23 December 2008

Team Maverick's final requiem

To finish our multi-part analysis of the McCain campaign, about six weeks late:

Finally, at the risk of sounding like E.J. Dionne or a HuffPoster, I believe that McCain made a fundamental mistake by putting his presidential ambitions in the hands of so many Bush operatives. To be sure, Steve Schmidt was generally an asset more than a liability; and in GOP circles, most of the big guns worked for the Bush/Cheney operation. But Nicolle Wallace was largely responsible for the handling of Gov. Palin, and Wallace was an utter failure. Schmidt's operation was peppered with more and more Bush/Cheney folks after McCain clinched the nomination, and even more after the Democratic primary ended. The campaign was obviously run much like the GOP's presidential operation in '04. 

The focus on Bill Ayers and Tony Rezko so late in the game was a colossal mistake; the ads (one claiming Palin was a forceful opponent of the Bridge to Nowhere; another ludicrously warned that Obama supported teaching sex education to kindergartners) were often half-truths at best; the strategy to attack Obama's character in ads approved by the candidate himself (instead of third-party 527 ads) was a terrible idea; the ground game was atrocious; and while Schmidt prided himself on talking point after talking point, day after day, the lack of an overall campaign narrative (described in a prior post) was perhaps the campaign's biggest failure.

Perhaps most simply, McCain wasn't himself. The gregarious guy that I saw in an airplane hangar in suburban St. Louis in February was funny and likable; he seemed to delight in even poking his supporters in the eye from time to time, but by October, that character was gone. I'm not quite sure how or why this happened. His transformation from happy warrior to angry old uncle happened sometime during July or August, around the time that Schmidt took the reins from Rick Davis, a longtime confidante of the Senior Senator's.

If you don't believe it, juxtapose his cool performance in the February debate while under attack from Gov. Romney, with his angry persona in the first debate against Obama.

That said, I don't entirely buy the idea that the John McCain of 2000 was markedly different than the John McCain of 2008. That's a liberal talking point. But I was disappointed that the guy whose hand I shook last February had a clearly different temperament than the one I saw angrily debating Barack Obama in October. Maybe a presidential campaign does that to one.

While McCain's aforementioned back-of-the-bus free-for-alls with reporters obviously had to be curtailed, McCain himself became distant, short and, by all accounts from reporters, visibly unhappy. He once called the press (only half-jokingly) "my base." Why shun them? McCain was truly the last political celebrity before Obama blast on the scene. By shunning the press and pushing reporters away, Team Maverick gave away a huge advantage.

Cindy McCain was once asked whether, if Karl Rove walked past her, she'd stab him in the back. "No," she responded. "I'd stab him in the front." I will forever revile Rove for what I believe were carefully orchestrated, take-this-cash-and-don't-tell-anyone-about-it-who-asks on McCain's character in 2000. The Bush team of 2000 engaged in character assassinations of the most vile kind against an American hero, particularly in South Carolina. While Rove might have won two elections, we have seen a seismic shift away from this slash-and-burn, divide-and-conquer strategy that drove George W. Bush to eight years in power. 

There were overtures of this as the calendar turned to fall, especially once Schmidt took control. And it didn't ever seem that McCain was ever totally on board. 

The campaign rhetorically asked, "Who is Barack Obama?" while ignoring McCain's remarkable record of political independence. It didn't take up Obama's sometime-socialist tendenices until the Changemaker's telling "Joe the Plumber" incident, which was far too late in the game to make a dent in Obama's lead. It highlighted the exact wrong aspects of what was wrong with an Obama presidency. Even worse, it allowed Team Hope to drive the narrative about McCain and dictate how the electorate viewed him.

21 December 2008

Change we can believe in

Caroline Kennedy has laughably tossed her hat into the ring to replace Sen. Clinton, who will leave her cushy, carpetbagged Senate seat for Foggy Bottom in January.

So, too, have the forces of nepotism reared their head even closer to the office of the president-elect. Vice-president-in-waiting Joseph R. Biden, Jr., has handpicked his close aide Edward Kaufman to replace him as Delaware's emissary to the U.S. Senate. It's easy to presume that the vice-president elect will ensure that his son, Beau, will assume the seat when he returns from his tour of duty in Iraq, in 2010.

Barack Obama promised "change we can believe in," and a new, transcendent style of politics that connects with the common man.

But he has stayed eerily silent on the topic of America's most nepotistic family, and perhaps the most wholly unqualified candidate to run for public office since, well, Caroline Kennedy's esteemed uncle.

Edward McCormick, Ted Kennedy's opponent in his 1962 battle for President Kennedy's vacant Senate seat, famously remarked, "If his name were Edward Moore ... with your qualifications, Teddy, your candidacy would be a joke."

Caroline Kennedy's record is even shorter than Uncle Teddy's -- fundraising for the American Ballet Theater, penning Kennedy-related books and serving on various nonprofit boards. 

The Democratic Party likes to pat itself on its collective back as the party of the poor, the oppressed, the downtrodden and those unable to help themselves. 

But they'd rather you not notice the tawdriness of the Biden and Kennedy tales, as well as the posturing over the president-elect's own vacant seat. 

To be sure, nepotism has handed us our most impotent president since Jimmy Carter (much more on that later).

But it also has come to define the modern Democratic Party. One not need look at just the Kennedys or Bidens, but the Clintons as well. Although Sen. Clinton has carved out her own niche in Congress, she carpetbagged her way to the United States Senate and has built her career on the coattails of her husband.

And this is the party throne to which Barack Obama has ascended. 

The president-elect is expected to assert that his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, did nothing wrong by merely suggesting to Gov. Blagojevich that Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett should be appointed to replace the Pope of Hope. But Jarrett has never before held public office. If Obama were interested in replacing the "politics as usual" that he spent so much time decrying, his office wouldn't have engaged in such behavior. Instead, he either would have chosen a candidate with any sort of meaningful record of public service in elected office, or worked with the Illinois Secretary of State's office to organize a special election.

Nor would Obama sit idly by as his vice-president has orchestrated a replacement system that smacks of brazen nepotism. He likewise would call for a qualified candidate to replace Sen. Clinton in New York, and doing so would immediately torpedo Caroline Kennedy's house of cards. 

He's the supposed leader of his party.

If you were one of the tens of millions who voted for Barack Obama, I'd like to paraphrase President Clinton's thoughts about the Changemaker:




Get over yourselves.

19 December 2008

The bailout cometh

This morning, in the wake of Senate Republicans killing a $30 billion handout for Detroit's "Big 3" automakers late last week, President Bush approved an $18 billion rescue package, spitting in the face of Congress, taxpayers, the Constitution, the legacy of Ronald Reagan, the era of small-government conservatism, and, once and for all, putting the finishing tarnishes -- er, touches -- on his legacy. 

In exchange for the money, the administration will have the ability to acquire stock in the Big 3, partially nationalizing the auto industry.

There is no word on why the $750 billion "economic stimulus" fund that the Bush administration obtained in October couldn't be tapped.

The administration took the automakers' bait hook, line and sinker, falling for GM's posturing that if it did not receive a check from the government, it would consider bankruptcy. 

Senate Republicans, led by Bob Corker, and others like Mitt Romney, noted that Detroit's biggest problem is that their wage and benefit packages are disproportionate vis-a-vis their foreign counterparts. For this reason, the Big 3 have been in financial trouble for years, while the likes of Toyota have flourished.

As of this writing, it does not appear that the administration's agreement with the Big 3 addressed this issue. However, the Bush administration managed to obtain promises from the Big 3 to curtail executive compensation packages. 

Which, you know, is a huge deal when a company is hemorrhaging billions of dollars a year.

The administration seemed terrified of the prospect of any one of the Big 3 filing for bankruptcy. I genuinely wonder if the president actually understands what bankruptcy entails. It is not a process where a company shutters its factories and ceases operations. Rather, bankruptcy simply is a process whereby a company's assets are inventoried, its debts are restructured, and collection efforts against it must cease until the "bankruptcy estate" is finalized. It can be a quick process, and while it effectively destroys a company's credit, it does not mean that tens of thousands of workers will be laid off. 

It's no surprise that the Bush administration once again disregarded the wishes of Congress -- even its Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill -- and wrote the automakers an enormous check. From warrantless wiretaps to brazenly denying natural-born American citizens the protections of the 14th Amendment to an unheard-of amount of executive orders and "signing statements," the legacy of George W. Bush should forever be remembered as one big executive branch power-grab.

I vehemently opposed Barack Obama for the presidency, and was bitterly disappointed when he won.

But how can he possibly be any worse?

17 December 2008

On the Obama cabinet, Part II

A follow-up post on our earlier remarks on the president-elect's cabinet seemed appropriate.

In addition to being pleased by the general makeup of his advisory team, I also offer my full endorsement for the selections of Bill Richardson, Ken Salazar, Tom Vilsack and Larry Summers -- all moderate Democrats -- to the Changemaker's cabinet.

I'm further heartened by the direction Obama appears to be headed vis-a-vis foreign policy. In particular, I'm extremely pleased with the nomination of Gen. Jim Jones as national security adviser and the retention of Bob Gates as defense secretary -- two men, who Sen. McCain noted, would probably would have been part of his own cabinet. The third key member of the foreign policy team is of course Sen. Clinton, who will replace Condoleeza Rice as Secretary of State.

Many on the right revile the Clintons, Hillary in particular. Much of their distaste stems from President Clinton's marital infidelities, and the acrimony toward HRC seems to be a result of her efforts to socialize American health care during the early part of Bill's first term. In terms of her voting record, Sen. Clinton was rated the 16th-most liberal senator in 2007, according to the nonpartisan National Journal. That means that in general, while an extremist by no means, she's a reliable liberal vote. 

However, the many faults I find with her are mainly on the domestic front. She is by no means anti-war; in fact, she continues to stand by her vote in favor of the Iraq War resolution. She has criticized Obama's laughable, weak-kneed stance toward negotiating without preconditions vis-a-vis Iran and Cuba, and has criticized her boss-to-be for his faux-hawkish attitude toward military action in Pakistan. Furthermore, she is regarded among her Republican colleagues on the Hill as hard-headed and pragmatic, and she has the deep respect of Sens. McCain and Lieberman, among others.

Had Obama chosen Sen. Clinton as his chief of staff or HHS czar, I would have a completely different opinion. On the domestic front, I agree with her on very little. However, she is a far better choice than the waffly, dovish Sen. John F. Kerry-Heinz (the other frontrunner for the State Department post). She is nothing if not tough, and if she is to have a position within the new administration, taking charge of foreign policy is fine with me. 

However, the HRC choice is revealing in another way. As Dick Morris pointed out, the case Obama made for his candidacy was his divergence from Sen. Clinton on foreign policy issues -- Pakistan, Iran, Cuba and especially, what to do with Iraq. Completely ignoring the feedback from commanders on the ground, Obama maintained that a cut-and-run strategy was the only practicable way out. (Even his own vice-president criticized this view as dangerously naive.) He claimed that, as an esteemed member of the Illinois State Senate, he was prescient with his anti-war views in 2002 and 2003. He built his case to the Democratic Party on this alone. 

And now he has chosen his main rival -- whose main, and really only, difference, concerned foreign policy -- to be in charge of ...

Foreign policy.

*Bangs head against table.*

Secondly, the presumed appointment of senator-turned-lobbyist Tom Daschle to head up Health & Human Services is another ludicrous appointment. Not only is Daschle's only qualification for the post the fact that he was a brash, obstructionist Washington insider for years, but it's hypocritical vis-a-vis Obama because Daschle has worked as a lobbyist since he was unseated by John Thune in 2004.

Obama spent much of his time assailing Sen. McCain for stacking his campaign with former lobbyists. The Hopemonger promised "change we can believe in," a new kind of politics, and a post-partisan Washington that will do away with the old, tired politics of yesterday. Lobbyists were barred from working on his campaign. He took the moral high ground, decrying the influence of big money and promised to make government responsive to the needs of the common man.

Now, he has picked a guy who has worked as a lobbyist at one of the premier K Street firms since he was ousted in 2004.


15 December 2008

Mr. Transparency?

You'll notice that in a prior post concerning Gov. Blagojevich, I mentioned nary a word about our president-elect. 

On one hand, I completely disagree with the RNC's immediate propaganda blast on the day of Blagojevich's arrest, attempting to tie Obama in with Blagojevich, noting that -- gasp! -- the president-elect not only has made public appearances with the governor in the past, but had the audacity to endorse him in 2006! While the Republican Party is making good-faith efforts to find its footing in the wake of its November 4 beatdown, Roveian crap like this exemplifies everything that is wrong with the GOP. 

Let me be clear: I applaud Team Hope for, according to the FBI's complaint, completely rebuffing any pay-for-play scheme that Blagjevich floated with respect to filling the Changemaker's Senate seat. Blagojevich's alleged reaction to Obama's team's flat refusal to cough up cash in exchange for nominating their preferred candidate (presumably, Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett) tells me everything I need to know about what the incoming administration thought of such an idea.

However, the fact that questions still hang over the office of the president-elect speaks volumes about Obama's "new kind of politics" mantra. During the campaigns, the Hopemonger spoke often of transparency in government, and roundly criticized the Bush administration's lack thereof. I accuse the president-elect of no wrongdoing vis-a-vis Blagojevich, but believe that the inability to answer simple questions about who spoke with Blagojevich when and what was discussed is another example of the Changemaker saying one thing and doing another.

As noted by a number of astute analysts, Obama's inner circle is a group of people (save chief of staff Rahm Emanuel) that has little or no executive experience. 

It's showing.

Frankly, ignoring questions and blowing off the press is utter hypocrisy, considering the nature of Obama's supposedly transformative candidacy. If I remember correctly, he ran as a supposed agent of "change we can believe in," promising to bring a new kind of politics to the Beltway.

Obama's team could have made this story go away overnight by sending out the following statement: "Shortly after the election, the office of the president-elect was contacted by Gov. Blagojevich regarding a disgusting pay-for-play scheme. Not only did the office of the president-elect rebuff such overtures, but we now call on Gov. Blagojevich to tender his resignation, effective immediately."

Instead, by failing to be forthright and refusing to answer completely legitimate questions about the nature of his team's communications with Blagojevich (that any incoming administration, by the way, would owe the American people), Barack Obama is combining the worst excesses of the past two presidencies: The word-splicing and truth-parsing of the Clinton administration, and the secrecy and bellicosity of the Bush years.

Especially from a man whose claim to the presidency was his "superior judgment," the silence is deafening. 

13 December 2008

Bob Corker, bailout-killer

Perhaps the thing that aggravates me about political extremists is the parochialism. 

There will always be Republicans who defend President Bush's every move as they fall over the cliff with him, and there will always be Democrats who try to excuse some of President Clinton's late-second-term antics or unabashedly root against the U.S. military to succeed in Iraq.

Over the last 8 years, Medicare Part D, out-of-control deficit spending, military blunders overseas, secrecy, bureaucratic incompetence and, now, enormous bailout checks from the federal government have all come about as a result of the efforts of a Republican administration.

I can't comprehend how 3 in 10 people still approve of the job our president is doing.

But for the efforts of a Republican senatorial contingent led by Tennessee's Bob Corker, this brilliant Republican administration that has all but spat on the grave of Ronald Reagan would have put another $30 billion bailout package on the collective back of the American taxpayers. 

Mitt Romney wrote a thoughtful op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last month, reversing his primary-season stance and arguing that it's time for Detroit to reinvent itself on its own. Bloated wage and benefit packages ($30 an hour for working on an assembly line?!) and an unholy alliance between the Big 3 and the UAW have nearly bankrupt at least one of the automakers and have brought the Big 3's executives crawling to Washington for a handout. Bailout checks, Romney said, would only postpone the inevitable -- until Detroit becomes more responsible in how it spends its money, it deserves nothing from the federal government.

Sen. Corker, echoing some of Romney's thoughts on Friday, noted that had the Democrats been willing to acquiesce by mandating that Detroit's benefit packages be brought in line with those of Toyota (whose costs per man hour come out to around $29 per hour), more than 90% of the body would have come to a resolution. It's no secret, as Sen. Corker pointed out, that Senate Democrats, long in the pockets of the UAW bosses, were one of the key culprits in this deal.

But where was the supposedly conservative Bush administration? How in the world, after a $700 billion bailout of the financial sector, could this administration possibly afford to write another enormous check to another completely irresponsible industry?

Hats off to Sen. Corker for a job well done.

09 December 2008

Rod Blagojevich is a contemptible piece of trash

Does "staggering" even do this story justice?

Attempting to extort money from a children's hospital.

Trying to force out members of the Chicago Tribune's editorial board who criticized him.

Discussing how to "monetize" the relationships he's made as governor.

Bribes around every corner.

Attempting to sell the Changemaker's vacated seat in the United States Senate.

Planning to appoint himself to that seat, so that -- get this -- he would have more protection from federal prosecutors as a member of the U.S. Senate. 

Bartering for a cushy lobbying gig for his wife.

And perhaps at perhaps his most audacious, soliciting favors -- considered to be either an ambassadorship or the HHS czar -- from the office of the president-elect in exchange for Team Hope's preferred choice to replace Obama.

Many in the media -- and virtually everyone in the Democratic Party -- are calling this a sad day for Illinois and for America. 

I completely disagree.

This is a wonderful day.

It's a day when the kingpin of the most corrupt political machine in North America was brought to his knees.

The Daley/Blagojevich axis of evil has been dealt a crippling blow.

It's a great day for the rule of law.

It's a great day for the citizens of Illinois, who are rid of the least popular (approval rating: 13 percent), most ineffective and most personally and politically toxic governor in the country.

David Gergen had the line of the day: "I have a hard time pronouncing his name. I just call him 'the idiot.'"

Patrick Fitzgerald has been assigned to prosecute the case. He's the U.S. attorney who prosecuted the Valerie Plame leak. 

He must refuse any and all overtures from the governor to plea bargain. 

Blagojevich needs to go to prison for a long time. His comfortable life, as he knows it, needs to end.

I hope Fitzgerald goes for the jugular.

04 December 2008

Matthews 2010?

You'll notice that forever-wired Chris Matthews' home page on MSNBC.com is linked up to the right on this blog. 

We at Bipartisan Rules are simultaneously fascinated, educated and amused by Matthews, the host of MSNBC's "Hardball" since 1997, in spite of the leg thrills he receives from President-Elect Obama's rousing oratory, and his February 12, 2008 proclamation that the Changemaker was "the new testament."

Though overtly bombastic, Matthews is a comparatively moderate Democrat, as well as one of the most astute political observers on the planet.

Now, per our friends over at Politico, it appears that Matthews is planning to challenge Sen. Arlen Specter in 2010. Some believe that Matthews' interest in Specter's seat is a ploy to force MSNBC to re-up his contract, which expires next year. Matthews currently makes about $5 million a year, but with Keith Olbermann slated to make around $8 million annually, it's possible that the network might tell Matthews to hit the road. Matthews has also been mentioned as a possible replacement for Bob Schieffer on "Face the Nation," and odds are good that, even if he doesn't pursue elected office, Matthews will no longer be working at MSNBC in 2010.

I like Matthews. I can't help it. He's a refreshingly straight shooter and the type of moderate Democrat -- like the pro-life Sen. Bob Casey, who unseated Rick Santorum in 2006 -- that could make serious headway in a state-wide race in Pennsylvania.

MSNBC would be making a grievous mistake by letting Matthews walk. I believe that if they offered him a multi-year contract at $3-4 million per year, he'd stay put. If the network managed to lose both Tim Russert and Chris Matthews -- its two most valuable, insightful journalists -- in a 12-month span, while elevating Keith Olberman (in salary) and Air America graduate Rachel Maddow (with a prime-time slot), it would cement even further their status as the official channel of the Obama administration, and in my view, render the entire crew nothing more than lapdogs.

In the event that Matthews in fact left journalism entirely and challenged Sen. Specter, it would be a fascinating race. Specter is from the John McCain wing of the Republican Party, seethingly derided as a "RINO" by the likes of Hannity and Ingraham. To put it nicely, Specter doesn't "energize the base." But he's an independent-minded straight shooter who has been a bastion of integrity as the corrupt Republican house of cards has collapsed around him in the twilight of the Bush administration's tenure.

As much as I hope to continue to be entertained by Matthews' presence on MSBNC, he'd be a tremendous public servant and a refreshing blast of honesty -- not to mention bombastic, unabashed opining -- in Washington.

Can you imagine Matthews trying to behave himself as the stodgy, impotent Democratic "leadership" -- Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin -- takes to the floor in weekly Party meetings?

Me either.

03 December 2008

The Obama cabinet

If Barack Obama's cabinet picks are any indication of the type of president he intends to be, conservatives can -- at least until inauguration day -- breathe a little easier.

The Changemaker easily could be clamoring for a mandate (a la Dubya) based on his 52% figure (a single percentage point above President Bush's re-election haul in 2004) and swing the country hard to the left. His voting record in the Senate, among other things, gives rise to worry that this is still more than possible. Although Obama's virtually nonexistent record of working across the aisle in the U.S. Senate won't go away until he demonstrates the ability to forge a bipartisan consensus on anything of much substance, his Cabinet picks -- most of them, at least -- indicate to me that he does not intend to govern as an overt leftist. 

To be sure, the people a president surrounds himself with aren't necessarily dispositive of the type of chief executive he will become.

However, when reviewing Obama's cabinet picks, I'd ask conservatives to live in reality: Joe Lieberman is not Bernie Sanders. Ben Nelson is not Dick Durbin. Hillary Clinton is not Dennis Kucinich. And Bill Clinton certainly wasn't Jimmy Carter.

The idea (held by many on the right) that every Democrat hails from the far left of the political spectrum is simply not accurate. Democrats are not, as Rush Limbaugh posits, a group of wayward infidels who must be beaten back at every turn. There is often great diversity of viewpoints in the Democratic Party, much as there is great diversity within the GOP.

Instead of complaining that he is stacking his cabinet with Democratic retreads, I'd ask you to keep in mind two particular wings of the Democratic Party that often see spillover into the conservative camp -- first, the hawkish wing (formerly called "Scoop Jackson Democrats" and from whence Joe Lieberman came), which the moonbats on the left absolutely abhor; and the fiscally moderate wing of the party, which has grown in size thanks to President Clinton's focus on economic growth and responsible government. The Chairman subscribes to both of these wings -- that's why we tend to get along.

Let's allow Obama the chance to become an effective president, and applaud him for some -- but obviously, not all -- of the choices he's made thus far.