"In contrast to the vitriolic rants you'll find on some political blogging sites, Palmer gives in-depth analysis and commentary." --Dan Cook, The Free Times


Letter to the editor: Re: Al Sharpton and Strom Thurmond

Although The 7-10 generally focuses on national politics, I thought I would include a letter I wrote to the editor of the largest newspaper in South Carolina--The State. This is in reference to the recent story about Al Sharpton finding that his ancestor's slavemaster shares an ancestor with Strom Thurmond.

South Carolina is one of the most conservative states in America. While there are some pockets of progressivism, this state is generally ruby red. (And no, I'm not saying conservative political views translates into racism.) Unfortunately, race relations in this state are not so hot, as is recently evidenced by a few recent letters to the editor that were dismissive of the story and questioned its news value. Here's one example, written by a Mr. John Feaster of Columbia:

Someone please tell me why it is newsworthy who the Rev. Al Sharpton may or may not be related to from more than 100 years ago.

Is he jockeying to get a place in line for any leftover estate?

I obviously could not let this ignorant statement go unchallenged. So I quickly drafted my own letter and sent it to the editor a few minutes ago. I don't know if it will be published there, but I won't let that stop me from posting it here. Take a look at the letter and judge for yourself:

The Rev. Al Sharpton recently found out that his ancestor's slavemaster shares an ancestor with the late Sen. Strom Thurmond. And now there have been letters to the editor dismissing the story, asking why this is relevant after more than 150 years, and even questioning Sharpton's motives.

These critics are providing a perfect example of why Blacks have such a high level of mistrust of Whites in South Carolina and throughout the South. Fair or not, there's a perception out there that White people just don't care about Blacks. But Blacks aren't allowed to be dismissive of Whites.

For example, regarding the Confederate flag in front of the statehouse, whenever someone writes a letter expressing a wish that the flag be taken down and placed in a museum, many angry rebuttals soon follow telling the flag opponent that "that flag represents our Southern heritage" and "should be honored." The fact that most Blacks do not respect the Confederacy seems to be a non-issue to them. How dare these Blacks try and minimize our (White) history?

Finding out that one of the most famous civil rights leaders in America (and one of the biggest nemeses of the conservative right) is related to one of the most famous South Carolinians ever who once espoused what the Black leader now fights against is quite newsworthy. It's an amazing coincidence. Many Blacks are unable to trace their family history because of poor records and the fact that so many families were broken up during that terrible time, so this is particularly interesting news to the Black community. But now many Whites are adopting a "who cares?" attitude.

The Confederate flag is a big deal to many White South Carolinians. Slavery is a big deal to many Black South Carolinians. Why is it okay for Whites to minimize Black history regarding tracing their ancestry, but it's not okay for Blacks to minimize White history regarding the Confederate flag? And are any Whites willing to take a stand against the other Whites who are so openly dismissive of this issue? Or is it possible that these critics speak for the majority?

-Anthony Palmer

I really hope they publish this, although I fear it may be a bit too long. It just burns me up to see something so ignorant come out of the mouth of a supposed adult. There are people like this all over the nation, not just in the South. But if my words can reach just one person and get that person to think and reexamine his ideas about this subject, then I will have succeeded. It's obvious that nobody else has much to say about this.

Vilsack's Void: A Follow-up

In this commentary I talked about the ramifications of Gov. Tom Vilsack's withdrawal from the presidential race. I posited that Gov. Bill Richardson stood to gain the most because he was left as the lone remaining candidate with gubernatorial experience.

However, David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register disagrees with me:

Why didn't [Vilsack] take off? The answer may be that in 2008, voters are not looking for the skills in domestic policy a governor brings to a presidential campaign. It's the first election since 9/11 in which the country must select a new president, and Americans seem to be be looking for a president with experience in national security or on a broader world stage - not a state capitol.

That's contrary to the conventional wisdom that says governors do well in presidential races because they have executive experience and decisive images while senators do poorly because they merely talk for a living and are weighted down by their voting records in Congress.

I can understand Yepsen's point, but I don't think national security credentials will be at the forefront of voters' minds in 2008. I think they will be looking for experience and competence. Period. If national security were the single most important issue to voters, then General Wesley Clark would be a shoo-in.

My belief is similar to something I heard from Chris Matthews of MSNBC's Hardball a few months ago. While I can't state it nearly as eloquent as he did, I'll summarize it as follows:

After a long tenure with a single president, regardless of his popularity or ideology, voters tend to look for someone who is the opposite of that president to succeed him. Let me explain:

After the youthful and idealistic JFK, voters opted for the serious, get-down-to-business Nixon. After the scandal-ridden Nixon years, voters wanted the innocent, unassuming Carter. After the Carter years that were plagued by bad news, Americans looked to the optimistic Reagan. Bush 41's election in 1988 was an exception in that it gave the GOP 12 years of uninterrupted control over the White House. However, after the staleness of the Bush administration and his perceived lack of empathy for the average Joe, voters were looking for the freshness and vigor of Bill Clinton who could "feel your pain." And after Clinton's dalliances with women and forays into scandal, voters wanted George W. Bush, the clean guy who would not cheat on his wife. Now after Iraq and Katrina, I think voters will be looking for someone who is at the very least, intellectually curious. "Experience" and "competence" in 2008 will be what "family values" and "restoring honor and dignity to the White House" were in 2000.

For the Democrats, this is why I question Edwards' and Obama's chances. This is also why I do not think Hillary has locked down the Democratic nomination yet. If anything, a second-tier candidate (e.g., Biden, Dodd, Richardson) or Al Gore himself are more likely to become the nominee because they are closer to what George W. Bush is not--analytical.

On the Republican side, voters are flirting heavily with Giuliani right now. However, when voters start examining his record, they may find that his lack of experience above the municipal level will disqualify him from the presidency. Giuliani has received rave reviews for his handling of 9-11, but so did Bush, and look at what has happened to Bush since then. Aside from 9-11, both Bush and Giuliani have received mediocre to lukewarm reviews of their performance at best.

Before Romney's attempts to reposition himself as a conservative, he and Giuliani both occupied pretty much the same ideological space. Unfortunately for Romney, however, he will likely become doomed by a term coined by the Republican he wishes to succeed: a flip-flopper. Ironically, Romney is probably the most formidable general election candidate on the GOP side because of his health care initiative (how do Democrats run against that?), raw political skills (take that, John Edwards), executive experience (Bill Richardson doesn't have a monopoly on this anymore!), and potential crossover appeal (governor of a blue state).

(Huckabee, Tancredo, Brownback, Hunter, Gilmore, and Paul have done nothing to distinguish themselves at this point and seem to be positioning themselves as vice presidential picks. They are largely irrelevant at present.)

This leaves McCain as the elder statesman who could wrap up the nomination by acting presidential instead of cocky or smooth. And if conservatives don't trust him, there is always Newt Gingrich waiting in the wings who could easily pick up the conservative mantle. Gingrich actually outpolls Romney in some cases.

(Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska is an interesting story. He is basically a John McCain who is opposed to the Iraq War. Because he's flirting with the prospect of forming a Unity ticket in '08, I'm not really sure how to classify him, nor can I assess his chances.)

Anyway, 2008 could very well end up being billed as a clash between Clinton's ally and nemesis (Gore and Gingrich) or the shootout in the Wild West (Richardson and McCain). One thing these four candidates all share is EXPERIENCE. The battle of the unproven upstarts (Obama vs. Romney or Edwards vs. Giuliani) seems much less plausible to me, despite how well these candidates are polling now.


Gored by Gore?

Al Gore received generally positive reviews for his performance at the Academy Awards. He looked loose, was actually funny, and seemed comfortable in his own skin. It is clear that he has earned the respect and adoration of a huge segment of the Democratic base. No longer is he the wooden Sore-Loserman candidate from 2000 that blew a slam dunk election. Gore is actually seen as "cool" now, especially among younger people who supported Howard Dean in droves. And with such a large audience watching, there were undoubtedly a few people watching who were wondering about what could have been. Listening to Gore talk wonkishly about the evaporation of seawater and reducing our carbon footprints seemed like such a pleasant contrast from Bush's smirking, lack of curiosity, and overly simplistic responses to serious questions.

For the Democratic presidential candidates, Al Gore is their worst nightmare. Gore would immediately render Edwards irrelevant because Gore ran as a populist in the 2000 campaign, which is how Edwards has positioned himself now. Gore would render Biden and Dodd irrelevant because his resume is just as extensive and isn't concentrated in just the Senate. Even Kucinich would have to think twice about continuing his candidacy because Gore has been against Iraq all along.

Gore's main rivals would be Obama and Hillary. Gore provides a bit of nostalgia for the Clinton years without all of the baggage (Monica, Whitewater, etc.), which allows him to parry Hillary. He also provides the sense of hope that Obama offers simply because Gore has been acquitted by history and people seem much more receptive to and appreciative of his intellect after the widely unpopular Bush presidency. Because his resume is far more extensive than Obama's, Obama would be all but forced to step aside.

It's an open secret that Hillary and Gore are not the best of friends. This is likely because they were both competing for influence during the early stages of the Clinton Presidency. Gore has the ability to tap into a massive fundraising network and he has immense personal wealth that allows him the flexibility to wait several more months before formally entering the race.

He has an advantage on the issues as well. He is unencumbered by Iraq because he was against it from the very beginning and accurately predicted what would happen once the war was prosecuted. Meanwhile, Hillary is taking a lot of heat from the left over her refusal to apologize for her vote. Additionally, his passion for the environment is obviously genuine, so there's no way he can be co-opted on that issue by her as well. He can also neutralize Hillary's experience because he's been in government longer AND served in the Oval Office with Bill Clinton, just like Hillary.

More than any other candidate, Gore is the single greatest threat to Hillary, and she knows it.

This leaves one candidate who will benefit from the clearing of the field: Bill Richardson. His experience is comparable Gore's, he is not nearly as polarizing as Hillary, and he has the novelty factor working for him like Obama. If Gore and Hillary go at each other's throats, voters may ultimately decide to permanently close that chapter on that political era, thus allowing Richardson to sneak through to the nomination.

If that doesn't happen and Gore wins the nomination, look for Richardson or Obama to be tapped as the vice presidential nominee. A Gore-Richardson ticket would absolutely steamroll the GOP opposition.

But first, Gore has to enter the race. He has positioned himself perfectly by maintaining his public profile, writing books, and drawing attention to his popular documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth." While the other candidates tear each other down, Gore can stay above the fray and enter the race this fall looking like an elder statesman. He can afford to stay coy for now by saying he "has no plans" to run, but the calls will eventually become too loud for him to ignore. Filing deadlines regarding delegate selection will also become a factor later this year, so he will have to make a firm decision about this one way or the other. But for now, look for Gore to continue to travel across the nation and promote his documentary and rehabilitate his public image. It serves the dual purpose of allowing him to talk about his passion (the environment) while reducing the length of a possible campaign for him. The longer the campaign is, the worse Gore will perform. So right now he is playing his hand perfectly.

Here are a few articles about the Academy Awards, speculation on a Gore campaign, and assessing his chances:

USA Today
The New Yorker
Washington Post

The Lieberman Fallout: Part 2

A few days ago I posted a commentary about Joe Lieberman expressing my disapproval of his purported threatening to caucus with Republicans over disagreements with Democrats about funding the military campaign in Iraq. Party-switching alone isn't what I disapproved of; it was the fact that he could so easily consider this so soon after the last election when he gave no hint to the voters that he would take this course of action. And surely, Lieberman was well aware of the anti-war wing of the Democratic party before the elections. And surely he knew those elements would want to defund the war if they had the power of the majority. So Lieberman came across as being interested in nothing more than his own political survival and influence without any regard for his constituents in Connecticut.

Having said that, I have been scouring various news sources and found a few articles that follow-up on his original threats.

For starters, after reading these articles carefully, Lieberman didn't explicitly threaten to caucus with the Republicans over funding. However, he did acknowledge there was a "remote possibility" that this could happen, which essentially leaves the door open. Perhaps this is his way of preventing the Democratic majority from veering too far to the left. But have you heard any stories of moderate Republicans acknowledging a "remote possibility" of caucusing with the Democrats over this very same issue?

Anyway, according to Congressional Quarterly:

...Lieberman would not be able to instantly hand over the steering wheel to the GOP. He could, however, bring Senate business to a screaming halt.

Unlike 2001 — when then-Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont renounced the Republican Party and effectively broke a 50-50 tie in favor of the Democrats — the so-called organizing resolution that currently governs the Senate contains no provision for switching control if the party in power loses its majority.

The reason why such a provision existed in 2001 was because of Vice President Al Gore. Even though the Senate was split 50-50 after the 2000 election, Al Gore still had the ability to cast the tiebreaking vote as president of the Senate. The new Republican senators were sworn in during the first week of January, but Al Gore was still the vice president until Inauguration Day, roughly two weeks later. So until Inauguration Day, Dick Cheney was irrelevant. Of course, after Cheney was sworn in, the Republican VP could cast the tiebreaking vote, thus effectively giving the Republicans control of the chamber. To account for the change in control resulting from Gore's exit from office and Cheney's entrance, this provision was created as a compromise.

However, in 2006, the Senate switched from a 55-45 Republican majority to a 51-49 Democratic one. Dick Cheney's tiebreaking vote is irrelevant in this scenario, which is why no similar compromise provision was created. So even if Lieberman became a Republican or an "Independent Republican," the Senate rules would still allow for Democratic control until the next congress convenes in 2009 even if the Democrats held a 50-50 minority by virtue of Dick Cheney's tiebreaking vote.

Understandably, Republicans would want to rewrite the Senate rules to allow them to control the chamber in light of their new "majority." However, they would need the consent of the current majority (e.g., Democrats) in order to proceed with any rules changes. But do you honestly think the new Democratic majority is eager to relinquish its power? Guess again.

A 50-50 Senate would virtually be paralyzed. Actually, even the current 51-49 Senate can't get much done either. Neither political party can get much done without the consent of a sizeable number of members of the other party, regardless of who's in control. The most power the bare Democratic majority has now comes in the form of committee chairmanships, the ability to call for hearings, and the ability to set the Senate agenda. Legislatively, Democrats are almost paralyzed because of the Republican filibuster. And should Lieberman defect, Republicans could employ all sorts of parliamentary maneuvers until the rules are changed allowing them to reclaim the gavels.

Republicans are in a tough spot too though. If they filibuster too much, they will be branded as obstructionists. This is especially true now because they have already received negative press for "blocking" the debate on the troop surge. Seeing that Republicans are already on the wrong side of public opinion regarding the war, being seen as preventing ways to change it strikes me as political suicide. And if they were to actually reclaim control, they would have to avoid being remiss in their oversight responsibilities like the last Republican Senate was. Protecting Bush at the expense of changing and improving Iraq policy via aggressive oversight would be disastrous in 2008 and could potentially drag down the GOP presidential nominee. My sense is that the GOP was rebuked in 2006 and giving the voters two more years of the same ineffectiveness would be foolish. But the Republican Senate would understandably not be too keen on embarrassing Bush. So their hands would be tied as well.

As for Lieberman, were he to defect to the Republican Party, he would wield considerably less power than he does now because he would lose his committee chairmanship (at least until the Senate rules were changed). In turn, Democrats would then become less beholden to him. And the Democrats are almost certain to pick up seats in 2008, thus reducing Lieberman's influence to nothingness, regardless of which party he chooses to caucus with.

This makes me understand Lieberman's actions a bit more. In such a closely divided Senate, nobody really has any power. Lieberman is not a member of the Big Four (Reid, McConnell, Durbin, and Lott), but he does have more potential power in that he can almost single-handedly grind the Senate to a screeching halt. His own actions have important consequences that would directly impact the Senate until 2008. However, they may impact the Iraq debate and the troops fighting there for far longer than that.


How Radioactive is Bush?

President Bush's approval ratings have been mired in the 30s and low 40s for months now. People commonly cite disapproval with Bush and his policies (e.g., Iraq) as the reason for the Republican wipeout of 2006.

However, apparently these polls only tell half of the story. National polls are samples of the national electorate, which means that people of all political stripes are represented. When you break these data down into subsets, you'll find that the approval rating among Democrats is different from that of Republicans. There are gender deferences, racial differences, socioeconomic differences, religious differences, and differences concerning marital status as well.

There's a new poll out from USA Today showing Bush's approval rating to be 37%, which is not spectacular by any means. However, his approval rating among Republicans is 76%. 76%! That means three out of every four Republicans are standing by Bush and support his policies. This is a strong display of base support, although his support among Independents and Democrats is still anemic.

This presents an interesting dilemma for the 2008 GOP presidential candidates. Actually, it poses a dilemma for all GOP candidates, but especially senators and House members in competitive districts. Running away from Bush might help you win a general election, but it will only hurt you in a Republican primary. The USA Today article correctly states that Republican candidates need Republican support, plus a few Independents in order to win. It's not the other way around. Running away from Bush and opposing him might win you some Independent votes, but that comes at the risk of alienating your Republican base voters.

So what are Romney, Giuliani, and McCain supposed to do? McCain has essentially fused with Bush because of his support for the Iraq troop surge, which is immensely unpopular among the general electorate. So he may win the nomination, but lose the election. Giuliani and Romney have generally kept their distance by offering only tepid support for Bush while not criticizing him outright. Perhaps they are trying to keep themselves viable for the general election at the expense of endangering their primary chances.

Not to be forgotten, how does this bode for Senators John Sununu (NH), Norm Coleman (MN), Susan Collins (ME), and Gordon Smith (OR)? All of those are blue states with moderate GOP senators up for reelection in 2008. They have to figure out a way to remain true to their moderate (and sometimes conservative) principles, supporting Bush without supporting him too much, and not enraging their constituents in the process. If they oppose Bush too much, they might end up with a primary fight on their hands that would only drain their financial resources and make them weaker when the general election comes around. If they support Bush too much, those blue state voters will vote for their Democratic challengers. So they are in trouble.

House members are in a somewhat better situation. A lot of GOP moderates were purged in the 2006 elections, so the GOP House minority has become a bit more conservative. There are still a few GOP moderates, such as Chris Shays (Connecticut), Mike Castle (Delaware), and Tom Davis (Virginia). They've survived each election of Bush's term so far, but will they finally be tossed out in 2008? Or have they endeared themselves enough to their constituents to be able to weather a strong challenger who strongly disapproves of Bush and his policies?

Bottom line: Bush may still be revered among GOP voters, but one can't forget that he is toxic to the broader electorate. It is this fact that GOP candidates should take note of because supporting Bush too much opens them up for a tougher general election fight while not supporting him enough opens them up for a primary challenge in which their loyalty to Bush will be tested.

The Essence of Obama

How could one of the most intriguing politicians to come around in years generate such asinine political coverage? Yes, I'm speaking of the media-annointed Black Messiah that is Barrack Obama. By now everyone knows of his upbringing, which I don't need to repeat here. Like him or not, he must be praised for his rhetorical and oratorical skills. He has a way of galvanizing crowds and tapping into voters' frustrations with the political process and with politics in general. He has generated a rare level of enthusiasm among even the most casual political observers that he must be taken seriously.

Unfortunately, Obama has become the subject of a lot of noise coming from the media, both legit media entities and unreputable ones. Such stories include an obvious joking reference comparing his wardrobe to that of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the focus on his middle name (LIKE, OH MY GOD!!! DID YOU KNOW BARRACK'S MIDDLE NAME IS HUSSEIN?! IS HE A TERRORIST SYMPATHIZER???), and most recently the false story of him being educated in a school for religious fanatics in Indonesia when he was all of six years old. To his credit, Obama has handled these potential landmines with a commendable degree of success, firmness, humor, and tact.

However, a new story is currently playing itself out in the media, and it's one that is far more damaging in my estimation:

"Is Barrack Obama Black enough?"

As ridiculous as this story is, I fear it may be more damaging to the state of race relations in the United States and to Blacks in general (be they politicians, schoolchildren, or regular workers) than to Obama himself. It's a story that serves no useful purpose other than to reinforce long-standing divisions that Obama has so deftly been able to bridge throughout his professional career. And worst of all, this story is an embarrassment to Black Americans everywhere.

Let me disconstruct the premise of "Blackness" and then debunk this mind-numbingly stupid question.

First of all, no one group of people is monolithic. Not all religious conservatives attend church services every Sunday. Not all college athletes major in sociology or sports medicine. Not all New Yorkers are liberals, nor are all Mississippians conservatives. Not all women are feminist activists. Not all Frenchmen are pacifists. And not all Muslims are terrorists.

So why is there a single such thing as "Blackness?" Or a universal "Black experience?" And who defines what "Blackness" and "experience" are anyway?

There is such a tremendous amount of diversity within the Black population. Many of us can trace our family lineages back to slavery. Others descended from freemen. Some are second- or third-generation African immigrants. Others are new immigrants themselves. Some have ties to the Latino community and speak fluent Spanish. Many are refugees from Haiti and other impoverished countries. You also have Black Africans and Black Caribbeans. There are even a few Black Canadians within our borders. And we can't forget the biracial or multiracial children who are considered "Black" by virtue of the "one drop rule." You have your Black gangsters, Black professors, Black athletes, Black rappers, Black scientists, Black homeless, Black businessmen, Black underclass, and Blacks living in majority White areas. In light of all this diversity, there are bound to be countless experiences among them that are likely not shared by the different groups I just listed. So why would there be some universal definition of what "Blackness" is and is not?

Secondly, Obama has gone to great lengths to make this campaign about the voters, rather than himself. He has tried not to make race an issue in this campaign, but it seems like the more he tries to neutralize this issue by not talking so much about it, the more it's thrown back in his face. Who is making race an issue in this campaign? It's not Obama, that's for sure. While his own upbringing and geneology may be a fascinating case study in race relations and racial identity, he is most certainly not running as a race-baiting politician.

It is disingenous and contradictory for people of all colors to talk about the importance of looking past race and then get sucked into this "is he Black enough" drivel. Unfortunately, some of the biggest doubters of Obama's "racial authenticity" are ignorant Blacks themselves.

The Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have come to define Black America, even though they don't speak for wide swaths of the Black population. Both Jackson and Sharpton are polarizing figures that are often viewed with suspicion among the larger electorate. However, these two leaders are still highly influential in the Black community because of their continued devotion to their cause and their past struggles for equality. Other Black politicians in majority-minority congressional districts are often in the Jackson-Sharpton mold. Because Obama does not devote every other sentence to talking about racial injustices that fire up the Black base and remind Whites of their Whiteness, he comes across as a horse of a different color that is not to be trusted.

While the Revs. Jackson and Sharpton are owed a great deal of gratitude for their sacrifices and struggles during the civil rights movements of yesteryear, their rhetoric makes it seem like little has been made in the way of progress. And as long as they continue to be seen as occupying center stage in the Black community, it makes it harder for the newer generation of Black politicians (Obama, Harold Ford Jr., Deval Patrick, Chakah Fatah, etc.) who have greater cross-racial appeal to be viewed as credibly as a traditional Black politician that runs primarily on blasting the vestiges of slavery and discrimination.

Why do Blacks do this to themselves? My own personal beliefs about Obama's candidacy aside, I am not going to undermine his campaign by suggesting "he's not one of us" because his ancestors were not American slaves. Who cares? And besides, I'm sure many of these people who criticize Obama for this don't know much about their own ancestral history or of Black history in general. It's this shallow type of nonthinking that does far more damage to Blacks than anything a White racist could do. Conservatives must be having a field day over this story because Blacks (and by extention, liberals and Democrats) have circled the wagons and opened fire on themselves by "pulling the race card." Could you imagine how conservative satirists are viewing this situation? "You mean to tell me it's not okay for me to make an issue out of calling you 'Black,' but it is okay for me to accuse you of not being 'Black enough?' Are you serious?!"

Simply ridiculous.

Because Obama is able to generate a lot of support among Whites, Blacks foolishly question his devotion to the Black community and to Black "issues" (e.g., affirmative action, reducing poverty). They often say "If he's so popular with them, he can't be so good for us, right?" This type of self-defeatist thinking exists at higher levels of the government too. South Carolina State Senator Ford really stepped into it recently by warning that Obama would drag down Democrats up and down the ballot everywhere because he's Black. (Then he endorsed Hillary.) The fact that such ignorant people have direct influence over the laws that govern us is quite troubling. Do the people who posit such nonsense really have such a low level of confidence in themselves and in the Black race they are a part of? Do they view themselves as so unattractive to Whites that they could never receive even a modicum of White support?

For Blacks who want to see a Black president in their lifetime, Obama offers them that opportunity. The fact that he is biracial has no bearing on his ability to understand the problems and issues facing Black communities across the nation. It took more than 220 years for a Black to be considered a serious contender for President. Waiting 50 more years for Tyrone Watts from the ghettos of Brooklyn or the projects of Tupelo, Mississippi, is not a valid reason for opposing Obama today. If you want to criticize Obama, then criticize him for his policy positions, his voting record, and his experience. Average Joes (or Jamals) may be good at asking questions about Obama's racial authenticity, but they are even better at providing answers to an entirely different question:

How ignorant can some people be?

This debate about Obama may be about Black and White, but it's leaving the nation and the image of Blacks in general black and blue.


The nation's consciousness

The current modified banner at the top of The Politico captures what's ailing this nation perfectly. For those who don't want to click, I'll tell you what its website says:


They then include an asterisk with a humorous disclaimer:


Well said. Again, I think this is a brilliant illustration of why the state of political affairs in the United States is such a mess right now. In a democracy, the President is not the boss. The people themselves are the ones with all the power because it is they who can decide who will lead them and for how long. No matter how powerful a politician may be or how much money and influence he has, he is ultimately accountable to the people he represents, and these people can easily stop him dead in his tracks. Just ask George Allen, Gray Davis, and Jimmy Carter.

But unfortunately, our nation's citizens seem to have entered a profound slumber. I'm not sure when it started, although I think it has gotten much worse since the advent of the 90s, which brought us Tonya Harding and OJ. People have become addicted to celebrities and demonstrate a greater knowledge of and appetite for scandals of no consequence than issues that actually relate to how they live. It bothers me when people can name six contestants on American Idol or six previous boyfriends of some Hollywood movie star, but can't name the six countries involved in the "Six Party Talks."

At a time when President Bush wants to send thousands more troops to Iraq, Americans seem more concerned with sensational nonstories like the Anna Nicole paternity circus. Last month, the Iraqi government made promises that there would be a certain number of brigades ready to assume their military responsibilities (or to use Bush parlance, "stand up") in Baghdad by mid-February. But nobody was listening at the time because everyone was fixated on the "Astronut's" botched kidnapping attempt.

Now the 2008 presidential cycle is kicking into high gear and it seems that most people don't even know who's running. Well, they generally know five of the candidates (Clinton, Edwards, Giuliani, McCain, and Obama), but they don't really know what differentiates them from each other. What a terrible disservice to their country! They know nothing of the lower-tier candidates, many of whom have attractive resumes and well-thought out policy positions. But because they are flying beneath the radar or aren't national figures, their campaigns are at a greater risk of running out of money and shutting down. As a result, the last candidates still standing will likely be the best-funded ones and not necessarily the best qualified or most electable ones.

In 2004, I heard and read so many criticisms among voters about their electoral choices. "Do you really mean to tell me that the bumbling George W. Bush and the weathervane John F. Kerry are the best this nation has to offer?" Well, if people spend more time watching American Idol than the evening news, that's what happens. Until people start taking their citizen responsibilities more seriously, they will have to contend with politicians who are ill-equipped to handle the rigors of elective office. It's not even just about the presidential elections, by the way. It's about Senate and House races, mayoral races, statewide races, school board races, and even races for the local dogcatcher.

Case in point: Did you know that the new governor of Nevada, Jim Gibbons, is being dogged by accusations that he assaulted a woman in a parking garage? These allegations surfaced right before the November elections, but not everybody was paying attention, perhaps because of John Kerry's "botched joke." Either way, Nevadans now have to contend with a governor who embarrasses their state for up to four years because they either had misplaced priorities or simply couldn't be bothered to show up at the polls.

Every once in a while, something happens that jolts the electorate back into consciousness. September 11 and Hurricane Katrina are perfect examples of this because they showed that elections have consequences. They showed that the people in charge are the ones we have to rely on when the bombs are falling or when the levees are breaking, so we better have confidence in their leadership. And if we can't trust them in that regard, then we better not give them the chance to mess things up by putting them into an office for which they aren't qualified. But because they don't do this, they end up just rolling with the punches that their government gives them (Iraq, high gas prices, a busted budget, no solutions to illegal immigration, etc.) and then complain about how "Washington is so dysfunctional" and how "all politicians are liars." Little do these people know that their own apathy is what helped create this problem to begin with and is what sustains it today.

I'm not saying everyone needs to read the Washington Post for two hours a day or major in political science at a university. However, I think citizens should take more responsibility for how their democracy operates by at least paying some degree of attention to what's happening in the world occasionally. Find out who your congressman is and write him a letter. Attend a local city council meeting. Write a letter to the editor of your hometown newspaper. Read a campaign brochure. Register to vote. Just do something.

Unless America wakes up soon, I fear that we would become a nation of sitting ducks, should we ever be invaded by a foreign power. We may have a strong military and amazing smart bombs and guided missiles and whatnot. But beneath that gaunt and hardy exosxeleton is a very soft, apathetic, and undisciplined core. It's already being exploited by those who lead this nation and it's only a matter of time before it can be exploited by someone hostile to this nation's interests.


And another one falls...

This just in from the CNN Political Ticker:

Democrat Tom Vilsack is abandoning his bid for the presidency after struggling against better-known, better-financed rivals, a senior campaign official told The Associated Press on Friday.

All I can do is shake my head.

Gov. Vilsack had a compelling story, being abandoned by his birth parents and adopted as a child. He could have put several Midwestern states in play and would have been difficult to peg as an "Iowa liberal." But now he has gone by the wayside and joined the shattered husks of Feingold, Warner, and Bayh--all centrists, with the exception of Feingold, the only candidate (other than Kucinich) who was in the Senate at the time of the Iraq War Authorization Act and actually voted against it.

I posted earlier about the problem with money in politics, and this is why. It's a catch-22. In order to become "better known," you need to be "better-financed." But in order to be "better-financed," you have to be "better-known." So poor Vilsack was damned if he did and damned if he didn't. He tried his heart out, but he couldn't generate much buzz about his campaign, even in Iowa, the state where he served as a successful governor!

This race, at least on the Democratic side, really is about Hillary and Obama, with Edwards on the perimeter! Everyone else is struggling for oxygen. And the sad thing about this scenario is that the most electable and most formidable Democrats in the general election are the ones who are in the second tier! Biden and Dodd most certainly do NOT need on the job training, as they know how Washington works. Richardson is the dream candidate that nobody has heard of. And Gen. Wesley Clark hasn't formally declared, but his military record could blunt that of McCain and rival Giuliani's national security credentials.

But no, everyone wants to talk about the polarizing Hillary, the unproven Obama, and the slick and similarly inexperienced Edwards. It's almost like I can see into the future and predict the Democrats' third consecutive electoral demise in the presidential sweepstakes. The longer this stupid Hillary vs. Obama storyline goes on, the more I fear that the Democrats will steal defeat from the jaws of victory. Republicans are much more pragmatic when it comes to selecting their nominees. That's why you see so many on the right giving Giuliani a serious look, despite their divergent views on social issues.

Who benefits from Vilsack's failed campaign? I honestly think Richardson stands to gain the most because, if my memory serves me correctly, Richardson is the last remaining Democratic candidate with gubernatorial (read: executive) experience. People have talked about Vilsack being a stalking horse for Hillary, but don't look for him to endorse her. I wouldn't be surprised if he endorsed another second tier candidate because the Hillaries and Obamas of the world are the very people that forced him out of the race.

The whole system is broken.


Joe Lieberman: Love him or Lieb him?

In 2000, Joe Lieberman received more votes than any other candidate for VP and came within 537 Florida votes of being elected to the second highest office in the land. However, in 2006 Joe Lieberman was not even able to win his own party's primary in his home state. A man once revered by his party has now become shunned by it. What happened?

Iraq happened.

There's a new article out in The Politico about Lieberman threatening to caucus with the Republicans (and thus tip the Senate majority to the Republicans) if the Democrats pursue legislation that would cut off funding for the war in Iraq. This article troubled me considerably.

The last time a senator defected to the opposing party was in 2001 when Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont switched from Republican to Democrat. This resulted in the Democrats gaining control of the chamber. Howls of protest erupted from the GOP while the Democrats welcomed Jeffords with open arms and gave him a committee chairmanship.

Now that Lieberman is flirting with the idea of switching to the Republicans, the GOP members are saying nice things about him while the Democrats are on pins and needles. The Republicans are also calling this payback for the Jeffords defection and have little sympathy for the Democrats because of it.

Is the Joe Lieberman of 2007 the same as the Jim Jeffords of 2001?

Absolutely not.

Jim Jeffords was consistently a nominal Republican in that he was a Rockefeller Republican. He was quite liberal on social issues, often siding with Democrats on those votes. He never did much in the way of grumbling about his party until he reached the breaking point over the hard tack to the right that the GOP took after the 2000 election. He had served since 1989 and won his elections as a liberal Republican in a liberal state. His switching of political parties made sense, given the realignment of the two major political parties starting in the 1960s. Switching parties is always a bit deceptive, but at least Jeffords' switch was to something more in line with how his state generally voted in presidential and House elections.

Lieberman's situation, on the other hand, was similar to Jeffords until he lost the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont. While Lieberman had the right to run again as an Independent, his doing so subverted the political process because he was originally rejected as the party nominee. What's the point of having a primary if you don't abide by its rules and all but ignore the will of the voters who participated in it? Was he running for Connecticut, was he running for Democrats, or was he running for himself?

Secondly, and more importantly, during his post-primary campaign, Lieberman consistently said that he would run as an "Independent Democrat," which one would reasonably assume to mean that he would caucus with the Democrats, but not be afraid to stray from them on issues salient to him, such as defense issues. Fair enough. That's what I would expect from an independent. They don't have to tow the party line.

Fortunately for Lieberman, he won the general election (thanks to a stinker of a GOP candidate known as Alan Schlessinger). But now Lieberman is using his vote as a way of blackmailing the Democratic Party. I think it's quite disigenious for Lieberman to campaign as an "Independent Democrat" if he could so easily become an "Independent Republican" not even four months after the election. His doing so is patently dishonest to his supporters in Connecticut, one-third of whom were Democrats. Even worse, the electorate obviously voted for "change" by allowing the Democats to pick up the five Senate seats they needed for a bare majority, no easy task. A Lieberman defection would essentially overturn the will of the millions of voters who wanted a Democratically-controlled Senate to provide checks and balances on the White House because the Repulican Senate obviously couldn't be bothered to do so.

Lieberman is lucky in that he cannot be recalled and that Senate terms are for six years. Other Democratic senators are wary of crossing Lieberman because they know they need his support more than he needs theirs. Surely Lieberman enjoys being courted by both Democrats and Republicans, but the idea that one senator could command so much power is a bit disconcerting to me, especially when he seems more loyal to himself and his own political career than to the people he represents. I think the more honorable thing for Lieberman to do now is to continue to caucus with the Democrats and simply vote with the Republicans when he deems it necessary. Continuously threatening to switch parties just because the party you chose to caucus with just four months ago takes a position you oppose is childish and patently dishonest to your constituents who were not anticipating such political manipulation on your behalf.

If the Democrats do extend their Senate majority in 2008, look for them to cut Lieberman loose. The Republicans might be giddy about having him join their ranks, but they should be cautioned that it appears Lieberman is only loyal to himself and may prove to be more trouble than his single vote is worth. Being a political independent is fine. It's actually quite commendable, given the partisan nature of politics these days. However, being an opportunistic turncoat who misleads your constituents is something entirely different.


Do the Republicans have a chance in 2008?

There is a Korean proverb that says "even the best song becomes tiresome when played too many times."

I think this adage has a lot of relevance to politics too, especially as it pertains to political cycles. The United States is currently in the 7th year of the George W. Bush Presidency. That means seven years of Republican rule. With the exception of a year and a half long period when the Democrats controlled the Senate thanks to a defection by Jim Jeffords of Vermont, Republicans have firmly controlled all levers of the government since the 2000 election. Obviously, the 2006 November elections changed everything, but I think that's only a prelude to the presidential contest next year.

Since the end of the presidency of Democrat Harry Truman in 1953, no political party has won three consecutive presidential elections with only one exception: George H.W. Bush in 1988 after eight years of Ronald Reagan. Reagan is generally regarded as a popular, above average president, so you could argue that his coattails allowed George H.W. Bush to pull off the victory. Bush's successful prosecution of the first Gulf War sent his popularity ratings into the stratosphere. However, economic woes, breaking his "no new taxes" pledge, and his perceived ignorance or inability to understand the economic concerns of the common man (as evidenced by his confusion when he saw a scanner at a supermarket and didn't know what to do with it) provided an opening for an alternative. Some argue that Ross Perot's 1992 candidacy also siphoned off votes from fiscal conservatives. As a result, Bush was succeeded by Democrat Bill Clinton.

However, I don't think one needs to be a student of politics in order to predict that a political party will likely lose an election. I think that even if things are going well in the nation, people become curious about alternatives and become restless if one party is perceived to have a monopoly on power. The 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore is a perfect example of this. The economy had improved tremendously under Clinton and he deftly handled the conflict in Yugoslavia without losing a single American life in combat. His approval ratings were in the 60s when he left office, even though his personal ratings were considerably lower. Conventional wisdom would have said this election should have been a cakewalk for Al Gore, but the election turned into the perfect tie (well, maybe not so perfect if you were a Democrat).

That election affirmed that although the nation did not want a change in direction, they did want a change in leadership. Enter George W. Bush.

So now I believe the current cycle of GOP dominance is about to come to a close. Obviously, Giuliani or McCain could prove to be formidable candidates. But I believe that they are severely disadvantaged simply by virtue of them being Republicans. Conservative base voters may become complacent by the access they have, or they may become disgruntled by the lack of progress made on the issues important to them. Nonpartisans and independents may become burned out on the issues the Republicans have rallied so hard for and against, such as flag burning, gay marriage, tax cuts, and keeping "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Liberals and Democrats are fired up and angry because they've been left in the wilderness for so long. So all of these are converging and setting up political terrain that is not favorable towards Republicans.

Now you are hearing more talk about energy independence, health care, and environmental concerns. These are primarily Democratic issues. This is no accident. The November 2006 elections could be interpreted as a rejection of Republican principles and the scandals associated with the previous congressional leadership. However, it could also be interpreted as a test drive by the voters of the Democratic Party and its ideals. If the Democrats are able to govern successfully (or at least better than their GOP predecessors) in their eyes, they will likely be entrusted with the presidency in 2008.

Ironically, the GOP made the upcoming campaign much easier for the Democrats thanks to all the criticisms they levied and the caricatures they tried to form. Thus, I believe Democrats have an artificially low bar to clear in terms of meeting expectations. Democrats were branded as "limosuine liberals," "godless tax hikers," "terrorist appeasers and surrenderers," and "left wing wackos who are out of touch with 'Middle America' and can't keep America safe." So if the world does not come to an end while the Democrats control Congress, I think a lot of voters will say, "Hmmm...these guys aren't so bad after all! Let me vote Democratic! I don't know who this Biden or Richardson or Obama dude is, but I do know what that "D" next to their name means! I'll vote for him!"

I found an article in Time related to this subject as it pertains to the religious right. It's worth reading, although it doesn't go into as much detail as I would have liked. But it does shed some insight into why the positive side of this cycle is coming to a close for religious conservatives.


In my previous post, I made some assertions about successful women and how they tend to intimidate men, particularly those who are lower on the socioeconomic ladder. I also mentioned how successful women tend to marry successful men, while the converse of this statement is less true more often.

To those who were offended by my premises, in a stroke of good timing, it appears that the Boston Globe has vindicated me!

The main reason that educated and high-achieving women have trouble finding or keeping mates, according to observers past and present, is that they won't play dumb enough to assuage a man's ego or act submissive enough to put up with unfair treatment.

Bingo. The successful man's insecurity with his successful female partner may manifest itself in ridicule or in subtle digs that eventually undermine the relationship.

The article continues:

...men of the past were more interested in marrying someone who would cook or clean for them than in an intellectual equal. In 2001, University of Texas psychologist David M. Buss and colleagues compared mate preferences based on national surveys taken for several decades beginning in 1939. Their research, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, found that in 1956, education and intelligence ranked 11th among the things men desired in a mate. The respondents were more attracted to someone who was a good cook and housekeeper, had a pleasing disposition, and was refined and neat. By 1967, education and intelligence had moved up only one place, to number 10, and still counted for less than being a good cook or displaying neatness and refinement.

I really worry about Hillary's electoral viability because of this issue right here. Yeah, you could argue that she's in trouble because she's HIS husband. Everyone has an opinion about Bill Clinton, be it positive or negative, which makes her naturally polarizing. You could argue that she's cold and calculating. You could argue that she doesn't have enough experience. You could argue that she's too far to the left, or not left enough. I think that all of those issues, while they may be valid, only mask the bigger issue at play: latent insecurity with a highly successful and ambitious woman that debunks the stereotype we encounter so often in our own daily interactions, be they professional or personal.

Political science, sociology, and psychology are all converging to form a fascinating nexus and case study in electoral behavior. I am quite interested in seeing how this turns out.

Continue reading The Romantic Life of Brainiacs...


The Coronation of Hillary

I just read an article in the Hartford Courant about new polling data in Connecticut about their voters' choices for the Democratic nomation. The results broke down as follows:

Hillary Clinton: 33%
Barack Obama: 21%
Al Gore: 9%
Chris Dodd: 8%

Now think about this for a second. Chris Dodd has been in the Senate since about the time I was born more than 30 years ago. So obviously people in CT know who this guy is and can vouch for his competence, leadership, and expertise. But do you mean to tell me that Connecticut voters are willing to shun their native son for Hillary, a carpetbagger who claimed neighboring New York as her home about 8 years ago? And Obama, the current flavor of the month? And Gore, the guy who is not even a declared candidate and has all but explicitly ruled out another run for the White House?!

What does that tell you about the state of American politics? Why do we even have primaries and caucuses? Why don't we just annoint Hillary and Giuliani as the nominees now and get the election out of the way? This is a shame. Tom Vilsack is meeting a similar fate in Iowa, his home state. John Edwards is holding his own in North Carolina, but just barely. Bill Richardson seems okay in New Mexico, for now at least.

The primary process is unfairly skewed in favor of the well-connected, the famous, and the deep-pocketed. We often tell our children that they can do anything they set their minds to, including becoming president. But I don't think so. It boggles the mind that so many voters in so many states are willing to overlook the candidate they know so well in favor of the "away team."

One of Dodd's staffers said that the poll results were not particularly surprising because the Connecticut electorate largely has yet to view their 30-something year senator through a presidential lens. And that's a valid point. But is Hillary truly better known among Connecticut voters than their own senator?

I guess I just answered my own question. That's what this is all about. It's name recognition. Nothing more, nothing less. Hillary is a national figure. Dodd is a regional figure and a creature of Washington. I happen to know the names of almost all 100 senators, but I realize that Joe Public probably couldn't even tell you how many senators actually exist in our government. Either way, this really puts lesser known candidates into a bind. In order to raise their national profile among the electorate, they need to assume positions of national influence. But in order to assume such a position, they need a strong national profile. This explains why Hillary and Giuliani are on top right now even if their views are not congruent with their respective base's desires.

If name recognition is the prerequisite to viability, perhaps it really will come down to Giuliani vs. Gingrich on the right, and Hillary vs. Gore on the left. All the second- and third-tier candidates better find a way to resonate with voters soon because Hillary (and Rudy) are going to take on an air of inevitability that will allow them to cruise to the nomination.

That may be great for them, but it's a bum deal for democracy.


On Biases

One reason why the 2008 campaign is drawing so much attention among the chattering classes is the "first" factor. The nation has the chance to elect the "first" Black president (Obama), the "first" female president (Hillary), the "first" Latino president (Richardson), or even the "first" Mormon president (Romney). All four of these candidates are viable in my estimation. The fact that they can transcend racial, gender, or even religious barriers is a testament to the progress America has made regarding prejudice and tolerance.

Or has it?

There was an interesting USA Today/Gallup Poll that came out a few days ago that asked respondents the following question (which I paraphrased):

If your party nominated a generally well-qualified __________, would you be comfortable voting for that person?

This question was completed by adding the words "Black," "woman," and "Mormon." Here are the results:

84% of respondents said they would "comfortably" vote for a Black candidate; 9% would vote for one, although they would have some "reservations" with doing so; 5% said they would not vote for that candidate; and 1% had no opinion.

78% of respondents said they would vote "comfortably" for a woman, 10% would vote with "reservations," 11% would not vote for such a candidate, and 1% expressed no opinion.

58% of respondents would vote comfortably for a Mormon candidate, 14% would vote for such a candidate with "reservations," 24% would not vote for such a candidate, and 4% expressed no opinion.

I could spend all day talking about the implications of this poll data because it's a real eye-opener. But unfortunately, it's an eye-opener for all the wrong reasons.

Let's examine these issues one at a time.

Considering that the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts are not even 50 years old, it is encouraging to see such high levels of support among the citizenry regarding Black and minority candidates in general. It would be pollyanaish or naive to lament the fact that there is still a sizeable chunk of the population that continues to harbor such prejudices in this day and age, but instead of focusing on the 1 out of 20 open racists (The US population is 300 million; 5% of that is 1.5 million, which is roughly the population of Montana and Wyoming combined), it would be better to rejoice in the fact that about 9 out of 10 people could presumably be counted on to put their money where their mouth is.

However, is the support among the so called "comfortable" voters really that solid? When Douglas Wilder became the nation's first Black governor, the election results were far closer than the polls had suggested. One could only conclude that White voters would tell pollsters one thing while doing something entirely different in the privacy of the voting booth. However, that was in 1988. Now it's almost 20 years later. Massachussetts elected the nation's second Black governor ever in Deval Patrick, and he won in a landslide. And even though Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee lost his Senate race last November, he actually performed 3-5 points better than the polls predicted. So maybe, just maybe White voters are more tolerant of being governed by Blacks than Blacks are willing to give them credit for.

The arguments against a female candidacy tend to center around one issue: the need to display strength and firmness when addressing conflicts. How would a female president have responded on September 11? Or when the levees broke? Or when the bomb ripped the federal building in Oklahoma City to shreds? Could a woman really be trusted to go toe to toe with the world's worst dictators and hold up against the pressures that come with the presidency?

Of course, a potent counterargument would be that men have done a lousy job of handling these issues, so perhaps a woman really is needed to "clean house." Psychologically speaking, women are more relational or communal characters, while men are more individualistic. Perhaps a woman's desire to find common ground or at least reach out to others could be useful in the diplomatic sense.

I suspect, however, that there's a large section of the male electorate that has an insecurity with successful women, especially if the woman in question makes more money, has more education, or has more accomplishments under her belt than they do. This is often true in the dating world, as men often feel threatened by women who occupy higher positions on the socioeconomic ladder. Think about it. It's much more common for the husband to be the working professoinal while his wife is the part-timer, the housewife, or the full-time worker in a junior position. It's much less common to see an attorney wife with a truck driver husband. If a wife is an attorney, I'd be willing to bet that her husband is a university professor, a dentist, or a scientist of some sort. The idea that a successful woman can threaten a man's ego is a foolish reason not to support a female candidate for president. However, this is a very real issue to many people. Thus, these poll data seem about right to me.

Admittedly, the results of this poll regarding the Mormon candidacy took me by surprise. 3 out of 5 people is not a particularly high level of support when it comes to being open-minded enough to potentially consider you before you even begin to express your policy positions. And the fact that your religion makes your candidacy a nonstarter for 1 out of 4 people is almost mind-boggling. I do not know how this 24% broke down in terms of political orientation. My kneejerk reaction is to assume the bulk of these people are religious conservatives or evangelical Christians that view Mormonism as a cult. Those on the left seem a bit more inclusive or tolerant regarding other faiths, as is exhibited by the "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays" debate.

So let's just assume for the sake of argument that most of these stalwarts are evangelical Christians. While I am not an authority on the Mormon faith at all, you would think that the fact that a Mormon is a believer in God would endear Mormons to mainstream Christians on at least a basic level. After all, their ire seems to be trained more towards athiests.

Unfortunately, the Mormon Church has had its image tarnished by polygamy and racism. The polygamy practice, however, largely died about 100 years ago. The racism charge is almost as laughable because this supposedly Christian nation is the same nation that sanctioned slavery, codified Jim Crow, established internment camps, and publicized lynchings. So it seems like the pot calling the kettle black in this regard.

Obviously, the Mormon candidate in the race is Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachussetts. I highly doubt Gov. Romney is going to legalize polygamy during his tenure in the White House. After all, he's the only top tier GOP candidate who is still on his first wife. And even if Romney did decide to take up the polygamy crusade, do you honestly think Congress will go along with him?

The "Mormons are racist" line of thinking, by the way, makes even less sense to me. While the North was certainly not a racially harmonious paradise in the past, I have a hard time accepting the notion that Romney is a racist simply because he is a Mormon. How could Romney ever have gotten elected as the governor of Massachussetts of all places with such views?

I personally don't care one way or the other about the teachings of the Mormon Church, but the arguments against a Mormon candidate just don't wash with me. These arguments seem to be based on fear. Actually, you could say that about all of these counterarguments. However, my sense is that there are a lot of voters out there who are inclined to send a message next Election Day, even if they don't agree with the candidates' views. Sometimes a President can transform a populace by his (or her!) very existence. Such a candidate can get the nation to talk about these issues in a way that no civil rights or feminist leader ever could. This bodes well for Romney, Obama, Clinton, and Richardson.


An interesting primary proposal...

I recently posted about my displeasure with the presidential nomination process and how Iowa and New Hampshire have a disproportionate influence on deciding the nominee and how most of the United States' voters won't have a chance at all to have their say because the whole process would likely be wrapped up by February after only a handful of states have their contests on Super Tuesday.

My original suggestion was to base the contests on their level of voter participation in the previous presidential election cycle. That would incent voters across the nation into participating.

However, I stumbled across an interesting propsal by the National Association of Secretaries of State:

"The proposal divides the country into four geographic areas—Eastern, Southern, Midwestern and Western—and rotates each region to vote first beginning in March. The other regions would hold their primary elections in April, May and June. A different part of the country would vote first every sixteen years."

Now, I listed the cons of having region-based primaries in my earlier post. However, this proposal did bring up an interesting point:

"New Hampshire and Iowa would retain their early status to allow under-funded and less widely known candidates to compete through retail politics rather than the costly media-driven campaigns required in larger states."

I still don't like the idea of Iowa and New Hampshire having this privilege yet again (what about South Dakota? Mississippi? Alaska?), but they do raise a very good point. How could a lower tier candidate compete in the Massachusetts or Florida media markets if those states happened to have their primaries first based on the incentive model I proposed? It would all but eliminate anyone whose campaign does not have deep pockets. In 2008, that would mean Clark, Dodd, Tancredo, Biden, Hunter, Brownback, Vilsack, and several other candidates would be severely disadvantaged.

Perhaps the issue is not so much a matter of which state gets to vote first as it is a matter of campaign financing. Free speech advocates believe soft money should be permitted like it was prior to McCain-Feingold. But that means a millionaire has "more freedom of speech" than Joe Schmoe who can only contribute $20. I'm really not sure of how to best address this problem. Public financing seems to make sense, but how could private expenditures be regulated?


John Edwards: Stock Falling

They say a week is a lifetime in politics, and the events that have happened during the past few days perfectly illustrate this.

There are several other good sites out there that rank the candidates in terms of their likelihood of securing the nomination, such as National Journal, Political Derby, The Fix, etc. I suppose I could do that too, but for now I'm going to opt for a regular analysis of each candidate's position based on my own observations.

First of all, John Edwards is in trouble. The Bloggergate fiasco dealt his campaign a major blow. It got in the way of his messages on health care, Iraq, and citizen activism. It also reinforced the budding negative caricature of him as a too-slick weathervane that has no core convictions and is all too eager to please someone if that translates into support. The way he handled this was simply atrocious.

First of all, it's unbelievable that neither he nor anyone on his staff took it upon themselves to do a bit of background checking before they hired the two female bloggers. Had they done a bit of research first, they could have avoided this situation altogether either by having them scrub the offensive posts from their personal blogs, not hiring them, or at least preparing press releases or statements to counter the criticisms that would inevitably surface. But they dropped the ball there.

Secondly, it took him too long to make a decision on their fate. He seemed to be caught flatfooted. Do I support them? Do I cut them loose? Do I cave into the right wing noise machine? Do I cowtow to the liberal nutroots? Do I condone these bloggers' incendiary statements? Do I defend my staffers? Does my defending them make it seem like I endorse what they said? Are bloggers more important than Catholics? Nobody knows what Edwards was thinking while he was isolated in his bunker while the bottom was falling out from under him. But the fact is, it took too long and that made him appear vacillating. What would Edwards do if he were confronted with a Supreme Court vacancy? What would he do if America were the victim of another terrorist attack? The President is supposed to be a leader, but leadership is definitely not something he exhibited regarding this really stupid affair.

Of course, both bloggers resigned because they were becoming a "distraction." So John Edwards ended up getting the worst of all worlds: This controversy stepped all over his message, he potentially offended Catholics, he lost credibility among the liberal blogosphere, Bill Donohue his allies can claim his scalp, and he has to go through the trouble of finding new bloggers to add to his staff! But in light of everything that happened, would you be enthusiastic about working for such a campaign? Who's in charge?

Edwards is generally regarded as the #3 Democratic candidate for now. However, if he has too many more gaffes like the last one, he may be overtaken by Dodd, Vilsack, or Richardson. And don't look for Edwards to run on the bottom half of the ticket either.


The 2008 Republicans

I posted my thoughts on the Democrats in the 2008 field so it's only fair that I post my thoughts on the Republicans as well.

Compared to the Democrats, the Republican field seems to be devoid of a candidate that truly inspires the base. There are several well-known and respected figures in the race, but there is no one truly captivating. This is probably because the three perceived frontrunners are generally moderate or maverick Republicans, rather than hardcore conservatives. Thus, the race for the GOP nomination is wide open, and I do mean wide open. There simply is no heir-apparent.

Here are the candidates listed in alphabetical order:

Sam Brownback: The Kansas senator is one candidate that should keep social and religious conservatives happy. However, the Jerry Falwell-Tony Perkins wing of the Republican Party is increasingly disliked by the larger electorate, thus making Brownback a better pick as a vice presidential nominee. Brownback is not as divisive as Falwell and Perkins, but I think the electorate is a bit burned out by the Republican Congress’s overreaching on gay marriage and abortion restrictions, thus restricting his appeal to voters in the general election. Brownback is Romney's greatest enemy because they are both competing for the same socially-conservative voters. However, Brownback has the benefit of authenticity, as he has a long paper trail of votes that establish him as having never wavered on the issues that social conservatives hold dear, like abortion.

Rudy Giuliani: Giuliani is the Obama of the GOP in terms of his ability to draw and wow large crowds. The former New York mayor obtained hero status in the days after September 11 for his leadership. It is my belief, however, that this halo effect will wear off as the primaries draw closer. For one, Giuliani has no other government experience, and absolutely no foreign policy experience. Comparing Manhattan with Mosul and Brooklyn to Basra is not going to fly. Secondly, are GOP primary voters really going to grin and bear it regarding social issues they hold so dear? Taken separately, affirmative action, abortion, gay marriage, and gun control are all litmus test issues that would doom any serious Republican candidate. However, Rudy is on the wrong side of all four issues as far as primary voters are concerned. Are these voters really going to turn the other cheek, especially after all the headway they've gained on these issues during the Bush presidency?

Newt Gingrich: The Al Gore on the GOP side, Gingrich takes the role as the GOP's elder statesman. He reminds conservatives of the good ol' days when they assumed power in 1995 after a long stint in the wilderness and accomplished many goals. His rhetorical skills are sharp and his conservative credentials are indisputable. He also has the advantage of being untainted by the congressional excesses that took place during the past few years under Republican leadership. If Gingrich were to enter the race, a lot of second-tier candidates would bail because there would be no oxygen left for them. Mitt Romney would also be severely crippled because Gingrich is a genuine conservative, whereas Romney seems to come across like a recent convert and is viewed with suspicion. Gingrich can afford to wait to enter the race just like Gore because there is no generally agreed upon conservative standard bearer.

Chuck Hagel: Hagel in '08 is a bit like Lieberman in '06 in that his war views are isolating him from the party he's a member of. (Consider Dick Cheney's recent remarks about it being difficult to not violate Reagan's 11th Commandment of not speaking ill of a fellow Republican.) Seeing that John McCain's crossover appeal is evaporating because of his support for the troop surge in Iraq, there is a bit of daylight for Hagel to exploit. He has a similar biography regarding military service and a bit of a maverick streak in him that broadens his electoral appeal. He speaks to conservatives who think the war is going poorly, like Brownback does, although the jury is still out on how many Republican voters actually agree with them. There might not be enough room in the Republican Party for someone like Hagel because his Iraq War views don't jive with the neoconservative wing of the party. If he does run in 2008, look for him to run as an independent or as part of a bipartisan ticket. Could a Hagel-Lieberman ticket be in the works?

Mike Huckabee: This is the lone Southerner in the race with gubernatorial experience. His life story is compelling and he received generally favorable reviews from his tenure as Arkansas' chief executive. Social conservatives should find Huckabee acceptable, but fiscal conservatives probably view him with more skepticism thanks to the tax increase that occurred on his watch. Having said that, Huckabee could be a formidable nominee and he has a real chance to fill the void that exists among the frontrunners in the event that one of them stumbles.

Duncan Hunter: Philosophically, this guy seems to be the candidate most in line with the base on immigration, terrorism, taxes, and social issues. His biggest problem is that nobody knows who he is. He's a congressman from California, but there are 52 other politicians who fit that description. If he were able to increase his name recognition and fundraising ability, he could easily win over the base and cruise to the nomination. Having said that, he remains a longshot and has about as much chance of winning the nomination as Joe Lieberman does of becoming the Democrats' nominee.

John McCain: John McCain is the Hillary Clinton of the GOP. He represents the establishment wing of the party. He has an amazing life story and a lengthy resume of government experience. However, he seems to have been approaching the campaign with a bit of inevitability and does not seem aggressive enough regarding explaining to voters why they should vote for him. It is clear that he will no longer be able to rely on the independent vote because of his close association with George W. Bush/Iraq. And of course, liberals are not going to support him ever again because of his endorsement of the surge. This leaves conservatives. However, fiscal conservatives are none too pleased with his campaign finance reform efforts. Social conservatives are equally displeased with his equivocations regarding same-sex marriage. Exactly what is his base? It seems that McCain is higher on the food chain than Romney, but voters aren't quite yet sold on him.

Mitt Romney: What started off as a promising candidate with lots of natural talent and a strong ability to handle a room and work a crowd, Romney now looks more like a falling star. He has really put himself into a box because of how he has tried to position himself—as a conservative. Unfortunately, a conservative Republican in Massachusetts probably qualifies as a liberal Republican in Georgia. In the era of YouTube, people just aren't buying it. And on top of that, charges of being "another Massachussetts flip-flopper" are beginning to stick and create a negative caricature of him. Can Romney really survive until Iowa? Romney needs to figure out how to deftly handle these charges and pronto because if his campaign continues to flag as it has for the past few weeks, his donors may recommit to someone else and his coffers will run dry. As a nominee, Romney could be quite formidable, as he took the lead in establishing mandatory health care coverage while he was governor. He also did not come across as being too far to the left or right while he was in Massachusetts, but that was before he began courting the conservative wing of the Republican Party. Romney is in trouble.


Primarily Stupid

I do not understand the presidential selection process. It makes no sense whatsoever. There are 50 states in the union, but it seems that the nominees are selected after only two of these states have their say. And which states are they? Iowa and New Hampshire. But why? And why is it these same two states cycle after cycle?

I just don't get it. Why do Iowa and New Hampshire have the "privilege" of getting the first crack at the presidential candidates each cycle? What makes them more deserving than a Delaware, or a New Mexico, or a North Dakota? It really burns me up when people from Iowa and New Hampshire say that "they take their elections seriously" and "take the time to get to know the candidates." Do you mean to tell me that voters in Mississippi or Oregon are less serious about their voting responsibilities? Do you mean to tell me that people in Rhode Island or Indiana can't be trusted to thoroughly vet out the candidates? What makes Iowa and N.H. so uniquely qualified to handle this? Why not give some other states a chance to prove themselves?

To compensate, the Democrats moved up the contests in Nevada and South Carolina to bring a bit of diversity to the process since Iowa and N.H. are about 95% White. But unfortunately, even though they have good intentions, this approach doesn’t really do much to solve the problem. Democratic officials want to talk about diversity in the form of allowing more minorities to participate in the process. However, one could argue that despite the addition of these two states in the early stages of the campaign, there is still a glaring lack of diversity in other regards that politicians of all stripes must take seriously.

For example, none of those early states are considered border states. Yes, N.H. borders Canada, but you don't hear many stories about illegal aliens infiltrating Coos County! When will the candidates have the opportunity to listen to and address the concerns of people whose lives and property are directly impacted by illegal immigration?

What about large cities? States with large urban centers are definitely being left out of the process. Let's see, you have Des Moines, Las Vegas, Columbia, and Manchester as the largest cities in these states. Do they really have the same concerns as people from Chicago, L.A., or Philadelphia? You would think Democrats in particular would take this into consideration since they rely heavily on the urban vote, but I guess not.

There are also states that have issues unique to them. What about Florida and its Cuban and Haitian refugee conundrum? What about New York and its abundance of terrorist targets? What about Washington and its concerns regarding Asian-Pacific relations? What about California and its minority-majority status? Or how about Louisiana and Mississippi and the aftermath of Katrina? When does it end?

Some people have floated proposals of having the least-populated states go first and having the mega-states like California, Florida, and New York have their contests at the end. However, that would drag the process out too long because we have so many states and voters in the bigger states would be unable to benefit from as much face time with the candidates simply because they would be too busy plane-hopping from Sacramento to Scranton to Sarasota as all the mega-states have their primaries at the same time.

Another commonly stated proposal is to divide the United States into four regions and have one rotating state from each region have its contest at the same time. This is a bit more attractive, but it is essentially a national primary and does not treat all states equally because there is a mix of densely-populated and scarcely populated states in the same region. Florida and Mississippi would presumably be in the same group, as would Vermont and Pennsylvania. And how would you classify states like West Virginia, Texas, and Missouri that fit into more than one region geographically and culturally? Also, grouping states into four regions is going to disadvantage two states (and presumably two regions if they are to all be of equal size) because of the math involved with having 50 states. And besides, who wants to wait 40 years for their state to get first crack at a candidate?

Yet another proposal I often hear is the idea of a national primary. What a terrible idea. This would all but ensure that only the most well-financed candidates had a chance to win. How could a lower tier candidate compete in the San Francisco, Atlanta, Denver, Boston, and Chicago markets at the same time? This would all but ensure that McCain, Giuliani, or Romney would be the nominee for the GOP, while Clinton, Clinton, or Clinton would be the nominee for the Dems.

I think the single best way to improve the process would be to introduce the element of competition. Assign primary and caucus order based on a state’s level of voter participation in the previous presidential election. This would reward states that actually do take their voting responsibilities more seriously and encourage voters around the nation to get out and vote because nobody wants to be from "the state with the apathetic voters." To avoid having 50 caucuses and primaries on 50 different days, one could have the top five states have their contests individually, then have the next ten states have their contests in groups of three, then the next states in groups of four, etc. States in the back of the process would be competing with other similar states for the candidates’ attention, which would be appropriate because they did not earn the privilege to have regular access to the candidates one-on-one.

It’s a shame that this likely will never happen because I really think it’s a good proposal. Voters around the nation would feel that their vote matters, and politicians would be thoroughly tested in the early stages by people who verifiably take their responsibilities seriously. If Iowa and New Hampshire have the two highest levels of voter participation in the presidential election, then they should earn the right to have first crack at the candidates in the next cycle. However, that would be because of their actual commitment to democracy in the form of voting, not because they happen to be residents of those particular states.

If I were a candidate, my strategy would be to campaign in every state other than one of the early ones as a form of protest. If people want to change the process, they have to be bold and draw attention to themselves by their deeds, not by their words. It’s easy for a candidate to say “the system is broken” and then head to a fundraiser in Dubuque or Nashua. If that costs me the election, so be it. But I think there’s a lot of dissatisfaction among the electorate out there that wonders why the process for selecting someone so critical to our nation is so critically flawed. The politician who taps into this disdain can go a long way.


The 2008 Democrats

I must admit, I'm a little dejected by the presidential nomination process. I mean, you have all these people camping out in Iowa and New Hampshire a year before the actual caucuses and primaries take place. Many of the candidates are senators or House members, which leds me to think that they SHOULD be spending more time in Washington legislating and debating and less time politicking, fundraising, posturing, and sucking-up. But that's not the reality of the current situation, so it looks like we'll just have to work with what we have. Anyway, here are my thoughts on the 2008 Democratic presidential candidates, listed in alphabetical order:

Joe Biden: Sen. Biden has an impressive resume but seems to have the exact same John Kerry disease of "good intentions." It's too bad too because Sen. Biden is obviously an intelligent man who could potentially do wonders in the international arena. However, in the era of YouTube and bloggers, he would be eaten alive because he is a walking gaffe-fest. I highly doubt Democrats would want to be on pins and needles everytime their nominee opens his mouth. To Biden's credit, however, one could argue that he will be one of the last candidates to drop out because he has absolutely nothing to lose. So perhaps he'll do better than expected. Unfortunately for him, his gaffes create so much noise that obscures his more important and more intriguing policy positions, such as partitioning Iraq into three semi-autonomous regions.

Wesley Clark: As a member of a military family, I spent many years living in Germany during the 80s and 90s. As a result, I am familiar with Wesley Clark's leadership abilities. Gen. Clark was in charge during the Bosnia mess and he was a competent leader. His foreign policy knowledge and military leadership make him an attractive candidate and would allow him to blunt John McCain's military record. However, Clark is an untalented candidate and who might not be able to hold his own in a presidential debate. I think Clark would be better suited for an appointment as Secretary of Defense.

Hillary Clinton: She's back, and she means business. Hillary presents an interesting conundrum for Democrats. They generally love her husband and highly respect her. However, there are many fears that she just can't win in the general election. There are fears that having her at the top of the ticket would drag everyone down elsewhere on the ballot. She is unusually polarizing and could do as good a job of motivating Republicans to vote as she does motivating Democrats. She is often faulted for her lack of passion and charisma, but I am inclined to think that voters may be willing to give her a pass on that because of the George W. Bush experiment. Hillary, however, has to overcome something a bit more worrisome than her charisma deficit or her electability. The thought of alternating between Bush and Clinton for the highest office in the land does not sit well with a lot of people. Even if Clinton may be a trailblazer in that she would be the first female president, she would likely be bringing back a lot of the same old staffers that served her husband. This might not be in America's best interest as it tries to turn the corner. Hillary is obviously highly intelligent and has a firm command of the issues. She would absolutely clean up among Black and female voters, especially unmarried or divorced ones. And Bill Clinton is immensely more popular than George W. Bush, so I don't even think her husband is as much of an issue as the punditry says he is. I honestly think America is ready to elect a female for president; I just don't think they're ready to elect this particular one.

Chris Dodd: Sen. Dodd is a potentially attractive candidate who has the resume of a Joe Biden without the same "good intentions" disease. If he were from Colorado instead of Connecticut, I bet he'd receive a lot more media attention. Republicans would salivate at the prospect of running against "another Northeastern liberal" although this would not work if they nominated Mitt Romney. Dodd has a chance to make a respectable showing in nearby New Hampshire, but I'm not sure how he can catch fire. Dodd could be a potentially formidable Democratic nominee, as he is definitely not a lightweight. Unfortunately, 98% of the electorate has no idea who this guy is. As for now, he's stuck in the middle of the second tier of candidates.

John Edwards: I don't know what to say about Edwards. Although he is not much more experienced than Obama, he is shrewdly positioning himself as a more senior statesman (at least compared to Obama). His populist streak resonates with a lot of younger voters, and the union workers love it. But there is a certain sense of calculation and artificiality about him that doesn't sit too well with some voters. What are his convictions? He voted for the Iraq war and defended that vote in the campaign. Now he's become a dove and is challenging sitting senators and congressmen to show a spine and call for bringing the troops home. He said that his vote was a mistake, but something about the way he handled this seems opportunistic. Trying to appease the North Carolina electorate is not a good enough excuse because issues of war and peace are greater than any politician's approval ratings or electoral opportunities. And even though Edwards has served in the Senate longer than Obama, his foreign policy knowledge is severely lacking in comparison. Edwards would also likely be demolished by McCain in the debates, although I think he'd fare reasonably well against Giuliani or Romney. If he does not win the nomination, he might be a good choice as Secretary of Labor. That oughtta keep the unions happy.

Al Gore: Gore is the dark horse that is sitting under every Democrat's nose. His resume is second to none, he has been vindicated by history, he is passionate about something people are starting to take seriously (global warming/climate change), he can raise a boatload of cash, and people may be willing to use his candidacy to atone for their "buyer's remorse" from the 2000 and 2004 campaigns by getting it right this time. (Florida and Ohio are likely to turn blue if he runs.) If Gore jumps in the race, that means bye-bye Biden, Dodd, Edwards, Clark, Vilsack, and Obama. It would be Gore vs. Hillary, and Gore would mop the floor with her because of his purity on the Iraq issue. Republicans may throw the charisma card at him again, but the voters won't bite this time because that's how Bush was able to sneak into the White House. Competency will easily trump charisma this time, which is why Gore, Dodd, and Richardson are better positioned than Obama and Edwards.

Mike Gravel: Who?

Dennis Kucinich: Rep. Kucinich will do his best to keep the Democrats true to their party's principles. But he has as much of a chance of winning the nomination as I do of bowling a 900-series. He is an unashamed liberal, but it seems like most of the Democratic Party wants to keep a bit of distance from him.

Barack Obama: He has a lot of potential and has a compelling approach to the political process. Having said that, however, he is very similar to George W. Bush in an unattractive way: his lack of experience. Yes, he argues Cheney and Rumsfeld had a ton of experience and that it only succeeded in screwing up the nation. However, if Bush himself had a lot more experience, he wouldn't have to rely so much on the so-called wisdom of his staff. I am not sure how he could counter that counterpunch. Obama is on fire right now and he is bringing a lot of first-time voters into the process. However, I just don't think 2008 is the right time for him to do it. After the debacle that is the George W. Bush presidency, I really think voters will be looking for someone who actually know what he's doing and doesn't need training wheels in the White House. In his defense, however, unlike George W. Bush, at least Obama is intellectually curious and has a demonstrable grasp of foreign policy issues.

Bill Richardson: Keep your eye on Richardson. He is a sleeping giant, especially if Gore does not jump in the race. He has a stellar resume, executive experience, cabinet experience, and the novelty factor going for him without the hinderance of a name that just won't play well in some parts of the country (unlike Obama). He would put Florida, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico into play instantly. Like Gore, Richardson is the anti-Bush candidate. What I mean is that this guy actually ENJOYS learning new things and has the intellectual curiosity to research things carefully. He doesn't engage in any of that off-putting cowboy talk either even though he hails from the same part of the country. As a former ambassador to the United Nations, he understands that diplomacy means talking to EVERYONE--not just people who agree with you, which many would consider a welcome departure from Bush's approach. Richardson has a good chance, but he doesn't have much margin for error. I think a lot of people are dating Obama and Edwards right now, but they may turn to Richardson later on after they witness his firm command of the issues in the debates.

Tom Vilsack: He has a compelling life story and has the advantage of hailing from Iowa. Having said that, if he doesn't win or garner a respectable showing in the caucuses next year, he's through. Electorally speaking, however, Vilsack makes the path to the presidency quite simple. Vilsack could be a decent candidate who would match up well against Romney or Huckabee as former governors. And a Vilsack nomination would turn Iowa blue; keep Minnesota and Wisconsin blue, and put Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia into play. Vilsack may very well be among the most electable candidates out there. But he has to overcome a lot of noise to get his message out. Unfortunately for him, his margin of error is very small. He needs a strong showing in Iowa to survive.

Copyright 2007-2010 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.