -- a mid-50s senator from a red state with executive experience (Bayh was the Hoosier State's governor before running for Senate) and a deep resume. However, he still does not address Obama's foreign-policy weakness and is extraordinarily boring.

2. Tim Kaine: The Virginia governor is wildly popular in his home state, reinforces the "change" message and may well tip the Commonwealth to the blue column, but the choice of Kaine would double down on Obama's inexperience -- Kaine is into just his third year as governor, which followed a single term as lieutenant governor and one term as a mayor.

3. Joe Biden: He was number one until just hours ago, when reports surfaced that he told press members staked outside his house, "I'm not the guy." The Delaware senator makes a ton of sense as, effectively, the Dems' version of McCain -- the party's most respected foreign-policy voice and a veteran legislator prone to irreverent and sometimes inappropriate comments. Biden shores up Obama's biggest weakness, but voted to authorize the Iraq War, can be rather off-putting (probably why I happen to like him) and fits the bill of a Washington "insider."

4. Jack Reed: He hasn't garnered much buzz recently, but Reed is effectively a clone of Jim Webb, who clearly would have been Obama's best choice: A former military man who is much closer to the political center than the Changemaker himself. Bill Kristol went so far recently as to pick Reed as Obama's running mate. It certainly wouldn't be a bad choice, as Reed so clearly shores up several of The Pope of Hope's most glaring weaknesses.

5. Hillary Clinton: By all accounts, an Obama/Clinton ticket won't happen. And it's clear that HRC wouldn't deliver a state (like Kaine or Bayh could) or bring foreign-policy expertise to the ticket (as Biden would). But the party would be unified and the Changemaker could mollify the substantial female contingent that believes one of their own was treated unfairly during the primary.

6. Kathleen Sebelius: The Kansas governor is apparently on the short list, but is virtually unknown outside of her home state and can't possibly be expected to provide much regional help. And really -- how off-putting would it be to HRC backers to see a woman other than their candidate get the VP nod?

7. Sam Nunn: On one hand, Nunn is Biden without the crass remarks. On the other, he doesn't at all fit with Obama's "change" message, he's been out of politics for more than a decade and likely wouldn't deliver his home state of Georgia.

8. Bill Richardson: The highly popular New Mexico governor would almost assuredly deliver his tiny state to Obama's column -- not to be dismissed in what will undoubtedly be a close election -- and would give His Hopeness enormous cred within the Hispanic community. A devout HRC backer, Richardson made a late switch to Team Hope, to the disdain of the Clintons. It's not clear that the choice of Richardson -- who James Carville likened to Judas -- would provide much party unity. And it has to be asked: In places like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, would it really be beneficial to have two minority candidates on the same ticket?

9. John Kerry: I'm still holding out hope, but the windsurfing legend recently denied his interest in the post. Still, Kerry (for some reason) represents a "safe" pick -- apparently, his foreign-policy resume is substantial enough to offset his egregious liberalism and checkered past of flip-flopping on virtually every issue of import.

10. Al Gore: Apparently considered an elder statesman type on the left, the climate-change globetrotter is still considered a darkhorse candidate. The Howard Dean wing of the party would shriek with joy, but Gore clearly gives Obama no regional advantage (he couldn't even deliver his home state of Tennessee in 2000 against Bush) and has jumped so far into the deep end that his former moderate political credibility has been shot.

Finally, hopefully still in the mix is the junior senator from my home state of Missouri, the Hon. Claire McCaskill. The first-termer has been in Obama's corner since day one, much to the chagrin of many HRC supporters, who see her as a traitor. Believe it or not, I actually have seen her name on a few short lists here and there. An Obama/McCaskill ticket -- I can't believe I just wrote that -- would without a doubt deliver a McCain presidency and be one of the most laughably inexperienced pairings in history. Still, if the Changemaker is at all like the Senior Senator in valuing loyalty (for some reason, I highly doubt it), he will give consideration to one of his staunchest attack dogs.

18 August 2008

Negative campaigning is apparently off limits

I knew it would happen.

John McCain was a media darling in 2000, the rabble-rousing political centrist who seemed to derive enjoyment from poking his party's base in the eye. Running against the ultimate establishment candidate in George W. Bush, McCain endeared himself to the elite media with his intriguing life story, maverick brand of politics, honest and freewheeling persona and his willingness to engage in a brass-knuckles fight for the nomination (his brief spat with Mitt Romney during this election cycle was kindergarten stuff by comparison). Despite having been in Washington for nearly 20 years, McCain was clearly the outsider.

No more. McCain, though still a maverick -- Gang of 14, immigration reform, climate change, torture, ANWR and runaway spending among this most notable of his clashes with the GOP -- and an anti-establishment guy by nature, has found himself in an uphill battle against a man who is able to give Chris Matthews an enjoyable sensation in his right leg by simply opening his mouth. The liberal media -- and I don't want to hear nonsense about the New York Times, NBC News, CNN or MSNBC (which lets Keith Effing Olbermann anchor its election coverage) being bastions of unbiased journalistic integrity -- have fallen head over heels for the Changemaker. As a result, when hitting back at Obama, McCain has incurred the wrath of many of those who were in his corner eight years ago.

The likes of Joe Klein and Jonathan Alter recently expressed outrage -- outrage, I say! -- at some of the Senior Senator's attacks on Obama. To be fair, Klein and Alter are columnists and are paid to write their opinions. Unlike Andrea Mitchell, who yesterday suggested that McCain knew the questions he'd be asked at the Saddleback forum before he took the stage, many pundits are not paid to be objective. But the likes of Klein, Alter and Andrew Sullivan, among others, seem to be genuinely taken aback by what they see as McCain's lack of integrity.

Admittedly, McCain's recent ad comparing Obama to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears was juvenile. And it's time for his campaign (and the RNC) to stop listing for voters ways in which Obama is "out of touch." McCain himself owns multiple homes, wears $500 Italian loafers, and is married to a woman worth millions. That said, most media personalities are so enamored with Obama that they have willfully blinded themselves to the type of campaign The Pope of Hope has conducted.

He danced around virtually every question posed to him by Rick Warren on Saturday night, and seems to have a genuine difficulty being straightforward and honest. Obama is writing the book on engaging in highly unbecoming attacks while still appearing to take the moral high ground. In April, he said McCain was "losing his bearings," an implicit yet obvious reference to the fact that his opponent is 71. On multiple occasions -- and until Team Maverick called him on it -- Obama warned that Republicans would try to use scare tactics based on the fact that, among other things, "he doesn't look like those other presidents on the dollar bills." If that isn't playing the race card, then the race card doesn't exist. The Changemaker has remarked, ad nauseum, that McCain "represents a third term of George Bush's failed policies." Without providing any specifics and quickly jumping to another talking point, Obama gets away with it. However, when attacked by conservatives for his extraordinarily liberal voting record -- voting with the Democratic Party 97% of the time in 2007 -- Obama retorts with an assertion that he is running in order to do away with such old, tired political labels.

The most recent example of Obama's remarkable dishonesty is the aforementioned suggestion out of Obama's camp that McCain knew of many of the Saddleback questions before he went onstage. In fact, Rick Warren admitted that he provided each side a heads up as to several of the most difficult queries. Team Hope's averments were a pathetic attempt to grasp at anything within reach and throw it to the media. McCain brought down the house and blew Obama offstage, something the Changemaker hasn't had to deal with yet. For a presidential campaign -- especially one as puffed-up as Obama's -- to make such a suggestion is childish. However, for a network news correspondent -- especially one as widely respected as Andrea Mitchell -- to parrot such a mindless talking point (CNN did a similar thing) shows a revolting bias and an utter lack of journalistic integrity. It's very reasonable to ask whether Mitchell is so enamored with Obama that she actually didn't realize what she was doing.

The likes of Klein, Alter and Sullivan are similarly captivated by The Messiah. It's true that more than one of McCain's punches have landed below the belt. But most of McCain's critics operate under the assumption that Obama is incapable of doing anything wrong, and that his garbage rhetoric about change and hope -- and not his actions -- are a barometer of his campaign's message. In reality, Obama is just another politician from Chicago who has proven time and again that he'll say anything and do anything to get elected. He is a clone of John Kerry, minus the foreign-policy acumen. The Changemaker is just another liberal engaging in the same old liberal attacks. And he's similarly getting a free pass from the media. Those who have criticized McCain's tactics have looked the other way when Obama has gone into attack mode.

McCain communications guru Mark Salter nailed it:

We are all too familiar with Obama's brand of politics. First, you demand civility from your opponent. Then you attack his character, distort his record and express outrage when he hits back. It's called hypocrisy, and it's the oldest kind of politics that there is.

15 August 2008

The Veepstakes, Part V: John Fitzgerald Heinz-Kerry? Really?

Given the wealth of solid veep choices for the Pope of Hope -- foreign-policy wonks like Joe Biden, Wes Clark and Jack Reed, red-state moderates like Evan Bayh, Tim Kaine and Bill Richardson and the potential party-unifying force of Hillary Clinton -- it's mind-blowing that Obama would even consider choosing John Kerry as his running mate. But during the last two weeks, reports have surfaced that Team Hope has in fact been vetting the junior senator from Massachusetts for the Changemaker's #2 spot.

The choice of Kerry would be a terrible blunder by Obama, and as a McCain supporter, I'd dance in the streets. Obama himself is an exact replica of the windsurfing legend: a condescending, patronizing political extremist who doesn't resonate with Reagan Democrats and, more broadly, that center swath of voters that is so crucial to winning any presidential election. Sure, Kerry brings foreign-policy experience, but if such is Obama's concern, why not pick Biden or, better yet, Reed?

Voters cast their ballots for Kerry in 2004, and the senator was beaten by a highly unpopular incumbent during the height of the Bush administration's mismanagement in Iraq. The best -- and safest -- bet would be to pick Bayh, a wildly popular governor-turned-senator from a solidly Republican state who, at 53, has both the executive experience that Obama lacks and the ability to reach voters in the center.

I can't believe that anyone on Team Hope thinks choosing Kerry is a good idea. But I'm all for it.

14 August 2008

Energy and the Russkies

America's oil independence and the accompanying energy debate can be boiled down to one issue: National security.

Republicans push to pour hundreds of billion dollars per year into defense programs that many believe are largely inadequate to deal with the changing face of radical Islamic extremism in the 21st century, and undyingly support corporate welfare and myriad tax breaks for oil companies. Democrats hysterically oppose offshore drilling (or, really, any drilling at all) for ludicrous reasons (save the porcupine caribou!) and blatantly ignore the national security implications of sworn enemies of the United States -- Iran, Venezuela and now perhaps Russia -- controlling the lion's share of the world's oil supply. Both sides are wrong.

The energy debate must be couched in national security terms, and these two issues are invariably intertwined.

The recent Russo/Georgian conflict is an example. Instead of responding to Russia's aggression toward its neighbor with force -- as Robert Kagan and other neocons assert the U.S. must do -- the most effective way to damage and therefore coerce Russia in the long term is to pursue avenues that reduce America's demand for oil, the most major of Russian exports. Russia has extensive oil reserves, particularly in the frigid, largely uninhabited region of Siberia.

(Sen. Obama's tepid response to the Russo/Georgian conflict -- that the Russian aggression did not comport with the spirit of the Olympics -- you think so, Professor? -- was laughable. While McCain seems to fundamentally understand the nature of the conflict and the aims of the Russians, Obama seems to think -- as he so often does -- that hostile leaders can simply be talked off the ledge. As the Chairman has noted, it seems that Obama and his supporters believe that the only reason America has encountered problems in the past is because the Changemaker wasn't there to pat everyone on the head.)

Both McCain and Obama must keep the Russo-Georgian conflict in mind as they frame the energy crisis facing the United States. Virtually everyone agrees that America must reduce its dependence on foreign oil. What many people fail to understand is why.

This is not an environmental issue. Rather, energy independence is at its core a national security issue, and among the relevant factors is the ability of the United States to use economic coercion against rogue states like Russia. Aside from McCain's goal to expel Russia from the G-8, the Russian administration realizes that the U.S. has little economic clout over it, especially with the U.S. still pathetically dependent on foreign oil.

I'm surprised that McCain has not yet framed the debate in these terms. While being a forward-thinking, environmentally friendly Republican, McCain has not (publicly, at least) made a connection between the two. Aside from the Howard Dean/John Kerry wing of the Democratic Party, it's safe to say that such an argument would resonate with most Americans. In reality, it is a legitimate issue of national security to have the vast majority of the world's oil reserves controlled by governments that are so obviously adverse to American interests.

It's simple. The United States is at the mercy of not only Russia, but Iran, Venezuela and the substantial amount of American enemies in the House of Saud, until we have weaned ourselves off our addiction to oil.

13 August 2008

A shout-out to El Rushbo

Better bookmark this one, because you won't see many more on this website.

Gotta love Limbaugh's latest line on Obama --

First: "The audacity of audacity: Saying nothing better than anybody."

And second:

"These people -- I don't care if they're Republicans or Democrats or whatever -- they do not want to see a rookie presidential candidate in Berlin or anywhere else in the world run down their country, especially a Democratic presidential candidate who ought to be thanking God that he is an American, that he lives in this country and that it has provided him and his wife such a wonderful opportunity. He's running for president, for crying out loud, and he still sees fit to criticize this country. I'm just going to tell you -- all of these blue-collar white Democrats [in] Pennsylvania, Ohio, you name it -- wherever Obama was unable to close this thing against Hillary -- they heard it, they saw it, and they don't like it. They may not tell a pollster that, but when they get a chance to vote, I guarantee you, it is not going to be for The Messiah."

11 August 2008

Random musings

Now that Jim Webb is off the table, Evan Bayh is far and away Barack Obama's best VP option.
Tim Kaine is second and Bill Richardson and Sen. Clinton are tied for 3rd.

McCain's top 5 in order: Rice, Palin, Lieberman, Bloomberg, Jindal.

The second tier -- otherwise known as the Rush Limbaugh Division, as El Rushbo probably would have a big problem with at least the top 4 -- reads: Pawlenty, Ridge, Crist.

Dick Morris recently compared Mitt Romney to cat food. If McCain still chooses Romney as his running mate, I'm going to jump out the window.

John Edwards campaigned cross-country with his family and smugly threw stones at President Clinton in 1998 from a glass house. Last Friday, he admitted to having an affair. Al Gore is a globetrotting climate-change crusader who preaches the apocalypse unless we reduce our carbon usage. Independent watchdog groups note that his monstrous compound in Tennessee has a "carbon footprint" 21 times larger than the normal single-family home. Now I bet you're going to tell me that the most transformative, post-racial candidate of my lifetime has been playing the race card.

The fact that not only President Bush but also Vice-President Cheney will speak at the Republican convention is mind-blowing and utterly stupid. The GOP has a wealth of rising stars who could speak instead -- Jindal, Pawlenty and Palin being at the top of the list -- and trotting out party leaders of whom the electorate has tired is entirely counterproductive. McCain needs to spend his summer distancing himself from Bush as much as possible and kicking the White House in the teeth.

Adding to the GOP's woes, the party is bracing for a blowout in the race for the Missouri governorship. In the battle to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Matt Blunt, Attorney Gen. Jay Nixon might beat U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof by 20 points.

Most of the same conservatives who revile President Clinton not for his policies, but for having an affair, would give Louisiana Sen. David Vitter a standing ovation if he walked into the room.

In fact, between the end of the Clinton Era and last Friday, virtually every major Washington scandal -- Delay, Cunningham, Abramoff, Craig, Vitter, Stevens -- involved a Republican.

I don't miss Mike Huckabee's snarky populist-neoconservative rhetoric. Perhaps he's not dead yet though. After all, he didn't major in math -- he majored in miracles.

06 August 2008

The Veepstakes, Part IV: A case for Joe Lieberman

A CBS news poll released today finds that 30 percent of voters say that the candidates' vice-presidential picks will have a great deal of influence on their decision, twice the number who responded in kind in 2000. Among those still undecided, 48 percent say the choices will influence their vote. Additionally, independents are more likely than partisans to be swayed by McCain and Obama's veep choices.

These numbers indicate something that should be eminently clear to both candidates: The political center is up for grabs and, as it seems to do every four years, probably will decide the election. Team Hope is well aware of their candidate's record, and it's no wonder that two red-state moderates -- Evan Bayh and Tim Kaine -- are at the top of Obama's list. Large is the contingent of voters that has grown tired of 7 1/2 years of President Bush, yet finds something untrustworthy about Obama.

It must be said once again that McCain does not need to mollify the so-called "evangelical" wing of the Republican Party. Those who voted for Mike Huckabee -- who think the greatest danger facing America is not Islamic extremism, out-of-control budget deficits or the looming collapse of Social Security, but rather gay people getting married -- will inevitably in line with the pro-life, pro-defense McCain. McCain has not only gained Huckabee as a vocal supporter, but has been endorsed by many so-called "evangelical" leaders like John Hagee. Some of these people might stay home simply based on their dislike for McCain occasionally kicking them in the teeth since he arrived in Washington, but the vast majority will fall in line. Simply because McCain nominates a Romney or Huckabee or Pawlenty as his VP will hardly mollify these voters. They will dislike McCain based on his record of poking the conservative base in the eye from time to time, and the Senior Senator's VP choice will have very little to do with it. This contingent of voters -- who would ignore the potential catastrophe facing conservatism and the country in general if Obama is indeed elected, and stay home out of protest -- is nominal at best.

McCain must first tout his legitimately conservative credentials and lifetime rating of 82 from the American Conservative Union -- pro-life, pro-defense, anti-pork and an originalist on judges -- to play to the base. This is easy, as McCain has championed each of these issues, and the Changemaker's extremist positions on the other side make him easy to distinguish.

Secondly, however, he must expand the Republican tent. More voters now identify themselves as Democrats than Republicans, and the independent contingent grows larger every election cycle. McCain must make a statement about the type of administration he intends to run, he must drum up interest among independents who are intrigued by Obama's nonsensical message, and, perhaps most importantly, must find another way to distance himself from the Bush Era.

I still endorse Condoleeza Rice as the best choice for McCain. However, the political realities of the unpopularity of the GOP brand -- thanks in large part to Bush, Rove and Delay taking the party over a cliff -- are a clear strike against her. If McCain chooses to avoid Rice or Sarah Palin (who, oddly, decided to go out of her way to endorse one of the Changemaker's energy policies the other day), Lieberman must be at the top of the list. Such a move would be virtually unprecedented, and although the Howard Deans and Charlie Rangels of the left would howl with shouts of "warmonger" and "traitor," such a move would put a full-court press on the political center. McCain and Lieberman are close friends, and the Connecticut senator still has strong allies within the Democratic Party (after all, he still caucuses with them).

This is not to say "evangelicals" wouldn't be horrified, or that Rush Limbaugh wouldn't rail against the choice from now 'til November. It's simply to point out that a McCain-Lieberman ticket would be incredibly attractive to the political center, and those people are the ones who decide each election.

Perhaps the most key factor cutting in Lieberman's favor is that Obama has opened the door to a discussion about bipartisanship with his nonsensical rhetoric. McCain not only has Obama's extremist record to highlight, but could employ Lieberman as a highly regarded attack dog to shoot holes in the Changemaker's nonexistent record of rising above the partisan fray. Voters must be made aware that the Pope of Hope has no significant bipartisan accomplishments, nor has he ever made an effort to break from his party on anything of substance. McCain, conversely, was attacked throughout the primary season for the high crime of breaking from the GOP in order to forge bipartisan solutions to otherwise unsolvable problems. Who better to draw this distinction than Lieberman? Such attacks could be lethal.

McCain is, after all, the original maverick. As the underdog, why not take one last shot at stepping outside the box?

I think it would be great fun.

01 August 2008

Hey, look! Another race-baiting black politician!

Responding to a recent -- and admittedly juvenile -- ad in which the McCain campaign compared him to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, the Changemaker remarked that "what they're going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know, 'He's not patriotic enough, he's got a funny name,' you know, 'He doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.'"

McCain's surrogates immediately began blasting Obama for playing the race card. Team Hope responded that the "dollar bill" comment was innocuous, and was in no way meant to highlight the fact that Obama is black and the "other presidents on the dollar bills" are white. Maybe -- but in June, His Hopeness happened to have this to say to a crowd in Florida:

"They're going to try to make you afraid. They're going to try to make you afraid of me. 'He's young and inexperienced and he's got a funny name. And did I mention he's black?'"

Hmm. That sounds familiar.

Obama's message of change, hope, new politics and nonsensical platitudes is a fraud. As someone who appreciated that Obama -- previously, at least -- was a gifted politician who happened to be black, as opposed to a race-baiter who happened to run for office -- the Pope of Hope's appearance on the political scene was at first refreshing. Obama deserves applause for the fact that other so-called black leaders, such as the Rev. Jackson and others, dislike him so much. But when he so overtly plays the race card in a political campaign -- as he is doing now against McCain and as he did against the Clintons during the primary -- he comes off as nothing more than a run-of-the-mill neoliberal politician from Chicago who will say anything to get elected at best, and a garden-variety race huckster at worst.

As has been written in this space before, running a campaign based on platitudes is dangerous, especially when the candidate's actions don't quite comport with the candidate's rhetoric.

The more Obama plays the race card and argues that Republicans are attacking him simply because he's a minority, the more he looks like just another black politician who has one message for his black supporters and a completely different message for the rest of the country.

In 2008, voters don't want to hear about how Obama is disadvantaged because he's black.

Another lesson Team Maverick must glean from this episode is that going negative works. The Changemaker -- supposedly the most transcendent political figure of our lifetimes -- is simply incapable of rising above the fray and brushing aside any sort of attack. He pulled the race card out against the Clintons when Bill compared him to Jesse Jackson, and he's using it here against McCain. The Senior Senator admits to being an imperfect public servant; Obama admits nothing of the sort. Thus, if McCain can continue to draw him in to a mudslinging competition, the effect will be devastating on His Hopeness' public image. Obama has painted himself as some sort of post-partisan healer, and the more he talks about race, the more fraudulent he appears.