30 September 2008

David Brooks on McCain

"If McCain is elected, he will retain his instinct for the hard challenge. With that Greatest Generation style of his, he will run the least partisan administration in recent times. He is not a sophisticated conceptual thinker, but he is a good judge of character. He is not an organized administrator, but he has become a practiced legislative craftsman. He is, above all — and this is completely impossible to convey in the midst of a campaign — a serious man prone to serious things."

29 September 2008

Random debate musings

As the Biden/Palin bloodbath nears, a few thoughts, in paragraph form this time:

Sen. McCain looked thoroughly unprepared during the first 40 minutes of Friday's debate. His responses were peppered with his recycled stump-speech lines, and he played defense poorly. His campaign must come up with a way to respond to Obama's argument that McCain's tax policies only favor the rich. Right next to the change/hope vagueries, this is at the crux of Obama's campaign. If McCain isn't able to do that, winning in November will be awful tough.

Against Mitt Romney, McCain looked smooth, wise, experienced and in control. As clear as his disdain is for Obama, he certainly did not care for Romney either. Against Obama, however, McCain so dislikes his opponent that he appears frowning, aggravated, bothered and unpresidential. Someone needs to show him a tape of himself.

I might have been wrong last week when I called for McCain to go to Washington. I certainly didn't expect Obama to follow him, and clearly, the candidates' appearance did little good. Let's be blunt here: The point of going to Washington should not have been to actually do anything substantive -- it should have been to draw distinctions between the Changemaker's rhetoric of nonsense and McCain's proven record of bipartisan leadership. Obama likely wouldn't have returned to the Beltway had President Bush not invited him to a negotiating session with congressional and White House decision-makers. Such a meeting was a strategic error by the GOP. Given how ill-prepared McCain was for the first 40 minutes Friday night, perhaps it was a bad decision to cancel his debate preparation.

That said, take a look at the political landscape. The GOP brand is at its most toxic in a generation; the president has approval ratings that have sat around 30; the current Congress, of which McCain is a visible leader, has accomplished nothing of significance; McCain himself just turned 72; and his opponent is a brilliant orator who enjoys supposedly broad admiration across races, classes and parties. The fact that McCain is still very much alive in the race with five weeks to go is nothing short of remarkable.

Speaking of the Hopemonger, as recently as February 2008, he noted that cranking up taxes on the middle class -- specifically, on earners making as little as $42,000 -- was good policy. Now, he's decided that anyone earning under $250,000 won't see a single dime added to their tax burden.

Former Reagan/Huckabee adviser and current CNN analyst Ed Rollins summed up the candidates' debate performances succinctly: McCain looked like a cranky old professor, and Obama looked like a verbose, self-absorbed academic.

I took umbrage with much of the Palin-bashing initially. But now, I agree with those who criticize the McCain campaign for sheltering her from virtually every extemporaneous encounter with reporters. She's an immensely popular governor with tremendous political skills. She certainly isn't qualified for the office she seeks, but then, neither is Obama. Palin has gone from an upstart shot in the arm to a sheltered caricature. Team Maverick needs to unleash her.

But as my opening sentence noted, I think she'll get slaughtered on Thursday.

26 September 2008

The Commish liveblogs the debate

8:09 p.m.: Sen. Obama's first answer to a question was, in fact, in the form of a question.

8:10 p.m.: Sen. McCain's anecdote about Gen. Eisenhower writing two separate letters before the D-Day invasion was his first decent moment of the night.

8:12 p.m.: Apparently Jim Lehrer has decided this isn't going to be a foreign-policy debate ...

8:14 p.m.: McCain: "We Republicans came to Washington to change Washington, and Washington changed us." More of this!

8:17 p.m.: Can McCain respond to Obama's 95%-of-working-families tax cut? Can he respond to the cut-taxes-on-corporations-only accusation?

8:18 p.m.: Nope. McCain doesn't look prepared, aside from his standard stump-speech one-liners. We politicos have heard just about all of these before.

8:19 p.m.: Obama: Your tax policies are directed at people who are doing well, and not the middle class. This isn't incorrect, but McCain's gotta respond...

8:23 p.m.: McCain needs to look more presidential and in control when Obama is taking shots at him.

8:24 p.m.: McCain nails Obama for voting for the Bush energy bill rife with "Christmas ornaments" for the oil companies. Every time that McCain starts getting boxed in, his quick wit salvages him a few points.

8:25 p.m.: I think it's clear that, somewhat unlike Bush and Kerry in 2004, McCain and Obama don't like each other at all.

8:26 p.m.: Still no sign of foreign policy. Maybe Jim Lehrer should check under the table.

8:28 p.m.: Not to belabor this point, but Obama has done a tremendous job thus far simply looking presidential (complete with flag pin, no less), and although McCain has had a couple very strong answers thus far, the Hopemonger is clearly in charge.

8:29 p.m.: McCain: "It's hard to reach across the aisle from that far to the left." (Chuckles from both candidates) Zing!

8:30 p.m.: McCain is hitting the earmarks/wasteful spending angle hard. I hope he finds something else to talk about.

8:32 p.m.: Obama: Me being liberal? That's just me opposing George Bush's policies. That was very good.

8:34 p.m.: Lehrer is obviously peeved at each candidate for dancing around just about all of his questions.

8:35 p.m.: McCain talks about sending $700 billion a year to countries that don't like us -- but didn't mention the word "oil!" Arrrrgh!

8:36 p.m.: Obama looks very good. That said, as critics have pointed out, much of this is academic, and simply vaguery after vaguery. McCain looks, well, less strong. He's clearly is looking forward to Jim Lehrer moving to foreign policy ...

8:37 p.m.: Why is McCain still talking about spending? It's apparently the answer to every question.

8:38 p.m.: Obama ties McCain to Bush, turns and talks directly to him, and chides him for voting with Bush "ninety percent of the time." McCain needs to score some points here.

8:38 p.m.: McCain uses the "Ms. Congenialty" line again. Arrrrgh! Stop it!

8:40 p.m.: Hey, look, foreign policy! This is nice, 40 minutes in...

8:42 p.m.: Obama: I opposed this war, when it was politically risky to do so. What? In the Effing State Senate of the Great State of Illinois? Good grief. Thanks for your decisions on war and peace in that most crucial forum, Senator.

8:43 p.m.: Obama rebounds and ties in the budget crisis to the glut of money going to Iraq. Good point.

8:43 p.m.: McCain makes the point of the night so far. The next president won't have to decide whether we should go into Iraq again. The next president decides how to leave and when we leave. He nails Obama on miscalculating the surge. He hammers him for waiting so long to go to Iraq. He hammers him for still saying that after the fact that he'd still oppose the surge even though it has succeeded. This could be the turning point of the debate, and McCain -- finally -- scores major points. I've gotta think response is resonating in western Pennsylvania.

8:45 p.m.: Obama: Who is best equipped as the next president to make good decisions about how we use our military?

8:46 p.m.: McCain: When I was in Iraq, the troops told us, "Let us win. We don't want our kids coming back here." Says Obama refuses to acknowledge that we're winning in Iraq. McCain is absolutely tearing Obama apart here.

8:47 p.m.: Obama responds to McCain's attack by asking, in effect, was this wise? His responses are both articulate and tepid at the same time. It's weird.

8:49 p.m.: Since we moved to foreign policy about ten minutes ago, McCain has sounded like a president and a leader. Obama has sounded like he's on campus debating the College Republicans.

8:51 p.m.: We move to Afghanistan...

8:53 p.m.: Obama moves to Pakistan and sounds like a hawk.

8:54 p.m.: McCain's response: If you're going to point a gun at someone, you must be willing to pull the trigger. I'm not willing to do that right now. Says Obama is "threatening" Pakistan. We need the support of the people of Pakistan. He said he'd attack Pakistan. I wouldn't publicly state that I'd attack Pakistan. We don't need that. Big wow -- McCain turns the tables on Obama, the faux hawk.

8:55 p.m.: Now Obama thinks that the problem with Pakistan is that we "coddled" Musharraf.

8:56 p.m.: McCain responds historical background on Pakistan, noting that Musharraf took power in the wake of a failed state. McCain cites his disagreement with Reagan over Beirut. More points for the Senior Senator.

8:58 p.m.: McCain: I have a record of being involved in these national security issues. Shows the bracelet given to him by the mother of a fallen soldier last summer in New Hampshire.

9:00 p.m.: Over the last 20 minutes, McCain has simply eaten Obama's lunch.

9:02 p.m.: Obama shows off his bracelet. We honor the troops' service. The question is, are we making good judgments? Obama salvages a couple points here.

9:03 p.m.: New question -- onto Iran...

9:04 p.m.: "Let's have some straight talk," a shot at Russia, plus his "League of Democracies" proposal. I'll give you one guess who those lines were from ...

9:06 p.m.: One thing I've noticed that this is no less than the third time Obama has said "Sen. McCain is exactly right." There is no chance -- none -- that McCain would ever -- at any time -- say anything like that.

9:07 -- On to "talking to people we don't like."

9:08 p.m.: McCain forcefully responds as to why it is that the president of the United States doesn't sit down with Ahmadenijad without preconditions: it would legitimize their statements and give them a propaganda platform. He offers big-time historical references -- Reagan and Gorbachev, Nixon to China. This was already an issue that Obama stood on shaky footing with voters. McCain is now, more than ever, sounding like the old, wise hand.

9:11 p.m.: "Look, I'm not going to set the White House visitor's schedule before I'm president. I don't even have a seal yet." Hi-yo!

9:14 p.m.: McCain gets an actual laugh out of the crowd -- Ahmadenijad says we're going to wipe Israel off the map, and we're going to say, no you're not? Please!

9:17 p.m.: McCain is absolutely owning this part of the debate. The first half of the debate seems long ago.

9:18 p.m.: Softball for McCain -- Obama references Bush infamously looking into Putin's eyes and seeing his soul. Will he knock it over the fence?

9:19 p.m.: He did ... sorta ... but the delivery was subpar. However, he followed with his best points of the night, hitting Obama on his initial tepid response to Putin's initial aggression and tying Russia's aggression to the oil issue. McCain has sounded absolutely excellent -- again -- talking about Russia in a Reaganesque way -- not a neocon, but certainly not dovish. Tons of references to post-Soviet leaders and eastern bloc regions.

9:22: Obama, again: Senator McCain is right. That's four!

9:23 p.m.: "...as Sen. McCain mentioned." Five!

9:25 p.m.: As Politico's Ben Smith has pointed out, Obama has spent most of the last 40 minutes being very vague.

9:28 p.m.: Closing his remarks on post-9/11 safety, McCain tosses some red meat to the base by making a reference to border security...

9:29 p.m.: 90 minutes in, the candidates are almost looking tired. Isn't it about McCain's bedtime?

9;30: "I give Sen. McCain great credit on the torture issue." Six!

9:35 p.m.: McCain: "I don't need any on-the-job training." Too bad McCain didn't mention that Obama's running mate actually came up with the line.

25 September 2008

Who's playing politics with the bailout again?

Harry Reid, yesterday morning (pre-McCain announcement): "We need the Republican nominee for president to let us know where he stands and what we should do."

Harry Reid, pre-McCain announcement II: "Fearing a political backlash against Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has told the White House that it must serve up support from Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) if it hopes to ensure bipartisan backing for a massive economic bailout package by week's end."

Harry Reid, yesterday afternoon (post-McCain announcement): “It would not be helpful at this time to have them come back during these negotiations and risk injecting presidential politics into this process or distract important talks about the future of our nation’s economy. … We need leadership; not a campaign photo op."

By the way, add President Clinton to the list of those giving McCain's decision a thumbs-up.

I understand that one's view of McCain's decision to go to Washington is colored by ideology. I certainly admit that this is at least partly a political move, but Sen. Obama would never take such an extraordinary step for several reasons -- 1) he's not a leader; 2) he's a liberal Democrat whose record shows that he's usually not interested in compromise; and 3) he's never attempted to broker a bipartisan deal on an issue of any substance.

To the people saying that this decision is another instance of McCain's poor judgment: What? Are you kidding me? He is going to Washington to help broker the most significant piece of legislation in a generation. He's a member of the effing Senate! This is his job! Arrrrrgh!

Again, vintage McCain.

24 September 2008

McCain follows the Commish's advice

How brilliant do I look right about now?

Noting the leadership/initiative vacuum that exists between the two presidential candidates vis-a-vis the bailout, I called on Sen. McCain to take the extraordinary step of leaving his presidential campaign and heading back to Washington.

The Senior Senator plans to do just that.

In an effort to show how serious he is, McCain has reportedly cancelled an appearance on Letterman and is now calling on the president to convene a leadership roundtable -- including he and Sen. Obama -- to forge a bipartisan consensus to the bailout issue. Calling the administration's proposed 3/4-of-a-trillion-dollar blank-check request unworkable as currently constructed, he has called on Obama to suspend all campaign advertisements, return with him to Washington, and suspend the regularly scheduled debate on Friday night.

It's no surprise that, although the answer could change, an Obama aide said Team Hope was inclined to go forward with the debate.

Even if you see this move as a coldly calculated political gambit (which it might be), five things are true:

First: It shows that McCain is the only candidate willing to put his money where his mouth is on the new-kind-of-politics front. This is an unprecedented move.

Second: It will no doubt help shore up his biggest weakness -- the fact that voters (rightfully) don't see him as a leader -- or even competent -- on the economic front.

Third: Because Gov. Palin is such a big draw, Team Maverick will still be able to bring in huge crowds to its events.

Fourth: It makes Obama look horrendously bad if he doesn't follow suit.

Fifth: This is vintage McCain.

23 September 2008

About that bailout...

Having zero background in economics, I have struggled to fully grasp the obvious enormity of the situation that has befallen Wall Street and, really, the global financial system as a whole. It's almost impossible for me to craft any sort of sweeping, comprehensive response to the administration's proposed 3/4-of-a-trillion-dollar bailout of the financial industry, so what follows is the best I could cobble together:

No longer should any Bush official -- even one as widely respected as Hank Paulson -- be able to walk into the Capitol, present a vague plan, demand 700 billion of the taxpayers' dollars and ask for the authority to implement the plan on his terms simply by saying, "Trust me." The Bush administration has exhausted its political capital, and Sen. Dodd and other leading Democrats have, at least on that point, nailed it.

I also agree with what seems to be a bipartisan consensus that, in the event a bailout plan is passed, the taxpayers should reap the financial rewards of any government investment in Wall Street. Some Republicans have replied that this is socialism. If that's the case, what exactly do you call a $700 billion check written to investment firms for valueless commercial paper? Sen. Jack Reed (another Democrat) pointed out that if the taxpayers take the risks of buying into the administration's bailout plan, they should reap the rewards. He's right.

In the event that a bailout is agreed upon, Sen. Schumer's suggestion that the Treasury take a "deposit" -- $150 billion or so of the requested $700 billion -- and report back to the Banking Committee in several months was a good one. Paulson flatly rejected this idea, but if he didn't like the Banking Committee's answer, perhaps he should ask his bosses why Congress isn't interested in writing them another blank check.

It's also the responsibility of Congress, as Sen. Dodd noted, to ensure that the administration doesn't (again) overstep the constitutional boundaries set down for the executive branch. It's disingenuous for the administration to run to Congress demanding a check, then acting surprised when the Senate wants any sort of oversight over how the taxpayers' money is spent. Congress has a responsibility not only to the taxpayers, but to the Constitution.

Is this a good time to repeal the capital gains tax? Seems like it is to me. Think about the remarkable influx of money to Wall Street from all corners of the globe if this somehow passed.

Isn't the point of the SEC to make sure securities are regulated effectively enough that Wall Street executives don't make reckless decisions and bring our entire financial system to the brink of collapse? Just asking. If the answer to that question is yes, then Sen. McCain's call for the head of SEC Chairman Chris Cox was entirely appropriate.

Democrats don't seem to understand that there are two types of foreclosed-upon homeowners: Those who were hoodwinked by deceptive lending practices (as practiced by Countrywide), and those with already-poor credit who borrowed at subprime rates, put little or no money down, and who were unable to make their mortgage payments because of their own irresponsibility, stupidity and inability to manage their own finances. If the government is going to wade into this mess, someone needs to point out this distinction.

E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post brought up an excellent point: "There is a moral problem for capitalism itself if taxpayers take on a burden created by the foolishness of the privileged and get little compensation in return." Bingo.

And another thing touched on by Dionne (a liberal) and surprisingly few others: How in the world can a government running an enormous deficit afford to spend this much money?

As pointed out by Newt Gingrich, if this was a Democratic administration running to a Republican Congress for money, we would see an almost-universal condemnation of the administration's proposal. It's still stunning to me how, under Bush, the GOP became the party of big government, bigger deficits and higher spending, and that fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets are referenced and cheered at a Democratic convention.

To close: As you might have heard, we'll elect a new president in six weeks.

Sen. Obama has slinked into the background (per usual) and has offered nothing of value vis-a-vis the financial crisis, other than an admonition that this crisis be resolved prudently. (Thanks for your leadership, Professor.) What a statement McCain could make to the voters if he suspended his campaign activities and went to Washington to do what he does best -- forge a bipartisan solution to what could be an unworkable problem.

Whether the Senior Senator likes it or not, the candidate that is going to win the election is the candidate who deals with this issue most effectively. McCain seems to believe that a candidate for the presidency isn't required to demonstrate any economic wherewithal. A president might not need any (either McCain or Obama will obviously have a swarm of advisers), but a candidate certainly does.

Sen. McCain's best move would be to cancel his campaign appearances from now until the weekend (Gov. Palin has been the big draw anyway, not him) and spend the next week in Washington. The media and the public would hang on his every word. He would be lauded for putting the good of the taxpayers before his own political ambitions. He should huddle with his most respected economic advisers -- Romney, Forbes, Fiorina and Whitman -- and hold press conferences twice a day. The nation would have his attention.

First, the Senior Senator wouldn't even need to create a comprehensive proposal. He could sit in on the committee hearings and hold press conferences twice a day, simply opining on the day's events and what the Banking Committee should do next. Second, he could sound a populist tone, railing against reckless financial mavens who are now begging for the taxpayers' assistance and against the unscrupulous lending practices that he has so roundly condemned. Third -- as a purely political move -- he could use this as an opportunity to further distance himself from the Bush administration by criticizing the idea of a $700 billion check written by the taxpayers. Heck -- he could even call it the Bush-Pelosi bailout plan. One of McCain's greatest strengths is his deep concern for the stewardship of taxpayer dollars. Fourth, he could articulate a clear distinction between he and Obama -- I'm here in Washington fighting for you, and he's somewhere out on the campaign trail.

Obviously, the likes of Sens. Dodd and Schumer will be the ones in control of what the Senate does with the administration's plan, and McCain's proposals likely would be little more than soundbites. Still, this is a huge opportunity to build political capital and show leadership on this crucial issue.

I believe that if McCain did this, he'd win the election. Thus far, neither he nor Obama have offered any sort of leadership or direction on this issue. It seems to me that this is a golden opportunity that each is missing.

18 September 2008

Random election musings

I respect Chuck Hagel for the same reasons I respect John McCain and Joe Lieberman. He was dead-on in his assessment that Sarah Palin isn't qualified for the presidency. That said, Palin is as equally qualified as Barack Obama.

The idea that Obama is somehow qualified for the presidency because he's run a presidential campaign for 18 months is laughable. That's like saying that any person who's been a CEO of a small business for 18 months is ready to be the leader of the free world.

Every day that Team Hope takes shots at Palin is another day that the game is played on McCain's turf.

Speaking of the Senior Senator, he must sound like he knows what he's talking about when it comes to the Wall Street crisis. His campaign should dispatch Mitt Romney, Carly Fiorina, Steve Forbes and other well-respected economic voices among his surrogates and let them first take his message to the voters, then reassure voters that only McCain can be trusted to lead us out of this dark time.

Commentators all over the spectrum -- from Rush Limbaugh to moonbats on the left -- have speculated about the tenuous relationship Obama has with blue-collar voters in Rust Belt states. Pennsylvania and Michigan, in particular, are two states Obama must win if he wants to win the presidency. I'm genuinely curious to see how the final margins will differ -- or if they will differ at all -- from the recent polling data. Will Obama's aloofness and inability to connect with these voters alter the data at all? Will some of these voters simply find it impossible to vote for a black man? Time will tell.

I'd still like to hear Team Hope's explanation as to how their candidate plans to simultaneously cut taxes on 95% of Americans, provide socialized health care, and reduce the deficit -- all by simply cranking up the top tax bracket to the level it was at under Clinton.

McCain nailed it when responding to Joe Biden's asinine suggestion that the rich paying more taxes was in fact "patriotic": "Raising taxes in a tough economy isn't patriotic. It's not a badge of honor. It's just dumb policy."

It's worth asking at virtually every turn: How different would this race look if Obama had chosen Hillary over Biden?

Most conservatives roar approval when the topic of waterboarding is broached. But 60 years ago, the United States prosecuted Japanese interrogators for using that technique on American soliders during World War II.

The two most important issues in the election are none of the following: Iraq; Iran; Russia; the economy; the Wall St. collapse; earmarks; reforming Washington; judicial appointments. The two most important issues facing the next president are Social Security reform and energy independence. So to close, a final word on this:

The spirit of this site is grounded in the notion that although Republicans and Democrats might have different worldviews or ideas about the role of the federal government, good-faith compromises can be reached on crucial issues by working together. The Chairman and I have a deep respect for those politicians who have defied their party leadership and the extremists on their respective sides, and worked across party lines to spearhead things like welfare reform (under Clinton) and the Gang of 14 (headed by McCain and John Warner in 2005). The Chairman and I, while agreeing on many things, disagree on others. And so it is in Congress.

There exist some battles -- socialized health care, abortion, gun control, judicial appointments and tort reform -- where the two parties might not ever come to a consensus. But the greatest of accomplishments happens when elected officials from both parties tackle a problem head-on, together. And so it must be with Social Security and America's independence from foreign oil.

Both McCain and Obama have made energy independence a central issue in this election. Aside from McCain's penchant for nuclear power plants, it's not clear that the two candidates differ on much. However, no matter which one reaches the White House in 2009, the winner must put his money where his mouth is and forge a sensible yet ambitious national policy for breaking America's dependence on foreign oil. I believe either man could potentially do it; I'm voting for McCain because he's done things like this before.

Social Security expenditures will begin to outpace revenues in 2018. By 2042, well after the last baby boomer has retired, Social Security will be bankrupt. In 2042, I'll be 59. Republicans argue that Social Security must be privatized. Democrats argue that the cap on income subject to the Social Security tax (current at $95,000) must be raised or eliminated. Hyperpartisans on each side express outrage -- outrage, I say! -- at what they paint to be the outlandish suggestions of the other.

The bottom line is this: Congress -- led by the president -- must come to a compromise. As someone to the right of center, I abhor taxes. I fundamentally disagree with the 21st-century conception of Social Security. That said, it's unrealistic to, like a Ron Paul disciple, attempt to simply discard it to history's trash heap. If Social Security's life could be prolonged another 75 years by eliminating the cap on taxable earnings, I'd support such a change. However, Democrats are equally as hysterical, claiming that Republicans want to recklessly gamble with taxpayers' money and give it to their buddies on Wall Street. This is disingenuous and smacks of everything that is wrong with the Democratic Party.

The compromise inevitably will involve a bipartisan solution -- the Democrats likely will succeed in raising the cap on taxable earnings to perhaps $250,000. And the Republicans likely -- hopefully -- will succeed in allowing individuals to choose a private investment option in some sort of account -- with a government-guaranteed safety net -- that earns 4-5 times what the current Social Security accounts gross. Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Maureen Dowd and Keith Olbermann undoubtedly would howl with displeasure.

All the more reason to do it.

12 September 2008

The recent nonsense, Part II

Speaking of the Hopemonger, his M.O. never ceases to make me laugh: First, you demand civility from your opponent, and speak in grand terms about engaging in a new kind of post-partisan campaign. Next, you take cheap shots at your opponent, distort his record and deploy surrogates to attack his character. Then, you express outrage that he hits you back, and insist that such attacks on you and your patriotism are the hallmark of the old, tired politics of yesterday.

As McCain communications director Mark Salter noted, that's called hypocrisy, and it's the oldest kind of politics that there is.

The latest Changemaker ad hits McCain for still being computer-illiterate, and shows less-than-flattering footage of him during his first term in Congress (circa 1982) wearing an ugly sportcoat and oversized glasses. The ad is complete with a disco ball, Rubik's Cube and an oversized cell phone. The point? John McCain is out of touch, so you should vote for Barack Obama.


To any Obama supporter: Is this really what your candidate means by a "new kind of politics?" I'd love to hear a response.

This post was originally meant to address the "lipstick on a pig" comments. So here's my take:

Taken in a vacuum, my first inclination was to defend the Hopemonger against Republican charges that he was referencing Gov. Palin. Then I started to think back to the last six months, and what we've learned about this "new kind of politics" he's peddling.

Throughout the Democratic primary and into the summer, Obama made sure to punctuate any remarks about McCain with a reference to his "five decades of service to this country." On the one hand, I saw such remarks as a cheap way to highlight the fact that McCain has been around for a long time. On the other, though, I thought it gracious of the Changemaker to acknowledge that he's running against an American hero.

Late in the spring, in response to an attack from McCain, Obama said that the Senior Senator was "losing his bearings." On one hand, that struck me as a not-so-veiled dig at McCain's age. On the other, I simply chalked it up to a slip of the tongue and thought little else of it.

In June before an audience in Florida and in July in Virginia, Obama warned that Republicans would "try to make you scared of me" because, among other things, "he doesn't look like all those presidents on the dollar bills." This, ladies and gentlemen, is called playing the race card. Team Hope attempted to explain their candidate's comments by pointing out that Obama is much younger than, say, George Washington (thanks, professor). Right...

Earlier this week, Obama made two comments that drew heavy fire -- the first was the "lipstick on the pig" comment. Taken by itself, I found it somewhat innocuous. Then I heard that Obama's crowd laughed and gleefully began a chant of, "No more pit bull!" I also read the second, less controversial remark -- that if you take an old, smelly fish and wrap it in paper called "change," it still stinks.

Lipstick? Old fish? I wonder what each of those terms could refer to.

Give. Me. A. Break.

At the risk of sounding like Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck, I've become convinced that Obama knows exactly what he's doing. These aren't mere slips of the tongue or innocuous responses to McCain attacks. They are carefully calculated, only-slightly veiled shots at his opponents. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...

Limbaugh and others on the right are convinced that Team Hope is imploding before our eyes. I'm not sure that's the case. He's still the favorite, and it's taken a near-flawless campaign by Team Maverick over the past 10 weeks to even the race. McCain and Palin will need to be on message, avoid gaffes and outperform Obama and Biden in the upcoming debates. Palin, specifically, must look like she knows what she's talking about as the press gains further access to her.

No matter how this race turns out, it's become eminently clear to me that, as Bill Clinton has admitted to his closest friends in private, Obama is nothing more than another product of Chicago's Daly Machine.

I suppose the question is whether any of his disciples can bring themselves to admit it.

11 September 2008

The recent nonsense, Part I

First, a welcome back to the Chairman. His most recent post, per usual, exemplifies what this site is about.

Second, relating to the recent circus/firestorm surrounding Sarah Palin, and particularly, the unadvisable way that Sen. Obama has tried to take her out at the knees:

Let's make this abundantly clear: In a presidential election, the race will be replete with half-truths, accusations, innuendo, jabs, negative ads and surrogates expressing outrage (outrage, I say!) at the other candidate's actions and rhetoric. And this will be done by both sides. If you don't happen to subscribe to this theory, I have some swamp land I'd like to sell you.

It's no secret that I plan to vote for Sen. McCain in November, and am among his many admirers. That said, I'm able to acknowledge that his campaign -- and yes, even the Senior Senator himself -- have made some missteps and statements over the past few months that aren't 100% truthful. Team Maverick distorted FactCheck.org's assessment of the Obama campaign's rhetoric against Gov. Palin, and any of McCain's claims that Palin has opposed the Bridge to Nowhere from the beginning -- and any suggestion that she is and has always been a fervent anti-pork crusader -- are simply half-truths.

Additionally, the outrage at the media's treatment of Palin expressed by McCain's crew is admittedly at least partially manufactured. There's no doubt that if Obama had picked Sen. Clinton instead of Sen. Biden, and McCain had chosen Govs. Romney or Pawlenty instead of Palin, many of the attacks coming from the left would have come from McCain's team instead. McCain's team sees an opening with hockey/Wal-Mart moms and/or disaffected Hillary voters, and they're exploiting it.

Good for them.

I chalk most of the recent tit-for-tat up to the highly polarized political climate, and, at least partially, the say-one-thing-then-do-another nonsense that Team Hope has peddled ever since their candidate burst onto the national scene. One need simply read an account of the race for the presidency in 1800 between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson to realize that this is simply the nature of presidential politics, and it's nothing new. Compared to many past electoral cycles -- and even compared to McCain's brass-knuckles fight for the 2000 GOP nomination with then-Gov. Bush -- the current back-and-forth between the two campaigns is third-grade nonsense. Team Maverick -- led by Steve Schmidt -- is doing what it feels it needs to in order to win in the current political climate.

Now -- try getting any of the Changemaker's disciples to say any such thing.

09 September 2008

The Maverick, vindicated

Sen. McCain gave a good -- not great -- acceptance speech last Thursday in St. Paul. He spent a noticeable portion of it blasting Republicans for failing the American people since they returned to power. He wisely held off on POW references until the end, using a powerful anecdote to illustrate his transformation from a brash, egocentric fighter pilot to a man who's dedicated his adult life to serving his country. It was an extraordinarily powerful story from a guy who often looks uncomfortable with a teleprompter.

Keith Olbermann -- perhaps scorningly, but a broken clock is always right twice a day -- opined that the convention crowd was noticeably unenthusiastic about McCain's record of reaching across the aisle, and of his criticism of the GOP generally. I think he's right. McCain knows he has those people in his pocket. Unlike Sen. Obama, McCain wisely focused on those undecided voters during his acceptance speech. He didn't treat his acceptance speech as an opportunity to outline his policy views, but rather as a chance to speak directly to those outside the convention hall about his considerable record of reaching across the aisle.

As someone who has criticized the Bush administration for taking the GOP over a cliff, this Republican ticket is a breath of fresh air.

The significance of the moment during McCain's acceptance speech wasn't lost on me. In 2000, the Senior Senator was public enemy number one to many of those who cheered him last week from the convention floor. George W. Bush's well-funded, heavily staffed and highly organized team buried him amid a sea of negative ads throughout the primary, including disgusting innuendo in South Carolina, and the two campaigns famously clashed as if they were on opposite sides of the aisle.

Conservatives rallied around the self-styled "compassionate conservative" from Texas, and the likes of Limbaugh and Hannity railed against McCain's penchant for reaching across the aisle and working with Democrats. To the base, McCain wasn't sufficiently "conservative." They mocked McCain's friendliness with the press and the admiration he received from the likes of Chris Matthews.

By all accounts, McCain took the defeat -- and the attacks -- personally, and broke with Republican leadership on myriad issues during the first Bush term. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has spoken about discussions between McCain and leading Democrats during 2001 and 2002 concerning the possibility of McCain switching parties, and while he minimizes its significance, McCain considered running as John Kerry's vice president in 2004 for a time. The frosty relationship between McCain and Bush has never thawed, and during his 40-minute speech last week, McCain didn't even mention the president by name.

Eight years on, the party has changed immeasurably.

Bush's promise to be "a uniter, not a divider" has turned out to be a farce. The president has been wholly unwilling to reach across the aisle on any considerable issue, leaving the problems of Social Security reform, health care, immigration and America's dependence on foreign oil to the next president. Admirable, isn't it? To be sure, rampant partisanship on the other side of the aisle has equally poisoned the political climate. But the Bush administration has been politically toxic for the Republican Party, and as a result, the GOP looks poised for a crushing defeat in November.

Aside from preventing another 9/11 -- and to be sure, this is something that should not be minimized -- the Bush administration has given the nation eight years of swollen deficits, higher spending, expanded government, a Republican Party that hangs its hat on small-bore social issues, a devalued dollar, an economy in the tank, bickering partisanship and yes, the same unsolved problems that Bush promised to fix eight years ago.

All the while, McCain remained a steadfast warrior for the supremely successful surge strategy in Iraq, railed against out-of-control earmarks and spending and broke ranks with the GOP when he believed it necessary. As his formal rival in the White House became less popular, more people looked to the maverick senator from Arizona as the party's last chance to save itself.

Through a stunning sequence of events during the Republican primary -- his campaign going effectively bankrupt and retooling last fall, McCain appearing at more than 100 town hall meetings in New Hampshire, Guiliani inexplicably ignoring the first five primaries, Huckabee upsetting Romney in Iowa, Thompson staying in the race in South Carolina (siphoning votes from Huckabee and allowing McCain to win a narrow yet momentum-swinging victory), and the unlikely endorsement of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist -- he became the party's unlikely standard-bearer.

Is the GOP rank-and-file finally realizing that the bastardization of conservatism peddled by Bush and Karl Rove is a surefire way to destroy one's political party? Or has the base -- and yes, the likes of Limbaugh, Hannity, Dobson and, somewhat unbelievably, Rove -- simply rallied around McCain because he's the last man standing between the country and an Obama presidency? The latter is probably more accurate.

Either way, one thing's for sure.

The maverick is all they have left.

04 September 2008

A directive for Sen. McCain

Joe Lieberman opened the door with his speech highlighting McCain's impressive record of reaching across the aisle. Sarah Palin kicked it down last night, establishing her reformist, maverick credentials to a party that, beforehand, knew very little about her. In the process, we saw signs of the 2000-era McCain -- the brash fighter pilot, the straight talker, the reformer, the anti-establishmentarian.

The importance of recapturing the maverick mantle cannot be overstated. Barack Obama's case for the presidency can be boiled down to two claims -- 1) I represent "change" and 2) McCain = Bush. The selection of Palin, to a point, cuts both arguments off at the knees. But it's time for McCain himself to make his case to the electorate directly.

So tonight, I don't want to hear stories about the Hanoi Hilton. I don't want to hear about how many terrorists he plans to kill, how he plans to follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, how he plans to appoint originalist judges to the federal bench, or how he'll cut taxes.

McCain must seize the opportunity tonight to recast himself as the reformer, the maverick and the man who puts country before party. It's time to formally throw down the gauntlet and go for Obama's throat, point out that he, not the Changemaker, has an actual record of forging bipartisan solutions in the face of opposition from his own party.

Palin reaction

I generally try to divorce my sentiments as a card-carrying member of the John McCain Fan Club from my analysis of the passing political scene. At times, what might be chuckle-inducing for a Republican -- for instance, any time Ann Coulter opens her mouth -- might have disastrous political consequences. But mindful of this, it's awfully hard to give Sarah Palin's introduction to the American electorate last night anything other than a rave review. She blasted herself onto the national political scene in a remarkable way.

A few observations:

First: It was extraordinarily stupid for the media -- and Obama's team -- to set such low expectations for her speech. Palin's opening was a bit clunky, but once she settled in, she proved to be an exceptionally strong orator.

Second: John McCain has found his attack dog, and an effective one at that. Palin went after Obama in an almost caustic manner. At times, her speech sounded like it could have been given by Rush Limbaugh.

Third: Despite her myriad attacks on the Changemaker and his laughably thin record, Palin has "it" -- the trait that Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were blessed with and that Al Gore and Mitt Romney were not. "It" is an uncanny ability to remain likable and seem genuinely affable no matter the circumstances and no matter what one says. It's difficult to put a finger on exactly what it is about Palin that gives her such an aura of likability -- perhaps it's because of her Down Syndrome infant, her humble upbringing, her outsider status, her engaging way of speaking, or yes, her gender. "It" allows her to launch grenades at the other side with a confident smile. "It" also makes hitting her back without looking like the bad guy extraordinarily difficult. No other candidate under consideration for the vice presidency on either side has this.

Fourth: Point 3 is a huge problem for Obama and Biden. Through all her attacks on Obama's record and rhetoric, she remained likable. Could, say, Tom Ridge have pulled this off? Probably not. It's going to be very, very difficult for Team Hope to respond in kind. They will be strongly tempted to let Biden off the leash on Oct. 2 -- for the reasons illustrated above, that's not a good idea.

Fifth: Mike Huckabee and Romney -- two of the leading contenders for the Republican nomination in 2012 and perhaps the two most self-interested politicians on the planet -- heard the death knell for their chances at the 2012 Republican convention last night. Even if McCain should lose in November, a star has been born. Palin is a base-pleaser -- certainly further right than McCain himself -- with an intriguing record of reform, and she induced a raucous response from the convention crowd. Even if Team Maverick collapses down the stretch, Palin will blow Mitt and Huck away in 2012.

And finally: Although voters vote for the person on the top of the ticket, perhaps the VP brings something less tangible than a mere electoral advantage to the table. Palin's reformist record, outsider status and maverick streak have brought that same element of McCain's record back to the forefront. It's perhaps his best quality, and what endeared him to so many on both sides of the aisle in 2000. As the establishment candidate during this election cycle, McCain has struggled to recapture his maverick status as Obama attempts to tie him to Bush. But make no mistake: It's there.

Ridge would have enhanced McCain's national security credentials. Romney would have enhanced his "rich white guy" status. But Palin illuminates that side of McCain that derives perverse pleasure from kicking the base in the teeth when he thinks they're wrong. In an election where his biggest challenge is distancing himself from an unpopular incumbent, the maverick message cannot be lost. In recapturing this mantle, it allows McCain to not only distance himself from Bush, but also draw attention to Obama's nonexistent record of reaching across the aisle.

02 September 2008

Sarge in charge

Over the last 2 months, it's been fascinating to watch Team Maverick take control of the race. In early July, McCain ordered a top-down reorganization of his campaign, reassigning campaign manager Rick Davis to a lesser role and eliminating the not-so-bright idea of having 11 regional managers share decision-making responsibilities. It was branded a simple re-delegating of duties, but in the following days, it became apparent that former communications director Steve Schmidt -- the big, bald fella with the Bluetooth, known to McCain as "Sargent," and at whom the candidate regularly barks, through clenched teeth, "Fall in!" -- was now in control.

The Senior Senator has benefited immensely in three ways.

First, Schmidt persuaded McCain to put an end to his famous question-and-answer sessions aboard the Straight Talk Express. These freewheeling interviews-by-committee, where McCain would opine on anything and everything, made McCain a media darling during his presidential run in 2000. However, in 2008, these sessions quickly became an opportunity for reporters to jump on any adverse soundbite and make it news. McCain's maverick reputation has been built on three things: The friendly, freewheeling style with the media; the endless town-hall meetings with voters where anything was fair game; and the legendary battles with the Republican establishment.

But in 2008, McCain wasn't being helped by endlessly riffing with the media. As the underdog in 2000, he used these sessions to his advantage, establishing a friendliness with reporters and using "free media" to the advantage of his severely underfunded campaign. Eight years later, however, as the presumptive Republican nominee, he's not hurting for press coverage. Although still the self-styled underdog, he's clearly the "establishment" candidate. And because he's carrying the Republican banner, the press is obviously much less friendly.

To be sure, McCain's relations with the traveling press have become much more chilly. But in this culture of soundbites and 24-hour news channels, it's been worth it. Save for his insanely stupid "$5 million" gaffe at the Saddleback Forum, McCain has been remarkable in his ability to stay on message and avoid verbal hiccups. Before July, he simply had been unable to hammer a consistent theme. But by curbing his riffage sessions with the traveling press corps and driving home a consistent theme, he has been able to address the uber-disciplined Obama's attacks in a much more effective manner.

By the way, many left-of-center talking heads -- Jonathan Alter, Joe Klein, Keith Olbermann, et al. -- have skewered McCain for ending these free-for-alls. Too bad. Alter and Olbermann's soundbite culture have made it virtually impossible to win an election by endless question-and-answer questions. 

Second, the timing of McCain's rollout of VP Sarah Palin was nothing short of brilliant. Twelve hours after Obama's historic acceptance speech in Denver, on the 45th anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, the cable news networks were buzzing about ... McCain's yet-to-be-determined running mate. Schmidt's operation released a congratulatory ad on the night of the nomination -- right before Obama relentlessly attacked McCain in his acceptance remarks -- and then let the Changemaker enjoy his evening. The following morning, Schmidt's airtight crew had yet to leak the name of the VP, with speculation still swirling around half a dozen candidates, and the announcement to come around noon eastern. Schmidt successfully took what would have been gushing press coverage away from Obama's speech and focused it on McCain's VP pick.

And when McCain did make the choice, by the way, it was an outside-the-box pick.

Finally, Team Maverick has followed my heeding and used negative ads to make its point. Concededly, some attempts to paint the Changemaker as either a celebrity or out of touch have been juvenile and silly. But more often than not, McCain's team has capitalized on the Hopemonger's laughably thin record and conventional brand of Chicago-Hyde Park liberalism. As I've written here before, McCain must attack, attack, attack. 

He's begun to do that, and Joe Lieberman's speech last night, highlighting Obama's empty record devoid of any significant bipartisan accomplishments, should be a blueprint for the final 62 days. The more voters learn about the Pope of Hope, the less they'll like.

Concededly, Steve Schmidt is a Karl Rove understudy, and it's no secret I dislike Rove strongly. However, unlike Rove, Schmidt is less of a political adviser and more of a campaign manager. It's expected that the Sarge will return to his California home after election night, and that McCain's long-standing, close-knit team will remain after Schmidt leaves.

It's been a remarkable turnaround for a candidate who, in the current political climate, should be getting blown out. And Steve Schmidt should get the credit.